Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Chinese New Year in Malaysia

I am home!!

After two CNYs in London, I have decided to celebrate this year's CNY in Malaysia.

I meant to write earlier but just couldn't find the time. The first two days were spent recovering from jet lag, traveling and meeting relatives and friends.

I have been eating since coming home. I have always liked CNY because of the myriad of cookies, BBQ meat and mandarin oranges on the living hall table. I remember as a kid I was always looking forward to two things. Angpaos (red packet with money) and the strawberry flavoured cream-filled "love-letters". Nowadays, I have two CNY love-letter wishes; health and peace. With health, I can achieve anything. With peace, everyone else could.

CNY eve reunion dinner

Of course the most important element of CNY is reuniting with everyone in the family. I was very happy meeting my two grandmothers, uncles and aunts, and cousins and catching up on news of our families.

Catching up

One thing I am struggling is to control eating at every house that I go to visit. In a day like yesterday, I could be visiting up to three places during lunch time and I could end up having three lunches before realising I have overeaten! Thing is, how could you control eating when everything is different and you would want to try everyone of them!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Just because an Australian is called an Aussie

This week Prince Harry has gotten himself into trouble again. He was caught in video uttering racial remarks to his Asian colleague when he was training in Sandhurst.

As far as I know, Malaysians are a respectful lot. We are very mindful of our words when it comes to mingling with friends of other races. However, we fare quite badly when it comes to different nationalities.

I would apportion the biggest blame to ignorance. In Malaysia, Bangladeshi workers are called Bangla and Pakistani Paki. In the UK, Paki is a very offensive term to not only the Pakistani people but also Indians. It is as rude as calling me a Cina-pek.

But are we the only nation like that? Hong Kong people came to mind immediately. Malaysians to Hong Kong people are known as "Malai" people. Even though this is not a derogatory remark, calling us a Malai is a misnomer. Again, it's just ignorance.

Malai (or Malay) is one of the races in Malaysia. There are also Chinese, Indian, Kadazan, Iban and other ethnic minorities. Therefore calling a Malaysian "Malai" is like calling a Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish, an English. The safe term would be British. Likewise, Malaysia should be Malaysian or even if you need to canton-ise it, it should be "Ma-lai-sai-ah".

Malaysians to Hong Kong people are just as bad. We call Hong Kong people Hongkies, which is an offensive term to some. Even Raymond's latest blog post has that! That too is attributed to ignorance.

Then again, I've always asked HK friends if there is a shorter term for Hong Kong people. Hong Kong-er? Hong Kong-ese?

Oh well maybe there are things we just can't extrapolate. Just because Taiwan people are called Taiwanese, does not mean Hong Kong people are called Hong Kong-ese. Likewise, just because an Australian is called an Aussie, doesn't mean Hong Kong people are called Hongkie or a Pakistani Paki!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Calvin & Susie saw the financial crisis coming

I like reading Calvin & Hobbes.

Today I received an email with an attachment of the cartoon that was said to be 15 years old.

Somehow I can't help but draw parallels to the global financial crisis and the US bailout of the automobile companies with the conversation between Calvin and Susie.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Grandmothers and the elderly

Looking north from Westminster Bridge is the edifice that houses the world's famous clock, the Big Ben.

Historical buildings like this tell plenty of stories of the time when they were built - the way people appreciated art and how they influenced the architecture of the buildings. The first stones of the magnificent structures were laid primarily to fit a purpose and usually they were to crystalise the point in history of the greatness and strength of an empire, emperor or an era. For example, the pyramids.

Unfortunately, the greatness of people is hard to be represented by towering edifices. I say this for 3 reasons. One, buildings are dead, they can't communicate. Second, humans can touch lives in ways that buildings can't. Third, a concrete structure can be copied and duplicated to anywhere in the world e.g the Status of Liberty.

Which brings me to what I really want to talk about. People. Old people.

More specifically, my two grandmothers - paternal and maternal.

