Monday, January 30, 2006

Polygamous bisexual

I hate weddings. Especially family weddings. I either don't deign to grace them with my presence, or when I do, I show up looking like thunder.

As I take my seat, I brace myself for the inevitable fingernails on the blackboard. To whit, so, when are you thinking of getting married?

As if marriage is an inevitability, rather than a choice.

Sometimes I attempt to be polite: "I haven't met anyone I want to marry."

"We can introduce you, I know a nice boy..."

"No thanks, I don't believe in arranged marriages. In fact, I don't even attend them."

"That's what you say, all it takes is an introduction, the rest is up to you." (Actually that last line is from a Singaporean public service ad, encouraging it's stubbornly single citizens to take the plunge and have three kids, but I digress)

Sometimes (very often, actually, I lose my temper)

"How dare you ask me such a question! Frankly I don't hate any man enough to marry him."

Sometimes I smile lazily and go for the jugular:

"Why? I would only be divorced in a year. I don't believe in marriage but I do believe in divorce. You want an invite to my break-up party?"


"Oh uncle, didn't they tell you I was gay? I thought it was all over the family grapevine. Now if you want to find me a nice girl, this is what I am looking for..."

Not that it ever stopped them. There is a tenacity to these people that would confound mountain climbers. They take it for granted that I'm thorny and have to be handled with care, but they always find a way to keep coming back to it.

Then I actually got engaged. I remember the looks on their faces as they took a good long look at the seemingly mentally incapacitated, oh hell, retard, I brought home. There were shocked looks, feverish whispering and desperate phone calls to each other to discuss the situation.

My Aunt Liz (who, impervious to repeated snubs and downright rudeness) bugged me about getting married every single time she saw me, called her daughter in England to discuss the situation, whereupon she burst into stormy tears.

"I think there is something wrong with him. We must save Jenny, oh, oh, oh, what can we do???"

My cousin, being made of sterner stuff, told her mother to dry up. "If Jennifer likes this fler, there's nothing we can do but accept it. So don't interfere Mom, I'm warning you..."

When it filtered through the family grapevine that we had finally broken up, there was a collective sigh of relief. I think the family realised that they preferred to have me single. And cantankerous. And happy.

I've since added to my repertoire of answers to that question. I will tell them that I'm a polygamous bisexual. Marriage, as you know, being only for the monogamous monosexuals.

But I seem to have expended all that brilliance for nothing. The family has remained tactfully silent on the subject and it looks like this silence will be of some duration.

So, if for nothing else, thank you Ex. You managed in a few weeks to do what I couldn't in years.

Sunday, January 29, 2006


I am in a waiting place. Stuff is happening so I cannot move forward. No way to move back. I took three years off to figure things out and I come out of those three years with a brand new degree but not much else.

I find myself losing all the self possession I had whilst away. This was what I was afraid would happen. That I would shrink once more into the Malaysian me. Worrying about traffic jams, taking offence at perceived snubs, listening to mind destroying streams of negativity. Day in. Day out.

I guess after a certain age it is good to live away from family, seeing them only on special occassions. We tend to fall into habit. We tend to take each other for granted. We tend to listen without listening.

I want a life. A real life. Not this approximation. I don't want to wake up feeling this awful lostness. This gone feeling in the pit of my stomach. I want to move out from the space in between to the rest of my life. I want to step firmly, rather than tread carefully, tap dancing to avoid stepping on toes.

If tomorrow comes.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

If You Think I'm Dumb, Wait Till You Meet My Government

You gotta love living in a police state. Doesn't matter where you are in the world, it seems that once the government closes up, stops allowing a free discussion of (I'm sorry Nessa, I have to use the word) "issues", people's (read: the authorities') brains shrink to the size of mustard seeds.

No, they can't be that dumb.

Huh! Dumb, dumber, dumbest, I don't think they've truly plumbed the dumbness depths here.

