8 Hours

It was the best 8 hours I had this year.

I was really hoping that this trip would be better than the last trip to Kuala Lumpur. My book was launched in March and it did not quite go along the lines. I regretted ever having made that trip, to be honest. It’s the kind of journey that made sick people sicker. But it’s my first ever experience meeting other writers and some artsy people in KL and I guess it’s kinda awesome seeing Asian people pretending to be as hip as they could with their dreads and sarong pants with cotton sling bag stamped with elephant designs. I bet they must feel in the zone.

I cannot say the same for my part.

Well this time I felt better, not really out of space. I saw normal people around me and speaking the same language as I do (My English is not very good, speaking-wise and I have no intention of speaking English with people I knew whose mother tongue is Malay) The first day I was in Kuala Lumpur International Book Fair (KLIBF) was on the 1st of May. I chose the date because I knew for a fact that there would be a lot of people as it was Labour Day but until that day came that I realized it was deemed more that I could ever handle. Statistically, it was about 800,000 people. The enormous hall was cramped and though the air conditioner was in full blast, I was sweating though my blouse. It was hot and sticky affair.

Although there were so many people, I did not expect to have that many fans. My session was from 10 a.m until 12 noon and all I did was smile and signed and took selfies with them. It was indescribable, that feeling. I did not picture that some random strangers would put aside allotted time, some effort and money to reach out to me and honor my writing. It’s the most wonderful feeling.

The next day I have another 2 hours before another writer takes their turn. There were less people but a girl about 15 and her mother came at 10 sharp. They told me they drove 5 hours just to see me but yesterday I went back early (I have a lunch date with an old ex-colleague and her family and for the record I waited 15 minutes for the queue to clear) so they stayed another night in KL to catch me the next day. If I were them, I would have gone back yesterday because I would not have the determination of waiting another 24 hours for someone like me. The girl is a very fortunate child.

I think that gesture made my life, however insignificant I felt before this. Someone values me that much.

The last day I stayed for 4 hours along with other writers (an editor complained that maybe I overstayed my welcome) and did the same thing all over again. I quite enjoyed it though before this I find a lot of excuses to not take selfies or pictures in general. Something in the air made me wants to relieve the moment. I did not care how I looked or what I wore. I just want to commemorate the moment with a flash and a pose, like a proper youth obsessing her life with infinity of pixels.

I remembered not long ago, probably about less than a year ago I was shaking and anxious inside a bookstore. I went in because it’s a habit of mine not being able to pass Waterstone’s or WHSmith without browsing some things on the first floor but that particular day I went inside with a purpose. I saw the banner for weeks and I had this curiosity that cannot be quenched until I see it with my own eyes. There was an elderly guy with his three piece uniform, sitting next to a banner near the entrance. His face was all over it and his books were stacked like a DNA helix model in front of him. He was sitting alone and waiting. A fountain pen ready just in case.

I passed him by several times but I did not have the courage to ask him for his autograph. The task was overwhelming. I couldn’t do it.

I wonder how did my fans did it.

Almost 6 Months

Six months ago I would never guessed that I would be here. I was crying alone in a tiny room, resenting the air that I breathe in. I did not go out of my room, let alone the house. I was determined that no one cared. No one would help.

I was thinking of a short cut. Maybe there is. Maybe I can do it.

Maybe.

I was broken in so many places. I couldn’t put myself back together. After several attempts, I didn’t even bother trying.

I stopped talking. I stopped being fun. I can’t even laugh out loud. I didn’t bother much about eating. I resented company. I hated everything.

I existed. Pretty much.

The change came swiftly. I wanted it to happen so much that I covered it with a lie. I felt guilty but that’s the only way that I can survive. I want to properly breathe again.

It’s amazing how I can almost be whole again.

It’s nice to laugh again.

It’s nice to move again.

It’s nice to breathe again.

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Breathe

When I read sad things on my dashboard I always wish that I could offer something; a cup of coffee, a hug, a shoulder, just to make those poor souls feel better or if possible, to make the misery melt away.

