What’s left of my food souvenir habit
We’ve returned to Chiang Mai after spending the week in Pattani, where a three-year insurgency has killed close to 2,000 people. Bombs burst every day, soldiers and government workers are attacked and civilians live in fear. Most incidents occur outside of Pattani town, in the countryside and other provinces (Yala, Narathiwat, Songkhla) that form the country’s so-called “restive south.” Though we saw no violence during our short time in Pattani, several people died by bombs, guns and knives in that same week. Problem is, no one can stop the violence, our guide told us. And no one can distinguish the “bad people” from the good. No matter how you slice it, it’s a raw, stinking deal.
That’s the political and societal news. On a more personal nature, we have news of our own. After many, many months of planning, we’re finally plunging into that grand American abyss of mortgage-dom. Or doom, such as it may be. We’re packing up and buying a house in New Mexico, somewhere around here or here, but we’ll see what we find. Now, now, now don’t get me wrong! We are NOT leaving Asia per se; we’re just planting some roots in the home country and investing in a “PSF,” as an expat friend likes to call it. Permanent Storage Facility, out there beneath the vast skies and long-lasting sunsets of the American Southwest. Once settled — after criss-crossing the US, gathering our goods from California, Oregon and Wisconsin (lots of roadtrips ahead, with lots of posts along the way!) — we’ll return to Asia with a few small bags and none of the hassles of maintaining a household abroad. This, I hope, will bring back the good ‘ole days of serious travel that envelops the soul. I feel, for the past few years, we’ve run ourselves ragged bouncing between Chiang Mai and wherever, fiddling with leaky ceilings and faulty electricity and failing Internet and housekeeping and all the trappings of life in the tropics — and I haven’t had enough time to focus on the traveling itself. Or the writing. Or the people, the food, the sunrises and sunsets, the nuances of a place that make it what it is. I want to go back to those days when I had a bag, a small room, a notebook and pen, a river to write beside and long hours to think about it all. And I’m looking forward to having a little nest of our own, with an office to house all of my books and files in one spot, in a country that doesn’t (not yet) saddle its citizens with visa requirements, red tape, time limits and fees.
So, bottom line: We leave Chiang Mai, we spend a month in Cambodia, fly to the US, pick up a car in Wisconsin, drive to New Mexico, and house hunt while visiting Jerry’s wildly entertaining sister and her equally affable husband. If all proceeds as planned, we buy a house and we drive again — to California and Oregon, where one huge TSF (Temporary Storage Facility) retains the bulk of our goods. We move it all to the new house, and after a little bit of breathing time, we return to Asia as long-term travelers. I will continue to spend at least half the year on this continent, making myself and my editors happy. That’s the plan.
But many a wise person before me has noted, life is what happens when you’re making other plans.
I’m excited. I’m dreaming of a full-sized kitchen with an oven (!) and hot running water (!). I can’t wait to get that big wooden table out of storage and sit some friends around it for dinner. I will miss the 9-baht bunches of herbs, the 30-baht lunches on the street, the Royal Project store just up the road. I will miss our red-whiskered bulbuls tweeting on the back porch, the chilies and tomatoes that sprout from pots unexpectedly. But I look forward to a New Mexican garden. We have no plans to cultivate a green lawn or water the desert, but we do hope for a few natural acres of the cactus, pinon and sage that grow of their own accord. We plan, too, to harvest the sun, outfitting the house with solar panels and feeding the local grid in our absence. All in due time.
For now, I just need to get through these remaining weeks of a manuscript and stories due, meetings to make, packing to finish, a dentist to visit, friends to see. And a kitchen to use up! Take a look above — this is what happens when a curious cook buys too many souvenirs. We will never eat all this before our departure. We’ll share some with friends, and some with the birds.
One last sad note of news. The papaya. I took a look the other day, and it simply fell off. Just like that, into my hands, half the length of my thumb. I took it inside, intending to slice it (how small can you get with a green papaya?) and taste what the tiny thing had to offer. But our dear housekeeper, Khun Nee, came that day and by the time she left, the papaya was gone. It was not her fault. I’m sure it looked like a sad, shriveled little bulb that didn’t belong on the counter. We tried, and so did the tree.
And with that note, it’s time to move onward.