Writer . Editor . Author
Tanah tumpah darahku
As the plane neared KLIA in Sepang my stomach gets butterflies because I am excited by what I see. Coconut trees, palm oil trees, rubber trees. Blue roofs on Malay houses, the snakey, muddy river delta among the dense rainforest. How I long to bathe in them! The mud, the soil, tanah tumpah darahku (the soil where my blood was shed). Malaysia, I miss you so much I embrace every part of you. There’s the airport announcements in familiar Bahasa, English and Mandarin. The flip flops on the shiny marble floors, the squatting toilets, the bad sign postings, with no international rules, no 100ml restrictions – the free-spirited Malaysian is free to roam! Malaysia I am home!
Blogger blogger semua
So I sit at KLIA typing away on this blog post. The wi-fi here is much better than at Abu Dhabi. A group of Malay men are sat next to me, and one is watching my screen from the corner of his eye. Immediately, J’s “blogger blogger semua” (all bloggers) impression came to my mind. J is of course referring to a Malaysian minister who once said on national TV that all bloggers are time-wasting dissents, and are most probably women who are unemployed.
My flight to Penang has been delayed, and so I fall asleep on the chair. I have been falling asleep sporadically, like taking grandfather naps. Precisely, because my grandfather falls asleep on the armchair at home so easily, at any time of the day, even when his favourite Taiwanese soap opera is on satellite TV full blast. When we were kids, my sister and I would hit the leather sofas really hard, creating a loud bang to shock him and wake him up for fun.
Where’s my Milo?
The flight from KL to Penang is so short that there is no time to finish your juice. I eye the stewardess’ tray as she comes round with cups of orange and passion fruit. But no sign of the brown liquid I fly Malaysian Airlines for – Milo. Ice-cold Milo. I am disappointed. But that is off-set by watching the steward give a full safety demonstration by my seat (because there are no TV screens for domestic flights). The sea of cotton from my window as we fly at 36,000 feet later turn into fiery sunset orange and angry grey clouds, and I go to sleep again.
It is 48 hours to the dot since I boarded my flight from Manchester. It was at 8.25am on Wednesday, and now it is 8.25pm on Thursday. It’s a good thing I arrive at night. I expect the tropical humidity to creep up the skin underneath my skinny jeans like a plague, but no. All I get is heat on my face and very flushed cheeks. My family are not there to welcome me at the airport, because they love to keep me waiting. That’s ok, because they are worthy of my time. Ten minutes later they cruise up, and off we go for dinner at Ah Lim’s.
Ah Lim is proud of me
The local seafood restaurant has a name, but no one knows it. Everyone calls it ‘Ah Lim’, because it’s him who cooks it. I get my Milo revenge by ordering a full cup with loads of ice. The man himself hasn’t aged since I last saw him. My father, also called Ah Lim, tells Ah Lim I am his first stop from my journey abroad. Ah Lim is proud of me. Skinny and tanned, I wonder why so many men, including my own father, have skins like leatherback turtles. It’s like they’ve been labouring hard under the sun, while women like Mum and Sis are on whitening creams.
“Mum,” I say over dinner. “I need to get my contact lenses. We have to go to BJ tomorrow.”
She and Sis laugh. “BJ??” It’s just too hilarious for them. I don’t understand why.
“No one goes to BJ anymore,” Mum gently assures me. “It’s Queensbay now.”
I am appalled. Like it is a trend to ditch one shopping complex for another. I spent my entire teenage life loitering in the bookshops, cinema, ice-skating rink and gaming arcades in Bukit Jambul (BJ). I can’t believe it has been abandoned by the new generation.
And so tonight I will sleep, in that twin bunk bed I have slept in for the last 20 years, listening to my sisters on the top bunk chit-chatting about boys and trying to close my eyes. The floor fan will be turned on at Level 1. Time to rest. It’s been a long journey, and it’s good to be home.