Sunday, June 29, 2008

As Moving Day Nears...

Today is our last day in this house. By this time tomorrow, the movers would be here to cart our barang-barang (items) to the new place.

I have never lived in a condo before and I am viewing this move with trepidation. It was Pak Abu who decided on this condo-living business. As usual, I concur with whatever he says.

I have nothing against condos. It's just that I have never lived in a highrise before, save for staying in hotels. And I am so used to feeling the earth under my feet every morning.

Thankfully, I am not acrophobic, otherwise condo-living would not be an option. The certainty is that I know I will adjust, there's no question about it.

At this moment, my house is looking like a tongkang pecah (a sailing junk shattered to smithereens), with my precious books piled up on the floor and packing boxes all over the place.

If there is anything positive to be said about this move, I must say it's like the beginning of a new life altogether.

We are not taking a single stick of the furniture - all are given away to relatives - and we are bringing only the bare minimum, things that matter from our viewpoint.

They include books and magazines, clothes and other personal effects, our laptops and printer, Pak Abu's golf sets, some kitchenware, my precious decorative plates and a couple of paintings. That's about it.

Somehow we feel the need to unclutter our lives. We no longer want to be encumbered with too many unnecessary things.

I know I can live without all these junks that we have accumulated over the years. Difficult as it may be, there is no room for sentimentality this time around.

Of the two cats, the one named Phi Phi walked out on us a week ago. I grieve for him, I think he knew we were leaving and he left before we did.

The other is still at home. Pak Abu will have to bring her to the SPCA soon, as he did with the rest. I do not have the heart to do it.

She sits by me each time I write, head lolling, inching closer and closer to the laptop in search of a familiar pat. And I am going to miss that tremendously. Enough said.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

She's No Auntie!

Not so long ago I witnessed an amusing episode involving a rather thick waiter and a 60-something "glamour puss' wife of a golf club member.

The stylo-mylo madame, in tight pants and high heels, with hair bleached blond and red talons worthy of an Arabian falcon, was having a drink with a couple of lady friends when this waiter-boy walked by.

She dramatically clicked her fingers for attention and lo and behold, the nervous waiter (he must be new) turned around and innocently asked; "Yes Auntie?"

You could hear a pin drop. Flaming red lips quivering and eyes shooting daggers at the hapless boy, she hissed, "Apa auntie auntie??? Panggil Puan tau!" (loose translation: "Auntie my foot! Call me Madam!")

As the poor boy slunk away, I heard sniggers and guffaws from fellow members seated at nearby tables. I wasn't sure if it was in sympathy with the waiter or with our glamour girl.

I remember thinking the club management should be taken to task for such faux pas. Serving staff should be taught how to address members and guests properly because some people are such sticklers.

It doesn't do to address these folks with simplistic honorifics, especially if they are titleholders like Tan Sri or Datuk, or members of royalty like Tengku and such. You are just putting your head in a loop for not observing decorum.

Me, I don't care two hoots if they call me Auntie or even Mak Cik (Aunt). In fact, the whole lot of them call me Kak (Sis), which makes me feel odd because almost all of them are young enough to be my children.

However, they address Pak Abu with the honorific Encik (Sir) although one of the (former) waitresses whom we regarded with affection, used to call him Abah (Dad) in jest.

I am not easily offended by trivial things. I like those kids, by the way, and some of them are far away from home. One thing they know, I don't suffer fools gladly and that is enough to keep them on their toes.

Growing Old (Dis)gracefully

Let's face it, we will all be old someday - in fact, some of us have already 'arrived' - so the sooner we accept that fact the better.

Generally speaking, women are not afraid of growing old, they just don't want to look it, as opposed to many men, who are afraid of growing old and looking it.

I think men are afraid of ageing because it affects their sexuality. Performance is key to their existence and nobody looks forward to a 'soft' life, as it were.

Women sometimes go to extremes in the name of vanity. I know of a "tai tai", the wife of a local tycoon, who went for a face lift in Hong Kong and came back looking worse (to my eyes, that is) than her 'old' self.

While her new face looked stretched and pinched with not a wrinkle in sight, her beautiful doe eyes actually lost their shape, becoming mere slits with an upward tilt at both corners.

I couldn't help noticing how the face didn't gel with her wrinkled hands. Those hands were the real deal; I was aware of the family's rise to fame and fortune from a hardscrabble life.

Why oh why must she submit herself to the trauma of plastic surgery in order to look younger, I don't know, because looking younger doesn't necessarily mean looking better.

Do you know what is worse than an old woman with a face lift? it's a 50 year-old clad in the togs of a 25 year-old.

Heaven help me, I have seen women my age wearing hipsters and low-slung jeans and short, figure hugging blouses, showing their flabby middle and stretch marks in all their glory.

Let's not deny the fact that ageing changes the direction of our body compass. By the time we hit the half-way mark, all things go south. That's the unpleasant truth.

Going braless is like challenging gravity. You can't win. If you think the sight of drooping hooters is sexy, you ought to have your head examined.

Firm up those bust with a good support bra please, and NO cleavage for God's sake. Showing the cleavage of sagging breasts is such an unforgivable sin.

Push up, push out, and cover up with decency. Leave the tasteless to Joan Collins and Elizabeth Taylor.

My observations of ageing men showed that the older they get, the younger they feel. There is an air of desperation about them, especially in the company of young women.

All you have to do is sit by the bar at some karaoke lounges (try KLGCC, ha ha) for a week, and you know exactly what I mean.

Balding old codgers with nubile young things hanging on their arms, nursing their drinks and smooching in dark corners.

It's pathetic, to say the least. These sorry-looking silly old souls are on a grand ego trip even though they know the girls are in it for the money.

Don't they realise they would be pushing daisies in no time at all? With one foot already dangling in the 6-foot hole underground, the least they could do is prepare for it.

Quit deluding yourselves about the virtues of Viagra because Viagra won't be of any help when you become a stiff, in every sense of the word.

