I was picking up payment from a client today when I stopped to chat with one of my brother’s friend from college. He resigned a few days ago and he was wondering aloud on where he was going to go next. I think a few years ago I would have probably chided someone like that for resigning from a job without another job ready but I’m a different person these days from the wide-eyed salad lady who started her first job in The Evil Org. More than anything, I applaud him for being so brave.
‘Will go wherever the wind takes me,’ he says. ‘Out of Malaysia…to Sabah.’
‘Sabah is in Malaysia,’ I say.
‘Well, yes. But it’s not in Malaysia Malaysia, you know?’
‘I think what he means is it’s not in KL,’ my brother helpfully points out.
‘I have to go somewhere, you know? Anywhere people appreciate my skills. I have uni debt to pay off and people pay me so little.’
It’s true. Half these animators can do so much with their hands, more than half of the so-called analysts and auditors out there who are certainly paid fuckloads for knowing so little sometimes. In other countries, animators earn a fair salary for their abilities. In Malaysia, they’re earning slightly more than a school-leaver working at a till in Giant.
He told me about this Fine Arts photographer working in FIT. ‘She’s living her life you know? Living her dream. She has a few shows going, she photographs fashion and design. Has a white boyfriend too.’
‘But didn’t she have a white boyfriend before?’ my brother asks.
‘New one. But still white.’
I think if all Asians are actually honest with themselves, the thing about having a white boyfriend is a really big deal. Better yet if it’s a white husband.
The two of them reminisce about their friends who work at Disney and Pixar.
‘Wow, everyone outside the country. They’re just flying, while we’re struggling,’ I say.
‘Yeah, well, if you don’t have money in Malaysia, forget being able to go somewhere,’ my brother’s friend said pleasantly.
‘Dreams come here to die,’ I say. The thought made me very miserable.
Jan explains to me later that having a show in New York is really easy. He has a few Fine Art friends who have shows.
‘It’s really hard to do anything like that here in Malaysia,’ I say to Jan. ‘When I did the play ages ago, it took me forever to get things done.’
‘But you still got it done,’ he points out.
As I take my little yellow car down the highway, skillfully avoiding a huge trailer tailing my ass, my brother announces, ‘I don’t want to leave Malaysia, this is home.’
‘Well, I do. There’s nothing here.’
‘It’s worse for me. I don’t even have friends here,’ my brother say.’But I feel like I have a responsibility to Malaysia. Like I have to do something. I have to change it. And make it awesome.’
I pause. I remember having the same exact conversation with my friend Sheila many years ago at The Evil Org. I wanted to change things back then, I wanted to make a difference.
‘I was like you, honey. But trust me, there’s nothing about Malaysia you can change,’ Sheila purred.
I could still remember her exact sneering tone. I remember hating her for that statement, wanting to prove her wrong.
We’re awesome friends these days.
I don’t want to be a destroyer of hope. Hope is important to people. Sometimes, it’s the only thing that keeps you going.
‘It’s not easy,’ I caution my brother. ‘The only thing you can change is you here.’
‘No, I do believe we can change things,’ Jan says. ‘How awful would it be if you made it big in the world, and when they ask you about your country, you say you hate every aspect of it? No, you have to change. You have to take responsibility.’
He points to a truck who cuts in front of me without signaling. ‘See how everyone drives like an asshole? That’s because no one takes responsibility for the things they do.’
It’s true. We expect others to change for us, the police to come and tell us to drive properly and we don’t make the effort to become better drivers ourselves.
But my brother is young, I would rather see him succeed outside where his skills and talents are appreciated rather than try change a jaded system and get crushed.
‘Suppose you don’t want to leave Malaysia because you’re contented here?’ I ask him. He pauses for a long while.
‘Maybe,’ he says softly.
We don’t speak about it after. We talk about the silly strays that hang around our cars and Jan wants to trade our cats for the cute one downstairs. And then, I go back to my desk and read about short story competitions and take note of the various competitions I should set some time aside to join. That feeling of being smothered and crushed come back and I wonder for the umpteenth time this month why I’m doing what I’m doing.
I am suddenly desperate, very desperate to succeed.
It’s my grandfather’s 90th birthday. Yes, count ’em. Ninety years old. I’ve been bugging him for months on what he wants for his birthday. When you reach 90, there really isn’t much that you want. My granddad requested a simple dinner for his birthday as opposed to a grand outing we did for him when he turned 80. And so we went to Manhattan Fish Market for dinner instead since he loves fish and chips. One is not going to deny a ninety year old man his request.
When the first dish arrived, we did as was tradition in our family, to say a prayer for the birthday boy (or girl) before we eat. It was a little odd, all ten of us at a restaurant and my grandmother recited the du’a. I could barely hear her, her soft voice overpowered by Jason Mraz and Colbie Caillat’s Lucky. I say thank you for His blessings, and for my grandfather being with me.
I have my family with me and my grandparents. My grandfather is ninety and he is still with me. My grandmother is 79 and she is still with me. They’re doing great and my grandfather, despite being forgetful at times, still drives his car. He remembers my fiancee, remembers my sister studying in Scotland.
I end up leaving dinner confused. For all that I am going through, I am still blessed. If only I could feel that way.