Thursday, January 29, 2009

Houseguests and High Teas

We have a houseguest. She is one of Mum's classmates. She is a former nurse, pretty nimble and active, which contrasts to Mum's more stately movements. They sit and exchange memories. They're both going for the great reunion today.

One of the most interesting things about our houseguest is that the man she refers to as "grandfather" had a road named after him in KL. That old Kapitan China - Yap Kwan Seng. In case you're not familiar with the road - the Aussie High Commission is there. And a further claim to fame would be that Mary is going to be traipsing there every day to her new office. And if you haven't been to Malaysia for more than 50 years or so, it used to be called Circular Road. (I know this because Auntie Bhujee told me this when she was recounting the exploits of the House Boy which are elsewhere in these annals).

Yap Kwan Seng had 17 wives and concubines. Apparently at the time, if you were rich enough, you could have any number of wives and concubines (rather like King Solomon, n'um sayin?)

The Great High Tea Chase being a washout (there is no high tea in JB for love or money) the 65-year-old girls (I can't help calling them girls - Mum calls them girls) are settling for lunch at Danga Palace, which is apparently very nice.

Another friend is coming to pick these two chicklets up and cart them off to the party.

I was supposed to leave this morning but I didn't get up. So I'm still not packed and anyway, I have to prepare the dogs' food before I do. Or maybe wait for them to come back.

Sleepiness may have something to do with watching five episodes of Monk (with one break for Intan) last night. Went to bed at about 2 in the morning. No, it was 3. Definitely past 3.

Yesterday the phone started to beep again. Chinese New Year is over. Wheels are starting to whir. Time I got on with it.

Jenny Goes Postal

"Why are you screaming?" she asks.

"Because if you create a bloody world, even if it's a skewed Escher-type universe where up is down is up is down, you still need a few rules. And then you follow the bloody rules. Things have to make sense. On celluloid if not in real life.

"This," I point my finger accusingly at the screen. "This is utter Chaos. The deaths - its gratuitous - there's no coherence, nothing makes sense."

"Oh come on, it's a soap opera, when does that ever have rules - they just have to figure out ways to keep the story going..."

I feel the muscles in neck clench, I want to throw a chair at the TV, I want to smash something, how can I communicate to these blindly trusting people that something is wrong here, something is very wrong here and they should vote with their remote controls and click off?

She continues to gaze at me with mild concern. A little more and she'll take my temperature. And I won't be answerable. No, not bloody answerable. I'm close to busting a blood vessel, and if I go down, I'm taking all the dewy-eyed cows with me.

You. Cannot. Just. Kill. Characters. Because. You're. Too. Dumb. To. Think. Of. Any. Further. Complications.

If a show is done, it's done.

Cue the happy ending and let everyone get to bed.

Not good, Benny...not good at all!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Glib Apocalypse

Since Apocalypse is where every "supernatural" dramedy seems to tend, why not jump on the bandwagon and write your own? A few guidelines, if you want to cash in on this trend which should go up all the way, dunno, 2012, when Mayan prophecy has it we're all gonna croak?

1. You must have a tortured hero/ine. Maybe hero/ines.

2. Tortured hero will have to choose between saving the world. And eating an ice-cream.

3. You can gauge the level of torture by hero's glib remarks and slick repartee. Throw in one-liners and cultural references (and by cultural, I mean B-grade TV shows) and your ratings go through the roof.

4. Build up to Apocalypse with Signs. Crib from the Book of Revelation, if you can't think of any yourself. It's always good for a few episodes.

5. Turn everything upside down. Angels are perfectly perfect in every way. Meaning emotionless automatons who follow orders without question. Demons are a little like the heroes - tortured.

6. A theme song for evil would be good. Not House of the Rising Sun. That's so "been there, done that". Something a little unexpected. Like Fire and Rain. I can definitely see the possibilities there. You know Fire? And Rain? See where I'm going with that?

7. Go heavy on the tomato sauce. And mutilated bodies. But would help if heroes are impervious. And if they trade joke over corpses.

8. No matter what you do and how you play it the Apocalypse will fall flat. Like any production of King Lear. So don't worry about it. Oh yeah, and in TV-land, everything is reversible. Sold your soul? Buy it back. Fallen into hell? Climb right out. (After all, if Dante did it, why can't your hero/ine?

