This trip is really the strangest. I went to three countries within one day yesterday. Morning in Saigon, noon in Singapore and evening in Kuala Lumpur.
I have decided to come back to Saigon to celebrate my first Chinese New Year in Vietnam. This year has marked my first time ever being away from France and family during all these jolly celebrations. I had some hesitation before deciding so. It’s a dilemma. The hardest thing is to get away from is family. I love my parents and they’re now getting old. So It’s paining me to know that I will not spend more of their remaining time with them. In the Asian tradition, none would dare to do so. I see all my friends here who still live with their family until the day comes when they are getting married or financially strong enough to look after themselves. Keep postponing like that and they’re likely to reach their forties and still afraid to leave the warm nest.
I don’t think it’s un-Asian to make the decision to leave the family at some point. Love has nothing to do with, one can always look after beloved one in many different ways. Not necessarily physically be there. But my parents would hate the idea of compelling me to stay instead of living my own life. There’s so much to achieve and do. For me, for them, for lots of people. I have embraced the idea that each particle of my life has to be created by me and not cloned from someone else’s.
I arrived in Singapore by noon. The weather was as hot as it is in Saigon. People are so nice and helpful. I got all the information I needed from one single person and proceeded to take the subway to the city. I immediately felt on familiar ground. The man indicated me a place where lots of agencies offered a coach ride to Kuala Lumpur. However, most of them were booked and the only one I found wouldn’t have me reach Kuala Lumpur before past midnight. I wasn’t so sure where I would be staying. A friend of mine Robin mentioned I was welcome to stay with him. And I could always find a cheap hotel room somewhere…
I had the whole afternoon to myself so I decided to go to the center. Being a freshly arrived tourist, I took a taxi, not realizing I could have walked, so short was the distance.
Raffles Hotel. A strange combination of Mediterranean style in an Asian setting. I could feel that we were at the border of Asia. India and the Middle East weren’t too far.
Contrary to Hong Kong or Japan where everything is squeezed for lack of space, Singapore gives an impression of space. Like this monumental building in the middle of a field of grass, looking even more imposing and frightening with all these neo-fascist gigantic bronze sculptures on the top, Albert Speer meets Fritz Lang‘s Metropolis.
I hardly saw anyone on the street. Middle of the afternoon, everyone works in offices. There aren’t any street life like in Hanoi or Saigon. Everyone has been cleaned out and white-washed which gives a ghost like impression of the city. I didn’t stay long enough to find out about other aspects of the city. Most of friends were out of town for the end of the year celebrations, my relatives had gone back to Paris to be with their family. The only place where I found some density of population was be in the shopping mall. To my surprise, I also bumped into the National Library during my aimless loitering and went there to cool off for an hour.
Lots of students there. The library offered a welcome shelter from the afternoon heat. But one hour didn’t make the whole afternoon go by and I resumed my wandering. Local shopping centers or markets are the best way to get a better sense of the people so I got into the one near the bus terminal. Not luxurious, no Prada nor Gucci or any of those now global brands, but some food stores, pirate CD shops selling Malaysian or Thai pop, cheap jewelers or grocers.
I had never traveled like that without knowing where I’d end. The trip was an exciting one. I was to see Zen, and a few other friends I have been keeping in touch with via e-mails or msn conversations. The modern way of communication!
I arrived at past one in the morning. My friend Robin, whom I managed to talk to only an hour before reaching Kuala Lumpur was waiting for me. I could never be grateful enough, for he had to drive quite a long distance to pick me up at the bus terminal. It’s strange to arrive somewhere in the middle of the night. It reminded of that time when I went to Vienna three years ago to join Simon. It was winter, the plane was three hours late and since it was a cheap flight from a low cost company, I also had to take a shuttle from Bratislava to Vienna. The ride in the middle of the night wasn’t unlike the one Paul Newman took in Torn Curtain.
Robin didn’t take me to his place, because his flat was actually a room he shared with his brother! So he drove me instead to one of his friend’s, who had just bought a new flat in a condo complex in the suburbs of Kuala Lumpur. I had no idea where we were going to. The ride was a long one. We were getting away from Kuala Lumpur. I didn’t even want to worry about that. I was so exhausted and on a high with all this traveling. To think that the same morning I was still talking to my cousin in Saigon… Robin eventually stopped his car in the parking place between too brand new buildings. They still smelt of plaster and concrete. Most of the flats were not even finished. His friend was one of the first to have settled there.
Walking in the white corridors at 3:00 a.m. I thought I had switched from Torn Curtain to Orson Welles’ The Trial.
I collapsed on the mattress after a cold shower.
And when four o’clock came, a heard a distant rooster desperately practicing its morning cry for what seemed like hours.