Sunday, August 31, 2008

Lacklustre National Day

Pak Abu left for his daily fix of golf early today, looking somewhat pensive. I knew the reason why - this would be his last game before fasting began and he was psyching himself to cope with the gang's 'no-golf-during-Ramadan' self-imposed collective decision.

By 8 am, I was parked in front of the TV to watch the National Day Parade. Ever since RTM (and later TV3) had televised the event 'live', I have never failed to tune in every 31st August.

I guess there is something to be said about watching your country on show. Perhaps I am too 'old-school' or just a sentimental old fool, but my pride swelled each time I heard those patriotic songs and saw the march past by our soldiers.

Of all the participants, one group touched my heart. Kontinjen Pesara Polis (Police Pensioners Contingent) saw some 100 elderly men in blue batik proudly marching, arms swinging in unison to brass band music.

My breath caught, memories of my late father-in-law (blog piece Death of A Patriot, 20 June 2008), a top cop murdered in cold blood by the communists in the heart of Kuala Lumpur in June 1974, seared my mind.

Seeing how the entire police force is maligned and rubbished by some quarters today for the sins of a few filled me with hurt and anger. I wonder how Bapak would have reacted if he was still alive and leading his men in blue.

National Day is also significant to me for another reason - I started work as a reporter on the 31st of August 1973 and my maiden assignment was to cover the Parade.

That I was completely at sea about what to do was of no consequence to my dour-faced new boss, whose withering look and caustic tongue could shrink oneself into a lowly cockroach for him to stomp on.

They didn't have pre-training for aspiring scribes those days; you get thrown into the deepest end and you either sink or swim. There was no one to hold your hands either.

It is true what they say about this year's Merdeka Day celebrations; the mood was sombre, the tone subdued. Less people flew the flags, and from my 10th floor window last night, even the fireworks weren't as spectacular as before. There was no gaiety in the air. My feeling of despondency has yet to lift...

Malaysia Tanah Air Ku


Lagu Patriotik

Malaysia oh tanah air ku

Tanah tempat tumpah darah ku

Negeri elok amat ku cinta

Yang ku puja sepanjang masa

Sawah mu terbentang meluas

Tumbuh-tumbuhan hijau merendang

Bukit mu lurusnya terbentang

Tak jemu mata ku memandang

Sungguh indah di Malaysia

Negeri yang kaya raya

Tempat pusat berniaga

Terkenal di seluruh dunia

Malaysia negeri ku Malaysia

Pusaka tinggalan moyang ku

Tetap sentosa hidup merdeka

Malaysia oh tanah air ku

Composed & Written by

Johar Bahar

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Of Frog and First Love

Two years ago when that venerable institution, Malay College Kuala Kangsar, celebrated its centenary with much pomp and pageantry, its sister school Sekolah Tun Fatimah (STF), like the middle-aged makcik (auntie) it has become, had a rather subdued 50th birthday.

Then again, the premier all-girls boarding school located in Johor Bahru has never been one given to much revelry or flamboyance. In other words, STF pretty much reflects the background of the majority of its population; bright-eyed rural girls from small towns and villages, just grateful for the privilege of being among the chosen few.

STF is a place I hold dear in my heart, for it was here that I was exposed to boarding school life. It was in STF that I humbly learned I wasn't so exceptional after all. There were hundreds of clever, intelligent girls out there and they could (and did) outpace me by a mile, academically or otherwise.

STF was established in 1956 with the original aim of creating a generation of school teachers for a young nation. It is thus very apt that STF's first moniker was Sekolah Menengah Perempuan Melayu, whose first home was in Durian Daun, Melaka.

In fact, during those pre-JB years, students were almost always absorbed into Maktab Perguruan Perempuan Melayu (Malay Women Teachers' College) post-LCE (PMR-equivalent, these days) to become teachers.

In 1958 the school was renamed Sekolah Tun Fatimah, after the heroic female warrior of the Melaka Sultanate era, and in 1962 it was moved to Larkin, Johor Bahru, where it remains until today.

STF is part of the Education Ministry's elite group of single-sex fully residential schools; its peers being Kolej Melayu Kuala Kangsar (Perak), Kolej Tunku Khurshiah (Seremban), Sekolah Tuanku Abdul Rahman (Ipoh), Sekolah Dato' Abdul Razak (Seremban), Sekolah Sri Puteri (KL) and Sekolah Alam Shah (Selangor).

With students pre-selected based on academic excellence, over the years STF, along with its peers, have always been under constant pressure to deliver the best in terms of not only academic achievement but also in extra-curricular activities.

For me, STF was existing with some 400 girls from the ages of 13 to 18, sleeping on bunk beds in dormitories, eating nasi kawah, nightly prep hours, drooling over APC (American Peace Corps) male teachers, and
weekend jaunts in JB town clad in our white-and-green school uniform, thus earning us the nickname Katak Hijau (green frog) among JB boys.

STF was also weekend mathematics tutoring in the canteen by my maternal uncle Ayah Cik Ali, then a Telecoms engineer based in JB, who would turn up with his teacher wife, Wan Cik Shareefah Shamsiah, and made my head swim for at least two hours each Saturday trying to comprehend the complexities of Additional Mathematics.

[By the way, Wan Cik, who taught English, was the one who enlightened a confused 13 year-old me that 'duke' is pronounced dee yuuk and not 'duck', and that he is an English nobleman and not from that squawking specie, although he could well be a real duckie].

More poignantly, STF was where I fell in love for the first time, with an Indonesian trainee teacher in Sumatra who heard my voice over RTM JB (in a Berbalas Pantun programme where I represented the school) and wrote a beautifully crafted letter that melted my teenage heart.

It was a magical, year-long love affair conducted through a furious exchange of letters, expressing innocent, lovelorn sentiments that only two Cupid-stricken hearts could muster. That we never met at all added to the mystery. As with most first loves, it floundered when I left school, but the memories remain.

Car Theft On The Rise In TTDI

If you own a Honda CRV and live in Taman Tun Dr Ismail (TTDI) or the vicinity, please take heed. Three such vehicles were stolen under the very noses of their owners this morning (Friday 28/08/08) and the cops were saying a syndicate was at work.