Friday, June 27, 2008

"Yue Liang Dai Biao Wo De Xin"

"Yue Liang Dai Biao Wo De Xin"
The Moon Represents My Heart

['The Moon Represents My Heart' is one of the most recognisable tunes in the Chinese music world]

Of all the singers that I adore - and there are many East and West combined - nobody quite live up to the stature of Taiwanese songstress, Teresa Teng (Deng Lijun).

Immensely popular from the 1960s to 1990s among Chinese-speaking communities of the world, Teresa was famous for her peerless renditions of folk songs and romantic ballads.

In fact, she was so popular that her music was banned for several years in mainland China in the early 1980s for being too bourgeois. It was said that "by day, Deng Xiaoping rules China, by night, Deng Lijun rules."

I was introduced to the music of Teresa Teng in 1967 when I entered secondary school and made my first Chinese friends.

It didn't matter that I didn't speak a word of Mandarin or Cantonese; the first time I heard her sing I was completely smitten.

Her mellifluous voice had a sweet and innocent quality to it that I decided I wanted to learn to sing as many of her numbers as possible.

The very first song I attempted was "Wang Bu Liao Chu Lian Qing Ren" and I remember working very hard, with the help of my newfound Chinese classmates, to get the pronunciation and intonation right.

Born Deng Lijun in 1953 in Yulin County, Taiwan, Teresa started singing at a young age to help support her family.

As a child she won many awards at talent competitions that in time she quit high school to sing professionally. She cut many albums and eventually became a huge sensation, especially in East Asia.

Teresa also managed to break into the fiercely protective Japanese market, by signing with a Japan record label and taking part in Japan's year-round singing match of the most successful artists of that year, where she won the prize for "Best New Singing Star".

Teresa Teng died of complications after a severe asthma attack while on holiday in Chiangmai, Thailand, in 1995. She was only 42.

As recognition of her role as a music ambassador of her country, Teresa was given a state funeral at home in Taiwan and buried in a mountainside tomb outside Taipei.

She may have been gone for a good 13 years now but her songs continue to attract new fans from entirely new generations.

Faye Wong, China's iconic singer, songwriter, actress and model, once paid tribute to Teresa Teng with a cover compilation of her classic hits.

Taiwanese chanteuse Timi Zhuo, known for her superb renditions of Teresa Teng's songs, has been dubbed the latter's "second generation" singer because they both share similar voice and singing style.

For me, there is a degree of calmness and relaxation in listening to Teresa Teng. I can listen to her for hours, losing myself completely in the pleasurable simplicity of her voice and her melody. The lyrics may be alien but music is so universal that one can appreciate its beauty without having to understand anything at all.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


My husband Pak Abu is a man of logic. A mathematician by training and an IT man by profession, his critical mind is not easily persuaded by all things supernatural.

Of course, as a Muslim, he abides by the word of God and accepts without reservations that there are other 'dimensions' out there apart from our own in this world.

But try convincing him of the presence of spooks, phantoms and other ghostly beings, and you are likely to be met with a dismissive "It's just your imagination lah!"

I, on the other hand, have had quite a few unsettling experiences and I know for sure those were not figments of my imagination.

I had been scared out of my wits by some eerie encounters and had seen things that reaffirmed my belief in the spirit world.

Because Pak Abu is as vocal as he is headstrong, there simply is no way of getting around to him.

That's why I sometimes earnestly wish, by the grace of God, that he is shown some disturbing things or sights that could make him less flippant and more accepting.

One of the most vivid spooky events I had ever experienced happened in Kuantan when my eldest child, Naj, was a toddler.

We were living in a housing estate informally called Kubang Buaya (Crocodile Wallow), so named because it used to be a swampy area until it was reclaimed and turned into a housing project.

The proper name for the place was Taman LKNP, the acronym being Lembaga Kemajuan Negeri Pahang (Pahang State Development Authority) and it was situated half a kilometre away from the beach of Teluk Chempedak.

One night I was lying in bed putting Naj to sleep (his father was outstation) when I heard someone taking a shower in the attached bathroom.

The bathroom light, however, wasn't turned on but the shower was gushing for at least 10 full minutes before everything went quiet again.

To say I was scared is an understatement. But I plucked up enough courage, after a decent interval, to check the bathroom. It was as dry as a bone.

Sufficiently spooked, I gathered my sleeping child into my arms and took refuge with the elderly neighbours across the street.

The kindly couple told me such happenings were quite normal around that area, simply because it used to be a swamp, the abode of jinns and spirits.

They told me I had just had an encounter with hantu raya, a malevolent spirit if ever there was one. That was a close call and we wasted no time in getting some 'cleansing" work done to get rid of it.

On another occasion, the entire family was in a car on the way home after an evening of shopping in downtown Kuantan, when we spied a pair of legs dangling from a water tank situated by the fence of the Mara Junior Science College.

Looking up, we saw a figure sitting atop the 20-feet water tank, with its legs touching the ground. It was almost Maghrib (dusk), so the figure wasn't very clear.

It was a very strange sight indeed. Local folks later confirmed the presence of such an apparition, called hantu galah (pole ghost) at the water tank.

A creepy event involving my daughter Nawwar happened when we were living in USJ 11, Subang Jaya. It was six o'clock in the evening and I was alone at home when my mother came a-calling. With her were three of my sisters and their respective husbands and children.

As we were talking at the dining area, we saw Nawwar appearing out of nowhere, walking up the stairs to the upper floor. She seemed oblivious to the many people milling around.

I was annoyed that she didn't even bother to acknowledge her grandmother and 'salaam' the guests. I called out to her but she didn't respond.

Sufficiently piqued, I followed her up with my nieces in tow but she disappeared as we reached the top landing.

We checked all rooms, but she wasn't there. A phone call determined that she was at that time at her grandma's in Section 16, PJ.

We asked around, and found out that a girl Nawwar's age died in that house some years before. I don't, for the life of me, know why she returned to haunt her old house, and in the form of my daughter.

That particular house in USJ 11 was rather active spiritually. The children kept hearing voices and sounds of people taking bath in the bathroom upstairs.

Many a times the children would call out to me, just to know where I was. This was because my bathroom seemed to be a favourite haunt for these spooks to cleanse themselves!

