This is my letter to the world, That never wrote to me, -- The simple news that Nature told, With tender majesty. Her message is committed To hands I cannot see; For love of her, sweet countrymen, Judge tenderly of me! - emily dickinson -

Thursday, September 29, 2005

next morning

i can't remember how early we arrived at kuala kangsar. but i remember that we still managed to stop for breakfast at a roadside stall. the stall was near a small river that itself was flowing into a bigger river just a stone's throw away. from where we sat, i could see a roundabout with a clock tower in the center and people busily going about in cars and on foot all around.

after breakfast, we headed for the school. i was a deaf mute staring blankly at nothing in particular until i saw the white columns.

they were not exactly white. but in the morning sun, they seemed to blaze in white, glowing amid the green angsanas that lined the road we were traveling on and the clear blue sky above us. my sight was overloading with that glow as we neared it. what the?

as we got closer, the trees flanking the road and framing the glowing columns gave way to a panorama of more glowing columns that stretched out left and right forever. what i saw were a pair of gigantic arms stretching out, ready to grab anyone who dared to venture closer and confine him in a mighty embrace. in my young mind, if my brother-in-law did not turn the car around and speed off, i would forever be caught in that embrace. but i couldn't move my mouth to warn him nor could i move myself to open the door, jump off the moving vehicle, land in a tumble, roll up onto my feet, turn the other way and dash for dear life toward home. so, when we drove through the gate, i concluded that my life had taken a dreadful turn.

well, actually, we took the wrong turn. the person at the gate told us that the registration for new intakes was at another venue. we were to turn the car around and head for the prep school. the what school?

but at least the turning around portion of my wish did come true. sigh.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

north

we left early to head for that school with the unusual name. we needed to arrive at the school by morning for the registration. since my brother-in-law grew up in that place called kuala kangsar, and he also went to a school just across from where i was headed, a school with an english name, my father decided that he would drive us there. my brother-in-law had only been married to my sister for a couple of month then. so, i guess he had no choice but to oblige. i still wonder why he never told me anything about the school i was going to.

i remember lying down in the back seat of the car. the windows were down and the chill was blowing in. mother was sitting beside me. she was all bundled up in a loose sarong to ward off the chill. i wanted her there beside me forever. father was in the passenger seat in front. no one said anything throughout the entire trip. at one point, my mother removed the sarong and placed it over me. how i wished for the warmth to last forever.

i couldn't sleep even when i tried. i just laid there staring out the window. i could see the stars blinking down at me. the drive north seemed to take forever.

i guess the worst part of the trip was not knowing where i was heading to. the input from watching that tv program earlier did not help allay my anxieties. why was i headed to this place, of all places? what was it about the name of that school? why did they use ‘college’ instead of ‘school’? why ‘kolej melayu’? why not 'sekolah melayu'? Or, why not ‘kolej kebangsaan’? and why would i be separated from my family over such a distance? was this supposed to be the reward for being the school kid that i was? the kid who didn't like the books, never cared to read them much but impressed the teachers anyway. was i being punished for making fools of mrs. loo, puan fatimah, mrs. jagjit singh, puan lamah, cikgu mat, cikgu yazid, mr. how and cikgu harun? oh, please help me God!

and then guess what i saw? a falling star.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

new horizon

i got five A's for my peperiksaan penilaian back in 1980, the year my wife was born (talk about coincidence!). that was also the year when my sekolah produced it's first batch of five A scorers and there were six of us who scored. it was an event to celebrate because the school was just into its second year of operation and because no one scored five A's the year before. so, each one of us who earned five A's that year was awarded with a gold plated Cross pen. i was blown away because before that, it was either plastic wares or cheap storybooks for doing well in your exams.

tuition was unheard of in those days, at least in my corner of that adat perpatih state. of course, there were some extra classes held in the saturdays by some teachers but other than that, not much was done to prepare us for the big exam. for me, it was play, tv and more play. life was too exciting to be spent leafing through pages of textbooks. tv was my window to the rest of the world and play was my way of living out those things that i saw on tv. of course, it took plenty of creativity since i didn't have much but my own imagination. yet i had such a great time playing around in my mind and with friends who shared the same carefree outlook on life (was that really it? hey, we were kids!).

then, in the final year of primary school, toward the end of the academic year, i was called to the headmaster's office. well, it was actually the headmistress' office because we had a lady head. with such glee and pride i'd never before seen in her, the headmistress announced that i had received an offer from one of the most prestigious schools in the country. in those days, i only knew that i wanted to go to sekolah dato' abdul razak (sdar) because one of my brothers was there and i always thought that he was the coolest bro among the six. mrsm was good but you have to sit through an exam to be eligible and i hated exams. one of my sisters was in that school but she was smarter and could memorize dates and historcal facts better than i did. sms tuanku jaafar was okay from what i heard but i didn't know anyone who went there personally. so, sdar was forever in my mind.

but now, i was being offered a school that i never even knew existed. and it wasn't even called a school. it had the word 'college' in its name and i thought that only teachers would go to such a place. then, this 'college' had an address suggesting that it was located at the mouth of a river that would require a whole day's worth of travelling by train if i were to go there! the last time i was on a train, my family was moving back to our ancestral home in linggi from a long stay in woodlands and i was just a 21-day old baby. and to twist my already puzzled little mind further into despair, my headmistress contented that i should rightfully jump off the bridge over the linggi river should i choose to decline the offer. it seemed like a message from God Himself. whatever did i do to deserve this?