My sister Zaridah woke up to an empty driveway and an electric gate that had been forced open. Her six-month old, silver-colour CRV was gone but the other car, parked outside the gate, was untouched.

She lodged a police report at the TTDI station, only to be told hers was the third report about stolen CRVs the very same morning. A similar car also went missing from a house further up her street while the third was from another section of TTDI.

Cases of car theft such as these are on the rise lately. A couple of weeks back, some six or eight cars disappeared at one go, and they were all parked within the confines of a multi-block condo development in Mutiara Damansara. And this is a place with CCTVs and 24-hour security!

So owners of CRVs and other high-end wheels, please take extra precautions. The rising crime rate is truly worrying.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Thinking Out of The Box

What do you want to be when you grow up?

As sure as the sky is blue and the grass is green, every child gets asked this time-honoured question at least once. And be prepared for a plethora of answers, from the predictable to the unexpected, for children have the ability to astound when you least expect it.

Amidst the astronauts, marine biologists, accountants, fashion designers, architects, forensic scientists (no doubt influenced by TV series CSI), archaeologists, doctors, veterinarians, geologists, engineers and pilots, one tiny voice, hardly six years old, wanted to be a futures trader.

That he could elucidate what it meant made it even more remarkable. The tyke even knew he could either be a millionaire or a pauper in the blink of an eye, making or losing by the bundles, in his preferred choice of career.

In the long-ago days of my own childhood in mining outpost Bukit Besi, Terengganu, the answers to that perennial question would be as predictable as the annual monsoon season.

Rural kids who had never ventured beyond the confines of their hamlets and villages, whose take on the world was limited to only what they learned in school, would faithfully recite from a woefully meagre list as their respective career choices.

Not one would stray beyond the parameter of doctor, engineer, pilot, lawyer, teacher, nurse, policeman and soldier. The fact that I wanted to be a wartawan (journalist) from the time I entered school in 1961 turned me into a curiosity of sorts.

Wartawang tu abender? (What in the world is wartawan?). But I knew what I wanted and never once wavered from that choice. I was fortunate enough to have had very supportive grandparents and teachers who never put a damper on my ambition.

This topic came to mind by virtue of my potpet (musings/ramblings) with my chatter friend Fidd who dropped by the other day. I asked after her comely firstborn, Ika, whom I had not seen for quite a while.

Ika is already in her last lap in university. A girl of exceptional beauty with a brain to match, she is studying engineering in Universiti Teknologi Petronas. But Ika had many run-ins with her mother prior to entering Uni, all because she had set her mind to becoming a fashion designer.

Mum was naturally displeased. Actually, livid was more like it. "With a string of As in the sciences and all you could think of is fashion designing?" I could almost hear Fidd screeching.

On her part, a peeved Ika challenged her mother to 'think outside the box'. Poor Fidd, a tried and tested pegawai kerajaan (government officer), was ready to land a box or two at the girl's ear for her perceived impudence.

They did come to an understanding eventually. To mollify Fidd, Ika agreed to pursue engineering, with the option of doing "what I really want to do" when the engineering scroll is safely in Fidd's hands.

Ika should be graduating soon. From what I heard, she wanted to go back to school - Limkokweng University, in all probability - to study fashion design. Whatever her future holds, I wish her all the best.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Rainbow Homecoming

end of the rainbow

graceful arch across the sky

where the dead lay buried

Merdeka! from my balcony

My two journalist kids, Naj and Ann, are finally back on home turf from erstwhile 'battlefield' Permatang Pauh; worn and weary, a wee bit tanned and a tad lighter in weight and workload, but otherwise unscathed. Alhamdulillah.

Fourteen days of hitting the campaign trail, venturing into every nook and cranny of small-town PP in search of anecdotes and stories worthy of print had given the duo a glimpse of rural life they had never before encountered. A good exposure, I must say.

There was a light drizzle in the evening, and when the mist lifted a rainbow emerged, its end dipping behind the Naza Motor showroom off the highway next to Puteri Restaurant in Taman Tun Dr Ismail.

I had never seen a rainbow up close before. So mesmerised was I at the wondrous sight that I stood still on the balcony for a good few minutes before realising I should capture the sight on camera. Truly a fitting conclusion to a long-awaited day.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Buka Puasa Cruise?

"Ramadan cruise and Arabic fare on the lake" - it took awhile for me to digest this headline that greeted my eyes as I flipped through the papers while having breakfast this morning.

I know the madness of buka puasa (breaking of fast) gluttony will soon descend upon us once again, when Ramadan begins on Monday next week, but a cruise? This is truly taking the Ramadan buffet phenomenon to new heights.

Apparently, a company specialising in lake cruises, in tandem with a five-star hotel, have put together a few buka puasa packages, chockful of scrumptious local and Arabic dishes to satisfy even the most discerning palate.

And the piece de resistance is an idyllic cruise around the scenic Putrajaya Lake while gorging oneself after half a day of abstinence. Please excuse my impudence, but I do wonder where Solat Maghrib fit in, into all these.

Ramadan buffet is undeniably a big business in this country. And they don't come cheap either. Some five-star hotels and high-end eateries charge over a hundred ringgit per head; yet that hasn't stopped Malaysians, affluent or otherwise, from turning up in droves to pay for the privilege of stuffing themselves silly in one sitting.

To be fair, I was among those squandering my hard-earned money during the Ramadans of my jahiliah hard-drinking days. My zeal for expensive, table-laden buka puasa buffet was equally matched by my determination to avoid fasting at any cost.

How painful it is, sometimes, to recall the supremely ignorant fool you once were, cheating, lying and conniving your way through the fasting month for a plate of noodles and a glass of Bacardi coke. May Allah (swt) have mercy on remorseful yours truly.

Ramadan is all about patience and restraint, self-discipline and sacrifice, generosity and charity, and identifying with the lot of the poor and the unfortunate.

Let's make this Ramadan a month truly worthy of its status as the most venerated and blessed month of the Islamic year. Selamat Berpuasa.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Missing Kids and Cats, and KitKat

1. I am missing the children terribly. Naj and Ann, who are journalists with an English daily, have been in Permatang Pauh for the last 10 days to cover the by-election. The stressed out, harried duo are only expected to return to Kuala Lumpur this weekend.

