Friday, June 22, 2012

Last minutes of being 24

I spent it being a coward. I spent it doing exactly what I've been doing for the past two decades. Being unsure. Being scared. I'm not afraid of growing old. I'm afraid of how young people would see me as. How frivolous. How immature. 

I'd written something about the last few minutes of being 24, half spontaneous and half caffeinated, and could not bear the thought of posting it up. It was written off the top of my mind, which can usually pass off as what's in the deepest of heart. It feels too unmeasured, too callous, too reckless. What if I make a fool of myself? What if I make a fool of other people? I don't like consequences because I feel responsible for everything. I don't like spontaneity because I can't feel responsible.

But this wasn't what 24 taught me. 24 taught me to let go, to be free. 24 had me loosen my grip off the handles by the swimming pool, had me jump into the middle of the ocean to touch the fishes, had me drop my Baggages to embrace the one Happiness that til today, I know I do not deserve.

And today, I sit here in Starbucks with the person who can make me laugh the hardest and love the deepest, sharing a drink that I have never heard, and a song that's unfamiliarly soothing, and I'll say - 

"25 can be the way the cookie crumbles". I have no idea what it means, but it's off the top of my head, and as 24 had taught me, that's all that matters.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Number. Adventure. Blank Paper.

Looking at property listings is as sobering as, well, as a hobo having run out of alcohol under a sobbing evening sky.

Not that I’m planning to add a house to my current list of assets soon (my laptop, childhood bolster and Pratchett collection don’t take too kindly to newcomers. Especially those that cost more than them). Not that I can.

It was probably a bout of adulthood hitting me between the eyes, because I sure as heck felt the slam when the living daylight left me. Those prices had so many zeroes that I was pretty sure it’s a health code violation in several countries, and a stigma in at least one.

But it was something perfectly sensible to do, wasn’t it? In another 4 months or so, I would be 25 years old. Doesn’t matter that my 14-year-old inner self is writing angsty songs about it. Doesn’t matter that I have no idea how to be 25. Doesn’t matter if I think 25 is but a number, except that with this one we get cake, which is definitely more than what you can ask of, say, 3.14159265.

I would be 25. And still making it up as I go along.

And one of the things I managed to make up was perfectly adulty things like looking through property listings. And feel depressed. And complain about feeling depressed. And drive people insane by repeating myself, in this case, one “and” at a time.

I also started thinking in timelines again. You know, that unwritten decree that you must be married by this age, and get a promotion by that age, and pop a baby out by some other age, etcetera. Not that there is anything wrong with thinking like that. It got some people somewhere – family, career, a nice house, a shiny car, mid-life crisis… hey, it’s not my kind of life, but heck, my life probably involve a telephone-booth sized apartment and irregular meals, so it may not be to your taste either. We’d both be even, in a way – although you’d be richly smooth, while I’m merely spread thin.

What bothers me is that this was precisely the kind of mentality that I vowed not to fall into. I do not want to live my life by a schedule that was chiselled into the psyche by culture and customs. This is not to say that I’m against marriage, or promotion, or procreation. In fact, these are all things that I would celebrate with fanfare and noisemakers and a costume party for at least one of them. But if these happen to me, I want it to be meaningful, not merely punctual.

Thinking in timeline felt like a grid pressed into my mind, grating it into a colony of work ants with only one obsessive purpose; one Queen to feed. And the Queen breeds. She breeds more sterile, wingless slaves. And she doesn’t care who dies.

One of my biggest fears is that one day, when I look in the mirror, I would see the zombie in my eyes. A zombie that wants no brains, because it knows not what to do with them. A zombie who forgot how to be hungry.

Is that what adulthood looks like? Are the grids finally clamping down? Will it all be a wingless, barren chase for survival from here, for the fulfilment of a fertile future?

Is it the right thing to do?

Perhaps. But not this year. 25 can be just another number, another adventure, another blank paper.

And if I toss the damn watch into the lake, 25 can be the best.

We make it up as we go along.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Ouch. Who put that here? Had someone done something to the decor?

