May 17th, 2007 - Wesley Hsu
A magnitude-4.3 earthquake in Laos the day before yesterday kills very few, because Laos is a land of very few, of very little. But its tremors traveled underground and outward, seeking denser targets of anxiety and death, and found us 450 miles south in Bangkok where the wet river delta soil liquefacts and the tall buildings sway a little. But it is not post-tsunami 2004 or its aftershock aftermath; my wife and I don’t panic anymore when the firmament blinks. We are flood folk and monsoon peasants once more, watchers of water not earth, even from our 31st floor condominium, or my 27th floor office.
On the computer screen, a high school friend complains in a long email about the unresponsiveness of her other friends on MySpace. Her sadness drives her backwards in time, into comforting mythology. She has scanned and attached photographs of me and others from the 20th century, when we were human larvae with bad hair.
In my reply, I pointedly contextualize my upcoming trip to California as not “coming home” because home is Thailand, where I own no property, speak no language, and have only recently acquired the legal right to work at the job I have had for five years. Entitlement to pay taxes on rewards for writing marginally true things in convincingly breathless English, the language of wealth and tomorrow.
It has been ten years since the Financial Crisis that caused suicides and ruined families. The rusted rebar of abandoned high rises have been re-drowned in concrete, the windows on blueprints enlarged to welcome in the sunlight once feared.
The Mercedes-Benz E 200 NGT is the first luxury vehicle in Thailand with a factory-installed natural gas engine. Convincing people to pay $215,000 US dollars for a car that saves them $41 a week in fuel costs is an actual white-collar job, the ownership of which registers in my mid-30s, slacker brain as a victory. Advertising is a career that can be squeezed between long emails. The view is placating, my chair is comfortable, and when my wife wants to eat seafood, we eat fucking seafood. Maybe tonight.
Inside of her uterus is a rapidly dividing, multi-celled zygote the size of a dandruff flake that will eventually swallow us whole. We do not yet know of this alien, or conceive of its capacities to eat our hearts, annul our miscarriages, seize control of the cockpit. Over dinner, she shows me Googled photos of Sedona, Arizona, site of her upcoming business meeting. We marvel at the sunset colors on the rock landscapes, and mock the energy-vortex beliefs of its meditating tourists.
On our plates are ocean prawns the size of curled zucchinis, raised on inland fields deliberately flooded with seawater that will never grow crops for another century. One fertility is traded for another; one disaster traded for another. We gulp heavy glasses of iced beer, unstirred by tremors within. The once-shocking military coup of last year is fading in the rearview mirror. We are fueled by wealth and tomorrow, drunk drivers who don’t do math, underwater breathers who cannot be drowned.
Wesley Hsu moved to Bangkok in 1999, where he created and hosted Bangkok Poetry, the city’s first English-language open-mic spoken-word event. Currently he writes and says some things for money, and writes and says other things for art.
Wesley would like to encourage everyone to invest in carbon-offsetting projects like carbon credits and mangrove forests.