Saturday Book Club


It’s one of those things that just happened.

But it takes friendship and some love for books to make it come to life.

So Lerks and I have started our Saturday Book Club. It wasn’t planned to be  – it was just some crazy bantering over breakfast of homemade bread at her kitchen nook one day.

We had had breakfast and some masala chai and we’d adjourned to her spacious, comfy porch. It was a bright Saturday morning. Ai Lee had come a tad late but she was forgiven – she brought some utterly delicious appam from the Pulau Tikus market.

You know those moments when out of banter comes some serious talk.

The talk came around to books.

We started sharing about our fave authors.

Of course Lerks and Ai Lee didn’t have the hots for the marketing and business books I read. I couldn’t blame them. If you’re not in business, reading business books can be rather dry and trying (not to mention totally unapplicable to real life….at least I have the chance to try out some ideas in our business).

They started telling me that life (and women’s skin) start changing once you hit 40. I was like, OK. (And now you wonder why I stuff my face with goji berries and black sesame seeds and raw almonds?)

Goji berries are legendary for keeping you healthy all over while black sesame seeds are nutritious and get this, help your hair remain lustrous and silky and most importantly, black as a raven. Raw almonds is another snack I have on hand at all times. They’re chockfull of Vitamin E for again, great skin and great hair.

I love talking to my girl friends. They keep me real and feed me all sorts of fascinating information. From aging gracefully, we sauntered to books we love. That’s when Ai Lee and I spoke with such passion about Maya Angelou’s books that Lerks had to google for a podcast interview on Maya Angelou.

That’s how our Saturday Book Club was born.

We agreed to meet for breakfast and of course share about the books we love and bring along some books for an exchange.

But you know life gets in the way especially when Lerks has 3 kids with a part-time job, and Ai Lee’s a full-time teacher and me being me. So dates got pushed about, postponed, and all (amidst holidays and work and life).

We did meet – last Saturday – and despite Ai Lee going AWOL, Lerks and I and her sister, Ling, had a good two hours to talk about books we hated, books we loved.

I brought 3 books for Lerks – Jung Chang’s powerful Mao: The Unknown Story, Julia Childs’ My Life In France and Lisa See’s On Gold Mountain.

Above photo shows what she loaned me.

All authors that I’ve never read before but these are books that came highly recommended so I shall give them a spin. Though these days, time is always in short supply. So much to read, do, plan!

We did agree that Virginia Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic was one of the worst (and most traumatic) books we both read as teenagers.

Maybe one day our Saturday Book Club will be as famous as Oprah’s Book Club!

Nothing Beats A Harvest

Did I tell you I have a pomegranate tree in my backyard?

pomegranate fruits

Ruby red pomegranate arils, fresh off the tree

It’s about 5 years old – a tree that I grew from some leftover pomegranate seeds from a huge pomegranate I bought at one of the fruit stalls at Lorong Kulit.

In the initial years, it was a spindly thing.

At that time, I was still living in my old apartment. Where the balcony was the only space for plants.

pomegranate fruits

They don't look very ripe but they are. How do you know when it's time to pluck the fruit? Look at its bottom. If it's brownish black, it's time to harvest.

But the sun never reached into the innermost corners of my balcony so the poor spindly thing was trying hard to grow.

I brought it over when I came to this new apartment, located on the ground floor.

I had a backyard. Hallelujah! (And I’m not even Christian).

So I planted the spindly thing in a larger pot, put heaps on compost on its roots, and left it in the open. With plenty of rain and sunshine.

And that thing grew and grew.

Pretty much like the beanstalk in Jack and the beanstalk fairy tale.

And the ugly duckling turned into a marvellous looking thing, with crimson flowers that eventually became pomegranates.

So there’s the story of why you should never give up on your plants.

pomegranate

Do you know how you can get the arils out nicely? Peel them in a basin of water.

It bore (and still bears) rose-coloured fruits about the size of a small apple.

Now I know why everyone wants to be a farmer on FarmVille. I don’t like playing the game or playing pretend farmer.

I like doing the real stuff – getting my hands dirty, get sad if my plants start wilting, getting triumphant when my plants flower and fruit.

