Somewhere in the jungles of Indonesia there’s a man holding a box of matches. It might be a lighter even, but certainly nothing more advanced than that. He’s not too far from home, on his own property probably, and he’s staring into a dense thicket of shrubs. His mind flashes to a glistening boiled fish, its mouth ajar and stuffed with thick curried pastes. There’s only a few flies hovering around it, nothing to be too concerned over, and sprinkled across its moist corpse are the smaller, crusted little bodies of a dozen fermented prawns. Smaller yet are the remnants of putrid, uncooked anchovies scattered throughout. Yes. Yes. And a glass of warm red syrup to wash it all down. The man’s taste buds are engorged; for a moment his dreams titillate him to Nirvana. But the roar of cicadas ropes him back into this reality.
That match he was holding will never know how prolific it really was. As the thicket transforms from hues of green to sharp flashes of yellow and orange the man will resume his dreams of distant fish. The flames, meanwhile, will crawl up the thicket and into the trees and this magnificent fire with its thunderous roar will shut those fucking cicadas up. It’ll get those newscasters talking though. The man, slashing and burning his meager plot for future harvests, could hardly make headlines with this bonfire of his. But he’s not alone. At least a hundred thousand of his peers are doing the exact same thing on this exact same day, and all that smoke from all those toxic peat fires has got to go somewhere. Apparently Malaysia is nice this time of year, and so across the Malacca Straits it drifts like some big grey crowd of tourists.
The humidity and the smoke and the chemicals in between coalesce into a big fluffy blanket. Its pretty hot out, but Malaysia tucks itself in under the covers anyways. And so the world becomes muggier than ever before and everyone gets smothered in hot grey goo, which the Malaysian’s aptly name “Jerebu.” It clings to every surface and chokes every lung and the man in Indonesia will never know how extremely hazardous it is because he doesn’t even have a radio. So he’ll do it again and again, and his neighbors will suffocate again and again, and nothing, besides the diminishing air quality, will ever change, as that is the mantra of the equator.
Somewhere in the faceless warehouses of Sungai Siput there’s me, coughing in an all white room, holding a pair of chopsticks. On the television there’s a crying Chinese lady sitting in a boat, but nobody else in the restaurant cares. Their eyes are locked on me instead. On my mouth, to be specific, and every individuated noodle that enters it. Of equal interest is each and every slurp of soda I take, which I must say I am very good at, as well as each sliver of pork that I add to my public mastication. For the climax I sip the remainder of the noodle broth, and dab the corners of my mouth with a napkin, and oh does the crowd go wild. I am an exhibitionist, the Chinese onlookers my faithful voyeurs. It is of absolutely no consequence that this is my seventieth visit to this very establishment. My celebrity is unyielding and eternal. Though my fans are intimately familiar with my eating habits - the exact posture of my chopsticks, the motions of my mouth, the duration of my chewing, the volume of soy sauce that will land on my shirt– they will never speak to me, nor will I to them, for in anonymity there is mystique. When it is time to leave and I have paid the giggling waitress my fans will avert their eyes to the crying lady in the boat. Perhaps I will force a smile while getting out of my chair, you know, give the audience something to talk about in my absence. Then I will vanish into the night, leaving a trail of smoky phlegm in my wake.
The Jerebu is still hanging around when the circus comes to town. It’s a small circus really, more of an experimental carnival if you will, and its highly exclusive. It’s actually an English Camp, but you can’t lure unsuspecting children to school on a Saturday with a name like that. You can lure them quite easily, however, on the premise that American carnies will be in attendance. And this is not deception either; several Malaysia-renowned performers shall be making appearances, distributing prizes, and taking selfies for a nominal fee.
Attendees can anticipate guest-appearances from critically claimed stars like “Baby Ken” and the sensational “Mr. James,” whose charm and charisma is known throughout the peninsula. There are rumors that Baby Ken will be performing his angry-mime routine to the tune of Billy Jean, which has the crowd tingling with excitement, and some girls are already murmuring about the possibility of Mr. James leading the crowd in a round of calisthenics. There will be limbo and crafts, outdoor bowling and archery, tail pinning and beanbag throwing, and improvisational speeches, too. What a show, what a show…
And what do you know, Jerebu aside, the camp is a success! Just ask Kiran, who described the circus as being among “the brightest moment of my life, sir,” and who wrote this succinct yet remarkable review of the day’s events:
The Story title: Baby Ken
Long time ago, a man live at Kentucky. His name is Baby Ken. He always like a clown and he is too short.
One day, a Production call him to come to a English Circus that will be held at SMK Muhibbah. He make many funny show and make children laugh.
At the last of the English circus his friend Zachary London start the water war. The baby Ken run away for 45 minute. Unfortunately his friend Khelsi fall down during the war the students blame on Zachary London for the incident...