Thursday, 24 December 2009

Welcome to the family, Kamelia!

Pengantin baru - Azril dan Kamelia

The newly-weds, Azril and Kamelia.  Pix by Izham Khalid of
More pix here
The article below appeared in the NST here

Letter to Kamelia

Dear Kamelia,

LAST week, we welcomed you into our family when you married my nephew Azril. And in a few weeks time, you newly-weds will fly off to Geneva.

For Azril, Geneva is already home after living and working there these last few years.

But for you, it will be a totally new experience; starting a new chapter in your life as a married woman, thousands of kilometres away in a totally different environment and culture, away from the extended family. (Actually, on reflection, not unlike my own experience exactly 30 years ago).

So, Kamelia, if there are butterflies in the tummy at the very thought of flying the coop and sharing life with someone who is now your husband, let me tell you that it is all quite natural.

Being married is a huge hurdle but being married and then within a space of two weeks leave everything and everyone that is familiar to you is a different ball game altogether.

It was around this time in December 30 years ago that I started life as a newly-wed away from home, seriously lacking in skills especially those in the kitchen department.

London was practically home to my husband while I had to start from scratch, learning the ropes while suppressing the urge to call home and cry at the slightest hitch.

Looking back, and with some wisdom of hindsight, I think starting married life away from home is the best thing to do.

London was gloomy and dark when the plane landed at Heathrow that winter morning and that cold morning sort of defined my expectations of what my life in London would be like in the coming years.

But Geneva has that added attractions of beautiful snowcapped mountains, enough to keep you mesmerised for some time.

But the beautiful snowcapped mountains will soon lose its attractions once the husband goes to work and leaves you with what will feel like more than 24 hours in a day.

When mine went to work, I looked out of my window into a very busy concrete jungle that was and is London. It was busy and crowded and yet I felt alone and lonely.

In those days, phone calls cost a fortune, phone cards were unheard of, and Skype and video calls were still blueprints in some geniuses’ minds. And, of course, no Facebook.

In this respect, you are luckier and can easily email home to ask for that sambal tumis recipe.

I remember now the preparation for my first dinner guests. After quite a lengthy phone call to my mother, every ingredient for chicken curry was minced, pounded, chopped and blended ready in small bowls on the kitchen table by eight in the morning for dinner at eight at night.

Rice was usually cooked by the husband. Kitchen disasters included very soggy fried noodles, exploding keropoks in the pan because I had washed them prior to frying and a first near marital disaster when I threw away tempeh which I thought had gone bad.

Thinking I needed time on my hands, he ordered “Learn to Sew and Knit” which I duly gave up after knitting two sleeves on one side.

But Kamelia, we live and learn. And the exciting bit is living and learning together. Because there’s just the two of you, learn to accept each other’s idiosyncracies, warts and all. Sharing credit cards is a bonus.

It is just too easy to keep within our own comfort zone and forgetting that there are so many exciting new things to learn outside our own Malaysian community.

I have met many wonderful ladies in the expat world, who learnt the art of Chinese painting while in China, porcelain making while in Europe; and quilting while in Washington.

Youth is on your side and while you enjoy life together, enjoy too acquiring these knowledge and skills that the outside world can offer.

So, while I look forward to my next 30 years and beyond together, I wish the both of you every happiness and success starting your new life together abroad.

With lots of love, Mak Teh

Pengantin lama

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Listless in London: Dec 1 - a countdown of sorts

It was probably a blistering hot morning, that December 1 thirty years ago, followed by heavy rain in the afternoon, the kind of rain that makes you want to sleep and wake up smelling the fresh smell of grass after such a downpour.  I am just guessing about the rain because it usually rains heavily in December, the month when tents go up and buffalos get slaughtered for wedding feasts up and down the country.

Perhaps I was anxious about the rain then as the countdown began for the start of a new chapter in my life. Perhaps I was just anxious. I reckon, a bride-to-be about to start a new life in a totally different country the other side of the world has the right to feel anxious, if not downright hysterical.

Today as the rain pelted mercilessly on the window and the grey clouds stubbornly obscured the winter sun, I tried hard to remember that December 1 of thirty years ago.

It was 8 days before the big day.  The blue lace kebaya was probably ready and waiting to be picked up from the tailor’s.  There were still no shoes, nor accessories or jewelleries except for that glittering new solitaire on my finger; a constant reminder that my status was about to change.

 I remember now the excitement of being someone’s tunang, even though it was for a brief period before the change of status to wife.  I remember being told of the glow that radiated from the happiness that was bursting from within.  But I also remember the feeling of sadness as we chose our luggage, as we packed our bags – a reminder that we were going to leave our loved ones behind.

December 1 of 1979 was fifteen days before we took the flight that was to take us where we are today.  I remember the ride to the airport, the tight grip of Mak’s hand in mine and the hot tears streaming down my cheeks.  I remember rushing back to hug her at the gates as the final call was made.  Yes, I remember it all now as I type this on this December 1 2009; legs entwined under the duvet, a soft snore that reminds me he is still here and mine.

Kak Teh remembers

The Journey Continues - The tale of the blue kebaya
The Journey Begins
Heating up Memories on a Cold Morning

Thursday, 26 November 2009

An Uplifting Experience

This article below can also be found here.

YOU can only expect this from the best of friends; one big hug and a breathless whisper in the ear: You’re wearing the wrong bra size, dear!

With that one statement, I was officially declared to be among the 80 per cent or so women who strut around wearing the wrong bra size; and we are not even talking about cups, bands or straps yet.

So, okay, it is time I pull up the straps that keep falling off my shoulders and put my hands up and admit to never having had myself measured; not since Mak bought that trainer bra from one of the shops in our small town of Alor Setar. It was then either S for small, M for medium or L for large. No 32B, 34DD, 36FF or other complicated combinations that were more appropriate for opening a safe. Any adjustments needed were made by stuffing socks or tissues. There was nothing that a small safety pin couldn’t do; it could hold the straps in place or serve as an extension of a back band a few centimetres too short.

