Tuesday 30 June 2009

All the best Zahra and Godspeed!

She stood on top
of the famous white cliff of Dover, her eyes looking across the vast volume of water, trying to make out her destination. The lighthouse of Calais was not visible due to the haze at that time of the evening, but she knew that when it appears in the horizon as she makes the solo marathon swim tomorrow, it will be a welcome sight. And when her feet touches the sand, she will know that she has made it.

Zahra Masoumah is a young lass, barely eighteen but her determination to conquer the Channel following the strides of Malik and Lennard Lee, is almost single minded, almost unshakeable.

The water, she admits, is cold and there were nights when she stayed up worrying whether she could make it. The distance she can handle. From Shakespeare Beach, where Malik and Lennard began their swim, to Calais is roughly about 35 km. She had done 45 kilometers before, but in warmer waters, and in more familiar surroundings. But the currents can be cruel. I had personally seen Malik struggling, with success, against strong currents, when he was swimming in Lake Zurich. I was accompanying him in a boat (not a swimmer myself) and for almost three hours, I swear, he was in the same spot. The currents kept pushing him back to the same place.

My visit to see the family in Dover last week was almost a deja vous. I remember the trips in 2003, everytime it was announced that Malik was going to make the swim. And then, several times the swim was aborted due to bad weather.

We received news yesterday that Zahra is to swim at 5am on 1 July. And Insyaallah, she will make it.

Home for Zahra and her family for the past one month is a three bedroom caravan at a beautiful caravan site, Varne Ridge, overlooking the Channel. It had also been home to hundreds of cross channel swimmers from all over the world, among them, Lennard.

When I arrived, Zahra and her sister, also Zahra, were helping their mother make jemput-jemput for afternoon tea. The boys, being boys, were running up and down, enjoying the unusual sunshine. The smell of jemput-jemput in the frying pan, the squeels of laughter from the boys and the heat – its almost like Malaysia. But it is not. Just several meters away, is the vast volume of water where Zahra will spend a good part of the day tomorrow, swimming with all her might.

Unlike Malik, her swim will start at 5 am. If we can make it to Shakespeare Beach, we can witness the start as she jumps off the boat, swim to the 400 meters away from the shore and start her feat when she hears or sees the signal.

I was at Shakespeare Beach in 2003, at one am to be exact. The area leading down to the beach is private property but somehow, we got permission and thus made our way down to the beach, in pitch darkness. The white cliff of Dover stood hovering menacingly. The doves and seagulls were nowhere to be seen. It was eerily quiet, except of course, when the early morning was broken by shouts of Malaysia Boleh by the Malik’s handful supporters.

But what I remember too well is also the sandflies. As soon as my cameraman switched on the lights and the camera, they came in thousands, if not millions.

But another sight that remained with me until now is the appearance of three small boats in the dark. Then Malik jumped. Three hoots and away he went; soon he was just a dot bobbing up and down in the waters.

Insyaallah, I will wait at Dover Harbour for news of her success, and I will wait there too for her return. For now, let us wish Zahra all the best in her endeavour. May Allah keep her safe all the way and back.

Sunday 21 June 2009

Remembering Pak

The aroma of the curve cut tobacco, war time stories, tokohoon plasters and fighting over newspapers to do crossword puzzles always remind me of Pak. A kind, generous man until he died. Today I remember Pak and I remember the song Sri Mersing that he wanted us to buy from the record shop down the road, but we never did.
Here, Kak Teh remembers Pak.

A wife’s gotta do what a wife’s gotta do

It has been a long time since I wrote anything GUiT. But the time has come for me to do my wifely duties and write things GUiT again.

I vividly remember the day we received the news that GUiT was finally going to be published. To say that I was more overjoyed and over the moon compared to the writer is not far from the truth. I was ecstatic. Deliriously so. He, being the man he is, was more composed, allowing only a smile and later broke into a brief jig around the room with the children. But that is him.

The day the books arrived, hot from the printers in Singapore, we were again overjoyed; my smile never left my face and for months it ached because I was/is that proud of my Awang Goneng.

We had the books delivered for the soft launch at the Royal Asiatic Society in London and I took to bringing five to ten books with me in my huge bag, the writer himself not suspecting anything. People I met at functions, press conferences and even from across the road, were targeted as possible buyers and readers of GUiT.

Take this for example: an interview with the then Foreign Minister. When I finished the interview, I boldly said: Can I interest you in a book written by my husband?

Of course he was interested, for he himself writes books and later congratulated AG personally.

Then there was the time we went to the bank and I saw a familiar face at the till. He was from the former cabinet, in charge of Finance. Once it was confirmed it was him, I said my salam and had small chats. AG began retreating in the background suspecting that any minute then, Iwas going to whip out GUiT to the unsuspecting former minister. And of course I did.

