Being Boeing

Day 1 – Friday, 29 March 2024

Foreignness started quickly. In the queue ahead of us to get through international screening was a group – presumably a class – of Japanese high school kids, a couple of bunches of boys and perhaps twenty girls. All were in uniform, the rule presumably being enforced to ensure ease of identification rather than uniformity, because plenty of non-regulation trousers were on under the skirts. As we passed in the snaking queue, going in opposite directions, I asked a small gaggle where they were from. After a moment’s pause, one answered “Japan”, her accent obvious, and I was immediately reminded that, to these kids born in the land they have their own name for, “Japan” is a foreign, English, word. I silently recommitted myself to perfecting my pronunciation of “O-sutoraria”, in case anyone there asks me the same question.

But “Japan” was obvious. Yes, but from where, I pressed, trying to remember the Japanese for “city”. Tokyo, one said, while another waggled the square cut collar of her uniform at me and said, “This is uniform.” Whether she was suggesting that I might be able to identify her city of origin from a badgeless white sailor suit, or just letting me know they were a school group, I couldn’t tell. Maybe she was pointing out that, as a school kid, weird old men shouldn’t be bothering her with personal questions. It didn’t matter, because the exchange had the effect that I’d been hoping for as Annabelle joined in with a question in Japanese, evidently about their stay in Australia, and a handful of sentences were exchanged, one or two girls dutifully issuing minor squeals at the wonder of a foreigner addressing them in their native tongue. Anna’s first deployment of Nihongo in the wild in years. A good warm up.

Onto the plane. A couple behind us with one small and one very small child ran a running battle with the cabin staff about the supply of milk and what they asserted was incorrect information given to them before take off. The plane was a Boeing, so a door fell off. Fortunately, it was the door to one of the toilets. None of the movies held my interest. The Japanese remake of a Korean show I’d already seen annoyed me, the characters seeming more realistic, or less stylised, their bumbling actions thereby rendered less forgivable. Seven and a half hours passed. We went to Malaysia.

First impressions of outer Kuala Lumpur: palm trees, the unchanging green of the jungle (but check with someone with fully functioning colour receptors), high rise precarity, air conditioner streaks down concrete and clothes drying on racks twenty stories up.

First impressions of Kuala Lumpur Sentral: clean modernity patchworked with its converse. We went for a walk.

Second impressions of Kuala Lumpur and my own preconceptions thereof. Conscious that we were coming to a Muslim majority country during Ramadan, I had suggested to everyone that modest attire would be prudent. Anna, well aware that she might be held to the highest standard on that front, had a suitable outfit chosen. Raf changed out of his shorts into long pants. We needn’t have bothered. The place is full of youngsters with bare arms and legs. True, the only midriff I saw was on a Westerner in the airport queue, but I needn’t have worried that Raf’s knees would cause a scandal.

Anna wanted an authentic Malay meal but, once again, worried by our only previous experience of Ramadan in a Muslim country, in the gulf, I had deliberately booked a hotel in the Indian quarter, and just round the corner from a (presumably Chinese run) place selling pork noodles. There, I figured, a hapless foreigner in love with his own stomach wouldn’t be left stranded by the religious sensibilities of the Malay majority. Well, that worked, unless you wanted an authentic Malay meal. We took our pick of about fifty Indian eateries within two blocks of the hotel. Raf and I had a fruit juice combo that sounded nice, neither of us quite put off by its listing on the menu as Natural Viagra. Anna ordered something called Glowing Skin and Shiny Hair, which I believe is meant to be a description of its effects rather than its contents. Seb had a mango lassi. We ordered food more or less at random by pointing at pictures on a menu. Anna attempted to convey the concept of “pork” by making a tube of her fingers and putting that hand over her nose to suggest a snout, then oinking. While I was wondering how to point out that pork might not be widely found on the menu here, she gave up and we had the beef pancake, Hindu sensitivities apparently not a problem. It was all delicious, and if too spicy in parts for the boys, they gave it a damn good go, bless them.

Glowing skin, shiny hair and an indomitable erection can be yours for under 10 ringgit

From there, to bed, albeit to spend another two hours on the chat with Optus, trying to get my mobile roaming to work. It did, in the end, alhamdulillah. We’re on our way.


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