Idol Worshippers

I was at the Buddhist Tzu Chi Recycling Centre at Taman Lumba Kuda (behind Shang Wu Primary School opposite the Penang State Mosque) a few weeks ago. It was a warm Saturday afternoon which made people lazy to go out.

Nic and I were there to see for ourselves what a successful recycling centre looked like.

The area we live in, Taman Sri Nibong, had received a proposal from the good people at Tzu Chi that they wanted to turn an abandoned food court in our residential area into a recycling centre. Tzu Chi would pay MPPP a rental to use the premises. They did a presentation a few days before that to let us know what their plans were plus answer any questions or doubts.

I like Tzu Chi, not least because they’re a Buddhist organization. They are an amazing example of what good things can be done if done right and with compassion. The way Tzu Chi is run can put many conglomerates and businesses to shame; they have such integrity, such intelligent systems and their inspiration is truly awe-inspiring. (Another Buddhist organization worth mentioning is The Kechara Group. Love, love, love their work.)

Another group had also wanted to turn this old food court into something else. I shall not name this group but they did nothing after proposing their idea for all of two years. When I was in the RA Committee (and that was 2 years ago), I had heard of the big idea but nothing came about. Naturally we all assumed this other group had lost interest or had no funds.

So now that Buddhist Tzu Chi had an idea and proposal, this other group gives an ultimatum – “take our idea and benefit this entire taman or go with Tzu Chi” assuming that only THEY could do something good for this area – when they had remained so quiet for the last 2 years. Humans are so bloody predictable. Give them a bone and they will fight like dogs.

And these are grown men and women!

Some say that a multi-purpose hall is better (so let’s tear down the old food court). Some say a recycling centre is dirty and will attract strays. Some say a library is even better (oh dear, in this day and age when even adults don’t read and we expect kids to go to a library?). Or a coffee corner. Someone even said, why don’t we ask someone rich like Vincent Tan to give some money and turn it into a hall.

Oh so many ideas.

Anyway, that has yet to be settled. While the arguments zoom back and forth, there’s an elephant in their midst. No one wants to say it but the taman residents are afraid Tzu Chi will turn Taman Sri Nibong into a temple or something. Or proselytize and turn us all into Buddhists.

The people who make bold accusations like this did not attend the Tzu Chi presentation nor did they make the effort to visit the recycling centre in Taman Lumba Kuda (which is clean and quiet and gives the entire community a place they can gather!). They sit behind their PCs and spew forth such illogical statements that it makes me wonder – why are certain Christians so afraid of Buddhists?

I am a Buddhist and I can tell you this – we do not go around proselytizing because we’re not about saving your souls. Your soul is yours. It is your karma to have your soul. It gives us no credit to save your souls.

So there. I’ve said it. No offence to Christians – I have plenty of Christian friends, OK.

Plus my sister is a Muslim. Yup. She is. My own blood sister. So yes, I do know what I am talking about.

In fact, I have been asked again and again to join Christian groups on pretext of going out for dinner/party/fun.

My neighbour Vern and I have a secret code for this -“porridge group”. I told her this story – when I was in USM as a freshie, all naive and young, my senior approached me and asked if I wanted to go out with her friends for porridge. I was not feeling too well then, having just recovered from chicken pox, so porridge sounded divine (and campus food was always spicy and curried).

I didn’t know it wasn’t just porridge.

After our dinner at a nearby hawker centre, she drove us all to her friend’s house. A big group had gathered.

“Oh, we’re going to watch a movie and sings some songs, that’s all,” said this senior to me. I was lucky my roommate was with me. She was just as confused as I was. Maybe we looked too heathen!

The movie was about Christ and how he died for our sins. The songs were songs of praise with live guitar music. It was practically a cell group meeting for all I know.

We couldn’t even walk out of the house as we had been driven there and out of politeness, had to wait until the 2 hours were over before we were taken back to our hostel.

I felt so cheated and so angry. I never spoke to that senior again. If only she had clued us in, at least we would have had a chance to decline or if truly interested, to say yes.

But to induce two girls and bring them to a cell group meeting on the pretext of going out for dinner was the cheapest of all cheap tricks.

I always tell people I meet that religion is deeply personal. What you do in your personal life is between you and God or whomever you believe in.

Whatever religion you belong to, be the best follower of that religious teaching.

I studied in a Methodist school. I know the Lord’s Prayer – I had it memorized when I was 10 when I was searching for some sort of religion to cling to. I grew up with a best friend who is deeply religious – a Catholic where I had joked “Nothing comes between you and Jesus.”  I tried attending Friday sessions at the chapel in my school. But nothing.

Religion is an affinity. I had none with Christianity. That doesn’t mean I don’t respect it as a religion. When I came to USM and learned the Dhamma, it felt like coming home. It fell into place for me.

Many friends became Christians after years of praying as Taoists and Buddhists. It’s OK because they finally found what they were looking for.

But to presume that Buddhists are all out to convert people is wrong.

Have you ever seen a Buddhist giving you a pamphlet and saying “If you’re free, why don’t you come to our service this Sunday at 1oam?” or “What are you doing this Sunday? Would you like to join us in worship?”

So for all our corny slogans of 1Malaysia (I hate it with all my heart), we still don’t understand each other, do we? We still don’t know what we all are or how our philosophies differ or when they merge.

Some Christians are afraid of some Buddhists/Taoists/Confucianists. We’re all that cymbal-clashing, idol-worshippers who burn joss paper, light incense and live by archaic superstitions.

