Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Ageing Junkies

The Euro Fun Fair behind the 1 Utama Shopping Complex is a blast and brings me back to a time when I was at school in England, crunching on toffee apples and sneaking puffs from cigarettes.

It has the same tacky feel of a small fair - you know, the type where you wonder whether you will make it out alive but you still go anyway. As the Cranberries' 'Linger' blasted us up into what felt like space and caught us as we fell, I wondered why I was doing this to myself. Apart from the obvious exhilaration, the feeling also made me sick to the bone. At this age, one cannot afford to be knocked around like before.

Nevertheless, I still found myself venturing from one ridiculously scary ride to the next. Egged on by Edwin and our combined sense of kiasuness, we surrendered our bodies to the machines. Like rag dolls, we were swung us around at crazy speeds as centrifugal forces flung us into the sky and centripetal ones sat down hard on our chests, making breathing sorta out of the question. Not to forget also the strobe lighting placed at strategic spots to distort whatever sense of sky and earth we had left.

I can still taste the bile on the back of my tongue.

Still - I highly recommend it. There are plenty of kiddy rides too and on an earlier family visit, I proudly witnessed my son's first ever bumper car ride that ended appropriately beneath a stack of blockades. He also went on his first roller coaster with my father crammed into the front seat with him and I had the privelige of his muffling his bawls on the top of the Ferris Wheel - that came not from fear but anger from being deceived by this large wheel that did nothing but go round and round at a snails' pace.

It was a time to bump into friends in family mode - hungrily eyeing the bigger rides but having to settle for the kiddies carousel instead.

It comes by once a year I am told and I find it pretty reasonable. RM3 to get in of you are an adult, less for kids, and each ride, depending on fear factor ranges from RM4 to RM8. For great photos, click on to Edwin's Photoblog.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Layan

Like in the brochure, The Layan sits gaily on a hillside, terracotta and green against the stark blue sky of occasional clotted cloud. It strides the ridge it lives on, smiling prettily back at the lifeless, damp stretch of sand that is Layan Beach, a lesser-known, lesser-appeal cousin of postcard-exploited Surin and Bangtao further down current.

The two staff and the one grey-looking manager who greeted us at the reception did so with such zeal – as if they had not welcomed guests in an age. Smiles as large as calzones; eyes focusing just beyond our heads, as if we are shorter than meant to be.

We welcome you vely much to Layan. We hope you stay vely long and enjoy.”

Gentle, melodious voices of hollow seduction.

In a triangle, the three lead us on an undulating garden path that seemed to take us nowhere, fringed with the sweet scent of jasmine, ash and fallen tropical fruit. I marvelled at how silent it was despite being so close to the sea. No squealing kids, no beach tunes, no wish-wash of waves in the distance. What a secluded hideaway!

The swaying gait of the three brought us finally to our room, at the far end of the resort, just before it hinges off the cliff. I blinked twice at the familiar sight of blackened trees in the sea. In a flashback they were green. The equatorial sun again, distorting colour and form.

Still, it was sunny, though the room had not been aired and smelled like well-aged dust.

We tipped the smiling porter, his shirt sleeve receiving the gratuity.

The three departed.

That night, tanked with too much local brew, the tuk tuk driver hurtled through the inky blackness, seemingly lost. He had looked a little perturbed when we asked to be taken back, glancing often at his rear view mirror at our pale, untanned faces. The salty sea air raked through our hair, breathing life into split ends.

After dead turns that met at the sea, we stopped for directions at a small, fluorescent-lit hut in the shadown of a hill. We gazed back at its ware of dead cockroaches.

We watched the Thai exchange and the wide-eyed look of disbelief register on cabbie’s pock-marked face.

He turned back at us, eyes in slits.

You say Layan?”, he asked, voice suddenly gruff.

We nodded drunken yeses.

He paused. Right hand inched closer to his back.

Cannot be…fire. Burn down 9 years aledi.

"Evelybody die. All the staff. All the guests...", his voice trailed off as we smiled.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Weekend

The Banquet - Whodunnit?!
Spent the weekend glued to the TV - The Devil Wears Prada (You go Meryl!), Basic Instinct 2 (the only things looking up were Sharon Stone's fake boobies), Crash (wow!), The Banquet (the ending is killing me!)

Why is rock climbing such an expensive sport?
(RM330 for the most beautiful pair of Evolv shoes, RMXXX for sending my shoes back to Saltic to be re-soled, RM300 to join CFas so that I can climb outdoors once a month, RMXXX for discovering I now have sweaty hands and am in need of chalk)

Does anyone die from OD-ing on eggs?
(Been on Atkins about a week now and it's been pretty OK except for the tub - yes tub, of pork floss I inhaled yesterday. Been eating truck loads of eggs...has anyone on Atkins ever died from high cholesterol?)