I have been staring at the same blank page for two weeks. Granted, I’m not knee-deep in fortnight stink (suspend imagination, please, if you ever want to look at me without gagging) and the state of my tummy has not been compromised. I blame it on living with the parents. They seem to unable to stomach the idea that a writer with a block would just want to hunch over the beckoning prompter, damning in its every blink, and wallow in no certain amount of self-pity and 9Gag posts. It would, however, have been better for my heroic agony if they had come around to force me to take a shower and swallow bread. But no, their mere presence commanded my sensitivity to body hygiene and food pyramids and the calls of Kuih Kapit, because my holistic upbringing was designed to suit the path of a 9am-5pm future, not hobo writer.

In between all that I also managed to hold down a full-time job, berkecoh-ed with a few of the most awesome people I know on Cameron Highlands, and generally tried to have a social life. I know, my tortured-writer-with-no-fun-and-salary street cred is in shreds. What else can I depend on to sell any of my books?

In my defence (because I really want to sell my books), the blank page have been hovering before me in all these two weeks. It haunted me, casting a semi-transparent veil over my visual. I saw it when I eat, I saw it when I sleep. I saw it when I Facebook-ed, I saw it when I emailed my boss. I sometimes forget to see it when I am too busy laughing my ass off at whatever Jee/Wan Qi/Eileen/Roya/etc said, but I will compensate by seeing it doubly hard afterwards. I promise.

On rare occasions when I actually sit down and type on the blank page, I saw it most. All its whiteness. And space. And potential. And risks.

I retreated, unable to remember how the words form and the fingers tap. I tried to wrap my head around the page but the rust of un-writing had long arthriticked my mind. I can no longer tell people that I am a writer without the certainty that the lie was written all over my face. I read other people’s prose and wondered how the hell they did it.

It was all very dramatic.

My worst fear had come true. I left the States wondering if I will now be immune to the suffocating mentality that seems to pervade the Malaysian air. The same mentality that had me fumbled my column every month, developed a strong dread for writing, and blind-folding myself to what is now clear as day. I wondered if I could maintain that spontaneous voice and borderless thinking which the Americans have taught me – the same one that had me discovering that I actually love making up stories as much as reporting them, and whipping off that darkness which I insisted on groping in. I wondered if I can still be curious, wide-eyed, eager and inspired.

For a while, I thought I could. My first few months back was amusing, and refreshing, and comforting. I could find food and company after 12 am. I could pronounce water and not ‘warer’. I could relish the joy among familiar loved ones with their familiar sense of humour. I could be pampered, and pamper in return.

But I did not write my blog.

It slowly became I could not write my blog. It was supposed to be my journal, where I record life and all its life-ness, but I wrote nothing.

It was like a brain-constipation. I had so many things I want to express, but it just won’t come out. I live my life with the engorgement in my mind that could never find the smooth exit.

You did not just read me equating my thoughts to crap.

Anyway, brain-constipation was major discomfort, as anyone with the bowel equivalent would understand. My mind was suddenly filled with things that I cannot do. Boundaries and bonds. I thought, this is it. The gated mindset had finally caught me.

Or maybe, I was the one who caught it instead. After all, it is probably far more convenient to whine about writer’s block than filling a blank page with words that at least looked like it had passed through the lobes. It was easy to blame it on "the limiting Malaysian mentality" than to admit that I’m just not doing my best.

I had thought about giving up blogging. Giving up on my journal. But I read once that “Don’t give up on the thing that you cannot spend a day without thinking about it.”

So, here I am. If none of the above makes sense, don’t worry. I will explain it once it starts making sense to me.

If I’m lucky, you’ll see me here again. If you're lucky, this would be my last whining-about-writing post.

In the meantime, I need to nurse that Drummer-Boy-shaped absence in my heart with some Pratchett.

Good night, y’all.

Friday, August 12, 2011


I am currently 9, 754 meters above ground, flying at the speed of 854 km per hour towards Kuala Lumpur. Rumours have it that one is inclined to feel something at this point. Intense reluctance, perhaps – for I am going back from the Great Capitalistic Yes-We-Can America to the Aiyah-Out-of-Stock What’s-the-Point-lah Malaysia. Annoyed, even, for I am leaving a year of freedom and autonomy to go back to Living with The Parents. Terrified, most likely, for I am currently unemployed, crossing the roads like a Californian (pedestrians are god, no? Hey, why are you still driving towards me?!), have the defense mechanism of a wide-eyed person living in the a safe American suburb with houses that seemed to be designed by burglars (my brother-in-law calls it My Little Pony Land), and could possibly choke from humid heat and contract something deadly (like Extreme Irritance. I never said it was deadly to whom.)

