27 Jul 2008

The year of pleasures

I have another of Elizabeth Berg's books. This one is called The Year of Pleasures. Its about a middle aged woman who tries to cope with life after her husband's death. She had no children and no family so in the beginning had to grapple with the loneliness and a kind of fear. She sells her home and leaves all that is familiar to her and courageously buys a house right in the country. Here she catches up with old friends and makes new ones, learning all the while that life is what we make of it. Its not that she suddenly becomes strong, no, I love it because it's so real and so down to earth. The struggles that she goes through are the ones anyone might go through in her place. Reading it I wondered how I would cope when Repin passes on. Or would I be the one to go first, leaving him behind? I don't know but however it is I feel we all need to face that ultimate event. Sometimes I think of a friend whose husband passed away suddenly. She broke down completely and was very depressed and needy for a long time. It took her almost two years to just be able to cope. At first she couldn't even talk about her husband without crying and breaking down. I hope that I never become like that, but deep inside I know I'm stronger and hopefully will not go through that kind of suffering. Not just for my sake, but also for my children's sake. I know that in our religion we are not allowed to love a person that much but I guess its impossible not to, especially in her position where she depended totally on her husband for everything.

In this story Elizabeth Berg delves into a woman's psyche and takes us right into her character's life, the neighbours, the friends who help her, even the children in the neighbourhood. She befriends a young man, a twenty year old who helps her with the chores in her house, her relationship with her former best friend Lorraine, and another single woman, Carol, her neighbour, the one with the young son. Her memeories of her husband play an important part in the novel and even though he is not a main characterin the story, we get a picture of him from Bette - a gentleman, wise, patient and very loving. Her account of his thoughtful deeds are so romantic and yet shows us what a gem of a husband he must have been - the way he leaves her little notes to jog her memory of things they did together. This is a book to be read slowly, not to be rushed through. May be a bit slow for some but a treasure for me. A book that makes you think.

24 Jul 2008

reminiscing the past

When I was growing up in Melaka, the town was so safe that we kids were given the freedom to go most places, as long as we told someone., meaning an adult. My favourite haunt was St Paul's Hill and the then Malacca Library, which was at the foot of St Paul. In the 60s the Malacca Library was situated at the government offices which is actually the Stadt house or Stadthuys. It was made up of three rooms - one children's section, one adult's section and one reference section. The children's section had six wooden shelves - all taller than the average man. Even as a child I was a voracious reader and by the time I was in Standard 6, I had read practically every book there was in the children's section. The Librarian, one Mr Lim, was a grumpy and dour looking man with a pronounced limp in one foot. I had become a member of the library when I was in Standard 2. By the time I was ten years old Mr Lim no longer shouted at me to be careful with the books, nor did he scold me if I returned them late. I not only was a member of the library, I was its most faithful visitor, turning up every other day to borrow books.
On Saturdays, a friend , Visalachi and I would walk towards the library, spend a lovely hour browsing through the books, then after choosing the ones we'd like to borrow, we would climb up the hill and sit under one of the huge rain trees overlooking the sea. Sometimes we'd just sit and talk and imagine all kinds of things. We would imagine that we were princesses waiting to be rescued by a handsome prince. The ruins of the church on top of the hill was our prison, and a wicked witch had put a spell on us. Of the two of us I was the story teller, so I'd tell Visalachi tall tales of adventure and romance, and she'd listen round eyed to me, almost believing every word. Sometimes we'd sit quietly reading our books until the sun became too hot to sit outside and our stomaches growled in hunger. Then we'd trudge back towards my house where we'd take a huge drink of cool water from my mum's gigantic earthenware water jar. Then, Visalachi would collect her books and walk on home to Lorong Panjang. Those were carefree days, where my only thoughts were finishing homework, reading as many books from the library as possible and lying in the tall grass on top of St Paul's Hill. In 1964 the library was moved to a new building across the river and I was not allowed to go there on my own because it was considered too far from our kampung. Thus ended my library days for a while. But when I went to Form 1, I found a far greater treasure than the ancient Malacca Library with its mouldy and outdated books. The library at the secondary school was even bigger, with more books and fascinating titles. I became a librarian and joined the brigade of bibliophiles. Thus began my love affair with books, a love that never died nor faded.

20 Jul 2008

Sarah - attachment in melaka

Can you imagine, its already the end of second week since Sara came home? Time really flies. She has finished her practical and we're back in KL. I think this year she didn't enjoy her attachment as well as she did last year. She was with Zakiah and maybe this made a difference. At least she learnt something since she went to Ward C4. The previous ward - C3 was not very interesting according to her. It seems the houseman in charge, a Chinese guy, didn't try to help them at all and only talked in Chinese the whole time. That's very common here in Malaysia - I hear of teachers teaching Maths in Chinese, especially if there are more Chinese than Malays in a class. Or even giving special tips to a group of Chinese students in the class. The racial discrimination doesn't run one way - it goes both ways.
Things have been even worse in the past decade or so. Instead of becoming more integrated, I think students in Malaysia, and in KL in particular are becoming even more racial in most things. I remember when I was in primary school, we never felt that way. Of course we knew that we were Malay or Chinese or Indian but we never felt that one race is better or worse than the other. Things were never done along racial lines. I had more Chinese than Malay friends and even used to sleep at Ranjeet's house sometimes. I remember sitting in her room for hours talking, and then taking lunch with her and her family. I never even thought that the food is halal or not then. Things then were so straightforward. I remember coming home from school on Eddie or Chong's bicycle if its raining. I was in Standard 4 and in the afternoon session. Whenever it rained, and it rained often in the evenings, my mum would ask Chong our neighbour's son to go to my school to fetch me on his bike. He must have been about 16 or 17 years old but he did it willingly. He'd put my bag in front of him and I'd sit on the carrier at the back and we'd cycle home in the rain. Sometimes it would be Eddie, the Eurasian boy. Once it was Singh - but I didn't really like him somehow. Life was simple then. You never hear of rape cases or kidnappings. Burglaries too was a rare event if any. Actually there was nothing much to steal too back then. I think its a sad thing that we cannot even let our children play outside without worrying that they'd disappear like poor little Sharlinie.