I don’t know who you are and what you’re going through but as a person that has been broken before I even knew the word ‘broken’, I get you.

Life tries to get to you sometimes in the meanest way possible. Don’t play by the rules. Your priority is you. Stop demeaning yourself because of things that you can’t control.

You’re perfect just the way you are.

I have no knowledge of a working advice or a cheap medicine. I did only one thing that made sense.

I took a long deep breath.

So breathe. Stop listening to the voices in your head or the ones amplifying it around you during your wake. If you can, close your eyes and bring an image of the happiest you and hold to it. You will get there.

Just do one thing first.

Breathe.

And another.

Years from now you’ll wear those scars proudly and knew that you lived. You did not exist. You are alive.

Everything will be o.k in the end. If it’s not o.k then it’s not the end.

What If?

What if whatever things plaguing you are the things undone by your forefathers?

What if the boiling itch on your feet, the palpitation in your chest and the sudden absence of oxygen in your blood when you saw foreign lands weren’t just accident? Maybe someone had all these stirring in their blood but they did the unthinkable. They said it doesn’t matter.

I’m staying, I’m settling down for my sons, daughter, my grandchildren.

Little that he knew that someday they will pay. 

Wanderlusting Europe

In summer 2005, I got a scholarship to study Spanish Language and Culture but I end up touring Europe.

Best time of my life.

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Photo: Madrid – Granada bus ticket

I had always dreamed of traveling around the world and had stole pictures of Europe from the library but nothing could prepared me for the reality.

There was no word for it. I was overwhelmed by the smell, sights and sound. I can’t even find a better word than happy. I don’t know if ‘blessed’ fit the profile but I knew ‘fulfilled’ was some part of it.

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Photo: Bus ticket from Barcelona – Paris (You can get a Euroline pass to 51 countries from 185 Euros for 15 days. See Eurolines website for more.)

It was a scary experience too. I did not know anyone and that was my first trip overseas but I came too far to say ‘maybe next time.’

It was not a known fact that a single Malaysian Malay/English/Spanish/un-petit-peu-de-French speaking girl would travel alone in unknown territory. I was immediately dubbed ‘crazy’ by many peers.

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Photo: Apartment rent receipt from a luxurious unit across the Prague Florenc Bus Station.

I enjoyed Prague the most, of all the countries that I have been. There was a different vibe; mysterious and beckoning on the pebbled streets.

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I was robbed by a group of gypsies in Rome but I never felt that was a bad day. I met a good Samaritan, slipped in a deaf tour with him because he knew a friend who knew someone who could let us in for free and ate the most glorious food with ample Italian kisses.

I don’t know any day more perfect than that one.

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Photo: Ticket from London – Brussels

Funny thing about London was that it was a city of contradiction. Coming from a third world country and a country being colonized by the British Empire, everyone was fed different facts about England and my first impression did not meet any of it.

One thing that didn’t change is that the Englishmen are always the gentlemen.

I told a fellow English passenger in the bus that a Portuguese sat close-by harassed me. In seconds, it was chaos. The fight lasted for about 15 minutes and both broke their nose but later apologized.

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Photo: Frankfurt – Rome

I was not particularly into Frankfurt. The people scared me. I need some time to adjust to the normal volume pitch of the locals. I don’t find them very friendly when they’re yelling on top of their lungs but it’s the norm. Surprisingly, I later found out that they made the best of friends when you earn their trust.

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To be honest I only understood the second last line 🙂

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Photo: Marseilles – Barcelona

My surprise destination was Marseilles. I never planned to go there but it was kind of an accident that left me no choice.

I could never thank the accident enough. Marseilles is the epitome of vintage, free, wandering soul. The strong wind, the old port, the clear turquoise water, the lines of parked yachts, the fresh seafood, the freckles of the waving children, flapping skirts of old ladies, gleaming teeth of the old men. I will never forget the first time I got the glimpse of the famous port. I never recovered that piece of my heart left in Marseilles.

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Photo: Metro map of Barcelona

I have been to Barcelona more than 3 times but I have this feeling that Barcelona did not like me very much. There was always something that made my stay unbearable. Be it a rude remark from a local that I took seriously, unsympathetic friend that preferred to let me sleep at the airport for 2 days than offer any sort of refuge or being ignored when asked for help.

