Travel as Metaphor

The blog of novelist Sue Swift.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

17 March: today would have been Lizzy’s birthday had she not killed herself in 2005. It’s also her brother Eliot’s birthday, so I phoned him. He seems well and is still struggling with the same issues that occupied him before I left for Thailand six months ago—whether he should continue to grow richer giving colonoscopies to rich people or figure out something more meaningful to do with his life. Maybe he needs to take Eric Maisel’s course in meaning-making. Anyhow, he appreciated that I remembered Liz’s birthday and phoning.

With the conference over, I spent the remainder of my time in San Diego hanging out with Wendy and the boys. They seem OK…strangely enough it doesn’t seem weird to stay in the same room where Keith died. Wendy claims that she and Keith talk often. When she mentions this I quickly change the subject.

Keith's stonesetting is on May 3, the first anniversary of his death.

I also explore San Diego…with a job offer pending, it seems wise, though the SD lifestyle is not one I crave. I know what I want, and it doesn’t exist in California. Portland, with its milder summer weather, excellent public transport and less expensive costs seems to fill the bill. And if it doesn’t work out, I’ll go someplace else. The world is big and fascinating and full of people who might become my friends.

Back in Sacramento, it seems more than ever that I have gone backwards. Though it’s nice to see people from my past, I’m eager to get on with it. The six-month sojourn overseas is possibly the best move I ever made in my life, which has been full of wrong turnings and regrets. I now understand what makes me happy…getting away from the expectations and needs of family and spouse enabled me to experience myself more directly, to experiment with location and lifestyle.

The writing is back (yay!) and if I quit being in vacation mode, I have books to write, revise and sell.

So it’s all good.

Onward and Backward: BK to London to California in ten days

11 March: I had a pretty darned good birthday. First of all I was in my favorite place in the world, London. I had am English breakfast with a strong cuppa tea. Went to Notting Hill, nothing like the movie. Walked around Portobello Market and resisted buying a soldier’s red coat for 85 quid, a good deal had I needed one and were I not worried about excess luggage charges, which I avoided going from BK to London only by tossing out quite a lot of stuff. OK, it was stuff I didn’t need but…

I visited Uncle Li, who looked quite chipper for someone who’s half-paralyzed and been bedridden for six months now. We chatted for about 40 minutes…should take photos to him tomorrow.

Had tea with the Lazari in Hampstead Garden Suburb and then the sr Lazari took me to dinner. They were quite jazzed that it was my birthday.

Cindy Gestler phoned—she asked me and a friend to lunch at her place in St. John’s Wood. Mostly salads and a wonderful soup followed by a walk with her shih-tzus in Regent’s Park, where the locals were playing football (soccer to you Yanks). Left her a copy of Triangle which she appreciated. I also autographed a pile of them for Li’s caregivers. Anything to elevate the level of care…I am really not happy about the fact that he hasn’t visibly improved in the four months I lived in Thailand.

I find myself napping often, just dropping to any convenient couch wherever I am. Napped at Lo and Mo’s and then at Cindy’s. I’m not shy about it, either. Can’t be when I am so hellaciously jet lagged. The night I got to London I was so tired that I ralphed. My eyes were all puffy and my skin saggy. So much for my overseas health tour.

Went with Auntie Liz to Allison and Jeremy’s house in Hendon. NEVER get into a car with Liz at the wheel. She seems to regard the lines painted on the streets as tracks rather than boundaries. The house itself is beyond awesome. Allison is a very intelligent person and gives more than lip service to the idea that her four children are paramount. For example, the great room on the lower floor is huge, and painted all white, even to the smooth wood floor, which is to big and slick that one can roller skate on it…and that’s exactly what Max, their youngest son, was doing. He was wearing a pair of those trainers with wheels on them. With the furniture pushed against the walls, there was plenty of room. Later we played volleyball with balloons from Max’s birthday party in there. There was an upright piano painted black and silver, and a big dining room table at the far end swathed in crimson velvet, where Ariella was doing homework. Clearly Allison realized that there are many days when the weather prevents outside play, so the kids have enough room inside to go nuts without hurting anything.

The doorframes are encrusted with seashells, painted bright white. The kitchen is painted in greeny-grays and looks like an undersea cave. At one end is a nook with comfy chairs and a red velvet couch and a huge TV/DVD. The kids’ toys, books and games are in shelves hidden by long, thick red velvet drapes. The light fixtures were as fanciful as everything else.

The master bedroom was romantic, with Indian wooden screens covering shelving and closets, painted off white. The bed was peachy and welcoming.

Allison’s is the boldest house I’ve ever seen. Totally OTT but very livable and highly inspiring.

13 March: I flew into SFO from Heathrow and for once United business class didn’t let me down. A reasonably pleasant flight on which I managed to get some sleep which stood me in good stead because when I reached California, I had to rent a car, drive to Sacramento, then drive to the Sac Airport the next day to fly to the NINC conference.

