Pre-‘Guidelines for the New Year’ Post

Every year, I write a Guidelines for the New Year post. Not on this blog but on my other blog where I’ve been posting more regularly for the last 12 years. This year however, I’ll be posting my Guidelines post here.

While I was happily writing that post, I suddenly realised that I had forgotten what my own Guidelines were this year! Not only that – I’d also realised that in all the years writing my Guidelines post I’d failed to reflect on whether or not I’d lived that year according to the Guidelines I’d painstakingly set out! I was appalled at myself. Appalled! Nevertheless, this pre-‘Guidelines for the New Year’ post is where I’ll rectify that humongous oversight.

This is where you can find this year’s Guidelines.

So, this year, I reminded myself to say yes, which I think I’ve done a pretty good job of abiding to. One of the things I’ve said yes to, which at other times in my life, I would have said nuh-uh, was agreeing to freelance work (while holding down a 9-to-5 job).

The guideline to be mindful every moment of the things I say, do and feel was a reminder to be present in and appreciate each moment and I don’t think I did that as well as I could have. I also didn’t practice gratitude as often as I should when truthfully, there’s a lot that I’m grateful for.

I’m positive my 9 day trip to London and Paris in early-December qualifies as my one grand adventure for the year! (More on this later)

To learn at least one new thing. Does learning to not detest escargot count? 😉

And finally, the guideline to remember and to remind myself that this is my life to do with what I wish which means I can keep it this way, or change it to how it deserves to be, is why I’m at another crossroad in my life and will be making a leap in January 2017. Joyfear.

So, reflecting on 2016, I have to admit that for me, professionally, there were more downs than ups and the ups were mainly from the freelance work I said yes to. On the other hand, personally, it’s been a fairly memorable year – new friends, the grand adventure – which makes me a little eager to see what 2017 will bring. Just a little eager because, you know, joyfear. Also, I’m looking forward to more blogging next year. Much, much more since I already have several themed posts up my sleeve 😀

So, before I end my pre-Guidelines to the New Year post and also because this post recommends I “prompt my readers (yes, I’m looking at the both of you) for their thoughts when I’ve finished my roundup, tell me – which of my posts this year that you’ve read made you go “This woman is awesome! I want her to be my BFF!”?

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May next year be half as sweet as these candied apples at the Christmas Market, Champs-Elysees

Remembering Gawai days

For Ibans, Gawai is a much-anticipated celebration. Back in Sarawak, celebrating Gawai used to last an entire month and by celebrating, I mean drinking lots of tuak or rice wine. If you’re hardcore about Gawai, you’d forego the tuak and head straight to drinking langkau, tuak‘s less refined sibling. Anthony Bourdain depicted this in an episode of No Reservations much too accurately. 

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When drunk, these stairs are the most hazardous part of my grandfather’s house. Many men (and women) have stumbled down these 4 steps unfortunately

Typically, in my kampung, there would be lots of food being cooked by the womenfolk in the kitchen of my grandfather’s house. Children would be outside playing, waiting for the meal to be served. The menfolk would be playing cards while drinking tuak/ langkau/ beer/ any alcohol/ definitely not water.

When my grandfather was still alive, the Gawai celebrations were truly memorable. Many years ago when I was back home for Gawai and after a most fulfilling dinner of ayam pansuh (chicken cooked in bamboo) and many other local delicacies I forgot I missed until they’re cooked and served, the chairs in the living room would be pushed to the wall and music and dancing would follow. Mostly it was the older folks who’d start while the young ‘uns looked on and tried not to cringe. I’d be sitting cross-legged on the floor in the living room, in awe at their enthusiasm and energetic gyrations. And there were always violins. After all, keronchong wouldn’t be keronchong without violins. And there was always singing. Or perhaps, more apt, there was a singing competition and it would always end up as a berbalas pantun singing competition with the men and women trying to come up with the most creative tune, lyrics and even insults. If only I had a video camera then…

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Cooking meals in bamboo, the original Le Creuset. Somehow, meals cooked on an open fire outdoors always tastes awesome

Another memorable Gawai for me was the year my family purchased three pigs and gave the meat to 106 families in the kampung.

