Panic at the Disco

Gay clubs were for flowers. 

I’m 31 in a few months. Not old, but old enough to remember how coming out was not on Tumblr, it was at Taboo. 

I would go with my best friends, all of us so drawn to each other (boys and girls) because we saw a spark of — what was it? We thought it was weirdness at the time — in each other. It was a badge nobody gave us, but we saw on ourselves anyway. 

If only someone could have told us: this badge, it is a badge of queerness. Use it well, do not sleep with worthless people, and you’ll be okay. One day. 

Why did the Orlando shootings reverberate across the world as I knew it — on the walls, timelines, of every queer person I know, and their allies?

The idea of safe spaces, and sanctity, kept coming up. Weird, perhaps to consider something like a sweaty, sweltering gay club sacred. But it was. And will always be. 

Even if I never felt like I was of “the scene” (there was literally nothing for me there), being a woman, outnumbered with my persuasions out-persuaded, it was, in so many ways, where I found myself. 

I’m a terrible dancer, but some alcohol with the encouragement of men who don’t care about sleeping with me, made gay clubs the only place I felt safe. I didn’t have to worry about men, even if I went alone. And most times, I did. In Singapore, in Bangkok, in Helsinki, in every place I have called home or visited for longer than a day. A gay club had always found itself on my itinerary. It was my window into the pulse of the rebels, the misfits, the mostly straight but didn’t want to be fag hags I could sometimes persuade.

Most of all, the complete sense of belonging and the unadulterated self. There, I could be myself, long before I could be that person at school, at home, in my places of worship. 

When Omar Mateen went into a gay club halfway across the world, spraying bullets and quite literally hunting down gay people, my memories merged into one, as it did for many queer people everywhere. He didn’t kill 50 gays in one club, he reached into, placed himself in, and ripped up the safe space we have all found. 

But how to explain a safe space to people who have never needed one?

18, venturing out timidly with my best friends. Seeing educators; kissing each other (of the opposite gender) to pretend, badly, that we were all straight. 

20, between life milestones, trembling and swooning every time an older women “picked me” (hahaha, I was very young and very hot; they should have been swooning instead).

More recently in life, being protected and cared for by wonderful gay men in cities all over the world. From Istanbul to Helsinki and San Francisco. 

It was not just 50 gay men that Omar Mateen killed. 

It was all of us on the dance floor. The veteran gays who go to see friends and dance with them. The young man peeking out from his closet, having to hide his queer clothes in his bag. His career as a hot young stud, vanished. The fag hags who love the gay men they cannot have. The old couples who go because they want to believe they still got it. The amazing dancers. The not so good ones. The long lines for the men’s toilets; the lack of one, of the lack of a toilet, for women. The bad vodka. The cheap rum. The smell of leather and sweat. The promise of darkness and kink — but is it really that dark or kinky if you were the one getting it? The camaraderie. The cliquey lesbians who think anyone talking to their girlfriends is infidelity, even when gay men do it. The stolen kisses once outside. The sobering effect of a greasy meal early in the morning when you didn’t meet someone interesting or you made the right choices in life. Kebabs and Chinese food. Drunk friends you send home vowing to never let them drink again. The sullen faces that sometimes harbour disgust the moment you walk out of the door knowing you will not be accepted outside. 

That’s where Omar Mateen took us all. He sprayed his evil bullets into our sanctuary, hiding his last minutes in the toilet of a gay club. Let that sink in for a minute. Possibly the worst homophobe the world has seen since the Holocaust. And he hides out in a gay club toilet before he dies?

All across the world violent acts are performed on minorities every day. Queer people are persecuted. Women are beaten. Trans people are murdered. Immigrants are hunted. Other ethnic and religious groups including atheists are tortured, hated, cussed at. What you think is casual racism, homophobia, transphobia, funny jokes that won’t hurt anyone, magnifies with a weapon in its hands. 

