Friday, June 27, 2008

Remembering Cousin

The day Goh Sheow Sun lost his battle against the big C was the day the Taiwanese people experienced one of the biggest shake ups in their earth-quake history of the century (7.4 on the Richter Scale). That was 19-9-1999, just after my youngest brother got married and my parents were there visiting. Fortunately, they were in Taichung and other than some scary, almost violent vibrations, nothing actually fell apart in their neighborhood. The only thing that resulted was power failure and roads were closed for a while.

My cousin loved Art, but he had to survive. He could have done well in Kuala Lumpur, but he hated the place because one day, while alone in the house, some gangsters came and demanded 'protection' money. Badly shaken, he decided he didn't want the designing job offered by a pewter company. He refused to live in KL. He came back home to Penang.

He worked hard and created enough artworks (mostly copper or wood bust-relief carvings) for his own solo exhibition. It was held at the Penang Library. I had the original catalogue and pictures and kept them in my bookshelf for years until I moved to SP. I lost them somewhere in between. These included some catalogues which featured exhibitions in later years in which some of my paintings were exhibited among the works of some contemporary artists of Penang. I should have kept them in a safer place, but those were the years when art wasn't featuring an important part of my life. The bread and butter was. And a roof over our heads.

He later went to work for a towel factory in Butterworth as a designer. Some years later (after he offered his job to me) he moved up in the ranks but he switched his job location to an administrative department as a personnel officer. He eventually became the Personnel Manager. He still worked on his art during his leisure. But due to work commitments which very often took him till late at night, he had no time work on his commissioned artworks. That caused him to burn the midnight oil to get them done. That probably affected his health. Ten years after he was first diagnosed for cancer, operated on to remove it, the thing came back with a vengeance.

I just found his name in the list of Penang Artists but there were no photos or write ups on him or his works. That reminds me, I haven't been to his home in years since his mother's (my 1st aunt) gone, he's gone and his dad's gone too. As for his wife and son, it's been "Hi & bye" sometimes when we chance to meet at weddings, funerals or new year gatherings.

So, 14 July 2008 we dropped by in the evening before heading for home after a visit to parents, and 2nd aunt.  Mrs Goh was overjoyed to see us.  We learned that she's going to renovate the old house soon as it was overrun by termites which destroyed all her father-in-law's and Sheow Sun's artworks stored in the back room. 

Here's one left intact because it's hanging on the wall. 


Here's a shot of some his ancestors.


And one of the family in front of the house

All of life is a masquerade


As a baby, being shown in your birthday clothes is a 'shame-shame'.  You get dressed up in the best to make you look good when presented to all visitors.  That goes on throughout your life when you go for meetings with new school teachers, new friends, interviews for college, jobs, clients, future spouse, and so on up the hierarchy in life.  You always have to show your best face, best foot forward, best behavior. 


First impressions counts in millions.  Never come as you are.  If the other finds out the real you later, it doesn't matter.  That first image has been accepted and it stays.  Sometimes for live.


That's how the image generation business came about.  The commercial part of everything.  We wake up to that everyday of our lives, unless we move into the jungle.  Everything great or small, good or bad, when presented in the best possible light becomes acceptable ranging from mild to great in demand, at times even creating riots when crowds scramble to grab the last morsels. 


When institutions start to rot and find their ratings hitting bottom need to survive, they sometimes go for a rebranding.  Nobody thinks of that as a lie.  Nobody thinks of that as an illusion.  It's all part of business, of life.


It's an open secret.  To get people to keep their thoughts of you in your favor, to prevent a change in their opinions of you, you need to keep brainwashing them. 


Humans, we are past masters of masquerade.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Batik Painter

A heavily meaningful poem by Huzir Sulaiman (the Sunday Star) that paints a picture of the other side of Malaysia, of the poor and forgotten people who are only remembered when votes are needed to win elections.



