Friday, May 30, 2008

The Kindness of A Stranger

Naj & yours truly with Auntie Nora, UK 1976
Michael & Janet taking Naj for a stroll

Some years back Pak Abu and I made a stopover in London on our return from Basel, Switzerland, after attending an international exhibition that our company had an interest in.

Both of us had good reasons for wanting to be on that familiar terrain again; Pak Abu wished to visit his alma mater, the University of Westminster, in the heart of London while I wanted to pay a courtesy call on my former landlady up north in West Hampstead.

Mrs Wilkner, the lady in question, loomed large in my life in the mid 1970s when I was a bright-eyed young wife with a baby to care for, and very far away from home.

She was kindness personified, a woman with a heart of gold who took it upon herself to ensure my infant's continued well-being, although at that time she was dealing with her own personal heartache.

Then in her 40s and still quite a looker, Mrs Wilkner was very motherly apart from being fiercely protective of my son, Naj, whom she babysat for free when I went to work.

Naj was born on a cold, wintry day in University College Hospital, Euston Square, at a time when Christmas lights adorned the streets and the department stores, and Christmas carols filled the cool evening air.

I remember the day we took him home from the hospital, and there was the 'reception committee', Mrs Wilkner and her two children, Janet and Michael, anxiously waiting to welcome the baby.

Most evenings the duo would come up to my bedsit, asking for permission to take the baby for a stroll at a nearby park. Almost always I would oblige, bundling him up in layers of blankets to fend off the cold.

Like a ritual, I would descend to Mrs Wilkner's living room in the basement, where we would have tea and biscuits and she would woefully lament her husband's 'indiscretions', as she delicately put it.

Young as I was, I knew all she needed was an ear, and I was a willing listener. All the time, this beautiful woman was the epitome of grace and my heart bled for her.

When Pak Abu and I knocked on her door that spring morning almost 30 years later, it was Mrs Wilkner herself who invited us in. She told us her husband had passed away some time back and that Janet and Michael were living on their own nearby.

We stayed awhile making small talk before departing. She showed us the backyard, now turned into a garden, with ornamental faeries and gnomes amongst the plants. Once, that backyard was just an expanse of grass, with a big tree at one corner.

Mrs Wilkner was getting on in years and looked frail. When it was time to go, I left with a heavy heart, knowing I may not have another opportunity to pay homage to this gem of a woman who left an indelible mark in my life.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Art of the Artless

It sure seems like everything qualifies as art these days, from the eclectic to the exclusive, the pleasing to the nauseating. Nothing is sacred anymore.

Has the world become a stage full of perverts masquerading under the guise of arts and culturalism to promote sleaze? Going by what we see around us, that statement is not very far off its mark.

Human excreta, the genitalia, dead foetuses, live mutilation of animals, nudity, even sexual acts; you name it and chances are it is being exhibited in a museum or gallery somewhere to the delight of some and revulsion of others.

Take Musee De L'Erotisme in Paris, touted as the perfect stop for those with a penchant for sex and erotica, with its collection of erotic objects from around the world, displays on the history of Parisian prostitution and modern erotic arts.

Yet another is Venustempel in Amsterdam, arguably the world's oldest sex museum, where one can 'savour' the rich stock of erotic paintings, sculptures, manuscripts, recordings and even private interactive viewing booths.

And then there is the Icelandic Phallological Museum, the "Museum of Pricks" if you will. Located in Husavik, Iceland, it is dedicated to phallic specimens belonging to all the various types of mammal found in Iceland.

On display are 100 specimens belonging to 36 different kinds of mammal. Interestingly enough, the museum has also received a pledge of a future specimen belonging to homo sapiens.

I say kudos to the fellow game enough to donate his prick and balls upon his death in order to complete the exhibit!

Not to be outdone, even India has a museum aimed to disgust. True to its name, Sulabh International Museum of Toilets in New Delhi showcases all things, well, toilet.

It traces the history of the toilet from 3000 BC and offers fun facts (Louis XIV purportedly used to relieve himself while holding court), examines toilet customs from around the world, and toilets in relation to arts and literature, from poems to chamber pots, apparently.

And as recent as November 2007, Sulabh created doors and window planks made of human faeces and put them on display at the Lisson Art Gallery of London. I can understand cowdung (as cooking fuel), but human excreta as doors? Urgggh!

In the realm of mass nude photography, there is Spencer Tunick, from Brooklyn, New York, who has become famous for photographing thousands of naked people in public settings worldwide.

Calling himself a contemporary artist, Tunick set a record for naked photography with a photo of 18,000 people in the buff in Mexico City on May 6, 2007.

And just a week back, a Sydney art gallery was forced to suspend an exhibition featuring nude pictures of pre-pubescent boys and girls by photographer Bill Henson. Henson himself is now facing possible obscenity prosecution.

Whilst the art community in Australia defended his action, calling his public censure a blow to "artistic expressions", Australians in general strongly condemned what they saw as child pornography, with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd calling the photos "revolting."

Hoi polloi that I am, unschooled in the 'finer points of art appreciation' unlike Bill Henson and his arty-farty bunch, I certainly feel this is the kind of "art" we can darn well do without.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Songsang Way To Heaven

It is amazing how gullible some people can be when common sense tells us to always exercise caution. Put it down to naivety or foolishness, or sometimes, plain greed.

Otherwise, how else can you explain being taken in by stories e-mailed to you, almost always from an impoverished African country or another, about some 'filthy rich' sods naming you heir to their 'millions'?

You sit there drooling about the millions purportedly coming your way, oblivious to the fact that you are required to deposit your own money in a foreign bank account somewhere to 'process' this new-found wealth of yours.

And then there is the matter of religion. I have always thought that with the kind of religious instructions drummed into us since childhood, we would have acquired an in-built resistance towards any ajaran songsang (deviant teachings).

But I guess I underestimated the gullibility of some among us. All it takes is one person's charisma, and lo and behold, another cult takes root, garnering new disciples ready to embrace anything new, different and I suppose, exciting.

Remember Ayah Pin and his 'Sky Kingdom' cult? Tagged the "Teapot Cult" to the bemusement of the world for its central objects of veneration such as gigantic teapot, kettle, ark, umbrella, crescent moon, vase etc, this deviant sect in Besut, Terengganu, provided endless fodder for readers until it was suppressed by the authorities in 2005.

Today Harian Metro highlighted yet another cult, Pemuda Kahfi, allegedly active in the Klang Valley. Their modus operandi is covert preaching car-to-car in parking lots of shopping complexes, mosques and hotels.

The report said Pemuda Kahfi advocates only one daily prayer as opposed to Islam's requirement of five. The weekly Friday prayer is also deemed frivolous and unnecessary.

But I believe the icing on the Kahfi cake is that you can literally pay your way to Heaven. All you have to do is make a certain amount of payment to your Tok Guru (religious teacher) and all your past sins will be absolved. That certainly takes bribery to a new high!

Islam teaches us that God Almighty is Most Compassionate and that we pray to Him for forgiveness and mercy. The prayer, by the way, is FOC. Now, if you can do it for free but choose to pay for it - that's not very clever, innit?