So if you’ve ever stopped to say, why are you people demanding your rights? It’s a playbook from Western activists wanting to erode our culture! What next, marriage? Yes. We are demanding to not be massacred. To not be spat on and beaten in Albania. To be not pistol-whipped and left to die on a fence in Wyoming. To be not raped — correctively and incorrectly — in South Africa. To not be kidnapped by your parents and sent to “pray the gay away” camps, all over the world where evangelical Christians have found money and warped theology. 

We are here and we are queer. Do not kill us like deer. 

Kolkata Kalling

12 years ago in Kolkata. At the time still much referred to as Calcutta. Now less so.

The city doesn’t change; but you do.

Every picture I have of it from 12 years ago still looks like it could have been from December, when I last visited. Perhaps even today. When I land at midnight later, there will not be the crisp, muddled air of the winters I love in that city, just the night time counterpart to the heat that I know will pound on my face, and the ground, sometime in the morning.

All that I know, all that I do, I owe it to this city, even if it will never know it.

When my school friends were road-tripping across European cities for ‘summer break’, or perhaps even the big cities of China and America for work and school, I found solace here. It can be hard to see, but Kolkata is a hard act to beat. It’s the ultimate summer. Followed by monsoon. And the sounds of….

It’s a monsoon and the rain lifts lids off cars
Spinning buses like toys, stripping them to chrome
Across the bay, the waves are turning into something else
Picking up fishing boats and spewing them on the shore — James, Sometimes (which somehow always comes to mind when I think of this place

How to beat it?

The start, really, of empire. The fall, or rather the fading away, of one. The majesty of India’s cricketing hopes and dreams, and occasionally the dashing of, projected unto Eden Gardens even when the matches aren’t in season. The death of Marxism, available for the world to see at every adda and every failing piece of infrastructure. Tagore’s poetry. Indian Coffee House. The children of Tollygunge, who taught me so much, 12 years ago. Sandesh.

On hot afternoons when the sun hits the ground and meets engine oil, the smell reminds me of my first love among the many other putrid Asian cities I have come to love:

“So in the streets of Calcutta I sometimes imagine myself a foreigner, and only then do I discover how much is to be seen, which is lost so long as its full value in attention is not paid. It is the hunger to really see which drives people to travel to strange places.” — Tagore, My Reminiscences

This foreigner is not done discovering.

In Small Rooms with Betawi Women

Not for the first time, I found myself in a tiny room on a hot day, the youngest among old women. Each with a different thing to say to me, also the only person not from around these parts. 

“You’re so old now! And unmarried!”

“Your hair is too white! Eat more soy beans!”

One woman rubbed my tattoos, making a screechy sound with her teeth, before announcing to all the other old women around her: “these are real.”

No judgement, no scorn – I was local enough to be in a place like that, but not local enough to be judged. 

“Can you bring me some white chocolate next time you come, girl? I had them once and only in your country (Singapore). I’ve never had them since.” She rubbed my back some more. 

At places like these old women collectively talk, soothe each other’s tired or injured muscles, and together not give a damn about anything outside of those doors. At least for an hour. 

I went often to places like these, my severe back pains often needing urgent attention from anything that would give them rest. In Jakarta, I am a frequent visitor to Haji Naim – a group of famed healers in the Betawi community. I figured that if it didn’t work there was at least delicious soto Betawi to be had next door. Now that I come here so often, a massage almost always precedes a lovely bowl of soup and beef. 

I’ve always been glad to have the ability and opportunity to bond with old women anywhere in the world – their wisdom and unlikely sorority is what I look forward to, whether in Yemen or India or Singapore. Here, the Betawi women took turns rubbing my tattoos, shrieking when they discovered (repeatedly) that they were real. 

Most of my time in this city has been about discovering, for the first time, scenes that played such a large part in my youth. Hot afternoons with old Indonesian women. Dusk on the street with teenagers singing with their guitars. Children begging. Families living under bridges. The Indonesian movies that used to play so often in my tiny, hot Singaporean shoebox apartment, now alive in parts of the city. 