Open up your eyes, will you? Come and understand first before you judge.

Above All, Have Faith

The past few weeks were rather busy for me since I was roped into planning our women entrepreneurs’ group luncheon to celebrate our 6 years!

When Jo and I had this idea in June 2006, we never envisioned it to grow to more than 50 members plus a database of 200 or so non-members (those who do not yet qualify to join us).

Anyway, that is over and done with – our anniversary celebration last Saturday was a tiring effort on all fronts.

You know it’s never fun to be on the organizing committee. I only managed to eat a bowl of piping hot crab noodles before being called to do 101 things. Griping aside, I must admit I am kinda proud that the little group of five ladies we started has turned into something to be reckoned with in Penang.

While it was a success with a full turnout of ladies in their glittering best on a rainy Saturday, I felt that we could have done much more as a team.

Teamwork is always crucial in any event planning. I felt disappointed at some people’s attitudes.  You know how right it is that you only see the person’s true colours when that person is under stress or tight deadlines.

I came away contemplative.

I came away looking at some people with new eyes.

Some shone under pressure. They were brilliant in planning and execution. Some stepped up, right from the start.

Yet there were also some who brought their worry into the group.

They didn’t want to participate.

I told Pauline, let them be. We’d just have to do without them then. (I must tell you then of my cabbages and brocolli* theory. More of this later.)

And above all, have faith.

Because she was worried sick about ticket sales. As the organizing chairlady, she was in charge of paying full fees for the hotel ballroom even if we failed to sell our tickets.

In looking back, I realized I learnt this “having faith” idea from my Christian friends. I have so many of them that I’ve lost count. My best friend is a Catholic, did I tell you that? So I grew up hearing about her church activities and more.

A few of my good friends in Penang are Catholics. Many more are from various churches in and around Penang.

Faith was a word I have heard many times.

Until you experience it, it remains just that. A word.

Faith is about doing your best, your utmost, and then letting it go into the hands of someone, something that is far bigger and more powerful than ourselves. You can call it God. I call it the Cosmic Universe. I call it the Unknown Presence sometimes.

Faith is about helping ourselves so that someone else may help us. It could be indirect help. Or divine help.

When we hit our break-even ticket sale mark, Pauline was the first to let us know. And I was truly happy for her.

For in helping her sell tickets (and get sponsors and lucky draw contributors), we have all learnt something precious. That each of us has the ability to do more than we think we can.

We can challenge ourselves and we can make things happen. That’s what makes us all walk a little straighter. That’s what makes us more confident, more aware of the wondrous things we could do, if we put our minds to it.

For the naysayers who stood silent, who bit their lips, who worried instead of getting down to work, they may not have learnt anything.

And that’s really a pity.

Because the way I see it, an event like this (or any other event for that matter) is just a vehicle to test us all. Could we put ourselves away and do something for the greater good?

Far too many people can be negative. Being negative won’t help things run along.

Taking action and trying your best can.

When Kim jokingly said that from now onwards we’d all have withdrawal symptoms, I’d raised my eyebrows. No way. I had put aside a bunch of business stuff to do when I was roped into the planning committee.

Now I had to get back into putting my own stuff in order. Pending projects (eerrrkkk), clients I needed to meet for discussions and generally, my own self-development (you know, reading and learning).

I have faith.

And I hope, whatever you are going through right now, that you have faith too.

Things will get better!

P/S: *Oh yes, my cabbages and broccoli theory which Nic had laughed about just the other day. When I was 19, I had my teenage heart broken when the boy whom I liked turned out to be such a jerk – he had no guts to break up with me face to face; he did it on the phone! Worse, he had called my best friend, yes, that Catholic girl, and told her he was going to break up with me (she had introduced him to me).

Luckily my best friend called another best friend and they drove to my house at midnight, hoping to break the news gently to me before that boy called. Unfortunately, they were too late. So they lounged around my porch while I was on the phone, being “broken up” with! They were sweet.

He was a bum and a spineless worm (and thank god I didn’t marry him). Anyway, I told them later that it was a cabbages and broccoli thing.  My theory was if someone preferred cabbages, so be it. (Ahem, I was the broccoli in the analogy.) In my mind, if you preferred one thing over another, so be it. Just don’t regret eating cabbages all your life. I was going to be so damn “broccoli” that he would regret it for the rest of his life that he didn’t desire me.

Yes, I was a bit mad like that in my youth.

I have lived using this philosophy since then. I would never go begging someone to be my friend/lover/client; in fact, I’d make myself so attractive/smart/irresistible that those who’d scoffed would regret it sooner or later. That was the ultimate revenge.

It took a break-up for me to create my philosophy but it helped soothe a broken heart (which actually was healed when I met husband-to-be during  my first semester in USM!). So there. Strange but true.

Cabbages and broccoli. Tell me if you think I’m mad.

Eating in Cintra Street

You know, sometimes before I fall asleep, I have a million and one ideas for my blog. And when I wake up the next day, damn. The ideas have flown.De Tai Tong Cafe decked out with lanterns during Mid-Autumn Festival

Last night was one of those nights. Had a bunch of ideas to write about.

Well, good news…I have recovered from being a total sick zombie. It took me a while but I am back in one piece. Still have a scratchy throat and a bit of a cough but hey, as long as my appetite is back – the world looks a heck of a lot better. While some friends said I wrote better while half-dead, I think I shouldn’t be too dead sometimes. LOL.

