28 Jan 2009

Hobbies or passions?

Some people have hobbies but not me. I have passions, and gardening is one of them. I'm lucky living in Malaysia where the climate is naturally for growing. As long as the plant can take the heat, you can plant them here in Malaysia. I'm not one of those people who love watching growing things but refuse to go down and get dirty. I love getting dirty and digging in the dirt. It relaxes me.
Here in KL it does not give me much of an opportunity for gardening - I live in a condominium. But in Malacca I let my passion fly. The land is not big - just a small plot - too small for a passionate gardener to play in. The soil is clayey with lots of small stones and chips of concrete from when the builders built the house. Its tough digging any hole to plant anything but after 4 years I have more or less tamed the ground. It looks pretty now but not really landscaped. I have a little waterfall and fish pond built opposite the dining room so we can enjoy the sounds of running water as we eat. There is a clump of yellow bamboo just behind the waterfall and another clump, of the small leaved bamboo that I really love. I have a small bed of roses - and its a battle to get them to really grow, but its a battle I will win. It's hard work but worth it because every time I see my roses bloom, a song bursts out of me and I beam with pride. Right now I have 5 or 6 varieties - all tropical roses. The red one is the most prolific, giving me bunches of red roses almost every week. I'm still waiting for the white rose as well as the yellow ones. I wish I'm there all the time, not stuck here in KL but since Repin is here, here I'll stay until he decides to retire. For me the garden will be there waiting for me - a work in progress, never quite finished and always a delight to the eye.

25 Jan 2009

In grandma's time

I was reading Bibliobibuli's post about Fatimah's kampong by Ian Buchanan and that brought back a lot of memories. Memories of the days when I was living with my grandma. It's true that in those days (60s) Grandma used to collect herbs and made her own medications. There was a medication for almost every ailment. I remember she used the young buds of a belimbing plant to cure a bad cough. She would collect the young buds which are reddish in colour and steam them in a cup. The buds would emit a little fluid which is given to the child with a cough. It could also be used to get rid of phlegm. For sores, cuts or insect bites there is a cream which she made using aloe vera leaves. The leaves are cleaned and cut, taking out the thorns at the sides of the leaves then boiled together with a little santan (coconut milk). This concoction is boiled until it becomes thick and creamy. It is then applied to the affected areas several times until healed. To get thick black hair - boil the santan until it becomes thick and creamy then mix with the petals of the jasmine flower. Some people also mix it with lemon to get a nice, lemony aroma. Other "cures" include ginger to get rid of 'wind', hibiscus and olive oil to thicken your hair and so many others I have forgotten. My grandma passed away when I was about 29 and I never really picked up any of her skills. So whatever she knew remains a secret.
Much of the "medicine" she used in those days were actually traditional remedies. Some I know are used by many people - not just Malaysians. For example the traditional remedy for a sore throat since time immemorial is warm water in which a spoonful of honey is used mixed with a dash of lemon - and this is something quite common. Even as a child I was quite prone to migraines as I remeember her using tamarind juice which she would rub on my head until it was quite wet. Then she would give me a massage, wash away the tamarind juice and let me sleep. When I woke up the bad headache would be gone replaced a mild one and a bit more rest and perhaps another of her tamarind cures would get rid of it completely.
"Nenek Mami" as everyone called her was actually childless. My mother and uncle were both adopted by her since they were babies. They were actually her niece and nephew - her cousin's children. Nenek's house was like a hospital for us kids - a nice hospital - because whenever anyone of us got sick, my mum would take us to her house and she would look after us until we became well. I loved going there so much that once after a particularly bad bout of illness - very high fever and vomitting - I refused to go back to my mother's house. I must have been about 8 years old then. I told my grandma that I preferred to stay with her and after that there was no more going back to my mum! Of course, my mum's house was just 100 metres away from nenek so it wasn't much of a big deal for either of them. BUt most of my childhood memories were of nenek's house and my time there. And much of what I learnt about life came from listening to her and watching her.

24 Jan 2009

Back in Melaka

For once all the orchids bloomed!

