Wednesday 31 December 2008

Have a Happy and a Prosperous 2009!!

It is not even three, yet the room is enveloped with darkness and I am too lazy to move and switch on the light. The air outside is still and the bare branches of the acer, from where I am sitting, look like untidy scratchings against the grey canvas of a sky. It is a good time to reminisce and reflect, with nothing but the mobile heater humming in the background.

According to the news, it is going to be a freezing new year and the next few days will not see the temperature climbing further than four degrees C. But it is nothing compared to the freezing conditions endured by our blogger friends Naz and Lyana in Norway.

This is the thing about blogging, eh? One click, you are transported from somewhere in the blistering heat of the desert where bloggers like Elisataufik and Lollies are to the freezing winter conditions of Norway or Finland.

It is a beautiful world, this cyberworld – that is if we want to make it so. I looked back at my archives and just realised that I had actually passed my 4th blogevasary – that was on 25th December. I remember writing my maiden entry called “ Blame it on the Jetlag” and my only commenter was Pak Adib or Berisman who has been a longtime friend since we met in London.

Since then, I have met many wonderful people along the way – sharing their stories and experience, no matter where they are. I love the banter, the jokes and the nostalgic trips that we urge each other to take with us.

Recently there was a Mak Cik Bloggers’ meet in Kuala Lumpur organised by Mrs N, and attended by many such as Madam Tai Tai in Dhaka, Wanshana, Ezza, Kay, Tireless Mom and many more whose blogs I have frequented to join in their fun. And what a scene they must have caused meeting up like old friends. This reminds me of our Mak Cik Bloggers meet some years ago, when I went back to Malaysia and the gathering was organised by AuntyN, Mak Andeh and attended by Ood, Blabs, Anedra, Intan Nazrah, Elisa from Finland and many, many more. To mark our gathering, we had blogger Adiejin whose talents know no bounds, to create a memento – a Mak Cik Blogger vase – that I still have until today.

Excuse me while I turn on the light – it is truly dark now and am just bidding time before going out for a New Year’s dinner with some friends at Holiday Villa.

Anyway, it was recently too that we met up with blogger Jaflam, who came to London with his lovely wife. Both of them joined us for a celebration of 4 wedding anniversaries at Tok Din’s house – and let me not talk about the food!

I met Jaflam in the early nineties when blogging was still unheard of. I was on the plane back from Sabah. As fellow travellers, we got talking and he told me that he was coming to London for a meeting. That was when we met up again and our friendship was renewed in blogosphere when we found each other’s blogs. Last year, he played host and invited many other bloggers who had bought my husband’s GuiT. There we met Mat Salo, Zabs, Akmal, Ancient Mariner, Elviza and many more.

Of course during that same trip too, we met up with Pok Ku, Pak Idrus, Ruby Ahmad, Fauziah Ismail of Xmatters and Jiwarasa.

Two days ago, while reading the accounts of the Mak Cik Bloggers’ meet at Zaitgha’s blog, I decided to order some cupcakes and muffins that have been tantalising me from afar. I gathered that, even if I couldn't taste them myself, I could at least order them for my clan back in Bangi and Kajang. What a wonderful world the net is. It is also through the net that I met Ninnie and Nek, whose blogs are a no no to those who cannot resist temptations of buying branded goods online. In fact, I think I gave in to the temptation not once but twice and bought something for myself and one for my beloved sister-in-law.

These last few months I have discovered more precious and interesting blogs such as Masterwordsmith, Argus, Atabib, Mat Chendana, Bangkai, Anak SiHamid, Mamasita, Mummy Rokiah , Pugs and of course Pak Cik and his wonderful stories. And I’d be deluding myself if I say I have not enjoyed Piah and the antics of her very interesting and creative commenters. Where else can you meet our own alternative Hollywood stars, if not at Piah's. They have provided quite an entertainment during some boring winter evenings.

Thank you all for making the gloomy days and nights more tolerable and for transporting me to a more bearable weather condition, even if it is only in the mind. Thank you too for commenters who have made me all the richer with your interesting inputs– Hi & Lo, Mek Yam, NanaDJ and Pak Malim – me thinks it is high time you share your stories with us . Afterall aMiR has already started his GuiKP, ghosting the blog for his son.

I am sure there’s more that should be in the list and I do appreciate your visits here. Thank you . I think most of you have ushered in 2009 while we, on this side of the world, have a few more hours of 2008. So, I’m going to curl up on the sofa and share the heat radiating from Tabby, and think about this past year and ponder what 2009 has in store for me.

Have a Happy and Prosperous 2009!!

PS. Am having problems linking the sites but will be back later to try again.

Monday 29 December 2008

A Story of a Selfless Journey

I remember May 1981 as if it was only yesterday. It was the summer when I was heavy with baby and wrought with anxiety of how I would cope with the pain, the responsibilities of a new arrival in the family.

But it was in May, I distinctly remember the arrival of a couple and their young son at our apartment in Bayswater. They were relatives from the husband’s side of the family. Before this, my introduction to his side of the family was short and sweet and before I could understand their Trengganuspeak, it was already time to say goodbye.

Their brief stay with us was the beginning of a relationship that has come to mean a lot to me. They came into my life at a time when I needed much pampering and Kak Mah provided that plus nasi dagang on a platter. Abang Ngah reminded me of my brother, my uncles all rolled into one. They were easy to talk to and I felt most comfortable with them, so much so that when the time came for them to leave, I practically begged them to stay. I remember standing there at the door of our apartment in Chapel Side, tears rolling down my cheeks as I begged them to stay and be with me for the birth of my first child. But they had to leave and it was a few days later that I gave birth.

But we were to meet again when they came again, this time for a longer period as Abang Ngah came to work. In them, I saw a model family, so caring, so loving. I will always remember Kak Mah’s words; be friends with your children. Make sure that they come to you when they need to speak about anything.

Anyway, what I am about to share here, is more than just our relationship. In the spirit of Maal Hijrah, I would like to share a story of a journey that both Kak Mah and Abang Ngah had embarked on. On their journey, they had selflessly taken others on board.

