The Malay’s Library

This is not quite fiction, but I can’t really put it under the opinion category either. I would have put it in a diary, except that I wrote in the 2015 diary promising 2016 resolution as to not have a diary. So I’m caught between writing about the economy and stock market, or writing about my life. I’m thinking, the past weeks have been all about Economics and investing, so why not life? It is the weekend after all. If the weekends are not about life and living, then what is?

I bought a clock for the library recently, a small grandfather clock. I probably paid too much for it, and it came in a box twice, no, thrice the size of it, that when it came, I thought it was something else that had arrived. It’s a beauty though. The clock is radio-controlled, but looks like an antique. I like antiques, mainly because of the wood. But with a clock, I would want the time to be exact.

It’s a trade-off I know, I’m funny that way. Either buy a true antique and rely on a not-accurate-to-the-second time, or buy an antique reproduction that keeps accurate naval time. I decided that for now, time accuracy is more essential than authenticity. I guess I would think differently once I’m old.

Every hour it chimes, and after the chimes, the wannabe antique strikes a bell, once for one o’clock, twice for two, and so forth, until twelve times for twelve o’clock. I am quickly realising that I prefer one o’clock more than twelve o’clock. Except for the five o’clock, there’s a kind of symmetry to the sound, where there are two chimes both before and after, bracketing the middle one.

I’ve put the clock right next to a gift I received recently. A powder-painted metal trinket in the shape of a fiery heart. A regalo from a country that shall not be named. Odd combination, but then again, I’ve never really cared about proper interior decorating.

They are both on a shelf that houses music books. Sheets and sheets of them, some bounded, some loose. Mostly Bach, but there’s Beethoven, Liszt, Schubert, Mozart, some other composers including Koreans, and of course, Chopin too. You can get scores on-line these days, just type the music + pdf in Google search and display on your tablet, but I hate that. Somehow the playing feels less classical on a screen you need to swipe constantly. Feels like you’re turning Beethoven over and over in his grave with every swipe, although if you were to read his original scores you would find coffee-stain rings on them. His house reportedly, was a fine mess too. Funny that a slob should produce such beautiful and clean music. I guess genius doesn’t care what it’s paired with, hence the term, mad genius instead of sane genius, or beautiful genius.

The shelf itself is an odd mix of decorative metal on the side and varnished wood everywhere else. On one of the metal grooves I’ve tied together the ribbons of a mask I bought from New Orleans last summer. It’s the kind of mask one would wear to the Mardi Gras or a masquerade party but was made in China. I wonder what the Chinese workers attaching those feathers to the side of the mask thought. Stupid gweilo probably. Even more stupid for paying twenty bucks for it. Except that I’m not a gweilo and yet I did stupidly pay the twenty bucks for this frippery, thinking how nicely suited its soft blue-green would be once I brought it home, with the royal yellow of the library’s jacquard wallpaper. I was right, even though it cost me twenty bucks to be so. Cheap though, compared to the lesson that emotionally, the value of what you want to own is relative to what you’ve already owned.

I guess I should explain that the library has a piano facing the bay window. An old piano that’s been handed down many generations and had resided in a few countries too. The sound coming out of it is pure velvet. The piano tuners who come get pleasantly surprised that it’s not yet another Yamaha they’ve come to tune. The seat is velvet too. Ruby. Many piano benches are horrible, the leather ones I detest most. Velvet wears out faster but comfier to sit on, especially if you plan on playing for a long time. In the summer, you can sit on it in shorts and not have it glued to your behind by your own sweat as a leather-covered bench would do.

There is a fireplace too, in white marble. But it hasn’t been lit for ages. Seems such a waste, to have a fireplace left unlit. But so many London winters recently had been too warm for a roaring fire. Perhaps this winter will be cold enough to see snow falling outside; that would be perfect for a lit fireplace. There used to be a mirror above the mantelpiece, it’s now been replaced by the black void of a large-screen television. Until proven otherwise, I prefer to keep the illusion that once lit, the fire would be more mesmerising to watch than whatever it is that’s playing on the telly. Perhaps I should get one of those tiny games tables with a chess board inlay made from mother of pearl. An antique table to match the clock. A game of chess by a lit fireplace. How English! Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice sort of English, English.

Looking around it seems that I have nothing whatsoever reminding me of my Malay heritage here in this library. I was told the other day that I’m like Spock who had left his own people to be more Vulcan. True, I have left so many different kinds of people but I don’t feel like I have to collect every single Malay ornament to be reminded that I am a Malay. Maybe I feel that this library should be more English to remind me that I’m in England. Or perhaps I just wanted the room to blend in with the style of the house, and the house to blend in with the green and the country. Although, I did toy once with the idea of having Chinese lacquered furniture but decided against it as they clash with the walnut floors and the foxes in the garden.

Many Asians do, you know, furnish their English houses with Asian knick-knacks and furniture. Some English too, to show how well-travelled they are. In doing so, do the Asians become more Asian and less English? Or do you become more English and less Asian as the years of living here add up and go by? You can be both, some would argue. But something in the cold weather changes a Malay woman from the equator. That, after all these slow and fast years, I know.  Regardless, I’m quickly discovering that unlike the chimes, I do prefer the greater number than less, losing Malay-ness and identity be damned.

All these possessions and belongings, what are they all about? Honestly, I don’t really know. If anything, I’m probably anti-Spock who ran away from her own and balking at being labelled. Like the radio-controlled reproduction of an antique clock. Like this very English Malay’s library. You see? Not so easily defined. Ah well, I guess I’m funny that way too.

Add: https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/01/27/why-we-write-about-ourselves/

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