Food Tales In De Tai Tong

I was having dinner with my folks and Godmother last night at Tai Tong (these days it has renamed itself into De Tai Tong Cafe). It’s impossible not to know of this dim sum and Chinese eatery along Cintra Street. It’s an institution. Even the old ladies who serve you – see I couldn’t even bear to call them waitresses – seem to have aged with this Chinese eatery.

De Tai Tong Cafe sells mooncakes during the Mid Autumn Festival

(Have I mentioned they are grumpy and pushy as hell? If it were not for my Godma suggesting this place, I’d hot-trotted to some other Chinese zhu-zhar place on Campbell Street but she hadn’t been to Tai Tong for a while and I thought, what the heck. The auntie servers are STILL as awful as ever.)

I knew it was a heck of an old place – I just didn’t know HOW old. I thought maybe the place is 30 years old. It looks that way.

Until over dinner last night my Dad remarked that Tai Tong is more than 50 years old! My mum chipped in and said that my maternal grandpa used to “yum cha” in the cafe back in those good old days. She used to eat at this place as a child! (My mum is in her early 60s so that says a lot about this place.)

OK, now that is some history. My Godma then said that in those days, Foo Heong (that’s another famous eatery across the road diagonally from Tai Tong) and Tai Tong were the bee’s knees. Both these eateries were super happening and get this – they served wedding banquet dinners.

I almost choked on my “siew mai” when I heard this.

When You Got Married Back Then…

Tai Tong Cafe isn’t very spacious. But back in those days, people getting married didn’t have the entire village invited. Plus they didn’t need a stage or karaoke either. Best of all, my parents told me that a typical wedding banquet would be about RM45 per table of 10 diners. (OK, second choking of siew mai now.)

“That’s cheap!” I blurted.

Mum said that when she got married in 1972, most guests would give you gifts instead of ang pows. Dad remembered lots of transistor radios plus the odd glassware set or two. And then the really generous relatives or friends would give you a RM10 shopping voucher so you could go to Tong Aik Departmental Store (that was THE airconditioned supermarket of its day in Penang) and pick your own wedding gift.

Piglets in a basket - every kid's favourite biscuit

My Godma remarked that in those days, RM45 was equivalent to our RM400 today. If someone gave you a RM10 shopping voucher, you must have meant a  lot to them because in those days, “char hor fun” was a mere 30 cents per plate!

So much inflation since then! So much have changed since then.

Sometimes having dinner at an old eating establishment brings back rather a lot of poking down memory lane.

What I Truly Detest About De Tai Tong Cafe

Anyway, I still don’t like the argumentative auntie servers at Tai Tong; they make ordering such a chore because they keep bugging you about ordering their specialty dishes when all I want is just my regular stuff. According to my parents and Godma, Tai Tong Cafe’s food isn’t as spectacular now. It used to be so much better.

As for me, this place can be a hit-and-miss affair.

Sometimes the food is really good – I quite like their braised duck noodles in ginger gravy, their fried rice and “ang thor” noodles (a poor man equivalent of sharks’ fin soup) with lashings of black vinegar.

I also enjoy their “char hor fun” is it is served piping hot and the gravy has not soaked into the hor fun entirely, making it a mess to eat. Their “sang meen” is another winner but again, it must be eaten piping hot or gets very cloying after it gets cold.

From time to time, the auntie servers will recommend all sorts of things to you – deepfried spring rolls, steamed fish, fried chicken wings etc. Pay no heed to them.

If you arrive at noon when they are packing up their dim sum for the day, they will bully you into buying their leftover dim sum or pau. Do not be taken in. Pity for their incessant bugging means you will be too stuffed to the gills later on.

The aunties just want to make their lives easier by offloading the remaining pau or dim sum to you. Politely but firmly decline. They may be aunties but it is my stomach yeah?

Weekends are crazy times to eat in Tai Tong as the entire weekend crowd of hungry Penangites and outstation visitors descend on Tai Tong like ants. Even the odd Mat Salleh or two will wander into this cafe and be hoodwinked into eating whatever the auntie servers recommend.

Parking along Cintra Street is much easier on week day evenings and less maddening.  And god knows that THAT by itself can be such a relief in Penang.

One Secret Place You Must Not Miss

If you come earlier say before 6pm, you can make a quick de-tour into People’s Court behind Tai Tong and look for the long-time and supremely famous biscuit maker, Leong Chee Kei at the flats. Again, this tiny shop is an institution. My mum remembers buying his “gai dann kou” – egg sponge cakes – as a kid.

I’m not a big fan of “gai dann kou” – it’s too dry and sticks in my throat but he has a plethora of traditional style biscuits to make your trip down memory lane worthwhile. He sells pepper biscuits, pong pneah, tau sar pneah, gai dann kou – all these freshly made daily.

And Yet Another One Serving Up Smiles

Of course, you should not miss the other famous pushcart opposite Tai Tong either – there are two pushcarts really. One sells Chinese herbal teas but the other pushcart sells “harm chim peang” and “pak tong kou”, again firm favourites of mine if I happen to pass by in the evenings. I always used to buy white sugar cake (“pak tong kou”) for my grandma as it seemed to be her favourite snack.

Then again, there is Foo Heong – super duper famous for its “yin yeong” or “char hor fun”. They have a Reputation you know. Nowadays the sheen and glam is gone but the last time I heard, you had to pay for extra chili or sambal if you wanted more for your “yin yeong”.

Oh I could go on and on about the old style eateries but that is enough for today.