Chinese New Year Holidays mean the balik kampung rush begins. That is one thing that is unique about KL - come any holiday and we have the general exodus back to hometowns all over the peninsula. I still remember setting that question for the MUET and the best essay for that year - using Lat's cartoon to stimulate the students. Actually we didn't get any really good essay (no Band 6) so I had to write the Band 6 essay to get a sample. To avoid debate I did not say that I was the writer (or maybe it was pure cowardice) but to cut a long story short, most of the examiners accepted it without question as a Band 6 essay, though Usha did comment that the style of writing seemed familiar. (LOL)

This CNY season however there was no real rush to go back home. I left early - on Friday morning around 11 am so I missed most of the jam on the highway. AS usual the moment I arrive home my heart lifts in a song. I go around the garden to look at the plants (some are wilting under the fierce afternoon sun) but the roses, especially the red ones are blooming. My peach colored hibiscus looks really gorgeous - each flower looks as big as a dinner plate! However the beautiful yellow ones are looking a bit the worse for wear - maybe its high time I take some cuttings and plant new ones to replace them. Oh yes my longan is also growing well as are my kailan! And the impatiens that I took from Lela - surprisingly - are also doing well, though looking a bit fragile. Still they are under the shade and with a bit of extra water, will definitely add colour to my garden once they're bigger. I went to Leela Brito today and saw her garden - she's got some new plants which she grouped into an old barbeque stove - quite innovative I thought. I might do something like that too - have to look into the store room to see what I can use instead of a barbeque thing.

22 Jan 2009


Ginger at play

21 Jan 2009

A beautiful dawn

A Beautiful dawn
Breaking Dawn in Melati

Today promises to be another scorcher but the dawn was gorgeous -a tinge of pink, almost like a blush over a greyish blue sky. There was even a crescent moon still visible. Looking down from my apartment balcony I could see the long line of cars already snaking along the MR2 - people going to work, going to school, going all over the place. In a half hour's time, that highway would be jammed up - congested with people and cars. Looking at the sky I think it will be another very hot day! Here in Malaysia, if its not hot, it's raining. Not that I'm complaining - I guess some people are praying for sunshine - somewhere. But too much of a good thing may not be good too.

Yesterday I spent the day with Sarah who was back home for the winter break. We had a lovely day at Sunway Pyramid - mainly because she wanted to watch Twilight, the movie. I think the book was way better - I was quite disappointed with the Edward Cullen character. He looks good but somehow he just doesn't jell as a vampire. Too beefy by far. In my imagination vampires are good looking aand strong yes, but not beefy. The girl who acted as Bella though was good. Better than the Bella in the book anyway. I didn't like Bella's character at all in the series, and specially so in the second book , New Moon where Edward leaves her so that she could be safe. She almost killed herself with her wimpy behaviour, crying all the time and refusing to join any of her friends. She's such a woose I found her annoying and irritating most of the time.

I got two other books - one by PG Wodehouse - The Inimitable Jeeves, and another by Nora Roberts (yes definitely trash but at least something you can't put down). This one is about a satanic cult in a small town called Emmitsboro - a typical American small town. This is not one of her newer books - in fact I think its been reprinted a number of times already - but its a real thriller and I couldn't put it down until I reached the last page. I think its amazing that Nora Roberts can write so realistically about what goes on in small towns. She never disappoints.
Yesterday or actually late last night (Malaysian time) Barack Obama became the first Black president of the Un ited States. I don't envy him the responsibility. Its a thankless job and he has to do so much to put America back in number 1 spot after all the blunders that Bush has made, not just with his foreign policies but also with his domestic ones, especially the economy. But I really hope he can do something for the troubled middle east, especially Palestine and Iraq.