I don’t know why all these happen just when I arrived in Barcelona and sincerely hoped to God that every single time it would be different. It never did.

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Photo: Spanish grammar notes

I am lucky enough to be able to reach out for my dreams just because I was determined to learn a foreign tongue. Although I did learn French for 4 years in secondary school, the foundation made me decide to try Spanish and there lies my road to the world.

I am hoping for a new adventure, a new luck and a new place to tread this year. Maybe this time it would truly happen.

And you, yes, YOU. what are you waiting for? If not now, then when?

Happy wandering, wanderfolks!

Still Page

rose

It would be ridiculously easy to grow up, to move on. I thought I did. It became clear when I still think my high school friends are the same ones I had 17 years ago when in fact they weren’t anymore. They are all in a different phase, different chapter.

Definitely different page.

My mom bought me a bracelet from our local market about a year ago. It was not expensive and after several months, the gold color became bronze. She saw the hideous mark it left on my wrist and insisted that I should throw it away. She’ll just buy another one. She said the same thing about my necklace. Not to throw it away, mind you but to trade it in with something she called ‘real’ gold.

It should be a simple act. Taking it off and putting it away. Silly kindergarten stuff, but I can’t do it.

I hold on to it. That’s what I do. I refused to budge from this very page. I’m still like a rock. A stupid, humongous rock.

And there lies all my problems.

But you must see, at least…that this bracelet’s sound is my only refuge when the dark thoughts dulled my mind saying that maybe I should not move again. Maybe I should just say goodbye. Why live when you cannot find your worth anymore? It was a long trench when my ears searched for the familiar ring. The little chimes made me resurface and I know that I have to keep moving.

Still, but moving.

The necklace was a different story. It’s a nervous tick, really, the one my hands would look for when I’m nervous. It could be any other necklace of any material but I bought this for myself and it’s the only material possession that can truly stay close to me, feel me breathe and granted as a stiff alibi of all my doings. There are no secrets between us.

I used to ignore this tiny little stuff that women wear. I have no reason to hold on to one. I had friends. They talk to me and I listen. We go out and had fun. We were on the very same page. We even had the same dreams until Change bluntly cut the chord.

Now I have my oxidized bracelet and locket-less necklace to accompany me. We don’t talk but we acknowledge each other. We touched and some chimed and we’re o.k with that.

It’s not that I didn’t try. My old friends seemed to leap a 100 light years before me. They said different things now, talk to different people, even dream such weird grown up bureaucratic dreams. I would tell things to them but they weren’t listening because it’s not important. I called, I wrote, I talked and I even went to see them, try to understand them, what it’s like to be like them but I only got to the surface and we disconnected. It might be the distance, the insufficient time, the stress of the job, the taking care of the husband, the children, the house, the chores, etc.

Maybe they never intended to stay after all. Maybe it really was me.

It scares me that one day I would look into another pair of eyes and failed to recognize the tattered soul reaching out for help while I’m too busy sorting out my priorities.

I guess being still is not so bad. I value my company.

Trial and Error

Until now I still haven’t decided what I want to be when I grow up (I’m 30 by the way) but I did some trial and error with life. Nothing came out good or satisfying but I am not ready to quit just yet.

In college I took for a year to try and understand medical school, I mean just some simple introduction to Biology. It was one of the most interesting subjects but I don’t honestly care about the names of all the enzymes and bacterias inside my mouth, what fungus grows on your feet or the thermodynamics of the body fluids.

I really don’t.

So I copied my friend’s option in the university column and I got the 6th option (We were instructed to put 8.) Woohoo! I got the same course as my best friend. I’ve never felt so happy!

But what the hell’s Environmental Technology?

I’ve been told it’s the course of the century. It has a bright future. This course guaranteed plenty of jobs and you’ll be paid especially well by the private sector. The Malaysian Environmental Act 1976 and supported by the Department of Environment of Malaysia require all factory regardless of any kind to have at least one Environmental Officer in their premises.