Joe and Awwa, both in the highly-charged, fast and furious world of advertising, are in the thick of their respective clients' campaigns now that the festival season is approaching. Seems to me they hardly have time to breathe, let alone drop by for some quality time with Mak.

There isn't any feline in the house anymore to listen to my occasional monologue bitching - not that there is much to bitch about these days, by the way - and to offer its head to be scratched. And I am missing that too.

The only constancy in my life at the moment is dear Pak Abu, but that dependable (if somewhat cranky) old soul is constantly out of both sight and range; he spends his afternoons at the golf course and evenings glued to the sports channels.

Going by past indications, he will be camping in front of the TV for the next one week or so, now that the US Tennis Open has begun. Which works just fine with me, for I no longer have to pitch a tent in the living room to keep him company, when the bedroom is barely five steps away.

2. I simply love love KitKat and have been surreptitiously tucking in those oh so yummy chocolate bars without Pak Abu's knowledge. Err, I have to make this open admission because my girth is giving me away and it has nothing to do with a joey in a kangaroo pouch.

I am trying to quit KitKat (been without one for a week now). Heck, this is worse than trying to quit smoking! Pak Abu frowns on my indulgence because chocolate gives me migraine. But for the love of KitKat, I was willing to endure the throbbings...

3. With Ramadan (fasting month) fast approaching - we should begin fasting Monday next week - some shopping complexes have already begun stringing up lampu liplap (festive coloured lights) and displaying Hari Raya wares alongside the current Chinese mid-autumn festival decorations.

Our condo management has put up a notice informing Muslim residents of solat tarawikh (special prayers during the fasting month) to be held at the surau (prayer hall) on the ground floor this Ramadan.

Other activities undertaken by the surau committee this fasting month include a couple of ceramah agama (religious talks) and berbuka puasa (breaking of fast) with orphans and students of a religious school nearby.

This will be my first experience with communal living (discounting my boarding school life with a few hundred teenage girls, that is) and I am looking forward to it.

Alhamdulillah, we have acquired some new friends among the neighbours (they graciously attended our kenduri the other day) and are hoping to get to know more through these activities.

4. Fid, a forty-something lady from Penang whom I knew through the internet chatroom and has since become a close friend, dropped by earlier in the evening. She was in the vicinity running errands and decided to say hello and check out the new pad.

She said it was partly conscience that drove her to our house, for she was unable to attend the recent kenduri due to prior commitment. "Aku rasa guilty lah," said she. Poor Fid.

We spent three hours talking about this and that and she kept me updated with recent news of fellow chatter friends she keeps in touch with, not to mention commiserating with my loss of feline company, for Fid is also a cat lover.

As in the past, Pak Abu and I are hoping to regroup our chatter friends for the breaking of fast again this Ramadan. It is something of a tradition with us, to get together for buka puasa with our Internet friends, Muslim and non-Muslim, every year.

For some, like Fid, our friendship has spanned almost a decade. We may not meet often these days due to personal commitments and also distance, but we do try to get together for teh tarik at the mamak every now and then.

Two weeks back, our close chatter friend, Angie (Solehah, after her conversion to marry fellow chatter Smarties), who lives in Prai, dropped by with Cynthia, a chatter from KL. Angie and Smarties were in town for the school holidays.

Joined by KL chatter Lipsy, we attended a BBQ at the house of fellow chatter Sumbing in Taman Melawati. I am hoping to meet up with the rest of the gang with the proposed buka puasa do. That would be fun.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

'Keriauke' Moments

The brief trip to Port Dickson for the PESAT family day yesterday (Saturday 23rd August) was an afterthought. But with the benefit of hindsight, it was very berbaloi (worth the effort) indeed.

Due to an oversight, I was informed about the gathering of PESAT (Persatuan Anak-anak Terengganu), an association that brings together those born in Terengganu but living outside the State, very late, just two days before the event.

Out of loyalty to my T'ghanu roots, and excited at the prospect of meeting some old sekolah rendah (primary school) friends from my Bukit Besi days, I decided to jenguk (look-see) the function, just to 'show face'.

We set out for PD around 2pm, immediately after attending the wedding of a cousin in Setiawangsa, KL, and arrived at the venue, Port Dickson Golf & Country Club, just in time for a taklimat (briefing). We didn't participate in the telematch held two hours later because Pak Abu needed a shut-eye after the drive.

There was a brief religious talk just before dinner. Delivered by a young but eloquent ustaz, it touched on harmonious family living from the Islamic perspective. This was followed by another interesting but equally brief talk, on healthy living the herbal way.

Dinner started well past nine, by which time the children present were visibly fretful. Well, you know how kids are when they are hungry. But the food was good, a combination of barbeque and standard dinner fare.

It was what came after dinner that had Pak Abu and yours truly all perked up. It was a karaoke competition! Being diehard karaoke kakis (fans) that we shamelessly are, we signed up, just for the heck of it.

With no practice whatsoever, we just went up there, grabbed the mic and sang our hearts out. There were 15 contestants ranging from teenagers to pensioners.

Pak Abu dished out his favourite number, Hero, by Julio Iglesias while I went for a Malay number, Butakah Cinta, popularised by rock group, Spring. What a sight that must have been, a tudung-clad, rotund makcik belting out a 'rock kapak' song. Fuyoo..!

We were in luck, for we took home the top two prizes. Pak Abu was over the moon, saying he never won any prize in a singing competition. Then again, he never took part in any such competition before this!

For me, it was only the third time in my life that I ever participated in a singing contest. The first was in 1971 with Dream, Dream, Dream and the second in 1972 with Puff The Magic Dragon, where I got third and second placing, respectively. Anyway, it's the top spot 36 years later. Better late than never, kan?

What A Memorable Kenduri...!

Some of Pak Abu's KLGCC golf buddies
Uncle Som (left, in green), chatting with moi..
Pok Ku (right), hurrying to get second helping, I think
Our ever-jovial uncle Ayahcik Li (right) and family
My sister Ana (right), husband Annuar and family
New grandma Idah (the one grinning broadly, naturally)
Pak Abu's stepmom, right, with the rest of the Kampar clan
It's karaoke time!

