Friday 31 December 2004

Hold it! Pls Postpone 2005!

The clock is ticking and soon there will be quite a gathering at Trafalgar Square to welcome in 2005. There are calls from friends to join them for a do. But can someone press the pause button, please? I am not quite ready! Can't you see that there's still quite a lot to be done? Why countdown when the counting is just beginning? The numbers keep rising and I am sitting here not knowing what to do. So helpless, so hopeless!

Every time I click the mouse, I hear the number keeps increasing. So, perhaps if I stop, everything will stop as well. The pain, the destruction, the spread of disease.

Yet, time and tidal waves wait for no man. So, if anyone asks, I am cybernating for a while.

Last one, pls switch off the lights!TQ

Thursday 30 December 2004

Who's that again??

A week into blogging and the list of members I've become acquainted with reflects some kind of family network here in bloggers' world. So far I've got maknenek and atok, with pok ku and mokciknab as well as awang goneng. Pls read on:

AS I watch my children grow, I often wonder how much they know their relatives. Sure, there are the trips home where they meet and get together with the family but before long, the holidays are over.

Usually there are too many people to get to know in such a short time. While the first and second cousins get on like a house on fire at such gatherings, the third cousins and those down the line cannot help but feel like strangers.

My children cannot understand how we can sit, chat and laugh throughout the day and night and still can't get enough of each other. They do not understand why we need to visit so many relatives. Why, oh why, then we ask ourselves: "Can't they get to know each other the way we did?"

"Look, this is the son of Tok Teh's daughter. Tok Teh is Tok's brother and he is my uncle. That makes his grandson your cousin. And that is my cousin's ...", I would say, only to be greeted with blank looks.

Every time a cousin, an uncle or aunt visits us in London, there's the usual explanation of the family tree. But the minute we wave them goodbye at Heathrow, that's the end of it for the children, except for the reminder in the form of obligatory pictures taken together at Hyde Park or Madame Tussaud's.

Beyond their grandparents, uncles, aunts and first cousins, they do not understand how family ties can mean anything to them.

Perhaps they do not have a wonderful person in their lives that we had in arwah Tok Su Pa. Now, Tok Su was my late grandmother's cousin. In his younger days, Tok Su would tirelessly drive us to remote villages past rubber estates or vast green padi fields just to introduce us to uncles and grand aunties and cousins several times removed.

That was his mission in life. "We must know our flesh and blood, our own relatives," he would say before proceeding to tell us how we are related. Nothing would stop Tok Su from visiting someone he believes was even remotely related to us.

When I last saw him, he was 86 and although he could hardly see our faces, he recognised our voices and lamented how the younger generation do not see the importance of knowing their own kin. And visiting is very important. "Alas, these days, people don't visit anymore," he said sadly. Tok Su remained my top priority during my trips home, until I heard of his passing three years ago.

There's a lot to be learnt from Tok Su. Sure, everyone is busy with their work and commitments and it is certainly very easy to forget and ignore family ties.

Sometimes you do not even know that the person you're dealing with in the boardroom is your cousin from your father's side or the one you meet at the supermarket every weekend is your granduncle. You need someone like my Tok Su or my mother to start asking a few questions about their families and bingo!

I once took a classmate home. He was going to help me with my maths homework. And trust Mak to ask about his parents, with "Anak sapa ni?" and then..."Laaaaa! Anak Cik Yam, cucu Tok Tam Man...Awaat tak kenai pulak!!! Adik beradik kitalah!" So, that was the end of my maths tuition.

Recently, thanks to technology and of course to Tok Su, I ventured into an unknown territory of family websites. Now, my children are getting to know their uncles, aunts, cousins and second cousins from all over the world.

We post old and new family photographs and send news about each other. We go into the chatroom and talk to a niece in New Jersey and nephews in Bayan Baru and a cousin in Dubai - and have so much fun that it reminds me of the time we chatted right into the night during our get-togethers at Mak's house that Pak built.We would communicate from under our own mosquito nets in that big lounge, talking about whatever comes to mind.

The chatroom is not unlike that. Some time ago, my nephew posted photographs of a reunion of family members from my father's side - the Saadi clan. The first reunion attracted nearly a thousand members that it took several pictures to show all of them. And as a result, a family tree was drawn up and now fourth reunion is being held.

Tok Su would have been pleased to hear of this new development although he did not belong to that branch of the family tree. But given half a chance, he'd discover a link.

Tuesday 28 December 2004

What's in a nickname?

I have a large extended family, lots of uncles and aunts and millions of cousins- first, second third and even tenth. Imagine having to introduce them all to my husband - a Terengganuan? What made it even more difficult was that I couldn't explain to him how a nick name originated - for example - how do I explain Tok Wa Ork? Mak Tam Ne? or Ouih??? Mak Teh Tah, Pak Teh Ei, or Abang Buck....How do these names come about?

