Saturday 26 February 2005

Selamat Tinggal Kak Saadiah

She was in my house many times, giving me much joy and entertainment. I have been to hers once. Alas she wasn't there. And now she is no longer with us. Al Fatihah to a wonderful and talented actress, Saadiah Ahmad Daud.
Only a few days ago, I read about RTM's effort to show appreciation to veteran artistes of the 50's and I remember saying to myself, "At last!"

But as the accolades were sung and tears were shed, one of the most illustrous and talented actresses who should be there to receive her recognition in person, wasn't there. She was in the throes of her last breath, which ended months, if not years of suffering. She left us at the age of 68, leaving us with memories of her fine acting in classics like Semerah Padi, Penarik beca, Antara Dua Darjat, Isi Neraka, Musang Berjanggut and Sarjan Hassan.

Saadiah was born Satiyah Baharum in 1937 in Singapore and from the young age of seven, accompanied her sister the veteran actress Mariam to the Jalan Ampas Studio where she learned and observed much from the curious eyes of a child. She acted the script checker and firm critic of her sister.

"Bila kakak Mariam berlatih seni kata sayalah yang dipaksa menyemak scriptnya. Bila dia berlatih gaya di hadapan cermin, saya disuruh menjadi tukang cacatnya." (Majallah Filem - 1 April 1960)

Saadiah's first film was Rachun Dunia, which was also starred P Ramlee and although it was a minor role, it was enough to catch the attention of Director L Krishnan who took her to act in Bakti. She was only 13. There was no looking back then as she signed contract with Shaw Brothers where she went on to act with P Ramlee in major roles. In an interview with Gelanggang Filem, she said that P Ramlee chose her for his films because she could understand what was wanted of her and she could deliver it on screen.

This reminds me of my visit to her house to meet her husband, another veteran and famous actor, Datok Ahmad Daud. The actress was then on a shopping spree in Singapore and arwah Ahmad Daud was left to entertain me. He spoke at length about their acting career which I duly documented in my mini feature for BBC Radio. But something he said remained with me till now, evidence of Saadiah's talents.

"Bila dia berlakon dengan Abang Ramlee, Abang Ramlee larang dia jangan menitiskan satu titik ayark mata pun," he said in his thick Penang accent. "Tu dalam filem Antara Dua Darjat. Dia kata dia tak mau tengok satu titik pun, tapi dia nak tengok ayark mata bergenang dalam mata....susah tu! Tapi Saadiah berjaya mengikut arahan Abang Ramlee," he added in a tribute to his wife.

There are indeed many films,mostly tear jerkers that make us rush for the Kleenex box, that are starred by Saadiah. Saadiah was a real Ratu Air Mata. The other one was of course Neng Yatimah. Saadiah was best actress in 1955 and 1956. She acted in over 100 movies and even tried a hand in directing, making her the first Malay woman movie director when she directed Ceritaku Ceritamu. Her acting career spanned five decades in a show business that demands a lot but receives very little in terms of appreciation.

In one of the courses that I did last year, I was fortunate to be able to watch again Penarik Beca and Antara Dua Darjat two classics with Saadiah and P Ramlee, two fine and talented screen idols from the Malay world.

Watching a four part documentary of Bollywood greats where directors, producers, actors, actresses and singers from days gone by were interviewed, I often wondered why we never made any efforts to document our own movie greats. Why wait till they are no longer with us? While we are in awe of the here and now, we tend to forget those who were there before, and then it is too late.

RTM's special scheme to help veteran artistes is indeed to be praised. It may be too late for Kak Saadiah but there are many others, like Latifah Omar, Mariani, Hashimah Yon.

In the meantime Al Fatehah to a wonderful and talented Datin Saadiah.

Friday 25 February 2005

Kak Teh vs Techie Thingies Part 1

I have waged this silent war with gadgets and gizmos for sometime now and its time to let it all out and declare an all out war. These thingies are invented to help us out and make our life easier, yet for me they served to do differently.

Take yesterday for example, I swear I must have demolished a whole forest before I could photocopy a decent page from a book. Either the top is lobbed off or the bottom half is amputated. At the end of the day, I had to cut and paste whatever I could salvage and the rest went into the recycle bin.

This is the new sophisticated photocopier in the department, which within a month of its arrival has had about three breakdowns.

Why can’t instructions be short and sweet? I, for one, do not have eyes for instructions. I go right when it says left, I pull doors when it says push but, hey, I do stop at lifting lifts. I am not that stupid.

Two weeks ago, I was ready to let go a kungfu kick at the ATM machine in Queensway. I have always had this phobia of ATM machines, not least because I fear the manager’s hand might appear out of the screen and catch hold of me for some obvious reasons. But this incident really took the biscuit.

Before I could even punch in my pin number , the wretched machine swallowed my card. Cold and hungry, I phoned up the bank only to talk to an answering machine asking security questions. I finally cancelled my card, making a mental note that the last transaction was £4.70 at the tube station.

Still worried, I called the bank again but because the computer heard me wrong, refused to give anymore information. I was already on the warpath because this happened right after a fight my hubby had with the automatic cashier at Tesco.

He is one who will test his wits against the might of any new inventions and so couldn't resist this auto cashier sitting there demurely waiting for us to put our purchase in the plastic bags, which under any normal circumstances would defeat the most genius of minds in cracking the code to splice them open.

Anyway, there we were scan, plonk, scan, plonk until we decided to check the products that we had plonked into the bag. That was when all hell broke loose. People began to stare as the wretched auto cashier started screaming (that was how it sounded to me): Suspicious item in bag, Please remove item. Suspicious item in bag. Please remove item.

We sure looked like shoplifters being caught redhanded as an assistant came to check what we had done. Apparently, once you put an item in, you are not supposed to take it out. Putting it back in will confuse dear stupid auto cashier. Hubby took offence to nagging auto cashier and said: oh shut up, after which an argument between human beings followed.

It must also be the same gizmo who dealt with my library books at the uni then. My account said I borrowed two books which were totally irrelevant to my course. I am doing Traditional Malay Literature but I had two books on Japanese checked out in my name. But of course, the half human almost machine behind the counter at first insisted the computer must be right until she saw that I was turning the colour of Hulk, muscles bursting out of my coat and all.