Our humble abode was packed to the brim recent Friday night. The murmurs of doa (prayers), led by a man who, once upon a time, shunned prayers and the mosque, reverberated within the four walls.

Oh, how my pride swelled! My breath caught and tears welled in the corners of these tired old eyes. Deep in my heart, I couldn't thank God enough for all His blessings, to be able to bear witness to such a touching scene.

Some 70 relatives, friends and new neighbours turned up for our kenduri doa selamat (thanksgiving feast and prayers) to mark our move to this new place.

My beloved eldest brother Yusoff, the ex-army man infamous for all kinds of wild shenanigans in his younger days, took the lead in leading the congregation. He is now a mosque bilal (muezzin) who spends most of his time managing the burial of Muslim jenazah (dead body).

Who would have thought it would come to this, for this was the man who used to complain how annoying and irritating the subuh (dawn) call to prayer was. Allahu Akbar - God is truly great.

Pak Abu was at his happiest self, playing host to his golf buddies and former schoolmates and other guests who took the trouble to attend our function despite the rain and a gridlock in downtown Kuala Lumpur.

As for me, words couldn't even begin to explain my feelings. After four decades, my sisters and I came face to face again with someone from our distant past, a man brought into our sphere of existence once again, through the wonders of the Internet.

Uncle Mohd Som, a close friend of our late parents, whom we last met in the old mining town of Bukit Besi the mid-1960s, came with his wife. My heart skipped a beat when I salaamed this kindly man for he reminded me so much of Mak and Bapak.

That he still looked so segak (good), I must say for the record. I kept him company while he ate. We chatted amiably about days of yore and he told us, with a mischievous glint in his eyes, how he could never forget our mom in her succession of tight-fitting kebayas!

How could we not love this man who bridged the span of our childhood to adulthood with such delicious tales! Uncle Mohd Som, thank you for the memory. You are such a gem!

Accompanying him was no less than the ever-gracious Tengku Bustaman (Pok Ku to us proud Terengganuese), my favourite person in Angkasapuri when I was a newspaper reporter doing the entertainment beat two decades ago.

I said 'favourite person' because Pok Ku allowed me to use his office as a smoking sanctuary. Not only that, he even supplied this cash-strapped but chain-smoking reporter with duty-free Cartier cigarettes on so many occasions. Ah, the memory of free rokok!

Pok Ku and I parted company when I left journalism in 1990 to try my hand in public relations. I 'met' him again by chance, when my Internet-savvy sister Izah told me to check out an interesting blog titled 'Dibawah Rang Ikang Kering'.

As it were, Uncle Mohd Som and Pok Ku were schoolmates and he frequently visits Pok Ku's blogsite where I left my paw mark every now and then. That was how our link was re-established. Thank you Uncle Mohd Som, Pok Ku and everyone who came. We were truly humbled by your presence.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Tsk Tsk Tsk

1. Don' t you just love the Americans. Humility has never been their strongest point. Their tactlessness and conceit in dealing with the rest of the world is well documented and their disdain for the achievements of others is barely concealed.

As I write, they have 28 golds to China's 46, but they seem to have difficulty in acknowledging that fact. Being second to China in medal ranking must be so galling that they choose to disregard the time-honoured listing by medal colours and opt for overall medal tally instead.

Thus you see splashed all over the Net that USA heads the medal count with 93, followed by China with 83. Sure feels grand to be in the lead, eh?

2. Let's kick some Russian butts, so said American pole vaulter and World/European champion Jennifer Stuczynski mockingly, in an undisguised reference to arch rival Yelena Isinbayeva (see pix), the lanky and beautiful Russian pole vault queen defending her Olympic title.

In the end, not only Isinbayeva's butts remain "unkickable", she also broke the Olympic record while the American derriere got relegated to second place. Whatever the case, there were many nice-looking rear-ends on parade at the Stadium.

3. Bad, bad baton-passing folks. Both the USA men and women's 4 x 100 relay teams got disqualified in the heats for dropping their batons, in such poor baton-passing that made my sekolah menengah sports day relay look a shade off Asian Games. Quite a feat, that.

Wonder to whom are they apportioning the blame. The wet track? the shape of the Bird's Nest Stadium? Foreign-made baton? Can't be their own ineptness for sure..

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Count Your Blessings

New restaurants are sprouting like mushrooms after the rains in Taman Tun Dr Ismail (TTDI) lately. And with the mass of humanity thronging shopping malls each weekend during these two-month Mega Sale period, it's hard to imagine a country purportedly heading towards down time.

Last month a branch of Salero Nogori, that well-known joint offering delicious but slightly pricey Minang food, begun business along Lorong Rahim Kajai 14. Last week, fusion food outlet Treats Cafe opened its shutters a few doors up.

The other day we took Pak Abu to Silver Pot, a Chinese-Muslim steamboat restaurant down the main road, Jalan Datuk Sulaiman, for his birthday dinner. The place opened late last year, hot on the heels of Spices of Asia a few pintu away, which started months earlier but serving basically the same fare.

Two restaurants flank the entire shop row along that main thoroughfare; Namaste, serving North Indian food, and mamak joint Devi's Corner. In between there's Restoran Puteri, ex-actress Rubiah Suparman's well-known eatery, and at least 10 other food outlets offering all kinds of cuisines.

Just the other day, I saw yet another restaurant opening along the same row. The signboard says June Thai, so it could be serving Thai food. If so, I do hope it's authentic because KL is already awashed with Thai kitchen pretenders pandering to the farang's bland tastebud.

It goes without saying that we are so spoilt for choice, even during trying times like now. All things considered, Malaysians in general are a lucky lot. Political shenanigans aside, we still have a decent lifestyle, none of us are starving and a plate of nasi campur still doesn't cost an arm and a leg.

Compare that to today's Zimbabwe where unemployment is at 85 per cent and a million Zimbabwean dollars is not enough to buy a loaf of bread. Still, there are a lot of whiners out there in our midst who can't see the woods for the trees. What a shame.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Sing or Swim, Whatever Takes Your Fancy

1. The other day I looked down from my 10th floor window towards the pool and saw an unusual sight - three tudung-clad elderly ladies in T-shirts and long pants, with a trainer/coach at hand, learning how to swim.

