They say the world is getting smaller. They say the world is small. I disagree. The world is not small and it is not getting smaller fast enough. Physical distance is real.

I never really cared for distance, until recently. True when I was young, separation was hard. I remember as a very young boy, I would cry as my parents went to work in the morning, leaving me and my sister with a caretaker. The distance was harsh. When I attended kindergarten, I remember that I cried as my parents left me there for the whole day. When I had to attend a boarding school relatively far away from home, I felt a kind of moroseness that only subsided weeks later.

My attendance to the boarding school trained me to be stronger. From then on, I felt nothing. The distance felt nothing and I in fact celebrated it. This was particularly useful when, out of my wildest dream, as a teenager, I found myself in the United States, attending a university that taught me so many things, including self-esteem.

Distance meant nothing. It meant nothing because I did not quite forge close relationship with anyone, either in terms of friendship, or something more than that. I had other things in my mind. Mostly, I was bitter due to a number of things that I find it hard to articulate here. It was a combination of personal experience, national developments and world events. I focused on that bitterness and that was when I started writing. Writing slowly eroded that bitterness but it took time. More importantly, in a large way, it completely removed the idea of distance from my consciousness. Malaysia was so far away, and I focused on the presence.

But when I had to return to Malaysia, the idea of distance came back to me. In Malaysia, I felt out of place. I grew up here but it did not feel like home. I was angry and wished I did not travel that distance. I formed a relationship with a place. The river Huron, streets of Ann Arbor, the laughter of strangers, the trees of the Diag, the gullies of the Arboretum. The physical distance, the whole of the Pacific, separated me from all that I held dearly.

A friend asked me a question some days ago, after a series of questions regarding my experience in the US, after we watched a documentary about the September 11 attack on New York. “Do you feel yourself as a Malaysian, or as an American?”

An odd question but I replied. I said, “I know that I’m not an American, but I really don’t know who am I any more.”

I live in Sydney now and I tend to think my home as where I am and where I am happiest. I am happy now, at least, relatively compared to when I was in Malaysia. The idea of distance vanished yet again, as I find myself looking upward to see the stars of the Southern Cross almost every evening. The Northern constellations are no more in sight.

The idea of distance reappeared when I fell in love. This time it is with the place, and with a person. It is especially hard when the person has to go to the other side of the world. When I used to be able to, now I cannot hold her in my arms any more, I cannot see her over coffee, watch movies with her, eat dinner with her, sit right beside her in silence, hold conversation side by side late into the night, be with her well into the night. I miss all these things and I blame the distance for this misery.

I miss her. There is nothing else that I want in the world other than to hold her again in my arms, but the distance is in the way.

On the day she had to return to Europe, I was with her. I know both of us were scared of the distance that would separate us. Distance exerts lamentable toll. She wanted to talk about it on our last day physically together. I refused to talk about it, telling her instead that we would talk about it later and all I wanted right now was to be with her. She relented, and we just held each other quietly, comforting each other from the cold and holding back emotions.

Now that she is away in a city so far away, it is extremely hard to discuss the matter. Emails do not work. Microphone and camera do not work. For the hype about communication technology, it is not working. It is not enough, she said.

When she feels down, I am just not there to console her. When she feels happy, I am just not there for her to share it with me.

I love her dearly but I am at wits’ end trying to make it work. I do not know how to make it work. The only thing that I do know is that I do not want to have a conversation with her where past tenses dominate.

One Response to “[2252] Of the shrinking world lie”

  1. on 15 Sep 2010 at 16:16 Bobby

    We met when we were too young.
    She was based in Boston where she attended Wellesley.
    I was at the other end of the country.
    It was a good 4 years while it lasted.
    For all it’s worth, never look back. You’re right when you say past tenses are passe.
    I’m not saying yours won’t work, but it takes a lot of work.
    The travelling when you can, the short notes when you have the time.
    I can totally identify with your feelings, during her good and bad times.
    There were even times when both of us cried over the line, but there were times when I smiled just hearing her laugh.
    Mind you, this was before we had video phones.
    Only thing left to say is that, try to keep it “warm” and if she’s truly yours, she’ll run back to your arms asap.

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