09 May 2013

Understanding Nothing But Understanding Everything

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Mei, you are four today. Four. You had such a hard year: you were sick for so long. I remember this about your last year: Mummy washing you in the shower as you screamed and screamed. Mummy kept saying, shouting over your screams, 'We will not lose to this illness!' She used that word in Japanese 負けない. You did not lose — you fought through it and now you are stronger, more confident than ever. I love you, Mei: you are your own particular person, with all your own particular peculiarities. I hope this year is better than the last.

I hope, but I am not certain: not just for Mei, but for the family and the whole country. The whole world. Malaysia is in a lull after the election last week. There were blackouts, I'm told, at polling stations and when the lights came on, the whole thing had been stolen. I don't know any of this; it's only what I've heard — a recurring theme of my life here. Last night, I watched the opposition rally, the men and women in black screaming, 'Reformasi! Reformasi! Reformasi!' over the sound of vuvuzelas. I tweeted: 'Understanding nothing but understanding everything.'

Malaysia, this 'one Malaysia' that we are all promised, has deep schisms and histories. The Chinese contingent in Taman Sri Minang warned us to stay indoors the night of the election and I wondered what it would look like if the country exploded with race riots. The next morning, the election stolen, I woke and went to get water at the strip mall. There was a holiday in the state of Selangor and everything was moving as it normally would — the Indonesian cafe full of people leisurely eating nasi lemak with their hands. I filled the water bottles and went home, wondering what change would really look like here.

But Malaysia in my narrow view of it just serves as the backdrop to my own narrative, tending towards the stagnancy of waiting for my monthly salary. Democracy? Race riots? Fine, but will I get paid on time? Yoko and the girls will go home to Japan on 17 May and I am watching Yoko prepare, packing the bags and buying souvenirs, wishing I could go too. Of course, this is the wrong thing to say — how fundamentally selfish. I kiss the girls at night and wonder what I will do without them for 28 days. What they will do without me. Again, what to say: I am stuck in this cultural no man's land: do I act like I am American or like I think a Japanese husband would. Understanding nothing but understanding everything: can you even put it into words.

So I am making plans to bury myself in my work for the next four weeks. Escape the weekends when I can with more work. Travel with colleagues to a conference in Johor Bahru. Save money. Avoid being alone. Work. And work some more.
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