web counter The Madness of MokcikNab: September 2004
The Madness of MokcikNab
Motives, movements and melodrama in the life of a thirty something mum.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004
Hasta la Victoria Siempre

*revised for self-righteousness

We must bear in mind that imperialism is a world system, the last stage of capitalism-and it must be defeated in a world confrontation. The strategic end of this struggle should be the destruction of imperialism. Our share, the responsibility of the exploited and underdeveloped of the world, is to eliminate the foundations of imperialism: our oppressed nations, from where they extract capital, raw materials, technicians, and cheap labor, and to which they export new capital-instruments of domination-arms and all kinds of articles, thus submerging us in an absolute dependence.

While envisaging the destruction of imperialism, it is necessary to identify its head, which is no other than the United States of America.

This excerpt is from a speech by :
A) Mahathir bin Mohamad
B) Ernesto 'Che' Guevara

Answer : B, although I can imagine why some people might think it's by the former. Che Guevara uttered these words in the 60's, and yet little has changed today -- if anything else, the dirt has become inground. Since Pak Lah is now in New York, I might add that Che Guevara said some fine things about the United Nations, too -- he called for reform in that world body long before we did.

Am I going to be called a Communist for writing this? I'm afraid my reasons are a lot more mundane. The young gentleman lounging in this picture is Gael Garcia Bernal, hombre muy guapo y delicioso and he plays Ernesto Che Guevara in the film "The Motorcycle Diaries", which is a self-written account of Che Guevara's life-defining journey through South America when he was still a 23 year old medical student. (Yes, Che Guevara was a physician by profession, too)

Now, I really want to see "The Motorcycle Diaries" because :
-it's research for something I'm currently doing
-my husband likes Nortons and revolutionaries, both of which appear in this film
-oh for God's sakes, just look at Mr Bernal!

Oh okay, I lied. Partly. It's also because I long to be at a time when the phrase "fighting for the people", or "berjuang untuk bangsaku", meant something more than just a hook for votes. I long to be at a time when the politicians who today cry out those words believe in the words themselves. ( And because I am a post-modernist, bourgeoisie-proletariat, I want to curse and crusade from the comforts of my IKEA sofa)

Sadly, Che Guevara is now little more than an icon on a T-shirt, an Andy Warhol silkprint of an Alberto Korda photograph repeated over and over, and the hip, Lenny Kravitz lookalikes who wear them are the very product of the capitalist imperialism that he fought to his death for. I fervently hope the kids who have Che's burning eyes emblazoned across their chests would at least understand what his rebellion stood for. At a time when the public's attention span lasts no longer than 24 frames per second, perhaps it is too much to expect anybody to read about the Argentinian who shed blood for different nations.

A film, especially one with Gael Garcia Bernal, should be a good entree -- and this brings me to (eventually!) my point : do you suppose, by November, a DVD of this excellent story would already be out in the States? I should really ask a certain sister.


Monday, September 27, 2004
Leaps and Bounds

(Paul Kelly)

I'm high on the hill
Looking over the bridge
To the M.C.G.
And way up on high
The clock on the silo
Says eleven degrees I remember I remember
I'm breathing today
The month of May
All the burning leaves
I'm not hearing a sound
My feet don't even
Touch the ground I remember I remember
I go leaps and bounds
Down past the river
And across the playing fields
The fields all empty
Only for the burning leaves I remember I remember
I go leaps and bounds

You know how music brings you to a certain time, a certain place? This song delivers a specific memory because the words are so exact.

And the memory is this : it is late on a mid- winter afternoon in Melbourne and I am nineteen again, trying to keep warm in a cheap peacoat and in Saiffuddin's yellow Honda Scamp, nicknamed "The Lemon". We are driving along Punt Road, where the road crawls up a hill, past a building with a huge silo on which a digital clock stood, alternately telling the time and temperature. To my right is the Melbourne Cricket Ground, and beyond that the Yarra, snaking through vast parklands.

I remember Melbourne not as a physical entity, but as a landscape of emotions. The truth is I find it hard to recall the names of places and streets and where they would be charted on the Melway. But I remembered the first time I saw my husband like you would an epiphany : Malaysia Hall, end of March, the way the light streamed in at an angle through the glass doors, the jacket that he wore, the sure gait with which he bundled upstairs.

"That's Tengku Saiffuddin", someone announced, a hint of amusement and warning. "Lots of girlfriends. And very bad temper".