By then I was resigned to the fact that my husband only wanted to write the book and keep them all locked up in his cupboard. He'd shy away from any GUiT talk so much so I had to be the spokesperson, the salesperson and the pr all in one.

He worries that people might not find it interesting; a book he wrote only for his children, about his growing up years in a small town in Trengganu. About the Trengganu still alive in his memories. But I knew better.

I was on assignment in Paris two years ago. And then I decided to return the generosity of our Culture Minster who had kindly given me his book. So, I signed a book on AG's behalf and sent it through his officer. Within a week, I received orders for 500 books, and much later 500 more.

And there were many more. I took some books to a seminar in Liverpool and I believe I sold more books than the book stall outside the conference room.

So, imagine my shock when I read that in Malaysia the books were not selling and people couldn't find it anywhere. So, I went back, initially to attend the launch of the book alone in Singapore as the writer himself felt that he couldn't/wouldn't make the journey. (But later, I somehow twisted anything twistable, and he relented and came along).

My first few days in KL, I went around the bookshops and I couldn't find GUiT anywhere - not in MPH, Kino or anywhere. I was devastated. Those I found were sandwiched between Dina Zaman's I am Muslim and Lydia Teh's Life's Like That. Or hidden behind mountains of Samy Velloos!

So, it was then that I decided that I had to do something. There's no limit to a wifely duty. I approached a manager at a bookshop, explained my predicament, my frustrations. My husband, had he been there would have fainted with embarrassment. But, the manager, bless him, saw the book, believed in its potential and made just one phonecall that within one week saw GUiT in the best sellers list.

It was less hard work after that, though I still carry a copy or two in my bag these days.

The reason I am doing this promotion again is simple; GUiT has been shortlisted for the Popular-Star Readers Choice Awards 2009 for non fiction. Here's the list:

Yvonne Lee - Vanity Drive: The Vagaries of Women's Vanity
Sheik Mustapha Shukor Al-Masrie - Reach for the Stars
Adeline Loh - Peeing in the Bush
Adibah Amin - Glimpses : Cameos of Malaysian Lives
Paddy Bowie - Datuk Teh Hong Pow : Banking Thoroughbred
Kee Thuan Chye : March 8: The Day Malaysia Woke Up
Tun Mahathir & Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad - Dr. Mahathir's Letters to World Leaders
Rustam A. Sani - Failed Nation? Concerns of a Malaysian Nationalist
Amir Muhammad - New Malaysian Essays 1
Awang Goneng - Growing Up in Terengganu

According to Sharon Bakar: Voting will be once again via the Star's Reads Monthly Supplement. The bookstore is organising promotions of the books and from June onwards, customers that visit POPULAR outlets will get 20% discount when they buy any of the nominated books. The winner will be announced at Bookfest @ Malaysia 2009.

So, if you've not read GuiT, give t a try. Below are just some of you who helped make GUiT a success!! Thank you!!!


And AG, Happy Father's Day!!!

Wednesday 17 June 2009

Horrible Week

Let me complete the trilogy; Lousy Week by Puteri Kamaliah, Crazy Week by Kay_Leeda and now Horrible Week by Kak Teh.Justify Full

It has indeed been a horrible week for me; one that saw me almost holed up in my room, most of the time cutting myself off from the outside world. Summer has come back with a vengeance to London and perhaps to the whole of UK. And with summer comes the dreaded pollen. While people are out there enjoying the sunshine, I try to keep away in the shade and as far as possible from flowers and plants.

Even when I go out, these sweet smelling flowers peer out of hedges and bushes to sneer at me; they taunt me and tease me until I sneeze my lungs out. I try to avoid them, but at every turn, at every corner, they are there waiting to ambush my nostrils with thousands if not trillions of these invisible enemies of mine.

I have been such a wretched soul; going around bleary eyed and nose as red as Rudolf’s. I try to stifle a sneeze especially in crowded tubes and lifts in case I cause a panic rush, considering that swine flu is making the headlines these days. I am considering wearing a mask, with “hayfever not swine flu” written across it. My cheap fake sunglasses from the marketplace in Seamreap has been most useful.

A few days ago, just when I thought the air was clear, I made my way to the Royal Albert Hall to see Kakak and adik – talented and beautiful children of blogger Atok and his wife, Hezel, who are in the musical The King and I at The Royal Albert Hall. Throughout the show, I prayed hard not to sneeze right onto the head of the person sitting right in front of me. There were some very tense moments when all was quiet and my throat started tickling so badly and the more I tried not to cough, the worse t became till tears started rolling down my cheeks. It was that bad!

