Matthew, the small Burmese Kayin man who worked the front desk at the Lotus Guesthouse, was the first one to suggest that Mr. Benny might be dead. “Benny went back to Burma so he could die near his family,” he told me, his eyes fixed on the TV set as flickering Shiites danced in the streets of Iraq. “He was too sick to live in Thailand any more.”

I had just returned to the rainy border town of Ranong, Thailand, after an absence of five months. It was April 9, 2003, the day U.S. tanks rolled into central Baghdad. Matthew had been squatting in the guesthouse lobby, translating BBC commentary for the other hotel workers — all of them illegal migrant workers from Burma. Deciphering the images from Iraq proved to be a difficult process, since even the BBC commentators didn’t seem to know what was going on. Had Baghdad… More…

When I was living and studying in rural Japan, I had a Korean-Chinese friend named Emi. She spoke Mandarin, Korean, Japanese, and English fluently, and she didn’t need much sleep. Once, when she came home to our dorm after studying late at night, she left a cream puff outside my door with a note: “Eat! Eat! Delicious!”

Emi was getting her master’s degree in psychology and taking four classes a term. She was also looking online for a husband, and that, she said, made her feel like she was taking five classes a term.

One night she pulled me into her professor’s office so I could take a look at a collection of men’s photos she had downloaded from the Internet. With a couple of clicks on a folder icon she produced a collection of the most sullen, pasty-looking Korean-Chinese men I had ever seen. Not that I had seen… More…

I came across an article a while ago about an unusual friendship between a monkey and a dog. Apparently there was a terrible flood, somewhere in Africa where terrible things like this happen, and the two animals were trapped. They somehow survived the rivers created by the endless rain, and they have been inseparable ever since. They sleep together, eat together and, perhaps most unusual of all, the monkey rides on the dog’s back. If you can find a photo of this, it leaves you with the feeling that it is both the most unnatural and natural thing you have ever seen. It’s more Disney than Disney.

After I found the article I wanted to write a story about these two friends, but it never came out right. I kept coming back to the image of the two living in an apartment building in New York City after a terrible… More…