There are some books that seem to speak to me. In fact, some authors do that, no matter what they write. And Janet Brown is one of them. Even before I read her first memoir, Tone Deaf in Bangkok (ThingsAsian Press, 2009), I’d become enamored with her B is for Bangkok (ThingsAsian Press, 2011), a children’s book my kids and I enjoy reading on a very regular basis.
And now she’s come out with Almost Home: The Asian Search of a Geographic Trollop (ThingsAsian Press, 2013). I devoured it in two days.
Almost Home follows Brown’s year and a half in Asia. After living in Bangkok (which she writes about in Tone Deaf), she returns back to the US where her two adult sons live. But Asia calls her back. To be more specific, Bangkok calls her back.
Janet Brown poses an interesting question. Can she, at the age of 60, live a content life in Bangkok yet still remain as close to her sons as she’d like? It’s something she ponders throughout the book.
The Bangkok she returns to has changed since she last lived there. But just as before, Brown is determined to find an apartment that’s tranquil and local and far from the maddening crowds of unassimilated expats. She tells humorous anecdotes about her new life in Bangkok, but also serious accounts of the mounting political violence that plagues the city soon after she returns there.
So she moves on to Hong Kong for a one-month visit. This is my favorite part, for obvious reasons. I inhaled every word she wrote about the Kowloon she experienced. And Chungking Mansions features prominently in this section. Janet Brown has spent months at the Holiday Guesthouse and knows the place like no other writer I’ve read.
She travels throughout the labyrinth that is Chungking Mansions as though it were home. And it is. It definitely is. Janet Brown comes to enjoy her mornings at the Starbucks across the street from the Mansions, for the normal coffee and the friendly baristas.
Brown also travels to Beijing, where she moves for a while, as well as Penang. The Beijing section is colorful and brings me up to date from when I last traveled there in 1991. Same with Penang, but that section differs from the others because Brown comes to a few realizations that both answer her question about home and guide her toward her next destination.
This book is lovely for its delicious writing, and also for Brown’s rich photographs. And if I may be so bold, I’d love for Janet Brown to write a memoir devoted to Kowloon. She could do it like no other!