9. Long shots of hero gazing into distance at scenes of destruction, flashbacks of sacrifices along the way, brimming eyes, heavy sighs, counting the cost, giving up all thought of ice cream.

10. End with burgeoning music, a few stale platitudes mouthed off earnestly, or as earnestly as the B-list actor/actress of the "cheerleader or James Dean will save the world" ilk can manage.

And voila, you have a hit, a maker of nightmares, something that can go into seven seasons at a pinch.

Keep it churning....

The Banality of Turning Points

When I read Hugo, Tolstoi or Dickens I am often struck by the moments of truth, when all of life seems to hang in the balance, when these characters have to decide between the right path and the wrong one.

These moments are large, enormous, enough for a frantic:

What have I done
sweet Jesus what have I done
become a thief in the night
become a dog on the run
have I fallen so far
or is the hour so late
that nothing remains but the cry of my hate
the cries in the dark that nobody hears
here where I stand at the turning of the years...

The turning point is always glaring, emblazoned with with fluorescent red poster paint. You can see the turning point. It's there. It's fair.

But maybe for the lesser characters like us, the ones without those Masters of the Third Person Omniscient to write our dialogue (and certainly no one to edit it) the moments of truth, the turning points, are less vivid, banal even, and they pass unnoticed until you're remembering them after the fact.

Even though they carry with them the crushing weight of Consequences, of Remorse into an indifferent pillow each night, of hopelessness, of another little piece of you breaking off and falling into the swirling wind (or is it mud?) to be lost forever, you get no warning beforehand.

It could be as simple as approving the "friend request" of someone you don't really like on Facebook. OK, so the person is an irritant. Bad vibes first time around. Bad bad vibes. Clash and burn.

No reason to be rude, right? Accept the friend request. And so it begins.

It could be as simple as reading the status updates of these so-called irritants, finding yourself amused, and gradually coming to like the once-irritant. It could be replying to comments on your posts and your notes, by this now-not-so-irritating-in-fact-even-positively-witty irritant.

It could be as simple as agreeing to meet for a drink. In a quiet place. To talk.

And after the fact, after the "banshee wailing for her demon lover" misery, the lies, the fabrications, the anxious planning and politicking and arranging of events and consorting with other banshees, when the dust has settled, when the grime has been wept away, when the heart has resumed its monotonous look back to see at what point you fell.

And you can't believe how banal, in fact boring, the moment. And how improbable all the lies you swallowed unwittingly.

The idle mind.

The devil's playground.

For sure.

Friday, January 23, 2009

That Thin Veil

What amazes me is that no matter how smart you think you are, you're bound to think well of friends, or people you consider as such. Even though they may be anything but.

You view their actions through this veil and seek to find reasons, explanations, justifications (no matter how flimsy) for their behaviour.

But your belly is churning and you can't sleep at night and you have imbibe ever more copious amounts of alcohol to persist in this self delusion. Because facing the truth would mean falling...

And you would rather not fall.

But then a feather lights on your head. And you start to plunge.

And once you've got your lens adjusted you start to view things as they are. You start to see how laying the worst possible interpretation on every minuscule piece of behaviour is no more than just.

You understand that you're dealing with the undead, not a spark of light or goodness anywhere. Evil being merely privative, a dark hole, an absence.

And you understand why the undead fill the rest of humanity with dread, and wise people steer clear.

You can't save the undead.

Their souls have already been damned to hell.

All you can hope is that their bodies follow.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Great High Tea Chase

Mum is supposed to meet a bunch of her old friends for high tea. Why high tea rather than lunch or dinner? Lunch is too short to catch up. And none of these old ladies actually feel safe being out for dinner. Besides, Mum doesn't like the night air. She nearly always falls sick after.

So today Mum was perched on the piano seat lamenting the fact that one of the chief organisers was so lazy and passive that she hadn't even found out about how much it costs to have high tea at Mutiara Hotel.

I said it was as easy as anything to find out, went onto the net and started googling the hotels in JB and ringing out to find out if they provided high tea and how much it would be.