Best of all, I love tasting and reaping the fruits of my labour.

pomegranate tree

My pomegranate tree is about 5 feet tall

I love it that my pomegranates (as well as my pandan, mint, curry leaves, serai, basil) are all organically grown. Safe for consumption.

I have this indescribable pleasure when I can go to my backyard and pluck a fruit off a tree and eat it!

That’s as natural as it gets.

No carbon footprint issues. No worries about fruit contaminated with chemicals. No worries about eating fake fruits (with China being such good copycats, it’s probably a matter of time when they do make fake fruits!).

No pesticide, no chemicals. Just good old soil, plenty of self-made compost, rain (or water) and sun. Nature supplies the bees, insects and butterflies to help with pollination.

I am now trying my hand at growing a few papaya trees and a tomato plant.

I think when I grow old, I shall buy a plot of land or at least get a house with a huge garden and plant all the fruit trees that I love. I often keep the seeds of fruits and vegetables that I eat, just in case one day I decide to sow the seeds.

close up of the pomegranate tree and fruit

A close up of the pomegranate tree and fruit

I think we all need a connection to the food we eat. Through gardening and planting, we somehow get that gratification. When I tuck into my pomegranate arils, I give thanks because I am so amazed that from just a few components (soil, water, etc.) we are able to enjoy a magnificent array of fruits. The very same ingredients that makes a durian makes a pomegranate.

I find that amazing.

But gardening also teaches me patience and that I am not a master of the universe.

Gardening teaches me that plants grow in their own time and with the seasons. You just can’t control or rush them. They flower in good time. They are unhurried.

Unlike us humans.

We want everything fast. (Isn’t that one reason why we complain about ugly holes in our sawi and then proceed to say, oh wow, why do farmers spray pesticides on vegetables?)

So what fruit trees have you grown? Or trying to grow? Do you grow or eat pomegranates? Would love to hear your gardening escapades too!

When Your Trash Saves Lives

Buddhist Tzu-Chi Recycling Centre at Taman Lumba Kuda, Penang

Buddhist Tzu-Chi Recycling Centre at Taman Lumba Kuda, Penang

While I try to have a variety of topics in our business blog, I am also that anal sort (yes, slap me) who wants a blog post that is befitting of a business blog, one that’s thoughtful and not written just because I have to spit something out on the blog.

That is certainly not my style.

Which is why sometimes, just sometimes, I have too many things and topics to write about but not enough time to do so. Ah… the bane of 21st century living!

Buddhist Tzu-Chi Recycling Centre at Taman Lumba Kuda, Penang

A separate kitchen/pantry for volunteers to take a rest and have a snack or tea

But this blog allows me to ramble along – knowing that friends like you will forgive me if I ramble too much and get too “cheong hei”.

A few months ago, our  Taman Sri Nibong Residents’ Association hosted a short briefing by at the clubhouse for the volunteers of The Buddhist Tzu-Chi Merits Society.

Buddhist Tzu-Chi Recycling Centre at Taman Lumba Kuda, Penang

A bunch of us from Taman Sri Nibong visited to get a better idea what the centre does

To cut a long story short, the Tzu-Chi folks are proposing to convert an old, abandoned food court in our taman into a recycling waste sorting centre. It is by no means an easy or cheap endeavour.

It means taking up the entire food court area of 10,000 square feet and doing what’s needed to make it into a place where residents can come, drop off their recyclables and get an education about reducing the wastefulness of our daily lives.

Buddhist Tzu-Chi Recycling Centre at Taman Lumba Kuda, Penang

Different categories of recyclables waiting for manual processing

And they need to pay a fee to MPPP to use this abandoned food court.

Now what’s interesting is this – the money generated from recycling will be used to fund the Tzu-Chi Dialysis Centres (they have one in Gottlieb Road and another in Butterworth and they have plans to build another centre by next year). Tzu-Chi Dialysis centres are free for kidney patients. Yes, that’s right. Free.

Recycling areas clearly labelled

Recycling areas clearly labelled

Like all communities, you will get people who are downright rude and negative about change. Any change.

