Wednesday, October 11, 2006

My Malaysias

I was tagged by KG who was tagged by Sharanya as the next blogger to contribute to the 50 Posts to Independence Project started by Nizam Bashir. The idea is to write about anything that makes Malaysia special to that person. The project culminates on the nation's 50th birthday next year.

Here's a free-flow thing I've just knocked up, barely ahead of the deadline. More of a collection of notes than anything else (certainly not a poem ... or not yet). I enjoyed writing this and the memories it brought back and I'm nudged towards fleshing the whole thing out. (Great things about blogs is that they can be places to post stuff that's in-progressy!)

And in turn, I tag Eliza whose intelligent writing I enjoy ... both in my class and on her blog.

My Malaysias

My first Malaysia


goldmining town until the veins were flooded
when the Japanese came.
one street of Chinese shophouses,
one cinema, one supermarket
a school where I taught Form Three students
resisitant in their way to the invasion of English.

a memory of curfew,
imprinted itself on the town.
the last of the communists hung out
in the steaming forest.informers staked out the coffee shops
and army officers
drank whisky with discreet napkins around the glass
at the tenth hole of the golf club,
built by an Irish doctor
who never found his way home -
as i might not.

orang asli felled small game
with blowpipes along FELDA roads
distracting me from driving lessons.
the best Chinese restaurant was a zinc hut
behind the bus station
(the towkay's fortune gambled away),
kari ayam in Sempalit
the red tables cloths
of that place in Sungai Lui
that sold mee.

my second malaysia

Kuala Kangsar

"it was in Kuala Kangsar
if you will forgive the novelettish circumlocation
that i met the love of my life"

said Burgess (and hey, that works for me)

his writing drew my dislocated self
to his "estuary of ghosts"
with its sluggish river and footferry,
golden domed mosque, kampongs,
and scatter of palaces
(one a secret place with rotting floorboards
and birds nesting in the throne room).

i came to teach the elite
those white uniformed boys
who came wet to class rainy afternoons
(because umbrellas were not macho)
for Steinbeck.

in the Chinese restaurant
(how did i become an honorary man?)
we yang singed, and not with Chinese tea,
spun the chicken head on the empty platter
to see who would drink the next forfeit
or sing
and Bobby who slaughtered pigs by day
giving us Santa Lucia in the the richest
sweetest baritone.
and then him
back for a school reunion
asking "where can one get a beer in this place?"
his romantic chat-up line.the rest as they say is history
my history
and his.
my third malaysia is the malaysia of now
and here

a city of jams and flashfloods and too large malls
which leave me breathless with agrophobia
a skyline changing from one day to the next
but an excitement at being at the centre of things
and a feeling of the possibility of change.

corporate training
in golden triangle boardrooms
how to write the perfect business report.then a teachers training college
and mid-morning breakfast escapes for pan mee or utthapam
with the best colleagues of my life.
poetry classes under casuarinas -
teaching necessarily subversion
through poetry.

observing teaching practice on hot afternoons
in parts of the city i'd lost my way trying to find
proud of my students growth into teachers
and watching at the back of the classroom
the reactions of my hypothetical child
(the only one i'd ever have).

inheriting a family and customs
finding places to adapt and common ground.
carrying hantaran at weddings,
folding my too large self on the floor at kenduris
but never never neatly enough.
relatives scrambling through the bin for the
plastic wrapping of my Christmas turkey
to make sure it really was halal.the agak-agak versions of family recipes
scribbled on slips of paper
and consumed with fingers.

mat salleh I am ... but these are my stories to tell.
my credentials.
see how line by line,
Malaysia has written me.
so that these are the stamps in my passport
in lieu of the official one that says

i belong.


lil ms d said...


starlight said...

sharon, this is absolutely beautiful. made me feel real nostalgic. well done!

Nizam Bashir said...

Dear Sharon,

I enjoyed that. Particularly the bit where the relatives went scrambling through the bin for some proof that the turkey was halal. :)

acid burn said...

excellent piece =]

bibliobibuli said...

thanks for kind words. i like it too ... especially the conclusion i came to because i didn't know where tit would end up - but it is rough round the edges

there are just so many stories ... i began to feel guilty for the ones i didn't choose. i must sit down with my notebook and fill in the gaps.

thanks, nizam for the challenge! it's an intersting project and i think you will have a fascinating chain by the time the 50th birthday comes round

Anonymous said...

Heh.. if anyone asks, I'll just paraphrase NC and say "addicted to roti canai" :)

Glenda Larke said...

Ah, Sharon, that brought back so many memories of my Malaysia too. You made me want to turn back the clock and take another look, to spend more hours just enjoying a time we didn't know would pass so quickly.

Jordan said...

Beautiful, Sharon. Love the last part.

animah said...

Wow Sharon, I loved it. So many things I did not realise about you.
What struck out at me was your reference to "my hypothetical child" at the back of the class. Was this an imaginary child, or a real child you imagined as your own?

Anonymous said...

Oh.. and incidentally, the correct pronounciation is "yum sayng" but "yum sing" will pass muster I guess :)

bibliobibuli said...

thanks, jordan

glenda - yes, it does pass all too quickly

animah - i always imagined the things i'd do with a kid ... especially the books we'd read together. (sad, hey?)

and when i was sitting in classrooms watching my kids teach one of the questions i'd ask myself - would i want my hypothetical child taught by this person? if yes, i'd pass them, if no. fail them. good rule of thumb.

yam siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing is how i've alwasy said it. but i drink it with the correct pronuniciation.

snowdrop said...

sharon, this was really moving - it brought tears to my eyes.. and i'm in the office! good thing it's lunchtime :)

XMOCHA! said...

I really like this.. more pls....hugs