The Big Easy

hello hellooo, this is kafka. quaintly is away saving the world so i get to sit in this chair and tell my stories :) i spent last christmas break exactly the way i wanted – lounging in the pleasantly warm winter of my surrogate hood in the upper west side with her. we went to the movies, shopped for presents and caught up with old friends. we even got a small, spriggy christmas tree, a charlie brown kind which i dubbed ‘the little tree that could’. o tannenbaum, did we put the nicest ornaments on you: toy soldiers, shining star and all! but the cold did get to us eventually and so a few weeks ago, we decided to exchange a temperamental heater for a short trip down south to sunny New Orleans. quaintly likes to call it N’awlins, twanging the Cajun accent considerably better than i can whenever we talk to the locals. and they were some of the nicest, friendliest people we’ve met, serving us sweet moonshine whiskey and sharing their favourite food haunts so generously. which is how we found ourselves ooh-ing and aah-ing to the best soul-soothing gumbo, shrimp and grits, and batter fried alligator the city had to offer. quaintly will probably beat me with a stick for doing so little justice to the gorgeous food we had, so i’ll leave it to her to say more next time (plus, she has all our pictures!). but in between shopping for antiques and stumbling into labyrinthine cemeteries, it was a much deserved holiday with my number one travel person.

like almost everyone, i like to travel. i know it’s probably an accessible truism in this modern age of budget airlines and online travel forums, but it’s always a pleasure to chuck my stuff into a bag and just pour out into the world. some of my fonder memories have been in places like the sleepy seaside town of Montauk and the mountaintop Incan ruins of Machu Picchu. i have a soft spot for sunrises (as i do for lazy picnics and urban parks), and watching the sun rise over the great Atlantic or the lost city of the Incas, i’m reminded of what i cherish most about my travels: having the luxury of time to muse. there’s just something about being transplanted to a new place amongst new people. without much coaxing, my mind turns to conjuring up all manner of speculations from the banal to the fantastic. why does a city allow garbage to pile up in the piazzas? why does fish cost so much when we’re surrounded by the Mediterranean? and mainly for quaintly’s benefit, i sometimes frame my musings in catchy jingle and rhyme. while she never fails to give me her sweetest layan face, her probing questions such as the one on the existential lament of my turnip song tell me that she secretly enjoys it. and i secretly quite enjoy her ripostes to my endless hypotheticals too. ultimately, it doesn’t matter what we do or where we go; boarding a plane with quaintly is a special kind of adventure that i hold close to my heart for the discoveries, inane jokes and moments that sneak up from behind me and change my life. when she gets back from saving the world, i’ll have to remember to tell her how easy she’s made all this for me. and then maybe we’ll go looking for more gumbo.

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Pemohonan yang Sedang Diproses

there are big portions of my life in which i forget that i am no longer 18. in these days, weeks, and sometimes months, i believe it is okay for me to fall unconditionally into deep thought and nostalgia, oblivious to the world and completely in harmony with my hopes, goals and state of being. but the world contains these built-in mechanisms to remove us occasionally from such states, and delivers into our unwitting hands some kind of shock that jolts us out of the complacence and contentment. when that happens to me a small kernel of panic usually unfurls, and i look around thinking, oh shit, where the fuck am i in life? a mad scramble, and then i am back at unhappy square one, realizing that a year has passed and i have been with each day increasingly dissatisfied with the fact that i have remained true to myself. isn’t it bizarre? i wish sometimes with all my might that i could enjoy more this process of doing and undoing, but i can’t stop myself from being over-analytical about the entire process. am i doing it right? is there something i should be avoiding? what can i learn from my mistakes? at the end of it all i find myself breathless, tired and incredibly pessimistic.

i have been saying for some time now that there are many days when i don’t recognize myself. which might seem at odds with my earlier assertion that i have quite stubbornly and accidentally remained true to myself. but both statements are true, in an odd binary on/off switch. sometimes, there is the reprieve of a grey area, but these are hard to come by in the wretched economy of my nature. so often i want to surge forward and adapt to the curveballs that the environment throws at me, and i want to be the best at that — but i also want to be the old, indulgent, happy me. if there is anything that the last several years have taught me, it is that the competitive road is a long and twisted one, littered often not with friends but people who think smart, work smart and eliminate smart. certainly there is very little place for indulgence in too many things, and happiness is something that is clawed towards in victory. that — or remain simple, oblivious and honest. and i think that is what i’ve been coming to terms with for so long: how to be happy despite the stark and steep loss of innocence that is all part of the puzzle of growing up.

a big welcome home to myself, on this blog that i have abandoned for some months now! i was surprised to find that my last entry was all the way in september — a bittersweet scribbling about my grandmother, who is back home in malaysia, steadfastly unspeaking but still so very adorable to me. a lot has changed since then, and the world still seems to be spinning at a ridiculous pace. there have, however, been two overarching themes: What am I Going to Do with My Life now that graduation is looming (oh, my) and what i have no other words for but a Purifying Overhaul of how i’m choosing to live. i can’t say i’m doing very well at either, as i still don’t quite know what i am going to do with my life nor am i living a purely overhauled way of life… but it has been such a revolutionary time. that is the best kind! it is an amazing feeling to discover that after much toil and trouble, what you want at the end is what you wanted at the beginning.

that’s me just before the new year’s, in a lamp shop in the french quarter of new orleans. lamp shops occupy a very special place in my heart, and stepping into one is often like a homecoming, a nostos to some kind of truth.

happy new year, everyone! may your 2012 be filled with all the very best things a year can bring.

