17 April 2013

Growing up, burning out

Summer Malaysia

Something about Malaysia that is metaphorical, if you want it to be: the weather doesn't change. Today it was hot and muggy: high of 34-35. Tomorrow it will also be hot and muggy, high of 34-35. It might rain, it might not. The next day, and the day after that will also be hot and muggy. And next month, and so on and so on. The fat white man is disoriented by this and says things that have a slight condescension about them, everyone nodding and agreeing: I don't know, I just like the change of seasons back home; the sense of passing time. Of the many deficiencies of the country, the weather is one: I say this without saying it. I use this metaphor: it's like a tunnel without any ending.

In Japan, even the Japanese slow in August. They take a week off to sit around and complain about the weather: it's hot, isn't it hot?

The Pihlaja family goes back and forth about purchasing an air conditioner; the house didn't come with any so buying one (or two or three) would mean an active decision. We — the royal we; that is, I — don't like to make decisions like this. We, in theory, reject the air-conditioned life. We have no microwave. No TV. The air conditioner would result in all of us, suddenly, simultaneously, getting asthma and getting fat. So another day passes with the fans on: a student says, This is Malaysia, sir. It's hot and there are bugs. I feel especially white and fat when I answer: yes, yes, but it seems particularly hot and buggy where we are

Living as we do, we have no idea about the future: unease about investing in an aircon is just a metaphor for how little I can say about the future, even in the short to medium term. I don't even know if we'll be in this house in six months: we're taking it step-by-step, never quite sure. Why buy anything, really, except food and clean underwear. The bare essentials. Live like animals, hand to mouth. Jesus, if you'll recall, told us to look to the sparrows for inspiration. Quaint, yes: they don't appear to worry about anything. 

So I put on a dress shirt, tie, and slacks, kissing the girls goodbye and heading out into the morning which is deceptively comfortable for the first 15 minutes of the walk to the bus. It's not that hot, really. You just have to be willing to accept it. The fat white man walks to the bus, he sweats, the people stare until, mercifully, the bus coming up the road sees him and honks, pulling over. Hello, yes, selamat pagi, many thanks.

These are first world problems in the developing world: comical, really. Everything is going well, I report in e-mails to old colleagues. Books, two of them, in different stages. Articles forthcoming, under review, in preparation. Money problems on the verge of being solved, permanently and definitively (don't jinx it though — this is Malaysia and promises made are never promises kept). I even got my staff photo retaken: the less sweaty, thinner version of me, not squinting or standing flat footed. No, the new picture is almost aspirational: this fellow looks like he's headed to great things. Smiling confidently, but not too much. It's hot, yes, but I have it under control. 
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