Tuesday, 27 December 2005

Tales of Christmases gone by

The Two Ronnies saved the day. It used to be The Sound of Music or Poseiden Adventure but this year, there were repeats of The Two Ronnies. May be because Ronnie Barker – a comic genius – died recently. And what a genius he was and his death is a great loss to British comedy. No special Only Fools and Horses but just repeats. And of course the Queen’s Christmas message.

The Queen did her first Xmas speech to her people as well as to the Commonwealth in 1952 – mostly reflections of developments during the year, etc. etc. And this year, we are told she has snubbed her new daughter –in – law! But why am I blogging about this? Well, this is just a good excuse to tell you that for about twelve years, from a small cubicle at the BBC, I was broadcasting the Queen’s speeches ...in Malay!

The speech, in a firmly sealed envelope, was usually kept under very tight security – just in case it was leaked out to the press before Christmas. I’d get it just the day before Christmas, translate it and in a voice so unlike Her Majesty’s, I’d sit in my self op room and play Queen! So, that’s it. The next day, on Christmas Day, it’d be played out, while I sit in front of the TV at home and watch repeats of The Sound of Music.

So there – it is not as if I could write a book called, “Once I was the Queen”, hehe!

When we were small, Christmas was always with Uncle D and Aunty T. They celebrated Christmas and we just joined in the fun. I remember one particular Christmas in Port Dickson where we booked a bungalow to see the new year in. Uncle D dressed up as Santa and we children had so much fun. Aunty T cooked her delicious chicken curry and roti parata to go with it. That used to be Christmas. I don’t know where Uncle D and Aunty T are now but I certainly hope they had a wonderful Christmas. For us, we just sat in front of the TV, like every other year to watch repeats.

Our arrival in London 26 years ago was just a few days before Christmas and I had expected a white Christmas of course, just like the ones we see on TV. I was very disappointed. Christmas is of course, very much a family affair. So we were quite touched that for the first few Christmases, we were invited by close friends to join them at the family table. There I was, with funny paper hat, perched uneasily on my head trying to tackle those horrible Brussel sprouts. And again, after dinner, we’d watch repeats, play scrabbles or do the jigsaw puzzle. The mother died a few years later, one of the brothers migrated to Brazil and the other died recently. But I must add this, we became so much a part of this family that when the brother died, I was in the car following the hearse and was seated in the front row as a family member. So, this year, M won’t be knocking on our door with gifts for the children or papayas from his brother in Brazil.

Christmas parties at the office start very early. At the BBC where I used to work, there were a lot to cover but none would match parties by the Far Eastern Service. While the Eastern Europeans would serve nuts, cheese, crisps, sandwiches and of course drinks, ours would have mee goreng, currypuffs, rendang and satay – very popular indeed! This year, I gave Christmas parties a miss.

In our own household, when the children were small, they would insist on a Christmas tree and presents but we explained to them that it wasn’t our culture or religion. The children, however, did involve themselves in Christmas plays at school. Little T was one of the three wise men, and much later his father gently told him that perhaps we should just be in the audience and watch and not participate at all. He pleaded and became one of the donkeys instead. That sort of minimised the role a bit.

When halal butchers started stocking halal turkey, we used to have roast turkey but I have never really taken to turkey. The meat is dry and tasteless – but perhaps it is the way I cooked it. We’d have roast turkey with nasi tomato – don’t get me wrong – we were not celebrating. This is so we could keep stuff our face while watching repeats. The next day, it’d be turkey sandwich. And if there’s anymore leftovers, it’d be turkey curry!

One particular Christmas break, on impulse we booked a cabin in Wales. Of course, I had with me a ready roasted chicken, loads of ingredients for curry and bread. The place we booked was a long way away from Swansea but it was a good break – no tv, no repeats for that year. A friend who had booked a cabin for his family had already arrived and we had a wonderful Malay dinner in a cabin in the outskirts of Swansea. The wind was howling outside, it was bitterly cold but the chicken curry and bread kept us quite warm throughout the night, while we played scrabble. The next morning the children went to feed the farmer’s goats and chicken while the grown-ups went to fish – and we had salmon and air asam for lunch. And I wonder what they had for repeats that year.

A good friend of ours decided to tie the knot of Christmas Day – so since then – must be about ten years ago, we would be over at their place to celebrate their anniversary. And we’d have turkey of course, among other things. After which we’d watch repeats or perhaps some old Malay movies. But this year, they are celebrating their anniversary in Bali. Why is everyone going away?

But a couple of Christmases were quite tragic. One night we came back from a celebration at a friend’s place. Before turning in, H, as usual, called out to the cat to come in. He was one of our first few cats. We didn’t even have a name for him. Then H was too tired and went to sleep. The next morning, there was a knock on the door and a neighbour told us that our lovely cat had been knocked down by a car. H was full of remorse – blaming himself for not going out to search for his cat. AG cried silently for it was this cat who kept him company while he did his work at home and we were all in tears.

I was wrapping presents a few days ago for our neighbours when Nona reminded me that I had forgotten someone. So, I went out and bought a box of chocolates for Sandra’s mum. Sandra was Nona’s childhood friend. Sandra used to knock on the door for Nona in the morning to go to school. And Sandra, in her sweet voice, would always stop me on the way out to say cheerfully, ‘Hi, aunty – how are you?’ But not anymore.

Two Christmases ago, I came back and found Nona in tears. Sandra died in a hit and run, yards from her house. Her mum was inconsolable and so was Nona. This Christmas, Nona took the box of chocolate to Sandra’s mum and came back with a present. It was necklace – Sandra’s necklace and her mum wanted Nona to have it.

And of course, how could we forget last Christmas – indeed, how could anyone forget last Christmas when we woke up the next day and saw tragedy unfolding on our TV screens.

And now in my best Queen's high pitch voice "Beta ucapkan selamat tahun baru - dan senyum-senyumlah selalu".

Saturday, 24 December 2005

Law for The New Family

The last few entries of Choc-a-Blog have been a big moan about the bitterly cold weather. But yesterday the temperature rose to a dangerous new level. I am not one to swear BUT the air was turning blue as I tried to digest the new Islamic Family Law that was passed in Malaysia yesterday! Make no mistakes, this is indeed Law for the New Family!! Not a new Family Law. What’s new about the way women are being treated?

I was alerted to this news by a call from the BBC who wanted to interview me on this matter. Felt an utter prat as I had not been following it but gosh the shock and the anguish that followed – it really ruined my day. I had wanted to blog about today – the anniversary of Choc-a-Blog. A year ago I meekly started this blog and got two comments and a year later Choc-a-Blog is still here – Alhamdulillah. I also wanted to blog about this December being an anniversary month of sorts; it was our 26th Wedding anniversary and thus our 26th year in the UK. This means I have spent more years here than in my own country – but this doesn’t mean I am not concerned about what is happening back home. I am VERY concerned.

Let us look at the snippets of news from the last few days:

Women senators who have been up in arms against the controversial family law Bill, which they say will lead to erosion of their rights, will have no choice but to vote for it.

All talk of breaking ranks to vote against the Bill dissipated after Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz spoke to them in small groups before talking to a group of 25 senators, including the 19 women.

Anxious to ensure that Barisan Nasional senators toe the line, he warned that he was invoking the Whip and ordered the 19 Barisan women senators to vote for the Islamic Family Law (Federal Territories) (Amendment) Bill 2005 when it comes up for debate today.”

Yeah , right Nazri!!!!! Well done! But, a touch heavy handed, don’t you think?

And let us look at what’s causing the concern:

"1) The right of a husband to claim a share of his existing wife's property upon his committing polygamy
Husbands have an equal right to a wife's property; likewise she has a claim to joint property acquired during their marriage.

2) Making polygamy easier for men
While a husband may be able to prove that his proposed marriage is necessary, he does not have to prove it to be just.

3) Forcing a wife to choose either maintenance OR division of joint property upon a husband's polygamous marriage
Syariah law makes it mandatory for husbands to provide maintenance for a wife throughout their marriage. Islamic law entitles her to both.

4) Enhancing the husband's right to divorce
This gives an additional right to divorce for the husband, which used to be the prerogative of the wife; he may escape paying any form of compensation.

5) Allowing a husband to get a court order to stop his wife from disposing of her property
The husband has no right to his wife's property since she is not obliged to provide maintenance for him or his children. That is his responsibility.”

And what did our Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Jalil say?