It was a searingly hot afternoon. They had the pool all to themselves and seemed to be enjoying their lessons. Each learner was equipped with what looked like half a surf board, onto which they lie on their belly, paddling furiously.

I wanted to clap and shout "Bravo!" from my perch when one of them managed to tackle the entire length of the pool, but I checked myself. They might just become self-conscious if they knew they had a kaypoh (busybody) spectator.

2. Another day, another burial. The grave diggers were hard at work, in pouring rain too, this morning at the Kg Sungai Pencala Muslim Cemetery. As my unit overlooks the cemetery, I could observe the goings-on discreetly and comfortably from my balcony.

The solemn procession bearing the jenazah (body) arrived at the gravesite around 10.30 in the morning, accompanied by some 30 people. There were a lot of women in the group, judging from the tudung- and kurung-clad figures surrounding the liang lahad (grave).

The rain poured unabated throughout the burial. By eleven, the site was deserted but I could spy an even mound of flower petals on the fresh earth. Al-Fatihah.

3. Pak Abu woke up to a string of "Happy Birthday" messages on his mobile and a card on his bedside table. He turns 56 today and we are taking him to a steamboat dinner later.

But first, there was that MagicSing All-In-One Karaoke System, waiting patiently in One-Utama to be bought and owned by us. Because we are not the kind of people to disappoint, we willingly parted with quite a substantial sum to bring it home.

There are three chips with some 5,000 songs in there - English, Malay/Indonesian and Chinese. So my guess is that after the dinner tonight, it's karaoke time (unless Pak Abu wants to watch the Olympics roundup). Whatever it is, it's the birthday boy's prerogative. It's his day.

[Psst.. I tried out that new karaoke thingy sorang-sorang at home just now. Best giler!]

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Oath

Whatever my affiliation and wherever my sympathy lies politically, one thing is for sure: I am first and foremost a practising Muslim. Maybe I am not as devout as I would like to be but when it comes to all things Islam, you can bet your bottom ringgit that I do not take my religion lightly.

By the same token, I believe a great majority of my fellow Muslims (practising or not) would not perlekeh (make light) an act as supremely significant as bersumpah atas nama Allah Subhanahuwata'ala i.e. taking an oath in the name of Allah (swt).

To swear in the name of Allah (swt), holding the Holy Quran, by the mimbar in a mosque on a Friday, in front of an ulamak; that takes extreme courage. Invoking divine wrath by blatantly lying in His name would be unthinkable, for meeting Him and getting your 'reward' of Hellfire in the Hereafter is something you can't escape from if you do.

Anwar's accuser Saiful would undoubtedly understand the magnitude of what he had just done. There is nothing left to comment. I write with sadness in my heart for all the things that have been happening lately. Saiful, I believe you. May Allah (swt), in His Infinite Compassion, forgive you and forgive us all. May He save us and our beloved country from harm. Amin.

Golf Bribes

If you check out my kitchen cabinet, there is one cupboard full of mismatched crystalware. There are fruit bowls and wine glasses, plates and dishes, condiment sets and vases, and the odd ornamental piece that serves no particular purpose.

They come in all shapes, sizes and hues. Beautifully cut, some with fine etchings, they are undoubtedly very attractive to look at and they didn't cost me a single sen. The only thing is, I don't really know what to do with them.

I am in a quandary, really. They are too nice to be hidden away in a kitchen almari (cupboard), but too fragile to be put to good use. And I am averse to putting up my tableware for public display. Seganlah..

It's golf that brought them all into my possession. Those items represent some of Pak Abu's golf winnings over the years. Of course he has brought home other items as well - TV sets, computers, an assortment of electrical appliances - but the crystalware has its own story to tell.

Those crystal pieces are actually bribes. You see, these diehard golfers are not beyond bribing their wives to ensure their golfing go unhindered. I think they have a secret pact among themselves; it goes "Let's buy what the wives want as our tournament prizes, then our daily diet of golf is assured."

The only problem is, what we wives want are not crystal pieces. Give us vouchers to Habib Jewels or Diamond & Platinum, for example, and you guys can sleep overnight on the green to catch the first tee the following morning. We'll even help pitch your tent for you. Honest.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

An Ode To 'Opah'

My 'kaki laram' sister, Idah - expensively and fashionably togged always - moved up one generational notch to become a grandmother yesterday when daughter-in-law Zetty delivered a healthy nine-pounder baby boy, Zufar Qadri, in Kuching, Sarawak.

Because of our Perak heritage, grandmothers of the clan are always called Opah or Pah. But this glamorous granny balks at the idea. "Pah bunyi tua lah," (Pah sounds so old) she reasons. So we'll have to wait and see what she will settle on.

Knowing dear Idah, rest assured it WILL be one of those fancy-sounding terms, whatever they are. I am happy for her though, although I know, even with a cucu (grandchild) in tow, she will never be caught dead without make-up.

On the other hand, my immediate sister Ani settled into her Opah role six years ago without as much as a whimper. To us, she was born to be the consummate homemaker - loving wife, wonderful mother and doting grandma - all rolled into one.

I have a healthy respect and much affection for grandmothers, especially because I was raised by one. My late Opah, Puteri Habibah Megat Ibrahim, took me in when I was only nine days old.

My parents had separated months before I was born and poor Mum was understandably depressed at my birth. Despatching me off to grandma's was the only solution. I guess I must be a living reminder of whatever that went wrong with their tumultuous marriage.

Anyway, there were a lot of perks in living with doting grandparents. I have to admit I was spoilt rotten. Perhaps it was my grandparents' way of making amends for my inauspicious start in life.

But that didn't mean I was spared the rod when the occasion called for it. I was caned many times as a child, mostly for talking back and cussing under my breath. But Opah was also generous with her affection - hugs and kisses were aplenty. I felt wanted and much loved.

Today I am grandaunt to many; the children of my nieces and nephews call me Opah Kama while I am Uwo Puteri to those from my husband's side of the family (they being Kamparese from Sumatra).