The (poor) pigs were delivered to the main house Gawai eve. Men from the kampung were all ready to begin the butchering. There must’ve been about ten men, many of them I’d not seen before but were friends of my uncle. It was an interesting sight to watch (although slightly `slaughter house-ish’) – the sharpening of knives, the sounds of chopping, the men drinking and smoking, telling jokes, singing as they went about selecting the cuts of meat.

The men finished up by  dividing the meat into 106 individual plastic bags all laid out on a tarpaulin sheet that was placed on the ground next to them. It was an extremely methodical operation as they wanted to ensure that every family had the same amount of meat and also that each bag had a good ratio of ribs to meat. This seemingly simple task took almost 2 hours to complete. The final touch was to tie the plastic bags with raffia string and we added a gift tag that said `Selamat Andu Gawai Dayak’ (Happy Gawai Dayak Day). The men then divided  all the plastic bags among them, filled up their juah or rattan basket and went off in twos on motorbikes to deliver the bags to the families, like santa’s little helpers. It was a good day.

What I’d give for a glass (or bottle) of tuak right about now. And some ayam pansuh too.

 

Observing Friends/ Parents

I was at a gathering of old school mates the past weekend.

There were 9 adults.

And 9 kids, ranging from toddler to 7 or 8 years old.

To describe the scene as fairly chaotic would be an understatement.

The amazing thing for me being there was that I had the rare opportunity to observe my old friends, not as my old friends, but in their role as parents. This was enlightening to me because among the group was an old classmate I never got close to and never would’ve imagined ending up as a doting father of two girls. Yet there he was, sitting in the armchair in one corner of the room, his girls running around him and not a raised voice heard from him. They were his princesses. This was the guy who was well known in our class for his short temper and would frequently get into arguments at the drop of a hat. Huh.

There was also the ex-class clown who passed on his silliness to his firstborn and to see him interacting with his son as if his son was such a wondrous gift from Heaven…well…there were moments that I had to blink furiously to dispel the tears that hovered at the corner of my eyes.

Then there was the girl who was my partner in crime with whom I’d get into tonnes of mischief with, who is now a mother of three. I think watching her with her children was most fascinating. She retained that youthfulness and playfulness about her even when she was reprimanding her kids for running around on a full stomach. And her little boy…oh, I almost brought him home with me.

Then of course there were the high school sweethearts – whenever they speak about their kids, I get wistful. Their kids were so energised, I got tired just watching them but it was their youngest girl that held me and I imagined her future when she’d realise she has such wonderful older brothers to protect her as she navigates life and I thought what a lucky little lady.

I drove home that day with so many thoughts in my head and a smile in my heart, grateful to bear witness to old friends who are an amazing group of parents with their equally amazing bundles of joy.

Originally posted on the 19th of August, 2013 at Stories from Sonobe

That’s What Friends are For

I pressed `PLAY’ on the VCR, leaned back against the sofa and got ready to watch the tape.

The opening credits began – Memories of Redang…1st to 5th July 1997. For the next 140 minutes, I was transfixed, watching someone else’s version of my memory.

Dhalita, who came up with the idea to record our entire mini-break, came onscreen and said, “Say something lah, in 50 years when I watch this video, I want to know what we did today!”

Cheese, the self-appointed leader of our motley crew, obediently began to narrate the mundane, “This morning, we woke up, brushed our teeth, had breakfast…”.

I giggled. I’d forgotten he could be funny.

As I watched the video, I alternated between smiling, laughing, going “Haiyoh!” and slapped my forehead with the palm of my hand. Definitely not the reaction I was expecting from myself. I was almost enjoying reliving the events that happened on the trip so long ago. Every single time the faces of the people I used to love came onscreen, I expected my heart to contract a little, but it didn’t. Instead, I watched their young selves and smiled at the memory of the people they were, the people I knew.

