Friday, May 31, 2013

Nasi Dagang, that Kelantanese MUST

Any self-respecting Kelantanese loves Nasi Dagang.  This literally means "Trade or Trading Rice". It's a semi-glutinous rice that has tinges of red in its grains. The famous dish just known as Nasi Dagang consists of this particular kind of rice that is cooked in fenugreek and coconut milk, then coupled with some form of chicken or fish curry, with cucumbers and hard-boiled egg on the side to finish it.  It is simplicity at its best. In my home state of Kelantan, we typically have it for breakfast, and sometimes for dinner.

Friday is the day when the best nasi dagang known to my family is sold. It is sold in a place called Tumpat, a town probably 20-30km from where I live. The seller only sells it on this day, the weekend in these areas, Friday being the holy day for Muslims. In our state, Fridays are in effect like Sundays almost everywhere else.

Normally the drive is about 20-30 mins but today it took considerably longer because there was a huge mother of a jam for a quarter of the distance. School is out and many people are on holiday back here and unbeknownst to us until we got home, a huge international kite festival was happening at a well-known beach just outside Tumpat. Traffic was horrendous. And here we were lamenting the state of it almost all the way there. Once we got to the stall, the food was present, but the owner was not. She had a couple of people move her stuff over there for her, but she was nowhere to be seen or heard.

The food is here, but there's no one to sell it to us
Her helpers looked at the customers who came and went. They were tired of hanging out there with us. I think she must have lost at least 30 customers who either walked by or drove by, cast looks and left, having decided that it wasn't worth the wait. We on the other hand, were the first to arrive, so we were first in line, and we had promised some guests from out-of-town that we were bringing them this awesome nasi dagang from Tumpat! We had no choice but to wait for the elusive seller to show.

Little Malay girls dressed in their tudungs
and normal clothes. When I was a child, I hardly
ever saw this. Most young Malay girls wouldn't have
cared to cover their hair back then.
 I saw these cute little girls who had come to buy some flavored drinks from a stall close to this one. Unfortunately that girl dropped that whole drink on the ground right after I took her picture. Minutes later, they came back for a replacement. And our nasi dagang seller was still M.I.A.

I was getting really tired of waiting, and so was my mum. She's sat on a stool given to her by one of the helpers. Red ants were crawling around her feet. This was not the place to be putting up a stall. Even a make shift one. Come on!!

After waiting for about 45 mins, she finally pulls in in her beaten up Proton Saga. She saunters over lazily without apology nor guilt. It's so close to prayer time, of course I'm going to pray first, she muttered, after my mum jokingly mentioned she was kind of late today.

It really is nice to have people waiting in line for your amazing nasi dagang, isn't it And of course she knows it. She can afford to make people wait. She doesn't care if she pisses anyone off. If you like, you join the queue and wait, if you don't..piss off.

That big large bowl of nasi dagang will all be
 gone by sundown.
So Mum goes and places the order for 9 packets of nasi campur (nasi dagang and plain rice together, because nasi dagang alone is really filling, and hard to digest) with both chicken and fish curry. The packet isn't that big but this costs RM5.50 each. It's what you pay now for this. Of course it used to cost less way back when. But at under 2USD, I won't be complaining. It is the bomb! Cik Izan (Ms Izan) or in Kelantan-speak we call her Ize..(i-zeh), you really know how to make this tasty. I almost... almost, want to kowtow to you. But I won't!

I had no appetite for this food when I got home. We delivered it to our guests and my mum stayed with them to have dinner. I went back home and got on the treadmill to see if I could find my lost appetite. It didn't let itself be found by dinner time, but eventually I got hungry and I ate my packet of nasi campur. And I wasn't disappointed. Even if my appetite was largely suppressed.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Georgia On My Mind

Talking about Georgia, Georgia...the whole day through, just an old sweet song, keeps Georgia on my mind...

I opened with this song for my new friends. It set the tone. I had been feeling sick all day and for a moment, I felt good. I'm so ready to be feeling good for a good long time, not just pockets of bliss here and there. We sang through the night until we closed the place down. It's mid-week and no one is here anyway. So we have the whole place to ourselves.