And there were not many to choose from either, unlike today’s array of fashion which promises to lift not only what threatens to defy gravity but also your spirit. The correct measurement, cups and straps could do wonders for your posture, while giving back that waistline you thought you’d lost forever. Or at least, it gives you the illusion that you have a waist you don’t actually have.

So, it was after this short lecture directed firmly at my fast-deflating bosom and self-confidence that I found myself at one of those expensive stores in Oxford Street, in the lingerie department.

“What’s your size, madam?” asked the salesgirl politely. I mumbled some digits and an alphabet. And like a stern Maths teacher, she whipped out her tape measure and immediately dismissed my answer as wrong. So, I got a few D’s mixed up and for that wrong answer, I was marched off to the changing room.

I remember needlessly mentioning something about having four children, all breastfed, by way of preparing her for what she was about to see.

“I have seen it all, Madam. And so there is no need to be embarrassed,” she said, quite professionally. It was then that I surrendered myself to her expert hands. I even made her choose the pattern and style she thought were appropriate for me for I couldn’t bear the thought of being lost in the sea of La Senzas and La Perlas in their various colours and cups.

She came back with a selection; several pairs of deep plunge, half cups, underwired, sexy and naughty and even sober, schoolmarmish ones. Then I was made to stand with my back facing the mirror. I was then asked to bend down with both hands held out by my side. When the new undergarment was put in place, she started adjusting the bands and the straps. And slowly, quite slowly I felt a truly uplifting experience, right there in that small changing room. It is wonderful what an extra D could do to lift your spirit and more, and I wondered why all this while, like all the other 80 per cent who go around in blissful ignorance about their correct size, why I never bothered to go for a proper fitting.

“Will that be all, Madam?” asked my fairy godmother with her magic tape measure. “And what about these to go with the brassieres?” she added, flashing what looked like hairbands or things they now called thongs.

Er, no thank you, I said politely. Let’s not even go there

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Letting the hair down with Hairspray


In two black cabs, we raced through the streets of London to theatre land, just in time to grab our tickets and find our way to our seats. It was a last minute decision - but last minute decisions are sometimes the best; forget about looming deadlines and commitments. Four ladies were about to let their hair down with the attendance of one young male escort.

I had always wanted to see Hairspray but when tickets were available, I was not. But two days ago when I got news that there were some tickets available for the popular musical at Shaftesbury Theatre, I wasted no time in contacting friends. We were game for a night out to enjoy ourselves.

Hairspray is the kind of musical that, apart from getting you tapping your feet and swaying in your seats, has this good feel factor. It guarantees fun and laughter throughout; an experience not unlike Grease and Mamma Mia, which I had seen numerous times.

So, there we were tapping our feet and clapping to the rhythm of the sounds of the sixties in Baltimore.

Hairspray brings about a certain nostalgia and reminds me of the cans and cans of hairspray that I used to tease my unteasable curls before going out in the evening. I had wavy hair but longed for those straight and obedient tress that would just automatically curl upwards at a flick of a brush, held up with lots of hairspray, of course. I remember spending hours in front of the mirror doing the backcomb for the beehive, Anneke Gronloh effect. Then to complete the look, a big bow of ribbon!


My penchant for stage productions goes back to those days when I had to accompany the young thespian in our midst - Fatimah Abu Bakar, when she was rehearsing for Tun Kudu. She has great talents, that one, and when I moved to London, it was wonderful to see her on stage here, in Jentayu! I was so proud of her!

Anyway, after reading several blogs about musicals in Malaysia, I yearn to be able to see one. I have heard so much about the P Ramlee musical and Puteri Gunung Ledang but my visits home never coincided with the dates on the shows.

Well, one day, perhaps.

Kak Teh's other Hairspray piece and for those who want another glimpse of Stephen Rahman Hughes:
Mamma Mia and Hairspray moments
When Hang Tuah came to dinner

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Has it really been thirty years?

Salam all, this piece below appeared in my column here.

ON the greyest of a grey autumn morning, I found myself in what could only be described as a sardine can of a coach, in the underground train making its way to East London.
The tea that I bought earlier in the hope of having a leisurely breakfast during the journey was fast seeping out of its styrofoam container onto the almond croissant, as it was being crushed and squashed by early morning commuters entering and leaving the train.

It was only 7.30am and work was not due to finish until about six in the evening.

Early morning commuters tend to be quite aggressive compared to bedraggled homeward bound ones.

So, after being elbowed and pushed and squashed and left with a soggy almond croissant, you can imagine the speed with which self-pity was rushing in.

I suddenly noticed how young these early morning commuters were — in their twenties and thirties; all fresh and eager to start their day. At 7.30am, I was already about to give up.

I put this feeling of melancholy down to the unusually hectic week. I had been to several cities in the far flung corners of the British Isle, trudging to get to my transport when most people were still in bed and arriving home when most people were already asleep.

I had been covering stories with journalists young enough to be my children; whose energy and enthusiasm knew no bounds. I recognised those enthusiasm and zest for I once had them. And those were the days when the ministers I interviewed were much older than me.

Anyway, when I finally found a seat, and with about 10 more stops to go, and munching on tea-soaked almond croissant, I went on a journey down memory lane.

Just the week before, I was contacted by a youngish journalist who wanted to interview me because, according to her calculation, I could easily be the longest-serving Malaysian female journalist abroad.

Note that I did not use the word “oldest”, although that too could be true.

The reality of that proclamation hit me like a tonne of bricks. I don’t know whether this is true, but yes, suddenly I felt it had been quite a long time.

Suddenly, all of my almost 30-year career in this industry came rushing in like the early morning commuters.

There was a time when it was I who chased after old Malaysian veterans and old Malay sailors. My husband once joked that a young hack would one day turn up at our doorsteps wanting to interview the makcik who came to London in the late 1970’s. It is a joke no more.

These days, when I casually mention that we came to London in 1979, most of these young hacks would retort; “... but I was only a year old then!”

Next month, it will indeed be 30 years away; and for most part of the three decades, I had been a hack; in radio, in print, TV and even dabbling in online media.