Kimberly Street and Campbell Street and even Kampung Malabar each hold their own eateries worthy of blog posts on their own. Makes you salivate right? Right!

(Chan Kou Loh Dim Sum comes to mind and he’s gone. Also the famous Big Rock zhu-zhar who is still there whipping up dishes like a pro each time – errr, yes, who else is not famous in Penang? And dozens more.)

Such is living in Penang!

Do you have any Penang eatery secrets to share, since we’re on this topic?

Time To Rest

I have been unwell for the past two days. It started with the chills and went on to a fever, pain behind the eyes and a general ache all over. Uh oh, a flu is approaching.

No one likes being sick.

But being sick is probably a signal that I have not been treating my body too well. A bit too many late dinners, work, late nights and such – these take a toll sometime.

When I get sick, the first thing I do is to go to bed, wrapping up tightly in my blanket. Sweating does a world of good but this time I just couldn’t sweat out my toxins. On top of that, I had a massive headache and started feeling really nauseated. In the middle of the night, I heaved and hurled out the contents of my stomach which was actually a big relief.

My fever came and went, and as of this blog post, I am feeling a lot better than two days ago.

My neighbor asked if I had seen a doctor and I replied that seeing a doctor would be a last option. I am not fearful of doctors. I am rather skeptical of the drugs they dish out.

I’d rather see a Chinese sinseh and take the slower road to recovery than take a bunch of pills. The Chinese sinseh may give me some ground up powder which tastes bitter as bile and sometimes take 5 days of such medications to lessen the symptoms.

I believe that our human bodies are amazing yet complex systems.

Our bodies can heal themselves if given enough time and space, barring any serious illnesses. For flus and fevers, I normally give myself lots of bed rest and drink lots of ginger tea. It helps that I know a little reflexology and massaging certain acupressure points helps alleviate the pain.

I read that a fever is not a disease; it is a symptom. This means when we get a fever, our bodies are actually fighting some invading pathogens. The body’s internal thermostat is raised (hence your temperature goes up) so that it can kill the bacteria while white blood cells, activated by a higher temperature, work better in killing off the bacteria.

Being sick also reminded me of my maternal grandmother. I used to have heat issues when I was a teenager. That meant I would be sick and vomit and at times, be so lethargic that sleep was the only respite. She would take a Chinese porcelain soup spoon and start scraping the “heat” from the neck downwards. According to Chinese beliefs, this gua sha method eliminates toxins and invigorates qi.

Nic who often doubles up as my personal sinseh tells me that the best is to use a gua sha implement made from the horns of a water buffalo. Another method to relieve heat symptoms is to use a peeled hard boiled egg. Just rub the egg along the back of the neck downwards toward the shoulder blades. (If Nic weren’t in business I think he’d do quite well as a healer because he does have a natural ability to heal, just by massage and intuition. I always say he’s healthy like a horse. If he gets sick – which is rarely – all he needs is Coca cola with a pinch of salt plus a long nap. He never needs the kind of bed rest and care that I do. I think all those cod liver oil capsules he took as a kid must have built a solid foundation for his robustness!)

I haven’t quite figured out why this works but it does.

I try to make the best of things even when sick like a dog. In times like these, I understand more of “dukkha” as espoused by the Buddha. As my meditation training during university days have taught me, it is better to stare and feel the pain and aches that come. We used to battle lots of pain while meditating in the lotus position. The knees would cramp, the toes would get numb.

Accept the pain and tell yourself, this too will soon pass.

And so I take it that I need a break from work, from business, from every day life.

The headaches, body aches, fever all remind me that I am mortal. And at this moment, this mortal needs a rest.

I Did It My Way

I know. I’ve been “missing” since Bersih 3.0.

That was quite a weekend. No, I wasn’t in KL at all but here in good old peaceful Penang. It was such a good day when we started out wearing our yellow tees, Nic and I. I thought I had to run off and buy myself one from Tesco. I didn’t realize I had already bought one yellow tee from Tesco a few months before. Tsk. Tsk. Where is my memory going to?

Nic of course couldn’t find one. The nearest one to yellow was his old, bedraggled Nike ochre brown shirt but he wore it anyway. While driving down to Padang Kota Lama, we spied some policemen along the Jelutong Highway. We were decked out in yellow with yellow wristbands too and my husband turned to me and said, “Maybe we should’ve worn something over our yellow tees.” I looked at him and said,”Why would the police catch us for wearing yellow?”

Actually the policemen didn’t even bother.

It felt very much like a carnival – we even waved at strangers in cars next to us at the traffic lights – all because they wore yellow! There is such thing as a shared camaraderie.

As things turned out, it was rather an uneventful Duduk Bantah. The weather sided with us. While we were all happily sitting on the field of Padang Kota Lama, the skies turned cloudy. I was supposed to help Lerks with the release of some yellow balloons on the stage to represent the demands of Bersih but the “stage” was too crowded.

Many friends were there – I was supposed to meet some but either we couldn’t locate each other in the sea of yellow or it was just too loud to hear my phone ring.

Anyway, when the event ended, we strolled back to our car, parked at Lebuh Victoria. I decided that we ought to have a bite at our favourite Indian restaurant and so we took a detour and went to Ananda Bhawan’s for some fried bee hoon and samosas.

The next day, we ended up at Rainbow Hotel which was actually the old Sandy Bay Paradise for the fundraising hi-tea organized by Aliran. Lerks had cajoled me and in the spirit of Bersih, and since like any starstruck Bersih supporter, I heard Datuk Ambiga and Pak Samad would be special guests and so I dragged Nic along. After all, how often does one get to hear one’s heros speak, right?

