Friday, December 10, 2010

Goat's Milk Ice Cream and Politics: Chungking Morning

This morning I had almond goat’s milk ice cream for breakfast, found in a Turkish kebab place in Chungking Mansions. The guy who sold it to me said rather mournfully. “America is not safe. They go to other countries because they say they want to make those places safe but America’s people are not safe in their own country.” It was a heavy dose of reality to swallow first thing in the morning but I agreed with him, having lived in my country as a woman alone, struggling not to live in fear, but always cautious.

DVDs and perfume are an unlikely combination for a retail space but that’s what one shop in CKM has for sale. Another counter sold cotton candy machines and chocolate fountains, with photos of a middle-aged blonde happily presiding over free-flow chocolate from a fountain presumably purchased from this spot. An Indian grocery sells fruit and vegetables from cartons on the floor outside the shop, which don’t look as fresh as they probably were a week ago. A little boy rested one foot on top of a pile of potatoes as his father chatted at length with the shopkeeper; fortunately they’ll be cooked at high heat or peeled before someone eats them.

Clothing designed for infant ballerinas, all pink and tulle, wait to identify babies as undeniably female with a shrine to Bob Marley and Tupac, their faces emblazoned on tank tops and tee shirts, next door. African fabric is everywhere, in prints that are visual celebrations--if not orgies-- sold in bolts that would upholster an entire living room set.

I have found one Chinese food stall and one Chinese souvenir counter in Chungking Mansions—and no Christmas trees or canned carols. For the lack of Christmas commercialism alone, I would love this place.

Yesterday a jackhammer tore through the air and through the old tiles outside the apartment across from the Holiday Guest House. This morning the new tile lay clean and glistening and firmly in place, while a worker waited for the elevator with chunks of the old floor. Project completed, peace restored and I not for the first time have respect for a country without OSHA. Without regulation, people have jobs and the jobs get done. Fast. It’s no accident that it was Chinese men who made it possible for the US to have a railroad.

There is a community in this five-building monolith. “You were here before, this is your second time,” a man at a Pakistani foodstall remarked last night. And yes I had, once in April, and was astounded that he remembered. Chungking Mansions is no place to behave badly; memories are long and time holds no statute of limitations. I wander about this small town, watching and eating and looking, realizing that now on my third visit, I am no longer a stranger.


arun said...

I hope with the beauty and coolness of the large trees,clean air, the amazing park near telok bahang, the surf and ocean breezes of B F. wonderful Lhaksa ,Char mee, starfruit juice,roti canai (chanai) and a myriad of other simple penang pleasures, that the crisis will be soothed or pass. Or maybe you have already returned to thailand. Hope your spider bite has healed.

janet brown said...

I'm looking forward to my 36 hours in Penang on my way back to BKK in early January. Your list of lovely things are indeed ones that I have enjoyed, especially the trees and the wind--also rojak and nutmeg juice and colors, all of which I have described in earlier posts. Here's a list of places that I loved in Georgetown

I'm also looking forward to the things I took for granted in Bkk

Again thank you for reading and commenting on what serves as my writer's notebook!