Sure, I do admit there are advantages of gadgets and gizmos. Take this blogsite for example..a place for me to vent out my anger. Even then, sometimes, I think it takes its revenge by freezing the screen. I have lost several beautifully composed features this way. Aaah, and many potential bestsellers too...

And of course, I am thankful for my new smart card IC! One swipe and it told me how much I had in my EPF savings!!! Soon, it'll tell me how much I don't have.

So, cards, passports, bank books are getting smarter nowadays. I went back to open an account. A young and eager clerk was helping me with what seemed a simple enough procedure. I was told to sign on the dottted lines. "Sign kuat-kuat sikit kak", he said helpfully. And I dutifully did as told.

When I received my brand new book, I was appalled that my signature, which I thought I had impressed quite hard onto the paper, did not appear. I offered to do it again, but the young clerk turned away, apparently to hide his smile. My friend, the bank manager, who was there to speed up the procedure, was quite embarassed and told me later that the signature was in fact invisible. Oh, gitu.....

But you know these smart thingies can have lapses in their memory too. Look at the queue at the airport. The line with old manual passport holders usually get processed first while people with new pasports containing the chips had to swipe several times before seeking help from the officers there.

There'll be more. There's one about my fight with the automatic flush toilets. I am not about to admit defeat. Not yet.

Tuesday 22 February 2005

Where are all my 'sayang mama'?

I was reading interesting accounts by mak andeh of adventures with her brood and how I envy her.

When my own children were small, that was what we used to do. We’d bundle them into the car and drive anywhere and everywhere hubby took us. We never had a destination in mind cos hubby is famous for his wrong turnings and we’d end up miles away from where we intended to go. There’d be endless questions of “Where are we going, where are we now, are we there yet, and finally, when are we going home?”

I must admit, I am not very patient but God is great, cos my quota of patience was doubled and given to him. A car journey was almost an education trip.

While I battled with the games on Gameboy, he’d entertain them with stories and history of the places that we passed by. “See this road? Why do you think its just straight? During the days of the Romans…,” alternating with, “sit down or the police will arrest you, put your seat belts on….”

Drat and I’d lose my game.

Anyway, the children never used to complain. It was never the destinations that they were interested in but the Welcome Breaks and Little Chefs dotting the British highways. They used to love the pricey food and the games while I took the opportunity to rest my tired fingers. And they loved staying at hotels.

And then they grew up. Nothing interest them anymore. After all they had seen the yellow rapeseed fields in summer, the British seasides in spring soon became a bore, and staying in a cabin during the weekends was never their idea of fun. And English castles?? Duhhh! So, before a drive out of London, we had had to resort to sweettalk, emotional blackmail and if nothing worked, threats.

So, you can imagine the long faces mopping the floor in the backseats of the car. “Hey, look at the horses, aren’t those thatched roofs beautiful…”

Silence. Everyone had their ears plugged to their MP3 players or bergayut on the phone to friends. Only T, the youngest and curious one, always standing behind hubby, alternating his whispers between daddy’s right and left ears with questions.

So we thought, it must be the estate that’s becoming too small for the growing family. Afterall, the eldest always had cramps as he has long legs.

So, we decided to buy an MPV. What a luxury!! But soon the novelty wore out as well and we found a seven seater MPV a big and lonely place for the two of us. Even our voices echoed when we spoke to each other.

No threats would work now. They have disowned us.

I am wrecking my brain searching for answers to where we went wrong? But, silly me...of course! They are embarrased now at the thought of going places with their parents. So, tak cool!

So, let's see signs that perhaps I had missed, clues that they gave and I didn't see.

Well, I remember we drove to see H playing football, and as it was raining, we thought we'd stop and give him a ride back. Instead of appreciation, the look on his face registered anger!!

Then there was the time I saw H for the first time with a group of friends and a few girls. So happy I was, I shouted,"H, sayang mama..." but he shot daggers at me. What did I do to deserve that?

And when R was performing her beautiful Malay dance, this proud mama was jumping up and down, videoing her. We watched the video again, and there was my voice telling anyone who cared to listen: That's my daughter, the one dancing, that's my daughter. Clever or not?" Now, what was wrong with that? You see lots of proud parents like that at school concerts waving to their children on stage, much to the chagrin of the teachers!!

And you know, N's friend died in an accident. I was devastated and as we prepared to visit the parents, N hissed into my ears as she squeezed my hand hard until it hurt. It wasn't a squeeze of affection, more of a warning: Don't say anthing embarassing, mama!" Laaaaa, when did I ever do anything embarrassing to you? At the house, everytime I wanted to open my mouth, there was this icy stare from her. There was another parent, Bina, and as we left, Bina confided in me that her daughter Shahidah also warned her not to say anything embarassing. Laaaa....!

Anyway, am still wrecking my brains in search of anything remotely embarassing that I had done. Hmm, there's the joget lambak with the cultural troupe at Whiteleys and the one by the River Thames, mmm perhaps the karaoke at Malaysia Hall or during the Family Day in Brickendonbury? I thought my performance was quite impressive...

Anyway, even T now, all grown up does not want to be seen being hugged by me anymore. You know this is the boy, my baby, who never left for school without as many as 10 times, "I sayang you mama, *kiss, kiss*." and at the door, " I sayang you mama," and before disappearing around the corner: "I sayang you mama!"

Now he'd make sure he gives a quick peck on the cheek before dashing out of the door, in case his friend waiting outside could see. Well, maybe I overdid it a bit with the sayang mama thing. I'd tickle them and hug them breathless until they say, I sayang you, mama. But I should have seen the warning signs from T. Sitting on the stairs, he asked for a glass of water. I said: Say, 'I sayang you, mama' first. And you know what he retorted? "Oh, mama, for heavens sake, its only a glass of water!"

Makandeh, enjoy the adventures with your brood while you can!

Sunday 20 February 2005

Zai and Sri Mersing on a cold winter's night...

Last week, there was a group of us chatters with Pok Ku holding court yet again. Six am in London, and maybe 2 pm in Malaysia and there's Karina in Melbourne, don't know what time it was there...but Pok Ku treated us to music and songs from his Pok Ku Radio Pencen. And we listened and he spoilt me with repeats of my request : Just Once as well as Olivier Newton John's Hopelessly Devoted to You. For that, thank you Pok Ku.

