“Ms. Sins, will you come to my birthday party?”

That’s not how I wanted to spend my weekend in Kuala Lumpur, a city that is hotter than the surface of the sun, is about as glamorous as Lansing, Michigan and home to the world’s ugliest shoes.

But it’s a Corona-free zone, as in both beer and virus.

I have been rerouted to this conservative country as Asia waits for China to stop calling in sick and get back to work already.

Even though my four pairs of underwear are really getting raggedy, I couldn’t shopping this weekend. I have been fantasizing about the contents of my closet quarantined in Kunming. My linen dress, my bright orange Dickies. Sandals that fashionable instead of suitable for slippery caves.

Instead, I went to a birthday party for a seven-year-old.

He along with eleven other Malay students got rerouted to Kuala Lumpur, too.

The party was an experience in Muslim tradition crashing with classic Americana. Rooty the Bear with burkas, curly fries with sardine puffs, Lego birthday cake and gift bags of jack fruit.

Plus restrooms with broken hand blowers and complicated signage.

As for drinks? Only root beer.

Men sat at their own tables, including two of my older students. Two lovable brothers who are as polite as a Miss Manners Etiquette book. But when they walked in, they were playing it cool, like John Travolta when he ignored seeing Sandy in Grease. He was slicked out with his greased back hair, she was sucking a soda in her cheer-leading skirt. Two worlds that collided over a tub of buttery popcorn and a Barry Gibbs soundtrack. It as like that but with ugly shoes and birthday hat.

Do I know these brothers? Are these the side and the kick of my class? Not the twosome I saw that day. They looked the same with the mop of black hair, huge Crest smiles, but that was about it.

The kids partook in the Chicken dance, taking it seriously with Rooty the Bear. I can’t remember taking anything in life that seriously. Maybe when doing my income taxes but that’s about it. Their faces looked like they were doing long division, their brows furrowed as their arms flapped with their hands tucked under their pits. It’s the chicken dance, not brain surgery.  Have they ever been serious for my class?

Uhhhhhhhhh…. no.

Meanwhile, I got to mingle with the moms. This wasn’t a party but a parent conference. One had seven sisters. Another shared how she would bring contraband when she flew to Kunming: suitcases packed with frozen lamb. She must have serious clout, I thought. I can’t even sneak a bottle of water pass the blue bins.

But one thing one both cultures had in common: a kid throwing a  tantrum when asked to exit the Musical Chairs game.

When I travel, all I have to do is remember my passport and the exchange rate. I don’t have to pack a different version of me for every country. I don’t need to put down my burka to put on my party hat. What you see is what you get.






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