It is 12:55 a.m., New Year’s Day, in Penang.
If I listen very carefully, in the distance, I could hear that hypnotic bass line still thumping. But at this hour, there is no more subjecting myself to the pulsing drums that beat my eardrums senseless.
From the 15th floor of our condo, it is but a mere whisper now. Now, I hear the sounds of our electric fans whirring gently, and the mild whining of our cats, reminding us of the quiet, domestic life my wife and I are happily retreating back towards, away from the blinding lights and the blaring noise that came crashing upon us like the waves of the sea.
Perhaps it’s just been a while. Perhaps I’m just older now. Whatever the case may be, it felt bizarre being there – on the shores intruding on a beach party to usher in the new year. Hours before we were stuffing our face at a hotel buffet amidst relatives kind enough to let us join in on their week-long family reunion here in Penang.
We’re family, but the other side of the family, so while it made sense that we were around, I couldn’t help but wonder if it would’ve been just as appropriate had we stayed home with our cats and rang in 2014 with a Made-for-TV movie, and me, a glass of whiskey.
We opted for relatives and a filling meal instead.
What we hadn’t anticipated was free access to a full-on beach party beginning in the early hours of the evening and lasting until well past midnight. And what I never prepared for is a heavy dosage of house music and mindless head-bobbing and gyrating surrounding me – though probably exactly what an early 20-something would have in mind when you invite them to your New Year’s party by the beach.
Somehow, it was entertaining. I felt like I was on-set for a music video that I didn’t get asked to be in. Somehow, I was just there, raising my arms aimlessly every now and then, occasionally swerving my hips like a drunk uncle at a kid’s birthday party, believing I could belong. As if I wanted to, at all. Except, there was no belonging for me – I was merely, invisibly, passing through.
Which was perfectly fine.
From the start I had resigned myself to observing this spectacle like a parent chaperoning for prom night. Everything looked and felt juvenile, and yet, endearing, and at least, entertaining. I had the sort of feeling that leaves you muttering to yourself things like, “It’s sure been a while since I’ve seen that” or “Kids these days…”, while shaking your head knowingly.
When did I get so old and so dismissive of innocent fun? God knows. But in fairness, it’s not like I didn’t have a good time.
Despite the continuous loop of super bass, I could still bob along, pretending to understand, internally, what all the word-less music meant. I could appreciate all the young folk that looked utterly disinterested in celebrating, but made it out anyway because, it was simply the thing for them to do. The young people just needed to be there, whether they really wanted to be or not. And well, so were we.
Nothing about the evening felt like mayhem or unbearably chaotic. And if I wasn’t sweating like a little hog-let, I’d have felt quite comfortable lazing by the beach, letting the waters tickle my sandy toes. There was enough shore for all of us to share. Not every single person by the beach was determined to completely forget about their evening, or their entire year, for that matter. A good number of us were there because being elsewhere just didn’t seem like the proper way to welcome 2014.
My wife and I had a good laugh watching this older couple next to us defy all ageist stereotypes and get all warm and fuzzy with each other on the beach. Their poor daughter was with them too, and she looked like she was having the worst day of her life. Which would have been perfectly fine and understandable – if it wasn’t New Year’s Eve. Even I wasn’t going to let my cranky, anxiety-ridden self let the booming house tunes get the best of me. I was ready and willing to have a good time, but this girl appeared determined to be miserable until midnight. It didn’t occur to her, apparently, that there was a swarm of sweaty boys and girls she could disappear into.
It was excruciatingly hilarious.
What’s more, we were sitting on a folding beach chair next to Shuli’s auntie, whose kids were staying with us for the week. It was quite the family affair. Nearby, her other relatives found the courage to dance along to the trance-inducing tunes, as if they belonged. And they did.
While I tried to escape every once in a while and let my thoughts drift toward the sea, my wife felt inspired to roam along the shore and whimsically twirl her little paper party hat like a child that had a little too much candy. It was all very sweet, and innocent, and beautiful, watching her prance around carefree, dancing to the beat of her own, very particular, drum.
It didn’t really matter that I was there, nor did it matter what I did, or didn’t, do. By the time we all collectively started counting down to 2014, I realized I had belonged, just the same. Strange as it all was – from the alien instrumental music brainwashing us to move our bodies uncontrollably, to the the bizarre mix of white-haired, blue-eyed, big-bellied retirees sharing space with black-haired, brown-eyed, abs-showing young people that looked every bit the part of a party-goer, to the fact that it had actually become an entirely new year within seconds, which somehow, always feels a bit odd and too sudden for my liking – being there was somehow, exactly where we needed to be.
I couldn’t think of a more unexpected way for 2013 to end and for 2014 to begin, and perhaps, that’s precisely how it was, and is, supposed to be – just, unexpected.