Friday, December 08, 2006

Childhood comfort foods: Tea

I know. Tea isn't a food. But I plan to make this a series (like Cats In My Life, which unfortunately I've never expanded beyond Whiskey, the sweetest cat ever to walk this wicked earth) and "Childhood comfort foods and drinks and anything else that can be tasted" is just so... prosaic?

So. Tea. The story is, this morning I was jauntily walking to breakfast with my colleague when The Unthinkable happened. You know it's not really your day when you can't even get as far as the office door without bleeding. I opened the door without noticing that my foot, inadequately protected by a strappy sandal, was in the way. I actually heard a disgusting "sqqqsshhhhssss" sound as tempered glass and metal sliced through toe flesh. And yet somehow I still thought I could walk to breakfast and deal with the "scratch" later. Until I looked down and noticed the blood oozing. Then, as I walked to the bathroom to rinse it, really oozing.

I turned around and walked back to my cubicle. If that's what happened when I was just walking around indoors, who knows what I might get up to on a road with real traffic? My kind colleague went down to buy our breakfast since our attempt to walk out for food got aborted.

(Yes, this is about tea. I'll get to it soon enough.)

One and a half bungkus of nasi lemak later, with the toe still extremely tender and bleeding, I went to the pantry cupboard, took out a teabag and made myself a cup of tea.

And lifted the steaming mug to my lips. I happened to breathe in just then, and as I smelled the bitter scent, I paused.

The toe still hurt, but I suddenly felt better.

Tea.

When I was growing up, most of my days were spent at my nanny's house. Before I was old enough for the formal education system to claim me, those days were bliss, mostly spent playing with either Poh-poh, Auntie (when she wasn't busy with housework or cooking) or one of my older "siblings" from the Lim family. Or sleeping. Or watching TV. Or sleeping.

Somehow, even when I was too little to understand much else, I knew that 4pm every day was a special time: teatime.

It was a ritual that now, on those rare occasions when I'm with the Lims at teatime, I miss participating in regularly. From boiling the water in the whistling kettle to scooping just the right amount of tea leaves into the strainer in the green enamel jug, it all screams "home": not home the place, but home, that time in childhood when I was secure and happy. To this day, I find cream crackers dry and tasteless but still enjoy eating them. The only reason I can think of is that teatime always involved cream crackers and butter, not just tea. And tea was always with real milk ("the kind you can pour," I thought as a child, "not the powdered kind.") and lacings of sugar, before Auntie sternly told me off for putting my dental health at risk.

Ah... tea. One whiff of it can bring back so much in faded photographic colour. And take my mind off the pain of a deeply cut toe.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A post about many things

I think this article should be required reading in every secondary school and college in the country. Girls should read it because I think, most often, it's married women who give up their "selves" for the sake of harmony or "happiness". Boys should read it because it might still happen to them, and because they have to learn along with the rest of us that along with everything else in life, the primary purpose of marriage is not one's own happiness.

If our school system valued educating students with real life skills as much as it does mouldy, regurgitated facts, we'd see a lot more happy, healthy adults. Mid-life, quarter-life or any-other-fraction-of-life crises would be few and far between because we'd all, male and female, know what we want and do whatever is within our power to get it, while trusting the Almighty to get us there.

It's been almost eight months since I ended my last relationship, a painful decision mostly because I hate causing pain to other people. I am still sorry for hurting him but don't regret my decision. I know marriage is about sacrifice and servanthood, but I still firmly believe that it's about sacrificing and serving while being yourself, not the other person's ideal. Not a suppressed version of yourself who laughs at jokes you don't really find funny, bites your tongue when you're being insulted or put down, or keeps quiet when talk of a life vision that really doesn't match up to your own comes up.

I've had quite a rocky life in terms of relationships... not only romantic ones but those with both parents and some of my relatives. I learned from a young age to be the "peacemaker", pursuing peace at all costs even when it wasn't healthy for everyone involved. Looking back, and even now at one of my relatives now who's still trying to stir up trouble from last millennium (literally), I think everyone involved just needed to grow up. I mean, yelling at your spouse in public; swearing at family members (well, swearing at all); throwing silent tantrums when you don't get your way... if that isn't immature behaviour, tell me what is.

Anyway, I'm not posting this as an excuse to mouth off on those members of my family who aren't likely to read this. That's a little bit like pushing an anonymous poison-pen letter through the mail slot and then running away. One thing I decided when I began this blog is that it won't be a channel for attacking people with. I do occasionally criticise behaviour or actions that I don't approve of, but it's never a deliberate nip at the person behind the wrong.

Wow, talk about random stream-of-consciousness rambling... I know it's uncharacteristic of me to put so much personal stuff on my blog, but today feels different.

Oh yeah, while I'm being random (when am I not?) let me just say that I don't blog to get a reaction or because I'm desperate to see my work published. Not that I don't value everyone who reads [thanks for dropping by :o)] The biggest reason why I do this is because I want to, and hopefully somehow my words will achieve some good. That's all.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Thank God I'm not Irish

Maybe it's one of these "attraction of the Other" things, but I've always had a bit of a thing for Irish culture... though I don't know much about it.

So I really like this "Irish blessing", but unfortunately, I think it's now more often found on mass-produced printed wall hangings and coffee mugs than on the lips of people who really mean it.

"May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
And rains fall soft upon your fields,
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of His hand."

Granted, not many of us have fields these days and because of skin cancer phobia it's not very PC to wish for sunshine on one's face, but it's still a nice sentiment.

I'm glad I'm neither Irish nor in the habit of cursing people, because if I were it would go something like this:

"May those who love us love us;
And those that don't love us,
May God turn their hearts.
And if He doesn't turn their hearts,
May He turn their ankles,
So we'll know them by their limping."

