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Homesick of Home

“Cause it’s getting kind of quiet in my city’s head. It takes a teenage riot to get me out of bed, right now.”

 

Brain fog hits as Daydream Nation jolts me awake. Sleep escapes me when it is silent. It was the volume of Kuala Lumpur (KL) traffic, screaming street vendors and familial conflict seeping under the cracks of bedroom doors, that became my lullabies. When I was in it, that city seemed soulless. Devoid of character, only concrete pavements with cracks so immense my slippers would get caught and disappear, lost forever in the mud it was built on.

 

Kuala Lumpur literally translates to “Mud Colony”. There was a dissonance about it, constantly disquiet but constantly desolate. My adolescence was spent smelling chicken necks and frog legs on walks to LRT[1] stations and leaving phones in Grabcars on the way to school, on the way home from dive bars. They served $1.60 liquor Mum vehemently believed was moonshine brewed in longkangs[2] of Johor Bahru, Dad’s hometown.

 

Being a teenager in red light district KL was being incoherent in the back of a stranger’s car speeding down the Smart Tunnel, inebriated by rainbow LEDs, surrendered to a car seat headrest, and discovering the band Car Seat Headrest at that exact moment. It was walking over a Sumatran Tiger exhibit to get to Year 12 History and never going to the overpriced water park attached to it. It was getting my fingers crushed by Hayley Williams’ ex-husband at a pop-punk gig and tourist trapping expat boys to pay for club cover charges.

 

It was watching friends get arrested for king-size rolling papers on the dashboard of a Perodua Myvi, a milo tin of a first car, and then seeing them bribe their way out. I never did learn how to drive.

 

The sky favoured shades of biannual haze to blue. Courtesy of Australia’s ‘recycling’ being burned in Indonesian landfills. Smoke would mask the dry season’s sun. What are balconies without views of kampung[3] dirt roads masked by mountainous rubbish piles from stolen land? Perhaps this conditioned me to move to it.

 

KL had nothing left to offer me apart from cigarettes stolen from Mum, smoked in the bathroom only with the shower running. 18 years in one place, 18 years wanting an escape.

Which is why I left and never looked back.

 

“Get the fuck out. Move to the city baby, it’ll all work out.” [4]

 

And so I did. Northcote reminds me of Old Klang Road. I search for pieces of home wherever I go. I find shattered concrete and potholes, maybe the scent of dampened tobacco. If I am lucky, if it is a good day, the aunty in the saree shop will smile at me.

 

On Smith Street at midnight, you see unlaced Doc Martens and disposable vapes. In KL it was stilettos and hyperfemininity I rejected, along with the toe blisters. Empty packs of Dunhill Blueberries decorated the roads there instead.

 

Longing for familiarity makes me romanticise it all. What is heartbreak if not homesickness for a home that is no longer there?

 

Sometimes it is staring longingly at asafoetida in my pantry from a white-owned organic shop on High St. It is the sudden recollection of grandma hunched over open flames, tempering ancient generational oil with curry leaves, mustard seeds and dried chilli – to singe nostrils and ignite tongues. The TV static sizzling of ginger-garlic paste sent bits flying around the kitchen. Stuck to skin and burned right through. I am decorated in ginger-garlic burns. Grandpa heaved murungakkai[5] off the tree in the garden where the pets were buried. Sometimes he brought the leaves with him, and those would be the greens for the day. They were thrown into dal, then splashed onto an asbestos ceiling speckled with pandan[6] juice. A family of musang[7] lived up there, only heard at night when keerai[8] curry wasn’t bubbling in cast iron.

 

I haven’t been home in two years. I am slowly forgetting faces, quickly losing the memory of voices. When I catch myself missing that city, I remind myself, home was never family, it was juvenile delinquency and an asbestos hut that is now an Airbnb. I jam headphones in and dream of KL teenage riots to get me out of bed.

 

 

 

[1] Light Rapid Transit (KL’s Metro Trains)

[2] Drains

[3] Village

[4] Uncomfortable Teenager by Phantastic Ferniture

[5] Moringa

[6] Screwpine

[7] Civet cats

[8] Leafy greens

 
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