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Wet in Kuching: Less about a city, more about a boy.

MALAYSIA | Sunday, 24 May 2009 | Views [599]

I'm dripping on the floor, making puddles around my bare feet. There's a mother and a couple of children cooking on the landing. The boy stops to chat with them ever so quietly while I continue to drip. Then he ushers me up another short flight of wooden stairs and into his room.

"I don't want them to see you."

I sit down on a stool in the corner of his room and he passes me a towel. I give my hair and legs a quick dry. He disappears to the bathroom to change his clothes. I take this opportunity to pass judgement on the boy based on the contents of his bedroom. In other words, snoop.

The room itself is a reasonable size, but unless you consider the sort of window that opens into a hallway to be a window, it is sans window. A single mattress lies on the floor. The sheets have Tweety Bird on them. Propped up against the wall is a collection of "Smallville" DVDs, although he appears to be lacking in anything to play them on.

Hanging along the walls are clothes. I'm guessing this constitutes his entire wardrobe. The room smells like him: Kind of musky, like unwashed hair. I'm familiar with this smell from spending so much time behind him on the motorcycle. It's not overly unpleasant. Just human.

He returns to the room with different pants on, but no shirt. I feign shock, gasp, and cover my eyes until he puts on a dry t-shirt.

He points out a collection of electronic equipment on the table which he has managed to kill: A cellphone, a camera, a GPS device.

"Why on earth do you need a GPS device?"
He shrugs.

I ask him if the mattress on the floor is the one that his aunt was going to help him move. No, apparently not. The new mattress, he says, is much thicker. He holds his hands thirty centimetres apart: THIS thick! It is so thick and bouncy that he can't resist jumping on it. He likes to jump on things, he says. Couches, beds, it drives his parents crazy.

Now that he's dry, it's my turn: We exit his room, down the stairs, shoes back on. We leave the lady to cook her meal in the cavernous space. I glance over the bannister on the way down and beneath us is a bunch of machinary.

Back on the motorcycle: It's not raining anymore, and there's a giant rainbow over Kuching. We head in the direction of my guesthouse so that I can get out of my drenched clothes.

The plan had been to go to the beach. I'd met him around 4pm after spending the day wandering around Kuching and visiting the small museum. (There was a very informative exhibition on offshore oil drilling, it's impact on the environment and on the community. It was overwhelmingly positive and sponsored by Shell. There was also a replica longhouse and a whole bunch of stuffed animals that I'd seen in the wild a week or two ago.)

We met at the "hanging spot" again, and headed off in the direction of the beach, only to be stopped short by a torrential downpour. We did as people do in this situation, and pulled over to wait at a bus stop. When it was still raining 45 minutes later, we decided that the beach was probably a no-go, and that we should instead run the gauntlet to the mechanic to fix his loose chain.

Errands. I like them.

At the mechanic's was a fascination. People stare. Maybe they don't get to see drenched white chicks so often. Maybe it's because I was on the back of his motorcycle and they were wondering what the story was. "They all like to look at you," he says. "Of course," I say. "I'm a movie star here!"

With the beach off the cards, we decided instead to simply go and get into some dry clothes, which is how I ended up at his bachelor pad. In comparison, my guesthouse is like something out of a house and garden magazine: Clean, bright, huge windows, air conditioning. I get changed (aircon on wet skin = brrrr) and offer him a coffee. He can't refuse, and lets me make it because he's not sure how.

We jump back on the motorcycle and go back to the weekend market that he tried to show me yesterday. Lots of bizarre fruits that neither of us know the name for. Clothes, tacky souveniers, animals, dried fish, dried everything else. We get rice and watch Terminator at one of the food stalls.

We sit there and talk rubbish, like normal, and swap notes on various other cultures: He tells me that he would be too scared to go to America because of an evil people who live there, called the Yahudi. I cock an eyebrow. He's pretty emphatic about it: "Look on the internet!" His friend had told him about them. I promised to look it up.

He drops me off at my guesthouse, promising (once again) to meet the next day. He suggests karaoke. I cringe. He says with uncharacteristic sternness: "Aletta. Do you know how long it has been since I went to karaoke?" and I laugh my head off.

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