Thursday, December 15, 2016

The triviality of eating vegetables


Last week, we organized a Christmas party for an NGO I am volunteering in since the beginning of this year which reaches out to women in crisis (homelessness, prostitution, domestic abuse or human trafficking victims). While we were planning for the event, I noticed the menu only had rice, mee hoon, meat and eggs. So, being the health-freak I am, I exclaimed “How can we not have any vegetables?” to the volunteers like it was so important. So, I offered to cook the vegetable dish so that everyone will get a well-rounded nutrition for the party.

At the party, as I flitted from woman to woman to hear their stories, I hear of someone losing a daughter, homelessness, going hungry, unemployment and many more. I have heard their stories, but somehow, I needed to hear them again to realize that the things we fortunate people find significant, are irrelevant to these people. Our first world problems are completely trivial when your basic needs like shelter and food are not even met. These women are not even rural folks, but people who originated from places such as Bangsar, Kampung Kerinchi, and other parts right smack in the middle of urban Kuala Lumpur. How can we be so ignorant to think that the majority are like us? If you draw a binomial curve, the middle big bump would not be us. We are at that small tail of the curve, we are extremely privileged. A good life has changed what matters to us such as health, job satisfaction, vacations or downtime, work-life balance, and many more. We have become shallow and have completely out of touch with the urban poor, and even more so, the rural folks. Worse still, we deem them shallow when they change jobs for RM100 more or accept polical campaign benefits to vote for a particular party. Do we even realize how significant RM100 is? It is 35.7kgs of rice. It is 282 eggs. It is 14 meals at an inexpensive restaurant. It is 18L of milk. (Source: But to me, it is 6 cups of my favourite caramel macchiato. I am a shallow, privileged brat.

As I watched them finish up my mixed vegetables; a glorious traffic lights coloured concoction of nutrition burst of capsicum, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, baby-corn, I am contented that everyone had a balanced meal even if it did not matter to them. Food is food, not going hungry is good. I hope and I pray someday, I can help at least one… just one of these women care about eating her recommended daily allowance of 4.5 portions of vegetables. It would be considered a little victory because I would know that her basic needs are already taken care of, that she has a roof over her head, a job, clothes on her back, food in her fridge... that she can be free to think of things like, eating her vegetables.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

A bumpy journey, a beautiful destination

Yes!!! I have checked that off my list after so many years! Finally!!

Short + Sweet Dance Penang 2016: Everyday Carry

Everyday Carry was indeed was a long journey. It took one whole year and many many unexpected barriers for it to come to fruition.

It started with us approaching BB Ostella Adam to be our choreographer. As it turned out, her husband was planning to relocate back home... home is in Houston, Texas. So, she gave us a couple of options: do it via video-call or she recommended a few of her choreographer friends based in KL to take on this project instead. We chose the former.

We started out with the easiest task, buying the chairs from Ikea. From Jan - May, we had free movement rehearsals and explored with movements with and without the chair and recorded those sessions so that BB can find out our capabilities and range of movement. We started rehearsing actual choreography around July. But Alvin was diagnosed with Osteoarthritis of his right knee right and I was diagnosed with a cervical slipped disc right about end-July. We had to take a break from all physical activity and had to decide whether we still wanted to go ahead with this project.

I was adamant to proceed, because we have gone so far!!! It would be such a waste. So, BB wrote to the organizers to ask if we can transfer our participation to the Penang S+S Festival instead of KL. The Penang dates were later than the one in KL so, we can pick up rehearsals again after our month of rest and recovery from our geriatric orthopaedic problems. The organizers said yes!

And so we started rehearsing again in September, with some new choreography with our injuries in mind.

Performance week came and seeing the professionalism in the dance troupe from the Philippines, we just felt honoured to be sharing a stage with such talents. When Joe Hasham announced the winner of Best Newcomer, he said that normally this award goes to very young people, but this time is not the case. Unexpectedly, we won the Best Newcomer and Festival Director's Award for that dance. I am thankful beyond words that we even managed to complete this project. I am thankful that BB stuck it out with us even through so many hiccups. And most of all, I am thankful to share this journey with my partner in life, Alvin.

It may be our last attempt at a dance piece, but it will not be our last artsy project together. :)

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A dream is a wish your heart makes

A dream is a wish your heart makes, when you're fast asleep. ~Cinderella~

As much as I love my Disney, fairy-tale idealism will not get us anywhere. Journeying through our inaugural dance piece for Short+Sweet Dance Penang "Everyday Carry" has forced me to think of a motivation for my character. A character, very much like my real life, carries the daily responsibilities and routines with her; a life that is normal, which is fine, not exactly miserable or difficult... but yet her heart longs for something else, dreams of something else.

But how many of us truly takes action to get there? And how many just accepts life as it is?

