Monthly Archives: February 2012

No boundaries

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Nothing beats a random act of kindness at the end of long day at work

I walked back to my car at the end of yet another working day and found the following paper, wet from the recent thunderstorm and stuck against my front windscreen. It says “WATCH OUT FOR A HOLE BEHIND, DO NOT REVERSE!” with a cute little exclamation mark drawn inside a triangle and huge CAUTION word beside it. I don’t know about you, but that Caution sign alone looked like it took quite a bit of effort to draw – more than just your quick scribbles on your way out from work.

It made me smiled to myself. And naturally, I had to walk around and peered behind my car to look at the hole that I had just been warned about. One of the metal grilles that covers the monsoon drain appeared to be missing and it would have gotten myself into quite a lot of trouble if I had accidentally reversed back into it.

Random act of kindness always amazes me. Perhaps my karma has been good lately. This kind stranger surely had not expected anything in return when he/she left me that little warning. And that is what I love most about random acts of kindness, the very fact that it is done without expecting anything in return, and often so without taking into account a person’s creed, race or religion.

The topic of race and religion has been something of a frequently visited subject of conversation for me in the recent months. I had a conversation with someone who is of both a different religion and racial background from myself. At half past midnight we were driving around aimlessly through the alleys of Kuala Lumpur, and somewhere in the area of Setapak and Kampung Semarak, we chanced upon a sign right about the time the lights turned red. I had to snort (yes, charming indeed) when I read it out loud. “Bumi Expo – Property and Lifestyle” . Somehow I can’t help but wonder what would happen if an All-White only Property and Lifestyle exhibition was held right smack in the middle of New York. Oh the chaos that would ensue..

Bumiputera stands for ‘sons of the soil’, which really means the natives of Malaya. To blog about the history and origin of this term calls for an whole entire essay, one that I think Wikipedia has succinctly achieved to do so right here [Bumiputera (Malaysia)]. I hate to touch on ideas revolving around religion and racial background mainly because to coherently and successfully depict my point of view would involve more than just a few sentences in a blog. It’s a complex subject, and very highly sensitive one at that. But I am a strong believer that one should be allowed the freedom of belief. And although you cannot change your skin color, or the race in which you were born into, I do think being excessively loyal to ones own race borders strongly on the side of racism. The only race that one should ever stand to fight for, I believe, is the human race.

I so often wish, John Lennon’s ideal world that he sang about actually exists (no not the heaven and hell part, but the brotherhood and sharing all the world part).

I remembered a couple of years ago when a good friend of mine broke up with his then girl friend. They were high school sweethearts and stayed together all throughout University and across long distances (one remained in Kuala Lumpur while the other chose to study in England). 5 years into it, they called it off. Well OK, one of them called it off, rarely ever are these things usually mutual is it? Their 5 year relationship had to dissolve due to religious differences. Anyway he wasn’t in the best of shape for the next few months to come. Once he told me, “I wish John Lennon’s world really existed”.

And that is dating for you in Malaysia. Like as if human nature in itself, and trying to bring two very different lives together is not complicated enough, there is race and religion thrown into the pot too. Recently, a Chinese guy who expressed interest towards me apparently had a conversation with his eldest sister on the likelihood of him dating a Malay girl. Her response was somewhere along the lines of:

Don’t be crazy lah you! Your mother will chop you into a million pieces if she finds out!!

But we went out for dinner anyway. And a movie. We shared  a number of very interesting, engaging conversations about organic food, career and god-knows what else. And we took a drive through the alleys of Kuala Lumpur late one Saturday night. That’s when we saw that billboard by the traffic light. And somehow it occurred to me that life could be a little bit easier without all these racial differences amongst us.

If kindness can transcend creed, race and religion, then why can’t love? Ah, if only it is as easy.

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The original Hijau man

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I had agreed to accompany one of my good friends as his plus-one to a wedding last night. I had no idea who the bride and groom were but I had an open Saturday night and thought it was due time to catch up with this friend of mine. Little did I know, the groom’s brother in law is Zainal Abidin, the singer made famous by his song Hijau (Green) in the 1990s and to which perhaps, this blog lends part of its name from.

