#LoyarBerkasih goes hard-print, as the Selangor Times Issue 12, February 18-20, 2011 features excerpts from Avie Azis’ “Flight From Incheon.” The excerpts are reproduced below. To read the series in full, click Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

In the week leading up to Valentine’s Day, LoyarBurok hosted a series of posts on love — all kinds of love. “Flight From Incheon” by Avie Azis ran in three parts; below is an excerpt from the series. To read the posts in full, and to view the rest of the posts in the #LoyarBerkasih series, go to https://www.loyarburok.com/tag/loyarberkasih/.

Flight From Incheon (Selangor Times)

Not long after I moved to KL, I came to know a Burman refugee named Zaw. Well, not really a name, it was an alias. I never knew his real name.

Others called him Ko Zaw, I referred to him as the General. After General Than Shwe, the untouchable head of the ruling military government in Burma. Ko Zaw did have this uncanny resemblance to the junta leader. Minus the uniform, of course. And I imagine the real Than Shwe would never wander around in a foreign town, carrying a pink umbrella, like he did.

It was from the General that I learnt of something that I refer to as the Malaysian symptom. Too many of my respondents complained of “heart condition” which did not exist prior to their migration.

“The problem started when I got here,” the General said.

He didn’t know what exactly caused it but his heart beats very rapidly now.

According to the narratives I collected, the displaced believed that it was the kind of life they led in Malaysia that gave way the condition.

Ini bukan biasa macam hidup.”

My respondents describe living in Malaysia as, “curi-curi di rumah orang.”

The heart problems are mostly associated with their constantly living in fear, heartache and heartbreak from the bad treatments they have received.

Exile is eating them away, and the first organ to go is the heart, because, as one young man explained, “Hati hakikatnya adalah sesuatu yang lembut.”

Although my papers were perfectly in order, I could easily empathise. It was not hard for me to see how Malaysia instilled a certain fear in the undocumented.

I myself did not dare go anywhere without my passport, even when I was only going to the mamak stall across my flat. Friends thought I was being extremely paranoid but Malaysia had bitterly taught me how the IC epitomized the dominant technology of self.

One Rohingya man I met eloquently lamented, “The world we live in, is no longer one that is guided by the norms of religion. It does have faith, but it subscribes to a faith in technology and documents.”

With that faith, we citizens accept appalling scenes as normal, as if they are naturally a part of daily panorama. We let Rela raids wherever they please (I remember hiding for hours on end with my “illegal” respondents from them in a little Burmese shop in Kota Raya). We put people in jail just because they have no papers.

* * * * * * * *

“Do you like cintawan?”

“Eh?” Cinta means love. But I wasn’t sure what he meant. In Bahasa Indonesia, the suffix -wan refers to someone who does, so cintawan, is that Malay for someone who loves? Do I like lovers? What kind of question is that?

“Here, cintawan,” he showed me a plastic bag full of mushrooms.

“Oh, cendawan…,” I finally saw what he meant.

“Yes, cintawan, I’m cooking cintawan for you.”

Mat Nur then disappeared to the kitchen, turning fresh cintawan to a pot of curry. I knew now that it was mushrooms, but still to me it sounded that he was about to cook some lovers. Lovers curry, I learnt about an hour later, was burningly spicy and delicious.

The last time I saw him, Mat Nur and his wife gave me a box of chocolate. Not a fancy one, of course, but still it was special. Nobody had ever given me a box of chocolate before (my love life is rather uneventful, obviously). Little did I know it was a farewell gift. A few days after presenting me with the grand gesture, he really left. I had spent the previous weeks convincing him to abandon such risky journey, but in the end it was his choice.

It was a dangerous undertaking, but it was not irrational. It logically must come down to this. There are methods of resistance. First, you take space. When you cannot take space, you take speech. When that’s not allowed, you take flight.

I heard Mat Nur left via Penang. Penang again. How many hours does Penang sleep a day? The pelarian slip in and out of the country, living their nightmares in motion.The locals slip in and out of consciousness, unaware or don’t care.

* * * * * * * *

Here in Malaysia, I came to the conclusion that love exists, but is often very exclusive. No, no, no, no, no, Love with a big L is a language we no longer understand. We understand only loves that come with the little l’s. It is the love we have for our lovers, parents, children, friends, pets. Selfish loves that come so easily for us because these people are one of our own.

Amitav Ghosh once said the opposite of love is not hatred but cowardice, and so we have become, people who do “what is technically correct, but not what is right.”

I don’t judge Malaysia or Malaysians, but I do deeply resent this difficult world of fictional but definite boundaries.

There was a school set up for Rohingya children in Puchong. I often came just to watch the children sing as loudly and as off-key as they could. One of the songs had the following lyrics:

The place to be happy is here

And the way to be happy is to make others happy

And to make a little heaven down here

Tell me, why does Malaysia refuse to get heaven in this life and after? Discriminating children is something that I completely refuse to understand. OK lah if you don’t want to accept parents, but since when are children guilty of their parents’ migration?

I came to know some of these children in Puchong well. They would sing “Negaraku” proudly, not yet aware that their Negara considered them unworthy foreigners and put “warga negara asing” on the nationality column of their birth certificates (if they gave them at all).

They had no memories of Burma.

How could they be warga negara asing when they only knew Malaysia?

* * * * * * * *

There was a memorable Rohingya girl in Klang, named Robizan. She had experienced a brutal police raid. Not satisfied with taking her parents, they took her to detention too. They shaved her head and she screamed like hell. When I met her, her hair had not grown back to a length proper for a girl. But she did not indulge in sad stories.

She was more interested in my own tragic situation. “Kakak dah kawin ke?”

Girls around Robizan’s age were always so disappointed when I replied negatively to the question. To appease the dismay and to render myself a less pitiable singleton, I’d entertain them with tales of an imaginary fiance back home. Sometimes he’s a veterinarian, other times he’s an IT guy, I could never set my story straight.

Those who did not call my b.s. offered to set me up with their brothers/uncles/etc. The match-making reminded me of a “mencari jodoh” advertisement pinned on a tree near the Bank Negara KTM station. One of the lines in the ad said, “Tak kisah apa status Anda.”

And I wondered if I would live to see a day when Malaysia decides to do away and tak kisah with one particular status they now stamped on those without papers: “illegal.”

The regular series “Ask Lord Bobo” resumes next week. Ask Lord Bobo is a weekly column by LoyarBurok where all your profound, abstruse, erudite, hermetic, recondite, sagacious, and other thesaurus-described queries are answered! Although Lord Bobo already knows your question before you even knew you had a question, as a practical display of your true desire to have your query answered, His Supreme Eminenceness has graciously allowed you to communicate your questions by —

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