I had started off carrying the German-made Uher reel-to-reel tape recorder on assignments and it weighed a tonne! Now I carry a small digital voice recorder that could easily fit in the palm of my hand.

And remember the days when we had to rush back after assignments to bang on the old Remington? Well, today, fitting snugly into my sling bag is a cool notebook with Internet connection.

I remember the day that the three of us — Ena, Fati and I — walked into the newsroom in Jalan Riong; conscious of the stares and wolf whistles from male reporters from the sports desk. Many contemporaries have moved up, moved away and moved on.

Last week, looking through my collection of paper cuttings and pictures from assignments throughout the years brought back the excitement and joy of being a journalist. I just love meeting interesting people with interesting stories to tell.

I just love how interesting human interest stories found their way to me.

Experiences of people like Datin Peggy Taylor, the Pak Cik Sailors, the British veterans and many more had served to enrich my own life’s experience.

Has it really been 30 years?

The announcement on the train signalled my stop. And joining in the crowd of commuters spilling onto the platform into the cold autumn air, I suddenly felt rejuvenated again.

Starting out...


 Reporting from all over Europe and with conjoined twins just before the operation

These last few weeks.............................

See the fresh faces?

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Indian Summer Blues...

My first autumn......OOOOooooooops!

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

My fashion (non)sense 2

Dear all, alas this is another article that appeared in my column last week..  It is my take on fashion.  I am still bogged down with this and that, more this than that! *sigh!*

For someone so sartorially challenged, an assignment to cover fashion shows can be quite an ordeal.  For a start you've got to understand clothes, if not fashion and not understanding both can be a disaster.  I wear what is comfortable although that could mean a style, if you can call it such, that belongs to yesteryears' wardrobes and should just remain there. Colourwise, I am an autumn kind of person regardless of season.

So you can imagine the kind of challenges that London Fashion Week brings. An invite used to send me into a panic mode of what to wear befitting such a celebrated and much publicised event.  But looking back, I shouldn't have been so worried as apart from the eyes and cameras being trained on to the catwalks, there are many interesting and headline grabbing distractions that no one actually cares what you wear or don't wear.  If the designer is an A list designer such as Zandra Rhodes or Viviene Westwood, then you can be sure that the front row will be filled with the likes of Anna Wintour, Victoria Beckham and of course our very own Datuk Jimmy Choo.  And of course, fashion writers and editors such as Hilary Alexander who can make or break a designer with just her intro.

It was indeed the shoe Guru himself who introduced me to the London Fashion Week where supermodels such as Naomi Campbell and Jodie Kidd would wear his stilletos as they sashayed up and down the catwalk. And tailing him from show to show afforded me a glimpse of life backstage and if I was lucky, I got to be up close and personal with models and even designers. 

As LFW celebrated its 25th year and as it drew to a close last weekend, I began reflecting on the first ever fashion show I attended some ten years ago.

It was quite an eye opener to see fashion and how fashion is translated into statements on the catwalks of one of the world's fashion capitals. There are fashion concepts that remain concepts and certainly not for wearing to your local down the road or even to an evening function.  There are fashion statements that are only good for debates in the newspapers and fashion magazines and still not very wearable even to a fancy dress party.  And wearing these statements and concepts are usually models so gaunt and thin you can see their ribs sticking out.  Instead of gliding up and down the catwalks, they stomp unsmiling and not unlike Russian soldiers marching.

Indeed there was quite a furore some years back when models starved themselves to fit into size 00 and tragically died as a result!

And just when you thought you could see some decent curves and flesh back on the catwalks, a row erupted because some people were very much against size 14 models, the argument given was that size 14 models couldn't walk properly!  

I remember one year when I was allowed backstage and saw stick-ons being creatively stuck on models to cover strategic places so as not to totally offend.  And that got away as a fashion show.

Anyway, over the years, I began to look forward to attending fashion shows not so much because of the clothes on show but because of the side shows provided by fashionistas who either want to be noticed by the press or model wannabes trying to get the attention of agents. Outrageous and creative in their attires, they go from show to show and whet up the audience's appetite before the real show starts. 

Who's that girl?
This season, I wasn't disappointed.  An apparition in a spiky see through shimmering number sashayed to the front row, only stopping to pose for photographers.  The question on everybody's lips was who was the headturner with bright red lipstick and chestnut shoulder length bob that contrasted sharply with the dark healthy beard framing his face.  He took a seat near Michelle Collins of Destiny's Child and basked in the limelight before the show began.  I gathered enough courage and asked him about his curious sense of fashion.
With Andre J at Bernard Chandran's show

"I love to make people happy.  Its about joy and spreading happiness," says Andre J, a New York based party promoter, who had been on the cover of French Vogue and according to one report had worked with Sex and the City stylist, Patricia Field.

This year's event also saw the presence of another celebrity of The Big Brother fame in a shocking pink attire which made her look like a chicken. I knew I shouldn't have worried about my fashion non-sense.

My fashion photography sucks (above) ! But this  (below) is not too bad.  


But I love this close-up of a model back stage. What do you think Steven?                

                                         Kak Teh's other fashion (non) sense at Eric Way's show some years back

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Raya with a difference di perantauan

These articles below appeared in the September issue of Her World.  I was asked to write a Hari Raya special from abroad and it was with much tears and difficulties that I managed to produce these.  I would like to thank Mak Ndak and her children for sharing her story with me, D of Pause to Reflect and also my dearest Nina.  Thank you for sharing and apologies for the tears that flowed and for the painful journey down memory lane.

Khadijah Tifla  - Dearest D of Pause to Reflect

Khadijah Tifla tries to make Ramadhan and Hari Raya as normal as possible for her four young children.  She busies herself in the kitchen, wakes them up for early morning baths before sending them off for the Eid prayers at the mosque and has visitors over to enjoy the day together.

But normal was when her husband was around to fuss in the kitchen and see to it that the children got ready in time for the prayers.  Nomalcy ended when his health suddenly deteriorated two Ramadhans ago.

The Ramadhan of 2007 saw her life turned upside down when her husband of 11 years was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus. The month was spent with endless visits to the hospital, consultations with specialists and news that were not very encouraging for the PHD student and their four children.  That was the month that saw her once healthy husband literally shrink before her very eyes.

