Archives for category: Imperfect Malaysia

Hijau means ‘green’ in Malay.

Since it’s St Paddy’s Day this weekend, I would like to dedicate a song by one of Malaysia’s most legendary musicians, Zainal Abidin, the artiste behind Hijau, a song about global warming which was way ahead of its time when it was released in 1990.

I know St Patrick’s isn’t about global warming, but it is about the colour green. Which makes this song most appropriate.


I’ve provided the lyrics and a translation. I’m sure I’ve made some mistakes somewhere as my Malay is rusty (especially where the Kelantanese kicks in) so please feel free to correct me.

Hijau (Green)

Bumi yang tiada rimba (A world without forests)
Seumpama hamba (is like a slave)
Dia dicemar manusia (she is polluted by humans)
Yang jahil ketawa (who only laugh ignorantly)

Bumi yang tiada udara (A world without air)
Bagai tiada nyawa (is a world without life)
Pasti hilang suatu hari (it will one day disappear)
Tanpa disedari (without realisation)

Bumi tanpa lautan (A world without the oceans)
Akan kehausan (will thirst)
Pasti lambat laun hilang (it will eventually vanish)
Duniaku yang malang (my unfortunate world)

Dewasa ini kita saling merayakan (In recent days we are always celebrating)
Kejayaan yang akhirnya membinasakan (Successes that in the end will destroy us)
Apalah gunanya kematangan fikiran (What is the use of maturity of thinking)
Bila di jiwa kita masih lagi muda (when our souls remain infantile)
Dan mentah (and raw)
Ku lihat hijau (I see green)

Bumiku yang kian pudar (My fading world)
Siapa yang melihat (Who sees you?)
Di kala kita tersedar (By the time we realise)
Mungkinkah terlewat (it might be too late) 

Korupsi,opresi,obsesi diri (Corruption, oppression, self obsession)
Polusi,depressi,di bumi,kini (Pollution, depression on earth, now)

Oh …anok-anok (Oh, children)
tokleh meghaso mandi laok (will not feel how it is to swim in the sea)
Besaing,maing ghama-ghama (and play in it together)
Ale lo ni tuo umurnyo bejuto (this earth is millions of years old)
Kito usoho (we work)
Jauhke dari malapetako (to stave away disaster)
Ozon lo ni koho nipih nak nak aghi (the ozone is thinning and we still)
Keno make asak (keep burning)
Hok biso wei,pasa maknusio (poisoned by humans)
Seghemo bendo-bendo di dunio (all the things in this world)
Tokleh tehe (will not last)
Sapa bilo-bilo (forever)

Homesickness is a natural affliction even among those of us who have semi-migrated (as in we’re not sure if we want to remain away for too long, and yet have accepted that we won’t be going back anytime soon).

Aside from the occasional yearning for the familiar, most of which has to do with the food, there is also a keen sense of not being part of what has defined me for so long: my nationality as a Malaysian.

15 months after leaving home, I find that I have become more patriotic, in that I now care a great deal more about what is happening in my country.

Before, I had been too busy living my life; getting married, popping babies, playing video games. Now, when I am not at home, when I have more time to read and reflect, when I have the chance to see how other people live in a whole other country, certain issues come into perspective and it is as though someone has given you glasses or one of those newfangled Lasik procedure thingies.

Even though I was a writer back home, the field I was in (technology) did not give me a lot of opportunities to write about Important Stuff. Sure, I read the papers and knew all the right people but it was also because I never truly cared about much of anything else except the next Bioware/Wizards of the Coast RPG because I’d always thought that nothing I could write or say would ever make a dent in what was wrong with our country or in fact, the world at large.

Which may be why you rarely see me comment on anything serious unless it really ticks me off.  

There will always be greed. There will always be corruption. There will always be the same asshole who tries to take your place in line or your livelihood or fool around with your wife/husband. Until the Vulcans make up their minds to descend upon us and make first contact (or until Samy Vellu imposes another toll hike), we will always be divided by these petty issues. My philosophy in a nutshell.

All that has changed.

