Atlas and Alice Issue 4

Page 31

Atlas & Alice | Issue 4, Summer/Fall 2015

Golden Land She couldn’t know anything about the Southern Hemisphere, dressed as she is. The feeling struggles in me, that flutter of judgment and shame, seeing my countrywoman dressed so—. A foreigner would no doubt mistake her for young and foolish but as a Thai woman myself I can tell that this long-limbed girl is actually in her late 30s, just about my age. Up-cut shorts showing a crescent of ass flesh befits no respectable lady. And here we are at the gate for Thai Airways to fly us to Melbourne in June, hot season in Bangkok but the beginning of real winter Down Under. We sit in Suvarnabhumi Airport. It means golden land, but that idea is a mirage. When my family came to Thailand from China we scraped money together to buy a small plot so my sister could go to university from within the city. When they announced the new airport site so near us, my family thought: good fortune! Then we waited twenty-nine years for construction to start. The money the country poured into the airport lined the pockets of politicians, from local to municipal to national level. During construction copper wiring was stripped from electrical lines and sold at the thieves’ market. Two thousand luggage trolleys were stolen, melted for scrap metal. There is nothing golden about this airport; it’s just corruption, delay. Each terminal is built like the extended wings of a prehistoric creature, a pterodactyl: tessellating glass with slender metal beams framing slivers of light. Palm trees peer through the gloom of the smog that wraps around my native land like a safety cloak. Bangkok in my day was not this way at all. I mean modern. When I return to visit my mother and sister still living behind their orange-painted gates, the new webs of transportation, the ever-descending chill of air-conditioned interiors—they baffle me. This woman has pimples of goose flesh running up her thighs. I know to wrap myself in a shawl in Suvarnabhumi. But the meat of her holds together, tight and toned. She must work for a living. Something physical. She pulls her metal chair closer so her knees almost touch mine, which is embarrassingly endearing, like a child, the way she leans in and over. She says in halting, stuttering English: “Are you going to Australia?” My, but her accent is terrible. Aus-tay-leeee-a she says slowly, the way Thai people say it, with that strange lilt. She mouths the word carefully—must not say it much. “Yes,” I say, and because I can’t help myself: “Do you know it is winter in Melbourne? Are you going there?” I’ve spoken in English to maintain our difference. But I have gone too fast for her. I slow down, say it again. “Winter… in Melbourne…” and when I wrap my arms around my body and shiver, she understands. She pours her trust into me


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