8 Jul 2008


Sarah's back and we're in Malacca since she'll be doing her practical at the GH here. Since I arrived home, I've been gardening with a vengeance. My roses are doing okay but they're not in full bloom. One or two even look a bit sickly and I'm hoping they'll respond to my tender loving care in the next few days. Maybe I have to get more sand too - perhaps too much of the black soil is not good. Anyway I've already put some fertilisers and hope to see some blooms next week. I'm thinking of getting rid of the bamboo - especially the yellow ones which are proving to be a real annoyance because of the leaves. They fall into the pond and I have to net them out every day. I'm also thinking maybe I should plant some roses on the ground - they do better there I think. I'd love to have some border flowers, in fact I wish I can have an English garden, with lots of colourful flowers all over, haphazardly. When I was in Lancaster way back in the 90s, I used to walk from the university to Galgate, a tiny village north of the university. I enjoy looking at the English cottages along the lane and the beautiful gardens they have. Lots of flowers, and lots of colour. If only I can recreate that here in tropical Malaysia.

Mak is with us here in Batu Berendam. She no longer wants to stay at Adi's house in Semabok and I think its because she was hurt by Lin's thoughtless remark about money. Granted she is more sensitive these days, but I think its natural for someone of her age. She has her pride too and I know how she hates being dependent on anyone and with Lin saying or implying that she is wasting Adi's money, I can understand how she feels. I think Lin should not have said whatever she said anyway. After all Mak has a greater right to Adi's money than anybody else.

4 Jul 2008


I've just finished reading Elizabeth Berg's book - "We Are All Welcome Here". Its a lovely book, sad and inspiring at once and yet also full of hope. I enjoyed it so much I asked Shasha to get me another Elizabeth Berg, Open House. The first book is about a paraplegic single mother trying to raise her daughter, Diana, a normal teen. The relationship between the two is a very special one, sometimes loving and compassionate, sometimes awkward and tense. Paige Dunn, the young mother was made a paraplegic by typhoid and is left by her weak husband. Paige tries to bring up her wilful daughter Diana single-handedly, with the help of Peacie, a black woman. Sometimes poignant and sometimes amusing, it illustrates the love and devotion of a mother who against all odds tries to bring up her child in as normal an atmosphere as possible. A skilled writer, Elizabeth Berg captures the depth of feeling and emotions and the special relationship the women shares.
Barrack Obama's book The Audacity of Hope is another thought provoking book. He is a good writer, with a smooth flowing style so typical of great writers. Although Obama is a politician, now a presidential candidate, he writes with a deep sensitivity for his subject and gives very practical and humane suggestions on "keeping the faith". I think his is a must read as he offers his readers an insight into the workings of the mind of a politician. I've got a number of books in my sight now - Jodi Piccoult's Nineteen minutes is waiting for me as are Open House, and A HIstory of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. I just need some time to get to them.


Hurray Sara's coming home at long last. She's now in Dubai or maybe already in the plane on the way to KL. Its been a really long year - however fast other events seem to be, Sara's being away is always longest. I really miss my baby girl, the doctor-to-be! Wan is back from Macau and Shasha is back from Singapore. So today at least, or tomorrow perhaps most of my children will be home. Tomorrow we'll go back to Malacca. Need to take mother back from Ipah's house. I wonder how she is. Sometimes I really feel sorry for her, she must be feeling terribly displaced and being her, does not want to disturb her children by being too demanding. But I also think she gets upset about small things, thinking negatively about things we say that are not even meant to be negative. As the other day when I mentioned to her whether Alan has called to say he's coming. She told Yatie that I asked her because I was worried that Alan's children will break things in the house when actually I asked her because I wanted Alan to come and visit her. I didn't want her to feel alone in the house because we were away in Singapore. I guess as we age little things like that can be sensitive. I want her to stay with us, at least with me she can rest easy.

Malaysia's economy isn't doing too well these days. Everyone is talking of a recession and someone said its better to save money now than to invest. But I think if we all think like that, we will indeed go into a recession. I remember Dr Mahathir's time when there was a world slump in 1997 - the year the hedge funds dropped and our money went down in value. That was a really bad year for us but Dr Mahathir encouraged spending and said we have to keep the money moving or there will be a slump. I also remember a number of people criticised him. Oh the number of times the Opposition threw brickbats at him - yet he carried on, with dignity and determination because he knew what he was doing would be right for us. And it was right. But did we praise him and thank him? No - we all just accepted it as our right. And because of his tactics - he got the banks to lower interest rates - we recovered quite quickly. But Abdullah Badawi is no Mahathir. He's too scared and too afraid to tilt the balance. Our politicians too are not helping - especially Anwar with his accusations of political intrigue to purposely derail his plan to get a position into parliament. I believe that he's doing all the intrigue himself, if there's any. All our MPs seem to be at loggerheads. Across the spectrum of issues - whether its the bar council or the economy, everyone is disagreeing with each other. Not only do they disagree, they disagree loudly and vehemently. The Opposition party throws disagreements to the Ruling coalition, they spit at each other in Parliament and hurl vitriolic remarks at each other. In fact both parties can be quite creative at the invectve they use. When can anything be achieved if this goes on all the time in parliament?