Wednesday 23 April 2008

From Malaysia Hall to Albert Hall?

When I read that Adik, Mak Andeh’s youngest wanted a piano, I immediately thought of my youngest. My Taufiq must have been about Adik’s age when he was introduced to the keyboard. He never showed any interest in music, only books, books and books. But at that time, we were always at Malaysia Hall – his siblings were either clearing tables or serving at the counter while he joined some students in the room at the back of the canteen of the old Malaysia Hall where they had an old keyboard.

I didn’t know that he had it in him – this interest in music. But Reza certainly knew how to teach him and within a few months, my little boy could produce this piece of beautiful music.

He made his debut in the hall when we had a jumble sale. In those days, there were a lot of activities going on. We persuaded Taufiq to play. He was quite nervous but as I watched his chubby little fingers dancing effortlessly across the keyboard, producing those lovely sounds, I must admit I cried a bit.

So, I got him a second hand keyboard. He never played it again seriously. And the keyboard is now somewhere behind the bed. But if I never get to see him play again, I am very thankful for this beautiful piece of music. Even if it is not perfect it is beautiful to the ears of his mama. Even if he didn’t make it to Albert Hall, he did it beautifully in Malaysia Hall.

So, MA, think about it.

Sunday 20 April 2008

Manchester Musings

For once, I was half an hour early and that afforded me some time to buy not one but two mushroom croissants and hot steaming tea for the more than 3-hr journey to Manchester Piccadilly. The 0731 was still not ready for boarding and the early morning passengers all stood around, craning their necks looking at the departure board, waiting for the platform number.

The fare to Manchester Piccadilly was £62.00 a hefty sum that burnt a hole in my pocket. Even while most of London was still stirring in their sleep, I had already parted company with £16 for a minicab ride to the station. London is expensive, I kept telling myself.

I found a comfortable seat with only a Nigerian woman and her newborn in her sling sitting at the next table. Hubby had suggested I brought along my new laptop anyway in case I needed to finish some work and I readily agreed. By the end of the journey, I had finished about 10 games of Spider Solitaire – won four and lost six! Damn!

It seems a little strange that I had been in UK all these years and yet my journeys to Manchester only started about last year.

After the loss of the first game, I remembered the first was a visit to a friend’s house. Her mother-in-law had passed away after just a few days’ visit. Then there was the trip with my sayang mama. We stayed at a posh hotel and we were treated to Manchester Utd Vs Inter Milan. It was a very educational trip, football-wise, making my third trip, a lot easier when I watched Manchester United vs Blackburn Rovers.

But most of the time, as the train snaked its way through the British Midlands, I found my mind meandering back to the late eighties, for that was the first time that I had actually come face to face with him. It was the summer of 87, but summer in Vienna was like spring in London. And my heart was racing at the thought of meeting him in the city that inspired The Third Man, the city which evokes thoughts of the Vienna Boys Choir, grand museums, concerts and long street names such as Mariahilferstrasse.

I remember the hurried walk with one child in a pushchair and the other walking two steps at a time trying to catch up with mama who wanted to work and be a mama at the same time. My husband had called to say the man was ready to meet me and hubby would take over the children while I went to the conference room to do the interview. It wasn’t a good first meeting. He was not well and his answers were monosyllables. Rumours had it that he was nursing a flu and the good doctor was prescribed roti canai.

I was so nervous that I forgot to check the level on my tape recorder and my fumbling with the machine that the BBC provided me for the assignment left him quite unimpressed. You usually know from his facial expressions that he wasn’t impressed and after years of following him around, I can safely say, that was one unimpressed look.

One week in Vienna and the Malaysian contingent were already wilting from missing rice. And Pak Non found a restaurant – Rasa Sayang that not only served rice but also sambal tumis and kicap. He very kindly made reservations for all of us on the last day of the two-week conference so that we could all eat to our hearts’ desire. For that we were grateful.

One winter, it was in Paris. According to schedule he was to have only a 20- minute meeting with Jacque Chiraq at Élysée Palace. While he was having a tet-e-tet with the president, the temperature outside had plummeted and we stood in sub zero temperatures, our legs frozen to the ground. He emerged 40 minutes later and was driven to his hotel room where he was to brief us about his meeting. But true to form, when we finally defrosted our tongue and asked him questions, he said: Why can’t you all wait for me in Norwich tomorrow? (for that was where we were to meet him the next day). And how do you answer that?

