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12
Jul 05
Tue

So I dyed my hair

Cheryl and I had just stepped off the express train from Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Backpacks in tow, we negotiated our way through the various offers of carriage from taxi drivers and stepped into the muggy heat of Malaysia.

“You ah beng! Check out the hair lah!” came Justin’s voice, sailing across the carpark.

Justin’s greeting was a remark concerning my recent change of hair do. Only a week beforehand I had cut my hair shorter than usual in preparation for spending four months overseas, resulting in it being spiked up. It was the idea of another friend, Kevin, to get it dyed. Figuring that it would probably be the only chance I would have to do it before I started work the next year in the conservative legal industry, I went along with the idea and my hair turned, after a tedious two and a half hour process, a pale shade of copper. For the most part, I was interested by the reactions I would get from this apparently out-of-character decision. In this regard, I was not disappointed.

Dad was mortified. “You’re going to be a lawyer soon, for goodness sake!” he exclaimed in exasperation when he first saw it. It generally didn’t sit well with the older generation, and I was variously described as looking “ugly”, like a “punk” and like a “street kid” (which, a friend’s mother pointed out was a good thing because it means I would be hassled less when overseas). My parents were most worried that it signalled the emergence of some sort of repressed rebellious phase, neglecting to realise that I had nothing really to rebel against.

Reactions from my friends were a bit more positive. However, when I held a farewell gathering a couple days before departure, two of them didn’t even recognise me. Jarrod, after I had opened the door for him, offered his hand and said, “Hi, I’m Jarrod.” Dorian, a friend of over 12 years shook my hand, abruptly brushed past me and then shouted into the room, “So where’s Stuart?” before being told with a great deal of amusement that I was standing directly behind him.

If I had anything to worry about, it was that immigration officials around the world were going to detain me on suspicion of stealing the passport of someone who actually looked respectable in their passport photo. I was assured that this would not be a pleasant experience, especially in a non-English speaking country.

Nonetheless, I found it somewhat ironic that despite the perceptions – and more often than not misperceptions – of the danger of going to some of the countries I was going to (landmines and Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, terrorist activity and political instability in the United Arab Emirates because it was in the Middle-East, mafia and gypsies in Eastern Europe), the recent tragic London terrorist Tube bombings had turned a bastion of the Western World into place more dangerous than these “non-mainstream” countries.

We got in the car. David turned to us in the backseat. “Why are you two wearing seatbelts? Don’t you trust my driving?” he asked. It remains a mystery to me why seat belts in the back are optional in Malaysia. Surely the laws of physics don’t operate differently there.

But anyway, there there we were, 6616 kilometres from home, with Justin jeering at my ah beng haircut and Dave weaving his car across the slippery Kuala Lumpur roads, on day one.