Anything is to be feared even before they hear why it’s needed.

The thing that plays in their heads is that tune they choose to hear.

Volunteers comprising elderly folks sorting out the different papers

Volunteers comprising elderly folks sorting out the different papers

And funnily, even another well-known social organization started joining the fray, saying that THEY should be given the priority to manage and turn the the abandoned food court into a library and community centre.

This organization which shall be unnamed (because it will certainly shame some people who’ve always associated this organization with good community work) had the cheek to say that they want to give back to the community here. They had 2 years to raise the funds to do something but never did. Not until Tzu-Chi came along and said they wanted to do something. All of a sudden, this other group felt threatened!

The recycling centre brings senior citizens together to contribute to their community

The recycling centre brings senior citizens together to contribute to their community

Anyway, I think many of them felt afraid that a Buddhist a.k.a religious group was coming into Taman Sri Nibong. All the silly comments from some residents just makes me feel that religion makes us all suspicious of each other.

Donated computers and monitors to be refurbished and shipped to Myanmar for a second lease of life

Donated computers and monitors to be refurbished and shipped to Myanmar for a second lease of life

That aside, Nic and I had to go see for ourselves a real working Tzu-Chi recycling centre in Taman Lumba Kuda. A bunch of us residents turned up on a Saturday afternoon to listen and understand how the recycling centre handles its waste as well as re-educate the people about recycling.

A thriving garden in the Tzu Chi recycling centre

A thriving garden in the Tzu Chi recycling centre

We saw a pleasant, quiet and green environment where volunteers silently sorted out the different piles of recyclables. Even with the paper category, there’s white paper and coloured paper. Above all, it was clean.

Tzu Chi recycling centre penang

Another angle of the garden

They even grew a garden around the recycling centre. It resembled quiet, restive area for communities to mingle, talk to each other and help sort and re-bundle trash.

Tzu Chi recycling centre penang

Here's a water garden!

They even accept old PCs and clothes. The PCs will be refurbished and sent to Myanmar. Many internal parts of the PC can be reused.

Tzu Chi recycling centre penang

Vegetable garden within the Tzu Chi recycling centre

The key to Tzu-Chi is education. They start with cultivating that spirit in all that they do. And unlike most Chinese organizations, theirs is done with style. Have you noticed how beautifully elegant Tzu Chi books and packaging are?  I am often delighted at their products because they do pay attention to design.

[Update: Here’s something to cheer about. After all the hullabaloo, Tzu-Chi managed to get approval from MPPP and the relevant authorities to rent and convert the old Medan Selera into its recycling centre. They fenced it up  and by 18 November (yes, this Sunday), the Tzu-Chi Recycling Centre in Taman Sri Nibong will be operational. Please support this centre with your recyclables.]

Tzu Chi recycling centre penang

What you cannot recycle!

All You Need is Belief…and Hope

I’m a big softie.

Actually so’s Nic.

Whenever we hear stories of underprivileged kids, we get pensive.

I was at House of Hope on Saturday with the gals from my WomenBizSENSE group to do our yearly community project. Each year we pick a home to visit. It so happens that this year, we decided to visit House of Hope again.

House of Hope gives children a chance at their future

House of Hope gives children a chance at their future

House of  Hope isn’t an orphanage. It’s a drop-in centre for the kids who live in the Rifle Range area of Air Itam. It also feeds the elderly (they come in with their tiffin carriers to bring cooked food home).

It’s open all week, from 9am to 5pm.

For those not familiar with Penang, Rifle Range was one of the earliest low-cost flats catering to the working class.

House of Hope toy library for play therapy

The toy library with contributed toys

I was there early so I spoke to Olivia, one of the directors. This amiable woman showed me around, explaining what they did.

House of Hope computer room

The computer room with computers contributed by well-wishers.

The first floor has a toy library, a computer room (with old donated PCs) and a therapy room.

House of Hope kids enjoying their lunch

Never knew a burger could mean so much!

“Why therapy?” I ask.

Some of the children have been abused and a therapist comes in regularly to help them. They engage in art to express their feelings. I saw some of the artwork when I was at the House of Hope charity lunch at Parkroyal Hotel about three weeks ago.

