As the afternoon wanes I decide to say goodbye. I set out on foot to walk my adopted town.
Waving to Mr. Wong, I turn left and head around the block to the electronics store. One digital tape later, I walk down the street, turn right to the flyover and head for Old Town. Just past the McDonald’s I turn into the narrow white cobblestoned streets.
I have no plan. I just want to walk. It is almost six in the evening but still broad daylight. The streets are comfortably filled with families heading home and heading out. Dads with little kids in strollers going up and down the ramps. Moms hanging onto little hands. Teens and young adults with racquets, backpacks, and other sports equipment heading out for matches or pick-up games.
The streets of Old Town are narrow, many not even the width of a car. I see bicycles and motorbikes parked along the way, but more than that, I catch glimpses of life behind open doors. There is a barber shop, an art gallery, a photo shop, many restaurants, and other rooms I do not immediately recognize.
The smells of supper are beginning to hit the streets, and the mix of meat, fish, oil, and vegetables is delightful as I walk along. I walk all the way to the Military Academy, then turn up the hill and wind my way back to Food Street. This street is the most full of people, all bent on buying popular local snack foods.
Most of the shops have sample trays out with tongs for tasting. I try some peanut with coconut, then some ginger with coconut, and finally some black sesame with peanut. I pass on the little dry cakes that are dry as dust and on the dried meat that looks like leather. I will keep my stomach safe tonight. I purchase some peanut/coconut bars and ginger/coconut squares, all tightly wrapped in sealed plastic.
Eventually, sated with experiences, I wend my way back to the purple highrise and come into the lobby. I will not see Mr. Wong tomorrow, so I bid him goodbye.
“You fly States tomorrow?”
“No, tomorrow to Hong Kong. Next week, States.”
“Ah. Daughter sorry.” He makes motions like tears.
“Yes, you take care of her and Bye-ron and baby Zach?”
“Yes. You come back? Please?”
I do not know if I will, Mr. Wong. Life is fleeting. My family may not be here long. You and scores of other gracious people, those who speak English and those who struggle with just a few words, have made this place home. The friends, the cleaning ladies, the guards. This is no longer just a speck on the map. I leave a neighborhood.
Once home, for weeks I will dream in Asia. My English will feel stilted until I adapt back to the Midwest. My neighbors will look pale and heavy. The supermarket will be a mind-boggling place of far too many decisions.
The truth is, I will not come all the way back. I never do. I never will. Only part of me lives in North America. I leave half my heart in Asia, and it will always stay there. There is no way to bring it back, because it has put down roots and grown strong over the decades of back and forth.
It is not a bad thing, this double life. It is hard at times and wrenching to my emotions, but it reminds me that I am an alien on this earth. Like Abraham, I look for a city whose builder and maker is God.