Sitting on a chair lift in -20 degrees, wind biting my uncovered cheeks and snow on me, on my skis, on the ground below, on the slopes all around, and for hundreds of miles beyond, she asked me "So, how old have you just turned?"
"32", I replied, by instinct, without thinking. I cursed aloud. "Sorry, jeez, where did that come from?" I chastised myself for sounding like a bimbo. I mean, really, at my age.
"I'm 34 today. Which I guess puts me in the mid-30s."
Thankfully I was answering someone who was 44 and still on the roll. Ski Buddy has that quality that enables her to flit from being deadly serious to deadly funny in about a second. Which means that she can innately blend the opposing personalities of serious lawyer and fluffy party bunny into strangely, one sane person. She really ought to considere a career in PR should she ever decide to call it a day as a partner in her own firm. It's a talent for some, bloody hard work for me, to relate to people.
She said "Nah-lah, still young". I glanced at her, as she grinned from ear to ear like a Cheshire cat, loving life, and more importantly, living life.
Ahh, birthdays - the little milestones on that road called life. To be perfectly honest, I don't have an issue about getting older. I am one who believes that knowledge is power, and if wrinkles are a by-product, there's always surgery. I had a fabulous youth filled with drama, zits and unrequited love. My salad says were fulfilling and I have enough memories to fuel me to the winter of my life. My birthday wishes are not for the return of my youth. Since hitting 30, my birthdays fuel an angst within for a life yet to be lived.
I knew very early on that I wanted to live a full life. That there would be choices I would make that would be wrong but lead me down a path filled with stories and adventures that I would be able to one day impart to my grandchildren. I know that all sounds very romantic in the context of our daily lives as they are but I have increasingly come to realise that living in Malaysia, remaining cocooned in the small little village we call KL Society has trapped us unknowingly to its standards, beliefs and culture.
Its a life where we are expected to act a certain age when we reach a certain age. Married by 30. 2 children by 35. Millionaire by 36. A culture that has specific expectations. Like not wearing colourful print unless it is a baju kurung once you hit 30. Like keeping your hair short if you are over 50. Like heaven forbid you wear a fake designer. Or crack a joke that's not appropriate. Or laugh like a child.
Success measured by your name card, what car you drive and what class you fly.
I was raised by parents who instilled in me how little all this meant, yet when you are surrounded by it, it's hard to not be sucked in.
Watching enviously as glamourous women decked in diamonds flow out of expensive cars on the arms of titled men, I have often wondered "Why not me?" Why do I not have the home in the gated community, why am I not the one shopping for groceries during office hours, why am I the one without the supplementary credit cards? After all, I am not that young anymore, if it doesn;t happen now, it is likely it never will.
It's an immoral standard to have held myself to.
After all, I have made the choices I live with. I'm not the one in compromised relationships, not the one who has to be nice to someone because he keeps me, not the one who has anything to lose. I pay my own bills, I dictate my own time, and I live my own life. I live my life with as few regrets as possible.
And if I wasn't in KL, I wouldn't have to keep reminding myself.
When my lousy Japan Airlines plane touched down in KLIA over the weekend and I walked back to the sights, sounds and smells of my litle village, I felt a huge wave of disgust that I had never felt coming home. I felt the true meaning of touchdown. This is my reality, this is where my life will continue.
This birthday, I am thankful for my supportive family, angels around me disguised as friends, my strength and above all, a gift in the form of my son, and I am happy. Undoubtedly, I am happy.
But where I live, the people I live among, the web of culture they have weaved, I increasingly dislike and increasingly wish to be away from. This birthday, I wish I remained far away.