Thing is, all of them provide high tea.

On Saturdays and Sundays!

And all charge some bloody extravagant price per head ++!

Yipes! It is so much easier to plan one of these things in KL. The sheer magnitude of choice!

Anyways, I decided to call Chubs and rope him in, with Mum twittering in the background about how he's working and would be in a meeting etc etc. Chubs gave me the name of the newest hotel in JB and said he would ask around about high tea but not just yet as he was on his way out.


I tried googling "high tea in JB" and came up with a big fat zilch!

Mum decided to call her friend Halimah who came up with a few recommendations.

I honestly think that there is a business idea here for some enterprising person has a large dining room and a flair for baking. Offer to organise get togethers in JB and provide a nice selection of cakes and endless pots of tea in nice china - maybe limit the customers to old ladies - and charge not as much as the hotels and make a killing.

So Mum calls her lazy friend, having done all the spadework and guess what?

Lazy friend is still sleeping.

I guess not all 65-year-olds are built alike.

Monday, January 19, 2009

That Looks On Tempests

I watch King of California on Astro and decide for a split second that lunatics are charming. It must be exhilarating to live with a person who is unbounded by accepted logic.

That is, until I remember what it was actually like being around a lunatic who asked me to put my fingers between the blades of a table fan that was running, and my hand into a wall (because mass was largely imaginary and we could walk through walls if the spirit moved us).

Most of the time, I was scared out of my wits.

Most of the time, he was drunk.

So I'm thinking, nah, maybe not lunatics exactly. Maybe quirky...quirky's good.

And I wait for Mum to come home from her appointment at the hairdresser's. Her hairdresser operates from a little room at the back of the house, what used to be an airwell. You call, make an appointment and go over. She charges next to nothing. Mum's all excited, a reunion is in the works, and she has spent the past few days on the phone to various friends, she hasn't seen or spoken to in decades.

You can see it is important as she is out at this time...when her shows are on. This means she will be missing Marina. Actually, no, Marina only starts at half past three, so maybe she'll be able to make it.

So this is what was missing in her life - friends her own age, from school no less, back when she used to be popular - getting together catching up on each other's lives...friends who haven't heard each other's stories 100 times, who haven't moved into the same familiar grooves where you talk without saying anything and don't listen cos you've heard it all before.

Remembrance of things past.

Most of them have creaky knees. I know this because when Mum comes up for her afternoon nap during which time I haven't even woken up for the day she tells me about who she spoke to and what ailment they have and adds that maybe they should have had a reunion at 60 rather than 65.

Younger = less ailments = healthier.

However, Mum is definitely spryer these days - when she has something to look forward to. A reunion. Old friends. Nice stuff.

Yesterday she told me she was attacked by a swarm of bees that suddenly appeared out of nowhere and were instantly attracted to her bright orange caftan.

"Bladi hell...when I wore the green caftan, the butterflies used to light on me."

I don't know about you, but I'd prefer butterflies to bees.

Maybe animals just love her. After all our famous squirrel, Botak (who eats all the fruits on our fruit trees) always comes out when Mum is in the garden but disappears at the sight or sound of me. The only animal I seem to be popular with over here is Maggotty. (That's Maggot the dog, not the actual maggots, though come to think of it, I seem to be pretty popular with the ants and mosquitoes as well).

I have chopped onions annd garlic for vindaloo.

I am supposed to make lemon curd cake as well, but maybe I'll wait until Thursday, when we've chucked all the cake that's about a month old in the fridge, as well as the remainder of my failure of an angel pie which continues to occupy much space in all its creamy glory and is much avoided by both mother and brother.

Although it hasn't rained in days, maybe is windy outside and the chimes are all tinkling together, a choir, a cacophony and decide...

Still aimless...

Saturday, January 17, 2009


When the stormy winds cease and the water settles, the sediment sinks to the bottom. And I can see clearly, all the shit that I keep inside. All the vitriol I carry in my belly.

I hear myself say things, sound off, excoriate, and wonder...did I really say all that? Did I think it was OK to say all that? Did I think it was forgivable?