Of course, in Malaysia, with more than two decades of "don't ask questions, we know what's best for you...I don't think, therefore I am (patriotic, that is)...we have come to regard these forays into crass stupidity with amusement. Laughter helps temper the inevitable irritation.

Here's the faithful transcription of an exchange between a reporter of a local tabloid and a musician who happened to be at a rock concert. The police raided the concert, on the pretext that it was "black metal" and the reporter in question was trying to find evidence of dark doings.

Reporter: Did you notice any indication of Satan Worship at Paul's Place?

Rafil: No

Reporter: Was there a goat present?

Rafil: Excuse me?

Reporter: A goat.

Rafil: Kambing? (Goat)

Reporter: Ya, kambing. (Yes, goat)

Rafil: Kambing hidup? (A live goat?)

Reporter: Ya, kambing hidup. (Yes, a live goat)

Rafil: Kambing hidup, lari-lari kat venue Paul's Place? (Just to make sure: a live goat running around at Paul's Place?)

Reporter: Ya. (Yes)

Rafil: Kat luar ada kedai mamak, ada kemungikinan besar diorang jual kari kambing. Tapi dalam venue tak nampak. (Outside at the mamak stall, there's a large possibility that they were selling goat curry. I didn't see any goats at Paul's Place though)

Reporter: OK, so takde kambing? (Just to be absolutely clear about this, so, no goat?)

Rafil: Yang lari-lari kat stage, takde. Kalau tapau kari, roti bawak masuk, saya tak pasti. (None running around on stage. But I can't say for sure that no one packed some goat curry from the mamak stall next door, with roti, and brought that in).

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

For Mals, With Love

It's the strangest things that remind me of you. Driving up ramps. Shopping at Isetan, KLCC. The backview of a blue Proton hatchback.

You gave me love and laughter.

And then you went away.

I cannot cry for you. I cried when Addy told me you were sick. I cried when Sree told me there wasn't much time left. I cried when I heard your voice, thin and tired, saying, Jenn, you have to let me go.

But when I got that text: Mala passed away at 6.15 this morning... I didn't cry then. I couldn't.

You were getting better. You were home from the hospital after so many months.

When I got back to Malaysia, I asked, when?

You said wait. You said, not yet. You were not strong enough for visitors. You said you'd tell me when.

You didn't say I'd never see you again.

So I wait for the phone call telling me you want to meet up for coffee. At Delifrance. Or Coffee Bean. Maybe Starbucks. We will talk about things that matter. Like your new job. Or my new book. And then we can stroll through Kinokuniya and thumb through a few books. We could try on a few clothes at British India or Padini and snort derisively at the fact that they seem to only cater for anorexic teenagers. We'd comfort ourselves with cinnamon buns. Or chocolate eclairs. Then we'll catch a scary movie (I'll peek out behind half closed fingers and you can stopper up your ears and we'll compare notes after and try to figure out what it was all about).

And then when it's time to go, I'll hug you tightly and tell you I love you.

And I would say goodbye.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


The nights are steamy, turgid, restless. Memories dart like glowflies in the dark. You can set out to catch light, but it slips between your fingers. I no longer know who I am, have an identity. I no longer like what I remember of me.

I catch glimpses of a person, hear my voice say things, I cannot accept. This is me?This starved, grasping, wretched creature? How did this become me?

You can work at stoppering up your heart, you can become tough, so tough, bullets graze and knives glance off. So tough, that there is a scar where your heart used to be.

To what end? Really, to what end?

I thought I knew who I was, I worked at defining the misty, ambiguous edges of my being. But all boundaries can be diluted. All certainties are vulnerable. I felt proud of myself when I beat down a wretched auto rickshaw driver, forcing him to charge me the official rate.

"Let me see the card," I told him sternly. Unbending. To what end? A few dollars more one way or the other would not have made any difference to me. It's the principle of the thing, I intoned self righteously, looking at him with undisguised contempt. His lean, ugly face. A face like that is an abomination. Don't come near me. Here, take your money. And go.