And yet the other parts of it are real, too. Large gleaming buildings. New shiny things. Cocktails as expensive as Singapore’s. Malls full of only imported things. My feet in both worlds: one in the village and one in Pacific Place. One in meetings with fancy people, another under the firm thumbing of extremely old women. 

It’s a difficult balance to keep up, but I enjoy each moment. White chocolate in Betawi houses; going home to my $5 room after a day out in $5 coffee houses. Improbable things and inevitable places. As I chug along at work and in life, I’m relieved to have the opportunity to make things work again.

Mahabandoola

Yangon Roads

At the hotel I had the receptionist scribble the name of my lunch spot in Burmese. Lunch that day was to be outside my sphere of Yangon familiarity: I had never been there, but I had been told by some locals that I must have a typical Burmese lunch at Aung Thu Kha.

So to Aung Thu Kha I went.

After gesticulating at each other for a while, my taxi driver stared at the piece of paper, looked up at my face and laughed: you speak Mandarin, don’t you?

I speak Mandarin, don’t I? I think I do.

I have always been perturbed at how people seem to be able to deduce secrets about me just by peering at my face. This happens at alarming frequency whenever I travel. Some days, I’m told I must be Burmese of Chinese origin. Other days, I’m Thai. In northeast India I am accepted by all of their tribes; my linguistic inability explained away for me by what must be my probable fluency in some another tribal language. Yet in China, the country of my grandparents’ birth and heritage, I am too Southeast Asian. Too dark. Too English-speaking. I am the colour of the sun beating the earth, and China is a distant, lost memory a long way away from the sun.

So yes, I speak Mandarin. The ability to converse in it has followed me throughout the world, sometimes paying handsomely with access few other languages can offer.

He asks the inevitable. “How do you find Myanmar?”

Like everyone else who has asked that before me, before I have a chance to reply he gripes, “It must be terrible for you. It’s terrible. All of it.”

“I love the city and its people — surely all signs point to improvement!”

“Yes. Improvement also leads to traffic jams,” honking angrily as a car tried to cut our place in a jam in a tiny residential lane.

In our brief conversation I learned he was the grandson of Yunnanese immigrants, economic refugees in their time. In the thirties, Rangoon was the shining light of Asia. Its opulent hotels filled with important people. Its white-only clubs invented cocktails such as the Pegu Club. The Yunnanese of China’s deep south fled south to seek their fortune. Some have done exceedingly well; they have assimilated, in a way, taking on Burmese names and speaking Burmese fluently on top of their Chinese identities, preserved and left the way it was when they left in the thirties.

I wanted to know what languages they spoke at home, what they ate. He indulged me.

“My parents made us speak Mandarin at home when we were kids. If we slipped into Burmese, we got fined. They were born here, but they wanted us to stay connected to our Chinese identities as well. Oh, and Burmese food is way too oily,” he shook his head as he dropped me off. “Let me know if you want Yunnanese or Dai food when you’re back in town. It’s better.”

When 1962 happened, among the many atrocities that ensued: Chinese schools closed. Burmese citizens not from the Barma ethnic group were banned from attending certain institutions of higher learning. Just like that the lights went out in Asia’s leading metropolis, and stayed off for a very long time.

In 2014, some of those lights have come back on. And with them, traffic jams. The unpaven road outside a bank near my hotel was, two days later, a pavement. For some, it’s a clear sign Burma is going to be the gold rush of the east of this century: five star hotels’ bars and Chinatown noodle stalls are similarly filled with businessmen from mainland China seeking fortune and glory.

“Perhaps I’ll buy factory equipment from back home and ship it here,” an enthusiastic new arrival announced loudly at a Cantonese-run noodle stall on the streets of Chinatown, rattling off his entire business plan in Mandarin while the other customers looked on uninterested.