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Hair Like Snow

when i was in standard one, my grandmother showed up outside my classroom at school, a little nervous and jittery, and asked to speak to me. it was a strange obtrusion, but i was quite pleased to see her nevertheless, so i hopped out of my seat very quickly and scurried to the door in excitement. she told me to bring out my schoolbag, and when i did she quickly opened it, revealing thick stacks of foreign currency in the front compartment of my bag. i had no idea that there was any money in my bag, or why she put it there that morning when she was packing my peanut butter sandwich lunch for me, but she seemed relieved that there was even any money there at all.

when i went home after school, i found out that the money belonged to my dad, and the news around the house was that i had stolen the money. no one ever yelled at me (i think they thought i saw some money and just grabbed it without much thought) so i wasn’t too perturbed. i knew it was my grandmother who had put the money in my backpack, because she does things like that sometimes, putting things where they don’t belong or forgetting what she had just said a few minutes ago. i wondered for a brief moment if she had defended me or if she had allowed everyone to believe i had taken the money… but then i realized i didn’t care either way. there are these people that we love, and sometimes they do very strange things, but you love them anyway because you know they are good people.

a year later i got in trouble with my dad over some chinese traditions (he is quite superstitious) and he had started to cane me. my brothers are the type who run helter skelter around the house when caned, but for some reason i never knew i was allowed to do that, and so i’d sit and grab at my legs, howling like a dog while being caned. at some point, as she always does, my grandmother tried to stop him, but she moved a little too slowly and got slashed by the rattan cane on her arm. she has this condition where she has very thin blood viscosity, and bruises and bleeds easily, this occasion being no different — and the night was punctuated with a long bloody gash on her right arm. later that night (after she made us some hot milo) we sat in bed putting talcum powder on each other’s wounds and talking until we fell asleep.

i’m missing my grandmother a lot tonight. it’s about 5pm in KL now so she’ll be just about getting ready to have dinner – this disgusting porridge blended with carrots that smells absolutely foul but is supposed to be good for her. i haven’t had a real conversation with her since i was 13 and even those were disconnected smatterings of sounds and words. in this world very few people can be that proverbial friend who sits with us on a swing, saying nothing, and leave us feeling like it was the best conversation we’ve ever had. my grandmother is one of those people for me. whenever i have the opportunity to go home for breaks over the school year, i like to lie in bed with her and just sleep. she pulls my hair sometimes to wake me up but those are still the deepest sleeps that i will get to have for a long time.

some pictures of old people, taken while i was working in hong kong this summer:

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Sunset during Seminar

as i was sitting in seminar the other day, the sun was setting and slicing through the blinds, throwing onto the ground right at my feet a slender blade of golden evening sunlight. it was a simple and small sight that took my breath away, and it is such moments that hold before me, in a quick flash, all the things i enjoy doing and all the things i want to be. i was reminded then of how long it has been since i have written anything, let alone anything that i was proud of. but these days i feel no urge to write. moments like the one in class do sometimes tug at me, and then i feel a spark deep inside me to plunge once again into my quiet writing space, but this flicker quickly dissipates. i remember how i used to think that worlds besides our own were best looked at through the lens of prose and the written word… but it has been the longest time since i have made that argument to any willing listener.

why, then? it’s a little bit like the case of Sumire from Haruki Murakami’s book Sputnik Sweetheart, and how she felt that she couldn’t write anymore after she had met Miu, the subject of her love and affections. since meeting Miu and spending time with her, it was as if Sumire had stopped thinking and started living, expanding the boundaries of her world no longer through writing and reading but simply by sharing experiences with Miu. that is how i feel now. i feel as if i have found the one best friend whom i have been searching for for so long, and now that i have him i don’t need to put anything down in writing in order to understand it better. all i have to do is talk to him. when something excites me he is the first and many times the only person i want to tell. when i am scared or anxious he takes it all away just with one phone call. it sounds silly and dangerous but so often i feel that my deepest and truest self feeds on existing in the same world as his.

ah. dont i sound like a silly 14 year old girl :) when i was 14 i was rather emotionally vulnerable. by the time i had met kafka i was a wreck – an angry wreck who couldn’t trust perfectly anymore and had little faith in things and people. but then i met him, and could not believe how lucky i had gotten. i think i am slowly but surely getting the hang of this trusting and loving thing… i feel better and stronger. i am still vulnerable but i know that i am in good hands.

p/s okay okay.. very cheesy, i know :) but i’m not usually like this…

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Burst

it is -

the sandy shore of monday morning once again, grainy crumbs of the weekend past are under my feet, and the sharp, hopeful air of dawn makes me feel like i am invincible. the sounds of the azan from the nearby mosque are mingling nicely with kafka’s snores from the next room, a pale contrast to the euphoric shouts and the frantic uproar in libya as she claws and crawls her way to freedom. i’m slightly delirious from the lack of sleep but this is such a great morning. i could not miss it even if i tried. hours like these make me feel like stretching out! my arms and embracing the world. doing lots of homework. smiling hello to everyone. reading the newspaper end to end. going to the morning market with my grandmother, just like in the years when she could still walk and talk, and recognize me.

oh world. oh life. you can be so humbling at the weirdest of moments. why is it that the right answers come only when you stop searching, exactly at the right times, at the very last possible fraction of the minute?

there is something so funny about knowing that you have the right answer. my benchmark is that first taste of roti kosong and a small pinch of sugar in a mouthful, when i was in kindergarten. perfection, and so simple too. okay. delirium taking over. going to sleep. goodnight! tell me a story if you have the time.

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