To be human is to feel shame. To be human is to ask forgiveness. To be human is to learn, after all this time, who the real lean, hungry, craven creature is.

Swirling boundaries. Sand in the air. Like little black insects.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Letter to the editor

You know there was a time when, if someone wanted to express an opinion, they wrote to their local newspaper. Letters that were sometimes, well-informed, sometimes remarkably prejudiced, interesting, pithy, learned...people spent hours or days coming up with these letters. They needed to comment on articles in the papers. They needed to express their views of the issues du jour. They wanted to have their say.

Going through the archived copies of a newspaper in Australia as part of a research project, I would frequently stop to read the letters to the editor. That, if you like, was where the real news was. They seemed so interesting, so well thought out.

I remember my Dad (who is more Indian than he is Malaysian) spending days working on his letter-to-the-editor masterpieces. He asked me to type one out for him (this was before the advent of computers in our life - we were so retro that our typewriter was a 1920 model, I kid you not) and I was surprised at the whole Victorian feel of it. He used words like "rhodomontade" and "egalitarian". I used words like "huh?". His letters were meant for newspapers in India. When he got with the Internet age, he would click on the various websites to give his views. Except that now of course, he had to keep it simply and succint. Gone were the lingering over five syllable words, rejoicing over a particularly beautiful way of expressing something, breaking off into effusions of poetry.

Whatever happened to the letter to the editor? Yeah, I know it's still there, but have you taken a look at the crap there lately? I think it's been replaced by the blog. Now everyone is a mini-newspaper. Now everyone, from the Duke to the dustman, pontificates online. Only trouble is, for the majority of us, no one reads, no one cares. Voices crying in the wilderness...and the wilderness doesn't answer back.

Newspapers were once an organ of democracy. Issues were discussed, canvassed thoroughly, people were interested, they wanted to contribute. Now we have all this information being thrown at us, not much of which means anything, not much of which we can affect or impact, and we consider ourselves well-informed.

Trivial Pursuit. I hear you Neil.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Sweet harlot of the senses

I spend the whole day (and I do mean the whole day) sleeping (it's rainy and it feels good to curl up under voluminous blankets) so I snap awake at night. Then, I try every which way to drop off and of course, sleep, the sweet harlot of the senses, remains elusive. Right up till dawn by which time I pass out and stay passed out until midday. And then I walk around like a zombie, taking numerous naps, only to snap awake at midnight. Hmmm... there seems to be some sort of problem here, if only I could figure out what.

Since New Year, I have lived in my stinky pajamas, wrapped in cottonwool, shutting out the real world. Of course, my Mom insists on watching the eight o'clock news and regaling me with bits and pieces of disasters all over, but I have learned to shut her out. Listen, without listening.

It's 1.25pm and I feel sleepy. I know I have all this stuff I am supposed to do but I just feel like going to bed.

Good night.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Weird that way

My youngest sister once wrote a creative piece based on us: "If you think I'm weird, wait till you meet my family." In it she detailed all our foibles and eccentricities, cramming a lifetime's worth in a single day. This piece earned her one of her few HDs and her friends' utter disbelief.

This must be fiction.

Your sister really said that?

Your brother really did that?

Gosh, but your father looks so normal.

When I read the piece, in which I may add, I was not portrayed too flatteringly, I laughed so hard, my belly ached. Then I begged her to let me show my friends. She agreed after much, um, persuasion (after all, if I am, as she so sweetly pointed out, self-appointed dictator-for-life, I do have to live up to my name don't I?)

Did you really do that? Jenn, you?

So I have to say, I am kinda weird. One of the weirdest things about me is my ability to remember stuff from when I was an itty bitty kid. I even remember not understanding language. I mean, I knew my name and I knew a few babytalk words (awa meant kiss) I knew my mother was Mummy and my father was Dadda, but not much beyond. And yet, I remember...