The Hari Raya of the same year was to be their last together, partly spent at the hospital bed in Coventary.  Hazlishah Abdul Hamid succumbed to the killer disease eleven days later on his 38th birthday, about a month after it was diagnosed.  

Their twin boys, Izz Zhareef and Izz Hanees were then 10, their only daughter Ulfa Mysara was 7 and their youngest son, Muhammad Aaryf Dean, was only 5.

Khadijah herself was only 35 when she was widowed, but her faith in God Almighty never wavered as she faces the tests and challenges put in her path.

"Everyday, the only thing that keeps me going is the believe that He knows what's best for me. Hanging on to this, with every echoing emptiness, perplexing trial and excruciating downfall, I need to only remind myself:
'For truly with hardship comes ease.
Truly with hardship comes ease.'"

Hazlishah had put his career on hold to look after their children while Khadijah pursued her studies.  It was a partnership that had seemed ideal and worked well until his health began to deteriorate suddenly. And although the signs were all there, Khadijah didn't allow herself to think that it was going to be their last Hari Raya together.

"I remember that it was a weekend and the doctor said that we could take him out.  He wanted to go to a friend's place. And it was just wonderful to see him finish three plates of meehoon goreng," she says. That night they went back to the hospital where his condition started going downhill, prompting Khadijah to call his and her parents over. The Malaysian community was quick to render support.  Readers of her blog sent their prayers and wishes in everyway possible. She wasn't alone.

Khadijah now remembers with fondness the division of labour in their household during the Ramadhans and Hari Rayas that they had together.  He'd make sure that the house was tip top while she did the cooking. He loved nasi minyak while she wanted nasi himpit. So they had both.

"Basically he enjoyed food and nasi beriani and kurma was his signature dish," she adds nostalgically, sadly noting that everything about her beloved husband had to be in the past tense now.

Hazlishah's passing meant that Khadijah had to soldier on in a foreign country where friends became her extended family offering support when needed.  But she knew she had to learn to go it all alone.

The first Hari Raya without Hazlishah, Khadijah found that she had to take on the role of paying the zakat for herself and her children, and came Hari Raya morning she took the children for prayers.  For the boys, it was their first without their father praying by their side.

"As for the hari raya itself, sure, I could easily give in to my emotions.  But I have to think of the children and not be selfish.  I tried to make it as cheerful for them," she says.

Although they visit the grave every week, that first Eid was a special visit to offer their special prayers.

According to Khadijah in one blog entry, visits to the grave was a time when apart from the prayers, the children reported something to their father.

Most of the time, it was a heart wrenching session with little Dean saying endless goodbyes to his father.

Che Yah Nyak Ahmad  (Mak Ndak) - a mother to everyone, a woman with a big heart and with lots of love to share.  I go and see Mak Ndak for my dosage of motherly hugs.

When Che Yah Nyak Ahmad came to look after her new-born grandson in London eighteen years ago, little did she realise that she would also be taking on literally the entire Malaysian community in London. The single mum who brought up her three girls single-handedly after the break-up of her marriage found London to be her sanctuary; a place to mend her broken heart and devote her life to her children and grand children.

Having been made dependant of her youngest daughter, Zuraiha Zainol Rashid, 45, who is a permanent resident here, Che Yah set her mind to make London her home, much to the delight of Malaysians starved of good home cooked food and motherly love.

"Mak has always loved to cook. She loves to see people eat and she remembers who likes to eat what," says Zuraida, 51, her eldest daughter who is also working in London.  Indeed, there's standing room only on Hari Raya open house at their place.  From morning till late at night, friends and friends of friends will troop in for Che Yah's meehoon soup, freshly grilled satay, soto and rice with a variety of accompanying dishes. There'd be enough to take home too.

Indeed, it is no secret that even strangers who hunger for the company of Malaysians and crave for the Hari Raya atmosphere where Malays, Chinese and Indians celebrate together, were directed to their place in north London where it is literally an open house where no one is turned away.

Che Yah, or fondly known as Mak Ndak to many of us in London, is now 81, a mother figure to many of us and a substitute grandmother to most of our children.  It is to Mak Ndak that we go to get our regular dose of motherly hug even if it is proving very difficult for her to hear out our woes as she is hard of hearing.  It is to Mak Ndak that we readily let ourselves be spoilt with her delicious home cooked food.

"Mak used to sell nasi lemak in Jitra where we grew up.  I remember searching for banana leaves to wrap the nasi lemak for Mak.  She also made school uniforms to earn extra money.  Life was indeed hard for her as a single parent.  But she persevered," remembers Zuraiha whose father left when she was still in her mother's womb.

Mak Ndak used to be a regular at our weekly tahlil or tazkirah meeting at the surau in Malaysia Hall.  Certainly, she was there almost every night for terawikh; praying while sitting on a stool as her legs began to pose a problem.  But as the pain got worse, her presence became rare and now almost nil, but she still takes delight in preparing food for the congregation.

"She would insist on contributing the food and there's no way we could persuade her not to," adds Zuraiha.

If life had been harsh to Mak Ndak when she was younger, it is now compensating her with the love and affection of those around her and more.  Daughters Zuraida, Zuriyati and Zuraiha and their families have kindly shared this wonderful lady with us here. 


Nina Yusof - the memory lives on

Nina Yusof remembers with fondness last Raya when everything went according to plan. Well, almost! 

"I am always the one so excited; planning for everybody and hoping that we'd get ready in time to pray together before the Raya breakfast and then go to Malaysia Hall for prayers with the rest of the Malay Muslim community in London. And then come home to receive guests.  Well, it was a bit hectic in the morning but we made it for prayers at Malaysia Hall together and then we had so many people who came to the house from morning and left quite late at night. It was wonderful," remembers Nina of the last Hari Raya. That was also to be the last Raya that she spent with her late husband, Faizal Abdul Aziz.  More importantly, she remembers that before taking the usual Hari Raya photographs, they salam and asked for each other's forgiveness.

