Just as I was marveling at how (despite the traffic chaos that prevails on the roads in India) in big cities like Delhi and Mumbai I never see anyone get hit on the roads, a Blue Line bus taps the back of the car we are in. No damage done, but it was a little scary to think how close. The driver of the bus actually had the nerve to yell at our driver asking him why he hadn’t pulled up with an obvious gap of 5 or so inches in front of our car. Then I start seeing articles about these same buses, and wonder why I haven’t witnessed more carnage.
A very interesting thing happened to a friend of mine here a few days ago. He received an SMS from one of his clients saying simply “I love you.” My friend (who is married with children and straight) felt fairly certain that this was a sort of come on from his client. This client had always been a little overly affectionate, always specifically asked when dealing with my friend’s firm that my friend be the representative. Although the client was 60 years old and married himself, many in the office had always felt that he was gay and had a laugh or two about it among themselves.
My friend was in a bit of a pickle about what to do, so he ignored the text message entirely, but a few days later when meeting in person with the client, he was asked why he had never responded. The situation felt awkward for my friend and so he quickly made up some excuse and moved on to another topic. He and his wife asked me the other day what I would have done. I asked them a few questions. Were they certain this man was gay, and this was a sort of come on? How close were they to the client? Could this not simply be a strong voice of affection with nothing else implied? They felt certain this was an expression of gay affection and possible sexual attraction.
I concluded that the best thing to do in this situation was to pretend to have read the message in a way that they felt it had not been intended. And not to ignore it, but reply with something along the lines of “I love working with you as well, thanks”. This would save any embarrassment of rejection from the sender while still acknowledging with kindness that the message had been sent.
It is very interesting where India is today in its acceptance of gay people (or gay attraction or feelings for that matter). Although there are many cultural differences, I still feel a parallel can be drawn with the US and its attitudes some 40 years ago. Here is the situation as I read it today:
1. The young and the well educated seem quite accepting of gay people. For instance, most of my friends here all know that I am and they have no issue with it (that I know of).
2. People such as my friend’s client are in a bit of a sad situation. Supposing he is gay, he must feel quite isolated and a little desperate to send this “I love you” message. In a healthy and accepting society for gay people, this would be the ultimate thing one would say after basic flirting, dating, courtship, etc. You know, like it is for straight people. It would not be a cry from the dark, as it seems to be here.
3. As I have written many times before, marriage and procreation are at the very heart of Indian society. In general this is a very good thing, giving people connection to each other and support in times of need. The downside is that most people cannot imagine allowing anyone to upset the status quo with an alternative arrangement. Gay people and their relationships are effectively invisible. Gay sex happens all the time, but it is never talked about and certainly must not be legitimized with allowing relationships to form publicly. Even among gay people that I have met out at parties, many of them believe quite plainly that it is their duty to enter into marriage and have children, even if they are not attracted to the opposite sex. Many of these feel it is perfectly acceptable to continue gay relationships on the side.
4.Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code still criminalizes homosexuality.While a barrier to wider acceptance, I tend to believe that laws follow social acceptance more than the other way around. For example, although the US only definitively overturned sodomy statutes nationwide in 2003, society had already changed to a point of widespread (if not perfect) acceptance of homosexuality. This was a result of many changes throughout the culture in the preceding decades.
It is my personal opinion that openness breeds acceptance in the long run. When people know that a member of their family is gay, they are less likely to stereotype or hold hatreds based on these. They are no longer able to pretend that no one they know is gay. As I have discussed with many gay people here, I personally believe the most powerful thing any one of us can do politically is to come out, to live openly. Societies are ever evolving, and the first ones to come out suffer the worst hatreds, of that there is no doubt. Coming out in India today is no picnic.
But each successive wave of out people makes it easier on those that follow them. It has to begin somewhere. I was able to come out with less trouble and rejection than those that came out before me, because they had paved the way and there was some general cultural knowledge of such things. My own coming out has made it easier for a younger generation (such as my niece). Eventually, people will come to see being gay about as threatening to them as left handedness or a different eye color. But this takes many years and many small acts of bravery.
So I am in Delhi, and I am online checking my email, blogging, looking in vain for the address of a good bookstore here, meeting people, etc. Then some guy I don’t know sees some pictures of me and tells me he wants to meet up. And — get this — he says that I look a lot like Luke Wilson?!
The flight from KL to Delhi was one of the bumpiest I have ever been on. People were actually gasping. Then we landed finally and I made my way through customs and back out to the 36 degree non-AC chaos that is Delhi. But somehow, I relaxed right back into it, despite the much lower airport and taxi comfort level compared to Malaysia. And of course once I made it back into South Delhi to see Meeta and the family, all was well and I had a lovely catch-up with them and a very restful evening.
I am feeling a little sad to say goodbye to KL and my buddy Jeff, but I think the time is right to return to India. I have had such an amazing time here and feel certain that I will return to Malaysia and Kuala Lumpur. To think, I almost didn’t come here. It was just a fluke that my flight to Delhi from Shanghai was routed through KL and I just decided to get off here. I have had the most amazing time and met some incredible people. Jeff in particular has become such a good friend, it feels like we have known each other for years.
It will be a bit strange heading back to India after a more than 2 month absence. I will have some readjusting to do. But I am also looking forward to exploring the northern and eastern parts of the country, as well as refreshing and expanding my meditation and yoga practice (which I have all but abandoned the last 2 months).