You just need to graduate and you’ll be picked up by your employee in no time. What blessing, right?

For those who didn’t know, Environmental Technology is one of engineering branches. You can easily apply for a chemical engineering, process engineering or environmental engineering jobs. The subjects are all the same. It’s called ‘technology’ because the course is due in 3 years while engineering course in 4.

Guess how long I did mine 🙂

Five.

I know. Brilliant, isn’t it?

Let me tell you what is actually an Environmental Officer.

The job existed because of pollution. In factories or many industries, these pollutions are at its worst. It could be water pollution, air pollution, noise pollution or simply the usual land pollution. Water used to cool off boilers should not be pumped directly to the rivers, or heavy metals used to improve the factory’s product should be treated first before contained and send to disposal sites, any dangerous gas released by these heavy metal should be filtered, all toxic and volatile compounds should be stabilize and send to appropriate third party for further actions. The Environmental Officer also sometimes act as safety officer, who would make sure that the employees should put on all their protective gears every time they are at the working site and have all the explanation why they should. For example, they should wear their headphones so that they won’t be deaf in 5 years due to the racket the machines were making. Rubber boots on so you won’t be electrocuted. Rules must be obeyed and this goes for everyone.

It’s an important job, isn’t it?

It sounds like having a private officer monitoring the factory so the Department of Environment could focus on other things like monitoring public open burning from a helicopter ( I admit I am jealous. They got the easy/interesting ones.)

Still I have to say that I am not the least interested in trying to protect the environment being in that position. Don’t get me wrong. I love Mother Earth but the world is not as naive as we thought.

I was having second thoughts as I go along. I don’t think I want to graduate and spend the rest of my life cleaning up other people’s mess.

You see, factories (aka my future big boss) doesn’t want people constantly telling them what to do. All they want is to mass produce a product the cheapest way possible and earn as much money possible in the shortest time. They don’t care about the environment. They will need to spend more in cleaning up, treating sewage and filtering so they will make you agree with them in terms of allegedly ‘alter’ the reports to be send to the authorities. They’re the ones who pay you so whatever complains or moral values you have will not effect them in the long run.

Also, there is a big hole in the Environmental Act 1976 and nobody can do anything about it until it’s amended. A factory has the right to continue polluting the environment as long as they are paying the authorities a special license to pollute given through special terms and conditions. For example, if the authorities found out Factory A was polluting a river with heavy metals and instructed them to move to other premises or shut the factory down, they can pollute the river until a new premise is found or constructed on their behalf, that would take several years. The factory just need to pay the authorities several thousand ringgits per year, which is like 2 cents of their overall turnover minus tax. I don’t know what happens to the money, either it’s use to clean up the mess or for other things that I dare not assume.

So during my final semester I left the university after coming back from my semester break in Madrid. I can’t do this any longer. After a year of thinking and studying Spanish, I return to the university to finish the degree. The Head of Environmental Technology Division was so excited he even requested my presence in his office to welcome me back. He doesn’t even want to listen to my explanation.

“You came back. That’s the only thing that matters. Other people don’t. Thank you very much for coming back.”

I should have been the person thanking him. He trusted me and I gave him my word that I would stay and finish what I started. I always have this grand admiration of him.

His favourite quote is ‘if you want to fail, do it gloriously.’

I like it a lot.

He seemed to know things that I didn’t know about myself. He also knew that I am not finished gambling with my life. There is always room for improvement and I have more trials and errors in the making.

I am not done trying, at least not yet for now. I’ll worry about the errors later when I sit down and tell my grandchildren that you don’t simply enter Morocco without a visa because they’ll put you up in a room full of sexually deprived men dressed as custom officers and sent you back alone in a 5 hour ferry ride to Algeciras and all you can do is pray, ignore the foreign hairy hands squishing your behind and tell yourself to hold on. This, however worse it might get, will soon pass. To be honest, I would much prefer my errors to not include them as a package.

But I am safe and I will try until I got it right. Must be a beautiful day, that day when all these will start to make sense, for once and for all.