I have lost count of the number of grandnephews and grandnieces I have. I think I have in excess of 30. I long to be bona fide Opah, as real and genuine as they come, but the kids aren't listening.....(sigh!)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Of "Bercumbu" and The F Word...

Two weeks ago (at 3pm on Thursday July 24th, to be exact), I was in Jusco department store, One Utama, when a song being aired over the system stopped me cold in my track. It wasn't even a memorable song; the melody was poppish and bland.

It was the lyrics that caught me. As I stood rooted to the floor, ears straining to make sure I heard right, I noticed a few other customers doing the same thing. One of them caught my eye and shook her head. Part of the lyrics went "That's why I like to f**k you", loud and clear, repeated over and over again, first by the singer, then by the chorus.

Now, I am no prude - far from it. Headscarf notwithstanding, I have been known to let loose a string of colourful invectives, especially in moments of frustration. Be that as it may, the F word isn't my cup of tea. I can think of more choice words to shock and offend than mere profanity.

The issue with songs with such lyrics is that they should not have been aired in a public place like a shopping mall because they offend public sensibility. That's common sense. I was annoyed enough to have written a letter of complaint to a newspaper, which published it soon after.

Some people think the F word is a non-issue. Many rap singers revel in profane lyrics, not to mention graphic descriptions of the sex act, in their songs. It is so commonly used these days that some TV shows don't even bleep it out anymore. Am I alone in finding the word offensive or what?

Way back in the 1960s, legendary P. Ramlee penned a song with 'daring' lyrics (by Melayu standard, that is) that still give me the hots each time I hear or sing it. I say daring because the song includes a word definitely not used in polite company, then and now.

I love the song and sing it all the time at karaoke, but I still can't bring myself to mention the word; instead I substitute it for another 'milder' word. That lovely tune is Tunggu Sekejap (Wait A While) and the word deemed sexy and daring is bercumbu (making out).

When I sing it, I always use bermesra (lovey-dovey). My kids say I am too 'olde-worlde' for being squeamish about saying bercumbu. I don't know - some words just don't seem proper when said out loud. What do you think?

Tunggu Sekejap (Wait Awhile)

Tunggu sekejap wahai dinda
(wait awhile my darling)
Kerana hujan masih renyai
(for the rain still drizzles)
Tunggu sekejap
(wait awhile)
Dalam pelukan asmara ku
(in my passionate embrace)
Jangan bimbang

(worry not)
Walaupun siang akan menjelma
(that dawn will break)
Malam ini
(for tonight)
Belum puas bercumbu dengan kau
(I need to love you still)
Tunggu sekejap wahai kasih

(wait awhile my love)
Tunggulah sampai hujan teduh
(for the rain to cease)
Mari ku dendang
(let me serenade you)
Jangan mengenang orang jauh
(forget her/him who's far away)
Jangan pulang
(please don't go)
Jangan tinggalkan daku sorang
(don't leave me alone)
Tunggu sekejap kasih
(wait awhile my love)
(please wait)

[my apologies for the haphazard translation]

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Sleepless In Permatang Pauh

Malaysia's current hotspot is Permatang Pauh, where "Desperately Seeking PMship" Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is contesting in a by-election in two weeks time. Which lamb BN is sending to the slaughterhouse, I don't know.

While not quite a tourist attraction - I don't think there is anything much to see in Permatang Pauh unless you want to stand outside Anwar's fence and gawk at his house - politicians, party workers and supporters and the odd kaki pukui (troublemakers) have begun to descend upon the small township.

My children Naj and Ann, both journalists for an English daily, have been assigned by their boss to cover the run-up to the by-election. They left for Permatang Pauh last night, together with a photographer, and will be stationed there for two weeks.

It would be the first time the siblings are on the same outstation assignment. That they would be living in each other's pockets for 14 long days would be interesting to watch because Ann is a neat freak while clutter is second nature to Naj.

According to Naj, there is hardly any room available in Permatang Pauh and the vicinity, that they have to stay in Kulim. In the coming days, more press members would arrive to add to the general excitement and building momentum.

The last time Naj was away for a long period was to cover the aftermath of the devastating Asian tsunami that obliterated much of Acheh in December 2004. He was away in Acheh for almost a month, living in fear of daily aftershocks while reporting on the devastation the tsunami had inflicted on northern Sumatra.

I am just hoping all goes well in Permatang Pauh because anything could happen when emotions and sentiments run high. I am keeping my hands together in prayer for a peaceful election process, and for my kids' safe return.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Hands Off UiTM, Khalid!

Just what the bloody fish was he thinking? Why the need to make a remark that is so blatantly politically motivated? What kind of Melayu has he become?

As a proud alumus of UiTM and direct beneficiary of the government's effort to raise the socio-economic status of Bumiputras, I was enraged that Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim saw it fit to propose UiTM open its doors to non-Bumis.

Not content to limiting himself to the populist statement aimed at gaining non-Bumi support (now that Permatang Pauh by-election is within view), Khalid also went a step further by insulting UiTM graduates by insinuating they are unfriendly to other races and that they lack quality and competitive spirit.

Politicising UiTM to gain non-Malay votes in the Permatang Pauh by-election may just backfire. Don't underestimate the strong sentiment UiTM alumni have for their alma mater.

As UiTM vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Seri Ibrahim Abu Shah rightly pointed out, Malays made up only 35 percent of the total intake for higher education in BOTH public and private higher learning institutions.

He added that the majority of students in critical fields like accounting and pharmacy in public higher learning institutions are non-Malays, whereas in private higher learning institutions, 90 percent of the students are non-Malays.

UiTM, established in 1967 as Mara Institute of Technology, is the only Bumiputra-only public university. There are 20 public universities and a few hundred private colleges and higher institutions of learning in Malaysia. Why begrudge UiTM?

Lest Khalid forgets, "Bumiputra" does not translate into being a Malay and a Muslim. The entire indigenous population of Malaysia, from an Iban Christian to an Orang Asli animist qualify as Bumiputras.

Shame on you, Khalid, for betraying your own bangsa. Why don't you just stick to what you had been elected to do - administer Selangor - than poke your nose into affairs that don't concern you?

