Saturday, June 17, 2006

You Make Me Feel Like Dancing

So the guy tells me I have attractive syntax and interesting eyebrows. A novel approach...and I laugh, amused. I am there to interview him for a coffee table book and he is charming.

His wife, however, is less than amused at my presence. She throws a tantrum when I arrive, deciding that I am a threat (what with my interesting eyebrows and all) flounces into the house (we are sitting on the veranda overlooking the beautiful mountains outside) and turns on the TV. Loud. Strains of Bollywood drown out all attempts at conversation. So there I am, with my notebook out, straining to hear his interesting answers to my questions about his family and living situation.

The guy is an august member of the Malaysian artistic community. Quite brilliant. He has opted to marry a simple Orang Asli (aboriginal) girl but sometimes there are problems. Like now, when she decides to be insecure.

Their little 10-year old son, on the other hand, naked, quaint and birdlike, takes a shine to me and indicates (he does not talk yet, nobody knows why) that he wants me to spoon his rice out for him. I fumble clumsily, trying to get the mixture into his tiny mouth and most of the rice ends up on his lap or the floor. His father sighs and suggests that I hold the bowl under his mouth to catch what falls out. Brilliant idea. Why didn't I think of that?

Maybe because I am there to interview the Dad rather than feed the son or deal with the wife's tantrums. She, sweet thing that she is, perches herself on the sofa, where she can keep an eye on me. Her face goes through a series of revolutions indicating pain, disgust, jealousy, anger and she turns up the volume.


Finally, the artist asks if I want to go by the river to continue this conversation. He has asked his wife to turn down the tv and she responds by screaming imprecations in some other language (she does not speak English and that was certainly not Malay).

"This is counter-survival! If she feels threatened by you shouldn't she make herself even more charming? Doesn't she realise that if I really wanted to carry on with you, I wouldn't have invited you to come down here, in front of her. That I could just meet you in KL some place? The woman can't reason things out!"

Well, naturally. She isn't sophisticated enough to figure out the mind games that women play when they feel their relationships are under threat. Most women, conceal their rage, under a smooth smile, a charming manner. You only get the fact that they are furious by one or two remarks, tossed off in a casual manner, barbed and vicious. But her very unsophistication, I suspect, is part of her attraction. What you see is what you get.

But we soon see that the river is out of the question as skies are as stormy as said wife, so we repair to the bamboo palace (a bungalow constructed of bamboo) at the back, with his little son. There, I ask him everything I want to (including how he deals with this sort of thing) and he answers willingly enough.

Constructing joy out of simplicity. All his life, he has lived in his head. All his girlfriends have been intellectuals. None of those relationships ever worked out. So who's to say what is ideal and what isn't? With these two (his wife and son), he can only deal with them emotionally. No pretensions, no intellectualising, no capacity for reasoning.

I know I couldn't live this way. As it is, I feel seriously uncomfortable and although the interview is going well and he is interesting and articulate, I feel the waves of anger emanating from the house in front.

His wife comes to the back and screams that he has a phone call. He replies that it is raining and he will call back later. She storms in, and proceeds to wreck the joint. Literally. Screaming with the impotent rage of a child, she attacks him, scratching and biting, throws things about, pulls the bamboo mat out from under me and throws herself into his lap and insists on being held as she bursts into stormy tears.

Her little son, who has fallen asleep curled up next to me, has awakened and is watching his mother's spectacular manifestations wide-eyed. I am wondering what to do. I feel physically threatened and not a little disgusted. Of course, I come from another more counterfeit world, and we don't show our feelings like this.

But what is happening is interesting, in a way. I mean, she is doing what I have, I think, on many occassions wanted to do. Being restrained by culture, I take refuge in biting words. But I would have liked to throw things about and tell whichever boyfriend I was with - say you love me, say I am the only one, show her that you only want me.

Show her!

She is dressed only in sarong pulled over her chest and it slips down in her struggles, exposing her attractive, still child-like body. I look away, of course. Other people's nudity always tends to embarrass me more than it does them.

Finally, she is in his lap, crying noisily, while he soothes her. Paralysed all this while, I think it is time to leave. I smile uncertainly, look at my watch, exclaim at the time and tell him I should be going.

