Thursday, 28 February 2008

Notes from My Lounge

They say the sun is out. It is almost officially spring, they hasten to add. There’s even a cluster of daffodils outside the front door and the cherry blossoms are looking very beautiful indeed lining the street all the way down to Betsy’s. But I am in no mood to budge from the comforts of my lounge, from the warmth that my duvet can offer, and not too many miles away from the steaming tea and coffee in the kitchen. These last few days I have been nursing a very bad cold which is accompanied by fever and a monster of a headache.

It seems that almost everyone I know has had this and some got it worse. So, I am allowing myself this rest; stockinged feet, warm duvet, monopoly of the remote control and a veto power as to what’s on telly.

But most days when my fingers are not taking me a-surfing across blogosphere, or I get tired of repeats of Vicar of Dibley, I look out of the garden door and contemplate what I should do to the garden when spring comes and my energy returns. This is a perennial thing ; the planning not the gardening. There’s certainly plenty to be done, considering it is looking very much like a place David Attenburgh would discover some dying species.

It has been left neglected since Mick, our neighbour and volunteer gardener was taken ill and then was taken away from us one spring when I was in Malaysia. The garden that was once full of tomato plants, sweetcorns, daisies, daffodils and geraniums of all colours and variety is bare and neglected. Even the apple tree gave up on us. The only tree that has been standing steadily eversince Mick plonked it in the ground some 20 years ago, is the evergreen that we brought back from Rachel’s garden in Weybridge. It is now taller than the house, overwhelming the pear tree belonging to our Polish neighbour.

I myself gave up on the garden when hayfever took the better of me.

The last time we put anything in the ground was sometime last year. In February. Somewhere between the evergreen and the dying apple tree is our beloved Jasper. He left us a year ago after being with us for almost 14 years. He wanted to go quietly and spare us the pain but we brought him back.

He was a shadow of himself – once the terror of the neighbourhood, who roamed the garden and streets with his head high. I remember giving him a bath right here in this living room, because he was not smelling as he should and I wanted to hold him and make everything all right for him. He didnt resist but whimpered and later walked to the bathroom and pushed the door shut. When I called out to him, he managed a weak meow and then he was gone.

I miss my Jasper.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

What a wonderful day!

The sun was out but so was the bitterly cold wind that went right through our paper thin kebayas and baju kurung as we stood outside the bride’s house waiting for the arrival of the groom and his entourage. It was a short walk but for the groom, who had just arrived from warmer climes, it must have been the longest ever, for even the best man, born and bred in London, stood shivering in his black baju Melayu.

Passengers on the red double decker peered out to look at the riot of colours outside the north London semi D and passers-by on that serene Sunday afternoon, looked on curiously as two boys carrying the bunga manggar led the entourage to the doorstep. All that was missing was the kompang beat and the berbalas pantun.

Inside, the bride sat patiently on the pelamin decorated by friends the day before. If not for the cold air that kept rushing in every time someone opened the door, one could easily think this was somewhere in Malaysia.

For the bride and groom, the event in London was a repeat performance for friends and relatives who couldn’t make it to the wedding proper in Melaka last December. Besides, a traditional Malay wedding is not something that we see everyday, so everyone got excited and wanted to be involved. I gave up the opportunity to see the famous Shahrukh Khan so that I could make myself busy the day before the kenduri. And what a wise decision that turned out to be.

With Nina the wedding planner making sure that everything runs smoothly, everyone did their bit.

Khalid, Diba and Dila ceated a simple yet beautiful pelamin, before doing the sirih junjung. Zu and Ida and Rehana, As and Mi cried their eyes oput peeling and slicing onions. Nazir and Kasubi did the tent and Tok Din did what Tok Din always does best – cook.

The bride’s mum was busy making sure that everyone else was busy.

We gave the tepak sireh and dulangs a good polish with brasso, the whiff of which transported me back to the days of kenduri galore in the kampong.

Others were busy making bunga rampai and then I decided to try a hand at henna painting. It was fun once you get the hang of it and the patterns sort of flows but the initial problem was making the henna stain brighter. Some suggested lime, while others via sms suggested minyak cap kapak. We tried all.

My creations

Nona proved to be a naturale and soon became a hit with not only the bride but the kids.

Nona's creations

Rehana did the hair, creating an Amy Winehouse bouffant before putting the tiara and the veil, while Lisa did the make up.

We ended the day with karaoke - Parents Not Allowed vs Teenagers Very Loud. You can't get more Malaysian than that, especially on a bitterly cold day!

It was a lovely day, even if it was cold. It is on days like this, when the community gets together, you do not feel so much the pangs of homesickness. And what a lovely way to welcome the groom into our close-knit community.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

What day is today, again?

