Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Malaysia Diaries: A Prologue

I haven't been to my mother's homeland of Malaysia, since I was an infant. Why has it taken me so long to accompany Mama Cass for a return visit? I don't really have a good answer for that, other than to say any reasons that I may have given for not traveling with my family seem silly some 10-15 years later. As a teenager and young adult who didn't always see eye-to-eye with his parents, the idea of having the house to myself while my family was on the other side of the planet held a lot more appeal than learning about my mother's heritage and expanding my worldview. Like I said, that feels absurd now. And, quite frankly, heartbreaking.

I'll never get a chance to walk with my father and listen to stories of his time in the Peace Corps while surrounded by the very landscapes in which those formative experiences took place. I've heard my mother tell me about meeting my father and how they grew to fall in love with each other. But I never got to hear my father's side of the story.

I know my mother has a lot more to tell, and now I want to listen. I want to hear all of it. I want to meet the people who made her the person she is today, the woman who raised me. I want to hear their stories. And I want to write her story because I know it's an amazing one. There won't be any distractions. We'll be off the grid. No TV, no internet - none of the things that currently make me too preoccupied and twitchy to intellectually fulfill myself the way I used to.

If I get to indulge my inner aspiring Anthony Bourdain, walking the streets and markets of a completely foreign environment, while sampling the exotic foods of a new culture, this trip will be that much more enriching. And I know my mother won't let me board a flight back to the United States without having those sorts of experiences, because she knows how important it is to me (and, honestly, I think she misses a lot of the food she grew up with). But that will be the undercard to the main event.

I've put off experiences like this far too often in my life. I've denied this part of my heritage for far too long. I don't want to look back another 10-15 years from now and wish I'd learned more about my mother, where she came from, what molded her as a person, and how much of that was passed down to me and my sister. But I'm not too old to make up for that. And I have every intention of making this the first step in an enlightenment.

Oh, yes - there will be pictures. You can bet your sweet ass on it. A camera will be attached to my face the entire time I'm in Malaysia. I'm bringing back a lot of pictures and a lot of words with me. I'll see you in two weeks.