Sunday, 13 January 2013

A blind couple who made me see

This entry is in a way an attempt at my already failed challenge with Datin Rosmah Yaakob.

Makan Cafe, right in the heart of Portobello Market, is the place to be on Saturday - or any other day.  The atmosphere, the people and of course the food. Yesterday, a little late, the children decided to have their favourite all day English breakfast of toast, halal sausage, baked beans, fried eggs.  I had my usual laksa lemak and Hulaimi ordered satay.  I have always wanted to be a fly on the wall in Makan Cafe.  Ani and Azhar - the owner have what it takes to attract all kinds of people to their popular eatery in one of the most popular street markets in London.  It was made even more popular by the film Nottinghill with its blue painted door.  

Yesterday, the crowd at Makan Cafe was a mixture of the usual tourists to the area and regulars like us. Ani, after making whatever she had to do in the kitchen, came out and talked to her customers, chatted with her regulars and even sat down with them for a natter.  She is the magnet to Makan Cafe, apart from the food.  She listens to their worries, shares their good news and generally a friend to those coming in from the cold.

An old man, sat at the table by the toilet - I couldn't see him at first, but heard his booming voice, sometimes agitated , sometimes, bursting into a song.  Ani told me he was one of her regulars - perhaps a singer in his younger days and now a little confused and in his own world in his advanced life. He found sanctuary in Makan Cafe, he found someone who accepted him for what he is, or what he has become.

As one by one customer left to see what was left of the market, a couple walked in. They held on to each other - each with a white walking stick. Both, visibly impaired was the proverbial blind leading the blind.  Obviously regulars too to Makan Cafe, they found a table opposite us.  The man, perhaps in his sixties, and blessed with a better eyesight then his wife, adjusted the chair for her to sit on. She is hijabbed, and kept her dark glasses on, whispering constantly to him and he responding back.  

I couldn't take my eyes off them and felt so much an intruder into their private space.  All around me , couples , families, groups of friends were communicating and getting connected - but via their gadgets; whatsapping, sms'ing,, bbm'ing and what not.  But this couple, though blind were looking at each other and communicating.  The husband would only look away from his wife when he cut and diced the food on her plate.  He guided her hand to the cutlery and with saw that she ate her food.

For once I didnt finish my laksa lemak.  I watched them enviously.  How beautiful is their way of communicating with each other.  How connected they are without their Samsung S3 or iPhone or the latest gadget in the market.  

When we were done, I took a snap of them together but mysteriously, there was no trace of that picture.  Perhaps I wasnt supposed to intrude into their private space.  Perhaps they were not even there - but others with me saw them too.  Perhaps, the blind couple were there to make us see what we have lost.  Yes, perhaps.

We left Makan Cafe, after a rendition of My Way by the old man sitting by the toilet. The cold evening air greeted us and I left Portobello Market with memories of the couple who have more sight and insight then us with 2020 vision.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Musings of a Muruku Marauder

Knightsbridge was bathed in Christmas lights, courtesy of Harrods – the corner shop for the rich and famous. I was momentarily blinded by the glitters and mesmerised by the window display.

They certainly have style – Harrods. Christmas shoppers were leaving in droves clutching their famous green carrier bags, while others rushed in in search of last minute Christmas bargains. I was not the least tempted. I have better things in mind - a mission almost impossible. I braved the cold and the crowd, all the while the sound of jingle bells and Christmas carol drifting from the solo steel band drummer at the top of Knightsbridge station.

The night was still young but I felt old. I was a young bride when I first walked on the streets of London, shivering under my paper thin kebaya.
Now, I am much older and wiser – I wore my new coat bought at a 50 percent discount from Debenhams.

My mission didn’t take too long and soon I was also clutching that green Harrods carrier bag, boarding the C1 homeward bound. I was happy to get a window seat and oblivious to everyone around me, I started to dip my hand into the bag and tore open one packet. I was consumed with guilt but with every munch and crunch I felt good. The Harrods carrier bag was full of the scrumptious muruku courtesy of my buddies and accomplice back home.

I didn’t know when it happened, but I remember Kay bringing me a packet when I was back home. A packet wasn’t enough…and like an addict I went round looking for more but nothing was as good.

Some friends who came to London brought me more…but the crunching and munching was no music to some other ears…and with the best of intentions, my muruku supplies began disappearing. I coaxed and cajoled but to no avail. But yesterday, without even looking I found them.

Kak Nasirah Aris and Kay through PS Fadzillah brought me more supplies – thus my trip to Knightsbridge. As I walked to the front door, I perspired in the cold winter air and  wiping off crumbs from my mouth I walked in.