I hope everyone in my life can walk with a clean conscience and straight ankles ;o)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Finishing up

With just over a month left to 2006, I've been contemplating how well I've used my year's worth of time. And, of course, hoping I can do a better job in 2007. I have all sorts of lofty plans, but I'd rather commit to just a few and do them well than become the embodiment of one of my mum's favourite Hokkien sayings, which translates literally into:

"Catch dragon, catch phoenix... at the end of the day, not so much as half a dead rat!"

In other words, don't make big plans you can't follow them through. Wise woman, my momma.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Listless? No way!

List.less: Lethargic; lacking energy

That describes me quite well, now that I'm on Day 5 1/2 of my flu. To compensate for my seeming listlessness, here's a list. I know, no connection whatsoever. Isn't English a beautiful language?

  1. If nothing else, the benefits of having a bad cold and cough are: being able to sleep all day on a weekday and not feeling guilty; knowing who really cares for me; exploiting the healing properties of ice-cream; being able to eat the Thai fried rice at Section 17 that has eluded me for months because whenever I get there after work, they're already sold out; doing nothing and feeling good about it.
  2. One of my fish died this morning. "And then there was one." Requiescat in pace.
  3. I am sick, sick, sick of the bad English I see in local "English"-language papers. Also sick of being told, "Give [the writers and editors] a break, they're only human." In my book, if you're being paid to do something, you'd better be good at it. Ever told a doctor, "It's ok if you're not that sure how the human body works, you're only human"? I believe in grace as much as anyone. I'm continually on the receiving end of it myself. But I still say, at least look as if you're trying.
  4. It's true, you can never go home. Or back to your old Latin dance class, wishing it were just as it was five years ago. I don't know which has changed the most: the studio, the class or myself.
  5. I am simultaneously reading two biographies (well, Fashion Babylon IS more or less biographical) and I can't help marvelling at how strikingly different people can be. From the guy who gained what he cannot lose to the countless people who seem to be tossing away all their life and energy for what they can't keep. Why?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

What makes a day worthwhile?

"Believe me, count as lost each day you have not used in loving God."

Brother Lawrence (1611-1691)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Thoughts, statements and observations (randomness alert)

  1. No, I will not observe a Halloween dress-up code at work, even just for fun.
  2. There is a family of mice living in my office photocopier-printer-scanner.
  3. For some reason, the theme song from the 1980s Cantonese slapstick comedy Teppanyaki floated into my head early this morning and it just won't leave.
  4. I need more sleep so my head will stop pounding.
  5. Cats are adorable but not when they sing to each other outside my bedroom window at 4am.
  6. Mouldy bread that has no appearance of mould on the surface, only on the inside once you've bitten it, is not part of the ideal Morning Experience.
  7. I need more sleep so I don't snore at work and make my colleagues think the mice have morphed into Gremlins.
  8. I am banned from entering any stationery shop with more than RM5 in my wallet.
  9. I wish I could transplant the mice from the office photocopier to outside my bedroom window at home. They could then get the attention of the singing cats and lead them, in an authoritative and stylish manner they learnt from the Pied Piper, far, far away from my home.
  10. You can't have your cake and eat it too. But you can get a cookie after the cake.
  11. I need more sleep because the deficit is affecting my memory and I keep repeating myself because I can't remember what I've already said.

Friday, October 27, 2006

What have I learned over the past few days?

... that it's really best to have my mobile phone battery fully charged before setting off downtown to a place I've never been to. Like Abraham, I went, not knowing where I was going. And like him, I providentially ended up in the right place. Unlike him, it took me a lot of SMS exchanges and 20 minutes going round in circles in the best of KL traffic to reach a place I'd passed three times without seeing.

... how good it feels to run through town in pouring rain.

... that when doing a food review with a team from another publication, one needs to check first that the other team's photographer has snapped a dish before one digs into it.

... that it's not only in the movies that the lights at a whole series of pedestrian crossings turn green for you when you're in a hurry.

... that the tastiest dishes aren't the ones on display.

... just how unhappy my feet are unless they get to dance. And just how much they love Latin.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Slow down, it's time to fast

I realise the previous post may have been a bit ambiguous about my current state of mind. For the sake of clarification, yes, I'm fine and dandy now. "Happy chocolate-fuelled thing" would describe me quite well, most days. Especially now that I've ended the fast from sweet things, although I may soon start another one. Quite apart from the fringe benefit of losing weight, I've found that denying myself the food I enjoy most is really very good for teaching ...

Irony of ironies, I briefly abandoned this post while typing the previous paragraph because... uh... (blushes) my boss offered me a slice of her fantastically delicious birthday cake and I accepted. How could I not?

So, where was I? The fast! Right. The fast. Yes, I think I need to do it again soon. Because, as I was saying, denying myself the food I enjoy most is really very good for teaching me all about discipline, about appreciation of everything I take for granted, and about letting go of the petty things I find important.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Two-year-old writing

This is part of a journal entry that I wrote exactly two years ago, to the day. I was referring to one evening in 2003 when I was lying down on a friend's balcony in Australia, watching shooting stars.

I don't know who you are, but I had the feeling when I reread my old journal that I should put this entry here so that someone who's facing a "night" of his or her own would gain some hope. I don't have much I can give my friends, but I hope this page from my life will help you.

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 11, 2004:

"In the cold that night... I remember feeling a sense of impernanence, and that I was just a tiny, tiny part of a great big world. I was so hypnotised by the shooting stars, I couldn't get up to go home. Even when there was a long gap in between one star and the next, I would whisper, 'Just one more, please, God,' and wait. And I would wonder: 'If he can bring me another star, won't he also make sure all the more that my life will be fine?' And somehow, though there was a lot more pain to come*, I knew things would be all right.

I would feel it, too, when I went up to Red Hill Lookout** at sunset and watched the blue sky go purple, red, orange, black. Sometimes there would be ribbons of vibrant orange across a velvety blue, almost edible background, and when I turned to face the other way there would be an entirely different picture there. I usually went about 15 minutes before sunset, and the sky would still be blue then; yet, the change from daylight to night was so gradual that I never saw it happen.