Faizal was taken away suddenly on 2nd April this year.  He collapsed while taking his professional accountancy exams and died in hospital.  He was 43.  His death stunned the close-knit Malaysian community in London as he had no known illness; no warning of any health problems, no tell-tale signs that he would leave us so suddenly.  The weekly congregation at the Malaysia Hall surau, of which he was a regular member, gathered to offer their prayers at the mortuary of the London Hospital in East London.

The very same crowd and more turned up almost every night at Nina's house for prayers and to give her support and mostly to let her know that she and her young children are not alone.

Nina knows this.  Her children; Norman, 12 and Farah, 5, too realise they have 'uncles' and 'aunties' around when they need them. But none of us can fill the void that they feel, the emptiness that Nina vividly describes when she misses him so.

She has cried till there's no more tears to cry, she is picking up the pieces and she is moving on.  But there are still those unexplained moments.

"Last week, I missed him so much. There's an emptiness I couldn't explain. I just wanted to be with him.  So, I reached out for an old album.  I looked at a photograph and the date is 3rd April 1999.  He passed away on 2nd April 2009.  It is exactly ten years.  That was a picture of our day out picnicking at Virginia Waters with some friends. If I were to know then that in 10 years time he'd be gone, I would have been so, so sad," says Nina of her husband of just 13 years. 

Nina knows that there will always be that empty seat at the dinner table, the one person not there at gatherings and functions and conversations that will refer to arwah in the past tense.  She also knows that there will no longer be any requests for soup tulang for the breaking of iftar, and rendang daging served on Hari Raya will always remind her of him for he loved rendang daging. 

"In fact, " she corrects herself as memories came rushing back, "he'd eat anything I put on the table, although initially he'd make a fuss because he said I cooked too much."

This raya, Nina says positively, instead of going straight home after the prayers at Malaysia Hall, she will drive the family straight to the Garden of Peace in Hainnault, for that is where Faizal is buried.  She and her children had been visiting his grave regularly, but this Raya will be a special visit with some special prayers.

"This is something I must do with the children".

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Hari Raya round up

It was such a beautiful day. The sun was out and we were out in our best baju rayas bought from home. It couldnt have been better planned. Eid fell on a Sunday. Everyone, except Taufiq, had a day off - Taufiq had to go to work until 6.30!

It was a perfect day for us too because nephew Azril flew in from Geneva to spend Hari Raya with us. So, its a hari raya with a difference for the Wans this year. The night he arrived, we planned all sorts of things - not least an extra car that we need to hire if we were to go from one place to another together. Thank God for online bookings, we got a cute little car from Eurocars in Marble Arch.
That night, I didnt sleep a wink; ironing telekungs and baju rayas. As I ironed Azril's baju Melayu, it suddenly dawned on me that this will be the last time he spends raya with us as a bachelor boy. He will be a married man soon, Insyaallah!

It was just as well that I had made extra efforts to make some kuehs this year. That night, after the ironing, I still couldnt sleep. So, I went downstairs and accompanied by Tabby and Kissinger, I made roti jala and chicken curry for breakfast. Usually I;d have nasi himpit and curry.

After prayers we went home to change and headed for the High Commissioner's residence in Hampstead. Droves of Malaysians in colourful clothes were heading that way too, following the aroma of satay on the grill.

AG and Hafiz -- macam dua beradik tak?

With daughters Rehana and Nona while waiting for Eid prayer. This year, eid prayer was held at the High Commission in Belgrave Square and it was estimated that 600-700 people turned up! The prayer was led by Ustaz Erfino and what a wonderful and interesting khutbah.

Taufiq couldnt join us for Eid prayers as he was working..and thus this pix wth him (in his pyjama bottom!) before we all trooped off to the High Commission.

Rehana and Hafiz in their new baju rayas. There's a story behind that sampin that Hafiz is wearing. I have never seen Hafiz so enthusiastic - he bought two pairs of baju melayus during his last trip back to Malaysia, and a few kain sampins. The week before, he tried on the clothes several times, trying the sampins and decided to send a red piece to a tailor to have it sewn. That night, he tried on the sampin and to his surprise, the tailor had sewn it into something not unlike a pillow case! We had a good laugh. So, he wore that one instead.

For NanaDJ - as requested: THE SAYANG MAMAS!!!!!!

Rehana Wan and Nona Wan

Hafiz Wan and Taufiq Wan

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

This week and next...

Let's see what I can pack into one entry.

It has been a hectic week - a kind of pay back time for the week that I spent hibernating.

Last week saw me dragging myself to the city - not a place I would normally go but fellow blogger, author of legal thrillers, podaster, Yang-May Ooi was launching her new book that she co-wrote with Sylvia Cambiè. It is called International Communications Strategy. In a nutshell, it is about the emergence of the internet and everything that comes with it; blogging, Facebooking, Twittering, skyping, teleconferencing and many more online activities. And more importantly, it is about you and I - about how this new tool has empowered us as writers and readers, interacting with one another, crossing all kinds of boundaries - age, race, culture.

People turned writers overnight, writing about their life and along the way, they touched the lives of like minded people from all over the world. Who would think that my woes about my missing Tabby would get sympathy from people like mekyam in the US and Shahieda in Cape Town? And my rants about my culinary skills and the lack of it would get the attention of so many? People are interacting like never before and the interesting part is that, we don't care who they are, what their religious beliefs are, what age group they are in. We just share the same thing, And the internet afforded us this luxury.

What Yang-May and Cambiè also noted amongst other things was the effect on mainstream media. Journalists and journalism as we knew it changed dramatically. Then there's the emergence of citizen journalists. Ordinary people without any training in journalism or broadcasting suddenly found themselves reporting on events that touched their lives. Reporting on landslides, tragedies, the tsunami and many more have become more personalised and that made more interesting reading.

I often go to Lilian Chan's blog otherwise known as Obnoxious 5xmum - a blogger I met during my trip to Penang some time ago. This mother of five has become a citizen journalist, going out with her camera, interviewing politicians and giving us another side of stories that we read in the mainstream media.

It is such an exciting time, I think and Yang-May reckons it is going to be more exciting.
You can read it here.

