web counter The Madness of MokcikNab: June 2006
The Madness of MokcikNab
Motives, movements and melodrama in the life of a thirty something mum.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Instructions for Bumping Into Elida

Most of us live in the Klang Valley, right? A huge number of us probably spend an inordinate amount of time at that triumvirate of Damansara, Sri Hartamas and Bandar Utama. My kids and I certainly do. Like the man in those Daia ads, I am cursed to be recognizable. So, if like Nefertiti (hello, darling) you happen to bump into me, or someone you suspect is me, don't sureptitiously point me out to your husband, or whoever your shopping companion may be, like most people do. Don' t go :

"Eh", (in hushed tones still audible to me) "Tengku Elida Bustaman!"
"Bukan lah!"
"Ye lah"
"Ye ke? Kat luar tak lah nampak tembam sangat"

The next time, please say hello and introduce yourself. I would really like to meet you, (especially if you're female) but you have the advantage of knowing what I look like. Well, some may know, anyway -- I shan't be presumptous and think I'm Siti Nurhaliza. Sadly, I only know very few bloggers apart from those who are related to me, and those firebrand ones I used to work with, or for.

It would really make my day if, while waiting to weigh in my vegetables, someone would smile at me and say : "Hi Mokciknab! I'm (insert name here)". Mokciknab is the secret code - I'd know straight away you're a blogger, or a blogreader. The truth is, whenever I go to Ikano or the Curve or Giant, I'd always wonder who, among the crowd, are the people I've met in the blogosphere.

Of course, don't ever do this to me :

"You broke my heart!" said a complete stranger to my friend a few days ago.
"Why?", he asked, befuddled.
"Dulu dalam TV you hemsem, sekarang sudah gemuk."

It's enough to make you homicidal.


Pergi Mandi!

Let me own up to this disgusting habit : for the past week, I have neglected to shower before coming to work. That's right, I turn up at the office dengan tak mandi.

The thing is, I'm now staying with my mum, and because her house is not far from the office, I walk to work. I need the exercise anyway.

So I thought, nemain lah, just slap on something, bring along my clothes, go walk, then mandi once I get to the office. After all, Suhaimi showers at the office all time (if at all) , and we certainly have all the peripherals -- towels, two kinds of liquid soap, bath sponge thingy, a kain pelekat to change into, an array of moisturizers for every part of your body, and like, three tubes of toothpaste, some of which has calcified into stone. I thought it sounds like a plan.

The problem is, though, once I get into the office, I get sucked in by the PC, and the bath time is invariably delayed. The next thing I know, it's 2 oclock in the afternoon. In the beginning, I did mandi before I prayed zuhur, which if you know me, is just before Asar. The last two days, I went ahead and performed my solat without taking a bath. My body doesn't touch water until about 7.30, when I come home and need to solat Maghrib. I go down to lunch and meet people in the cotton pullover I slept in, with my hair a rat's nest, and my face oily and unwashed. It's a marvel people still speak to me. I blame it all on Suhaimi, who endorses this kind of behaviour, mainly because he does it, too.

So this morning, I decided to put a stop to all this. I had a good lather, wore decent, pressed clothes and began my jaunt, looking like an employable human being instead of someone who slept on pavements. As I crossed the road in front of my mother's house, a driver put his head out of his window and flashed me that gatal smile. At the next block, another two checked me out. As I climbed up the pedestrian bridge in front of my office, a guy waiting for the lights to change winked appreciatively, and probably looked up my skirt (thankfully, I wore nice undies). And just before I reached my building, men in a passing lorry made that annoying kissy sound that Malaysian neanderthals take to mean : hello, I think you're cute.

Now, I'm not exactly Elena Santarelli (you google her, God knows Saiffuddin did), I'm 38 and look 38, I have three children and look like I've had three children. My dressing is fairly makcik : a generic long skirt bought in Giant and a long-sleeved peasant blouse from Pasar Malam Taman Tun. If he weren't married to me, my own husband probably won't notice me in a crowd of people. So, all this attention because I took a shower? It occured to me that perhaps any woman walking down the street would get the same treatment, if she bothers taking bath.

