An evening between winter and spring, I found, tucked away in the middle of a secondhand Penguin’s 1995 copy of Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf I had purchased from Oxfam, two used tickets to a form of transportation. The two pieces of paper, slightly smaller than a dollar bill, terribly thin, already darkened into a shade of sand, ripped on the same side as a sign of received payment, had Thai writing printed in green and were decorated with patterns that resembled Thai baht bills. Twenty baht, they said in both Thai and Arabic numbers, and were marked as belonging to Thawornfarm Company, “permanent farm”, whatever it meant. “Please note,” they warned, “passengers must look after their personal belongings, as the company will not take responsibility for any losses.”
And there I was, at the beginning of a story of a lone wolf, a man stuck between two worlds, “between two ages, between two modes of life and thus loses the feeling for itself, for the self-evident, for all morals, for being safe and innocent,” I found, stuck in the middle of a tale, two useless pieces of paper that reminded me of my own homelessness.
The year was 2013 and Bob Dylan’s tattered voice filled the apartment whose contract did not carry my name. The sun was on its way to the other end of the globe. The air carried the usual English indecisive weather. I had just left a boyfriend of three years, and as I was still struggling to find a place for myself in the economic low of the rain-ridden North East, he had already settled back into the comfortable Norwegian spoon-fed society.
Recently, my thoughts tended to wander across the ocean and land back to my childhood home in the South East of Asia, to the so-called axe-shaped land, which looked to me more like a horribly drawn elephant, to my romantically serious father and my deeply conflicted mother, to our Victorian-styled house and its German imported furniture, to the many trips we had taken as a family in my father’s many foreign cars, to the many gastronomical experiences of spices, vegetables and fruits, all of which I now call exotic.
As a small girl, I grew up with my father’s foreign action films, bathed in blood, soaked in witty insults, and showered with bullets. At a very early age, my ears tuned to my father’s reproduction of The Beatles, Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan on his guitar. I fell in love young with foreign books and learned English to marvel at the authors’ original words, or at least at a more closely related translation. My father, who had survived two student massacres by the Thai government as his white school shirt drank young blood like greedy desert sand, raised me to defy Thai authority, a lesson I applied to all forms of authority: government, culture, media, religion, superstition, teachers, relatives, parents. At fourteen, my father rescued me from my troubles at a Thai school driven by all forms of Thai authority and left me in the hands of American, British and Canadian teachers at an international school tucked away in the suburb of Bangkok. And as I soaked up knowledge from international teachers, texts and friends, I drifted further away from the nationality of my blood, but, as half-conscious wanderers always do, not toward anywhere in particular. At eighteen, I fled the land altogether for a college in the United Kingdom.
(To be fair, no land can truly and wholly claim the home of my blood. My father’s is lightly tainted with Chinese chromosomes and my mother’s parents were immigrants from China, a great nation that is as foreign to me as the island of Mauritius, whose culture I can hardly identify with. Without a doubt, my parents name Thailand their home and without a doubt, I will tell you that I am Thai. But truly, in all genetical correctness, my blood mix belongs nowhere.)
And there I sat, in someone else’s rented living room, migrating from couch to couch, seven hours on the clock and thirteen hours on the airplane away from a place I once called home, stuck between gender expectations, between cultures, between the passionate old and the indifferent now, between education and job, between obligations, between partners, between languages, reading a German novel in English, hearing my own struggle in someone else’s voice. And just then, I knew that it was a never-ending one. I knew then that I would never belong anywhere, to anything and anyone. I would remain a lone wolf, proud to be free, while endlessly and futilely yearning to belong, to be understood, to be accepted for exactly as I was. But all I would ever be was a yellowing piece of paper with alien scribbles, marked with a certain meaning lost in the many crossings of borders, tucked away among translated words of a story that reminded me of my own but was not, never really, quite mine.