My new friends don't know me and I don't know them. It is a clean slate. No past, just the present. A wonderful beginning. These people are all singers. They have done this so many times, they know the lyrics, they know the music and they can sing. I feel like I'm in good company. There's a pool table too and I haven't played in forever.

The young Thai girl keeps coming over to pour beer in unfinished glasses and wrap her paws around the guys. I am not sure what she's working for. I don't think she gets tips. No matter. Since you are here, take this to the guy and let him set us all up for our next song selections. But then she comes back again, tipping ice into beer glasses and pouring more and more. You can't keep track of how many you've had. I put my hand firmly over my glass. No more!

Shelly is responsible for introducing me to this bunch of people. I am simply Gigi. No last name. No need really. I've known Shel for a long time but we weren't really friends. In 2 days we have become fast friends, connecting perhaps in many unspoken ways. These are her friends I am with. One of them in particular is an amazing singer. His repertoire stretched from Chinese songs of 20 years ago to Tom Jones, Michael Buble and Enrique Iglesias. And his voice makes anyone melt. I'll stop the world and melt with you. I'm reminded of that Modern English song. It was like a form of synaesthesia for me to feel his voice, and not just hear it. Sublime..

And now I see what the Thai girl is getting. Free beer. She has a little glass on our table as well. Funny I didn't notice that before. Why would one work for that? Wouldn't money be better?

The night ended more than 4 hours ago and I'm still wide awake. Something is keeping me awake and I can't put my finger on it.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Make me feel good today

Nausea permeates me today
I can't shake it
I just have to lie here 
and hope it goes away

I need to get up 
and go do something
eat, walk, swim
but all I feel like doing is lying down

I haul myself out of bed
But I don't do anything well
I'm going to go out with my friends
and hope I don't throw up

Perhaps forcing myself to feel normal
will make the feeling fade
12 hours of this and I'm tired of it
Give me a few hours of the day to be free.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Beautiful and Dirty Business of recruiting part I

I have left the industry for many years now. Going on 9 years. And I bet the recruiting business hasn't changed much at all. I often wonder if I would ever go back. I fancy I was quite good at it when I was a recruiter. I wasn't by any means a cut-throat numbers cruncher, so maybe I wasn't that good, from the company's perspective. After all everything is about the numbers. You don't make the cut, you're gone. While I was in it, I did reasonably well.

My first "in" was a cattle call, off one of those short ads for making money you should never believe. It was straight off the heels of a mass interview from another of those kind of ads where I was ripped to shreds because I asked too many questions. It was a scam for selling perfume to people off the streets, in parking lots and back alleys. It was all incredibly shady and I was glad to walk out of that one and shame the recruiters and warn the potential "job seekers" of the fanciful accounting they were trying to sell to them.

Anyway, like I first "in" to recruiting did come from a similarly worded ad. A reputable company with a proven track record was looking to hire fresh-faced, untarnished people to sell...people! And I had not learned anything from the perfume lesson, and went to try for this one as well. I was still new to America then. That's my excuse!

Turns out it wasn't so bad after all. My first boss was intimidating. She was this petite middle aged woman with neatly cropped short hair. She was attractive and somehow very enticing in her ways. We were first put through a battery of tests and the last one was a Myers Briggs test to make sure we were the right personality for her team. We were three of us, new to her team, and she picked me to watch over daily, situating me directly in front of her while we worked. She scrutinized my every move, every call, every word. I was so fed up of having to look at her day in and day out but I really appreciate her and thank her for maybe not trusting me to do well.

Our goals were, if I remember correctly - an average of 60 calls a day, totalling 2 hours of phone time. Every day. We read and "improvised" from a script and took notes while talking to candidates. All calls were logged and recorded, times were tallied and reports were printed. It was all in the numbers and you couldn't cheat the system. I learned fast. Initially she would stop me after each call and point out what I did wrong or didn't do. She would question why we took lunches or breaks. It was a hellish training that I loved so much that I would go home and continue to make calls. Then on weekends I would go to the office and make more calls. I think that this whole training way back when is the reason I can't talk to people on the phone for long any more, preferring face-to-face interactions any day.

