She was on the sidewalk every day for the entire day, behind her little cart, owning that portion of the street. She always looked old from the first day I saw her until the day she told me it was her last as a newsstand proprietor. "I'm sick," she said, "I'm old."
"I'll miss you," I said, and I do. It's difficult for me to go to that part of my neighborhood now; part of my world has been diminished. One of the people with whom I've shared a history of sorts is gone and a piece of the fabric that tied me to this spot in the city has frayed. My community is fading, both with people departing and places transforming into something I wish they hadn't.
This street has several gigantic estates, with a thick green canopy of leaves rising above the walls that conceal them from the rest of the neighborhood. I've peered through the gates of these places for years, fantasizing about someday having one for my own. Then came the day that the gates swung open on the greenest of these compounds and the trees came down. My heart broke.
There are four air-conditioned restaurants on this street now, all of which serve mediocre food, often thawed and heated in a microwave. There are precious few people who make food in a wok--and when I think about it, I can't blame those who've stopped using one. It's hot and hard work, with fumes from frying chile and garlic that have to damage the lungs and eyeballs of whoever is frying them. Nonetheless, the stinging fragrance of sizzling food is one I never thought I wouldn't smell on the street of my neighborhood.
The tapping of sticks that heralded the approach of an itinerant noodle-seller, the mournful call of the kouay-chai man, the little Bozo-the-clown horn that meant ice cream was on its way were all sounds of my street which I rarely, if ever, hear now. Life is change, and it is changing all around me. It makes me realize that what I thought made this place home was merely cosmetic; more and more I feel as though my neighborhood has gone away, leaving me behind.
A friend who lives in the heart of Bangkok told me his neighborhood holds everything--department stores, supermarkets, hotels for visiting guests, bars, bookstores, fleshpots, Middle Eastern enclaves--the list could fill a Webster's Unabridged. It's an urban and urbane spot; highrises soar and so do the prices of meals in many of the restaurants. When many people think of Bangkok, they think of this part of the city.
My neighborhood holds Thailand. Resolutely without sophistication and largely homogeneous, it's a spot where the opening of a new convenience store means every street urchin gets a helium balloon and where a pair of shoes can die within a month because there are damned few sidewalks. Ancient food carts serve up delectable meals in surroundings of dubious hygiene. The same fat dog sprawls on the same sidewalk every day, forcing pedestrians into the street, taking up more room with each passing year.
But it's a village encircled by highrises and will eventually become indistinguishable from the rest of Bangkok--international, glitzy, on the move. There will be a Big C complex where now the huge food market sets up three times a week and condos will have sprouted where the trees tower behind walls. And residents in that future- to- come will buy their copy of the Bangkok Post or the Nation or even the International Herald Tribune as part of the way that life is meant to be, never knowing that once in this neighborhood, these could only be purchased from one stout little newsstand owner, a lady who kept on going until she no longer could.