Well, closer to the home front, I would like to report that I am now the proud owner of a brand new oven and hob and as a result the small kitchen of mine has never been a busier place.
Again, the internet plays an important role in this. I surfed the net for recipes and after a visit to several blogs, I attempted some biscuits for raya. Well, I need more practise. That's all I can say for now.

Sabira Sheik as Lady Swettenham

Last night, it was raining cats and dogs but nothing could stop me from going to Asia House to watch the very talented Sabira Shaik's portrayal of Lady Swettenham. For 55 minutes Sabira had us glued to our seats, taking us through a gamut of emotions; giggly light headed 19 year old bride to be exited about life in the east, frightened and dutiful wife of the colonial officer husband who frequently left her on her own, bitter and senile 80 year old spending her last few days in an asylum, where her dark secrets kept her company, haunting her to her death.

In between, the versatile Sabira cleverly transformed from brother Cecil to overbearing father to faithful 'boy' Kassim and society ladies at their soirees. All in all it was a very powerful performance - and a history lesson we never had. That 55 minutes from Sabira Shaik gave us a glimpse of the other side of Sir Frank Swettenham, the Resident General and later Governor of Singapore.

You can read about my take on this in the NST.

I walked back in the heavy rain to the station thinking how horrible it must be to have such bitter memories haunting you to the grave.

Well, nineteen years ago today, as I was sharing a bar of chocolate - Galaxy to be exact - with my husband, I suddenly felt the most excrutiating pain. I knew I was going to give birth but I told my husband that perhaps we could cancel everything and go home. But that was the gas talking - because I went ahead and had the most gorgeous sayang mama ever! Taufiq was brought into this world 19 years ago today and since then he has given me such joy in life as a son, a confidante and a friend. Luckly I didn't cancel this order!

Happy Birthday sayang mama! And enjoy your university days!

And next week? - well apart from Raya, there's the London Fashion Week! Aaaarghhhhh!


Saturday, 12 September 2009

Meme: Save Yvonne's Sight

Sharon Bakar has tagged me for the Save Yvonne's Sight Meme.

Yvonne Foong, 22, has neurofibromatosis type II, which has severely affected her sight and hearing due to tumours in the brain and spine. She is scheduled for an operation between 1 and 4 December 2009. The cost of surgery is USD44,000 or RM154,770, and the cost of staying in hospital for two weeks is USD915 or RM3219.

She has raised about RM10,000 of this and is hoping to raise the rest by republishing her book I'm Not Sick; I'm Just a Bit Unwell in English and Chinese. The books are now available in Malaysian bookshops and from her web site store. She is also selling T-shirts at bazaars and via her web site store. You can read about her surgery and donate to her fund here.

You can also help by sending on this meme. If you do, please follow these meme rules:
1. Create a blog entry titled "Meme: Save Yvonne's Sight"
2. List three things you love to see. Add in the picture of Yvonne's book cover. The URL is
3. End with the line, "Yvonne Foong is in danger of losing her eyesight thanks to neurofibromatosis (NF). Please find out how you can help her by visiting her blog at
4. Tag 5 blog friends. Be sure to copy the rules, OK?
5. If you have a Facebook account, please check out Ellen's new invention, a "feme" pronounced FEEM, a meme designed for Facebook here. And if you want to blog about NF, that would be great too!
Three things I love to see :
1. My mother's smile of recognition
2. Falling autumn leaves
3. The first bloom in spring
Bloggers I'm tagging are:
Andrea Whatever
Kenny Mah

In fact if anyone else out there would like to meme or feme this - please feel free.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

A 999 story on 090909

Before 090909 draws to a close, at least in my part of the world, I must tell my 999 story for posterity.

When the children were very small and like most small children, they took quite a fascination to the phone, making pretend calls and receiving pretend calls -things like that. I used to call them numerous times a day from the office, even before they could speak, just so they could listen to my voice. So, suffice to say, they got very attached to the phone quite early.

Anyway, back to their fascination with the phone, one of them started stabbing her chubby fingers on the buttons and unwittingly, a call went through to the emergency service several times. The efficient officer at the end of the line of course couldn't dismiss the call as just a prank call and had to investigate, especially when she heard a child's voice. Thus, that was when I got a call asking me all sorts of details. She very sternly warned me to make sure that the phone was out of reach of the children as they could very well be blocking other emergency calls coming in. Well, that is understandable.

There was another incident, when another child, which shall remain nameless here, called the police because the father had not come home at the expected time., as promised to him. Again, we got reprimanded by the police. Oh well, these are children, but according to one report today, the police had to warn people - adults- not to waste their time dialling 999 for some very trivial complains. And here are some of them. and more here:

-One man rang 999 to say two squirrels were fighting in his back garden,

-a couple who had handcuffed themselves together "for a joke" rang to inform police they had lost the key.

-a woman who was having a problem with her knitting dialled 999,

- a woman driving on the M1, who wanted to know the time.

- a man rang South Yorkshire Police to request they deal with the birds singing on his roof because he could not get any sleep.

- the Thames Valley force said it had been contacted about ghost stories, Elvis sightings and requests for taxis.

- a man with smelly feet called for an ambulance as the odour was making him feel nauseous.

_ a man at a restaurant who had found a hair in his food .

-in Dubai, recent queries have included whether a certain brand of bottled water is healthy or not, how to check the credit on a mobile phone and advice on where to find a lost dog.

Happy 090909

And here's my 7777 story on 070707:
Did you know that today is 0 70707?

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Desperation - The mother-in-law of improvisation

It all started with the mention of the word murtabak in someone's blog and for days the image of the bread, swimming in rich ghee, haunted my waking hours. So off I went to Mat Gebu to see if there's something there to remedy these pangs that weren't about to go unless I do something about it. And I wasn't disappointed. But time wasn't on my side (as I am prone to decide iftar menus two hours before iftar!) and preparation of the dough would take time. So, my brain had to work fast to think of ways to remedy this gnawing or more apt, annoying pang, making itself heard in the tummy. The word improvise came to mind.