Maung Maung, a middle-aged Cantonese-Burmese man jumped up with an oversized Chinese phone and pulled out a floor plan. They looked at it intently. Maung Maung went back to his noodles, slurping. (Maung Maung of just a few moments ago: “My Chinese name, lady, is Jin Bo. Jin for GOLD!”)

“We’ll make plans. See what help you need. I can help,” Maung Maung told the newcomer.

“Do you have my phone number? I still don’t remember what it is,” the young mainlander said in a way that sounded like a plea for help. He’d either just gotten here or still hadn’t shaken off his “overwhelmed by Burma” look.

“Of course I do,” Maung Maung laughed as he perked up. “I sold it to you.”

Strange Damascus Memories

2009.

1.

“If you are really a lesbian, proveeeeittt! Kiss me NOW!” A giggly girl shrieked, rather loudly, flapping her long, luscious hair about as well. She also had the Arabic equivalent of a Valley Girl accent.

In most situations, this might have been a proposition to consider.

Except we were in Syria. And I don’t like giggly girls who shriek, anywhere in the world.

I fumbled uncomfortably, and looked at the television with all the men, pretending to have taken a sudden interest in Syrian football.

I really do have the strangest experiences on my travels.

2.

“Wanna see something cool?” Before I could reply or enquire further, S stepped on the accelerator and brought his little Fiat car across five lanes on the road at a deathly angle, chuckling the way only a Russian-Arab person can in the face of extremities. “Damascus,” he proclaimed, “is kind of like a real life Grand Theft Auto.” I agreed, once I collected my breath.

Everything he took me to confounded me.

“I have a drive-thru liquor store!” — okay.

We stocked up.

“Let’s go drinking and dancing! On the mountain!” — okay.

We went.

We go-karted — drunk. I may have crashed.

His friends pulled out an old Nokia phone packed with classic Syrian tunes. All of them were Russian-Arab, the offspring of the Syrian men and the Russian women they married when they studied in the former Soviet Union. For that moment we all linked arms and fell about our sides laughing as we attempted our best impersonations of Arab Village Dancing.

The next spring some of them would be dead.

3.

Stranger experiences followed me everywhere I went in that country.

I found myself in a farmhouse in the outskirts of Damascus, sitting by a large wooden oven in a garden. It had been purpose-built to cater to the roasting (or proasting) tendencies of the proprietor and his Russian-Arab friends.

My mother made this vodka, someone started, from the potatoes in her backyard. It was delicious.

I cured all of this Baltic herring and other fish myself, another Russian in Damascus announced. It was delicious.

Somewhere between eating cured herring and drinking homemade vodka I found myself in the middle of a large field. When I awoke a middle-aged Russian lady of the cougar variety was hovering over me, massaging my back.

But damn if I knew what she was saying for I had herring on my mind.

Back in the SL

I have become one of those people.

For the fourth time this year, I am sitting at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf at Colombo airport drinking the world’s worst coffee and the worst food.

I am also strutting around in heels. Here. Also in Indonesia. In the Philippines. Everywhere. I walked into a TASMAC in dodgy neighbourhood in Madras in my Asian office lady dress and in my heels. Everybody stared. The truth is I have misplaced my flip flops and the hippie that was wearing them along with it.

The heels make my friends laugh. A, who hasn’t lived in Singapore for the last five years, literally dropped her cocktail all over our bags as she stood there marvelling at how I was wearing proper shoes.

Here I am now in a designer top, hippie pants, heels and uncombed hair. I have lost my hairbrush, too.

My life these days is at once more stable and at once more colourful. The opportunities get larger and more varied. The opportunity costs increase. There is clarity. I say “epic” and “amazeballs” a lot. I also say “let’s jam” when talking about meetings because I work with so many Americans and call so many of them my friends.