I would be happily watching TV downstairs and those 'folks' from the other world would be having a grand wash at my expense!

The last straw was when Ann, while washing my car at the porch one evening, saw an apparition looking like Nawwar walking past the fence and into the house, passing by a frightened Ann by mere inches.

She knew it wasn't her sister because Nawwar was at a friend's house and a phone call confirmed it. Suffice to say we vacated the house soon after.

I thank God we didn't come into harm's way when faced with such spirits. Although I fully believe in their existence, for peace of mind I don't really want to know more. Being scared s***less isn't my idea of fun, not by any yardstick.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Ruby Lips and Tottering Heels

Pix 1: Bum Parade
Pix 2: Killer Heels
Pix 3: Gothic Rules!

Local news agency Bernama reported today that Muslim women employees working in Kota Baru were forbidden from wearing bright-coloured lipsticks and high-heeled shoes to work.

This directive, contained in a circular dated May 25, was issued by the Kota Baru Municipal Council (MPKB) and signed by its president Shafie Ismail.

The circular stated that the directive was to "prevent incidents like rapes and illicit sex as well as to safeguard the morals and dignity of Muslim women in Kelantan." How noble.

Don't you just love MPKB? Just when you think it is safe to put a dash of that wicked-looking ruby red gloss on your pouty lips to lift your flagging spirit, out comes the No Colourful Lipstick rule.

Perhaps MPKB wanted women workers in Kelantan to go Gothic? I think black lipstick looks scary enough not only to put off would-be rapists and dampen the ardour of any paramour, but also to ward off evil spirits.

Actually I want to let MPKB into a secret. A woman's secret. I want to let it be known that ruby red lips do not necessarily make a woman look sexy.

It is all in the shape of your lips and the application of your lipstick. On some women, sirs, they look like the rear end of a baboon, which can't possibly attract the attention of anyone except another primate.

And the stilettos. Yes, they can be distracting especially the ones with extra high heels. But I think the MPKB is missing one whole point here.

Ever thought of stiletto heels as a weapon of self defence? All women should be encouraged to wear stilettos. They are handy for whacking the crotch of would-be rapists and to cool the ardour of paramours.

When I was an entertainment writer for a local newspaper in the late 1980s, a well-known TV newscaster "disappeared' from air for a few days, purportedly on a well-deserved rest.

Of course the rest of us scandal sheet writers knew the real reason why. Apparently, Ms Newscaster was seeing a married Datuk and was unlucky enough to be caught in a compromising position by no less than the Datin herself.

I shall spare you the gory details, except that the aggrieved Datin's stilettos inadvertently landed on Ms Newscaster's beautifully made-up face. That is why I have such a healthy respect for stiletto heels. And knowing those gutsy Kelantanese women, I think the men in MPKB should start cultivating a similar respect for those heels too.

The Story of Hussein

Every now and then my thoughts stray to Hussein, someone I got to know through a good friend. And each time I think of Hussein, I am filled with deep foreboding and feelings of helplessness and sorrow.

I knew Hussein 20 years ago, in 1987 to be precise. The last time we met was in 2000 when the good friend I mentioned earlier invited me along on a visit to Hussein and his family somewhere in Petaling Jaya.

Hussein is in his early 50s. He is married to a wonderful woman a couple of years his junior, and they have two children, a boy and a girl.

I am sharing with you the story of Hussein as a way of clearing my own conscience as well, although I know given the circumstances, there is truly nothing much I could do to make a difference.

You see, Hussein is, for all intent and purposes, Chinese, and a practicing Buddhist. He is a devout Buddhist who prays to the Goddess Kuan Yin everyday. In fact, they have a special altar in their house for the deity.

Yet Hussein was born a Muslim, to Muslim parents, and carries with him an identity card that states his name as Hussein and his religion as Islam.

Legally, Hussein is a Muslim. His name, the names of his parents, and his identity card say so. Spiritually and in practice, however, Hussein is no more Muslim than I am a follower of Scientology.

Hussein is Buddhist to the core and makes no bones about it. You can't blame him. That's the faith he was raised in, much like I am Muslim because I was raised as one.

Hussein's story unfolded in the early 1950s when his mother, a Chinese girl adopted by a Malay family went against family wishes and married a man of her own choice, a Chinese convert (mualaf).

Enraged, the family threw her out and cut all ties. Saddened by their harsh treatment, she left town with her mualaf husband.

However, the couple's happiness was short-lived for she died when Hussein was still a small child. Her husband never remarried.

He brought Hussein up single-handedly and, with no one around to offer him religious guidance of any kind, fell back into his old Buddhist routine. He died a Buddhist and was buried as one.

As for Hussein, he grew up pretty much alone and started supporting himself at a young age. In his late teens, he migrated to the city to work, eventually finding himself a wife and building a family of his own.

Each time I think of Hussein I feel like a complete failure as a Muslim. I do not know why I feel responsible for Hussein's fate. Perhaps it's because I have come to regard Hussein as my own kin.

But I can say for sure that I am bitterly angry at a bunch of people in Kelantan whom I do not even know, whose selfish, irrational and completely thoughtless action 50 years ago had resulted in Hussein's on-going predicament.

I wonder if they had even thought of the far-reaching consequences of their spiteful response. Simply put, their action had destroyed the ummah.

As for Hussein, he knows where he is going from here. When he dies, he wants to be buried (or cremated) as a Buddhist and nothing else. As for me, I don't even want to think of the eventuality.

All I can see is a repeat of what has been happening far too often lately, a tussle between the Islamic religious body and next-of-kin of the deceased, to claim the body as their own. There is no victory either way, only pain and heartache.

Talking about Hussein makes me feel weak and powerless and exceedingly sad. Deep down I feel so unworthy for carrying the Islamic torch and not do something more substantial. May Allah (saw) forgive my impotence.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Colourful, Whacky Place Names

The Maori hill

Ever wonder how does a particular place get its name? Some names are never a mystery to begin with, I know, much like my own birthplace Bukit Besi in Terengganu, for instance.

Simply translated, it means 'iron hill' and that was what it precisely was for some 30 years (1930s-1960s), a township carved out of nothing and named Bukit Besi for the lodes of premium grade iron ore unearthed and eventually mined to exhaustion there.

