01 January 2013

Blessings and Curses

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall have peace.

The first couple of days in Kajang, outside of Kuala Lumpur, are slipping away, as they do when you are jet-lagged, and everyone is sick.  This is a long post, but some narratives are longer than others.

The end in the UK was like the end in Japan: rushed,terribly, terribly rushed until a vehicle that we didn’t control took us away: in Japan it was a boat, in the UK it was a taxi. The last day, the Friday, one of Yoko’s friends was over to help clean and help with the kids, but by 2:30, we hadn’t made the progress I thought we needed to. I was uneasy, but more patient than I would normally be because of the presence of another person. Yoko, we have two and half hours, only. Things swung into gear, we stuffed the bags and got them right to the weight limit,expecting to have to throw things out at the airport. I had been so strict about it all: 150 kilograms. That’s what the tickets say, what the website says, what the woman on the phone said. Still, we stuffed things in the bags.

Yoko said it felt like a countdown. The new tenants came an hour before we left, watching us runaround madly: could they help with anything? Yes. No, sorry, no, we just haveto—we have to—Yoko did you get the, thing over... Immediacy taking over. Go,go, go.

Yoko’s true friends, Japanese women whom I had met in passing over the last four years, came to help all along the way. For me, saying goodbye to the UK was saying goodbye to my thesis which, although it ended very well, was bitter and hard almost every step of the way. For Yoko, saying goodbye meant leaving some of her closest, best friends, women who cooked and cleaned for us as we left. Women who had watched our kids when we needed someone. Real friends: people you never want to leave.

And then it was ten minutes: the taxi was here. A middle-aged frustrated Englishman, the kind that I've decided drive taxis in that country. Which bags to take. All of them. They all have to go. And he was frustrated. Our landlord’s wife showed up: she and her husband have meant the world to us. The girls call them ‘Big Mummy’ and ‘Big Daddy’ in Japanese.
The day before we had gone to visit Carl, our landlord,at their house. Yoko ran off with his wife, Yuko (also, you might guess, Japanese) and the kids to the kitchen. And I sat in the lounge with Carl. I had only seen him twice since his diagnosis with a terminal illness in October; I tried awkwardly to maintain a normal conversation, but Carl, you can tell, has gotten very good at talking with people who are uncomfortable. He told me all about Malaysia: You must go to Malaka. How do you tell people that you love, that you love them. We said goodbye, not wanting it to be a real goodbye: never a real goodbye. I kept saying, We will be back to England by the end of 2013. Don’t worry. Nobody worry, nobody cry—finally feeling the physical impulse to cry and fighting it back.
Then everyone was out of the house. We were hugging, saying goodbye, putting seats in the car, putting kids in the car. And then the doors shut and we pulled away. We took Child’s Way out of Milton Keynes, the same way we had come in four years ago. Everything went from a rush of movement to complete silence, broken only by the complaining of the taxi driver (You picked the worst time to travel, mate) and the kids questions. I texted people to say goodbye and looking up at the M1 and then the M25 and then the M4, waiting for the traffic which never slowed us down.

At the airport, we got everything on trolleys,and I pushed one, and Yoko pushed one, and Naomi pushed the stroller. We made our way slowly to the ticket counter. They waved us through. I unloaded all of my bags on the conveyor belt.
Could I take the stroller to the gate?
Yeah, yeah, no problem.
He didn’t want to weigh it? He was supposed to weigh it. I waited.
Okay, the guy said, is that all? You have, what eight?
Yeah, I said and paused. Can we send more through?
Yeah, yeah, he said, you’re way under the limit.
We stuffed the bags with coats, sent another one through.
Okay, he said, have a good flight.
And that was it. I had been telling people again and again that moving is like pushing all your stuff through a keyhole. You compact everything on one side and on the other it can expand and expand, but you have to push it all through. And the ticket counter for me was the keyhole. We got it through, I said to Yoko. The door is open now, she said. No, no, I said, the door stays shut. Anyone who wants to come through must push through the keyhole. You can’t just walk through.

We had a problem at the x-ray machine with Mei’s coconut cream. Mei, if you ever doubt your mother’s love for you, this memory: Mom scooping coconut cream from a large 500 container into two 100ml flight approved bottles with a coffee mixing stick while an asshole TSA (British equivalent) agent tells your mother  that she doesn’t want to be condescending, but you can get this sort of thing at the pharmacy. No, you could see Yoko’s eyes say, I have searched and searched and searched for this cream.I ordered it online and had it shipped specifically to our house in time for the trip. My daughter is suffering: I will take on you and this whole goddamn system if I have to. Mei’s skin is burningand this is the only thing that helps her.