17 Jan 2009

Th e Telegraph's list of books to read

I just read the Telegraph's list of 100 books that you should read - well some of them are okay but so many of my favourite books are not in! What do they mean by not including even one DH Lawrence? And what about Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray? I think that is a must read. I've read Cairo Trilogy and I really really think that beside Narayan - it is quite shallow and trite. Sure I enjoyed reading some of Naquib Mahfouz's books and they do make pleasant reading in an aeroplane but I will not put him in my list of 100 books you should read. Anyway I would never presume to tell anybody what they should read although I suppose I wouldn't mind recommending some really good books. But I'd compile them into categories - classics, children's fiction, horror, fantasy, chick lit, romance and so on. My favourite of the classics are too many and are again divided into different categories - children's classics and so on. I can't remember the first real book I read - meaning apart from textbooks but I do remember reading in Standard 2 a book my uncle had given me - Hans Anderson's fairy tales. That started me more or less. After that I just couldn't be stopped. My parents couldn't afford to buy me books for leisure reading - it was all they could do to buy me my own textbooks! Hans Christian Anderson had got me in his grip and I thirsted for more, so after that I joined the Malacca Library, which was a mere 500m from my village, Banda Kaba. I was probably one of the youngest and most frequent visitor to that small library on Malacca's Wisdom Drive. And from then on books became my best friend. At that time you can borrow 4 books at one time and normally I would finish all my books by the second day. I would lie under my grandma's big wooden bed and read the whole afternoon, oblivious to my siblings' cries or my friends calling me to come out and play. I would even sometimes ignore my stomache's rumblings and continue reading until the light under the bed grew dark and I could not see the words anymore. I remember my mum telling me that she would boil the books and let me drink the water! Mainly because I would always forget to eat and after everyone had eaten, finally realise how hungry I was and scrounge around for scraps left over. And if you have more than ten younger brothers and sisters who are forever hungry, you'll know that there wouldn't be much scraps left to eat!
Thus I found Aesop's Fables, Greek Myths and Legends, Tales from The Arabian Nights, Grimm's Fairy Tales, Tales from China and Japan - my first reading of Genji, would you believe it , started here. From fairy tales I went on to discover Enid Blyton, CS Lewis, LM Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables) and on to other children's classics. I was only introduced to Dickens at the age of 10 - a friend lent me her Oliver Twist. This was an abridged version. But it got me started to Dickens and Dickens was only a short hop away to other classics - mainly Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Count of Monte Cristo, The thirty nine steps, The Moonstone, The Jungle Boy by Kipling, Call of the Wild, The Kraken Wakes, The time Machine, Around the World in 80 days, JOurney to the Moon by Jules Vern, King Solomon's Mines. I remember discovering The Scarlet Pimpernel series and how I fell in love with the masked crusader. At the same time I was also reading Enid Blyton's Famous Five series and also in love with Julian, the eldest of the five and also her Secret Seven series. Apart from Enid Blyton I was also reading other series by other writers - I can't remember the writers but I do remember The Bobsey Twins and Kit Carson - show jumper. I remember reading Tom Brown's School Days and how shocked I was to find that children were really badly treated in boarding schools - so unlike the happy stories you read in Enid Blyton's St Clair series. In Standard Six my uncle, a school teacher, gave me six Readers' Digest Condensed Books. There I was introduced to writers like Pearl S Buck, Daphne Du Maurier, Steinbeck, Faulkner and many others that I simply cannot remember. By the time I went to secondary school you can say that my reading has surpassed that of many children my age.
So if I were to compile a reading list it would only be a list of books that I have enjoyed reading and hope that others have too. I know that nowadays I read mostly 'thrash' as my husband says but I think after reading most of the classics in my growing up years, I feel like a change. Thus my move to romance and chick lit and historical fiction. Although now and then, if there is something worth reading, I will read it - Booker Prize or not.

13 Jan 2009

when will it end?

