16 December 2013

Being nice

The car inspection office in Cheras doesn't look like much of anything from the outside. There are no signs leading to it, until you finally exit the freeway and turn a few times. Puspakom, one of these places owned by a nephew of a government official, you imagine. In front of the building, there was a mess of cars and trucks, Chinese men standing around smoking. I parked and got out of the car, trying to get a sense of where to go: who was in charge. A man in a Honda shirt, an agent I supposed, looked approachable, so I asked him and he sent me off on a dirt road that looped around and dropped me in a queue of cars waiting.

The feeling of uncertainty and unease in these situations is very hard to put into words and sounds silly when you write it out afterwards. I keep sitting in the offices on the edge of panic, hoping beyond hope that someone will come and let me out of this final trial in a year of trials. I don't want to learn anything else. I don't want to try anymore.

I had an appointment, but that seemed meaningless in the end. I stood at what looked like a police box with a crowd of people waiting, trying to decide which form I needed. People pushed in and through and I finally just pushed to the front myself. B5 ah? and got my form and went back to the car. I drove inside, got out of the car, and a Malay woman fussed with the printer and another Chinese man in a Honda shirt helped me fill in my form. Pay RM30, go through, go to the wrong lane, reverse, go into the right lane, get out of the car and wait.

Naomi asks questions upon questions about who is the real Santa and how he can do what he does. She is sceptical, but still hopeful. She only wants money for Christmas. RM80, so that she can have RM100 altogether. What would that amount of wealth feel like.

I have been saying again and again the the way to succeed in government offices is to be nice; smile and you can get anything. This had been no exception, but the when they called me back to the car, and asked me to move forward, I saw that they had pulled all the rubber seals off the car doors and hadn't put them back. I said to the Malay boy who was waiting, 'Please put this back up' and he said, 'You can do yourself.' And I said, 'No, you need to do it.'

He was annoyed and did the door behind the driver's seat. 'Go up' and then I noticed the other doors were undone too. 'You need to do all the doors' and he said, 'No you do' and I said, 'No, you took it down, you need put it back up'. I could feel myself falling into the hole of being right, a complete disaster in this sort of situation. 'Actually you need to,' he said and I said, 'Actually no, you do it' and stared at him. He backed down, annoyed, and went around, putting them back up.

I pulled the car out to park and realised that I had done the wrong thing entirely, jeopardised the trip by insisting, by being an asshole. How powerless the whole thing makes you feel, how silly to try to assert power in spite of it. I sat in the waiting room, imagining the failed report coming back, and then thinking about all the government papers I still had in process, all the money that needed to be moved. And suddenly panic again about the visa in the UK: had the University there checked enough, had they asked the right questions. I sat trying to keep it out of my mind. Please just let me go from it all, the plates I'm trying to keep spinning: I don't care anymore, just let me go.

When I left the UK last year, after I finished my viva and turned in my thesis, I worked on the puzzle that we had gotten for Naomi for Christmas. I sat on the floor to my office, everything pulled off the walls and shipped away, and worked diligently on the princesses of Disney, all 1,000 pieces. Yoko's friends were downstairs, helping her clean and I felt like an idiot savant in the attic: I can do one thing well and then I fall apart. 

In retrospect all the fear and uncertainty is silly; when I look back it will all seem like nothing. Thomas and I have talked about this inability we have to remember the emotions of the past and how it is a kind of deficit for future decision making. It wasn't so bad was it. Fourteen more days on this side and then into the cold and a winter to emerge from both metaphorically and physically. It will all come together, one way or another.