Now to know it in my memory

Written by

Bon Iver – Holocene


I’m on the stairs up to Midlands (the mall, not the area in England). A guy wants me to pay for parking. Sometimes you have to pay for motorbikes, sometimes not. Depends where you are – and Maggie, my 2004 Suzuki, sits about four feet from the steps.

“How much?” I ask in Malay.
“One ringgit,” he answers in English.

I grew up in this mall. It used to be Komtar was the only shopping center on the island, and it took well over an hour to get there on a bus. So when Midlands opened just 15 minutes down the road, well, we were there every weekend, sometimes twice. Even if we had nothing to do.

(I’m starting to notice just how much lounging happens in Malaysia. People just sit around doing nothing, staring at the distance. I’m starting to join them. I unplug my computer and chuck my iPhone in a drawer and just exist for a while, let my brain slow down. It’s boring and soothing.)

BOS means bekas orang sinting (translation: a crazy person, as in someone who was institutionalized, not the edgy or zany kind) in bahasa. It’s difficult to tell the levity-to-spite ratio when locals call foreigners ‘boss.’ But this nation is populated with earnest, unironic folk, so I don’t take offense.

To the left as I enter the landing are a series of closed shops. One of them used to be a pretty decent kebab joint. One of my Japanese friends went there alone in 9th grade and the cashier asked if he wanted to see his dragon. The cashier lifted his shirt to reveal a tattoo of a red dragon which covered his torso. Then he pulled down his pants to show the rest: His dick was the head. From then on it became a running joke among my friends – “Do you want to see my dragon?” – and the shop closed shortly afterward.

Almost all of Midlands is closed now, its business sucked away by other malls. Entire floors are empty. The old McDonald’s where we ate nearly once a weekend is gone. No huge yellow M. No plastic Ronaldo McDonald lounging out front for me to pick his nose.

The back escalators I used to take are gated off, a makeshift purse shop blocking its mouth. The place where I used to buy basketball cards turned into a Jet Asia. Then that, too, closed. The bowling alley is gone. The Fun Zone, an arcade, moved down from the top floor, but somehow it feels neutered on carpet and with glass wall along one side. Half the reason we went was to hide in the din of blaring noise and darkness where we were guaranteed never to bump into any staff from school. The internet cafe where we’d play Starcraft and Counter-Strike (we would wear sweaters so that we could shed the cigarette smoke smell when we crept back home) has a sign for a bistro above it, but it’s boarded shut.

Popular – the Borders of Malaysia – is closed. That one is recent; it was open when I visited a year and a half ago.

I head away from the main block and up the back stairs. No air conditioning. I march all the way to the top. The railing, all chipped green paint, is coming loose from the tile, and I can shake it back and forth. Around and up I climb. The last floor has a hallway, and at the end is a gate. Along the wall the cement is painted like logs to give the place a lagoon feel; this used to be a water park. One side of the gate is padlocked, the other chained to the wall. I shake it. I heave into it. I yank as hard as I can. I scream and bang. Through the gate I see sunlight and the back entrance to the park. I can hear the low hum of the motor which powered the water rides. But I can’t get through. My hands are filthy from the gate and my breath quickened.

For a while I just concentrate on breathing, slowing my slight hyperventilation. My knees feel weak, my head light, and I think about how peaceful it would be to fall fall fall off the edge and drift through the wind to the bottom nine floors below.

Back in the main tower, on the seventh floor, is the shop where I used to buy my video games. I liked it because the games always worked and the guy who ran it was really kind. He was clean-cut, with a trim bowl-cut and pressed white shirts. The store is closed now, of course. The entire floor is closed, really. Out in front of the deserted gaming shop, one of the lights flickers like the twitch of a madman’s eye.

This is what has become of my childhood – a husk of a building, hollowed out except for the nostalgia, with the strobe of flickering light fixtures.

[Bon Iver, Bon Iver.]

Got something to say?