Sounds truly crazy and the vision’s a little hazy but-

I’ve not been this giddy since leaving for the UK in 2008

And I can’t listen to anything other than the racing, euphoric, fantastical music of Lion King and Aladdin and Wicked

I can’t even listen to Hamilton, because the anger is slowly dissipating and-

Hamilton is so angry

What is this feeling so sudden and new?

 

Far off the first tiny star – a hesitant, tremulous drop of silver – begins to shine.

Returning home, she saluted each star, each peak, and each watch-fire as if they signalled to her alone;-

At night, the stars put on a show for free.

A thousand stars were flashing across the blue wastes of the sky. One seemed alone with an inscrutable society. All human beings were laid asleep – prone, horizontal, dumb.

And the stars look very different today.

____

From various books and lyrics.

 

How does one begin a conversation with strangers? More to the point, how does one start a conversation with strangers whose people one has read about only in stories that are poignant and horrific in equal measure?

Here’s one way – talk about the produce.

“What is this root?” I ask the Rohingya vendor at the Pasar Borong Kuala Lumpur in Selayang, jabbing at the plastic bag of herbs. Inside is another layer of wrapping, a piece of newspaper in Thai script.

“Is it from Thailand? Can I buy just a little of it?” Then, without missing a beat – “What is your name?”

He is taken aback, but only for a moment. His face breaks into a grin. I feel a flash of triumph.

“Daud,” he says.

“Daud,” I repeat. “I’m Hui Lin.”

It’s easy after that. We find out that Daud is married. His wife lives in the ramshackle multi-storey shophouses across the street – the ones that are considered a safe haven to the Rohingyas, despite the conditions and the frequent police or immigration raids that happen here. He has two children, both of whom attend Hashim’s madrasah. Daud speaks English and appears confident in his pristine beige button-down shirt.

The next person we speak to is a little quieter – a little younger, perhaps in his early twenties or late teens. At first he stares openly at us, expression unreadable – Curiosity? Suspicion? Assessing? It’s hard to tell. It’s similar, though, to the looks we got as we strolled down the aisles.

“Can I buy just one chunk of ginger?”

Soon we’re discussing his dream woman. A few of his fellow vendors sidle up to join in. One has a very eager smile and the lively, strutting demeanour of a teenager. Another is tall, moustached, and looks so sullen, almost as if he didn’t actually join our circle by choice.

“No, I’m not married. The girls here are too fat. They eat too much gravy,” he says gravely, in broken but rapid Malay. “I’ll get married when I go home to Burma.”

We meander in search of a woman to talk to. Nasimah sits on a low stool just outside the building, peeling onions into a basin under the scorching sun. She turns her face upward at us as we approach, her disposition friendly. Her teeth are tinged red, the effect of betel nuts. She answers our inquisitive questions quite readily.

“We get our food from the market and we cook them at home.”

She also asks about us, and how many years we’ve been in KL. She’s been here for 11 years herself.

“Ranzambi (sp?) doesn’t go to school. She only went to school back home in Myanmar.” Ranzambi, her 18-year-old daughter, sits beside her under the shade of an umbrella. She turns and smiles reluctantly at us at the mention of her name, as if she’s not too interested to participate in our conversation. I can understand that. I feel like that a lot. She continues to stir away at her little pot of white goo, which is apparently meant to be eaten with betel leaves. Another girl joins us but doesn’t say anything, just leans against the van, listens, and smiles. A man stops by, takes a box from Ranzambi’s plastic basket – perhaps cigarettes? – gives her some cash, and leaves.

Soon after that, we leave too.

It only struck me later that the second person we spoke to, whose name escapes me, had said Burma, not Myanmar…and that he harboured some hope of going home.

KUALA LUMPUR – A school in Jalan Mana was among 16 schools in the city ordered to close by local authorities today after students were discovered engaging in intelligent conversation in the canteen. The spot check was conducted by the Kuala Lumpur Board of Development of Society (BoDoS) after it detected abnormally high concentration of progressive-mindedness from the premises.

Its director, Tan Sri Dato’ Sri Professor Dr. Et Cetera, said besides the closure order, offending students were also required to memorise local mainstream newspaper articles everyday for one year as corrective treatment to realign them with standards on appropriate civic behaviour. Repeat offenders, she warned, would be sentenced to the additional penalty of partaking in social media discussions on Malaysian politics.

“The students have clearly failed to appreciate the detrimental widespread health effects their ignorance can impose on society. Overexposure to intelligent conversation and serious reading materials can cause contagion of severe mental disorientation, deranged speechmaking, and worse, far-sightedness,” Tan Sri Dato’ Sri Professor Dr. Et Cetera pointed out.

“Our team also found a barrel of smuggled books with mature content, such as history,” she told reporters at the end of the operation. “Judging from the creases in the spines and pen markings, these books appear to have been read.”

Tan Sri Dato’ Sri Professor Dr. Et Cetera said 77 enforcement officers from BoDoS, as well as the police, were involved in the spot check on over 70 schools. She said the checks on the premises were conducted under the Insecurity Act 2013 and Public Sedation Act 2020.

She advised the public to lodge complaints to the state BoDoS departments if they found schools which did not comply.

“All members of the public are responsible to ensure that these issues are arrested,” she added. “We do not want the world to think that Malaysia is an insecure country.”

Read More Actual : http://www.nst.com.my/news/2016/03/135754/16-filthy-food-premises-kl-ordered-close

_________________________

This post was written as part of a series of writing assignments for the Unrepresented KL workshop. It is a dystopian take on Kuala Lumpur and is as far-fetched as any fiction can possibly be, and absolutely without any basis in reality whatsoever. At all. I mean, literally. None.

Twenty pages into A Sense of Style, I understand now why books like Out in the Midday Sun or Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s World or Wellington: The Iron Duke are so absorbing. It’s not just the fun of facts and uncovering alternate narratives; it’s also how these books are written. They aren’t simply a parade of stultifying statistics and sweeping statements. Through letters, diaries, journals, they give voice and breathe life into people who are every bit as real as you or I despite having vanished into the hollows of time. They continue to be, if only for the finite period over which the book is unfinished. I root for them, rail against them, cry with them.

For that brief interlude, it almost seems as though I am a personal friend.

Whether in writing, daily life, or writing about daily life, it is a challenge, I think, to resist the tendency to – as Steven Pinker puts it –  “submerge individuals in abstraction”. Living as we do in a country like Malaysia, it is all too easy to lose one person in a sea of persons, so they no longer are a million individuals with a million lives and minds, but rather just a homogeneous mass of colour. Yellow. Brown. Lighter brown? Even worse is when you try and write individual stories by reverse-engineering – fishing from the “melting pot” (that phrase makes me shudder) and then moulding perfect little clay imitations of human beings sorted by colour.

Such was the difficulty I had at last week’s Unrepresented KL session. We were prowling the streets at Masjid Jamek, hunting for a story to write. I tried conversing with the beauty salon attendant while she threaded my eyebrows in the hope of inspiration. Unfortunately, despite the bits and pieces she shared – husband’s occupation, plans for future children’s schooling, where she was from, what her hometown was like – it came to nothing because I found myself unable to perceive her outside the confines of stereotype. So I tried to use some imagination. Perhaps I could alter the conversation beyond banal back-and-forths. I then found myself uncomfortable about being presumptuous about her beliefs.

So there I was, stuck, staring right into her eyes, unable to give voice and breathe life into Sendhi – someone who was actually living.

It’s only the second week yet. Perhaps I’ll get better.

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