The ground’s not all mud from yesterday’s rain
The long grass is thick, and thickens each hour
Ruts from the heavy Pajeros remain
In those tyre-tracks: water, blue leaflets, a flower

The wax melts and pools, viscous and slow
The fabric accepts it, and colours retreat
       My daughter went south two days ago
       Outside, damp slippers remember her feet

Worn metal, my canting; warm resin; thick wax
Some mornings I tremble, but patterns unfold
       Blue leaflets turn sodden, then suddenly black
       The convoys are gone; torn bunting sprout mould

       Three months after March, half smirk and half slap:
       “Things go up. Share the burden. Times are tight.”
My chocolate dye starts brown at the tap
My daughter went south; she went there to fight              

The gunnysack’s light, and lightens each week
A silence has settled; our air starts to thin
Our fabric accepts it; our fabric is meek
Slow and viscous the trap we paint ourselves in

They picked up her teeth one by one off the ground
The rain smearing fluids pooling like wax
The red-sided trucks making cannibal sounds
Bells ringing; coughing; torn placards on tyre-tracks

I put down my canting; I must go to bed
My wife’s dusty mirror has cracks in the frame
I have always done whatever they said
When cold, wax hardens. I turn off the flame.



The batik painter of a northern state (most probably Kelantan) lived through a campaign for the general elections.  "Blue leaflets" signify government campaigners in their "heavy Pajeros".


His daughter "went south" to support anti-government demonstrations in Kuala Lumpur.  She was attacked and badly injured (they picked her teeth off the ground) by brutal law enforcers in their "red-sided trucks making cannibal sounds".


He suffered the victorious government's callous decision to raise prices of essential goods "three months after March" elections.  Meanwhile water from the taps still came out in polluted brown color.  And food runs low as the gunnysack gets lighter each week.


Nothing's changed.  He's "always done whatever they said" and went to vote diligently, but he still remained poor as his "wife's dusty mirror has cracks in the frame".  And "when cold, wax hardens" as the flame is turned off until the next elections, when the flame is turned on again.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

It's Only In Your Dreams

The brain is like a hard disk and the mind is like an operating system. When we sleep, it wanders along on screensaver.  It picks out data at random and reacting to our surroundings and our physical conditions, creates scenes out of our subconscious thought patterns and strings them together into a story.  That explains why we sometimes can even continue on a dream when we go back to sleep after getting up in the night.

Sometimes they resemble our past because it picks on images out of our vast store of memories.  Sometimes they piece together random images of people and places and they blend them together to become faces or places we’ve never seen or been before or an occasion we've never experienced at all or an event that's yet to happen or never happened at all.  Ever remember once in a while you're doing something or at some place and you thought you'd been there or done that?  Ever met someone you thought you'd met before?  Probably it's true, but it's only in your dreams.

That’s what a dream is all about.  I think.

Thanks to Bengbeng for triggering this thought process.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The tailgater


Every time we hit the expressway our main aim is to move into the fast lane.  It has become a habit.  The slow lane isn't inviting at all because there are the 'too slow drivers' whose fastest is around the region of 80 kph.  You make yourself tired more quickly weaving in and out between lanes.  On top of that is the bumpy ride.  Having slow-moving and heavy vehicles on that side all the time probably wears out the tarmac faster.  There are always rough patches coming up barely a few months after each resurface.  So we keep on the fast lane and make way for speedsters when they show up in the rear-view.  Not quite a safe strategy, but then, out on the highway, when's it ever safe?


I was in the 65% seat as usual.  That seat is dubbed 65% because the vulnerability in case of a crash is roughly in that region.  My colleague was driving, and his usual speed was 110-130 kph.  Morning traffic around this time on the expressway was normal and easy-going.  But that morning our driver was a bit edgy.  I soon noticed why.  He was grumbling under his breath about some crazy guy behind us.  A tailgater.  He speeded up slightly.  The tailgater followed suit and kept sticking to our behind.  For us normal guys that's uncomfortable to say the least.


We braced ourselves for some quick change in our situation.  Soon enough, we noticed about a kilometer further down the road there appeared to be something not quite ordinary had just happened.  Our driver reduced his speed slightly but was on the lookout for a gap in the next lane.  He was an occasional tailgater himself, but he knew the hazards pretty well.  As soon as he got one gap that gave him enough clearance he cut in to it. 


The tailgater zoomed pass us.  He found himself staring at a couple of glaring red tail lights which were moving at less than half his speed.  Surprised, he swerved right with his tires emitting squeals and smoke.  His fender grazed the center guard rails and bounced back into the lane and 'swayed his dancing hips' a few times.  Somehow he managed to avoid major damage.  We could have given him a standing ovation, only we couldn't stand up.  We just clapped our hands as we cruised past him.  It was too dark for him to see our brief jubilation anyway.


