Oh, to be sure, the previous entry was a good sign-off. It’s not goodbye and all that jazz, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned is that life never quite fits into those neat little categories. Take my repatriation status, for example. We’re back, but we’re not back — not yet. Not while we stay with my parents in the Bay Area, take in coffee in Acre in Petaluma, drive up and down San Francisco’s famed hills, soak up the sun in California. And listen — there has been a change over. I no longer have any diplomatic status within a sovereign nation not named “United States of America”. My visas are expired or are expiring. I suppose I am still licensed to drive in Singapore for all that’s worth. There is a period of my life which has now closed, sent off over satay and chili crab in our final two nights in the Lion City. My audience focus has now shifted as well; no longer will I be describing the strange and exotic locales of South-East Asia, but rather the strange and exotic locales of South-East Portland1which is more strange, I leave as an exercise to you, dear reader. And indeed, as the cover image for this entry might suggest, all points South — and West — from the Great Northwest, including the city of my birth; the inestimable San Francisco.
Being back in the Bay is a curious thing. People have often asked, “how does it feel to be back?” And it doesn’t feel like I’m back, not yet. San Francisco, Petaluma, Marin; these places are not my home anymore. They haven’t been home for years, but rather hometown. Bev and I come down here to visit, to vacation, to see the family. Other than not holding a return ticket and the slow simmer of heartache, I don’t feel a bit different from the last ten times I’ve been in Petaluma.
That feeling, I say, will come later when I sit in my house in Portland and think fondly of my friends fifteen hours in the future.
“But,” the next question inevitably comes, “how does it feel to be driving back on the right side of the road?”2Reader, please feel free to ascribe any meaning to the word ‘right’ as you wish.
I shrug. It doesn’t feel that different from the twenty previous years I’ve been driving on the right-hand side.
“Was it hard to get used to?”
I think we’ve covered this before.
“What do you miss the most?”
My friends. Each and every last one of them. I’m trying to tell myself that I was fortunate enough to be in the same city at the same time as them.
“Well, yes, yes, but what else?”
Other than amazing relationships? Other than the sudden and strange feeling of home that I’ve developed for a foreign city, a foreign country, half-way around the world in climates heretofore unknown? Other than the now-familiar rustle of the trees in the seldom felt breeze on top of Holland Hill?
Oh, I don’t know. The food. The food was really good.
“Wow, that is so cool. So, was like it, scorpions and what not?”
Okay, nobody’s asked me that. There’s been assumption that Singapore is a third-world country, or at least a ’emerging’ country, with dirt roads and everything in kampongs. I suppose that’s as fair of an assumption as anything else; Singapore’s not been in the news much in the United States. Maybe not until LKY died and Joseph Schooling beat Michael Phelps. Maybe not since Michael Fay got four strokes of the cane. But how can I blame anyone who doesn’t know anyone living in the Little Red Dot? Singapore’s story is so miraculous because of its small size and stature.
“What’s the biggest difference?”
Besides the weather? Because the weather sucks there. Seriously? People don’t smile as much here.
No, that’s not right.
People smile here, but it’s different. “Wear a smile,” is what Noelle had said to us our first day on the hunt. And that advice served me well in Asia. In the States, in the West, at least, it’s different. A smile, a shared look, it sometimes makes people uncomfortable. It sometimes means a pending communication, a request, a want. I don’t know how to put it into words. But as I practiced my smile on random people I could feel the uncomfortable returns; maybe my smile is a bit too wide. Maybe I ought to set my face a bit more neutral, nod instead of widen my cheeks and show my teeth.
Maybe this is the onset of repatriation. How dare you, they might say, attempt to change the system. The system works for us.
Gods, let’s not go there. The election alone is making me cynical enough. I don’t need to impose my own misgivings upon my countrymen.
“So how do you feel?” As in, how in general do I feel. I get this one a lot.
Tired. I didn’t sleep for shit as we flew over Palin’s house on the very tip of Aleutian islands. Jet lag has begun to sink in. Time travel is hard work, don’t let the movies fool you. My coffee consumption has increased dramatically.
I know it’s Tuesday morning in Singapore. In an hour or two, right on schedule, the sun will rise and the strange cycle of getting yesterday’s news from the West in the future will start for many people. This just in, Trump is still a shit bag and the US is officially going insane. These small things trip me up; I wake up in the middle of night, US time, and look through my phone as if it’s the middle of the night in Singapore and early afternoon in the US. My mind does circles in time, back and forth through twelves and fifteens and threes. Lose an hour, gain an hour — or fifteen — and then flip the ante into post. Eventually it will all settle down into the new new normal, back on PDT3until next month when we change our clocks back for Standard Time which is really now just Winter Time and wait why the fuck do we still do this?.
It’s been warm in the Bay, nearly as warm as Singapore, but not nearly as humid. Today it’s cool and I’m sitting in a coffee shop and wondering if I’m sitting under the air con. I keep looking at the door, wondering if Emma will come in and my heart sinks a bit when I realize that it’s now Tuesday morning in the Lion City and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf is a twenty-four hour commute away.