Bukit Besi still exists, the hill a mere stump now and the remaining ore, I was told, is too low a grade to be mined profitably.

Whatever the case, at least the Terengganu State Government saw it fit to redevelop Bukit Besi as an oil palm plantation and the old mine as a tourist attraction.

Until today I am still intrigued by Batang Berjuntai (The Hanging Trunk or The Hanging Prick, take your pick), a small town in Selangor.

The connotation is too deliciously naughty to contemplate. I am sure the truth is nowhere near my impure thought, though.

Malaysia is woefully insipid as far as place names are concerned. Perhaps it is deeply rooted in our culture to be decorous (at least publicly).

But the Malay language has a lot of expletives, so we can't be all that verbally prim and proper, can we?

Let's go on a whirlwind tour of colourful place names and there are plenty of them around to tickle the palate.

The Brits, as to be expected, top the list in naming places with cherishably ridiculous names that you just can't simply improve on.

Bill Bryson in his book Notes From A Small Island (about his travels around Great Britain), notes there are villages whose very names summon forth a gamut of imagery:

  • villages that make one think of lazy summer afternoons and butterfly darting in meadows - Winterbourne Abbas, Weston Lullingsfield, Theddlethorpe All Saints, Little Missenden;

  • villages that seem to hide some ancient and possibly dark secrets - Husbands Bosworth, Rime Intrinseca, Whiteladies Aston;

  • villages that sound like toilet cleaners - Potto, Sanahole, Durno;

  • villages that sound like skin complaints - Scabcleuch, Whiterashes, Scurlage, Sockburn;

  • villages that have an attitude problem - Seething, Mockbeggar, Wrangle;

  • villages of strange phenomena - Meathop, Wigtwizzle, Blubberhouses;

  • villages with names just plainly inane - Prittlewell, Little Rollright, Chew Magna, Titsey, Woodstock Slop, Lickey End, Stragglethorpe, Yonder Bognie, Nether Wallop, Sots Hole, Spitall in the Street.
In one compact area of South of Cambridge, says Bryson, one can find Blo Northon, Rickinghall Inferior, Hellions Bumpstead, Ugley and the arresting Shellow Bowells.

"I had an impulse to go there, to sniff out Shellow Bowells and to find out what make Northon Blo and Rickinghall Inferior, " he quips.

Not to be outdone, the United States too has its fair share of colourful, no-nonsense, say-it-as-it-is place names. Just savour these:

  • Ding Dong, Lick Skillet - Texas;
  • Whynot - Mississippi;
  • Zzyzx Spring - California;
  • Coldass Creek, Stiffknee Knob - North Carolina;
  • Scratch Ankle - Alabama;
  • Fertile - Minnesota;
  • Climax - Michigan;
  • Intercourse - Pennsylvania;
  • Defeated, Nameless - Tennessee;
  • Hog Heaven - Idaho;
  • Dead Bastard Peak, Crazy Woman Creek, Maggie's Nipples - Wyoming.
Think about those last three names for a moment. Just who is the 'Bastard' and why is he dead? Someone must have been furious enough to gloat over his demise to the point of naming a peak after it.

Could the hapless fellow's fate be tied to a crazy woman whose name could probably be Maggie whose nipples are now on the US map? Phew! the possibilities are endless!

And all of this does not even begin to mention Wales where you can find towns and villages with names that look like Scrabble leftovers - Bwlchtocyn, Llwynddyrys, Cwmtwrch, Mwnt, Pwllheli - and we haven't even got to the pronunciation part yet.

By the way, Wales is also home to one of the three longest place names in the world, the other two being Thailand and New Zealand.

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch is a Welsh town on the island of Anglesey, that means "The church of St. Mary in the hollow of white hazel trees near the rapid whirlpool by St. Tysilio's of the red cave".

There is a hill in South Island, New Zealand whose Maori name is Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu.

Roughly translated, it means "The summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the climber of mountains, the land-swallower who travelled about, played his nose lute to his loved one."

And finally there is Bangkok (meaning "Village of Plums"), known to Thais simply as Krung Thep (meaning "City of Angels").

Its official name, however, is more than a mouthful: Krungthep Maha Nakorn, Amorn Rattanakosin Mahintara Ayutthaya Mahadilok Phop, Noparat Rajthani Burirom, Udom Rajaniwes Maha Satharn, Amorn Phimarn Avatarn Sathit, Sakkatattiya Visanukam Prasit."

(Translation): The City of Angels, The Great City, The Residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable City of Ayutthaya of God Indra, The Grand Capital of the World endowed with Nine Precious Gems, The Happy City, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarn."

I am exhausted, deadbeat, drained, whacked, worn out, flagged and knackered from these "travels". Time to replenish. Ciao!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Of 'Sanuk' and 'Mai Phen Rai'

Pix 1: Phi Ta Khon ghosts & spirits festival in Loei
Pix 2: Loy Krathong.

One of the perks of working with a foreign tourism authority is that you get to chalk up a lot of travelling, in order to get yourself acquainted with every nook and cranny of your host country.

As always, the best part of the whole deal is the fact that you get paid to do it. It is doubly sweet if you are culturally-inclined; it makes every visit special and meaningful.

For the most part of 1990s, my public relations outfit served the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) as its PR consultant for Malaysia, rendering me and my consulting partner frequent travellers to Thailand.

Our main task was to organise regular trips to all parts of Thailand for members of the local media, to highlight the country's natural and cultural richness and savour its local festivities.

Make no mistake; Malaysia is very important to Thai tourism. The country has been topping Thailand's tourism arrival charts for decades, making it a key tourism resource.

Last year alone, of the 3.7 million tourists from ASEAN, 1.5 million were from Malaysia. Close on the heels of Malaysia in the one million tourist arrival bracket were Japan (1.2 mil), China (1.0 mil) and Korea (1.0 mil).

As a tourism destination, Thailand is a heady mix of old and new. The sheer wealth of its culture, the unashamedly garish, in-your-face nightlife it offers, the genuine hospitality of its people coupled with its reputation as a shoppers' paradise, are enough to induce repeat tourists.

