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we took to the woods

Everyone is out. A full day, with boats, islands, temples and markets; it’s nice to be quiet at home for a moment.

Quirks of this apartment… pale green geckos on the ceiling at night, to start. The garbage chute (dangerous old-fashioned luxury, and a serious disincentive to recycle). The electric water heater box in the shower with the smiling nude girl sticker. The fact that the faucets as well as the washing machine — which rests on stilts in a tiled alcove in the kitchen and disgorges its wastewater directly onto the floor through a hose — use water of only one temperature: lukewarm. There are no hot and cold dials here, only one handle at each plumbing point, and only two choices: off and on. Stamped on all of it are the words ARMITAGE SHANKS VITREOUS CHINA. I love that phrase.

On the neighboring balcony lived a pair of screechy lovebirds, behind staghorn ferns in a cage, until one flew off last week. The old couple across the hall — they keep a drum set and a lacquered Chinese settee in the living room — explained they were cleaning the cage; they immediately bought a replacement bird but it too fled the coop. One worries about escaped parakeets in the US (dangerously sore thumbs in a deciduous forest) but here, where bright yellow wild birds already live in the palms in the yard, the runaways probably have at least half a chance.

This housing estate consists of seven buildings, five of them 25 floors tall, and yet it has no convenience mart. You have to walk a kilometer or ride a bus for three to find groceries. Here’s how awesome Asia is: instead of a 7-Eleven at the retail level, there is a math study center for kids (“We measure progress by your child’s ability to beat a computer at chess”), a day spa, and a ballroom dancing school.

Chinese families (the majority here) burn incense daily, especially in the early mornings, and I’ve come to love waking up to the mingled smell of frying noodles and sticks of musk wafting from other open windows. And the recorded lady who announces with British (ie repressed) exuberance, as the elevator doors open, “Storey eleven!” And how, though I fall out of almost every balancing pose, the yoga teacher will say “Beautiful” when I’m the only one in class who can still sit on the floor between my bent knees and lie back like I did while reading Nancy Drew at eight.

The girls made spectacular progress last Friday at their first swim lesson with Uncle Roland, a wonderful old Chinese man in a speedo who delighted them by demanding over and over, “Who hit me?” and then collapsing backward into the water, and saying, “I am Christmas!” and “Hannah, hannah!”, which I took to mean a girl named Hannah was part of the class but which A. claims is Singlish for good job. The fruit jellies afterward did not hurt either. At the end I said I was amazed the girls had not been scared, and he tapped the side of his head, raised one finger, and said, “Human psychology!”

Overall, I think this is a good place.