I wish I knew where to begin.
India was amazing. I may have had the best week of my life thus far. I touched down at 6am, finished unpacking my bags at 8am and slept till 6pm. The moon, lightning bolts, thunderclouds and stars were too distracting for me to sleep on the plane and I was uncomfortable about coming back.
After the tsunami, families were displaced and moved into government funded squatters, children were orphaned, husbands and wives widowed. From afar, the squatters looked neat with nicely painted walls but as you walk into the village you see and smell bad irrigation and sewage. Running water was not as common as cow dung. There were puddles of mud, feces and urine in front or next to the homes where the children took their toys into and made into bathtubs.
The people here walked around with a toothbrush in their mouths. I felt at home.
We entered the homes of many and listened to their stories. So many were desperate and hungry for goodness and grace to happen, it’s hard to not hold them and cry with them. Although I had a translator with me most of the time, I really sensed a lack of unlikeness. We do not share the same culture and language but we were able to laugh and cry together... pain, loneliness, love and joy are universal experiences that don’t discriminate against race, nationality and religion.
I’ve met some of the most amazing people as well. People who’d walk into an ankle deep sewage puddle to greet a woman on the other side, people who risked everything to follow Jesus, people who are able to love orphans as their own flesh and blood, people who’d pray hard for electricity and people who gave up marriage to serve the underprivileged. What they experience daily I was allowed to experience in a week. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.
My mind was constantly being renewed. There were times (and this happened very often) when a prayer was not as powerful as a hug or embrace. When you begin to understand why Jesus touched the leper when He could have simply said a word for the man to be healed. When the skin is unfamiliar to touch, a touch is what it needs. When the hand is empty, another hand needs to fill it. When words are unnecessary.
It’s true that there is no such thing as a godforsaken place, only a church forsaken place. So God was already there and all we did was show up.
Here’s a glimpse of my week.
This was a common flower found by the road and pathways. I asked our guide what kind of flower this was and he said it is used as a female infanticide. It contains a sticky sap that is mixed into the milk for the baby. It’s heartbreaking to see how something so beautiful can be so lethal. As soon as he told me that, we passed a bunch of young boys hanging around a sweatshop.
At the 2nd longest beach in the world. There were lovers under the scorching afternoon sun, wooden carousels and ferris wheels, fishermen and extremely good seafood.
Hi. Thank you for reading and keeping up with me. Thank you all for the generous words and emails. It’s been surprising and humbling to know how people from across the world could connect through the interweb. And to the lurkers, thank you as well.
I’m leaving for India in a few hours time. Hello airplane breakfast in neat little boxes. I was given a mini crash course on Tamil last night and I hope to embarrass myself with silly hand gestures and lousy intonations.
I will see you in a week, hopefully with stories to share and a new understanding.
Americans can get pretty good at being paranoid if they wanted to. Generally.
I got my visa done last week and it wasn’t the most pleasant experience. Passing through a metal detector at the guardhouse, I had to remove my belt and empty my bag of all my electronic devices—iPod, headphones, handphone, USB cable, and car keys. After this hurdle, I still could not put on my belt because there was another metal detector before entering the building.
Obviously the B-word is more deadly and foul than the F-word.
Then I was in the waiting room semi waiting for my number and semi watching and gasping at the “video” on proper embassy conduct and procedures. Very PowerPoint savvy. Pretty much how I’d react to a horror film. (I know, I hate being a graphic designer sometimes.)
When there is nothing much to do—the only magazine available is Expatriate and you’d have to do a 360˚ to watch the weather on CNN—the best thing to do is to be civilized and eavesdrop.
There was an old woman who could not speak a word of English and wanted to go to the States to stay with her friend’s daughter who was getting married and whose address she could not produce. They denied her a visa. There was also this kid who wanted to go to Michigan to study and live with his uncle. He just graduated from high school and did not have an acceptance letter. The interviewer suspected that he’d be working there instead, so she denied him. Then there was another kid who was almost close to tears, begging the interviewer to approve him so that he’d get a chance at better education. They denied him too.