"It is necessary for us to take one step backwards so we can move 10 steps ahead. We have to look at the bigger picture," she said at the Parliament lobby while a group of women senators nodded in agreement. Also present was Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Nazri Abdul Aziz.

Shudder! Shudder!

I just couldn’t describe the feelings I had yesterday – but disappointment and despair should sum it up. I am disappointed that with all the outspoken, vocal, intelligent women that we have, we are still taking steps backwards. Shouldn’t be we fighting and protecting one of our own rather then let heavy handed men bully us into agreeing to anything? Haven’t we seen enough injustice as it is – even without those five humiliating clauses above?

I just depair because, whenever anyone here talks about the injustice of Islamic law allowing men to marry more than one, I will always defend it, quoting well quoted quotes about being fair, about being caring to all parties concerned. And most importantly, I say, I am proud that at least in Malaysia, there are laws to protect women, wives, whose husbands want to take on a second or third wife. Other than having to prove that they can be fair in dishing out their money and love and attention (which is of course a joke), they also have to ask for the permission of the first wife. Now, this can still sound very strange to non Muslims. Whaaat? You mean, the first wife will still accept that?

And, I proudly tell them, there are even wives – first wives – who do go and ask for the hands of the intended to be her husband’s second wife. More clanging of jaws on the floor!

But, what I didnt tell them is that of course, when hubby takes second or third wife and all are hunkydorry with schedules and time tables stipulated, are the stories that I heard about hubbies sneaking back to new wife’s bordoir, even when it is not her turn on the schedule. Where is the justice in this?

And now, when the husband entertains thoughts of taking on another one, he can now claim his first wife’s existing property??? And I foolishly thought that what a woman earns is hers and what the man earns is for both of them to share. Now, does it mean he can take her share and share it with his new whats’it?

What happens to the wife who follows the husband overseas to study – works her butt out to finance him and upon returning home, suddenly she doesnt seem to fit in with his crowd anymore. Suddenly, he looks at her and she has let herself go. Why, because she has been working her butt out to support him – to see that he gets the qualifications to climb the corporate ladder. And when he takes a second wife, he is entitled to whatever she earns? *& )(*&^!! Yes, sorry, this is because I have seen these before too.

Let’s not even talk about making poligamy easier.

I have seen enough who sheepishly come to London to solemnise their second or third – the imams here do not ask for the first wife’s letter of consent. It is thus their duty to register when they go home.

One wife who suspected her husband’s intentions, contacted all registry offices and finally found out. She nearly killed herself and her child. Perhaps she had not been paying attention much to the husband because all her life was devoted to a child born with Down’s Syndrome. Such is life.

I might not be making much sense as I am quite, quite angry still . No, I am furious. Let us voice out our concerns – if not for ourselves, for our nieces, daughters and our sisters in Islam.

Also pls see Mak Andeh.
For analysis by Suhaini Aznam, pls read:


That's it Zai! Give him an earful!
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Picture taken from The Star - sorry - pinjam

Tuesday, 20 December 2005

Guess what I did last Sunday?

Usually even wild horses couldn’t drag me out of the house on a Sunday. It was a bitterly cold morning that only bowls and bowls of mee bandung or laksa kedah would suffice to see me through the day. Instead it was to be a Sunday like never before. And it was horses that took me away from the pile of ironing, away from the omnibus version of East Enders. I was dragged, not quite kicking, to the London International Horse Show!!

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I was late! I didn't want to go but I went nevertheless, taking the tube and later a taxi that cost a bomb for the short distance between Earls Court and Olympia! I was told to get the invite at the reception. Gave my name – Z...Wan. and I was handed a card that says Wan Z.... “This is not mine – she is a celebrity,” I said to a puzzled receptionist. So, off I went with the card that says : Presidential Box! Not only was it an invitation to watch the qualifying rounds but also to watch it, while having lunch in the Presidential Box!!

The view:

The velvet curtain to the box opened to reveal that...I was late. The guest of honour, a Jordanian Princess, some Lords and of course our own princess – Wan Zaleha Radzi were already there! And what a view from where we were seating!

Not that I know much about the show jumping - there were lots of appreciative Oooohs when the horses made it and a chorus of Aaaaahs when a pole dropped. But I concentrated more on the lunch on offer. It was very nice – they had roast lamb on the menu but a kind waiter came and told us that we could have vegetarian instead.

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Wan Z was two seats away from Z Wan and I could hear her explaining the whole thing to other guests. She is afterall an expert in these things. She looked lovely – and I remember meeting her once – just once in a studio at TV3. She was doing the voice for my documentary. And she remembered too, which is nice.

There is something about horses that is so beautiful – horses have a combination of power, strength and at the same time they are graceful and agile. It is such a beautiful animal!

The highlight of the event, for me, was the prize giving ceremony. The band played the theme song of Mission Impossible and with that, we marched down with the Princess. I tell you, it was so exciting – I could hear my heart thumping in rythm with the theme song! And yes – we were so close to the horses – they looked magnificient. A friend said, the most beautiful thing about the horse is the eyes. I daren't go THAT near! But what they left behind on the ground wasn’t too aromatic, I must say. I loved it when the winner, Robert Smith and his horse Kalusha rode off in a fanfare of applause – and £60,000!!!

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On the tube back, I reflected on the day’s events. My Mak would have disapproved of my presence there. Horses are, afterall, connected to gambling. Remember those calendars with pictures of pretty women in cheongsam holding on to a horse? These would symbolise the dates of racing. I just love those old calendars.

Never in a month of Sundays had I dreamt I would be there - watching a horse show from a Presidential Box. Yes, so that was what I did last Sunday – and I missed East Enders!

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Saturday, 17 December 2005

Thank you for little pleasures.....

This came in the post this morning
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Hooray! Yum! Yum! Drool! Drool!
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BUT look at these that can't be eaten!!!
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....because they have this!
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So, moral of the story on this cold, wet, gloomy winter morning is "You've got to be grateful for little pleasures...no matter how little!"
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Thursday, 15 December 2005

Just a Snip

The doctor beckoned me to his room. He had some quiet words with me and I left, cutting a forlorn figure walking down the long hospital corridor, with abang’s comforting words to my youngest son, still ringing in my ear. He said:

“Aaaah, Its not such a big deal! Just one snip and you’ll be a man!! Masa Pak Lang dulu..heh!......” he went on narrating how brave he was when facing the Tok Mudin and his sharp, gleaming knife, batang pisang and all that. Well, that was his version. Mak had a different version of course.

Yes, I was sent out of the surgery because the doctor knew I would create a scene, had a fit, faint or go hysterical as my son was being ‘done’. He sent me off to the canteen with instructions to come back after half an hour. Is that all it takes these days??

After what seemed like an agonising 30 mins at the PMC brand new canteen, I walked up. I was almost in tears to see the little boy I left half an hour ago, now a man, walking like a cowboy towards me, holding one end of his kain pelikat so that it didn’t touch the sensitive area.

All these must have come flooding back to him last week when we visited three month old Y who had his snip. He cringed when he saw little Y already in his nappies and cringed even harder when Y’s mum gleefully described how it was done. She watched it.. Watched it? I nearly died just waiting for ‘it’ to be done.

When the eldest had his done, I was lucky as my husband was there with him. I had requested anaesthetic, a blind fold, a hard thud on the head...anything, anything to knock me out. But doctor said: anaesthetics only for patients – okay lah! On the way to the clinic in Kampung Baru, I was already having problems breathing. By the time they went in, I almost collapsed in the waiting room. Didn’t I read somewhere that a doctor had accidentally cut off more then necessary?

During the last visit home, two nephews had theirs done. I just love listening to the uncles and other male cousins who would just gloat about how brave they were sitting astride the batang pisang. They were never scared – em, perhaps, just a little. To this day, I never really know, or dare ask what the batang pisang was for.

I heard one story about someone not a million mile from this blog, who decided at the very last minute, to postpone the snip. Not that he succeeded. He spent the days recuperating, singing “Aduh, Mak sakitnya...”

That wasn’t so bad. I heard Abang and Abang Tam and the other cousins were singing P Ramlee’s “Beginilah nasib, diri ku yang malang, Oh Tuhaaaannnnn!..
When they were feeling a bit better, from their sleeping area with their sarungs suspended high up to the ceiling, they’d play cowboy and indians, shooting at each other, right into the night. Of course they made a speedy recovery when visitors came with money filled envelopes. This usually helps.