The children who did manage to express themselves often drew in dark, sombre colours. One drew himself perched off a tall building, almost at the verge of jumping off. Many of them are poor, with one parent either in prison or come from broken families. Many of their parents are single parents, ekeing out a living by working shifts hence they are not home all day.

Downstairs houses a large space for group activities and a tiny art room. The kids, she tells me, love doing colouring and making handicrafts. They often squeeze into the tiny air-conditioned room. They’re also teaching the children how to grow vegetables like okra.

Okra plants

House of Hope is experimenting by growing vegetables - teaching the kids as well as hopefully giving the adults a chance at supplementing their incomes

“The kids don’t want to go home in the evenings. They still hang around even when we close the centre at 5pm.”

She said that it was very good of us to get McDonalds to sponsor burgers for the kids that Saturday. They had often written to McDonalds but never got any reply.

House of Hope Penang kids

Children will be children...at times boisterous, eager to play and happy for simple things

“Sometimes I pity them. I take them out for dinner before I go home. But sometimes there are like 9 kids in my car. I can’t buy them burgers all the time.”

In fact, she gives them a simple dinner, sometimes roti canai, sometimes rice with dishes. And with plain water. They know they cannot order soft drinks or cold drinks.

They’re happy even with such simple food.

Some of them, says Olivia, don’t dare to go home to an empty flat. There’s nothing to eat at home. They don’t even have a fridge!

Some go to school hungry.

Thank God they can have a meal when they get to House of Hope after school.

I nodded. It takes perspective like this to realize how fortunate I am. I don’t much fancy burgers unless I have nothing to eat. And here are kids whose parents are too poor to buy them food, not to mention fastfood.

A teenage girl of about 16 I spoke to later told me she liked KFC. Her father left the family while her mom, a dialysis patient, struggled to support the 4 siblings on welfare money. This family of four girls and their mom really made me stop and think.

The four of them regularly come to House of Hope.

I asked if she lived in Rifle Range.

House of Hope kids

These two girls were very cute!

She was politely shy, shaking her head as her huge eyes stared back at me.

“We took the bus. About 20 minutes. Not far from here.”

Her youngest sister, Mages, was 10 going on 11. She was lively and cheerful, smiling each time I asked her a question.

When we asked what she wanted to be when she grows up, she softly whispers – “Doctor”.

I ask if she’s afraid of blood. She shakes her head while her eldest sister smiles.

And what do you want to be, oh eldest sister? The lanky girl in her white punjabi suit says she has dreams to be an aeronautical engineer.

Jo and I smile. We tell them that anything is possible.

Anything is achievable. You just have to believe and have someone believe in you.

Isn’t that so?

Note: If you want to donate to help or sponsor a family or even a child, you can do so here. It can be as little as RM50 per month to give a child some pocket money to go to school with, and to be taken to school in a school bus.

Homegrown Heroines

You know me.

Despite my gregarious and oftentimes open personality, I am really shy.

Penelope Cruz on Sept issue of The Malaysian Women's Weekly

Penelope Cruz on Sept issue of The Malaysian Women's Weekly

I was an excruciatingly shy girl while growing up. The only way I shone was through my academic results. Even so, my pride is often mixed with a kind of shyness.

I don’t know how to react when the spotlight is on me.

Crazy as it sounds, yes, that is me.

But I have no problem shining the spotlight on people. In fact, I love doing that.

So where’s this post going? I interviewed Alex many moons ago for our business blog and I thought that was that.

It was not to be.

She came back to me a few weeks after that, asking to interview little old me!

She was doing a feature on 3 Malaysian women who were “women with heart” and one of them was to be me.

Oh gosh!

It was a little follow up to find out what the women of the Great Women Of Our Time Awards were doing after getting nominated for the award. (My claim to fame was in 2008 and if you missed that post, you can check out the glamour me four years ago. I had so much fun during the photo shoot in The Westin KL and the glamorous gala dinner where Ning Baizura sang and I was all goggle-eyed.)