I felt really bad for them.
Then it was my turn. The lady told me my photo (which I took a few days prior to the interview) was not recent because I look the same there as in my passport photo (which I took 2 years ago). I think she expected me to grow a full beard, dye it red and pleat it within two years. And because she was so amazing, I spent extra RM40 on new photos. This time I didn’t smile. I went back to the embassy again and another lady looked at my photos.
“So what was wrong with your previous photo?”
“I have no idea.”
“I think your first photo works just fine.”
But they used my non-smiling photo anyway. Grrrrrr.
She left me annoyed and pissed. So pissed. I started to think about how everyday they have a certain reject quota to fulfill. I also started to imagine about how she was sadistic and would laugh about this over coffee in the pantry. And then coffee will squirt out her nose. But I caught myself. I couldn’t bring myself to forgive her for not making sense, for making me rush for a photo (ugly) and waste RM40 on it.
But I was reminded of how I should think of what is true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse—even when I can’t see it. Ok, so she had really nice glasses. Very chic, Tina Fey style. Then I saw her as a mother, a loving mother with her own children. They’re happy. She’s a wife and a best friend to her husband. They’re in love. She’s a person and she’s really beautiful.
There’s something holy about the space between her eyelids and the gap between her teeth. I become less human when I don’t forgive, as though a part of me dies when I withhold love. Unforgiveness is as corrosive as gastric juices in an empty stomach. It eats you up from the inside out. Unnecessary.
Finally, they gave me a 10-year visa and I’m not complaining.
I need to work on trembling at a love bigger than my own.
This is the month of flags, fireworks and parades. The intern in the office risked his life to hang the Malaysian flag over our balcony while I stood inside looking out at him from the window hoping he’d make it, partly worried for him and partly worried for my lack of patriotism.
In school, we learned about how the British colonized the land. Some changes were good but unfortunately for us, they also brought in their worst invention—the roundabout.
Soon Malaysia will be 50 years-old and it’s about time for a life-altering midlife crisis, I think. I’m a bit cynical about the country so I will stop talking about what stinks. I have friends who left the country, friends who want to come back, friends who want to leave and friends who love it here. As for me, I’m drifting between wanting to leave and loving it here.
I can’t say much for our government, but here is a list of things I’m thankful for/love about Malaysia:
. stray animals
. Ramly Burgers
. secluded islands
. Malay subtitles for Chinese dramas on TV
. 24-hour food stalls
. night markets
. tropical rainforests
. caves and rivers
. Manglish (because we can)
. Ramly Burgers
. random power cuts (good excuse to play pictionary and charades in the office)
. my friends and family
(You don’t want to know how long it took me to compile that list. Seriously.)
Yes, I also put up some cheesy bird photos for your enjoyment. Moving on.
A few days ago I received a Coney Franks box filled with old newspapers and a Polaroid camera from my professional handsurfing friend (I owe you). Possibly one of the best gifts ever and it’s not even my birthday. I’m very, very stoked.
Hello August. You found me sleeping late again, waking up to crusty eyes and a stubborn desire to pull the sheets over again. You found me with breakfast pastry crumbs between my feet. Between life and death, you found me.
You hold much for me. June and January are distant now and I’m glad for us. Yet there were times I wished you were October, November or December. I was wondering last night if you'd be so great I could burst. But I know you and I won't last. In due time, September will pick all my broken pieces together, lay me out on the grass and assemble me once again.
So what are you going to be about? Chances are, chances being from anything to everything, we would be having a lot of fun. Yes, me and you.
August, we will live and love for nothing. Yes, for nothing.
[I’ve been shooting/uploading a few dead, dirty and ordinary things from the back alleys as of late. Dried grass, wild flowers, cracks, rubbish, dew, stinky birds and some discarded has-beens interest me. I don’t know how long this will last, but I like ordinary quite a lot.]
Link for the week: Soundtransit. Now you can travel with sound. This is home.