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2012 Brooklyn, Portland, Oregon, United States
I was invited to interview the Kokeshi collectors in their home, an upscale version of the odd museum I’ve got under way in my own little space. Several Kokeshi were set on the table before me, and as I drank tea and asked questions and scribbled, my eyes drifted toward them again and again and each time they met my gaze. Look into their eyes, I plan to encourage my readers. It takes the same investment of time that beginning a friendship takes, and it has the same payoff.
In Japanese, the word for “frog” and the word for “safe journey and return” are the same, so frogs often appear around doorways in Japan, as they do in the Kokeshi collectors’ home. I need a frog of my own at my doorway.
I had some extra time, so I went to the Chinese Garden, where a Lunar New Year extravaganza was in full swing. I stood at a window in an impromptu shop set up in the hall, and watched two dragons dancing. Their backs were to me much of the time, but I could have reached out and touched them if not for the wood and glass separating us.
A friend from work had a party last night, and I was heading out my door to meet another friend who was going to drive me to the party, when my cell phone rang. I answered and my friend pulled up at the same time, and I cut the call short and got into my friend’s truck. It was nearly an hour later that I realized my keys were missing. We had planned to leave early anyway, so it wasn’t a great imposition to ask to be taken home. There were the keys to my apartment, as well as the keys to my car in the driveway, hanging from the lock in the front door. At least I had locked the deadbolt before leaving the keys in it, so I knew it was unlikely that anyone was waiting for me inside, but that was small comfort. I never do things like this. What is wrong with me?

2011 Phsar Dey Hoy, Siem Reap, Cambodia
My Khmer trailer trash neighbors were watching TV at a preposterous volume early this morning, but at least I was already awake.
I have a new gecko. I could hardly believe it when I spied her, not edging under some screen at the perimeter as I would have expected for a first visit, but smack dab in the middle of the ceiling. She was quite active in the wee hours, came down to my level of the apartment. Company, I thought. A gecko is perfect. Not as soft and warm and comforting as a cat, but better at getting along on her own when I feel like hitting the road for a few days. I have decided to name the new gecko Pompona, same as the old gecko. Just as all my Polish friend’s cats were named Brutus, even the ones that had kittens, so will all my geckoes be named Pompona.
My friend brought back my plant with the braided stems the other day. It has tiny brand-new leaves. She has been taking care of it since I went to Vietnam at the turn of year, and I would have been happy if she had kept it, but I am glad to have the company.
I can almost use past tense when I speak of the worst illness I’ve had in Cambodia, and one of the worst illnesses I’ve had all over the world. I generally try to figure out if there is a lesson for me in the illness, but if there is a lesson in this one, it doesn’t seem too profound. I was under the weather the morning I wanted to go to the Flooded Forest, and I didn’t cancel my plans and rest, as I usually would have. So I suppose the lesson is that this is what happens when I get willful with pathogens. No long-term harm done this time around, but I might not want to make a practice of it.
Where I come from
If I end up teaching English in Georgia, maybe I can visit Transdniestr, where I have roots, if fictitious ones. Strangers who ask my country of origin – as if this is any of their business – are told that I am from Transdniestr. This is guaranteed to stop any potential conversation in its tracks.

2010 Pune, India (window seat #22 of the still-motionless bus to Aurangabad)
Ripped off
The rickshaw driver who got me here was sweet enough, while almost certainly ripping me off by means of Pune’s arcane rules of the meter. I remember a traveler from Australia I met in Riga, Latvia, who assumed he would be ripped off when he traveled, and never got upset about it. I think of him every time I get ripped off.
I woke up to the voices of my friend, her husband, and her daughter speaking Marathi in the kitchen, and thought of all the times I have fallen asleep listening to friends’ voices, but how seldom I have awakened to this. I thought of how wonderful – and how increasingly difficult, as I make friends all over the world – it would be to get all my friends in the same room.
Where I come from
I was accosted with only one question yesterday – “One photo with you, please?” – though I could tell my friend was answering a lot of questions about me as she showed me Pune. I tried to explain to her how it feels to be stared at and constantly interrupted with the only question to which George Bush and I would give the same answer, and to have assumptions about me made based on that answer. I don’t think she got it. I don’t know that anyone I have tried to explain this to has ever gotten it.
My friend packed a picnic of chapatti with sweet chickpea paste, and we ate this under a banyan tree, which seemed like exactly the right place. Later, at the end of our Punee sightseeing adventure, she introduced me to a drink made from coconut, spices, and a dried fruit from coastal Marahashtra that sounds like “kokom.” For supper she cooked luscious brinjal – I think I have finally got eggplant’s alter ego firmly in my vocabulary – with garlic, ginger and turmeric, and rice and salad and a curried egg leftover just for me. And curd for cutting the spice. Oh glory.

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