i learned much later that this 'college' was the place that schooled many many royal bloods, many related to these royal bloods and many more from well-to-do families. yes, my ancestors were from the bugis royal courts but that was hundreds of years back. they already dropped the daeng title (that or dead) and everyone had become as common as any common folk would be. somebody had made a mistake, i thought.
i learned too that the school produced many great leaders and characters who led and helped shape the country. and all i wanted to be was a zoo keeper!

right on the night before i was to be enrolled in this school, a favorite tv program, "hari ini dalam sejarah", came out on rtm1. lo and behold, the subject presented on that fatefull night was about "the malay college kuala kangsar"! i don't recall ever falling asleep that night.

Monday, September 19, 2005

near tragedy

a good friend was robbed last friday. the time was half past six in the evening and he was opening his front gate after returning home from work. most of his neighbors were still on their way home and his younger sister was away. so, no one saw the 3 men who approached him wielding parangs. the nasty creeps said that my friend had bumped their car the week before. it was an obvious lie because my friend was not in town to be driving around. when a few curious neighbors started converging on the scene, the low lifes had the gall to order them to not move any closer. next, they punched and beat the crap out of my poor friend. thankfully, he managed to escape before they could do more serious harm to him. he ran to the security post to get help but his car and everything that was in there were gone by the time he returned.

my friend was calm when i talked to him yesterday. he has always been at peace with everything around him for as long as i've known him. it was good that his family was around to comfort him too. he told me that the police had found his car. but his wallet, laptop, handphone, passport and several other things that were in the car are as good as gone. he will be selling off the camry. he got it less than a year ago but it had attracted the kind of attention that nobody needed. he will be getting another car that, hopefully, is unattractive to thugs and bandits alike.

may God, in all His Benevolence, provide my friend with the strength, the peace and the patience to move on.

Monday, September 05, 2005

nonsensical

so, they'll be giving away free needles and condoms to curb the spread of HIV. this is dealing with the symptoms.
what will be done to prevent anyone from getting hooked on drugs and promiscuous sex in the first place? this is nipping the problem in the butt. this is mostly being ignored.

later on, will rapists and paedophiles be asking for free blowup dolls to help them neutralize their nasty needs? will hardcore gamblers be allowed free gambols in specially selected gambling 'establishments' during certain periods of the week? will arsonists be provided free petrol?

hey, i'd like to be a shopping addict then. anyone willing to help?

Saturday, September 03, 2005

nice buys

yes, i had some real nasty experiences in the middle kingdom. people with bad attitude (some locals as well as the few in my group), hot and dry weather, being in a semi-famish state most of the time, and not able to communicate properly with the natives (this was so unthinkable). but don't get me wrong. things were not all that bad. the shopping was nice. it could have been nicer if i had more cash to spend... but hey, it was a business trip.

so, what was so nice about the shopping? well, in merlion country, i had to multiply the price of everything i bought by two to check whether i had overspent on something (which was usually the case). but in the middle kingdom, i divided the yuan by two to get the equivalent amount in ringgits. was that nice or what?

so, where do you go to shop in shanghai? as a regular folk like me, that is. well, if you're not the politically-inclined-to-be-correct type, head for Xiangyang Market. it's like Petaling Street but a hundred times bigger! and you can find almost anything there: dvds, rolex watches, remote controlled toys (for kids, ok), linens, all sorts of souvenirs. the team and i were there on the second sunday and man, were we in for some heavy bargaining lessons.

the moment we stepped out of the taxi, we were hounded by these locals who shove some cards into our faces. we just grabbed the cards and hurried into the market. later we found out that the cards contained contact information of travel agents. then, once inside the market, we were again hounded by another group of locals. these were salespeople who walk around the market promoting their wares (or stalking for victims). they would ask whether we were looking for watches or dvds or leather goods. and they woud show us their catalogs. we ignored all of them and focused on the shops instead.

whenever i made eye contact with whoever was minding a shop, she or he would invite me in. it wouldn't have been too bad if there was just one person enticing me at a time but because the shops were all crammed close together, i had to deal with half a dozen of them at the same time. it wasn't nice, i tell you.

after milling about not knowing how to start, we let ourselves into a shop selling something that was quite familiar--souvenir t-shirts. the price of t-shirts are about standard no matter where you buy them i suppose. so, with that thought in mind, one of us asked the seller how much his t-shirts cost? one hundred twenty, he said. what? sixty ringgits for a t-shirt? eighteen, we said. twenty, he countered. we settled at nineteen. nine ringgit fifty sen for a shirt. not too bad. so, we thought. only much later we found out that t-shirts were selling at seventeen yuan at the pudong airport!
so, we learned that if the locals offer you a price, go lower to around twenty percent (or lower, if you're brave) of that.

that sunday, i ended up with some t-shirts, silk purses and pouches, silk bags, a rolex for my niece and a couple other souvenirs for the folks back home. and i didn't have to spend so much. not bad for my first time shopping in shanghai.