That experience spurred me on to experiment with this new venture that I am about to do and subject you to a bit more than reading what I write.

Well, I have always loved radio. It paints a better picture. I did twelve years of radio and yearn to do more. Last year,I did an interview with a dear old friend, Zainol Cik Salleh, whose enthusiasm for lagu asli Melayu knew no bounds. A designer and an artist, he lived in London for 25 years before deciding that he wanted to go home. In his own words: it was lagu asli Melayu which led him by the hand back to learn more about it. Do listen to the interview and if you dont like it...just switch it off. But I learned a lot from him about the beauty of lagu-lagu Melayu asli. It takes thousands of miles away from home, for me to appreciate what we have.

I remember those days, in the cold winter nights, we'd gather at a friend's place and Zainol would treat us to some asli gems, like Sri Mersing. And I'd duet with him, Patah Hati and always give up when I hit the high note. There were nights when he'd call me and say,"Hey, do you remember this line?" and he'd sing for me.. and together in the middle of the cold winter's night, we'd try to remember lost lines of a nearly forgotten song. If not for Zai, I will never know. So, if you can bear this, please click the link below:
Zainol-Pulangnya seorang perantau

This was first broadcast on
Thank you to Bro Ming for putting this together and thanks iJun for putting it on Realplayer.
And lastly, thank you Zai.

Thursday 17 February 2005

Fashion (non)sense

It was a really bad start. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t even apply but the invitation came anyway. I am one sartorially challenged person and I suspect my presence at these functions was needed to challenge any designer who claims he/she can change and transform a person’s sense or style of dressing. Good luck to them.
So, off I went in a mismatched tudung and attire much to the horror of my children.

First stop, at my shoemaker friend’s shop. He was busy entertaining clients from Hong Kong. The clock was a-ticking and I was a-tapping my badly wornout shoes, (not unlike iJun’s.)

After what seemed like a life time of muah-muah, kiss kiss, bye darling, bye sweetheart, we flagged down a taxi to go to the Roof Garden, where Eric Way, Cherie Blair’s dresser was holding his show. The time was 12.15 and the show would have started and I’d miss the pictures badly needed for my piece. Shoemaker was hungry and seemed oblivious to the miles and miles of traffic along Bayswater Road. I pacified him with the last two bars of Galaxy I had in my bag.

Once there, it was already 1240 and I was sure Eric was already taking his bow while we searched for the entrance. The handphone rang, the shoemaker did a sprint. “Hurry! They are holding up the show for me!” We ran helter skelter, shoemaker, mrs shoemaker, ms shoemaker and me in my badly wornout shoes. Shoemaker knocked on someone’s door – thinking it was the venue, but was rescued by someone who came out searching for the lost party.

Phew! I have had enough of fashion shows. I must be getting on a bit when events like these don’t thrill me anymore.

I remember my first London Fashion Week. It was sheer foolhardy to apply as a photographer. You are put in this dock where it’s a dog eat dog situation. Fashion photographers are one of a kind. You go there and see Xs in masking tape all over the place, reserved areas for the best shots. And if you should be foolish enough to go in front, and they see a strand of your hair straying into their lenses, you’d better wish the ground opens up beneath you. There’d be a chorus of "Hoi!! Get out of the way!"

I was there, clutching my small Canon Ixus, surrounded by mothers of all cameras with grandmothers of all lenses, being elbowed left, right and centre. I remember getting just Naomi Cambell’s heels, Jodie Kidd’s knees and the rest all blurred or blank.

Fashion shows never start on time. It’s the prerogative of designers. The higher they are on the who’s who list, the longer you wait for the show to begin. So, in the meantime you look around to see who comes in what to these events.

The most fascinating creatures to watch are the so called fashion writers. They hardly practice what they preach in their columns. Coordinates do not come any where near in their vocabularies. And my children worry about my dress sense! Watch Hilary Alexander.

Then there’s the model wannabes. Tall lanky teenagers who swan around the place in the hope of getting noticed.

Then finally, the models. In those days, in my days, anyway, models are those with the vital statistics of 36-25-36, right? With bulge and curves in the right place. Nowadays, they advertise at anorexic anonymous for models. Its almost like watching death on a catwalk. There’s no need for hairstyling or proper make-up. The more outrageous you look, the better. Once I went to one show and decided that my teenage daughter could just jump out of bed and would still look good on the catwalk.

I am very proud of our Malaysian models. I was fortunate enough to meet Camelia, our Camelia, at one of these shows. Natasha et Moi.Even as a guest, after a 13 hour flight, she stood out as a real beauty. And there's of course Nasha...what a gem! I've watched her outdoing models on the catwalk here. She can be truly dazzling! (BTW, that's Kak Teh with Nasha.No prize for guessing which one is Nasha.)

And yes, the clothes. You tend to forget the very reason you come to these places when there's so much distractions. They don’t make clothes anymore. They make statements. Wasn’t there once a design which transforms into a table? I went to see one up and coming designer. She used stick-ons to create a pattern on the bodies of the models. And I will never forget Hilary Alexander’s witty remark:Wow! That’s a lovely dress you’re not wearing!

Back to the show at the Roof Garden. Now, this was one classy show at a classy place. Eric used Malaysian batik on some of his very sleek evening numbers, complete with batik shoes and handbags by Lewre.

I went home lamenting my long gone waist. What a waist!
Badly taken pix and bad layout by Kak Teh. Sleek evening numbers by Eric Way & Beautiful shoes by Lewre.

Wednesday 16 February 2005

Dear Diary....

I HAVE always been an avid diary keeper. Towards the beginning of the New Year I look forward to a new diary and can't wait to fill it, first with birthdays, anniversaries and then important contact numbers. Then only do I worry about filling it with items relating to work - major appointments, any big projects, deadlines.

But as weeks turn into months, my diary assumes a new image of familiar and organised chaos that only I alone can decipher. Phone numbers written in eyebrow pencils, sometimes in lip liners, find their way among things to do and what to buy, buried in between "terrible headaches" and "late again!"

There's the occasional "$*(*&!!! and a smattering of ????, weighed heavy with implications and emotions. But try reading the jottings a few years later and even the heavily underlined phrases tend to lose some of their intensity with which they were penned.

