So, it’s come to an end. After ten months (almost exactly), two countries, and countless adventures, I am leaving Southeast Asia.
I didn’t really realize it until now, but Asia has changed me. Almost imperceptibly, but it has changed me.
My standards of safety have come way down. In fact, they’re practically as nonexistent as seatbelts in the back of Manila taxis. It no longer fazes me to be barreling down the highway in a vehicle that looks as if it will barely survive the next turn, loose screws rattling, with no restraint device to speak of, as we swerve pass a truck carrying loose logs and a motorcycle with five kids and a propane canister tied precariously to the back.
My standards of sanitation have also been lowered. Flushing toilets (see previous entry for graphic details) and proper tissue are a luxury. Meat need not be refrigerated. I’ve become more accustomed than I would like to the sight of cockroaches.
I have also developed an inexplicable affection for horrible American hip hop music (that’s all that’s on offer here, so…). Except that siren song. I still hate that one.
One of the strangest things is that my concept of beauty has changed. It’s so funny how Americans spend millions of dollars to look darker and more tan, while Asians spend millions of dollars to look whiter and more pure. But it’s strange to be the odd one out for so long, to get used to being taller, lighter, and more “exotic” than anyone else in the room, and used to being gawked at openly wherever you go. I’ve gotten quite used to seeing dark eyes and brown skin. Everyone else now looks pale by comparison. Weird.
I have been here a long time, and I will miss the chaos and color of Southeast Asia. New York may be the city that never sleeps, but those New Yorkers have never been to Manila, where shopping is done after dark and it is perfectly reasonable to be eating fish and garlic rice at 5am. I will miss never feeling alone, knowing that there is always someone around the corner, and there’s always a MiniStop open somewhere.
I will miss the closeness of the place, the way life seems more real and more….distinct, like a sharper image of a picture you’ve never seen quite as clearly.
I will miss being referred to as an ambiguous “mamsir” and getting the answer “Yes, mam” no matter what the question. I will miss getting a thousand “good afternoon mam!”s from across the room, and hearing “for a while” on the telephone.
I will miss Marciano’s, home of the best salads of all time, and Flapjacks, the pancake house where I spent the better part of every Sunday, and Greenbelt, where I whiled away countless hours wandering around eating ice cream, and the Persian restaurant we only went to once but dreamed about ever since, and the Prince of Jaipur, and all the places I danced salsa with Carlo and all the clubs where I spent Saturday night with Osho and Nini and Nick and Santi.
I’m glad to have had all the memories I’ve had of this Asia, beautiful islands and tropical getaways and ancient cultures and, above all, the people. There is no place like it in the world.