Anyway, I still have four in our household that needed to be ‘done’ – Tabby, Moaner, Kissinger and Jasper. Aaah, give me more air!

Monday, 12 December 2005

The Lie Must Go On...

The water flowing down from the imposing Jerai that formed the backdrop of our quiet little town, was, needless to say, very cold. I shiver at the thought of that afternoon, that episode, after our Quran class. It wasn’t the quick dip in the cold water that made me shiver, just the thought of what we did after that.

“We came here to get clay for the art class. That’s all,” Kak Cik said taking matters into her hands. “Listen, we need not tell her anything”.

We were perhaps about nine or ten when we began this conspiracy against Mak that was to continue until now. Kak Cik seems to take charge in matters like this. I meekly obey when she says, “Listen”. You see, Mak must never be subjected to any worry. Imagine had she known that her two little girls were splashing about in the river behind Mak Aishah’s house, she’d be worried sick. That’s for sure.

And we don’t want that, do we? We have seen what she went through when Abang did his disappearing act. He sold his bicycle and with what little he had, took off for some adventure. I didn’t see Mak cry but I know she didn’t sleep at night, waiting up for Abang. And the same thing happened when he went up the Jerai and came down carrying a huge python. Or the time he spent nights at sea, with the fishermen. Abang must have told her he was there to paint the sunset.

We must never make Mak worry or sad. She had never seen us quarrel or heard us raise our voices to each other. This means we grit our teeth or just hiss out whatever we want to say to each other when she is around. We do not bring up any sensitive subjects in her presence. One look from Kak Cik, my sentences will hang midway. There are taboo subjects. London is taboo. Cos she wants to visit me. So no one talks about London.

And we have learnt to deal with certain situations quite early.

I remember how she’d patiently wait while we read letters that Abang wrote from Belfast. When we finished she’d ask:

“Abang kata apa?”

“Dia kirim salam,” we’d reply after digesting the chronicle of explosions which had happened within earshot of Abang’s rented accomodation. This was in the seventies.

“Amboih – tujuh lai surat, dia kirim salam saja?” came the retort.

”Aaha – dia kata dia sehat,”

And so the lie goes on and on. Or perhaps, it should be termed being economical with the truth. Why would we be telling Mak the truth? Censorship was exercised very early in our household and storylines get changed very easily during conversations among us siblings when Mak suddenly makes an appearance.

Kak Cik has devised an effective way to let us know when storylines have to change. A very painful one too. I’d get a very strong kick under the table and believe you me – the storyline WILL change.

For example:

“Pak Tam kerabat pokok moktan (rambutan). Lepaih tu jatuh....” the story got interrupted as she sensed Mak's slow walk into the kitchen.

“Pak Tam?” Mak was curious about her brother. You see her hearing is selective.

“Dak, pokok moktan Pak Tam lebat tahun ni,” Another lie – another version of Pak Tam’s accident that resulted in his broken leg.

When Kak Piah was very very ill, carloads of relatives were visiting her at the hospital. And of course they’d visit Mak as well as Mak is now easily the great grandmama of all in the clan. The official version was that they were all attending kenduri of some friends that Mak didn’t know, or something like that. I find that hard to believe cos Mak seems to know everyone.

And when Kak Cik herself went into hospital to remove something which was not supposed to be where it was, there was a wall of silence. No one knew how to explain. But deep inside, I think she suspected something.

And another thing, we do not speak in English when she is around. She knows that is one way we are talking about things we dont want her to know.

And the conspiracy still continues – for it must. The last few days had seen a frenzy of sms’es and yms and phonecalls back and forth.

YM form Ajie "Dont say anything to Mak, Ok?"

SMS from Lilah - "she doesn't know - so dont say anything".

And the phone call from Kak Cik, “Listen, we must not tell her, okay? She must never know. We need not tell her anything,” said Kak Cik, taking charge once more, and I was transported back to the riverbank, standing there, shivering and almost in tears.

“Yes,” my voice broke as it did on that afternoon on the river bank.

Kak Cik sounded very strong. She said that she is alright. But she is lying too – we have been in this game for too long. I knew that she went into the shower and had a good cry and came out to face Mak again as if everything is alright.

When I called home, I was pleasantly surprised that it was Mak who picked up the phone. I was taken aback by the strength in her voice and more importantly, was happy that she could hear my voice.

“Mak sehat?” I asked not daring to utter more than three words.

“Mak sehat. Zaharah sehat?” she always called me by my full name.

“Sehat, Mak” we both lied.

Monday, 5 December 2005

Training My Thoughts

With robotic movements of the Stepford Wives, I joined other early morning commuters, hands clutching steaming hot take-away coffees, newspapers under armpits, to board the 0830 to Norwich. Unlike other days, today I had ample time to find a comfortable seat by the window to take in, for the last time (at least for now) the wonderful English countryside from the warm comforts of my window. Aaaah, the early birds get to choose – so many empty seats, with tables facing outward bound, where you can see where you are going or backwards, cos you can see where you’ve been.

I chose one in the middle carriage as it’ll be near the exit of my intended station and prayed that no one sat next to, in front of or adjacent to me. I was in no mood for small talk. And proceeded to bury myself in the morning papers.

Aaaah, what is the world coming to these days.... “Sex Slaves Gang Jailed” screamed the headlines in the free morning paper – the Metro. “Sex slaves sold at Gatwick” – revealed another headline. Young girls as old as 15 and sixteen are being lured from Lithuania with all sorts of promises of fun, excitement and probably the line that London streets are paved with gold.

So, so sad, I thought as the train pulled out of Liverpool Street Station. I hope the four caught will rot in jail...but I bet there are many more, perhaps in hiding, perhaps still running their despicable trade under a different guise! The door from the adjoining carriage opened and a couple sort of rushed in – the girl, a young lass of perhaps 16 looked around for seats and I prayed she’d give the empty seat next to me a miss. The gentleman behind her – no, I wouldnt call him that – he had this roguish look about him – somehow, he didn’t fit in with the early morning commuter crowd. Not like those I was accustomed to seeing these last few mornings, a bit dodgy, I thought, as I returned to the news that I was reading.

“We were promised that we will have a fun time at Halloween,” one girl was quoted as saying, “but as soon as we got here, our passports were taken and we were sold to brothels and pimps. And.....” I didn’t get to finish reading the sentence as I felt my space being invaded...by the young girl who had hundreds of other empty seats to choose but took the one next to me. But there was something about her. Her vulnerability, as she looked around wide eyed, timid even. No – scared is the word.

And...what about the rogue I saw behind her? I thought they were together but there was a certain hesitancy before he took the seat three rows away, facing us, his eyes never leaving the girl, I thought.

As the girl plumped herself beside me, I caught a whiff of her perfume. Hmmm, a bit too early for perfumes as expensive as this, I thought and I became suddenly self conscious of the scent that was coming from me. Its the minyak gamat balm that I had lavishly rubbed on my hands to ease the old joints in the winter cold. Instinctively, I pulled out my gloves and put them on.

But the strong whiff of gamat balm was still getting to my head though it worked wonders on my joints.

The young girl, still under the scrutiny of the rogue, which I now assumed was Lithuanian – from the Baltic region, anyway, was applying her bright red lipstick to those bee stung lips. The guy in pin striped suit adjacent to us looked up from his laptop and I thought - that’s not a look, its a leer, an ogle! And did he just licked his lips, those very lips that he kissed his wife goodbye with???? How dare he!

Aha!!!! I get it now! My eyes were darting from rogue man to young bee stung lip girl to randy pandy in pin stripes! I know why she sat next to me...she felt safe. May be she missed her momma back in Lithuania ( or perhaps her grandmomma!) and my motherly instincts took the better of me and I stared back hard at rogue man. I have read about things like this before. They ply the morning train to whatever destinations and pick up clients along the way. The pickings from the likes of pin stripe suit man could more than double the highly priced peak time return ticket to Norwich. Hmmm...

My heart was pounding. My coffee went cold and my almond croissant untouched. Having done her lips, young Lithuanian girl, for that was what I was sure she was, slowly lifted one shapely leg and crossed another shapely one, revealing her fish net tights underneath the knee-high leather boots. Gosh, they do get well paid in this business, I thought, making a mental calculation of the miserable hourly rate that I got plying this same route every day for the past two weeks!

From the corner of my eyes, without making it too obvious, I looked into her small mirror as she did her eyelashes, her red moist lips parting as she did so. Pinstriped suited guy had by now forgotten why he switched on his lap top and I swear he was drooling.