One warm summer it was Budapest. And Budapest in summer is beautiful, with its enchanting architecture that tells stories of its rich culture and its embittered history, and gypsies playing their violins as you walk along the riverbanks running parallel to the Danube. It would have been more beautiful had it not been for work, at the end of which, he looked at the troop of hacks, looking more like fallen soldiers and asked the obvious: Aren’t you all tired of following the PM around?

Only one of us dared answer. Someone from the back of the room said: Kalau PM tak penat kami tak boleh penat, he lied.

But most of the time it would be London and once or twice in Cambridge or Oxford. Once it was during the rumoured fatal fall from riding in Argentina, and then when he was interviewed by Al-Jazeera in London, which was quite funny, actually, watching him being made up and powdered.

But yesterday, we met up again in Manchester; clued up as ever, very much focussed and very much missed. And very much Tun M.

The Somali minicab driver who had taken me to the station earlier, took me home and was very impressed that I met the man. “Ooh, you are very lucky. Everyone in my country knows him and would love to meet him”

Sunday 13 April 2008

Tales from the tracks

The 1510 from Euston to Coventry was already packed by the time I heaved myself up the coach next to the buffet bar. As the Virgin train eased out of the station, I found a seat with a table to continue work which was interrupted when I got the news. It was not by the window. But it didn’t matter as my mind was too preoccupied with a thousand and one things for me to enjoy the English countryside zooming past. Cluttered in my mind were looming deadlines, piling up laundry, hungry cats, interviews to be transcribed which alternated with splashes of green fields, quaint English villages and landscapes still undecided whether it was winter or spring.

But even as we were passing through the backyards of Milton Keynes, I still couldn’t concentrate on the work staring back at me from the screen. My mind strayed to what awaited me at the end of the journey. I’ve made many a train journey through the lengths and breadths of Britain and beyond, not knowing what was in store at the end of the line. Sometimes what would start off as exciting and promising would fall flat, with nothing to show for at the end of the day.

Take the trip to Dover for example; Dover with its promise of fresh sea air and the imposing White Cliffs, the friendly greetings from the doves circling above hooting ships. And most of all the promise of that swim, the marathon swim that was supposed to put Malaysia on the map of channel swimmers and prove to the world that Malaysia certainly Boleh. It wasn’t one or two trips but several thanks to choppy sea, bad weather and no ‘window’ for our channel swimmer Malik Mydin, now a Datuk, of course. Suffice to say, by the time he finally and literally took the plunge, I was very familiar with the route from Charing Cross to Dover Priory.

Sometimes we’d get an sms saying , yes the swim was definitely on and that got our adrinalin pumping and we’d jump on the train only to be told halfway there that the swim was aborted as the wind was too strong, the waves too high etcetera, etcetera.

So, we’d roam the small seaside town of Dover. The residents had never seen so many flag waving Malaysians. Shouts of Malaysia Boleh echoed across the channel.

When it did happen, it was at about 2am on the 2nd of August I think and I remember the walk at about 1 am from the hotel to the beach. What a sight! It was like Pied Piper leading the trail to a waiting boat, which then took him to a certain point where he was to do his swim. We had to take another route by car and walked down a very steep slope to the beach to await Malik’s boat. We were greeted by millions of sandflies everytime we lit up the camera. It was dark and eerie and the group of perhaps 10 of us stood shivering trying to fend off the sandflies. Suddenly from afar we saw lights appearing in the darkness that was the English Channel. Three boats appeared, one of them carrying our swimmer. We or I certainly, shivered again, this time not so much because of the cold but because of the excitement. Malik climbed down into the water and with a hoot, hoot, hoot, he was off, the cheer of Malaysia Boleh ringing in his ears. We stood there watching his head bobbing in and out of the water until we could see no more. What a moment.

And yes, the next day I was back again, waiting by the beach to await his return. He did it in 17 hours something. I was supposed to be in the boat accompanying him and I even had my sea sickness pills, but somehow I was needed on land rather than being sick all over in the boat.
I can still picture Malik as he appeared from the boat that took him back to Dover. He looked like a battered boxer, but a champion nevertheless.