I rented another car and went to Wendy’s. She looked shocked when I walked in and told me that she thought I was arriving the next day. Nevertheless, she welcomed me and popped me into the guest room.

The jet lag continues…I went to the NINC conference and barely made it through Eric Maisel, taking copious notes and glad he provided a pretty good topic list. But he was, as usual, worth all the travel. His discussion of meaning-making made all the effort to hear him worthwhile.

Chiang Mai notes and on to Bangkok!

All the restaurants I frequent feature taped music, some of it good, a lot of it drink-splatteringly funny. The sushi place I eat at on Wednesdays and Saturdays (when they get the fresh fish in) plays a song in some Asian language I can’t identify. The song has a “Grazing in the Grass” sort of sound and feel, but the words, (and I swear I am not making this up) sounds like “pussy-pussy-pussy-marijuana…pussy-pussy!”

But I really do go there for the fish, not to giggle into my teacup and make a spectacle of myself twice weekly.

* *
Same with Thais’ use of the English language. I don’t mean the occasional grammatical error, I mean stuff like the menu item “Finger Salad.” I don’t know what that is and I don’t want to ask. Squid tentacles, maybe?

The white guy sitting next to me at the internet café is researching Thai prostitutes. Not photos. He’s reading text. How ridic is that? I can’t rid myself of the idea that if you have to pay for it, you’re pathetic.

3 March 2007: On to Bangkok

It’s not 7 p.m. and I’m exhausted and achy. Checked out of the Baan Thai, then Anong drove me to the airport. Got onto the plane for BK w/o incident. For the first time this trip, no excess weight charges but my main bag is so heavy that I toss stuff at the hotel and resolve to toss more when I leave.

The hotel is lovely, right on the Chao Phraya river and a short walk to a public boat pier, one where public transport boats stop regularly. I’m on the 9th floor with a partial river view. The a/c went out, requiring two visits to fix, but service was prompt and with Thai smiles. Now I am sitting on the hotel terrace next to the river, watching the full moon rise romantically over BKs giant TV antennae. (See the photo on the left, above)

The city is a trafficky steambath by day and delightful as night. I plan to do most of my sightseeing in the morning followed by hotel, shower and relaxation, then out again at night. But tonight I’m tired, so drinks, bath, bed and maybe a movie or a good book…who knows, maybe I’ll write! Stranger things have happened.

6 March—Tuesday.

It’s Bruce’s birthday today. I sent him an e-card several days ago and wonder if I’ll hear from him.

My prediction of how my BK days will go was way off the mark. I did realize quickly that the worst way to travel in BK is on the streets. There’s always a nice breeze over the river, so Sunday I took the boat down the central pier and then used the Skytrain to tour the city. It initially seems overly air conditioned but after a sweaty session at the Jatujak outdoor market it’s delightful.

This is a remarkable and interesting city. I went to the home of Jim Thompson, a farang who was OSS during WW2 and then settled here. He was instrumental in promoting the Thai silk trade. Had a lovely, traditional Thai home along one of the klongs which is full of beautiful antiques. (The house, not the klong, which is a canal). Was quite tired during the tour, so found my way back to the hotel and had a foot massage.

Yesterday—Monday—I put on my yellow “I love the King” shirt and took a boat to the #9 pier to tour the Grand Palace. Most of it is closed to the public except for the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, the holiest shrine of Thai Buddhism. The buildings are amazing, with every surface decorated with, tile or glass mosaics. Giant statues of guardian demons and gilded apsaras everywhere. (see the right hand photo, above) No apparent order to the place which made it hard to stay oriented, and the map they give you isn’t accurate.

By 11 o’clock I’m exhausted. I eat lunch is the little café, have an ice cream, tour the Museum of the Emerald Buddha which has some nice stuff in it and then head over to the area some people call Baglamphu which has a street called the Khao San, the primary backpacker haven of SE Asia. I have a feeling I can get a good cheap massage there.

I’m right—an hour and a half later I head out, totally rejuvenated. I toddle around the area, find an Internet café, do some work and then look around some more. I like this part of the city. I notice that the sky is bluer than in Chiang Mai and think that I could happily live in BK, if I could get used to the heat and humidity, which gives me the sensation of always wearing a thin sticky film over my skin.

The hotel is a riot. It’s more than a bit retro…it has one of those built in radios with a control panel next to the bed. I switched it on just before I got into the shower, and when I got out and wrapped my west hair in a towel, I heard old protest songs, Peter Paul and Mary, playing. First “If I had a Hammer” followed by “Blowin in the Wind”…it made me a little weepy, and I realized that maybe it’s time to bring back those old songs.

The impact was spoiled by “How Much is that Doggie in the Window.”