Rogue guy looked around uneasily and returned his beady eyes to Marlena – yes, that must be her name. Marlena – or it could be Veronica – names you see on small cards posted on telephone booths around London. He looked more than interested as Marlena or Veronica or whatever flicked her shoulder length hair back revealing long slender neck. I gasped! What was thatttttttttt? What have they done to the poor girl! A big blue, purplish bruise! Oh, how she must have suffered! She must have fought back. The reports did say they were threatened with beatings should they retaliate.

My head was racing and I knew I must act fast. I must save this young girl from anymore dirty paws that’s waiting to maul her. And wipe that lecherous look from your face, pin stripe baldy and go back to your wife and children!

Then suddenly – “Ting Tong! The next destination is Chelmsford. Please ensure that you take all your luggage with you. This train will now stop at Chelmsford”.

Marlena slung her handbag over her shoulders, walked past rogue man and was soon out of my sight even before I could put on my Superwoman cape. Rogue man stood up and walked behind her...aha! At the platform, Marlena flew into the arms of a forty something old woman screaming.......”Mummy! I missed you” and rogue man – (or was he?) sauntered up the overhead bridge and disappeared.

I went back to the newspapers, sipped my cold coffee and made a mental note, never again to use gamat balm. It does things to your tired brain.

Tuesday, 29 November 2005

As I was munching muruku

I sat on the 0815 going towards East Anglia, feeling very much like Michelin’s grandma trying to feel my feet under those layers and layers of socks. I had rolly-pollied down the platform just minutes before the train pulled away and plonked myself, quite breathlessly, on the seat and I swear I must have bounced up and down a few times much to the amusement of prim proper lady sitting in front of me, trying to concentrate on her John Grisham.

When I had peeled off my coat and jumpers and whatnots and piled them neatly like freshly made laundry on the empty seat next to me, I proceeded to take in the English countryside whizzing past. Posted by Picasa
The once yellow fields of rapeseeds are now bare, succumbing to the harsh winter that is intruding into autumn like an unwanted guest. The farmer’s cottage looked so calm and peaceful – the only hint of life being the soft, willowing smoke coming out of the chimney. Oh, how I envy the farmer’s wife cuddling up to the farmer under their feather-filled duvet, warmed by the crackling fire from their fireplace.

And how I envy the sheep their thick coat of wool as they stood still, dotting the bare field, as if they are glued by blue tacs to the ground. Oh, how I envy.....stop it, stop it , stop it! I told myself as I furiously munched my muruku, grinding them to a paste and downing them with strong starbucks latte that I had bought at the station.

Alas, at this ungodly hours of the morning, as the temperature dipped further and further, self pity was also fast setting in, especially when thoughts of what I was doing in good old sunny Malaya three weeks ago flashed by like those unsolicited Tourism slide show . Oh what am I doing here? It is cold and wet and gloomy!

“Yes, what are you doing there?” “How long more are you going to be there? “ “When are you all planning to come back and work here?” “ Do you plan to queue up with other OAPs (Age Old Pensioners) for your pensions at the post office?”

Those are the harsh, no nonsence, mind probing questions from friends that came like flashbacks...questions I don’t have answers to. I swear prim proper lady peered from behind her Gucci framed glasses, taking her attention away from Grisham momentarily. Had I been talking out loud to myself? Am I going crazy? I smiled sheepishly and continued munching my muruku courtesy of friend from good old Malaya.

Next month (and I thought I had stopped counting) it’ll be 26 years away from good old Malaya – the Malaya where I can wear my colourful kaftan up and down the streets and eat roti bakar with generous dollops of planta margerine and even more generous spread of kaya, at any time of the day or night. So, it has been 26 years of cold wet and glomy winter and I still can’t get used to sitting on cold toilet seats in the morning, without it giving me a jump start. Twenty six years and I still yearn for mee goreng mamak that never failed to bring tears to my eyes and make me rush to the toilet in five minutes flat – yet I keep on yearning, especially on a cold, gloomy day like this. When the train pulled in at a small station, I half expected a food vendor to come rushing to the window with nasi lemak and beehoon goreng and even kacang kuda rebus. Prim proper lady looked up unamused as if she could read my mind. Dream on, she seemed to say, raising one well plucked eyebrow before turning back to Grisham.

As the train left the platform, it seemed to be going through a wad of cotton wool. Gone were the leafless trees and the bare fields and I was feeling a tad claustrophobic. It was fog! Even prim proper lady seemed a bit ill at ease by this change in scenery. She muttered something under her breath that betrayed her breed and background. I only knew this after watching many repeats of To The Manor Born.
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Self pity was rushing in at full speed and I overdosed myself with more muruku as if that would help, but it only brought back memories of that brief but fun evening at a deepavali open house eating chapati and curry to the sound of Selamat Hari Raya by a sittar player. This can only happen in good old Malaya.
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The fog lifted but it failed to leave my mind. It was still foggy and muddled up – my mind, that is. Someone cleverly mentioned my life as one being cradled on two cultures. It has made it more muddled, that’s what it has done. And what have I done in my 26 years here? It stocktaking time!
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Anyway, the scenery outside the window was becoming more interesting. The little lanes snaking into the woods were white against the dark gloomy background. It was like strokes of white chalk on a painting. The ground was frozen! Even the streams running alongside the tracks were frozen. Luckily I had my layers and layers of jumpers and shawls! Then, like wads of cotton wool, they drifted down gently settling on tree tops and roof tops turning it into fairyland at Christmas time. And as I stepped off the 0815 from King’s Cross, I felt the first snow drop of the season, on my nose.

Sunday, 20 November 2005

Confessions of an aunt

My dearest A,

You missed alot of fun during the last raya gathering cos you chose to do some more important (read: boring) things at the UN. So, here’s the story in brief. But I also take this opportunity to slip in a confession or two.

I wont talk about the food. Suffice to say, there were plenty. But we catered - no one bothered to cook and many a times your uncles slipped out and came back with mee goreng Shariff.
You know we have a ritual of taking family photographs, right? This year, two of your cousins fought to sit on my lap and I suffered under a combined weight of 24 stones that very nearly not only broke the chair but also my poor bones. They were Abang Am and Kak Oli – the oldest of your cousins who I used to balance on my lap and spoil them rotten. No, that is not the full story for if they have their own blogs or a say in this entry, I will be arrested by the NSPCC.

So, I will confess and tell the truth and nothing but the truth.

You know that I have a reputation among my siblings, your mum included, one they have viciously circulated among their children in my absence, adding this and that making a mountain out of a mole hill. It also doesn’t help that their children too (you included) have memories so strong of their Mak Teh that they have now passed on to their children. And I think this is so unfair. I now wonder why your younger cousins eyed me suspiciously everytime I approached them with presents. "Beware the one bearing presents", they must have said.

I thank God that our family is such a fertile lot that during my visits home, I would always be greeted by an addition - a newborn niece or nephew and now I even have grand nephews. But the sad thing is that the parents watched me like hawks. They have even formed a protective circle around sleeping babies and this really breaks my heart. Even memories of them doing so bring tears to my eyes as I am never allowed near any of my cuddly wuddly nieces and nephews, whose chubby cheeks I love to pinch and whose tiny toes and fingers I love to bite. Oooooh, and those delicious little ears! I love talking to them and waking them from their deep, peaceful sleep, much to the annoyance of their parents.

I really don’t understand the fuss – babies do go back to sleep, when they are tired. (Or when I am tired). What is a pinch or two? Or a bite and lots of hugs and gomois that usually leave them breathless? It is all done in the name of love and affection of an aunt.

My own children to this day endure my pinch on their less chubby cheeks. They have grown into quite normal adults, none showing any signs of being mentally scarred by what I subjected them to. Don’t you think so too?

Come to think of it, my nieces and nephews have done rather well inspite of or perhaps because of the Mak Teh treatment. I treasure Eena and Wani’s company as we ventured out to KL – they are now my partners in crime. But I must say this, I still have a lot of apprehensions and fear being driven by Kak Di. I fear her little feet couldn’t reach the pedals. But hey! Zhafri – wa caya lu lah! You know, he has grown into quite a hemsem young man! But I wonder why he speaks into his pillows so much! Hish, budak2 muda ni! And I suspect Am and Oli who sat on my laps were just doing so to actually break my bones to get back at me!