Dipping into the bag, I offered him the acar ikan masin. This is from Kak Nasirah to you, I said sweetly. And dipping further into the big bag, I said,” and Kak Nasirah bought me these books,” referring to Malaysian Tales etc.

“….and er…of course some muruku that I will share during the tazkeerah session!”

Phew! Suffice to say, I am still in one piece. After 32 years together, he knows how to deal with my obsession;  Alleycats, Ferrero Rocher, Cocoa Dusted Almond Chocolates and Chocolate Truffle Cake.These obsessions soon disappeared.

This will soon go too – but in the meantime, thank you comrades!!!
Kak Teh's other harmless obsessions:http:

As I was Munching Muruku

Thursday, 20 October 2011

A Learning Curve with two Odd Socks

Work was about start in fifteen minutes.  I was still in last night’s clothing.  Managed to find a decent top, grabbed an Ariani tudung and my reading glasses and was right in front of the laptop within five minutes flat.

That’s the beauty of online teaching – this new technology which once frightened me has proven to be quite exciting.  Within minutes of logging in, the student came online, hardly aware of the fact that I had a kain pelikat on with different coloured socks.  What mattered was from shoulders upwards I was professional looking, ready to do the job at hand.

The first lesson went smoothly as if I had worked with the tools for years; different from the confines of a classroom.  While student was doing exercises, I could let the cat out, start the drier and make endless cups of coffee!  As long as the camera stays in place, who was to know that there’s a pile of laundry on the sofa, or another pile in the laundry basket near the garden door.  All the student could see was an impressive stack of books behind me. Impression counts.  And he still couldn’t see my odd socks!

But during the three hour session, I learnt a few things that one must not do during online sessions; teaching or coaching.  Do not hover over the camera to reach out for something.  Tudung or no tudung, your breasts would be suffocating the person at the other end.  DO NOT look over the camera as the other person can see up your nostrils, and DO NOT munch muruku when you thought student is silently doing exercise.  If you need to do so, remove the headset…the munching and crunching of muruku can be annoying.

And when you need coffee, remember to remove the microphone or push it aside, as you risk dunking microphone in mug of coffee!

It has indeed been a learning experience!!
(Now excuse me, I need to have a bath!)

Thursday, 11 August 2011

The power of social networking - the Asyraf Haziq Experience

THE video clip on YouTube showing Mohd Asyraf Haziq, 20, bleeding and in shock after an attack during one of London's worst riots, touched so many people.
There was an outpouring of sympathy which then turned into anger when his so-called saviours, apparently from the same gang who attacked him, ransacked his backpack and took away his PSP.

He cut a forlorn figure as he staggered home while the gang went off with their spoils of his STG60 (RM293) bicycle, a hand phone and his PSP.

They missed his wallet in his back pocket. The one who ransacked his backpack, disdainfully threw away an empty plastic container that Asyraf had brought to pack food for his sahur (pre-dawn meal).
Asyraf, a first-year Association of Chartered Certified Accountant (ACCA) student and a Mara scholar studying at Kaplan Financial College in nearby Tower Hill, was cycling with a friend to break fast at a friend's house when they were attacked.

His friend managed to cycle away, thinking Asyraf would do the same.

Unknown to him and his attackers, the incident was filmed by someone from a nearby building and it was posted on YouTube and repeated many times on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Sky TV.

This one-minute-15-second video clip was ironically as powerful as the tweets and SMSes that the likes of his perpetrators had employed to plan their mindless attacks and carnage throughout London and cities across Britain.

So powerful was it that tweeters got together to collect money to replace the things that he had lost, and a search was launched for the person who recorded the dastardly act on a helpless student.
Asyraf Haziq in hospital after the attack

Someone on my Facebook had contacted me about his identity. And apparently, he, too, was making efforts to collect money to donate to the student, who is now nursing a broken jaw as he awaits surgery at the Royal London Hospital.

Asyraf, on his hospital bed, was still oblivious to the publicity and attention his misfortune had caused.

With his lower jaw wired and a swollen right cheek where he suffered another broken bone, Asyraf looked vulnerable but a far better picture than the one on YouTube.

Abdul Hamid, who filmed the attack, wrote a caption under his clip: "Footage I captured of some men using the riots as an excuse to just harm and humiliate an innocent person. I hope to get in touch with the victim and I am also trying to raise money for him."

In an interview with Hamid, he said he was very sorry he couldn't help Asyraf as he was too far away.