Guess my life is like that. Things are constantly changing, forming, reshaping, disappearing, but it's only when each stage is over that I realise how different things are from before. Between last year and now, my life is as different as day is from night. With each fading colour, I cried, sometimes even fought against its dying, got angry and made sure to tell God so. When night finally fell, I wept and stumbled in the ensuing darkness for some time.

Yet I believe that now, I've come to understand that in order for daylight to come once more, I must be willing to accept the darkness of tonight, do what is appropriate for that time, and simply wait for the sunrise. And it will come."

Whoever you are, if it seems that all the light seems to have gone from your life, I hope you have faith that it will come back.

*Just a few months after that night with the shooting stars, I faced the end of a four-year relationship; had to give up my full-time dance studies because of an inexplicable back injury; and left the scenery I loved in Australia to come home.
**A pretty spot 5 minutes away from where I lived in Sydney, where I'd go whenever I needed to be alone.



Friday, September 01, 2006

A plan so fine

I’m glad to know there are more than two people who read this blog. Thanks for the encouragement, you know who you are.

In the past few weeks I’ve had a lot of reason to contemplate life in general. How things that we flippantly said years before can suddenly come true now, making us go “Whoa… now hang on a sec. How?” Or things that were once all that we lived, breathed and dreamed… and now, looking back, there’s nothing else to do but thank God they never came close to happening.

Years ago, I said to my mum one random day, “Wouldn’t it be fun if when I grow up, I work for [her favourite exclusive Japanese cosmetics house] so that you can get free cosmetics?”

I have no idea why I said that. I’ve never had an interest in dermatology or anything remotely connected to the beauty industry. I think I was just being my practical, Hokkien self: considering how much my mum spent on cosmetics, I probably figured that if I could get her sold on the idea of free cosmetics by the time I was 25, she might go easy on them for now and save enough money by the time I was 18 to… buy me a car? Who knows.


Anyway, a few weeks ago as I organised a bunch of cosmetics and skincare I’d taken home to test for work, I suddenly remembered that statement I’d made to my mum.


And realised that the things we speak of, however lightly, always have some chance of coming true. Not necessarily in the way we imagine, but in such a way that even through the fog of intervening years, we can still recognise them. Maybe it’s these small, seemingly unimportant things that serve to remind us that our past and future are never separate from each other, even when all we can see of the present seems to tell us otherwise.


There are times in life when I just can’t imagine what’s ahead and sometimes I forget that whatever it is, it’s good. I’m so thankful for all the people, animals and things around me that constantly help me to remember that while some of the things I say are random, life never is.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

What's with the male-bashing?

I've had it up to here with product advertisements featuring any number of attractive female models in some provocative/pseudo-authoritative pose, captioned with a tagline written to hit the male ego where it hurts. I suppose it's meant to amuse the ladies and antagonise the men. I seem to have missed the memo explaining what exactly makes them funny.

What is it with this generation and the people who shape its consciousness? We use our words, as sharp as we can get them (and some of us, myself included, were born with the gift of the jagged tongue, unfortunately), to wound the men around us and make them feel lower than pond scum. They're told, indirectly, that they're there to be conquered, crushed, manipulated, used and seduced. Then, when they turn into jerks who only want to know us in order to conquer, crush, manipulate, use and seduce us, all of a sudden feminine outrage surfaces.

My hands are not clean; I've said some pretty damaging things in the past but thanks to good, old-fashioned empathy and a few reflective moments, I see the error of my ways.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

What she left behind

I was sorting through some more of Mummy's jewellery today and thought of the saying that what you leave behind tells a lot about who you were. So as I sorted, I listened: what was in this huge jumble of bracelets, earrings, rings, pendants, chain and bangles?

Cloisonné. Lots of cloisonné. Earrings, bangles, pendants, chokers. My mother loved flowers and this art form, with its floral motifs, always appealed to her. She also loved bright, contrasting colours, especially unusual combinations that surprised you because you wouldn't expect them to look so good. My father travelled a lot throughout their years together so a large part of her collection is from overseas.


Jade. My mother's name meant "Jade Dragon", and I don't know if her liking for the stone arose out of being associated with it from the moment of her birth; or if it was just aesthetically pleasing to her. Her favourite piece was a bangle, like those you'd see on ladies of her generation or older - a circle of cloudy, green-white stone, completely round and smooth. The bangle was special to her because of a transparent dark green spot. Maybe in her heart of hearts, this piece of jewellery represented herself: She was a woman like any other on first appearances, but on closer examination there was a unique beauty that you'd miss if you walked by too fast.

Or maybe it was just a nice piece of jade to her.

Necklaces she made herself. I can still remember her making them. It was about 20 years ago, and my mum and aunts were on a whole DIY jewellery kick. I couldn't get my head around how many crocheted bead necklaces there were in that drawer. And then there are the ones with the big porcelain beads and the Chinese knots. I'm sure if she'd decided to make a living from her jewellery and other crafts she loved, she would've earned more than her desk job paid her. It was a risk she never dared take, and I wish she had. Mummy didn't take many risks, preferring the safe and the known.

Gold. Chinese woman that she was (and I don't mean that in a derogatory way; I'm Chinese, too!), my mum loved gold. To her, it was both adornment and investment. She'd save up to buy herself something new every few years. She wasn't a flamboyant person, so she bought what she could wear every day: things that wouldn't need much maintenance, that weren't overly eye-catching, but that gave her pleasure when she looked at them. When she was hospitalised for the last time and had to take off her jewellery, one of the pieces she was wearing was a gold chain with a locket in the shape of the Chinese character of her surname, Su. She was always proud of her identity and to her, marrying and taking on my father's name didn't diminish who she was or where she'd come from.