But A, I have one heartbreaking story to tell you.
When it suited them, your parents, allowed you to sleep with me. I truly enjoyed changing your nappies and pinching your cheeks – well, both, in the process. But one weekend, I came back from college with mumps. And Olah (your maid), didn’t know any better and allowed you to sleep in my bed. That night, your mum, aided and abetted by your dad, sneeked in and took you away from my side. And I cried myself to sleep and promised that when I have my own children, no one will ever take them away from my side ever again.

Anyway, this trip, I was really delighted to see the youngest addition to the family, Sofea, but she has lost lots of the chubbiness but still delicious enough to be eaten alive. But I wonder what Pak Ajie and Kak Nisa have told her cos she has this defensive gestures whenever I went near her, even when she was asleep. They have even taken to sleeping with their arms protectively around her at night. In the day time, she walked around covering her cheeks when I was near.

Anyway, I was not alone in 'torturing' these little children, you know. Well, Tok doesn’t have Astro and we needed to amuse ourselves. So, we took turns. Don't be fooled by Pak Su's banker look, which hid a real sadist in him. We pretended to hit the mother and gleefully watched her cry. This we did several times. I even have them on video and you can watch on your return. Even Kak Nisa and Pak Ajie joined in with the worst mental torture a child have to endure. It went like this: "Sofea sayang sapa? Mama ke Papa?” If she said Mama, Pak Ajie pretended to cry. When she said Papa, Kak Nisa pretended to cry leaving her so traumatised and confused. And they say I am cruel! But we had such fun. We used to do that to you too.

But I have to confess to one other thing that I did and which to this day I am most shameful to talk about. I hope that when little Hilman grows up, he will find it in his generous heart to forgive me.

You know that Hilman is very much a fan of Siti Nurhaliza. Who isn’t? I happened to have a picture of Siti and me in London. I also happened to have a raya SMS from Dato Lat, which says “Selamat Hari Raya from the three of us: Siti Nurhaliza 0123456789
Mawi: 0198765432 dan yang terglamour, Lat and family (his number). So, overcome by a wicked thought, I told Hilman that I have Siti’s number (fake of course!) and he pestered me to phone Siti, for 4 year old Hilman wanted to propose to her – and warn off Dato K! So, I was in a real fix and had to rope in your dear sister in this sting. I gave her half an hour’s notice to practice being Siti . (Sorry, Siti – Kak Teh minta ampun!)

Much later and after more presterings from a love struck Hilman, I called ‘Siti’ (and this I have on video which will be shown during my confession when Hilman comes of age). Your dear sister, I must say, did pretty well and even agreed to his proposal, much to the surprise of your Bro in law sitting by her side. Hilman, to say the least was beaming! BUT trust your sister not to know any of Siti’s songs – so when he asked her to sing, Jeling Menjeling, she suggested lagu Balik Kampung instead!

Anyway, I sighed a sigh of relief when Hilman went to sleep with a smile on his face, still clutching the photo. I didnt have the heart to pinch him and disturb his dreams.

So, my dearest A, we missed you and to the rest of my nieces and nephews, I am sorry, Mak Teh

Thursday, 17 November 2005

In Praise of the Kaftan

To friends and relatives who visited me during raya and found me not in any Raya clothes, please forgive me. I did buy some baju kurungs to get in the raya mood but trying them on in the air conditioned changing rooms just isn't the same as wearing them in the sweltering temperature of Mak's kitchen. So, whenever I had the chance, I’d slipped into those wonderful, cooling and comfortable batik kaftans, ignoring Mak’s repetitive (for she is so repetitive now) questions – “Laaaa, tak mandi lagi?”

What is it about kaftans that makes people think you have not had a bath or ready for bed? I sincerely believe that the Malaysian kaftans is so undervalued and under rated, but of course we are not talking about those mass produced ones. I have quite a few of those, with arm holes that allowed people to see more than the armpits...gross! For some mothers, they find it easy to breastfeed their babies thru the armholes– hahaha! (sorry)

Anyway, I am so delighted to discover some very beautiful new designs of the kaftans that really ought to be seen out in coffee bars or garden parties. So, of course, I bought a few and wore them everywhere. Such an easy concept. Just a big piece of cloth sewn on both sides and a hole for the neck. In fact, if you can get a few of your Mak’s old lacy selendangs, just sew on both sides and you get one fashionable one without having to pay hundreds of RM, for that is what they cost at the shops.

The good thing about kaftans is that they come in one size and can hide a multitude of sins. Of course the danger is that you tend to forget the bulges that you are hiding and become comfortable with that.

Anyway, back in cold gloomy London, I attended a fashion show at the Four Seasons Hotel two days ago and caught up with an old friend, a batik designer Khalid Shamsuddin. I am in awe of Khalid and his designs. Of course, Khalid’s designs and collections are not new in London. His designs made an appearance at this year’s London Fashion Week in the Eric Way Collection and also for Lewre’s shoes. He designed for Jendela Batik when they had a show at The Dorchester.

Khalid’s soft colours and unique designs were such a hit – and I set my eyes on one particular black number with a big butterfly in front. It looked so good on the model. And kidding myself that I’d look good in it too, I parted with whatever RM I had left in my purse and bought it.

Now I will have to wait for a warm summer evening and an invite!
PS I 've had loads of problem putting pictures here. Anyway, the above pictures are just some of Khalid's creations. The black and white kaftan with the big butterfly is now MINEEEEEEE!!
PPS - Thank you for all your comments - very,very interesting read. I have bought some Batik Kaftans for English friends and they were disgusted when I suggested that they wear them to sleep. Bergen, pls blog abt your aunt's business. Ummi, thanks..the softness? Must be my extra tyres. Thinktankgirl - u saw & heard?
I once threatened to wear a beautiful and colourful silk kaftan toa friend's BBQ but my children did a counter threat and refused to come along. One even said, Mama, if you stand in the middle of the road, motorists might mistake you as the traffic light!
For your info, Khalid is known as the Pareo Boy after introducing the Malaysian Pareos to Club Med. He also created the Baju Laut popular among tourists.

Tuesday, 15 November 2005

Raya with Mak

It was 1610 London time when MH4 landed at Heathrow yesterday. While waiting for the doors to open, memories of the last two carefree weeks came flooding back. Two weeks of being spoilt and dare I say- two weeks of being a spoilt brat – and enjoying it! So now its back to the harsh realities of being a mum, a wife and as I write this, at 0430 (jet lagged!) I have just under three hours to rest before my first assignment – a breakfast meeting with a Minister! And I can bet you, I will be dozing off by 5 pm and hopefully someone will wake me up for another assignment at 1930 at Four Seasons. No rest for the wicked.

The harsher reality is the weather PLUS the realisation that my coat is still not at the cleaners.

Will I sound irresponsible if I say I had really enjoyed my two weeks away from my husband and children? Throughout the time I was doing my studies, my Mak fell, injured her head, was ill several times. But I pushed aside all negative thoughts and soldiered on with my studies. I ignored blogs with entries on Mothers. I was in denial but I silently prayed that Allah gives me this chance to be with her during Hari Raya. When I prayed alongside with her the morning of Hari Raya, I thanked God, that I was back home on that special day with Mak. Alhamdulillah, I can say that the first part of the holiday, I was with her and my siblings all the time. When Abang came back from the Middle East, Mak couldn’t stop smiling. She was chirpy and active. All her children were with her in the house that Pak built for Mak and she watched us up to our mischiefs. We were her little children, arguing, bantering and teasing each other, and at other times, we were mothering her – telling her off for walking miles in her own home that she has left for the past six months or so, brushing this and sweeping that. We humoured her and played along when she talked about staying back in the house and not wanting to move back to KL. We conspired with other relatives against her and psyched her up for the trip back...and she played along too, knowing deep down, she has no choice anymore.

In a way, it is sad. She was THE strength for not just us her children, but also for all her siblings and other relatives. The house that Pak built used to be the centre for relatives to get together. The kitchen was always full of relatives sitting around eating and eating and talking about old times. We’d move from the kitchen to the hall and back and still had plenty to talk about. And Mak would feed all of us endlessly.

Now, she has been reduced to a nomad, moving from one child’s house to another, carrying her small bag of necessities. With all the love she has around her, she is frustrated that she is now incapable of doing things for herself, that she has to depend on other people.

