Posted in: Beijing, China
It turns out that it takes a sort of vigilance not to go dull with solitude. I’ve made the observation on several occasions that speech, wit and elocution – all the externals of human interaction – are like muscles. They go flaccid in disuse. I used to think it was romantic.
So it goes.
I remember opening my mouth in Hua Hin – at the fish markets – and croaking something out, realizing then I hadn’t spoken for days.
The scraggly trees in Urbia look different, even on those euphoric dear nights completed with brisk wind, when you’re pointed out and not pointed in.
I understand that introspection is the process of growing up, but it seems to me something’s been perverted in the telling. Someone misplaced a decimal point and the Matrix has been running over the file corruption ever since.
It was a big house in Thailand. I was bubbling out of my mind when the landlady gave me the first tour, racing from room to empty room, and imagined them filled with smooshy armchairs, even rattan and wicker, though I hate light wood. Nothing numbs the anticipation of a reading spot all your own. But I never got there. The second bedroom kept the dirty mattress and floor fan it came with – I never lined anything with nicknacks.
Your bag rolls off your shoulder and thuds onto a new floor and you can’t wait for the space to feel permanent, like the couch in your parent’s living room feels permanent. But two months later you’ve made new plans – something called – and hell, you’d have to leave your amassed fortune of novelty chopsticks, seashell mobiles and all things elephant.
Tourists in Thailand couldn’t get enough elephants, apparently. Slap a trunked behemoth on a sarong or a pair of chopsticks and hey! – Thailand. But here’s an Asia fun-fact, if I haven’t already mentioned it: Thais don’t eat with chopsticks most of the time.
But really, the house was huge for me. Mostly what I remember from those days are the two disparate kiddies riding that mental teeter-totter. One spent mornings flopping down the stairs to the same breakfast, eggs and sausages fresh from the *cringe* wok, then sprawling out on the tiled living room to stretch for the training day, time as frozen as Graceland.
Making friends had become laborious, and the friends who made me, well, they wanted the bedroom set and a side of the closet. No could-do. No can do, if we’re going to get specific about it, even a good year later.
The other kid spent her time baking in the sun somewhere, a rising bread loaf, riding on the back of a motorbike taxi, letting the driver’s torso take and buffer the wind. She was on the beach nights, too, being alternately dreamy and serious, with cuffs rolled up above the froth, or jumping and mincing on springboard tiptoes when the sand crabs washed, squirming, around her ankles.
I don’t know which of of them came out of Hua Hin on the upswing. I do know neither of them talked much.
Through that whole period went a profound silence, a quiet that’s coming back after a month inside, pointing and clicking, plotting and scribbling. they say, if you follow the tao, you strive for stillness. I’m no Siddhartha, but I imagine it’s stillness through cultivation. You get busy. You and Nirvana take a meeting, and you busily go about working your way to still. But this gradual flickering out, these 10-second lapses between the doctor’s hammer and your reflex kickback… that’s not enlightenment. That’s dulling down. Sputtering to a stop. Folding in.
Growing up? The difference is in the decimals.