Monday, May 26, 2008

It's Never Too Late To Dream

It is no mean feat by any measure, journeying alone some 9,000 kilometres on a bicycle across international borders, and banking on the kindness of strangers along the way.

What makes it even more awe-inspiring is the fact that the spunky rider is not your average young man but a 66 year-old retiree, albeit a courageous one.

Former teacher Mohamed Adnan Osman of Petaling Jaya leaves today for Beijing, planning to arrive within 80 days, in time for the opening of the Olympics.

His solo trek is expected to take him though Bangkok and Nakhon Ratchasima in Thailand, onwards to Vientianne in Laos and Hanoi in Vietnam, and crossing into China at the border town of Dong Dang, from where he estimates one and a half months of cycling to reach Beijing.

Some people probably see nothing extraordinary in what Adnan is trying to achieve. I can almost hear them pooh-poohing, "What's so great about spending 80 days on a bicycle from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing when many others have done more perilous things, like scaling the Everest or crossing the Sahara or the Gobi alone on foot? "

Well and true. But how many of us (the ones well past retirement age, I mean) actually leave the comfort of our home and hearth to take up a similar challenge just to achieve a dream?

In our youth we harboured many dreams. We may have achieved some but many others got derailed for a variety of reasons; got married too young, had children too soon, earned just enough to raise a growing family, too busy climbing the corporate ladder to succumb to such 'frivolity', the list goes on.

By the time we have the time (and the means), decades would have passed, our youth would be gone, our vitality and zest diminished. Complacency sets in and those dreams no longer loom large in our lives.

We are content just to potter in the garden, join fellow retirees in tai-chi classes and morning walks, play with the grandchildren, go for religious classes, perhap do our bit for charity when the occasion calls for it.

But, those dreams did not disappear. They just lie low, coming up for air every now and then to nudge our subconscious and set us on the road of wishful thinking, and of rue and regret.

That is why I admire Mohamed Adnan. He listens to his inner voice to hit the road before it is too late. Good luck and God bless, pak, may you have a wonderful and safe journey.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

"So, What Is The Because?"

A good friend of mine, Bing, once regaled us with this amusing story concerning one of his junior staff who, in wanting to know the reason for something, innocently asked: "So, what is the because?"

And then there was 26 year-old Nurul, an ex-colleague, who wrote in big bold letters "Nurul's Belong" on a notepad, with an arrow pointing to a stack of items belonging to her.

In the course of my work as a journalist and later as a public relations practitioner, I have had to contend with young colleagues to whom English is incomprehensibly difficult.

Reading their raw copy brings tears to your eyes. Tears of frustration, that is. The fact that so many are completely at sea where English is concerned is truly disheartening.

Yet they are not to be blamed for this sorry state of affairs. This is a classic example of the sins of the father being visited upon the son.

The fault lies squarely at the door of the Education Ministry for its ever-changing education policy, pandering to the whims of groups and parties (political or otherwise) with their own selfish, and sometimes misguided, agendas.

It's the younger generations who are paying the price of this constant politicking. Their English deficiency is now putting them at a disadvantage, at a time when English has evolved into THE international lingua franca for communication and business.

Education Minister Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Hussein recently said the government would decide by year end whether it would continue with the five-year-old policy of teaching Mathematics and Science in English.

I note with interest the thoughts penned by my dear friend and fellow scribe, New Straits Times columnist Zainul Ariffin, who came out in full support of the policy, and then some (NST, May 21, 2008).

Says Zainul: "Doing multiplications and divisions may not be the best of ways, but the more exposure to English the better. No matter if it is via Treasure Island, algebra or photosynthesis. We are not looking for experts in the language, but in producing people who are comfortable with it."

Not only he suggested the policy should remain, Zainul even advocated the return of English schools as an alternative to national schools. I couldn't agree more.

I say bring back Sekolah Rendah Inggeris and Sekolah Menengah Inggeris. If we can have vernacular schools where Chinese and Tamil are the medium of instruction, why not English schools? What have we got to lose?

Bahasa Malaysia is the acknowledged national language and will remain the unifying factor of our multi-racial community but English is still a major determinant of our economic potential. That's reality.

I hope nobody is going to give me that "unpatriotic" spiel. What is unpatriotic is when we deprive our children of something that can give them a competitive edge in a world where English rules in the communication of ideas, knowledge and commerce.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

What a Load of Codswallop!

Of all the ridiculous craps that jumped out of yesterday's newspaper headlines (and there were a few to begin with), it had to be the silly comment about school uniforms worn by girls at government schools.

Munirah Bahari, vice-president of National Islamic Students' Association of Malaysia (NISAM), was quoted as saying those white blouses (worn with pinafores) and kurungs were sexy and could encourage rape and pre-marital sex.

She added that some girls purposely wore transparent white blouses as "tools to lure men", and called for a review of the uniform policy so that it did not violate Islamic ideals.

Come again? Let's not make public statements that could open ourselves to ridicule, shall we? With all due respect, Ms Munirah is talking bollocks; it is this kind of myopic view that makes Islam look as kolot (dated) as her thinking.

I agree wholeheartedly with Women's Aid Organisation executive director Ivy Josiah's response that what was needed was "a review of misguided beliefs about women's attire," not a review of the uniform policy as called upon by Ms Myopia.

There is nothing wrong with the school uniforms. The fabric is cotton, which is ideal for the tropics. Many girls also wear camisoles underneath their blouses or kurungs. And if some do wear transparent blouses, there is that apron-like pinafore to provide a decent cover.

Lest Ms Myopia forgets, rape happens to all women - young, old, tudung-clad, miniskirted, even infants in diapers - and pre-marital sex has nothing to do with sheer blouses.. sheer, unbridled lust, perhaps.

If NISAM is serious about upholding the modesty of Muslim women, I suggest they take a look closer home - at those tudung-clad Muslim girls studying in higher institutions, many of whom strutting about in skin-tight blouses and jeans, leaving nothing to imagination.

Go tell them not to insult their headcover by exposing their dada (chest) and kelengkang (groin). Tell them it doesn't do to tutup atas, bukak bawah (cover the top, expose the bottom); THAT's not Islamic.

Out On A Limb

The Internet connection here in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, KL, had been wonky since yesterday evening. We were Jaringless for 22 hours, and I only managed to reenter cyberspace minutes ago. What a relief.

A quick check with the Jaring hotline revealed some recurring problems with their transmitter in Damansara Uptown. Thankfully, the problems were rectified today.

Still, 22 hours is a lifetime in my line of work because I depend on the Net to communicate with my clients, especially in getting my written work perused, verified and approved.

And of course, not being able to pen my thoughts at will put me in a lousy mood for a while. The gloom lifted somewhat when my daughter Ann dropped by with yet another book.

She chanced upon Bill Bryson's Mother Tongue while idling in Borders bookstore at the Curve yesterday, and remembered my to-buy list. Thanks a million Ann for your thoughtfulness.

There is something to be said about people who can spend hours in shopping malls, bimbling happily away poking into every nook and cranny until they decide to go home.