When Abang Ngah retired, he and Kak Mah could have enjoyed their retirement days travelling the world, but instead as a family, they pulled their resources together, garnered their energy and knowledge to set up a trust – The Almanar Trust - in 1994. The aim was “ ….to provide academic support to deserving individuals who have slipped through the formal channels due to various circumstances.”

In short, Abang Ngah, Kak Mah and their children felt it was time they repay society by handpicking students in need, by offering free tuition in English, Science and Maths. In a house across theirs, built in 1996, Abang Ngah tutors children from neighbouring areas. Those in need of transport were offered bicycles. To persuade others to help with the teaching, he has even offered motorbikes. Their own children, who by then had their own careers, donated the first few computers. Read here for more Pak Cik's Stories, where he shares with them his adventures abroad, his life's experience.

I am humbled by their selfless efforts; Abang Ngah’s tireless devotion and dedication and Kak Mah’s and the children’s unwavering support. Over the years, Almanar had seen the fruits of these dedication – many had passed with flying colours, especially in Maths, English and Science.

Last year, at around this time, I met up with Abang Ngah and Kak Mah, in their house in Terengganu, overlooking the South China Sea. It was an ideal setting for a couple in retirement, to enjoy their time together. But for Abang Ngah, there is still a lot of work to be done. Over the sound of the roaring sea, Abang Ngah talked about the lack of reading materials and most of all support, to help him tutor these children in need. But I do not see him giving up. And now through his blog, he has taken them aboard this journey with him in the quest for education.

So, on this blessed day of Maal Hijrah, may I wish both Abang Ngah and Kak Mah and their wonderful children, more wonderful years ahead in your endeavour to take others less fortunate on this journey with you.

Picture taken from

Salam Maal Hijrah

Dapatkan Mesej Bergambar di Sini

Thursday 25 December 2008

Sunday 21 December 2008

On This Shortest Day of the Year

NINETEEN SEVENTY-NINE was coming to a close and the media was busy reviewing the year’s events. There was the exile of the Shah of Iran, the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, the gruesome discovery of Pol Pot’s atrocities, the revelation by Voyager 1 and many more. Personally, the end of 1979 opened a new chapter in my life in a new country, in a new role. I arrived at the crack of dawn on 20 December in Britain, which was not only in the grip of winter but also that of Margaret Thatcher.

Standing at the exit of the plane in my batik kebaya and an excuse of a cardigan, I felt the brutal force of the British weather smack on my trembling knees and as I gasped for air, out came a cloud of smoke not unlike the experience when you open the freezer. I nearly let go of my precious vanity case as my hands felt numb.

Home then was a warm, cosy room in what was then Coburg Hotel in Queensway on the top floor with a view of Kensington Gardens. The trees were bare and straggly and the sky was grey. Five days before Christmas, people were out doing their last minute shopping and we joined the crowd in Queensway moving towards Whiteleys, then the biggest and one of the oldest departmental stores in London, to get jumpers and gloves. I remember stopping at shops along the way, enjoying the blast of warm air at the entrance and feeling reluctant to go out into the cold again. Whiteleys provided a brief respite from the cold when we needed to go to Asiatic Store, our local halal butcher, or to Khans Restaurant, our favourite haunt until today.

It is a different Whiteleys today filled with shops from the high streets as well as cafes. Yesterday, we sat having tea at Costa Café, and I looked out to see what else is left of Queensway today. Gone is the cinema that we used to frequent at the top of the road. In its place is TGIF. Whiteleys has eight cinemas and the price is astronomical! Boots the chemist has replaced Underwoods at the corner of the road leading to the present day Malaysia Hall. Woolworth, a favourite store and a poor cousin of Marks and Sparks had long been replaced by one supermarket after another. By the first week of next month, all remaining chains will close down for good. Many shops came and went, but one is still standing proud. London’s oldest coin operated laundrette is still as busy as the day I took my laundry there twenty-nine years ago.

And suddenly what passed before our eyes brought us back to the here and now. Three lads walked past where we were sitting in Costa Café, temporarily obscuring our view of the laundrette. One of the lads was our son, out with his friends. He was born a year after our arrival, so Queensway is very much a familiar territory to him as we took him everywhere in his pushchair or perched high on his father’s shoulders.

Queensway couldn’t be a better place for someone so homesick even after a few months away. The Mara hostel was just a few streets away from where we were. Most days we'd bump into Malaysian students making their way to universities. The warden and wife were friends of my husband. In fact, my first temporary coat was a borrowed one from the wife. When they left, they gave us something which I have until today – batu tumbuk sambal.

Not far from us was Bunga Raya restaurant, another place we frequented in search of crab sambal. I remember the first time we had lunch there, I choked on my rice as I heard Sharifah Aini singing some of my favourites from a cassette player in the kitchen.

I remember my first leather jacket and knee high boots with heels that made walking such a painful experience, especially on icy roads. The husband has a knack of saying wherever we were going was only 5 minutes away. And I’d be ouching in my boots for half an hour before reaching any destination.

Sitting where I am today, feeling all nostalgic, I just couldn’t imagine that I could survive this long here. I can still smell the repulsive smell of smoked mackerels served in the breakfast room of Coburg Hotel, the equally nauseating smell of boiled cabbages that filled the corridors of the block of apartments where we lived temporarily along Queensway and also the sweet and inviting aroma of chestnuts roasting on open fires at street corners and carol singers singing jingle bells in front of Selfridges. I remember the disasters in the kitchen, the pangs of missing families back home and the expensive phone calls that temporarily cured the pain. I remember Mak's first visit, the search for jobs and the changing seasons.

There have been three Prime Ministers since Thatcher, the economy has gone up and down and down, Britain has been involved in several wars; some on her own home grounds. There were as many joys too to make this 29 years memorable; the children came in quick succession, we've sighted the Haley Bop and made many good friends.

