Oh Look, Krill!

Oh don't worry. Whales don't eat clownfish, they eat krill.


Adult Familial Relationships

My sisters and I don’t have a close relationship with my paternal side of the family due to the fact that we live in Singapore and we rarely get to meet all of them since they live all over the Malaysian Peninsula and for a time, even West Malaysia. On the rare occasions that we meet them during festivities, it’s always been awkward and it takes time for us to warm up to each other. It doesn’t help that my sisters and I are not super comfortable with speaking in Malay and my cousins speak predominantly in Malay.

In reason years, as we’ve entered adulthood, I find it easier to talk to them. Maybe it’s just all of us maturing or just that we realised how important it is to keep the family ties, we no longer have the awkward first few moments. We just carry on like we’ve not seen each in other for at least half a decade. It’s an interesting revelation.

I’ve only started adding my paternal cousins on Facebook, the easiest way to connect with them. I’m actually looking forward to having more interaction them with them more often than just during the family reunions every few years.


Remember The Kampung Days Through A Child’s Memories

Eid is a time when members of the family, how ever extended, comes for a visit and without fail, they tend to talk about the good old days of staying in a kampung. Everyone assumes that I was too young to remember life back then but I do, though it’s through the eyes of a four year old, it might be a different kind of memory.

My grandparents moved from the little wood and mortar house to our current apartment in the mid-80s, when the government was gobbling up land for development. My parents had taken my sisters and I for a drive to see what had happened to the site of her former home. It seemed that the area had been developed into a series of private condominiums and also some industrial area.

I might have been four and might not have spent a lot of time at my maternal grandparents home as I was staying across the Causeway at the time, I still had many fond memories of the laid back, simple life back then.

I remember the big, shady trees by the road side as my mom and I alighted from the bus. The bus stop was nothing but a metal pole with a metal sign with the numbers of the buses that stop there. A little, mom & pop shop with sweets, snacks and other wonderful things that a child loves, was situated very close to the bus stop.


My mom would take my hand and we walked along the sandy lane, hedged by tall lalang grass. I was small for my age so the grass looked so very tall. I remember hearing the cicadas chirping as we made our way to the house.

My grandparents’ home was relatively brightly painted in glossy blue, green and yellow. The verandah was where my late grandfather would sit, smoking his pipe or talking to guests. As a child, the house compound seemed so big; the kitchen to one side of the house and the other side made up if fruit trees and a large (to me) poultry coop.

The house was shaded by a large tree that grew on a slope behind the house, so the darkest part of the house was the room facing the slope, where the fridge and the large grandfather’s clock was. That room had always given me the creeps and I found out much later that it creeped out almost everyone too.

I had very fond memories of spending time with my grandparents at their house. In the morning, I’d follow my grandma to the poultry coop to help her feed her chickens and ducks. All I had to do was grab a handful of corn and chuck it at them. It fascinated me as the animals would waddle over, making a lot of noise and pecking at the ground for the bits of corn.

Grandpa would be feeding his pet songbirds while I watched. The afternoons had me playing in the sand in front of the house or helping my grandma gathering the fallen dried leaves for burning. (It was the 80s, everyone burnt stuff openly)

Great-grandma was staying with them and on days that she was well, she would sit outside and preparing the central vein of the coconut leaf to be made into a broom. I’d sit outside with her on the concrete wrap-around the side of the house.

Being the youngest grandchild at that time, I wasn’t allowed to roam off the compound unless I was accompanied by an older cousin (which rarely happens) or by an adult (which is even rarer). So I spent a lot of time getting into mischief with sand, disturbing my grandma while she cooks or just doing what most children at that age do; nap.

I’m a little sad that my sisters never got to experience a similar childhood since they were born a couple of years after we moved but at least we have pictures to show them and so many stories to tell.


Eid 2011: A Week On

It’s been a week since we celebrated Eid. Usually, there would still be some lingering celebratory feelings but not this year. In fact, my family barely celebrated. Everything was done with a heavy feeling of obligation. We weren’t in the mood to celebrate at all that we procrastinated the Eid preparation until the last weekend of Ramadhan, where we squeezed a couple of weeks worth of preparation into the last 4 days of Ramadhan. It was a feat and a week on, I’m still recovering from that exhaustion.