In short, this should be a flight I’d hate to take.

Which is why I found my cheeriness a little unsettling. I am more used to freaking out and going bananas, and worrying about everything and then consoling myself that it is nothing, but go on worrying anyway, just in case.

Except I can’t remember how to do that. I remember the general worrying and conjuring up what-ifs in my head, but somehow my heart didn’t seem to be in it.

It’s probably because my heart is actually… pretty excited to go back to Malaysia. It also probably because this flight has so many awesome movies waiting to be seen and the refreshments just kept coming (Singapore Airline rocks!) It is also likely that I’ve just had the most amazing travel month, especially the last two weeks, that the giddy residue of it all is still pumping in my veins.

Call me optimistic, but I am really just looking forward to some nasi lemak done right. I sometimes suspect that I would fight for the betterment of our country just so that prawn mee have a place to exist.

But even I, in my less hungry moments, realise that while Malaysian food is Something, it’s not everything. One day, I may too get disillusioned again and complain about the government and shed longing tears at the miniature Lady of Liberty statue I bought for my mom. One day, I may regret coming back. One day, I may become bitter and reminiscent about the good old year that was America.

And that would be the day I forget what it really means to live.

It is not about the place, the food, the weather, and the people. It is not even about the government, and the policies, and the facilities, and the economy.

Life is what you make it – the place that you allow yourself to see, the food that you allow yourself to savour, the weather you allow your body to get used to, the people you allow yourself to love. It may even be about the government you allow to rule, the policies you fought to be made, the facilities you make the best of, and the economy you help to flourish. And – because we all need to maintain sanity – the complaints we love to dispense.

I have known Malaysia all my life. It takes leaving it to realise that everything I know is nothing – not about my own country and the potential and beauty it has, not about living in it, and definitely not about deserving it.
I know nothing.

Luckily, that’s a good start to Learning.

An even luckier thing is that I found Someone to learn it with (I wanna fly a Wau next! *hint* :P)

Malaysia is as imperfect as a country gets. But whaddyaknow, imperfection is my defining trait. Looks like we’d hit it off just fine, don’t you think?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Year that Did, Did Not, and Did-I-really

I came to the States with my life in two pieces of luggage. I was 23.

Now, I’m leaving with double the amount of luggage, and feeling twice as old – even though it has only been just a year.

A year I still could not believe had happened.

A year in which I got shoved into the big black hole of Growing Up.

A year in which I made some of the toughest decisions; paid for the price, harvested the fruits, sometimes all at once.

A year which taught me more about human relationships, both the romantic and the platonic, than any hanging-out-and-yum-cha session could ever impart.

A year that picked up my beliefs, my principles, my worldview, my perspective, my assumptions (this constitutes the majority chunk), and threw it back on my face. Somehow, face dripping with the remains of the old Me, I am the better for it.

A year which I could finally breathe in my own skin, and wondering why the heck I lugged all those layers around for so long.

A year which I wronged, apologized, lost.

A year which I gained.

A year that dragged this coward into a ride of her worst fears, and pulled out a bedraggled, dazed person-thing who couldn’t believe she survived. (No, I’m not talking about those darn roller coasters – unlike mine, those rides hardly make you wiser. Just look at the amount of people who kept going back for more.)

A year that I saw the Jesus in many around me, those who extended their hand, their saving hand, to this undeserving, eternally grateful sinner.

A year which took me to places I’ve only dreamt of, met people who made all the difference, saw amazing sights that, as my brother-in-law would like to say, caused some serious mind-fuchuk-ness. Yet, YET, for some reason, I still manage to come to a conclusion that if you get right down to it, Everywhere is the Same.

A year that made me see my country with new eyes, and discovered that truly, despite everything, I love my home. Warts, inefficiencies, corruption, dirty politics, questionable economic standards, and all – for I realise that these made me angry and sad, more than the Amazing America can ever make me.

To me, Home isn’t where the heart is. Home is where the hurt is.

For what it’s worth, for New Dreams and Seasoned Friendships, for filial piety and sisterly promises, for obligations and optimism, for better or worse – I’m coming home.

