Sunday, March 29, 2009


Meet Lillie, the latest addition to the Abu household. We took her home from SPCA this afternoon. She has been vaccinated and dewormed; we have to take her back in a month's time for spaying. We were told she's one sweet-natured, manja feline. So far she has lived up to that reputation...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Babble

One evening a couple of days back, I was catnapping in the comfort of my bedroom while waiting for the azan (muezzin’s call for prayers), when a sudden eerie sound reverberated all around me.

I still cannot find the words to properly explain what I heard – it sounded like a babble of angry voices – but I can tell you that it was extremely creepy.

It escalated to a dizzy pitch that forced me to reach out my hands to hold my head, only to realise I was rendered paralysed by the rising din.

I searched my thoughts for Ayat Kursi* and saw in my mind the verses dangling in mid-air ready for picking, but I couldn’t utter a single word.

As I struggled to open my eyes, the noise slowly receded and when I finally did, it disappeared altogether.

Shaken, I wobbled out of bed into the lounge; Pak Abu was at his laptop, the TV was on, nothing was out of place and everything seemed fine with the world. But what was that, screeching spookily in my head?

Suddenly it dawned on me that I had just been ‘disturbed.’ While this sort of intrusion was nothing new (it had occurred sporadically in the past), this was the first time it happened since I returned from the Hajj.

Perhaps it was a test of my inner strength. Perhaps I have slackened somewhat since my return that they think it is worth a try to gain a foothold once again within me. They never stop trying, don’t they?

Satan, I fear thee not; it is God Almighty I fear the most, for, it is to Him that I am accountable. Still, this sort of thing is very unnerving.

What I found rather disconcerting at that point in time was the fact that I couldn’t recite the all-important Ayat and had to refer to a booklet to read it.

And this is one Ayat I had committed to memory ages ago, since my childhood days! Thank God, it's back and I'm a-okay now.

I am not quite sure how to manage this whole 'gangguan' thing, should it happen again. Any suggestions?

*Ayat Kursi – Quranic verses usually chanted to calm the self in times of apprehension and fear, and to ward off evil spirits.

Goodbye Purrcy

Purrcy, the kitten we adopted from SPCA three weeks ago, died of cat flu yesterday evening. She got sick and went off food barely a week after we took her home.

Nawwar and I brought her to see Dr Christine the vet, who prescribed some medication. According to Dr Christine, apart from the developing flu, Purrcy had a serious case of worms as well.

So we got her dewormed, but the flu got worse and she was unable to eat at all. We had to ward her at the vet so she could be put on drips and force-fed.

We boarded her at 'Christie's Ark' in Damansara Utama for four days to build up her strength, and took her home two days ago since she seemed to be getting better.

She still had trouble swallowing and was rather weak, so we fed her using a syringe. Yesterday I saw mucous flowing out of her nose; green and smelly, and disrupting her breathing.

The flu was back. And before we knew it, she died, just hours later. I think she was too young to withstand the flu. Maybe she had yet to build her immunity.

I am glad we took her home, though. At least Nawwar and I were able to give her our personal attention and TLC. She was meant to die at home, not at the vet.

We are going back to SPCA this weekend. There are many more cats waiting for a good home there. We would be happy if we could make a difference, even if to only one cat....

Monday, March 23, 2009

Come Meet Pak Abu

That's Pak Abu on extreme right. Check out the remos hairdo and super-snug drainpipe pants. Oh maaan.. you look so groovy lah, Pak Abu!

I have been tagged by Wanshana about my better half, Pak Abu. So here he is, in all his 57 year-old glory. He has been informed of my intention to write this and has given his consent, but he says: "Eh, pasal voting-voting tu takyahlah. I bukan vote pun!" He he he....

He’s sitting in front of the TV, what's on the screen?
It has to be one of those sports programmes, most probably golf. He’s absolutely nuts about golf. He also watches soccer, tennis, bowling and snooker – in other words, just about anything remotely resembling sport. I think if konda-kondi and galah panjang are ESPN regulars, he would watch them too. Once the remote is in his hands, rest assured you can kiss any other TV programme goodbye for the period.

You’re out to eat; what kind of dressing he puts on his salad?
The usual stuff, French dressing or Thousand Island.

What’s one food he doesn’t like?
I can’t think of a single food that he doesn’t like. He is not a fussy eater. The closest to ‘doesn’t like’ would probably be too-sweet kuih muih, especially those from the East Coast like jala mas, nekbat et al.

You go out to eat and have a drink. What does he order?
His drink order varies from place to place. If it’s the mamak, he would order either hot barley or Nescafe ‘O’, both sugarless. If it’s Lake Club (for karaoke), it would either be watermelon juice (also sugarless) or Guinness Malta. If it’s KLGCC (for golf), it would be nescafe tarik kurang manis but we go to KLGCC for karaoke, the standard order is hot lemon tea flavoured with honey.

Where did he go to high school?
Em Cee Gay Gay, Kuala Kangsar (Class of 1969)

What shoe-size does he wear?
Seven or eight, depending on the cut. Since my feet are as big as his and I am the one who usually buys his shoes, I would try them on me first before making the purchase (and you can imagine the look on the sales person’s face, seeing this tudung & kurung-clad makcik trying on men’s shoes)

If he was to collect anything, what would it be?
Dust. He is a great collector of dust. He believes the act of dusting is a waste of precious time (which could be used to do more productive things, like watching golf on TV). Seriously, though, he collects golf caps and he has been bugging me to hang them all on the four walls of the study, which I believe, is a devious way to collect even more dust (akin to killing two birds with one stone). So far, I have not relented. I'll keep you posted on how this 'tug-of-war' ends.

What is his favourite type of sandwich?
Plain chicken sandwich.

What would this person eat every day if he could?
KFC (I think in another lifetime, he was Colonel Sanders’ favourite SIL with a 4th Floor office in the KFC headquarters).

What is his favourite cereal?
Muesli especially the ones loaded with raisins and oats.

What would he never wear?
Round-necked T-shirts. He simply dislikes them. He gets rashes if one such baju gets into contact with his skin. Such T-shirts are banned from his wardrobe. Because we share almaris, I too cannot keep such offensive articles of clothing on my side of the shelves. To simplify matters, I have weaned myself off round-necked tees.

What is his favourite sports team?

Liverpool, and any team that plays against Manchester United (which happens to be ‘my’ team since the 1970s). Whenever Liverpool and Manchester United meet, snow falls in our house and you can feel the chill. Daughter Nawwar is a Liverpool fan, son Naj is an MU diehard while son Joe supports Arsenal AND any team that plays MU. Ann wisely stays out of soccer.

Who did he vote for?
He has been pissed off by Malaysian politics for a while now that he refused to spoil his day by going out to vote. At best, he is apolitical; at worst, he thinks the best solution is to let women run this country. At least we can see the coming into prominence of Parti Coli or something, with pink-coloured conical brassiere (a la Madonna) as its symbol.

Who is his best friend?
He’s closest to his golf buddies Amin and Affendi. Otherwise, there’s me, who doubles up as his sparring partner in more ways than one. Between the two of us, we have perfected sarcasm to a fine art and we both enjoy it tremendously.

What is something you do that he wishes you wouldn’t do?
Getting lost each time I drive (which I do with clockwork regularity despite having driven to such places countless times; I even got lost driving home!)

What is his heritage?
He is a first-generation Malaysian and a Minang through and through. His folks came from Kampar, Sumatera, and he has a large clan there still.

What is his favourite colour?
As a Leo and a Dragon, he is into exuberant colours (especially red) but only for golf. For work, he doesn’t go beyond white/light blue/cream shirts and dark pants.

hat is his habit?
Discounting burping, breaking wind, muttering to himself, or dozing off while sitting upright, he has this pathological need to munch on kacang while watching TV. The absence of munchies can drive him to sleepiness. Come to think of it, he even nodded off with a fistful of kacang in his hand!

What is he proud of?
Even though he doesn’t say it in so many words, I can safely say he is proud of the fact that he had made his parents proud by succeeding in life. Whilst they didn’t live long enough to enjoy the fruits of his success, they were happy to know that their sacrifice had not been in vain.

He is proud of the fact that he was the first budak Melayu from his kampung (Kg Kuala Krau, Temerloh) to go to an English school, to enter MCKK and subsequently, to study abroad. (I felt the poignancy of the moment when he told me that three busloads of proud relatives descended upon Subang Airport to give this kampung boy a send-off to England in the early 70s).

Lastly, do you think he will read this?
He reads all my postings, gives his input occasionally, and takes the trouble to save them all (as I plod along with my writing) in a special file for easy reference.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Abang Onn

I barely got off my prayer mat this morning when the mobile's sms alert beeped. Now, any text message arriving so early in the morning is always a cause for concern.

It was brief and laden with unspoken grief - "Abang Onn baru meninggal." (Abang Onn had just passed away).

Now I understood why I dreamt of my mom and stepfather two nights ago. They had come to invite him home. Innalillahi wainna ilaihi rajii'uun...

Abang Onn, 61, whose mother died when he was still an infant, came to us as a toddler. Raised by my grandparents, he had lived with my mother and stepfather as a teenager.

Although he ranked as an uncle, all of us nieces and nephews called him Abang because of the close age gap between us (he was only four years older than my eldest brother, Yusoff).

Abang Onn was married to a lovely wife, Dahlia, and had three grown sons. He underwent a heart bypass last year and had had to contend with diabetes and high blood pressure as well.

He had been in and out of hospital since and had been steadily gaining strength in the last three months of his life. We last met him two months ago in Ampang Puteri where he was warded.

We had just returned from the Hajj when my brother called to say Abang Onn had a sudden craving for buah kurma (dates).

Since we did bring some back from the Holy Land, we took him some, together with air zamzam.

He was thrilled to have 'the real thing' - dates from Makkah / Madinah - although he could hardly swallow. We had not met for quite a while; we hugged and shed some tears.

Holding his hands while he sipped air zamzam, my mind was transported to my childhood when he used to hoist me on his slender shoulders, or hold my hands to ensure I didn't trip or fall.

He was buried at the Klang Gate Muslim Cemetery after Friday prayers today. May Allah swt place his soul amongst the faithful.

This is proving to be a very sorrowful month indeed. But Allah knows best.... Al-Fatihah.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


She walked into my dream last night. It was so lucid I could almost touch her. She was oh so beautiful, her skin smooth and fair, her face shone with that unforgettable winsome smile of hers, and she looked much younger than the day she died.

She was clad in a shiny lime green dress with a black button at the back. I had never seen that satin dress before - I don't think she ever owned such a shiny tog in her entire life - but it was undoubtedly a pretty piece of work.

She walked through the front door accompanied by her husband. He was in a white shirt and brown pants and was holding a brown paper package in his hands. He looked just as good, his face smiling broadly.

So they came into the house, looked at me, and beamed. I woke up with a start. There were tears rolling down my cheeks. It was 4.17am.

Perhaps it's time I go plant that kemboja (frangipanni) tree at your grave. I have been thinking about it all along, but never really make an effort to do it.

Maybe I should take a drive down to Dungun and check out the house. I have been thinking about that too, but....
Maybe I need to touch a few of your things, Mak, to make sure your memory won't fade away...

I am sorry I wasn't by your deathbed when you were gone. But I was with you all the way from Kuala Lumpur, Mak.

If only I had left a little earlier, if only I had gone straight to the hospital, if only I had spoken to you before I left, if only... if only... if only...

I miss you so much sometimes it hurts real bad, Mak.....

Requiem for My Mother

Monday, March 16, 2009

Oh, Rihanna!

If that Barbados-born singer Rihanna were my daughter, I would have given her a tight slap to wake her up.

No, make it two stinging smacks, in the name of justice to each cheek. Just to bring her back to her senses.

The sexy, 21 year-old pop singer may be rolling in wealth (being a millionaire in your late teens must be a bane) but it is quite clear that she doesn't have half the brain to go with all that dough.

And I had always thought of Chris Brown, that hugely popular R&B singer, as squeaky-clean; a good, well-behaved boy. All 19 years of him. Well, at least that was the hype on him ever since he started climbing the charts not so long ago.

When the duo latched on together as an item, Hollywood drooled; two superstars who already had it made, playing the dating game, with all the makings of the next music powerhouse couple.

But before you know it - WHAM! THWACK! BAM!
What the bleeding hell happened?

Where was that well-raised, well-behaved, no-smoking, no-drug taking, goody-goody, church-going 'anak mak' who opened doors for elderly gentlemen and helped old ladies cross the street?

Oh look! The prince had turned into a slimy, repulsive (but still very wealthy) frog! And the (pop) princess? She had willingly stepped into the non-glass slippers of the bullied step-sister. Pinch me please! Tell me this is just make-believe.

Unless you have been a hermit meditating in Gua Tempurung for the past month or so, you probably would have known about the Rihanna-Brown altercation on the eve of the Grammy awards last month, that left her semi-conscious and him in custody for assault and battery.


DETAILS of the alleged fracas between Chris Brown and Rihanna emerged in court today, including Brown's reported threats to his girlfriend.

R&B singer Chris Brown was charged with assaulting his pop-star girlfriend Rihanna in Los Angeles on Thursday as gruesome details about the alleged attack emerged for the first time.

The Los Angeles Police Department has steadfastly refused to divulge specifics in the case, but details emerged in a detective's affidavit that gave a blow-by-blow account of the incident, The Daily Telegraph reports.

The account revealed how Brown allegedly lashed out at Rihanna as the couple drove home from a pre-Grammys party in his rented Lamborghini.

The affidavit said the attack was triggered after Rihanna read out a lengthy text message from an unidentified woman found on Brown's phone.

The singer reportedly slammed Rihanna's head against the window of the car before repeatedly punching and biting her.

The affidavit said Rihanna's mouth filled with blood, which was splattered across the interior of the car.

Brown is also alleged to have attempted to push Rihanna out of the moving car before warning: "I'm going to beat the shit out of you when we get home.''

When Rihanna called her assistant to alert police, Brown raged: "You did the stupidest thing ever. I'm going to kill you'' before putting the singer in a headlock so severe she nearly lost consciousness, according to the report.

Brown, 19, appeared in court for arraignment on the charges, which came after he allegedly subjected Barbados-born singer Rihanna to a savage beating in the early hours of February 8.

I don't give a rat's ass on Chris Brown's mental state. What he did was despicable and he should be made to pay for it. In jail. Like us common folks when we screw the laws.

But in America, things are done differently, I guess. Especially if you can afford an army of lawyers to defend your savage battering bout as 'a little misunderstanding."

It seems that plea bargaining is already in the works. For all his swagger, Brown doesn't want to be incarcerated. I personally think he belongs in jail, not in the church seeking counselling with his pastor, nor on a therapist's couch.

What I am disappointed with is Rihanna's decision to reconcile with Brown. Talkshow host Oprah felt Rihanna's low self-esteem led to that decision.

She also cautioned Rihanna that she was making a big mistake in returning to Brown's arms. No matter what, I believe the likelihood of Brown taking a swing or two at her again in the future, should they remain together, is very high.

A domestic abuser simply doesn't change. He remains a coward, because only a coward brutalises the weak and the puny; women and children.

Tell me about it. I had been coping with the spousal abuse of someone dear to me for years. She was like a ragdoll in his hands. Broken bones were aplenty and yet she refused to leave him. Was it love? I don't know.

She finally did, when he took to torturing her mentally in addition to physical abuse, by womanising as well. That clinched it. The divorce bought about a change in her. For the better.
I thank God Almighty for His mercy on her (and if you are reading this, as I know you will, remember I love you very much).

Rihanna oh Rihanna....! Why are you thinking with your arse?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Having Fun With Subtitles

These are some that I can recall. You are most welcome to add to the list. Have fun!

Let’s not split hairs over this, ok?
Mari kita jangan membahagi rambut ke atas ini, ok?
(Yeah! Let’s divide the property instead! Who wants hair? Lots of hair??)

Why are you such an ass?
Kenapa kau kaldai?
(Indeed! Why are you not a giraffe? Or a cute rabbit? Why ??)

He is nicer than my ex by a mile!
Dia lebih baik daripada bekas ku hingga sebatu!
(Err, one mile is not that far lah.. he should be nicer by at least the distance from KL to London!)

My life’s such a bitch!
Kehidupanku sungguh anjing betina!
(Ooh you poor thing; your life should be anjing jantan instead; kencing kat tiang, bonking all the bitches)

When are you ever going to call a spade a spade?
Bila lagi kau akan memanggil penyodok itu penyodok?
(Yes, when indded! Try to improvise lah. Try calling penyodok penyudu for a change!)

Her liquid eyes bore into him with lustful abandon...
Matanya yang berair membosankan dia dengan penuh ghairah yang melebihi..
(Hmm, how can one be bosan and ghairah at the same time? Ghairah yang melebihi? If so, takkan mata jer berair kak.... LOL)

The stamp of approval from her mom was what they seek to marry
Setem kelulusan daripada ibunya diperlukan untuk mereka kawin
(I never knew mothers these days issue 'setem kelulusan' for their kids to marry!)

Opportunities hardly knock on my door..
Peluang mengetuk dengan kuat di pintu rumahku
(Maybe they had been knocking your head instead, and hard too, that you can't even differentiate the positive from the negative?)

She's like a millstone around my neck
Dia macam batu giling di tengkuk aku
(Oh God, saya baca pun terasa beratnya!)

They lead a 'hard scrabble' life
Mereka hidup dengan bermain skrabel yang susah
(Oooooomy.. see what happens when one word gets separated? Aduii..)

PS:I truly like the second one: Kenapa kau kaldai? Imagine the number of directions this question can go with the positioning of a comma.

Kenapa, kau kaldai? Why? Are you an Ass?
Kenapa kau, kaldai? What's with you, Ass?
Kenapa kau kaldai? Why are you an Ass?

(Just taking a respite from translation. Found a new gem, btw. "There was a hushed silence among the audience".... Terdapat kesunyian tersembunyi di kalangan penonton.")

Please God Almighty, have mercy on me!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Translating The Translator

I am in the midst of a translation job and it is driving me nuts. The deadline's a couple more days but with the grace of God (and extended hours, plus copious mugs of steaming kopi-o), I think I should be able to get it done in time.

Let me rephrase the above statement for it is not entirely correct. I am in the midst of overhauling someone else's translation job, after which I have to proof-read the entire work - all 187 pages of them - and this is driving me bonkers.

I always end up with this sort of thing; such is my karma. This book on management has been translated - English to Bahasa Melayu - by someone else. The client isn't happy with the end result and has asked for it to be reviewed.

To be fair, they had approached me months ago to do it but I was about to leave for the Hajj, so I declined. Seems like it's my baby after all ...

What was to have been a once-over has turned out to be a complete revision of the translation, just because the erstwhile translator had committed the absolute travesty of translating - being literal.

Some samplings: "Although I did not have the benefit of working with".. came out as "walaupun saya tidak mempunyai kepentingan bekerja dengan" ....

Here's another one: "I have built on many great authors" ... became ... "saya telah bina atas usaha ramai penulis terkemuka"...

At this very moment I am taking a much needed break; I have been squinting at the laptop for the past three hours and a slight headache is developing.

Please God, don't let it be migraine. All I can take now is the garden variety kind of headache. I need all the time in the world to get this work over with.

Ask any translator worth his/her salt and he/she is likely to tell you translating any written work is no walk in the park.

Translation is part and parcel of my PR job and I have been at it for 19 years now, yet I have never started a job without trepidation.

It doesn't matter what you translate - a press release or a speech, an advertorial or an advertising copy, a financial statement or a company prospectus, or even a book (which I am doing right now), the onus is on the translator not to stray too far from the original text.

Sticking close to the original copy is the hardest part when you are on the roll. I have always preferred translating Bahasa Melayu to English than vice versa, perhaps because my comfort level with English is higher.

Above all, however, I still prefer writing - especially copywriting - because it gives one a lot of leeway to be creative with the language.

The most fun I had with copywriting was years ago when a client supplying in-flight gifts for a local airline asked me to pen words describing each and every item that they created for the airline.

The range of items was a delight to work with - silver bookmarks in the shapes of miniature wau (Terengganu kite), pending (traditional oval-shaped belt buckle), labu sayong (earthenware water jug) and kebaya nyonya, among them.

It made work seem like play then. Unfortunately, there isn't an iota of play in whatever I am doing now. But there's money to be earned, so I am not complaining.

The mind has been idle ever since returning from the Hajj that it is in danger of becoming the Devil's workshop.

Thus it is good to jolt the grey matter (whatever's left of it) back into service ..... Oh, I'm veering off-course.. time to get back to work....

Monday, March 9, 2009


Oh, oh.. where are they taking me? I'm scared...

Yooo hooo! Anyone out there?

Mmmm, this must be my new home...
That carpet looks good for a roll..

Beautiful siblings, white/grey..

A mere kitten, tiny and sweet. Would love to take her home but...

Our hearts break to leave this one....

and this one.....

and these cutiepies...

and this pensive looking fella too...
but what can we do, there's room for only one or two...

We celebrated Maulidur Rasul today with an adoption. We had been talking about it for days; just waiting for the right time. And today was D-Day.

Joe, his friend June, Nawwar and I went to SPCA in Ampang after lunch. Our mission - to find a cat for the condo. It has been far too lonely here in my study.

I needed a cat with one paw carelessly plonked on my laptop, or draped around my shoulders, for inspiration. I need a cat to talk to, to confide in, to bitch about life in general.

We had a hard time deciding. They were all beautiful to our eyes. And we knew how much they needed a place to call 'home'.

We wanted so much to be the loving hands to caress them and loving hearts to lavish affection on them. We wished we could have them all.

As we went from cage to cage, from one enclosure to another, we saw faces upturned in hope. It was heartbreaking to have to leave them behind...

We found her sitting at the back of a cage, staring at us. She's a sweet little thing, four months old, with white fur, grey ears and striped tail.

She has the most beautiful blue eyes, almost prompting me to name her Nikita, after Elton John's song of same.

In the end we gave Nawwar the honour. Welcome home, Purrcy a.k.a Purrsie!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Made In Malaysia

Maybe I am getting old. Maybe I have developed a conscience. Maybe the Hajj has something to do with it. May even be that I no longer care about what other people think. I honestly don't know the real reason.

What I do know is that I am experiencing a sudden burst of patriotic fervour in, of all things, grocery shopping.

Brands that say "Made In Malaysia". Brands proclaiming halal, suci and bersih (permissible, unadulterated & pure, clean).

Make no mistake. I have never compromised on the 'halalness' of what I use and have been buying halal and suci products for as long as I can remember. It's the brands I am talking about.

For a long time I avoided many locallly made products for the simple reason that they sounded unsophisticated and local. In other words, 'takder kelas'.

Of course, when I think about my erstwhile shallowness, I cringe. Then again, we are allowed sheer stupidity in the course of our lives because life itself is one long learning experience.

I can take the easy way out by blaming my anglophilic tendencies on my upbringing. Grandpa was the consummate anglophile; unashamedly so.

He taught me English before I step foot into school, and spent his free time reading books and magazines ordered direct from England, his two favourites being 'Reader's Digest' and 'Popular Mechanic'.

His breakfast was Horlick and Quaker Oats, or half-boiled eggs and toast with marmalade. Porridge or congee was to be eaten with Marmite. And absolutely nothing but Chivers for jam.

Shopping was done at The Store, where the butcher's white apron was as crisp as his accent and prices were shown in Malayan dollars and pound sterling.

I stepped foot in Kuala Lumpur with the notion of "British Is Best." I was that way raised. True, I could have used my head to think, but I was young and impressionable and rational thinking wasn't part of the deal. Mary Quant was all the rage and I was a dedicated follower.

It was not until I went to UK that I learned Marks & Spencer and Clarks were just your usual everyday brands. I had always thought those were 'the' brands to end all brands.

Coming back down to earth, it feels good to wean oneself off this foreign yoke. Can I live without imported foodstuffs? Can I survive without Brazilian coffee and Earl Grey? Are there alternatives to Woods Grape Peppermint Cure and Mothercare?

Yes I can and yes there are. Although I have no intention of denying and depriving myself and my family good products, local brands take precedence.