There are cryptic phrases that read and sound like a dialogue in a Spy vs Spy episode, as well as circles around dates and phone numbers with no names.

I once succumbed to a temporary whim of wanting to be a yuppie even at an age when I was more downwardly pulled than upwardly mobile. I thought I had to be seen carrying this yuppie bible called the filofax.

Soon it was bulging with pages and I was soon presented with an electronic organiser from sympathisers who thought it could help organise my life. That didn't work either, as I am a technically challenged person. I want my diary, one that I can flip through and tear when I want to.

But looking through my now impressive collection of old battered diaries, I wonder if I can make money out of them. People seemed to be making money out of diaries, so why shouldn't I?

I could do well by taking a leaf out of Edwina Currie's published diary of her liaison with former British Prime Minister John Major. Well, I could if I have any liaison worth publishing.

But how does one know when to start jotting the juicy bits and sound bites that will be worth all the risk and bother? Do you start with just the sketches and then expand it later according to how the relationship develops?

But isn't a diary supposed to be so private, so personal that it is only meant for your eyes only? I just wonder that for someone to meticulously jot down every little detail of the former leader's now infamous blue underpants, she must have such vision that the wearer would become a world figure one day. Well, if you have any kind of brush at all with anyone along the corridors of power, it must be worth keeping a diary - just in case.

And, of course, if you think the disgraced British peer and author, Lord Jeffrey Archer, was going to spend his time peeling potatoes in the prison kitchen, think again. Yes, he did do that, only to be able to write first hand what it was like to do things that we mortals do every day in our own kitchen. With every peel that fell to the floor, he knew that the public is hungry to read about what goes on behind the prison walls.

The British public has been treated to serialised extracts of the diaries of many public figures. There's Currie and Archer and of course Princess Diana's Butler. And I don't believe we have seen the last.

It is the age of kiss-and-tell and voyeurism. People want to see what goes on in your private life and nothing is private or sacred anymore. Have you seen the number of hits at the datindiaries blog? I keep going back too, but she is keeping us salivating before she unleashes another sizzling one. Hmm, and there's sarungparty girl's as well, makes my journal jottings as fun as a nun's in a convent.

Anyway, most of us who keep personal letters and diaries and do not want prying eyes do have a problem. What do we do with them if we don't want people pouring over every little detail of our love letters or diaries when we die?

Do we destroy them; burn them so that our children and great grandchildren will never know the deepest secrets that we and our beloved shared in the throes of young love? Or worst still, what if they sell and publish them?

Oftentimes, I read and reread old letters and diaries and store them back carefully under the bed. I still don't have the heart to destroy them. I wonder what other people do with their diaries and old letters? Most probably I'll burn them and store the ashes. Or better still, mix the ashes in water and drink it. But to let other people read them? Never!

Monday 14 February 2005

Reminiscence of an incurable old romantic

14th Feb 2005
There was the unmistakeable ringing tone signalling a message. The girl sitting opposite me on the no: 7 looked at her handphone, and a smile spread across her face as she recognised the sender. She turned bright pink matching the scarf around her neck as she read the message.

14th February 1979
The young girl sitting uncomfortably in the rickety trishaw, as it zig-zagged its way at suicidal speed across Light Street, ripped open the padded envelope with the registered London stamp, and pulled out a tape. She inserted it immediately in her small tape recorder, pressed the play button and put the recorder close to her ears. She smiled as she heard the message but turned bright red with anger as the trishaw puller increased the volume on his transistor, drowning her recorded Valentine's message with Mohamed Rafi's rendition of Junglee, filling the evening air.

Yes, how time has changed, thanks to technology! A press of a button and your loving message, complete with kisses and smooches emoticons, reaches your loved one. In those days, I had to wait days, if not weeks, before I received those much awaited bulky letters that brought much laughter, tears of joy and the sweet pangs of sorrow that comes with long distance relationship. In the absence of dirt cheap phone cards that are available now, international calls were resorted to only in times of emergencies.

Nowadays, there's the yahoo instant messaging service, the sms and cheap phone cards that bring people together.

However, looking back, nothing beats old traditional letter writing. They were worth the wait. And now, 25 years on, they are neatly catalogued and kept in a bag under the bed.

Working at the old office in Light Street, Penang had certain advantages that outweighed the disadvantages. One advantage was of course, the package as described above was flown from the London office, where the love of my life was then based, together with other official documents to the head office in Jalan Riong. A conspiracy with the then Personal Secretary to the Big Boss, meant that the package was slipped discreetly in an envelope and flown out by the old Fokker Friendship to the Penang Bureau. Danny, the office boy would sort out the documents and again discreetly put the package in my drawer. Mission accomplished.

The downside was of course, ordinary letters were not delivered directly to the office. I had to cultivate Danny's friendship to fetch the letters, which used to come in threes, from the Penang Post Office. I could guess when there were letters. The hint of a smile on his boyish face as he walked up the creaky stairs of the old building, and he'd pretend to do other work, while my heart was bursting with suspense and agony.

"Wah! Manyak lorr!" he'd beamed as he finally handed me the letters. If there were morning assignments, the letters would have to wait, though I'd disappear regularly to the ladies to satisfy my curiosity.

Most of the time, I'd wait for the tea break, took the letters with me and sat myself down under the big shady tree in front of Ho Peng Cafe. Danny, young, trusty and dependable Danny, just knew that I needed to be in the right mood to devour the contents of the letters. He'd choose some of my Abba favourites from the old juke-box. Or most of the time it'd be Hopelessly Devoted To You, over and over again as I read and reread his jottings, his jokes, his diary. Nothing mushy.

"Play it again, Danny," I'd murmur dreamily as I reread para 4 of page 20. Danny would faithfully drop a few more coins in the box, and as the ships passed by unnoticed and the mee goreng mamak that I ordered remain untouched, I'd continue reading, with Olivia Newton John tirelessly belting out Hopelessly Devoted To You.

Oh, did I say phonecalls were for emergencies only? Yeah, he did call one night to propose. And I breathlessly said, "Yes!"

Sunday 13 February 2005

Aaaah...the joy of sharing!