That made me think : there is an edge to being ugly. When I was unkempt and unbathed, I was invisible -- I could just do what I was doing without being bothered. It's like what some animals do in nature, yes? I mean, I can be like the skunk or the warthog or the South African burrowing bullfrog, right? That decides it then. For my own safety and protection, tomorrow I shall once again neglect personal hygiene.

It's not like my husband's around, pun. He's in Jakarta, busy googling and oogling Miss Santarelli.


Friday, June 23, 2006
Notice of Apology

I really want to talk to you, but I can't.

There's so many things happening, and since I'm a hopeless procastinator, most of those things are happening at the last nervous minute.

But, here are some quick despatches, just so you know I'm always thinking of you, all err, nine or ten of you. I found out that I had more readers than I imagined, which makes my lazy blogging even more unforgiveable, kan?

Hello to people reading from the Perdana Leadership Foundation -- I am surprised, though pleasantly so. Shouldn't you be visiting other, more cerebral websites? I guess Mokciknab is a nice rest, the antonym to intellectual.

I really want to write about the Global Peace Forum I attended with my father and Kamarul on Wednesday, but that needs a lot of calm and a lot of spare time. Right now I have to figure out al-Farabi.

This job of condensing and translating centuries of Islamic thought and scholarship is back-breaking, (partly on account of poor ergonomics and bad posture) but I'm not hating it at all. When most of Europe was still in the Dark, the Islamic intellectual empire burnt with brilliance. Centures ahead of its time, Muslim scholars expounded on techniques of surgery and invented surgical instruments, advanced the concept of free trade and open markets, outlined the role of government, theorised on the rhythms of history and society, founded the rudiments of trigonometry, named the stars and calculated the distance of planets.

And then today in the papers, I read that a parent lodged a complaint that a Bahasa Melayu teacher insulted Mawi's fiancee in an exam question. Oh, how far have we come? And more pertinently, what happened on the way down?

I have decided that from now on, when people ask if I have hero, I'd say it's the Andalusian doctor El-Zahrawi, because he invented enema. (It's only one of his minor achievements, since he also wrote a 30 volume medical encyclopedia)

I am currently having lunch -- fibre pills, three kinds of fruit (watermelon, papayas and cantaloupe), coffee and then a smallish bar of hazelnut chocolate. For breakfast I had briyani. I think I'm on a diet, but it would seem these things that I eat - they'd cancel each other out.

Curiously, it is not possible to go to bed one night and wake up as the Pussycat Dolls.

I am still wondering how on earth Pet managed to convince Tun Dr Mahathir to be his guest this Saturday. What strange alliances are afoot?

My children are growing up wild. Aiysha broke the glass sliding door upstairs in my mother's house because she wanted to vent her anger. Adam is on a kedai mamak big plasma screen World Cup addiction, abetted by my equally addicted brother in law (and he's a surgeon! woe betide the patient under his knife the next morning) Aliya, well, she can just be herself and cause enough trouble. Countless vases and ornaments have gone to heaven. They blew up my laptop adaptor, while skyping cousins in Saudi Arabia. And there are worse behaviour I am too ashamed to mention. These children seriously need a father. And I seriously think this is divine punishment.

My husband is coming home today, briefly, just to tie up a tender. I think he is a clinically certified workaholic who can no longer grasp the concept of family and human relationships. I am going to lie to him and say I have my period.


Thursday, June 08, 2006
Don't File "Maggie Q" Under "Tuban Project"

I am typing this in my husband's office in Setiabudi. It is my second day in Jakarta, a trip that is long overdue, postponed by my rather busy schedule, and also by the fact that Saiffuddin has been making frequent trips home. We're finally settling the rent on the Menteng house, and the crucial school enrolment for the kids. I was hoping there is furniture hunting somewhere in the itinerary, but I guess not. This whole transfer thing is an exercise in brinksmanship -- my kids, together with my mother, (hopefully) my father, my sister and her family will be coming over to stay at my house by the end of the month, and there is a good chance they'd be sleeping on the floor.

These are mundane problems, housekeeping stuff, really. I want to write about something else, and I'll have to type quickly before my husband comes out of this meeting he is currently in.

It started out like this : I found that my husband has a picture of me as his desktop background. In it, I am sitting on a petarakna, or a royal wedding dais, wearing a purple baju pahang, with my husband's school samping, and draped across my shoulders is my favourite kain panjang sembilan -- a silk limar in burgundy. It was taken by Papa Khalid, and I emailed this photo, along with a few others, to my husband, in the hope that he would use it exactly the way he is using it now.