He only noticed Asyraf when he was lying on the pavement after the attack.

"When I saw him , I then realised I should get something for evidence," he said, adding that he would be collecting money to donate to Asyraf and hand over the recording to the police.

And that is not all. A group of facebookers-cum-tweeters are also busy generating interest among sympathisers and friends of Asyraf.

A friend, Zaila Idrus, a travel consultant with Iman Travel, started a GetwellsoonAsyrafHaziq campaign which has been gathering support among her Twitter friends.

Another tweeter, ShaunCFC1866, has started a campaign to buy back and replace everything that Asyraf had lost to the young criminals.

This article was first published in the NST here

Friday, 27 May 2011

Surrealistic Syria - Part 1 - Delightful Damascus

Ever since I came back from Syria, this charming and beautiful country had been preying constantly on my mind. The short and brief visit had been like a dream and could have been a dream had I not been literally touched by the beauty, charm and hospitality of this Middle Eastern country which enjoys the characteristics of the Mediterranean to the west, hemmed in by Lebanon on its western frontiers, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the East , Jordan to the south and Israel to the Southwest - all these close proximity making it such an attractive package but at the same time also by virtue of the close proximity, a whole region that's volatile politically.

It is difficult not to push away the images that we see in the media recently as a result of the wave of protests sweeping the Middle East, but it is difficult too to forget images of Syria that will forever be friendly and full of history and culture. That is something no one can ever take away from anyone that has ever stepped foot on Syrian soil.

My journey to Syria started with a lot of apprehensions. I didn't know the country and my initial skimpy knowledge of the country was coloured by whatever political reports dished out by the western media. Suffice to say, a week was not enough to take in the country so rich in culture and steeped in history. You will want to go back, because that's what Syria does to you. It beckons you to go back.

The journey started early on Boxing Day. The lack of hospitality on Syrian Air was very much compensated by the overwhelming reception throughout the visit - be it from the friendly vendors in the souks of Damascus, the beautiful girls dancing on the top of Aleppo Citadel, the farmer's wife making bread in a small Syrian village or the bedouins in the deserts of Palmyra. Their smiles just broadened when they recognised you as a Malaysian!

With a friend, Zaila Idrus from Iman Travels, and Ali and Nagi tour guides and driver Hassan from Mowiashe travels, the trip was more than I could ever ask for.

Day one in Damascus was planned by Mr Ali - a walking encyclopaedia on things Syrian -
he briefed us before we said goodnight and retired in our comfortable room in Semiramis Hotel. The next morning after a typical Syrian breakfast, we headed for the old city of Damascus , the sights and sounds that has the capacity to transport you to a totally different world, in a different era.

The Hamadiyeh souk of Damascus
The first thing that crossed my mind as I entered one of the many alleys in the souk is that I could easily get lost in the souk that dates back to the Ottoman rule under Sultan Hamid. And what wonderful adventure it would have been dodging mules bearing goods, motorbikes and people doing their shopping. It would have been a welcome respite away from the hustle bustle of modern living - to be sipping tea in one of the caravanserais listening to travellers' tales from the deserts of North Africa.

Alleyways lead to alleyways with merchandise to entice you such as beaded tablecloths, table runners, prayer mats and many, many more. It was simply amazing that you can browse around, pick up a thing or two without any pressure from the vendors. Instead, they offered tea, with no expectations in return.

Ummayad Mosque
We exited the souk into another world that left me in awe of its majestic presence - the Ummayad mosque - one of the oldest and holiest mosques in the world. From a temple built by the Armenians in 1000 BC, it went through several periods under the Romans, the Christians and finally the Muslims - making it the interfaith place of worship - where a shrine said to contain the head of John the Baptist or Nabi Yahya to the Muslims. The building was once shared by both Muslims and Christians as a place of worship.

Standing on the vast courtyard, I took in the three minarets, the Minaret of the Bride, the first to be built, the Minaret of Prophet Isa, believed to be the place where the prophet will descend from on the Day of Judgment and the Minaret of Qaitbay. I did my prayers in the vast opulence of the Ummayad before leaving for the tomb of Saladin which stands in a small garden nearby. There was already an orderly queue of Muslims and non-Muslims entering the shrine to pay respects to one of the greatest Muslim warriors. Standing there before the tomb was one of the most emotional moments during the visit - a prelude to things and places connected to the great Saladin, such as the Saladin Castle and Krac de Chevalier. But that will come later.