My mother had not planned to make the traditional rice cakes, ketupat, the traditional way, by weaving coconut leaves and filling them with rice before boiling. She had just planned to cook the instant ones that are available at the supermarkets, to make our lives easier. However, when presented with a bundle of cheap(ish) young coconut leaves, my mom couldn’t resist and so my sisters and I were tasked to make them.

ketupat weaving

What would normal take my grandmother (when she was well), a couple of hours to do, took the three of us half a day to accomplish as we had to wipe clean each leaf individually. It was the very first time that we had to prepare the ketupat by ourselves, it wasn’t any wonder why it took us so long


We ended up with a whole basket of cooked ketupats with sizes ranging from as small as a baby’s fist to one that was one and a half times bigger than my fist.

ketupat

We were so rushed for time that we didn’t even make that many treats and cookies these year. We made just enough to serve our guests, when in previous years, I would make enough to give all my aunts at least a bottle.

pineapple tarts

The night of Eid saw my cousins coming over for pre-celebration meal and it just so happens that we had a couple boxes of sparklers and I thought, screw it, lets re-live our childhood (even though the youngest of us was 16).

playing with sparklers

We had to play at the void deck of the building as the sparklers were very smoky and we didn’t want our neighbours to complain. I know that my sisters, my cousins and I had a lot of fun.

On Eid day, and the subsequent days after, we recieved a number of guests and this year, having developed Grinch-y, cynical feelings about celebrating Eid, it was an effort to slap on a smile and pretend that I’m all happy at having people whom I only meet once a year, descend to my house and ask me pointed questions about my life that aren’t any of their business. So my sisters and I spent most of the time hiding out in our rooms, away from the crowds and only appear to greet the guests when the arrive and when they leave.

Maybe it was just me being grumpy but there seemed to be a record number of people pushing the buttons this year.

There was that lady with no filters what so ever, asking questions that aren’t any of her business, without even attempting to make it sound less busybody.

There was that relative, who suggested to my aunt that maybe we have a black magic item that’s preventing my grandmother from moving on (read: that she should be dead and that the body lying in the bed is inhibited by something nasty) (Also read: my kneejerk reaction to that was not pretty).

The best of all, the 3-year old boy who went into my room, poked me in the boob and licked my arm before running off to pull my mom’s hair and then hit my domestic helper, all while the parents just shut up and watch.

I might just be a tiny bit pissed off with all of these but on the bright side, I only see them once a year.

Do you have any horror stories from your Eid celebrations or any festivities? Feel free to share in the comment section.


What I Miss About My Grandmother

It’s been a little more than two years since my grandmother suffered a stroke that left bed-bound with half her body paralysed and unable to speak or swallow. In those two years, the atmosphere of my home hasn’t been as cheery as it used to be. The house has been quite and it’s the things that I used to take for granted are the things that I miss most about her.

I miss grandma’s cooking. Sure, grandma’s maid/caretaker can recreate the dishes that grandma taught her but it’s still not the same. It doesn’t have the same depth of taste that only comes from someone who cooks with love for the ones she love.

Strangely, I miss her nagging. It used to have me rolling my eyes when she starts nagging at us but now that she can’t do it anymore, you miss it because you realise that she only nags at you because she wants the best for you and that she loves you very much.

The thing that miss most about my grandma is her laughter. It’s not that she can’t laugh now, she can. It’s just that it’s so rare that when she laughs it’s like the whole house lights up again. She spends most of her day asleep or watching TV silently. I never knew how much difference her laughter can make until you don’t hear it anymore.

Even though she’s not as healthy as she used to be, she is as healthy as she can be in her condition. She’s not losing weight nor does she have bedsores since we make every effort to prevent that from occurring. We talk to her everyday, to tell her how our day went. We miss the vivacious, stubborn old woman that she was before she got sick but we know that underneath the silence and the frail body, she’s still there, in the glints of her eyes.


A Quiet Lonely House

Every Eid, my family would go back to my dad’s home town to visit my paternal grandmother and other relatives. This year wasn’t any different even though my grandmother passed away the day after Christmas last year.

The journey started late as my dad had to do his Friday prayers before we left. We knew that the house wasn’t going to be the same without her but we didn’t realise how different it was going to be.

When we arrived to the wooden and mortar house, it was late afternoon and my cousin opened the door for us. The compound around the house was quite and neglected, with dead, drying grass and gravel everywhere. The lemon grass that my cousin was farming at the back of the house looked overgrown and neglected as well. The house was silent, safe for the sound of TV in the kitchen and my aunt welcoming us into the house.

