It’s very cozy.
I remember the day when my main co-teacher showed me my Korean apartment. I was carrying two suitcases and was swaddled in a sopping-wet sweater vest, slick with Korean humidity and my own terror-sweat. I looked around my one room, my first apartment to myself, and was stunned by a sense of grandeur. There were walls and a ceiling, a bed and a couch, pots and pans and an entire bathroom, and they were just for me. They were mine. All twenty cubic metres of them.
My meagre collection of belongings easily slid under beds and into cupboards, my suitcases wedged below the couch and beside the wardrobe. I had no decorations to speak of, other than pictures I sellotaped to walls and whatever sea-creature decals I allowed to remain spread across the apartment in monument to its previous occupant.
I was a grown-up, and this was minimalist living, I thought. The lack of space necessitated the style, but it suited me fine. Extra room just meant more things to clean, more things to polish, more things to worry about damaging or coating in ice cream when I grew careless and sloppy. A one-room was the apartment for me, as it necessarily created a simplistic lifestyle, near monasticism in its quiet, lazy effortlessness. I felt moved in within an evening, and as much as the place could become recognizably mine, as much as a single room with a kitchenette and a single bed can become personalized, it was shaped in my image.
25 in 25.
Seas flow and converge into the ocean beyond a distant, rocky point. Kanyakumari consists of pastel houses, slowly decaying hotels, an enormous statue of a poet-saint who stares out across the waters. Pilgrims flock the beach, dipping hands and feet out into the water, and praying to the virgin goddess who rests here. Her home lies on the very southernmost tip of India.
When night falls, enormous vampire bats swoop and screech overhead. Ghostly music shimmies out from the coast and the temple, which stays alight. The power dips on and off, and the town is cast into darkness and into light in an irregular, unpredictable rhythm. Walking the streets becomes a journey through the black, with just starlight and reflections on windshields to guide the way.
All along the south-western coast lies a decaying amusement park. Like the houses the colours are bright and childish, neon blues and pinks and greens, slightly murkier and mossier now from age and neglect. An ancient aquarium lures a handful of bored children, and dozens of carnival rides slowly rust in the sun and the salt spray. A ferris wheel still runs, still lights up sometimes in the night, a great circle of flickering orange and yellow. The tilt-a-whirl died a quiet death eons ago.
Drifting: it’s the only way to be.
I returned from India with a backpack full of memories. I had dreams and scars, gods and demons, pictures and scribbled blue ink notes, bug bites and a traveller’s raggedy beard. I had carried my world around on my back for months at a time, hopes and wishes and plans all rolled in a thin t-shirt and packed between weather-beaten softcovers novels. I had cares in the world, certainly, but they seemed distant and small, objects passing in motion parallax, impossible to track, moving in one direction but appearing to sail by in another. What could I worry about? I had the road, and the road had me.
Unemployment seems romantic when you travel. With sandals on your feet and a week’s worth of underpants stuffed into a sack, the lack of a job is a bohemian commitment. Your sense of wonder and your lust for life are far more important than money, which you think about sparingly, and usually with a general distaste. You eat when you’re hungry, you walk out into the world when you’re bored, and you just never stop. And you never think about working, because working is a thing that you did in a past life. It’s a thing you understand on some basic monkey level, a concept that speaks to some part of the collective unconscious of your species. But to you as an individual, work is too abstract, too bizarre or bourgeoisie, something beyond the pale of comprehension. And you don’t want to comprehend it.
There is only water or sand or asphalt and your two feet. There’s only a jungle and sky and temples. There’s only rice and noodles and food you scoop up right in your hand and bring to your lips, the delicate and simple grace of taste. There’s an ATM in there somewhere, and you think of it essentially as a money tree, and only ever think of it as anything else if it suddenly spurns you.
Literally the only photo I have of still-living aquatic wildlife.
The longest-lived pet I ever had was a goldfish named Ducky. Other animals came and went through my young life: cats adopted before my birth, dogs with bum legs, rabid and ultimately too-crafty hamsters that had to be returned to the store in double-locked and duct-taped carrying cases to prevent escape or high-octane villainy. Ducky was a constant stalwart through my childhood, a calm, stupid, beautiful presence, never judgmental, never changing, and always there for me. She had a red streak down her back and a placid, gaping goldfish mouth.
My goldfish lived for over nine years.
Her arrival in my childhood bedroom is too far back in my memories to unearth. I remember little of her early days, little of her previous tankmate, little of what things I must have said to her as a boy. My connection to her was primal and innocent, a child and a small life entrusted to him. I controlled her access to sustenance, found out how to change her water with my parents, learned quickly not to slam my fists or fingers against the tank to get her attention. She was a little bright comet, gliding through a distant orbit in my room, and always there. Continue reading
Scan through photo history for pictures of road. Find one. “It’ll do.”
Every time I entered Bupyeong Station in downtown Incheon that spring, pretty young women would bound up to speak to me. Not just to speak to me, but to speak to me in English, and to invite me to various events and ask for my phone number. They would smile, and dutifully compliment my Korean, which was then (and still is) a widely known key to my heart. I was unaccustomed to positive attention from strangers while abroad, and was terrified by people willingly approaching me to speak English–an action so unfathomable I have had Korean strangers literally flee from me when confronted with the possibility. Their positivity and pleasantness was unexpected–rejuvenating, even. But it was also a little bit suspicious. After me, they approached any vaguely non-Korean looking people around and talked to them, too. What was this? Had Korean society changed overnight? Were we finally being embraced? One world? Could we all hug, and throw down our stupid racial differences, and maybe have a drum circle?