While Datuk Ambiga didn’t get arrested, she didn’t manage to arrive either. She was busy in KL with the string of arrests plus given her status, she was much sought after by the media. It was unfortunate that Aliran had picked the date way before the Bersih rally date was decided upon. It wasn’t so much the hi-tea (there’s just so much of hi-tea that one can take anyway) but the idea of being there to support Aliran.

I first read Aliran when I was a teenager. I’d been very impressed with Aliran’s forthright articles and impassioned calls for truth and justice. As an impressionable teenager, I felt very much a rebel. So it seemed right that I’d pay for two seats at a hi-tea where a group of passionate people in their 50s took to the stage and parodied the government of the day using Abba songs! It was entertaining and proved that Malaysians are darn creative when it comes to politics!

But it was a smallish, humble old man who took us all by surprise. Pak Samad, our National Laureate, managed to travel to Penang just for this event despite the incidents the day before.

I had never read Salina, his bestselling novel nor any of his penned fiction. I had vague ideas of the man. He seemed ethereal really – like someone not of this era.

The ballroom of 500 people grew silent when Pak Samad took to the stage. He recounted the events of the day before, saying that he felt most hurt when he was stopped by policemen from going to the mosque, as was his routine. These men were of the same faith as he, and yet, they prevented him from going to the mosque to perform his prayers. He could not understand why a group of Muslims were preventing another Muslim from going to the mosque. That puzzled him most. Despite it all, Pak Samad said he was unfazed and chose to “duduk bantah” right there on the pedestrian bridge, surrounded by policemen.

With a strong voice, he ended by reading out a poem he wrote, a poignant piece about democracy and truthfulness.

(I managed to record him speaking. Note that Pak-Samad-Said speaks Bahasa.)

While hearing him speak, and after that, a few others, I couldn’t help but wonder – this is the most Malaysian Malaysia I’ve ever felt. Many are so torn between leaving this country and staying put. Do we stay and fight on? Or do we take the route of least resistance?

A friend told me that a young man she spoke to recently said that if nothing changes, he would be leaving Malaysia for good. It has come to this.

If you read the mainstream newspapers, you’d think the worst of people calling for Bersih. When Buddhist monks, old aunties, uncles, pakcik and makcik and more all come out in full force to call for cleaner, fairer elections, it really tells me something is so very wrong in our country today.

Are rallies the proper means? I don’t know but I do know that when we’re all tired and frustrated and have no other means to show our displeasure, then rallies would have to do, wouldn’t it?

Yellow, Yellow, Clean That Fellow!

It seems everyone I know is positively gearing up for BERSIH 3.0.

I am too. After what happened last year, and after reading about what my bestie went through – I felt so much of patriotism coursing through my body that I knew I had to attend one this year.

And so, there will be one.

Of course the destination to be at is still Dataran Merdeka – that is where the action is. But like Lerks said, if all of us politics-driven Penangites flock to KL, who will be here in the Esplanade to wear yellow? (Which by the way, though it is a favourite colour of mine, I have NO yellow t-shirt. Then again, even if you don’t wear yellow, try a yellow ribbon, or scarf or bandanna. That counts.)

This will be a big one. If BERSIH 2.0 was anything to go by, it showed that Malaysians have finally found courage to speak up against what’s wrong with the ruling Government of the day.

Like a friend of mine says,”We need to show them that we’re unhappy.”

Just like I read that we shouldn’t be morally self-righteous asses who reprimand those who do not support sit-ins and street rallies, I also want to say this: how else (besides voting) will we be able to show that we’re unhappy, angry, pissed and frustrated?

How else when the mainstream media is full of glowing and flowing praises for the powers-that-be? Their record is unblemished, they’re so good and pious and wonderful – why are we so hard to please?

You must know that I grew up reading Aliran magazine. I was 16 when I proclaimed to my Mum that  I wanted to be a lawyer. (Of course that didn’t happen because I realized I’d be too darn emotional as one and I was more inclined towards Mass Comm).

I am also a teacher’s daughter so that makes it quite a strange thing, no? Teachers are civil servants but teachers are also thinking humans. My dad got his supply of Aliran magazines even though he didn’t subscribe to them.

Was I against any political party then? Not really. But I never particularly liked the unctuous MCA people in Banting. I wasn’t even a DAP fan though I had heard of Lim Kit Siang and Karpal Singh.

How does this factor in my life today?

I am in my 30s and I have seen more than enough of rubbish so yes, sometimes it is despair.

It is also the unfairness of it all that makes me want to clobber someone. Why are idiots running this country? And again, my country and my government are two very distinct entities so all that rubbish about not being grateful is pure hogwash.

So I must attend BERSIH 3.0 because perhaps taking such an action and sharing the camaraderie with other people who feel the same way might pacify this awfulness gnawing at my heart. It will become worse (and I, as you know, am generally quite optimistic). There’s nothing like shared misery!

Besides this Saturday’s big do (and if you’re still thinking if you should go or not, just go – go for the sake of your kids, your grandkids), you can also take action – you can buy a radio to help Sarawak.

I’m helping friends who are involved in the “Adopt a Dayak Initiative” under the bigger banner of “From Sarawak to Putrajaya” to raise funds so that they can buy 2200 radios to be distributed into the interior of Sarawak.

