• Thammika Songkaeo

The Choice of a Hotel

The question of whether to take a hotel rated "Fabulous" on Booking.com because it is affordable, or whether to question it because it is affordable. I had told myself that I would never look back at my hotel choices, as I had already invested several hours planning where we'd spend our nights in Switzerland in May, and time is scarce; but last night, something about the undulating, scarlet sheets in my memory of a hotel picture made me reevaluate. It was too zoomed in. Maybe the walls were crumbling, or the bed, springier than anticipated, would be right in front of a toilet that wouldn't flush.

I spent an hour and a half rebooking, investing sixty more dollars a night to get a hotel bold enough to show the entire room, with wide lenses. Other factors came in—this one, in particular: although Zurich is one of the safest cities in the world, being a minority Asian lately has been a curse to many, and literally a deadly surprise for some. My daughter and I will arrive at the train station close to 8 PM, if things go right; we will both look Asian, even in the dark. We will be easily attackable and killable from all sides. I don't want anyone blaming me for the pandemic.

The hotel I picked yesterday is six minutes by foot from the main train station, on a street with boutiques, which, sadly, will be closed by the time we arrive; but I think racist killers don't switch into safe areas right when innocent storekeepers leave; hopefully there is a liminal period during which racist killers laze, letting streets breathe the heaviness of night into them first; I'm hoping that my daughter and I will arrive at our hotel before that breath turns full; we will stick ourselves into our hotel, waiting for a morning, when more people might see us as harmless humans or be busy with their own minds, occupied by tasks that have kept hordes of humans busy enough, over the centuries, to not boil up with the energy to hate and scapegoat others.

That said, I am aware that Switzerland is one of the safest places for us to travel, and that a lot of this is just a worry in my head that does not translate into the landscape of the real Zurich. Still, an Asian has to consider that one-percent chance that something terrible might happen. People have really died recently because of this race.

The new hotel is of a much better outfit than those when I travel alone. It has bedside reading lights and freshly painted walls of the grey-white palette (alone, I might stay in a place painted vomit green); a one-seater sofa, and pillows of matching colors (unlike the places I've stayed in alone, where there is no sofa at all). I imagine my daughter and I throwing our legs up on the bed after long walks, making simple breakfasts in our rooms, and laughing over things that we saw that she will grow up to forget, making this trip proof that memories are like friends; they come and they go, and all we'll ever live with sometimes is the nagging guilt of forgetting something we should have remembered better, never lost touch with.

An older, wise friend told me this past weekend that his now-teenage children do not remember their six-year-old trips much, making me ask whether my trip to Switzerland would be worth it, especially for sixty more dollars a night. He said that he and his wife had a good time, and so the answer, from his perspective, was yes.

I don't know exactly how I feel yet about forming and possessing a one-sided memory, but I already wish that my daughter, too, would remember. It's hard forming memories with her when I think about her being unable to recall them. Even knowing that vaguely, the memory will be imprinted somewhere, affecting the way she later says, for instance, "Mom, I love you," in a voice booming with midlife, isn't enough to ease away this unfolding feeling that memories with her are inherently bittersweet, a detailed road to the past that only I will be able to tread, while I am implicated in her adult life vaguely as a valiant woman who had voluntarily showed up in Zurich alone with a child.

As the way the best of us talk about the best of our parents goes, I might be spoken of as a role model (at best), but the proof of our shared time will have dissolved on her end. To her, our past will not exist as pictures in her mind; she will refer to our mutual experience as the big gap in her memories—a trip that had happened because Mom said it had, and Mom had recorded the trip's journey. The realities of the trip will be dependent on me: the ways I talk about it, write about it, photograph it once in a while.

I already wish my daughter would remember, in her own way, not mine: the walk to the hotel on our first night, the way Mommy holds her hand in unfamiliar streets, the way she will respond to the cold of the night. The matching colors of the pillows and the one-seater sofa, the fact that there were bedside reading lights. The walls that weren't crumbling. Mommy handing over the credit card to the hotel staff and saying, "When we reach Singapore, we'll have to save to make up for this trip." A hug between the two of us, meant to seal everything in.

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