Saturday, January 29, 2011


Elizabeth Gilbert simply indulged, absorbed, obsessed and out-whined herself around the very core of her being. She orbited and bobbed around the centre of her own little universe. Declared her innermost desires, described her own multi-faceted self and ruminated on her post divorce writhing to the world through her writing. Like a running commentary.

This book must have made many a divorced person thump her head against the nearest stove, wall or lamp post in frustration. For her lack of foresight to obsess, to indulge, to be despondent and broken enough so that she too could think of little else but herself. For not thinking of publishing her diaries. For not thinking of compiling her Facebook statuses in paperback. For not thinking of vacationing half way around the world in misery.

Elizabeth Gilbert also had the foresight to have had her dream guilt trip funded by a publisher's advance. In return all she had to do was to describe in words how she had licked her wounds in sexy Italy, in meditative India and in romantic Indonesia. Of course with the hope that she returned home whole, healed, raring and ready to face the world again. To live and love again. With renewed strength, vigour, courage, and self esteem. And a new book. Amen.

A divorce is painful. As well as profuse. We live in a period of time when divorces occur so liberally that for every wedding I attend my first wish for the couple would be that the marriage lasts long enough to have made it worth their money spent. Should the marriage last ten years, or more, I would applaud and have much admiration at the couple's success in upholding their vows thus far. But should it end in divorce I would not have received it with much surprise considering the current trend. In fact, I would probably wonder if it would be worth the effort of raising my eyebrows for such little surprise.

Divorce isn't as sad and shocking as it once used to be. Education, independence, modernity and today's common practice of public emotional display has encouraged egocentricity and narcissism, for both men and women, in equal measure. More so when Twitter and Facebook came along. A space where your most trivial of thoughts may be updated, where you may stamp your existence and nurture your ego, for the world to see - at two minute intervals. I am surprised that, in this day and age, marriage is still a much desired institution for many. That there are still couples who dive into it as fast as they break out of it. 

Divorce is no longer something to be ashamed of and it no longer qualifies as potential material to be skeletons in our cupboards. Nor was Gilbert's post divorce distress distressful enough to be reenacted into a movie. Most of us grew up around it, as a result of it or in it. It is so profuse that it even repeats itself on the same people. Divorce is not a tragedy. It is not a mystery. It is not alien. It is not out of this worldy enough that it should be a trigger for a long drawn out public exposition of self discovery half way around the world in order to find with what, where and how to glue yourself back together again. It is no longer an ill-fated destiny like the comic fall of Humpty Dumpty. Or calamitous enough so that all the king's men and all the king's horses need come to your rescue.

So, I do stand in awe of Elizabeth Gilbert for making a mountain out of her divorce and a mountain of money out of it too. I'm glad she got over it. And I wish I had had half her wit and her vision. I could have been rich. I also wish I had borrowed the book instead of paying for it.

Excuse me now while I go eat, pray, love. And while I'm at it perhaps I should write a book too. Or update my status. Whatever.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Here's an article I had written years ago that has been published a couple of times.

Throw all those schedules out the window and…

SHAKE. Shake the word routine out of your silly head. Buddy up to pause, waver and vacillate. Routine is the killer of all inspiration in housewife world. It would be wonderful to have a routine for your quilt project or for your tai chi group or to get your facial hair zapped but to have a routine for something as uninspiring as housework is bound to make you a permanent failure in this very lonely field.

REST ASSURED. Housework is a very lonely job. Why do you think maids never last or that no one else wants to do it? Nobody notices what you have done but only what you have not done; when the meals are not ready on time, when the bathrooms have not been cleaned, when the clothes have not been sorted, when the dust has not been dusted or when the dishes have not been dished. Who would think of promoting a housewife? But rest assured no one is going to make you redundant either.

NO OBLIGATIONS. To all budding housewives out there, if you really want to survive in this very lonely field never say “I will”. “I might” is much more realistic. If you do not set such daunting goals for yourself you have absolutely no obligations to keep them.