With my boss's help, I was able to make some lucrative "permanent" placements and make quite a bit of commission on top of our meagre salary. Like any sales position, typically the salary is really disgustingly low, and you're supposed to be motivated to make all of your income via commission. For instance, this particular company charged a 30% commission off the new hire's starting salary. So if you place a person who makes 100k, the company would make 30k for the placement. That commission is then split top down, and the lowly recruiter still gets a nice chunk of change. Not a bad deal at all. It was a different breakdown with people who were placed as "consultants" but then the recruiter would get an ongoing daily commission based on the hours the consultant billed. Build up a nice base of consultants working for you and you'd still do all right.

to be continued

Sunday, May 26, 2013


The kenduri was nothing like what we expected at all.

The nephew of a prominent politician was getting married and we were invited to attend the kenduri at his house. I was keen to attend because it'd been a long time since I'd been to a proper Malay wedding and even longer since I've been to an elaborate kenduri or Malay feast.

Imagine our surprise when we got there to be greeted by 2 small marquees with several plastic tables and chairs set up for guests, a buffet that consisted of 5 dishes and some rice and 2 choices for drinks. It was hardly the grand set up that I had envisioned.

We were the only Chinese to be seen and upon seeing us everyone assumed we had come from Kuala Lumpur probably because the groom works for a Chinese-owned law firm in KL. My brother was the groom's colleague.

"Did you come from KL?"
"Buke, dari KB ni..." No, I'm from KB, I answered in Malay, to prove my local accent.
Still, the reply came in English. "'re from here" almost like it was a disappointment we weren't from out of town.

Had I got on a plane and come all the way from KL to attend this kenduri, I would have been more than a little let down.  I wondered how the royal family who were there before us and had left already thought about the whole set up. Surely they were disappointed as well?

We grabbed a plate and ate hurriedly. It was sweltering. Sweat dripped from my forehead. Zoe was dressed to the nines and suffering in the heat. She didn't want to play with any of the children who were there, and she didn't enjoy the food at all. I can't blame her. It was all a bit weird. They came by with wedding favors but didn't give each of us one.

I suggested to my brother that we get a picture with the bride and groom before we leave. We were invited into their room where a professional photographer took our pictures and then it was all over. We got in our car and left. What a disappointing first kenduri for little Zoe. I think she won't be keen to go to another.

Night mode

I've always been a night owl. I love night time. Or the semblance of night. When I lived in the UK, it would get dark really early in the winter time. Sometimes it would be 330pm and it would be dark. I loved that. I don't get that so much in the US Midwest. Night always comes slightly later than that even in the dead of winter.

Regardless of the season, long or short, it is still night time, no? When Zoe and the husband are asleep, it is most peaceful. I get a lot of things done during this time. I plan my lessons for the private classes I give at home, I study, talk to my friends from the other side of the world, catch up on news and do whatever I want. Nobody else needs my attention in the still of the night. It's bliss. Mostly.

Lately my nights have been difficult to get through. Ironically, it is for the same reasons they were so good before. Circumstances have changed. Outlooks have changed and a friend's unexpected early death also threw a wrench in it. I needed some libation to get through the night, a little self distraction to comfort my aching soul. I am not sure why I even resorted to it because it's not something I do. But for the past few weeks I have been slovenly. I have cared little about food or much else. My usually well stocked fridge was now full of old food that had not been eaten. I made sure Zoe was fed properly and with proper fresh food, but I didn't care about what I ate, when I ate or if I ate. Sometimes I survived on a banana or two throughout the day and ate a meal at dinner that I hardly tasted nor enjoyed. Sometimes I was lucky and had company over who would make me sit down and eat something with them. And I'd have to eat something really sweet or salty to overwhelm my failing taste buds so I could stomach any food.

It's funny how a lack of appreciation of food can lead to much more. My nights were horrid. Being alone at night while the husband worked out of town during the week was getting tougher. All things being normal, it would not have been difficult. He would be asleep if he were home anyway. It would not be any lonelier or harder. The difference was this: I could make my descent into night mode and he would not be around to wake up to find me gone and he wouldn't be able to pull me out of it. So, I allowed myself to drown in my sorrows, choosing to obfuscate the sadness nightly with my gin and tonics, wine or beer.