I am thankful that I arrived in a Britain that was already familiar with the taste of curry, its music and songs influenced by the upbeat sound of reggae and its restaurants served halal kebabs and satay.

Today on 21st December, I remember exactly 29 years ago, my husband of hardly two weeks, tried to cheer me up by promising that the day would get longer by two minutes each day. And it did.

Kak Teh's walk down memory lane:

Did you know....?
Down Memory Lane

Friday 19 December 2008

These shoes are made for....

Someone's getting lots of shoes for Christmas!!

The place: The American Embassy in London
The date: 19th Dec. 2008
The time: 1pm - 2pm

Tuesday 16 December 2008

The Journey Begins

Eighteenth December '79 was the departure date from Changi Airport to London and a few days before that saw a whirl of activities, which now comes back to me as a montage of events in no particular order. There were visits to get to know newly acquired relatives in Terengganu, where I was instantly bestowed the title of Mek Jarroh, introduced to keropok lekor which I had an instant dislike for and brought back bales of batiks in all forms and sizes as proof of acceptance into the Wan family.

There’s also the trip to my home town in Alor Setar to introduce my husband to relatives who couldn’t make it to the do in KL. If I was confused by the names of relatives and friends I met in Kuala Terengganu, my husband was just as puzzled – there’s Pak Teh Man, Pak Teh Ei, Tok Su Pa, Pak Long Ei, Mak Teh Tah, Tok Cik Mat, Tok Cik Mei, Ngah Nab, Mak Njang..and not to mention the hundreds of cousins with names that defy logic.

I remember the look on his face when the whole clan came to say goodbye at the MARA bus terminal. He didn’t realise until then that he’d married into half the population of Kedah.

At that bus station, it wasn’t just goodbye to my aunt, uncles and cousins. It was also a sad farewell to Mee Sup Omar Bom, the smell of which still haunts my nostril, especially on this cold winter evening. Apart from Mee Rebus Abu, which had by then moved to Jalan Teluk Wan Jah, Mee Sup Omar (or Omark) Bom was high on the list of things that would make me plan a quick escape from cold dreary London.

The then new bus terminal was the home of Mee Sup Omark Bom, nestled amongst new shop lots not far from the droning sound of revving buses going to Kubang Pasu, Langgar, and Pumpong. It was at this bus terminal too we’d meet Ngah Chan who was a bus conductor. I was always very impressed with Ngah and his pouch of coins which he jingled as he walked up and down the aisle, collecting his fares. He’d give us a miss, with a wink of his left eye. As children, we looked forward to trips to Ngah’s house in Suka Menanti. It was like an adventure. Where the bus left us at Pantai Johor, we’d have to walk a short distance to wait for a perahu, which would take us on the swollen river with its teh susu like water, across to the other side where Ngah Nab would be waiting for us. Sometimes, we’d have the privilege to go on Tok Jam’s rakit, shrieking with excitement as Tok expertly pushed the raft with a long pole along the river bank. Sometimes, she’d do so with one hand trying to secure her sarong around her bony chest.

During the last few days in Alor Setar, I tried to take in the old St Nicholas Convent where I had spent a lot of my formative years being disciplined by nuns from Ireland and the majestic looking Sultan Abdul Hamid College where I had my first formal introduction to boys after a strict regime at SNC. Needless to say, it still holds a lot of happy memories. I remember the cycle on minibikes with ‘the gang’, our pony tails in matching ribbons, flying in the air as we zoomed past SAHC boys cycling in the opposite direction.

A trip to Pekan Rabu was mandatory, of course. Tok Su used to be the chairman of Pekan Rabu, a much respected figure in those days. Near Pekan Rabu was Cathay cinema where Pak would take us in two trishaws for a treat every month when he received his pay packet. Along the sidewalks were Gurkhas selling their wares; lots of trinkets and precious stones.

Anyway, leaving the house that Pak built for the last time, I took with me a piece of his old blanket, which had an aroma unmistakeably Pak – a blend of sweet Curve Cut tobacco and Tokohoon plasters that he used on his aching back.

I was not prepared for London as London was quite unprepared for me. My husband said there was no point buying thick winter clothes from the likes of Globe Silk Store or Kamdar, as usually they were two seasons behind. As my only knowledge of London was only from visuals on TV and from his letters when he was here earlier, who was I to argue. But I insisted on bringing one thing, which I thought was compulsory for all long distance travellers. I had seen many times on TV, British maams carrying them when they boarded planes or go on voyages. I had seen Chah leaving for Australia, carrying one. So, I had to get one – a vanity case that I was to carry on my maiden flight to London. Apart from that, I only had a whole suitcase of kebayas, photo albums and of course all our letters ito each other in blue air mail envelopes, that document the beginning of our journey together to this place that we now called home.

Kak Teh's other journeys

Down Memory Lane

Saturday 13 December 2008

Listless in London 2

The weather is not one you’d want to write home about. It is gloomy and wet and last night we missed the chance to see the full moon everyone the other side of the world is talking about. I woke up to the sound of rain pelting on the windowpane, the straggly outline of the naked acer looking menacingly still against the dark brooding sky, setting the mood for the day, the whole of Saturday.

It was a sort of anti climax to a wonderful week which started with the raya, which was cold but nice. It had the extra X factor because my siblings decided that it was a good day as any to celebrate Mak’s birthday. Mak’s birth date had been one long guesswork, mental arithmetic and at its best, logical deductions. Finally, it was decided that Hari Raya Haji would be her birthday, when she’d be surrounded by her anak cucu cicit. And for us who couldn’t be there, we sat before the pc, chaos reigning as per normal on raya mornings, and skyped, singing happy birthday to Mak, and watching her cucu cicits competing to blow the candles for her.

She was all smiles as she was smothered with kisses. I felt I was there and yet not there. When I left nearly 29 years ago, Mak was still the strong pillar of her small society, whose shoulder everyone cried on. Her memory was fantastic. You didn't need google or the who’s who directory to know who was related to whom and from which branch of the family. Today, she couldn’t even figure out the newcomer to the family – Sharifah Nasya – her great granddaughter who was born last month. Amidst the merriment, she did her asar three times.

