28 April 2014

Belfast

In 2002, I went to Ireland for the first time to visit my sister, who was studying in Limerick. It was the sort of trip that I have repeated again and again, taking the long way out to save money and get a sense of how things are in a place. We stayed in a castle (a castle!) and I ate Cadbury eggs and took a lot of video of Martha, but now, looking back on it, I understand her much better — what it is like to leave the States and have people visit you from the States. Loud and big and ignorant all at once: I had even grown out my hair for a year. I remember humming 'Hail Britannia' on the street because I thought it was funny: the sort of loud, awful American things you do when you don't have any clue about anything. It had been a hard year, but I was starting to feel like the future was coming. Martha's friend cut my hair the second to last night I was there. The protest is over, I said.

This last weekend, I was back, this time in Belfast. As a rule, I've ditched the video camera for the most part and I don't take pictures very often when I travel alone. They're all there on the web anyway, any famous thing you want to see. In the sorts of places I go, I want to pretend that people aren't aware that I'm not from around there. It's stupid: I'm obviously a tourist in a pink shirt and a backpack and an American accent. I don't know what you've said to me, I'm sorry, I'd like a scone please. Is that not a scone? I'm sorry, I'll have that. Still, I imagine myself as better than that couple over there, so fat and awkward with their maps and shorts.

Belfast gives you the feeling that you need to take sides. I realised that as I was standing alone, looking at Nationalist paramilitary murals in Whiterock. It was grey and cold and no one was out. Most of the houses had Irish flags; I found a couple of the shrines to people who had been killed or murdered, depending on how you thought about it. I stood there, at the edge of the ghetto wondering what it would take me to care enough about something to shoot someone.

When we left Kajang, Yoko wanted very badly to keep a bike that her friends had given us — a white and blue 16 inch American bike that had been bought in Japan and brought to Malaysia. The bike had gone in the Frankenstein box, the box the my father-in-law and I had constructed with tape and a refrigerator box. Naomi had learned to ride in front of our house, although I was always afraid that she would get hit by a car, one of the many careless drivers that sped through the taman. Naomi rode in circles around the park, sometimes stopping when Chinese or Indian aunty would come out of the house to talk to her. I would stand in the park, in the middle, wandering around and thinking about how we would get away, what our escape plan would be.

I was talked into packing up the bike, although as I imagined it, everything like this, used bikes in particularly, would be cheaper in the UK. We could go, I said to people, to car boots sales and pick these sorts of things up for next to nothing. Good things, but used. Still, the bike went into the box and when the things came last month (it's been a month now), I pulled it out carefully and put everything back together with the tools we had sent over.

The bike is now too small for Naomi, so Mei is learning to ride it, but we don't have the space in front of our house like we did in Kajang. Still they have been finding places to ride, here and there. Yoko got them guinea pigs this last weekend too. They are little girls, living little suburban lives, with a father who travels on business every now and then and does work in the garden. How many miles have passed since the protest — the long hair and Pedro the Lion button. How peculiarly it has come together, now 12 years later. Still American, of course, though maybe if I'm lucky, I'll never really have to take sides. Just keep walking around, undetected, remembering each mural, in place of pictures.
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