There are many reasons why I am reproducing the story below. One, as you must have suspected, I am experiencing what most over enthusiastic bloggers experience after a while, i.e. – blogger’s block. How pathetic it is to run out of ideas and to rehash old jokes forwarded to your mail. But this one, seeing its Valentine’s Day – is for those old romantic couples…of course I have given it a local treatment too. This is dedicated to Charles and Camilla as they share their old age together.

A couple in their seventies, walked in hand in hand to the warung and ordered a plate of nasi ayam and a glass of teh tarik. They also asked for an extra plate and an extra empty glass. All eyes were on them as people hardly see old couples holding hands and still very much besotted by each other.

When their order arrived, the woman carefully divided the food – two pieces of the chicken for the husband and two for her. Two scoops of rice for husband and two scoops of rice for her. The same with the teh tarek. Then she lovingly watched her husband eat, oblivious to the stares.

One concerned youngster approached them, and thinking they lacked money, offered to buy another plate of chicken rice. They politely refused.

When the husband finished eating, he went to the sink to wash his hands. The concerned youngster approached the old lady again and offered to buy her food. And again, she refused. The husband came back, sat down and lovingly handed to her something in a tissue.

Its his dentures, which his wife carefully fitted in her mouth, before proceeding to enjoy her nasi ayam.

“You see," the husband told the dumbstruck youngster, "we share everything!”

Saturday 12 February 2005

What it would be like to be six again...

I usually delete most mails forwarded to me. But seeing Valentine's Day is near, I suggest that wives and girlfriends read this properly and husbands and boyfriends, take note! I have sort of adapted the story a bit and given it a local flavour.

The husband asked his wife what she'd like for Valentine’s Day.

"I'd love to be six again," she replied.

On the morning of 14th February, he woke up early, got up, made her a nice big bowl of Cornflakes with prunes and nuts and then took her off to Sunway Lagoon. What a day!

They went on every ride in the park. They frolicked in the pool. They went into the tunnel and squeel with delight as they splash into the water again. He chased her around the garden and even tried to carry her piggy back, before going to the skating rink. And five hours later she staggered out. Her head was reeling and her stomach felt upside down. Her limbs were aching.

They drove to a McDonald's where her loving husband ordered her a Happy Meal with extra fries and a refreshing chocolate shake. Then it was off to a movie to see the latest blockbuster, a hot-dog, popcorn, a soda pop, and her favorite candy, M&M's.

What a fabulous adventure!

Finally she wobbled home with her husband and collapsed into bed, exhausted. He leaned over his precious wife with a big smile and lovingly asked, "Well, dear, what was it like being six again?"

Her eyes slowly opened and her expression suddenly changed.

"Is that what this crazy day was all about? You idiot, I meant my dress size!"

The moral of the story: Even when a man is listening, he's still gonna get it wrong!!!

So, ladies, spell it loud and clear what you want for tomorrow!!

Thursday 10 February 2005

A Tribute to my friend Diana...

So, he IS getting married again, after all this time, eh? The news splashed across the screen, a friend from Singapore called for confirmation after receiving a text message and by noon everyone was already talking about it. How could he? I am so upset.

Well, I was there when he married the first one. Such a lovely girl, English rose and all. I remember tripping all over the campers camping all along Fleet Street leading to St Pauls, to catch a glimpse of what was hailed a Fairy tale wedding. The world and her grandmother came, and those who couldn't, stayed home and watched TV.

This time, even if I am in town, I will not go. I will even unplug the TV on April 8th.

My memories and loyalty to the first one is still very strong. Reminds me of my Tok Su. When he took on a second one, I couldn't forgive him. I am always loyal to the first one.

Apparently, their marriage (not my Tok Su's) was doomed from the beginning. Well, I read somewhere that while the first one was still blissfully ignorant of the threat of the other woman, he was constantly on the phone to her...and at one point even admitting that he wished he was the tampon in her er...small things! Yearggghhh!

How can a woman take so much from her husband and at the same time try to put on a public face? I really admired her. Still blooming in the face of all these terrible things happening to her and publicly too!

When their first baby was born, mine was only a year old. But in my mind, I imagine us sharing bringing-up baby tips together. You know, she was the kind of person who can be anyone's friend. It's difficult not to imagine otherwise when she was in your front room day and night, staring at you from the glossy covers of magazine in bookshops, and smiling coyly from everything from postcards to mugs at souveiner shops.

I imagine telling her how to change nappies and deal with nappy rash on the royal bottom. I imagine we'd meet at the Mothers and Tots for coffee, before her chauffeur whizzes her off to another ribbon cutting ceremony. And I imagine she'd confide in me about the other woman that we were all reading about in the tabloids. And I'd hear her giggle over my dress sense!

The closest I got to her was of course via the man whose hands touched her royal feet to make her shoes. He used to make me laugh with his impersonation of her - looking coyly from underneath those lashes, with that tilt of her head at a certain angle.

Their separation was announced on my wedding annivesary and I remember feeling so sad. We who have nothing yet have everything (that matters).

Anyway, I lied when I said the closest I got to her was through her shoe maker. I actually saw her at close distance at the annual garden party in Buckingham Palace. Oh, no, I lied again...I only saw her nose - such a big nose too. At these garden parties, for shorties like us from Malaysia, its difficult to get a good view of the royals doing their rounds because people tend to wear big, funny hats. So, in between those feathers and wide hats - I caught a glimpse of her nose, before I was flapped sideways by a giant hat, pushing her way to the front.

Back to he who made her shoes. He was of course devastated when she was killed in the crash. He had just received a fax for another order of her favourite design. I had to counsel him on what black shirt to wear.

I remember that day very well. I was on the way to a Merdeka celebration, in my bright red kebaya!! And when I got there, the women were all crying having heard the morning news. Rushed to Buckingham Palace and got some verbal abuse from the mourners there. What with me in glaring red on a day of mourning and pointing my camera everywhere! Such audacity, and from a Malaysian paparazzi pulak tu!

Anyway, I spent the next few days joining the mourners and looking at the sea of flowers, reading those heartfelt messages, outside her residence in Kensington Gardens. I really felt the loss. Every woman, who is a wife felt for her and felt her loss.

And now on my trips to Paris, I never failed to visit the place where she met her tragic fate. Its like paying respects to an old friend who went before her time, before she could share tips with me on how to dress well.

