Saturday, May 27, 2006

Leaving Home (continued)

An alarm clock goes off and one of the daughters of the house knocks on my door. At five in the morning. I wake up feeling hollow and dried out (the way you do when you've cried yourself to sleep the night before). I go into their cavernous bathroom for a cold bath and dress up for my first day of training.

The daughter (I don't remember what her name was) is very nice. She helps me get on the number 17 bus I am supposed to take (she takes it too) and shows me where to get off for my newspaper. She gives me instructions on how to get home and I listen intently. I could tell her it's a lost cause. At home, I am used to being ferried about by my Mom and Dad so I never learned the bus routes. Besides, JB is so small that you can't possibly get lost. But Mom said it's time I learned about real life. So here I am.

Anyway, I stumble off the bus and find myself walking past a row of stalls to the little building tucked away at the back. This is the training centre. Our haven from the real world and the newsfloor for the next six months.

I feel rather hungry, having had no breakfast, so I stop at one of the stalls to order a sandwich and coffee. The young Indian boy who takes my order answers me in English and I am pleasantly surprised. In JB, it would be rare to find someone working at a stall speaking English. I look around at all these people (the stalls are crowded as everyone is having their breakfast) and wonder how many of them I will get to know. Right now I feel lost and alone and a little overwhelmed.

I am very early so I linger a while before making my way to the training centre. Or "balai latihan" as it is called. There is only one young boy there waiting. He arrived early from Kelantan by bus that day. He is only 17 and rather cute (I am 19 and therefore too old for him). Later, I will discover that his dad sent him to KL to get him away from the drug dealers in Kota Bharu. This young boy with the angelic face was a teenage drug dealer and would talk knowledgeably about coke and marijuana distribution networks in this, our one Islamic state. He will also tell us how the cafes get around the "No Alcohol" ruling. They serve beer in covered coffee mugs. For now, however, he is just a cute stranger. I think he is Malay, but he tells me no, Chindian. Indian father, Chinese mother. Ahhh. You know how the mixtures are always the best looking people over here. A very good argument for mixed marriages.

Anyway the others start trickling in. Soon we are herded off to the two classes (one for the English language newspapers and the other for the Malay language newspapers). The instructors are really nice. Having come straight from a government school, I find it refreshing. Over here, you're expected to give your opinion, argue, be a pest. They brief us on this, that and the other, and I think, wow, this is really up my alley. My last encounter with anything school-like was falling asleep in the numerous science classes (chemistry, biology, physics) I was subjected to in Form 6 because my mother had fond dreams of me becoming a doctor. Me? A doctor? I cried for days after dissecting a live frog. Instead of doing my Physics homework, I would write long involved poems about how much I hated it. And as for Chemistry, I always nodded off in Mrs Ooi's class. She was interesting but I was painfully uninterested.

So here, as I sit listening to what is expected of us, I think, no problem. I can do this. This will be easy. Right up my alley. Writing? I have always written. Reporting? OK, I'll have to learn that but don't think that should be a problem. Curiosity? There I lose out to my little sister Julie, but I'm curious enough. Memory? I have a pretty good memory. I glance around the class, listening to our trainer with varying degrees of attention. I am struck by the number of strikingly beautiful women here. I mean, do they hire on looks? (Stupid question. Of course, it's a factor, For the women at least).

We get through the day and I make a friend. The little gay guy seated next to me (OK he's married, separated, but still, gay). I tell him a little of what happened with the landlord and he listens sympathetically. Tells me not to worry. Things will sort themselves out.

We are asked to go up and introduce ourselves. Some people are given a hard time. Some people are let off easily. Joyce, who is to become one of my best friends later, goes up, glares around at the class and says: "I like asking questions, I don't like answering them. So there!" Anita, who is simply stunning, gets a lot of flak for her American accent and the fact that she smiles a lot. A common question is "so, do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?".

When I go up to introduce myself, I tell them I ended up here because I was supposed to be a doctor and failed. One of the trainers twinkles at me. "Malayalee?" she asks. "Yup." I reply. "I thought so. I can relate," she grins. Something in common? We are going to be good friends.

