Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Finding Home

In the past three years, as I bounced from Bangkok to Beijing, Hong Kong to Penang, and points in between for briefer moments, I'va always asked myself, "Could I live here?" And except for Penang, with the jangle of noise I heard for hours every night, the answer was yes I can. My way of traveling is to find a neighborhood and settle in for a month, then return and repeat again and again (which I should have done in Penang). I wander and develop small aspects of daily living and learn the city as much as I can. And yes, I did find a way to live in Chungking Mansions and in a hutong tangle off Xinjiekou Street and of course on Chokchai Ruammit. I love all three of those neighborhoods and if I could clone myself, I'd be in all three right this very minute.

But...long ago I made two decisions that changed my life forever. I had children, at a rather young age. I always told myself that when they became adults, I would become a late-life adolescent, roaming the world, having adventures, finding stories--and I did.

What I didn't realize was how much I would enjoy and be nourished by the company of my adult sons, and how shriveled I would feel after I turned sixty without their nearby presence in my life. I'm lucky. They both live in one place, which is where I live now too.

We don't see each other every day or even every week, but for me saying goodbye to them at an end of a visit without fighting off tears is a great and marvelous joy. It has brought me a feeling of tranquility that is almost alien to me; one afternoon as late afternoon light turned the floor of my room to soft gold, I looked up from the book I was reading and felt that the squirrel cage that had been in perpetual motion for almost three years was quiet.

I haven't divorced myself from Asia. I live in Seattle's Chinatown/Nihonmachi/Little Saigon neighborhood where everyone I see every day has made a home far from home. The lady in the dollar store is from Vietnam as is the family who roast whole pigs in huge ovens and serve up pork in various dishes all day long and the lady who makes egg tarts and cakes and banh mi in her bakery/cafe. A Thai man has a little video store on my block and Chinese herb stores are everywhere. Little groceries and two large supermarkets are devoted to food stuff from all over Asia; my first purchase was a ten-pound bag of hom mali from Thailand and the fragrance of steamed rice fills my studio apartment every day.

I'm planning my next visit back and it will be for at least two months when I do. There is so much still to see and to explore, and friends to be with, and stories to find. But I am luxuriating in a sense of happiness and calm that has eluded me during my time in Asia. Is it age that makes this so sweet to me? Or is it the knowledge that I can have the jolt of seeing and learning something new right outside my apartment building?

I know that darkness will be the prevailing quality of my days here all too soon. The clouds will settle over Seattle and they won't go away before next July. But I have people I love to brighten the gloom and books to write and food to cook. I have holidays to celebrate that over the past three years I have done my best to forget.

It's taken a long time to understand that home is where you are able to feel peaceful, and where you are near the ones you love best in the world--and yet that this doesn't preclude wandering and discovering in places on the other side of the globe. I feel blessed to know that in every cell of my body, in every portion of my brain, and best of all, with my whole heart.


Kristianne said...

Dearest friend, I've never known you to be shriveled. I would never put you together with that desciption, ever. We will/do/have missed you here, but I'm glad you have found your place. xoxo k

Tokyo Ern said...

I was wondering what was going to become of your blog, a name change or something but I'm glad to see you've kept the name for now and continue to post interesting blurbs. I've been on culinary spree on my own blog with more to come.

janet brown said...

The name stays, Ernie--it's only a title--and besides I'll blunder my way through the language in Bangkok as often as possible.

Oh Kristianne, my spirit shrivels often--that's when I become a hermit. With luck, perhaps I'll see your spot in Yangon next time I'm in SE Asia.

janet brown said...

Off to see your culinary sprees, Mr. Hoyt.