So, okay Charles - go on then and marry Camilla. At your age, you can do with the companionship. A blogger buddy and I were bitching just now and we came up with several advise for them. It was suggested that Charles go for some traditional urut and Camilla for mandi bunga.

Personally, I think, Diana could have done a Bobbit!

Tuesday 8 February 2005

Customs and exercising it...

I didn’t plan to blog today, because my cats are starving and children are about to stage a coup. But I read in today’s paper about one of the most unimaginable acts listed under the do’s and don’ts when dealing with royalties, being violated. One that surely merits no less than a pancung or sula as punishment.

The champion of the Le Tour de Langkawi, Graeme Brown, in his moment of jubilation, lifted his sweat-soaked cap and put it on the royal head!!! – in front of thousands at the stadium as well as via live tv!!!

I can almost see it in slo mo effect that moment as cheers of congratulations turned into one of shock, horror, registering on the faces of Malaysians. Have you heard, Graeme, of “Biar mati anak jangan mati adat?” (Let the children die, but not the customs.) Didn’t your PR person brief you on this?

Of course Graeme knew the person who shook his hands at the podium, but he forgot!! In his excitement he forgot!!! BUT in the Malay book of adat, dear Graeme, the head is a no no! ESPECIALLY a Royal head!! Be thankful you are not living during the reign of Sultan Mahmud, or there’d be no more place for that cap of yours to rest on.

Now, let me check my notes on Sejarah Melayu.

Well, our loyalty to King and country, according to the Sejarah Melayu, goes back to the social contract as agreed between Demang Lebar Daun and Sri Tri Buana – a pledge of undivided loyalty from the subjects in return for protection by the ruler. And much, much, later of course, Sultan Muhammad, came up with a lengthy do’s and don’ts that put the ruler at their place and the subjects, where they belong. This includes the wearing of yellow, as yellow is the royal colour, speak only when spoken to, colour coded umbrellas, etcetra, etcetra - many too tedious to elaborate.

Sure, many of these adats applied and still do apply to the subjects, and a Malay who does not know an adat is as good as kurang ajar, tak tahu bahasa – lack of education. But, even then, during the height of prosperity of the Malay kingdom, when foreign traders flocked the port and dealt with the rulers personally, non conformance or outright disregard of an adat by them was also frowned upon. When Adipati Kampar bearing gifts went straight in to see Sultan Alaudin Ria’yat Shah, he was reprimanded for seeking audience without being accompanied by the Seri Nara Di Raja. According to the Sultan, that tantamount to destroying any ceremonial rites.

Bendaharas too had their own adats. They, in turn, reprimanded those who showed disrespects to the king. One of them told off Raja Mendaliar (a Muslim Indian) when he greeted the bendahara without waiting for the Sultan first.

“… maka Raja Mendaliar pun datang hendak menyembah Bendahara Seri Maharaja, lalu ditepiskan oleh Bendahara tangan Raja Mendaliar, seraya katanya, "Ceh, Keling ini, tiada tahu bahasa; patutkah tuan hamba menyembah hamba di balai raja ini? “ Sejarah Melayu:239:23

Translated: Oik, foreigner, wait for the king, first lah! Then we can talk at Starbucks!”

Suffice to say, he kept his head.

But seriously, as one of the tudungs that I don by way of earning a living in this country, I do briefings for expats before they go for their stints in our country. There is a place called Centre for International Briefing at Farnham Castle, where would-be expats and their families stay for about a week to learn, not only the language, but also the do’s and don’ts.

Yes, they want to know about our customs – about not touching the heads, not pointing the sole of your feet, about using the thumb to point, about leaving shoes outside the door..and so on and so forth.

Actually, I quite like the HSBC ads that you see along the travelator at Heathrow. Red in China is good luck, while in Western countries, a sign of danger, cheese in a mousetrap in Europe but ikang kering in Malaysia. As you travel out to the country of your destination, it is good to understand the culture there – and yeah, respect, man! Didn’t you see that one, Graeme?

Well, apparently not. I read further and it seems that dear Graeme is from Australia, whose PM patted Queen Elizabeth on the shoulder during her visit there some time ago! Ish ish ish, Aussies ni!!!

Sunday 6 February 2005

Of Jamaluddin Alias and that gush of patriotism...

...musings of a Malaysian in a foreign land.

I was reading about national anthems and patriotic songs in another blog when I remember having written something about it:

WHEN I left my country for these foreign shores, the tuneful notes of patriotism that clung to my mind were mostly in the gusto baritone of Jamaludin Alias, belting away lines that would have raised the spirits of even the most cynical of Malaysians abroad.

These were songs that would have pulled you up to your feet, and walk proudly with your head held high. Songs like "Malaysia kita sudah berjaya..." and Perajurit Tanah Air were practised in earnest in schools and colleges throughout the land days before Merdeka Day, sending a rush of patriotic feeling in all.

These same songs I heard years later filling the chilly, foreign air of the Birmingham National Indoor Arena when flag-waving Malaysians from near and far sang as they cheered on Rashid Sidek and other Malaysian players at the annual All England Badminton Championship. Never mind that they rarely got to bring the cup home. The spirit was there.

I remember one year when Malaysia was playing against Indonesia in the finals. Malaysian supporters, drapped in Malaysian flags filled half the NIA, while the Indonesian supporters, not even a quarter. Gosh, I could feel the rush of emotions as we all sang the lyrics, "Sebelum kita berjaya...jangan harap kami pulang..." The Indonesians had more faith in their players and were quiet. And we lost, and somewhere from the corner of the arena, as we were leaving, we heard a group singing sadly, "Pulang, marilah kita pulangggggg..."

Anyway, I never realised that there were so many new patriotic songs until I was given the task of training a choir group for one occassion here. There's the beautiful and melodious Sejahtera Malaysia sung by Siti Nurhaliza, the equally heartwrenching Setia and of course the future-to-behold Wawasan songs.

The response of the choir group was a heavy emotional overload. Perhaps I underestimated what it was like to be a Malaysian abroad, but the response from Malaysians here was totally unexpected. Everyone wanted to be involved.