Usually the waters are turbulent, cloudy and I can't see past the air in front of me. I walk around in a daze. Words running on that same old treadmill in my mind. I do the wrong kind of recycling.

But when I get away from it all for a prolonged period, I start to see, I start to be aware...

I'm so sorry for so many things. Anything I condemmed in anyone else, was a matter of logs and specks. And I feel the guilt twist my insides until I can't breathe.

I'm sorry.

I'm sorry.

I'm sorry.

I'm not ready to re-emerge

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Theme Song

Kau datang dan pergi
Oh begitu saja
Semua ku terima
Apa adanya.

Ku pegang erat
Dan ku halangi waktu
tak urung jua
ku lihatnya pergi

Monday, January 12, 2009

Power Root, Anyone?

I love my title. That whole double entendre thingy really floats my boat.

So anyway, it was early morning (right, two in the afternoon actually, but who's keeping tabs?) and as I emerged from the mists of sleep, I saw two SMS-es on my phone awaiting inspection. One was an MMS, a review of Bedtime Stories, which was kinda cool.

The other was purportedly from a company called Power Root (I had never heard of this company) telling me I had won RM10,000. Now that is huge shock to spring on you in the early morning, afternoon, evening, whatever. I mean, it is a huge shock to spring on you. It gave me a number to call to go collect my prize.

The SMS came from the following number - +60178954279 - and this is what it said:

TAHNIAH! simCard Anda t'lah berjaya Cabutan BERTUAH Wang RM10,000.00 from "POWER ROOT" SDN BHD. Sila Hub Office Ditalian 012-815-9897 Terima Kasih.

Now elsewhere in these annals, I have documented my extreme naivety when it comes to people telling me I won something. I mean I actually parted with RM3,000 of hard-earned cash, which left me practically penniless for the rest of the month, because some red-faced 15-year old appeared at my gate, did the scratch and win thingy and told me I might have won a car. (Now I know that the proper response to these scratch and win fellows if you're unlucky enough to be outside when they're around is to hand them the RM1 they say they get for every scratchy and then go into the house and bolt the door)

So when I stumbled down to make the ginger orange butter broccoli (I liked it, but it was a tad sweet, maybe I should have used blood orange rather than sweet orange marmalade) and vindaloo (cos Mum was not feeling so good and I promised to make lunch) I went on the net to check out this company. Yes, it existed. Yes, there was a contest on.

But didn't you at least have to participate? The SMS told me that my phone number had been "picked". From a hat? I mean what was up with that? Anyway, I noted a number to call for "enquiries". It being Sunday (smart move that - those too impatient to wait one day to check would call the number given which would lead them to some path to destruction, or at least, some path in which they and their money are soon parted) I couldn't call.

This morning, I tried calling the contest number. I called at 8.30am. No answer. 9am. No answer. 9.30am. No answer. 9.45am. Still no answer. I wanted to abandon the quest, but decided to try their Johor office number.

A girl answered. I told her I received an SMS telling me I had won money from Power Root.

And she said: "Actually miss, that SMS is not true."

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Recipe for a Disaster That Never Happened or Have You Heard From Jackie?


Time on your hands
An active imagination
Indian (Malayalee preferred) blood
A healthy diet of soap operas, Brazilian or Indonesian for choice
Tears of sorrow and regret. (optional)


1. Have a slight deviation from the ordinary. (i.e. Jackie fails to make her customary weekend call to the folks).

2. Then hear from equally drama queen husband who insists something must have happened to her.

3. Read news about how people are freezing to death in England. Add a little active imagination.

4. Disturb youngest daughter's ahimsa state by constant calls (Have you heard from Jackie? Has she replied your email? Did you SMS her?)

5. Worry.

6. Worry some more.

7. Just a little more worry and you're nearly done.

8. Mix all ingredients together in a copper bowl until light and frothy.

9. Here is where you can add the tears, if you want. Throw in memories of Jackie as a chubby toddler with unruly curls and a gap-toothed smile for added effect. Cue sad music from your soap of choice.