Of course, we never think husbands can ever get things right. I complain that among the photographs I sent, he had to choose the one that made me look fat.

"No, no", Saiffuddin insisted, "this is the prettiest one".

I purse my lips in disagreement.

"Okay then, pick the one you like, and use that on my desktop", he said, and then quickly left to attend a meeting.

Listen, there are few things worse than leaving your wife all on her own at your desk. Unless you're sure, unless you are ---, oh, unless nothing, because believe me, all wives will manage to find something incriminating. For example, a few years ago, I was amused to discover that my husband had a whole stack of Malay magazines in his drawer, because they all contained pictures of this particular Sabahan actress. Major kantoi. My husband couldn't live that down for years. Why, I still give him that smirk every time Fred Flinstone calls out to his wife.

Well, anyway, on this sunny Wednesday morning, I was using his notebook to find an agreeable photograph of myself. The problem was, I couldn't locate the file in which he stored the pictures I sent. I couldn't very well call him out of a meeting on such a frivolous errand, could I? So I used the Search button. And there, among snapshots of our children and construction equipment, were several that I didn't count on.

There was one that had a topless Maggie Q frolicking on the beach. Several pages from what seems to be a Pirelli's calendar. And Rachel Stevens in undergarments.

The first thing that came to my mind was, oh thank God, my husband's not gay.

Then after a while I thought, Rachel Stevens? How plebeian. Every pom and his jug of bitter want Rachel Stevens. Now, I'm trying to think how many times he's watched S Club 7 in Miami with the kids.

Should I get my panties in a knot just because Saiffuddin appreciates the female anatomy? I have one or two straight friends (yes, I do), and I know they'd gawk at a good-looking woman, too, especially one with no clothes on, and it all seems pretty harmless to me. (Dosa tanggung sendiri la) I have a Haji friend who'd bug me to buy him FHM once a year, just for the Sexiest Woman list, but he's a nice guy all the same. Besides, the pictures Saiffuddin kept were sexy, but they weren't lewd. I mean, it'd be far worse if there was fisting or a large dog involved.

And this is hardly a guy thing, let's admit that at least. I'm not entirely blameless. I have a whole file called "Gambar Masjid" in MyPictures, a file filled not with images of mosques but of Freddie Ljunberg in tiny underpants, Hugh Jackman in a short towel, Brad Pitt in nothing at all, Raoul Bova lounging in water, and the entire French rugby team, sans jersey bleu.

The difference, though, is that I tell my husband about my collection of stamps. I'm a little mad that Saifuddin, on the other hand, decided to keep it a secret, and took pains to save the jpegs under a project tender. I tell because my pictures meant nothing. Why did he hide? Did it all mean something? Did he wish I was blonde and small and thin? Oh, I can really work up a temper if I think of all the possibilities.

The secret to a long term relationship, though, is to know the difference between what to worry and what to ignore. We've been together for almost twenty years (it's twenty next year) and I probably gave more trouble than Saiffuddin. So far, he hasn't applied to join PESUCUR*, although I hear the first requirement of membership is to say it doesn't exist, just like Fight Club. On the whole, my husband has been very, very nice to me, and this indiscretion is a small blip on an otherwise excellent marital record.

But I can't help being pissed.

Saiffuddin has a cough and comes out of the conference room looking for expectorant. As casually as I could, I remarked that I'm surprised he likes Rachel Stevens. Just for a brief second he looked like a deer caught in headlights.

"So you found them. Are you mad?"
"Yes", I smiled.
"I'm so sorry, " he tells me. "It's a guy thing. It's because you're not here. They remind me of you"

That last bit was obviously a lie, but could be instructional to husbands caught in a jam, because it almost works.

The most important thing is, he conceded guilt. Lovely, lovely. I'll get to use this as leverage for a few months at least. Already he's being extraordinarily obliging, and today I get to eat lunch at a restaurant and not by the roadside jajan, as is usual. At the moment, he's waiting for me to finish this sentence, so that he can bring me to ITC Ambassador. Ah, I'd probably get those furniture after all, don't you think?

