Thursday 24 December 2009

Welcome to the family, Kamelia!

Pengantin baru - Azril dan Kamelia

The newly-weds, Azril and Kamelia.  Pix by Izham Khalid of
More pix here
The article below appeared in the NST here

Letter to Kamelia

Dear Kamelia,

LAST week, we welcomed you into our family when you married my nephew Azril. And in a few weeks time, you newly-weds will fly off to Geneva.

For Azril, Geneva is already home after living and working there these last few years.

But for you, it will be a totally new experience; starting a new chapter in your life as a married woman, thousands of kilometres away in a totally different environment and culture, away from the extended family. (Actually, on reflection, not unlike my own experience exactly 30 years ago).

So, Kamelia, if there are butterflies in the tummy at the very thought of flying the coop and sharing life with someone who is now your husband, let me tell you that it is all quite natural.

Being married is a huge hurdle but being married and then within a space of two weeks leave everything and everyone that is familiar to you is a different ball game altogether.

It was around this time in December 30 years ago that I started life as a newly-wed away from home, seriously lacking in skills especially those in the kitchen department.

London was practically home to my husband while I had to start from scratch, learning the ropes while suppressing the urge to call home and cry at the slightest hitch.

Looking back, and with some wisdom of hindsight, I think starting married life away from home is the best thing to do.

London was gloomy and dark when the plane landed at Heathrow that winter morning and that cold morning sort of defined my expectations of what my life in London would be like in the coming years.

But Geneva has that added attractions of beautiful snowcapped mountains, enough to keep you mesmerised for some time.

But the beautiful snowcapped mountains will soon lose its attractions once the husband goes to work and leaves you with what will feel like more than 24 hours in a day.

When mine went to work, I looked out of my window into a very busy concrete jungle that was and is London. It was busy and crowded and yet I felt alone and lonely.

In those days, phone calls cost a fortune, phone cards were unheard of, and Skype and video calls were still blueprints in some geniuses’ minds. And, of course, no Facebook.

In this respect, you are luckier and can easily email home to ask for that sambal tumis recipe.

I remember now the preparation for my first dinner guests. After quite a lengthy phone call to my mother, every ingredient for chicken curry was minced, pounded, chopped and blended ready in small bowls on the kitchen table by eight in the morning for dinner at eight at night.

Rice was usually cooked by the husband. Kitchen disasters included very soggy fried noodles, exploding keropoks in the pan because I had washed them prior to frying and a first near marital disaster when I threw away tempeh which I thought had gone bad.

Thinking I needed time on my hands, he ordered “Learn to Sew and Knit” which I duly gave up after knitting two sleeves on one side.

But Kamelia, we live and learn. And the exciting bit is living and learning together. Because there’s just the two of you, learn to accept each other’s idiosyncracies, warts and all. Sharing credit cards is a bonus.

It is just too easy to keep within our own comfort zone and forgetting that there are so many exciting new things to learn outside our own Malaysian community.

I have met many wonderful ladies in the expat world, who learnt the art of Chinese painting while in China, porcelain making while in Europe; and quilting while in Washington.

Youth is on your side and while you enjoy life together, enjoy too acquiring these knowledge and skills that the outside world can offer.

So, while I look forward to my next 30 years and beyond together, I wish the both of you every happiness and success starting your new life together abroad.

With lots of love, Mak Teh

Pengantin lama

Wednesday 9 December 2009

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Listless in London: Dec 1 - a countdown of sorts

It was probably a blistering hot morning, that December 1 thirty years ago, followed by heavy rain in the afternoon, the kind of rain that makes you want to sleep and wake up smelling the fresh smell of grass after such a downpour.  I am just guessing about the rain because it usually rains heavily in December, the month when tents go up and buffalos get slaughtered for wedding feasts up and down the country.

Perhaps I was anxious about the rain then as the countdown began for the start of a new chapter in my life. Perhaps I was just anxious. I reckon, a bride-to-be about to start a new life in a totally different country the other side of the world has the right to feel anxious, if not downright hysterical.

Today as the rain pelted mercilessly on the window and the grey clouds stubbornly obscured the winter sun, I tried hard to remember that December 1 of thirty years ago.

It was 8 days before the big day.  The blue lace kebaya was probably ready and waiting to be picked up from the tailor’s.  There were still no shoes, nor accessories or jewelleries except for that glittering new solitaire on my finger; a constant reminder that my status was about to change.

 I remember now the excitement of being someone’s tunang, even though it was for a brief period before the change of status to wife.  I remember being told of the glow that radiated from the happiness that was bursting from within.  But I also remember the feeling of sadness as we chose our luggage, as we packed our bags – a reminder that we were going to leave our loved ones behind.

December 1 of 1979 was fifteen days before we took the flight that was to take us where we are today.  I remember the ride to the airport, the tight grip of Mak’s hand in mine and the hot tears streaming down my cheeks.  I remember rushing back to hug her at the gates as the final call was made.  Yes, I remember it all now as I type this on this December 1 2009; legs entwined under the duvet, a soft snore that reminds me he is still here and mine.

Kak Teh remembers

The Journey Continues - The tale of the blue kebaya
The Journey Begins
Heating up Memories on a Cold Morning