I take my lone flip-flop and put it in one of the acrylic drawers in the lobby of my homestay in Bangkok. It’s a small gem hidden on a side street near a maze of temples that show up in countless selfies. Chris, the owner, greets me with a sawatdi and smile.
You can’t wear shoes in homestays in Thailand, in temples, or in many other places. But I can’t bear to throw out the lone flip-flop, thinking that I’ll find the other one, that somehow, it will show up. Maybe Thaiboah, the huge neighborhood dog, will bring it to me in his slobbery mouth, his tail pounding the pavement.
The flip-flop was on my foot as I escaped the floods in Hue, Vietnam. Fading black rubber, like a tire that has worn out its treads. In a country that has survived so much, limping along towards a better future, as I am too. But somehow, it popped out of my yellow backpack, one of the three pieces of luggage I had been hauling around since leaving China. My life condensed down to forty kilos and some change.
But on Tuesday, this chapter of my life will officially be over. I’m leaving Asia, heading towards Peru.
Let’s rewind to September when my life turned into one of those weird dreams that you can’t explain to anyone, that involve Gene Hackman, a cameo appearance from your ex, and a trip back in time on a magic school bus. You get my point. I attended a meeting where none of the attendees were allowed to have phones and were advised to leave China as soon as possible, due to arbitrary enforcement of local laws, including the risk of wrongful detentions. This warning was also echoed–make that screamed– by the US Department of State Consulate. I was briefed on how to handle interrogation if I got detained, but it would only be for ten days in a facility where the lights are on 24/7. Scenes from my life flashed in my brain. Reinventing myself after a divorce. My mom packing us kids up in her Chevy and leaving my dad. Jumping out of an airplane into the unknown. Bad idea. I broke my back. Meanwhile, a guy in the room keeps interrupting to take a Subway lunch order, and I really don’t care what type of chips I get, thank you very much. I’m just thinking, I teach grammar. Will I really be charged for espionage if I oppose the Oxford comma?
Considering the weird bumps in my life, I knew to take the warning seriously. I knew in my gut, that gnawing feeling being worse than an intestinal parasite, that I had to leave China. I didn’t want it to happen, just like admitting that I really did lose that stupid lost flip flop. There had to be a mistake.
But there wasn’t.
I was introduced to someone who knew someone who could appreciate my abilities, that not being losing shoes, but teaching limbo-low Chinese middle schoolers. The school wasn’t in Asia, but Peru.
The city? Lima.
I guess Lima is no longer just a dreaded bean.
As a child, I hated lima beans. I hated this legume as it was something I needed and never wanted, me having a stare down with them on my plate. My dad made me sit in the basement until each one was gone. And the only thing worse than lima beans is cold lima beans. But I was having a lima bean moment. I knew that Lima was something I needed. For some reason, I knew I should move to the land of edible guinea pigs, and not just for health insurance. I needed a new challenge, with new shaped outlets and different coins. A language without tones. New smells, new sounds, new traditions. New washing machines with water that flushed down the toilet in a different direction (That’s a myth, by the way Fact or Fiction?: South of the Equator Toilets Flush and Tornadoes Spin in the Opposite Direction | Scientific American). I needed a new chapter of my life. Blank pages ready to fill, without ten days and nights in a detention cell.
As crazy as it sounds, I found myself signing a contract and beginning the scavenger hunt for obscure documentation needed for a Peruvian work visa. I watched a few videos on You Tube. I visited websites. The country is antiquated compared to China that updates itself more than an Apple phone. Peru clings onto its past, storing traditions in mason jars.
I need that. A place where the past isn’t bulldozed away and replaced with Starbucks.
So, while lamenting the loss of a shoe and experiencing Lima bean jitters, I am soaking up my last bits of Asia, rolling in it, the smells, tastes, and sounds, my body a sponge. I am squeezing in my last Anthony Bourdain moments, discovering so many hole-in-the-wall gems in Bangkok, that there is barely any wall left.
Monks swirled like croissants in their saffron robes collecting alms at dawn, massage workers checking their phones, brothel workers tugging their short spandex skirt. The smells, the traditions, and Thaibhoa, my favorite dog.
Asia will be as much of me as Chicago Cub traffic or juice from a Michigan peach dripping down my arm. I’ll return to Asia someday, looking for that flip-flop. I hope Thaiboah finds it. I hope he’s still around when I return, too.