23 October 2013

Ten years

Ten years ago, I left the States for Japan. The writing I did around settling there, of being a young missionary with DK (Dan), feels familiar again.
 We went to dinner at an Italian restaurant on the Bay and we fumbled through conversation. After dinner, Miyauchi Sensei told us he would take us to the public bath and DK and I shared some concerned looks. We drove up into the hills, got out of the car and then walked further up through what seemed to be a very touristy part of town that had closed for the day. At the end of a path lined with closed food stands, we got to the public bathhouse. Miyauchi Sensei bought tickets out of a vending machine then gave the tickets to a woman sitting at a counter right by the vending machine. We went down a narrow hallway to the locker area where we all got naked.
The public bath is basically a line of showerheads about waist high next to little stools. You sit on the stool and wash with a bar of soap and the showerhead, then get into a hot tub to rinse off. After washing, we sat in the hot tub for a while, and I realized that the whole room was lined with windows that didn’t have shades. After about five minutes, Miyauchi Sensei got up and we followed him out through sliding doors onto the patio. We stood there, naked, looking out at the city. It was pretty surreal. After a couple of minutes we went back to the hot tub, and Miyauchi Sensei asked about our families.
Ten years after this experience, ten years exactly, I was in Kajang, buying new tyres for our Hyundai Matrix, the car that saved my marriage last February. The car has been excellent along the way, although I am afraid every morning that it will suddenly not start. Over the weekend, I saw a small crack on front driver's side tyre and thought about Yoko and the kids stranded in the middle of a congested freeway, the tyre blown and motorbikes flying by on both sides.

The tyre store I stopped at — Yoko had asked if it was a good one: what's a good tyre store? — was run by a Chinese Malaysian man who looked at my car and quoted me RM195 a tyre for Silverstones: Malaysian tyres. I've learned so far the hierarchy of car accessories in this country: Chinese are the cheapest, then Malaysian, then Japanese or American. RM195 seemed high, so I tried to negotiate: How much for two? RM380. Discount? No discount. You want cheaper, you need Chinese tyre, but I no have. RM150, but cheap, many problem. (I thought about it, performed thinking about it.) Okay, fine. You want alignment? How much? RM25. You do for free? No, RM25. Do I need? Maybe need, maybe not. How car drive, I don't know. 

I left the car and they put it up on the rack. I walked up the road: I was in a part of Kajang that I hadn't been  — a small Indian community with dark men selling flower leis and a vegetarian food stall on the corner with old men on plastic chairs looking out at the evening, the traffic passing on the main road. I bought a Diet Pepsi and peanuts at the corner shop and walked up the hill, looking out over the city.

When I came back, they were done. RM390, as promised. The car drove fine and the Malay man in the Proton Saga waiting at the light let me cut in from the parking lot: a small grace, I thought, the sort of thing you appreciate in Malaysia. Thank you for letting me in ah. No problem la.

I came home and Mei and Mia were naked, running around. They hugged me at the gate, giggled and ran off, back into the house. Yoko played some loud Russian orchestra for them and they all danced around with drums and flutes, drowning out the Maghrib call to prayer, while I drank whiskey and watched.