New old views

Sunset on the beach in Ao Nang, Thailand. Purples, oranges, and blues.

The trees are as green as I remember, that deep tropical green interspersed with lighter varieties. In the rain everything saturates slightly, becoming the colors of my memories. The orange tile roofs pop a bit, peaking out from between the skyscrapers. We are back in Bangkok again, after five years. The heat, broken by these daily thunderstorms, doesn’t seem as intense. Or perhaps my body is less shocked by the transition, Hong Kong being almost as humid. I would like to say the past four years have changed me, but I know my skin’s memory is too temporary for that.

Some of the city feels different, of course. So much has changed, so many new towers up and ones half built now complete. We wonder at things we don’t remember, are they new or forgotten? Five years is a long time. This trip is different in other ways: we are three, rather than two, and our concerns the first day revolve around finding diapers, being able to wash tiny garments in the sink. We are still lucky, still traveling carry-on only, still able to take the train into the city, transfer to the BTS, and walk to our hotel carrying all of our bags. We have packed lighter than ever to make this happen, fewer items for ourselves and more pieces of clothing we can both wear to accommodate the new member’s main needs, diapers and a stroller. The later item, in keeping with our family’s primary requirements, fits in a carry-on bin when collapsed. We change, and yet we remain. I can’t wait to be able to teach her to pack light and go far.


From the shade of the trees, at a restaurant table and the plastic chairs, the beach looks close enough to my memories. Fifteen years ago three boys stood a bit further down, just off a plane from Bangkok, waiting for a long tail to Railay. They were young, confused, and would spend most of the week drinking beer in the ocean and playing Magic in the aircon of their bungalow. It was the type of vacation that sounds easy and is incredibly rare. Three friends, their friendship formed in a small apartment in Tokyo, re-uniting in a foreign country years later, after they had all moved on to different places.

This afternoon, sipping beer Chang with an infant strapped to my chest while watching the ocean, feels like a good return to this area, to these beaches and the lack of urgency we try to create with vacation. For a few days we are going nowhere. We walk the beach, swim in salt water and pool water, and take the time to appreciate each other. My accomplices now have never been to this section of Thailand before, and my own memories are distant enough to leave us in peace. It is new, then, in a way sorely needed post-pandemic. For the first time since Hanoi in January of 2020 we are in a new place together, on vacation, with no goals. We didn’t intend these moments to be so far apart.

The bar plays a strange collection of covers, and I wonder about the economics. Does the streaming platform chose to play global pop, for a global tourist audience, in poor cover form so as to avoid paying the original artists’ fees? Is this the world now? Do we all live in muzak versions, not just in elevators but in everything? The global circuit no longer depending on poorly ripped CDs of Bob Marley, of Rhianna, but of covers uploaded by Filipino bands who will, through algorithmic manipulation, never cross Spotify’s threshold for higher-percentage pay outs?


The prior visit, the three boys who’d met in Tokyo, is now best dated as one year pre-iPhone. No one had cell service, there was no global data network. We Googled things from one shared laptop, and then went wandering. We reserved things online, before departure, via email. No one made FaceTime calls on their AirPods from the beach. It was hard to know how good the sunsets here were, without visiting.

I don’t begrudge these changes. They’ve let me work from many places, let me travel and live a life that was mostly fiction in 2004, or in 1998. The ability to quickly show our young accomplice’s face to the grandparents in distant locales is of course good. The ability to respond to work calls from the pool deck, well, it’s inevitable. On that 2006 trip I had a Blackberry, paid for by a company in Los Angeles. The future is already here, and the past right beside it. Outside our resort a man squats busily cooking corn on the cob on a grill for a dollar, while half the restaurants along the beach have not re-opened post Covid. We live in a world that contains all of us at once.

It’s wonderful, after a few years, to remember this face to face.

Healing time

Bangkok skyline

Eight months ago we watched this same view with more pain, our skin worn away by a road in Laos so that the pool stung slightly.

