Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Point of No Return

I haven't reached it yet but I'm very close, which is why I'm leaving this beautiful little city the day after tomorrow. I've been here almost two weeks. The mother at Good Morning Vietnam and Coffee is beginning to explain the political news on TV. I am well acquainted with the Golden Labrador who shamelessly frequents restaurants in his vicinity, hoping that diners will be generous. I've met the local fashionisto, a handsome devil with an exquisite girlfriend and a dazzling collection of women's shoes that fills two walls in the back of his shop. The ladies who sell me the Bangkok Post invited me to join them for lunch today. And of course there is the marvelous, wonderful, kind family that my friend Beau belongs to--more than anybody else they have given me a toehold and a place to feel connected in Nakhon Phanom. I have been extraordinarily fortunate and I am extremely grateful.

From the very beginning, when I saw this, tendrils of longing began to sprout somewhere in my heart and mind. And every time I see it, "Just one more day," is what I mutter to myself. I'm a sucker for sweeping landscapes--it's the one part of me that is truly Alaskan.

Over a period of fourteen months in the last couple of years, two people I love very much died. I didn't realize how unhappy and depressed I'd been recently until that feeling went away. I knew it had when I felt eager to get up in the morning--and it wasn't just because I'd found a place where there was good espresso. It was more to the point that I could walk to it, on a sidewalk, and then sit at a corner table of an honest-to-god sidewalk cafe and listen to birds singing. Top that Bangkok, or even Seattle. Nakhon Phanom doesn't claim to be "inter" or "world class" but in many ways it has much larger places beat.

It's a place that's not afraid of color and uses paint with riotous and delightful abandon, all over town. I'm going to go into withdrawal when I return to Bangkok, where buildings are either glass and steel or unadorned cement.

There are places here that serve Western food and a spot called Little Tokyo (inland sushi, anyone?); with a large Vietnamese population there's a generous representation of that cuisine too. (The best fried spring rolls I've ever had I ate here last night.) But it's the Thai food that I wanted and ate and was delighted with--there are people in this town who still know how to use a wok. And the desserts at Ali Blah Blah Bistro--crepes, pies, creme brulee--are marvelous indulgences that I will miss badly when I leave.

Yesterday I wandered through Ho Chi Minh's garden and the tiny house he lived in. I looked longingly at his desk and the open window above it that framed leaves and blossoms. A hopeless romantic, I knew I could be happy in this place. Of course I always leave out minor details like mosquitoes and outdoor privies in the middle of the night.

There is so much beauty in this river town and I've tried to catch it and keep it and share it. These temples, this sky, these idiosyncratic buildings--I love them all.

But of all the memories I've caught in a snapshot, this is the one that will bring me back, the bend in the road that promises new discoveries, new stories.

Thank you, Nakhon Phanom--see you soon, I hope. Until then I hope to keep with me the sense of delight and the love of life I've felt since I came to stay with you.