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.