This little poster shall be my daily mantra... to drive me to do the current as best I can, so that I can pave the way to the future I desire. Every little step forward cherished, every milestone, celebrated.

I started working in 2002, took a sabbatical in 2012. Started working back in 2013, so, the next sabbatical is due 2023, right? Will it last longer this time? Will I be able to go back to work when I need to? Let's shush these stupid questions from our heads and just work towards it anyway.

2023: that shall be my target date. Time to stop procrastinating, and turn my dreams, into goals, into plans, into actions... until they are final... true. 

Dreams do come true. ;-)

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Bewitching Ba'kelalan

Recently, I went on an unconventional vacation with my sister in law, Hilda to a quaint little rural village in Sarawak called Ba'kelalan. Where? It is about a 40min flight south of Lawas, close to the Kalimantan border in the beautiful bewitching land of Borneo. Most people mistook that we were there for a mission trip or some kind of social work... because well, who would go to a place with nothing for a vacation? Vacations are supposed to be about self-pampering and why would you go where there is no phone or internet connection, wonky electricity supply, no hot baths, and terrible road conditions? There is a remarkable reason why everybody should go on these vacations. It gives you a different perspective of your life, outside your cushy city comforts. It was an eye-opening adventure for both of us city-girls.

Helpful and kind people

We had to layover one night in Miri to catch the connecting flight to Ba'kelalan. When we arrived in Miri nearing midnight, we bumped into a mutual friend, Calvin at the airport picking up his guest. As we walked out into the darkness to find our hotel, we sort of got disoriented and did not know how to get there. Calvin, who was still waiting for his guest, helped to drop us off at our hotel, Miritrail Inn. There was no receptionist there except for a number to call. When I called them ... Alas! The place was full and they disregarded our booking. He then hung up on me and switched the phone off as I was unable to call him back after that. We were left stranded without a place to sleep and decided to sleep at the airport. The night shift guard, Mr Bujang told us it was not a 24hour airport and they are locking up. We told him we had nowhere to go. He then offered to drive us to another hotel nearby, YS Inn, turns out it was full as well. We wanted to give up hope and told Mr Bujang we will just sleep outside the airport  but he refused to give up. He said that outside the airport is full of mosquitoes and it will not be pleasant. He drove us even further out to look for another hotel. Hallelujah! There was a vacant room! Thanks to the kindness of a total stranger, we had a place to sleep. We thanked him profusely and offered to host him whenever he goes to KL and exchanged phone numbers.

Journey to the village
The next day, we boarded our little MASWing plane and had to transit in Lawas enroute to Ba'kelalan. We could see the vast green mountains and plains below us.
 These little chickies were travelling with us in the plane

Upon arrival in Ba'kelalan, our friendly host, Carolyn and her husband Paulus was there to pick us up. We arrived at the same time as 2 of her other guests, Rick and Sham, who were teachers from an international school. We boarded Paulus's 4-wheel pick-up truck, and made our way through the rough terrains. This road was built several years ago by the army, not a very good job I must say. The worst road in KL cannot even compare to the bumpiness of this journey. Both Hilda and I got car-sick by the time we arrived at Carolyn and Paulus's home.
The holey road
Our abode, the home of Carolyn, Paullus, and Aunty Rose

Kampung Long Rusu
Mini-adventures in the mountains
Even from the very first day, we had the opportunity to experience the simple and natural life out in the village. Rick, Sham and myself followed Aunty Rose out to the riverbank to pick while Paku-Pakis for our dinner. Hilda was too sick from the car-ride to join us. Dinner was wonderful, we had our harvest stir fried.

The next day, we went on walks around Ba'kelalan. We went to the salt springs where they harvest the mountain spring salt-water to manufacture their own salt. It is said to be rich in minerals and is not just sodium like our mass produced table salts, therefore is healthier. The village people claims it to be tastier too and would never use regular table salt in their cooking. I bought 1 kg for only RM20, a very nominal price considering how much effort goes into its production.
Boiling the salt water with natural wood, takes up to 24 hours to get the salt crystals. A lot of work for RM20/kg of salt

The salt springs
If you think the grass is professionally cut, think again. The nice short uniformly cut grass is naturally cut, by the buffaloes in the village. The buffaloes are pretty good gardeners, I must say.

We also hiked up a small mountain to get to the viewpoint. There are several viewpoints in Bakelalan and there was a new trail which was only a week old but we were a little less adventurous so we chose the tried and test trail. The view from the top was no less magnificent.

The view from the top

Appreciate the little things
In the city, we have grown to take the little things for granted. Warm showers, phone reception, internet, electricity, and many many more. Here, we showered in icy cold water in the morning, which is a superb wake-up catalyst. There is 1 water-heater in the house, it is considered a luxury in the kampung.

