07 July 2015


In Midvalley Mall in KL a couple of years ago now, I bought white plimsolls at Zara. They were John Lennon shoes, like ones if you look in that famous Abbey Road picture. I got them on sale at a time that I felt I needed to let go a bit, stop worrying and get some of the things I needed, like new shoes and some shirts and shorts. I thought of all the things the kids needed or wanted: anything for yourself as a parent seems selfish, even when it's needed. Still, the shoes were perfect: I took off my sandals and wore them the rest of the day.

Midvalley was a retreat for the family at the time, the Pihlajas of Kajang, where on a Saturday, we could go and pretend to get away from the kampung, the local area, where we were living. In Midvalley, the air conditioners pumped on and on, and there was Starbucks and Aeon, the Japanese supermarket that wasn't really a Japanese supermarket. And Zara, of course. Now, as I think about it and remember, all the bad bits, the insecurities of schools and taxes and my motorbike have been chipped off and all I remember is sitting in Starbucks, the sun shining outside, like we were on a very brief holiday from this mess that I had landed our family in, halfway around the world. Mia was still, if you can believe it, in a stroller.

These white plimsolls have treated me well, but now have holes in the toes. When I wear red socks, the red comes through and I think the holes are well-earned and make the shoes all the better, like they show the length of the journey. I've been thinking to buy some new ones, something for my birthday perhaps, but that moment seemed to have come and gone. Instead, we went to Pizza Express, as you do. Yoko got me Bombay gin and the suggestion that I should fly back to the States in August for a couple of weeks to see my dying grandfather and my new niece and nephew. It was a nice thought, but impractical. The gin was lovely. 

We're all getting relentlessly older: Mia will start school full time and I sat yesterday at the parent induction, holding a file full of different forms for me and Yoko to sign, giving them liberty to take pictures and change the kids' pants if they need it. I remembered that when Mei went to school full time, she became a little girl so quickly. And like that, now she is 6. She had a piano recital in St Augustine's in Edgbaston, a huge Catholic church with vaulted ceilings and spires. It was an impressive place for a first piano recital I thought, as an American — my first piano recital had been in an Evangelical church with carpet and a shiny grand piano. Mei played well, a proper little girl, and there were cakes and ice cream afterwards. The girls ran round and round the church and I shouted when they got too close to the road. 

Relentlessly older, yes: another birthday party and a weekend of swimming and then swimming and then another birthday party. It all passes without you noticing. I sat and read Murakami's new book in English, The Strange Library, in a soft play birthday party centre called 'Treasure Island' — the sort of place where sad fat people pump children full of sugar and chemicals. In Murakami's books, there are no fat people or children — only young men who work and read and go for Ramen in Shinjuku or Ikebukuro. In The Strange Library, several worlds overlap and a man becomes a Turkish tax collector he is reading about, at least in his mind. A perfect Murakamian collapse. I looked up from the book at Mei running around, and thought of Istanbul and the call to prayer. Yoko wanted to buy a fish sandwich from the boats. We ate mulberries and walked around the Blue Mosque. There was a Starbucks there too, yes, and the cobblestone streets. The Adhan again and again: Inshallah, you will be back, someone says. Mei runs up to me, with her face painted, This is the best party ever, and runs off. It is? It can't be.

Face painted Mei