It was such a wonderful musical, especially as it was adik’s debut. Adik or Sofea had always been in the sideline waiting for kakak’s auditions and rehearsals. But her patience paid off when she too was offered a part to be one of the King’s youngest daughters. And she is such a natural!

Sarah and Sofea with Lost actor Daniel Dae Kim who plays the King of Siam at RAH

My hayfever became so bad that evening, so much so I had to give away my invite to the reception at the end of the show that evening. Thus I missed my chance to meet up with Lost actor Daniel Dae Kim, but kakak and adik took pictures with him.

Kakak and adik and another talented Malaysian actor Samantha Tan are following the footsteps of other Malaysian actors such as Sean Ghazi and Ungku Jalil who took part in The King and I when it was playing in the West End some years ago.

I did an interview with kakak, her mum and also Samantha for the community radio, nusoundradio. Click below if you want to listen to my oh so nasal voice.

The next day, we were invited to a friend’s house and while everyone was enjoying her beautiful garden, I kept myself indoors. Feeling self pity setting in, I stuffed my face with lots and lots of strawberries and double cream. So, while the sun is out, I will try to stay in. Yes, it has been such a horrible week, apart from that wonderful evening at the Royal Albert Hall and the strawberries at Annabel’s.

Thursday 11 June 2009

Of meetings with Pak Zawi, Tunku Halim and Anak Si Hamid

The longer I procrastinate the harder it becomes to start writing again. I have not been far away from the blog world; I’d look in and read some of my favourite blogs and see what they are up to and then retreat to a safe distance where I can concentrate on some other work. Since the trip to Europe, I haven’t been too well either. It is summer and summer’s never kind to me.

Anyway, suffice to say, I am quite busy this time of the year and I am trying my level best to finish off some work so that I can then find a ticket to go home. I need to go home.

Wokay, let me sum up what I’ve been up to recently. I’ve been meeting a lot of blogger friends, actually. London is full of Malaysians; coachloads and coachloads of Malaysians in and around London, helping to prop up the British economy! And I am not complaining as the sterling is getting stronger.

With Pak Zawi and Wife
Last week, we had the pleasant company of Pak Zawi and his wife. They were among the coachloads of Malaysians who were touring Europe. We met up at Malaysia Hall and Pak Zawi is kind enough to give me some pictures that we took together. My camera and my phone gave up on me and I had to rely on Pak Zawi’s camera.
Read about his tour here.

Just before Pak Zawi and co, we met up with Tunku Halim who came all the way from Tasmania with his family. He brought with him his new book: History of Malaysia, A Children’s Encyclopedia. This is one book I had been looking for to give my children. It is beautifully done too and with this encyclopedia, Tunku is now a publisher! He very kindly paid for our dinner and after that I took the opportunity to interview him. And this is the result of the interview. I have been experimenting with podcasting and I had always wanted to bring a new dimension to this blog. This is Kak Teh in conversation with Tunku Halim – do excuse the very nasal sound – I am still all bunged up with hayfever.
I've got my podbean blog here: Kak Teh's Talk Show
or click here: Kak Teh in Conversation with Tunku Halim

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(L)Kak Teh in Conversation with Tunku Halim and (R)History of Malaysia,: A Children's Encyclopedia
By the way, Tunku Halim is on the way back to Malaysia this very minute and he will be talking about his new book and about self publishing on 14th June – 2-3 pm at MPH Midvalley and 4-5 pm at The Curve. Catch up with him there!

And oh, oh, oh, guess who else I met last week? I was so excited when I received an email from a blogger that she and her husband were coming to London. We agreed to meet up as we needed to exchange a few things. They turned up early and we were fashionably late!

But all was well in the end and when we fell into each other’s arms, it was as if we had known each other for a long time. Yes, Anak SiOthman finally met up with Anak SiHamid! And Awang Goneng got on famously with Iain Buchanan who wrote and beautifully illustrated Fatimah’s Kampung. My next radio programme will certainly be Kak Teh in Conversation with Iain Buchanan! I just love Iain's drawings, but more about that later!

(L)Anak SiHamid and Anak SiOthman and (R)When Awang Meets Iain Buchanan

It was just a short meeting but we managed rice with asam pedas and masak lemak ayam and teh tarik and cucur badak and Early Grey tea in two sittings, before they went off to catch the coach back to Leicester. We promise that the next meeting would be in Leceister and thanks Rocky Bru for bringing us together.

So, that’s it – and I hope it wont be too long before I write again. As I am writing this, my other half is making treks to meet up with blogger Mat Salo, who is also in town. This is the second day of the tube strike and I decided to stay at home and wait for my sayang mama to come back and tell me about his History paper.

So, there and phew!

ps. a few months earlier, met up with blogger Dr Bubbles and Kenny Mah and Sharon Bakar, and next month, there are more bloggers heading this way!