HOUSE GUESTS.  Never treat dust and dirt as your number one enemy and never underestimate them. I am not saying you should adopt a defeatist attitude but do not think that you can eradicate something as formidable as dust and dirt from the face of your home. Give them the treatment they deserve. Treat them as permanent house guests. 

DO NOT EXPECT your children to share a common enemy. They do not for as long as they are living with you. They do not see the dirt because they so blissfully believe in it.

DO POORLY. An area half cleaned today is better than an area you hope to bring to a pristine shine tomorrow. That is for the simple reason that you may, could or will not get around to it. So " A job poorly done is better than a job not done at all. " should be the motto of the day……everyday, for the rest of your housewife life.

TOMORROW NEVER COMES. Never soak rag rugs to be hand washed tomorrow. Tomorrow never comes. Either treat it raggedly and throw it out or use large towels in front of your sink so you could dump it in the washing machine the next day.

GIVE UP. Learn to give up. Don’t drive yourself like a dog because you are not. You are a housewife. Stop when you are tired, step out of your dog suit and have a soak in the tub.  It keeps you from feeling dog tired.

PLAY DICE. Play dice with your universe. Go ahead play dice and go with your instincts. Don’t do what you don’t feel like doing. If you don’t feel like mopping the floors today, don’t. You can think about it tomorrow, just never be too specific about your plans.

DELEGATE but don’t expect it to be carried out. High expectations and housework don’t go together. It helps keep your sanity in check.

ANTICIPATE. Learn to anticipate. Learn to anticipate when you might have unexpected visitors. That way you will not be greeting them in a sweat, breathing heavily and with your tongue hanging out while your hide the mess. Know your unexpected visitors well. You surely know them otherwise they will not be visiting you. Observe and anticipate their movements. Always be one step ahead.

AVOID DISASTERS. Although one must be creative don’t try a new recipe on your family unless it has been tried on the neighbour. Keep yourself well informed of the latest disasters. Nothing like prime news.

DO NOT MAKE THE CAKE that you have been meaning to. Buy fruits instead. They are much healthier to begin with and you save yourself from a lot of beating and bashing in the kitchen. If you are nostalgic about baking cakes and cookies just watch Nigella Bites on TV. Learn to derive satisfaction from watching and listening rather than doing.

 NOOKS AND CRANNIES ARE FOR NANNIES. So don’t have too many of them in your home. Straight forward furniture, clean, clear cut lines are everything. Do not indulge in the clutter ideology of those country decorating magazines. You live in a city not a nightmare.

A BACKYARD IS A BACKYARD IS A BACKYARD. Drum that into your head and leave it exactly the way you found it. Don’t try turning it into a front yard. Unless you have French windows opening up to the back and hills in the horizon where you can trot off into the sunset, don’t fool yourself into thinking you can religiously cope with two gardens in your housewifely life.

DO NOT BE BAFFLED. Do not be baffled by so called facts because these are myths masquerading as truths. Things like “Nothing like home cooking” or “Mother’s cooking is best”are just meaningless proverbs. Not necessarily true. Mr. Kentucky,  Mr. Macdonald cook just as well.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


I have listened to this story many times. My mother relating it with a certain zest and pride in her voice. It seems like it came out of an old manuscript and brings me back to a time when everything seemed to be seething with mist, mystery and maidens. And elephants, sultans and escapes. It all sounds too fairy tale like. A little cliched and a little too thespian. 

But I suppose when stories of old are told, by word of mouth, they have no other way to go but to become romanticized. They become exotic, alluring and idyllic. And then someone comes along with screen and keyboard in hand and types them down.

This is one more old story that has become no less. This is a perfect story, I think, of a damsel in distress.

Malaya ~ late 19th century

What could have raced through Yang Kundor's thoughts as she rode through the wild, virgin and untamed depths of the Malayan jungle? Faith? Fear? Or Fearlessness? Perhaps all three in turns. Or in confusion. 