Why do men never call when they say they will??
(A universal mystery - enough said)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Shopping Binge Disorder (SBD)

People totally underestimate a woman's vanity. It often defies all logic and any measure of reasonableness. Take me, a prime example. Yesterday, like most days, I felt horribly horribly pudgy. I put on my 'slim' clothes and nearly fell over at how much weight I've put on from my vegetarian service to the environment. I stuck my tongue out at the Monster Fat Girl who stared back at me, defiantly waved my middle finger at the resolution to stop shopping, and drove like a maniac to Cats Whiskers - the shopperholics supermarket - and proceeded to shop, Shop, SHOP away the fat.

In this fat month, I daresay I have spent a shameful RM2k on attempting to beautify myself and make myself...well, less fat. I admit, it's a disgusting amount to spend when on a tight budget. I already shopped myself to near death on my trips to Bangkok and with ongoing house maintenence, two holidays coming up, road tax, car insurance, and other year-end expenditure, shopping is simply too expensive and frivolous a therapy to be engaged in. Yet I just can't help myself. I am stupidly convinced that eye lash extensions, ball gowns, baggy black tops, yet another black dress, shoes, shoes, shoes, and enough lipgloss to make a whole cookbook shine gloriously will make me beautiful and attractive to all.

Oh state the obvious why not. That beauty comes fron within...blah, blah, blah. Try telling a fat girl that! Beauty comes from within alright - ie. there's a thin girl inside me just dying to get out!

The point I'm trying to make is that vanity has everything to do with what's ticking upstairs. To others you may look alright but to the mind's eye, alright means hideous. Stomach rings, thighs, butt cheeks, face cheeks, arms, calves are magnified ten-fold. Oh, someone call the plastic surgeon please!

The battle against delusion is a much harden one to win than than the battle against the bulge. The physical can be modified with diets and exercise but upstairs, the wiring is complicated. Years of conditioning, brain washing and image haunting from let's-not-name-the-sources can take decades to undo and is an ongoing, tiresome, boring boring issue to have to overcome.

Mind you, some days are good, when the hormones are stable, the jeans button up and the boy you fancy makes eye contact. But most days, the oestrogen ODs and your face shines worse than the Exxon Valdez slick, the fat has nowhere to go and spills into your jeans pockets and the boy you fancy gets chatted up by the hot chick with the long legs and shiny hair.

I know, they say if you feel good, you look good. But seriously girls...how true is that?

While you try to come up with a convincing answer, excuse me, I have some shopping to do.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Remembering Your Dreams

Before the flakes of daily life landed on your shoulders and snowed you down. Before your last thoughts as you dozed off at night were about the scheduler on your Outlook. Before weekdays became chock-a-block and weekends were spent recuperating, what did you think of? What carried you off to cloudless sleep, what sprung you out of bed in the morning, what kept you going - forward on the treadmill, up the ladder, or down that garden path called life?

I spent so much of my teenage years in a permanent dream state. Sitting by my bedroom window gazing out at the twinkling lights of a city asleep, as Casey Kasem droned on for 40 songs. I dreamt of being Madonna, of being swept up on stage at a Duranduran concert like Courtney Cox was by Bruce Springsteen, of being a millionaire by 30, of the name to paint on my fleet of private jets, of my Oscar acceptance speech, of being on the cover of Cosmo, of being thin in pink legwarmers.....the dreams were many, and manyfold, with every detail imagined, enacted and relived day in, day out.

My twenties were spent inside a bottle of Absolut where I only came up for air every few months. Time imploded a little because I believed I was invincible and that everything would remain as it was forever. And the dreams, they slowly whittled away because who needs dreams when there are so many drinking games to play?

Sobering up now and smarting from mistakes of the past, I wonder why I walk listlessly, am constantly overwhelmed yet haunted by sleepness nights and a blank mind. I realised that, like many, I had forgotten my dreams, the intangible food that nourishes my soul.

We have become so robotic in acting out of instinct that we have lost the skill to analyse why is it we feel what we do (or don't). Why we crave. Why we urge. Why anything?

In order to live rather than exist, I've tried to recall my dreams. Do or die, there are things I need to get done or I will forever haunt this earth in a state of unrest. Oh, they range from the monumental (winning an Oscar for adapting something amazing for film or climbing Mount Everest [serious!]), to achievable if I got my arse together (publishing damn good written work), to the frivolous (finding the poppy field in Ismail Merchant's A Room With A View and once there, be passionately kissed as in the film). Possible or not, is not the issue.

