Archives for category: Imperfect Sense

I once knew a lady who felt everything.

I’m not sure what her deal was but she seemed to feel so much, that she ended up needing a lot; a lot of love, a lot of attention, acknowledgment, security, acceptance, in order for her to be happy. It was as though attention, love and acknowledgment was fuel to all that feeling.

Her appetite for attention and love was quietly voracious and you’d never peg her for someone who needed because she was beautiful and intelligent and seemed to be the kind of gal both men and women would go bananas for. Of course, even the most beautiful people in the world are flawed in some ways. But I’d never imagined her to be flawed in this manner (I’d expected her to be a slob or perhaps be bad in bed), and that the flaws would run so deep.

That she did not keep these feelings secret was not as odd to me (even though where I come from, people just don’t share these things with the general public) as her insatiable hunger for the attention or acknowledgment or sympathy that her sharing generated. I wasn’t sure if that was all part of the therapy. If it was, it wasn’t working because unless a hundred people or so were responding, saying she looked good or sympathising with her situation or telling her that whatever horrible thing she did was okay because she’d come right out and admitted it, it didn’t seem to have any sort of curative impact. All it did was create more need, more hunger, and hence, more gloom and sadness and self-pity.

I wondered if anyone ever told her that she was still too young, or that there were other things in the world more worthy of the kind of attention she demanded. If anyone did, did she simply wave them away, telling them in her mind that she wasn’t like anyone else, that she was unique and hence her problems were special and deserved all that attention? Did she think that these people were incapable of empathy, choosing to believe that they didn’t care or were trying to trivialize her suffering? Did it anger her that they compared her problems to that of people in Somalia or Zimbabwe, who didn’t suffer from depression (in the American sense) because they had real, survival problems, as opposed to her navel-gazing nonsense?

People often accuse Asians, particularly the Chinese or perhaps the Japanese, as being unfeeling or that we don’t really place a lot of stock on all that emotional mumbo-jumbo. I always claim that the Vulcans are modeled after us in their ability to control their emotions – and that’s just what it is. We do feel but we just keep it checked. Why do you think our serial dramas and movies are so over the top?

And it’s not just about ‘face’. It’s also about not wanting other people to feel embarrassed or uncomfortable. It’s about respect for others, for your family and most importantly, for yourself.

There is nothing in the world that’s so bad you need to broadcast it to the whole world – unless you want the whole world to mourn with you. Nobody needs that kind of attention.

You may want it, but you do not need it.

I was updating my Facebook Visual Bookshelf two minutes ago and my eyes caught something that I’d never really noticed: the reviews (although I’ve written a few myself, I’d never even bothered to look at others).

I have a habit. I never taste the food I cook. I like to take my first bite or sip together with my family. Most of the time, the recipes turn out well. The rest of the time, my husband sneaks into the kitchen and does the tasting for me, particularly when we’re entertaining. He thinks I’m out of my mind. I tend to agree. Or I just don’t like to eat what I’m cooking when I’m cooking it.

This is the same with books. Unlike video games which I will only buy if the reviews are favourable (makes sense since I used to do that for a living), I don’t like reading book reviews. I like listening to podcasts that INTRODUCE new books but no, I don’t like reading, listening to or watching any reviews with regards to books, and here’s why:

Reading is a highly personal thing to me (unless it’s a textbook and maybe even so). Reading, for instance, the Bible or the Quran is generally accepted as an intimate journey, one that takes you down different paths with each sentence, verse and chapter. Because of who I am, what I’ve been through, things I’ve seen and not seen, the book is what the author is trying to communicate to everyone but no one in particular, and in this instance, its story is to me. And how I receive that story, perceive its message(s), depends largely on place, time and frame of mind.

As such, how can the opinion of someone else, in a different time, place and nuance, reading a book, ever be able to judge for me whether or not a book is ‘good’? Yes, they can pick on points of language, of style but never the tone nor the content (with differing reasons) because when it comes to the likability of a book’s tone, it’s really subjective isn’t it? Angsty may work for rebellious teens but not so much for his or her parent. Gritty Mid Eastern honesty may work for the New York publisher but be a tad too real for the lonely migrant working at a falafel shop and making ends meet.

Secondly, most of these book reviewers have what I call the legacy problem. They are so well-read and so well-trained in their skill. What do they know of what the rest of us want in a book?

But there are just SO many books to read and so little time! How do we suss out efficiently which to spend our hard-earned money on (and boy, do they cost money these days)?

