Friday, January 7, 2011

What if I had been... - Terengganu, Malaysia

Photo by CW Ye (CC)
It's a peaceful morning, like the smile that the luxuriant scenery swelling beyond the bus window has painted on my face. It's been a long journey but finally its last stretch is about to start. The most unconfortable and exciting one, on the rusty boat that will cut a section of the gulf to reach the Perhentian islands. The last kilometers of Terengganu roads - North-East Malaysia - are paved with the flavour of the wait for a prize, not with the effort of the race run to achieve it.
A local man, dressed like all the others - long skirt, long shirt and a hat - but more impudent or angrier than them, draws near me.
"Where do you come from?"
"Italy!" I answer with an enthusiasm which is not really pride for one's homeland but an exhortation of the Let's love one another! type.
It works, but only in part.
"Ah, Italy...good. If it had been America instead...not good!"
Some people look askance at him whereas others nod. As for myself, I get the creeps. I prop up my big smile by calling up the reservists: a troop of muscles that I didn't even know were there. The serenity of the morning is gone, as well as the luxuriant scenary which seems to have been hidden by a haze that turned up on the sly. The last minutes of this trip seem to be longer than the almost sleepless night spent on a shaky train berth.
The same question keeps buzzing in my head: "What if I had been American?" In order to fend it off I try to focus on an alternative concern: hopefully the boat ride won't make me seasick.

Terengganu, Malaysia, Spring 2002

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