I’ve had the chance to pursue some incredible opportunities at work (in tech), for play (in writing), for causes I care about; I am pleased.

My dog goes to doggie kindergarten and camping trips, and I go to meetings. Sometimes I remember to comb my hair. I pay rent in one of the world’s most expensive cities and I travel once a week, sometimes more. I get to see my lovely family all the time now, which is a vast improvement from 2008-2013.

We ringed in the new year in an apartment overlooking the Singapore River. The fireworks were beautiful but the best part was the good friends I love. Years ago in the back room of a tiny political party’s office — an episode we will probably laugh about for the rest of our lives — I met N and S, and they have been exactly what one Facebook caption said, “together through good and bad, politics, broken hearts and unwritten novels.” The all-nighters will come to something. The elections were our becoming. The friends to whose sides you flee to for refuge and for pineapple tarts and gin when you’ve had your heart broken are the ones to keep.

Last night I attended a beautiful wedding in Sri Lanka. Normally weddings make me want to cry with how trite and awful they are, yet despite the rituals and the chaos, this one was full of love and light. It was clear every single soul that made it out there came because we truly loved these guys. From Johannesburg to New York to Singapore, guests were family to the couple, jointly and separately, at various points of lives led in Sri Lanka, Singapore, New York City and elsewhere. Here were two souls who had withstood trials of such intensity and magnitude, who had moved mountains to be with each other. Though the guests fumbled, we eventually managed to let loose a flurry of wishing lights into the sky over Pannupitiya.

That’s what all this is about, the bride not so tearfully (compared to her best friend) told us. Family, friends that are family, and love.

In the balmy Sri Lankan heat I felt at home in the tropics, my heart full of love and happiness for the first time in a long while.

Never again will I settle for second best, nor for anything short of extraordinary, unconditional love.

A Weekend Getaway

Still scratching the surface of my favourite country in the world, this time by going to Coorg.

As many of you will know by now, I have spent a substantial part of the past decade travelling through India. I still feel like I’m barely done with scratching the surface. There’s just so much to see in that vast, amazing country that I call my second home.

For some time now I’ve wanted to go to Coorg.

Coorg, also known as Kodagu, is a hill area in the state of Karnataka, in the Western Ghats. Its people are known as Kodavas (not Coorgis!) and all I knew about the place was that it had coffee, beautiful people, and pork curry. All that was sufficient to inspire me to plan a trip there.

From Chennai, I took a quick overnight train to Mysore Junction (book early, book ahead — this route is headed towards Bangalore, and therefore sells out early), but you can also take a bus. At Mysore Junction, I arranged for a car to pick me up for breakfast and to my resort of choice.

An acquaintance from Mysore highly recommended Travelparkz, and he was right: they were a very reliable car and driver service, and it was good value. I hired them for a pickup from Mysore Junction railway station to the resort in Coorg that I was headed to; and for a drop-off from the resort to Bangalore city a couple of days later. I highly recommend these guys, though it’s best to reach them via phone. They speak English.

I had heard about The Tamara from friends in Bangalore, so I decided I would give it a shot. It’s a very new place and it gets most things right. My only complaint is it didn’t have as much pork as I would have liked.

You can wander about the grounds of The Tamara on your own, or sign up for one of their daily walks with their on-site naturalist. I did none of the above as I was too busy resting after a long week at work in India!

Highly recommended. I will be returning to Coorg shortly, although I may want to check out Victory Home next, since I’ve just met these guys in Bangalore.

Damn I love this country.

Tamara - Path
The path to my cottage

Tamara - Shoes
Happy feet

Tamara
All rights reserved, The Tamara Coorg

The Belated Bangkok Diaries

Bangkok is one of my favourite cities in the world. It will always be.

In several status updates

Admittedly I have posted very little on the everyday occurrences in my travel. Here are some snippets, culled from Facebook.

I love street food. I love pork.