Could there have been moments when she longed to call out, to turn back and to return to the comfort of home whenever virulent hisses and savage howls were discharged from the dark unknown? Or were her lucid thoughts of royal life as one of the Sultans wives just too demeaning that it made her resolute to move on?

She must have been given a talisman that she lay close to her breast to ward off evil , harm and the distant chants of black magic. Something that she could clutch at with both fear in one hand and faith in the other. She must too have felt disquieted of what might await her once, or if ever, she emerged from the depths of that journey. Yang Kundor's mind...whirling as hard as her heart was pounding. Surely.

But I suppose the certainty of life in royal restraint must have seemed far more distasteful than that of the uncertain unknown. I would have clung on with unyielding grip to the carriage atop the elephant as it trampled through the dense undergrowth. It must have been the longest journey of Yang Kundor's  life.

When reverberations from the thumping of the canang  were heard to proclaim Yang Kundor as the Sultan's future wife, on the evening before, I can only imagine the heart of Datuk Panglima of Mengkarak and Cemur being weighted down with dilemma and consternation. But resolute in his plans of escape for his daughter. He must have braced himself for the Sultan's wrath. To whom he had promised to defend and obey. The man whom he had thought worthy of his services and his life. Until ........ his daughter became the object of his master's desire.

What excuse could the Datuk Panglima have brought forth to the Sultan the next morning to explain the disappearance of his daughter? Was he spared and then forgiven or did he have to bear the Sultan's outrage and be banished from the realm forever? Or did it cost him his life? Or did Yang Kundor plan her own escape? No one knows. And no one could tell me.

But what we do know is that Yang Kundor and those who went with her successfully escaped and survived the journey. After three perilous days and nights through the jungle they arrived in Kajang and Yang Kundor spent the rest of her short life there. She was my mother's paternal grandmother. 'Twas a pity she did not live to see the grandchild who is said to resemble her. My mother.

Beraja dihati

Bersultan dimata

No. Not this time your majesty ~

*Beraja dihati, bersultan dimata ~ a Malay idiom literally translated ~ ' The heart of a king, the eyes of a sultan' which means ~ to attain whatever one desires.

Saturday, January 1, 2011


When I was a child I looked at life in black and white. I wondered why people would choose to be nasty when they could be good. I wondered why adults could not understand children. I wondered why parents needed to fight and mess things up. I wondered and then some.

When I grew up....... I wondered no more. 

Because life threw me the same challenges. The challenges of making choices and of dealing with mistakes.  It was like life started all over again. But for different people.  Wouldn't it be good if we learnt from life's lessons? And then some?


Watch out for those curve balls! And then some...

                                           My grandparents with seven of their eight children and a grandson. My mother stands in the back row centre.


                                                                              Mom and I

Kitten moments ~ 

                                                                                    My illiterate years

             Secrets? Or just breathing into E's ear?

"Visiting our cousins at Monkey Garden. " said Dad

                                                                                           All set to party


Foodie moments ~

Mom grating coconut on a wooden stool grater. It looked like a little wooden animal with a sharp zig-zagged metal lip.... widely used before commercially scraped coconut meat were available. Fully ripened coconuts were bought whole and in bunches, cracked opened with a cleaver, its meat grated in its shell and then squeezed for its milk. It is a morning task in preparation for lunch ...obviously before our morning baths..

An antique coconut grater stool ~ what I would pay to have one.  Image taken from here.

The ultimate snack food ~ popping whole roasted peanuts with the shells on.

I helped make formula milk for my not-so-little-anymore sis in a glass jar with a metal plunger until it frothed and looked like a milk shake....poured it into a glass bottle and plopped it into her little starving early motherly instincts at work. It looked yum.

School Days ~ 

My first year at school (I remember bawling quite enthusiastically). And my lovely first year teacher. I don't remember any names (I moved away a year later) but......if you see yourself....drop me an e-line :) I am seated first row, extreme left. This was taken at Penang Island Girl's School.

Where are you now Prema? ~ We had fun.

Happy New Year!