That put us in a very cheerful mood indeed as we left for Malaysia Hall and was pleasantly surprised to have the former Mufti of Perlis, Dr. Asri Zainal Abidin, to lead the prayer and deliver the Eid Khutbah. A very inspiring khutbah indeed; a reminder to all of us, the meaning of sacrifice.

The cold and the slight drizzle outside didn’t stop us taking pictures for the album and while we were all posing and clicking away, we were alerted to the fact that someone with a huge wad of crisp £10 notes, was giving £20 raya money to young and old who had gone for prayers. The Wan family walked away with springs in their steps and had tea and cheese cakes before going home. Semoga Allah murahkan lagi rezki orang yang murah hati ini!

This raya was a repeat of last raya aidil fitri as both of us had to meet deadlines and delayed visiting friends. So, it was only at 8pm that we managed to get away from the pc and joined Nina and Faisal at Ani and Art’s Makan restaurant in Portobello.

It was almost midnight when we got back, and spent the last few minutes of our 28th year together sharing the earphone listening to a beautiful zikir on the I-Pod. How habits and priorities change with age, eh?

December 9th 2008 was coming to a close and we were still in front of our PC’s. But at the last minute, we decided to catch the late night movie at the Odeon in Queensway. There must have been only about ten people watching Changeling in cinema 3 at Whiteleys and it wasn’t quite the kind of movie you’d want to watch on your anniversary.But we sat right through some gory scenes, sharing Minstrels just like we used to whenever we were at the movies.

The temperature had dipped further when we emerged from the warmth of the cinema and by then we were famished. The Lebanese restaurant was the only one opened after the movie so we decided to share mixed grill before heading home to cats and children.

Queenway and Whiteleys with the pub around the corner in front of Boots that used to be Underwoods, the news agents and the tube stations are all familiar landmarks of this place that became home when we arrived almost three decades ago. It is still the place we haunt, the place we meet for tea or even breakfast. For a long while, Queensway to me was London. Anywhere outside Notting Hill Gate was foreign territory.

Last Thursday, the surau at Malaysia Hall held a Hari Raya kenduri with all the meat from the Korban. I met a new friend who had just arrived in London, as a bride to start her married life here. Like me she arrived on a cold and wet December morning and looking at her shivering in her paper thin kebaya, brought memories flooding back.

More listless moments:

Listless in London 1
And I was there too

Tuesday 9 December 2008

Twenty nine years together today, and not looking back...

And thank you Danial Ma, for such a beautiful tribute here.

But Kak Teh takes a peek here:

An Anniversary of Sorts
Thank you for another year

Sunday 7 December 2008

Selamat Hari raya Aidil Adha

Semoga sanak saudara dan kawan rakan
yang menjalankan ibadat haji mendapat haji mabrur.
Our prayers and thoughts to victims of floods and landslide
and other disasters in the world.

PS. It has been a GUiT year too! Happy one year of GUiT!

Thursday 4 December 2008

Yesterday Once More

We drove into the underground car park, with Karen Carpenter still belting out “Yesterday Once More”. There were many parking spaces but we went round and round buying time as none of us wanted to go home. We wanted this time to be together, but the guard making his rounds on the scooter was already getting suspicious of our intentions. So we found a space by the lift. With the headlights switched off, we stayed on in the car and accompanied Karen Carpenter as she finished off the song with…Every shalalalaa, every wo wo wo…still shinessss, every shing-a-ling-a ling as they started to sing, so fineeee…

“What would it be like if we had yesterday once more?” said a voice breaking the silence. As it was getting to be a bit eerie in the underground car park at that time of the night we decided to continue our conversation at the Korean restaurant above. It was above the sizzling of the prawns on the tapanyake and over the din of the hungry midnight crowd that we continued the conversation.

“Yes, what would it be like if we had yesterday once more?” came the nagging question again.

This line of conversation started when we met earlier in the day for lunch at one hotel in PJ, and continued amidst giggles and stifled laughters in the changing rooms of Subang Parade and now in the car park and a Korean restaurant, the one facing RTM.

We’ve known each other since primary one and my trips back home are never complete without outings with my dearest childhood friends. We tried to catch up with developments in our lives; work, family, menantus and cucus – everything. Every get-together was treated as if it was our last one. We all wanted to talk at the same time as if there’s no tomorrow; in the car park, by the side of the road, crammed in changing rooms - all natural progressions of what we used to do when we were growing up.

When that question was posed, we had all been married well over twenty years. Two in the group are already mothers in-law, one with grandchildren. There are still two of us in denial and refused to be dragged into that category.

So what is it? A quarterly review? How would you have lived your life if you are given yesterday once more? Would you have written your life’s sonata differently and plan a totally different storyboard? If only we are in charge of destiny, but we are not. We just plan and dream.

I had never been very ambitious but I did want to further my studies. Friends were applying to Ohio and Syracuse – places I imagined I would be had Eros not struck his arrows so soon. But brooding over lost opportunities only serves to close our eyes and hearts to others. So, I became a married woman at a time when I couldn’t even cook to save my life. Perhaps that was one area I could have prepared myself more. But then again, he didn’t even flinch when I washed the keropoks before frying them, nor did he bat an eyelid when I threw out the tempehs which I thought had gone bad. It was either a take away or eating out or a meal prepared from 8 am for dinner at 8pm. And that was usually after a long consultation with Mak over the phone.

Now, I am glad to say, I still cook very little. But those that I do, I do them well, mainly because those are the only dishes gracing my dinner table all the time, making repeated appearances until children discreetly order kebabs or pizzas for a bit of change. He? No, he never complained. For that I am grateful.

The opportunity to further my studies came a knocking again quite late in my life and I was thankful that I got the support from the whole family. The already chaotic lifestyle became even more chaotic as I began to spend more time at the university and the library than at home. And the day I received the scroll, and was greeted with a bouquet of flowers from my sayang mamas, I thought it was well worth it.