This is what having children does to you, sad to say, especially for those of us who can’t be moved to care for those not related by blood (or boon). It makes you want to control and predict everything.

We relocated here for very practical reasons: money and opportunities. We had the chance and we took it.

My girls are pure Malaysian Chinese but even as I am writing this, they are rapidly losing their identities. Rae speaks only English with a strong American accent, and Sky will probably not learn Chinese nor Manglish. They love their adopted country and already possess significantly Western palates (sandwiches for lunch, not economy rice; pasta for dinner, not hokkien mee).

Everything seems to be pointing us in the direction of never going home. As such, why do I still want to stick my nose in the affairs of a country I may not call home again in many more years?

It’s homesickness.

It’s patriotism.

It’s the damn food, I tell ya.

What keeps me up at night these days are things I read on Malaysiakini and other prominent political blogs.

Like last night, when I read how our Tourism Minister called me a liar.

And how two of said prominent bloggers are being hauled to court because some people high up have been embarassed and now want blood.

And how scandal has been allowed to fester because of high-level cover-up.

And how important books are being banned, while penis origami literature is being hawked for all to see at shopping malls.

And how buildings of heritage are being torn down for big business.

What is wrong with Malaysia? What do we need for our country to survive the 21st century or risk disintegrating into a civilisation lost to corruption, complacency and apathy?

What will it take for us to make it?

We already know the answer:

We need to raise literacy levels.

We are in critical need of a proper education system.

We need real democracy.

We need integrity in our leadership.

We need integrity, period.

We need equality.

We need financial wisdom.

We need change.


Come this August, Malaysia will be independent from British rule 50 years.

Will we have to wait another 50 years for real change?

(translation of title: “Stay in your coconut shell, frog!” This is a popular Malay saying to refer to someone who is poorly exposed).


For someone who’s all about travel, I would really like to know from which skanky tempurung did Tengku Adnan, Malaysia’s Tourism Minister, crawl out from.

Marina Mahathir’s Rantings blog linked an outrageous outburst by the Tengku in Sin Chew (a Malaysian Chinese paper) as blogged by Elizabeth Wong, a prominent Malaysian activist, who did a quick translate on the piece:

Bloggers are liars. They use all sort of ways to cheat others. From what I know, out of 10,000 unemployed bloggers, 8,000 are women.

“Bloggers like to spread rumours, they don’t like national unity. Today our country has achievements because we are tolerant and compromising. Otherwise we will have civil war.

“Malays will kill Chinese, Chinese will kill Malays, Indians will kill everybody else.”

He asked people not to believe bloggers and gamble away Malaysia’s future because 50 years of Merdeka (Independence) takes a lot to achieve it.

“We have to show to the people our positive attitude. If the world learns from us, there will peace and no civil war.

Are these leaders we’ve put in our government?

Never mind the flippant disregard for International Women’s Day or the doubtful accuracy of his little ‘factoid’ there that “80 per cent of unemployed bloggers are women”, and the clever little slur there of racial mass murder, but where on God’s green earth is his media training?

Do they give media training under the tempurung? They certainly have managed to elicit some covert intel on umemployed bloggers that nobody else has, that’s for sure.

Pop over to Liz’s entry for more links and a full commentary.

This is a special post for my new American friends and old Ipoh pals who feel like taking a trip home through time to our beloved Ipoh.

I found these pictures in Flickr taken by various people and picked the few I liked best, just to give you a peek at where I grew up.

Do visit their Flickr pages by clicking on the images.

You can read a brief history of Ipoh here (not sure how accurate the info is).

Ipoh, pronounced “ee-po”, was named after the Ipoh Tree, pictured here.

These are photos of what we call “Ipoh old town”. I blogged many times of my Koo Ma’s saloon. This is what the back of it used to look like. Of course, it will always look new and freshly painted in my mind’s eye.

Another one in Sepia of a backlane at sunrise.

And this is the front.

This is just one block from Yau Tet Shin street, if my geography is still accurate.


Traveling by motorcycle is very popular in Ipoh, as we are a small city and our roads are not wide.