Costume jewellery. Of the whole collection, this is the bit I don't understand. For someone who otherwise had exquisitely fine taste in everything, my mum had a lot of really tacky jewellery, too. (I used to tell her this to her face, and we agreed to disagree on this this part of her jewellery collection since I wasn't the one wearing it, anyway. No guilt here!) Some of her costume jewellery is well-made and understated, but some literally made my eyes pop out. Huge dangling earrings with some kind of stones set in them; we're talking about eight mid-sized stones per side, and I don't even know what they're supposed to be because they've gone from clear to dull and I can barely tell the colours apart anymore. A hematite bead choker with pieces so big that if one had fallen onto Mummy's dear pet Whiskey, he'd surely have gone to kitty heaven on the spot.

I'm sure each piece tells a story, and I wish she were still around to tell me. But knowing her and the way her life was before she was diagnosed with cancer, I doubt she would ever have had the time. I miss her more as time passes, as the image of her blurs and the memory of her laughter gets softer in my ears. I wonder what each of us would end up buying if I were to go jewellery shopping today. Would she end up with a pair of plain silver hoops, and would I for some unknown reason decide to go for a chunky faux gold chain with black onyx-like flowers hanging from it? I'll never know, because she's not here. All I have to go by is what she left behind, and there's a lot that it's already told me.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Day 14

Aaaand it's back to work tomorrow, folks.

I like the idea of working again. The past 14 days have been great for resting, but I miss the routine. I do! I'm amazed, myself. Bums do turn!

Highlights of this break:
  • The Amazing Flying Mua Chee of Ipoh
  • My cousin's wedding (OST featuring Kung Fu Fighting not for sale)
  • Penang gluttony, albeit without banana sesame pancakes
  • Attending prayer meeting for the first time in more than a year
  • Long, uninterrupted quiet times and journalling sessions
  • Room Furniture Rearranging, Part I
  • My 3 great sticker finds
  • Breakfast with the family without feeling I have to rush somewhere
  • Shiny, happy Spunky
Life is good. Thank you, God.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Overdoing, underbeing

"Why exercise? Why diet? Lose weight the easy way!" yells a newspaper advertisement.

"Gain back your initial investment and more in just 7 days! No charts to read, no more research!" reads a leaflet someone stuffed in my mailbox (apparently, they
really wanted me to attend this seminar, because there were five of them in there).

Clearly, in order for the people in so many industries to offer shortcuts and easy ways to a better life, there must be a demand for them.

It's true that as life gets busier, conveniences that get the job done quickly are welcome indeed to every weary soul who stumbles upon them.

I guess I don't have much of an issue with the easy way out; I'd just like to know why we're so addicted to it.

What's wrong with exercise and dieting (healthily)? If you truly want to make money through investment, isn't it wisest to put some sweat and grey cells into it rather than trusting a method that's helped someone else make his millions? How do you know
you're not just another source of income for his well-lined pockets?

"But I have so little time to do all I want to do," says the beleaguered urbanite. That's true. Unfortunately, time is one thing we just can't get more of, regardless of our need. But why do we feel we have to do so much that even when we can't achieve it all the traditional, elbow-grease way, we have to find a shortcut? Why do people stretch themselves beyond capacity in order to do and achieve what they probably don't have to anyway? It's
cliché but true: We're human beings, not doings. When was the last time you sat down idly without a book to read, exercises to do, or a TV/CD player bleating at you in the background, and just enjoyed being?

Thursday, June 08, 2006

No swearing please, I'm human

In the old days, no man would dream of swearing in the presence of a lady.

It was assumed that no lady would even know of any swear words, let alone use them.

These days, it seems I can't have a simple dinner in a food court, watch a movie or listen to the radio without having my ears battered by a steady flow of profanity.

The other night, I almost got indigestion from having to listen to several rap artistes tell me explicitly how they felt about various issues. Interestingly, though the issues varied, the cuss words didn't. Not much, anyway.

The last time I watched a movie, it was an animated feature. I guess that's what made parents assume it was ideal viewing for their kids, because the cinema was packed with under-12s. I wondered if the parents in there cringed as I did at the references to bodily functions and "watered-down" euphemisms for cruder swear words that some thoughtful scriptwriter must have put in for the sake of the child-safe ratings.

Some people tell me I'm too sensitive, even judgemental. Am I being hypersensitive by trying to practice discretion over what I hear? If I don't want this kind of language coming out of me, I'd better start with getting as little of it as possible to enter my mind, hadn't I?

As for the "judgemental" tag, please. I have nothing against the people who swear. It's just their language I have a problem with.

I'm sure some people can't understand why I get hot and bothered over a small thing like language. Aren't things like violence, stealing and prejudice worse? Sure they are, I just haven't written about them yet!

I've heard many people say they want to live a life with meaning and leave something good behind. I think the quality of our lives depends a lot on the words we speak and hear.

If you're someone for whom "strong language" equals saying "Oh, my!" when something shocking happens, yay! And if the bulk of your vocabulary consists of words that you wouldn't say in front of your grandmother, religious leader, three-year-old niece or primary school discipline master, how about an overhaul?

Friday, June 02, 2006

Day 2

5.15ish: Toss and turn in bed, unintentionally pull light cord and cause it to fall on its switch and switch on

Two seconds later: Sit up in bed wondering how on earth I ended up outdoors at noon

Another 2 seconds later: Realise it's not outdoors, it's a long way from noon, and I am now wide awake

5 minutes later: Get SMS from friend saying something to the effect of, "I don't know why but I'm suddenly wide awake, and look at the time!"

10 minutes later: Give up on going back to sleep and decide to drive to nearby park to enjoy quiet time at sunrise

20 minutes later: Decide, since I am officially Free with Nowhere Else to Go Post-Quiet Time, to do something a little different. Head for National Monument instead.

10 minutes later: Spend peaceful 35 minutes enjoying birdsong and frog croaks in Lake Gardens.

35 minutes later: Head home for much-needed sleep.

Reminder of freedom
I don't think anyone could call me patriotic (and most people call me Ren, anyway) but seeing the monument reminded me of how much I have to be thankful for. Sure, life here isn't perfect, but neither is life anywhere on Earth. As I live my life the best I can, I hope I can make some small but significant difference that will prove those long-lost lives will not have been given in vain.

