26 September 2013

The book

Naomi's Tadika Books

On Tuesday morning, I signed my first book contract. It came as a .pdf and I printed it and sent it off, without thinking much of it. Where had the moment gone, I have been thinking as I fall into another writing-induced depression: this mountain top of mountain tops for someone who has been writing for 25 years. It was like finishing the PhD: the celebration just flashed and suddenly we were here.

'Here': a metonymy for everything.

My daily routine now includes waking at 5:30, and taking Naomi to school at 7. The two of us get in the car and experience the Malaysia that everyone else knows so well: gridlock of traffic. The house we chose was close, I thought, to the school that we could afford, and it is, in relative terms, close enough. Still, I spent 40-50 minutes in the car, fighting through the centre of Kajang and then up onto the expressway that jams between 7:15 and 7:30 every day. Here, in five minutes, everything changes. I cuss and jockey for position, talking to Naomi, who sits in the middle of the back bench, chatting happily with me. And then, everyday, we pull off and drive down into the school ground, the plantation, and things are suddenly still. I pull her bag out of the car and carry it to the path, holding her hand. She takes it from me and rolls it up the hill and at the halfway point, we say goodbye. She hugs me and I kiss her on the neck and she goes up to her class and I go home.

This life is in no way sustainable: Yoko makes the same trip in the afternoon, although it takes longer and the traffic is worse. We do our best — Yoko and I — but I can't see this going on and on. What do you change? Can we move closer, do we get another car, do we order a taxi? Everything, as it has been here, is not a simple decision: what can we afford, what do we have the energy for. What future is coming.
These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.
Yes, unfinished and immovable: the stifling heat has returned to terrace house in Taman Sri Minang. Yoko's skin continues to flare and burn with no end in sight. The kids are happy enough, unaware of anything else despite the pent up frustration around them, running around and sleeping naked. With little certainty still about the future, we've yet to commit to much except that tomorrow, at least, we'll wake up and do it again. Forget happiness, forget rest. Mei's deposit and registration slip for the 2014 school year hang on the refrigerator. I know we will end up paying it on the last day, but I am putting it off, hoping for a kind of rapture out. You never know the time or day.

21 September 2013

Mid-Autumn Festival

I said I had lost energy for taking pictures and then the Mid-Autumn Festival came.

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17 September 2013

What we show and don't

I don't know when I stopped taking photos of things in Malaysia. Yoko still has energy for it, but I don't.  On Sunday, we took out some Japanese college girls that Yoko had met at the mall. 18, 19 years old, the two of them took pictures of everything they saw in the market, and I watched them and watched the Malaysians watching them. Naomi and Mei watched as an old Chinese man pulled apart a chicken, cover in blood. Naomi was stoic, but realistic, 'It's okay because we eat it.' Mei was mesmerised, looking carefully at the cut neck. 

I'm happy to give this to them, to my children. Let them see the world as it is.

The Japanese college girls were energetic in a way that I had forgotten Japanese women of that age can be. At the same time both adults and children. Yoko kept buying them different kinds of food: try this, drink that. Naomi and Mei and Mia bounded around, full of endless energy too, but I felt, again, sapped and flaccid, as I have for a while in Malaysia now. I want to see it as foreign, for the smells and tastes to be new again.

I say that, but things still surprise me. Last night, the mid-autumn moon cake festival that our Chinese neighbours celebrated. Coming home from the new Speedmart 99, I met our neighbours walking up the road carrying paper lanterns hung on sticks. Other neighbours bought moon cake that Naomi attempted to cut evenly into five pieces.

Naomi and Mei continue to impress: saying goodbye to a vender selling us food at the hawker stalls, Naomi greeted the man in Chinese and he smiled broadly. She said it so naturally, telling Yoko all the things she had learned in school and then counting to 10 in Spanish. The world is so big for them. There's so much out there.

At the foot of the hill at Tanarata today, Naomi hugged me once and then, before going, came back for another hug. 'I love you/ stay with me' I wrote in my Bahktin poem. She walked off quickly then, up the hill, diligently pulling her rolling suitcase. I love you, I wanted to shout out again: I love you.

This all weighs heavily on me as I think about my next move and what my agency in the system can accomplish in terms of change. For now, at least, it looks like the choices in the immediate future will be clear enough: hard in the short term, but best in the long term. We need to now accept the different versions of the world as they are, not as I want it to be or think they should be. At least I have the agency to reject the most onerous version: it's only a matter of deciding which one it is.

14 September 2013

The call to prayer

Naomi's school, in the middle of a palm oil plantation, is a special place. Set between highways, when you exit into it, the congestion and frantic pace of the KL suburbs falls behind trees, like you are being protected. Naomi and I arrive everyday around seven twenty and walk up the hill to her classroom, past a pond where a hornbill landed earlier this week. Naomi is completely at ease: if she sees a friend, she lets go of my hand and is happy to walk to her room without me. Every day, I stand at the bottom of the hill, watching her walk up and away from me, before getting back to our silver Hyundai Matrix and starting my day.

The school has been a kind of mercy: I had been gearing up for struggle, but there has been no struggle. The money keeps flowing out, but some things are much easier to pay for than others.

And then one more mercy. Kajang Stadium, which we have driven past for the last eight months, is actually a full running track with an acceptable play area attached. We've taken to heading there after dinner to let the children play until sunset, the Maghrib azan heard loudly from the mosque across the street and across from the electronics store. The weather has either been cooler or we have gotten used to the heat, and the early evening is glorious. Yoko and I stand at different places in the stadium, watching the children. 

The misadventure in Malaysia is at the crossroads, and the feeling that I had in March, that everything would go back in boxes and we move on, feels suddenly very real, like that potential universe is just about to swallow us. Malaysia, like a spurned lover, might still have its way: who can say goodbye to this so easily, I wonder, looking up at a minaret against the sunset. Some things are easier said than done. 

08 September 2013

First Day of School

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With a remarkable lack of drama, Naomi transitioned to the world of international primary school. One small bout of crying, and then only strength. Seeing my children grow into strong, courageous young women has been a clear success amid other failures this year. I suddenly feel the urgency of being with her before she gets too old. All three of them. 


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