I admire them for their tenacity and grit for I have neither the patience nor the spirit to traipse down shopping aisles without a clue as to where to go and what to buy.

Shopping has never been my scene. I look upon it as an unpleasant chore and one hour is just about the limit I can endure. Thankfully, Pak Abu shares my sentiment. He avoids shopping like a plague.

The children know better than to persuade me to go shopping with them. They have accepted the fact that I would rather mop the floor and clean the bathroom than wander aimlessly like a lost soul.

They shake their heads in disbelief knowing I would wait in my parked car until the doors of Jusco open at 10 am, then rush in with my grocery list, pull the necessary items from the shelves and hurry to the payment counter - an exercise that takes about half an hour at the most.

Visits to the bookstores take a little longer, perhaps a hour or so, for I do like to browse a bit. Then again, I usually go book shopping with titles already in mind. I have a prepared list (constantly updated, based on reviews) that I carry with me at all times.

I remember someone saying I was hopelessly regimented and needed loosening up. Perhaps. But life is comfortable enough as it is. If it ain't broke, why bother fixing it?

I am reminded of my dear (former) mother-in-law, now in her 80s who, in her younger days, could outclass anyone in shopping endurance. Her outings and bargaining skills were simply legendary.

I was her occasional shopping bag carrier those days, faithfully walking a step behind her for hours on end, silently bemoaning my fate, while she paid homage to all the shops the entire length of Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman.

When the kids had earned their driving licences, they too got roped in to be Tok's aides on such outings. But I have this sneaky feeling they loved it, because their Tok was generous to a fault.

Sadly, such shopping sprees are no more, for the formidable matriarch is now rather frail. Her outings are now limited to the occasional makan nights out with her large brood.

But I can bet my bottom dollar that the glint in her eyes is still there when this "shop-till-you-drop" devotee passes a shopping complex...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Nation of Whiners?

I think Malaysians, by and large, have become a bunch of whiners, constantly complaining and seemingly dissatisfied with everything and everyone. Some, in fact, are truly out-and-out ingrates to whom gratitude holds no meaning.

We bitch about our government and knock our leaders, wibble about our laws and regulations, crap our jobs and piss our pay, grumble about our public amenities and bemoan our standard of living.

It is truly beyond my ken that we chunter and whinge at the slightest discomfort, as though it is our God-given right to live life unimpeded and unhindered by problems and obstacles, and to have everything delivered to us on a silver platter.

We detest the overwhelming presence of foreign labour in our country, yet we abhor menial work. We think sweeping the supermarket floor and cleaning the public toilet is beneath us.

We feel crowded out when the children of our maids share hospital beds and classrooms with our own children as though the right to health and education is ours and ours alone.

But we certainly have no qualms about working those very same maids to the bone for a pittance so we can have a clean house and evenings out without having to worry about the kids' well-being.

We look down on these aliens so used to hardscrabble life, coming to our shores out of necessity not choice, conveniently forgetting that they are here cleaning our domestic mess and our kids' arses because they need to put food on their family table.

We think we are better and smarter than them in so many ways. We treat them as social discards, the harijans of our nation. Do you know what I think? I think we suck. Big time.

It is sad that far too many of us no longer have a single charitable bone in our body. We have sacrificed our human decency in pursuit of worldly wealth.

It's about time we take stock of our lives, spare a thought or two for the less fortunate, and count our blessings.

Monday Blues

I had everything planned for Monday, it being a public holiday; go for Thai massage at One Utama to relieve my neck pain, write a new blog on my dear friend Reverend Ti Ratana in celebration of Wesak Day, and start on a new book, A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah.

It wasn't to be. It was a busy Monday nonetheless, but not a very pleasant one; I was down with stomach flu and a slight migraine so early in the morning, and a client called for an urgent meeting in the afternoon.

And when it was time to leave for home, the car refused to start, again. That totally pissed me off because the battery had been replaced just two days earlier, when the original conked out on me.

The car is due for servicing, that much I know. Not only it says so on that little sticker on my windscreen, there is also a red light that blinks occasionally on the dashboard. I am sure it means money.

I had planned to get it done before going home to Dungun at the end of May to attend my niece's wedding. Looks like it's going to be sooner than expected (like today).

To wrap up a lousy day, my neck pain intensified, only to be upstaged by the other occasional (but still beloved) pain in the neck, who announced his resignation from UMNO. Oh dear!

PS: A belated Hari Wesak to all Buddhists, may there be peace and harmony among us.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Monkey Act

Every now and then someone who had read my blog would come up to me and say: "Why don't you do political commentary as well?"

Well, as a former journalist, I am on the ball with the current political scenario. I also have strong views about certain issues plaguing our country at the moment.

But I will refrain from jumping onto the "political blogging" bandwagon for one simple reason - I am put off by politicians in general.

No matter what their affiliation or where they belong in the political divide, more often than not they are just a bunch of self-serving scoundrels.

These are the people to whom truth is expandable, who are good at grandstanding and nothing much else, who make promises but do not fulfill them, and who hardly practise what they preach.

Their rudeness and crudeness are class acts, as amply demonstrated by their antics in the august House. Yang Berhormat they certainly are not. Yang Bahgal, perhaps.

I have more respect for the real baghals (donkeys and asses), not to mention the performing monkey with the organ grinder. Enough said.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Rain, Rain Go Away...

My beloved grandma, Puteri Habibah Megat Ibrahim

Pak Abu cast a worried look at the darkening sky and muttered under his breath: "Sheesh, I'm leaving for golf and it's going to rain!" I wisely kept my counsel; antagonising the man would serve no purpose.

Not many people know rain the way we, the older generation of East Coasters, do. What you have here in Klang Valley, spluttering in meagre spurts like cat pee, isn't rain. That's just one poor excuse of a water can spray for one's flowerbed.

Even in the East Coast, it no longer rains the way it used to be 30 or so years ago. Maybe the oft-quoted global warming has something to do with it.

In my childhood, banjir or air bah (both meaning floods) ruled from October to January, the official tengkujuh (monsoon) season.

For a month or so before the monsoon winds blew in, families would be stocking up food, mostly ikan bilis (anchovies), rice, soya sauce and cans of sardine. These would be our staple diet until the season ended.

And when the rain finally arrived, it would pour without mercy for days on end. Rivers and streams would swell, breaking their banks, inundating entire towns and villages.

Rescue operations would be launched for trapped villagers. They would be taken by police boats to balai raya (community halls) and school halls to wait out the ordeal.

All the while, thunder roared and bolts of lightning streaked across the darkened sky, their cacophony adding to the general feeling of gloom.

As roads disappeared under the deluge, perahus and sampans, and the occasional motorboats, became the mode of transport.

Offices and schools would close, with children welcoming the unscheduled, prolonged holidays by frolicking in the rain and rafting down the streets despite the obvious danger.

My grandmother, a committed social worker, would work tirelessly during these trying times, mobilising her Kaum Ibu members to cook and care for the flood victims.

Without fail, my school friends and I would be roped in as well, to collect and distribute old clothes and to carry out a multitude of other tasks.