An old man stood
My mind just replayed this image of Ah Koong, my nanny's father-in-law, standing at attention every evening when Negaraku played on the TV at 5.00 pm. When I first began to notice him doing that, I was about 3 or 4, and I remember thinking it was pretty funny that he would bother to stand when no one was watching. I was told it was because he had experienced the hardships of war and Emergency, and he appreciated the freedom he could now enjoy.

Free
We're built such that we find it hard to appreciate something unless we know how miserable life is without it. Now, about 20 years later, I am beginning to appreciate what it was that brought an old gentleman to his feet at 5.00 every day, whether or not anyone else was there. Not because I've tasted war and physical oppression, but because I know I'm living in freedom now.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Day 1 of 14-day inter-job break

This seems like a good time to do one of those "Oh I'm so efficient, this is all the stuff I've done already" posts. Naturally, since this is me, "stuff" isn't a clear-cut matter of writing down things to do and doing them. Somehow, things just have to get interesting.

Meals eaten: Two. Ish.

Snacks: Black pepper "Water Crackers". They're so dry, I wonder why they're called Water Crackers. Maybe because that's what you most need immediately after you eat them.

Injuries: Four. Strained left jaw muscle, discovered while brushing teeth in the morning; three swollen and soon to be colourful bruises on right thigh from multiple encounters with left foot corner post of four-poster bed.

Tasks completed: Two and a half. Got sneakers repaired; dropped pay cheque in machine; partially completed alteration of evening gown for Sunday's dinner. Stopped work on gown when realised that stitches being removed are part of original gown tailoring and not prior alterations.

Urgent task to complete tomorrow: Repair evening gown, making it look as if original stitches were never touched.


Object lesson in dryness

Friday, May 05, 2006

Leave the past where it belongs

"The future is too abstract for our limited human minds to embrace," I said in an SMS I sent a friend.

No, I wasn't trying to win an award for Yodaism of the Year.

(If I were, the above sentence would read more like, "Abstract the future is; limited our human minds are to embrace it. MMMMrrrrhhmmm.")

(Yoda wouldn't say "Our human minds", now, would he? Because he's not... human?)

Anyway. How I do ramble. I just wanted to say that it's a common human error to go through life looking dreamily at the past, at all the good things and some of the not-so-good things that have happened and to wish we could go back.

I say "error" because there is just no way we can go back. So why do we wish? Because painful as it can be to look back, the past is already set. It's concrete. All the variables have been established; nothing can change. Like an embarrassing photograph of you in your 80s best, it exists as a permanent testament of what has been.

In comparison, the future is to our human consciousness a vague, ill-defined landscape, like a view of an Impressionist painting through somebody else's spectacles. We think we can make out some familiar shapes and faces. But we can't be sure. And this uncertainty is what makes us look backwards again.

If we would only take the word of the only being who can see equally clearly into both past and future, we would find the past much less fulfilling; and the future, much less frightening. As he said to people of long ago (and now, if we bother to listen),

"Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth."


It's hard to face forward and believe that the future is not that foggy image we see. But unless we do so, we risk going through life with a sore back from carrying around decades of regret... and from permanently looking over our shoulders.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

More wisdom from the sages

"Ada ham di sebalik char kuey tiao." - A

("There is an oyster on the other side of the delicious calorie-laden Hokkien fried noodle dish.")

Thanks, A.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Tap, here I come (back)!

Before you think I've become passionate about plumbing, think again.

I would like to solemnly announce that...

... I'm dancing again!


Or at least, will be soon. Since coming back from Australia, I haven't danced a step. No Latin. No tap. Not even ballet or poofy contemporary. Boo-hoo. I miss movin' and groovin'.

The timing of this class I've finally found is amazing... and the venue... it must be Providence. Really. It's always been so hard to find a class that's on when I'm not working; not in church; not writing; not sleeping... you get my drift. And it's even cheaper than the other schools where the timing didn't match (and parking cost a bomb).

Ah probably nobody who reads this post will really get what I'm talking about. But I'm happy, so smile with me, huh?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Random Things

  1. A manual car gearstick with brushed-steel finish is pretty to look at... but a real bear to use on a hot afternoon
  2. Red ants do not understand the concept of personal space
  3. Apparently, mashed potato and carrot is a sell-able sandwich filling
  4. Guppies don't eat dead fleas
  5. Guppies also don't like turbulence

Friday, April 21, 2006

'I Could Only Ask God Why'

As I looked behind me, the shining years rolled by
And ahead, all was empty; I could only ask God, "Why?"

These are part of the lyrics I wrote for a song in Storm in a Teacup. I think the question we most commonly ask when bad things happen is, "Why?" Not how, who or even when. Why. There is something in our chemistry that makes us discontent with accepting things as they are without knowing why they must be. And when those things are causing us pain, all the more we're inclined to look up at where we imagine to be the only place God can be found, and scream our question at the Almighty.

These days, burning bushes and columns of fire just don't happen anymore. At least, not that I know of. And we never get an answer that will satisfy us; instead, only the answer he wants us to hear.

Thank God for his patience, or else I believe all of us question-screaming types would have been fried to a crisp by a lightning bolt by now.

I don't think I can change myself to the extent that I can stop asking "why?". There are just too many things going on that make me wonder. But I can and, for the sake of my sanity and a good night's sleep, must teach myself to be content with the only answer that my limited human mind can tolerate for now:

"Because."

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Unconditional

Part of my role in preparing for an upcoming youth conference is being part of the drama team that will present a few pieces of varying length to the delegates. For the first time since, oh, ever, I'm also going to act as more than background scenery.

Paradoxically enough, I find that acting demands a lot more authenticity from the actor than most people would usually think; on the flipside, I think most of us do plenty of acting in our day-to-day lives.