I didn’t even remember that we had a thank you-gift giving ceremony for Leen who’d single-handedly organised the entire trip for all of us. But there we were on the screen and Leen had just accepted our gift of a super-comfortable pillow that she hugged the whole bus ride back. “Say something lah,” we urged. “Thank you,” she said into the camera. “I shy” and she hid her face with her brand new pillow. Typical Leen.

I surprised myself.

For all of 138 minutes, I didn’t shed one tear.

Then the montage came on in the 139th minute and Dionne Warwick’s `That’s What Friends Are For’ played in the background. As she reached the lyrics…

And if I should ever go away
Well, then close your eyes and try to feel
The way we do today
And then if you can remember

Keep smilin’, keep shinin’
Knowin’ you can always count on me, for sure
That’s what friends are for
For good times and bad times
I’ll be on your side forever more
That’s what friends are for

I rested my head on my knee that I had bent to my chest and cried a little.

Not long after that trip, our motley crew drifted apart. I’m no longer on speaking terms with almost all of those people that I went to Redang with and I sometimes lie awake at night and wonder why. Now, whenever this song comes on the radio, I’m transported back to those carefree days and nights on the island and a tiny, tiny part of me wishes that I could be with all of them for all their good times and bad, to be on their side forever more and to show them that that’s what friends are for.

Daily Prompt: Cake (or Three Cakes at 19)

In response to the Daily Post’s Daily Prompt: Cake

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Cake No. 1

It was my 19th birthday.  I was sitting on my bed; silently counting the minutes till I turn 19; an age that I thought was practically ancient at the time. One of my roommates had gone out of the room; she did it so stealthily that I didn’t even know she wasn’t there until I looked around and found her gone. Another roommate was sitting at her desk not doing much of anything while the third was on her bed across the room from mine.  She kept looking up at me from her add maths textbook, then at our roommate who was idling at her desk, then at the door, and finally back at me.  Something was up, I just wasn’t sure what it was.

It was 12 midnight when the idling roommate sprang up from her desk and skipped to the door.  I thought it odd at the time because I didn’t hear a knock at the door. The lights went out suddenly and I was just about to say, “Hey…” when the door swung open and Ninja Roommate, came in with a cake with all 19 candles lit, which made the cake look like it was on fire.  Behind my Ninja Roommate were the rest of the girls and they were singing Happy Birthday as they walked towards me.  I felt tears well in my eyes as I leaned down to blow out all the candles. So many candles. The girls and I ate cake and yakked.  They also tried to shove my face into the cake.  Cheeky.

Cake No. 2

It’s the evening of my birthday, and Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum brought me out for dinner at a Chinese coffeeshop on the way to our ‘favourite’ supermarket, Warta. Then after, they led me back to one of the classrooms in the academic block and this time, the guys had arranged a little get together where another cake was waiting. Yay! Cake! Predictably enough, I had another close encounter with the cake. Not much cake was eaten as everyone decided to get in on the action and smear everyone else with cake. Unfortunately, no photographic evidence exists of that messy activity. Darn.

Cake No. 3

It’s nearing the end of my 19th birthday. I returned to the hostel and found cake No. 3 waiting. I squealed in delight, beyond delirious to have so many cakes in one day.  My squeals soon turned into groans as I was faced with the dilemma of eating yet another cake. I looked at the cake and at my stomach and thought Nope, I don’t think anymore cake can fit in me tonight. In the end though, I cut the tiniest slice of cake ever known to mankind, had a taste and sent the cake on a tour of as many rooms as possible. Cake for everyone!

I went to sleep that night – happy, full of cake, 19.

An Unwanted Encounter at the Supermarket

Or otherwise known as ‘I Should’ve Gone to the Supermarket the Day Before Like I Planned Instead of Procrastinating

I love supermarkets and grocery shopping. I find it calming to systematically peruse each aisle looking for the items on my list. For me, it’s an activity that helps me find my zen.

Yesterday though, my experience at the supermarket was furthest from calm.