This is where a good library comes in and I’m am blessed to live in a county with one of best library systems in the world. Sometimes, I just walk into the library in my little town, step up to a certain aisle, close my eyes and pull out five titles at random, before checking them out. So far, most have been pretty interesting.

And I have my book club.

So what do you think? When you have a good library (or a good book club), do you still need book reviews?

In Malaysia, we celebrate four major holidays (among other smaller festivals and days of note): Hari Raya Aidilfitri, which is the Muslim holiday to celebrate the end of Ramadhan; Deepavali, the Festival of Lights celebrated by Hindus; Chinese New Year, aka the Lunar New Year and Christmas.

While each festival has its religious and ethnic origins, Malaysians celebrate every holiday together. Everyone goes on holiday. Most of us make the exodus back to our hometowns from the city of Kuala Lumpur amid gentle reminders of safe driving on TV and in the papers (the festivities are when road accident numbers are the highest because of the long road trips). And we greet each other with the appropriate greeting for the holiday: Selamat Hari Raya, which literally means "Safe Celebration Day", "Happy Deepavali"; Gung Hei Fatt Choy, which is Cantonese for "Wish You Wealth and Prosperity" (I know, it’s all about the money with us) and Merry Christmas.

Oddly enough (Malaysia being a Muslim country), Christmas is probably the only holiday out of the four where all Malaysians, whatever our racial backgrounds and religious beliefs, celebrate culturally (and commercially) together. This is to say that whether or not we’re Christians, Malaysians buy and decorate Christmas trees, give presents, and have Christmas dinners or lunches. It does not matter if one is Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist, I’ve received presents from people of all faiths during Christmas, without ever giving the custom another thought. After all, Christmas isn’t just about Christ anymore. It’s about pretty fake fir trees, Santa, presents, turkey and to the rest of us, simply a holiday for giving and sharing. And regardless of ethnicity or faith, we will greet each other "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!"

Without getting our panties all in a bunch.

In recent years, there has been some furor over the words used in the greetings used when the dates of these holidays coincided. When Hari Raya and Chinese New Year became a whole week of festivities, the clever advertising industry came up with "Gong Xi Raya". When Deepavali and Hari Raya became days apart, it became "Happy Deepa Raya". Quite a few people were riled up. These uptight Purists of Holidays and Holiday Greetings opined that these coined greetings were ‘blasphemous’ and ‘disrespectful’. 

My honest opinion? There are more important things in the world to worry about than the words one uses in holiday greetings. Do these people have so much time in their hands to give such matters so much thought? Such is the bane of people who, as the Chinese like to say, "sik pau mou yeh chou" (translation: the idleness that comes after one’s stomach is full). Truly, I have never met a purist who is struggling to feed his kids or lives on the streets.

Here’s the thing: My family is agnostic. And yet, we buy a Christmas tree, wrap presents and will be throwing a Christmas Day lunch for our friends and family members. On Christmas eve, we will read our girls The Night Before Christmas and Raeven, especially, will be waiting for Santa, to whom she’s written a letter and posted it (they have a little red mailbox at the post office marked "Letters to Santa") to bring her all her presents. As non-believers, we still play along and help perpetuate that feel-good, warm and fuzzy Christmas myth that is more popularly known as the Christmas spirit. It makes us feel good, our children shining examples of Good Little Girls (for all of two days) and most of all, we do it because it’s FUN.

And if someone wishes me Merry Christmas or a Blessed New Year even though I know that Santa isn’t real or that God has nothing to do with the 365th day of 2007 turning into the 1st day of 2008, will I demand an apology, insisting that people be more careful when they’re trying to be nice and extend their good wishes? When did we become so full of ourselves that we have lost room in our hearts to accept well wishes, just to be courteous? When did we become so conceited in our need to be identified correctly that we cannot make ourselves accept kindness, in whatever package it come ins?

When did wanting to be wished (and making sure to wish people) in a politically correct manner become so crucial that we would risk forgetting what this holiday stands for? What EACH holiday represents?

Giving and receiving.

Generosity.

Good over evil.

Gratitude.

Forgiveness.

Renewal.

With that in mind, I wish all of you a Very Merry Christmas – whoever, and whatever, you are.

Seriously, strangers who come to my blog to diss me about my weight should know that I love nothing more than a good fight.

Ask my husband.

I have been overweight for so long that I’ve seen and heard it all. "You’re a car", "you’re a cow", "OMG how are you even alive?" – like my blog title, it takes a whole lot more wit (and grammatically perfect sentences) to make a dent (punning with car comparison) especially when I’ve already dissed myself.