I was in superb company in this September 2012 issue of The Malaysian Women’s Weekly – there I was with Bilqis Hijjas (the president of MyDance Alliance) and Leela Panikkar (co-founder of Treat Every Environment Special or TrEES).

Krista Goon featured in the magazine

Here’s an even funnier aside: two months ago, a local Chinese newspaper (Guang Ming Daily) here in Penang decided to interview me and a few ladies from my women entrepreneur group. It was supposed to be published before our anniversary luncheon happened but you know, you can’t rush the media.

They have their own deadlines. So when the feature on WomenBizSENSE finally got published in its entire full page glory, we were mighty pleased BUT none of us (with the exception of Cecilia) could read Mandarin. That was all of one day’s happiness – great publicity for us as a group and great publicity for us individually.

A few weeks later, there I am in my tatty shorts and grungy t-shirt buying vegetables in the Lip Sin market when the auntie who sells vegetables told me she read the interview in Guang Ming!

Her daughter-in-law mentioned that her mom-in-law (this vegetable auntie) recognized my photo in that article! I must say this lady’s eyes are sharp.

However, being in the media has its cons too. The day our feature came out in Guang Ming was the day a woman from Sungai Petani called me asking for a loan. It seemed she read about our women entrepreneur group and thought we’d be easy suckers!

She gave me some strange tale of being broke, having two kids in college and get this – the Ah Long were chasing her to repay her loan and could we or our group loan her some money?

Wow.

She kept calling me until I told her that we don’t give loans and I would get her the number of a local ADUN help centre so she could get proper help. She stopped calling after that!

That was the only weird incident.

Most times, the publicity has been great and allowed me to get slightly known. I’ve always been grateful for the media limelight (many thanks to writer friends like Alex and more) because media exposure always helps promote and publicize our business!

Honestly Murakami

Did I tell you I am usually horrible at luck games but often lucky when it comes to contests and such?

This means if I go to a casino, I’d never win money. The slot machines will eat up my money so much so that I’ve given up.  I don’t take that kind of risk with my money. That is why I don’t like family holidays which centre around Genting Highlands. A total waste of time and money.

And then there’s the chill.

I don’t tolerate cold very well (not that heat gets any better). At least with heat, I can shower or I can switch on my room aircond. With the cold, I can’t even feel my feet and hands and wrapping up like a Michelin man makes me look like a whale. Or a blimp.

So over the years (actually many years) I’ve won a number of prizes. My biggest win was a 5D4N trip for two to Bangkok and Pattaya in 2001. This was a funny win – it was like God was playing a trick on me. You see it was a Campbell Soup contest and I’d been bitching about how awful their ads were. I’d entered their slogan-writing contest for the fun of it and when I won third prize, I was like – “Really?”

Usually the contests I’d win were those which needed creative slogans. I love those. Those contests give me an edge because I love playing with words and making sentences rhyme. He he.

This year, I won myself two prizes – one was a set of miniature Monin syrups (it was a contest from Flavours magazine of which I am a loyal subscriber – been one for the past 7 years) and the other was a 900-page book by Haruki Murakami.

Of course the book has a special place in my heart.

I’d entered the contest because I had bought 2 Murakami novels from Borders here in Queensbay Mall early this year. I have never read Murakami before this although a lot of people have been gushing about this Japanese writer. He was something else. The something else bordered on mysticism and awe and an incredible sense of otherworldliness. And this was just about the writer!

When I read the books I’d bought, I went “eh?” They were dark and sombre, and had underpinnings of unfulfilled teenage angst and puberty blues. The kind of story where you reminisce about past loves and sexual encounters and wonder if you made the right soul mate choice.

Yes. It was strangely very much like Japanese films.

But the magic of Murakami is that he is able to hook you so freaking bad that you cannot put his book down. Even if the theme is dark and melancholic. It’s not like a page-turner like The Da Vinci Code because you want to solve the mystery. It’s a page-turner because it grips you and never lets you go. The characters become friends. You just want to know what happens.

And a lot happens within a Murakami book.

So it was with such glee that I collected my prize, Murakami’s latest bestseller, IQ84 from Borders when they called me up a few months ago. It was heavier than most books with a cover that was not exactly cheerful and happy. (When is Murakami cheerful and happy? I bet the man never smiles.)