Tomb of the Bilal
Damascus is not a city to do in a day but I suspect that a month wont be enough as well. But we did as best as we could, taking in the enchanting Hamam and the hospitality it has to offer. My only regret is that the day we visited the Hamam it was not a day for women. After that we went on a long search of shrines and ended up in Bāb Saghīr Cemetery which houses among others the shrines of Umm Kulthum, daughter of Ali and Fatimah, granddaughter of the Prophet pbuh and that of the Bilal. Again, tears welled up in my eyes as I offered prayers to the Bilal. I couldn't believe that I was there. Shrines are popular places for Shiah tourists who come from far and wide on a pilgrimage of a lifetime. Young and old were carried and piggybacked to enter shrines and women and men wailed out loudly.

As the sun was about to set, Hassan sped towards Mount Qassion where you can feast your eyes on the whole of Damascus as the sun goes down. There are stalls with middle eastern music from transistor radios and hot teas are endlessly poured as the temperature dipped, making me yearn for my bed. According to legend the Prophet Mohammad pbuh stood there and was asked why he didn't go to the city. His reply was, he didn't want to go to paradise twice. Wallahualam. But indeed watching the colour changing over the Middle eastern skies. I was mesmerised.

Surrealistic Syria - Part 2
To Palmyra, Hom, Hama and Aleppo

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Hoping for a Kindle-lit dinner

Picture fr Kindle International
AS our 31st anniversary loomed near, I found myself frequenting a website,, and looking longingly at the slim, sleek 3G plus Wi-Fi e-book that has, for sometime, been a contentious issue in this household.The intended recipient of the new toy had left me in no doubt about his dislike for this new gadget that is making waves and getting rave reviews.

I thought this wireless gizmo that weighs less than a paperback would easily replace the heavy hardbacks he carries around in his rucksack. Imagine all that you can fit in the palm of your hand — it can store more than 3,500 titles!

Think of the space we could save every time we go for a break, and we can share the reading experience. We have, after all, shared many things in our 31 years together.
Like two silly teenagers at the backseat of the number 7 we have shared the i-Pod listening to our favourite zikir, even sharing the earphone trailing from his pocket to our ears.

During my restless nights, he’d pick a favourite prayer and together we’d listen to it till we fell asleep. But the Kindle is not his kind of thing. The realisation sank in that we are not on the same page on this.

Ever since I knew him, I had learnt how precious the book is to him. It was a book that brought us together and if I remember it well, it was a book on Groucho Marx.

Our courting days were spent browsing around the bookshops of PJ and Kuala Lumpur. He bought me books on all sorts of subjects, from how to write features and scripts to how to deal with PMT and pregnancy and how to cope with menopause. (In 31 years we do have to go through all these together).

He’d rather hold a real book and feel the pages in his hands, smell the smell of a new book as he turns the pages and carefully wraps it back in the paper bag which he had bought it in. He’d stack them carefully on the bookshelves already groaning under the weight of hundreds of books fighting for space in our front room which is fast turning into a library. And there is no way he’d read an e-book with a Wi-Fi in bed seeing that he has already banned my Blackberry to a safe distance, for fear of radiation.

Rather then buy other trivial stuff as presents, he’d buy books for the children, for friends old and new. An e-book would deny him that pleasure.

So, the prospects of a Kindle-lit dinner is fast fading as I weighed the pros and cons. I might get it for myself pleading a bad back as an excuse. In my bag, there are already the netbook and charger, the phone and charger as well as the camera. So, of course there will be space for a slim 3G with Wi-Fi.

I could say the eyesight is fast going and the Kindle with its bigger fonts would be good for these tired old eyes, which could start me reading again without the cumbersome reading glasses.

During all the years we’ve been together, I’ve courted technology more passionately than him. He dismisses most things, including the microwave oven, as unnecessary and even harmful. He never owned a mobile phone until I bought him a simple, cheap one which is now held together by a red rubber band.

He never switches it on, except to send and check messages and boasts that his battery lasts for a month! He does not depend on the flat screen HD TV for news as he prefers The Guardian and The Independent or the free tabloids he finds scattered in the trains.

I guess the jury is still out on this and in the meantime, the anniversary present will have to be another simple woolen jumper that will prove useful for this cold winter. A Kindle-lit dinner will be out of the question for the time being.

Read more: I’M EVERY WOMAN: Hoping for a Kindle-lit dinner

Friday, 5 November 2010

Malaysia has Talents - Abroad

BETHNAL Green in east London is not a place I would normally visit in the evening, especially alone. It was, after all, the neighbourhood in which Jack the Ripper operated and the playground of the infamous gangsters, the Kray brothers, in the 60s. But that was where I was headed one warm autumn evening.
The promise of meeting new friends and the prospect of renewing old acquaintances made me trudge the distance, well away from my comfort zone in the west.