I was barely holding it together but I knew I had to keep it together. I didn't want to look down at the abyss that was beneath me. Just keep looking up and moving forward. The thing about being a strong person is sometimes nobody stops to ask you how you are because they think you have it all under control. Even strong people are vulnerable at times, no? Anyway, I think I'm nearly out of this sinkhole now. Perhaps.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Flowers for my grandparents

It was drizzling this morning when we set out to pay respects to my grandparents who have passed. I never knew my father's parents because they died before I was born.  My mother's parents on the other hand, I was very close to.  I lived with my grandparents when I was younger and remained close to them until they passed. I have so many good memories of them.

My maternal grandparents lie here.
We stopped to set flowers at my maternal grandparents' tomb or memorial in a smaller temple in what you can call the countryside.  There are numerous Buddhist temples peppered throughout this area that is Wakaf Baru or Tumpat. Our state of Kelantan is the closest to Thailand and many Buddhist temples in our region are strongly influenced by Thai Buddhists.  Some temples are incredibly elaborate, but some are minimalistic.

Traditionally offerings of food are presented to the ancestors. Joss sticks are also used to "pray to" (pay respects to) them, and then stuck in that little joss stick urn to burn to ash.  One would even burn fake money so that the dead can use that money to buy whatever they want wherever they are.

The Buddha sits on top of the house
of ashes
I agreed with mother that there was really no need for all that fanfare. I feel it in my heart. Let's not make a fuss. I'm going there to see them. But really I don't even need to go see them to feel them and remember them. Nevertheless, some traditions should be kept. Chinese people feel so strongly about who is going to "take care of their grave" when they are gone.  I personally don't need that but I can understand and appreciate the importance of having the tradition. It is especially important for children to recognise, respect and remember why this is done. And for Zoe, it is good to know some Chinese traditions, even if we as a family are not really exactly traditional or conservative.

Our next stop was a bigger temple a little further along the same road. This one has a huge brown sitting Buddha sitting atop its house of ashes.  Below the Buddha are dead people. This is the final resting place for my paternal grandparents who were for many years buried in a well known cemetery south of Kota Bharu.  

A few years ago, my father's family thought it was prudent to exhume his parents and cremate them so we could move them to this temple. This was primarily done to simplify Qingming or Cheng Beng for the family. Read about Cheng Beng here. 

Cheng Beng was so involved at my paternal grandparents' tomb that you'd need an army of relatives just to clean up the site. It used to be fun when we were kids but with all of us dispersed throughout the world, hardly anybody is left to do this arduous task of yearly maintenance.

My  mother making her way back to the
house of ashes after getting the key
We had some trouble getting to the site because the doors were locked. My mum had to go to the administration, today represented by an elderly fortune teller, to request a key to unlock the main gates so we could enter the house of ashes.  Normally we wouldn't have been able to get in but mum was recognised by the fortune teller: "Ahh, you are Leo's daughter, you have your father's eyes. Let me get you the keys, just make sure you lock up and bring them back."  
A stroke of luck. Guanxi works so well in this part of the world. 

Locating my paternal grandparents'
memorial was easy. Dead flowers still
hung from the last visit.
There's hardly any cleaning needed here. Maybe a little dusting off of the plaques, the removal of the dead flowers that were from a visit about a month ago during the actual Cheng Beng festival. We replaced the flowers with fresh ones and hung them by that little ring by the plaques. My fifth uncle also lies here next to his parents, himself exhumed as well from a different graveyard and then cremated so he would finally rest here.  My uncle was 15 when he took on the almighty Kelantan River and failed. Sadly, he drowned.

It was still drizzling when we left. I didn't do a whole lot of reflecting today but I did think to myself that it was good to be doing this today with my family. On Buddha's birthday, Wesak Day.    