In the evenings, dead tired from all the running around, we would sit silently together, listening to the monotonous rush of the waters, staring morosely into space and wishing we were somewhere else warmer and drier.

I am glad the devastating floods of yesterday are no more. The suffering and despair deeply etched on the faces of those simple kampung folks broke our young hearts.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

In The Spirit of Charity

One of the happiest, most satisfying times of my life happened, ironically enough, during the time I was grappling with severe financial difficulties.

The late 1990s was a very stressful period for small-time entrepreneurs like yours truly. I had been running a small public relations consultancy since 1990 and business had been good.

Then came the 1997 financial crunch. All of a sudden, jobs were hard to come by because clients weren't spending.

While money wasn't forthcoming, the kids were on the threshold of college and needed funds.

Making ends meet suddenly became a constant challenge. It didn't help that I was at that time a single mother raising four children on my own.

Still, at a time when I was battling so many personal woes, I found contentment and a deep sense of purpose in a way I could never have imagined.

It all started when a good friend, knowing my penchant for collecting strays, brought me into an NGO well-known for its commitment towards charitable work.

One of our most memorable projects focused on an estate school in rural Selangor where many children went to school on an empty stomach.

They couldn't afford canteen food either. And when they had to stay back for extra-curricular activities, they drank tap water to keep hunger pangs away. Needless to say, truancy was very high.

That such a situation still existed at this time and age left me shocked and angry. A concerned teacher wrote to us highlighting the issue, asking us to help any which way we could.

After many trips to the school to observe for ourselves the situation at hand, and following a series of meetings with the school PTA, we set out to raise funds to put our project in place.

International donors acted on our appeals and came to our aid, raising a substantial amount that enabled us to feed the entire school for one whole year. We also provided the school with a new library.

Truancy ceased and classes reported 100 percent attendance. At the end of that year, seven students achieved straight As in their UPSR exam, something unheard of in the school's 40-year history.

The children held a year-end concert for our benefit. We gave away prizes and presented the 'magnificent seven' (all girls!) with shiny new red bicycles. Our hearts swelled when they told us they wanted to study harder and go to university.

I remember vividly feeling choked with emotion when the kids garlanded us with yellow bunga malai. I remember thinking we didn't deserve the honour.

It was them who taught us the meaning of humility. They made better human beings out of us. We were honoured to have been given the opportunity to help them.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Mother's Day Mystery Gift

The other evening my daughter Ann (seen here having her 40 winks) dropped by after work to deliver a Mother's Day present, the book Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami, and to indulge in a bit of whining and harmless bitching about life in general.

Ever since the kids moved out to be on their own last November, they have taken to dropping by at any odd hour, sometimes to let off steam, occasionally just to lepak and raid the fridge (well, some things don't change).

They share an apartment in Bandar Utama and Ann, I was told, has taken over my role as the resident nag. She is doing a pretty good job at it too, siblings Joe and Awwa reported ruefully, clearly piqued at her newfound fervour.

Ann is a journalist, as her eldest sibling Naj, and they write for the same daily. Both have an inclination towards the written word since childhood, so it is natural that they opted for journalism as a career.

The children long ago learned they could never go wrong with books as gifts for Mom and they have been capitalising on this ever since.

As such, my presents hardly have any element of surprise in them because the kids usually would ask me first for the titles that I want. Not that I mind because getting free books is truly a joy and they are well aware of this.

(Pak Abu, if you are reading this, please be reminded that books as presents for me do not, under any circumstances, apply to you. Try a sparkler or two from Pak Habib's rock collection).

So Ann almost had a fit when she woke up one morning to see a beautifully wrapped Crabtree & Evelyn gift set, worth the price of at least six books, sitting pretty on the dining table of their apartment.

She summoned younger sister Awwa, pointed to the offending item and blubbered: "Is this present for Mak? Sapa bagi? How to lawan this kind of present? Tak aci la, this is expensive mah, I cannot afford!"

Of course Awwa, that other regular book-giver, hadn't a clue as well. And I heard she wasn't too happy either about being woken up from deep slumber, dragged out of bed just to contemplate the origin of that mysterious gift set.

I am glad to report all's well at the Bandar Utama front. The mystery was very short-lived and I have two absolutely charming ladies to thank for. To Ozlin and Kah Wai, colleagues of my son Joe:

"Thank you girls for such a lovely gift. You know you are always welcome to karaoke with Pak Abu and I at the Club. Any old time is good time for us. We truly enjoy your company and look forward to more of the same."

The Divine Touch

Yonks ago, when I was still in jahiliah mode, the greatest pleasure of my life was smoking and drinking. Life was one long pub crawl, smoking like a chimney, packing in three-and-a-half packs a day, and drinking like a fish.

God didn't figure very much in my scheme of things. Life was for the moment. I was footloose and fancy-free and the most important thing was having fun. Lots of fun. Nothing else mattered, until one balmy night......

Sprawled in a drunken slumber at the foot of my bed after yet another drinking binge, I somehow found myself in familiar territory - on a beach in Dungun. It was late evening and the sun was setting over the horizon.

There was acute pain in my heart, a feeling of unworthiness. As tears blurred my vision and waves of shame rolled over me, I waded into the sea to end my miserable life.

The water was reaching up to my nostrils when I was suddenly hoisted into the air by unseen hands and brought back to shore.

In the dim evening light, I saw a group of men, clad in flowing white robes, forming a circle around me. The men were faceless.

I woke up with a start, beads of sweat breaking over me. Even in my drunken stupor, the dream was so incredibly real that I could feel the swish of their robes against my skin.

It didn't take me long to realise the magnitude of what had just happened. The revelation cut like a knife. Slumped in a crumpled heap at the edge of my bed, I bawled like a child.

When I mull over the events of yesterday, I still feel a sense of remorse. There were times when I tried to rationalise how I got to veer so far off-course.

I was brought up with solid religious grounding, and was a faithful practitioner of my faith, until I was introduced to the city's bright lights.

That God is Compassionate and Merciful is beyond doubt. This scrap of humanity was pulled from the brink of self-destruction and potential divine wrath, and led back to the right path, in the nick of time. God truly IS Great.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

On The Outside Looking In

My sisters and I, still orang luor after all these years. From left: Hanizah, Me, Zaridah, Zanariah. Pix taken depan rumah mak in Dungun.

Hey orang luor, gi balek ah orang luor! (Hey outsider, go back from where you came!). The taunts flowed fast and furious and hit me like a ton of bricks each time.

I was seven, had just started school, and desperate to belong. But I didn't speak right (the Terengganu twang had yet to develop), didn't even eat right (breakfast was bread, not lempeng or pulut pagi), certainly not by the standard of Bukit Besi children of the '60s.

I was also taller than most boys my age, and to top it all, I could muster basic English, which qualified me as tunjuk ek (show-off) as well. Frankly, none of these were my deliberate doing.

Grandpa was an avid reader, subscribing to "Reader's Digest" and "Popular Mechanic", and I learned early to appreciate the beauty of the written word.

And so it was. For a long time I couldn't understand their resistance to my efforts at friendship. Orang luor? I was no outsider, you twit! I was Bukit Besi born and bred!