And now that I’ve lost some of the weight, it makes the battle even sweeter because really, how sad are you to be Googling "fat people deserve to be judged" and then commenting on a post that’s half a year old when said fat person isn’t fat anymore (of course I still am but have you ever met a woman who thinks she’s not)?

Did you just learn about the World Wide Web? Find a clearance-priced Fisher Price illustrated keyboard that you can understand? Learn how to turn the power on?

Here’s a tip: Illiterate Philistine Luddites should never, EVER mess with chubby geeks who can maim you with two-finger typing.

Blog will not be responsible for sprained brains (or fingers).

A friend of mine sent me a link to the Redmond chapter of Mothers & More today and I could not help but notice the tagline: The Network for Sequencing Women.

I had to Google ‘sequencing women’ because I thought it was an association for women in genetics. Of course, the first hit was a definition by Mothers & More itself.

Mothers & More represents women who – by choice or circumstance – alter their participation in the paid workplace over the course of their active parenting years. We recognize the needs of the growing number of mothers who move in and out of paid employment and/or opt for a variety of flexible work arrangements in order to balance successfully their work and family responsibilities. This fluid work pattern, which occurs over a number of years and at various stages of motherhood, is known as “sequencing”. The term sequencing was coined by Arlene Rossen Cardozo in her 1986 book, Sequencing.

Here are some actual definitions of the word ‘sequencing’:

  • Determination of the order of nucleotides (base sequences) in a DNA or RNA molecule or the order of amino acids in a protein
  • Reading, listening, expressing thoughts, describing events or contracting muscles in an orderly and meaningful manner
  • Sequencing controls the order and time delay for output voltage appearance as well as dropout when power supplies are turned on and/or of
  • Dividing information into smaller, numbered pieces, transmitting it, and reassembling it once it has been received
  • In human behavior, doing things in a logical, predictable order.

The last one had me chuckling. Note that this was the definition provided by the Alzheimer’s Association. So unless you have Alzheimer’s, you’d know that choosing to quit your job to be a full-time parent isn’t really logical nor predictable. Rather, most of the time, it starts out as a naive, idealistic choice. That’s because most of us imagine sunny days spent watching our kids play independently in the backyard. We imagine lazing back in our Adirondack chairs, our slim, golden bikin-clad bodies roasting gently in the summer sun, a tall, cool glass of lemonade (or a festive mojito) in one hand, laughing contentedly as our kids act all cute running through the high, fine spray of our sprinklers. The skies are always blue, the grass always green, diapers always changed, laundry always done, dinner always ready, pantries and fridges always stocked, carpets always vacuumed, glass always full and hormones and body in perpetual harmony.

Sequencing. Besides being a funny big word to mean a very simple thing, I question its need. Americans, I think, love coming up with (or blatantly borrowing) new terms to politically-correctly (is there such a word?) describe what they think are 21st-century circumstances when in fact, working class women in Asia have been weaving in and out of work and parenthood since…there were women. Back when Indonesian maids were mainly still in Indonesia, Malay and Chinese and Indian women worked in the fields or in the mines or as servants in the houses of rich families or help their husbands in their own little family businesses to put food on the table. If they got pregnant, they worked through the pregnancy, and when the baby (or often, babies) is/are born, they stayed home to care for their kids, along with grandma or grandpa or whoever, whichever older relative was living in the same house. Whenever these women felt they were up to it, they’d go back to work. Often, they were presented with only one of two hard choices: Stay at home and your kids will starve. Go to work and leave your kids to the elements. Do whatever it takes and try not think too much about it.

Were they sequencing? Yes. Did they need NOT to be judged and to be acknowledged for their efforts? Hell, yea. Did they care? No.

With all the books written about opting out and opting back in again and whether women stupid for wasting their opportunities and lives by quitting their jobs just to parent full-time, or if they’re selfish, irresponsible career-obsessed men-wannabes for wanting to chase their dreams of fame and fortune, it all comes down to one thing. Well, I think it does. And the thing is, what makes you happy? If you enjoy your work, and are the type of person who needs to stay busy and earn money to be fulfilled, then go for it. If you enjoy being there with your kids all day, even through the unpredictable bowel movements and illogical temper tantrums, then do it. If you like a mix of both, then open an Internet business. There is more to technology than Google and Solitaire, ladies. Open an eBay shop. Blog for money. Play poker. In my case, I opened a cooperative preschool because, well, I’m insane.