I was not as fortunate as my brother and elder cousins. I have never seen our grandfathers. However, all of us, including my younger cousins, were extremely fortunate to have both grandmothers in the family.

Recently I have been thinking a lot about the two of them. Probably because of my recent conversations with them.

They have aged. They have begun speaking slowly and their voices sounded frail. More sadly, they have started to forget things especially things which have been told a while ago.

What hasn't changed is their excitement talking to their grandchildren. What hasn't changed is their boring and repetitive questions of how and what we are doing at the point of conversation, in the same old fashion way as they were when we were 6 years old.

At 12 midnight, the Big Ben chimed. The strobe light followed by the sound of an ambulance blared pass. Someone's life's at stake. Big Ben will chime regardless, even if another soul is lost, just as time waits for no one. It's been doing that since day one the bell's been installed up there.

Time can be taken for granted easily. Even though the count of one second, minute or hour is the same wherever we live , time can be too much for one but also too little for someone else. But what makes this big difference is the things people do with time.

I have thought this through. Photographs crystallize the moment in time. What I realised is the fact that I have not taken many photographs with my grandmothers, or any if I could remember. Is it because old people look ugly in photos? Is it because I'd rather take photographs of new and beautiful things? Or is it because I have always taken for granted that they will always be around to take photographs with me?

Life's never been fair. I have not put photos of my grandmothers in my room. However, both my grandmothers have kept cuttings of me appearing in newspapers in the past few years.

My paternal grandmother would hide the cuttings in her secret hiding place where she would conveniently take out to show her children who are also my aunts and uncles. They would later tell me that (and that's how I know).

The maternal grandmother has done the same, displaying the cuttings at the back of the door of the wardrobe, where she would open for relatives and friends to see. They too would later tell me that.

Big Ben is older than anyone who is surviving today. It is 150 years old. By looking at the clock, one cannot tell of the scars that the world wars have inflicted onto it. Big Ben has witnessed the greatest atrocities as well as achievements that have taken place in this country. What remained the same 150 years ago and now is the chime.

My grandmothers have been through a lot of hardship. People at their times must have been cursed. They must have been the unluckiest to be born at a time when the world wars broke out, just as one finished. But did they have a choice? Could they choose of what to have or not have? Even if it didn't happen to my grandmothers, it would have been to some other people's.

The second war broke out at a time when they were in their 20s, a time when 20 year olds should be having the best times of their lives; instead they were out witnessing parents and friends being killed, food and water rationed, education being deprived and hoping to live for the next day.

Their trauma lived on. My grandmothers still live a frugal life. If only the banks took heed from this group of people few years ago, we would not have been in this financial crisis. Still, my grandmothers are better.

They have been war-trained. They loathe wasting things especially food. Even if we wouldn't have enough, my grandmothers would sacrifice their shares for our delight. Of course, those faces wouldn't show. At least not easily deciphered by our young and innocent minds then.

Every year, the world celebrates a day dedicated for fathers, mothers, teachers etc, but I don't believe in all of them. These dedicated days have become too commercialised and they artificially make the person feel special and happy for just one day. This is ridiculous.

Honouring someone is not an hour effort. It should not even be an effort. It is a feeling, just like love. You can't make an effort to love someone, can you? You either love or don't? Likewise, you can't have a timed love that is only valid for a day. It should be steadfast.

I know one day I will miss the "boring, repetitive and pointless conversation" when they are no longer with us.

Just a little story:

"Never mind if the bowl of noodle cost an extra ringgit. Ama will buy."

She digged in her plastic bag, counted the notes and paid the noodle seller. We went home to eat the noodles where Ama served it out in a bowl for me.

She watched on. I did not offer to share my food. She took out two slices of plain bread, peeled the crust off and joined me, while I enjoyed my bowl of noodles.