My grandma had a plausible explanation as to why they were reluctant to accept us as one of their own. It was territorial, she said. We were seen as interlopers.

Sadly for my family and a few others in the same predicament, we remained orang luor until the day the mine closed in the late '60s.

Bukit Besi, 22 miles into the interior from the seaside town of Dungun, was once a very important place, not only in Terengganu but also in the world. For three decades from the '30s to the '60s, Bukit Besi operated the world's largest open-cast iron mine.

It was then a cosmopolitan enclave where orang putih geologists (mostly Scandinavians, Australians and British) lorded over a coterie of local administrators (of which Grandpa was one), Malay mine workers and Chinese and Indian labourers.

There were many non-Terengganuese in that thriving community, people like my maternal grandparents and my own parents who left the comfort of their hometowns to make a better life for their respective families. They blended with the locals and stayed on, never to leave.

There were also many children like me, born and bred in Bukit Besi to such parents, comfortable in our identity as Orang 'Tranu even though at home we conversed in our parents' colloquial dialects (Kelantanese and Perakian, in my case).

I managed to master Terengganu-speak, hard "g" and all, in primary school, proudly proclaiming Jek Peleng (Jack Palance) and Jess Bong (James Bond) as my movie idols, much to the horror of my articulate Grandpa.

But acceptance was hard to come by. It was as though these kids had an in-built resistance to us local migrants. Once an outsider, always an outsider.

Of Condos and Coffins

There is no certainty in life except death and the sooner we wake up to this reality the better. As Muslims, ajal should always be at the forefront of our thoughts because no one, except God Almighty, is privy to the exact time when death comes a-calling.

Heaven forbid, I am not trying to be morbid, although I am certain some people are bound to feel queasy talking about the end of one's life journey.

My take on death is that we should not live in denial, but live in preparation of the inevitable, which of course brings me to this article about condos and coffins.

It has always been Pak Abu's wish to live in a condo when all the children have flown the coop. I concur with his wish simply because it means less living space to maintain and, with 24-hour security, at least safety is assured.

Towards the end of last year we started looking around for a suitable unit to purchase, one that is within our financial means and if possible, not too far from where we are now in Taman Tun Dr Ismail (TTDI), Kuala Lumpur.

I still remember the look on the property agent's face when Pak Abu told him to show us only condos where the lift is big enough to fit a coffin in. The young man's demeanour changed in an instant, from excited chatter to deathly quiet.

Poor Pak Abu had to explain that we didn't want to be caught in a bind should we pass on in our unit, only to experience the indignity of having our body propped upright on its last journey, no thanks to an inadequately-sized elevator. I can't help but shudder as I write this; the vision is too bizarre to contemplate.

Be that as it may, the helpful young man did find us an agreeable unit in a development within TTDI itself. Not only it is moderately-sized, the price is also friendly to Pak Abu's pensioner pocket. God willing, we should move in by June's end, but that's another story.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Wedding Song

It was, by any account, a very grand wedding. Held at an imposing, recently built five-star hotel, the guests of honour were a reigning monarch and his consort. Also in attendance were a former prime minister and his wife.

The guest list read like Who's Who in Malaysia - royalty and titled folks, industry captains and celebrities - the women dressed to the hilt in glittering rocks and baubles bigger than your average stone, the men in gold-threaded sampings that sparkled and shone in the evening light.

As Pak Abu and I negotiated our way through the throng to our table, we were greeted by many familiar faces, which wasn't a big surprise really, for the father of the bride is one of Pak Abu's regular golf buddies. In fact, it did seem like the entire golfing fraternity of the Club was present that evening.

The wedding's colour scheme was lavender, right down to the light refreshments and the floral decor on individual tables. The maids-in-waiting looked resplendent in their deep purple songket kebayas and kurungs, and the menu was an interesting mixture of East and West.

A band provided good music while a dance troupe put up a pretty decent show. Good-natured guffaws broke out when the wedding's "How We Met" video clip gave us a fleeting image of the bride's father three decades ago (when he still had a lot of hair!).

There I was, savouring the moment, when the newlyweds' theme song played. I may be a woman of today, but there is a small part of me still living in yesterday where sex (and anything remotely related to it) is taboo in polite company.

The way I see it, a traditional Malay wedding is as polite a company as one can get. Am I being prudish and old-fashioned? I make no apologies, but I flinched at the inappropriateness of the lyrics.

"Tonight I celebrate my love for you
It seems the natural thing to do
Tonight, no one's going to find us
We'll leave the world behind us
When I make love to you, tonight

Tonight I celebrate my love for you
And hope that you can feel that way too
Tonight our spirits will be climbin'
To a sky lit up with diamonds
When I make love to you, tonight

Tonight I celebrate my love for you
And the midnight sun is gonna come shining through
Tonight, there'll be no distance between us
What I want most of you
Is to get close to you, tonight

Tonight I celebrate my love for you
And soon this old world will seem brand new
Tonight, we will both discover
How friends turn into lovers
When I make love to you, tonight"

The Case For Apostasy

Earlier this week, the Penang Syariah High Court made a landmark decision allowing Muslim convert Siti Fatimah Tan Abdullah to renounce Islam for her original faith after her marriage to a Muslim floundered.

Hawker Tan Ean Huang converted in 1998 to marry an Iranian, Ferdaoun Ashanian, only to be abandoned by her husband three months into matrimony (let it be on record that we are not privy to the reason why).

Ashanian has since disappeared, whereabouts unknown, while Tan was left in limbo with regards her status as a wife and her faith as a saudara baru (newcomer to the faith).

By her own admission, Tan said she converted solely for the sake of marrying. She had never practised the teachings of her new faith and had maintained her Buddhist leanings, praying to deities like Tua Pek Kong, Kuan Yin and Thi Kong.

Now, I am just an ordinary Muslim woman, neither an ustazah nor someone with a deep knowledge of Islam. I have never studied in a religious school but have received adequate Islamic instructions from childhood to continue practising my faith.

I know and have read the Quran although I don't understand Arabic. And I try my level best to fulfill all my religious obligations. I am Muslim to the core and my faith, praise be to God, is unshakeable.

Therein lies the dilemma. My religious sensibility says we should take this 'sister' under our wings and try to lead her back. Common sense tells me it is best to let her go. In this instance, common sense prevails; justifiably so.

The Syariah High Court decision is to be lauded for it will prevent yet another case of 'body tussle' between the Religious Department and Tan's kin in the eventuality of her death. Coupled with the fact that public relations has never been the Department's strong point, it is the image of Islam that is always sullied when this sort of thing happens.

My sympathies are with Tan. I can only imagine her bewilderment, disappointment and even anger, becoming a Muslim under such tenuous circumstances - for the love of a man - only to have that love betrayed.

A Muslim man is duty-bound to lead his family. His role as a khalifah (leader) should never be compromised. It is his responsibility to guide his wife and children on to the right path. It is a heavy burden to bear, no doubt, but he doesn't have any option. It is God's decree.

Ashanian has failed. Miserably. What a shame.