*PESUCUR is the acronym for Persatuan Suami Curang, a loose grouping of itinerant husbands in Saiffuddin's batch (from itu sekolah, lah). Like Opus Dei, no member will publicly admit his association, for fear that his life, (or other things) would be unceremoniously shortened.


Friday, June 02, 2006
The Rose Myrtle

Alah kesiannya orang Teganung yang tak tahu apa itu buah kemunting. Here is a description from botanist Lam Peng Sam, published in New Straits Times :
A BEAUTIFUL and useful plant by any standard, the Rhodomyrtus tomentosa or the Rose Myrtle (known as the Kemunting in Malay) is a popular shrub, even growing wild in open ground and easily recognisable. Almost all parts of the plant are densely downy; they have a cover of greyish velvety hairs. Native to Malaysia, it adds colour and interest to the landscape, and birds love to feed on the sweet, juicy fruits.

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Its leaves are ovate and leathery, about 4-6cm long, with three longitudinal veins running from the tips to the base of the leaves. The flowers are rose to deep pink or lilac and are axillary: 3cm wide with pink stamens and downy on the outside, like the foliage.

Berries form after the flowers have set. The fruits are very sweet and juicy and attract even children. They have a pleasant taste and are good for jams.

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The plant has local medicinal value. A concoction of the roots and leaves are drunk as a remedy for diarrhoea and stomach ache.
Now let me tell you why I have a kemunting bush in my front yard.

When my sisters and I were children, we would spend our school holidays commuting between two grandmothers : one who lived in Merang and the other who lived in Besut, both of which are in the Terengganu countryside.

Merang is a village by the sea, and there we'd spend our days swimming, beach combing and occasionally fishing in the nearby rice fields. When it gets too hot to do anything, we'd take long baths in my grandmother's bathroom, which shouldn't be called that, because there isn't a room, but an open-air enclosure underneath a large jambu air tree, with a telaga in the centre, and all sorts of water pump contraptions around it. Then we'd lie down in our wet kain 'sahang, or old sarong, on an adjoining jemorang or veranda and look up at the light coming through the spaces between the leaves of the jambu tree. We're hardly expected to do any sort of work in Merang, mainly because my grandmother was a super-efficient housekeeper, and also because she was sure we'd break something. Together with my sisters and our friends, we'd be out gallivanting among the kampung houses and coconut groves, poking at belimbing and mango trees and running away from monitor lizards, and then we'd come home when we're sure there was lunch.

Both my grandmothers were strict, but we only feared the one in Besut, because she doesn't flinch when pinching grandchildren. Unlike Mokciknab in Merang, whose identifying feature is her ability to nag, my Besut grandmother is a quiet disciplinarian, a trait which made her even more terrifying. She would hardly lose her temper, but she'd make it clear we were walking on eggs. In her house we knew never to laze around. We'll have recite the Quran every morning and then feed the goats and sweep the leaves from her backyard. Then she'd send us on errands to buy kerosene or a kati of biscuits or a box of mosquito coil, and as our reward we'll get assam masin or Yumbo with the change.

Sometimes, she'd let us follow her to the mosque at dawn, after which we buy breakfast, either nasi kerabu or nasi berlauk, or nasi kapit with sambal ikan. In the late afternoon, if it doesn't rain, we'll walk to a nearby pasar for kueh, like tepung boko, or fried bananas. If the weather's bad, we'd stay at home and boil sweet potatoes or tapioca or ubi keling, and eat them with tea while listening to the sound of the rain pelting down the roof.

If it's a clear day, and if my uncle, Ayah Sa is done with his batik painting, a much loved activity is to hunt for buah kemunting. Around my grandmother's house there was still scrubland, where lallang and kemunting and tenggek burung and marigolds grow wild, and where tiny streams of dark cool water run deep into the brambles. We'd spend hours in the bushes, collecting the deep purple berries and eating them on the spot. Ayah Sa is a terrible prankster. Once he went ahead of us and smeared booger over the ripe berries in our path, and watched in delight as my sister Dolly picked and ate them.

Today there are no remnants of the pokok kemunting around my grandmother's house, the streams have dried up, and the small sandy paths have all but dissapeared. In its place there are terrace houses and schools and a huge traffic junction. My grandmother passed away a long time ago, and her house has since lost its soul. I planted the kemunting bush in my yard as a memento to the time I spent with her, and to the childhood I wished could linger.