Mom and Aunt Kathy
Bake a Red Velvet Cake
Seattle, USA
October 29, 2009

After over two years of transience I finally have a place of my own. How does it feel to end this housesitting-couchsurfing-on-the-road existence? How does it feel to at last have a bed of my own, an address of my own?

It feels lonely.

I'm not sure why. Perhaps it's because I haven't finished furnishing my new studio. When I left for Xinjiang back in 2003 I lent out many of my material possessions. At the time I thought I would be away for about a year--easy enough to track down what-all went where, right? But somehow that year turned into six. All of the most functional items I owned: silverware, blankets, pots and pans--I have no idea who has them now. Did they go to some sibling? To some friend? To some former friend with whom I haven't kept up contact?

Not that I would have adequate space in this itty-bitty efficiency to store all the possessions I might track down. But it would be so much cozier if only I had a few cherished items. A maple rocking chair is lost in limbo--the only piece of furniture I owned that didn't come either from Ikea or from somebody who wanted to get rid of something via the Internet. I guess I can't bring my orange tabby Mango back to life. I would love another kitty, but it's probably unwise to be a pet-owner until I figure just where I'll land some months out.

I know I'll feel more at home once I've hung up some of the many pictures I've acquired and had framed over the years. I did have some nice art hanging in my last Seattle apartment. That included original Chinese calligraphy and lithographic reproductions from the Hamza-nama. I now have even more pieces to hang on my walls after these recent years in Asia. I'm especially fond of brush calligraphy and other original artwork I bought in Mongolia, had framed in Urumqi, and shipped back to Seattle. But, of all things stopping me... I can't find the special fat, S-shaped hooks I used to have that would hang off the picture rail running along the perimeter of my ceiling. Perhaps I should just be damned with my deposit and drive nails into the walls, hang my artwork up, and make the apartment mine.

Though I haven't yet nested, I actually do love the apartment and neighborhood. The building is a converted hotel in Chinatown. It's one-hundred years old so has old-building charm I don't often see around Seattle. Brick facades; solid, stubby doorknobs; and petite tilework flooring make me feel like I'm living in some other, older U.S. city--perhaps New York or Chicago. I have a decent view of the lower downtown skyline. Despite now being overshadowed by half-a-dozen other skyscrapers the Smith Tower looms large, perpetuating my illusion of being in an older city. I had been keeping time by glancing out the window to the mock Big Ben tower clock crowning King Street Station--until both hands inexplicably stopped moving a few days ago.

One surprise: the place is quiet. I had expected that I would hear a lot of street noise day and night. Another surprise: despite being in the city center, parking a car for days on end is a snap. There are several areas just a five-minute walk north, east, or south--blocks which aren't regulated by meter maids any time at all, day or night. The main streets may be parking madness during the day, but in the week-and-a-half I've been living in Chinatown I haven't had to circle for parking once.

I have a three-part theory as to why Chinatown parking is unexpectedly abundant:

I'm sure my new place will quickly grow on me. I think my sudden sense of detachment here is in part owing to having more solitude, in part owing to the mental shift of now having a place of my own. Routines were different before. Being on the road without an address meant I would get out and explore each day, meander through and get to know whichever area of whichever country I might be in. Periods couchsurfing with friends or family meant social interaction--lots of it. Housesitting never felt lonely--perhaps living alone in a house-not-my-own perpetuated a sense that I was yet unsettled, on-the-road.

David, Aunt Kathy,
and Dozens of Pralines
So, I now find myself spending minimal time in my new place and going out to seek interaction, mostly with family. Excuses to connect haven't been hard to manufacture recently. Aunt Kathy came out from Chicago to spend time with family for the first time in 17 years. I played chauffeur more days than not, shuttling either Mom or Aunt Kathy to some place (usually Jen and Mike's home) to spend time together. Among so many other talents, Aunt Kathy was the one who cooked and sent out homemade Christmas candy every year. We decided this was the perfect opportunity to learn the secrets ourselves so shanghai'ed her into giving us tutorials in the art of Christmas confectionary: Pralines 101, Sea Foam 101.

Another thing I've done to settle myself: I've begun subscriptions to a couple magazines. It's such a petty pleasure, but something I couldn't do over recent years on the road and living abroad. The realization that I could have anything in well-written English delivered on a regular basis was far more exciting than it should have been. Only after years in Xinjiang could something mundane as starting a magazine subscription sound so thrilling.

So. I now find myself with an address, now have some permanence of place... at least for the immediate months.