Sadly enough, this is nothing new. I have seen similar situations far too often. The ones I personally know concern mostly orang putih wives, who get on with their lifestyles with nary a thought about Islamic demands and norms because their Muslim husbands themselves trivialise Islam.

Becoming a Muslim is more than just mouthing the Syahadah, proclaiming "There is no god but God and Muhammad is the Messanger of God." Islam is a way of life, a package deal. You either embrace it totally, or leave it at your own peril. Picking and choosing God's decree to suit your own taste is not an option in Islam.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Last Meow

All my life I was surrounded by a variety of domestic animals. As far back as I could remember, there were cats aplenty in and around our house in the iron mining community of Bukit Besi, Terengganu.

Apart from our own pets, countless neighbourhood strays would also saunter in at any time of the day to steal a meal or two.

My late Grandma, bless her soul, would ensure that aluminium plates laden with rice and flaked boiled fish were placed at strategic locations, so these felines had enough to eat. My task was to conduct daily inspection of the plates, and to top up the feed where necessary.

It goes without saying that my grandparents loved animals and spared no efforts in ensuring their comfort and safety. Eventually, our humble abode became a focal point for the dumping of unwanted newborn kittens.

Every now and then miserable-looking furballs would mysteriously appear on our doorsteps, and Grandma would uncomplainingly take them all under her wing.

Grandpa retired from the mines when I was in my early teens and we relocated to the seaside town of Dungun, some 22 miles away. It was here that Grandma expanded our menagerie to include chicken, ducks, goats, geese and pigeons.

It became an established routine for me to hustle the animals to their respective coops and pens every evening before giving them their last feed for the day.

The goats would follow me around when I came back from school, hoping to be fed with delectable young shoots. The older ones would be somewhat hesitant but the kids would frolic with joyful abandon. And one thing I know, goats have such expressive eyes and lovely lashes.

The geese were not so friendly though; they headbutted anyone who came close (hmm, they must have been from Glasgow!). They had attitude, those geese, but they scared me not. All it took was a light tap on the beak, and they would go squawking in all directions.

As a young wife and mother, my house was refuge to no less than two dozen cats at any one time. The children would collect strays, bathe and feed them, and generally lavish affection on them without reservation.

Living in the city has its limitations. I would have loved to keep a goat or two, or even a cow. I have always fancied having a cow named Daisy. The best we could do, however, was to have rabbits, hamsters and the occasional goldfish.

The children are now grown and gone. They are living their own lives and we see each other only on weekends and special occasions.

The number of pets in my house has also dwindled to just two cantankerous felines (three, says acerbic Pak Abu, if you count in the writer).

Come June, Pak Abu and I would be moving into a condo nearby. We bought this condo early this year in anticipation of the children's eventual departure from the roost.

When that happens, the two overly manja cats would have to be placed in SPCA for adoption and it will be the first time since I was born that I do not have any pet in the house.

Frankly, I don't relish the idea of not having a feline companion. Who is going to listen to my monologue bitching?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Holey Moley!

Pak Abu is in love, and it shows. They are inseparable, like a couple of newlyweds. I watched silently as he lovingly enveloped her in an affectionate embrace every morning. I even caught him tenderly caressing her once, lost in his object of desire.

The rational woman in me whispered to leave them well alone. For whatever it is worth, I am still head over heels with that old "Fuzzy Face", so I have decided to turn a blind eye to his shenanigans. Go ahead, flaunt her for all I care.

I know I am at the losing end but what am I to do? Not when my competitor is a recenty acquired flaming red, come-hither golf set!

Now I fully understand how the term "golf widow" came to be. The long-suffering wife of a golf addict is indeed a widow, because more often than not, her man becomes alive only when he takes that first swing of the day.

Pak Abu and his craze for golf is nothing new. It started a decade ago and has not abated. Now that he has reached the Warga Mas status with more time for leisure than ever before, he spends his days on the course with a group of like-minded friends besotted with the game as he is.

They say if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. I tried. Heaven knows how much I tried, to the point of desperation, in fact. I took lessons from a pro; I trudged to the driving range to practice my swings. But I have one thing not in my favour. It's the blinking sun.

Prolonged exposure to the sun gives me excruciating migraine that lasts for days. And golf is not a game that can be neatly wrapped up in an hour. Be that as it may, Pak Abu has given up hope of ever having me play alongside him. Not that he rue the fact, I think.

I learned a lot, being married to an avid golfer. I learned to nod sagely and make the appropriate sounds as he launched into yet another yarn from the fairway. I learned to pepper my conversations with choice golf terms, as though I am only three rungs down from Lorena Ochoa.

I learned to dip into my 'reservoir of sympathy' when Pak Abu had a bad run, and heaped on the praises when he was on a winning streak. By jove, the Romans would find me wanting when I lent my ears to Pak Abu's golf-scapades.

Most of all, I learn to appreciate the game. I admire Pak Abu and his iron-wielding gang. It takes a lot to spend four to five hours under the blazing sun every day, hitting small white balls into distant holes... and enjoying every minute of it.

If that is not dedikasi, I don't know what is.

Cikgu Oh Cikgu

I am reminded of the many teachers who have, over the years, contributed to the education of ME. A few I remember with fondness for they were not merely teachers, but also mentors.

Some I remember only fleetingly for they did not make any big impact on my life. They came, they taught, and they went. One in particular I remember with bitterness and distaste, even after all these years, for she killed the learning spirit in me.

There was Cikgu Mustafa who taught Malay Literature. He brought Sastera, difficult to navigate in the best of times, to life. He prodded and cajoled us, literature novices all, into appreciating a subject quite beyond our grasp. The good cikgu is today a leading Opposition MP!

There was Mr Ooi, the diminutive, guitar-strumming History teacher cum Scout Master who shared my passion for singing. Many a times we took to the stage together, with him accompanying me on his guitar.

On one memorable occasion, we performed "Puff The Magic Dragon" during a school concert, only to earn a visit from some local cops concerned that teacher and student might be potheads under the influence of some hallucinogenic substance.

And then there was the repugnant Miss H. I have never met a teacher quite like her and I wouldn't wish her on my greatest enemy. I have often wondered how a person with such an unpleasant disposition got to be a teacher in the first place.

She had a permanent scowl and a tendency to shriek like a banshee. And to my utter dismay, she consistently picked on me because I took longer than anyone else to understand Chemistry, the subject that she taught.

I developed an intense dislike for Chemistry because of her. My stomach churned and my mind went into instant paralysis each time her hour approached. Her hissing and yelling rendered me completely useless in the science lab. And it got so bad that I even forgot the formulas I already knew.

"How did you get to be sooo stupid????" she screeched, poking her finger at my forehead. Her derisive comments chipped away at my self-confidence.

Tilting the scale at the other end was Cik Jawhariah who was so wonderful that the mere thought of her filled my heart with warmth. Her gentle demeanour, her ever-ready smile and her general friendliness made me feel I was worth something.

She taught English, which was my favourite subject, and she made every effort to keep my interest going by lending me her own books to read. She wrote me encouraging notes and kept my journalistic ambition alive by saying she believed in me.

