Me & My Sisters
Me & My Sisters

I’ve returned from my vacation to the US. I couldn’t get any critical distance from which to write or observe while I was there; I was too busy enjoying being back. I did manage to take a lot of pictures though. You can view them in this Flickr set, America 2007. The most pleasurable aspect of the trip, after reunion with loved ones, must have been hearing and speaking my native English. Effortless communication – How we take it for granted! My friends were kind enough to get me up to speed on contemporary slang that I may have missed during my absence. Like, what do you call that tattoo, usually of a butterfly, that women get on the small of their back just above their low-riders?

A tramp stamp! ………………………Ok, I’ll stop now.


Long by the Lake
Long by the Lake

The trans-pacific crossing went smoothly enough, but I was nervous about clearing immigration. Last time I was in country it was the INS at the border, so this was going to be my first time meeting the Homeland Security folks. The officer I got turned out to be of Chinese origin, and likely a naturalized citizen by his accent. He was civil enough as he stamped my and my daughter’s passports, though he asked me four questions about my time spent abroad, something that never happened before. That was ok, though. But when he swiped my son’s, he looked troubled for a moment and then told me he can’t authorize my son’s entry and that we have to follow him into the Back Room. I sure didn’t want to visit the Back Room, but of course I followed him. There were various unhappy, pensive looking people around the room sitting on benches, while a different officer at the counter was busy giving the third degree through a translating officer to a Mexican grandmotherly-type lady. It wasn’t coarse or abusive, but Lord it wasn’t friendly. He paused in his work to take a quick two-second glance at my son and the passport, stamped it, and said “there you go have a nice day”. I was really itching to know what had triggered the first officer to pass me back to this guy,

Along and KakNgah in the Land of Plenty
Along and KakNgah in the Land of Plenty

but I doubted he would tell me and my desire to get the heck out of there overcame my curiosity. I took my son’s passport and split. Looking back on it, Long’s record must have been flagged because my son is a) born abroad, b) living abroad, c) male and d) muslim. And clearly he passed second review on account of being a little kid. That’s great, this time. But I can easily imagine that 6-7 years down the road, Officer Friendly is going to want more than just a quick glance at him.

Once in the country, I didn’t feel like that much had changed, but I was struck by some differences I had forgotten about, most significantly the wealth that was in evidence at every turn. Money just dripped everywhere you looked. It wasn’t bling necessarily, but more often the little things that jumped out at me, like the two or three thick fluffy napkins given without asking at the restaurant or the triple-stitched, reinforced backpacks folks carried at the airport. Meijers was so dazzling I had to take a picture. It’s not that you can’t find such opulence in Malaysia – it’s that it is found only in the centers of town in the elitist stores.In the US, it’s at Meijers in every small town you pass.

American Faqirs
American Faqirs

My kids picked up on it right away. KakNgah walked down the hallway of my friend’s nice but by no means extravagant brownstone flat on the first day we arrived in Chicago, muttering to herself, Ini orang kaya ke ini orang kaya?!”.

Another difference had more to do with me. My blood had definitely thinned during my years in Malaysia. My children and I were wearing sweaters and jackets well into June, and I never felt hot, even when my companions were sweating. You can get used to anything, I guess.

Beyond that, the trip was uneventful in the extreme, and that was fine with me. I took great pleasure in meeting friends and relatives I hadn’t seen in years, soaking in the beauty of Three Roods Farm, and eating bread, real bread, bread with crusts.


Three Roods Farm
Three Roods Farm

I returned to Malaysia in time for the arrival of my new child, an armload of new books my biggest prize. Personal favorites have been both Sherman Jackson’s Islam and the Blackamerican and his translation and commentary on the Faysal al-Tafriqah of Imam Ghazali. In the former, Prof Jackson frequently cites the work of Theodore Allen, The Invention of the White Race. That turns out to be a two-volume academic tome that I would never get around to buying, so luckily I was able to benefit from the online annotated summary of Invention provided by Prof Allen himself. Other good ones include American Islam by Paul Barrett, which I liked so much I ordered a copy for my Grandpa and which includes a great chapter on the Naqshbandi Order; Gifts for the Seeker translated by Mostafa Badawi, a popular religious text in Malay; and Musa Furber’s translation of Etiquette with the Quran. There are so many good Islamic books coming out that I just can’t keep up.

All in all, it was a pretty exciting trip for me, but after visiting the Flickr site of Interplanetary Muslim Kenny Irwin, I kinda wish I could travel to the places he’s visited instead.

Thanks be to God for the Journey and for the Return.

Published by bingregory

Official organ of an American Muslim in Malaysian Borneo, featuring plants, pantuns and pictures from the Malay archipelago. Oversharing since 2002.

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  1. Salaam ‘alaikum. Out of curiosity, what were the four questions you were asked at the border? This, and the general reception that might be given to my wife (she covers) are two of the reasons why I’ve been rather hesitant about going back home to visit. I suspect a reason why you had to visit “the back room” was because of your son’s name (too close to someone else’s name).

    BTW, congrats on the birth of your new child (I already knew about it because I get your pictures feed on my rss reader). Unfortunately, Milady had a problem just recently, and so we are back to square one yet again.

  2. wa alaykum salam. He asked me what I was doing out of the country, the name of my employer and what I did for them. Hm, maybe it was three questions. That was it. I think as long as your answer isn’t “studying Islam at Madrasah X” you should be ok. I know how you must feel though.

  3. Assalamu Alaikum Br. and welcome back. So glad you made a trip ‘home.’ It had been four years since I had seen my mom, and she’s aging. It was a necessary trip.

    As far as all of the opulence, on every corner…isn’t that something? I couldn’t get over that, either.

    Mabrook on the birth of your new child! May Allah continue to bless your family.

  4. Alhamdulillah, on your safe return, and on the birth of your new child 🙂 What a blessing children are, as I am a new grandpa also 🙂 And what great photos! Your sisters are all beautiful. It must run in the family lol.

    Ya Haqq!

  5. Assalamualaikum Br Bin Gregory. We were also recently called to the “back room” at Newark. I asked why. Seems that my son’s name, Luqman, came out in their database. The guy just shook his head since he knew my son was a 6 year old. We had to spend about half an hour to get cleared. My second son Arief, wasn’t flagged so he waited with his mom and sis while we were in the back room being processed. Alls well that ends well tho!

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