Thursday, December 3, 2009

erika back in Bangkok

After 24 hours on planes and another handful in airports, I’ve arrived safely back in this mess of an adopted city, Krung Thep, a.k.a. Bangkok. Petra met me at the airport even though it was midnight, and is was wonderful to see her. I love my wife. :)

As I stepped out of the airport, I was struck by the smell of the city, to which I had become so accustomed while living here that I hadn't smelled it in ages. My first thought was, "Smells like the third world." My attempt at specifying that smell will be necessarily inadequate, but it has components of: smoke (burning paper, rubber, wet things like leaves, meat, charcoal), wet rotting things, heat, sewage, curry, diesel exhaust, wet dog, green plants, banannas, sweat. And the funny thing? It smelled really good to me, brought a smile to my face. I've become quite at home here in the developing world. Who would have thought?

erika in the USA: thanksgiving and reunions

My last week in the US this trip found me at my Mother’s house for Thanksgiving. My sister Lisa flew out from Chicago to join us, and as we all had colds we were quite contented to have a mellow celebration with just the three of us. My mom and I cooked the meal (turkey, stuffing, cranberry relish, creamed spinach, mashed potatoes, gravy, homemade bread, fresh pumpkin pie) while Lisa worked on a school report, and we shared our gratitude for being able to be with family, for the bounty of good food, for our health, and for all the other blessings we have. I was personally especially grateful for the creamed spinach.

The day after Thanksgiving, Lisa and I went to our 10-year high school reunion. The women were much the same as the girls they had been, same personalities and cliques, but with better haircuts. The men were remarkable improvements upon their younger selves: they were taller, more handsome, more friendly and articulate, better dressed, better dancers, and more worldly. There were of course exceptions to these pleasantries, but it was on the whole a much more enjoyable evening than I would have expected, chatting with guys most of whom I had never really spoken to before in my life. Remarkable from a school as small as mine (graduating class of 150, of whom about 100 were at the reunion). Almost all are still locals. One guy is a professional boxer, another is shockingly getting his PhD in environmental studies, lots of them have or soon will marry some of the prettier girls in our class. I got the prize (a glass jar engraved with the names of everyone in our class) for coming the furthest, though few people believed I actually live in Thailand.

The rest of the weekend was spent with my mom, sister, and I further catching up with other high school friends (hi Josh!), playing Cranium with our mom (she creamed us), helping cousins of ours choose and cart away things from our grandfather’s estate, taking naps, running errands, and generally being a normal family. I can’t tell you how nice that was.

erika in the USA: Northampton

The second-to-last stop on my American adventure was out to my birthplace and the stomping-grounds of my old alma mater, the Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts. It is such an exceptionally lovely part of the world, with some of everything good: trees, fields, wooden houses, rivers and streams and lakes, small mountains, small roads, public transportation, an expectation of intelligence and progressive thought, interesting children, quality restaurants, a profusion of live music and indie film, and good friends. I have to wonder how much of my appreciation is based on early imprinting and the later glow of college, how much it really as wonderful as I think it is, and how much my expectations are merely shaped by comparison to it.

One thing is for certain, though: Northampton has changed. It’s posher, more mature, with fewer literally dirty people and culturally appropriated painfully mystic establishments, and instead more actually worldly and sophisticated vibes, all while remaining accessibly inexpensive. It is as if Northampton has grown up alongside me. I wasn’t expecting to still like it as much as I used to, but I do!

Oldies: chocolate covered gummy bears from Sweeties, hot cocoa from that place in Thornes, the sale racks at the clothes boutiques, charming and quirky home d├ęcor and gifts from all the shops on Main St, smoothies from the Haymarket, the bizarre temptations from Acme Surplus, deals and steals from Deals and Steals, and of course people-watching all the hotties and yuppies.

Newbies: a great independent food-coop that can easily rival Whole Foods, a new dinner menu and fancy dining setup in the basement of the Haymarket, less awful fashion, a fancy cooking supply store, Urban Outfitters (I know!), and, delightfully and surprisingly, some people of color! :)

My enjoyment of the valley was of course greatly accentuated by the good company of my friends there. I stayed with college pals Toby and Cmoore and their happy menagerie in their new house outside of town. I immediately wanted to till up their garden bed for the spring, build them stairs down to the creek, help them choose shrubbery, etc., but had to resist as I was only there briefly. I do so love housework, though…

My dervish of a visit also included stopping in to see some of my former professors: a truly delightful afternoon with Lindsay, a friend of Petra’s from high school; we visited the Eric Carle Musuem of picturebook art (yes, the art of illustrated children’s books), and participated in their crafts room, in which I created an undersea masterpiece of watercolour and collage. Also on the schedule was dinner and a star-gazing walk with my high school friend Lauren and her boyfriend Thomas who was visiting from France (yes, he’s dreamy); a great relaxing night at friends-of--friends’ Maggie and Pete’s house, where we baked homemade pizzas in their wood stove, sampled Pete’s homemade hard cider, played with endearing toddlers, and played board games; and taking in a play at Hartford Stage, “Mistakes Were Made”.