Cik Jawhariah opened her heart to an impressionable young girl with a big dream. More importantly, she was instrumental in restoring the girl's shaky faith in teachers.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Glasgow Handshake, Anyone?

I love English, that goes without saying. I love the versatility of the language. Don't get me wrong. Anglophile I am not, it's the language I admire, not the culture or the lifestyle.

And just in case you are wondering, I am equally adept at Bahasa Melayu although I do get irritated with the current tendency to adopt English words when there exist words in BM that can do the job just as well, if not better.

Why use 'fleksibel' when there is anjal? Why 'impak' when there is keberkesanan? As a trained translator, I used to cross swords with advertising clients who insisted on using 'bastardised" (for want of a better word) terms in their copy. Their rationale? It makes the text look 'Malaysian" and not too 'Melayu', as though there is a negative connotation with the latter. Hogwash, I say.

Anyway, one of the fine things about English is that it is constantly evolving, with some phrases in use for a short season or period before retreating into obscurity, while others are adopted into mainstream language. This has resulted in the creation of a rich heritage of axioms.

I recently came across a newspaper article written by language expert Ellen Whyte on this subject, where she highlighted some words that reflect associations with specific towns or countries. Let's go on a tour...

Sent to Coventry (to be ostracised or shunned, often as a punishment): Dating from 1765, the origin of this phrase is hotly disputed. Some say it comes from a military prison that once stood in the English city of Coventry. Others think that criminals fled there because the town was beyond the jurisdiction of a team of London-based crime investigators called the Bow Street Runners.

Shanghaied (to be tricked into doing something you don't like): This phrase entered the dictionary around 1871 and is said to have come from even earlier times when ship captains in the West recruited crews for long, dangerous trips to the Orient by getting men drunk, or drugging them, and then forcing them on board.

Bangalored (to be laid off because your company is outsourcing your job to a country where wages are cheaper): This 21st century phrase has its origin in the rise of Bangalore, the Silicon Valley of India, which started numerous call centres, computer coding services, and other business facilities for multinationals.

Glasgow handshake (a head butt): Apparently, many fights in Scotland start with a head butt. Tongue-in-cheek theories state that this is a favoured move because it allows you to fight while hanging on to your beer/whiskey!

Indian summer: An Indian summer has both literal and figurative meanings. Literally it means an extended period of warm weather into late autumn or even early winter. Figuratively it refers to a happy period at the end of a life. While its origin is disputed, some camps ascribe it to the (old) American Indian habit of running raiding parties in the summer.

Going Dutch (to divide the cost of something): In the Netherlands, people often pay separately, even when dating. While feminists hold that this is part of gender equality, some see this as an example of stinginess that particularly characterises the Dutch!

Laconic (terse, succinct or short): In ancient times, the Spartans (who lived in the Greek province of Laconia), were as famous for their frugality as they were for their military skill. So many myths tell of the Laconian economy of words that the eponym has become part of the English language.

Example: The great soldier and conqueror Phillip II wrote to the Spartans, saying, "If I win this war, you will be slaves forever." The laconic reply was, "If."

That's word economy for you. If only those YBs with un-Parliamentary behaviour can be just as economical.

The Global Village

The illustration below, from Dr Philip Harter of Stanford University's School of Medicine, is now widely quoted. He says if we could shrink the earth's population to a village of precisely 100 people, with all the existing human ratios remaining the same, it would look something like the following.

There would be:

  • 57 Asians, 21 Europeans
  • 14 from the Western Hemisphere, both north and south
  • 8 would be Africans
  • 52 would be female, 48 male
  • 30 would be white, 70 non-white
  • 70 would be non-Christian, 30 Christian
  • 89 would be heterosexual, 11 homosexual
  • 6 would possess the entire world's wealth and all 6 would be from USA
  • 80 would live in substandard housing
  • 70 would be unable to read, 50 would suffer from malnutrition
  • one would be near death, one would be near birth
  • one (yes, only one) would have a college education; and
  • one (yes, only one) would own a computer.

Looking at the statistics, we can safely say that we haven't quite arrived. It is a cause for concern when illiteracy and malnutrition are still rampant at this time and age. And the disparity between the haves and the have-nots is one big gaping chasm that seems impossible to bridge..

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

A "Fishy" Tale

Now that the kids have moved out to be on their own, Pak Abu and I have established some sort of a family tradition, that we gather once a month for a family makan.

Despite having the whole house to ourselves, and not having to pick up after anyone anymore (picking up after Pak Abu doesn't count) I must admit I do occasionally get that "empty nest" feel. Thus the monthly makan is a welcome salve.

More often than not, we stick to the Club because of the ambience. It is also centrally located, thus convenient for all, with the kids converging from their respective offices in the city. The Chinese and Japanese outlets are family favourites, as the the smoker-friendly, open-air coffee house by the poolside.

Pak Abu is great at ordering food, being the foodie that he is, and we were always glad to rely on his expertise. One time however, he was late in arriving and I had to do the honours. As it were, I am never good with picking out food, especially if the menu is 100-item long.

Actually, the less said about my peculiarities the better. My sense of direction sucks; I could have visited a place countless times and still lose my way each time, just as I can easily get confused over a lengthy menu. The confusion doubles if the menu reads like a French manual for a washing machine.

Well, to cut a long story short, we had a very satisfying six-course meal. The dishes were really delicious, the steamed fish even more so, and I was all smiles, ready to receive a pat on the back for being such a wonderful hostess, when the bill came.

Did I tell you I was all smiles? Well, the smile evolved into a frown and progressively mutated into a look of horror. The steamed fish alone came to a whopping two hundred ringgit! While I sat there spluttering, dear Pak Abu came to the rescue, gracefully signing the bill and wrapping up the evening.

I was to learn later that the fish, popularly known as "Sultan Fish" or "Ikan Hantu" - was one of the most expensive items on the menu. Small wonder it tasted so heavenly! One thing for sure, I swear I will not do the ordering in a Chinese restaurant ever again.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Lobster Meal

Lobster is hideously expensive and so bourgeois, so please forgive me when I said I had been craving for a lobster meal for months (and shamelessly hounding Pak Abu for a treat for just as long). Not that Pak Abu minded taking his wife out for fine dining once in a blue moon, that much I know.

My youngest sister Liza lives in the USA and spent many years working in Rhode Island, where lobsters are plentiful. My mother went to visit her some years ago and returned with tales of succulent lobster meals for days on end. How I envied her then, considering how pricey lobsters are in Malaysia, especially the air-flown variety.

The truth is, the last time I ate lobster was in the 1980s, just before the roof caved in on my head (the big "D", for the uninitiated). After that, life was a roller-coaster ride all the way and there was neither time nor money to splurge on lobsters.

Last Saturday Pak Abu and I made our way to Eden at Chulan Square so I could indulge in my craving for Lobster Thermidor. It had been four years since we last patronise Eden that we didn't even know it had moved to a new location. Luckily, the new place is just across the road from the old one.