Being one (or less) and planning to climb into the bathtub. We used a dipper and scooped water out of the tub, and bathed that way. It was a great privilege to be allowed into the tub and I wanted to have a bath one day, without anyone bothering me.

I noted that everyday at about four, my grandmother, who was looking after me by herself while my parents were at work, was distracted. She would be making sweets for tea. I remember watching over a few days and deciding that was the best time to put my nefarious plans into operation.

So one day, at about four (I think it was four, all I know is it was evening and about an hour or so before my parents got home), I slipped into the bathroom, locked the door and climbed into the bathtub. Now these tubs are not long but high. They were not meant for bathing in, but for holding water to scoop out and pour over oneself. I splashed happily for a while and then grandma discovered I was missing. She wandered through the house looking for me and discovered the locked bathroom door. She pounded on it, screeching my name, terrified.

I, for my part, had finished playing and wanted to get out. I tried to lift myself out of the tub, but found that my arms were not strong enough. I was mildly irritated at my grandma screeching, but didn't trouble myself to answer her (I was a spoilt little only child at the time). Finally, convinced I had drowned, she got the neighbour to come and break down our very solid wooden bathroom door (it has never been the same since). She remembers the door flinging back and little me standing in the tub naked, regarding them with large eyes, a little frightened, a little pruney, but singularly unhurt. (I don't remember this part, the last I remember is trying to get out of the bathtub and not being able to and wondering if I would have to live there for the rest of my short, short life).

My mother told me later that when she got back from school, my grandma said: "Go and thank the man next door. He saved your daughter's life."

Surprisingly (or maybe, unsurprisingly, since I was then an only child, spoilt, precious and princess-like) I was not punished. I remember watching a man come to fix a new door and wondering what it was all about. Years later, I was reminded of myself when our naughty kitten who had made the corner of the hall her latrine, watched with interest, as I moved the furniture aside to scoop up her reeking doo doo and then wash the floor.

Ahh, the halcyon days of childhood. I wonder why I never lived up to my potential. I would have made a swell master criminal.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Bigfoot in my Backyard

The day begins like any other in my now laidback life. Well, not like any other in that I am forced to wake up before noon.

"Jenn-IFER!" my Mom's sweet voice trills at the bottom of the stairs as I snuggle deeper under my blankets. If I don't answer maybe she'll stop.

"Jenn-IFER!" Slightly louder, some irritation creeping in.

"JENNIFEEEEEEER!" in stentorian tones. She was a teacher and she knows how to make her voice carry.

I gotta get up now or she'll be furious. Thing is I only fell asleep at four. Then I woke up for about one hour, listening to the bloody rat (we keep killing em, they keep coming back) scratching outside my door, and the lights of passing cars playing on my walls.

So I stagger down, looking like death warmed up, and there is Mom, with her cup of kopi susu (we LIKE Nescafe, deal with it). She has a newspaper propped up on the table and the moment I appear, starts reading out all the articles. For my edification. Or extreme otherwise.

Thank goodness, she starts with the curly news that Bigfoot has been sighted in our backyard: the forests of Endau Rompin. (Actually we don't have forests, we have jungles with snakes that kill you and leeches that suck out a pint if you don't detect and burn them off in time, but let's not split hairs) I spurt coffee back into my cup in derision.

"Which stupid idiot believes that? Now I've heard everything."

"Nolar Jenny, there must be something to it. BBC is coming to see."

"So BBC is oso stoopid, what's the big deal?"

"Aiya, you ah...the Orang Asli spotted the bigfoot. See, there's the drawing."

"Haha, you sure it's not Uncle Joe, hiding out in the jungle after pulling a con job?"

Her lips tighten. Conman Joe is her brother, after all.

Then she moves on to an article about a 11-year old dying mysteriously of "infection of the heart", investgations into brutal murders, a few fatal car wrecks (every festival season, people die trying to get back to their home towns. Our highways are way haunted). Bad news, bad news, bad news. I cringe as I attack my peanut butter sandwiches.

