Maybe it's the curiosity of an inter-racial couple, or maybe it's the combination of our personalities, but E and I have been favoured everywhere we go.
It's hard to believe, but the truth is that on my own I am mostly shy and inhibited. I don't stay too long in one spot, I don't talk to strangers, I plan where to go and what to do. I prefer to hide in anonymity.
But with E, the dynamics change. He strikes up conversations with people he meet, and he's so immediately likeable that they warm up to him easily.
In Bangkok, we were at the Chatuchak weekend market till finishing time, and the gates were closing. We were at one of the many exits, disoriented and we had to call our driver P'God to come pick us up. As we tried to navigate our way out of the market, we found ourselves in front of a food store behind a closed gate, and the Thai people immediately pulled out stools and invited us to join them. They turned out to be a family of siblings, with two older brothers and two younger sisters, and the eldest brother put his arm around E and offered us beer while we waited. When I had P'God on the phone, the brother took over and explained to him how to get to where we were. The siblings then laid out a picnic mat and got us to sit with them, and later their two youngest brothers came running and practised their broken English with us. In the absence of a common language, E and the family communicated with smiles and kind eyes, and I tried my best to interpret. I somewhat understood that he was enlisting in the army and preparing to go to the US to fight. In the end, the brother removed the silver ring from his hand and placed it in E's. "I don't speak English, and he cannot speak Thai, but I want you to tell him that I love him like my brother, and I want him to remember Thai people as being good people." The second brother told me as we were leaving that his sisters would like a hug from me, and they gave me the tightest, warmest hug that you could get from a stranger. This is why I love Thailand, why it would always feel like home, why I can never bear to leave.
When we were in Cambodia, I was tired from being out in the sun all day, and sometimes grumpy from not getting my meals on time, and occasionally gave the cold shoulder and periods of silence. But E was always polite, always inquisitive, always friendly. It was him who got our tour guide Alann to bring us to a local floating restaurant that served fried snakes and had hammocks for seats. And it was when we were hanging out at the local beach in Siam Reap, when I was taking a soak in the ocean by myself, when Sothea turned to E and invited us to his new apartment for dinner.
Or the Singaporean restaurant near my place. I have walked past that restaurant a hundred times without notice, but E made it a point to smile and wave at the chef everytime he passed by. After weeks of random contact, E stopped outside the entrance and asked him, "Hey, how's it going?" and introduced me as the Singaporean girl in the neighbourhood. We had a chat and got his name, I taught E to call him abang ('brother' in Malay). We started going in for meals once in a while, and Abang would recommend dishes, let us sample his mother's secret sambal recipe. One night, E had his violin and was persuaded by the crowd of mostly Malaysians to play a tune, and he played a moving rendition of "Tian Mi Mi" and had the owner taking out her digital camera and snapping away, and everyone clapped excitedly when he was done. We got a round of free beers, and that night we became family.
And the other night on one of our walks around my neighbourhood, we chanced upon an Okinawan place that was hidden in the basement of a dingy building. It was close to 11, and there were only 4 people inside- the owner/chef, the waitress, their friend and a salaryman who was eating by his lonesome self in front of the small TV. We sat on cushions and ate on low tables, and soon the owner and his friend started talking to us- well, mostly with him because they were speaking in Japanese. I could understand most of it but couldn't say much in response, and E acted as intepreter. They praised him for his Japanese and the owner got up and decided to whip up a Singaporean-styled chilli pork trotters dish for us, on the house. It was delicious, and reminded me of Mummy's cooking. When E ordered another beer, he gave us a free dish of sticky peanut tofu with sweet soya sauce, and before we settled the bill he cooked us another mabo-tofu dish. We stayed till almost 1 and were absolutely stuffed, but overwhelmed by his hospitality. "Come back again before you leave Japan," he urged as we thanked him and made our way out.
And I look ahead and think of all the people we've yet to meet, the stories we've yet to write and already I love the idea of us.