I’m published! In the New Straits Times no less. It is a pretty impressive spread. It is odd to see my work edited and put in print. There is both a pride and a kind of cringing feeling. Sort of like, wow this is print, this is permanent.
If I say something really stupid online, the beauty of the web (and let’s face it, controlling my own blog and site) is that I can revise at any time. Sure, there might be a trace or two in a Google index for awhile, but I can correct, revise, reshape – my blog is a living document. And while I tend to leave my mistakes and simply write another post or two restating things, I always have the last word. This is different. The other thing that makes it different from online is that someone else is doing the editing. The exigencies of style and space limitations in a print publication take certain aspects out of my hands. (For example, compare the “published” link with my original article here, and you will notice a few differences.)
I was also quite shocked (in a good way) to see the difference between the online version and the print one. Wow!
Putrajaya (the administrative capital of Malaysia) is a strange and fascinating place indeed. History is littered with examples of grand capital planning, and this one is right in a line with many of them. Putrajaya is a new city (begun in 1995), and it is extremely impressive to see how much has been built in so short a time. The city also has a surreal quality about it, owing to its scale, planning, architecture and location.
Putrajaya begs all kinds of questions, such as:
– Was there really a need to build this place away from the (business and cultural) capital of KL?
– Who owned this land prior and were they friends or associates with the powers that be? Who were given the building contracts and how?
– How do they expect this place to be successful with such poor public transport? Perhaps this will improve over time.
– What does this place say about the poor of Malaysia (and their access to government institutions), who would be very out of place here and have a hell of a time getting here (see above, transport)?
– As (I am) someone coming from a land where religion and state are separate entities (at least in theory), what is Putrajaya saying about multiculturalism in Malaysia when one of its centerpieces is a huge mosque? Are other religions or belief systems represented somewhere? Are they meant to be ignored?
– What is the identity that Malaysia wants to form and project to the outside world? The architecture is a hodgepodge of many styles. But interestingly a lot of it uses Middle Eastern and Arabic details for inspiration.
– As the city is still far from complete, how are businesses that are located there faring? Do they have the traffic necessary to sustain them? What incentives (tax or otherwise) are granted to people that build (offices, housing, shopping, etc)?
– What are the costs of maintaining the grand public spaces and how will they deal with the ravages of time? Although barely a decade old, much of the public parks and other spaces don’t seem to be aging that well, with cracks and decay evident in places.
– In malls, all of the shops have (in addition to the shop name) labels for what they are (such as boutique, stand, restaurant, etc). As if you wouldn’t know that a shop is a shop without the generic label.
– At restaurants, when they bring the check, they always stand over you watching while you fill out tip amount and sign. In my country, this is considered rude.
– On several occasions, I have noticed people flushing while urinating (not waiting to be done).
– I’ve come to understand this is a Chinese thing, but no buildings seem to have a 4th floor, as it is considered unlucky. They instead have a “3a”.
My secret life as an actor just keeps getting stranger and stranger.
I showed up for what I thought would be a simple announcer’s voice test, just to get a read on my voice quality. I had no idea this was an audition for a role as a cartoon character. It made me uneasy, pushing me way out of my comfort zone. So of course I had to go for it. They began by asking me to read for two parts. The first was the Bad Guy’s Sidekick, the second role was the Hero. Oh yeah, did I mention that I had to read all parts in English with a Middle-Eastern accent?
As we got started, the director explained to me that in animation, one really needs to go over the top with the role, exaggerating everything to about 200 percent of normal. He seemed to like my bad guy sidekick much better than my hero (comparing me at one point to Peter Lorre), and he asked me to take 10 minutes to look over the monologue of the Main Bad Guy and come back to read for that. So I came back to read for Main Bad Guy (named Zoofrilla, or something like that) and though I felt quite silly, I was glad to get through it. I was also glad to be in a padded room where no one could see or hear me. I don’t think I did all that well, but I have learned from past experience not to rule anything out. The director told me that the read was good and he would get back to me if I got the part. He also asked me to work on a more heroic voice, telling me that I was much better at evil than heroic. That really gave me pause. Could this have anything to do with the fact that I had to do the whole thing in a Mideast accent? Do I have some deeply ingrained prejudice against that accent (and my accent wasn’t great, but in my head I was imagining Shimon Peres or Hafez Assad)? Perhaps with all that has been drummed into Americans I have some deep-seated stereotypes related to certain accents that I should try to expunge. Or maybe it is just hard to pull off a swashbuckler in a foreign accent, because let’s face it, I’m no actor mmmkay?
Well, I was planning on heading back to India tomorrow. Then I got up this morning and noticed that my ticket said today (yikes!) , and so I called Malaysia airlines in a slight panic to reschedule for next Monday. And luckily, my ticket is flex and there was no charge. This gave me the opportunity to go by the American embassy this morning and have my passport enlarged. Believe it or not, I had actually run out of pages to stamp. Fortunately, getting pages added was one of the most painless administrative things I have ever had to do. The staff at the embassy here in KL is very helpful and friendly, and the entire process took about 45 minutes from arrival to departure. How’s that for bureaucratic efficiency?
Hanging out in KL will also give me a little time to finish a couple of articles for a local newspaper. (Yes, I am going to be published off the web. Pretty exciting, no?) In addition, my buddy Jeff set me up with a voice reading (a screen test for voice) for this afternoon, so who knows perhaps my voice will grace a radio ad or some such thing in the near future. Just another odd notch on my acting belt. I get the giggles with this stuff.