And I immediately put it away.

I did that because I knew if I got started on page 1, I’d never do anything else. His stories are fantastical journeys, where things are not what they seem. Where women turn out to be assassins and where modern culture infuses Japanese norms.  He educates you about classical music, jazz, classic literature, wine, cats and wars. All wrapped up in love. That’s his classic theme.

Oh and there’s sex too. Lots of Freudian connotations. Nothing like a romance novel sex.

It’s like he put a hex on the book.

The moment you start reading, you cannot stop reading.

So things get undone, work gets left behind, laundry piles up, even hunger gets ignored if only to savour the next 20 pages of his book.

But two weeks ago, I decided to read my prize.

And I’m done with it. I spent a week blazing through the 900 plus pages. I had to.

How could I live with Murakami lying in wait in my store room just calling out to me?

Honestly, I am starting to love his work. If you ask me what genre it is, I don’t know. Murakami is hard to pigeonhole. His plots play with your mind, challenging you to accept fantastical imaginings and makes you re-look your world, if only to wonder if you are who you are.

They’re dangerous books because they will make you fall in love with the world again.

Because he writes about  classical music, jazz, classic literature, wine, cats and wars. And love. And melancholy.

That’s not too bad because at this moment, we’ve perhaps become a bit too jaded for our own good.

T-Shirt Into Tote

This is something I learnt while hanging out in Pinterest (which is highly addictive). I only dare to go into Pinterest on the iPad after dinner and even so, I end up getting goggle-eyed and inspired by all the interesting stuff.

This is what I learnt last week and since I had an old t-shirt I didn’t like wearing (got this t-shirt free when I joined the Charis Treasure Hunt a few months ago).

You know, some t-shirts are just too awful to wear – the cutting is ridiculous, the collar’s too tight and the overall look is plain silly.

And I don’t like using t-shirts as rags or rugs either.

Here’s an idea I tried out and it worked. Although it’s much faster if you have a sewing machine, it’s ok to hand sew it too (like I did). It took some time – maybe 20 minutes or so – but I was darning a few other things (Nic’s pants with a button missing) so it wasn’t so bad. When I batch process stuff – meaning I do ironing in one entire batch, or folding a big bunch of just dried clothing, or patching up a couple of items – it’s a lot less tedious. I don’t feel so aggravated.

Also I thought a t-shirt transformed into a tote or shopping bag is a great idea for a few reasons: the cotton bag can be tossed into the washing machine if it gets dirty (unlike those non-woven bags you get these days) and it’s foldable (you can carry a few easily) and it gives you a way to upcycle your old cotton t-shirts without guilt.

And cotton is much better for us and the environment.

We always get cotton t-shirts right? When you participate in a jogathon, marathon or any sporting event, you end up with oversized t-shirts which some people use as night wear. I don’t because I love wearing nighties to bed, not huge t-shirts.

OK, onto the instructions.

First, you lay the t-shirt flat on the floor. Smooth it out nicely.

Recycle your t-shirt and make into a shopping bag

Lay t-shirt flat, prepare to cut off sleeves

Take a sharp pair of scissors and cut off both the sleeves. Leave the joint seams intact because this gives your tote added strength. Next snip off the collar. You can be precise and lay a plate to get a nice round shape but I was lazy and just snipped it off in one go.

Cut off sleeves and collar off t-shirt

Cut off sleeves and collar

Then pin up the bottom of the t-shirt and sew away. It’s faster if you have a sewing machine. I did it by hand and it still looked OK. After that just turn the t-shirt inside out and what do you know, you’ve made yourself a cotton tote for shopping! I don’t like advertising brands so this below is how the finished tote looks like. If you like the brand on the front of the t-shirt, then you can turn the t-shirt inside out and sew up the bottom part. It’s all up to you.

Sew bottom of t-shirt

Sew bottom of t-shirt and turn it inside out

If you’re really the neat sort, you can even sew up the sleeve part neatly but I wasn’t too bothered. It’s a rough and tumble sort of recycled bag, right?

