14 October 2013

Let's be generous with our claps

Naomi graduated from her kindergarten on Saturday. I sat in the audience, Mia sleeping on my shoulder. Surrounded by scores of Chinese parents with smart phones and digital SLRs, I felt the way I do at things like this: cynical and wishing desperately to be somewhere else. The British Library, maybe: somewhere with my people, the ones I can recognise. Mei danced to the Blue Danube, holding a flower, and wearing a costume that the school had rented for RM75 and charged to us. We needed, a woman kept reminding us in English and Chinese, to give a big clap for the children and appreciate their movements, regardless of how well they were doing. Perhaps people have more patience for all of this when they get older.

Mia woke up during the thirty minute introduction, looking around the auditorium for Yoko and starting to cry. I took her out into the waiting area. We were on the fifth floor of the New Era College, a small Chinese Malaysian college in Kajang. You could look out at the whole city, the traffic moving up and down Jalan Semenyih, the hotel we stayed at when we first came, the terrace house in Taman Sri Minang just over the hill. Mia wandered around fussing and I thought about the last year and all Kajang has come to mean in this misadventure.

When the ceremony ended and it was time for photos, Naomi was chased down by two boys, both called Joshua and both very polite. They took photos over and over and when Yoko said to Naomi that she should take a photo just with me, she said, in Manglish, 'Do'n wan!' the consonants cut off the end of the words. I finally grabbed her and got it, the sort of reluctant picture you take with your father.

We all slip into our roles: we can't really escape them, despite where we are. Malaysia feels less and less foreign because of this. The argument with the Nepalese security guard at the entrance to a gated community: that is unique, at least for the Americans and Japanese. The kids chastising me for cursing, 'Don't say Jesus, Daddy': that is not unique at all, that might happen in any country. All the problems, all the joys and pleasures are not likely to change, not given the surroundings.