The 'new' Eden is considerably smaller but definitely cosier than the 'old' Eden. The standard remains impeccable, the staff just as courteous. Suffice to say, it was a pleasant evening out for us fuddy-duddies. Although the bill wasn't high enough to leave me choked and strangled, I think it would be quite a while before I dare crave for another lobster meal.

Song Sung Blue

I am not a TV fan, preferring instead to read. Having said that, there is however one programme that has managed to lure me away from my books each time it is aired.

Yes, we are talking "American Idol", that reality show giving singing hopefuls a shot at stardom and pots of money that goes with it. Maybe because I too enjoy singing, although I know my voice is definitely not good enough to make a career out of it.

I missed out on the first two seasons, though, and I can't even remember why I wasn't paying attention. But from season three onwards, I was right there on the front row gawking and making the usual comments that all armchair critics do.

I like Simon and his caustic tongue; he's spot on, as always. Paula? She seems zonked out half the time and she comments to please. Randy "The Dawg" is the one providing a balance between the two judges and he's neat.

We have seen a procession of 'Idols' - some good (read Carrie Underwood, Fantasia Barino), some not so good ("Soul Patrol" Taylor Hicks is a real hick from the boondocks, sorry). We have also seen astounding achievements by those who made it without even winning the title; Clay Aitken, Chris Daughtry, Kelly Pickler, to name but a few.

The current season is coming to a close and I think it will be a battle between the two Davids (Archuleta and Cook) in the final. My money is on cutiepie Archuleta to grab the crown although versatile Cook is more deserving of the two. Archuleta is a package deal (wholesome good looks, great voice, the kind that tugs at 'auntie's heartstring) while Cook's rough rocker edge is in a class of his own.

How I wish Akademi Fantasia has that "something" extra to offer. It is blander than tap water....

Saturday, May 3, 2008

What's In A Name?

The naming of a newborn baby, especially if he or she is the parents' firstborn or the grandparents' first grandchild, is always a hassle. Each new mom or dad has her or his own favourite name to begin with.

Then there is this unwritten "obligation" that the grandparents should be given a say, or that the name/names of paternal/maternal grandmas/grandpas be incorporated into that of the poor, yet-unnamed child.

Muslims usually opt for established Arabic names; those with "good" meanings such as Najmi (the light of my life), Tariq (the star of dawn), Hasna (the beautiful one), or Sarah (the name of Prophet Abraham's wife), to quote but a few.

They say hope springs eternal and that all parents live in hope. No one can tell if Najmi, that light of his parents' life, might just turn out to be their cross to bear, or that Tariq, the proclaimed star of dawn, eventually becomes the most difficult member of the family to be awakened for dawn prayers (if fact, he may well arrive home from all-night-partying at the break of dawn!)

Some parents, especially modern ones, have departed from this traditional mould by naming their offsprings after celebrities or anything at all that takes their fancy. For example, at the height of gymnast Nadia Commaneci's popularity, many little girls were named after her.

During my childhood, my mother had two friends who were sisters. Their names? Sharifah London and Sharifah Azzah Apple. As a child, it was beyond me as to why these two lovely ladies had such strange, unorthodox names. I later learned that their father had become anglocised after spending years in the UK.

Personally, I had stuck to tradition in naming my children. All four bear Arabic names, with lovely meanings, although the "Star of The Faith" is now not exactly a beacon of piety and Miss "Perfection" definitely is eons away from Utopia...

Viva la Kuantan!

The year was 1980 and the place was Kuantan, Pahang. On one hand, I was a young mother with three children aged 5, 3 and 1. On the other, I was a very hassled writer with deadlines to meet and editors to please.

The man of the house was hardly home for his job took him to the length and breadth of Pahang for long periods at any one time. I was thus mom and dad all at once, indulgent yet strict, a disciplinarian with a heart (I suppose).

Life moved at a much slower pace then, especially in a laidback place like Kuantan where the only excitement was chancing upon some naked tourists making out amongst the boulders at Teluk Chempedak.

Kuantan was just a provincial town with a wide expanse of empty land, a few housing estates, plenty of quaint kampung houses, villages on the suburbs, long sandy beaches in Beserah and Cherating, the RMAF base where all the handsome young fliers could be found, and weekend markets near Gambang.

Kuantan was a million miles away from West Hampstead, my previous abode prior to coming home. The 'Tube', the watering holes on Fleet Street, the jazzy & snazzy Carnaby Street, the hustle & bustle of Edgeware Road and Victoria Station - in Kuantan it felt as though London was just a pleasant dream.

Kuantan in 1980 was something else altogether. It was neither dead nor alive. It was breathing, but only just. Back in KL some time later I thought I would not survive another Kuantan.

Not so long ago I took a trip down memory lane when my husband joined his buddies for a round of golf in Pekan. I took the opportunity to wander around my old neighbourhood.

How Kuantan has grown! There were development everywhere. It took us a few missed junctions to locate my old house just behind the MARA Junior Science College. The college's water tower where my family and I had spied a strange "being" one Maghrib, sitting atop the tower with its legs dangling to the ground, is no more.

Teluk Chempedak has changed beyond belief. It is so commercialised now. There is even a McDonald drive-in smack by the seaside! In fact, it looks no different from Port Dickson's seafront. The character of Teluk Chempedak is lost forever. What a shame.

But some things remain the same, thank heavens for that. The golf course by the sea is still there and it looks much better than it ever was. "Beverly Hills" of Kuantan still looks as posh, with lots of new villas belonging to royalty and the rich and famous, I reckon.

With the new East Coast Highway, reaching Kuantan is a breeze - a mere 3-hour drive away. It is no longer the sleepy hollow it used to be. I can live in new Kuantan, I think.....

Kid, We Miss You

The guy at the karaoke lounge took the mic and sang "Truly", and my tears flowed. It was an inappropriate end to a karaoke outing, I know, but I just couldn't help myself. I don't usually cry during karaoke sessions, that's for sure, but last night felt different, somehow. Suddenly I felt a presence within me.

My dear friend Syed Zahir, whom I looked upon as a kid brother more than just a friend, passed away a month back in a horrendous road accident somewhere up North. His young life was snuffed instantaneously one rainy afternoon when his car spun and slammed into a metal road divider near Bandar Baru Kulim.

Syed, or Cisco, as he styled himself, loved karaokeing. He sang well too, albeit with a thick Northern slang, being the Kedahan that he was. One of his favourite numbers was Lionel Ritchie's "Truly". It was a joy to hear him sing for he did it with feeling. As was his habit, he would mispronounce the same words time and again, but he couldn't care less.

Maybe I'm just an emotional old fool but some songs touch me so. There was a time when I couldn't muster the lyrics of "Terlalu Istimewa" by Adibah Noor because I kept choking up. Each time I tried to sing it, my tears would well up.

Even now, when I could keep my emotion in check while singing this number, I still feel the occasional twinge of sadness. Can't help it, really. After all, "Terlalu Istimewa" is a mother's lament of a child taken by God at a tender age.

On the other hand, "Baby Baby Don't Get Hooked On Me" is one of those tunes that take me down memory lane. I was 19 and in love, and he dumped me for another girl....