Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Remembering the past once more...

WARNING: Another long piece which may bore you and makes you wonder what is wrong with this guy.

I recently met up with a few friends which included an old friend who just came back to Malaysia to visit his relatives and friends. Old here of course do not denote the age but rather, the friendship we shared when I first went over to Australia to study. Unlike me, he has been there since his early teens.

While we spoke of our current welfare, we also spoke about things of the past. One of which of course, was about this girl I had a crush for slightly over 2 years. This girl of course is now a woman and we have lost contact ever since we graduated from the same university. Unlike me, she never did return to this country or at least not that I know of. He then told me about his recent encounter with her on the street and about the lunch they had. He briefly told me about her fling with a guy and later she left for London, for work I presume and two years later, returned to Australia. That is where he met her, on the streets of Sydney. She apparently told him about her desire to be an archeologist, which was shocking considering it probably took her close to 10 years to decide on this drastic change?

She has changed quite a fair bit, no longer the person I thought I knew yet somehow, something distinct about her makes it quite understandable. They joked about how she was my fling, which is not quite true considering I did confess but was rejected and I was quite devastated by that.

Anyway, memories about her started to flood back and I decided to type down these memories before it fades further.

And it makes me wonder why the Government build bus stops in places where there are no buses?


I remember where we first met under a tree (now gone to make way for road widening works) as I was waiting for a bus. She looked lost and asked if this is the place to wait for a bus as you know, the Government don't exactly invest much in building a bus stop.

I told her yes and that is how it all started. Our conversation as we waited for the bus, boarded the bus when it arrived and of course, as I stepped down and waved goodbye. Before I knew it, I gotten quite smitten with her.
Though our conversation was not very long, yet I feel her yearning to be free (which I would learn later that she felt tired of responsibilities imposed on her as an eldest child in her family and expectations imposed on her) and that she has a very strong mind of her own. Unlike her, I have strong disdain from the unpredictable. I have very low adventure spirit and given a choice, my only exploration would be purely on foot so one might imagine the distance I would achieve from my house to wherever.

But being smitten by her, this unknown feeling of curiosity began to develop in me. I wish to know her more, yet I am quite shy (a really big prune which only began to be shed of late) as I rather speak to a wall, a tree or some cat meowing at me than with another fellow human being for fear of the unknown. It is weird, come to think of it, as the earliest memories of fear of a fellow human being began way back to the first day I picked up the phone receiver and I am supposed to spun the dial to call my friend. It is quite weird how our brain somehow throws things up just to embarass us at times.

So anyway, during that rather short conversation I had with this girl I was kind of devastated to know she will not be taking the same bus which journeys through the same route which intertwines both our homes. Apparently she is taking a chartered bus home.

So what is a guy in love to do? I actually have to summon courage to speak to that bus driver so that I can engage his service to pick me up and drop me to the nearest possible route home. Again, this is a desire to know that girl more, to just see her and speak to her. Alas, by the time I got into the bus, she has stopped boarding the bus, which I only found out later, she has managed to hitch a ride with her class mates to go home. It this something fate is telling me?

In addition, everyday, I ate the same food (porridge and 2 pieces of nuggets) at the same spot, in the same cafeteria, hoping to see her for just one day, perhaps to see her smile and if in luck, to speak to her. Looking back, it is quite silly of me as I realised I once saw her there, had a passing and casual "hi and how are you?" and before I knew it, the cafeteria lady already knew what I would want when I went to their store. I only stopped after a few months since it is quite a pointless affair right?

But you know what is the strangest thing? In that 1 year I am in that college, I don't think I have spoken to her more than 10 times and each time, not more than 1/2 an hour.

Later, when we completed our pre-university course, I ran into her and was curious to know which university she would be enrolling herself. I asked because I am hoping to go to the same one as she is. My results by the way, weren't bad, but it wasn't the best either but it qualifies me to wherever she is choosing. But at all times, it was only twinning programme for me as that is the most my parents can afford.


So anyway, luck would have it (sometimes one must engineer this sort of things and indirect promotion helps to when you mention cost and the fact that it is a very good university) she enrolled in the same course as me. Again, despite the same enrolment, we hardly spoke until I was about to leave for Australia.

I know then I have to share my feelings with her as otherwise, who is to know what will happen? I plucked the courage (again!) to learn to drive (yes, I love walking so much my dad scolded me for not being a man enough to learn to drive at 17. I only started driving two years later.) because how is one going to pick anyone to anywhere romantic for dinner?

I am so glad I passed the driving exam at one go and then, I asked her out for a dinner in TGIF and I went round shopping for a gift. I think I saw it on a catalogue and I mail ordered it. It was a glass clock and why a glass clock? Well, because clock signify time and given all the time in the world and the fact we have limited time of course, I would want her to have mine for the rest of our days.