From the Phi Ta Khon festival of ghosts and spirits in Loei to the Bun Bangfai Rocket Festival in Yasothon where home-made rockets are fired into the sky to entice the gods to bring rain, Thailand has the knack for turning sometimes lame and tame, nondescript local events into international tourist attractions.

Among the more well-known festivals are the Monkey Banquet in Lopburi, the Straw Bird Fair in Chai Nat, the Thao Suranari Fair in Nakhon Ratchasima (in honour of a local heroine) and Sunthorn Phu Day in Rayong (in celebration of a famous Rattanakosin era poet).

There is also the famous Candle Festival in Ubon Ratchathani, Korlae Boat Race in Narathiwat, Buffalo Race in Chon Buri, Elephant Round-up in Surin and the Isaan Kite Festival in Buri Ram.

Topping them off are of course the two most popular and highly-awaited festivals of all; the water-splashing Songkhran in mid-April, and Loy Krathong in November.

Songkhran marks the start of the Thai New Year when many Thais working in the city travel back to their home villages to celebrate with their respective families (just like our annual balik kampung exodus).

They sprinkle water on Buddha images and on the hands of monks as an offering to express confidence that water would be adequate to cover the dry season.

Loy Krathong is a religious festival during which krathongs (small rafts made of banana leaves and decorated with flowers, incense sticks and candles) are floated away as a symbolic gesture of letting go ill fortunes so that one can start life afresh.

Personally, what I enjoy the most about Thailand is its rich historical tapestry. I love wandering among the graceful ancient ruins of Ayutthaya, Sukhothai and Sri Satchanalai, taking in the intricately carved masonry of wats and stupas, visiting museums no matter how provincial, and sampling local foods.

I always looked forward to accompanying Malaysian journalists into Thailand. The ladies, almost always, would ask for the best places to shop and to have a traditional massage. They were the easiest to manage.

You let them loose in that monstrosity called Chatuchak weekend market (35 acres, over 15,000 stalls), and you need not worry about them again until dinnertime, by which time they would be too knackered to eat anyway.

The guys usually showed their unruly side the moment the soles of their shoes hit Thai soil. Our exchange, almost always, would be like this:

Reporter: Puteri, how come Patpong is not part of the itinerary?
PRC: Don't know, ask TAT.

Reporter: How to get there?
PRC: Don't know, ask the tuktuk fellow.

Reporter: How much is one of those.. err.. non-traditional massage and where to find it?
PRC: Don't know, ask the hotel.

Reporter: Puteri, You are not much help la!
PRC: Ishh, I am not supposed to la! We are on a cultural trip here! By the way, you guys wanna go shopping?

Reporter: Shopping? hang gila? Ni Thailand! Aku jantan la! [Shopping? Are you nuts? This is Thailand and I'm a red-blooded male!]

PRC: (Loooong sigh)

Mai phen rai! Mai phen rai!


  • Sanuk - the hallmark of all Thais. Literally it means "good time" and in practice it governs much of the way the Thai people work, rest and play. The best analogy I could think of is "don't worry, be happy."
  • Mai phen rai - literally it means "It's ok", very much like the Malaysian "tak apa" or the English "no sweat."
  • Our late Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman was a great one in saying "takpa, takpa" when faced with any situation. It must be his Thai heritage. His mother, Makche Menjelara, was Thai.

Death of A Patriot

[This article is written for my children, who never had the privilege of knowing what a wonderful, kind person their Grandfather was]. 

Thirty-four years ago this month, the country woke up to a most shocking news, an event unprecedented in peacetime Malaysia, and one that touched my life in ways I could never have imagined.

It was 8.15 am on Friday, June 7, 1974 when 50 year-old Tan Sri Hj Abdul Rahman Hashim, then Malaysia's Inspector-General of Police (IGP), bade his wife goodbye and climbed into his government-issue blue Mercedes Benz to go to work. At the wheels was the quiet and affable Sgt. Omar Yunus, 45, his driver for many years.

Fifteen minutes later the IGP was dead, assassinated in cold blood in a hail of communist bullets, in a daring two-man ambush at the narrow Lorong Raja Chulan - Jalan Tun Perak junction in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.

The two assassins fired at least 11 shots at the IGP before escaping on foot in full view of several terrified eye-witnesses. Seven of those shots hit the intended victim directly, one fatally. His driver, however, was only slightly injured.

I passed by the scene barely minutes after it happened. I was on my way to nearby Court Hill (where the Maybank headquarters now stands) to begin my day as a reporter assigned to cover cases at the Lower Courts there.

With me was the IGP's eldest son, a fellow scribe and also my fiance, who gave me a lift to work that morning. Upon seeing many police cars and personnel converging at the junction, we stopped to find out why.

We chanced upon fellow reporter Kristal Krall who shakily told us a police officer had been shot. She didn't elaborate. Being a crime reporter, my fiance drove up to Court Hill to park his car before coming down the cobbled steps leading to the junction to investigate.

I caught sight of the Mercedes Benz with its shattered windows. "That looks like Bapak's car," I wondered aloud. And then all hell broke loose. My fiance came flying down the steps and into the arms of Asst Supt S. Kulasingam who confirmed the terrible news. He then bundled us into a patrol car and sped headlong towards Kuala Lumpur General Hospital with the siren wailing.

We arrived just as Bapak was being wheeled in on a gurney. All I could see was the soles of his polished black shoes. He was already gone; he died enroute, without regaining consciousness.

His wife, Puan Sri Hj Halimah, was already there; she received news of the killing moments after it happened and wasted no time in rushing to the hospital. Calm and collected, she told us to return to the family's official residence at 22, Jalan Kia Peng, and help with the preparations to receive the body.

There were a million things to do that we hardly had time to grieve. Three of the seven children were in London and arrangements were made to bring them home. As it were, they did not make it in time for the burial.

Bapak was accorded a state funeral, his body laid to rest the following day at the Jalan Ampang Muslim Cemetery, to an outpouring of grief and condolences from all over the world.

