Sunday, February 05, 2012

Like we were unwise

Potatoes on the bonfire in the snow, at the Potatogether

Tonight dinner is green curry, with spicy paste and coconut milk both imported from Thailand, with royal basil--horapaa--and bird peppers—prik kee nu--I bought at the Asian market in Quincy four months ago and froze. I'm hungry for real food, rice and curry--kap chao. It's one of these cliches of Thai culture that instead of asking “How are you?” when people meet, they ask “Have you eaten?” But the real truth is that “Have you eaten?” in Thai translates directly to—kin chao reung? Which means, “Have you eaten rice?”

Rice is real food. Everything else is just pretending, as far as this little Asian-faker girl is concerned. And I'm saying that while living in the land of the potato—a tragedy. Not really. I love potatoes, too, because my family comes from potato country. My family farm was a potato farm, before we lost it.

But my formative years, my childhood, was spent eating rice, six days a week. One day a week was for “American” food. Potatoes, spaghetti, tacos. And I have to believe that how someone spends the years between 3 and 17 matters, because I'm coming on that anniversary now. I spent 14 years in Southeast Asia, and now it's 14 years that I've been away. My sister flew from Chicago to Bangkok, with her husband and three children in tow, this morning.

We're both terrified. She's just found happiness, in her own house, just outside Chicago, for the first time. I'm finding happiness here, in Aroostook County. Both of us, for the first time in years, may live in a place that we call home. And now she's going to the place that's our real home, our heart's home. We're afraid it will disrupt us, either by being perfect, or by being less than.

I say we're terrified, but I lie. My whole life has been caught between two places, knowing I'll never find true home, not in the way that other people have it. People whose roots are dug deep. Mine will always be shallow. But that doesn't mean they have to be weak. I'm changing as I age, I'm realizing that it's not that I don't belong. I can belong in two places. She can, too, and at a deeper level, we know we love the lives we've built for ourselves.

I know the air of Bangkok is toxic, polluted, gave my brother bronchial asthma. I know that most people don't consider 90-percent humidity pleasant. I know that the city smells of exhaust and dried fish and raw sewage and dirty canals—khlongs. But more than that, I know that whenever I stepped off the plane, from Manila, or the States, and hit that wall of Thai air, dense, heavy with moisture and scents, bad and good, fecund and rich--that's when I knew I was home.

I said to her last night: “You get to breathe real air.”

It's the thing I envy most.

No comments: