My Malaysia …

This was the exact sign-post where an old man once flagged my also-not-very-Ferrari Kenari two years ago, and I did what all women driving alone should NOT do. I stopped and asked him where he was going. The story, staying true to the ingredient of defiance-related situations, did not stop there of course. I shall blog about it in another post. Today being Malaysia’s Merdeka Day and so many of my Malaysian blog friends have written about their beloved country, I asked myself why am I – the self-declaring half-Malaysian never profess my lurrrrve for the country in my blog (yes yes Singapore, I love you too. Pls read the post ‘NDP-addict’ – happy?!) .

Cyberjaya was not my first posting to Malaysia. It was my second. The first time I was sent to Malaysia was to KL – Kelana Jaya to be precise. I lived in a swanky-sounding condo called ‘Shangrila’ (no kidding) and the apartment was smacked in between PJ’s sports hub. The condo, swanky as it sounds, was not as swanky though. At least not on the exterior. So my dreams of living the posh expat life was dashed.

When I first moved, my entire , and I do mean ENTIRE clan (we are talking about BOTH my Malaysian and Singapore side) trooped to my place for a Uja-dapat-kerja-luar-negeri kenduri. Now, I don’t really consider Malaysia as luar negeri, but hey, it was an excuse for my family to meet and makan-makan lah.We had caterers and we had only one small TV. We also had 30 people in our family. I had no Internet connection then and recalled how ZH, my cousin-in-law from Penang was trying to send a document to work via my then-very-sophisticated Psion Revo.The Internet connection was via my mobile phone and of course the PDA crashed. This was 2001 mind you, and 3G was still a subject of debate and discussions among wannabe techno-geeks. So of course the bandwidth on my mobile was a-bit-the-ketat.

My stint in Kelana Jaya was memorable, but nothing prepared me for the awesome life in Cyberjaya when I was posted to Malaysia again in 2003. This time, I felt like someone was playing a prank on me. I DID LIVE in a swanky apartment (wohooo!) but this time, with a not-so-swanky name. It was called D’Melor (*hide my face, quick!*), and remembered friends commenting – “Apa? Nama apartmen kau D’melor? Eee..kampungnya!’. Suka hati koranglah, Mamat.

I love Cyberjaya . It was only in Cyberjaya, the Intelligent City – that you can see a herd of cows crossing the road on a bright afternoon, going towards the Cyberjaya Street Mall. Did you know that cows are into Gucci and designer coffee too? Only in Cyberjaya my friend. Cos it IS an Intelligent City – who is to tell that those cows were not cloned Dollys.

I remember stopping my car, mouth agaped while letting the cows passed and wondered – ‘Ok Lembus, are YOU actually having coffee at the mall or what?’. The Lembus of course couldnt’ be bothered with me. They just stared blankly at my not-so-Ferrari-Kenari and walked away probably with this thought –‘Bodoh punya Singaporean. Macam tak pernah nampak Lembu!’.

There were also many mornings when I would zoom off and drive around Cyberjaya and Putrajaya in circles.On some days I went warring with the laptop – just for the thrill of finding a free wireless network I can latch onto. Hey, I AM Singaporean you know. Kalau free, mesti cari!

The two Jayas were sexy-looking cities, and I always show them off to Singaporean friends or overseas colleagues who came to visit. In my books, the majestic pink Masjid Putrajaya is unbeatable, right up there with Istanbul’s Blue Mosque or even the Imam Reza’s Mahram in Mashad, Iran.

Then, there were the wonderful evenings listening to SH’s hungry drive to make her spa the best in the world, in between live blues music in a small Irish pub in Lorong Kasawari (I think). In between, there will inevitably be her stories about men, and those were the juice! I remembered we were once followed by 2 men on a bike at 2 am in the morning, and it was SH’s fast response that saved us. Phew. It must have been her years of being close to the male species. She can detect them following from behind even when they are metres away! I didn’t have such powers nor such intuition. Not enough practice lah, kesian.

The night scene in KL is exuberant, to say the least. From rib-cracking theatre talents from Drama Lab, to pure, raw strums of the guitar in small pubs somewhere around the Jalan Raja Chulan area – everyone will have something to do besides shopping ! I cannot undestand why, therefore, Singaporeans ONLY visit KLCC on their trips there and THEN complain there is nothing to do in KL. Puh leeasee…

Then there is H and N, 2 sisters who introduced me to some wonderful lorongs in KL and the surrounding Selangor area where the best food awaits. I am talking about REAL food people, not the restauranty, Singaporean-tourist type. I love, absolutely love to aksi borak with the hawkers, macam-macam cerita terkeluar! I also remember how I embarassed N ( a pure-bred Malaysian) when I proudly wore a T-shirt with a the words ‘Teluk Chempedak’ strewn across it while we were hanging out at Dome in KLCC. That was how proud I am of my Malaya.

Don’t get me started on my many road-trips out of Selangor area. My not-so-Ferrari-Kenari have been to Kuantan and back within 8 hours on one crazy Sunday with my cousins. It was going at 150km/h no less. Mind you, I was a bit high on dollops of lemang and rendang daging bought from the lovely orang kampung who set up stalls along the Karak Highway. I was also in denial that I am indeed driving a Kenari, and not a Ferrari. Sigh. Double kesian.

So how can I not love Malaysia for all these adventures? I irritate fellow Singaporeans all the time when I say I am half-Malaysian just because I mastered how to say ‘kot‘ instead of ‘eh‘ in between sentences, and that my Singa friends – is the mark of a true-blue wannabe Malaysian.

Selamat Hari Merdeka Malaysia. Soon, I will get to the point when I will be an addict to your Merdeka celebrations too.

Old and alive

Image hosted by Photobucket.comI had a big forehead as a baby. In the Malay language, it is called a ‘jendul‘ – never mind that the word itself sounds comical when pronounced. Now that I am an adult, it is this ‘jendul‘ that I suspect is giving me headaches on how I over-analyse difficult issues, such as the one involving the very beautiful lady carrying the ‘jendul’-ed baby above.

My mother, as you can see in this picture taken in 1972, was a fashionable lady. I, unfortunately, did not inherit that gene. I can never carry off an outfit like that – rubber slippers, a tight-fitting batik sarong, flower-printed kebaya AND pearl necklace and bracelet to complete! Her hair was coiffed ala Margaret Thatcher and I am pretty sure a ‘jendul‘-ed baby in one hand does make errr.. a complete accessory. She was and is, a very well read lady and still bury herself in books – written both in Jawi and Malay alike. If she had the opportunity to study English, I am sure she would be reading Shakespeare now and expound theories on his writings. She used to write a lot of short stories in Malay and have them published in the newspapers. She even had her hand acting in theatre. Me? I only went as far as translating theatre manuscripts, but does not have the talent to act in them.

Twenty-three years after losing my father to a sudden bout of stroke and with all her 3 daughters all grown up – my mother has circumvented the problems of loneliness, retirement and having an empty-nest very well. If the term ‘well-balanced’ can be applied to an elderly and not just teenagers, I would vote for her with BOTH hands. For all these years, she has kept herself busy socialising, doing charity work, travelling, reading, tutoring other senior citizens on reading the Quran and many other spiritual activities with a stable network of friends and acquaintances. She lived up to her exuberant spirit, and still holds the record as the only granny I know who’d have her grandkids calling their lungs out asking her to stop swimming in the sea as it is already maghrib, and not the other way round! To me, she is the definition of ‘liberal but rooted’, a phrase I often use to describe myself when people I meet get confused by my hijab and jamming days.

As the daughter who lives with her, her independence has been a gift. I have been very lucky to be able to travel to remote and faraway places in the course of work on a day’s notice – sometimes for months. I never had to worry about her health or her getting about. Often, her own schedule is already full before mine is even half-filled.

So when I broke the news to her that I am migrating later this year to join DH, and that she may have to live with my sister in JB, the news was not an easy release for both of us.For a spunky old lady like my mother, living in a strange land – albeit only JB – means her wings are clipped. She knows she will be cut off from her friends, her activities and most importantly, the very chord that kept her self-esteem alive and soaring after my father’s death – her independence. Living in Malaysia means she will not be able to move around unless she is driven.

I reasoned that I need her to live with my sister and her meriah family, because I cannot fathom her living all alone without no one looking after her every day. I dont like the idea of a maid doing the job either.

She may not be as svelte or fashionable now that she is over 60, and walks with a slight bounce and roll thanks to overworked knees – but she gets up and down the MRT trains and buses mercilessly. She loves Singapore for that – and I know deep down inside she is not one who will content with sitting and cooking at home, she wants, in her words, to ‘hidup bermasyarakat’. Singapore’s compact living allows her to do that.

Today, Bertha Henson, who was my supervisor back in newsroom days wrote a poignant column in The Straits Times about her mum and allowing the old to feel useful. She too was raised by her mother, if I recall. Reading her piece reminded me that as days pass, the time is nearer for my mum to face her newer, more quiet life. While some senior folks may cherish that, to my mother – an active life is best. Will a more quiet life make my mum feel useful ? I doubt it.

I feel like a punisher. My jendul-ed head is not helping either, it only sets me thinking deeper on what I am about to do, de-enriching the life of an enriched senior citizen. I have yet to reconcile my nagging conscience and my action.

Who is to define what makes an elderly person happy?

Now I can dance

It has been a tumultous 8 months. The day I decided to take the plunge into book publishing came to a close today, and it ended with a bit of a dance by some 40-ish year old men, a huge yellow card and a generous shopping voucher.

Reading the warm words written by the Editors, Senior Editors, Designers and other colleagues only reinforce what GD and RLB taught me all these while – stay close to the ground, and always always put your heart on your sleeve when you lead. These 2 men with whom I had the priviledge to work under never knew how much they have inspired me but they dont have to know anyway, because they dont seek validation. They are just 2 cool guys who know how to lead best, and do it with a conscience. They dont even know each other. One is in the Middle East and the other in South East Asia. The only thing they have in common is their deep love for Arsenal.

I grew to love the youthful energy that the publishing world attracts, but I loathe the same energy that it kills. I have seen so many of them not living it up, complaining about having ‘no life’, belittled and blamed for everything single thing that can go wrong in the production and yet expected to churn a miracle of a book. I initially had the motivation to make improvements, but lost my confidence after a few incidental windows opened. I had the innocence to see changes through, but I lost the virginity of hope.

I know many of them will be reading this blog. To all of you guys, stay true to your course and you will achieve greatness. Never mind the tempest that goes on around you – just sail on.

My true course is up north, 18,000 miles away. My other course is also the written word, finding that one great story of real people to tell the world and put it on film.

But till then…

“Clouds have all disappeared
Freedom I hold so dear
Cause nobody knows me here
Please understand, now I can dance..”Tina Arena

Not a Toffee Nut resilience

She hailed from war-torn Palestine, with hope of a new life in a promised land. She was beautiful, intelligent and extremely resilient. She braved the isolation of being a new immigrant in an English speaking country, and left her beloved father whom she has been taking care of since her mother died. She was the prized youngest daughter and the protected sister – but they let her go because of the new future Canada promised. Now, in a twist of fate and God’s plan for her – Canada will be the place that will make or break her.

This is the story of a sweet 25 year old I know. On a weekday afternoon while completing my translation of a play for Teater Ekamatra in Vancouver Public Library more than a year ago, I was greeted by a whisper of a salam. When I shifted my focus from the laptop’s screen to the person standing next to me, I was struck by this girls’ beauty. She has all the typical Arabic physical gems you can think of – sharp nose, fair skin and so well-groomed you would think she belongs to the Birmingham Palace. When I returned her greeting in Arabic, she broke into a wide smile and literally threw a verbal avalanche of Arabic sentences. I had to quickly stop her and let her know I dont speak Arabic, and that my hijab means I am Muslim but not necessarily an Arab. She said sorry, and her almost perfect English came out of her mouth. It turned out that she just got married to a Palestinian-Canadian, and moved to Vancouver the same time I moved there last year. She saw me – a woman with a hijab on head typing furiously on a laptop in the library, and was eager to make a new Muslim friend as she had been alone most of the time at home.

We had coffee after that, and what followed was a sweet sisterlike friendship between the 2 of us since we shared so many insecurities as new wives, new country, lots of time in our hands and a deep love for the beautiful Vancouver Public Library. We had many exchanges (and public debate!) about how we are holding up Islam in our respective ways. I introduced her to Starbucks, and taught her how to pronounce ‘Toffee Nut Latte’ properly without confusing the barrista.

One fine spring day last year, she called me to say she needed to see me. She sounded desperate and I got worried. I said I had dinner plans with DH after he finished work but she insisted on coming to see me even for a short while. And so she did.

That meeting, was my first window of a trouble marriage. I didn’t like the fact that her husband did not allow her to mix with other Arabs, and only allowed her to be friends with me, and a few other non-Arab ladies. I couldn’t understand his rationale – as she needs to be with her community who speak the language at least, so that she will not feel so lost. I, on the other hand – have the luxury of in-laws and other Malay community members who are already good family friends to my husband’s family, and yet I still feel isolated a fair bit from good ol’ South East Asia. So imagine how it is like for this Palestinian girl. She was contemplating divorce then, and I remembered telling her to rough it out. It is a marriage throught thick and thin after all. I recommended John Gray’s books on Men are from Mars .. and she read them to find answers on how to communicate her needs to her husband.

A year passed, and my life moved by several leaps. I was back in Singapore last year, and was very much focused on having my life and DH’s settled in Singapore. Then she called long-distance and said her marriage was over. She had quite a gruelling time with her husband that it was warranted that divorce was the answer. He was, regrettably, dishonest to her and her family from the beginning.

At that very moment this 25 year old’s world stop spinning. She had a choice of returning to Palestine, where in her own words, she knew that divorced women are scorfed – or stay in Canada, alone, with no money, no job and not knowing what holds in the future. She also knows no one, besides me and a few other women.

I remembered sitting in my yellow sofa in my Singapore flat that day, and crying. I felt so helpless I could not be there and be the friend I knew how. I knew Palestine was not the answer for her, because unlike you and me – there is not much future for her in a wartorn country yet to settle its political affairs. But how do you do it when you are literally sebatang kara? All that she has were some jewellery that she has been pawning to buy phone cards and bus tickets, and that dear readers, is enough to make me feel useless and teary.

But alas, she did rough it out. DH and my MIL fixed her up with a South African family friend, and now she is renting a room from them for a cheap price. She has decided that Canada will be the place for her for at least the next few years so that she can gain her Canadian citizenship, and then in the meantime she is pursuing her studies and try to find work part time.

How her course has changed. Just over a year ago, she had come to the big North American land to live a married life, escape the harsh reality of the turmoil back home and seek a better future. Now, she is all alone – with nothing but uncertainty in front of her. All that she holds true to her heart – is Allah’s hands in guiding her.

In all my travels and the many individuals I met or interviewed, no one, and absolutely no one impresses me with a a resilience as mind-blowing as hers.

This song was sung by a girlfriend at my wedding. I had always wanted to dedicate this song to all my nieces during their weddings eventually. But till then – this one goes out to her. Specially for my Toffee Nut Latte friend.

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger
May you never take one single breath for granted
God forbid love ever leave you empty handed
I hope you still feel small when you stand by the ocean
Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens
Promise me you’ll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Living might mean taking chances but they’re worth taking
Lovin’ might be a mistake but it’s worth making
Don’t let some hell bent heart leave you bitter
When you come close to selling out reconsider
Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance


I have been sitting on my ass (don’t I always?) to write about this.But today’s repeat telecast of the recent National Day Parade triggered that overwhelming emotion again – I found myself excited, nostalgic, ready to jump and beat this, teary all at the same time. I am a sucker for big events that have thousands of people involved. And yes, blame it on TK Band!

I was not the best saxophonist that the famous school band ever had. If anything, I am pretty sure that I was the one who led the school band’s downfall during the 1988 National Band Competition at the Singapore Conference Hall, where I had to open an entire score with a saxophone solo. All 16 bars. And yes, I squeaked without mercy. My band conductor frowned. Cis bedebah!

Anyway, this is a post about National Day. I took part both during the years when the parade was held in Kallang Stadium and then at the Padang. I remembered the march-past at the Padang in 1987 was very nerve-wrecking, as we had to play AND turn our heads sideways as a mark of respect to the President. How I managed to blow my lungs into the reed, marched in swift, synchronised movements, AND turn my head sideways is still a big puzzle to me. Goodness. I swear I could have been a crab.

The year that TK band took part in the National Day Parade in the Kallang Stadium was equally magical. I did NOT, however, appreciate the fact that we had to form a contingent and stand in ‘Senang Diri’ position for at least 2 blinking hours before the President arrives. Many members (from other contingents of course !) dropped and fainted which only sent the St John’s personnel scrambling into the field with their stretchers. I am convinced now that our Drum Major’s tip to wiggle our toes often while standing stationary for 2 hours straight helped us in combating our fatigue. And no, I do not practise that during long tarawih prayers!

Then came 1996 when my life as a journalist started. Covering the National Day Parade was something else. “Please! No quotes from spectators who said ‘I am proud to be a Singaporean!’ “ – that was the brief we got from the then News Editor. You have to understand why. It is a cliche thing to say. And after many years of National Day coverage, that kind of quote does not make it into newsprint. I remembered too that there was one year, I think it was 1997 or 1999 when I climbed onto the makeshift light tower that the army set-up. It was one of the best spots to be – so high up above everybody else. And ooohh…I love the Press Pass for that. Opportunist.