Would I have changed anything about being in a foreign land so soon after marriage? No. If anything, I treasure the time together, to get to know each other as husband and wife and try to live in each other’s bubbles as well as tolerate each other idiosyncrasies. He had had to put up with a lot of Alleycats or other craze and obsessions of mine. Understanding my spoonerism and malapropism was perhaps the biggest challenge but hey, he understands me when I say right and mean left.

We compromised over children – I wanted ten, he wanted lots of cats. Now we have four children and five cats. I gave away ten to the RSPCA while he was away.

There is no such thing as marriage being a bed of roses. But then perhaps I live in another garden. You just have to work things out and because you don’t have anyone else but each other, that’s what you do.

You have to try to sort out problems before the sun goes down, without having to resort to calling up your mother or siblings. I’ve learnt to wash away problems and anger by scrubbing the kitchen table or the bathroom floor.

Looking back, I remember wise words by Kak Adibah Amin when she heard that we were tying the knot. She said she always knew that something was going on and that we looked alike. And that was supposed to be good. I had not given much thought about it until I saw a recent photograph of us together. You don’t live together for more than twenty years without acquiring some mannerisms, some habits of the other. You learn to anticipate jokes, finish each other’s sentences and recognise the sound of the key in the lock. Though he no longer chased me up the steps to the station or hide behind a pillar to make me jump, I still laugh at his jokes. If we used to share malteasers while watching a movie, now he offers me supplements and vitamins.

I guess my yesterday once more would have just minor adjustments here and there but nothing major. My friends at the Korean restaurant too wouldn’t want it any other way. But it was a good session that we had apart from the tapanyake.

So, how would you live your life if you have Yesterday Once More?

Kak Teh's other yesteryears once more:
This Autumn of our Lives

Friday 28 November 2008

Heating up memories on a cold morning

The central heating gave a gurgling sound, waking up Snowbell who’s curled up in a ball on the sofa. She stretched and yawned and went back to sleep. Gizmo, like the queen she is, is sprawled on the carpet, enjoying the rare quiet and peace at home. I hope this won’t be a repeat of the great chill of 2000, when the central heating just gave up on us. It was to cost us £2000 to get a new one installed or else we’d freeze to death over the long cold weekend. The very thought of parting with that much money, in times of this credit crunch, gives me the shivers.

Twenty-nine years ago, at about this time, things like central heating and the plummeting temperature (and the value of the pound) were the least worrying things preying on my mind. There were more urgent matters; the passport needed to be done, the no pay leave application had to be processed, the goodbyes, and mak and kak had to be persuaded that no big buffaloes had to be slaughtered on account of our marriage. And oh, we had to do the necessary like getting engaged. Thank God, air tickets and accommodations were all arranged by the office. We just needed to get married and pack our bags.

It was just as well that both of us had just received our bonus from the company and off we went to the jewellers to pick a small yet beautiful solitaire that is to stay on my finger to this day. I will always remember the day I walked into the office with that ring on my finger. I kept looking at it when the phone rang. “Hello, tunang,” said a familiar voice at the other end of the line. My heart missed a beat and I looked out of my cubicle and saw my tunang, and suddenly felt all shy and embarrassed.

It must be the cold getting to my head and the empty house, filled with cats, lazy cats sleeping on the sofa, in front of the heater – everywhere. But memories of that brief period of being someone’s tunang before being upgraded to being a wife, just filled me with such a warm feeling that I too feel like curling up into a ball and go to sleep with dreams that will perhaps take me to those giddy days of courtship 29 years ago.

Other cold servings and other related side dishes:
Mee soup and Bollywood fantasy on a cold winter's day
Zai and Sri Mersing on a cold winter's night

Thank you for another year

Popping the Question

Tuesday 25 November 2008

Missing London or home? - £99 will take you there!

Details later. But in the meantime go to

£99 from Stansted London to KL - one way inclusive of tax!!

From Malaysia - to Stansted, London - RM499! (One way)

Book now for flights beginning 11th March 2009 till October 2009.

To take advantage of this starting offer - must book between now and 30th Nov 2008.

So, what are you waiting for?

Thursday 20 November 2008

One Autumn Day in the Life of a Malay Mak Cik in an English Town

Jen was out early walking her dog in the park enjoying the crisp autumn air. I could recognise her from her blazing red hair, which matches the colour of the leaves on the ground. Jen, still hippyish in her outlook and dressing, used to be our nextdoor neighbour before we moved to where we are now. Gosh, she has aged, says this Mak Cik not realising that age has also crept up on her. She was the neighbour who had provided us with much amusement sunbathing in all her glory throughout the summer of 85.

Up the road, Betsie poked her head out of the window and waved me off with her usual “Mind how you go, darlin’.” Had it been a warm summer’s day, we’d spend a few minutes of natter about this and that, about our girls who grew up together and about the worrying level of crime in the area. Betsie is almost family – her parents lived next to us and hers was the shoulder I cried on when our cat died. She had taken it to the vet, but it didn’t make it.

These days the walk up the road to our small town seems a bit tedious. I have sort of lost that spring in my steps, or don’t they put springs in shoes anymore? It took me a full ten minutes to reach the post office and by then the queue, something that the British do with passion, was already long. I used to joke with friends that soon I’d be queuing up for my pension at the post office. And now it doesn’t seem funny anymore.

At Mr Patel’s, our local newsagent, the queue was just as long; this one had pensioners and out of jobbers queuing up to scratch their lotto cards or buy lottery tickets for that promised millions. Day after day, I see these people queuing up for their place in the sun, dreaming of the promised jackpot. Next week, I will still see the same faces queuing up and still not going anywhere. Only Mr Patel, transfixed behind the counter, ringing his till, has gone up in this world.

Mrs Van, that’s what he calls me. He cannot pronounce W, even after forty odd years here, half of which he spends behind the counter selling newspapers and lottery tickets and such likes from his corner shop. From behind the counter, he has seen his children off to medic school and they are doing very well indeed. And the people who are queuing up to buy the lottery tickets from him are still there.

