10 June 2013

The Pursuit of Happiness

The girls will all be back by this time next week.

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There has been no time for the silence since that first weekend. This weekend was another two nights in KL with a revolving cast of characters, all deserving of their own novel. I sat out on a terrace overlooking Bansgar and KLCC while the sun set: I smoked and drank cider and cheap Australian beer and we all went out to a restaurant with a parrot. We drank beer and ate crab and in the back of a car headed through Brickfields, stuck in traffic, I felt the serendipity of being swept up in something without having to plan or control or care for. It just goes on with or without me: I stand in the river.

But now, the slow descent into real life: I cleaned the bathrooms and got my motorbike fixed again for the fourth time. The house will be full again in just five days.

On Saturday, I attended an Indian Catholic wedding: our neighbour's daughter got married. I went directly from the station having spent the night in KL at a party and was hungover and sweaty, thinking I might just skip it. Given the importance of saving face in Taman Sri Minang, I decided I should probably go anyway. Of course, I arrived looking sorely out of place: beautiful, well-manicured Indians with a couple of well-dressed Chinese women in sun dresses, but certainly no other fat sweaty white men in pink shirts and bow ties. I made my way through the crowd with people looking like first I might be lost and then realising that I probably was supposed to be there and greeting me — finally Auntie, our Indian Auntie, came out of the crowd, beautiful and glowing, and shook my hand.

The wedding was, as you can imagine, both very Indian and very Catholic, two things I didn't know mixed until this ceremony. I sat in the back feeling both out of place, but oddly at home, as the Catholic narrative overlaps substantially with the Evangelical one I know so well. We all stood and sang a hymn that I knew by heart and sang loudly, a kind of duty to those around me: fat white man participates.

The groom was a convert, from what I could tell a convert for marriage, and looked like he had certainly made the right choice. All the pageantry of Catholicism contrasts with the starkness of Islam, but the Hindu temples, with their multitude of gods and statutes, look the same to me as the Holy Family icons. I imagined the conversion was less difficult, but only because I filled in all the connections with ignorance. This is how fat white men understand the country, after all: we see the connections that have meaning for us, in our experience, and then claim to understand the native experience. Incomprehensibility solved.

There was an odd moment when they were supposed to, I think, kiss. The bride didn't seem to want to, but the priest was insistent than something happen. Imperialism even in this most intimate of moments. In the end, the groom leaned forward, grinning awkwardly, and kissed her on the forehead. How perfect, how sublime: what futures are coming for them. They then came back down the aisle, husband and wife. Although I was immensely curious about the reception, there was another party in the city to attend to and I was going to be late — I snuck out the side gate of the church and bought a pork bun at the Happy Happy Cafe.

I want to stretch out this story more: really make it profound and foreign. Where was Vishnu, where was Genesha? Instead, it slipped away without any epiphany. The father of the bride saw me the next day and warmly shook my hand. They had wanted Naomi and Mei and Mia to be the flower girls: it was such a shame that it didn't work out.

The pursuit of happiness: this is one of our American inalienable rights. Here in Malaysia, this misadventure, I've not found time yet to really be happy. I think that's okay — I think I am starting to find my own happiness. All these in between moments suggest a bright future. That is only one truth of many. I start every blog with this much more important truth: I'm lying to you. Don't believe anything I say. But it seems that still, the truth seeps in. 
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