How many of us dare to let our guards down to the people around us? I think we'd be shocked if we knew the truth about the people we see every day (and ignore for the most part). We have our civilised mini-conversations, we exchange pleasantries, but it stops there.

We were throwing around ideas for those plays, and one of those was to end each play not with a concluding statement, but with a question.

After the emotional upheaval I've been through in the past few weeks and months, my question for anyone (and not necessarily from me) is:

Would you still love me if you knew who I really am?

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Category chaos

Prejudice is funny.

Not laugh-out-loud, early-Jackie-Chan-era-movie funny.

Funny, like, "Why like that wan, ah?" funny.

I think we tend to try too hard to organise people into categories we can understand. Just so that the realisation of each person's uniqueness doesn't overwhelm us. So that we can find some point at which we can identify with that person, because though we may not want to admit it, someone who's not like me may not be someone I want to know.

Or maybe we deliberately make the categories even narrower to suit our biases and prejudices. "I don't strike up conversations with people who clean toilets for a living." "I don't have friends who wear embarrassingly misspelt counterfeit designer clothes." "I don't want to be acquainted with anyone who wears sandals over socks." And gradually, the categories narrow even more and it gets harder and harder to find someone who meets our standards.

And one day, we wake up and realise we don't make the cut anymore.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

A not bad day

First, I made it all through the day at work without falling asleep in flu-drugged oblivion.

Then, I got to go to the brother and sister-in-law's place, mainly to see Mudslide but also because it's nice to just visit with one's siblings, isn't it? Yummm... apple crumble with butterscotch sauce doth sweeten one's lips so much. Ta, people!

As you gather, I had dinner there. When all I was supposed to do was stop by and play with a furry cat for half an hour, then pick up something simple for dinner on the way home. Ended up eating assam fish and four-angled beans on rice, instead. Oooh wait, that wasn't quite the end; the end was the apple crumble. Mmmm. Apple crumble.

And every now and then, I would call Mudslide out of whatever dark corner she had crawled into, and get her to roll over so I could hear some purrs, and when she slunk back into the corner I would have another bite of apple crumble.

Did I mention that was really, really tasty apple crumble?

Note to self: Must learn how to bake more things than just bread-and-butter pudding made out of last week's crusts.

And to make the day extra sweet, I picked up the copy of The Blue Day Book that Pink chi-chi got me during her last trip to Houston. How many people have two families' worth of nice people caring for them? I am blessed.

Then upon reaching home I almost collapsed in gratitude when I realised I'd been driving with an expired road tax sticker for over a month, but that's a story for another day.

Mudslide does cute

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The hardest story I've had to live

I sent in two entries to a story contest about cancer, and both were shortlisted to be winners. Unfortunately, the contest rules stated that one person can only win one prize. Phooey. Well actually, not phooey, because I knew this from the beginning and I didn't join the contest for the prizes anyway.

I think the organisers got it right in deciding not to announce the winners in reverse sequence as if it were the Oscars. I like the way winners of the big prizes were announced side by side with winners of the not-so-big prizes. Unfortunately, this meant I had to do the gracious beauty pageant runner-up thing when I turned out not to be the grand prize winner. You know, reflex hug, air kiss on both sides, fan frantically at eye area to stop mascara from running... Nyah uh! Not on your life! It was all I could do to keep from smacking the winner on the back because she was so flippin' inspiring! However, I do know my own strength and didn't want to send her spinning across the room like the Tasmanian Devil so I gave her a genteel smile and light pat on the back.

Take a couple o' minutes to read the prizewinning entries
here, you won't regret it.

And if you want to read mine special... sniff... sniff... aww you're so sweet! You really do? I mean, really really? All right, here you go... read the full versions on the organiser's website, ya hear?

Excerpt from "My Mother's Victory" (the one that officially won)
"I believe [my mother] won the battle against cancer. She died surrounded by people who loved her. Cancer may have destroyed her body, and numerous medical procedures weakened it, but the experience of those two years only strengthened her spirit. She made her peace with God weeks before she died, while her mind was still lucid and unaffected by pain-relieving drugs. She left an immeasurable legacy, the memory of her colourful and vibrant personality, which will remain with her family and friends as long as we live. Cancer may have shortened her life, but it cannot diminish its influence over those of others who knew her and who hear her story. That was and is my mother’s victory."

Excerpt from "Seven Ways to Help Someone You Love Deal with Cancer" (the other one)
"Ever hear the story about the dinner party which went on all night with an uninvited pink elephant seated in the room the whole time? The large pachyderm ate, drank, squirted water and snot out its trunk at guests and left large “packages” around the room, but everyone was too polite to state the facts. That this intruder was making a significant mess of things, that it would take some effort to get rid of it, and that they would be glad to help the host to get rid of it in any way possible.

"Cancer can be a pink elephant of sorts – until the host (patient) decides to come clean and talk about it. Don’t deny your loved one his or her need to share the questions, doubts, fears and hopes that will arise after the diagnosis. The rare times that my mother spoke of her disease to me, I could tell she was touched that I never tried to change the subject but just listened. Never underestimate the value of a sympathetic, listening ear."

Click the link above to get to the full stories!

Monday, March 20, 2006

Speaking damage

Recently, I was at a Christian event where the speaker recounted a painful event in his youth when someone passed an insensitive comment about his appearance. He didn't look at his image in the mirror for 2 or 3 years, I forget which.

What I found disturbing was when he concluded the story with the statement that from then on, he has made it a point never to pass comments on another person's appearance, people laughed. When he elaborated that this is because you never know what damage you'll cause with your comments, they laughed again.

Now, I have made fun of someone else's acne before. I was a little brat, maybe about 8 or 9 at the most. I regretted it when I was a little older, maybe because by then I had to deal with acne myself. Now that I'm quite a lot older, I regret it because it was just plain ugly, having a laugh at the expense of another person's feelings.

But the audience at this event were mostly adults. Well-educated adults. Groomed, successful, eloquent. Those whom I know, I like a lot. Shouldn't they know better?