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Random Ramblings

Life is too short to hold grudges. 
If I held them I would be completely miserable because life has dealt me one too many blows in the years past. I can't say I don't get miserable and complain a bit when I'm given bad news about people, about lost love and friendships and worse of all about my own health.  I'm not immune to that. My attitude is good but not that good that I can immediately brush it off and move on.  However, I have learned that whining is definitely NOT me. Moaning and whining just don't become me.  I loathe the beginnings of a whine in Zoe.  If it is allowed to blossom into actual words, it would drive me absolutely crazy.

Every time I go see the doctor I go with an open mind.  And if I read on her face that bad news is coming, I breathe deeply. I've had a 13-year relationship with my primary care physician and she knows to give it to me straight. Don't sugar coat it, don't try to make me feel better. What do you think it is?  If it is what you think it is, what do we do going forward?  Simple.  Don't overcomplicate.  Have a problem? Take it on. Don't deny it. Deal with it.  That's the best way forward.

I was on bed rest for 7.5 months when I was pregnant with Zoe. The threat of pre-term labor was there from the get-go. By far, I wasn't the worst case high-risk pregnancy, but with all that I had going on, it was enough to make you sick every day without mental fortitude. That was an incredibly intense emotional rollercoaster for me.  Every time we would be at the obstetrician's, we were not sure if Zoe would live or not. And with a hyper vigilant doctor at the helm, if her heart rate so much as dipped once, I was admitted to the hospital just like that.

I had a basement that was being refurbished and we had issues with the contractor that I couldn't do anything about. I was entirely reliant on my overburdened husband to provide me with food and water and take me to the doctor 3 times a week.  People have 2 ultrasounds per pregnancy, we had 3 multiple-photo ultrasounds every week.  I have a whole album of Zoe before she was even born!  My job was to make sure I rest, move little and stay calm.  Harder to do than you think for an A type personality.

Finally, a month-long stay at the hospital really tried to do me in! But guess what, I'm still here, I survived, Zoe survived, we are still living and shit...! Patience.  Also one of my all time favorite songs by Guns N Roses.

Hungry for Adventure
Staying home with Zoe for going on 9 years has been bliss.  Even though there have been obvious ups and downs, I've loved every second of it.

Many stay-at-home mothers lose themselves at one time or another. Saying that you haven't felt that would just be lying.  You lose yourself in the things that you do for the family as a whole, your children.  It doesn't matter that I only have one, it's the same.  I try to manage my expectations because I do only have one child. I don't want her to be burdened by the weight of her parents' desires and expectations. I don't desire to live vicariously through her. Obviously I would like her to do things that I am interested in but I realise she is her own person.  When she has a fire to accomplish something, I will be fanning that flame. A mother gets so involved in the well being of her offspring that she sometimes forgets and neglects herself.

I am self-aware of these feelings but I also feel like I have sacrificed a lot of myself for her. I can't wait to embark on my own personal adventure, free of my family.  It is not some kind of mid-life crisis, yet a dream that was not fulfilled earlier on in my life that I wish to see through at some point.

Not exactly a typical mother
I look around at parents at Zoe's school and I don't feel like I fit in.  I identify on a personal level with very few of them. Maybe it's because I'm not from around there. Maybe they are just cliquey. I'm not one to make small talk about stuff that means nothing to me. I want to talk about meaningful issues, important things. I don't want to talk about what crazy toys or games that are hot, or how my kid is getting along with her teacher, or least of all fake an interest in other people's children.  Maybe that's why I don't fit in. The exchange usually sucks for us too because we have only one child and other people usually at least two.

I don't care about the toys and stuff because we jive to a different tune. We have toys too but maybe not the expensive ones.  We do play games but we are now concentrating on one - chess.  If my kid doesn't get along with her teacher, tough.  Suck it up and adapt. She's not getting any sympathy from me. If you don't learn to adapt to different personalities early in life, you're just going to be coddled and spoiled. Not my Zoe.   She needs skills to survive, not someone to spoil her in this fashion. She might be my only child, but I refuse to parent her like she is the bees knees. I am glad that even at 8 despite her occasional misadventures and tantrums, she is a good and caring friend to others.