Now we sit and watch the buildings almost astonished to be back. Work travel like this is always unexpected, and neither of us planned to return to Bangkok so soon after the last strange week here, shuttling between hospital and hotel.

We were too injured then to explore very far in any direction. A half dozen blocks at most, a couple of train stations, a single mall. Now, back to a more regular health, we wander a dozen miles a day around the city, becoming both more comfortable here and less tied to those injuries.

It is a strange reunion, a vacation given to us out of odd circumstance. A colleague unable to travel due to the new US government for Tara and the freedom of minimal employment for me has given us three days in the city before her work begins to relax and revisit old views.

In the interim months Bangkok has changed as much as our skin. The building across the street from this hotel is gleaming white and the pool on floor five filled. On our last visit it was wrapped in scaffolding and construction elevators, and filled with work men welding at odd hours. The interior of the upper floors does not yet look finished, but the lower ten seem occupied. For our part we can both do pushups, a testament to the surgeons at Bumrungrad that added titanium to Tara’s wrist and to her intervening months of physical therapy and dedication.

As a reminder of physical progress the week in Thai sunshine is welcome. As a mental break from the past before we begin building the future, it’s a luxury.

Sometimes we are lucky indeed.

Personal monuments

Bangkok window

Now ten years and more have
Gone by

says Gary Snyder in my favorite poem. For this site and myself they have, and I can not help but consider the distance covered.

The decade has gone by in a very human fashion; it has passed in the small actions of waking, writing, and commuting that are repeated daily and in the large decisions of moving and hoping made more rarely and slowly.

Ten years ago, after fiddling with tools and styles for much of two years, inhab.it became a home. Looking back those early worries seem quixotic, and, like so much of life, the product of a different boy. Stylistically inhab.it has varied but topically so much of what I hoped to say is still here and has been brought with me from one city to the next, from one theme to the next.

In two thousand six, at the end of a long relationship, I spent hours on a balcony in Shanghai and trying to write. I had spent much of two thousand five in the same fashion, accumulating awareness of neighbor’s daily routines and a familiarity with the wonton shop across the street that sold a bowl full for two point four RMB. By the time I managed to focus on the technical side of the internet, much of my life was already changing. After years of underemployment I was finally busy. After two years in a two story apartment with three balconies and a cat I was planning to move. And after years of trying to write I was ready to share.

Ten years later, sitting on a rooftop in Bangkok, I try to remember the uncertainty and the hope of life in Shanghai in two thousand six. The writing from that year conveys so much to me now, and is exactly why I started the site. The future is always impossible to see, but looking backwards we are able to trace the pattern of our lives. In that first year of scattered posts lives a focus on people, cities, bicycles, Shanghai, and memory.

My memories of Bangkok are older than this site. They begin with arriving in two thousand four with one bag and no plans save to eventually make it back to the United States. We’d been down south in the islands for a week, enjoying the start of the relationship that would be ending two years later as this site went live. On my own on the bus into Bangkok from the airport I met some fellow backpackers who would end up taking me on midnight motorbike rides around the city, adventures I would otherwise have known little about.

In two thousand sixteen we relax on this rooftop with a pool for a week, recovering from a motorbike accident in northern Laos. Memories of those earlier trips had warned me of the risks, which I’d ignored. For a week I look out at the construction cranes that dot the skyline and enjoy the city. Much of my memory of urban Bangkok is from two thousand five, an adventure with old roommates from Tokyo. We spend a week in the south on a beach, and a few days on each end in Bangkok. My main memory is of the constant traffic, of finding a nice hotel, and of exploring stations along the one elevated train line.

In two thousand sixteen we take that same train regularly, and are as comfortable as those recently injured can be. It is a strange week, and a good one, an echo of years past in an entirely new fashion. It is as good a place as any to pass this monument to personal habit and to consider the change the past ten years have brought.

Quoted line from Gary Snyder’s December at Yase’, the final poem of his Four Poems for Robin’ published in The Back Country (1968), No Nature (1992) and The Gary Snyder Reader (1999)