A photo posted by Adrianna Tan (@skinnylatte) on

Day 1: Two sleep-deprived people board a plane full of evangelical missionaries offering ‘free healing’ in the plane (true story), dinner in the streets and accidental romantic date at a blacksmith-themed cocktail bar with a toilet that was so awesomely creepy it freaked out the one half of us that actually writes horror fiction as a profession. Shai halip in Little Arabia, 24-hour tacos and the latest episode of Scandal.

Street vendors selling holographic pictures of puppies, kittens, Jesus and Mary, naked women and ferocious tigers, across from a fake Viagra/Cialis/ made-in-China sex toy shops.

Bangkok is my happy place. Tomorrow: at least two massages.

Day 2: In no particular order: grilled chicken hearts, the breakfast of champions; flashing at passengers on the Khlong San Saeb river taxi each time (not me, btw), having random thai men cat-calling us coz Sam is in a very sessy dress (they called us ‘black and white girls’. Um. Brown and yellow is more accurate); beef boat noodle carnage, talking security guards into letting us trespass private property so we can take a shortcut, Gibson-esque massive overhead bridges, stalker pandas and mushrooms, great crackling massages, pork cracklings;

Pork satay, dogs and teddy bears and dogs in frilly clothes; hanging out with exes, discussing whether one’s Portuguese ancestry is to blame for epic marine vessel conquering flag-planting fantasies (no: it’s just Sam); ominous Elliott Smith songs in hotel toilets, streetside mobile bars. Pork tacos in the fridge.

A swim is on the menu tomorrow. Pandas are everywhere.

Off my rockers/tits high on chilli padi. It was a beautiful yum poo dong – raw blue swimmer crab salad smothered in beautiful chilli – the cold raw crab tastes like crab ice cream. But so off my rockers chilli high coz I am so clever I ordered it extra extra spicy. I love chilli padi highs. So beautiful, this world

Day 3: Looking for soi Polo chicken and seeing random chickens and people wearing I ♥ Chicken T-shirts everywhere (surreal), having a crab-gasm over the raw blue swimmer crab in a yum poo dong, coffee in random little sheds in Lumpini, more great massages, Phra Athit jazz and beer and evil plotting, a knock-out pad thai.

Home tomorrow!

Sam and I are at a girlie bar on Nana, showing bar girls pictures of fried crickets. We are looking for the Nana Cricket & Grasshopper street vendor. I don’t know how to say “where are the edible crickets” in Thai. Yet.

Apparently I accidentally cock-blocked an Italian dude at a bar in Bangkok. All I did was drink whisky and talk about apps and their project timelines. A thai MILF then decided to tell me she thinks I must be gay, and proceeded to tell me she used to be butch with many girlfriends until a guy drugged and raped her and she got pregnant. (all this happened in thai)

The Italian dude left, very sadly.

Must. Stop. Accidentally. Fang dian-ing* at people. Even sideways in my peripheral vision while eating potato chips and drinking whisky.

Note: ‘fang dian’ = a Mandarin term made up by some friends, meaning ‘to put electricity’. It refers to my track record of accidentally attracting unwanted attention through what they suspect is the sheer Cyclops-like, err, traits in my… eyes.

Day 4: jok moo! Pork porridge with salted egg, century egg, innards! Flip-flops and Hello Kitty (don’t ask) and cable shopping! Skyfall! Prawn bisque! Accidentally fang-dian-ing: me at people, Sam at buildings! Giant sea creatures! Girlie bars! Mobile bars! No crickets!