AG was despatched to buy minced meat and the rest, I thought, were in the cupboard somewhere. Rummaging through the freezer I found frozen roti canai and started defrosting them, while running back and forth to Mat Gebu, and at the same time being entertained by raya songs from his site.

So, that was it, with the fillings all done, I set about to create my own version of murtabak with the frozen roti canai. The verdict from all around the iftar table was most encouraging.

While making my version of murtabak, Mak's words came to haunt me. She has a positive view of looking at things. She says, "Kita buat dia, mestilah jadi!" Thus, jadilah murtabak Kak Teh berkulitkan roti canai.

The next day, it was Rehana's turn to be in the kitchen and she wanted to make something to bring for iftar at a friend's. Again, off we went to Mat Gebu and again he didn't fail us. There was this recipe for prawn toast which Rehana thought would make wonderful snacks for iftar. So, she set about buying the ingredients, investing in a big bag of king prawns which she duly minced. Somehow, somewhere along the way, the prawn toast didn't quite make it to the friend's table as most were burnt. However, what little that were fried and burnt ended on our table and again, the verdict was encouraging. But I was left with a big bowl of minced prawn. What do I do with it?

I decided to rely on my instincts this time without scurrying back to Mat Gebu. I remembered eating prawn balls, not unlike bergedil, in a restaurant somewhere. And it had a somewhat Thai taste. So, I proceeded to make prawn bergedil, adding lime leaves and coriander leaves - all chopped up. That should make it very Thai, I thought.

There were some toasts in the oven which Rehana abandoned after her failed project, and I put them in the blender to make breadcrumbs. All the while, Mak's words kept coming back to me and I felt quite proud of myself, making use of all these things and improvising as I went along.

While frying the bergedil, AG was busy making brocolli juice for iftar. He has taken to drinking brocolli juice and we were at our wits ends as to what to do with the husks. We had tried frying them with eggs and oyster sauce, anything at all as long as we don't throw away the husks. Then, the bulb lit up! Why not, add them to the bergedil? Hmmm, that worked like a dream. So, as you can see we had two versions of the prawn bergedil here.

Well, Mak did say, it is just a matter of wanting to do it or not. "Kalau nak buat apa pun jadi, kalau tak mau buat - pi dok goyang kaki di depan!) Make and effort and everything will be fine, as long as Mr Murphy isn't lurking anywhere near the kitchen.

This brings to mind those days when AG experimented with all sorts or things from bread to croissant, tempe and even keropok.

It was during my early days of pregnancy and I was craving for keropok. As it was summer and mackerels were aplenty, AG, (you can take the boy out of Trengganu, but you can never take Trengganu out of the boy) decided to make his own keropok.
Well, if I remember it correctly, the consistency wasn't quite right. We couldnt throw away the mixture, so, we had keropok lekor instead!

Thus, if necessity is the mother of invention, desperation is indeed the mother-in-law of improvisation.

Other experiments in the kitchen:
AG's Tempe Tantrums

Saturday, 5 September 2009

One night in Ramadhan

It was nearly 2 am by the time we left Tuk Din's . Outside the air was cool and refreshing and if not for the distance, it would have been nice to walk home. We went to have late night coffee at Tuk Din's which dragged on to Terawikh and if not for work, we'd have stayed for sahur.

Since the opening of Tuk Din's at 41 Craven Road, Paddington, we had been there twice to break our fast and then proceeded to Terawikh at Malaysia Hall, but most of the time, we'd prefer to break fast at home and then have a short rest, watching the very knowledgeable Dr Zakir Naik on Islam Channel.

But that night after iftar, while waiting for the mee bandung to settle, I suddenly missed the company of Tuk Din and his wife Midah. Since the opening of their new restaurant, they have been sorely missed in the surau and it hasn't been the same. We are happy that their restaurant is doing very well, especially during iftar. People come from near and far and the clients are not just Malaysians but locals too. Our children needed no persuasion or blackmail to go to Tuk Din's and we piled into Nona's new old Honda Civic and off we went.

Tuk Din's reputation for his culinary skills; his koayteow goreng, mee goreng mamak, nasi lemak, just to mention a few, is legendary. People just keep coming back for more.

Those of you who frequented Malaysia Hall canteen before the move to the present site now, would remember Tuk Din's famous dishes and hospitality. And now, he has his own restaurant. The food is just as good if not better, the only difference now is that it is no longer government subsidised!

That night, when the last customer had paid his bills and the 'closed' sign was put in place, we sat around talking about old times; about the good old times at the old Malaysia Hall canteen in Bryanston Square. That was where the children spent time working to earn some pocket money and more importantly to mix around with other Malaysian children. They helped to clear tables and served behind the counter. I too helped out while waiting for the children to finish their work. It was fun. The children met a lot of Malaysian friends and got involved with activities organised by the MSD. I too met a lot of interesting people with interesting stories to tell.

We made friends from near and far. Many friends became more like family. Among them are blogger Melayu di London and husband who left us briefly to go back to Singapore. And now they are back! That night, they too walked in with their children to join us for late night coffee. And we had an impromtu birthday celebration for their youngest. It was just like the good old days.

So that was where we had our terawikh that night, at Tuk Din's led by my husband. It was like having one big family in the congregation and it was nice. The little boys who used to run around in the canteen, are now grown ups praying with us that night in Ramadhan.

So at almost 2 am, we drove back from Paddington on the A40, the full moon shining down on us as we listened to Mesut Kurtis' Qasidah Burdah. It is one of my favourites. Listening and singing along its beautiful words and melody with the children, reminded me of those days driving along listening to Raihan's beautiful nasyeeds. We couldn't get enough of Raihan's nasyeed. They are so beautiful.

So, if you've not been to Tuk Din's, do go and you wont regret the experience, and if you've not heard Mesut Kurtis' Qasidah Burdah, here it is:

Thanks to blogger atok who reminded me that my other half, has had this song in his head for some time now and here is the link in his kecek-kecek. You can also find the lyrics there.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

What's cooking?