Radios are quite low-tech in today’s hi-tech world but combined with the broadcasts from the independent radio station called Radio Free Sarawak, they should be able to inform the rural communities in hard to reach areas about what’s going in the land of the hornbill. The idea is to help the rural Dayak see that they can vote for change but in order to do that, they need to know what’s wrong so they can put it right.

Oh there are a multitude of issues – issues that we who live among Starbucks and Borders do not know such as land grab issue, identity card issue, logging issues and more. You can listen to Radio Free Sarawak too and find out what’s really happening. The good thing is, this radio station broadcasts stuff that tells of the plight of what these Sarawakians go through. We don’t know much here as we’re so far removed from them – it’s as if Borneo is another planet far far away!

As the campaign ends on 30 April (that’s like 4 days away), you can help me tell more people about this “Buy A Radio To Free Sarawak” and get people to buy at least one radio for RM50. You can like the page on Facebook but we realized nothing beats a personal email from you to your friends.

I’ve learnt a whole lot of things during the past few days of this campaign and I’m truly humbled by the outpouring of support and donations coming in from all over the world. I’ve heard of Malaysians overseas who are coming back to join BERSIH because they can feel the hope of solidarity. That’s different from the despair of a future in limbo.

Will you join me in this Saturday’s “yellow fever” sit-in at the Esplanade?

I hope you will.

The Yearly Ancestral Hike

Two Sundays ago we went for Cheng Beng or Chinese All Souls’ Day. The actual date fell on 5 April but tradition has it that you can go 10 days before or 10 days after the actual date.

Chinese All Souls Day to remember the departed

My grandpa's grave with our food offerings

Each year, I take part in Cheng Beng because it is a way to gather the family around the graves of our ancestors. I believe in reincarnation and I hope that my grandpa, great grandparents and grand aunt’s spirits have been reincarnated into a higher and better realm by now. After all it’s been a long time since they passed on.

Yet this Confucianism practice is something I truly look forward to. Not because my departed relatives can imbibe the food we put before them. (I hope not!)

A pile of joss paper and a set of "clothes" to become a bonfire

A pile of joss paper and a set of "clothes" to become a bonfire

I look forward to it because as the years go by, fewer and fewer family members make that trek to clean the graves of my great grandpa. His grave is on a little hill which overlooks the Straits of Malacca; it is a place of feng shui for sure.

My great grandpa, Goon Phoon Chong of Ah Chong Tailor

My great grandpa, Goon Phoon Chong of Ah Chong Tailor

Although it takes less than 20 minutes to hike up, fewer family members make that hike as most of them are in their 60s and so it is left to us young people to continue hiking up the hill, to remember a man who most times frightened the crap out of my aunts and uncles but was such a gentle lamb to us great grand-kids when we knew him.

When I knew him, he was in his 80s. He was such a quiet old man that we never truly had proper conversations with our great grandpa. But we often went and called upon him when my sisters and I were at the old shophouse on 34, Leith Street. (That shophouse has been demolished which is rather sad because now the shop next door, which is still standing, took my great grandpa’s shop name – Kwong Sung House – for its cafe business with a tailoring theme).

The killer view from my great grandpa's grave...after a nice hike

The killer view from my great grandpa's grave...after a nice hike

The remaining pillar, a remnant of the shophouse, still bravely proclaims “Ah Chong Tailor”  – Ah Chong stood for Goon Phoon Chong, my great grandpa. In those days, the sons followed their father’s footsteps so my grandpa and his brothers helped out in the booming tailoring business (this was back in the 1950s and 1960s). My grandma, when she married my grandpa, also sewed.

So Cheng Beng is more of a time to remember our ancestors rather than hoping they get the food! Of course, Cheng Beng is never Cheng Beng without the prayer paraphernalia like paper offerings and paper clothes. We’re not that hi-tech to offer mobile phones to my great grandpa or grandpa – they would never know how to use it!

Grand-aunt prays and offers some sweet cakes to the deity first

Grand-aunt prays and offers some sweet cakes to the Earth Deity first

Over the past few years, Cheng Beng is also a time for us  to remember what to do when we are in front of the graves. Actually it is for my cousin and I to stamp into our minds the steps and rituals of praying. We don’t want to forget a single step – it’s sacrilegious!

More than that, going for Cheng Beng gives me a moment to reflect and be grateful for the people who have brought me here  – for without my great grandparents, where would I be? Certainly not here, not blogging about it.

Younger cousins tidying up the grave

Younger cousins tidying up the grave

I don’t have that many memories of my great grandmother though my aunts and uncles were all rather afraid of her stern demeanour when she was alive. As a child, I used to be afraid to look into the first room upstairs (at the old shophouse) because her portrait would be hung there. I don’t know if it is the way people in those days took photos but there was not a smile. Just a tight-lipped grimace!

Anyway, as the proverbial baton is passed to my cousin and me to carry on the tradition of Cheng Beng, I hope to improve upon it as we go along. Already I am thinking of bringing with us a garbage bag the next year we go up the hill. I just cannot understand why we Chinese are so damn filthy, discarding rubbish all about the graves when it is the final resting place of our ancestors! It boggles my mind.

This pile of offerings goes up in flames once the prayers are done

This pile of ingots goes up in flames once the prayers are done

I would replace the newspapers with a proper tablecloth too – the newspaper is the temporary “table cloth” which annoys me to no end. And if we revere our ancestors, I think we should give them the best. How about some lovely wine that doesn’t come in a cheap bottle?

When Fate Intervened…

This is a story of how two people met.

