08 April 2013

All the worlds

The fat white man endeavour found itself this weekend in the kind of place fat white men find themselves in Malaysia: high rise condominiums perched above the more Malaysian parts of Malaysia. At the gate of the condo, there was a Indonesian or Bangladeshi man waving people in, and I saw one women in a Tudong, but otherwise, it was Chinese, white people, and Arabs, sitting by a beautiful pool which was surrounded by beautiful condos, surrounded by a beautiful golf course. and ringed by expressways on all sides. Completely cloistered from Malaysians on motorbikes and the markets. Fountains and clean changing rooms.

We were at these condos to visit some new friends that Yoko had made. Down-to-earth, good people: the kind of Japanese people who embody the stability and clarity of Japanese culture while maintaining the independence of people living abroad. Calm and wise: the sort of people you sit with and instantly feel at ease. This is the best thing that can be said of someone, I think: they make you comfortable. The children swam and Yoko and I sat, speaking Japanese together like we were suddenly back five years, before we had kids and when Yoko sat on my lap sometimes. We had lunch and hung out in the apartment until it was time, after seven hours, to go home.
I realise with every passing week how long it's been since I have completely exhaled, how many levels of stress have been weighing on us the last four to five years. I keep thinking, now I've exhaled, but then I go another month and exhale some more. I realised this weekend that we will soon have no children under 2 for the first time in six years. That Yoko will not be pregnant or caring of a newborn. That I will not be doing my PhD or looking for a job. I'm less on edge, particularly after Mei went to the hospital and it was okay. It's okay: can we say that now? It's okay.
Our little terrace house in Taman Sri Minang has no pool or gatekeeper or wall. The gate in front of the house could be broken down by anyone. The sounds of Malaysia permeate everything: the birds and call to prayer and the stray dogs barking. You must, in our house, open the windows or you will burn up: it's a metaphor for everything. The neighbours are always coming and going: there is a truck that comes by to take away cardboard and another truck selling tofu and another truck with vegetables. A man on a motorbike with a weedcutter who you pay RM10 to cut your grass.

Yoko and I go back and forth about where we live and where we might be able to live when our finances stabilise sometime in the next couple of years. We could move out of Taman Sri Minang into a less local area. That's the codeword, 'local' as opposed to 'international'. I keep saying, I came to Malaysia to live in Malaysia, but there are parts of me that think it would be nice to swim and relax behind the walls. Perhaps our narrative arc bends that way, but I think having it every so often is enough for me. I say that all the good things in this country have come to us because we don't have any money. If we were rich, we'd have air-conditioning, but no Auntie, no Uncle. No running in the streets in the early morning.

Here, in Taman Sri Minang, Malaysia confronts you and then swallows you. My daughter comes home from Auntie's in the Tudong the other day, talking about how beautiful it makes her. She wears it with a Cinderella dress and then she says to me, in Japanese, that she wants to be Muslim. What do you say to that. Mei's accent is fully Malaysian now. What do you say. I shrug and smile.

We inhabit so many worlds as a little family, moving weekly in and out of them. Another context, another language, another god. Mia's first words are in four languages: she's standing naked at the gate shouting 'Selamat Malam!' at the neighbours. The conversations we have with people orient towards the children's future all the time, but I am just starting to enjoy the present, all the gods here in Malaysia looking over all the different people around me. More food under the back fence from Auntie: fried noodles and curry and watermelon. I bought whisky and sat down yesterday without the impetus to go on to something else. We played Candyland and I listened to Jazz: Sunday night like I used to imagine Sunday night should be. When it was done and everything was finally quiet, I shut off the lights of the house and locked the doors, but the windows were still open upstairs. Not home, but a kind of home. Our home for now.