Ronin

Greetings from Malaysia! My reason for being here is a somewhat lengthy and not entirely interesting story. My cousin (of which I have 40+, I believe) Jit Ching decided to get married this December, celebrating her wedding on the 18th with a big dinner in Kuala Lumpur, followed by a smaller dinner on the island of Penang for the relatives who couldn’t make it to KL. There was much bandying about as I weighed up the pro’s and con’s of coming. My main reason for going was to honour my family. My main reason not to go was not really knowing Jit Ching at all- we’d only spoken two or three times, and it would cost something like $700 to fly over and back due to the Christmas rush. In the end though, I decided to go for it as Mum graciously bought my plane ticket, and I’m truly grateful I did.

Although my intention was to pay respect to my family, I did not expect to have such a good time as I did so. Everyone has been so kind to me, including those who don’t speak English or haven’t really met me before. I’ve been very well looked after and very busy being invited to travel everywhere, seeing temples, eating food, visiting relatives and playing badminton. It’s been pretty full-on all things considered! The wedding itself was two days ago now, and I was happy to partake in the ceremonies and rituals. The couple had already been married legally, but they still had to go through the traditional Chinese wedding rituals, such as the big dinner the night before, the groom’s torturous games before he was allowed to see his bride, and the tea ceremonies with dozens of relatives, in exchange for hong bao, or red packets of money. It was the dinner that was the most enjoyable celebration for me though- I barely knew the bride, but my God she looked beautiful, and happiness poured out of my heart at seeing the pictures of her with her husband, and the smile on her face when she walked down the ‘aisle’. Everyone looked beautiful, especially my mother, and many celebratory drinks were had (YAM SENG!).

Other highlights of my trip include seeing my dearest cousin Yi Qian. She is kinder and more responsible than ever, if such a thing is possible, and it fills me with great joy to share adventures with her. I feel guilty taking up too much of her time because she tries to look after me and keep me entertained, but we are very good friends, and I enjoy having such good company in a place as distant as this. Distant is roughly the best word I can find to describe what Malaysia means to me now. It’s certainly not foreign, exotic or alien: the humidity, the scents, the dirty back streets and the countless stray dogs, the beggars, the food, the constant showers are all part of my childhood. It feels very much like another place to call home, though it is perhaps lacking in the somewhat less portable comforts of my entire wardrobe, video game consoles and living quarters. I have begun to feel at home, learning tidbits of Mandarin and conversing in Singlish, not to make fun or even to be understood, but because it is the right thing to say at the right time. Certain situations just call for a reproachful or exasperated “lah!” It is indeed good to be back, though the traffic continues to confound me: all those people breaking the rules and none of them so much as nicking the paint on their side-view mirrors.

I kinda wish I had a way of bringing my bokken and iaito with me. I miss training- all this indulgence of eating delicious food and barely walking 3000 steps a day can’t be good for me. Granted the occasional game of badminton has been very welcome, but it’s the martial arts I long for. I’m toying with the idea of visiting a martial studio here, possibly the wushu school that my young cousins are enrolled in (they’re junior champions at ages 8 and 10!) and trying my hand at some gongfu. Mental training is only so enthralling, and my youthful (if tired) body yearns for some action. If only my cousins were old/mature enough to spar with without trying to dominate me all the time. Speaking of which, this one little boy whose name I still don’t know has taken to pulling my ears or poking my back or jumping in front of me and screaming whenever he sees me. I tell you honestly, he tempts a zero-point knifehand to the solar plexus, but I know that would only be received as a challenge. It’s a good lesson in teaching me patience, forgiveness and detachment from the battles not worth fighting. There are other ways to win than through the fist.

Today, being a Monday, is a little quiet. Everyone is at school, or work, or heading back to Penang in anticipation of the dinner next Thursday. Truth be told I’m a little bored, but there’s always plenty to do if I seek it out. I think now would be a good time to take a break from the computer though. We’ll see what rolls from here :)

Lastly, I just want to say how much the little things count. In a country where there’s a good chance no one will understand you when you speak (due to complicated words like “excited” or “prefer”, a strong Australian accent (‘sif) or just an inability to understand English), you really long for some connection to people you are similar to. Of course there’s no use just pining and yearning all day because you’d never appreciate the situation you’re in, but this vacation has given me a good opportunity to step back and realise how happy I am when I’m with Bethwyn. Sometimes another country is a good chance to open your eyes a while and see the bigger picture. Take care everyone! I’ll see you just after Christmas.

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