Its more than 17 days since Israel first attacked Gaza. More than 900 people - 45% of them women and children have died. More than 3500 are injured. The count could be more because nobody is really sure how many have died since the first planes made their attack. Of course Hamas is fighting back - but its rather like a dog barking at the mountain. The ratio of Israeli to Palestinian deaths is like 2:10. How fair is this? What is the world doing to stop the brutal murder of a people? Until they have totally been obliterated, like the native Americans in the early 17th and 18th century? Until the only native Americans to be found lived in reservations, and of the countless tribes there remain now only a few? So is that to be a fate of the Palestinians too? Will the world look on as a people disappear swallowed by zionist ambitions to gain more land.
True there have been protests in some countries, namely Muslim countries. In London, its the Jews who are protesting. Against what? That Hamas, for all their rocket attacks is not denting one bit of the enemy's armour? And would you believe it - the Israelis who live near the border are watching the bombardment from hilltops as if it were a spectator sport - or rather like watching a fireworks display (watch the BBC world news). Safe from their hillside view, many are watching the aerial bombardment - looking on as houses are destroyed, children killed, schools are mosques razed and burnt to the ground. Its a new form of spectator sport.
As for the economic woes of the world - it seems to be getting from bad to worse. I just can't bear to switch on the news nowadays - whether its CNN, BBC or Aljazeera, the news is the same. People are basically cruel to each other and I'm so glad that I'm here in Malaysia where the economy is still okay and there are no wars, no natural disasters and not much crime (when compared to other countries).

10 Jan 2009

Something I learned today

"I've learned that we don't have to change friends if we understand that friends change.

I've learned that no matter how good a friend is, they're going to hurt you every once in a while and you must forgive them for that.

I've learned that true friendship continues to grow, even over the longest distance. The same goes for true love.

I've learned that you can do something in an instant that will give you heartache for life.

I've learned that it's taking me a long time to become the person I want to be.

I've learned that you should always leave loved ones with loving words. It may be the last time you see them.

I've learned that you can keep going long after you can't.

I've learned that we are responsible for what we do, no matter how we feel.

I've learned that either you control your attitude or it controls you.

I've learned that regardless of how hot and steamy a relationship is at first, the passion fades and there had better be something else to take its place.

I've learned that heroes are the people who do what has to be done when it needs to be done, regardless of the consequences.

I've learned that money is a lousy way of keeping score.

I've learned that my best friend and I can do anything or nothing and still have the best time.

I've learned that sometimes the people you expect to kick you when you're down, will be the ones to help you get back up.

I've learned that sometimes when I'm angry I have the right to be angry, but that doesn't give me the right to be cruel.

I've learned that just because someone doesn't love you the way you want them to doesn't mean they don't love you with all they have.

I've learned that maturity has more to do with what types of experiences you've had and what you've learned from them, and less to do with how many years you have lived.

I've learned that it isn't always enough to be forgiven by others. Sometimes you have to learn to forgive yourself.

I've learned that no matter how bad your heart is broken the world doesn't stop for your grief.

I've learned that our background and circumstances may have influenced who we are, but we are responsible for who we become.

I've learned that just because two people argue, it doesn't mean they don't love each other And just because they don't argue, it doesn't mean they do love each other.

I've learned that you shouldn't be so eager to find out a secret. It could change your life forever.

I've learned that two people can look at the same thing and see something totally different.

I've learned that your life can be changed in a matter of hours by people who don't even know you.

I've learned that even when you think you have no more to give, when a friend cries out to you you will find the strength to help.

I've learned that credentials on the wall do not make you a decent human being."


Palestinian Crisis

This is a poem my son Rizal wrote when he was in Form 5. Then it was about the Bosnian war where thousands of young Bosnian men and boys were killed. It was a systematic murder of a people and then, as now in Palestine, the Americans turned a blind eye.

Silence, Please

Silence, please
I hear a whimpering,
A mournful cry of a battle's end.
Silence please,
Crashing bells, burning shells,
And the caliphs die.
Silence please,
I can't bear anymore,
Deaf with lies, false promises
But where's the Eagle?
Silence please... may we have silence ... please?