It is both nostalgic and sad to look at these old buildings, which will be torn down one day to make way for newer ones. These are perhaps one of the last pictures of old Ipoh shops. Dylan Lim has an eye for such sights. Be sure to visit his Flickr page for more.

One of the few tourist attractions of Ipoh, these Chinese temples are built into the limestone mountains, adjoining caves that contain some of the most fascinating natural architectures in the country. I used to be terrified of the idols in these caves, for some reason. Everytime I walked into one, I would feel a chill and yet I’d continue to explore, staring up on the sometimes angry, sometimes benign faces of the deities and gods, saying a silent, fervent prayer in my child’s head throughout, asking for forgiveness for ANY indiscretion.

Can you blame me, with sculptures such as this?

Ah, the ever serene Buddha. The only comforting sculpture, next to Kuan Yin, that made me feel better.

The famous limestone mounts.

Ipoh has many beautiful old colonial buildings, remnants of the British occupation. This is train station, restored almost to its former glory, and is fondly remembered as the Ipoh ‘Taj Mahal’.

This is our city hall, also given a fresh coat of paint. It was designed by a British architect named A.B. Hubback, whyo designed many of the colonial buildings in our country, which is why many of the heritage buildings in Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Ipoh have that moorish style to them.

Our clock tower.

Ipoh is also famous for its cuisine. This is ‘white coffee‘, which until today is still my favourite type of coffee in the world, and I live in Starbucks land. It’s a taste of home I guess. Luckily, Ranch 99 sells the three-in-one kind. It’s not the same, but it’s better than nothing.

Another dish Ipoh is famous for: Tau Geh, a hot salad of bean sprouts, soy sauce, pepper and chillis. I have eaten too much of this to like it now. I wouldn’t mind a bite or two but taugeh has definitely made it into my list of aversions, for some reason.

Good God. I’ve not seen this in ages. Called a ‘kacang putih’ stall, literally ‘white nuts’ (which is as you can see, inaccurate), these are stalls selling a variety of nuts and fried/dried snacks made from nuts and flour by Indian ladies. We had one just like this in our school. I’m not a nut fan but this definitely brings back memories.

This is a picture overlooking the old Turf club, a race course infamous for making many a chronic gambler lose his/her home or even a life. Of course, the Turf Club has now ceased operations, and has become a beautiful recreational park, called the Sultan Abdul Aziz Recreational Park.

I spent much of my youth in this here Japanese garden. Good times.

This is St Michael’s Church, where an old school friend of mine just got married. This picture is taken also by an old school friend of mine, Janice. Good times, Jan!

The largest mosque in our city. Places of worship coexist peacefully in our multi-cultural country. Mosques, churches and buddhist temples, all in perfect harmony.

The Anglo-Chinese School, a boys-only school, was the ‘brother’ school of the Methodist Girls’ School Ipoh, my alma mater. A few of my old ‘boy friends’ were from ACS. It makes me smile remembering the ‘good old times’.

This is the St Michael’s Institution, a rival boys school of ACS. This building has a lot of history behind it, as it was used as a base for the Japanese during their occupation. So by history, I mean ghost stories of how soldiers were buried in the school grounds, the very grounds used to kick a ball around et al. A few boyfriends from here too. God, I’m such a slut.

Sadly, I could not find a good one of my own alma mater.

This is an unbelievable recent picture. I used to ride on buses like this one, with conductors like this man here holding a wooden board with a rubber band that had tickets for various destinations strapped on. Tell him you need to go to Batu Gajah, he’ll take a 35 sen ticket (the old price, of course), punch two holes in it to say you’ve paid or something (or perhaps the time?) and hand it to you. This is a priceless photo.

An almost empty old bus. Check out the metal backed seats.

I miss Ipoh.

I miss my friends, my folks, the food. The quiet, unassuming life that I was once so eager to be rid of. Will it have changed so much when I have the chance to return? I hope not. Still, Ipoh will always be my home, and maybe, I will be fortunate enough to return to it one day, if it will still have me.