It can be as simple as that.

Because when it comes down to it, happy people make happy parents.

No need for some big, convoluted debate about who’s right and who’s right-er.

No need for therapy.

No need for fancy new-old words.

A few days ago, I had an epiphany.

It was the first day of DST, and turning the clock forward had somehow screwed up my internal clock and I had lain awake at 6am (when it was really just 5am), and part of my exhausted brain was crying for me to go back to sleep, when I’d decided instead to sit at my computer and look at my old pictures at Flickr, and I began a journey through time to when I was about six or seven.

As some of you know, back then, I was living with my Koo Ma, my dad’s older sister, at her hair saloon with the swinging doors a la a real cowboy saloon (except this was a hair saloon). Together, we were my Koo Chiong (my uncle aka her husband), my cousin sister, three or four shampoo girls and a family of nine or ten people who rented the floor upstairs.

My cousin was an only child, and she was given everything a child could possibly want. Living with her was bearing painfully envious witness to a life I could never have because, well, my parents were not as well to do.

Because she was their daughter, my cousin was ‘entitled’ to a lot more stuff than I was.

When we ate, she would always have the drumstick or whatever cut of meat was the best at the table, after which was my uncle since he was the breadwinner. And then it was me. My Koo Ma always ate whatever was left that nobody else wanted.

One of the things I remember most is how my aunt would make bird’s nest soup for my cousin. Back then, you had to clean the damn things out yourself. There was none of the ‘clean’ bird’s nest you find in the shops these days.

There is a distinct memory in my head of one of the shampoo girls or my aunt and even me, sitting at the dinner table at the back of the shop, pincers at the ready over a bowl of bird’s nest soaking in water, eyes squinting in semi darkness, pinching out microscopic specks of dirt sticking to the entrails of the’nest.

For hours on rotation duty throughout the day, we would do that until the nest was free of every offending piece of impurity. And then my aunt would boil it with rock sugar and maybe some lotus seeds, and at the end of the day, my cousin would come home from school, and single-handedly finish every drop of it.

It was all for her. All of it. That tiny bowl of bird’s nest the size of an oyster. Neither my uncle, my aunt, and definitely nor I, had ever taken even a small sip of the stuff.

At least I didn’t.

Entitlement.

It is a concept I’d learnt at a very young age.

Until recently, I’ve never had a problem with entitlement. I just thought that was the way the world was. Some people had all the luck. You win some, you lose some. Born with a silver spoon or under a lucky star, that sort of thing. There was nothing one could do, and it was certainly not something you could fight. Fate and all that jazz.

Thing is, what am I entitled to in this life?

A job? Two kids? A taste of bird’s nest at 29?

What can we say is really ours without stepping on toes or going over the line? And who’s to say what is ours? There are territorial lines and laws that safeguard the sanctity of life and against dishonesty and bullying these days, sure, but when it comes down to things like wealth and health and real freedom, who’s to say what it is we can and cannot have?

Who’s to say what it is we can do and cannot do?

I come from a country where entitlement is a basis of government. That is the way it has always been, and it will likely remain the same for a very long time.

I still remember my class teacher at Standard Six. Her name was Puan Kalsom. She was also our history teacher and one day, she was teaching us about the Malays and why they were entitled to privileges other races were not.

“It is because if you Chinese don’t like, you can run back to China, and if you Indians don’t like, you can run back to India. We Malays cannot run anywhere. This is our homeland. It is only fair we are entitled to these things.”

So you see, quite a few of us have gotten used to the idea of being – and remaining – a second-rate citizen. And to rock the boat would simply mean trouble.

Of course, things are very different today. Sitting here, being able to write about such things, is a very new experience even for me, an ex-journo. Back home, even thinking these things meant risking being hauled off under the Internal Security Act for inciting racial disharmony and after perhaps a long telling-off in solitary confinement, have May 13 1969 thrown in my face a couple of times for good measure.

And so what do we ‘more affluent’, Malaysians do?

We plan our escape.

And then we go.

To a world where the word ‘entitlement’ still means hope.

Here in the US, at the very least, the girls would be entitled to what was fairly and justly theirs as immigrants.

If they turn out to be rocket-scientist material, they would be given opportunities here in the US that they rightly deserve. In fact, they would very likely be wrestled away to be made into more ‘useful’ human beings than they could ever have been if they’d remained at home.

If not, they would at least be given the chance to try.

Which is, sadly, more than I can say for an average-income Chinese in Malaysia.