Everyday while we were at the family home, she woke up with this smile on her face and padded to the front room to see her new table. Ajie had bought it for Raya. And Nisa bought a table runner that pleased her enormously. She didnt want a table cloth as she wanted to see the polished wood. The table first became her excuse to stay back. Then, one day before the trip back to KL, she feigned illness. We played along and later we overheard her chat with the neighbour – she admitted, she no longer has any say – she goes where ever we take her.

In the middle of the nights when we were there, she did her rounds in that big lounge that has become our communal bedroom. I was reduced to tears when she came over and covered me with the thin blanket that had slipped away. Once, I woke up to see her stroking Ajie’s hair forgetting that Ajie is already a father of five! Earlier, against all protestations, she slowly pulled a mattress and some blankets to one corner of the lounge. “Ni untuk Abang” she said, refering to the beddings. Yes, Abang has no one to care for him now that Kak Piah is gone and Mak knew that she needs to mother him again. In a way since Kak Piah’s passing, she has found it in her to be strong for Abang.

Last week we brought her back to KL and on day one, she was down. She didnt want to leave the house that Pak built for her and her orchids and her plants that she loves so much. So, we put plan 2 into action. Lilah brought over Ajie’s small children to be around her. Lilah did her chores walking past her every few minutes to show that there are people around her. I was, of course, out shopping and meeting friends. She’d ask after me, but she is also resigned to the fact that I need to be with a group of childhood friends whenever I am back. She knows that when I am with them, I would either come back at 3 am or not at all. She allows this irresponsible child in me and perhaps also realised it is too late to change me. Well, at my age I can’t be up to much mischief now, can I? Or, can I?

On the last night, I slept with her and watched her sleep. She is so small and frail but she still has so much love that has touched so many. She has given so much and expects so little in return.

So, last raya, the house that Pak built for Mak was full of fun and laughter again and that should keep Mak happy for a while. When I left yesterday, Mak at 88 was a picture of health. As she hugged and kissed me, she whispered “Jangan lupa Mak”.

The Captain’s announcement brought me back to reality and as I pushed my bag out, I called Taufiq’s mobile phone. My husband answered and said he was still at home. I was a little disappointed but we did agree to meet in Paddington instead of Heathrow. But once outside, I saw a familiar figure trying to hide behind a pillar! He was up to his old tricks again! And there was Taufiq trying to suppress his laughter seeing his father acting like a teenager!

Aaaah, we do need to let the child in us out once in a while and I certainly did during my 2 weeks home with Mak. Now, I am ready to be a Mak again. And hopefully a better one!

Friday, 28 October 2005

The list

If, like me, you are planning to travel, please go to Mr Hobo. The tips he gives, from things to pack to travelling companions and holiday romances are not just informative but also a wonderful read. So, these last few days I have been visiting Mr Hobo, before I do my own packing.

Well, I have sort of thrown all sorts of things into the bag and I know there will be packing and repacking to do. I have ironed most things and by most things I mean tudungs that I bought during the last few visits but never wore them because I stick to the old comfortable safe colours that I have, a few kebayas and baju johore that have never been worn, for the same reason, and I think rather than clutter my cupboard, someone out there can make good use of them.

But, seriously, there are several things that’s a must to bring home:

1. fridge magnets – these are so, so popular. There are new ones with paddington bear leaning on the london phone booth, the london eye, the front of the black cab – all quite nice and light to carry. And of course, everytime the recipients go to their fridge, they will be reminded of me, kan?
2. scarves from Tie Rack, must be careful to choose only those with flowers and simple patterns, and tak licin.
3. chocolates and more chocolates from Woolworth and some yummy ones from Marks & Sparks.
4. shortbread from the shop at Heathrow. Now this is seriously NOT a place to do last minute shopping. Things that you think you don’t need, you will always end up buying here – at double the cost! And I am always doing this.
5. And whatever I buy, I must be very,very careful that these are products with lables that says “Made in England”. Hmmmmmmmm!

There’s a big possibility that I might end up wearing my yesteryear’s baju kurung for raya as I have timed my homecoming a little bit too late, unless of course I make a beeline from KLIA to the nearest shopping centre on arrival. Otherwise, Mak’s baju Kedah will do just fine.

Sharing clothes with siblings is a culture in our household. The minute my luggage hits the floor, the rummaging starts. Everything will be booked in advance. I will have my opportunity times four as I go through their wardrobes and pick and choose what I want. It is not unusual for me to offload the contents of my handbag into a carrier bag at the airport as a barter trade for perhaps a favourite tudung, a new kebaya or anything at all.
It is almost a ritual.

Things I must NEVER forget
1. camera, video camera – I never travel without these and the filming or the snapping of pictures will begin at Heathrow – the goodbyes, the tears, the hugs and then again on arrival. Most of my trips home can be made into a home movie – if I have the time to edit lah! and then bore my visitors to death.
2. chargers!!!! very, very important – especially for my handphone. Aaaah, this reminds me. The last trip home, we were all at my mother's house in Alor Star. Every available point was used to recharge handphones in all manner of shapes and sizes! And when the phones rang – the house was like a music box with all manner of tunes and ringtones.
3. my own recharger – gyngko, vitamin C, evening primrose oil, and many more if AG has his ways.
4. recent pictures of the children- aaaaaah! I’d show everyone and anyone their pictures and look and look at them and this time is going to be especially sad – I wont get to see them dressed in their Hari raya finest!
5. books to read during the flight. I have yet to finish Small Island but I am sure that I will not be able to resist another book or magazine at WH Smith at Heathrow.
6. A bottle of Evian – a big bottle
7. sweets to chew especially while taking off and landing. I tend to get headsplitting headaches during these times.

What I want to include in the suitcase but I cant:
My AG – I will miss him, and we’ve had only a few days together since he came back. But such is life – we cant have everything – we choose to be the way we are – my absence means he is able to cover for me and in his absence I look after the shop.
The sayang mamas – its been a long time since we had a family holiday. One day, one day my sayang mama we will go back to Malaysia together.
The other sayang mamas – Jasper, Kissinger, Moaner, Snowbell, Gizmo and Tabby. Their presence in our lives has meant that we are quite reluctant to go away and leave them. They are so much a part of our life.

And you know what? When my tears are dry, I usually look forward to the meals served on board. I know I am strange – but its...er different. And yes, those inflight entertainments too.

Well, during the last two flights home, I was given quite a pleasant surprise. I was woken up after the meal by a flight attendant who said : Puan, why didnt you tell us you are on board? The captain wants you upgraded.”

I rubbed my eyes and thought I was dreaming. What? Me, in business class? But they assured me that they have got the right name and that they’d be thrown off the plane if they couldnt get me up there. So, who was I to complain, eh?

Wednesday, 26 October 2005

All things nice and wonderful

Been terribly, terribly busy, which is quite unusual for this time of the year. Usually things quietened down a bit and by Christmas and over the New year – its dead!

My first raya card

Anyway, I had several wonderful surprises, not least my first hari raya card! Its addressed simply to Kak Teh and it came all the way from Australia, through my letter box and on to the doormat! Thanks, fellow blogger! Its a wonderful surprise! And thank you too for those who also sent online cards to Kak Teh. This is surely a sign that I have been over doing it with blogging! Am getting more cards from fellow bloggers than my usual friends!

Also, my AG came back with a boxful of goodies! These survived the customs, but not sure whether they will see Hari Raya!
Jam tarts in all sorts of sizes and shapes – the one that crumbles in your hands and melts in the mouth – well, that one nearly gone. Kueh sugee, kueh bakar, even lempuk! The box was, surprise, surprise, opened when he got to it! The customs have been busy – well over the raya period, they must check in case anyone tries to smuggle any rendang.

The last time I came back from Malaysia with, among other things, four beautifully packed ikan bilis. When I heard the announcement on the plane that we are not allowed to bring food in, I panicked. Then I read that its only fish, meat, honey and cheese. Lega! So, I went to the ladies, and threw away the ikan bilissssssssssss!!! Sayannnnnnggnya!

Some friends of mine had been less fortunate. One had to sign a form saying that if he is ever caught again with rendangs and ikan bilis and ikan kering, he’ll be fined.

The children got their baju rayas! And this year, they will be quite happy not having to wear my old kebayas. And they are beautiful!! Taufiq has a brand new baju melayu – black – with a very beautiful sampin. He wore it and I almost cried because I wont get to see him wear it on raya morning.

Anyway, just a brief update – am off to cari sesuap nasi!