I got my turn to top up my Oyster card and paid for my bar of Galaxy and a bottle of mineral water while Mr Patel updated me about what’s happening around our little town. More and more Eastern European shops are sprouting in the area, he lamented, and one old lady got mugged down the road last night, so mind how you go, Mrs Van.

I don’t know whether I was more perturbed by the news of the lady being mugged or by his emphasis on OLD, but with that we said goodbye.

This small town of ours had seen better days; there were no yobs in hoods cycling around to intimidate people and no drunks sleeping on the bench outside Mr Patel’s. Woolworth, once Britain’s famous chain store had long closed down its shop here and you’d be hardpressed to find a bank. If desperate enough, we’d use the ATM at Mr Patels’ and pay £1.70 for the facility.

On a brighter note, we’ve seen more halal butchers from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

On the way to the station I suddenly felt a tinge of sadness as I caught a glimpse of old Mrs B’s house. She was our other former nextdoor neighbour before we moved. I could see her putting the cone on the road outside our house to reserve the space for our car. Once we’re back from work, she’d come in for tea and offer to bring in our washings from the washing line. She’d talk non-stop, much to the annoyance of the children who wanted to watch T J Hooker or the cartoons. But the old dear just wanted company. Her own children saw her once a month to take her out for a meal of fish and chips. Then when we moved, we heard that she was found dead one day in winter.

Although I could hear the train approaching, I took my own sweet time. There’s no more bounding up the steps two or three at a time, and whenever I am with him, he no longer chased me up to the top, both of us panting and laughing like school children. Now, even without the race, I pant.

Long before credit crunch came into our vocabulary, I had already stopped buying newspapers. There are loads of free newspapers littering the seats these days and the only time I quicken my footsteps is to get to a newspaper before someone else does.

I was engrossed by the day’s news; more gloomy forecast, more unemployment in the horizon. An announcement made me look up, only to see a familiar face staring back at me from the reflection in the window. The tudung looked familiar, the face tired and bored. We both looked away to see the autumn leaves fall.

As if programmed in my mind, I got off at the eleventh station and changed train, and then dragged my feet up the steps at Russel Square. There was a mood of merriment as a group of young medic students in drags collected money for charity. They were young first year students, all fresh and eager and in drags. At least they were not drunk.

Once out of the lift and the station, I was thankful to breathe in the fresh air of autumn again, the wind bringing a whiff of roasted hazelnuts from a stall nearby. Roasted hazelnuts without fail always signal the arrival of winter, and we’d pay more than necessary to buy the nuts and linger a bit more for the warmth from the crackling fire.

The campus was buzzing with students, young and old. There was again a long queue snaking towards a member of the Hare rama group giving away free vegetarian meals. I spotted a familiar face – still young and fresh and still full of enthusiasm. She must be, what, 25? We were classmates when I was doing my MA a few years back and now, still with the same energy and enthusiasm, she is pursuing her PhD. She asked me when I am doing mine and I didn’t have an answer to that.

Walking towards the lift, I saw another familiar face. She was one of those who, like me, hunched over our PC in the computer room trying to finish our dissertation. We smiled and hugged. Yes, she had also finished her MA but is pursuing another course. She is 65. When are you studying again, she asked? And I still don’t have an answer to that.

I walked up the steps to the office and sat down to prepare my work but my mind kept going back to the questions I didn’t have an answer for. My eyes kept going back to the park outside the window, to the autumn leaves still hanging on bravely to the branches. How beautiful, how rich, but they fall eventually, don’t they?

Other listless Mak Cik in Autumn stories:
Love in the autumn years 1
Love in the autumn years 2
A Small Malay Kampong by the A40
Listless in London

Saturday 15 November 2008

Confessions of a Mak Cik Blogger

What was life like before blogging? I think, it was much easier…you do simple things like peeling a plantain to fry for afternoon tea or take a walk in the park, without having to think that this is a possible entry for today’s blog. You plunge into your plate of mee goreng or attack the sambal ketam without having to take photographs first to grace your entry.

Children get most annoyed and frustrated with a mother lagging behind taking photographs of anything and everything. Most of all they are afraid that they will be the subject of the next entry. One sayang mama threw me dagger looks when some one he had never met before said to him, “So, you are Batman!”

It was the full moon just the other night and I immediately thought of a blogger friend who is moon-mad (lunar lunacy?) and instructed my son to take a shot of it. What for, he asked. Errr, for my album, I lied.

My email box is full of mails from friends I have never met than from friends I have known all my life. Have my friends all deserted me? No, they said. They read my blog to know what’s happening in my life.

Just a few days ago, my husband asked me whether the Sang Kelembai was male or female. And my immediate answer was, he is a male blogger, which sort of provoked laughter from all in the car. What the other half wanted to know was what sort of animal was a kelembai. Duh!!!!

This came right after a phone call I received from Malaysia. The person wanted to talk to Kak Teh and cheerfully, I answered yes, as I thought the caller must be a sibling or a cousin. But no, the caller was from a big corporation who wanted to invite me to a launch of something big in the city soon. At conferences and seminars, I am Kak Teh. And so I thought, whatever happened to my name, my real name. Does it not exist anymore?

The same happened when we went back to Malaysia, I was answering calls for Kak Teh, from the MB’s office, from some dato’s and even someone who prayed beside me in the Bangsar Village surau. I met someone at Tesco, someone who had just arrived from Malaysia and after the initial salam, he said, Are you Kak Teh? Yes, I said and to which he replied, Aaaah, so now I have met two people I wanted to meet when I come to London; Thaksin and Kak Teh. Thaksin he met somewhere in Oxford street, I think and Kak Teh in Tesco, Queensway.

When I started blogging about four years ago, I think, I did it because I was suffering from a severe bout of jetlag. And if I am brave enough to admit, I did it because I was at a crossroads in my life when I had stopped writing my column to start life as a student. As a student, I was struggling to write academic essays and not coping with it too well. I am much better writing trivial stuffs than expounding theories that I don’t even understand. And blogging saved my sanity.