In previous years, the compound would be full of cars belonging to my uncles, aunts and cousins, as well as my dad’s other relatives. When I was younger, my cousins and uncles would light oil lamps at night and we’d play firecrackers and sparklers, celebrating the coming of Eid. The house would be full of voices, talking and laughing as the relatives catch up with each other and my grandmother urging everyone to have seconds or thirds. My grandmother was the heart of the house; you could feel her love through out the house and you would always feel welcomed in it. With her gone, the house feels so cold and silent.

There’s not much left in the house that had her mark on it. The only thing left are her cats, Manja and Sayang.

ManjaManja
Manja, one of grandma’s cats

Manja and Sayang would now follow my aunt around the house when she did her chores, attaching themselves to my late grandma’s caretaker. They’re well looked after by my aunt, though lately, Manja hasn’t been his greedy, fat self. My aunt’s worried that something might have gotten into his eyes since he was tearing and had a loss of appetite. There were snakes in the orchard and she was worried that he might have gotten snake venom in his eyes. I’m just hoping that it’s not the case and he’d recover soon.

There’s noone else staying in the house other than my aunt, my cousin and the two cats. I missed my grandmother, her warmth and her love. She was the reason for the family to gather. She was the reason I got to meet my cousins since they lived in different states in Malaysia and I lived in another country. With her gone, I don’t know when I’m going to meet my uncles, aunts and cousins again.

With the heart gone, there’s nothing left but an empty, silent house.


A Family That Games Together…

Will either make you laugh so much that you cry, or make you cry like a baby because your dad will take it too seriously and try his best to beat you to the ground and then stomp all over you.

Anyway…

After many, many years of coveting and longing for one, my family finally got ourselves a game console. A Wii to be exact. Sure, it’s not something with superbly good graphics where I can play Arkham Asylum (which by the way, I’ve been DYING to play), but it’s good enough for a family bonding activity. If the game play over the weekend were any indication, I think my dad is totally enjoying it hell of a lot more than my sisters and I are.

The Wii Sports and the Mario Kart that I got to go along with the console were a big hit with the sisters and the dad. Mum was just meh with the thing.

My dad, whose gaming experience is just limited to Puzzle Bobble-like games and various solitaire games on the computer, was totally thrashing my sisters and I at bowling, tennis and golf. The man, whose only work outs in the week were his weekly golf games, was jumping up and down trying to hit the virtual tennis ball in the screen. It was so funny to watch that I spent most of the time on the floor, clutching my tummy from laughing too much.

Later on, my youngest sister, Little Ms Green was rolling on the floor for a totally different reason. My dad had beaten her at tennis and she was just being a sore loser.

Then, we got him to try Mario Kart and my sister got her revenge, though I think that the only reason my dad didn’t win was due to him not being used to the controllers. I would say, give him a few more weeks and he’ll hand us our asses on a platter at every game we play. For an old guy, my dad sure picked up gaming really quick.

Next time, we’re going to see if he’ll ace the Wii Fit as well.


A Family That Eats Together, Can Barely Fit Into The Car After A Buffet

It’s been a quite a while since my family had a proper family outing as my parents always seem to be busy on the weekend. Last Sunday was one of the rare occasions that we finally could go out as a family and do family related activities; namely eat. A lot.

It just so happens that a Sakura International Buffet outlet opened in my neighbourhood sometime ago. My parents had never been to any of the buffet outlets so I thought, since my sister was graduating in a week and it was Mother’s Day last week, why not go out for lunch.

So that’s what we did.

Knowing how popular the buffet restaurant is, we had to be there early to be able to get a table for ourselves. We arrived a few minutes after the lunch hour started and found the place crowded. Fortunately, there were still tables and we managed to secure ourselves a table for the five of us.

My parents had taken a quick look at the selection of food offered and were overwhelmed by the choices. It took them a while before they were comfortable enough with the crowd to get what ever they wanted.

It was great to spend time with my parents, just talking, eating and enjoying their company. It’s not every day that I get to see my dad take a spoonful of clams and declare that he likes it and that it tastes good. He doesn’t even say that about my mum’s cooking (and she’s an awesome cook).

My parents tried all the seafood that was offered and anything else that we rarely had a chance to try. I even got my mum to try some eel, though she didn’t like it. My dad wouldn’t even try it.

I wish that we could spend more time like this but due to all our schedules and my parents being across the causeway for most weekends, it’s hard to spend time together. Though I hope that we get to do this again some time soon.