Anyway, the day passes very pleasantly and I feel this curious joy well up. For the first time, I am among my own kind. People who are essentially creative, who take what I take seriously. Maybe it wont be so bad living in that horrible house if I have this to come to everyday.

I catch the right bus back (which is a miracle if you consider how scatty I am) and get off several stops too early. Now I am lost. I wander through Section 17, wondering how I am going to find this house when I didn't even bother to take down the address (I told you I was scatty). I wonder if I can find a public phone somewhere and call my mother. But I keep walking, praying and chuckling at stuff that happened in class today. By some great miracle, I find my way to the house in question.

There is a visitor. An aunt I have met, maybe twice in my life. When I walk in, the matriarch of the house says: "Varene." As in, "she's come". I'm frightfully late, of course, but I wonder why they care. I mean, it's not yet 10 o'clock, the curfew time. But my aunt who smiles at me: "Oh look at her, she looks so sweet..." and tells me to pack.

"Your mother is very unhappy. I'm taking you away. Uncle has gone off in the car to look for you but he will be back soon I think." She comes upstairs to help me pack. I can't quite believe what is happening. "So they bullied you? You poor thing. Your mother called me yesterday, very upset. We were shocked. After all, these people asked if we knew anyone, they wanted to rent out their room. We didn't approach them. But no, we will not stand for this kind of behaviour."

I feel curiously light. My things are packed. The uncle (whom I've never met before) has arrived. We load up the car, the matriarch gives me back my rent and deposit (deducting nothing for the one-day stay which is nice of her) The family are upset by my abrupt removal and the stupid patriarch is uncharacteristically silent. I think this aunt is the fiercer of the two.

We take off to Lucky Gardens where they live and we go off to some restaurant for dinner. I am not hungry and they keep urging me to try this, try that. "You eat like a bird. No wonder you're so skinny."

They have found another place for me to stay. With Carol, a nice young lawyer who studied in the UK. She is hardly home, gives me the run of the house and a key. I go to bed that night feeling so much better than I did the night before. I am actually happy. My course is going to be great. I like where I'm staying. I have family within walking distance.

Things couldn't be better.


D. L. Hill said...

I appreciate your feedback on my blog. By the way, I also found your introductory remarks in your response to my post on dreams quite amusing. Thanks for sharing! Glad to know there are still dreamers somewhere in the universe.

Jenn said...

Hey welcome to my blog. I have to say, I try to appear as cynical as heck, but am a secret dreamer.

I don't buy into the nightmare.

I think we create our world.

A thinker said...

Wow, that's great. It's wonderful that you only had to stay there one day. Much nicer than a bad living situation that you have to put up with for months.

Trust me--I know!

Jenn said...

Yeah, when I look back at it now, I realise that the guy was simply a bully. He thought, since we were desperate for a place to stay (everything had to be done last minute) I was completely under his thumb and he would have enjoyed bossing me around. Which is why he went silent when my aunt came to remove me from the situation and he saw he didn't have all the aces in hand after all.

David Cho said...

How did your aunt find out about your predicament so fast? You stayed there just for one night and went to work the very next day, leaving you no time to tell anyone about the aweful living arrangement.

Good story. Followup stories and pictures?

Jenn said...

My Mom called her that night and created a stink when she heard how that asshole had treated me.

goldennib said...

Despite a false start, this sounds like the beginning of a lovely adventure.

Jenn said...

It was. And looking back at it now, the excitement, the anticipation, the ideals...I think I had the most fun I've ever had in my life.

that girl in pink said...

Ooh! things get better! goody. s what happened next? did working there turn out to be a good experience? did your gay friend find love? how about you? what happens in the next episode of 'leaveing home'?

Jenn said...

Geez, everything after is kind of mixed up. A jumble of impressions. Will try to sort it out and write about it some day. At the moment, some of it hurts to touch. People I got close to, whom I still haven't gotten over.