Well, no. Actually, all of the pretty young women were cultists.
We are all in this together now.
Trina shook my hand. Her flight left in 30 minutes, mine left in 40.
We were both in the depths of the sprawling monstrosity that is the Houston Airport, a space designed by Daedalus utilizing the kind of alien geometries that typically characterize HP Lovecraft novels. We had just passed through the hour-long immigration line required of those squalling unfortunates and huddled masses seeking entry into the United States, and were trying to get through the customs area of baggage claim to make our connections. Things were slow moving, we were tired, and everything sucked.
I didn’t learn much about Trina beyond her previous location (Costa Rica), and her eventual destination (L.A.), nor did she get much beyond my parallel travel facts. She was a woman, maybe in her 20s, and blonde. Perhaps she was a nuclear physicist, or maybe an ice cream flavour designer. One or more of her limbs may have been prosthetic. She was maybe secretly a KGB agent? There are a few gaps remaining in my understanding of her biography. But I felt an instantaneous connection with her, a sweaty-browed union of souls that bespoke our mutual desperation and our shared disgust for this godforsaken airport.
Freed from the clutches of immigration, we charged down a hallway and made it to the next line-up to be molested by the TSA. Elderly succubi screeched at the prone, quivering crowd to remove their watches and wallets, to rend their flesh from their aching bones, and to prepare their tired, weakened anuses to be prodded by the slovenly hands of a 300-pound wage-slave named Gus who probably hated his job.
I hated everything about this airport, and this process, but I didn’t hate Trina. She was about the only entity within the entire facility that I could mentally process as a human. I advised her to stuff her belt into her carry-on bag so that she could simply jog on once she had passed the screening, and she scouted out which direction each of us would need to sprint after our mandated proddings.
If contestants were chosen for t-shirt cleverness, we would have been shoe-ins.
I present to you, gentle readers, a timeline exploring how my life in between teaching jobs has become kind of a cartoon without me noticing.
10:24 a.m. I arrive at the Sony Centre with my cousin Zack, and meet several friends already in line. We have tickets to the Price is Right, and have heard that you have to show up disturbingly early in order to secure your position in the draw to be a contestant. We are in line between two elderly people in wheelchairs, and four young people conversing suspiciously in Czech.
10:43 a.m. It is fairly cold outside, and we send off members of the group for the first of several coffee runs of the day. Hannan was brought several camping chairs and we begin huddling together with them.
11:02 a.m. We have discussed it in line, but several people were not previously aware that this is The Price is Right Live. Drew Carrey is not present, nor are any of the remaining Barker’s Beauties, and no matter how memorable we act when we are called down for contestantship, we will never be immortalized in daytime television history. Deep disappointment washes through the line-up, which has ballooned to 17 people.
The bathroom of our guesthouse was spacious and was home to a perfectly reasonable number of dragonflies. It had a bathtub, though I don’t think anyone had ever used it, as I’m fairly certain a wild boar had lived in it at some point. Still, we were in the middle of the jungle, and it was the nicest bathroom we had seen in a while. There were four of us using it, and even that wasn’t a problem: after long enough together, you form a mutual, unspoken agreement that bathing is a suckers’ game. The real issue was that it was kind of an echo chamber.
Indonesian food, as it turned out, was a wonder: delicious, spicy, cheap, and plentiful. Our favoured hobby in Bali was eating, and our other activities for the day took on an air of going through the motions before we could engage in our next round of local delicacies. We hiked and toured and photographed, but our minds were always fixed on curried tunas and goat meat dripping with blood-red oils. Travel is food, and food is travel.
But eating that often, and that cheaply, did not come without risk. Every time you entered a restaurant was a gamble you decided to make, a game of southeast Asian roulette. (In this metaphor, “terrifying intestinal parasites” takes the place of the traditional bullets in a game of Russian roulette.)
Together forever, girl. Probably.
My backpack was growing absurdly heavy. I had been cavalier and ruthless about clothing, toiletries, first aid–it was only four months in Asia! Bandages were for the weak. I didn’t need more than one pair of pants, or three shirts. Razors were for job interviews. Dental floss was for date night. If it meant I was going to have to carry it through Thailand and India, I probably didn’t want it.
The only item that went uncompromised, the only objects so necessary to my continued biological functioning other than the goopy organs already locked in my husk: my books. I wasn’t going anywhere without my books.
It started simply enough. I made dire, brutal calculations of space and weight and airline bag regulations. I considered pace of reading, total page counts and the relative difficulties of style, likely downtime, made equations to include the variable of a rainy day. My travel compatriots were also packing books, and I took theirs into account, too. I slid 5 books into my backpack, cradled them in the precious central core where they could be buffeted by soft underpants, where they could be shrouded in t-shirts to keep them from the dangers of the outside world.
These were my paperbacks. Nothing would befall them. And I had all I needed.
Leave a light on for me.
Over a Skype call one day, my parents talked to me about a conundrum. Feeling a bit empty nest and wanting a change, they needed to decide whether to renovate the family home or pick up and move. I tried to be civil, to be cool and unbiased and give them my opinion in terms of finances, convenience, and property values. I think I tried to make mention of the housing market. I stroked my chin thoughtfully, as grown-ups often do, as though I was deep in consideration. As though I was weighing benefits and costs. I attempted to take part in the conversation as an adult among adults.
I tried, because in my head, I was sniffling like a little boy.