And sorry. It’s not a love story.

It’s about being friends but it’s also about turning friendship into something more.

It was such a surprise to have her write about our little relationship. We’ve often joked that people would hardly believe how we met and that my aunt actually met her before I did.

And like all Penang folks, we begin with food and we end with food. We always have food in some form or another.

OK, enough tantalizing. It’s such a warm, fuzzy read because she’s an excellent writer, the sort I’d want if only she weren’t bonded to that oil and gas company.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to introduce you to Wei Vern and how we go a funny, little way back.

Can’t You Spell For God’s Sakes?

These days, I get mighty annoyed when I get application emails from fresh graduates of  local universities. They could be applying to intern at our company or they could be applying for a job, part-time or full-time.

As I sift through their applications, a number of things strike me – and in most cases, annoy me a lot.

Maybe because I write.

Maybe because I can’t stand people who don’t pay attention to details.

Maybe because I dislike carelessness.

Of course I know that most applicants these days will copy and paste their friends’ resumes, changing only what’s necessary. No one types their own original resume any more. It’s so 1990s, you know. (Ya, but lest I sound like an old fudge past its expiry date, in the 1990s at least we made*some* effort. These days, effort is so damn rare!).

Today someone sent us their email with an attachment called “Proposole”. Is that a new kind of shoe in town? Not a Jimmy Choo I hope?

These days, half the people who apply can’t even string a sentence of 10 words without getting at least 2 or 3 words misspelt.

Someone even mentioned “dateline” when it should be “deadline”.

I cringe. I cringe because this is the result of an education system going to the boondocks and never returning in a million years.

I cringe because if this is the state of the future of our country, I shall be glad to have passed on when it is 2085. (“Mou ngan thaaei” – in Cantonese it means “no eye see”.)

I cringe because these kids do not know that they are not in competition with each other; no way. They are in competition with the other global kids.

In no time, these kids will be overtaken by cheaper, better and more language-savvy kids from other Asian countries. (Have you seen how quickly the foreign workers catch on to our languages when they work here for a year or so? They lack opportunities – they don’t lack brains. When their countries start moving upwards, these kids will be up to their necks in night soil, I tell you.)

At my age (I am 38), a lot of my friends are senior managers and a lot of them too run their own businesses. When we meet up, the biggest tirade we have is this: “Whatever happened to the generation after ours because they don’t turn up when they’re supposed to, they can’t be bothered to be accountable and blinkingly lie through their teeth?”

When my friend Jin came up for a short visit two months ago, we had this conversation during our nasi briyani dinner. She was lamenting that she couldn’t find good candidates for her company. One girl who agreed to come to work on a specific date did not turn up at all. Jin then called her but to no avail. Finally the girl sent an SMS that she was ill and could not come to work. The day after, the girl still hadn’t turned up. This time, she SMSed again, saying her grandmother passed away. And a few more excuses after that.

In my case, it is frustrating both with interns and with work candidates.

Just the other day, I gave a boy a benefit of the doubt. He hadn’t replied my email in 4 weeks after we’d interviewed him. He needed a part-time job and I needed someone to help out. He was going on and on how he was a quick learner and came from a poor family so he really hoped we’d give him this chance. He had seen how my assistant writer was doing and he thought he could easily do her work.

After 4 weeks of not getting a reply, he suddenly replies saying he was helping his family move home and he had no Internet access. That was why he couldn’t get back to me.

In today’s day and age, free Wifi is everywhere so I was quite curious that he could not even get 5 minutes to pop into a McDonalds to check and reply his email. If you needed a part-time job bad enough, wouldn’t you make it a priority to at least check your email?

Anyway, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I do give people chances but 2 chances are all they get. I told him to come on a specific date so we could try him out for a week. I may be kind but I am not stupid. Most people who proclaim they can write/design/etc usually are hot air vessels…. they can’t design and they can’t write for nuts.

I was even thinking of SMSing him to remind him – just in case he’d “forgotten”. Nic told me to wait and see. I heard that Jobstreet has this feature that sends a reminder to one’s phone to remind one of interviews and such. My husband being what he is thinks that it’s all hogwash. If a job is what you’re after, can’t you even remember the date so you can turn up for an interview? If it is not that important to you, no amount of reminders will get you to the place of interview.

So on the day that this boy was supposed to arrive, he didn’t. Not a call, not an SMS, not an email even. No accountability at all.

We have a category for folks like this. They’re blacklisted.

Another time, a girl with no writing credentials nor writing samples came to ask for a job. She had worked in a tax planning firm and found it boring. She believed she had writing chops.

We decided to try her out for a week. Frankly I told her that she had nothing to show us – not even a blog post. So we were taking a huge risk in taking her in for a week. After a week, we’d decide if she could continue. It was a Friday when we agreed that she would come in the following Monday for a week’s testing.

She said OK.

I thought, hey, not bad. Can rise to the challenge.

On Saturday, she SMSes – saying her dad said it was better for her to take a more “confirmed” job at another company since we were just going to test her out anyway. She said she would follow her father’s advice.

On Monday evening, she emails. She says she had gone to her “confirmed” job but after 8 hours, she decided it was boring and could she come to our company the next day to try out her writing job?

Hell no!

You see, the horror stories of hiring people are aplenty. Just ask those who are in businesses. I could write a tome on these experiences.

Interns are no better.

Interns these days think an internship is a given. It’s part and parcel of their college curriculum. Everyone gets internship so it’s not like it’s a big deal right? You can’t get fired during your internship, can you?