Also, I don't have a problem with some of the words that Zoe's schools bans like: stupid, pee, ass, and butt among others. Of course it depends on the context in which they are used. But generally speaking stupid is acceptable in our house: Don't be stupid, Don't do stupid things, Don't act stupidly and Don't make stupid mistakes!  These are common in our household.  I have a thing against stupid. Don't be it and you're fine.

And while I care about some of other people's kids, I don't care about all of them. I'm just being honest. I take full interest in the kids that I have mentored and taught during the course of the last couple of years. Some have become almost like my kids. I have a vested interest in their performance at school or at chess tournaments. They are my charges, and I love having them around.  I love the energy that young people have. It's so uplifting and pure.

I may not have made my case that I am an atypical mother but I truly believe I am.  Maybe time will tell.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Swim For Clarity

600m for my first outing after almost a full year's lack of activity is actually pretty good. I'll take it.  The sun felt good on my skin and with medication in my system, I managed to eke out a workout while still having a desperately sore throat. I'm suitably impressed. I might have made it 1km but I didn't have time. A little color will do me some good too. Being pale is just not me.

The past year set me back a lot. I thought I only had one symptom: tachycardia. A fast heartbeat. To the tune of 125-135 bpm at rest regularly, and peaking at 157.  Who knew it would lead to the diagnosis of Grave's disease or hyperthyroidism? But in reality, I had lost weight without realising it because I wasn't one for tight clothing anyway.  But yeah I'll take that too. And I also did have an incredibly fast digestion rate, which meant....!   All this was surely better than what my doctor was thinking. Worst case scenario, something was wrong with my heart, my arteries were blocked and I'd need a stent inserted.  No thanks, thank you very much.  I'll take the thyroid problem and see you the rest.

I was always feeling less than 100%, that was certain. Now I had the diagnosis, what would ensue was a series of tests, pills, forced inactivity, radioactivity and isolation. Fun, right? Not exactly.

So I was told that I could take pills to suppress my hormones and stay on them for up to a year and continue to enjoy the weight loss without even trying (yay!). But with an impending trip back home, and the observation of dry and flaky skin coupled with acne, I chose to end my suffering once and for all. Why prolong this for a few pounds?  It also meant that I could not be active, I had to avoid sun and I had to avoid caffeine. Caffeine is easy because I don't really crave it. I can't be active? That's hard. Avoid sun? In Malaysia - super hard!

I could get rid of my thyroid by having it surgically removed or take a radioactive I-131 pill to kill off the active nodules and in effect render my entire thyroid worthless without having surgery. The former would get rid of all symptoms at once, and the latter would make my symptoms taper off. The former was also risky because my vocal chords were close to the thyroid. One wrong move and I'd be in deep trouble.

I chose the I-131.  After taking this, one is told that one has to be at least 3 ft away from people for a week so they are not contaminated by radioactivity.  And the distance from children should be double that. This was the hardest thing to do: not hugging and kissing my Zoe, not holding her close. It was torture. One week was.  After one week, I went in for a test and my levels were still high, so they suggested let's try one month away from children. Argghh!!  They didn't think to tell me this before I chose this option. Of course they didn't. In fact it was normal to stay away from children for up to a month. You're also given a Travel Advisory Card to certify that you have had radioactive treatment, valid 3 months from the date you receive treatment so you can prove that you don't have explosives on you if airport bomb detectors go off.  Wow. Blow me down..why don't you?

Luckily all that is behind me now and I'm happily taking my replacement hormones for my thyroid that I have to take daily.  I am well, I am determined to live an unencumberedly active lifestyle. Because every second I am alive counts. I have learned that many times over.

Anyway I digress. I swim because it's a childhood activity that I absolutely fell in love with. It is weightless and freeing. When I'm in the water, I can think. I run strategies in my head, I think about life's issues and how I can resolve them. I even run through scenarios that happened before and how I would have handled things differently.  Even with my dangly earrings rattling through the quietness of being underwater, I find clarity. A quiet that is only interrupted by my thoughts. I plan what I'm going to do next.  It's just always brought me a modicum of peace. No one yacking in my ear!  It's almost like night time when all is well.  Not night time when you're missing someone or thinking of lost loves and adventures.  A good feeling to have, that is. I'm going to make more of those feelings.

