Sunday, January 12, 2014

Settling Into Another Life

I really don't travel. I change from one life to another in the space of fifteen hours. I get on a plane, land in another place and feel the life I just walked away from ebb into a kind of fog. It feels so far away, it's hard to believe that a few days ago it was my reality.

I know this is going to happen before I pack my suitcases, which might be why I always leave that task for the last minute. During my last days at home, I look at everyone and everything I love through a filter of longing, wanting to stamp them deeply into my mind and heart before I'm claimed by another corner of the world. Leaving is not entirely pleasant.

There's an alchemy that occurs when crossing the International Date Line that has nothing to do with clocks or calendars. It's enhanced by sleepless hours in a small space, nodding off occasionally and jerking back into wakefulness. Sitting still and trying not to think that zombiedom lies right around the corner, flying across the Pacific is probably a lot like having an extended MRI, except with that procedure you can lie flat on your back. When the plane finally touches down into an airport, you're so far removed from life as you knew it that you're more than willing to take on whatever existence is offered.

In my case, it's a room in Chungking Mansions that is the size of a walk-in closet. It is narrow enough that I can touch both sides of the room with my outstretched arms. It's essentially part of a hallway that has been partitioned off with a door at one end and a window at the other. Less than half of its width at the entryway has been turned into a water closet, with a sink, a toilet, and a shower head. I can only turn around while showering by maneuvering very carefully.

Beside my bed is a stand that covers a small refrigerator and a safe; on top of it is a phone and a hotpot for boiling water. A TV is attached to the wall at the end of my bed. On my first morning, the housekeeper gave me the world's tiniest hairdryer to use while I'm here. And there are enough (wire) hangers on the small clothes rack on the wall near the door. Best of all, the wifi is fast and reliable.

It's  a place that could easily reawaken my claustrophobia if it weren't for the window. Unlike the one in my usual Chungking Mansion hostel, it doesn't look out onto an airshaft encircled by other blocks of the same building. It doesn't feature a view of airconditioners that are topped with mounds of garbage. There is real air and daylight between me and the building across the alley and that is a true saving grace. I can't see the sky but the light isn't the trapped, muddy sort that I used to gaze at. This has a dim radiance to it.

In my previous stays at Chungking Mansions, my mornings consisted of rapid showers and a flight to Starbucks for coffee. Now I wake up slowly, the way I do in Seattle, with freshly made filtered coffee and checking in with friends and family on the internet. Then I go out--for congee at a place where many of the customers are Thai and we all perch on small stools that don't encourage a leisurely meal or noodles served in a small, hot wok at a restaurant where the booths are comfortable and I seem to be (amazingly) the only laowai, Then I explore for as long as my energy holds out, jamming my senses with new sights and tastes until I come home exhausted in the late afternoon. Too tired to find a meal in the outside world, I eat fruit or nuts in my room, wishing it were large enough that I could sit somewhere other than my bed. I'd like to have samosas again, but the effort of keeping crumbs from where I sleep isn't relaxing.

It doesn't feel like home this time around, but it feels as though it could be, as soon as I've settled in. Now that I start my second week here and I no longer am wide awake at 2 am, I'm eager to see what shape my Kowloon home will take this time around.


Anonymous said...

And, I am eager to read about it.

Birdman said...

You are living.

Janet Brown said...

Yes I am and yes I will write about it. Thank you both.