Years went on and I ran out of ‘fronts’ to take part in the National Day Parade. I am too old to be a TK Band member, and have been out of newspaper journalism for a while. So what am I left with? I have to get in the act! The fireworks of course, came to the rescue.

One year, I drove an equally manic group of friends to Sentosa, parked right at the tip of the island – on a deserted piece of landstrip just so that we can catch the fireworks display. That must be in the year 2000. Then, another year I was with a convoy heading to Marina Bay – parked where the would-be Casino is to be located and watched the fireworks again. Those were also the times when I do ‘rehearsal drives’ across the highway on Preview days – just so that I can know what time exactly the fireworks display will be. Precision is important here. Hey, there is a big difference between 7.15 pm and 7.35 pm ok. I want to be there when the first burst of glitz break the monotony of the dark, island sky.

Last year, I joined thousands of Singaporeans at the Marina South breakwaters to watch the fireworks. Awesome! Plus the fact that I had a brand new digi cam. So a bit of a jakun, I was.

Then came this year, when the National Parade is brought to the heartlands. Tampines was one of the chosen ones. Do you think I would miss this chance to watch the National Day Parade with all of Tampines via giant screens and watch fireworks burst right here in my estate to boot? The carnival was held right at the field in front of my house. Thousands of people were in my area, and the car park downstairs were filled with so many cars, even the tiny ant would have lost his way.

I trooped down to the field with my family and friends, walkie-talkies in hand and our own stools as well. I had no Singapore flag with me, so I grabbed the next best thing I had – the Canadian flag ! Nah, no one will notice I thought. The entire Singapore is awashed with red and white anyway. My friend commented I was not being politically correct, especially when I am leaving the nation-state to be a resident of the new country.

This time next year, I dont know what I will be doing on Aug 9. I consoled myself and said hey, I can celebrate Canada Day with DH and still wear red and white, but will it be the same? I will not have ‘Muneru Valiba’ to sing my lungs out to. Sigh.

Today, I realised I really love National Day Parades here. So yes, shoot me. But wait! There is one more fireworks display at Marina Bay later in the evening to close the week-long celebrations!

No guesses where I will be. I will leave the Canadian flag behind this time. I will take the Ferrari one instead.

Twist it, baby

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Now it must have been the most painful, yet hilarious movie to watch. Of all films, Chinta Kaseh Sayang – the 1965 movie by Hussain Sanif made the mark to open this year’s Screen Singapore Festival. It was a simple film about a lonely wife of a painter who seeks attention from other men – a stalking car salesman and a smooth-talker who offers peanuts as an opening line to be exact. It didnt help that I subtitled the film, and therefore knew what riveting scene will come next. Not.

Anyway, I came with GA – a girlfriend of 20 years who have seen my slimmer days. We were seated with SO, an upcoming director (who is still working on a 3 year old documentary and wore a Burmese skirt on my wedding day,and yes, he is MALE) and with whom I have worked with and had many, and I do mean MANY, arguments with. Oh, let me correct that, they are artistic arguments. We still sing songs about each other’s work though. And beside SO, there was also AM – the very talented and illustrious playwright. Combine all 4 of us in a row watching an old Malay film with scenes of tight-fitting kebaya, and “Would you like some peanuts?” as pick-up lines – it was plain RIOT. Half the time, we were squealing. SO was busy muttering, ‘Oh My God! Oh My God! Can’t make it! Can’t make it!’ even though I warned him about criticising how the film was shot. There was a close-up of a man taking off his socks, so hey, I dont blame his complaints. I think he nearly shouted “CUT!” many times.

I realised very quickly that me, GA and AM make good, symphonic squeals. Initially we had guffaws, then they broke into loud laughters, and as the movie dragged on – our hilarity-reactions turned into squeals. Yikes. Scary eh.

But, the killer scene was when the actors did the twist. Boy, did I feel like getting up from my seat and just ‘do it’. See, I always thought my hijab did me good – cos in my disco days, I would have just stand up and twist my fat butt within a 1 metere radius. Never mind that SO would probably turn to me and repeat the same complaint – “Oh My God! Can’t make it!”.

How anyone can do the twist with such immaculate bodies, I dont know. It is a strange form of dance, because for me – a dance is always, always a free form of movement. But the twist is the antithesis of that, your body is allowed to wiggle only within a certain radius, your knees have to be bent within a precise of angle of 45 degrees and your hands, correction your wrists, have to flap itself as if they are wiping windows. Hmmph. Oh My God. I can’t make it.

There will be a string of movies made in Singapore that will showing at the Screen Singapore ( for the festival. Catch it, and yes…beat our squeals!