The powerful tongue
It made me wonder, how many of us actually care what effects our spoken words will cause? King Solomon said once that life and death are in the power of the tongue, and they didn't name him the wisest man ever for nothing.

Malaysians in particular, I think, are good at saying what they think, and hang the consequences. Why else do you hear people telling children they've just met, children they don't even know, "Wah, so fat lah you, you like eating a lot, ah?" Or the infamous "Why you don't eat [fried chicken; chocolate; peanuts, etc]? Scared of pimples ah? Ya lor, oily skin like you, better be careful."

Did I somehow miss a memo that was passed round, giving all of us free licence to say whatever we please about anyone we like?

We're supposed to be civilised. Could we maybe learn to let up on each other and give up the childish tendency to make remarks about an acquaintance's skin/body size/dressing/eating habits unless we're actually asked for our opinions?

'I'm not going to feel ugly all by myself!'
Sadly enough, I think, the real reason why so many Malaysians feel they must make negative comments about other people is that it's the only way they can feel good about themselves. Somewhere along the way, our society has failed to make known that it's all right to be and love yourself, warts and all.

Maybe if every single person in the country, from the auntie who sweeps leaves off the road to the big deal corporate director, knew how beautiful and unique he or she was, we'd all just be a lot happier.

And social occasions would be much more fun because we'd know that nobody was going to remark that we'd gained weight since coming back from overseas, or suggest a special face cleanser to get rid of blackheads.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Sunny Surprises

Today was my first day back at work after 3 days on sick leave.

Barely had I started up my PC when my mobile rang. The caller was from some courier service and he wanted to verify my office address before delivering something to me.

Not-very-clued-in-me thought: "Did I arrange for some doctor to send me a CD-ROM containing his presentation on bed-wetting, then forget all about it?" ... followed by, if I were a cartoon character, one of those symbols that looks like a little dust bunny. You know, all black and woolly and thick; the universal symbol for "where has my brain gone, and who do I pay to get it back?"

Then my phone rang again. This conversation was much more entertaining, although it confirmed again that I am hopeless at Malay.

I won't bore you with the details, but any conversation with the sentence, "Kamu ada nampak Kafe Leo tak? Atas ada singa punya... bukan, Leo... Leo... ya, kepala singa. Bukan, atas ada kepala singa punya..." is quite worth noting.

For the benefit of my non-BM-speaking readers, the translation of that is, "Do you see Leo Café? There's a lion on top... no, Leo... Leo... yes, a lion's head. No, there is a lion's head on top."

Talk about surreal.

After a few more phone exchanges, I realised that although Mr Bedwetting CD Delivery Man or whoever he was might be no more than 100 metres away from the office, but he would never get there because we Don't Have a Signboard.

I went out on ground level and found that...

He was delivering a bouquet of flowers from Kenny!

What a nice surprise. Bright, shiny, happy sunflowers surrounded by these berry-looking things (I'm a bookworm, not a botanist) and tied with cheery yellow ribbon and jute fibre.


It has taken me several tries over 12 hours to get this picture uploaded. If not for the cheery, uplifting presence of the sunnies, I might have drowned the router by now.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Profound Words That Must Be Recorded


"The power of master ahgugu can heal a tousand moomoos." - [e]

Some things just don't need explanation, I think.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Marriage and the Postmodern Single

Having just read an article about why more and more Malaysian women are staying single well into their 30s and 40s, I've come to a few sad conclusions about the Malaysian Single of the Noughties. I think it applies to the men just as much as the women. Here goes.

Disclaimer: The following piece is a representation of a large number of Malaysian Singles. It is by no means a description of any one individual, nor a sweeping statement about the whole group. I have the greatest respect for people who are single for reasons other than those stated here. Whoa momma, maybe I should have studied law, after all.

He/she is selfish. Life has been kind to him/her. He/she has the time, money and energy to spend all day working and all night shopping, partying, working out and hanging out with friends. Plus, without a family to support or contribute to, there's plenty of cash left over for overseas holidays. Why would anyone want to take on a life partner who would have problems with one's weekly bowling junkets with the boys/girls? Worse still, there might even be... children in the future! Nasty little helpless dependents; what kind of maniac would trade a fat wallet and sunshine-filled days for a lifetime of being concerned for, just imagine, someone else?

He/she has illusions of immortality. A common thread among the interviewees is, "Maybe when I'm older..." I wonder if it's occurred to any of them that it may not be so easy becoming a first-time parent when one's body, mind and soul have had the benefit of a few decades' living? Besides the ubiquitous biological clock every woman is supposedly equipped with, 30 years on Earth is enough to turn one into a hardened, cynical bag 'o dust. Hardly ideal parenting material. Or life partner material, for that matter.

On top of that, who ever guaranteed that "older" would even happen? True, barring the odd car accident or terminal illness, today's young adults can expect to live to at least 80 or so. But having made the choice to stay single and pursue the god of expensive things, will they enjoy their old age so much? At age 60, will they find themselves desperately lonely and longing for the company of the young adults who would have been their children if they'd made different choices in their 30s? Or, having left youth behind so long ago, will they find themselves unable to communicate with the children they finally had when they were pushing 50? I think Solomon, who's been pushing up daisies (or whatever vegetation there is in Bethlehem) for millennia now, had good reason to say, "Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one's youth." (Psalm 127:4)


His/her priorities are way off the mark. Career? Travel? Fame? Independence? In moderate doses, they're all good things to work for. But at the end of the day, you can't take it with you. Old age, illness, injury or infirmity can end a promising career in less time than it takes to whistle Dixie. Memories of sailing on the sparkling Mediterranean, backpacking over the Andes and seeing the sun rise on Angkor Wat will fade faster than a dream the day Alzheimer's moves in. As for fame, whether one gets Warhol's predicted 15 minutes or much, much more, it's not likely to last longer than a decade to a century after one's death. Is 10 to 100 years of fame really worth exchanging for the living legacy of a close-knit family?