The above photos are taken by these Flickr photographers:
Paul Khor
Dylan Lim
Mun Keat
Adrian Furby
Jan Koch
Ellis Bartholomeus
TK Yeoh
Bentley Smith
Dr Fizzwizzle
Christina Leong
Richard Beddard
Jon Lin
Janice Leong


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Watching Death Cab for Cutie’s video for I’ll Follow You Into the Dark (the tune – or should I say, zune – du jour), it suddenly reminded me of my third uncle’s shophouse back in Batu Gajah, a typical Chinese 1920s long building of business, where he plied, wholesale, commodities such as rice, flour and sugar.

The shop was huge, so huge that it had two stories, but six ‘parts’ to the house: the shopfront; the back of the shop front, where he stacked sacks and sacks of everything; the middle of the shop, which had a ceiling two storeys high; the enormous wet kitchen at the back, followed by a gargantuan backyard with an outhouse and a chicken shed and all sorts of bric-a-brac that had probably been brought over from China by my grandparents and the grandparents of some of our neighbours even.

And then there was the ‘upstairs’, where my fourth uncle lived with his family, and it had six rooms, all of which were dusty and badly kept, but man, did my sis and I find joy in roaming around this monstrosity of a place.

One of the best things about the ‘upstairs’ of this house was there was a hole in the wooden floor, through which you could see the cash register downstairs, behind which my uncle did all his business. The hole was the size of a tennis ball in diameter, so you can imagine the kind of mischief we would get into. Sometimes, we would casually drop a toy or two. Other times, it would be magazines or newspapers, rolled or squished up, hitting my uncle or his helpers squarely on the shoulders or heads, after which an earsplitting scream would erupt and we would scramble to hide. I remember once we even squeezed a small cat through it, and this is a good ten feet from the ground. It’s no wonder the damn thing scratched me good. Was that after or before I pushed it through a hole the size of its head? I don’t remember.

Until today, all memories of this little hole in the floor were tucked behind layers (years) and layers (years) of Other More Important Things. And all of a sudden, one video managed to excavate it clean from its grave. The Hole In the Floor.

Of course, then, I never ever wondered why there was such a hole in the middle of a living room floor (where we sat watching Hawaii-Five-O or Ultraman for many years). Now, when I think of it, it would be a great way to ‘smuggle’ cash quickly, for sometimes, I would catch my aunt pulling things up using a rafia string, newspaper-wrapped Things I now presume would be cash.

The Hole had many other uses (besides dropping toys and torturing cats). For one, it was a good way to see if someone’s broken into your shop in the middle of the night. Who needs a thousand-dollar security system when you have a hole in the floor?

Another use would be (and I think this might be it) a good spy-hole for invasions or ‘spot checks’ by Japanese soldiers during the occupation. I remember the hole having very clean edges, as though it’d been there for a while. Hear a commotion downstairs, peep through the hole to see if it’s a random check by Japanese militia, hide your daughters. Handy, isn’t it?

The shop is still there today, although it’s not inhabitable anymore. I’m sure its days are numbered, for neglect has a way of shortening one’s life. My uncle is retired and become deaf from all his screaming, and my fourth uncle has long since moved into his own very modern corner house with a small garden and hopefully, no holes in the floor.

And even if there were, I’m sure his children had fun with them.

There’s been much ado about pliagarism these past few days in the Malaysian press, which in a surprising turn of events, led to the shocking revelation that the victim might be a pliagariser himself!

Thanks to Sharon and Jeff for the links (lest I be accused of the same as well).

To think I almost went for his book signing! Yea, Lokes had a BBQ that evening so my plans fell through.

Well, back to NaNoWriMo. I’m almost hitting 6k!

So if one borrows quotes without attribution from other people and injects them in one’s NaNoWriMo entry, does it count? Just to, you know, make the numbers.




Copyright © 2006 The I’mperfect Mom. This blog is for non-commercial use only. If you’re reading the entirety of this entry on another website (excluding your RSS aggregator), please email me to report copyright infringement so legal action may be taken. Thank you.

It’s amazing what the human brain retains.

And more astonishingly so when these memories come back in the form of dreams, almost 30 years, and a lifetime, later.

