Last night I walked over to the seafront. It’s only a few blocks through the city streets. Sometimes it seems like you just need to stand near the water. And I wanted to see Georgetown, my city, by night. It’s like the longing to see your lover in different clothes and states—in fancy togs, and in overalls, and with grease up to his or her elbows, and asleep, and drenched in sweat, and all boiled up, and in various hats and hairstyles, and also at the ages of five and twenty-five and forty-five and ninety-five—you want to see all their faces and bodies.
I hardly ever go out at night here. I usually get stuck into some kind of work or a book or the mistaken notion I’m going to get to sleep early. I only lie awake until midnight or one or two, listening to music on YouTube. Not a waste of time, but not sleeping.
Tonight the moon’s a thumbnotch in the sky and the breeze is warm off the water. Here at the park someone’s making money renting toy cars for the kids to ride in. There’s a yellow Mini, a red Corvette, a black BMW and the boys are zooming around with their headlights on, batteries buzzing, a sound that takes me back to childhood Christmases. A food vendor’s ringing his hand bell, and people have set up cheap plastic lounge chairs in pairs for giving foot massage. The masseures sit on camp stools and chat with the customers while they work. The chairs are all full. You get the feeling no one has a permit for any of this.
People sit on the concrete benches under the pollarded trees or on the parapet by the water. It’s dark, even with the streetlamps on. A young woman wearing a sequined lavender veil and nerd glasses offers to sell me a jar of herbal jelly—fundraiser for her school. The air smells of salt water, cigarette smoke, fried food, cologne, and at times the sweetness of tropical plants that seem to blossom so gorgeously in gratitude for living here. This is a place where things like to live. Plants spring cheerfully out of buildings from cracks in the stucco, whole trees grow right out of the sidewalk. It must be hell for maintenance.
Sometimes I feel like I’m not much of a traveler. I don’t see the sights, I don’t go to museums or lectures or on historic walks, I don’t eat the street food (which Penang is famous for but isn’t remotely vegan). When I’m not working or writing or reading or tormenting my ukulele I generally just like to walk.
I like to just look, and there’s no purpose to it. I like to see a white-and-gold cat cross the street with its twisty tail; the grizzly, unshaven man in his striped polo shirt taking his cup from person to person like a reverse bumblebee; the group of young guys, up to something, smiling and milling up the sidewalk. I can’t say I learn anything, and all this looking doesn’t add up to anything. I just look at one person or tree or house or car or gecko or bit of garbage after another as it goes by or I go by it.
Everything we become or make or do. Mostly misguided, but if you think of it all as an experiment, see it all in the full context of our mission on Earth, learning to love, it seems to be necessary and becomes almost adorable. We’re always experimenting and learning, and we don’t even know it.
We screw up a lot. Everything gets forgiven. It’s hard to go very far with that, as a human, but I wonder how far God goes. All the way, I imagine. Of course, S/He doesn’t stop at observing and forgiving, and neither should we.
Yesterday a woman walked up the stairs at the guest house where I’m staying and it was like her body itself, the way it swayed and undulated as she climbed, was saying how beautiful. Not only her body but all bodies. We’re all so beautiful, it said. Can you see how beautiful we are?