I blinked back tears as I watched five to six-year-olds mime lines like "rela berkorban apa saja... and I wondered whether they understood the meaning of the lyrics penned with such strong emotions. Did they harbour the same strong feelings and awareness that we, as kids at school, once had when told that these songs were for Malaysia? Perhaps not. There was here something a bit more, that special ingredient that made all of us, being abroad, feel so close to home.

Amongst the youngsters were children of my own who were blissfully unaware of Malaysian patriotic songs until they turned up for that first practice session in Malaysia Hall. We had played our old songs for them just to give them an inkling of what music was like in the old home but indifference was the order of the day. Our quaint lilting keroncong was no contest for The Corrs or the Boyzones of the day.

Undoubtedly, parents of children born and brought up in a foreign land have this extra task of educating their offspring in their culture, language and values. What more patriotism. It's no easy task. I once taught them the National Anthem. The first line was as easy as pie. It was the second that proved tricky, in fact downright difficult. How do you translate tanah tumpahnya darahku to someone untutored in the hyperbolic inclinations of the Malay language? Don't get me wrong. This wasn't a rejection of their motherland. I still treasure the memory of my eldest son, now in his twenties, who was so proud of being Malaysian that he would rush upstairs to put on his batik shirt whenever we had visitors from the home country.

Sure, being Malaysian is more than being kitted out in a batik shirt. We are still working hard on it. As for the values, there's no problem there. We defend vigorously our traditional and eastern values in the face of strong peer influence, especially when dealing with our two older ones who were educated in a Saudi school. They may have strong Arabic accents and mannerisms but they are Malaysians by far.

H is speaking more Malay, thanks partly to his early infatuation with Siti Nurhaliza and her songs which he heard during one visit home. We say this proudly even if he thinks berbicara di satu ketika (in a Nurhaliza song) means holding an amorous conversation on a mat, having mistaken tika for tikar!

And while Malaysians are flocking to the Soccer Mania shop in London to buy Manchester United shirts, my sons are proud to wear the Malaysian football stripes. But, as they grow older, because of the acceptance of the Malaysian community, especially the expat community in London, they are becoming more involved in activities organised for Malaysians in London, even seeking them out in Hyde Park on Wednesday afternoons for a bout of rambunctious football.

I remember how proud our youngest was to be able to carry the bunga manggar at a Malaysian wedding. The third was pleased as punch when she was asked to distribute the bunga telor. Our second child, whose only other traditional dance she knew was the belly dance, is now actively involved in traditional Malay dances since her first performance at a shopping centre in north London. She did Ulit Mayang beautifully - a legend from Terengganu, her father's birthplace and which he proudly claims is the only country in the world. He he!

Coming back to patriotic songs, there have been questions raised as to whether we still need them as we have acquired our independence and achieved what was once pronounced unachievable by the west. We no longer have the threats of enemies, internal or external, but the answer must remain yes because they have been testing times. And it was during this times that we need that stir of emotions again.

Being 12,800km away, it is always a treat to sometimes watch and even participate in Malaysian cultural events. It reminds us of who we are and where our hearts lie.

Friday 4 February 2005

No-lah, we're not thaaaat British!

HOW often have I had to bite my tongue to remarks such as "Oh, if you've been here for 25 years and have bought a house, you must be British!"

Such simplistic assumptions! But I always managed to assert my Malaysianness in that truly Malaysian style: "No-lah!" If buying a house and being on British soil for yonks can qualify you as a citizen, then Mohamaed Al-Fayed with his magnificent world-famous street corner shop at Knightsbridge wouldn't have a problem, would he?

These days, it is almost impossible to switch on the telly or read the newspapers without listening to or reading someone's opinions about who is British and who is not. Yet the question is not as simple as it sounds. Even if you're white and speak with the best BBC pronunciation, it still wouldn't guarantee you the status.

But then again, our corner shop newsagent, a Mr Patel (for almost always a newsagent in Britain is a Patel), is proud to admit that he is British. He calls me Mrs Van, for even after all these years, his Indian tongue still twists the letter W.

In my own household, the question of being British was raised, I think only once.

"Am I British, Mama?", questioned our youngest, who was then 10. He asked because his British-born best friend who was of Indian origin told him that he was entitled to a British passport as he was born in London.

We put his confused mind to rest by telling him that because his parents are Malaysians, he and the rest of his siblings are Malaysians even if his sister spoke and behaved like an Arab.

Making Britain our adopted home was never part of our initial plan but back in the Eighties, getting a job was easy and becoming a permanent resident wasn't so difficult.

The thought of changing our citizenship never entered our minds even at a time when it meant that we had to queue up behind the signs that for a time said "Aliens" or "Others" at the immigration.

To borrow a phrase from George Mikes (pronounced Me-cash), the author of How to be a Brit, I came of age in Britain four years ago. But how much of my Malaysianness have I retained and how much of Britishness have I adopted during all these years?

I remember a remark made by someone I had not met for a long time. He said: "After all these years away, you still have a thick Kedah accent"

To be frank, had I stepped off the plane all kitted with gloves and hat like the Queen Mother and spoke like her daughter, I would still get the critical treatment - I would have been termed as angin or putting on airs. So one can never win, can one?

And how British can one get when I still can't understand why lunches are called dinners and dinners, suppers. Why is it that children go to public schools which are actually private? Why is it that anything that is served is "luvly" even when it tastes like the dog's dinner which is actually lunch?

Why is it so important that milk is poured in a cup before the tea, and plates are heated up before being served? Such riddles, I believe, are meant to confuse foreigners enough and make them leave British shores. Diehards, however, stay on to try and solve the mystery of Britishness.

It's impossible, however, to stay this long and not get some Britishness rubbing off on you. Some you really have to learn the hard way. For example, I've stopped using the two-finger sign when ordering, say, two pounds of grapes. The first time I did that, the fruitseller said: "Same to you, luv!" and
proceeded to serve the next customer.

I've learnt to queue patiently for a bus, a taxi, a sales counter and even toilets even if I was bursting to go! It is a no-no to pick and choose your own fruits as you would at Pekan Rabu or at a pasar malam, and the same goes to speaking to a sales assistant who is serving someone else.

I've learnt to stand on the right of escalators to allow others to walk up or down. I'm also becoming used to a "potluck" meal that actually means you going empty handed to finish off whatever's in the pot of the host and not, as in Malaysia, to expect it to be an occasion to bring your own.