It’s the kind of weekend project that takes all of 30 minutes to do.

Happy crafting!

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.

Two Buttery Delicious Recipes

I’ve always wanted to bake a butter cake but somehow, some butter cake recipes are to be dumped. (I’ve tried a few and most turned out either too dense or too dry. I simply can’t stand a dry butter cake!)

Butter cake recipe

Golden butter cakes are to die for!

Nic loves butter cakes. He loves anything with butter. He’s such a butter fiend that we can stockpile butter in the freezer. Each time we shop in Jusco or Tesco, he’ll comment that butter wasn’t this pricey when he was a kid. Still he’ll buy at least 3 blocks of butter.

So when there’s a butter sale, we buy butter and keep them. (Anyway we shop infrequently too so having more butter than less is always good – since I have those mad moments when I’d decide to bake something, anything after dinner. I am fortunate I live in my own home and no one can tell me I can’t bake at 11pm. My sis who lives at home with my parents sometimes get the nags when she starts having that itch to bake at 11pm.)

Easy butter cake recipe

Yes, not many slices were left - shows it was really delectable

And so, butter tales aside, I’ve finally found a butter cake recipe I can live with.

I am not sure where I got this from as I often trawl blogs and websites for recipes – and these days with Pinterest (yup I am on Pinterest too), it’s a lot easier as everyone shares delicious finds.

The cake got the nod from Nic. Actually I’ve reduced the sugar – we normally take less sugar in our cakes if I can help it.

Then, two weeks ago, I went home to Banting to celebrate my Dad’s 70th birthday. It was a family affair – just my sisters, parents and my nephew and niece.

Back home, my sister introduced me to yet another butter cake recipe. This one, Mei says, was so scrumptious that her 9 year old son ate it all! Now my nephew is one picky boy. He’s mostly vegetarian because he can’t stand chicken or fish or anything weird (our regular food is weird to him). He can eat chicken rice without the chicken. He loves KFC cheesy wedges but that’s about all he really likes. So if he eats up most if not all of a butter cake my sis makes, it must have been really superb.

So Mei taught me the butter cake recipe which she obtained from a very dog-eared copy of Amy Beh’s recipe book.

This cake turned out wonderfully well. It was supremely light and tasted almost like a moist Japanese cheesecake. It had a bounce (which my first butter cake didn’t have) as a result of having meringue folded into the cake. It was a keeper and a winner. And this is one cake you can whip up quickly too.

I didn’t take photos of this moist and light butter cake as we were all so busy eating it! Promise to post when I next bake it which should be in the next few days as I am dying to eat this lovely butter cake again.

OK, now onwards to the recipe.

Butter Cake One
(this recipe is the denser butter cake recipe, the one I first made)

  • 250 gm butter
  • 150 gm castor sugar (originally was 200 gm but I never liked overly sweet cakes so I reduced it)
  • 250 gm self raising flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp soda bicarbonate
  • 1/2 tsp orange essence (added to eggs)
  • 1 tbsp condensed milk mixed with 6 tbsp hot water

1. Preheat oven (180C) and grease a square tin. (I am normally rather lazy and just grease and lightly flour the tin. This method works just as well as the parchment paper. Plus I don’t waste paper.)

2. Beat butter and sugar till fluffy.

3. Add eggs one at a time. Fold in flour and soda bicarbonate.

4. Stir in milk to combine.

5. Pour into tin and bake for 25-30 mins depending on your oven.

Butter Cake Two

(this is the lighter, fluffier butter cake that my sis made)

  • 250 gm butter
  • 100 gm castor sugar
  • 5 egg yolks
  • Rind of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 150 gm self-raising flour sifted with 1 tsp salt
  • 5 egg whites + 25 gm castor sugar (beat till stiff peaks form – or a meringue, as it’s called)

1. Beat castor sugar and butter until fluffy.

2. Add egg yolks one at a time and continue beating.

3. Add lemon rind and vanilla.

4. Fold in flour followed by meringue.

5. Pour into a greased and lined 20cm pan and bake in a preheated oven for 25- 30 minutes or until cake is done.