Wat Arun is a tower of sculpture that rises from the curving Chao Phraya river, and its armor of glass and gold and precious gems spark in the dawn like a windy sea tumbling over itself, crashing, roaring with light. As I draw closer to the great spire—having been scammed into riding my own private boat along the canals and the few old wooden houses sinking into muck for fifty wonderful dollars—this includes a trip to a river market, which consists of an old woman waiting to paddle over and sell me cans of soda from a cooler she’s placed inside her canoe—still, as I draw closer I see that the great spire is held on the shoulders of sculpted monkeys who were conscripted to the task straight from the Ramayana. Their skin is green, they wear towering Kaiser helmets, and their jaws grin white shark’s teeth. Tourists from every country ascend the steep steps along with bald Asian monks in flowing orange cowls, and the city falls beneath us, stretching forever into golden haze.
The place is so alien and exciting, and I’m a part of it, surviving, somehow—photographing everything with a new (heavy = expensive) camera I bought just before flying over. I can do this. Explore the world, see new things, meet new people, enjoy myself. My life is not over. I’m barely twenty-two years old, and I can leave Korea in a few months if I like, and come here, or work somewhere else. Nothing is impossible, nothing is written: I am free to go where I please and strike where I please.
Golden hoops sway around spires, motorbikes roar past everything, and a new confidence grows within me. New ideas form as I walk those streets and gorge myself. Everything that has shriveled within my mind opens again and expands. I begin to conceive of the novel I’ll spend two years composing in Korea, and the crafting of that work will sustain me through much sadness, and give me the confidence to win the heart of the heir to the throne of the Korean Empire.
Liked this post? The book it comes from, Kingdoms in the Sun, costs as much as a cup of coffee.