With blogging I found a community of friends, faceless and nameless and soon became comfortable with a few likeminded ones, with the same wavelength and interests. I have met some of them and truly treasure their friendship and camaraderie. Trips back home now are never complete without the bloggers meet.

And now I remember my first Mak Cik Bloggers’ meet with fondness – we met and laughed and reminisced about our initial ‘meetings’ online.

Those days, I’d open the ‘window’ to find cyber friends already waiting. I used to grapple with online chats – not knowing who was saying what to whom. And once I got used to it, there went the food on the stove. On more than one occasion, something got burnt because I was checking the blog. Children had to make do with hastily put together dinner and cats had to wait.

Admissions about blogging while still in the telekung while waiting for the next prayer time were met with uneasy mumurs of the same nature. News about new and interesting blogs spread like wildfire in blogosphere. Who wrote what where. Updating became a hassle – what to blog next?

We rejoice and celebrate each others’ fine moments and commiserate and share the misfortune of others. I personally have learnt a lot from bloghopping; some inspiring experiences, some humbling ones and many precious tips from the kitchen to the garden.

Dialogues and conversations were memorised, precious moments, sad and funny were imbedded in the mind for future reference and loads of pictures taken.

But as the novelty dies down somewhat, I personally find that I have found a comfortable level of blogging that didn’t require me to check my comment box every few hours or think about updating too often, nor worry about who is reading it.

Lately, I am buoyed up by the discovery of some old friends and some new ones. Very interesting and very thought provoking, yet entertaining reads. With this I would like to officially welcome Puteri Kamaliah as a Mak Cik Blogger. Puteri and I worked for the same company some years ago and we never exchanged more than ten words, if I remember correctly. She came to London when I was back there and when I came here, she had gone back. I am so glad to have found her again in blogosphere and I would like to wish her and Pak ABu the very best on their Journey.

PS This poster by a blogger friend Adiejin depicting Mak Cik Bloggers never failed to cheer me up on the gloomiest day, such as today. He used to have us rolling on the floor clutching our stomach with his tales of Mak Cik Bloggers. Thanks Adiejin.

More on Mak Cik Bloggers and blogging:
Mak Cik Bloggers Boleh
Mak Cik Superblur at Work

pps. The 'I'm a Mak Cik Blogger' mousepad was made for me by my son, Taufiq. Any blogger who feels she is a Mak Cik Blogger, feel free to use it.
Kak Teh

Monday 10 November 2008

Cringe moments

Mulling over my cringe moments, I decided that I will not feel too embarrassed if I were to share cringe moments of my nearests and dearests. In the tradition of doing things that shouldn’t be done while there are other more urgent and important work with deadlines looming ahead, I decided to tag myself after reading Naz’s cringe moments. I decided that things like cringe moments, must not be kept to yourself or else you’d die laughing - alone.

Now, here goes.

Cringe moment 1 - The line snaking to the food counter of the canteen of Block 3C in Shah Alam was so long and the only thing that kept us in line was the smell of food and for us, the songs that they played over the loudspeakers. I was there, as usual with my group, Fatimah Abu Bakar, the celebrity mum of several celebrity children, Mia, Tini, Ina and Riza, but I don’t know whether Ena, our resident squatter was there. Anyway, soon they were playing my favorite song, Just One Look and there I was, in my kebaya, prim and proper, swaying and singing along.

“Just one look, and I felt so high, high, highhhhhhhhhhh….”

Unfortunately, when I hit the high note – highhhhhhh, they switched off the player, leaving me highiiiingggggg solo,piercing the silence in a hall of hungry diners. Heads looked up from their plates and eyes from all corners of the canteen were on me. My friends didn’t help either because after the initial shock, they fell about laughing. I just wanted the floor to open up and swallow me.

Cringe moment 2 – During one of my visits home, I went to open a bank account. My friend who worked there decided to speed up matters and assigned a bank officer to help me. I gave my particulars and then waited while they processed the account. The young officer emerged again and asked me to sign on the dotted line, with instructions: Tolong tekan kuat-kuat sikit., kak.

I duly signed, tekan kuat-kuat as instructed, feeling quite flattered that he called me Kak. And within a few minutes, I was the owner of a new bank account with a bank book to show for it. I looked through but couldn’t find my signature and asked the friendly officer, “Eh signature tadi tak lekat ke? Nak sign lagi sekali?”

Needless to say, he was puzzled and my friend gave a nervous laugh and explained that the signature was actually invisible for security reasons.

Aiyyyoooo, Mak Cik macam nak pengsan situ jugak!

There are more but I’d rather tell about others’ cringe moments.

My sister and her friends were so looking forward to the wedding of one of their friend’s son. They were to bring with them all the hantarans and dressed to the nines, they proceeded from their hotel and searched for the house in Melaka. Seeing a house all lit up with marquees and lagu pengantin blaring from the sound system, they went in. As is the custom in Melaka, I was told, they were welcomed with fireworks lighting up the sky. They were ushered in and they placed their hantarans before them, and were delighted that they were early. They looked around looking for any familiar faces when a lady approached them, apologising profusely. They had gone to the wrong kenduri house!!!

As they left, the ‘real’ groom’s entourage arrived but all fireworks were used up and they entered the house without any fanfare.

My sister can compile a book on cringe moments. Here’s another one. Her husband drove her to the market. She got out of the car and told her husband to wait. After just one purchase, she came back, got into the car, took one look at the guy behind the wheel and both of them screamed with shock. She got into the wrong car. Her husband had driven ahead.

Now, with a mother like that, what do you expect of the daughter? Sorry Dena, I feel that I have to tell this. Dena is now in confinement after giving birth to a baby girl. Tahniah! Anyway, when she was doing some practical work at a firm, she was asked to man the phone. She was reading a novel and came to the part when the hero proposed and…the phone rang. She picked up the phone, eyes still glued to the dialogue in the book and said: Will you marry me?

