Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Destination Anywhere

Nothing feels quite so strange to me as preparing for a trip that I don't want to make. I don't think I've ever felt this way before and I'm not sure why I am now. Ordinarily I'm the sort of person who perks right up at the sight of a new tourist visa, or when making lists of things to take and places to go. None of this is working this time.

Perhaps it's a byproduct of the clouds that have covered Bangkok for much too long, or a lingering trace of my Penang bedbug phobia. Maybe it's apprehension about leaving an extremely imperious cat to his own devices for a week in my apartment. Or maybe it's because I'm finally going to be in Saigon, a city I haven't really avoided, but not one I've yearned to go to either.

The reason I suspect is the cause for my lack of excitement is one I'm reluctant to tell. As banal and boring as it may sound, the trip I really want to be making right now is one that would have me disembarking at SeaTac Airport and heading for the light rail that would take me back to Seattle.

I miss my sons. I'm really not the adventurer I pretend to be, I suppose. The real me is a 62-year-old woman who wants to hug her kids and embroider Home is where the heart is in cross-stitch on a dishtowel.

Tomorrow I'll get on a bus that will take me to one border and then on to another. I will glue myself to the window and stare until my eyes are bloodshot. I'll walk and eat and look and wonder and write things down. I'll get permission to live this life I have now for another stint, if I'm lucky, and during that time I'll think very hard about the second half of this already crazy year.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

One Reason Why I Live Here--a Postscript

The umbrella that fell apart in yesterday's rainstorm never made it home with me. I made a few impotent attempts to make it work properly and then left it in the back of the pickup that I rode home in, fuming.

Anybody who's been patient enough to read this notebook that I keep on this blog knows I'm more often than not annoyed by the pickup trucks that carry people from one end of my neighborhood to another. As I waved one down today to come home after a quick trip for food and the paper, I was amazed to see the driver give me a radiant smile--and my repaired umbrella.

This is Thailand, people, even though that phrase is frequently abbreviated to a perjorative T.I.T. This is the community that has decided to be kind to an elderly farang woman, despite her obvious crotchets, and this is the sort of truly beneficent behavior that makes me melt into a puddle of gratitude.

I love this country and this story is one of the reasons why.

Black Hole Sun

I bought an umbrella today, which by rights I should never have had to do. This is the season of the inferno in Thailand, and yet the sun has been elusive since mid-February. Warm cloudiness greeted my children when they arrived and prevailed into their departure and beyond. And I've acclimated enough that I like cloudy weather--a good old tropical depression no longer depresses me.

But rain in March is completely wrong. The occasional thunderstorm is always diverting, whenever it shows up--but not drenching rain that bounces back up from the road after it falls, not the kind that bursts out of its swollen clouds just about the time that you've decided to go out and find your dinner. (Three bottles of Minute Maid Pulpy from the convenience cooler of my apartment building doesn't make a meal, but my choices were either Coke, Fanta, or Sprite. Thank heaven Coca-Cola bought Minute Maid for that little jolt of almost-nourishment.)

I live in a Thai building which means the apartments have no kitchen. If I were culinarily inclined, I'd do what local people do in such a building and buy a gas cylinder with a burner attached and make food on that. Or even worse, and more popular in Thailand now, buy a microwave and some frozen meals. The first option terrifies me and the second disgusts me. I moved to one of the world's great food cities so I'd never have to cook again. And the idea never crosses my mind until the season of the deluge hits and food vendors disappear as the rain torrents down upon them. But this is happening about four months earlier than it ought to and I'm not mentally prepared for the "rainy season diet."

For me, this consists of salted nuts and fruit, fresh orange juice and beer--but only if I'm foresighted enough to buy these things early in the day, before it begins to pour. Yes, there are delivery services--even McDonald's will deliver to apartments--and it's possible to have almost any cuisine in the world brought to your door. The Catch-22 is when it rains, traffic comes to a halt and even the delivery motorcycles have trouble negotiating their way through that standstill. And of course, every wuss in Bangkok wants their food brought to them on nights that resemble the forty nights that had inspired Noah to build his ark. Good luck, suckers. I'd rather feast on broken dried noodles from a package of Mama.

Rain in Bangkok rarely is accompanied by chill, but this bout of precipitation has brought a cold snap with it. Laugh if you will, but a 30-degree drop in temperature is cold in any language. I'm wearing a sweater and socks, my windows are closed, and my fans aren't running, which has the cat freaked out because they provide a constant background noise for his life, under normal circumstances.

On one side of the city, there's a weird gleam in the air that would almost be encouraging, except for the bank of menacing clouds that are closing in on the other side. I should feel well-prepared; after all, I bought an umbrella.

It came apart in my hands before it ever made it home--Chinese workmanship at its finest. I know it's an omen of some kind but I'll be damned if I can decide what it means--probably nothing more than "Never buy a umbrella out of season--you'll end up with one that they couldn't sell during those monsoon days that came when they were supposed to."

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Gone Baby Gone

My son and his wonderful girlfriend were here and now they're gone. As always, the hole that is left in my life by their departure is vast and it hurts. Childbirth was nothing in comparison to this.

Here is the curse of early motherhood. You are close enough in age to your children that they sometimes feel like quasi-siblings, which means that during the time that you were intended to explore and experiment, you were a parent. When parenting becomes less of an active job and more of an observatory occupation, you go out to see the world--and with everything you see, you wish your adult children were there to see it all with you.

And then they come and they go--or you visit them and leave--and you hurt more than you ever thought you could. You realize that the loves of your life are your offspring--everyone else was just an amuse-bouche--and you wish more than anything that you could become an on-tap, drop-in-when-you-have-time-kids sort of Mom with cookies fresh from the oven cooling on your kitchen counter and beer in the fridge. (Although that is a nauseating combination, isn't it, come to think of it...)

By the time I'm old enough to stop roaming around and am ready to produce gingersnaps and snickerdoodles again, I'll be too old to be any fun for my sons to be around. (Feel free to edit that sentence--if it weren't mine, I certainly would.) Right now I have learned that I'm happiest when I can see something new with one of my children--I'm lucky. They're explorers too.

I've learned where home is and it is near my children. But there's still so much to see, so many stories to find. That's what seduces me into thinking that there's time to go just a little bit farther before I turn back to be with the people I love most on this whole crazy lovely messed-up planet.