A sad poem - of the ineffectiveness of the innocent against mighty powers out to maim and conquer. I wonder how many people knew the history of the Palestinians - how they lost their land and to whom it went. I'm not saying all of them are good - nor that all of the Israelis are bad. War is just that. Its the many thousands of innocents who die - casualties of war that we have to look at. Any kind of war. And this latest cruelty against innocent people is Bush's legacy. Because he has legalised war and pre-emptive attacks against countries "believed" to be hoarding militants. As if anybody can hoard a militant. I believe the Israelis should leave Gaza, and go back to the country they got by default after the 2nd World war. I believe the Arab world, especially the super rich Saudis and Kuwaitis, should try and broker some form of agreement between the powers that be so that the Palestinians can at last have a country to call their own. But people - whether they are Jews or Muslims or Christians will always use religion to get what they want. Power corrupts... and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

9 Jan 2009

Recent reads

I have just finished reading "The Other Boleyn Girl" by Phillippa Gregory - a historical fiction about Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII's second wife. Somehow I've always been intrigued about Tudor England and Phillippa Gregory gives a good insight into the Tudors, especially Henry VIII. In this book, he is already in his late 30s, still without a male heir and desperate for one. Spoiled, self centred, wilful yet charming once he gets his way, Henry meets the beautiful Anne Boleyn, one of the Queen's ladies-in-waiting. Anne is not portrayed as an innocent but rather as a femme fatale. In fact she is just like him in character - self centred and selfish to the extreme with an ambition that knows no boundaries. Prodded and helped by her equally selfish and ambitious family, Anne ignores the poor Queen Katherine, Henry's legal wife. In fact she goads him to make his marriage invalid, just because the queen did not give him a male heir. But I'm not going to tell the whole story here - read it and enjoy it. Although I knew the story of Henry VIII and his many queens , many of whom ended being beheaded, this story makes it more real. We see the various facets of Anne's family, how her sister and brother stood with her till the end and how they were 'rewarded ' for it. The rivalry between the two sisters Anne and Mary Boleyn I did not know about and could be just the author's creativity and imagination. BUt the novel is engrossing and thrilling, making you want to read it till the end.
I also just finished another book that I bought from BookXcess - In Turkey I am Beautiful, by Brendan Shanahan. It is not a travel book although it is a funny and sometimes poignant portrayal of a Turkey that visitors seldom see. This book is about Shanahan's journey through Turkey's rough hinterland, where he found himself in the middle of a gunfight, propositioned by a group of teenage boys and had to escape them by swimming to Armenia. When he returns to Istanbul he helps to run a friend's carpet shop and we are hilariously entertained by him as he tries to make it a profitable business together with Tevfik, a lovable, ineffective drug user. Shanahan's depiction of the Turkish is affectionate, satirical and sometimes sad. We see Turkey from the eyes of an outsider but an outsider who understands a people that is divided between Europeanism and Islam, a people who is still looking for their identity and a country that is slowly emerging from its past.
I also managed to get another Julia Quinn from BookXcess - this one is titled Minx. Its a continuation from her other books - Splendid and Dancing at Midnight. JUlia Quinn is light reading - for those days when all you want is to curl up on the sofa and read without much thinking. Enjoyable and fun, her characters are usually connected to each other in the many books from the same era.

5 Jan 2009

An excess of books

Last night Repin, Shasha and I went to BookXcess, a place where we can buy new books but at a discounted rate. Its one of the better book stores here in KL. Granted there are a number, though I still think not enough for a city like KL, but most of these can't really call themselves book shops. MPH for example only cater to the masses - so most of their books are those written by popular writers who have mass appeal . If you were looking for a specific book on travel even a popular one like the Lonely Planet guides, don't try MPH. You may not find it there but you can certainly get it at Kinokuniya. Repin bought a number of books on travel and one on corporate blogging as well as book on the Haj - entitled A Season in Mecca . I found an old friend - Daphne Du Maurier - The Scapegoat. I know I had already read this book but it bears re reading. Her books are always a pleasure to read and re read - books such as Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel and Frenchman's Creek are so beautifully written that I can read them over and over without getting bored.
We've got so many books in the apartment now there's no place to keep them. THere are shelves in the bedroom, in the living room and in Shasha's room. There are books on the floor, layered on top of each other and also in every room in the Melati. Don't talk about the house in BB. That's even worse. WE've got books overflowing every where. One day I'm going to open my bookshop - the one I've been dreaming about for years. The trouble with me is I'm just too lazy. To open a bookshop I'd have to find a suitable place first - one where we have young people and near a shopping centre. There are no good bookshops in Malacca. So we should think of opening one there. Maybe... when Repin finally retires because he's the one with the business acumen. I only know how to spend money - he makes it.