Some 4,000 people lined the streets to bid him goodbye as the procession inched its way along Jalan Ampang to the burial site. It was an occasion of great sorrow.

In his obituary, (then) New Straits Times crime editor Rudy Beltran wrote: "Tan Sri Rahman was a dedicated and gentleman officer. His junior officers described him as a stern but reasonable man. When off-duty he was a jovial man."

How true. The Tan Sri Rahman I knew was indulgent, kind-hearted and happy-go-lucky. He was not beyond childish pranks played on his children. He loved good food and was himself a wonderful host and great company.

Had God granted him long life, Bapak would have been 84 today, with some 30 grandchildren and a dozen great grandchildren to keep him on his toes.

Because of one dastardly act of cowardice, Bapak never got to know them all except one, grandson Kamarudin Huesen, the eldest child of his daughter Sofwanah, who was three when his Wan died.

[PS: Lately the infamous ex-communist leader Chin Peng, now living in exile in southern Thailand, has started making overtures to return to Malaysia, saying he is already old and wants to die in the land of his birth. For all the atrocities committed against his fellow citizens, Chin Peng doesn't deserve to touch Malaysian soil ever again. And I would be the first to fight against his return].

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Not Born To Sniff, Most Definitely

Are you one of those plagued by constant headaches and migraine? If you are, have you ever taken steps to have your head examined (literally, I mean) by a medical specialist?

If the answer to question number one is 'yes' and the answer to question number two is 'no', then you are not doing yourself justice.

You must find out what is ailing you so - the reason/s for your constant misery - so that you can take the appropriate steps to rectify the situation.

For decades I suffered from very chronic migraine. Through trial and error, I put it down to allergy to certain foods, the chief culprits being cheese, butter, ice-cream and chocolate. As it was later found, I was only half right.

The migraine would always start as an excruciating headache that would progressively pound me senseless. Each attack would lead to big-time nausea, vomiting, near-blindness and most embarrassingly, lost of control of bodily functions.

I would have to shut myself away from light and sound, nursing the pain in the darkness of my bedroom. I couldn't even bear the presence of another human being.

Even the soft patter of footsteps sounded and felt like the rumblings of an earthquake. The family knew well enough to leave me alone, with a bucket to puke in and a bottle of mineral water to drink and wash my face with.

It would be at least half a day before the relentless poundings dissipated and I could stagger out of the room, disoriented and weak, and hungry to boot.

Apart from the aforesaid food allergy, my migraine attacks were also induced by heat. The hotter the day, the higher the chances of getting sick.

Last year, a new and somewhat sinister development took place. At the onset of a headache, my entire face would throb ever so painfully, particularly the bridge of my nose. As usual, my vision was the first to go.

Terrified, I finally made a beeline for an ENT specialist in Damansara, just to find out what the heck was going on inside this face of mine.

An exhaustive examination followed and a scan revealed a congenital nasal defect, the root of what had been plaguing me all these years.

I was born with my nasal passage almost touching, with only a narrow space to breathe. I can't afford nasal congestion of any kind, lest I would be tercungap (gasping) for air.

A permanent corrective measure would be surgery, which doesn't really appeal to me. In the meantime, I depend on nasal spray to continually clear the passage.

After more than four decades, I finally knew for sure why I suffered the way I did. Born with a teeny weeny sniff alley, that's all there is to it. Good Lord!

Coping With Death

I have been under the weather for five days now. What started as a slight nasal congestion has turned into a full-blown flu, with hacking coughs thrown in for good measure.

Suffice to say I have been feeling quite miserable for just as long. Going by past experience, it will be another week before I fully recover and find my voice again.

Karaoke is, of course, out of the question in the present condition. Come to think of it, Pak Abu and I have not been keriauking since my mother's death on May 31.

I can hazard a guess that our regular kakis at the karaoke lounges of both KLGCC and Lake Club were a wee bit mystified by our conspicuous absence.

This is because Pak Abu and I were part of the furniture in both places. It matters not, really. Simply put, the urge to sing is just not there at the moment, not since Mak's passing.

A couple of days ago I received a telephone call from my sister Zaridah, the one who lives in Kuala Terengganu, who had been looking after Mak until she passed away.

Calling from her son's pad in KL, Idah sounded distraught. Struggling to fight back tears, she told me that she had not been able to cope with Mak's death as well as we did.

Haunted by the images of Mak in life and in death, I fear Idah is on the verge of an emotional breakdown. It doesn't help that her only daughter Amy lives far away, in Chicago, with husband Sabran (Gary).

Ever the emotionally-charged one, Idah has my sympathy. We all grieve in our own private ways. Our brother Yusof, bless his soul, went over from his home in Taman Melawati to advise and comfort her.

Keep praying, that's all I say. Recite your Al-Fatihah, Ayat Kursi, Surah Yassin. That will calm you down. Allah subhanahuwata'ala knows best. It's in Him that you should trust.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Moving Day Blues

Moving Day is 10 days away and we are no closer to getting our built-ins done in time. The furniture factory called to say the designs are ready but the quotations are still being worked out.

At the rate things are going, I don't think we will be seeing those bookshelves, display cabinets, wardrobes and kitchen cabinet this side of July.

I was told it takes about three weeks for them to get all the pieces made and assembled. Well, that's ok. I always believe everything happens for a reason. There must be some hikmah (blessing) in being conned, I'm sure!

We lost two weeks due to a con job (see entry We Have Been Conned, Monday June 9, 2008). Although still slightly peeved, we did not hesitate to give the job to the same company. Why burn the kelambu (mosquito net) to spite the nyamuk (mosquito)?

At the very least, the plaster ceiling, the wiring & cabling works and the lightings are all done, the air-conditioners and water heaters installed, and they are going to start on the paint job Thursday. That's a huge relief.

As soon as the paintwork is completed, I shall get professional cleaners to come in and give the place a thorough cleaning. The condo had been vacant for almost a year before we bought it, so it does need a good scrub.

Pak Abu proposed we move as planned, at the end of June, for there is no real reason for any delay. The built-ins can come later; it is a non-issue. I agree.

