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As Long as We Remember...

October 13, 2010

Around the World from Home

Tom McLaughlin

[Editors Note: This is the first in an occasional series on Tom and his wife Suriani’s month long visit to North America.]


Kuala Lumpur to Los Angeles


On my long flight to and from the United States, I usually end up in the galley following the dictates of healthy flying on our long Malaysia Airline journey from our home in Kuching, Malaysian Borneo to Los Angeles, a 26 hour journey from door to door.


In this food prep area, gorgeous and efficient multicultural stewardesses( I call them stewardesses because cabin attendants sound like prostitutes for the great Canadian north) usually rest always alert to the summons of passengers and are required to be nice. I knew I had a captive audience to impress them with my knowledge of Malay language dialects.


I first spoke in the government Malay, in which I am quite proficient, or so I thought. They would smile politely and then quizzically look at each other wondering what in the world I was talking about, as I expounded on my work with the orangutans. They probably thought I was more closely related to the apes than to the human species, given my ability to speak the language.


My next attempts were in the dialects. I babbled on in the Meningkabau language where the “a” endings change to “o.” Apa to apo (translation: what?) for example. I told them wild stories about life as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kulala Pilah, most of them cleaned up from what I really did. I wasn’t that bad, but bad enough, naughty boy. The one stewardess understood what I was saying and politely laughed in the appropriate places.


Finally, to impress them further, I attempted the Sarawak Malay that I was learning from my wife who I left stranded, seven months pregnant, in her seat. She told me she enjoyed my walks because she could spread out into two seats and couldn’t be bothered with my kitchen flirtations.


Since most Malaysians cannot understand that dialect, I could have been speaking Bulgarian for all they cared or knew. I suspect they wanted this Mat Salleh (white guy) to go back to his seat and take care of his poor suffering wife. After all, the lady had to put up with me but I think they thought better her than them. I did redeem myself by presenting one of the cabin attendants with a copy of my book with a sketch of the cabin of a Malaysia Airline plane.


Tired, exhausted and smelly, we landed in Los Angeles. Immigration and customs was a breeze as the lines were short and the efficient officers of Homeland Security carefully examined our documents and swiped them through a computer. An officer asked me, in a professional tone, what I did for a living in Malaysia and I told him I was a writer. He asked me what I wrote and I pulled out a copy of my book. His officialdom face cracked into a smile as he flipped through sketches and decided I was no threat to the American way of life.


We stayed overnight at a branded hotel connected to the airport, so we would be able to connect on a flight to my daughter’s home in northeast Montana. The room cost $155 plus and unexpected 20% in various taxes and fees. This was the most we had ever paid for a room as the places we stayed in on our travels usually cost around $18. I expected ultimate luxury, sunken bath tub, champagne and chocolates on the pillow. Nope, a typical, stale hotel room but at least it did have hot water, something we were not used to.


. . . . . life is good. . . . .


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