I will end these embarrassing, cringe moments with my husband's story.

I was waiting for him at our usual meeting place, when I spotted him walking towards me. I thought something was wrong and of course, there was something wrong! He was wearing one black shoes with lace and on the other foot was one black slip ons!

He nearly caused me a heart attack, when at dinner with some friends, during discussions about plates etc, he announced that we used Durex plates. What he meant was Duralex!

And with that I tag and dare Pi Bani, Queen of the House, Puteri Kamaliah and Kay_Leeda and who ever wish to join in to tell us about their cringe moments.

Kak Teh's other cringe/weird moments are here:
Kak Teh vs Techie Thingies
The Weird Wide World of Kak Teh

Friday 7 November 2008


Being a freelance, I tend to find myself in different places doing a lot of different things in different settings. I could be sitting in a courtroom of the Old Bailey or enjoying a spot of polo in the suburbs of London or in a hundred year old castle in a far flung corner of the British Isles. And these would lend myself to different situations, every time.

Carrying on with Puteri Kamariah’s spooky thread, where she narrates with the skills of a penglipur lara to an audience with spookier stories to tell, I would like to tell of my own story of ‘gangguan’, which coincidentally happened only yesterday.

It was to be an early morning call and after subuh, I braved the cold autumn wind to a studio I remember I had the pleasure of working in before. I remember very clearly, it was situated near the canal and quite close to a Muslim cemetery. These days, I take mental note of things like this.

After introducing myself to people that I had to work with, I settled down to prepare myself physically and mentally to do the task assigned by an agent.

In spite of the temperature dipping very fast outside, the small studio I was in was quite warm and I began to perspire. It was not like the usual studios that I am accustomed to – but good enough to do the job at hand.

Flipping through the scripts, I felt a strange feeling coming from the pit of my stomach, one that would engulf my whole being with an intensity that made me perspire even more. But time was ticking and time is money – for the agent and for the owner of the studio, who I could see from the glass panel dividing us.

This feeling would come and go. But I persevered as a professional should and would, leaping over the most difficult words and terms effortlessly, defying even those that would challenge my tongue into doing a trip that I am most notoriously known for….spoonerism. But every fifteen minutes or so, I could feel the strange feeling again. And most times, it would make its presence heard.

Beads of sweat started to appear on my forehead and I signalled to the studio manager to give me a five, which he kindly did. We were to do this several times as the ‘gangguan’ became very frequent.

“Don’t worry,” said the studio manager, eyeing the clock and calculating mentally the hours and pounds that he would get from the delay and extended studio time.

“Take your time,” he added, sounding somewhat eerily, like an accomplice in a bad horror movie.

Even after the fresh cup of tea that he made me, I still felt uncomfortable, but I soldiered on, pages after pages, and people who listened to this recording, would not have suspected anything.

During one of the breaks, the agent burst through the door and I intimated to her what I was experiencing. She looked at me sympathetically and whispered, “Don’t worry. The French voice over artiste in the next studio is experiencing the same thing.”

So, it wasn’t just me. But it still didn’t make me feel any better.

When the session was over, the studio manager and I sat down and checked the recording before I scooted off to another assignment.

And lo and behold, the strange feeling that had been disturbing me throughout the three-hour session was clear for all to hear.

“Yes, we get this a lot especially during early morning recording sessions. People coming in without or with little breakfast. The stomach growls and rumbles. So, there is nothing to worry about. It is quite natural”.

Kak Teh's strange encounters:

The Polo'ing Experience

The Tongue Tripper

Haunting Memories

Wednesday 5 November 2008

Ode to Pak Malim: An Epilogue

My favourite autumn picture

Pantuns, syaers and seloka, never failed to provoke the sense of playfulness that exists even in the most serious amongst us. The teasing, the challenge and counter challenge and its very allusive nature make the pantun an all time favourite. It is certainly my all time favourite, especially in moments of despair, in times when the world gets too serious, and the politics threaten to get too ridiculous.

My Choc-a-bloc blog is just what its name suggests – choc-a-bloc with all sorts of rants and jottings of just about anything from my cats and sayang mamas to things trivial that occupy my waking hours and sometimes my restless nights. So, when I feel the need to de-stress, my mind goes into a pantun mode. And as you can see I had even devoted syaers to blogspot and spammers. Oh, Kak Teh, do get a life!

As the 99th commenter, Edelweiss noted, this certainly reminds us of the time when Abang Malaya bursts into my blog with such beautiful thought provoking lyrics that not only reflect on our time at Jalan Riong but also the occasionally rant and frustrations about the current political situation. And Abang Malaya, like Pak Malim caught the popular imagination and elicit the playfulness in us that resulted in long, and contagious balas membalas – from so many people. And Abang Malaya, like Pak Malim was anonymous and this provokes our curiousity even more in our quest to find out their identity – the people whose pens and cursors dance effortlessly to beautifully crafted words.

Syaers and pantuns feature quite seriously in my life, especially after doing my MA in Traditional Malay Literature and verses from Syaer Bidasari and Syaer Dang Sarat, which I am still studying, come dancing in my mind to distract me from the mundane things that I do.

So, thank you to all – especially to Pak Malim, Kucing Ray yang Alim and Abang Malaya, whoever and whereever he is and to those who sportingly responded in such hilarious manner and rhymes, keeping me awake and alert and certainly laughing to myself a lot during these gloomy, wet and dreary days of autumn. Thank you. I have thoroughly enjoyed myself and I hope Pak Malim will still visit me.

Pantun memantun is not unknown when I get together with my siblings. Let me leave you with a taste of our brand of pantuns. After overdosing ourselves with food that Mak cooked and more from the stalls in and around Alor Setar, we’d sit lazily around the big family table, eyeing the piles of plates in the sink. Then someone would break the silence:

Baju lama baju lusuh,
Hai, pinggan banyak sapa nak basuh?

About Syaer Dang Sarat
Dang Sarat's Debut in Liverpool
A Tragic End to Dang Sarat