Melbourne was a watershed, I grew by leaps and bounds. During my last year as a teenager, I made one decision with amazing clarity : to marry this man, the one with the many girlfriends and the very bad temper. It turned out that he wasn't a lothario after all, but the part about the hot-headedness, unfortunately, was all true.

So I gave up, gave in, left my studies halfway to follow him home. He never asked me to, because it wasn't the right thing to do, but he hoped that I would and I never regretted not being sensible about it. Not a minute of it. For the last 17 years, we have been each other's echo and shadow.

We're older now, and the city must have changed, too. After years of promising, Saiffuddin and I will finally return to Melbourne next Tuesday. Once there, we'll retrace our steps, and see how far we've come.


Thursday, September 23, 2004
The Games People Play

Aiysha and I were lolling around in bed this morning, partly because both of us were trying to put off taking a bath. She was talking about what she would do in kindy today and she said, "I want to play this game, where you cover your eyes, and then try to catch everybody else, and you also sing this song".

She proceeded to sing it :
Nenek Nenek Si Bongkok Tiga..
hmm hmm hmm malam berjaga
cari cucu, eh apa lagi Mummy?

Oh for the love of God, I can't remember it either. I can't even get past the first line and this was the song we used to shout with glee as the appointed "Nenek", blindfolded and giggling, gets spun round and round. Here was an opportunity to teach her tradition (say it : Tradition! like Fiddler on The Roof) but I failed miserably. I can see why my father is concerned.

I learnt mostly kampung games, because even in the 70's, the whole of Kuala Terengganu was still a veritable village. When I was about Aiysha's age, we lived in Batu Burok, not in the big government quarters by the sea, but across the street, in a rambling kampung house which sat on an open field. The house was old, but it was the house I loved best, among all the homes we eventually moved in and out of. Once, a family of swallows made its nest in a hole in the wall of my parent's bedroom and my sisters and I would peek often, checking on the progress of their little babies.

But what Elisa and I must have cherished the most were the friends we made there. We managed to form these bonds even though at one time, my father forbade us from leaving the house, probably because of his worry over Elisa's terribly sensistive skin. Roll in the grass and she'll develop welts which she would invariably scratch. Nonetheless, we defied his orders on a daily basis, but we made sure we got home before he did.

Once, we miscalculated. We were playing on the sandy path in front of our house when we saw his Ford Escort turn in. He saw! We dead! My sister and I took a few more minutes before we decided to run home. When we tried to get in through the kitchen door, we found that it did not budge.

"It's locked", my maid said, helpfully, "Papa tok wi masuk"

Oh, what could we do? We sat underneath the house and contemplated our fate. Elisa was getting hungry. Maybe we could eat some umbut nyiur? Thankfuly, our friends came to the rescue -- one of them had 5 sen and gave it up so that she could buy us roti paun, which my sister gratefully ate. Eventually we were allowed in, but I can't remember if we learnt our lesson. Probably not.

But I digress. What I wanted to write about is the various games I played in Batu Burok and how I wish I can pass them on to my daughter, if only I could remember.

One game has the girls sitting on the floor and we would form a sort of totem pole with our rolled fists, while singing Jong Jong Inai. The girl whose hand is at the bottom will move it to the top and likewise with the next bottom hand. I can't recall all the words, but when you get to a certain part, I think it's "pecoh sutir, pecoh 'seme", all these hands will open and lay flat on top of one another and we'd all move them in unison, clockwise (or counterclockwise, it didn't matter) . For the life of me, I can't remember the point of this game, perhaps it was some sort of cheer.

We played congkak, or "cokok" by digging holes in the dirt and filling them with pebbles or if we can find them, biji saga, the vermillion seeds of the rosarypea. The game of cokok is usually played underneath the house, as all homes had stilts, and while there we might also go on an ibu-ibu hunt. The ibu-ibu is a small animal, which looks like kutu beras, or rice fleas (?) and burrows into the ground, leaving holes everywhere. Once we catch one ibu ibu, we would attach it to a string and lower it into these holes, and there will be a stringful of ibu-ibu once you hoist it up. It was probably a rather nasty thing to do, but we never harmed any of them.

When we're really bored and there were enough people, we would play 'to, (pronounced "toe") which my son now calls "main lari-lari duduk". It's really the local permutation of a game of catch. The one which requires you to sit once caught is called 'to duduk, but there were other kinds too. There was 'to kerah, which makes you freeze, 'to tiang, which involves running from pole to pole, and my mother's favourite, 'to bisu, which mandates that you shouldn't make a sound.