By this time, in front of us was the site of an overturned truck with it's load of fruits and vegetables spilled all over the tarmac leaving only a small gap for us to pass through.


See ya Mr. Tailgater.  We may never meet again, but then there are your relatives who behave just like you out there somewhere.  They may not be as lucky.  That goes for us too, but we hope they give us a sign so we can avoid them.  We're not too eager to compete with them anyway.  We're allergic to sudden stops.


Crabs on the run


Friend of the wife bought us some crabs.  That being yesterday, 15th of the lunar month - our vegetarian day.  So we had to keep them overnight.  She left them in a plastic basin, placed a cover over it and left it on the dining table.  Somehow I thought we might be running after crabs in the middle of the night.  The moments of doing routine things is when brilliant thoughts happen.  But when I got out of the bathroom to go to bed, I'd already forgotten about it.

4.30 am; when we got up to go to the bathroom, wifey saw a black object on the floor outside our girl's bedroom door.  In the dim light of the night-lamp I couldn't figure out what it was.  I grabbed the torch-light.  Before I could decide what it was, wifey found more of the black objects crawling around the floor.  Crabs!!!  They managed to lift up the cover.  Must have acted in unison.

One went as far as the backdoor.  Too bad, he couldn't reach the lock.  Another got into the bathroom.  No way he could lift the 'escape' hatch without his arms.  A big guy was wandering around in the kitchen.  He must have thought it was better to end it all quickly instead of being tied up like that.  Luckily they were already 'disarmed', otherwise it would have been a huge problem catching them.

After all that action, it's goodbye sleep until the alarm. 


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Parting

Pacing back and forth


Footsteps on floorboards


At the ferry terminal


Listening to the waves


The muted conversations




Our direction at this interval


On which boat is she?


Maybe the separation has changed her


When did the baby learn to walk?


Where would she stay tomorrow?


Has the baby learned to talk?


Blinking back tears


We'd lost


One whole year




When he left her and the baby, they both hadn’t known that parting could be such a bitter experience.  Only when she arrived back home alone and went into her room that she began to feel the loneliness.  Somehow the baby gave her some comfort.


She called them train caterpillars.  She could not stand those creepy, crawly things that kept coming into the house or the room at night.  They're red in color and they made her skin crawl as they traverse along on the cement floor like trains moving without tracks.  There were also those dark colored slugs which left behind long slimy trails over the walls.  It was tough work trying to clean those marks off.  Cleaning the house and mopping the floors at least kept her busy and her mind off her worries and fears.  But the nights always seem to be too long to get through.  There was only the pillow she could weep on.  And it became thoroughly stained with dried tears before long.  It was to remain like that in years to come, whenever she stripped off the cover for washing he would see it and be reminded of how she suffered.


Sometimes she'd be left alone in the house after dinner is done and she only had the baby and no one else to talk to.  The noises of the night from outside often scared her.  The cackling of lizards would startle her.  She was also not comfortable with the dog.  Trying to feed him was scary.  As soon as he saw her bringing his bowl of food, he'd stand up on his hind legs.  She'd try to avoid him but he'd follow her until she put down the bowl.  But, at least there's the dog.  Otherwise, it would have been worse.  Their nearest neighbor lived a quarter mile away on the next farm.


It was the constant moving from the country-side house to her sister's house and then to her mother's, that at least gave her some relief.  But she often wondered when this traveling back and forth would end.  The only consolation she got was that the father-in-law would willingly drive her to and from the ferry terminal and sometimes enquire when she'd be coming home again.   Home?  Where's home where there's no one to hold me at night?  When will this waiting end?  When will I see you again?  When will you be home again?


There were letters from him every few weeks or so.  She wasn't very comfortable with writing letters and the replies she wrote were mostly about their baby.  She couldn't tell him about her fears, not wishing to make him worried.  In the beginning, his job wasn't so bad as the factory was not completely set up yet.   They had some time to visit a few interesting places.  But later, the image of horrible working conditions began to appear in his descriptions of his work.  That began to add to her troubles.  She now began to worry about him.  Is he eating well?  Is he healthy?  Does he get enough rest?  