I went back home recently and having spent so much time with my ailing mum, I realised and indeed now understand how some of these names originated.

For example, we have just acquired a niece - just six months old and befitting her cute little face and sweet smile, she was named by her adoring parents - Iman Sofea. I suppose her father's infatuation with the actress Sofea Jane has something to do with it.

Now, Mak is totally alien with Sofea - she is more used to Sopiah, and chose to call her latest grand daughter Che Piah. Who dares say anything to hurt the old dear's feelings? Now, Che Piah has a four year old brother whose speech is not quite developed and Che Piah to him is quite a mouthful - so, he has formulated it to Chepiyah. So, Chepiyah it is then.

Let us look at some of my immediate family members - There's Bang Tam Id - so called as he is dark and full name is Said, quite easy that. Then there's Bang Buck. A bit difficult here as I know that his name is Mohd Noor. How did Buck come about? Although having only seen the relatively recent American movie, Uncle Buck - I can now see the resemblance. Could it be Lebark? as is lebar - wide at the waist?

Both Abang Tam and Abang Buck are offsprings of Mak Teh Tah who was named and registered Selasiah, if I am not mistaken, a beautiful Malay name. But why oh why Tah????

Mak Teh Tah, God bless her soul, had a sister, Cik Ne (now,I can't even spell that one). We called her Mak Tam Ne. But what was her full name?

Mak Teh Tah was married to Ismail - but we called him, Pak Teh Ei while Mak Tam Ne was married to someone also called Ismail, but we called him Pak Tam Mey (there's a nasal sound to this). So, where's the logic?

Both Tah and Ne had a younger sister who we called Chu Ar (pronounced as in the English Are). I supposed there's logic in this as she was bongsu - thus Chu and her full name was Johara - thus Are. Now, Chu Are was married to Chu Khiark. This is easy - cos his name was Mohd Khir, so I thought, until I explained this to my husband. "Khiark???" he splattered, nearly spitting out the contents of his throat. Hmm - whatever! But there are other Mohd Khirs who are called Et, or Kat or the more westernised Ed.

Delving into Chu Are and Chu Khiark's family, we find more problems - there's None (Nonay) and there's Chuq. I have a suspicion that Chuq perhaps originated from Busuk (smelly). No right minded parents will ever, ever praise their cutie pies or call them nice names for fear bad luck will befall on them. I am guilty of this too. "Mana bucuk, bucuk Mama ni????", said with undying love and affection. And then they grow up and bucuk Mama is really bucuk, especially after a football game and a long day at school!

While back in AS, I took the opportunity to visit a grand aunt - was told she is very ill and like Mak, she is past 80. From the waist down, she is quite disabled but everywhere else, my goodness! her faculties are working at full steam. Her language is still as colourful, turning the air around us blue with her jokes. Anyway, that's not what I am getting at, but she is famous for giving those around her beautiful nick names. There's Ted, now a successful banker and business woman. How did she get the name? Well, as a baby, she was so small - kecik tet! (she demonstrated with her fingers). Thus Ted. And the sister? Why Mek?? We are not from the East Coast! Did she say something about hidung kemek?? I couldn't get this for the chorus of protests and laughter from those present.

I must go back for more studies on this as I really need to get to the bottom of Tok Wa Ork and Mak Tam Ne. (No pun intended). Oh, by the way, Ouih is Darus, Kedahspeak.

I personally have just acquired a newly glamourised title. Am Kak Teh to my siblings, Mak Teh to my nieces and nephews. But when it comes to my nieces' and nephews' children, I must be Tok Teh , right? Urgggggh!! Spit that out. Dear little cute grandchildren have difficulties with Tok Teh, just as I have difficulties in accepting it. So, it is Oteh...Not bad, eh? I can live with this.

To end this, I will relate my experience being introduced to my husband's side of the family in Terengganu. I was thus presented to Cher, Der, Cheng, Doh, Moh and lots of Meks. I left still puzzled after being hailed Mek Jaroh.

Saturday 25 December 2004

More on Mak

I am, if you like, offloading my excess emotional baggage here before I can proceed anywhere else.

This week, twenty five years ago, Mak waved me off at the airport as in her own words "Pi lah. Dah jadi bini orang!",as I clung on to her even then frail frame, returning several times to hug her for one last time. Before I became bini orang, I was never far from her side. I was the manja one though not necessarily the youngest one. She'd accompany me to shops, post office and even waited for me outside the school gates as I did my first temporary teaching. When I was away at college, she'd deny herself and my other siblings my favourite food such as crab sambal. Should I return late from anywhere, she'd be on the faithful old iron 'ndoi' or swing that Pak bought, selendang around her neck, ready to go searching for me. And then, I became someone's wife and was transported halfway across the world to fend for myself without as much as two complete recipes in my head. Tell me, who has ever heard of anyone, who washes keropok before frying them?

