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A monthly column from a Malaysian expatriate in San Francisco
A typical southern California afternoon. The sun is bright, skies are blue, ocean waves pounding and a gentle breeze caressing me from the Southeast. I should have and could have been a successful weather personnel you know.
My dear dear diary:
Went and have "Dim Sum" brunch with a good friend today. As usual, I over ate but it is so good the "Cha-Siew Pao", "Siew-Mai", "Har-Gow". Yummy, yummy good. We had a ball. It was a "all you can eat" brunch and we spent close to three hours in the restaurant. I am sure the restaurant owner will think twice before he welcomes us again. The food reminded me so much of the time I spent back home in June. Hmmm… Where did I stop the last time… Well, I am not about to repeat what I have said, we shall start from the moment the plane touched down on Penang Bayan Lepas International Airport...
My first observation was the airport expansion. Very nice, I thought out loud. There are 10 terminals now (don't quote me for I have Some-zheimer disease, sometimes I remember and sometimes I don't) and it used to be only a hand full. They have opened up more immigration checkpoints and the officer was as nice and friendly as always. Deep down inside she most probably questioned why is this Malaysian speak with such strange Bahasa Malaysia accent? Nonetheless, she let me go without a scratch. My parents were there waiting for me, so were my sisters and brothers and some faces I don't recognize. Never mind, I am sure they will be introduced to me sooner or later. My immediate mission was to stop mom from crying. I love her to death.
It was incredibly hot and humid on this 18th day of June but I was sure I will get used to it in a few days. After all, I was born and raised here. I must still have that double H gene somewhere inside my body. (Hot & Humid, for those of you who are still trying to look it up in the medical dictionary) On the way home, we drove by the brand new stadium built for the up and coming Commonwealth games. That was all my brother talked about and he spoke with such pride and anticipation. Tall apartment buildings line both sides of the road and they are more to come, according to my dad. So, what happened to the Asian crisis? To the left we have a gigantic shopping complex coming up, to the right, new factories and business centers, condominiums, more shopping complexes, durian stalls, coffee house, the University of Science... more condos. STOP!!!!!!!! Back up, back up, did I see DURIAN HAWKER????? YEE-PEE!!!!! The rest, as they say, is history.
If there is a economic crisis going on, I sure didn't see the impact on the general population. Sure, people talked about it a lot. Majority of them blamed George Soros (Poor George. I think he better postpone any and all plans to visit Malaysia in the near future. I don't think the lady immigration officer will be as nice to him as she was to me) but not a lot of them understand the reasons behind the changes nor the pending implications. I believe the impact is immediate and swift for the upper middle class for those are the investors and financial players, the general public live from hand to mouth and as long as inflation is contained they will not noticed much. They will down the road, I am sure. Life goes on for the time being.
Went to the wet market with mom the next morning. (I can still taste the yummy after taste of durians from last night). Had my first bowl of Fried Koay-Theow. It was soooooooooooo good even Yan can't cook such delicious food, I am sure. (Well, hello...Yan Can Cook - this is a challenge for you, sir). It was really neat spending time alone with mom. This is her ritual for the past 40 years. She wakes up at 6:00 in the morning. Using hot water, ground coffee and cheese cloth, she makes the best coffee in the whole wide world. It is so dark you can see your own reflection.
She used to prepared breakfast for four (my two sisters, my brother and me) but now she only prepares two, one for my brother and the other for his wife. She then make her daily visit to the wet market. On the way, she plans for lunch and dinner and she makes adjustment according to her daily budget. Sometimes I wonder if the CFO of the world consult their mothers when faced with financial dilemma. They are awfully good at their budgeting. We caught up with life and she talked about missing me and how she wishes I can stay longer than just two weeks. I caught a glimpse of her out of the corner of my eye. Mom has aged; silver hair and wrinkles and all, but she is still the sharp-minded, warm-hearted, loving and cheerful being I know. Love you mom, with all my heart and soul.
My dad is 71 years old but he is still very active and alert. Whenever I think about dad I remember the night we spent at the Pudu Raya bus station in Kuala Lumpur. The year was 1981 and I was teaching at a primary school in Petaling Jaya. Dad came down from Penang on business and decided to spend an afternoon with me before taking the midnight bus back to Penang. We wondered around downtown and went for dinner at the Pudu Raya station. We spent close to four hours talking while waiting for the bus. It was the longest continuous conversation I have ever had with my father. As the bus pulled out of the station, I waved at his silhouette and tears rolled down my cheeks. My dad confessed he has never been able to give us what we wanted. We grew up poor but not deprived. Never had what we desired but all our needs were met. My dad is the best, no ifs, ands or buts.
Fathers and their first born son share something very special. I don't mean to sound discriminating (my apology to all the first born daughters out there) but even my other siblings complaint about it. He will tell me anything and everything and I believe I am the only one in the family who have seen my father's tears. Even mom denies the possibility of dad crying. I hope I have made my dad proud and I consider myself a success if I can be half the man my dad is. Father definitely displays a sense of uneasiness at home now that he is retired. I know what it is and where it came from. Without beating around the bush, I told him it is our duty now to take care of him and mom, no ifs, ands or buts. That was the second time my dad had teary eyes. The first time was at the airport 15 years ago when he sent me off to the United States.
The rest of the family is doing just fine. My brother is happily married and his wife is adorable. She fits into the family perfectly and I can tell she has been accepted into the "inner circle" unconditionally. My second sister still spoils her two kids and she blames it on "globalization". Get this, she believes the Western philosophy of not punishing the children and gives them the freedom to act and think is really cool. Wait till I send her newspaper cuttings of the high school shootings, early teen mothers and 6 years old being sent to prison for killing his 4 years old friend. Can't wait to hear her reactions.
My older sister was worried about losing her job. Now, that was the Asian financial crisis hitting a bit too close to home. She is the Chief Administration Officer of a financial conglomerate and the company is having trouble collecting outstanding loans from the Rich and Famous. She will be fine, I am sure. After all she still have us to fall back on. All four of us have access to each other's financial accounts. That is how much we trust each other. I won't say that this is a typical Asian culture but our parents taught us well.
We spent the first night playing "mahjong" but we talked more than we dealed. It has been a while since I last played and I am sure they took advantage of that, gladly. We had fun and mom was busy preparing supper the entire night. We laughed and ate and horsed around and for that split second, its as if I have never left home.
I spent the first weekend home in Kuala Lumpur. My brother and my sisters tacked along and we had a great time. Well, I can't believe it's already dinner time. I bought tons of goodies from the Chinatown grocery store and I can't wait to cook up a storm and destroy the kitchen in the process, I am sure. I think I shall leave the KL story in my next entry.
Till the next time, sweet afternoon nap my dear diary... July, in San Francisco
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