Quit playing politics, just get on with the job. Being a lembu doesn't have any merit. And being a lembu dicucuk hidung is even worse.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

When A Cat Goes Missing

Pix: Jacques (top), Otto (bottom)

Pak Abu's golfer friend Affendi wasn't his usual perky and pesky self last night when we ran into him at the Club. Understandably so, for his family's beloved pet cat has been missing for five days now.

While it isn't a pedigree, Fendi says the cat has attractive markings. He suspects it has been catnapped because that cat is such a homebody and the likelihood of it going on a walkabout is almost nil.

You have my sympathy, Fendi. I am a consummate cat lover and have experienced the heartbreak of losing precious feline pets many times over. Each time it happened, the family would grieve for weeks.

The front yard of our house in Bangsar was a veritable pet cemetery; we must have buried a dozen cats during our stay there in the mid-1990s. We lost them mostly to speeding cars; those despicable goons behind the wheels stepped on the gas even on a side street.

As my PR consultancy business peaked, the number of cats we had in our care increased. The most we ever had at any one time was 25. With the exception of one, all were strays that we took home, fed and loved with all our hearts.

Some of my relatives questioned my wisdom in spending so much on the upkeep of strays when I could easily have raised a houseful of beautiful Persians, Siamese, Burmese or even more exotic breeds.

But they had missed the whole point. I am a cat-lover, not a cat breeder. Expensive breeds mean nothing to me - they are just cats, no matter how illustrious their lineage or how magnificent their pedigree. To me, an alleycat is just as beautiful and as precious as a 'blue blood'.

Otto swaggered into our home one day, looked around and promptly staked a claim on a sofa. He was a sleek looking, orange-coloured cat, a real beauty. I could sense that he was no stray, so I wasn't really surprised to find his claws professionally trimmed and his ears cleaned.

Our vet took one look at him and declared him an Abyssinian, a regal pedigree. Unfortunately we were unable to trace his owners and he remained with us for many years. For some strange reasons, the kids named him Yamamoto, calling him Otto for short.

When we moved to Subang Jaya, Otto's wanderlust nature took root again and he started frequenting a kongsi (makeshift housing for construction site workers) across the road. The Indonesian workers there took a shine to this good-natured feline and started feeding him and playing with him.

Over time Otto no longer came home. He decided to 'downgrade' for good. But we did see him every now and then. I think he must have found a mate or two at the site. I wasn't too upset about the loss of Otto. I think he was godsend, to spread joy to people.

I can still recall Joe's witty comment on Otto's frequent absences. "I think they are feeding him tempe (fermented soya beancurd) and all the good Indonesian stuff, Ma. Maybe he is tired of cat food la."

And then there was adorable Mimi, a real misnomer, for Mimi turned out to be male. I still don't know how I could have mistaken his gender. Mimi had the endearing habit of waiting by the door to bid me goodbye every morning and he would wait until I was out of sight before going back in.

Over time, Mimi developed a close bond with our Chinese neighbour's dog, one of those miniature breeds, the name of which I can't recall. He would spend hours at the neighbour's house every day to play with the dog and would come home only late in the evening.

When the dog went for its daily walk with its owner, Mimi would follow. It was a wonder to see them together; they were like soul mates. My neighbour even prepared a basket for Mimi to sleep over, which he did a lot.

When my family was preparing to move to Subang Jaya, the neighbour requested that Mimi be left with them to keep their dog company. We loved Mimi dearly - he was my first 'baby' in Bangsar - but I felt so guilty for being selfish that I consented to their request.

Although we had over 20 cats at that time, parting with Mimi was heartbreaking. I dropped by to see Mimi almost weekly after moving and was happy to note she was doing well. As God willed it, Mimi died suddenly six months later due to a respiratory ailment.

But the loss of another cat, Jacques, affected me deeply. You could say Jacques was my favourite because he was the only one who stuck close to me at all times. He was also the only one who shared my bed, sleeping on his back in the crook of my arm.

Jacques had a quiet disposition. He found comfort in my lap and occasionally draped himself on my shoulder while I worked at the computer, read or watched TV.

Jacques developed the jitters for cars since a speeding car once ran over him, crushing a leg. That resulted in him having a metal rod inserted into the leg. Since the incident he refused to step out of the house.

One day, however, he went missing. We searched the neighbourhood for days, to no avail. I could only hazard a guess; he could have been mowed down by a speeding vehicle or he could have fallen into a fast-flowing drain and drowned. I remember crying for days over him and I still feel a twinge of pain at his memory.

Yet another cat that loomed large in our lives was a grey-coloured tom we named Yasser, after Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Yasser was a real sunshine; a born leader and a people-pleaser. Sadly, he was struck with cat leukaemia at age five (that's 35 in human years) and died soon after.

There had always been cats in my house from the time I was born, until recently, when we moved to this condo where the keeping of pets is strictly forbidden. There are times when I feel lost and lonely and yearn for feline company to cuddle and talk to. Yes, just like some people talk to their plants, I talked to my cats.

Soon after moving here, I noticed a grey-brown tomcat lurking around in the basement car park. He looked well-fed and didn't mind me patting his head, so he must be familiar with human kindness. I look out for him each time I go to the car park; it makes my day just to catch sight of him...

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Weekend That Was

That startled-looking cutiepie up there is our grandnephew-cum-adopted son Aliff Aiman, facing a camera for the first time. Check out those graceful, long slim fingers; they look perfect for the piano.
It was one of those busy weekends. For some reasons, there were so many things happening between Friday and Sunday that that I hardly had time to even check my e-mails, let alone blog.

Friday night saw Pak Abu and I parked in front of the TV, like millions of others around the world I'm sure, to watch the opening of the Beijing Olympics. And what a show it was!

Only superlatives come to mind to describe the four-hour extravaganza. The creative artistry displayed with such aplomb is a hard act to follow. London is going to have a difficult time topping this spectacular showcase when their turn comes to host the Games in four years' time.

Saturday morning was spent in the kitchen, making preparations for Aliff Aiman's first birthday. Aliff is the youngest child of our niece Samsinar and her husband Jamal and we kind of 'adopted' him when he was born.

