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

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.


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.


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.


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


#BEDM Day 28: Chest Nuts


So, this is where I get my regular fix of chestnuts. Or “chest nuts” as the sign says. This fellow is parked in front of my local supermarket most evenings and when I’m in the mood for chestnuts, I drop by and get a bag. These days, he’s diversified to steamed peanuts and also sweet potatoes. I’ve yet to try either.

Here, the chestnuts are being “dry-fried” in a wok with pebbles stained with black soot. There’s lots of popping and I stand back a little. Once done, he removes all of the chestnuts using a slotted ladle and places them in the blue  box behind the wok and stuffs a pillow into the box to keep the heat in and chestnuts warm.

Not quite “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” but when I crave for chestnuts, this will more than satisfy the craving.