I’d done my systematic combing of the aisles and got everything I needed for dinner, I was ready to go. I chose the checkout line that seemed to be moving the fastest and waited my turn. While I unloaded my ingredients for dinner onto the conveyor belt, I heard my name being called. I looked up and two checkout lines away was Aileen. I hadn’t seen her in ages! I can’t even remember the last time I saw her. These days we ‘kept in touch’ only via Facebook and even then, all I did was ‘like’ her cat-related posts.

I gave Aileen a half-hearted wave as I took out the last item from my basket for the cashier to scan, hoping she’ll return a half-hearted wave too and stay in her checkout line. Unfortunately, my luck has never been great because Aileen rushed on over to the checkout line I was in where we exchanged an awkward side-hug.

“What a surprise!” I exclaimed, injecting as much joy as I could into my greeting. I don’t like bumping into people I know at supermarkets and so far, she’s the first person I know that I’ve bumped into after all these years of shopping there. “What are you doing here?” I couldn’t think of anything else to say.

“I hardly come here,” she revealed, “but I found out that this is the only supermarket now that stocks the one and only cat litter that my cat will use.”

“Oh, really?” I replied absentmindedly as I handed my credit card to the cashier.  I collected my bag of groceries and moved out of the line. Aileen came with me.

“We were just talking about you last night!!!”

“We?” I stopped and faced her, confused.

“Yeah! Felicia and I!”

“You and Felicia?” Yes, I was beginning to sound like a parrot.

“Yes, last night, during Aaron’s wedding dinner. Felicia and I sat next to one another and we were talking about you!”

Aaron’s wedding dinner??? Okay, I was not liking where this conversation was going. I desperately needed to not hear anything else about this topic but I didn’t want to let her see that I was bothered by it so nonchalantly I said, “I’m surprised that I came up in conversation at all, I don’t meet any of the old gang anymore.” I stepped back hoping she’ll get the hint that I needed to go.

“Oh, we were just talking about all our friends in general, where they were, what they were doing now. Alfred was there too, with his wife and two kids but they sat at a different table. And Tat Mun flew back just for the dinner!”

In my head, I was screaming Why is she telling me all this??? But before I could stop myself, I asked “Where was the dinner?” I gave myself a mental smack.

“Oh, somewhere in KL, near Imbi. It was mostly his Singaporean friends who attended. There was just a few of us there.” I looked at my watch, pretended to be shocked at the time eventhough the time didn’t register with me and said to Aileen “Hey, it was nice to bump into you but I really have to go.” I felt no guilt about lying but I didn’t want to hear any more because I could feel my heart started to race and I was feeling very annoyed at myself for being here when I could’ve avoided this entire useless conversation had I gone to the supermarket the day before as planned.

“Oh, okay, I think I have your number,” she took out her phone and scrolled through her address book. I was already at least three feet away from her, ready to dash to the parking lot. “Here it is! I’ll give you a missed call!”

“Yes, I can feel my phone vibrating.” I didn’t bother taking the phone out of my bag and I couldn’t feel if it was vibrating or not because I didn’t care. “Keep in touch!” With a quick wave, I ran away from her.

I reached my car, got into it, rested my head on the steering wheel and took several deep breaths. I truly didn’t expect the day to turn out the way it did. I wish I could un-know what I just found out. Un-learn the fact that every year, on September 3rd, he’ll be celebrating his wedding anniversary. I wished (again and again) that I’d gone to the supermarket yesterday. I looked at my bags of groceries and thought that perhaps I should learn to find my zen in online grocery shopping from now on.

How to Get Noticed by (nosy) Relatives at a Wake

We entered my Uncle’s house. The Uncle who’d just passed away the previous evening. My father’s sister-in-law saw us and immediately went to my father, clutched his shoulders and wailed. My mother and I excused ourselves as we walked pass the relatives who were already there, sitting cross-legged, on the kasah that was scattered on the floor of the living room.  We sat in a corner of the room furthest away from my Uncle’s body.