New Bangkok Notes

  • I still love Bangkok as much now, as I did when I first started frequenting it… circa 2004?
  • Oh gawd I feel old these days.
  • That’s directly related to how all I want to do these day is have massages. My back creaks; my body creaks along with it. My new go-to place for a massage is at Ruen Nad massage studio on 42 Convent Road, off Silom. It really is one of the best massages you can have for that little money (1 hour goes for 350 THB). It’s a little pricier than the less fancy places but the masseuses are uniformly great, and the ambience — in a restored old house in a fancy part of Bangkok — is really unbeatable. Also, Convent Road has some of the best street food in that city.
  • The row of street stalls next to Sala Daeng BTS station still has a curious mix of gay p0rn and pirated DVDs. The latter tend to be arthouse (non-p0rnographic) movies, including a great many films which are simply just not available online… or in your local video store. The range of movies is quite breathtaking. I love Silom.
  • If you are ever in Bangkok, do yourself a favour and eat a meal — go for the degustation — at Bo.lan. Chefs Bo and Dylan create exquisite food — slow food — and are rather experimental whilst strongly grounded in the traditions. Every meal I have had there, which is still too few, has been revelatory.
  • I like the northern neighbourhoods. Victory Monument is home not just to impoverished foreigners/English-teachers, it’s also home to Boat Noodle Alley, a massive Gibson-esque skywalk/pedestrian bridge, as well as to Saxophone jazz bar, which is a reliable spot to kick back with a beer and listen to some great music. I also like the neighbourhood of Ari, which has too many pleasures to name.
  • If you like jazz with some fairy dust, Iron Fairies is a Dickensian blacksmith workshop restaurant and pub (seriously). It’s beautiful. Think Steampunk meets Dickens meets jazz meets industrial chic. There’s great live jazz featuring local musicians, some nights. We were there on a Monday and it was going strong. The Thonglor neighbourhood that it’s in is also chock-a-block full of great little spots. They tend to tend to lean quite heavily towards ‘hiso’ (the Thai equiv of the Singaporean ‘atas’, with regards to class).
  • Hiso/atas is totally fine by me. I like my upper-middle class hipsterism in strong doses. I also need a bit more down low to counteract too much hipsterism, though, and Thonglor does dish out the down low in appropriate amounts too. soi 38 on the other side of the station is packed with great street food, but one of my favourite meals on this trip was at Jok Moo. Like the name suggests it specializes in pork congee. It was quite a battle ordering two bowls of pork congee in the specific configurations we wanted (salted egg and century eggs, one with innards and one without)… in my limited Thai, but my hunger prevailed and we succeeded. The porridge held its own against some of the best Chinese congees in Singapore/Malaysia. They also seem to have solved the age-old problem of never having hot-enough fritters: they have these little packets of fried fritters resembling you tiao but not really, and they’re always cripsy. There is nothing more disgusting than soggy you tiao in your congee, and nothing more wonderful than having congee with fresh, hot fritters as well. It’s one of the biggest conundrums I think I face as a Chinese person: would I rather eat soggy fritters or not eat any at all?
  • Jok Moo is at the start of Sukh soi 38. Alight at Thonglor station and head for the even-numbered side. Locate soi 38. Jok Moo is the first corner shop on the right at the start of the soi, after some watch or hardware shops. It only has Thai words written on its signage. There’s some seating at the back. Have the lemongrass drink. Basic English is understood here. Pointing helps, if all else fails.
  • The pad thai at Thipsamai on Mahachai Road really is what it’s cracked up to be. A tip: don’t order the version with the shrimp oil. I love my calories and I love my oily fried noodles in all shapes and sizes, but the shrimp oil really kicked me in the guts… after. They also have a new dish: pad thai without the noodles. If Mos Burger can do burgers with lettuce instead of buns, I guess Thipsamai can do pad thai without the noodles. Although both food concepts totally go against every fibre of my being.
  • The fried chicken at Soi Polo, off Wireless Road near Lumpini. Run, don’t walk. Also order the yum poo dong — the cold crab salad that gave me the chilli high described above. Both are beautiful. The Star Trek movie dubbed in Thai, not so much.
  • One day I will find the fabled coconut ice cream at Sam Yan.
  • Did I do anything other than eat in Bangkok? We watched James Bond. Took photos with giant sea creatures. Introduced Sam to grilled chicken heart breakfasts, and to the river boat experience I love (the commuter Klong San Saeb, not the one on the tourist trail).
  • Bangkok is still one of my favourite Asian cities and I don’t understand how anybody can ever hate it. Well, I do — it’s not for everyone. But if you like hulking, in-your-face Asian metropolises like I do, Bangkok is It.
  • One day I will make a concerted effort to get better at my Thai.

