Back from La La Land

Magers and QuinnTravelling to the US has always been nerve-wracking for me (unless it’s done illegally, I’m told). Are they going to profile me for the way I look, for my colour, for my passport; will I be detained for hours for interrogation; will I miss my connection; will I be strip searched, should I wear my good underwear, will they make me take it off ... But this time, with a new administration in place, my fears hit fever pitch. Will they let me board the plane; will they cancel my visa mid-flight, does my name sound suspicious, will they rampas my laptop, will they turn me back, will I get picked-on in the streets ...

Okay, I’m paranoid. CIQ officers all over the world appear to be trained to live on a diet of sour lemons. And the Americans seem to have elevated this to a fine-art form. Ditto, Singapore. But, surprisingly, not Japan; their politeness never looks forced. Efficient but polite. They either employ good actors, or they really care. Do Malaysians care? Yes, I think so. At least, most of them. I feel a warmth whenever I land at KLIA. And I don’t mean the weather, although that helps. Oh my God, am I always glad to be back! But regards efficiency; no so much.

Anyway, I am back from the US after two weeks. You know, in all my trips to the US, this was the first I stepped in to a Barnes and Nobles in Minneapolis. They can’t be that bad, I thought. Unfortunately, they were. I wanted to buy two copies of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance for friends, and I thought they’d have it. They did. Only, they had it shelved under Eastern religions. Hello!? Robert Pirsig was (he died recently) not only one of the most famous sons of Minnesota (besides Scott Fitzgerald, Bob Dylan and Prince), Zen is regarded by many as one of the most important American books of the last century. (It’s like shelving  Gone with the Wind under geography.) It’s no wonder Amazon is eating their lunch.

Then, John (another great Minnesotan) told me about Magers and Quinn. I was prepared to be disappointed, but am I glad I took the time to visit. I found a first Edition of Kenzuburo Oe’s Changeling for USD11.99! Shelves and shelves and shelves of exquisite, real books that matter (not bestsellers, not  genre); classic and  antiquarian. Absolutely priceless. (A first edition of Zen was going for USD1250.00. Ahem.)

I have found the US generally rather ho-hum, unless you are tuned-in to their pop culture. But then, I am an old fogey, and a crotchety one at that. America is for the young. Is there a civil war going? I didn’t see anything overt, just a queasy feeling in the streets being a foreigner (see above). But slight subterranean tremors were palpable. Hey, you ripped apart the Soviet Union, you don’t think Russia would want to get even? National humiliation can last for decades, centuries (Bosnia/Serbia) or a millennium (India/Pakistan). Actually, it appears Putin has already succeeded; at least, in sowing some seeds of conflict along the faultlines. The end of the American Century? Coming soon to TVs near you!

However, I got pretty excited by an announced tornado alert two days before we were to leave. Well, the sirens never went off  in our area because the winds were not strong enough. A tornado siren only is sounded only when the winds exceed 70 mph. (113 km/hr.) and those around our apartment were a mere 60 mph (97 km/hr.) Drat.

But it was scary enough. The sky became pitch black (no exageration), and the wind began to howl. (Imagine Jimi Hendrix guitar solo in All Along the Watch Tower.) Hail stones pounded the block (the weather channel on TV said they were the size of ping-pong balls), and I did fear that the apartment would be blown away. (For all their technology, you’ll have to wonder why Americans build such flimsy residences; you know, prefab boards for walls and floors. Like matchsticks. ) Then, it was all over in 15 minutes.

Anyway, I’m back now. And it’s good to be home, to our very own alternate reality show.