Anyway, I am continuing this blog after chatting with my brother who said Mak is talking about going back to her house again. And he wants me to try to talk her out of it. Hmmm...

A week after her illness, she said - as a last request, "Bawak Mak balik rumah Mak. Mak nak pi kubork Pak, kubork Tok. Lepaih tu, kita balik laa mai KL balik. Mak nak tengok ayam itik Mak...pokok bunga Mak tak terjaga." And wait for this, "Lagi pun Pak buat rumah tu kat Mak, dia kata tok sah tinggai, tok sah pi mana-mana pun!" More hmmmm...! Here we go again!

Some years ago, for Mother's Day, I wrote the piece below:

"YEARS AGO, before becoming a mother myself, I read a book that haunts me to this day - Nancy Friday's My Mother/Myself. No disrespect intended, but I couldn't really see myself becoming like my mother! I didn't want to - not at that time.

But four children later, now in their teenage years, I have this chilling feeling of deja vu. Every time I open my mouth to say something to them, I hear myself uttering my mother's words - sometimes words I myself cringed at hearing as a child.

I do the things my mother used to do, like calling every other name BUT the one name whose body and soul is right in front of me. I tell them off but cry my eyes out on an assignment for just two days away from home. My home telephone bill is evidence of my tracking them down at those times when each and every one of them should be back from school.

Without a mobile phone in those days, my mother would wait outside, sitting on the old iron swing. Half an hour later, she'd have her selendang ready to go out for the search. But where?, I used to ask her.

These are no means negative attributes of my mother.
Heavens no! She brought up six children almost single-handedly as our father was handicapped due to an accident. As an only child, whose own mother cherished her own independence, she'd be forgiven if she did not know how to bring up her own children. But circumstances have a way of making up for lost opportunities. She later had to look after seven half-brothers and sisters whose love and devotion have never wavered to this day.

This memory of my mother has nothing to do with the fact that Mother's Day is just round the corner. My mother never knew there was a day devoted to her. And does she care? Not one bit. Not as much as I did when my own children pretended to forget my birthday or Mother's Day.

But I suspect it has a lot to do with the fact that right now, I know she is sitting at home patiently looking after her own bedridden mother. A 70-year-old who needs looking after herself, in a role reversal where her own mother, at 90, becomes a child.

And it has a lot to do with this guilt building up in me. Being 8,000 miles away, a progress report on her health and welfare can only be conducted through the phone. Once when she was admitted into the ICU, I flew home and spent 10 days by her bedside, enough time to realise that after all these years, I couldn't care for her the way my brothers and sisters and in-laws were caring for her.

I just stood there and watched them fuss over her. I couldn't accept that I had to care for my mother who used to be or was supposed to be strong.

Where did all her energy and strength go? I envy the closeness and rapport my other siblings have with her and it is at such times that I blame her for waving me away at Changi Airport for my flight with my husband to London. It is easier to apportion blame than to admit failure.

I videotaped her progress on the hospital bed, right up to her flight from Alor Star to Kuala Lumpur to recuperate. She insisted that we bring along her mother, who had not left her bed for more than five years, so she could keep an eye on her.

As for me, it was easy to watch these relationships - mine and hers, hers with her mother - through the lens of a video camera and only let go of my emotions in the privacy of my own home, watching the video.

My attachment to my mother's kebaya sleeves was only severed when I found my life partner. Again, this is shifting blame. She led me by the hand to my first classroom and did the same on my first day as a temporary teacher some miles away from home. Later, she told me she waited at the bus stop long after I went in to teach.

The furthest then I'd been away from her was when I was at ITM, Shah Alam (UiTM now). She'd send me off tearfully at the bus terminal with soap, foodstuff, minyak angin and blankets.

On my last trip home from London, she gave me a thick blanket she'd bought from Padang Besar. This was for the children. "It's cold in London," she said. I didn't have the heart to tell her that the Padang Besar blanket wouldn't be sufficient in the English weather.

She finally learnt to let go. Once when she suspected I was talking on the phone with a boy, she swept the area around my feet clean and polished the phone table until I finished the conversation. Nowadays, I don't have half a chance, as much as I'd like to - thanks to cordless telephones!

While I never had the freedom to go on school trips, my children have gone to Spain and France without so much as a backward glance at their sobbing mother.