Cleo-Jean reminded me of one thing. That it is now or never. While dreams may float about until you breathe life into them, our bodies sadly don't have that kind of shelf life. They wither away. What could be worse than having the will but not the capability? Why waste all the capability we have now on lack of will? Wake up! Get moving! It's now or never! You can't rely on your next life, what if you came back as a Freesian cow?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Breath Of Fresh Air

Hack, hack, hack...the haze is killing us all! What does sky look like again?

I pulled away the curtain of smog two weekends ago and played under the loving gaze of blue skies and sunshine. In yet another pursuit of nature and spirit, I gathered a bunch of friends up to Gopeng, Perak where we abseiled down a waterfall and flew over the rapids and white water of Sungai Kampar. Neither activity was particularly difficult, and perhaps a little disappointing in the fear factor department, but I still had buckets of fun in Mother Nature's playground. There's nothing like mandi sungai, swinging of tree branches, being carted around like cattle in a lorry and eating damn good sambal al fresco.

Thumbs up to Nomad Adventure who do a great job of hosting adventure trips where you can customise activities of choice - combining the fun of white water rafting or kayaking, caving, high traversing over chasms, firefox, waterfall abseiling, jungle trekking and so on.

Whilst out in the middle of nowhere, we chanced upon a quaint little resthouse with rolling grounds and cute 'lil huts, called Rumah Rehat Adeline. If you close the eye that rests on the humungous waterpipe that runs alongside it, it is actually located smack in the middle of the most beautiful surroundings. There is the smell of nature, the lull of chirping crickets and babbling brook, and the invaluable feeling that lots and lots of wild, wild life out there, outnumbers us humans.

The experience is what I would akin to posing for a nude photograph (not that I have, I can only imagine). A heady sense of fear but complete freedom as you are stripped of fluff and reminded again, in your birthday suit, of whom you are and where you stand in the grander scheme of things. A mere human being in the face of far greater picture of life and art in motion. I reckon the jungle is a fantastic place to get off your face, run around naked and syiok your nerves nicely.

I wonder if it is age that's getting to me, or the city. But the need to get out of KL is getting stronger. Out of its shopping centres and night clubs and away from the 'fringe' people (people that don't actually feature in your life - but who are just there to periodically irritate you by asking probing questions like 'still no boyfriend yet?' or 'when's your next baby coming?' or the best one yet - 'do you know you have put on weight?').

My inbox these days are a reflection of my inner urge - newsletters from nature from organisations like Wild Asia and The Malaysian Nature Society.

I asked myself when I was in Gopeng, ducking my head in the face of oncoming tree branches as we hurled our way through the wilderness. Could I live out here? Forever? Could I practice what I preach? Live in a hut and feed chickens? Thing is I really don't know. But what I do know is that lately, I see through my life as it has been. I see its utter frivolity, its unnecessary frills, its man-made adventures. It doesn't mean I wish to pack up and head for the jungle but it sure has me rethinking about what really matters.

I know I rant on about this but I can't say it enough. That life is so much more than material wealth, climbing the corporate ladder, than being smarter than the next person or leading a more 'successful' life. I want my son to grow up feeling wet grass on his feet, knowing the scent of rain, experiencing the icy cold of river water, being awed by the complex hues of the sky and feeling in his bones the true greatness of the earth. Not from the flip of an Astro decoder, the pages of a travel magazine or even worse, from a lame re-enaction in a video game - but by him, first-hand, standing on top of a mountain, or looking down from a rock face or from inside the vastness of an cave in the hollow of the earth.

This is what I believe life should be.

Note: Save the rainforest! The 300,000 hectare Belum-Temengor virgin rainforest is partially located in Perak and stretches North, is 130 million years old (older than the Amazon - wow!). It's right here at our doorstep! As with every other natural or historical thing in this developing country, it's under threat, in this case by logging and deforestation. Just thought you might want to know...

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Life Or Something Like It

Yesterday, I attended a wedding of an old friend. When he walked down the aisle, so handsome in his tux with lovely wife on arm, my heart lurched with pride. So this is what it feels like to see someone close get married. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’ve been to a million weddings- after all, it’s a KL past time – only that this isn’t a shot gun one (!), and it was the wedding of a friend who was close during a very happy part of my life. The event filled me with wonderful memories and glad tidings for the future.

The wedding was a reunion of old friends too. People I partied with, cried with, laughed with, could have slept with, worked with, fought with, holidayed with, dined with, drank with, ended up in the police station with.

