23 July 2013

The glowering

A series of thoughts today, unrelated.

In Port Dickson, we were guided to the ocean, and when standing ankle deep in the warm water, Yoko and my eyes met like we had the same thought: this is what we had expected from Malaysia. I laid down in the water and floated on my back. It was clean, no rubbish. The smell of Sumatra burning over the horizon.

This is one Malaysia, the one closer to what I expected when we came.

And then there is another: next to the car garage, some Malay guys have put up a banner and started washing vans, cars, and motorbikes. They are there all day, mostly sitting and waiting. Yesterday, as I came up the road, there was a group of Malay women walking up from the hospital: nurses in white coats and tudong. The men, as the women passed, leered and cat-called. I was behind the women and had an immediate flash of anger, locking eyes with one of the men who suddenly didn't know where to look. Group of women or fat, white man: which is more interesting? I glowered, as you do, passive and aggressive. He looked away and then looked back and then away and then back, realising that I was now staring at him. By the time I passed, all the car washers were silently staring at me, glowering at them. The moment passed — I passed them and the women and got to the top of the hill, and no one learned anything.

Ramadan creeps on and on, still beyond the edges of perception. On the 7:15 bus, at 7:30ish, a phone rings, the bus driver has a happy conversation, and starts pulling out some food. The bus creaks and bends and sways for another five minutes, and he starts guzzling a big bottle of water. At the next stop, I smell a cigarette: think, some asshole student is smoking here? No, it's the bus driver, smoking and spitting out the window... I get home and send an angry e-mail to transportation at the University; no one learns anything.

Ramadan is for visions. Sitting on the bus, another colleague gets on and passing me says, You're leaving: I've had the same dream three nights in a row — you and your family with bags. Where are we going, I want to ask: where did the dream say we were going?

This is what has been happening at night, apparently: Malaysia has been speaking to my colleagues about me in visions, asking me to go. This is why the night parties, the endless string of iftar meals have not materialised. Instead, visions and barking: I wake to a pack of feral dogs fighting in the park, Yoko standing at the window watching. I stand too, look out, mutter under my breath, Jesus, shut the fuck up, and regret cursing in front of my wife.

Malaysia, if you can talk to my colleagues in dreams, let me talk back to you. I miss you already: when the car battery dies, another series of kind neighbours come out. Saturday, one neighbour takes me to where the car is stranded in the city centre and helps me push it out and jumps it, smiling and chatting about race in a frank way the whole time. And then last night, when the car is dead again, another couple of Uncles, a Chinese one and an Indian one, happily help me pull out the dead battery and replace it. Dead, la; need new one, la; never mind.

Never mind: a kind of Malaysian mantra. My daughters say it now too. Never mind. Whatever is troubling you or broken or in need of improvement, fixing: never mind la. A colleague calls it the Malaysian charm, a shrug. A car passes me today with a boy hanging out the window like a dog. Never mind, nothing bad ever happens.