I’d gone back to Kuching that weekend to spend time with Auntie Jenny and Uncle Steve, who’d come all the way from England. The possibility that I’d be on the way to Simunjan, a 2.5 hour drive away, that hot and sultry Saturday morning with my parents, was unplanned for. Truthfully, I was reluctant to go. I didn’t know my father’s relatives and the customs. I was afraid that I’d accidentally say or do something inappropriate. After mulling it a bit, I decided not to worry about it though because surely everyone would be busy planning for the funeral and I’d just be another face in the crowd.

Unfortunately, despite trying my hardest to be unobtrusive, relatives descended upon me mainly because

…of my tattoos. You would think that coming from an ethnic group that prides itself on its tattoos that having them would be commonplace. Apparently not among this group of Ibans. Except for me, no one else had visible tattoos. I kept catching the older relatives glance not too discreetly at my tattoo-adorned wrists and ankles. The younger relatives were just outright staring as they sat on the wooden benches chain-smoking.

…I barely speak the language. Growing up, I learnt the native language my mother spoke, not my father’s. The only thing I knew how to say in my father’s native language is makai (eat), ngirup (drink), jalai (walk) and aku enda mereti (I don’t understand).  Thankfully, Iban and Bahasa Malaysia have similar words so when one of the relatives spoke to me in Iban, I tried to catch any Bahasa Malaysia-sounding words and extrapolate the conversation from there. Even then, the relatives tended to speak to me three or four at a time and this made following any conversation difficult. In the end, I smiled and replied au (yes). I had some weird looks when I kept repeating au, but I was overwhelmed.

…I am still unmarried. My relatives (and even strangers, unfortunately) love asking about my marital status. I didn’t think this question would even come up though since it was a wake and the last thing anyone should be talking about is who is married and who isn’t. I was wrong. Again. A grandaunt asked my father how many children he has and was I the oldest, youngest or middle child. She then asked him if I was married and when he replied that I was bujang (single), that’s when my ears perked up. She followed up with asking if my younger siblings were married and when he responded in the affirmative, her eyes widened with surprise (I suppose). This discussion between the grandaunt and my father attracted the attention of the other relatives and the word bujang kept coming up. I inched away from them as stealthily as possible and went outside where no one was talking about my state of singlehood (I hope).

Maybe next time, at another gathering of relatives, I’ll cover up my tattoos and get a quickie marriage so that the relatives will notice someone else instead.

#CBF16: Of Basketry and Babai

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Rattan hand-woven baskets made by Babai

It was Christmas 2014 when my mother finally decided to go through the attic in Babai’s house. She’d enlisted me to help and before I knew it, I was holding the ladder steady while she climbed up to the attic.

Among the many treasures she discovered were these rattan hand-woven baskets Babai made. We were pleasantly surprised to find them in fairly good condition despite the fact that they must’ve been left up in the attic since he passed away 7 years ago.

Most of my grandparents passed when I was very young and Babai, my mother’s father, was my sole grandparent for many years and because of that, he was the closest grandparent to me.

I didn’t know that much about him and it was only several years before he died that my late uncle revealed that Babai was a champion poet among the villages in the area. I remember thinking then Oh, that’s where our creative streak comes from. 

I have memories of Babai membalas pantun (sing song reply in poetry form) with other village folk but didn’t realise that he was considered as one of the best. That night when we found out his status as a champion poet, he was singing in poetry form with a friend and I assumed then that it was merely a hobby.

“He was very sharp and quick with his rhymes in his younger days”, said my uncle.

Oh, I thought and looked over at Babai as he sat in his chair with a plate of sticky rice balanced on his lap, exchanging rhymes with his friend while waving his hand in the air to emphasise his point.

Though he suffered a stroke when he was younger which left the right side of his body semi-paralysed, Babai still managed to keep busy by weaving rattan baskets. Most of the baskets were used daily while some were given away. As far as I knew, none were sold. In fact, he was also one of the last in the village that possessed the skills and knowledge to do this. I remember asking my mother several months ago if there was anyone in the village who could teach me to basket weave and she told me that Babai was likely the last to know how. That knowledge made me regret not asking him to teach me while he was still alive.