Thursday, 20 October 2005

Al Fatehah kepada Kak Endon

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Datin Seri Paduka Endon Mahmood, beloved wife of our Prime Minister, or more popularly known as Kak Endon, left us this morning, at 7.55 Malaysian time in this holy month of Ramadan. Al Fatehah dan semoga Allah tempatkan rohnya di samping orang-orang yang beriman. And our thoughts are with you Pak Lah, during this very difficult time.

I have only met Kak Endon once during the launch of Jendela Batik fashion at the Dorchester in London last year. I felt very, very honoured when told that she had requested my presence there. The numerous times that I have covered our Prime Minister's visit to London, Kak Endon, for obvious reasons had not been able to be present. And for that reason, I have never had the chance to know her the way I did Tun Dr Siti Hasmah. Yet, I felt a bond with her, not only because she is our prime minister's wife, but also because of her passion for the kebaya nyonya. In my own small way, I too love the kebaya and hope that it will never be out of fashion. And when Kak Endon celebrated the kebaya, she revived a part of our cultural heritage. She will forever be remembered for this.

The Big C has taken her away. And I feel a loss. The country has lost its First Lady, our beloved Pak Lah has lost his wife.

Al Fatehah

Beautiful tributes to a beautiful lady/mother/wife/kakak can be found here:
Lydia Teh
Ordinary Superhero



This is one picture I will treasure forever.

Monday, 17 October 2005

Tales from the Surau

There’s trouble brewing in Taufiq’s surau. The latest I heard is a conspiracy to topple the imam. Yes, it is that bad. ( I love this chit chat with Taufiq after sahur and while waiting for subuh. It reminds me of his constant whispers into his Dadddy’s ears, telling stories while Daddy drives. Always something interesting and always something funny.)

During Ramadan, his school has provided a room for prayers. That is all good and fine. But it transpires that a week into Ramadan, there were many different schools of thoughts with many different interpretations and beliefs that I fear will lead to a mutiny in the surau today. Taufiq, always, always in his quiet diplomatic way, is determined to nip the problem before anything happens. He found a compass and is hoping that that will solve the problem once and for all.

If not for the seriousness of the matter, I would have been rolling on the floor laughing. You see, for the past few days, two groups in the congregation of what must have been less than 10, were praying in two different directions, each claiming that theirs is the correct one facing Mecca.

While Taufiq stuck to one direction, it must have been quite disconcerting, to say the least, to see that others who came in later, started praying in another direction. And even the teachers were powerless to do anything about this dispute. Taufiq’s compass will hopefully show the right direction, Insyaallah!

Anyway, these tales from Taufiq’s surau has taken a new dimension, but by no means as political as those we read or hear about from home.

When Taufiq started fasting at the age of seven, I was approached by his headmaster who told me that he was too young to fast. I told him that he was merely practicing and it was up to him to break his fast when he felt hungry. The headmaster proceeded to tell me that some parents had told him that other Muslim children only started fasting at the age of 13. Well, I kept quiet because we were taught differently and well aware of the many different Muslim communities in the school, I thought it best to keep quiet. But I did impress upon the headmaster that hunger aside, it is a practice for self discipline, management of anger, and also appreciation of what God has given us. The following year, the same headmaster provided a classroom for Taufiq and friends who were fasting so that they could spend the break there doing school work or pray while other non Muslim school friends had their school dinners. I really appreciated that and told him so. In fact, he invited a parent a week to give a talk to the children or simply to read the Quran with them. That was wonderful.

But it was not always that a parent could find time to be with them and that was when trouble would start. Once, for instance, there was a dispute as to how many rakaats to do for zuhur. And mind you, these were children around seven and eight. But Taufiq was unhappy but he continued to do what he was taught by us at home. He merely came back and grumbled. “Aah, just because Adam (a boy of nine) is from ......., he thinks only he can be the imam!!" On another day, another younger boy wanted to be the imam and trouble would start – hmm! doesn't this sound so familiar about what is happening in the adult world!

Anyway, one day, the headmaster happened to be passing by the classroom when he saw them praying – imamless and each doing their own prayers.

With all the best intentions in the world, he cried “ Stop! Stop! Stop! You are all not doing it at the same time. Stop and pray again, together!”

He thought, like a PE drill, you can just stop in the middle of a prayer and start again, like synchronise dancing! But at least, I thank him for he tried to understand and I think by now, he is coping even better.

In my own surau at the uni, things are not much different either. Coming from Malaysia, when we are used to seeing everyone in white telekungs, doing everything exactly as we were taught since the age of six, it was quite a surprise for me to see the different kinds of practices in that one small surau. We accept the fact that there are people who pray a little bit differently from us...but not THIS different. And as I tell this story, I pray to Allah to accept my prayers. I was somewhat distracted when I saw the lady beside me praying with her long flowing hair exposed right to her hips. And like Delta Dawn, she even had flowers in her hair.

Anyway, we will hear the outcome of Taufiq’s surau dispute today. And hopefully it'll be bloodless.

Friday, 14 October 2005

Baju raya revisited

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Aiyaaaaaah! dok diam-diamlah, said Ah Gek as I fidgeted in front of the mirror in her kitchen. I looked forlornly at the reflection in the mirror and back to the hourglass figure, Audrey Hepburn look alike in one of Ah Gek’s well thumbed fashion magazines. I had wanted THAT look but forgot that while Ah Gek could be magical with her creations, she stopped short of performing miracles. At the age of 12 or 13, my puppy fat, especially around the waist, meant that pencil lined skirts with slits at the back, and the famous Audrey Hepburn collar would not sit well on my chubby figure.

But year after year, it had been Ah Gek, our neighbour and seamstress who made our Hari Raya clothes. One year, it was a full flare skirt with those petticoats that
made you look like you had an umbrella fully opened underneath, then it was a simple cut polka – dotted number with a big ribbon either in front or at the back – anything, anything at all that was fashionable in Hollywood, and Ah Gek, in the small town of Yan, would humour us and kit us out in her creations for our Raya. If at all, she was amused by our choice of patterns, she was wise enough not to show it. She hid her smile, as she gritted the tacking pins in between her lips and adjusted pleats and darts on our choice of patterns on our ample bodies.

Yes, it must be about this time of Ramadan that the rush for making Hari Raya clothes starts. Why we do not make Hari Raya clothes before Ramadan, God knows....well, I supposed it wouldn’t be Hari raya clothes then, would it?

Sitting in my front room, watching the autumn leaves fall, leaving patterns on the pavement, memories flitted back and forth to how Ramadan used to be like for us children back in Malaysia. My own children now, don’t care much about Hari Raya clothes. Year after year, the girls wear my old kebayas. The boys will have their Baju Melayu from yesteryears if those still fit. If not, yes, we will get new ones from home. It is not such a big deal. Afterall, most of the time these clothes will be hidden under thick coats and jumpers. One wintry Raya, I saw young Malay girls, my children included, dressed in their best lacey kebayas, but all hidden underneath anoraks and woollen jackets, complete with trainers, shivering under the tents at the open house of the Malaysian High Commisisoner.

Once we took the children back for Hari Raya in Malaysia after 17 years here. And gosh, I had forgotten what it was like joining in the mad shopping rush two or three days before raya. But all they said was, “Oh, can I have those shorts and trainers?” Whaaat? whaaat? whaaat? Shorts and trainers for raya?

Anyway, when we were small, Pak would give us a treat, hire a car and take us all to Penang. Waaah, shopping in Penang for Hari Raya clothes was really something. By the time we reached Penang, we’d be half dead with exhaustion and hunger but for the promise of some new clothes, we’d soldier on going from one crowded shop to another, all with that familiar smell of moth balls. Once, and I supposed at that time Mak couldn’t fast or something, we went to Daud Restaurant. During Ramadan, these restaurants usually had curtains and sectioned off areas for Muslims who had “travelled more than 60 miles to do their shopping” in Penang.

We’d come back from Penang with bales and bales of materials, some for baju kurung that Mak would make herself and some for Ah Gek, who’d make us our western clothes, reserved for second of third hari raya. Baju kurung was for early in the morning to go to prayers and kubur. But even if Mak bought us these materials early, our baju kurung were the last to be ready because she made baju kurungs for raya for people in the neighbourhood. So, ours would be the ones without the tulang belut, or hastily hemmed up sarungs. But we stressed on mak that we did not want materials for the baju kurung from the same bale of material!!! Hmmm macam boria!

Sometimes, we’d just go to Alor Setar to get our materials, either from Pekan Rabu or Sin Sin or Lorong Sempit, thus called because it was so narrow you’d actually be doing dirty dancing to get from one place to another. This was where Mak would excercise her skills in haggling.