Once, while riding on the ferry crossing the channel with the baby in her arms, she thought about ending the misery.  There were some tiffs with the in-laws, but she could not complain as her mother had told her before she left her home to be married that she would not want to hear of any complains.  She would not let her mother be hurt by any of that.


Then, one day, the waiting ended and he came home.  And he vowed that he’d never leave her again.  Not for all the wealth in the world.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Survive, any old how...


Friend: Everybody's complaining about prices going up, up, up...

Me:       So, what's new? Is it going to help by complaining? Why don't we just go out less, and eat less? Then we have less problems with our weight, BP, pain here, pain there.... Then we can take out our old 'shrunken' - 32" pants and wear them again. Another cost saving. Besides, when you go out less, you spend less on petrol.

Friend: How to earn some extra pocket money? You got any kangtau or not?

Me:       Take a walk in the neighborhood. You see those aluminium cans and plastic water bottles that people simply use and throw by the roadside? Those are the 'coins' you can pick up, while you get some exercise. You always complain you have no chance to exercise. This one, good chance to kill two birds with one stone.

Friend: Nah!!! You ask me to go and pick rubbish meh? No class lah!!! And then, walking is not enough exercise for me lah. And these days, the weather's too hot and the air outside's so dusty. I prefer the workouts in the aircond gym. But gym also want to increase subscription. Beh tahan leh...

Me:       Earn money, you want, class also you want? Must always have 'class' meh? Pocket kosong never mind? Try the Ekor (betting) shop!!! Maybe you have luck there.

These people no need to worry about petrol price hike.  This schoolbus operator's not about to increase his fare no matter how high the price of oil goes.

Photo: pinched from someplace where they don't have real schoolbuses.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Alternative Therapy

This therapy involves massage of the area
around the nail of the finger tips, thumbs and big toes.  The guy
wears a pair of copper thumb-cots while doing that.  The next procedure
involves rolling a golf-ball over the back and palm of both hands.  The
harder the pressure he exerts the quicker the recovery, he claims.  

As a result of a prolapsed disc in the lower
back, my sister-in-law wasn’t able to get up for a few days.  There
was numbness in her leg.  

On her first visit, she had to call for a
halt after a few minutes so she could lie down for a while.  The pain
was unbearable.  Then she got up to continue the treatment.  By
the time he finished with the fingers and thumbs, she could stand up and
put her foot on a chair for him to work on her big toe.  That night,
she could get to the bathroom all by herself.  The worse your condition
the more dramatic the result, it seems.

The therapy is for clearance of restrictions
to the flow of blood and ‘chi’ from the location of pain.  Where
there is restriction that’s where the pain is.  The massaging of
the fingers and palms where the nerve ends in the system are located speeds
up the clearance of the restricted blood vessels, thus speeding up the
healing process.

I still have the pesky neck pain so I went
along to find out if it works.  It seems a lot better now except for
some stiffness in one area and the inability to turn my head fully to the
right without meeting with resistance.  And I’m supposed to lay off
glutinous rice, yams, ducks, long beans and salted vegetables.  (And
that means no more “bah chang”.)

Anyway, two more sessions later, the outlook
appeared slightly better.  The longer your problem, the harder for
it to get better.  But if this works, it's a lot cheaper and more
convenient than going to a chiropractor who charges a bomb for each treatment,
and yet never answers your questions satisfactorily.  This one costs
RM12 for the initial treatment and RM5 for each subsequent session.  And
no, I can't claim insurance or the company for this.

The Mimosa Experiment

After more than 5 weeks with this pain-in-the-neck I suspected a possible relapse of my former condition.  Although it's not as serious, heck, it's still a pain in the neck.  Maybe this time it's not the prolapsed disc but somehow a bone spur could have formed in or around the same spot which is giving my previously injured nerve a challenge at close proximity.  Taking a recipe from an old auntie, and based on some info from the net below I decided to give this mimosa concoction a trial run.  

I pulled out the whole plant by the roots, cut off the branches and leaves leaving only the 'head' and the roots.  I collected about 5 ot 6 of these, washed and threw them into the pot of about 3 bowls of water and toss in a piece of (2" to 3"size) lean meat, then cook it for about 2 hours until I get 1 bowl of soup left.  

