By lunchtime, Beijing had reached 102 degrees and our four-year old twins were hungry. We’d spent the morning exploring the shadeless Yonghegong Lama temple and now sought out the refuge of the simple vegetarian buffet nearby where my vegetarian husband and I had had a transcendent meal on our last trip six years before. To our dismay, it had been, according to a nearby security guard, demolished. One of our twins emitted hangry squeals, the other went boneless. The air was dense with humidity and pollution. On our way to the temple from the subway stop at the top of Yonghegong Street, we’d passed another, fancier-looking, vegetarian restaurant and so we elbowed our way all the way back up the narrow corridor of manic Buddhist commercialism thick with incense and the calls of hawkers selling religious tchotchkes and crowds of midday worshippers and tourists; we drowned in sweat.
We took the fast train to Beijing across hours of deadened countryside where all the trees grow in rows, various heights, but all new and emaciated under the dusting of early leaves. I asked an acquaintance what happened to all the old trees. Was this a result of the Cultural Revolution? He said, maybe they ate them. They ate grass sometimes. Maybe they cut them down for firewood. Now and then you see some that don’t look planted; volunteers, they had been fattened up by age and randomly placed. There are always survivors.
In the fall of 2001, while I was living in the south Thailand border town of Ranong, I had a brief love affair with an Australian woman named Eva. I first met her on the swimming-pool veranda of the aging hotel where I was renting a studio for $150 a month. Travelers would occasionally pass through Ranong to renew their Thai travel visas at the Burmese border, and Eva had just returned from a visa run with a British couple I’d met the day before. That night the four of us went out to drink whiskey and sing karaoke at a local nightclub. The following morning, the British couple headed north for Bangkok, and Eva moved her things into my room.