When you attend a funeral and a wedding back to back, it does things to you. I guess I am reminded of what life is. No matter where you are – in India or in Ireland, in hiding or not, you cannot escape the cycle of people being born, people uniting, and then eventual death. From the coolest person you know, to the saddest, the prettiest to the not so, everyone follows the same old cycle. Life is just that – a book with many chapters. The same for everyone.

With childhood friends, we all grow up together, lead our separate yet inextricably parallel lives – whether some marry or not, divorce or not, have kids or not, live abroad or not, make money or not – we all age, we all get our fair share of wrinkles and handles and we all meet perfunctorily at each other's life's milestones – at weddings, funerals, full moons, etc.

It’s strangely comforting to see other people go through what you are going through – albeit with a small degree of variation. There is comfort in numbers. We are all finding ourselves, dealing with ourselves, adapting as we journey together on this giant bandwagon community along the road called life.

Goodbye Saw Eng

On Friday, my stepmother’s mother passed away, with her three children and host of grandchildren around her. They say she was at peace, despite her laboured breathing, a result of an impossibly blocked heart.

Her funeral, on the same day, filled me with so much regret, a feeling that by rule, I try not to entertain. I am a believer that you act to the best of your ability given the information you have and state you are in at the time. But death always has a way of eating into that, leaving me with nothing much but a bunch of half baked excuses.

Auntie Por Por, as I called her, for want of a better name, was a woman whom you could never think anything ill of. She was one of the most generous people I've ever known and she always looked out for everyone around her. And I mean, always.

If my son were to cough once out of the blue, she would dispense advice on what herbs to buy to improve his respiration. If you were to step in to the house, her first concern was whether you had eaten. And if you hadn’t or replied with a moment’s hesitation, she’d already be in the kitchen whipping up a storm. Indeed, when she was lying in ICU for the last 2 weeks, hooked up to a gazillion tubes and high or morphine and discomfort, her only concern was to send her children away so they could be more comfortable at home. The day they discharged her out before she relapsed and had to return, she cooked up a storm for 40 people at the mosque and managed to feed the whole family for buka puasa.

My regret is that I never tried to get to know her better. She was a woman of no barriers. And I am one with many. I approached her as somebody else’s grandmother (whom she is), but I have no doubt that she would have embraced me warmly if I had let her in. I am a critic ultimately, and I don’t give many people the honour, but Auntie Por Por was a role model. Yes, she puffed, gambled and danced her way to death, but in her treatment and respect of others lies her ultimate salvation.

Did I mention that she died on a Friday? Of Ramadan month? And for a joss stick-wielding Muslim that she was, it was also the 15th of the month – the night of the Moon Festival.

I know she is in a good place because bad places don’t take people like her in.

After the funeral, I picked up the phone and called my grandmother.

It’s All Gone!

Five days ago, I fell victim to the phenomenon that many Malaysian women are already too familiar with. No, not the Grand Nationwide Sale.

Snatch thieving.

See, I have this theory that if I were a snatch thief, I would never pick on someone like me. Simply because of my build. I mean, I look like the type who is likely to drag you off your bike instead, that I wouldn’t go without a fight. I also seem like the type who could really scream and draw enough attention to myself.

But I naively assumed that the modus operandi of snatch thieves are confined to grabbing bags when on foot or on a motorbike. Well, these days, they hunt in packs of three, on board red, shiny Kenaris. And they get you in quiet leafy neigbourhoods, outside hospitals that you would otherwise have no reason to go to unless visiting a sick friend or relative. They get you when you choose to walk on the road because the sidewalk has been turned into a flower box sprouting thorny bougainvillea every five paces. And they get you when festival time is approaching, when they need the money to celebrate.

It was of course, a terrifying experience. And shocking, no doubt. And something else I can’t put my finger on. I looked into my attacker’s eyes as we played tug on my poor bag. Maybe it is my imagination, for it is easier to feel hate rather than sympathise with a man who is so desperate for an easy way out – but I thought I saw ruthlessness in him. That he had crossed many points of no return and would stop at nothing for he could not. And I felt defeated for they won. Out of sheer strength and advantage, they won. It was not an equal fight. I go mad in the face of injustice.

I let go because of vanity. Because I did not want to see the road scrape the skin off my face. And the best I could do was a feeble “bloody shit you!”

So, ladies, and gentlemen too, beware on the road outside Damansara Specialist Centre – apparently snatches occur there twice a week, right outside the guardhouse. I know it seems like you hit a gold mine when you find a plethora of lovely available spots - all in the shade right outside the hospital. Free and legal too! And you don’t wonder why they are empty? Park inside and pay your RM2!