Monday, May 20, 2013

A sailor I know

A few years ago, I met up with my friend Gary in his stomping ground that is Singapore. He used to be a sailor until he went to the UK to pursue a degree in Naval Engineering?  I'm not sure. After getting the degree, he became a ship inspector. Now he is his own boss.

He is the adventurous sort who always looked for the next thrill. He used to invite me along, "Come, let's go and backpack and sleep under the stars."  Once he went to Tibet and smuggled out a Tibetan religious artefact for a monk. Impressive, no? He loved to travel, and he is always full of stories.

But Gary couldn't cook to save his life.  He stayed with me for a week or so before he left the UK. To be nice to me, he cooked me a meal.  It was half way into the preparation for the meal that I realised that he had boiled a chunk of frozen meat straight from the freezer to make soup for me.  My reaction could have been better but I was livid at the time.  I lectured him up and down about food safety and thawing procedures. I was sure he was going to give me food poisoning.

So next try, in order to pay me back for letting him stay with me, he took me out to a nice restaurant. We ordered a bottle of Chablis, I remember. After finishing our meal, we walked along the river's edge and he put his arm around me. It was so unexpected that I immediately removed his arm and stepped away.  "What are you doing, man?"  I really liked him as a friend, but no more.  But being so open and honest about things, I guess he misconstrued.  I didn't handle things well then either. I could have been nicer, right?

Gary never did settle down and start his own family.  He takes care of his mother who he is ill.  He's a good son. When I saw him in Singapore, I knew he would never marry.  He was a sailor once, and still a sailor at heart. Maybe I knew that way back when we were still students in England.  

He took me to see a show with a local comedian named Kumar - a drag queen extraordinaire - whom I had told him I would like to go see if possible.  Kumar was really funny and we had lots to drink and we had a rocking time.  After the show was over, he said, "See ya" and let me walk back to my hotel by myself.  I was a little upset that even as a friend he didn't see to my safety. Granted the hotel was about 500m away, but still...I think any friend would have walked me back, don't you? 

There is no doubt that Gary is a funny character, and someone I still call a good friend.  He is truly unique. He still wants to relive the old days of drinking at pubs in the UK. He won't come and visit me in Kelantan because we are almost a dry state because we are run by a Muslim ruling party.  So our next meeting is in KL or Penang perhaps? Or possibly Singapore! Again. 

This time though, I will make him walk me back to wherever I am staying. 

Beautiful Souls

I am blessed to have met some beautiful souls in my life.

How do I define them?
What they are not is perfect.
What they are is beautiful, flaws and all.

These people have touched me in ways no others have. Maybe it is just timing - meeting the right person at the right time, maybe it is circumstances you share, but perhaps it is just a simple inexplicable connection of souls. Some people grow on you, some people you just click with right away. There's no rules to meeting a beautiful soul.

Many people come through one's life and some stay and some leave.  "Everything happens for a reason" an old colleague used to say. I hated that saying.  It is like saying "It is what it is." Another pet peeve. I can't make people like me or stay my friend forever.  As you get to know me, you may despise my ways, you may get to know me better and wonder why I am the way I am.  Or, you may start to see what you like in me and hang on to that.  When people leave friendships, you realise what they were to you and what they represented.  When they remain, you have to also do the same.  Appreciate people for who they are and what they mean to us, every second, because tomorrow they may be gone.

I didn't know that I had known a beautiful soul until he passed away from a heart attack 3 weeks ago.  When I was in Form 1 or 7th grade, I had no real friends because I had skipped a year and was a new addition to a group of people who already grew up together. Sid took me under his wing.  He was sat next to me in class. He was confident and didn't give a hoot about befriending the new girl, who was also a schoolteacher's daughter. He didn't treat me extraordinarily specially. He treated me like I was a normal person. Sid liked me for me. He always gave me a hard time but I always knew he cared. We were close friends and classmates for 2 years. 