A lot of people, anywhere in the world, would be of the opinion that it is not unfair that I was never given a drumstick nor a bowl of bird’s nest since I was just a relative. A lot of people, anywhere in the world, myself included, still think that some people are just born lucky.

But I’ll be damned if I don’t try and fight for some of these entitlements for my kids.

And here, at least I can try.

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?

Recently, there’s been a medium (I won’t say ‘big’ since quite a few people who read my blog won’t know what I’m talking about) hoo-ha about the removal of a game at this year’s Slamdance festival, a part of which is dedicated to the making of independent games, called the Guerrilla Gamemaker Competition.

A few responses to the issue have been floated around and about the blogosphere, including of course the makers main supporters hosting (thanks, AndrewK!) the game, Manifesto, who made their thoughts known very eloquently on their site.

The ‘ripple effect’ of their removal is now being felt as other game makers have begun pulling out their titles as well, Boing2 reports, perhaps in protest or simply as an indignant ‘kinship reaction, common in the indie game-making community united by the menace of big business.

Firstly, for the reasons put forth by Manifesto itself and its supporters, I do not think the removal is justified.

As Jonathan Blow of Braid has so articulately put it, games should no longer be treated as mere entertainment and

“… be taken seriously as an art form that can expand the boundaries of human experience.

as they

…can help us to understand situations in a fully-engaged fashion, as participants and co-creators, which the passive media cannot do. As an art form they contain a tremendous power to shift perspective and to heighten wisdom.”

I come from a country that bans for far less. Sanitary napkin advertisements. Walking into government departments in mini-skirts. Children’s books (see numbers 15 and 16). So I know something about oppression, where a discussion of one’s civil liberties (or lack thereof) may be tantamount to treason, so don’t even talk to me about the lack of freedom of expression.

But I will say this, as a parent and a gamer: Super Columbine Massacre should never have been made at all.

Firstly, what kind of deeper understanding can the gamer hope to gain from playing an RPG based on such a tragedy? What boundaries of human experience can be broadened, and what kind of shift in perspective or heightened wisdom can we hope to acquire from playing a game about, say, the holocaust, as Hitler, or as the terrorists who piloted the planes into the World Trade Center? If there are, they escape me and I would love to learn just how I could find entertainment in or become a more learned individual with a larger horizon of understanding from putting myself in the imagined shoes of the perpetrators of such tragedies in a straight up shooter, much less a roleplaying game.

Games like Postal or Grand Theft Auto, while imitating the darker slates of life, have invited criticism, both fair and unjustified. However, these are not interactive portrayals of actual events that deliver entertainment at the expense of those who are STILL suffering from the tragedy.No matter how you spin it, Manifesto, even a cartoon about the massacre will undermine it. Perhaps to some, it may simply leave a bad taste. To others, it is bitter realisation that there are people out there who are willing to turn your pain into their pleasure, and in some cases, profit.

As a parent, it is a challenge guiding our children through the labyrinth of mass media. What games or TV shoes, movies or videos, should our children watch? How long is too long? How violent is too violent? This is a task that is especially difficult for my husband and I, for the fact that we have spent the last 25-30 years of our lives playing computer games. While accepting that it is our responsibility to filter all content our children may come into contact with on a daily basis, it is a slippery slope. One wrong judgment call and the jig is up. Do what we say, not do what we do, or we’ll just have to throw away the XBOX and the TVs to be fair.

We want our children to enjoy what we enjoy, to develop a love for an art form that brought my husband and I together for one, and one that has given me the best eight years of my career as a journalist. Even with the violence and the sex and the gore, we will tolerate it all if we can tell our kids that “this is just pretend.”

And that, Super Columbine Massacre is not.

Perhaps this is the curse of the industry. In the chase for more shock value, more excitement, more controversy to fuel our increasingly jaded,  and yet insatiable appetite for entertainment that pushes the limits, we have forgotten that these games are created in an age where the distance between real violence and our children are simply a few keystrokes and clicks away. This assault happens in our homes, right under our noses, so quickly that we just cannot keep up without completely turning off our TV sets and cable modems.

Need it come to this? I, for one, simply cannot imagine a world without video games. Not for me, nor for my children.

I would’ve expected the bigger game companies to take such a distasteful risk. We all understand that real ingenuity in games is hard to come by but tell me: What do independents have if they do not have integrity?

What do you have if not even dignity?

Let the big boys resort to such tactics. You have the freedom to come up with so much more.

For so much less.