Some 30 family members (more than half of them children) crowded into our little pad that afternoon to celebrate Aliff's big day. Pak Abu gave specific instruction to keep all the windows closed; we are, after all, on the 10th floor and there are no grills on the windows.

Aliff lives with his parents and siblings in Kelana Jaya. He is a cute little fellow, very placid and not given to much excitement. I got him a teddy bear as a birthday present, which he promptly tossed aside in favour of my table runner. if you noticed, my coffee table is devoid of cover, it had been ruthlessly keronyok-ed (crumpled) and stained.

When the time came for him to blow the solitary candle on his birthday cake, he stood there watching the flickering flame in absolute wonder. No amount of coaxing would make him blow the candle, so his sister had to do it for him.

That night we had a taste of Arabia when we attended the wedding of our friend Syed Zayed and his bride Sharifah Thaheera at Hotel Singgahsana in PJ. The groom wore a cream-coloured robe with gold trimmings and a kaffiyeh (headgear) while the bride looked stunning in a heavily brocaded and sequinned dark robe, with a sheer white waist-length veil.

Zayed's numerous relatives from Oman and Dubai were also present. Speeches were in both Arabic and English and entertainment, true to Zayed's Middle East ancestry, was provided by a men-only singing and dancing group. Agile young men (teenagers actually) hopped, skipped, jumped and pranced to upbeat Arabian music, to the delight of an appreciative crowd.

My sister Zaridah (Idah), who recently moved from Kuala Terengganu to KL, invited us over for tea Sunday. Hanizah (Izah) and Zanariah (Ana) and their respective families were there too. So were nieces Rina and Rita, the married daughters of my sister Zahana (Ani) who lives in Dungun.

It was our first get-together since Mak's death 2 months ago. I am glad to note everyone seems to be glowing with good health, Alhamdulillah. While Izah and Ana were their usual svelte selves and Idah slightly rounder (only just, Idah..hehehe), yours truly have given up hope of ever returning to a 32-inch waist.

Newly-wed Rita, whose wedding we attended in Dungun 2 months back, had piled on the pounds, resulting in everyone pestering the poor girl about a bun in the oven. Not yet! came the bashful answer. Well, Pak Abu and I can certainly do with yet another grandnephew or niece, considering we are still sorely lacking in the menantu (son/daughter-in-law) and cucu(grandchild) departments........

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Crowning Glory No More

The days of fussing over my crowning glory, spending hundreds of hard-earned ringgit each month, is long gone. It died the day I donned the headscarf many years ago.

No more regular trips to the hairdressers. No more experimenting with all shades and hues to keep up with the trendy crowd. No more fashionable hairdos and expensive hair accessories.

Nowadays it's back to the basic necessity, which means the occasional trim to keep the hair in shape. I like it this way.

Two days back I decided to try out this hairdressing salon nearby. It has been operating in Taman Tun Dr Ismail (TTDI) for ages (so I was told) but moved to this new location, still within TTDI, about 7 months ago.

The middle-aged hair stylist took one look at my salt & pepper hair and made this remark: "You tak mau colour your hair ka? You banyak uban nampak tua tau! Nanti your husband jemu!"

(Loose translation: "Don't you want to colour your hair? You have plenty of grey hair which make you look old. Your husband may just tire of you!")

Talk about foot in mouth disease! As a public relations practitioner, I couldn't help thinking this was PR at its worst.

You just don't insult your customers (especially those on their first visit!) with offensive remarks and still expect them to patronise your shop.

Strangely enough, I wasn't at all offended, just amused at the seriousness of his tone. He didn't believe me when I said prefer my hair in its natural hues.

The fact is that I love my silver hair from the time I started getting them. I want to keep them the way they are and I want more of them, the sooner the better.

I love looking at women with neatly trimmed salt & pepper hair; they look distinguished. I know of a few ladies who ooze charm, looking absolutely marvelous with their shock of neatly coiffured silver hair.

My aunt Puteri Rafidah Megat Khas of Sime Darby is one, my gynaecologist Dr Siti Zaleha of Subang Medical Centre is another. Their hair is like a fashion statement. It's so chic.

I believe in growing old gracefully. I think there is a lot of merit in that. You don't have to look young to feel young.

I did ask Pak Abu about the jemu aspect of that rhetoric. He couldn't help chuckling. "You look good, I like you the way you are, " he commented with a smile.

That, my dear no-PR hairstylist, may not be an earth-shattering statement of love, but it is good enough for me.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Malaysia Tanah Air Ku ( I )

This is the month of August, Bulan Merdeka, the month of Independence. Come 31st August, the country celebrates its 51st anniversary of freedom from colonial shackle.

I am both upset and saddened by some calls, led by a couple of prominent bloggers no less, to fly the nation's flag upside down to show displeasure with the current situation in Malaysia.

At the risk of being alienated by fellow bloggers, I am inclined to think that some of these scribes have gotten too big for their shoes, assuming the mantle of 'God's gift to Blogsphere' as their private domain.

Just because blogsphere has achieved the status of a 'happening' place and some bloggers the aura of celebrities, it doesn't give them the right to advocate disrespect for the symbol of our nationhood - our flag.

I am a 54 year-old 'auntie' (or makcik, whatever your preference), which makes me a pre-Merdeka child. I remember the time when the whites dictated our lives.

I remember many things - communist insurgency, zaman dharurat (Emergency), food rationing (my birth certificate still carries my food ration numbers).

I remember the bad times and the good times. I remember the elation of becoming Malaysia, the sorrow of separation from Singapore and the depths of despair of May 13.

What is happening now is just another kink in the nation's tapestry. All will come to pass. We still have a lot of growing up to do.

If you think 51 years is ample time to reach Utopia, take a long hard look at the USA. They achieved their independence in 1776 and are still grappling with racial and human rights issues.

I am Malaysian to the core and unashamedly proud to be one. For better or for worse, this is my country and I love this land without reservations. I may have my grouses with the government, the nation, the people, the economy... but I will never insult my country, let alone belittle it in the company of outsiders.

I am proud to say that my family fly the nation's flag EVERY YEAR on the 31st of August and this year will be no different. And as always, the flag will be flown properly, with utmost respect and deference.