Mak: Berapa satu ela??? Alaaah, kedai Pak Mat tu lagi murah! (she’say as she pretended to walk away.)
Pekedai: Aaah, mak cik makcik,, tak pa.tak pa...wah rugi macam ni ..tapi tak paa...
Mak: ha..macam tu lah...tak boleh kurang lagi ka?

You see this all the time.

One year. Lipah and her sister from next door had this beautiful pleated skirt – one you didnt have to iron to keep the pleats in place. And I was so envious cos I wanted one too and then Kak came back from Johore, I think and had bought us one each. I tell you, we had a beautiful raya sashaying up and down Jalan Tunku Mahmood in the pleated skirts that didn't need ironing.

When we moved to Alor Setar, we found another seamstress that would make our catsuits, au dai (sp) (the Vietnamese outfit) and kebayas. Aaah, the day I could fit into a kebaya, I wore nothing else!

Yesterday, I had to sms my sister in law to get Taufiq and Hafiz some new baju Melayus. They grow up so fast. The girls might want some new kebayas as they have out grown mine. (I had outgrown mine a loooong time ago!) So, I will join the mad rush along Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman when I go back. Oh, how I look forward to that!

Monday, 10 October 2005

A Small Malay Kampung by the A40

Taufiq didn’t really buy my story when I told him that I didn’t eat much ketam sambal at Holiday Villa. So, yesterday, he decided to go out on a crab hunt. He enlisted the help of his friend Sufian, and targetted Oriental supermarkets nearby which might have frozen crabs. Ita, Sufian’s mum phoned to say, yes, Chris – Ipoh mali - and owner of a supermarket nearby, do sell crabs but a pound more expensive than others. She even offered to make me crab masak lemak with nenas, to which I immediately agreed.

You see, this little town of ours has a small community of Malays from Singapore and Malaysia and exchanging food and enlisting help from one another are not uncommon. It is like a little Malay community. It used to be bigger. Ita, who used to live down the road from us, just moved away last year when her husband changed jobs, but not too far away...just down the A40, cross the road and she’s tucked somewhere behind a leafy neighbourhood that reminds me of Petaling Jaya.

Ita used to be a few doors away, and just across the road from her was another Malaysian family, but they have gone back to Malaysia. A few streets away, just by the A40 is Swan – her parents came here in the 60’s and she has been here ever since. Across the road from her, is the family we have adopted – the one from Singapore, who used to look after our children – kakak and abang. They were the reason we moved here. Quite near the tube station, another family. They too sent their children there on our recommendation. There you go..a ready made Malay kampung!

It was good when Ita was around. It meant that when she made Laksa Kedah, there’d be a generous bowl for me. And of course, we deposit Taufiq at her place when we couldn’t come back in time and she’d do the same too. In fact, throughout her pregnancy, which was quite frequent, when she couldn’t cook, I’d do a take away service and leave them for her children. When we were short of belacan or asam keping, Ita’s was the place to go, cos she has loads of supply from home. She is never short of ikan kering and she’d gladly trade this for my mee goreng mamak.

Oh, just behind our place, is Man and Syikin and daughter Aliya from Singapore. They too moved here because they shared our kakak for a while and then had Ita to look after Aliya for a while too. It is really good having Man and Syikin nearby and now they are moving away because as Aliya is growing up, her educational needs become their priority. They will be moving to a place closer to a nursery which is quite cheap but good and nearer to their work place. Man helps me out with my editing once or twice.

So, yesterday, with the crabs that Taufiq and Sufian bought, I decided on a repeat performance of crab sambal and invited Man, Syikin and Aliya over. They came with some roti jala and kari ayam and we all sat on the floor Malay kampung style and ate with our fingers tanpa segan silu lagi!

It’ll be sad to see them leave the neighbourhood, but we know we’d still meet and visit each other. Their’s is one of a few houses that we visit. I will miss seeing Aliya outside my house playing with the cats. She always insisted that they stop by on their way home so that she could pat the cats. Its a nice small community - we don't live in each other's pockets - there'd be months of not seeing each other, but we know we'd be there for each other when the need arises.

The other family I used to visit is the one next to Ita’s. A loving closeknit family. I used to meet the husband on the number seven bus home late at night. He after his cake making classes and me, after my – whatever work I was doing. It was a few Ramadans ago, that I used to frequent their place – they wanted me to prepare their children for Malay language exams for when they return.

They were such a loving couple – not young, but it was always a pleasure watching them walking down the road to do their shopping, hand in hand, all the time. And just when they thought they were done with having children, the eldest being in his twenties, she got pregnant and they were so over the moon with the arrival of the little one. But, it wasn't long that she learnt she had the Big C...but still they walked hand in hand down the road to do their shopping together.

Two weeks ago, I received an SMS from a friend. She’s gone. The Big C had taken her away from her loving family and the little baby will grow up not having his loving mother by his side. I don’t know whether he will remember her. I hope he does for I can still see the glow on her face as she held her baby close to her.

Now, walking down the road, in my mind’s eyes I still see them walking hand in hand, pulling their shopping trolley up The Fairway. Al Fatihah.

Saturday, 8 October 2005

The Great Crab Rush

WARNING: This entry contains materials which are detrimental to your state of mind especially when you are fasting. Read at your own risk and wipe keyboard soon after. I am not responsible for anyone breaking their fast.

They came from near and far
. They braved the evening rush and heavy traffic to get to west London. SMS’es were zooming in all directions. Word travelled fast that crab sambal was on the menu at Holiday Villa.

I was doing some work when I had a call from atok and I casually mentioned that we should meet up forberbuka . He was iffy about today and I suggested we meet up on a day Holiday Villa serves ketam sambal ketam, ketam kari masak lemak, anything as long as it has eight (or is it ten) legs. Atok has a direct line to the hotel’s kitchen and by the time he had the confirmation, I was doing some work in a studio in Soho. A very brief sms – “crab sambal today – meet at holiday villa”. Such was the urgency of the message that I had to act fast. I put on a very serious voice to phone the children to eat by themselves. I had cooked earlier and that somehow lessened the guilt. I even invited Taufiq, another ketam lover, over – but he declined. I even phoned ewok .

Urgent and important matters like this need fast and efficient execution. I too have a direct line to the manager and phoned him immediately. Apparently, more people got wind of the unfortunate delicious crabs still simmering in the sambal on the stove, but they had already made reservations...that sort of reduced my portion somewhat. So I booked a table for five...so did atok – such was the enthusiasm.

By 6.30, the restaurant of Holiday Villa was already packed and the queue to the buffet bar was already long. The rush was about to begin. Luckily I had ordered my Nescafe tarek before going to do my asar. The restaurant was unusually full – there’s a table booked by staff from the High Commission, the Tourism director and deputy and families were there, an old, old friend, Millie Danker from those good old days at the NST was also there with some friends of hers.Posted by Picasa

It was quite an occasion – and everyone had heard about the crab sambal and everyone forgot their table manners and ate crabs as they should be eaten – with fingers and mess all over the table.

Atok and family were still no where to be seen – apparently they were stuck on the A40, “terrible jam”, came the sms, “an accident at Slough!” Hmmm and the crab was fast going leaving legs and claws under the precious sambal. Chef Syawal kept some crab claws for Atok. Millie begged Syawal for some – “claws pun jadilah...anak saya nak datang!” – she pleaded. And she got her claws and one happy daughter.

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When Atok and Hazel, kakak and adik arrived, all the way from Oxford, they were happy to see the claws, which kakak promptly demolished. I played nanny and extracted crab meat from every possible hidden parts of the crab for kakak.

Actually I wouldn’t do justice if I didnt mention the other dishes that Holiday Villa served last night. There was kepah goreng sambal, which was just as yummy. Nasi minyak bercolour-colour, beehoon goreng, ayam goreng berempah, kari terung dengan labu, brocolli goreng dengan bawang putih and all the kerabus and ulams. The starter was soup ekor tom yam style. All these to wash down with air serbat and then good old fashion Malay kuehs. Throughout Ramadan, Holiday Villa offers these and many more - a different menu everyday! There's mee mamak on Thursday - by the way!
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Well, I did phone the children a few times to see that they were all right. Such a responsible mum, I was and I told Taufiq – "You didn’t miss much – the crab wasn’t as good", I said. "Mama pun tak makan banyak". White lies are sometimes necessary!