When we were growing up, didn't we see our mothers as step-mothers or ogres, the way our children see us now?

I believe this has something to do with conspiracy among fathers. Just keep quiet and let mothers do the nagging. My father never said a harsh word. It was always "anything goes" and would even wait up for us to come back from late night parties or accompany us to watch horror movies. It was always mak with the big NO and the power to veto. And this power is exercised to the highest degree especially when dealing with daughters. And the cycle is repeated.

Last Mother's Day (April 2 in England), my children and their friends surprised us mothers with a delicious spread on the table. My eldest daughter, whom I suspect sees me as a dragon, gave me a lovely card and candles. She loves me after all. She once told me that I didn't understand her as she was growing up. "Pardon me", I retorted. "I'm sorry I don't understand because I didn't grow up like you. I just grow old!"

Cynicism never gets you anywhere. She just rushed up to her room.

I don't know about you, dear readers, but I'm one of those martyr mothers that Alice Faye Cleese wrote about in her book How to Manage Mothers.

I never let my children forget that I spent the whole day working to pay for their tuition or slogged the whole evening in the kitchen for a meal before them. But this is not a trait I inherited from my mother. She never complained the way I do now. Her devotion is so unconditional.

Sometimes, it is a relief to talk and listen to other martyr mothers. Its like a martyr mother's convention. One friend had a way of reminding her children about the value of education.

"If you don't study hard," she said, "you'll end up sweeping the roadside! And I'll drive by in my Mercedes with my friends to our coffee morning. When my friends ask me who you are, I'll say, `That's my son who didn't study hard when he was at school!'"

A real mak tiri she was. She's now back in Malaysia and in between her busy work and commitments, spends her time massaging her mother, who has lost mostly all but her ability to nag!

My own mother is just out of hospital, I'm told. But I'm not worried. She gets herself admitted as a way to have a rest away from her demanding mother and then she's back combing her mother's hair and massaging her tired legs. Will I have this patience, Nancy Friday? Pray tell me! ""

Blame it on the jetlag!

Its been a week and I am still waking up at 1 am and by 3pm I can't keep my eyes open anymore. So, what do I do? I surf blogsites and found enough inspiration to start this one. Really, really inspired by Jalan-jalan, MokcikNab, Pok ku and many others and I thought, why not? Yeah, why not and this is why not...I've been sitting here staring at the page for the past half an hour - and not know how to start.

Okay - I will dedicate this first posting to Mak.

This time last week, I was at KLIA with the usual crowd of siblings, inlaws, nieces and nephews and most importantly my mother, who, bless her, recovered and was strong enough to be wheeled to the airport to see me off. Mak was the reason I rushed back a month ago, leaving spouse, children and cats to fend for themselves in the bleak winter that is London.

Being away from home, one of the fears that prey on your mind, was that phone call in the middle of the night. Mine came, not in the middle of the night, but early one autumn morning as I was trudging off to work. It was big sister number two. She didn't start with the usual, "Listen!...blah, blah, blah!" Instead, she cried and in the background I could hear the recital of Surah Yassin. She didn't need to say anymore.

Mak had always been been small, petite even. But the person I saw lying almost flat on the bed, strategically already facing 'that' direction, was just skin and bones. Tears streamed from her jaded eyes as she acknowledged my presence. The missing piece in the family jigsaw is back in place.

That night, severely jetlagged, I was handed over the task to look after her. My siblings were all worn out after several sleepless days and nights. I was asked to sleep on the floor, next to her bed, the logic of which became apparent several nights later, when I didn't and she rolled off the bed and landed on the floor!

More of that later...

Mak is a fighter. There's no doubt about that. This scene unfolding before my eyes had been played and replayed several times, especially after Tok's passing away some years ago. In fact, everyone yang sewaktu dengannya, have gone. But everytime we thought she was going to leave us, and after I made my dash across the world home, she recovered. This time is no different. In fact, the next morning, she declared she wasn't going to use the diapers anymore. She was going to walk to the toilet, aided, of course. There's no lacking of assistants for this task - everyone including four year old Hilman (Cik Wang Cik Tok)would volunteer. Mak has always been surrounded with love - if anything, too much. As the eldest child, she gave so much to her brothers and sisters as well as nieces and nephews, not to mention strangers who came a knocking on her door. That frail shoulder used to be the place for people to cry on. Now they are back in droves to visit her and pamper her and massage her arms and legs and comb what little hair she has left.

Sometimes, I just looked from a distance or better still, through the lense of my video camera. I admit I can't look after her the way my siblings and even my in laws do. Distance and time had seen to it that I can only watch from afar. Once I am back in my own home, I'd watch the videos again and cry silently at my own inability to do more than that.

(more later...)