Wednesday 28 May 2008

Will be back in a bit.....

Salam all,

I have not totally disappeared from blogosphere but suffice to say, there's not enough hours in a day. Will be back in a bit - am off to Geneva and hopefully will come back reenergised, refreshed and relaxed. Insyaallah. Meanwhile, take care.

Kak Teh

Thursday 15 May 2008

Don't be a mule or an ass

Some time ago, I received a phone call from a lady telling me about her predicament. She had been working in a comfortable job in Malaysia for some time but was lured by her boss’ client to come back and work for him here in the UK, with a more lucrative offer, a comfortable life and of course the constant company of the man who made the offer.

She packed her bags and left. She worked and worked but payment was nowhere to be seen. He took her around, of course but her passport was always with him. And, yes, he has a wife.

A few months after repeated albeit empty promises about her pay, she decided to call anyone who could help her out of her predicament.

I listened to her and was quite stunned that a well spoken, intelligent woman could fall for such a promise. She wasn’t young, not like most of the mules who were doped into carrying drugs across the world and are now languishing in prisons abroad. Nor was she like those 20 young and attractive girls who said they answered adverts luring them to good jobs in London but later found themselves to be part of the sex trade coming from our part of the world.

She had actually known the guy for some time. Someone she counted as a close friend.

But it is the same story, isn’t it? The promise of a good life in greener pastures, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Don’t these people have alarm bells ringing in their heads when approached with such too good to be true offers? And don’t they discuss with friends and relatives and ask for their opinions? I just wonder.

Recently I met up with our new Foreign Minister and I can see that he is clearly serious about having some kind of regulations for travelling – especially those young ones. But I can also see that getting letters of consent is a bit too much. But I can understand that at the end of the day, it is the officials of his ministry that will have to bear the burden of visiting prisons, answering questions and dealing with pleas from desperate parents at home. That is what they are doing now with those banged up in prisons in Malta, Peru, Spain and China.

I don’t know what happened to the lady I mentioned above, but I suspect she was given a temporary travel document by our embassy to go home. The same happened to the 20 gullible young ladies who were duly deported. They discovered that their life of comfort translated into living in crammed accommodation with 20 others and luxury and excitement meant servicing 50 clients a week.

If I were to receive any offer which I thought would change my life, I would certainly have discussed it with my family. I would have asked their opinion. I would ask the advise of my close friends. The fact that certain transactions were done in a hush, hush manner, means that there’s something not right.

While many are doped into working for a bigger syndicate, which is always looking out for gullible people, some actually knew what they are doing. They took their chances, forgetting that the authorities are always one step ahead. It is not worth it, sayang – no matter what the offer. Try watching Banged up Abroad – a programme about people in foreign prisons who were caught with drugs in their possession. In my younger days I have covered too many court cases similar to these and they sure come up with very lame excuses.

Anyway, one of the 20 girls who were rounded up in brothels in and around London two years ago actually escaped and ran to Malaysia Hall. That was where she got help and was sent back. It was her story that helped the arrest of the ringleaders. Apparently, she was told by her boyfriend to come and work in London to repay her debts to him. What kind of a boyfriend would send his girl to the devil?

These are only tip of the iceberg – we only get to know about them when they are reported. What about others?

So, don’t be a mule or an ass. Be wise.

Saturday 10 May 2008

Mother of an excuse

We are planning a sisters get together, just for a few days but a precious few days for us. Kak Cik has already made her way to Geneva and she has already listed the places that we should visit. Lilah is packing her bags to make her way to London before we all troop off to meet her there. The last time Lilah was in London was in 1981, the year it snowed so heavily that Kensington Garden was like a fairyland. I remember that so well because she ventured off to the park with Oli while I was still in bed and both of them were stuck in the lift and we had to call the firemen to the rescue.

We are all excited, of course and we have planned a thousand and one things. My Rehana will be joining us from Brussels where she will be attending a meeting and then when I leave them to come home because of some work commitments, Rehana will try to bring them to Paris for a whirlwind tour – a snapshot with Eiffel Tower in the background will do to show the folks back home.

It is a pity that Kak can’t make it and Nisa has to stay at home to look after Mak.