Finally, he/she has a Thing against the Opposite Sex. It's as if the Men and the Women have each erected a fort. Messengers steal between the two, trying to see what the Other Side is really after. Sometimes, the Messengers realise that they're really after pretty much the same thing after all, and both defect to the land called Marriage.

Back at the forts, things are getting less and less civil. At Fort Femme, the women are up in arms over the porcine species yet to be recognised by Science, namely, the Male Chauvinist Pig. Based on true stories that happened a long, long time ago, the myths told in the fort get thicker and thicker. "You'll never have a life to call your own!" "He'll expect you to cook, clean, take care of the kids, and pick up after him!" "He won't want you to have your own career. He'll resent it if you earn more." "Even if you could work outside the home, you'd still have to do all the housework." Before long, isolated incidents get passed off as the norm. Variables are mistaken for constants. Flaws that can either be talked through or overlooked are now assumed to be as vital a part of the Man as his... uh... lungs.

Over on the Men's side, meanwhile, words are flying even thicker. "You'll never have a life to call your own!" "She'll expect you to bring home the bacon... and the Tiffany's." "She won't want you to stay in touch with your friends. Every second, morning, noon and night, will have to be accounted for; Heaven help you if forget who you ate lunch with last Saturday."

Both sides have their points. Malaysian men are, on the whole, still carrying around a large portion of their forefathers' misogynistic baggage. Many women are also living with the legacy of grandmas, mothers and sisters whom they wouldn't recognise out on the street because they haven't been out of the house since the wedding.

Nevertheless, it doesn't have to be this way. I may have heard of a woman who choked to death on chocolate but if you think that'll make me stop eating the stuff, think again. Similarly, you'd think that today's yuppies — women and men alike — would have the good sense to tell apart the exception from the norm, to weigh the total benefits against the total cost and to make a decision not only for their own good, but for their families, for society and for posterity.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Random words, random pictures

I haven't had much time lately to do typically Ren things, namely write, blog, take random pictures, sort them into painfully organised folders, etc, etc.

But hooray! It's a brand new year, just two days old (I love being Chinese) and a public holiday to boot. It is Monday, I'm sitting in front of my notebook and unlike the occasions when it's because I'm too dizzy to drive to work, I'm free to write about something that isn't related to nappies or delayed speech, and I don't have to keep checking my e-mail every 5 minutes to make sure I haven't missed anything important.

So what shall I do now with all this beautiful time before me? I'm due to go out later this afternoon with my siblings from my 'other' family.

Since I've just taken the past hour beaming photos from my PDA to my PC, one by one because without a memory card there's no way to mass-copy them, I shall stick some here. The latter part of 2005, through the lens of my little .31megapixel PDA camera.

First of all, phonedoggy and his owner wish all readers a happy and fulfilled Year of the Dog!

Hmm, he looks optimistic as he peeks out at the year to come... looks like it's full of hard work, lots of laughter, good times with family, friends and furries, some struggles, some tears, but overall, I'm sure it's going to be good.

What next? Why, it's a mooncake. This mooncake spent a while on the Endangered Foods list. The danger ended around late August 2005. (It was a very tasty ending.)


Wise man say: When hats too heavy for head, hang on wall instead.


Fine, I have no idea what the meaning of that is supposed to be, but they do look pretty glowing on the wall that way.

My beautiful birthday flowers... (I did say I haven't had time to organise my photos for a while now!)


And my beautiful birthday... uh... non-cake.

Dreams are sweet when they're taken on cow-printed sheets.

Kitty and his friends from Bremen have stuck together all the way to their new home in Petaling Jaya. What a cute celebration of differences.


Time to move on to other pressing matters now, like getting ready to go out. More randomness tomorrow, I hope.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Traffic Riddle

This is a problem that has puzzled and stumped many Klang Valley people for years. Today, while driving to work, it hit me again. What is it about the Federal Highway that makes for such erratic traffic conditions that it makes the Bermuda Triangle as mysterious as my bathtub?

Some mornings, I manage to sleep through two alarms. That’s saying something, because I can be a light enough sleeper to wake up if the next door neighbour’s kids drop a water bottle on the floor. These two alarms are annoying enough to wake the dead (figuratively speaking), especially the one on the old-fashioned bell-‘n-hammer type Pooh clock on my dresser.

So after sleeping through two alarms, I’m finally wakened by sunlight coming in through my window. But because my room faces West, by the time that happens it’s well past 8.00 am.

(Yes, I’m sure all these details have something to do with the mystery of the Federal Highway. Everything is connected. Never underestimate the invisible links between visible things. There, now I sound like my lecturers in uni. Or at least, like someone who’s spent too much time in traffic.)

So by 8.45 I’m ready for work. Jump into the car and whizz off to work, and somehow, I’m parking my car at 9.00 on the dot. Which means I reach the office at 9.05, which is late, so I resolve to leave the house earlier.

Which brings in the paradox. This morning, I dropped Kenny off at his office and took his car, which he kindly lent me since I’ve lent my car to Pops.

(We have complex transportation arrangements.)

At 8.30 sharp, I reached the part of the highway which on those sleep-delayed days I hit only at 8.52.

And there were cars queued up all the way back to Holland, or thereabouts.

And I parked my car at…

… 9.00 sharp.

Where do all those cars which are on the road at 8.30 go that by 8.45 they’ve virtually disappeared? I mean, I’m not saying “half a dozen cars in sight at any one time”, I’m talking about, “shopping mall parking lot 1 week before Chinese New Year”. I’m talking about moving at the rate of 5 minutes per cm. It can’t be that at 8.43, all drivers come to the unanimous decision to just not be there. It’s just not possible to drive all those cars away from that point on the highway, whether by exiting or by progressing further, because the traffic extends to the exit and all the way down this long, long road.

I don’t know. It’s just weird. Makes me wonder what time I have to leave the house in order to enjoy clear traffic and get to work on time.
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