19 January 2013

Yes, yes, can, can

Malaysia

We are moved into our house now on Jalan Minang 3. Taman Sri Minang, the little area that we live in, is quiet with a pack of wild dogs hanging out by the main road sometimes. The house is right across from a park and everyone seems kind enough. We are a bit isolated, but an expensive cab will take us anywhere we please. I say expensive, but it's expensive in the way that things are expensive in developing countries, after you have gone through a time-space warp of moving to the developing world. I quote the price to you in USD or GBP and you would say to me, You're mad. But I'm making RM, Malaysian Ringgit, and so it matters. I'm not a tourist, goddammit, I live here.

You remember that scene in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, when Depp's in that dust race and his beer is filled with sand and he has no idea what is happening with the actual race, but he does know that it's still going on? I feel like that right now. Nothing has stopped; nothing has changed. The race is going on, whether I'm showing up or not.

Or another description of our life here so far: in the catalogue—the furniture catalogue, the house catalogue, the car catalogue, whatever—everything looks nice, and cheap too! So cheap. Shockingly cheap. But then you take whatever it is home, start using it, and it falls apart, scratches, breaks. It's clearly cheap, shockingly cheap.

But the thing I came for was the job and it looks to be what I had wanted and expected. This endeavour of the university is certainly something exciting to be a part of, but it is easy to get your eye off of the prize, I think. In academia, recruiting students, building programmes, making a successful department—these things are only useful for the school you are working for. Once you leave, try to get a job somewhere else, you need publications, publications, publications. Research is all that matters. So in the immediate concern, you can feel like you should or can do whatever it is that is set in front of you (and do it well, so goddamn well!), that article you have been ignoring, or that book proposal, or whatever—that's what you need to be working on. This is the struggle of an academic.

Perhaps, I won't forget this. Perhaps I will.

Things not working: the water stops when it rains too hard. The bus I ride to work squeaks and bends and shudders up and down the road. Everything is on the verge of breaking down here, even the nice things, the new things. The new things are the worst, really. This toilet is plastic and it doesn't flush solid waste. Who do you complain to?

People speak English, for the most part, but in a way that can be very frustrating—Can, can, can. Yes. Yes. Yes. Can. You stop asking questions after a while. Yoko was asking a cashier at Giant (the supermarket) what had happened to the non-sweentened soy milk. It was here two days ago. You could see in the eyes of the cashier that the goal was to get the conversation over with, full stop. That was the goal. Suddenly I am that foreigner that I hate so much in Japan--the one that gets frustrated by the people who can't speak English, but hasn't taken the time to learn Japanese. 

The race goes on. Today to get a desk and some shelving. Tomorrow to get food. Monday to get back to work. This and that--taking it all step by tiny step. At least we are going forward for the moment. At least that.   
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