10. Work yourself up to a STATE.

11. Stir in panic.

Serve hot.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Lemon Cream Pie

I guess I shouldn't have watched Waitress. Because the actual story slipped past me, and all I noticed, were the pies and how she made them. This seeming miracle of crust and filling. I wondered about it. Why didn't I make pies? I mean, I made cakes, I made puddings, but no pies. Maybe pies were essentially an American thing. Twin Peaks. That pie song in the movie Michael. And of course, Waitress with the famous chocolate strawberry pie.

That's when I decided I would google a lemon pie recipe and make it. Just like that. Naive as I was, I thought it'd be a piece of cake.

Well there were recipes in abundance of course. That's what the Internet is for. So I picked one (lemon angel pie with a meringue crust) and trotted off to the stores to get supplies, the first essential supply being, a pie plate. We didn't make pies so we had nothing suitable.

Well I gathered all the ingredients (it called for heavy cream,and there was not heavy cream, so I got double cream instead) and came back home all set to begin.


Did I already say I was naive?

The first reverse was the pie plate. Intent on getting exactly what the recipe asked for, I forgot that our oven was a teeny tiny one. The pie plate wouldn't fit. So I transferred the fixings for the meringue pie crust to one of Mum's corning ware containers. Cos, as she pointed out, Corning Ware is microwaveable.

The recipe called for 250 Celsius. It probably meant 250 Farenheit. Anyway, I followed the recipe and burned the crust.

Luckily, since the there was so much crust I had enough for another try. This time, I would be using the pie plate. Who cared if the oven door wouldn't close all through? Maybe I could stand there for an hour or so and force it shut.

Anyway, I plunked in the pie plate with the raw meringue and waited for it to heat. No, too much heat must be escaping for the temperature refused to go beyond tepid. In the midst of trying to make the filling, there I was, leaning up against the oven, trying to warm up the pie crust.

This went on for about half an hour and then I noticed that I had failed to switch on the oven.


I amended that, wondering what else could go wrong....and placed the glass bowl on this iron thing above the boiling water in the pan (no, we didn't have a double boiler and I had to improvise). Well, wouldn't you know, I heard a crack. And then another crack. The beautiful glass bowl was all but shattered and the filling seeped into the water underneath.

I called to Mum who was playing Spider Solitaire to tell her I had cracked her bowl. Mum, being Mum, took it philosophically. She told me, it had been a free gift for something or other anyway. As the family baker though, that had been my favourite bowl. This pie was getting more and more expensive. Why oh why did I have to embark on this freak?

A quick check in the oven and I noticed that the crust was actually beginning to brown, the slight aperture at the top of the oven notwithstanding. OK, I would need to make some more filling. Thank goodness we had one lemon left. (Here I thought briefly of that house in Perth with the lemon tree - all it would take, would be to step out into the garden to get an apronful of lemons...if I wore aprons, that is).

So I set to zesting and squeezing the second lemon (a small one, but hopefully it would give me what I wanted) and making some more filling. This time I was careful to place the filling in a saucepan which I placed over that iron thingy over the boiling water. OK, I would have to stir it from time to time (the recipe said constantly I said bollocks to that).

Now it was time to beat up the cream. Now the recipe didn't call for whipping cream. It should have. Or I should have used my common sense to remember that whipped cream only comes from whipping cream.

So I whipped the double cream and it turned to butter. Yeah, just like that. And it being a lemon cream pie, I would have to coat the crust with my whipped cream, and the add the filling, and top it off with cream.

Tired by now of all the foul-ups, bleeps and blunders, that's exactly what I did. Who cared if my cream was buttery. I removed the pie crust from the oven, placed some aluminium foil over the top and weighed it down with sherry glasses full of water. (We didn't have anything that could do for pie weights).

In the meantime, Mum had moved from the computer to the TV. It was time for the penultimate episode of Intan. Actually I think it's the penultimate episode cos the grandmother died, which I think signals an ending, and all those holding out against her marriage to Rado, had come around. No more loose ends, so to speak. Mum gave me a disgusted look and asked me when I had become an expert on Intan. I just gave her a superior smile and turned back to my disaster of a lemon cream (or rather butter) pie.

Once I figured it had sufficiently cooled and been weighed down, I coated it with cream, added the filling and coated it with cream some more. It looked OK but the family eyed it askance and declined a piece when I offered.

Maybe I'll stick to cakes.