by Hugh M. Lewis
We got back to LA to wait indefinitely to hear from the Malaysian Embassy about being given permission to conduct my anthropological fieldwork there. I had called the embassy in Chicago two times in early spring of that year, and had gotten no reply whatsoever. When we got back to LA I called the consulate in LA and received the application forms for social science research in the mail the next day. We filled these forms out in quadruplicate and then sent them back to the consulate.
Now we were back in LA without much to do until we heard from them again. In the meantime I completed several grant proposal applications to different funding agencies in the US, and I set to work on a constructing an artificial intelligence program in Hyperscript--a project that I had been working on and off for over a year already. I thought it would be a good time to get it taken care of, because development of such programs require a substantial amount of time. It was slow going the first month or so, until things eventually began falling into place.
We got back just in time to help our friends whom we knew at our University to move into the new home they had bought down the coast near San Diego. He was doing an hour and a half commute from this home which he could afford to his teaching job at Cal. State Los Angeles. The home was nice and they seemed to settle into the community quickly.
We went back down to take their daughter and our own to the Wild Animal Park down in San Diego. It was a windy drive, and we noticed the smoke from several large brush fires along the route as we drove down. We were turned away almost at the gate of the Wild Animal Park because it too was on fire. We went to the zoo instead. We were shocked to see how many little Mexican kids there were on school buses on a field trip there. All the kids, their teachers and helpers were Mexican, and there were only one or two white kids in any group. Many of the kids would just push their way to the front of the line, and I scolded a group of young boys for doing it in front of us. Another group came and pushed Mahala and her friend Sarah off a playground turtle that they were climbing on to get a photo.
When we got back that evening we found that we had traveled out to San Diego on one of the worst imaginable days, as there were seventeen major brushfires burning simultaneously in all of the Southland, and the worst was at Laguna, as it swept through all the beautiful homes of the seaside and the fire teams had a hard time fighting it because of the lack of water pressure and the high winds. One of the fires was coming dangerously close to my sister's home out in the Walnut area. A week later there was a second, even worse fire that broke out in the Malibu area in northwestern LA, claiming quite a few homes.
We house sat for my Mom a couple of weeks while she flew back East to be with her family there. We took care of things while she was gone. When we picked her up at the airport we could see the smoke of the fire burning along the coast just to the north of us.
And then we were all awakened one morning by a major earthquake. It woke me up first and after I realized what was happening I called to Rosie and grabbed Mahala who was sleeping comfortably next to me and pushed her down on the floor under me at the edge of the bed. I frightened her more than the earthquake would have and left her shivering in fright for over an hour after. I remember waiting for the quake to end, and watching things on the shelves above the bed begin to fall off. I was just waiting for the roof of the house to collapse. Then I heard my Mom calling from the hallway and I told her to get down low. She had run to see if we were OK and told me how the telephone lines outside across the city could be seen arcing.
We lost electricity and had candles and a flashlight in the morning. I went out and checked the gas main and found the streets eerily quiet and deserted and could hear only dogs barking and cats meowing. Soon electricity was restored and we turned on the television and at first there was no reception. Then a report came through and then another. Fires were burning all over the city. Soon they showed the death of a motorcycle CHP officer who rode his bike off a collapsed overpass. Then we saw entire freeways collapsed, and a train derailed, and then an entire three-storey apartment complex in which the very bottom floor was completely squashed beneath the upper floors. It shook us up the whole day and even the whole week after. It felt like the worst one we had ever experienced, including the Whittier quake the epicenter of which was nearby our home, and the 1973 Silmar quake that had caused a similar amount of damage.
We waited until December to hear news from the Embassy, afraid to start anything that we wouldn't be able to finish. I got several rejections for funding from U.S. funding agencies, but was awarded a small grant from the Pacific Cultural Foundation in Taiwan. I called the consulate back and then wrote off three letters simultaneously to government departments in KL. Within two weeks the embassy called me to let me know that I had been given permission to do my fieldwork. They told me to mail them my passport so they could chop the entry Visa into it.
So, immediately after Christmas, we began racing around again to get ready to go back to Malaysia. I sold my computer to my brother-in-law and then bought a nice newer laptop computer to take with me. I hurriedly went to the library at my old alma mater and tried putting together as many materials for conducting research as I could find at the time.
Within a few weeks were were on a shuttle again back down to the airport, and then soon we were back on board a MAS plane bound for Malaysia for the fourth time.
Professional Pariah: Ethnography of the Anthropological Self
Hugh M. Lewis
Blanket Copyright, Hugh M. Lewis, © 2005. Use of this text governed by fair use policy--permission to make copies of this text is granted for purposes of research and non-profit instruction only.
Last Updated: 03/17/05