Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Everything melts in this heat

So, it was not a dark and stormy night, and the plane landed, when it landed, on grey dust. And the airport was full of perfume smells and chocolate and whisky-flavoured memories. I sighed and clasped my two obligatory boxes of Corica apple strudel to my chest, tried to balance my laptop on one shoulder, my backpack on the other and my duty free shopping bag of Macallan's single malt in a spare hand. (As Roy Cohn put so beautifully, in Angels in America, I wish I was a fucking octopus) I would have to continue my juggling act until I could get a trolley (which was not anytime soon, seeing as I had to pass through Immigration first).

OK, there is one thing I absolutely love about Malaysia. If you're Malaysian, you actually get to go through the autogate, where you plunk your passport into this reader thingy and put your thumb on the required spot. It verifies that you are you, and kazaam, you're through customs. No waiting around for surly immigration officers to stamp your passport and forget to welcome you home.

Finally, I arrived at the baggage claims and my suitcase actually made it out there quickly. Oh, better and better. And when I went through customs (Green Lane, but of course) the officers, whose eyes I met steadily, barely gave me a second glance. The joys of being a scruffy, unprepossessing student-type.

Another thing I love about Malaysia is my family waiting to greet me at the airport. I get lost in a flurry of hugs and smiles as they take my suitcases - we proceed to the car and unload them into it. I chatter nonstop and my brother, who is driving, hands me the phone. It's Mom.

"I'm glad you're back, Jenn. When you coming home to JB?"

I tell her I have to wait for my unaccompanied luggage to arrive and she worries about the fate of her apple strudel. Corica is legend in my family, ever since, during my first-year holidays, when I brought back a box and forced everyone to have some at midnight.

I meet up with one of my best friends for breakfast: "Angel child!" she screams as she hurls herself on me. We go to Strudels in Lucky Gardens for breakfast and have clove and cardamom teh tareks. Nice. From where we're sitting we get a perfect view of the continuous stream of traffic coming in to have breakfast or brunch or do some shopping.

"Honestly, it's nine on a Tuesday morning. You'd think these people would be at work," she remarks.

"Nolar, we're Malaysian. Eating is our national pastime. You could go to the stalls at four in the morning and you'd still see people chomping away."

We laugh. It's hot. I am steaming in my tee shirt.

Everything melts in this heat.

I take five baths in less than 24 hours. Finally, I simply drench myself in cold, cold water and lie naked under the fan. The family are all at work or else I wouldn't. We don't do nudity here. My cousin calls:

"Whatchoo doing?"

"Lying naked under the fan. Too hotlar."

She giggles nervously. We don't talk about such things in our family.

We agree to meet for dinner. And I have a lunch appointment today. And dinner. And so on, for the rest of the week.

"Wow, you're efficient," she says. "It took me a while after I got back to meet up with people."

"Not efficient, just bored. Sides, it will be nice to see everyone again, let them know I'm back for real."

"What about the ones you don't wanna meet?"

We pause for a while. Even before hitting the tarmac, I have received calls and invitations from people who give me a pain in my solar plexus. In Australia, I only hang out with the people I like. I don't have to pretend. Over here I seem to fall into the path of least resistance. There is a certain integrity lacking: I smile at people I can't stand, do time with people who make me feel tired and unhappy, chat with people who I would rather cross the street to avoid.

I need to say: "Listen carefully. I don't want you to call me again. I don't like you and refuse to pretend that we're still friends."

If only.

I'm so afraid of losing my soul again.

Everything melts in this heat.


goldennib said...

Jenn -

Glad you made it home ok. I am sorry to say, I had to look Malaysia up because I wasn't sure where it was but I'm glad I did. Is it really as beautiful as the tourism website shows? It seems so exotic, tropical and wonderful.
Then, you talk about all the same probl;ems everyone has with "home." I often wish I could go away where no one knows me and start over. I guess obligation is the price we pay to have family and friends. I bet it's a real shock to your system after living away from home for so long.

Andy said...

Excellent post. From making me laugh over your Customs and Immigration experience (well described!) to making me think over your contention that when we're at home, we have certain obligations that we have to live up to, you hit another home run with this post.

Jenn said...

Goldennib: Haha, when I went to the US, I was always prepared to explain where Malaysia was to everyone (above Singapore, below Thailand, next to Indonesia). Then one day, I was being carded at a Seattle bar (I was always the one they carded) and the very Caucasian bouncer saw my Malaysian passport and started chattering to me in Malay. I nearly fell over. He was not even supposed to know where we were, much less speak our language. Yeah, it is pretty beautiful (once you get out of the smoggy city). Otherwise, it's just like any other city. And you're right. I only feel obliged here at home. And even then, I have a reputation for being cantankerous. :) My family and friends say, oh well, that's just Jenn.

Andy: Thanks babe. I'm glad you're back. Obligation is a word I have trouble with. But I know you're right. Will have to negotiate this very carefully.

m said...

ahh, this post describes exactly why I need to become an expat someday.

Jenn said...

Being an expat is cool. You don't have to deal with home and its attendant baggage.

Strange times...