City of Mine #Vol.3 by Phum Viphurit
cover design: Eiko Sasaki
text & photo: Phum Viphurit
translation: Erika Minegishi
My most memorable experience in this once foreign town was in a home.
It was on a cold August day, that a young 9-year-old flew for 12 hours with his family to a small, hidden away city full of trees. That kid was young and naive, not ready for the chillness of the breeze or the coldness of being far away from all that he ever knew. Little did he know, that feeling of looking from the outside-in, the detachment of feeling like a foreigner would slowly fade away until it became one of the only true homes that he ever really knew.
Hamilton was a university city of about 400,000 people, well back in 2005 at least. The city is regarded as one of the most boring places in New Zealand as it is not a home to any significant tourist spots or anything that would really turn heads at an instant. I think I fitted right into this, being 9, going on 10, at the time; I remember being as confused and as insecure about my placement there with almost zero knowledge of English being the cherry on top of the ice cream. Not quite lost, but never really with any solid kind of footing, afloat on this new body of water.
My first home was based right on the main road. I don’t quite remember the name of it but it was not too far from the Hamilton Gardens, a large park with designated gardens decorated in cultural themes like Indian or Italian botanical gardens. This was a 2-story house with a basement, before you enter, the steep pavement would invite your eye to explore this ideal NZ home imagery, like in those suburban family living magazines. All I could think about was how fun it would’ve been to ride a skateboard down the concrete hill and slam right through the garage down, gracefully rolling and stumbling right onto my bedroom which was located in the basement.
All three of us, mum, brother and I lived in this windowless basement for at least 6 months. It almost sounds scary when you read it typed out like this but I swear, that basement was as comfortable and safe a place as any. I could’ve definitely done with a few more metres of personal space, but it was enough for the time. The arrangement was simple, my brother and I were set up on a bunk bed, I occupied the top bunk which provides a clear view of the entire room. Mum was always on her queen-sized bed, reading a magazine or just out and about working while my brother was underneath the bunk, doing his own thing. Adjacent to the door was an old beaten-up couch, it always seemed like it was really dusty, although we had just vacuumed it. I enjoyed jumping on it vigorously when my mum wasn’t home or I would be laid out on the soft rotten pillows, eyes glued to the 4:3 television. Who knew that 2 news and 1 local music channel would be enough to capture and expand my imagination beyond that little dark square room. Although I had enjoyed the cozy stay, it wasn’t long before we decided to move.
8A Hudson Street was a haven compared to the old basement place, mainly because we didn’t have to stay in the same house or under the landlords any longer. It was in quite a lovely residential area, bricked fenceless homes with tastefully minimal gardens and grand structures of dark wooden frames were always a familiar sight while staying around there. You had to walk a little bit on the concrete pavement to reach our home which was behind our Scottish neighbours’ home to reach a rectangular building, one story, small garage, tiny grass field. The house felt like a breath of fresh air as you entered through sliding the glass doors and office-like blinds was the living room that always allowed in a lot of sunlight. Even on the colder days, you couldn’t find a spot in the main living space that wasn’t touched by this natural warmth. It would reach into the office area where mum would set up her iMac desktop, following into the kitchen which had our first ever oven where I would go on to perfect my Apple Crumble recipe in the many years. It was yet another simple space to exist in, but it felt like the entire world and more to me.
The second home would provide my own bedroom to grow up in for my remaining years in New Zealand. Although the physical space was smaller than that of the shared bedroom, it being my own space was my first ever true introduction to independence, that and my beloved electric blanket which I called my saviour on the nights that dropped below zero degrees. The white wall opposite my bed would also provide the perfect backdrop for my first attempts to record music covers. The view outside from it would not be spectacular, but overlooking the neighbour’s fence to the skyline, whether the sun was rising or setting would always give me a sense of solitude. Ironically, that fence would be climbed years later while my family and I were away in Thailand for a holiday. The kitchen window forced opened, large muddy footprints all over the floor would confirm that our house got robbed that one summer. Upon return to the empty space, I still felt at home, although pissed and a little scared, that rectangular building resonated energy that eventually returned us back into our routine, a slow and peaceful life.
I hope that through me talking about my ordinary living spaces, it doesn’t emphasise how boring the city of Hamilton is. In fact I can think of many remarkable places and memories there but then surely this piece would exceed the 1000-word ceiling. My life now is back at its slowest pace without being able to tour around the world. I am settled in my original family home here in Bangkok, and although it is as comfortable as ever; I often think of those tiny square rooms that were so plain and lifeless on their own that it reminds me how much life we can inject into these places, given time and space to grow, how this was and shall always be enough for me to call my true home. I miss my little piece of Hamilton.