I met Jennifer, the owner of the hair and nail salon at Oasis for the first time on my third visit. After three years of living in the area, I think I have finally found a spot for my regular maintenance. She complimented my accessories. I was wearing the white beads and pearly shells necklace. Studs on my ears. Tiffany’s-inspired affinity stack on my wrist.
I was in for a new colour after a year of wearing my natural shade. The silver strands were making appearances. It’s time for a new look to mark this period of my life anyway. The fall and the rise of a woman.
The salon was busy, it was the week before Christmas. Jennifer had to chip in at the hair department because Annie, her only hairstylist was stretched in three different ways. She admitted having no experience washing people’s hair. I believed her but I let the tai-tai wash mine when she asked if I would not mind.
Jennifer posed a question, one based on first impression. The fault of being human and of being Malaysians is that we are an inquisitive bunch. Kepochi to the max.
“You’re not one of those typical Malays, are you?”
“What do you mean?” I needed her to elaborate.
“Malays don’t paint their nails,” she said.
“Well I don’t want to limit the possibilities of having my fingers and toes sucked,” I cracked a joke as an attempt to avoid going into the real reason why I can’t have my nails bare, unpainted. Being a good muslim dictates following the five rukun Islam, one of which is performing the five times a day prayer. The wuduk (cleansing ritual prior to performing solat) is not thorough apparently with the nails covered in colour. I don’t see the logic in this.
I have a medical condition which renders my nails unfit for public appearances. It affects my confidence and I need my confidence to function in society. So do I follow the masses and become a recluse retracting into a bubble of me, myself and I; or do I interpret the message in the great book using my own logical thinking?
So l pray…with my painted nails. If He created me, He must love me. And if He loves me, He would accept me in however way I kneel to Him in prayers.
“Are you married?”
It was the obvious next question as she did the obligatory get to know her client routine. The inevitable variation of the question about marriage – are you, have you, why haven’t you again; have over the years limit my appearances at family gatherings, which will only happen on obligatory basis like during Raya and funerals. In a twisted way, funerals are the best family gatherings because we are usually focused on saying goodbye, remembering and honouring the passed on as we should be. No one would be trying to crack my case at funerals. A case of the divorced, eligible but unattainable woman with a cat, a closet full of shoes, dresser littered with accessories and chests filled with handbags.
“No, I’m divorced. Have been single for more than four years now,” I told her.
“Oh you must have many boyfriends. I’m thinking your boyfriends must all be mat saleh,” she assumed.
“Alamak, not all lah,” I answered her with an ear-to-ear smile. Visions of a certain muse came to mind. When I was younger, I have thought that I would end up with a kwailo. I met an old friend whom I have not met in 20 years and she echoed the thought.
But let’s face it, there is a lure in sharing a connection with someone who gets your culture and heritage and can relate. Like when I start texting in a Negeri dialect, no one would get that except someone who was born and raised in Negeri Sembilan. Majority of the new generation do not speak the dialect anymore. Someone that gets this piece in all its local linguistic flavour, is totally alluring in my book.
Variety is the spice of life. What is amazing is when you find someone you can connect with on so many levels. And that kind of connection can happen not just with a pharang, or a mat saleh; or dictated by race, religion or culture. I am not a Filipino stereotype. At the end of the day, all we need to be happy is to be with someone who appreciates our different flavours and who embraces all the things that makes us different.
Flavours of a man (that gets me)
He is well-read.
He has seen different parts of the world.
He is loveable and shows you love.
He can ignite the fire with a kiss. Every time.
He lives to eat your cooking.
He encourages you to shine and do your thing. He fights for worthy causes.
He is not afraid to stand alone from the crowd.
I am a Malay with Chinese blood. You can say I’m a typical Malaysian. But that is about all that is typical about me. Xin Nian Quai Le.