Alas, it didn't work out as I only found out via e-mail when I am in Australia. I was devastated for this rejection is something I can't accept (though the silly me should have been all prepared since it is unrequitted love coming from 1 side but having invested close to 2 years before I summon the guts to share my feelings for her...) I tried calling her but instead, I end up bugging her instead. My e-mails, which was begging her of sort to accept me, was an act of desperation which just turned her off further. Yet, I can still recall her final remarks which pierced me quite deeply where she told me to stop walking in the "prism of crystals". Ah... the very glass clock which signify much now come a full circle aye?

Save to say, because of this, an incident occured (which I would share in another entry in future) and right after that, I got to know this old friend in person and grew closer to him as a friend and person I can talk to as I underwent depression during those long and cold months.

After a year or so later, she came to Australia to study her final year. By then, there is a pent up hatred for her (which is not her fault) and yet I wish to remain at distance for her, for the humiliation I felt (which is also not her fault) makes it daunting for me to even see her or remain within 3 metre radius from her. When we met on the street, it will just be a quick hi, a desire to just flee and think of the happy memories of other things or if possible, just turn round and walk away. I could not summon my coldest act and that is to walk past her and pretend she is not even there as I look straight at her direction of her ears, given the pretense I see you but I actually don't.

Anyway, once I stop looking at her from a mad unrequitted lover's eyes, I realised much about her that makes me wonder why I fell for her in the first place. I realised she is not only strong willed, she is quite set in her mind that she is right unless you opt to scream your reasons at her and ended up agreeing to disagree (this I found out from a team assignment which she volunteered to join up with my friends and I). But anyway, for me at that time, I learnt that we should just complete that darn thing and get on with our lives.

The last memorable encounter I had with her was in a train in Sydney in the final days to the end of the millenium. She probably wondered why I avoided/ignored her even during this trip (which she self-invites herself as far as I recall it) and we had a long discussion which involved much arguments and screaming (thank God there is no one else in that coach we are in except some of my friends). I think she really wanted to know what is bugging me despite my persistance in avoiding giving her such satisfaction. But what was the conclusion from that? I can't even recall. Thinking back, have I been too harsh and selfish? Perhaps...

If I have a chance to see her now, how will I react? Though this old friend of mine offered her phone number to me, I declined. In my mind, I only wanted to wish her success in her life but I don't want to be part of that. Afterall, what is the value of my time to her?

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

For the love of pork

I seriously love pork. And there are two types of pork dishes I cherish above all others and that is roasted pork and suckling pig. When I was younger, I used to like eating the sweet barbeque pork. But as I grow older, I prefer the salty roasted pork which comes with its own natural sweetness and chewy roasted skin. I believe it is due to age.

A picture of a better suckling pig I had in recent times

So anyway, pork has its own distinct taste and natural sweetness that other meat can't replace. In fact, this other white meat is so popular that in Wikipedia, there is a citation about pork being the most widely eaten meat in the world.

So when I read about Jakim's comments that Bak Kut Teh cannot be deemed as halal even if it the ingredients (minus the pork) is halal because of the connotation of Bak Kut Teh represents, I don't feel offended at all. Many of course argued that since the ingredients are halal, why should the name be of concern?

Rather than ranting who is right or wrong, I would instead share on some encounters I had when it comes to sharing food. By sharing food, it is a method which I often time employ to break down the ice that may exist between strangers. With the same food, at times I inadvertibly invite consternation or stare, simply because they don't or can't enjoy it. For instance, I once brought a box filled with cake and accidentally left it on a common cabinet where everyone places food to share. A muslim colleague saw it as she was passing by and took a piece from it. When I told her it was mine, you can see the guilt ridden look on her face. Is she feeling guilty because she ate the cake without my permission or because I am just a non-muslim who may have earlier stored non-halal food in there? Either way, I take it that my food will not be welcomed, even if I bought it from the store and kept in a perfectly fine plastic container which was not at anytime used to store pork.

Anyway, one of my first acts which I establish as a norm in my workplace involves food sharing. I would buy tit bits and such (and ever mindful of the halal logo) to bridge my connection to others. You may know a bit about a person by the way the present themselves but in sharing of food, you get to know more. You talk about it. The taste and perhaps encounters and experience relating to food. It is a very good thing to open up topics at times, if there is nothing much to talk about to begin with other than work.

On annual basis, I have a certain backbreaking ritual which I will perform. This is nothing religious but rather a way for me to preserve a sense of culture and at the same time, sharing joy with others. Joy is something you can't buy but if you invest in simple ingredients with prepare and cook it with love, joy comes when you see people smiling at savouring the food you personally prepared. With feedback, criticisms and comments, I would take it as necessities to make the food better, only to again see the joy in faces of others when they savour what I made the following year.