3 Jan 2009


Books I've read in 2008 - I didn't really keep count but I can remember the ones I really liked. I think early in the year, somewhere in January I got a few of Jodi Piccoult's books - among them Second Glance, Vanishing Acts and Nineteen Minutes. Vanishing Acts was the first of her books that I read and I had borrowed it from my daughter in law. After that I got two other books. One thing I really liked about her is that in her books there are always two sides of a story. For example in Vanishing Acts she tells the story from the perspective of the child who was stolen from her mother. The kidnapper is her own father but there is a reason for the kidnapping, if you can call it that. The mother at that time was a serious drunk and neglected the child, who at that time was only four years old. She herself did not remember the time before her father took her. All she remembered was planting a lemon tree, with somebody she thought was her father. Anyway the first one got me interested and I bought two others - both of which kept me glued to the pages until I had finished them. Yes, I definitely liked Jodi Piccoult but I wanted a change after reading her so went on to some chick lit - mainly Jill Mansell who was a fun read. She's funny and outrageous, and I enjoy her characters and her style of writing. Then came another round of Nora Roberts -too many to count actually. I've always liked Nora Roberts' books, whether she's writing romance, family stories or murder stories, they're all enjoyable. I think I should keep track and maybe one of these days I can actually remember the number of books by Nora Roberts that I've read. However I think I have read at least 20 books by her in the past year, the latest being The Pagan Stone. Right now I can say that I've finished her trilogy - the Blood Brothers series as well as the vampire series. Then there are the fairly serious readings on Prophet Mohamed - one by Tariq Ramadan and the other by Rogerson. Two new writers introduced by my daughter Shasha are Stephanie Meyers (Twilight, New Moon, Breaking Dawn and one more I can't remember) and Elizabeth Berg - Open HOuse, The Year of Pleasures and The Art of Mending. I found Stepahnie Meyers okay only - nothing to shout about, although my other daughter Sarah seem to love Edward Cullen the handsome young vampire who is the main male character. I think I preferred LJ Smith who also wrote about vampires, werewolves shapshifters and witches. Fantasy stuff that Shasha my older girl enjoys. In fact I had been reading her books - the LJ Smith as well as other books in the fantasy range written by Diana Wynn Jones and Anne Rice etc. Shasha of course has gone on to mythology and other fantasy books. But I really liked Elizabeth Berg - her people are very real and the issues worth thinking about. The Year of Pleasures especially made me think - what would I do if my husband passes away? Would I be able to cope without him?
There were also a number of Indian writers - Jhumpa Lahiri's the Namesake and Interpreter of Maladies for one and The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai. The much touted White Tiger was a fairly recent read and hilarious reading. His is a dry humour, poking fun at himself as well as India in general. Anyone who have not read this is recommended to.
These are books I had read about a month ago - A Prisoner of Birth by Jeffery Archer; Where or When by Anita Shreve; 1421 by Gavin Menzies as well as 1435, also by the same author; The Heirs of Prophet Mohammed by Barnaby Rogerson; The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet by Colleen Mc Cullough, The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga; Minx by Julia Quinn and still reading - The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory. Yes, quite a mix right? I'm not ashamed to say that I do read the romances especially historical ones and I also love chick lit. I find some of them so hilariously funny and witty. I enjoy re reading any of the Austens as well as Bronte and even Shakespeare. Some of them I must have read more than 2o times but still enjoy them. I find Charles Dicken a bit of a bore unfortunately, except for Great Expectations and A Tale of Two cities. These I have enjoyed and can enjoy again if there's nothing else to read. My dear husband calls it "revising", when he sees me re-reading these books. But that is the wonderful thing about good books - you always find something else to interest you whenever you re read that book. I can read Pride and Prejudice any number of times and not find it boring. I'll still smile at Mrs Bennet's shallowness or Mr Bennet's sarcastic remarks.