Brand consciousness is such a waste of money. On a few occasions, I had paid RM10 for a bar of soap just because the brand was 'green', thus 'in'. Nothing elevates one's status faster than being seen as a 'greenie.'

The time has come to use discretion while shopping. Just as foreign brands do not necessarily translate into 'the real thing', local names certainly do not mean substandard products.

Safi shampoo (limau purut scent) is marvelous and Safrah face cleanser does the job just as well, and at a fraction of the cost compared to imported ones. And they don't come any suci-er! What more can one ask for?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Quizzes of Yesterday

The other day, while waiting for our food to arrive, son Joe popped this question out of the blue; “Can you name all the 50 states of the USA?”

To our credit, Pak Abu and I managed to name 34. We were mighty pleased with ourselves for remembering, even as we fell 16 short of the full number. Prodded further, we could even manage some of the better known capital cities as well.

On the other hand, go ask any American high school or even college student to name the states and federal territories of Malaysia, and the likelihood of him responding with “Where the fook is Malaysia?” is probably greater than getting the right answer.

I read somewhere that Americans in general are very inward-looking. They have this notion that the United States is the centre of the universe, and that the world revolves around them.

As such, they do not feel the need to breach any learning boundaries to learn how the likes of us, existing here in the fringes of their civilisation, live.

It does seem to me that had it not been for the protracted wars they got themselves involved in, the Yanks would never have be able to differentiate between Asia and Arabia.

The Vietnam War had helped open their eyes to Southeast Asia (and some, their loins to the goodtime girls and boys of Bangkok/ Phuket/ Pattaya), whilst the Iran and Iraq Wars had enabled them to spell Mesopotamia and Euphrates correctly (if at all).

If you notice the derision in my tone, rest assured it is very much intended. There is no love lost between USA and yours truly. But enough of 'Big Brother'.

In our household, quizzes were part and parcel of our daily existence when the kids were growing up. It became a mark of honour for them to be able to collect as many points as possible for answering correctly.

How we transversed the world those days playing the game of geography, naming countries and their respective capitals and locating them on the map.

The kids became adept at identifying the highest peaks and longest rivers, biggest lakes and deepest oceans, the seven wonders ancient and modern, the continents and the deserts.

From geography, the quizzes would move to historical events, and notable figures and their respective achievements, from Abe Lincoln to Churchill to Gandhi, From Darwin to Edison to Bell, and everyone would be toppling over each other to come up with the correct answers.

And then there were those spelling bees; impromptu episodes that usually evolved from sibling squabbles which would require Mom as the referee-cum-arbitrator. Because of these games, our long car trips were never boring.

The stress, however, was on me, to be able to provide the right answers at the drop of a hat. THAT was tough, so I always came armed with the necessary books for reference; this was, after all, during those pre-internet days.

The thirst for general knowledge has never been quenched for me; I have always wanted to know more of everything, no matter how trivial (maybe it was the kaypoh gene in me).

When I began servicing the Tourism Authority of Thailand in 1992 (here), the first thing that I did was make a list of all 76 provinces in Thailand.

At that time, I had yet to learn Thai, so it was a real tongue-twisting effort to pronounce, let alone memorise, them.

The day when I could reel off all 76 names, plus the 20 names of Bangkok, and identify them all on the Thai map, was a day to remember.

To all and sundry, it was probably nothing much to shout about, but I felt a small measure of achievement and that was good enough for me.

My kids are no longer in school but old habits die hard. Sometimes, quizzes fly hard and fast when we get together (and Mom is still expected to be Puan Serba Tau...tough, eh).

The beautiful part is they still remember most of the answers after all these years. I wonder if, in the wake of the Internet and computer games, kids still play these simple yet highly educational games today ....

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

For Faizal, With Love

I went home to Ipoh today. To bury Faizal, the youngest of all my siblings. He was 38 and engaged to be married. His fiancee, Soha, and her parents came all the way from Sungei Petani, Kedah, for the funeral.

Faizal, who was overweight, died yesterday evening of complications arising from diabetes. He was buried at noon, a few feet away from the grave of another brother, Wahab, who died two years ago, age 48.

I have lost two brothers in as many years, both much younger than me. There is nothing much left to say, really. Words have no meaning when you end up burying your kid brothers.