Another picture taken in El Cerdo (A really good place to enjoy pork in Changkat Raja Chulan)

And what is this dish? It is the humble bak chang which with time, I am making less and less as the work is kind of back breaking. I am limiting it to about 150 pieces per year now, unlike the good old days of making about 200-220 plus. But the main ingredient is pork and it is difficult to share this dish when you work with Muslim colleagues around you. I often come in early mornings, carefully ensure that each of these changs are packed in proper little plastic bags and handed to the intended recipients (a.k.a. non-Muslim colleagues).

It is hard to describe the joy in the faces of others when they savour the simple food I made. I however, don't think such joy can be shared with Muslim colleagues. I may be able to eat in the same table but I can't ask them if they like their bak chang with that big fat layer of pork fats or lean ones. I can try making cakes and cookies but like one of my other colleagues I spoke to, the Muslim colleagues would just politely decline; ever suspicious if my pots, pans, oven and other stuff are halal.

But for that will I abandon my pork? No, I still love my pork. I will cook, eat and share it. It is unavoidable. You can't pass out good food more so in this country where eating is a national pastime. Whenever I take a bite of those yummy white meat, I would always tell my friends at the table, "I pity my Muslim brothers and sisters who are missing out on this dish." By that I meant no offense, it is just their conscious choice to pay the price of religious piety. Which also means less competition for me for my yummy white meats or worries about looking for a place to eat right after Maghreb prayers on Ramadan months...:o)

Oh well...

Monday, 21 December 2009

Another Monday ranting...


No doubt I have been on leave since Wednesday but it has been a hectic week. It was a mad rush of shopping, preparing 2 dishes for 25 person, attending a wedding dinner and going about meeting potential interior designer to discuss on my renovation ideas for my new house.

One of my experiments: Roasted chicken marinated using red wine plus potatoes

Did you know that the marinated sauce can be used to transform into gravy? I didn't but that didn't stop me from sauteing lots of mushrooms and capsicums with grounded black pepper and rosemary using olive oil, add the marinated sauce in it (which includes lots of garlic and onion pieces) and then I threw in 2 threw pieces of cheddar cheese and some whipping cream to thicken it. Not bad really...

In between, I went to that dreaded branch to collect my cheque book and guess who I saw? Ms Sourpuss Bank Teller. She saw me walking in, quickly made her exit to a room somewhere and I couldn't even be bothered to look at her (quite relieved actually knowing I am not being attended by her). It was short lived though. I spoke to the officer at counter 1 and he called out for her. This time round, she has the "courtesy" to say "thank you" even though the deaf and blind knows she doesn't mean it and surprisingly, no shoving of cheque books.

Come to think of it, the remaining 2 weeks seemed so short. I really dread the idea I have to return to work in 2 weeks time. I don't see why I should work with a bunch of people who are not out to work but to 'tai chi' it to others. I am supposed to update my CV but I do wonder where should I go? Sigh...

Tomorrow is Chinese Midwinter festival. Remember your loved ones (especially your parents which you may not have seen for sometime) and have a dinner or lunch together. There is only so much time one can walk on this world before disappearing. And I am not referring to just you.

Merry Christmas, season greetings and happy holidays...:o)

Monday, 14 December 2009

Between Faith, Christmas & Imperfections

Just the other day, I came across this interesting article on The Nut Graph, "Horror movie does not reflect Christmas message." Basically, Bishop Ng of Christian Federation of Malaysia had issued a statement criticising NTV7 decision to promote The Exorcist III as a "Christmas Special" as contradictory to the message of Christmas. I laughed. I wondered.

For this got me thinking, what is the message of this coming holiday season is trying to convey anyway?

Meanwhile, my company is still in the mood of printing out Christmas cards. But of course, instead of calling it Christmas, they now call it "Seasons Greetings". I wonder why...

To those who are not aware, Hanukkah is also around the corner. But being somewhat anti-Israel, you wouldn't find much support for any Jewish theme in this country. So no menorahs and dreidels. But is wishing "Seasons Greetings" meant being inclusive, just in case you don't miss out somebody?


As I wonder what this seasons' message is for me, I can't help but sensing a deeper meaning eminating from pages 220 - 222 of Mitch Albom latest book, "have a little faith".


Here's a little mix and match extract which I summarised below:

"I deserve hell," he whispered. "The things I've done, God would be justified. God is not mocked. What you sow, you reap...

"...and I may not have reaped all that harvest."

... I don't understand, I said. If you think you're going to be punished-

"Why still serve God?" He smiled weakly. "What else can I do?"