And the awesome bit? The adventure continues lah!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Meeting Ol' Mel

Hey, Melancholy. I’ve been expecting you.

I had thought you would come earlier. It’s already June, and in about two months I would be leaving the States, leaving a dream that I had since I was seventeen, only now the dream has undressed into Reality – or at least, I hope it has, though sometimes I still find it a little surreal. You know, come to think of it, I never really bothered to double-check what was the medicine that shrink prescribed to me. Hmm.


I had thought you would march in when I was playing with the kids, enjoying the rare moments when they forgot to kill each other, and realising that man, I’m really gonna miss my Rowdyruff Boys.

How Little Boys are Created

And I thought you would sink in during those many times I immerse myself in Red Rock café, breathing the intellectual aroma (you can tell by the way the smell of caffeine practically knock you between the eyes).

I curled up at my favourite spot with my laptop opened in front of me, the Microsoft Word prompter blinking in anticipation of the next word – which is usually “zombie” – while a gig plays in front, and promised myself that if I ever leave that seat, it would be because someone had pried my cold dead body (the caffeine is that potent) away.

Sometimes, Red Rock feels more like home than home does.

I had also thought that you would pop by when I roamed the streets of San Francisco, where the Weird and Wonderful combined (though in Make-Love-Not-War-Hippie-Happy-San-Francisco, the right word would probably be consummate…) into something that explode into, well, Awesome. The people, the culture, the spirit of the city – its artsy and colourful and vigorous and, best of all, it’s Odd and OTT.

China Town, San Francisco

The pub/tavern outside Steampunk band Abney Park's concert. This is not in San Francisco, but in Oakland, which is about 20 miles away. But yarr, everyone was dressed like a matey. Odd and OTT.


St Patrick's Day Parade, San Francisco

Latino Parade, San Francisco


Latino Parade, San Francisco

It’s my third favourite city in the world, after Klang Valley, which is technically a cluster of cities, which makes it a cluster of Chun-ness.

But no, you didn’t come. I didn’t feel you much, except during the times when I concentrated and really tried, because it seemed like the right thing to feel. Instead, I panicked because I didn’t feel panicky at all. It was like I was okay with going home. Which is all fine and dandy, except I wouldn’t want it to sink in all of a sudden when I’m checking in at the airport. I wouldn’t want the realization that I’m really leaving the States to hit me like a ton of overweight luggage. I want to be mentally prepared now.

Then, just now, in my last class in Stanford, when my classmates were talking about coming back for another course in the summer, the sadness finally dawned on me. I can’t join them, because I would be gone. I am just a passer-by in their world.


My usual route to classes

I had, on occasion, drove down the roads of Stanford University, passing by the dorms and the Pi Beta Kappa Etc signboards, watching the students threw football or laid in the sun, and sitting in student cafes listening to these young intellectuals in their Stanford merchandises debating on subjects I couldn’t even fathom (I lump them all in the category of Quantum, because General Logic is full). I realised, after a while, that I was envious.


Memorial Church, Stanford University

Yet, that isn’t my world. Sure, I study there, but only for the adult classes. I am where they are, but not who they are. It was like a bubble that I could not penetrate.


It always just feels like a peep

I am surprisingly fine with that.

But I will miss Stanford. It is the place that I came to the States for. To find a Voice for my writing. I got more than that. Infinitely more.


The melancholy came from the reality check that I have to leave Stanford behind, and that it was something that was wonderful while it lasted – nothing more, nothing less.

I am, also, surprisingly fine with that. Now, at least, after that pleasant 30-minute-drive back.

A big part of me being so nonchalant is perhaps this: I’m not leaving the States. I’m moving on. Because after almost one year here, you realise that truly, Everywhere is The Same – the bad, and the good. You just need to know where to look.

There will be other places. But for now, I’m coming home.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Bridge and Magic

It’s been a while since I blogged.

Heck, it’s been a while since I even open with that line.

I’ve been writing, though. Extensively, frustratingly, obsessively, nonsensically. As usual. One can say that I have rediscovered the joy of writing, ever since taking up that fiction writing class in Stanford University (Conquering the Blank Page is the name of my class. I’d say I’ve done the Conquering bit. It’s the Controlling and Making Sure It Doesn’t Try to Overthrow Me that needs some work). I realise I really like making things up, even though my inner journalist is kicking my ass. I had tried to find a balance between the two, between fiction and non-fiction; the two ends of story-telling.