It is stated in a website, a good point about mimosa's nerve regeneration properties:

".....In experimental animals a crude extract from the plant showed a mild to moderate diuretic response. The total plant extract was depressant on isolated rabbit duodenum. The percent decrease in either amplitude or frequency of duodenal contractions was found to be only marginally different from that found
after a similar dose of atropine sulphone. In a study of the effect of Lajjalu on regeneration of nerve in experimental animals it was seen that the plant enhances regeneration by 30-40%.

The medicinal use of the plant Mimosa pudica dates back to Charaka and Sushruta. The
sensitive plant is commonly used for bleeding disorders like menorrhagia, dysentery with blood and mucus, and piles. The root powder or decoction is used. The juice of freshly crushed leaves is used internally and externally in piles. A preliminary clinical trial, in 9 women with menorrhagia, exhibited promising results with relief in severity of bleeding. It is also applied externally to fissures, skin wounds and ulcers. Its action on small blood vessels is implicated in its hemostatic property.

Other websites on Mimosa:

After 6 trials and no positive results, I gave that up.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Living Frugally - Car-Pooling


Good news and bad news. 

First, the bad news: Petrol price increase by a huge jump. 

Now the good news:  Our carpool gang is saving more. 

(C'mon.  Look at things positively, ok?)


The four of us living in SP and working in Perai have been car-pooling to work each day for the last 14 years.  Well, some members went and new ones joined us, but we almost always managed to maintain our gang of four.  The important thing is, we share that give-and-take attitude.  We keep our focus positively on the savings we get out of it.  Guess we have been lucky as well because we work in the same dept.  We save a lot, and we help the environment.


For our schedule; each person drives for one week in rotation.  We use the first letter of our names, spell it as S.T.A.R. and we never forget who's turn it is to drive.  No need for a roster, schedule sheet or a calendar.  We call it the STAR Alliance.  We fix our unwritten rules and live by them.



Before petrol price hike:                RM

Toll                               =            7.20

Petrol                            =          12.80

Maintenance                  =          2.00

Total per day                 =          22.00


Total per month              =          484.00

Cost per member           =          121.00

Monthly savings then   =          363.00


After petrol price hike:                   RM

Toll                               =            7.20

Petrol                            =          18.00

Maintenance                  =          2.00

Total per day                 =          27.20


Total per month              =          594.40

Cost per member           =          148.60

Monthly savings now   =          445.80


Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Going Two Wheelers To Cut Costs?

With the price of oil going skywards and the cost of our petrol aiming to go in the same direction, someone suggested we should go on two wheelers to cut costs. 

I'd still think twice about the motorbike.  Years ago I rode one when gas was cheap but cash was harder to come by and I was a lone-ranger.  I kept getting knocked down, and I remember that the 5 mishaps out of 6 times within the 15 years that I rode the bike weren't my fault.  I was lucky I didn't lose any limbs or worse, my life.  But I hate being vulnerable.  And that was the traffic volume of twenty or more years ago.

Well I've knocked and I've got knocked into about the same number of times since I upgraded to driving a car, but at least it only cost me money.  

I decided money can't buy back any limbs or life when one gets knocked off a motorbike judging by the number of fatalities from this sector these days.  I'd rather spend the money and be a lot safer (by percentages) in the car than out there on two wheels with no walls between me and those killing machines whizzing about every which way.


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Coffin Broker

5X-Mom blogged about how they picked coffins for the deceased.

I am reminded of one amusing story related by an old friend.

The broker who acts between buyers and the coffin-maker uses a signal to tell how much to charge a particular customer. Genuine poor folks are charged less while the rich are quoted with more exorbitant prices. The broker would bring a customer into the shop and show him around and helps him pick a coffin. When the customer shows interest in any particular piece, the broker would start talking about how good and beautiful that piece is and keeps patting on it as he speaks. The coffin maker would keep counting the number of times he pats on it and multiply that by RM1000. That will determine the cost of the coffin to this particular customer and the amount of commission the broker gets.

It so happened there was this new broker who got carried away by his enthusiasm while trying to get one customer to look at a beautiful coffin he particularly liked. He kept patting on the thing and forgot to count the number of times he was supposed to pat it. After the customer made his decision he wanted to know what was the cost. The coffin maker then pulled the broker aside and asked him quietly, “Hey, friend. How many times did you actually pat on this thing? By rough estimate this guy must be so damn rich!!!”