Well, think again. I don’t know about other companies but we take our interns seriously and we expect them to take themselves seriously. We do fire our interns because I’m not going to let deadweights annoy the rest of us who are seriously working. And we did fire interns.

Part of the problem with today’s interns and fresh graduates is that they’re too pampered – at the mere hint of toil, their parents will rush to their defence and say “Oh poor baby. You had a bad time huh? Well, we won’t stand for it, will we? You can quit. It’s OK, Papa and Mama will be able to take care of you while you find another job. You don’t need all that flack. How dare they make you do this.”

Ah. I could say a four-letter word to this.

That is why their kids will be audacious and stupid. They will demand things they don’t have rights to in the first place. They want the good stuff but they’re not prepared to lift a finger to do a day’s work (not that they have much to offer really in terms of social skills, not to mention real skills).

Colleges and universities these days don’t give a damn either. They’re there to do business. They don’t care if the placement is going to be beneficial to their college kids. All they care is, just take my college kids and make sure they intern for 3 months and we can officially stamp a nice fat credit so they can graduate and get out of our hair.

Since interns who come to our company really get a whole lot of alternative experiences and learn stuff no one’s ever taught them, sometimes I think, they should pay us for teaching them life skills!

That is why we’ve been very careful in accepting interns. We’ve gone through our fair share of horrible interns and interns who were too cocky for their own good.

But enough griping. Griping won’t solve anything except save me from going to the doctor’s. (Frustrated Employers Anonymous could be a great club to start!)

Everyone tells me that it’s Gen Y. They’re not like us Gen X folks.

What do you think? Do you have any Gen X-Gen Y horror stories to share?
Or am I just getting (GASP) old and cranky?

But I have spoken to a lot of people and the responses are often the same. Today’s youth are totally different. In fact, looking at my younger cousins and my own nephew and niece makes me wonder – will they annoy their future employers too?

I am still trying to figure this out and whether seriously there would be anyone worthy to hire in the next 2 years!

What Women Really Want

You just can’t escape it.

Whether you’re doing it or not, you will be bombarded with Valentine’s Day messages, greetings and “what you are doing to celebrate this occasion with your dearly beloved?”

And yes, it is happening tomorrow. And yes, despite protests from PAS about why celebrating this is bad for the people of the Muslim faith and etc., young people will still celebrate it so stop being so naggy will you? If they haven’t realized it yet, the more older people try to “advise” (seen as “nagging”), the more young people WILL NOT follow. After all, weren’t we all young and rebellious once? (The funniest piece I heard was if you must go on a romantic date, have a chaperon! Oh dear god. If a date has a chaperon, it’s not a date. It’s a Jom Heboh Carnival event complete with free balloons!)

Anyway, it’s one thing to look forward to when I was a young thing but it’s totally different thing when I’ve been married for 10 years.

A number of my gal pals who are married don’t think much about celebrating St Valentine’s – I mean, with the kids and all, it’ll be a logistical nightmare just trying to get the kids to the mom-in-law’s and getting a reservation at a romantic restaurant. Plus in Penang, parking can be just as frustrating!

As with most festivities in Malaysia, we love celebrating with food. Be it a CNY reunion dinner or Valentine’s or Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, it’s really a fleece party when you decide to join the masses.

It isn’t really romantic when you’re jostling for romance in a restaurant that consists of 30 other couples right?

And men (read husbands, fiance, boyfriends, soon-to-be boyfriends) often get worried that if they don’t do something special for their women, they will not hear the end of it.

So pity them fellas. If they have understanding partners, it’s fine but yes, there are some women who clearly love to be feted and romanced on 14 February. Perhaps they have a reason for this.

But here’s what I think women really want – we want Attention from our mates/spouses/boyfriends more than the bling-bling, the roses, the gifts, the perfume, the gadgets.

We want men to listen to us when we speak. Not the puppy-eyes sort of listening but deep listening.

We want men to know when a woman needs help or a hug and offer what’s appropriate.

We want men to give a hand when the household chores are overwhelming and we just don’t want to spend our Saturdays and Sundays just cleaning or mopping or ironing.

We want men to still hold our hands when we go for a quiet walk or hold our hands when we’re watching a movie in the cinema.

We want men to tell us if our cooking’s good because that represents gratitude and attention and that will make any cook happy.

We want men to surprise us with a kind and gentle word when we’re discouraged and need it most.

Of course it won’t be fair to expect these of our men if we women do not do the same for our men. Most good husbands and boyfriends are humans too – they are sensitive just like us. They deserve praise when they do a good job and they need a hug or even a little time out when they are down. (I found that knowing your spouse’s love language does a great job of fulfilling their needs. If you want to know more, take the love language assessment. While you’re there, you can also assess yourself and what your love language is. I found it quite helpful knowing myself at a deeper level. Actually you can read more about your own love language – there are five – and find out which ones are the ones you identify strongly with.)

Unlike us with our sisterhood (women are mostly relational and we often have a great support system of good gal pals to talk to), men may find it hard to open up to another man. Men may bottle emotions up inside and even have a hard time describing what it is they feel.

So guys, stop thinking in terms of material gifts if you’re really out of ideas. (I said out of ideas, I don’t mean cheap or stingy.)

The best gift you can give to the woman in your life is the gift of Attention because every woman, whether she is 19 or 90, would love feeling special and loved.

Dress up the Attention and shower her with this every day of the year.

That would really make a great Valentine’s.