Singapore Adventure

Monday, July 25, 2005

Tida' Apa
by venitha

It rained a good deal of the time we were in Malaysia this past weekend, appropriate given that the Malay word for water is ayer, pronounced air. My linguistic triumph of the weekend is terima kasih, thank you. I grandly thank everyone: the taxi driver, the hotel doorman, even Jim, who can't keep it straight and keeps asking me to say it again. Hajime mashite. Hakuna Matata. Shopko Optical. I may be slightly responsible his confusion.

My favorite Malay word becomes tidak when I discover that it's far more effective than its English equivalent, no, in getting assertive hawkers and trishaw drivers to leave me alone. My Malay phrase book describes the k as a glottal stop, the sound you make between the syllables of uh-oh. Tidak. Tidak. Tidak. I practice it over and over, a bratty Malaysian 3-year-old. I make up for my contrary attitude with good manners and a smile. Terima kasih.

I'm disappointed to find no reason all weekend to use the quintessential Malay phrase Tida' apa, which I learned from Anthony Burgess' brilliant Malaysian trilogy The Long Day Wanes. Tida' apa means It doesn't matter, but to a degree far beyond what this phrase conveys in English, to a langourous, what could possibly matter in this humidity, extent.

Strangely, tida' apa was more appropriate to my life when I read the book in Colorado, an invalid flat on my back with my leg strapped into my CPM, one arm thrown tragically across my forehead, than it is to me now, when I am a weekend tourist in Malaysia, climbing Bukit St Paul to see the remains of its church and easily alighting narrow staircases in the Sultanate Palace. An actress who froze with the spotlight upon her, I have missed my big chance. Tida' apa.

Jim, too, is miscast by Burgess in Melaka, somehow not quite right for the role of lovable alcoholic Nabby Adams, drinking every Malaysian morning/afternoon/day away in an attap hut. Jim's beer at a sidewalk table at the Geographer's Cafe on Jonkers St. is far more reminiscent of Indiana Jones. But this is Melaka, not Morocco, and shouldn't he have a hat?

The props mistress is still having problems Saturday evening after our delicious supper of Nyonya laksa and dabel (devil) curry, when we splurge on an iced chendol. It's a frothy creamy shaved ice sundae, atop a bed of... are these beans? Some are red and some are... this green color is not normal. It tastes good, I guess, but... beans?

Appropriately topping off our Saturday was the Sound and Lights Show, which Jim summed up laughingly as a Wisconsin Dells Tommy Bartlett show, put on in spite of the fact that none of the cast showed up for the performance. We sat in a bandstand listening to a boisterous re-enactment of the highlights of Malaysia's history and watching lights flash intermittently on various tourist attractions on the hill in front of us. Mostly, the show was just an excuse to sit outside on a very pleasant evening under a surprisingly clear sky munching dried mango - not the least bit green - with Jim.

Terima kasih, Melaka.