The east end district, which received much aerial battering during the Second World War, has undergone a lot of changes and is now home to mostly Bangladeshis. The short walk from the station to Costa Cafe revealed the changing face of Bethnal Green: It is more Asian in character, dotted as it is with halal groceries and eateries.
Unku in Thoroughly Modern Milly with Maureen Lipman

At the cafe, I met Unku Majid and his friends. I had known Unku from the late 1980s when he was waiting on tables at Satay Ria in Bayswater. He was also then acting in the West End. An accomplished stage actor, Unku, from Johor, had acted in many plays including Miss Saigon and The King And I where he played Uncle Tom alongside Elaine Paige. He also appeared with Maureen Lipman in Thoroughly Modern Milly.
It was Unku’s suggestion that I meet some of his friends, and then proceed to see the play, The Death Of Tintagel, by playwright Peter Morris — a dark satire set in a Cornish castle, where a boy is summoned back by his grandmother, to his death. It is directed by Vik Sivalingam, a fellow Malaysian.

Among those waiting to meet me was Vik, Michelle Lee, another West End actor whom I had the pleasure to do some voice-over work with and newcomer to the group, Shanon Shah. I had quickly googled Shanon Shah and discovered that this young and talented writer/songwriter and singer had just released his second album! This chemical engineer by training is now in London to do his Masters. I made a mental note to get his album or at least to listen to it on youtube.

I had met Michelle before when she was acting in Miss Saigon. Plays like that and The King And I, of course, had opportunities for talents from Southeast Asia. Michelle, a ballet dancer, had also worked with Instant Cafe Theatre in Malaysia before venturing to England to study music, drama and dance at the University of Birmingham. She had just finished filming The Diana Clone, a fantasy thriller about a scientist who tries to clone Princess Diana. The lead actor was half Malaysian — Anna Leong Brophy.

Michelle herself had done many things, from soap ads to voice-over work. We did similar work for The Sleeping Dictionary and a few years ago, Krakatoa, a BBC production.

I must be the only one in this country who had not seen The Bridget Jones Diary, where Michelle played the immigration officer who found drugs in Jones’ bag!
Vik and Vera

Sitting in the small cafe with this group of talents, my thoughts went back to the days of the pak cik sailors in the 60s and 70s — Malay sailors who came to work for the merchant navy were very much in demand for roles that required Oriental faces in war films such as A Town Like Alice. I imagined them meeting in cold and dingy cafes not far from Bethnal Green, in between sailing assignments, to look for parts as Japanese soldiers. People like Pak Man Tokyo had worked in A Town Like Alice as a Japanese soldier. And then, years later, I myself was roped in to play Fatimah in a radio drama of the same title by the BBC.

The play we were about to see at The People Show Studios is Vik’s latest work. He has a string of directing credits which include Uncle Vanya, Daisy Pulls It Off, Human Rights and Day Trippers. He is currently resident assistant director at the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Vera Chok with Freddie Machin in The Death of Tintagel - pix by Lucy Pawlak

Vik’s current play has as its lead Vera Chok, who brilliantly plays Ygraine, Tintagel’s protective and caring sister. Vera, who read archaeology and anthropology at Oxford University and who trained as an actress at The Poor School in London, is also artistic director of Saltpeter Production.

The producer is Anna Sulan Masing from Sarawak, who is also working on her PhD, looking at identity through performance practices of indigenous women of Borneo.

Meeting them was like a breathe of fresh air. Since then, I have been in touch with Rani Moorthy, another Malaysian-born playwright and actress as well as artistic director of Rasa Productions based in Manchester. Her Handful Of Henna recently toured the country. She has done radio plays such as Who’s Sari Now? for the BBC.

And last night I found myself on the phone with Pik Sen Lim who made her name as Su-lee, the Chinese Communist student in the British sitcom Mind Your Language. She was in London doing some filming.
Shanon Shah, Michelle Lee, Unku, Vera and Vik
As we walked out of the studio to Bethnal Green tube station late that night, the temperature had dipped further but we were oblivious to that. We had that typical long lingering Malaysian goodbye all along the way. So many Malaysian talents abroad and so little time to cover them all, I muttered to myself as I walked home in the cold night air,

Read more: I'M EVERY WOMAN: Talents without boundaries