I'm glad my children and their cousins still play Datuk Harimau, although in Terengganu we'd drop the end "u". A similar adventure is "Musang dengan Ayam". There are two main opponents, the eponymous fox and the mother hen, who would have "little chicks" forming a line behind her, all hugging on to each other, arms around the waist. The object is simple : the fox must get the chicks, while the mother hen must prevent him. The fox gets all the chicks eventually, but not before plenty of squealing.

My husband grew up in the city and worse, went to Batu Road School, where Botak Chin also went, but thankfully not at the same time. The games he played were decidedly less nurturing, most involve gambling or hitting people. One which should have been made illegal was this game where you get to throw your coin at a wall, and the one that gets his coin to fall closest to the wall, gets to pocket all the others. I suppose he lost a lot of lunch-money that way.

But for pure mindless fun, Saiffuddin tells me, nothing beats "chopping". "Chopping" is like dodgeball but the missile may not necessarily be, a ball. It could be a selipar jepun, or an empty condensed milk tin. Once, he said, they played with rocks.

Like me in the kampung, my husband said he also played galah panjang and polis sentry. But in KL the games usually get sophisticated. In Terengganu the galah panjang court is usually just lines drawn out on the tanah, but in the city, they use badminton courts. Since there were three in his school, there would be six teams playing simultaneously, and "you could join any one you like". Saiffuddin and his peers would play running games of polis sentry, sometimes lasting up to three weeks, with made-up rules and story lines.

One small diversion before I end : in Batu Road, his peers decided to call him "Sai" for short until his Chinese friend remarked that it reminded him of "pangsai", which is Cantonese for defecate. My husband thought this was really funny and said it was a useful piece of culture that he learnt in school.


Tuesday, September 21, 2004
All Hail the Queen

Today, my daughter Aliya is four. Aliya means "highborn; exalted; highest social standing" and this is one little girl who intends to live up to her name. Over breakfast this morning I asked Adam what he liked about her youngest sister.

"Weeeell..", he said, stalling for time, "she's playful, but she bothers me all the time".

I asked Adam what he meant.

"She's bossy! She calls Kak Ti (our maid)if I do something wrong. When I ride my bike, she keeps telling me to be careful. It's always Adam don't do this and Adam don't do that".

"You can't think of anything you like about her?"

"She's kinda funny. Especially when she uses a swear word".

*gasp* "What swear word?"

"Bontot! Hahahahahaha!"

Adam wiped off the cereal he spewed on his shirt.

"You'll have to buy her a Barbie Magic Keyhouse, mummy, because that's what she wants for her birthday".

How come Aliya gets an expensive toy and I get a free cat?

Aliya thinks nothing in the house should happen without her saying so. She even tells me what to wear. "Mummy, it doesn't match!", she would tell me.

"Yeah, and it's not funky", piped in her sister, Aiysha.

Both of them would rummage through my clothes and announce : "Mummy, you don't have funky clothes!". Tell me something I don't already know.

Aiysha is the one she usually fights with, but at other times, the two display the kind of tenderness towards each other that I don't remember having for my own sisters. (Sorry!! This was when I was younger la).

"I like making her laugh", Aiysha said, "When she's sad or if she's mad at me, I tell her Adam's jokes and she'll be happy again".

Aliya thinks she ought to be the centre of the universe, but she is a benign ruler. I was really sick yesterday and she put her hand on my forehead and inquired if I was okay. She then ordered me to go to sleep and tucked me in with Mr Teddy.


Tuesday, September 14, 2004

My poor blog, I have neglected you. I'm afraid time is a luxury which I don't have at the moment. To keep Elisa happy, I have here a cop-out entry : the song that is playing in my head at the moment.