Then we go visit a sweet li'l old lady and I listen silently as she and my mother go through the contents of today's paper again with relish.

"You read about that little girl ah? What do you think she died off ah? Not denggi, they tested for denggi, so it must have been something else."

Aunt shakes head sadly. "Hospitals these days, useless you know. You read about that girl who was bitten by a cobra on her wedding day? The stupid clinics didn't have the anti-venom. So she died. So sad, so sad, what to do?"

And then they move on to snatch thieves who kill, and hired killers who walk up to your car when you're at the traffic lights, and liquidate you.

And I think, my sweet innocent Yeti, are you sure you wanna visit? It's a jungle out there, you're not safe. And now to top it all off, the tv stations are coming. You know what that means.

So seriously, go home Sasquatch. If you wait till next year (Visit Malaysia Year 2007), maybe you can get a good deal and stay at the six-star Datai in Langkawi. You'll have to settle for farmed caviar as the UN has banned trade in the wild variety, but times are bad, we must all make small sacrifices.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

More Life

Underneath the dusty silence there are tears. The world grows older and wearier and somehow there is less joyousness. A celebration is a celebration is a celebration. Or no. Tinsel and bright lights leave one with an indescribable emptiness. Bright red lipstick on a corpse.

There is no life, or less life or dwindling life. No joy or very little, so very, very little... We're tired. We need to rest.

Christmas limped by and now it's New Year and I think, another year, so what, another footstep on the road to my grave.

I saw my grave once - there was no one to put up a headstone, it was overgrown with ugly graveyard thorns. No candles, no flowers, forgotten. Worm food. (Didn't I tell them I wanted to be cremated? Didn't I say I didn't want any visible reminder of my utter insignificance?)

But no matter, no matter. I think when I'm done, I won't be coming back. The world has grown so terribly, terribly old. Aching ancient bones. Wheezing. A sour sadness spilling out of the stratosphere. There's nothing left for me here... everyone I ever really loved has been cancelled. Nobody even remembers that they ever existed. Not even me.

But I remember something, a feeling, a feeling of wholeness, a serene sort of joy, an unquestioning happiness. And I cudgel my brains - who gave me this happiness? Who am I trying to remember? And I get... nothing.

Happiness is not knowing you're happy. Smoothness, imperturbability. Misery, on the other hand, is a braggart. It announces itself, treads heavily in your face.

But where has the quietness gone? Once Christmas was joy. It was more than the presents. There was an indefinable magic about it. One Christmas, we walked home after midnight Mass and there was a hush in the air and the stars were large and uncanny and my father said... I don't remember what he said. Maybe he didn't say anything. Maybe he didn't have to speak, because we were chorussing The First Noel in our young, untuneful voices and there was no need for words.

I remember staring up into the sky in November one year, looking for the sleigh because my mother asked us to write a letter to Santa. I thought I could almost see it, there hidden behind the blue. I wanted to know how he stayed up there. She said, magic! And I believed her. She was perfect and she would never lie to me.

And all those New Years with new journals, writing down heaps of resolutions, goals, dreams. This year we saw in New Year watching the threadbare show on TV3 with the ministers standing awkwardly on stage to launch Visit Malaysia 2007. Some looked tired, others irresolute and unsure, one smiled evilly and I thought, I don't even have the energy to care about this anymore. I don't give a flying fuck. Mom, can we change the channel? Please?

And we caught the end of Fellowship of the Ring and it was so incredibly sad and I thought about how the world changed there was no going back. And Frodo had to leave and Aragorn had to die and Arwen languished underneath the fading trees until the long years of her life were utterly spent.

Sadder and sadder.

And I thought about how the world only spins forward.

Forward? You call this forward? When people fade, become less real, become less tangible? Forward?

And I wish you all more life. More life?

A blessing.