The Places We’ll Go

King of the Limestone Hill
Cow on Limestone Kiln, Meghalaya, 2006

Five years ago, I said: “Ask me again a year, three, or five from now and all I will remember is driving up, around, up, around, up, around, in the swirling clouds as the rain lashed at my windows and I feared for my life, balanced so daintily in this tin can navigating itself on the hairpin road.”

Plenty has changed, these five years, but at least this part remains familiar: “Ask me again a year, three, or five from now and I will still tell you the same thing: I’m not sure why I do the things that I do.” Then, I was referring to the heady, exciting days of a student who had the chance to criss-cross across the hill tribes of northeast India and investigate the ailments of rural Bangladeshis suffering from leprosy, TB and lymphatic filiarisis. I got to go on the amazing adventure of my life, never really expecting it to end. It hasn’t.

Much has changed, but adventure has never left me.

The last five months have been tumultuous. It was the sort of chaos that was ultimately a blip in the universe (though still a large one), and not, thankfully, the sort that led to destruction and the end of the world as I knew it.

In a few days I will make that trip to Kuala Lumpur for the last time. It will be awkward. On it, I will return to the apartment I’ve had for two years, but haven’t lived in for the last five months, and I will assemble everything that I own in that city and that country, and pack it into several boxes. I last packed all the things I owned in the universe into several boxes under far happier circumstances. This time I pack a dog into the car, too.

I don’t regret a moment. Life has dealt me a pretty good lot, and I have milked it for what it’s worth. So from Singapore to Dubai and the Middle East to London to Kuala Lumpur I now find myself surprisingly, but not that much, in Singapore. I left a Singapore I didn’t like very much, and returned to a Singapore I absolutely love (there’s an essay in that somewhere). You can’t come home again, but you can definitely make it home again, for the first time.

The single life is interesting, but difficult, in equal parts. I haven’t dated in such a long time, I really don’t have it in me anymore.

The life with hyperthyroid is worse.

I can’t remember shit. I quite literally feel like I’ve lost a major chunk of my former cognitive abilities. It sucks.

How am I dealing with all of this? I’m… dealing. If you know me in real life, you probably can’t tell. I’ve worked very hard to keep it invisible. My heart rate still goes nuts. I drop a ton of weight or I put it back and I drop it again. I am manic and then I am exhausted. I am utterly intolerant to heat, even in an air-conditioned room I am hot. I don’t need any medical diagnosis here (I am actively under the care of the medical professionals here, no worries). I just wish I could get my memory back. I’ve gone from one of those people with super memories to one of those who has to scribble down everything. I don’t remember people I’ve just met (this has never happened before), I don’t remember even meeting them, most of the time. It’s amazing I can even work at all.

The last five months have felt like a massive blur. I feel like time and space has compressed for me. Or that I’m living in a time warp, splitting myself between two universes. One: pre-illness, pre-breakup, pre-everything. When life was, I thought, sorted. For the time being. The second one, the one I inhabit right now: plagued by a disease that doesn’t threaten but bothers me, learning to find my feet again without the woman I love and the life and businesses we had. Breaking up gets more and more expensive as you get older.

I’m okay, I’m good, I’m pretty happy (seriously) — I was just telling someone that I thrive in change in ways that many people don’t understand, but I do. Change works for me.

I should be more careful what I wish for, you know? Now there’s so much of it I am still finding my feet, but I’m not sure how. That suits me fine for now.

It’s just that I hate packing.