Last Thursday, I spent my first night alone in my KL home when my parents left that evening for a flight back to our hometown for 清明 (qing ming). I couldn’t afford to get my Friday off as I had insufficient annual leaves. On the next morning, I was excited when I reached the office, as I started counting down the number of hours before I had to leave for the airport. 4 hours. 3 hours. 2 hours. 1 hour. At 11 sharp, I packed my bag and quickly head off to the airport. Living in KL had taught me to be extra early as travel time are more unpredictable due to traffic jam and unexpected train delays.
I arrived at the airport an hour early for a domestic flight. Upon entering departure hall, I lingered around the duty free area before checking the “Gate” of my flight at the screen. MH2594…. Gate A2. Right under the monitor was a man with a yellow lanyard and a badge who had started to approach me. At least, this time, I did not run away. Turned out he was one of the MAS ground staff. We made small talk until we were inside the departure gate, and came to the inevitable topic of MH370. We all had our own idea of what might have happened.
He told me about the hardships and abuse that the crews faced during the first two weeks of the incident; how the MAS staffs were attacked by grieving relatives, how they had to escape from the back door of hotels – things that didn’t make the headlines. Then he said something that struck a chord. I lost some of my best friends in the flight. There was a steward on the plane, one of the nicest persons I know. Until then, I had associated the passengers and crew on board with their respective immediate families. I neglected to think that these people must have touched the lives of others, and I wondered what would their friends’ and acquaintances’ last memories of them be.
I waited an hour at the Miri airport for my parents’ flight to arrive from Kuching an hour later. It was the first time I had spent an entire hour in the airport, by myself no less. I entertained myself with a thriller novel and once in a while, I would look up to observe the surroundings, lucky to have spot a cute guy at the ‘Rest N’ Go’ chair. Hehe. After my parents arrived, I was pleased to return to the familiarity of our home for more than two decades. That night, we took my grandmother out for seafood at her favourite restaurant. She looked tiny but had a bright smile that lit up her face. I didn’t realised how much I missed her smile and laughter.
Since we moved to KL, I had been back to my hometown once about every two months, usually over the weekend and this trip was definitely (by far) the trip I enjoyed most in Miri.
Saturday 29th March 2014
That morning, I woke up at 10 and had my favourite friend kuey teow in the comfort of my own home. I could have slept till noon, but I had to go to the income tax office (life of a working adult hoho), but it wasn’t open. I noticed that traffic was significantly heavier in Miri perhaps it was because I was expecting less cars after constantly being stuck in the traffic jam in KL.
I was the first to arrive for a lunch gathering at Fullhouse with high school friends. I was worried I will be late – in KL, I usually was, even if I planned my trip in advance. In Miri, I was almost always in time for gatherings. For a girl who is always late, should I give myself a pat on the back, at least, for good time keeping? Hehe. Fullhouse was a newly opened restaurant in a new mall that had a nice ambience and was not so crowded. It was definitely a pleasant change after squeezing in the LRTs and going to malls’ food courts for lunch.
High school friendship was something I cherish; it did not matter if we were close or not then, but the memories we build together in high school were the essence that bind us close. Although I had not seen two of them since high school (7 years!), it was nice to be able to fall right back into conversations. I could still remember a lot of little details about high school, but bit by bit I had began to let go of them and allow space for new ones, such as moments like today.
An old friend will be your source of strength – Author Unknown.
After lunch, I went for badminton. The badminton court was close enough to home that there was enough time for all of us to back for a change of clothes before heading out. There was a common stereotype that Malaysians are good at badminton and I had to defy it – I was simply terrible at it, so I generously allowed the rest to play. I probably played for half hour at the most – and by play I meant stand within the perimeter of the court.
I was very excited for dinner as my close relatives will be joining. Cramped in my grandmother’s tiny living room, I could not have been happier. The table was overflowing with goodness; my aunt K had made so many dishes including the turkey while my cousin E tapao-ed crabs and clams. “What’s the occasion?” I asked and the reply: We’re all together, that’s reason for celebration. It felt like the Chinese new year gathering that I’ve missed over the years studying abroad. Everyone was talking with and over each other, probably trying to get a word in edgewise. I found out that my two younger cousins had towered over me * put on heels*.
I drank a bottle of Budweiser, my first drop of alcohol this year. I dislike my first sip of beer in Germany in 2011. Years later, my friend told me it was because I had drunk it the wrong way and proceeded to demonstrate how it was done. I tried the ‘right method’ and realized that beer didn’t taste so bad after all. An uncle snickered how studying abroad changed me as I did not drink a drop of alcohol (not even Shandy) until I was 20. I must have been a poster child for good behavior among my relatives. Another uncle retorted that it was always good for a girl to know how to drink – at least three bottles of beer, as a safety measure during social activities that involve drinking. Three bottles of beer? I’ll be full before I’m tipsy.
Halfway throughout the dinner, cousin E suggested bringing us to the fun fair in Miri. Strangely enough, it was called UK fun fair (instead of Miri funfair). I wanted to go to the fair since 2007, but nobody wanted to take me there back then. The rides were expensive; 2 to 3 tokens per round, with RM 2 per token. I was a little scared of speed and height – two characteristic of every rides in a park, but I tried them anyway, and realized the fear of falling may just be in my head.
“I guess Miri was that boring” a friend commented. It was not about where we went or what we do, but it was the people that we go with. This was the first time I had hung out with my cousins in a long time. I believe we all miss that childhood moments, in particular my cousin E, the big sister of the night. I will always remember that night; age difference, educational background, past mistakes and odd personalities cease to exist. All that matter was that we are one big family.
Sunday, 30th March 2014.
I went back from my grandmother’s place after midnight the night before and only slept after 3 in the morning. After a couple of hours of sleep, we gathered at our grandmother’s place at 6.30 am. My parents and I were to last to arrive, I wondered if my relatives got any sleep at all. This year was the first time I pay my respects to my grandfather in the cemetery. Initially, 清明 (Qing Ming) was a traditional Chinese festival to celebrate the Spring Equinox but gradually it became a day to commemorate the ancestors.
After that, we ‘played’ a game of communicating with the spirit. Two coins were needed to ask a yes-no question to the deceased; (1) one head and one tail symbolize ‘yes’, (2) both heads means that the spirit does not want to answer and (3) both tails denote a negative response. I got all yeses for my 4 questions, but the last question I asked was for another person – and the answer was no twice, followed by a yes. I would rather get a No for all four questions in exchange for an immediate yes on the last. But these answers were just something to make you feel better, and depend on how you interpret it.
That evening, we took a flight back to KL. My thoughts as I was leaving; I can’t say definitely which stall sells the best Sarawak laksa, tomato kuey teow, kueh chap or kolo mee. I don’t know all the roads in Miri at the back of my hand, as what would beexpected from a person who lived here for 18 years. However, I can point out the places that gave me the most memories. I can show the beautiful view from Canada Hill and the beach. I can tell you about the people that touched my heart and changed my life.
I can tell you with absolute certainty, that Miri will always be part of who I am. Now, and forever.