Stupid -- Sarah McLachlan

Night lift up the shades
let in the brilliant light of morning
but steady me now
for I am weak and starving for mercy
sleep has left me alone
to carry the weight of unravelling where we went wrong
it's all I can do to hang on,
to keep me from falling
into old familiar shoes

how stupid could I be
a simpleton could see
that you're no good for me
but you're the only one I see

love has made me a fool
set me on fire and watched as I floundered
unable to speak
except to cry out and wait for your answer
but you come around in your time
speaking of fabulous places
create an oasis
that dries up as soon as you're gone
you leave me here burning
in this desert without you

everything changes
everything falls apart
I can't stand to feel myself losing control
in the deep of my senses I know
how stupid could I be
a simpleton could see
that you're no good for me
but you're the only one I see

Have you ever seen the video? It depicts Ms McLachlan as a woman who is obviously spoken for, and yet she keeps having an affair with this one man (Angel's David Boreanaz, I think) over different time periods and settings. The clip ends with her and her husband sitting apart, the marriage apparently in ruins.

I had a huge argument with Kamarul once, over the necessity of polygamy and what would count as a good reason for a man to marry another. The row lasted for several days. At one point, he said, "You don't believe that it is possible for a man to love two people at the same time? Sometimes, you can't help these things. You can't control how you feel".

I can't remember who won the argument (I am sure Kamarul will insist he did), but I remembered calling up his wife to hasut her to my side.

It's true, of course that you can't rein in your emotions. The heart is an organ of fire, says Ondaatje. But the mind is also a tool for restraint, and a good judge of consequences. There's always that point, that moment of pause before you cross the line between loyalty and infidelity, where you should ask yourself what the hell you're doing. I do agree, that sometimes there are extenuating circumstances. But when there is none, and you know, deep in your soul this affair, above all else, is an act of selfishness : tell the heart to be still, take a deep breath, have one last look, and walk away. Because I believe, while our feelings may be beyond our control, we act on our own accord and we can act virtuously even in a raging sea.


Monday, September 06, 2004
Happy Birthday to the Coolest Mom in the World!

Okay, actually it's belated. So sorry. My sister Elisa, the person in question, is held up by my children as The Coolest Mom in the World because :
1- She can drive and can pick them up from school and occasionally make a detour to KFC or McDonald's
2- She always has a big carton of cream in her fridge, and this one ingredient forms the basis of all her cooking, be it pasta alfredo or maggi mee.
3- when you talk to her about Samurai Jack or Spongebob Squarepants or As Told by Ginger or Fairly Odd Parents, she doesn't go blank but instead, enthusiastically contributes to the conversation
4-She doesn't think TV is evil (a big big plus among my kids)

Happy Birthday, Lisa! I hope you never change. For more stories on Elisa visit my Dad's blog
or just visit Elisa at hers.


Sunday, September 05, 2004
Conversations, Conversions

Way past midnight. Comrades, coffee and cigarrettes at a hotel, aptly called "The Rennaisance".

"He's a politician, and the ultimate aim of a politician is to be the Prime Minister. And he knows you can't be the Prime Minister if you're in the Opposition. The best you can be is a Haji Hadi or a Lim Kit Siang".

"But he can't dissapoint the legion of supporters, who, by the way, seem to be growing by the minute after his release".

"Ha. I just got an sms from my reporter at the airport. He wants to quit, because he has to fight through a mob of thousands. Can't get close enough to even get a picture".

"Yes, the thousands that this Anwar has imbued with dreams of civil society".

"I am not saying he'll turn his back on all that. I still believe he has ideals. But he's also a pragmatic man. He'll take the path that will best serve the attainment of his ideals".

"You think it's a given that he will re-join UMNO?"

"The way the country's electoral system is set up, the gerrymandering, there is no way the Opposition can win through the ballot box"

"But some people are talking about a two-party system, even a coalition government. If the winds are a-changing, there is no telling that the same political dynamics will remain tomorrow".

"Well, I have to agree with you up to a point. From now on, you won't be able to easily demarcate between Opposition and pro-Government. The lines will be blurred. But in terms of realpolitik, no, I don't think it will change much"

"Oh, I do hope he'll prove us all wrong"

"Look, people supported the Opposition because of Anwar Ibrahim. Before September 1998, PAS had a membership of 250 thousand. After he was sacked, it grew to more than half a million. They would still support him, regardless of his decision."

"Besides, you can't say BN equals bad guys and BA equals good guys. Who knows what kind of UMNO it will be with Anwar Ibrahim in it. He might be what UMNO needs right now"

"But the Opposition needs him more. PAS is having a major leadership crisis. This release couldn't have been more timely".

"On the other hand, he could make the gerrymandering work for the Opposition. Anwar is still a considerable influence in Sabah and Sarawak. And at the moment, the component parties ruling these states are the minority. He could work his charm there.."

Collective sigh.

