The book, The Good Immigrant, launches in Sept and they’re making a mix tape etc for publicity. Anyway,it got me thinking about music from Malaysia and I googled Zainal Abidin. Google led me to this song.
Listening to it tonight I remember listening to it on a tape, over and over again as a teenager. Singing it. Over and over again, full bodied singing. It made me so happy. It sounded like sunshine and happiness and freedom to me.
During that time I was an athlete and I think was competing in the biggest meets of my teen career and I remember being away from home, alone, at this out of town place, not knowing people really, not even my team mates very well because perhaps even then we were a bit separate along race lines? It was quite rare for a square Chinese but English-speaking girl from an aspirational, anglophilic family to be doing athletics in the sun (“only peasants are dark skinned!”). Or at least I don’t remember anyone else. There was one extremely gamine track star girl who was younger than me from another school but she wasn’t like me at all. She was a graceful animal and pretty in the papers. I totally had a crush on her. Or was jealous of her. Or something. What am I misremembering?
Maybe I didn’t have pals at this event because it had something to do with my relay team being made up of people from different schools, us representing the district or state? Anyway this big meet was somewhere higher up and the temperature was different. I met a boy I totally crushed on but nothing happened – I was too ignorant of things and we just sighed and slunk about. I think he might have been Malay and beautiful. I remember the trees and the air and the excitement of racing and jumping and competing and surprising myself.
I’d forgotten about all of this completely til I heard this song this evening. I love this song. I love being Malaysian, whatever that means, despite not having lived there for many years. Malaysia is where I lived for the first 17 years of my life. I understood so little of the world. I was so very unhappy for so many reasons. But there is something I can’t and don’t want to shake, about Malaysia.