Now how did I get this far when I wanted to talk about my train rides?

On another train that took me to Southend on Sea, I felt the knots in my tummy that wouldn’t go away. It was an anxiety that started a day before when I met and instantly took into my heart two lovely boys – Muhammad and Ahmad. I had never seen conjoined twins before, never mind played toy cars with them . But that was what we did during our first meeting. They were adorable, so together yet so different in personalities.

It must have been from Liverpool street that we took the train to Southend-on-sea, the town that boasts the longest pleasure pier in the world. But pleasure was the last thing that we had in mind.

Muhammad and Ahmad who came to London for the operation were being taken to Riyadh after receiving a generous offer for an operation to separate them free of charge. The brothers had greeted us with their mischievous grin, racing up and down the lawn in a sort of wheeled walker. They were full of life, whizzing about, enjoying each other’s company, not realising that within a few days they were going to be separated. They had to learn to live apart as individuals. And I worried for them for it was no small task.

Well, from what I hear, they have done well. And I am happy for them and their parents.

I have written about one happy train journey here and many more. I’d love to write about the train ride from London to Budapest and the ones in Germany that took us along the beautiful and quaint villages along the River Rhine

But for now, suffice to say, the trip to Coventry came and went, leaving me with a certain feeling of restlessness.

Tuesday 1 April 2008

Tempe tantrums

The birth of this new blog brought to mind something that has been fermenting in my archives for some time now. Tempe. I am not a big fan of tempe, which to some extent goes to explain the sad state of my complexion. In fact the first time I found some mouldy pieces in the fridge, I threw them away thinking that they had gone bad. But being newly-wed and all that I was forgiven by my husband who is really fanatical, if there is ever a word, about tempe. He loves them so much that he made it into a business!

Like everything else that he did, for example bread, croissant and chicken kiev, a lot of research went into it. Once when I was craving for keropok, he rolled up his sleeves and attacked the mackerels and other ingredients to make the keropok, only for it to turn out as keropok lekor. He had better success with tempe.

He got himself a how to do tempe book and ordered the yeast from somewhere. From then on, we invested in stainless steel pots and ladels, plastic bags and of course bags and bags of soya bean. The recipe in one hand, he stayed up all night to boil the soya beans and dry them the next morning. This is certainly a summer time job. Without the sun, it’d be impossible. He even used the hair dryer.

I didn’t have a hand in the tempe making at all as he was quite meticulous and strict about all sorts of things.

Anyway, once the yeast was mixed with the beans, he’d fill them up in small plastic bags and I was assigned the role of making small holes in the plastic bags.

Then, we’d leave them overnight in the boiler room. It was quite fascinating watching them turn into tempe. We’d check the soya bean in the plastic bags at intervals . White cotton like thingy would appear covering the beans and later when fully ripe, they would have some black patches around it. And they’d feel quite warm to the touch.

I never knew what to do with it. My husband would just cut them in small pieces, marinade them with salt and tumeric and then fry them and had them as snacks, munching in front of the tv. Later, I learnt that fried tempe tastes quite good in sambal tumis.

We then had the problem of having too much tempe in a household of only
one tempe lover. So we gave them to friends. The word spread around that there’s an awang from Terengganu making tempe in a corner of London. So we began receiving orders from the Malay and Indonesian community. Some orders came from the embassies! It was growing into quite a roaring business with the tempe fermenting quietly in our small boiler room until I had to go into hospital to deliver my second child.

Orders were coming in faster then he could deliver so, I had to cut short my hospital stay and help with HIS delivery. We had friends delivering the orders to houses and offices. We had BMW’s parked way down the street as people came to take the orders, and one quietly whispered in my ears, “ Please don’t write in the newspaper that a diplomat’s wife is distributing tempe!” Er, whaaaaat?????

“Shock, horror, drama!! Diplomats wife in sleazy tempe trade!!! “ Screamed the headlines that came to mind.

Anyway, the so called diplomat’s wife need not worry, our success also spelt our downfall. We couldn’t cope and we closed shop! But I’ll never forget those tempe making days in our small living room in a corner of London!