a few nights ago, i had guests over for dinner. toward the end of the evening, a terrible sound of gnawing or scratching emerged from the roof. i looked at my friends in horror. this sounded familiar. they shrugged and said matter-of-factly: oh, you have rats in your roof. we all do. roof rats.
i was not comforted.
as they were leaving, a last attempt was made: christine, think of it this way: better to have rats in your walls and live in a safe neighborhood, than not.
with break-ins occurring now and then, i knew this to be true. but, i had to laugh.
it was a funny consideration: rats vs. thieves.
for three months i was home in California with its first world amenities, big box chain stores, periodic alerting sirens, and relative order. it’s always an adjustment going back there. things are bigger, faster, more condensed. yet, i quickly appreciate the certain ease and familiarity that exist for me; I snap into my pre-expat life.
four days ago, i returned to Laos.
and, it struck me.
with a fresh set of American eyes, I experienced it beyond the charms as a tourist, the novelties as a recent expat. i feel frustrated and elevated all in a moment. I understand the limitations, embrace the beauties, and question what i’m comfortable with all the time.
this ping-pong of living in different realities is not a subtle motion. there are times, it feels extreme. the differences in lifestyles between Luang Prabang and Los Angeles can be illustrated in concrete terms.
LP:a scooter driver is sandwiched between a three year old standing in front, his older kid behind, and his wife behind her, carrying a baby on her back.
LA: i drive my parents in their mini SUV while my niece is strapped securely in her car seat
LP: morning sounds include wood being cut, a broom sweeping the floor, and incredibly loud rooster calls
LA: the hum of early morning commute on city streets turn into afternoon commute and into evening commute sounds
LP:seasons are marked by dry and wet where tropical rains take over homes in the form of mildew and mold
LA: seasons are marked by words like: very sunny, sunny,and mildly sunny (i exaggerate…it DOES rain)
LP: ritual happens with sounding drums and offerings carried by brightly robed monks
LA: TV programming and series can be ritualistic
LP: where coconuts are served fresh off trees and herbs sticky rice is a dietary staple
LA: where nearly every produce is found year-round and Starbucks is a dietary staple
LP: impromptu interactions happen on the street, on a bike, in a cafe
LA: meeting up with friends is planned, postponed, and planned again
There are times when I wish I could create my own Utopia; take the best and the most favorite aspects of the places I’ve lived in, stir them up in a large bowl and pour them out into a place called home. To select freshly picked herbs from the crowded morning market and stock up a cart at Trader Joe’s. To see people I know from town at the local cafe and get lost in a crowd on a Friday night. To drink a coconut from the coconut lady, scooping out the fresh contents with a spoon and order my tall low-fat latte to get going with the day.
Certainly, there are places that have all the elements people desire; places where folks would have to be dragged away from.
I recently met an older British gentleman who, in a cafe in Pasadena, shared that he had lived there 20 years now. I asked if he ever missed home. He said: There’s no place like here; I love it.
For a moment, I envied him, hoping for the day when those words are mine too.