Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Little Night Music

A week ago I went to a fancy little expat café to have a pre-birthday lunch. I ordered a glass of Merlot and spent the next thirty minutes holding the bowl of the glass in my palms trying to warm the wine to a drinkable temperature. It hadn’t been chilled; it had been iced. But it eventually released a little bit of aroma and flavor—I can live with that.

Since I arrived, I’ve tried desperately to find the sort of cute, cheap shoes and handbags that are on every Bangkok street corner. No luck— but Thailand is right over the border—I can live with that.

There was something very dubious in my fried rice today. As long as I can convince myself that it was only the size and shape of a rodent turd and not the thing itself, it’s okay. There are other places to eat—I can live with that.

Somebody above me seems to be fond of chopping vegetables on the floor for an hour or two in the early morning but it’s not every day—I can live with that.

I’ve lived here for almost six weeks now and except for the week of Deepavali, every night at 8 pm, pop singers who will never be at the top of anyone’s charts—least of all mine—sing and whoop and make little speeches until midnight, over sound systems that wouldn’t disgrace the biggest clubs in Vegas, on outdoor stages. For four hours almost every night, I’ve heard music that makes me yearn to be stone deaf.

Penang has a regulation that says noise must stop at midnight—and it does. But because it is regulated, it seems to be the god-given right that anyone with an amplifier can turn it up full-blast every night they choose and keep the noise going until midnight. And we are talking noise that comes blaring into my apartment even when I have all the windows closed and earplugs crammed in my ears. By the time it ends, my delicate little nerves are so jangled that I’m usually awake until after 2 a.m. Bad music does that to me; I can fall sleep listening to Chinese opera but not to this bilge.

“Penang is famous for this,” a woman told me in the elevator the other night—and it’s absolutely true that I live in a complex called Symphony Park with Harmony View right next door. But I didn’t think that would mean that I would end up in Cacophony Acres—and you know? I’m not at all sure I can live with that.

Tonight I saw that the stage across the road from me had been taken down but before I could feel exultant, I saw a sign for another ‘concert” right beside my building. It’s going to happen next week on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. If I had the money, I’d leave town—as it is, I have absolutely no idea of how I’m going to live with that.

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