I remember he used to say when I would call him on the phone, that my voice never changed, he could always recognise my little-girl voice. While I doubt that is true, it was still sweet to hear. He used to ride a motorbike everywhere when we were in high school. On many an occasion when I would be walking home, he would offer me a ride home on his bike, a forbidden act in my mother's book.  I'd always take him up on it. And somehow he always had a spare helmet for me.

Every year I would return to Malaysia, I would wonder where he was.  I didn't call him every year because after so long, we'd just drifted apart. I would sometimes bump into him in town and it would be sublime but we didn't hang out any more.   Last year when I was back for summer, it was different.  A bunch of friends got together for some drinks and he came. It was like we were back in high school all over again.  The same jokes, the same teasing, the same attitudes towards each other. I realised then that I had really missed my friend.

His passing put me into a tailspin. I was grieving for many days without tears, just utter sadness. That song by Rihanna Stay, kept playing over and over on the radio too. In my grief I reached out to my husband but he simply acknowledged his passing and said, "What are we doing for dinner?". I clammed up, and I shrank away.  

As life would have it, I was bestowed another beautiful soul who would help to distract me and lift my spirits. And a best friend whose soul is beyond beauty. She took the opposite approach and told me to talk about him. I remember she held me and I cried over him.  I hadn't realised it but he was a hero to me.  He was someone who was brave and different from the crowd. I know his family will miss him terribly.  I wish there were something I could do to take away the pain but my pain is barely gone. I'm sure they feel it more intensely..

It is sheer therapy to write about stuff. I should do it more often. I want to focus on what makes me happy and not give up being myself for the sake of peace. I want to not be confined by convention, and I want to be free of ridiculous expectations put upon me by other people. I simply want to be myself.  Going forward that may be hard to do but I'm going to do my best. Not that I've hidden myself away, but we are always someone for some people and not really ourselves. Is it possible that if they really see who we are, they might bail on us? Would they really? After all, nobody's perfect.

And to my beautiful souls, who are now my friends.. Stay.
And for future beautiful souls who enter my life.. Welcome.
For the one who has left me.. See You.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Chess Talk

For years I had cast chess aside. I didn't play at all. It had been a passion of mine when I was growing up which was fuelled by a maniacal classmate who would take over the classroom when the teacher was late. He’d teach all of us the fundamentals of chess. My father was my first teacher but he was an a4, h4 player who did not know what castling was, much less en passant.  If you are into chess, you will know exactly what I mean. 

I represented my school at the state level and won some prizes. And later in college, I would represent our university chess club in the local leagues in the UK. It was in UK where I had the best time of my life bonding with friends who had the same interest and having fun with a bunch of “chess geeks”. We were not at all what you imagine chess people to be, but we definitely were a crazy and fun-loving group of misfits. There were very few girls and it made for interesting dynamics within our group.

I am lucky enough to live in St. Louis now, and it was recently named Chess Capital of USA.  It’s an honor that befits our city.  The St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center in our city is one of the best facilities for chess that I have ever seen. In the UK, I had been playing in the worst of places – smoke-filled pubs and basements, little rooms tucked away in Student Unions and make-shift tournament halls in schools.  The St. Louis facility is clean, bright, and well-staffed with enthusiastic and knowledgeable people. We have visiting grandmasters on staff at any given moment who give lectures and private lessons. Recently the club hosted the 2013 US Open Chess Championships.  Present were many Women Grandmasters as well as men Grandmasters.
GM Ben Finegold v GM Varuzhan Akobian 
at the 2013 US Open Chess Championships in St. Louis, MO, USA.

I first discovered this wonderful place when I volunteered at Zoe’s school as a chess mentor.  From there, it was a fast track to membership, attending lectures with GMs, and paying for private lessons for Zoe.  We also frequented the club, which was a long drive away, at least 3 times a week. Weekends were all spent at the club: playing, watching and mingling with like-minded folk.  Talk about commitment. This is it.

The club has reignited something in me that was long lost.  It’s given me new friends, new ideas, new beginnings. When I return to it in 3 months’ time after our summer vacation, I will also work for them part time.  What an exciting prospect!! But now I must shore up my chess knowledge.  Back to the grind.