So, when several of his baskets were unearthed from the attic, some of them not quite finished, I asked my mother if I could keep one. I chose a small basket or reked, and it hangs on the wall of the corridor that leads from my bedroom to the main living area of the house. Every time I walk along that corridor, I look at it and remember Babai as he sat on a small wooden stool, on the patio of his house in the village, weaving the rattan strips, creating cherished objects.

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cherished-badge16This post is written for the Cherished Blogfest 2016

 

#BEDM Day 29: The Soundtrack to My Life

Day 29: Five songs or pieces of music that speak to you or bring back memories.

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Shania Twain’s You’re Still The One
Once upon a long time ago, this was our song. We were in a music shop and I bought the CD with this single and gave it to him. He refused it at first. When things were good and whenever this song came on the radio, I couldn’t stop smiling. When things were bad, I’d change the channel so that I wouldn’t have to listen to it and for years I did that. Now though, I can listen to the entire song without wanting to break something and without tears forming in my eyes. Yay me 🙂

The entire Evanescence Fallen album
I was never one for goth rock music but this album was so angst-ridden that it spoke directly to my also so angst-ridden soul at one time. I remember buying it on a whim merely because I heard rave reviews about the single Bring Me To Life, that was featured on the Daredevil soundtrack. The first time I listened to the entire album was when it was raining oh-so-delightfully-heavily with lightning splitting the sky and I was inside looking out at that scene. Heavenly. Also, the album was the music that I hear in my head whenever I read the Anita Blake series and fans of the series concur.

Fools Garden – Lemon Tree, Mariah Carey & Boyz 2 Men – One Sweet Day
These songs remind me of that tumultuous and absolutely crazy two years when I was between the ages of 18 – 20 years old, also otherwise known as the A-Levels. I was living in a hostel then and hostel living was such that you could hear what the occupants of the neighbouring room talked about and also what music they were listening to. So, for those two years I heard both those songs too many times a day. At first, it was novel then it became `SHADDUP!!!!’ Now though, when I hear those songs, I’m transported back to those amazing and significant few years when everyday was a lesson in discovery of oneself and others.

Jose Mari Chan – Beautiful Girl, NKOTB – any song
Circa early 90s, I was between the ages 12 – 14 years old and ballads ruled. Almost everyone had an NKOTB t-shirt (I’m going to confess that I had several NKOTB t-shirts, the operative word being HAD). Beautiful Girl was the accepted `I like you, do you like me?’ music during the time and girls pretty much just swooned whenever any NKOTB song came on the air. More confession: I have (and may still have – eeek!) several of NKOTB’s live concerts on videotape.

But that age was truly the beginning of the Age of Confusion – no one had any wooing technique, you didn’t know how to tell the other person that you liked them and in the instance when you’ve both agreed that you sort of liked one another, you still didn’t dare to use the phrase `He/She’s my boy/girlfriend’. We were truly a bunch of fools then. So songs from this era – including Tiffany, Debbie Gibson, Kylie Minogue & Jason Donovan (when they were still with Stock, Aitken and Waterman) makes me laugh and remember the times when the most trying moments in school was wondering whether the person you liked, likes you back or not.

Enya – Tea House Moon
Before hearing this piece of instrumental music, I had no clue who Enya was and I had no what kind of music she made. Then, I was roped in to perform a Chinese Tea Light dance along with several others during a festive celebration at my college and Tea House Moon was the music we danced to. During those few weeks of rehearsal, I was exposed to this music – every note and every pause. I swear, if I listen to this song now, my arms, hands and feet can and would involuntarily make the dance movements to match the particular portion of music. I haven’t tested this theory but I’m sure I’m right 🙂 This was a sufficient exposure to Enya to secure me as a fan. It was either a fan or `I-hate-Enya-and-never-want-to-hear-Gaelic-music-again!’ I have several of her albums now.

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Note: Soundtracks to my Life was my April A to Z 2015 theme and it started out great but I didn’t finish the challenge and my last post was ironically, Janet Jackson’s Escapade.  It was obviously a sign LOL