she said, can we get married at the mall?

[written fri, 22/6/18]

smoking outside a mall in kuala lumpur and i catch a glint off the side of a passing car and i walk back through the sliding doors with a jagged spot in my eyes afterwards. wipe sweat off my upper lip and think about how it’s so hard to breathe in this heat, and my hands are shaking trying to hold an iced coffee i got from some chain. the cold of the plastic just hurts. i arrived home from japan yesterday, and back in my own world again i’m wondering what people aspire to. a conversation with someone in japan, “what do people in malaysia do for fun?” “oh, i guess they just hang out in malls. they go from one mall… to another. there’s actually this one area in central KL where three malls are connected by a walkway, and that’s a pretty hip area. KL fashion week is hosted there and people dress up to go to that area with the three malls.” i’m thinking of tokyo where everyone looks good at every corner, and all the women aspire to look good no matter what they’re doing, and there are vanity mirrors in all the toilets. how out of placed and underdressed i felt no matter where i went. standing in line at haneda airport to check in for my flight and seeing various malaysian families all waiting in the same line to go home, and seeing them wearing and carrying bags of various designer labels from japan but on them it doesn’t look half as good as on a japanese person. and why? i’m thinking of being at home where the pace of life is so slow and no one really bothers to dress up for anything because everyone else looks so normal anyway. what do malaysians aspire to? i’m walking aimlessly around the mall because my friends haven’t arrived yet. when they arrive we’re going to go have lunch at a restaurant in the mall and then we’re going to have a karaoke session at a karaoke place in the mall and then maybe after that i’ll get ice cream from mcdonald’s and that’s a whole day. it feels sad, when i think about the life that you’re living in japan, and about the lives my other friends are living in other parts of the world, and even thinking about the lives that other people must be living in kuala lumpur. there must be a secret undercurrent of life that i can’t quite seem to get to.

i’m a fun girl, right? i’m fun to be with? sure, i don’t do much, and i keep recycling the same stories and embellishing them to seem more interesting, but you have a good time with me, don’t you?

what do people in tokyo aspire to? OK, yeah, in kuala lumpur we have a huge excess of malls, but it’s because it’s always 30°c outside and/or thunderstorming. OK, yeah, when i was younger i grew up in malls, because what else is there to do with your kid when you also need to get grocery shopping done and she’s developed an addiction for this pancake house chain. she’s 10 and her brother’s 8 and there’s another baby on the way. so sue her. sue us. sue this dead-end culture that mimics and consumes other cultures but can’t seem to stand on its own. at least we actually have families in this city. at least we go grocery shopping together, and eat pancakes together, at least my mom brings me along shopping at isetan and i can get bored next to her. at least we exist together–at least we exist at all. at least it actually thunderstorms in this country instead of whatever drippy pathetic excuse of a rain that you get over there that’s still annoying enough to necessitate an umbrella but there are none of the cool effects.

no, OK, sorry, i’m OK. what i mean to say is, when i was in japan i didn’t want to go home but i couldn’t bear to stay any longer. i walked the streets alone listening to music through earphones, i made eye contact with no one, and i fed myself with food from familymart when i couldn’t go outside. i knew that there was a lot of life out there, but i didn’t know–had never known–how to get at it. one night i got stupidly drunk in japan and kept trying to light everyone’s cigarettes so they would look at me. i was trying to make you jealous but i knew i could never reach you when there’s such a huge distance between both of our lives.

so i went to japan and i felt nothing, and i came home to malaysia and i felt nothing. there’s always a low brewing panic: i’m supposed to love something, but i don’t know what it is. in malaysia i am aspiring to love this country, isn’t that good enough? i’m not trying to have a good time, not trying to start anything, not trying to get big or take anyone’s money: i’m just trying to love where i’m from. that’s my only ambition. i’m going to write a romance story, and the subject will be malaysia. i’m going to write a story about malaysia so heartwrenching and good and pure it’ll make everyone born here never want to leave. it’ll make me love myself and it’ll make all my friends come back home. it’ll be like a studio ghibli movie. everyone who reads it will all fall so in love with malaysia they’ll all want to come here except they won’t be allowed to because i won’t let anyone else read it. you’re not allowed here. there’s already too much of your influence here, too many kids growing up bored of following their moms into isetan all the time. this story is going to stay here.


[written 27/5/18]

what i wanted was: a city that would remind me that there is love to be found and life to be had. what i got was: a couple of expensive meals, some stares from locals, many awkward & painful silences, sweaty foreheads, interrogation … what i wanted was a Romantic city, i wanted “having a coke with you”, i wanted kafka’s presence in a cafe. i wanted to feel intelligent and to live out a brief dream. i don’t really know what the dream was — i just wanted to leave myself, but all i returned to, over & over again, was myself, and not the parts that i like. all i got was a girl who picks fights, who feels nervous & tense all the time, who puts on an accent to distance herself from the other “chinese tourists” etc. etc. etc. travelling is not romantic: it’s long as hell. why do people do it? the feeling that you have to see as much as possible, try as much as possible, feel something etc. but mostly i felt tired & anxious. today, though, i felt happy because we stopped to have ice cream and we could sit under an umbrella at a cafe with an ashtray. and j said, “you’re such a simple girl.” because all it takes to make me happy is ice cream and the allowance to smoke. but it’s not true: i’m not a simple girl, not easy to please: it’s not that ice cream and smoking are all it takes to make me happy: it’s that they’re the only things that make me happy. there’s a difference. otherwise i would have been happy when i saw the view before the prague castle courtyard, otherwise i would have been happy at the sight of the castle itself, but i was not. perhaps that’s what i wanted all along: coffee, ice cream, cigarettes. i wanted to go somewhere else to smoke. i wanted to visit where kafka lives and write something that would be loved by someone else. but the gift shop at the kafka museum didn’t even sell his journals or letters. what kind of gift shop is that? what do you really know about franz kafka? he had problems with his father–he worked with an accident prevention insurance type company–he wrote many things–asked his friend to burn them–and then he died. he lived in prague. the museum was good, but i couldn’t read any of the artefacts because they were in czech. i don’t have wanderlust–i don’t ever want to travel anywhere–i just came here for franz and then i forgot about him/didn’t know how to read him/ran out of time because we arrived at the museum an hour before closing.

you can’t change people and you can’t change the place you’re in. i wish i knew what to do, but i don’t. i wish everything had been different from the start, but it isn’t. you can’t change people or the place you’re in. all you can do is choose to be kind to them. “you’re such a simple girl.” all you want to do is drink coffee and smoke and stare at the people and things around you until you love them.