Thursday, July 03, 2014

Oak Park, Illinois

Last Thai morning somtahm
I used to live here in Oak Park, down the street, on Cuyler.  Back then, I looked like this:

Me, in 2000
This was my apartment:

A shelfie, before they were called such
I lived there with my cat, Rumor, in a studio apartment for $545 a month.

Rumor, on my beat-up chair
I worked at a magazine office in the city, and I took the train in.  It was impossibly romantic.

Now it is fourteen years later. I moved here in April of 2000.  Two days ago I flew back into Atlanta and family picked me up and we drove through Chicago to its western edge, to Oak Park, where my sister lives with her husband and four impossibly beautiful daughters.  She keeps chicken and grows peas.  She longs for Thailand, as already do I.

So far today I have eaten leftover fast-food chicken and pizza and salad.  And fresh snap peas and a backyard chicken egg.  Since coming back to this land of cheese and wheat, I have eaten whole-grain bread and yogurt and cold hard cantaloupe.  What I have not eaten:  curry, pad pahk luahm, fresh raw Thai basil, somtahm, rice, chicken grilled over charcoal in its own fat, mango-yogurt smoothies, coconut bread.  My diet here is completely different, as is my sun intake.  It’s like my world’s upended.

I didn’t notice the absence of smell on my arrival that much this time, but when my brother and sister and I talk about the smell of Bangkok, it’s like we’re talking about home.  The smell of the khlongs, of the markets, of the city.  The humid darkness.

The sun stays up till eight o’clock here.  It mystifies me.  How can it be eight o’clock and it still be light?  As does the sun itself and its mysterious chill, its pallor.  It’s 75 degrees here this week.  At Bluefin, in the last week I was there, it rarely got below 80 degrees at night.  My feet are cold.  It’s the warmest month of the year and I need socks.

I continue traveling through my own home country.  Is this my home country?  Is the other?  Asked Pontius Pilate:  what is truth?

I just remember the first Thai I heard at Narita Airport, in Japan.  It was the final leg of the flight, on January 1.  A new moon.  Thai tourists were returning from Japan on vacation.  When they talked, it sounded like home.  This time, on flying out, in Narita I heard almost none—maybe a whispered word among Thai tourists disembarking—and I listened as the language went silent.