Yes, Mak. At the back of our minds, with all this planning, is Mak. We are all praying that she will continue to be in good health, no emergencies, no problems. All the while, although she is mostly with Nisa, my sister-in-law and Ajie, she spends the weekends and holidays with Lilah and also with Kak Cik. But everyone is nearby and would drop everything to be by her side, when necessary.

But how do you tell Mak where and when you are going? For the last few years, our conversations with Mak are well scripted. All our infos must tally. They are not lies but we have to be economical with the truth. Because if Mak knows the real truth, then she starts fretting and finds excuses to go back to the house that Pak built for her.

This reminds me of those days leaving the children behind for some non-work related sojourns. It was always with excuses of going to the hospital, the dentist, or work. The number of times I used the line going to the dentist, if they were true, would have left me toothless by now, but at that time it worked.

I bet Mak used to do that on us when she had to go out for a breather. I remember her saying, “Mak nak pi tengok orang sakit. Mak nak pi doctor,” and we’d all be gullible enough to believe even though Mak was dressed in her finest to go for a hospital visit. And now we are playing the same game with her.

Lilah is dreading that moment when she has to tell her why she would not be around for a few days, in fact for a few weeks. It will have to be a meeting, a course – Mak understands that a kursus would take a few days. And by now, she must be wondering why Kak Cik has not been making her morning appearances with her breakfast takeaways. Am sure Nisa and Ajie must have fobbed her off with some excuses, like ‘Kak Cik balik Pilah, ada kenduri,” repeated a number of times.

I imagine her taking it all in with all the innocence of a child, and then she’d repeat the same question again fifteen minutes later. For all her forgetfulness, she knows when her offsprings are not around.

When Mak was looking after arwah Tok, once in a while, she too needed a breather. Tok wasn’t an easy person to look after. But Mak endured her last few years patiently putting up with a Mother who used to be strong and independent and a perfectionist. So, when she needed a break, she’d make a visit to Pekan Rabu or Lorong Sempit to get some new materials for her baju kurung. That was her retail therapy. She needed this time away, even for a short while, to come back and be a better daughter to her mother. Sometimes, she needed a longer time away and would leave Tok in the care of Tok Som, but all the while in Kuala Lumpur where she visited her own children, she worried about Tok.

When the time comes and Lilah tearfully says goodbye to Mak, and we all meet up in Geneva, Insyaallah, we know that for all the beautiful places that we will be visiting, we will have Mak in mind. We will look at the beautiful flowers in early summer and think of her because she loves flowers and gardens. We will feast our eyes on the intricate and fine crockeries in the shop windows and remember how she lovingly kept her collection. We’d sit around eating and joking and all the while each of us will be missing her presence. Mak always sits quietly, watching us banter at the dinner table, and all the while happy that her children were around.

Mak may not know that there is a day dedicated to her and she doesn’t even care. But from thousands of miles away, as a daughter who has not done much to look after her Mak other than think of her in her daily prayers and write about her in her blog, I offer my undivided love and gratitude for making me what I am today, and for letting me be where I am today.....without any question, without any condition.


More on Mak:

Mothering Mak

The lie must go on

The crying has stopped ...for now

Saturday 3 May 2008

Our Boys are in Town 2

For those interested, here are the dates and venue:

Buckingham Palace:

10th May
17th May
19th May
24th May
27th May
1st June
3rd june
5th June

Windsor Castle:
12th - 15th May
22nd May
28th May
30th May
6th - 12th June

All are morning events around 10'ish if you want a good view.

Being around our boys these last few days reminded me of Pak Tam. Pak Tam was the only one in our family who was in the Royal Malay Regiment. We used to look forward to his return, all dark and sunburnt and lots of stories to tell. One day, he came back with a photograph of a sweet young lady in kebaya and kain ketat who was later to become our Mak Tam.

Pak Tam was always in the jungles. He wore those green army uniforms that never failed to impress us. Having been to the jungles was enough to impress us little ones. Can you imagine if he had been to Buckingham Palace to guard the Queen’s palace?

But Pak Tam, needless to say never made it to Buckingham Palace - not even London. The last time I saw him, he was injured. He broke his leg climbing a rambutan tree. Never been injured in service, yet a climb up the rambutan tree saw to it that he'd never march the same again.

