Parallel U
pt. I

Number 1–Time to Move

It was late summer 2001 and I was hardly looking forward to a misty, mossy, chilly winter in Portland, Oregon with its long nights and overweening grayness. I was never one to shy away from the cold and moved in that direction – warm climate to cold – several times in my earlier life. But you really have to like it and the older I get the less I’m inclined to choose the shivery lifestyle.

Those that know me from the states will remember the bright red tip of my nose. Just recently I realized that one result of living here in the tropics is that my beak – it is quite pronounced – has become almost normally hued. Back in Portland the temperature only has to go down to 68 degrees (20C) for my nose to go into sniffle mode, and evidently, turn crimson.

Warding off the chill is the first challenge. In my case, months of wearing thermals full time as opposed to the tropics where I can hang around nearly all year in my underwear. When I’m in Portland I can’t bring myself to use the energy – I can be an over-the-top environmentalist at times – to keep an apartment comfortably warm, besides the feeling that it’s not healthy to have too great a contrast between the inside and outside. That’s also one reason why I reject air-conditioning regardless of the heat.

Then there’s the aloneness that comes with spending so much time behind closed doors in sealed houses as opposed to the tropics where everything that isn’t air-conditioned is outdoors full time. Non air-conditioned places here don’t even have doors; they use metal accordion gates to close up at night. Moreover in a developing country you get the effect of high density – poor people live crowded into really small spaces – bringing out large numbers of people and creating a vibrant street life.

Besides, I was seeing myself getting a little further behind financially with every passing month and with winter approaching my income was certain to shrivel since I was deriving much of it from gardening, an impossible task, for me at least, when the temperature hovers not much above freezing.

So why not return to Southeast Asia – the living is easy and moolah is easy to come by if you need to work. The previous time that I had wanted to work there it was a piece of cake. In 1993, after a year of travel (see Far Out and Away on my website I was ready to settle into one spot but not ready to return to the states so I temporarily laid my pack to rest in Bangkok and in no time I was working as an English teacher.

However, I really didn’t look forward to living in Bangkok again. I could provide a litany of reasons, but rolled into one it’s way too big for my taste. Giant cities are a bear for living in in the best of circumstances and Bangkok has nowhere near enough amenities to compensate for the hassle of living there. Nevertheless I did check out the teaching scene in spite of being mightily turned off to the city just on the bus ride into town from the airport. It was the pits; low pay, long hours, endless travel time commuting to work.

In contrast, a little more than a week in Cambodia in 1994 made me feel, in spite of how crazy, funky and poor the country was that I could see myself living there.