And when a man says, "Shall I play mother", I know that he's dead serious about his role to pour the tea and serve the cakes and nothing more than that!

As immigrants, legal and illegal, still come teeming to this land of opportunity where the streets are supposedly paved with gold, the British too have improved their knowledge of geography and about the population of the world that are arriving at their doorsteps.

In earlier days, I have been called an Iranian in Scarborough, a Filipino in Brighton and a Thai at a garden party in Buckingham Palace. Now, not only do they know where Malaysia is, they have even learnt to go native and share dishes at Malaysian or Indian restaurants. The amusing way Britishers used to tackle their ethnic meal was quite individualistic - they just plonked whatever was theirs wholesale onto their rice heap.

And YESSSSS!!!! Recently, we went home and took possession of our brand new smart card IC! Our son now carries it proudly in his wallet!!

Tuesday 1 February 2005

Of nicks and cyberworld buddies...

Reading about the Nasi Dagang Party held in honour of Pok Ku, reminded me of the get together of our own cyberworld friends. I belong to a network of Malays around the world and we have met several times in many places in Malaysia, Singapore and around Europe, to put faces to nicks, so to speak.

And reading the comments, I wonder, if like us, the bloggers who met for the first time at that party, recognised each other instantly from the jottings that reveal quite a lot about the jotters.

Do the nicks fit the image that you have of the person? What’s the story behind the nicks?

We had our first gathering three years ago, when I was back in Malaysia and as there were other members who flew back from Bangladesh, America, Germany, Australia, we met up with members who travelled down from Singapore for a meeting with friends we have only been meeting online. Needless to say, the food was untouched as we chatted like old friends.

Before this, we shared our joys and sorrows as perantaus. We created our own community and cyber families that remained steadfast to this day. We rejoice in each other’s success as a member makes it in a foreign land, and offer advise and words of consolation each time a perantau receives news of death or illness from home. We create our own cerpen bersambung and berbalas pantun and recently tried online television culminating in a Ramadan and hari raya programme, with lagu hari raya bersambung by members from all around the world. It was hilarious and such fun! We’ve learnt so much from each other. From someone who could only paste and cut, I can now do online tv!! Hooray! Thanks to Bro Ming in Melbourne.

Anyway, coming back to that first meeting, I knew instantly who was Senyumanis from Germany, whose style of speaking is just like her jottings, so warm and wonderful. Sweethuneyz the bubbly lass from Australia, Kazoo, warm and demure from America, Maknenek funny and talented from Germany and many more. And the funny thing is, even when we found out each other’s real name, we’d still call each other by the nicks that we are used to.

We were featured in the local newspaper which of course meant that the number of hits for the site increased immediately. The next meeting was in Singapore, the turn out big enough to merit a two page feature in the Singapore Berita Harian.

These cyber friends had visited me in London too – Malays seeking Malays in a foreign land. Jintanmama, whose friendship I treasure dearly, came all the way from Sweden, so did memento from Holland and KasaRubia from Australia. And of course, how can I forget my dear, dear cyberfriend who had become my sidekick and partner in crime, klmuk from Aberdeen. Her words of advise and encouragement saw me through my darkest hours as I contemplated whether to plunge into the world of academia.

All these wonderful networkings started by someone who felt very lonely when she moved to LA. With enough knowledge of IT and the internet, she started the site with two friends. I joined them not too long after that and now I have buddies in Oklahoma, San Francisco, Costa Rica and Saudi.

Coming back to the nicks, I have never been imaginative with mine. Kak Teh is what my younger siblings call me to my face but I daren’t imagine what they call me behind my back! Now, as I have a small circle of blogger friends here, I wonder what atenah, atiza, kak ngah, blaberella, doreen and honeytar look like or how they came about their nicks. But from their jottings you can sort of put a rough picture together.

I see atenah, this intellectual who talks to anyone in the bus and holds deep intellectual conversations with her hippy friends and only once in a while looks up only to make that difficult decision of what coffee to order. She has vision, this lady, and I wish her luck!

There’s nadia all motherly and homely, and sticks to her routine religiously as she homeschooled her children. I envy her commitment and dedication. And I stand to attention as I type this.

There’s chek ngah, mutterings in Javanese, missing her daughter back home. She has lots of stories to tell.

There’s maknenek ( but I have met her! And she is not a nenek!) still transitting in Germany, with Egyptian husband. When she is not sobbing away watching Bollywood films, she is playing with the love of her life – little Salma. She is a damn good editor too!

And of course Blaberella , who conjures a picture of a barbie doll but is infact a cigar smoking professional that once caught the notorious eyes of Mike Tyson and live to tell the story. She is still besotted by her hubadubs of fifteen years and busy making it on her own in this cruel wide world.

There’s riza in his own world of mysticism, wearing crumpled unironed clothes but damn good, witty observer of what goes on around him.

Woman in the well just came into my blogging life. I had her as Woman at the well and that is how I want to imagine her. I bloghopped to her site via atenah’s and delighted is not enough to describe my feelings. I imagine this seventy something lady sitting at her well, hunched over her laptop, churning all those beautiful stories effortlessly, stories that come only in my dreams. She is such an inspiration. I imagine her with hat perched on her well–coiffered bun to shelter her tanned beautiful face from the scorching Brazilian sun. She is kind and thoughtful and her eyes that have witnessed so much in her rich life, sometimes twinkle with mischief as she recalls an incident that brings a smile to her face. She with those sensible shoes and colourful attires as she dashes here and there, feeling young and more alive than any of us combined. I imagine her still in her youth, enjoying life to the fullest and through her blog, aspires me to do the same.

There’s many more – and how can I forget Pok Ku,Pak Adib, Atok and Awang Goneng who are responsible for me blogging first thing in the morning and last thing at night. But we all know about Pok Ku and as for Awang Goneng well… Suffice to say, thanks to these two, even my dreams are now in Terengganu Malay!

Well, if you happen to be in London and you see this elderly lady, chasing after some old men, preferably sailors or ageing film stars, muttering words you couldn't understand, turning right when she should be turning left, then that's Kak Teh!

ps, blogger buddies, tell me if I am wrong about you!