How do I feel about a man yelling “Ni hao!” to me at the top of his lungs? Not good. He was travelling too fast for me to react. This happened 4 mins away from my front door in Peckham/Camberwell. Peckham is “diverse” (horrible word). Camberwell is arty and chi-chi. Should I have yelled something racist or sexist back, had I had the chance?
On the walk home, a few minutes later, I crossed paths with an East Asian-looking postman. I have never seen one. Have I not been looking? I remember the delight I felt when I saw a bunch of police/community police who looked East Asian, walking across the concourse at Waterloo station one evening. How do they do it? How do they want to serve so publicly? How do they walk among people? Do they forget the colour of their skin? (I know that I often forget how I stand out. Until someone looks at me funny. It doesn’t take long.) Are they armed with something I don’t have?
I was helping a pal shop for a thaub the other day. “Thaub” means “clothing” but is associated with a particular kind of Arabic garment. I got to go into a few shops along the Whitechapel Road. These shops sell Islamic wear, books and items. I was with a white man. I didn’t know how we would be received or how I would react. We got talking to an incredibly lovely young man in the Al-Furaan Bookshop. What a dude. In the other shops, we were asked if we were Muslim, and the chat was a bit trickier in that one guy definitely was flexing his sales muscles on us. Then he kinda ignored us. Bookshop guy was a total dude, period. We talked like regular people about regular stuff. His customer service was spot on. I thought about how little I know about Islam, given I’d grown up in Malaysia, a Muslim country. I am thinking about whether this is going down on my internet profile somewhere.
I am going to travel across town later today to get me some Buddhist vegan food in Archway. Loving Hut is the only place nearish that does this food. I remember that Malaysia is fantastic for food, not just the regular old Indian, Malay, Chinese cuisine but Buddhist, Indian vegetarian, gluten-free stuff, Nonya food, etc etc etc.
I think about the indigenous tribes in Malaysia. What is going on with them? What is their loneliness like?
I wonder about what I will lock down to share at my next few writing gigs at Byline, at the Roundhouse. I have too many ideas. They excite me but they hurt me. And too often it all feels pointless. I was struck by how deeply cut I feel when I am not seen and not heard, when it feels like it costs me too much to be here. (I was trying to tell someone about The Good Immigrant the other day. I am so literal. Are there people out there who care as much about the weight of words and expression as I do? I said, I think, that this book has made history. Was historical. Wouldn’t this flag up something important. I am not into hyperbole.)
Why, when my agent asks for a character name for a role I’m playing, do they have to give me a surname which identifies the colour of my skin? Can’t an asian have an English name? Can’t an asian just be known by their first name, like regular white English people?
Why did the taxi driver in Wiltshire yesterday not say hello to me? Not even a hello. Why did I feel like explaining to him that I wasn’t in his countryside buying up fields and property? Of course, he might feel the same way (what does he feel? I am imagining) about “Londoners”. It might have nothing to do with my skin. But all I wanted to say for a while was sorry, sorry, sorry. I didn’t ask for my 60p in change. I wanted to say sorry.
I am listening to Magic FM. It makes me feel sick.
I was going to write more, but I feel sick. It’s heartbreak.