The strangeness of familiarity

I took my bicycle and went exploring today.  I rode past an infinite amount of food vendors selling fruit, fried chicken, noodle soup, fried rice, candy, ice cream, raw meat, and barbequed pork.  I cycle up to a busy intersection and wait my turn to go.  As I wait, I marvel at the town around me.  The people are not stuck in their houses…they are walking, they are visiting their friends at a local vendor, they are sitting on the front steps and looking out at the world.

I cross an intersection and bike slowly along the next road.  Something smells really good.  I look at the buildings next to me.  Bike shop?…no.  Noodle shop?…no.  Café?…close, but no.  Bakery!  Definitely yes!  I park my flimsy, worn bike, its red paint dulled by layers of dust, next to a row of shiny motorbikes.  I walk slowly through the bakery, stopping to look at every item.  It’s not a typical bakery you see in America.  I don’t see chocolate chip cookies or apple pies or fancy donuts.  I see small cake-like rolls, bite sized. They come in a multitude of colors (green, pink, and yellow seem most common), and they seem to be everywhere.  I remember these…they taste like butter.

I see something else in a package that contains several long, flat, ribbon shaped pastries.  The pastry itself looks crispy, flaky, and it looks like it’s coated with sugar and possibly cinnamon.

I see soft white rolls, each filled with a hot dog.  The top of the roll is covered with a sweet glaze.  I also remember these from my childhood.  These are no ordinary hot dogs!  These are sweet, delicious hotdogs in a perfectly sweet and fluffy roll. I immediately search for the best looking one.  I grab a pack of 4 of these hotdog rolls.  It costs an entire 25B, or 75 cents in America.  I am in heaven.

I consume the first of the hotdog rolls quickly before loading the rest in my basket and continuing my adventure.  I bike further down the road and recognize the road that leads to the house I used to live in when I was young.  I am proud of myself for still remembering the way home after 15 years of living in a different country.

I bike down the road, along the canal we call the klong…the beautiful, brown, klong…MY beautiful, brown klong.  Even if it is dirty and full of disease, it is beautiful to me.  I happily bike down the road.  When I reach the zoo, I stop, look at my map, and realize I am going in the wrong direction.  I guess I don’t remember the way after all.  Feeling humbled, I turn my bike around and start biking in the opposite direction.  I had the street correct, but I guess I went east when I should have gone west.

I finally reach the spot…I am standing still with my bike on the road opposite the entryway to my old neighborhood.  Already, it doesn’t look right.  The driveway is paved.  I don’t like it. MY driveway was gravel. I could always tell we were home even without looking out the window because I could hear the sound of our tires on the gravel.  I stretch my neck and see the green spokes of the top of our fence.  I guess it IS my house, but I’m too afraid to get a better look.  I think the owners might find it strange to see a foreigner has gone out of her way to gawk at their house.  There are schoolboys going into the neighborhood, as if they live there.  That’s not right either.  Schoolboys didn’t live in MY neighborhood.

Everything looks smaller, and the place across the road where I used to bike is now some kind of…water plant?  Why a water plant?!  It used to be an old dirt road that would lead you past a few houses and even a small playground.

I tell myself I will return another time to visit this foreign home, but for now, I ride back to my flat.  I stop at a candy store to drink in more memories.  I buy the super sour candy that always reminded me of fish food because of the way it looks.  Then I ride home, with my sweet hot-dog rolls, my sour fish food candy, and my disappointment that someone ever thought Lopburi could be improved.  Paved driveways, fancy water plants, and strange neighbors.  At least the Klong is still how I remember it…even if it is brown.

Fish Food Candy
Fish Food Candy
My precious brown Klong
My precious brown Klong

7 thoughts on “The strangeness of familiarity”

  1. Good post. …from an adults perspective we probably would be saying things like…wow they paved the lane and the drive way, nice improvement. ..or wow a better water treatment plant…good to know things are getting better. But the nostalgia remains because we lived, loved, and enjoyed life in Lopburi when it wasn’t better…we were resourceful and accepted the way things were and thanked God we could serve Him. We bloomed where we were planted. Good post Harm. ..we’ll written and we’ll said.

    1. Thanks mom! I think if we were still living there, I would be very happy for the improvements, but if I’m not going to live there, things better stay the same until it belongs to me again 🙂

  2. That’s the tough part returning to our homes – usually things have changed, but we want them to remain how we remember them! It’s jarring to our memories if they’re different, like somehow a part of us isn’t there anymore. I’m happy you could at least visit your old home – I’ve almost never been back to any of my old homes! It sounds like you’re enjoying your time there; it’s been great reading your posts about it!

    1. Thanks Dounia, It’s great to read your responses too! I never thought I would have the chance to go back to this home. But it is an answered prayer, and even though I wish the house was exactly the same, there’s also a bit of satisfaction knowing that it’s not so perfect that I would want to move in right here and now. Do you think you would like to return to one of your old homes? Or do you prefer to preserve your memories as they are?

      1. That’s such a great way of seeing it and explaining it – “even though I wish the house was exactly the same, there’s also a bit of satisfaction knowing that it’s not so perfect that I would want to move in right here and now.” I really like how you expressed that. 🙂

        I would love to return to my old homes, even if things have changed – that’s just a part of life! And in a way, it makes our memories special, because we knew how things were before the changes and no one can ever take that away. Does that make sense?
        It’s something I often talk about with my husband (who is also a TCK), and we would both love to visit the places we lived, see our old homes, and show them to each other too. Hopefully we’ll be able to do that sometime! 🙂

        As always, I’m looking forward to reading more – I love reading your posts and your replies to my comments

  3. I’m fascinated by the kind of things that have created memories for you. As adults most of our memories are around events and people and even those seem to fade with time. The ones that don’t fade are the sensory memories – visual, taste, smells. Thank you for taking us through your experiences in such a sensory way.

    1. Thanks for your comment Aunt Mary, I am discovering a lot about the memories of childhood while being here. People ask me what I remember about people, culture, politics, Buddhism and tradition, but I don’t remember much about those things. Ask me about the food, the candy, the animals, the zoo, or Song Kran, and I can talk with you for hours! Sensory memory really is amazing, isn’t it?

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