I remember sharing an anecdote about my cat, Orked who hates fish and refused her Omega Oil supplement. The kids here do not even get such supplements. And the dogs here? They live free as a bird, eating organic food, and have never bathed. Yet they do not smell bad and have beautiful coats. Nature is a great caregiver.
Kampung dogs, hardy and resourceful... They have 12 of them.
Most of the people in the village are farmers. There are not many vocations available here and people are content to be able to work, provide for their families and live a simple life.
The paddy fields of Bakelalan

Peace be upon you
Carolyn's father in law told us, in the city there is no day or night but in the village, there is a clear day and a clear night to differentiate when we work and when we rest. Indeed it peaceful in the village. Even in a foreign place, in a foreign bed, I slept much better than I did at home. I suppose we do not realize the implication of all the light and noise in the city until we have experienced real peace and darkness.

Sometimes the beauty of nature is best appreciated, not captured. The sheer darkness of the village really brought out the beauty of the starry sky. They shone like diamonds in the sky. I tried capturing it with my phone camera... lo and behold, nothingness. I ended up just staring up at the sky and appreciating it using my eyes instead of my electronics.
I rest my case 

Everyone knows everyone
Every time we walked around the village, if we bump into any locals, they would stop to get to know us and offer us a free ride. Simply because, everyone knows everyone here and they really take the effort to know even the new people that arrive here. The safety and the trust level here is truly unheard of in the city. Everyone is hospitable and helpful. Such a wonderful culture!

We can already feel that warmth of human connection within the home we were staying in. Aunty Rose, Carolyn and Paulus are always humble, down-to-earth, helpful and hospitable too. They made us feel like family.  
Aunty Rose flanked by Hilda and I

The lovely couple who hosted us, Paulus and Carolyn
Right before we left the Ba'kelalan, at the airport, we met a man from Kuala Lumpur, Andy, whom like our host, is married to a local in Ba'kelalan and commutes to and fro every month. He said, "To appreciate the city, you need a place like Ba'kelalan and to appreciate the Ba'kelalan, you need a place like the city."

Indeed. Experiencing both worlds does magnify your gratitude and helps you appreciate everything in life more. Would I come back again? Most definitely!

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Resolutions; A Revolution Against Routine

I know most people think that resolutions are pointless, but I believe that we should set targets not just for work but for our personal lives too. If we do not, the busyness of life will just push us around like a fierce river current to whatever direction it goes. Not having a target will not give us the motivation and discipline to swim purposefully with all our might against the current to reach your target. Often times, it is not as hard as we think. A few strokes later, you could find yourself reaching a riverbank of your aim. Take control of your life and do not let life take control of you.

This year, it will be about making connections and enriching myself. I shall set my SMART goals for each item. Deadline is 31st Dec 2016.

  1. More often than not, we only spend time with the people we have daily contact with out of busyness or necessity: colleagues, church-mates, nucleus family, etc. This year, I am making it a point to have face-to-face catch-ups with friends who have drifted to become acquaintances or merely FB friends because I no longer have daily contact with. Target: One friend per month. One caveat is that I cannot do it at the expense of time with the people closest to my life.
  2. Esya: The Musical, was a heart-wrenching story of a young rural girl tricked into prostitution and was trapped. Performing in it has got me thinking about the people who fall into the path of social ills: prostitution, drugs-abuse, crime, etc. Instead of shunning them and judging them, I want to look deeper and try to understand. Usually, it is their circumstances, their desperation that drives them to the path of being the predators or victims of these social ills. Nobody is born evil. There is a background story to each and every one of them. I picked up an co-written autobiography or memoir of a Thai prostitute when I was there for a holiday: Miss Bangkok by Bua Boonmee & Nicola Pierce. Reading it, she had so much in common with Esya! This year I aim to do two things out of the Esya experience: First Target: Read 1 book per month, autobiography books of people involved in social ills either as the predator or the victim. No fiction allowed. Second Target: Volunteer at 1 NGO this year, one that rehabilitates people who made the brave decision to get out of a social ill.
  3. Start writing again, to share about the things I read, my life, my work, my experiences or observations, or anything else that strikes me, I have stopped writing and my blog has been reduced to a cheap and ineffective medium to promote my art. I need to revive it and really write again. No rants or complaints allowed. Target: One post per month.
  4. The last time I seriously studied was for my MBA. This year, I aim to study again. I would love to attend a class or workshop in person but I could not find any in this region on the topics I seek. There is nothing like peer-to-peer face-to-face learning. However, I shall make a realistic demand of myself and allow self-study courses online. I have already found one that I will begin later this month: Health In Numbers. Target: Complete 2 courses this year.

I too, will continue what I started last year be it in personal health and fitness, or going eco-friendlier.

That is a lot to do in one year. So, I better get started swimming against the current!