People who suffer the inconvenience of travelling joyfully and with abundance of heart are blessed, as far as I’m concern. The Muslim businessman next to us on the flight to Dubai, who offered his chocolate bar to Naomi and me, is blessed. Who, when kicked, smiled and told us again and again that it was okay. Who offered to (and did) carry one of our car seats up the flight bridge to concourse at Dubai while Mei screamed and screamed, her skin burning with the stress. That man, whoever he is, is blessed.

The fat, faded tribal tattoo’d asshole who reclined into the baby car seat and then sent dirty stares at Yoko when she tried to get past is cursed. He and his faded tattoo’d partner, all their scowls for my little family, are cursed. He actually said to me at one point, I’m trying to sleep here, when Mia cried. He is cursed beyond any clever retort, or blunt, fuck you, I held back.  Jesus, if he can teach us anything, teaches us to turn the other cheek.

The Japanese flight attendant who met us at the back of the plane and took Mei up to the second deck of the plane where the first class section was (as a secret) and then took a Polaroid picture with her is blessed.She gave the girls chocolate and talked to Yoko for almost a half hour. She is blessed.

Yoko, of course, is blessed more than anyone. We were late getting to Dubai. Mei was screaming as we got off and so was Mia.The idea had been that we would have a break in Dubai to run around, but we were about to miss our plane. They herded everyone together who was due for the flight to KL. We were rushed to another part of the airport, rushed through another security scan, rushed through another ticketing gate and carolled intoa space that wasn’t big enough for all of us to wait for thirty minutes. We had no seats. Yoko was holding Mia, Mei was in a stroller that they had from the airport, and Naomi was eating M&M’s sitting on the floor. Let’s never move again, I said to Yoko, trying to be light, but she responded, Don’t say that to me now, and walked to sit down with Mia.

When we arrived in KL, my feet were so swollen that I couldn’tget my shoes back on my feet. Instead of forcing them, I went sock-footed: loaded up everything like a pack mule again, and we headed out. My carrying of our possessions was comically pathetic to people who gave it a second look. I had in my arms one carseat with our coats and a backpack on it. And then another car seat,inverted on top of it. I had my Saddleback bag in backpack mode, and tied to it, a large reusable Waitross grocery bag full of food. And then I had a nappy bag, slung over my shoulder, or not, depending on how many kids were crying and whether Yoko was having to carry Mei or Mia. A young guy in London actually commented to me, That looks hard. So many clever retorts now: at the time, I just smiled tiredly.

We got to immigration at KL. I had my letter allowing me to enter the country; there was no question. Although we were late, the luggage was just arrivind and I put it all on three carts. There was supposed to be a man with a sign. I was pushing two heavily weighted carts, and another blessed man took one from me, I’ll push this: where are you going. His wife and children were embarrassed, but I was again incredibly thankful. Thank you.

And there was the line of people holding signs with names. Oriental Chrystal Hotel. Dr Stephen.
Hi, I said, I’m Stephen.
Dr. Stephen, yes, thank you, yes, please. Leave your luggage, please, the car is outside. Is this your’s too, Dr. Stephen, yes,please, to the car, please, we will take care of it, Dr. Stephen.
We stepped into the midnight air of Kuala Lumpur. Mei laughed, It’s like jumping in hot water. We sat in the car, the bags were put in another car. And we were whisked away. Dr. Stephen, there is water for you and straws for the children. Dr. Stephen, how was the flight. We will be therein about an hour, Dr. Stephen, please relax.

Blessings and curses: It’s 12:30 and everyone is sleeping. I looked at houses today and saw the one that I think we will get. The one I imagined us in the best. Yes, we will work quite well in this country: we will be quite happy because we will choose to be quite happy. And our children will be happy because their parents are happy. And they will suffer injustice and frustration with joy because they see their parents do. And because we will point out to them when others do it. I believe the Muslim next to me is happy because he cares for those around him, and I believe that fat, tattoo’d asshole in front of us is miserable because he cares more about trying to sleep for five hours on a plane than he does about an 18-month old. I don’t need to bless or curse either of them: their reward is their own life. The fat, faded tribal tattoo’dman is now miserable at whatever foreign destination he was being dragged to.The Muslim businessman is resting quietly, sleeping now in Dubai, I imagine. Slowly and patiently getting rich.

I am neither blessed nor cursed: I have dragged my family around the world and all of them have been sick for some part of this trip. But as Naomi and I shared ridiculously cheap street food tonight in an open-air food court in Kajang, the rush of Southeast Asia around us, I thought, yes, it’sall worth it. Naomi says in English, Daddy,you know, I like Malaysia.

The call to prayer, the thing I had been waiting for all these months, is where I will stop for now. On Sunday, in the early afternoon,we were standing by the rooftop swimming pool. I heard it, shushed the children and went to the edge of the roof, listening to the song ring out over the city.What is that daddy? Naomi asked. The church, I say, They’re going to pray.Blessings and curses: for now, we are very, very blessed.