Saturday, April 19, 2008

Ginza at night...

Those twinkling, frenetic lights were magical, transporting us to another world. You couldn’t help but smile… well, grin, actually, at the explosion of neon. There was a certain innocence about the welcoming brightness, even as they drew you into their decidedly commercial arms. Ah, Ginza!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Six word memoir

Tom couldn’t have chosen a worse time to tag me to write a six-word memoir. He hit me on what could possibly be the worse Monday of MY LIFE (okay, maybe the 21st century, or maybe just this year) – my laptop died on me, leaving me hanging for a couple of days wondering if the hard drive survived the meltdown; and I came down with the mother of all flus.

So my six-word memoir could have been “Damn you, motherboard and nasty bugs.”

Anyway, the memoir rules are…

1) Write your own six-word memoir
2) Post it on your blog and include a visual illustration if you want
3) Link to the person that tagged you in your post, and to the original post if possible so we can track it as it travels across the blogosphere
4) Tag at least five more blogs with links
5) Leave a comment on the tagged blogs with an invitation to play!

Had a hard time with this, not with coming up with six words but with something that seemed representative of a life lived (or being lived). I thought of generic pearls that I try to go by – “Aim for perfection; prepare for failure” but they seem too generic in a bumper-sticker, Hallmark-ish way.

Many combinations reflect concerns of specific life periods. “Renew marriage licences every seven years” comes from a less optimistic period of me and my friends’ lives, and reflects a belief that marriages would have a better survival rate if the piece of paper that binds two people together automatically lapsed after a certain period, forcing the couple to recommit their lives again if they wish to remain legally together (the Fraternity of Divorce Lawyers threatened to take out a contract on my life if I promoted this idea).

Love is often defined in grand gestures – dying on the cross for Everyone; jumping in the path of a bullet for family; giving up an organ; getting down on your knees with a 12-K diamond ring; throwing down your Armani coat on a puddle for the lady; buying 12 dozen roses on Valentine’s Day. But my parents taught me a different lesson about love, and they did it not by sitting me down and giving me A Big Lecture, but through their un-showy, humble actions. Love is “Serving in small ways, every day.”

Every mention of Dungeness crabs, Point Reyes, Alice Waters, the Giants, Frog Hollow Farm peaches sends me into the depths of homesickness. Is “I miss Half Moon Bay sunsets” a six word memoir?

But being back home with family has been a truly wonderful experience, especially gastronomically, as this blog stands witness to. So, my half a dozen-word summation of all that my life on earth has stood for, till this very day, and for many more to come, is:

“I’m only marking time between meals.”

Tagging: nomadicsonglines, JJ, kashgaria and John.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Thank God it's Sunday

Yesterday, Sunday April 13, was a hectic day indeed, perhaps a microcosm of what multi-religious, multi-ethnic Malaysia is, or can be.

After church in the morning, where the pastor regaled us with some funny anecdotes in his sermon on how to build/maintain a good marriage, I rushed off to Methodist Secondary School in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur, to lend some moral support to my siblings and friends who were manning their char kuay teow stall for the Ti-Ratana Food and Fun Fair Family Day.

This is the annual fund-raising effort put on by one of the most active welfare societies in Malaysia, which runs orphanages, old folks’ homes, a women’s shelter, community centres, and a mobile clinic, amongst other services. Ti-Ratana is a Buddhist welfare society, but its aims transcend any one religion, and the multi-ethnic, multi-faith support it receives is heartening.

I’d post pictures except that my hard drive chose to die on me today. ☹ For a taste of what our well-oiled char kuay teow stall looks like, here’s the gang in action during an earlier fund-raising affair.

I had hoped to attend the Save Bukit Gasing family day at 4 pm, but a storm forced me to stay indoors. The event, however, wasn’t cancelled – bless you brave folks – and made the front page of The Malay Mail today. More on this later, although you really have to laugh at the headlines (or shake your head, or smack your head, or yell ‘Alamak’).

You have to laugh, or rather, I have to laugh, to keep my sanity because to despair at the Mayor, and to despair at the many shenanigans of public officials and politicians here would send me into the depths of eternal depression.

Since Mum was vegetarian yesterday, we went out for dinner at our favourite meat-free place – Chinese-ish vegetarian food cooked Indian style by the irrepressible Mr. Gandhi, in Brickfields. Again, pictures when we resurrect the hard drive from the dead.

And finally, the visual highlight of the Sunday – witnessing the luminescent chariot that brightened our night here.

Chariot of fire

Yesterday, Sunday April 13, was a day of prayers and festivities, with the Thais marking Songkran festival (also observed in Penang and other parts of Malaysia) and the Tamils ushering in the Sarvathari (or, Savithri/Savitri) year. Marking the latter in my neck of the woods was this blazing chariot the slowed traffic down, leaving onlookers quite overawed.

Taking pride of place on the chariot is an altar, softly cushioned by beautiful garlands of flowers, while a pleasing and subtle incense wafted through the air as the chariot passed by. Three priests stood on deck, accepting offerings from devotees; their movements slow, deliberate and worshipful.

Two stallions ‘pulled’ the chariot, although the real horsepower came from …

… a sturdy, modern tractor.

This second view of the front of the chariot is notable for the man on the right – he’s the barber who started cutting my hair over 30 years ago, and has seen our neighbourhood grow, and his customers grow up. He charges RM12 for a haircut.

Accompanying the chariot are musicians who kept up a steady beat and melody.

A man with a long pole walked ahead of the chariot, gently lifting up electrical wires to let the procession pass.

Devotees, many of them shorn of their shoes, follow the chariot with their offerings in hand.

The procession passed through multi-ethnic neighbourhoods and the expressions of the residents’ different faiths. For most parts, Malaysians of all beliefs live together without the friction that has torn many nations apart, despite attempts from conservatives of all stripes more interested in raising fences instead of building bridges.

When the chariot stops at a spot where some devotees have gathered, folks young and old hurl coconuts on the ground. An observer of a similar procession notes: “Participants take each coconut and violently smash them to the ground. Hindus believe that the shell of the coconut symbolises the illusions of the earthly realm, the meat corresponds to human "karma", and the milk represents the ego. Smashing the coconuts means renouncing the physical realm and offering oneself to Ganesha.”

One devotee stood in front of the chariot and broke open coconuts with a parang; the coconut juice raining all over the tarred road.

Some stand a little further back, raising their offerings…

… while others stand still in deep prayer.

Everyone, including the priests, found joy in the occasion.