"What do you want to eat for iftar, mama?" was the question I got at the end of my Blackberry (ehem!). Such a simple question and yet it was like music to my ears, especially when it came at the end of a long tiring day fiddling with my new gadget.

I suppressed the urge to say "apa-apalah" because that has been copyrighted and so I said its equivalent of "whatever!"

And I wasn't to regret with that decision because wafting from the kitchen was the most drool inducing aroma that momentarily swayed my iman (a bit of exaggeration here is needed to motivate more activities in the kitchen). It was a creation befitting any Masterchef contestant, if I may say so myself; one that inevitably provoked the father into saying: Hmmmm, the flavour burst in the mouth and the salmon delicately crumbled ...bla, bla, blaaa..."

After more than ten days of fasting and rehashing tired old recipes, I took to looking and drooling at recipes on the internet but I am still at a loss as to what else to cook. I've done the usual, lamb/chicken curry, bubur lambuk and stuff and to tell you the truth I need some other stuff to excite the taste buds. I've even tried cooking mussels! So, when Sayang mama number two whipped up salmon in cream sauce with generous helpings of sliced mushrooms and roast potatoes, I wasn't about to complain.

When I was at her age, I was only entrusted with peeling onions and top and tailing beansprouts. I remember once attempting scones and they turned out rock hard, enough to knock you out and see stars if someone pelted you with one. But arwah Pak ate them all.

With a husband whose "apa-apalah" attitude towards food and cooking, I have not had much incentive to learn. But learn I did and I have improved if I may say so myself. At least no more washing keropoks before frying them .

I am delightfully surprised that Rehana has displayed some talents in an area where I am sadly lacking. She had made beautiful grilled chicken as well. The brother does brilliant couscous, but since the start of Ramadhan he had been busy at work. And dear hubby, if you are reading this, I am still waiting for your chicken kiev.

Last night, I went into foreign and new territory. Feeling quite adventurous and with a lot of time to spare, I surfed the internet for kacang phool recipe. This was of course inspired by Oldstock as well. The recipe I had was Malaysianised, prompting Rehana to remark not once: this is so Malaysian! But she liked it. I had in it chilli powder, curry powder and asam keping, plus minced meat. That went very well with freshly baked French bread. And for the meal after maghrib, it was mee bandung. Aaah, tasted so good too when we had it for sahur.

So, what's cooking in your kitchen?

Monday, 31 August 2009

Selamat Menyambut Hari Ulangtahun Kemerdekaan ke 52

Merdeka post on the way - ~Insyaallah!

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Return of the Prodigal Son

He burst through the cat flap and ended 25 days of agony. Tabby came back yesterday, hungry and demanding constant attention.It was as if he never wanted to leave AG's side. Alhamdulillah he is back!!

Syaer untuk Tabby

Sukanya hati tidak terkira,
Tabbyku pulang membawa berita,
Mengubat hati yang duka lara,
Tiada lagi hati sengsara.

Tabby ku pergi tanpa kata,
Merajuk agaknya tidak terkata,
Membawa diri merata-rata,
Ke sana sini tak tentu hala.

Kami di rumah gundah gulana
Menggigit jari, hati merana,
Mencari-cari ke sini sana,
Tak tahu lagi hendak ke mana.

Semalam dia pulang membawa cerita,
Lapar dahaga tidak terkira,
Dahagakan kasih daripada tuannya
Yang lama sudah rindukannya.

Dipeluk dicium, malam dan siang,
Terubatnya rindu bukan kepalang,
Tidur sebantal, makan tak kenyang
Selamat pulang Tabbyku sayang!

Friday, 28 August 2009

Something to share

My new toy came in the post two days ago and I was itching to share the good news. I tore the package open, and there it was all gleaming and nice and inviting.

"Hi, I am calling from my new Blackberry Curve," I said, barely able to contain my glee.

"Mama, you mean you called me just to tell me that you've got a Blackberry?" asked the second sayang mama at the other end of the BC.

"Yes," I said smugly.

"Oh, there goes your hassanah. You're not supposed to boast during Ramadhan," she added.

Oh dear, have you ever felt like a deflated balloon? I felt like that. I know The Curve is getting out of fashion and I am just getting it because I was due for an upgrade and while in Malaysia I stepped (yes, stepped) on my old faithful Nokia and the screen cracked and it went all black. (So those who had sent me sms'es while I was there, will know that there was no way I could read any of my messages.)

And now I am the proud owner of the Blackberry Curve. I still don't know what else I could do with it other than making and answering calls and sending messages, but I've been looking at it in case it vanishes before my eyes.

I made several calls to all other sayang mamas and they were all quite amused by their mama's excitement over her new toy.

Doesn't take a lot to make me all excited, does it?

A call finally came through that new toy of mine with a ringtone so sweet to the ear. I had to refrain myself from answering ala Mrs Bouquet, "Hello, yes, this is me answering my new slimline Blackberry Curve with its wide screen and oh so very small typepad!"

It was just as well I didn't for the call came from a very significant member of the surau. It must be quite an important phonecall - a serious one, I gathered.

It was a request and once again, I couldn't contain my excitement. Someone actually remembered something that I cooked and during this Ramadhan, the craving for my special dish was getting to her. I felt quite elated actually and promised to make and bring the dish for that evening's morey, after Terawikh. I despatched the other half to get the necessary things and after the preparation for iftar, I proceeded to make this special dish. And for those of you who are interested, read carefully as this can really change your culinary experience.

Carefully open the can of chickpeas and drain them in a sieve.
Slice onions and some dried chillies.
Heat the oil and throw in the sliced onions, dried chillies, curry leaves and mustard seeds. Then pour in the chickpeas. Just add a little salt.

There - all of 10 minutes flat!

I just love it. People at the surau bring other interesting dishes which require more culinary feat than opening cans. They kneed and roll doughs for karipap pusing, slave over steamers and ovens to produce tepung pelita or seri muka and I whipped out something from a can.

Well, as I am sharing the dish with others and I am not boasting, do I get my hassanah back, my precious sayang mama?

Health warning - this dish is best eaten after terawikh. Chickpeas is known to affect the digestive system in a way that it can affect your wuduk and others around you.