Anyway, last Friday, we were at Buckingham Palace. The sun was out and so was the crowd – mostly tourists and some Malaysians shouting Malaysia Boleh as our soldiers, resplendent in the beige baju Melayu, songkok and sampin marched the short distance through the gates of Buckingham palace.

We were privileged to stand at a vantage point in the grounds of Buckingham Palace, much to the envy of the crowd at the railings, to see them marching in, led by the brass band. But even, before we could see them, we could hear the unmistakeable tune that never failed to tug at my heartstrings.

Inilah Barisan Kita…yang ikhlas berjuang…. And, yes, you guessed it. Right there under the shadows of the majestic Buckingham Palace, I cried.

It was on the bus to Windsor Castle a few days earlier that I had requested that they sang the song in the bus. And bless them, they obliged.

At Buckingham Palace, during the Change of Guards, our soldiers relieved the duties of the Welsh Guards, standing by their posts like tin soldiers. They looked tall in their full-dress uniform of red tunics and bearskins.

Our soldiers marched them out of the palace in what must seemed like countless number of marching across the parade grounds, all the while the RMR band playing songs such as Dikir Puteri, Getaran Jiwa, Puteri Remaja and many more that reminds me so much of home. I was told later that a Malay lady stood at the railings and bawled her eyes out when she saw our boys in the baju Melayu and heard the songs that reminded her of home she had not seen in 25 years.

Well, it wasn’t a day for us to be sad, but to be proud and happy and join in the fun.

It seemed only like yesterday when I saw them arriving in such typical and terrible British weather. I dread to think how they would cope in the rain and the cold harsh wind. But believe me, our boys are made of sterner stuff.

During these last few days I have learnt so much, the stories behind the ceremonies, behind each gesture and items carried or used by them.

Anyway, when the Welsh Guards made their exit in a slow march, out of the palace gates, that marked the historic moment which meant that the soldiers of the first battalion of the Royal Malay Regiment were then in charge of guarding the palace.

During the ceremony, there was an added attraction, a bonus. Two horse drawn carriages carrying diplomats arrived to have an audience with the queen.

The rain stayed away for as long as it could, as a mark of respect. But when we left and boarded the coach, leaving the four young soldiers in their posts, it began to pour!

When I see Pak Tam I will show him these photographs, and I know he will flash his cheeky smile and feel so happy that our boys have made us proud.

By the way, Her Majesty's flag was flying high on top of the palace and I felt sure that she was having fun too watching the ceremony.

You can read the write up in the nst here. Not sure I like the headline though!

For you rinformation, there have been write ups and caption stories in NST . BH and The Star. Also in RTM and TV3. At the end of their 2 months here - there will be 6 ten minute features on RTM 1 Galeri Perdana and a one hr docu on TV3's Majalah 3. Insyaallah.

Thursday 1 May 2008

Our Boys are in Town....

Yes, the members of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Malay Regiment are here - 130 of them. And on 29th April 2008, they started their ceremonial duties at Windsor Castle, in the ceremony of the Changing of the Guards. It was so very grand. And it really warmed my heart on that cold spring morning to see our boys in their Baju Kebangsaan, sampin songket and songkok, marching through the streets of Windsor. The quiet royal town echoed with traditional Malay songs played by the Brass Band. During the ceremony, as our boys led out the members of the British Regiment, the band played Bahtera Merdeka....Bonda senyum riang, menerima bahtera merdeka....
And right there in the parade grounds of Windsor Castle, I cried.

Major Qadri became the first Malay officer in the ceremony of the changing of the guards at Windsor Castle. In this picture, he takes over the duties from Capt.Stuart Vernon of the British Regiment.

What a beautiful sight!

Pvt. Suhaimi Yahya takes over the post from the British soldier.

Tomorrow - 2nd May - anyone in London, do go to Buckingham Palace for the ceremony of the Changing of the Guards. It starts around 10.30 am, but you want to be there early to get close to the gates. They start marching from Wellington Barracks nearby.

Pictures courtesy of the RMR as my camera failed me.

This is my poor attempt to capture the story from RTM1 online.