"What are you going to do?"

"He's free. My work is done. Time to shake up the others.".

The phone rings. "I'm at PWTC", he tells the caller, "Tengah sain borang UMNO".


On the way to work this morning, REM sings to me :

"If you believe, there's nothing up their sleeves, then nothing is cool".


Friday, September 03, 2004
In the Still of the Night, In the Harsh Morning Light

Many many years ago, before 1998, a handful of journalists were on a chartered flight with the former Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. We had just completed a ten-day tour of Korea and Japan and he was in high spirits. He wanted to talk and saw me reading an English translation of Heike Monogatari.

"What is it about?", he inquired.
I wish I had the gift of clairvoyance, for I would have told him it was a cautionary tale. But at that moment, all you could think was : wow, The Man spoke to me, a reporter cabuk.

Oh, if only the road ahead for Malaysia post-September 2004, could be foretold by gazing into a crystal ball. Then I would know what I'm setting myself up for. I wouldn't be hanging on every word, tossing and turning, tossing and turning.

"Please stop analysing", my husband pleaded, "I want to get some sleep".

I couldn't help myself - an event like this puts you in assignment editor mode automatically, and you forget there are no more flanks to cover.

Kamarul was surprisingly kindly : "Tonight, just savour the moment", he said, "For old time's sake".

Begrudgingly, he was right : because in the morning, you get to see the business end of things.


Thursday, September 02, 2004
Six years to the Day : Anwar Ibrahim is a Free Man

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia (AP) -- Malaysia's highest court has overturned the sodomy conviction of former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim and freed him from prison, exactly six years after his firing ignited the country's worst political crisis.

A panel of the Federal Court ruled 2-1 to reverse the conviction against Anwar on Thursday.

He was expected to travel to Germany for surgery to treat a back injury stemming from a police beating in 1998.

Anwar was once considered the heir apparent of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, but Mahathir fired him and touched off widespread political turmoil.

Prime Minister Ahmad Abdullah Badawi, who succeeded Anwar as Mahathir's hand-picked heir, had been expected to take a softer line toward Anwar and put the divisive issue behind Malaysia after he took office last year.

Judge Abdul Hamid Mohamad read out the verdict over 11/2 hours. As it became apparent that Anwar, 57, would be freed, the former deputy prime minister -- wearing a neck brace and confined to a wheelchair -- exchanged excited glances with family members and gave a thumbs-up sign.

"We are not prepared to uphold the conviction," Abdul Hamid said. "We therefore allow this appeal and set aside the conviction and the sentence."

Abdul Hamid said that conviction was flawed because the chief prosecution witness, Azizan Abubakar, had repeatedly changed the dates of that he claimed Anwar had committed homosexual acts with him. Azizan had been the driver for Anwar's wife


Wednesday, September 01, 2004
Quick post : Merdeka Party Pooper

On Monday night, Saiffuddin, the kids and I did something that must have been the height of suburbia living : we went to IKEA to usher in Merdeka Day. The place was a pointilist canvas of people, cars, dogs, hot air balloon, red-blue-yellow big flags, yellow and blue small flags. Just outside the entrance of IKANO was a huge stage, where a hip-hop or rap group was performing and if you close your eyes and ignore the humidity you really couldn't tell if you're in a streetmall concert in LA or Jamaica or Manila.(I hear they have rap groups there too) The two lead singers (okay, it maaay have been Too Phat but since both of them were bald, I really can't tell) were going yo yo yo the way rap singers all over the world do, and almost midnight, they made us shout the countdown.

"Why doesn't this feel right?", I thought. Maybe I'm jaded, out of touch as it were, with the current tastes in music. Notions of what would have constituted a better, patriotic welcome to TigaPuluh Satu Ogos soon evaporated : the whole family sat on the kerb, crane- necked, mouth wide open, as seemingly hundreds of fireworks sprouted pixie dust and glitter onto the night sky. After the pyrotechnics, the rap singers called on everyone to stand up straight and sing the National Anthem. We stood, hands by our sides, thumbs downwards and we sang as loud as we can -- while many many others turned towards the car-parks and the doors, back to shopping and their sated lives. Show's over, without a doubt.

The next morning, I saw on TV, the National Day Parade in patriotic overdrive. Men, women and children in red and blue and yellow garb were swaying in cadence to KeranaMu Malaysia.
And I thought, "Why doesn't this feel right?"