When I was around six or seven, I used to live with my aunt from my father’s side. My Ku Ma, as I call her, is dad’s older sister and his only other sibling.

She owned a hair ‘waving’ saloon in the ’50s right up to the ’80s in what was then the bustling town of Ipoh, the capital of Perak, a mid-Northern state in Malaysia. It was called Lee Lee’s Hair Waving Saloon, this bright blue long shophouse built in the ’20s. where ‘open kitchen’ meant having to run for cover when the rains came.

I can remember only happy times at my Ku Ma’s saloon. The beehive wigs on mannequin heads on the twin display windows flanking the cowboy-style swinging doors. The noisy whir of the wall-mounted hairdryers resembling large, egg helmets that would blot out all manner of conversation once you placed them over your head, enclosing you in a coccoon of swirling warmth that would coax those tightly pinned curls into shape. The carts laden with hair styling things: Curlers, combs, brushes, hairpins and, most importantly, hairspray.

What I remember most clearly about my years in the saloon were the mornings. At around 5.30am, I would slowly and reluctantly rouse to my Ku Ma’s symphony of smells and sounds: A kettle of hot water bubbling over roasting charcoal in a clay oven. Someone’s cock crowing proudly. Wooden clogs knocking about on cement floors. Water running. And then, pretending to still be asleep, I would wait for my Ku Ma’s first call.

“Fer!! Wake up lor!” it would come at around 6am, as my Ku Ma banged loudly on the wooden door of the room my sis and I shared with the live-in shampoo girls as there were only two rooms in the shophouse.

I still remember the names of these ‘big sisters’. Ah Lin Che (sister Lin) and Ah Siew Che (sister Siew). Ah Mei Che (sister Mei), the ‘retarded’ girl from Menglembu, as the others called her, who would walk around with her clothes half undone because she could not fathom how buttons and their corresponding holes worked. She would speak to us in what she thought sounded like English, which was the only language my dad had strictly told my aunt that my sis and I were allowed to converse in.

“Nis!” she would call my sis, Eunice.

“Go sickk ffun, please!” she’d say, because she forgot what ‘eat noodles’ was in English and so she would improvise by enunciating the ‘ckk’ in ‘sik’ (eat in Cantonese) and the ‘ff’ in ‘fun’ (noodles). It’s probably how she thought Westerners would say those two words. It was pretty funny for a while, and I admired her for trying.

Another memory I have about life in the saloon was how my Ku Ma would get so angry trying to get my sis and I to sleep at night because it would be midnight and we’d still be giggling and playing all sorts of games in the room, such as ‘camping’ (blankets over umbrellas) or ‘sun tanning’ (umbrellas on blankets), all the while keeping an ear out for the familiar sound of my Ku Ma room’s door opening, clogs clacking noisily on the cement, metal chair scraping towards our wired window. And then my Ku Ma’s curly head would appear.

“You two monkeys! Still awake? Faster sleep lor! Tomorrow got school!” she would whisper angrily, this five-foot woman standing on a chair so she could tower over our two darkened, supine figures.

Life after the saloon, as I stumbled clumsily through my teenage years, must’ve lost its magic, because most of all I can remember are not as, well, memorable.

But that, as they say, is another story.


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Copyright © 2006 The I’mperfect Mom. This blog is for non-commercial use only. If you’re reading the entirety of this entry on another website (excluding your RSS aggregator), please email me to report copyright infringement so legal action may be taken. Thank you.

This is our first year away from home, and away from our annual multicultural festivities.

I miss going rayaing. I miss rendang and murukku. I miss ketupat and satay. I miss all the Deepa-raya (to hell with you oversensitive pricks) ads. I miss all the free Nescafe along the highways during balik kampung. I miss all the gentle (and sometimes hysterical) pandu cermat reminders. I miss all the illegal fireworks.

Most of all, I miss the mad rush to finish work so that can enjoy the week-long holidays.

Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri to all my Muslim friends reading this blog. Maaf zahir dan batin!

Happy Festival of Lights to all my Hindu friends. May the new year be blessed with many more bright victories!