I am glad Pak Abu and I share a similar approach towards life in general. We are not overly concerned about the nitty-gritty, and we definitely do not lose sleep over keeping up with anyone. Life here on earth is so transitory; it makes no sense to be a prick.

Be that as it may, I do feel a twinge of regret at having to consider sending my precious cats to the SPCA. I love those cats; been taking care of them since they were born.

Lately the two have been overwhelmingly manja; it's as though they know our days as a family are numbered. Oh, I shall not get myself started on this; there's no end to it and I can already feel my eyes watering....

Monday, June 16, 2008

Father's Day Dinner

(Pak Abu enjoying his tub tim krob)

The family took Pak Abu out to dinner last night in celebration of Father's Day. Daughter Nawwar suggested this Thai restaurant called D' Haven in Jalan Telawi, Bangsar, which she said served reasonably-priced but good Thai food.

I specifically mentioned 'reasonably-priced' because the kids didn't know I had, days before, decided to pay for the dinner. They were under the illusion that they would have to split the bill between them.

Understandably enough, their choice of an eating place for such occasions (Mother's Day, Father's Day etc) almost always was based on their cost-sharing ability and collective affordability.

Thus there were howls of protests when I told them I would pick up the tab; noo, not because they didn't want me to pay (I would be so lucky!), but because I had not alerted them in advance about it.

"Maaaa, we would have chosen a much much more expensive place if we knew you were paying!" they chorused in annoyance. See what I mean? How not to love such open-faced honesty?

I had never been to this outlet before, but had eaten in the previous restaurant that occupied the same premises. It was called "Red Chambers" and the food (noodles and stuffs) was a-okay.

We ordered the usual Thai fare - mixed tomyam with glass noodles, pandan chicken, beef cooked in basil, mango salad, green curry and a couple of others (I can't recall their names), followed by traditional Thai desserts.

Strangely enough, their pandan chicken came sans pandan leaves, thus making the chicken pieces look woefully incomplete, nestled amidst the lettuce.

I must say the dishes were a toned-down version of the real thing; they were most likely prepared to suit farang (white man) taste. That is not to say they weren't delicious, because they were.

So if you want the standard Thai 'killer' tomyam that works faster than any purgative, this is definitely not the place to be.

But if you want to savour Thai food minus all those fiery prik kee noo (cili padi), D'Haven is just about right.

Anyway, we had a swell time out, with good food and light banterings being the order of the evening. Happy Father's Day, Pa!

Balik Kampung 31st May 2008

1. Dungun rivermouth
2. Morning market ('borong'-ing keropok lekor)
3. Kenduri in full swing
4. Syahrull & Masyareta with Reta's father, Capt Mohd Som
5. Kids with pengantin at the seaside
6. Kids with cousins
7. Najiah (Ann) & Nawwar (Awwa)
8. What a pose!
9. Naj contemplating nasi dagang

Note: All pixs taken by budding pixman Joe

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Names That Stump

The Cat and Fiddle

Time and again we come across names, the pronunciations of which stump us. Things are made more complicated by the fact that the way they are pronounced bear no resemblance to their spelling.

According to Bill Bryson in his book Mother Tongue, the problem is so extensive, and the possibility of gaffes so omnipresent, that the BBC employs an entire pronunciation unit.

These orthoepists (professional pronouncers) spend their working lives getting to grips with illogical pronunciations so that the broadcasters don't have to do it on the air.

(Our electronic media - radio and TV stations - should take the cue. Atrocious pronunciations are aplenty on the local networks).

The English are among the biggest culprits, rues Bryson, citing names like Leveson-Gower but pronounced loosen-gore, Marjoribanks (marchbanks), Hiscox (hizzko), Howick (hoyk), Ruthven (rivven), Zuill (yull) and Menzies (mingiss), among others.

Bryson should thank his lucky stars. He is fortunate that he never had to contend with Thai names, or else he would have collapsed from exhaustion.

Thai names almost always had me floored. I learned this firsthand, as the PR consultant to the Malaysian office of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) way back in the mid-1990s.

Take for example the name of the Thai king, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Contrary to the official spelling, the proper pronunciation is Bhumipon Adun-yaded.

Former Thai Prime Minister, Taksin Shinawatra is another case in point. His surname is pronounced Cheenawat.

My friend Somboon Cheansweaths, the current PR manager of TAT (Malaysian Office) has a surname that looks like a tongue-twister but the pronunciation is a lot simpler; it is Chernsawat.

Still talking about names, Bryson turned his attention to English pubs, the names of which range from the inspired to the improbable, the deft to the daft, to the faintly absurd with images bordering on the surreal.

What else can you make of The Frog and Nightgown, The Bull and Spectacles, The Crab and Gumboil? Or, for that matter, Tumbledown Dick, Romping Donkey, Ram Jam Inn, and Man With A Load of Mischief (the sign outside this one depicts a man with a woman slung over his shoulder!)?

According to Bryson, some pub names have been corrupted over the centuries. Thus The Pig and The Whistle, which is said to have its roots in peg (a drinking vessel) and wassail (a festive drink).

Funnily enough, The Goat and Compasses public house, it is said, originated from "God Encompasseth Us". More manglings below:
  • Elephant and Castle, originally a pub but now a district of London, may have been the "Infanta de Castille" (referring to Eleanor of Castille, the wife of Edward I);
  • The Old Bull and Bush, a famous pub on Hamsptead Heath, is a corruption of "Boulogne Bouche" to commemorate a battle in France;
  • The Cat and Fiddle, a well-known inn situated on a hill in the eastern fringes of Cheshire, started life as "Catherine la Fidele" (Catherine of Aragon, Queen of England and the first of Henry VIII's six wives).

    All these pub names are making me tipsy. I'd better quit before I get an undeserved hangover.

Friday, June 13, 2008

'Inggrish' to the Fore

I am currently reading a highly entertaining book on the evolution of the English language titled Mother Tongue, written by best-selling author, Bill Bryson (pix).

Despite being born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa, Bryson, married for the last two decades to an Englishwoman from Yorkshire, has the dazzling dry wit of a Brit. All his writings, no matter how mundane the topic, entertain and enthrall.

