09 December 2013


Everything you own can go in a box and be shipped anywhere in the world for a fee. Our boxes came this week, in plastic wrap. The things that can't go in boxes, all the cardboard furniture and foam gets sold off to interested parties in the taman. Aunties eyeing things over, making offers, asking about the capacity of the refrigerator. The car has been sold, the bike has been sold. I'm giving away books and taking everything off the walls.

In leaving, you learn all the things that you needed to know to live here, all the secrets to selling cars and getting tax money back and leaving the pension system. Day after day, you confront Malaysian bureaucracy and by the third or fourth time, you don't fear it anymore. You get a number to wait and there are 150 people in front of you and you think, well, at least I have a number. I only have to pay RM500 to cancel my Internet: perfect, sign me off.

Friends give you things: whiskey and cookies. My students gave me a giant card they had signed, applauding at the end of my last lecture. And cupcakes and books. They asked me why I'm leaving. It's complicated, I try to explain: it's like explaining to your children why you're leaving their mother. You should stay, but I can't. I'm sorry.

On Friday, I got sucked into the orbit of the Royal Commonwealth Society again, danced the achy breaky heart line dance again, and drank and drank like the sinner that I am. The whiskey came out and we sat on the terrace and talked about adultery. When the cab came, sometime after the last call for drinks at 1ish, I sat in the front, focusing the way you do, when you are giving directions under the influence and we laughed and talked all the way back to Kajang. I unlocked and locked the gate and door. Pealed off my sweaty, fat white man clothes and stood in front of the fan, replaying the night back in my head.

Phylogensis is the evolution of the system; ontogenesis is the evolution of the individual in the system. These are good metaphors as the fat white man adventure ceases. I'm sure they have relevance as I crawl back into the body of 30 year-old Stephen, the one who cycles and would never eat nasi goreng or ice cream. The Stephen that doesn't drive down the middle of the road and honk angrily at 1995 Proton Sagas with children standing in the passenger seats. The version of me that doesn't mark the day by calls to prayer.

The Stephen reemerging wears a long grey coat and drinks ale, runs marathons. And my British daughters, in tights and jumpers and thick skirts, will come back.