There she was looking contented with her meal. She whispered to herself, "Luckily it's just the crust, I can still eat the rest." Then she threw away the mouldy parts.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Interesting Three

In an unusual moment last Sunday I spoke to the priest after mass. As far as I could remember, the last time I spoke to a priest was seven months ago when I introduced my mother to the priest in Cambridge.

Last Sunday's talk was about the three wise men. The presentation of the sermon was so real I could see the cloud of imagination hovering on top of my head. Anything that's interesting makes me ask questions.

The priest told that the three wise men came from Europe, Africa and Asia. That was news to me.

At that point I could imagine a white, black and Asian men standing in front of a baby and congratulating Mary and Joseph.

But I had questions.

At a time when the internet and phone haven't existed, how did they arrange to meet together to see the baby? When I arrange to meet up with friends in a tube station, we could even end up in different sections or exits of the station! What more, Europe, Africa and Asia are continents apart!

According to the priest, they were astrologers who have calculated the precise time and location of the birth time of Christ. So they may have met on the way since they were heading towards the same direction and location.

There may be more than three since they couldn't be only three astrologers in the world at the time? More than a thousand even? And maybe there were several thousand astrologers who arrived later?

Possibly. But the three were the first.

Were they summoned by their emperors or kings to search for the baby?

No. Astrologers at that time were highly respected in the society. They were also very rich. Like anyone who's good in what they do, they set out to find this unusual star. Since they were rich, they can travel as far as they wanted.

Yes but since you said they were highly respected in the society, can I say they were also influential in the society? So they may have access to the emperors/kings. Am I also right to assume they may have spoken about the baby to the king. Then, they were asked to look for the newborn Christ, as they too wanted to know? After all, if someone intelligent discovered something big, wouldn't they want to tell the king?

Yes you could be right. Not much history has been written about the three of them. And very possibly they went back to tell their kings about what they saw. And being respectable in the society, the people believed the three wise men. This could be the point of time when Christianity actually started in Europe, Africa and Asia; not after the death but birth of Christ.

What about Herod? How did they end up with Herod in the bible, if they didn't serve him?

They were like ambassadors coming from different countries. When they entered the country, they had to call on the emperor as a sign of respect, just like when you enter someone's house. The emperor at the time was Herod. So, they probably spoke over dinner/lunch/breakfast (or golf??) about what they were there after. So when Herod heard about their work, he felt threatened by the fact that a "new king" was born. But he didn't want to let his intentions known. He asked them to tell him the location of the baby so he too could pay homage to the family. Later, the three wise men were told in a dream not to do as told. They fled the country after meeting Jesus and the family.

So the three have already met before meeting Herod. These guys must have been bored to death not understanding each other's language! Oh well, I supposed they could, since they knew each other's work.

The priest laughed and said: Am sure they did! Story had it that they met again in Christmas (I don't think it was 25th December), after the death of Christ to commemorate him. They were 120 years old when they met. To live that long in those days was a miracle. So you can imagine the three were pretty fit and healthy.

I am just amazed they can arrange to meet again. How did they do that?

Well, when today's technologies haven't existed, people will have to find a way. History had it that they met and died in Cologne. There's a cathedral in Cologne with their remains.

Cologne?? That's so strange. What were they doing there?

No one knows.

Were they meant to go somewhere? Christ was ascended into heaven on the third day of his death. Maybe they spotted something new but couldn't make it in time to tell us the story?

Now I wonder what that was.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


In a walking tour in London three months ago, I was told that in winter Londoners used to ice-skate on River Thames. It was difficult to believe and imagine as the Thames is too wide and deep to be frozen.

The Thames is three times the width of Sungai Klang, which made the story even harder to buy.

London is now at its coldest winter snap with temperatures dipping below -10deg C.

When I passed by Trafalgar Square on Sunday, the fountains were frozen. It was rather unusual. Certainly something I thought would never happen because the fountains were wide and deep.

The frozen fountain

The functioning fountain

Now I can imagine Londoners ice-skating on the River Thames 150 years ago.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year 2009!!!

A video presentation of the new year countdown in London...