Just savour his opening paragraph in Mother Tongue: "More than 300 million people in the world speak English and the rest, it sometimes seems, try to. It would be charitable to say that the results are sometimes mixed.

Consider this warning to motorists in Tokyo; "When a passenger of the foot heave in sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet at him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage, then tootle him with vigor."

It would appear that one of the beauties of the English language is that, with even the most tenuous grasp you can speak volumes if you show enough enthusiasm - a willingness to tootle with vigour, as it were."

According to Bryson, the Japanese are particular masters at the art of seizing a foreign language and alternately beating it and aerating it until it sounds something like a native product.

Wrote he: "Thus the sumato (smart) nyuu ritchi (new rich) Japanese person seasons his or her conversation with upatodatu (updated) expressions like gurama foto (glamour photo) and haikurasu (high class).

Sebiro, for a suit of clothes, looks convincingly native until you realise that it is a corruption of Saville Row, the London street where the finest suits are made.

'Productivity' was stretched and mauled until it emerged as purodakichibichi, which, despite its greater length, sits comfortably on the Japanese tongue.

But for the most part, the Japanese use the same sort of ingenuity miniturizing English words as they do in miniturizing televisions and video cameras.

So 'modern girl' comes out as moga, 'word processor' becomes wapro, 'mass communications' become masukomi, and 'commercial' is brusquely truncated into a short, sharp cm."

I never knew that the Japanese were the most relentless borrowers of English words and that the number of English words currently in Japanese has been estimated to be as high as 20,000.

Some samplings: erebata (elevator), nekutai (necktie), batta (butter), beikon (bacon), sarada (salad), remon (lemon), chiizu (cheese), bifuteki (beefsteak), hamu (ham), shyanpu setto (shampoo and set).

If at all, it just goes to show why the Japanese are well ahead of us in more ways than one; what they sometimes lack in originality they make up with such refreshing ingenuity.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Game Has Begun...

(From left: Shikin, Azura, Eida)

I had been mulling over a decent topic to write about for half a day since this morning, soon after seeing those youngsters tee off in the youth golf championship TSM Golf Challenge 2008 - In Search of Malaysian Tiger (full story in blog entry titled Let The Game Begin! Tuesday, June 10, 2008).

It must have been fatigue, both physical and mental, finally overtaking my creative impulse, I guess. And an onset of flu is not helping things either.

To digress a bit; Tan Sri Muhyiddin officially launched the championship at 7.15 am today by releasing a bunch of multi-coloured balloons. Pretty festive, as they floated up in the cool morning air.

The first flight of participants teed off at 7.30, the last, just past nine. Once they were on their way, the secretariat could breathe a little easier since the responsibility had shifted to the marshalls, referees and other course officials.

The two pretty girls of TSM Charity Golf, administrative executive Azura and accounts executive Eida, aided by Azura's comely lawyer-in-training sister, Shikin, looked bushed. They had every reason to be.

They had been camping in the tournament office of Kelab Golf Negara Subang (KGNS) since the night before, finally hitting the sack past midnight, I was told.

They were in good hands, though, for Azura's dad is our golf consultant A.S. Khamis. And heaven forbids those who cross Pak Khamis' path where his daughters are concerned. That man watches over his gals like a hawk!

I waddled in just past 7, leaving my house at 6.45 am. My job was quite clear-cut, to attend to the needs of the Press. The TV boys were already there, waiting to interview our Tan Sri as soon as all the formalities of the launch was over.

I caught sight of TSM Charity Golf president, Dato Seri Hj Megat Najmuddin bin Dato' Seri Dr Hj Megat Khas, and sidled over to him to congratulate him on his recent bestowment.

The ever elegant and articulate Pak Megat was one of the recipients of the Tan Sri award in conjunction with the Agung's birthday last week.

I recalled with amusement when we met at the lift lobby of Kelana Square some weeks ago, to attend one of those numerous meetings that we had prior to this championship.

As the norm, I offered him my salam, kissed his hands and gave him an affectionate peck on the cheek as we entered the lift.

I remember remarking what a sight we made - he, the well-known public personality and me, a nondescript middle-aged, tudung-clad woman treating him with such informality. Truly a fodder for gossips.

He let out one of those big, bellowing laughs. Anyway, there was nothing juicy to get all worked up about, for Pak Megat is the younger brother of my late father. He's my Ayah Sulong.

It was 9 am when I returned to the tournament office-cum-operations centre, only to stare at a blank screen. After one-and-a-half months of continuously churning out an article or two a day, I finally suffered from the writer's block.

With the exception of those jumbled jottings up there, I am no nearer to anything coherent. And so I am taking my leave here. Let's hope tomorrow is a better day, blogwise.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

When Talk & Deed Don't Jive

The rising cost of necessities has everyone on edge these days. Some are already charting out all kinds of cost-cutting, energy saving plans to stretch the ringgit.

It's the usual drivel la, what else - use public transport, eat out less and cook more, cut down on needless shopping and stick to a prepared list, mind the electricity consumption etc.

Today they blow hot and cold about petrol price, making all the appropriate noises about how it is going to affect their lifestyle.

Next week they buy a RM300 ticket to see some international superstar performing in Genting. So much for austerity drive.

More often than not, the louder voices emanate from the educated lot, the middle- and upper-middle class, in an effort to show their solidarity with the plebeian crowd.

Mark my word though. Five months down the road when the school holidays begin, these very same people will back their Mercs and BMWs into their multiple-car garages, gather their brood and fly to Perth for a 'well-deserved vacation'.

Ever an optimist, I see a silver lining in every dark cloud. Instead of mindless griping, I prefer to think of the current situation as a blessing in disguise.

Tightening your belt? Ok, what's the big deal? It's not like you will end up starving like those pitiful Somalians.

The cost of that one steak dinner that you give up can probably feed one Somalian family for one month; how's that for restropective contemplation?

No more frequent jaunts to 24-hour McDonalds and late night teh tarik sessions a the mamak? Good for you. Give that growing paunch of yours a breather.

That is why you won't find me whining; not that it doesn't affect my life (sure as hell it does), but I think action is a million times better than mere words.