Hidden Treasures: Late Night Thoughts at The Coffee Bean

Joel Carillet's picture

It is 12:40 a.m. as I sit at a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in Kuala Lumpur. I'm tired but feel slightly inspired to record a few thoughts and sights on this fleeting time of my life in Malaysia’s largest city. It is April 18, 2004.

I'm tired but I almost fear sleep. Sleep is not life; it is what we have to do in order to live. I am approaching this week in Kuala Lumpur as I once did a string of college all-nighters.  But I sense that how I live these nights now carry more weight than how I wrote term papers then. If I could stay up till dawn in 1993 to master Renaissance art, or in 1994 to study for a German exam, or in 1998 to memorize 150 Hebrew words which have since mysteriously vanished—why not stay up till dawn now in Malaysia?

Sunrise in Kuala Lumpur. From Hidden Treasures: Late Night Thoughts at The Coffee Bean

Sunrise and Kuala Lumpur's skyline

Music drifts from the café’s sound system as I look through the glass wall at 34 Malaysians, all in their teens or twenties, sitting outside on the patio. They send text messages from their cell phones, slurp iced lattes, and laugh often. Watching this, I have a profound sense of time passing, of a moment evaporating into eternity just as the steam from hot tea vanishes in air. That woman right there, gesticulating with smooth arms half-revealed by folded-up sleeves—she will be older when we all wake tomorrow. Her arms will be older and she will never again say the same words in the order she did tonight.

Tomorrow, all of us here at The Coffee Bean will share the city with babies born tonight. Tomorrow, other places will be empty, left vacant by those who will die tonight.

I feel an urgency. I'm aware of the sand in the hourglass; I hear it slide and fall. And I feel the winds of change.  They carry cigarette smoke away, and the youthful colors of our hair. I'm aware that I do not see clearly…and that if I sleep I will not see at all.

My eyes are heavy, my mind dulling.  But I see well that the earth is on the move, spun as it is by time, and so I hold on figuratively and literally to my chair. I hold onto people with my eyes and ears. Perhaps this night too will vanish with the same ease as 150 Hebrew words. What mattered to me then was that I got an A on an exam. So what matters to me now? That Faith Hill sings "Will you cry just a little for me," her voice full of passion as it emanates from the sound system and as the people around me sip and laugh and text and talk. There are no grades anymore, only the act of living.

Dawn in Kuala Lumpur. From Hidden Treasures: Late Night Thoughts at The Coffee Bean

Dawn in Kuala Lumpur

What matters now?  That with heavy eyes, at 1:25 a.m., I am taking in music and people, and that I am thinking. What matters is that I’m living late into the Malaysian night, feeling its warmth and moisture on my skin even as its people breathe and speak around me.

What matters is that tonight I saw that we all are in the process of dying. But we are also in the process of being made.


Joel Carillet, chief editor of wanderingeducators.com, is a freelance writer and photographer based in Tennessee. He is the author of 30 Reasons to Travel: Photographs and Reflections from Southeast Asia. To learn more about him, visit www.joelcarillet.com.