Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Going back

Written Monday, 28 January

My heart gives a twinge as I catch my first glimpse of a beige ribbon winding through the lush green, green, green. I love Perth, but we have had a hot summer, and I am so tired of brown dry heat and dead grass.

I thought I had forgotten most of my life here but it all comes flooding back: school girl crushes, humid Sports Days, going to school in a white cotton blouse and black skirt. A deep breath fills my throat. This is the land of my childhood.

I wonder if my brother feels the same. I look over and he is as transfixed by the land below as I am.

We fly lower as we near the city and there are so many house scarring the green. Progress, development, the erosion of my childhood places.

As we go through Customs, I am pleased to find I remember the words for "clothes", "books", "lemons", "meat" (the contents of our cargo, and don't look at me, my mother packed the last two). However, I end up having to say "Christmas tree" for "Christmas tree" (again, see the previous sentence).

The air is humid and the smell of satay being cooked over hot coals wafts over to us. Birds make a constant cacophony in the trees next to the airport. It sounds like a thousand hungry nestlings have hatched at the same time. Mum remembers aloud that when she was little and playing in the fields after school, how they used to see flocks and flocks of birds filling the sky, several times a day, but not so much now.

We are still waiting outside the airport--I can't understand why the departure area is air-conditioned but the arrival lounge isn't--I suppose they don't want to encourage people to loiter. The national anthem plays on a television in front of rows of metal and plastic seats. I can still remember all the words and I mouth the the final four lines along to the music.

"Hey!" shouts my youngest aunt, who has approached from behind us. I hug her and she tries to lift me off the ground, while gleefully saying, "Woohoo! Woohoo!"

Another aunt is waiting for us in a large white van and slides through the traffic with the finesse of a Formula One driver. We hit the highway and I peer across to see what speed we're going at. The needle is too far down and the steering wheel blocks my view. Hm, perhaps I don't want to know.

We arrive at the night market. It is 7.30 and bustling with people buying cooked food for dinner, or the makings of dinner: vegetables, sweet potatoes, yams, at least five different types of bananas, small piles of durians that make my mouth water, fish cooked in banana leaves. And my favourite part of dinner:


A man and his colleague sit on what looks like the displaced back seat of a car. There are piles of small yellow fruit in front of him. Langsat. You squeeze the top between your thumb and forefinger, and then eat the sweet, translucent, white segments inside.

My mother and Auntie P taste some and then debate loudly on whether they should buy the lot.
"Can you make them cheaper so we'll buy them all?" Auntie P asks the vendor in a mixture of English and Malay.
"Why?" replies the man in charge.
"So you can go home early and watch the football!"
He shakes his head. "There's no football on tonight."

We buy the rest anyway. His weighing scales break while they are weighing the plastic bags of fruit and my mother and aunt start giggling in the same cheeky hyuk-hyuk kind of way, that reminds me that they are sisters. The man's colleague says that these scales are very kambang, or "obnoxious", as if they have a life of their own.

My parents seem so much more comfortable here. Relaxed. Bold. Native. I wonder what parts of themselves they've sacrificed, to migrate to Australia with us.


Anonymous said...

Oh Angie, your writing in this post is... different... to the way in which you normally write.

It took me a while to think about how I felt reading your 'new' style, and then i realised, it was lovely.

While I love your 'snark' and candid way of writing, this piece was just beautiful to read, with the last statement sending a little shiver through me.

Have a fantastic trip :)

an9ie said...

Hey Kathry, I got both comments, but they are moderated so they don't show up until I log in (which at the moment is erratic because of ze holiday). Thanks so much for your lovely words!

Anonymous said...

Lovely post! Lovely pictures, too. :)