Saturday, August 4, 2007

Voices Carry
All areas carry distinct sounds, like the accents of the locals. In Boulder what I recall most is - forgive me Paul Simon - the sound of silence following a heavy snowfall. So quiet it was peacefully overwhelming. Then the 'scrich,scrich,scrapescriching' sound of ice scrapers dancing irregularly down the street as the beleaguered dawn patrol began gearing up for another day.

In Hong Kong it is , alack, alas , not exotic temple bells or gongs (except on a few religious holidays) but the sheer 24/7 nonstop din of jackhammers as the city's powerful construction interests once again tear a perfectly good site down only to build it up again, to tear it down. Got to keep those employment figures artificially high, doncha know, in Asia's World City.

In Shenzhen it was the unrelenting pounding of massive pile drivers, at least outside my last abode. Downtown the distorted, shrill wattage of public ads, social slogans for one child families intermixed with looped recordings of Western chestnuts such as Moon River, Theme from Exodus (A Time for Us) and, of course, what's a day without at least four or eight renditions of Hotel California and/or Yesterday Once More.

Hua Hin has a different, slightly less mechanized rhythms. The baying of countless feral hounds seems to dominate a lot of the local soundtrack beginning about 5am when they begin skirmishing for the choice shady spots to beat the fast-rising tropical heat throughout the day. Then come the hawkers, though not the melodious chants and sing-songs of my youth. They've been replaced by the familiar ice cream wagon jingles of American summers gone by, the parp-parp from a broom seller squeezing the horn on his overloaded bicycle and often the sonorous chants and exhorations from a large, over-amped Buddhist temple high on nearby foothill. The chanting sounded quaintly exotic the first 90 or so minutes I heard it, though less so at 10pm and for hours at a stretch beginning at 6am when a 9-day funeral is being held.

Then inside Faulty Towers II where I am currently sharing living space with R, the ex-brother-in-law of my landlord, it's a whole different soundtrack. R is a convicted murderer who did his time in the UK before discovering Thailand's less demanding expat underbelly. He's also an accomplished swordsman who once had some bit parts in the Highlander series. Depending on his level of sobriety, (frequently low) he maintains a generally cheerful civility, punctuated with frisky knife play and ... well, let's take 3am last week when I was awakened by an inebriated R and three equally swacked Thai ladies of the evening. Further hilarity ensued when they saw me peering over the balcony in my boxers and T-shirt at their impromptu bacchanal in the swimming pool below.

"Hey, Justin, why not come make number one party-party!" R has been here so long that he often talks to native English speakers as if they were Thai service workers. He's non-discriminating in that way. I begged off and asked them to keep it down, please. No chance.

An hour later, a knock at my door. I ignored it as well as the Thai female voice but finally relented and opened it. "Why you no want to see me?" she said, swaying a little. She was wearing about as much material as, well, not a lot, actually. I kept my eyes at her unfocused eye level as much as possible but couldn't help noticing that she ... well, R could be heard shouting downstairs for "Big Tits! Big Tits! Where you, Big Tits? Come to R now!" Yes. This was probably the young woman in question.

"You no want me?" she asked as coyly as someone blowing a 1.9 alcohol blood level probably can. No, actually, well, no. No. But thanks for the offer. R again: "You in Justin room? JUSTIN, you pay Big Tits 1,000 baht you touch her! Big Tits where you go, baby?"

"Where you from?" BT asked as I tried to gently shove her out the door. "USA, America," I replied. "R is England," she noted. "Why you fear England? Why USA fear England?"

Mmmm, maybe because he's convicted murderer who likes to play with knives while drunk? But I said nothing much and was able to politely eject her, complete with her mismatched opened toed cheap stiletto heels that she'd mixed up with one of her compadre's and discarded in my room while attempting a lap dance standing up. Gone, I thought. I locked the door, lay down and covered my head as outside dogs began to bark, and hounds began to howl. Downstairs little red rooster was still on the prowl. "Big Titsssss! Why you make R cry?"

Give you everything I got for a little peace of mind.


Hamish said...

God, this is a brilliant post. Great stuff.

b said...

Wow. I sure live a sedate life...

You got me to thinking about the sounds we live in. Big city Los Angeles, or at least our corner of it on the edge of the S.F. Valley is quiet enough at night that we hear coyotes yapping in celebration during a feast of poodle, hooting owls in the pines next door, occasionally the train horn and even the clacking on the tracks five miles north of us, and maybe a pitiful hound left outside overnight, perhaps soon to be cause for celebrating coyotes...the circle of L.A. life.

This quiet Sunday morning I'm hearing mourning doves, mourning what I don't know since they could be living in a worse place, a hawk on a lamp post creeing for some reason, and a mockingbird imitating somebody's pet iguana or something...don't know what that sound is.

Of course it is still L.A. and later in the day we will be serenaded by planes approaching Burbank, sirens from the firehouse a mile away, lawnmowers, chain saws, some banda or middle-eastern music from an ethnic pool pary, and the general din that rises from the Valley floor as these two million people come to life. But right now it's as peaceful as my growing up years in the farm country outside Boulder.

Thanks, Justin, for reminding me to listen. And to be thankful for peace and quiet when it's there.

John said...

Justin - was sitting in Boulder last night at my moms (after having dinner with your sis and pa) and was listening to the sound of crickets as the cool air blew in.

There are the days that I miss Colorado.