These days, I’m starting to think what I need isn’t a balance.

I need a Bridge.


I was never sure why I love circuses so much. The mystic charm? The razzle-dazzle? The death-defying stunts? The surreality? The clowns?

I remember my parents took me to my first circus show when I was 12. We had some free vouchers for the Royal London Circus, and even though I was sitting way back like us free vouchers holder deserved, the tingle down my spine when I watched the trapeze artists swinging through the air, the vibration of my heart to the roar of the motorcycle in the wire ball, the enthrallment overwhelming me as I stared at the magic that was happening on stage… these are the things that I could still remember.

Magic; that was the word. It was unreal; in the way they smile, in the way they move, in the way they command the impossible. It was like entering a world I can never be part of; a world much better than my own. A world where Romance and Poetry swing to grasp the arms of Peril and Excitement.

It was The Show – the kind that Must Go On.

On my first month in the States, I had the honour of catching Circus Vargas (the one the old man wandered into in Water for Elephant). It was a spectacular evening of gasping and laughing, sometimes both at once. From the point when the Ring Master thrust open his hands under the spotlight to the point when everyone beamed and bowed, my eyes were bulging with wonder and my breath short with disbelief. It was beyond good.

Therefore, one could imagine my elation when I had the opportunity to catch Cirque Du Soleil that happened to be touring near my city. I paid a whopping $70 bucks for my seats, which were way back, but heck, it’s Cirque Du Soleil. Just being there should be sending chills down my spine. They are the top dogs of the circus industry. People who knew I’m going to the States always asked if I’m going to watch Cirque Du Soleil, and now, I could nod with glee.

Except I fell asleep some time during the middle of the show.

It had storyline. It had the most elegant dances I’ve ever seen in a circus show. It had seamless choreography. It had trippy characters in even trippier costumes. It had the right clowns. It was held in a proper stadium, with speakers and seats and all.

And I realise, therein laid the problem. Those things are great, but they are not my kind of circus.

I like my circus performance simple and straight to the point – “I’m darn good at this, blink for a second and whoop, you missed it!” There is no plot or elaborated elegance to it, just pure energy and rhythm and acute timing for humour. I like my circus in a makeshift tent with rickety benches and smells like popcorn graveyard. I like my circus characters stock - the trapeze artist, the over-the-top and insane clowns, the motorcycle daredevil, the cheeky jugglers, the manically enthusiastic Ring Master, etcetera.

But I never understood why I love circuses.

And today, at the San Francisco Circus Center Spring Carnival, watching the students and instructors perform in their modest gymnasium, I realise I can love circus without the works too.

There was no razzle-dazzle, no elaborated make-up and majestic set-up. There were just the performers in their costumes, putting on a show for a bunch of adults and kids sitting in plastic chairs and gym mats.

It was the most beautiful performance I have ever seen.

It was not because the contortionists were so amazingly nimble. It was not because the aerial performers had all of us gaping and clapping and gasping and, at one point, blushing (it was two females sharing a swing. Enough said.) It was not because the jugglers had such crazy sense of timing – both for gravity and for humour. It was not because the clowns had us in stitches and –when they suddenly demonstrated their balancing act – disbelief.

It was because being so close, with no mood magic and light fantastic, you could see the shiver in their limbs, the buckling of knees, the strains on their forcefully cheerful faces, the popping veins of their muscles, the quick sweep of panic on their faces.

You could see the pain. The mistakes.

The Luck.

It was because when they messed up, the audiences were still forgiving and cheered for their effort. And the performer, no matter how embarrassed they were, still grinned, lifted their arms and took a deep bow.

It was because the kids in the audience were absolutely howling with laughter.

Effort. Sacrifice. Forgiveness. Appreciation. Impossible. Possible. Joy.

They could be illusions that circuses gives. Behind those curtains may lay humanity in all its dullness and ugliness and weaknesses.

But my love of circuses could just be my stubbornness in wanting to believe - that once you put on the make-up and turn on the lights, once the applause roar and the music booms, there will be Magic.

And I can be a child again.