But, Henry, all the good you do here-

"No." He shook his head. "You can't work your way into heaven. Anytime you try and justify yourself with works, you disqualify yourself with works. What I do here, every day, for the rest of my life, is only my way of saying, 'Lord, regardless of what eternity holds for me, let me give something back to you. I know it don't even no scorecard. But let me make something of my life before I go..."

He exhaled a long weary breath.

"And then, Lord, I'm at your mercy."

Yes, Henry may be fornicator, adulterer, thief and drug trafficker before he repented to be a pastor but Mitch rightly put this as he understands more about Henry.

Maybe the first half of his life he did worse than most, and maybe the second half he did better. But that night was the last time I questioned how much Henry Covington's past should shadow his future. Scripture says, "Judge not." But God has the right to, and Henry lived with that every day. It was enough.

As I read that heart warming book, these few pages speak to me, reminding me that this season is not just to be jolly but that message of goodwill to men should not ring hallow. It is a reminder to me that as we are born to die, as the days grow short, we should perhaps learn to let go and live with contentment and accept imperfections both in others and ourselves.

Merry Christmas and good tidings to you and your kin...:o)

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Expectations, expectations and more expectations...

I had an interesting lunch today with my church mates at one of those Nasi Lemak Antarabangsa outlets which of late are springing up at various places. I heard much about it and seriously after trying it out, it is just so-so. I was told by my wife the original is better. Oh well...

But the most interesting topic started just awhile back after church service. I was talking to a fellow cell group member (No, i am not involved in some sleeper cell activities waiting to bring terror on this nation. It is just a regular gathering of fellow Christians to share the good Word and fellowship) and it dawns upon me that my current cell leader will be leaving soon if all things go according to plan. You see, she is now seeing someone and if things work out, she will marry. Going by tradition, the bride usually follows the groom and having met the would-be groom for the first time (prim, proper and shy/solemn/serious), I think that is the most probably outcome.

At the same time, she bore much burden which I left her when I stepped down from my role as a cell leader (which by the way included me ceasing from participating in cell activities for almost 2 years). She did well however, having grew the cell to a big group of dedicated Christians who now plays bigger role in the church, something which I doubt I could do during my "term".

But it dawns upon me something which I find very disturbing. Despite the growth, there is no "right" leader raised to replace her. I find it disturbing enough when I was told the pastor of our church will takeover the "cell leadership". I could think of various candidates of hand but sadly, it is either former cell leaders or our Filipino brothers who are here on working permits who most unlikely to make Malaysia as their second home (I wonder why *grin*).

So anyway, as I spoke to my sister-in-Christ, she asked if I would be interested to "come back". Seriously, it never dawns upon me to serve again. You see, I felt trepidation to even continue in my role as a Sunday school teacher, what more back to serving as cell leader. In some ways, I have lost connection to the cell, as it has evolved much and there are now many new faces I am not familiar with. And increasingly, I find values at work contradicts with me (which is still bearable for now since I have not crossed the barrier! (though almost and twice at that with the second occurring in Jakarta but that is a different story for another time)).

I told her, I am quite reluctant. I am quite forthright in stating why i.e. I don't like to conform to a system which tells me I have to attend prayers on Tuesdays in church or courses organised by the church simply because I should be seen to set an example.

What if I am just like everyone else? What if I just want to enjoy my Tuesdays running on a thread mill to keep my ever-increasing weight? Or perhaps just enjoy a cuppa somewhere listening to background jazz in some coffee outlet instead of fighting sleep in some courses? Is it so wrong just to say no? The life of a leader is no longer your own but it will now belong to a corporate body and greater accountability will now be called for.

Between hypocrisy at work and church, is there any difference? So yes, I love my boundaries and I am not prepared to sacrifice it, more so for the sake of fulfilling something I don't think I have a calling for. I may do the Word aspect of cell every Fridays but I am certainly very reluctant to beat the jam just to show up at 8.30 pm to sign off for some course.

Anyway, I told her, I am willing to return to cell to fill in the gaps for the Word aspect (if there is such a need), but cell leadership is to me a synonym for "once bitten, twice shy". Then again, who am I anyway? Aren't I just a tiny speck in the whole creation? I am sure there are many who can be called, if only they are given a chance. If I am anything, perhaps only as a stop gap measure, an interval/gap or just a plain plan B. I am afterall a nobody, I don't think I will be called anyway since I have now become somewhat an irregular attendee.

Sigh. I am a terrible Christian, aren't I? I hate myself sometimes.

I guess I will just trust in the Lord then. Just as He provides food for the sparrows and petals as clothings for the lilies, He might just about raise anyone for the cell leadership. I am a nobody. That I must remind myself...:o)