13 August 2013


The story splintered over the last ten days, in ways that I feel uncomfortable following. The narrative of this blog avoids certain topics: it gives the appearance of transparency, while keeping certain things out of sight, or hidden in plain sight. 'Here' — or physical location more generally — is always a metonymy for emotional or mental location. Here is never just the chair that you're sitting in, it's your whole embodied experience of here. Take that as a lesson.

On Thursday afternoon, the first day of my week of holidays, I walked through the KL bird park, bloodied, dehydrated, and exhausted. My youngest daughter was clinging again to my wife, who looked and looks one step away from collapsing. None of this is metaphorical, all actual: real blood, real dehydration, real screaming. I argue with a woman in a tudong, Is there really no drinking water in the park? Only the mineral water marked up 4 times? It's hard to tell who is more frustrated with whom.

I had returned from Germany feeling positive, but lasted only for a moment. In the taxi ride up from the airport, passing the mosques and chatting with the driver, I felt almost like I was in a foreign country again. The house, however, felt familiar; a kind of kennel. Not a jail: a place you are kept out of love. The Muslims in the neighbourhood broke fast on Wednesday with feasting and fireworks; we broke it with fighting. The next morning, the residue of anger and exhaustion hung on. The family couldn't stay in the overheated terrace house in Taman Sri Minang another day, but there was nowhere to go. Let's go to the Bird Park. Let's try that.

I was bloodied, actually bloodied, from falling in a hole, an actual, physical hole. Walking in front of Kuala Lumpur station, I had peeled my youngest daughter off of my wife again and was walking ahead to get her to forget that she was not with her mother. Then, suddenly, I am on the ground, my glasses have been knocked off. Mia is lying on her back, she's hit her head and is screaming. I try to stand, but can't. Yoko's asking if I'm okay.

Tense shifts to present for immediacy in narrative. My dad, telling me the story of seeing his uncle burned alive, also shifted into the present tense.

I was, thankfully, more or less okay. I was scraped badly, but not deeply, not actually cut. We went into the station, the thousands of Malay men clamouring for tickets, and the call to prayer of the national mosque on the other side. A man in a white robe, the station master, mopped up my scraps with another man in a backpack.There's a grate missing on one of the sewage drains out there, I said. Yes, the station master said, You must be careful. It was, as everything has been in this country, my fault: it's your fault for not knowing that you would not get paid. It's your fault for giving the police officer money when he asks. You shouldn't do that; you should know better. You should know there are holes in the sidewalks.

The story just trailed off there. Nothing happened, no one fixed the hole, no one took responsibility: we were pointed to the Bird Park, where we were headed before I fell. I limped a little, but by the end of the day, my ankle could hold my weight. The scrap slowly healed, is healing. We took a taxi back to town, and everything was forgotten.

Now, we are waiting -- for the holiday to end, for Naomi's school to start, for the first round of possibilities in the UK to go through or come back negative. Then we will re-evaluate, see where we should invest next. For my part, I finally bought shorts and t-shirts: clothes that fit and are comfortable in this climate. In Germany, I staggered around in my clothes from England which are too small now, particularly when I am eating non-stop. Come Autumn, I will, again, get my body back. Come next week, when I go back to work and can forget about heat.