Well, its off to Stratford Upon Avon day for me today - to Shakespeare county - you know, the guy who wrote "Romeo, Romeo where art thou...?"

Well, my Romeo wont be there cos I am going there with someone else. Will come back and tell you all about it.

By the way, have a happy Valentine's Day to all who celebrate this day.

PS..sorry we didnt get to Stratford because there's some engineering works - so we made our way to the British Library where we could still see many things re: Shakespeare.

But please read this anyway if you have a few minutes.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Gong Xi Fa Cai!!!!

To all my Chinese friends, Gong Xi Fa Cai!!!
Have a wonderful and prosperous new year!

Friday, 1 February 2008

The homecoming 2

The events of the almost two months' so called break were beginning to fade away as the plane began its descent. Most of England were still asleep but we were sure that our children whom we had not seen for so long were there, waiting at the arrival lounge. Thank God none of the luggage were missing and the immigration waved us through without any questions.

From a distance we saw them, all excited. And how they have grown – even two months away made a difference! With them were two of our closest friends in this community that's become our family away from home. Only close friends would take the trouble to wake up at that unearthly hour and prepare us the most scrumptious nasi lemak so unlike the one served on MAS!

In the car we all wanted to talk all at the same time and nona being nona missed all the junctions and turnings and we ended up on the way to Uxbridge! That's not the most exciting part of the homecoming, the best was yet to come.

Finally on more familiar surroundings, the car which was in the middle lane of the by then very busy road of office workers going to work, stopped. Just like that! A kind soul behind us pushed the car to a safe spot and we called the RAC. Standing by the roadside, in my batik blouse bought in Pasar Payang, Kuala Terengganu and still in my heels with its bling-bling, I suddenly felt the gush of the cold winter wind that defined the distance that divides the world that still has my Mak and my loved ones and the one that has my home, children, cats and a neglected garden.

The car just gave up on us and refused to budge, giving out a strange whining sound. Nice RAC man told us to get back into the car for a slow tow home.

If the girls were chatting away, I didn't quite hear them. I was reliving the hectic schedule of the past two months as Nona slowly steered the car behind the RAC truck. Looking out of the window I was transported back to Singapore, where it all began. It was the launch of GUiT – the publisher's launch. We had hardly recovered from jetlag and there we were hobnobbing with writers young and old. AG could hardly open his eyes but he was already signing copies of GUiT. Needless to say, it was mostly GuiT related events that whizzed by – those that took us to Terengganu of old and new, to university lecture rooms and bookshops for booksigning events.

I saw my siblings; teasing, laughing and reliving our childhood from lounge to kitchen to dining room. I saw my nieces and nephews, all grown up and adorable. And I saw and heard Yaya and Hilman, belting away “Oh Dewiiiiiii, Aku cinta pada mu sampai matiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii”

Then I saw visions of Mak, sometimes frail and forgetful and sometimes alert and her witty self. I heard her endless questions, repeated almost always at five minute intervals. I saw her curled up body on the sofa with the tv on, or her small figure in the white telekung perhaps doing zuhur for the second time or asar before its time. But does it matter, Mak? It doesn't for He understands.

I heard her plea to take her home to the house that Pak Built for her. I replayed the conversation at the dinner table one evening:

Mak nak balik. Mak demam.”

Kalau Mak demam buat apa nak balik. Sapa nak jaga?”

Zaharah la jaga Mak.”

Ah ada kerja sikit. Mak duduk sini lah

“Masa Ah demam Mak jaga....” she said looking straight into my eyes, pleading. I quickly turned away to hide my shame and my guilt. I had no answer. I had no excuse. And right there on the A40, being slowly towed away by the kind RAC man, my hot tears flowed again.

The last few minutes before leaving for the airport, I crawled up to her and placed my head gently on her boney chest and closed my eyes while she patted me as if to sleep. I could have stayed there and be her baby again and listen to her syairs and hikayats that she used to tell. But she said, “Jangan lambat pi airport. Nanti kapai terbang tinggai. Anak-anak dok tunggu.”

I also saw the reunion in marriage of my childhood friends who were brought back together in the holy city during Haj, after being divorced for more than a year.

And most vivid in my mind was our time together, my AG and I; those moments of separations when we had to part at the KL Sentral, those anticipated rendevous at KLCC. Who says being warga emas doesnt have its romantic moments?

Nice RAC man deposited us safely back on our driveway. It was a far cry from the send off at KLIA when we were whisked away to the VIP room because a certain member of the Royal family had wanted a meeting with Awang Goneng. Such is life.

A review of GUiT in The Star by Dina Zaman - Local Boy Makes Good (Tales)
A review by blogger Sharon Bakar - More Awang Goneng