“There and back again”…


I got into Tullamarine last night, just before 10. I made a beeline towards the immigration gates, waited impatiently for my bag to appear on the carousel, almost ran out to catch the shuttle bus to the long term car park, and took the drive home, finally reaching home just after 11pm.

After a quick and minimal unpacking, I realised to my horror that I simply couldn’t sleep. We had been going to bed way past 11pm KL time the past week and so it was only about 8.30pm when I got ready to go to sleep. I was also a bit peckish so I boiled an egg, poured myself a glass of red and tried to watch some TV. It was nearly 1am – 10pm KL time – when I finally slept. So, waking up at my usual pre-dawn hour was a bit of a struggle for me this morning.

Tress’ dad had been out of the woods on Tuesday, having been released from intensive care into the general ward. My mother in law was back to her usual bundle of energetic joy, providing a study in contrasts from a week ago, when we first arrived. Her husband had been sedated in intensive care then, with tubes hanging out of him and looking very grim. That night Vic, Tress’ younger brother and eldest son, had gotten the family together to pray. My mother in law was beside herself, sobbing and pleading for his recovery. She looked tired and weak and we were all in a bad place.

The few days in that intensive care were testing for the whole family. He was under the care of a specialist physician but he really needed a respiratory medicine specialist – I think they’re called pulmonologists – which that hospital didn’t have. The family battled to get him referred to Sunway Medical, which has reputable respiratory specialists. He was finally transferred there on Friday and everyone, not least my father in law, felt much better for it. He had been through some very dark places, with thoughts of mortality front and centre every single moment. His sense of morbidity was communicated to all and sundry and we all tried to persuade him he would be better.

So, for a whole week, our days alternated between the hospital and home. We’d sneak in meals near Tress’ family home by stealing some local treats when we could. Tress’ other brother generously offered us the use of their daughter’s bedroom, so we stayed there, two middle aged persons holed up in a teenager’s colourfully adorned room. Tress and I are very grateful because that meant we could be with the family the whole time. We had booked a hotel room nearby but nothing beats being under the same roof at such times. There is a deeper shared sense of concerns, worries and struggles, and when there is a milestone achieved, the joy and gratitude is more commonly enjoyed. So in spite of the awkwardness of cramping into a teenager’s room and seeing that teenager sharing her brother’s, the experience was really good.

Klang remains bustling and numbingly free spirited. Having to drive to the hospital twice a day means braving the traffic up and down the Federal Highway, which has become even more congested since the tolls ceased. Drivers drift in and out of lanes without warning, and generally drove faster with a more heightened sense of haste. Getting through roundabouts and intersections is a gargantuan play chicken exercise and one needs to balance courage against care as drivers frequently barge in, daring oncoming cars to accept a challenge or forcing them to slow down or stop. The rule I distilled – don’t hit anyone/let anyone hit you – continue to reign supreme and when there is a traffic crawl, cars cramp into lanes, instantly converting a 3-lane highway into a 6 (or more) lane car park. Cars inch forward so close to each other you could have a casual conversation with the car next to you.

Other aspects of life in Klang are equally invigorating. One morning I wanted some Indian food so I walked through some shops. A short walk quickly turned into a dodge them exercise – cars double parking outside shops, pot holed roads, wet markets with water hoses running all over, crows scavenging and leaving chicken entrails and dead mice on roads and pavements, stray dogs snarling or pooping – your senses perk up and stay up the whole time. The sight, smell, noise and heat hit you constantly and from all directions. I’m not sure this was the home I left all those years ago but somehow, there is a sense of homecoming, the always on vigilance notwithstanding. Sometimes I feel so invigorated I toyed with the idea of living in Malaysia again. No sooner had such thoughts get sown when we would be caught in a massive jam and we wondered if we could ever get used to the Malaysian way again.

The ebb and flow of conflicting messages followed me too, when I saw my mum, my brother and his wife, and my sister and her two kids. They all looked well and it was again very good just to be with them, talking and sharing how our lives – and the lives of people around us and them – have been. I wanted so much to be with them but I’m not sure what I’d do and how I’d live there now that we have very much become settled here in Melbourne.

As I struggled to wake this morning and lumbered my way into the train, the sense of being home again is so comforting I cannot fathom returning to live in Malaysia. I think of returning only to be with Tress again – so thankfully, she too, will (hopefully) be back home in Melbourne again before too long.

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