He looks disappointed. But come on. I can't possibly expect to stay after this, can you? He says, don't leave yet, at least stay for a cup of tea. I sigh. I don't want to sweep out of here in high dudgeon. I am exhausted from driving for two hours along unknown roads to find this place, and even more so, at being subjected to this emotional outburst. I was not prepared for it, and don't deal very well with confrontation. (Typical Malaysian - I go out of my way to avoid them)

But I feel bad about leaving abruptly. We repair to the house again and he puts on the kettle. His wife, calmer now, follows. She even smiles a little (the first time she has smiled since I got here). She leans over to kiss him and he looks at me with a wry smile: "She is now trying to show me that I am lucky to be married to her."

Then he turns to her: "Didn't you promise to behave yourself when I said I have a friend coming?" He sighs and shakes his head. "Donnolar. Sometimes ah...anyway, you should be flattered. I've never seen her this bad before. She obviously perceives a threat...there must be some connection between us that she's picked up on that I was not aware of. She's really very sensitive."

I finish the tea, give him a hug, and leave.


Grey Shades said...

Sigh! I wish I could live and love jus like that woman... completely uninhibited!

Jenn said...

Do you?

You would give up your culture and civilization to stamp your feet and throw things about when you lose your temper?

I don't think you would actually...

part-time buddha said...

Culture' has taught us that the negative emotions, such as anger, frustration, rage, and hurt, are not to be displayed. This, I think, has lead to a devaluaion of them. It's not just that it's not okay to show your anger, it's not okay to be angry.

I think this is stupid. If I am allowed to laugh outloud around others and to smile and to be melacholy and even oto sry, then I can certainly display my other emotions as well. I am human; I am a full range of feeling. So when I'm mad at you, you'll know. And you'll likely know to what degree I'm angry as well.

But trying to balance this and one's sense of propriety is difficult. Hell, trying to balance one's head and one's heart is a war as old as Troy.

Jenn said...

I don't think that the negative emotions are not to be displayed - rather, culture sort of governs the way in which these emotions should be displayed.

We do not tolerate this kind of behaviour in children. Do you think it is acceptable in adults? Don't you think a no-holds-barred approach could be quite dangerous?

part-time buddha said...

Right, and the way these emotions are to be displayed is behind closed doors, either alone or with the one person who will tolerate you. At work, I have to play nice with the people I can't stand. Social graces determine that I do this because it makes for a better social engagement overall. But it also amplifies my dislike because I can't stand being fake. If I could simply ingore these people, if they could be told just not to talk to me unless it was absolutely necessary, I wouldn't be nearly as angry about it.

What I'm trying to say is that not being able to vent my anger and dislike breeds more anger and dislike. In me at least. So instead I become subversive, and it's only a matter of time before subversive behavior escalates and becomes punishable.

No-holds-barred is always potentially dangerous (which is why I personally like it - I live for volatile situations). But I think so is constant restaint. As proof I submit the Victorian Age.

Jenn said...

I don't think I pretend. When I hate someone (I never dislike, only hate/detest/abhor) the man on the 12th floor in a coma knows about it.

part-time buddha said...

And that's why you're cool.

Jenn said...

Awwww thanks gorgeous. You warm my heart.

A thinker said...

Very weird, very awkward situation. Interesting story. It's amazing what people's emotions will do to them.

Jenn said...

Yes. Right now there seems to be a debate as to whether it is better to hide/suppress feelings or show them. And how best to express them.

So tell me what you want, what you really really want...:)

goldennib said...

Wow - I'd be staring with my mouth open. Free emotional expression like that would overwehlm me. I don't think emotional supression is good, I agree with PTB that the Victorian's idea wasn't good. But the opposite isn't good either. Where do you draw the line in expressing your emotions? Shouldn't there be a line? Wives kill their husbands in the heat of passion; parents abuse their children when they are in a rage; strangers shoot strangers on the highway when they are annoyed; partners cheat on each other because they have the hots for someone else. Are these expressions of emotion ok?

Jenn said...

I hate partners who cannot control themselves and throw tantrums when they want attention. My ex did this and although he didn't throw things about, he always succeeded in making everyone feel extremely uncomfortable. Mensa affiliation notwithstanding. After a while, I learned to ignore him when he turned like that - no use in rewarding such childish behaviour with attention.

Today, I think I would just walk out. To hell with promises of forever!

XMOCHA! said...

Cool Jenn, enjoy reading your adventures -glad I found your blog.

Let's catch up sometime- it's been years!

Cheers, SM

Jenn said...

See Ming? OH MY GAWD!

The first person I actually know in real life to read this...oh dear, does this mean I am gonna have to censor?

Knowing you, probably not! :)