I wouldn’t call myself a true fan of his, and I probably know all of 2 of his songs by heart but when his Hijau song became a national hit, it was played everywhere, and if my memory serves me well, it coincided with the early green movement when the concept of recycling was introduced. When he stood on that stage last weekend and I heard it live, it was just THAT good that I held a stupendous smile throughout the entire song. This particular song is tied to my childhood memories and the early consciousness towards environmental conservation. All those early memories of my attempts to recycle by soaking old newspapers in water overnight to make paper mache bowls that I can’t quite remember what I ended up using it as. That plus the countless past editions of National Geographic which I hoarded for the places that I daydreamed of going to help save someday.

Songs that carry such powerful messages tend to automatically qualify itself in the all-time classic favorites hall of fame like John Lennon’s Imagine. I have listened to his song when I was 12 and now in my late twenties, the lustre of it when it first became a hit never left at all. I believe Zainal Abidin’s Hijau transcends time and passing fad, but more importantly its message is one that is understood globally. So this post is a tribute to the Hijau man itself. Lyrics appear in its original Bahasa Malaysia language with my attempt to translate it so that the wider audience who do not speak the language can perhaps achieve some appreciation towards this lovely song.

Some of the translation may not make a lot of sense as I try to stick as close to its original meaning as possible, but I guess if you take it in more poetic form, you can perhaps begin to see the messages that was weaved into it.

Bumi yang tiada rimba
Seumpama hamba
Dia dicemar manusia
Yang jahil ketawa

An earth without forests Is like a slave
Polluted by humans
Who ignorantly laughs away 

Bumi yang tiada udara
Bagai tiada nyawa
Pasti hilang suatu hari
Tanpa disedari

An earth without air
Is like an earth without life
One that will surely disappear
Without [anyone] realizing it 

Bumi tanpa lautan
Akan kehausan
Pasti lambat laun hilang
Duniaku yang malang

An earth without sea
Is like an earth that is thirsty
One that will eventually disappear
Oh, my disastrous world! 

Dewasa ini kita saling merayakan
Kejayaan yang akhirnya membinasakan
Apalah gunanya kematangan fikiran
Bila di jiwa kita masih lagi muda
Dan mentah
Ku lihat hijau

As adults we always celebrate
The successes of others that usually destroys
What is the use of a wise mind
When our souls are still young and raw?
I see green

Bumiku yang kian pudar
Siapa yang melihat
Di kala kita tersedar
Mungkinkah terlewat

My earth that is slowly fading
Who is keeping watch?
When we finally realize
It could be too late

Korupsi,opresi,obsesi diri
Polusi,depressi,di bumi,kini

Corruption, Oppression, Self Obsession
Pollution, Depression, in our world today

[Oh..anok-anok
tokleh meghaso mandi laok
Besaing,maing ghama-ghama
Ale lo ni tuo umurnyo bejuto
Kito usoho
Jauhke dari malapetako
Ozon lo ni koho nipih nak nak aghi
Keno make asak
Hok biso wei,pasa maknusio
Seghemo bendo-bendo di dunio
Tokleh tehe
Sapa bilo-bilo]

[This final part of the song is actually sang in Kelatanese Malay which is a dialect spoken specifically by those who originate from this northern state of Peninsular Malaysia. Being one that grew up in the city of Kuala Lumpur all my life, Kelantanese Malay is practically a whole different language on its own to me hence I am not even going to attempt to translate this strictly due to accuracy reasons]

On being a first rate of yourself

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Judy Garland once said: Be a first rate version of yourself, not a second rate version of someone else and I think by this she means, to accept yourself fully as you are and not what other people think or want you to be.

For the longest time, it seems my weight (or the lack thereof) appears to trouble other people more than it does to me. For the most part, this fascination on my weight amuses me, but at times it annoys me that people can go to the extent of feigning concern that it borders to being completely and utterly rude. I’ve had strangers, on being introduced immediately proceeds to hold my arms and say “You are SOO thin, you need to eat more!” or “Oh look at you, you’re so slim, I can NEVER fit into that dress!”.  Recently I got to know a colleague a little better (and by that I mean we started talking about things outside of work-related area) and after maybe 2 weeks of friendly conversations he took it upon himself to diagnose that I am ‘too thin’ therefore I should eat more. What do these people think I do? Look at the food and somehow magically feel full from it?

Telling someone to eat more and put on weight is akin to telling an overweight person that he/she is fat and geez, go lose some weight already. It’s absolutely heartless and rude.

Sometimes I wonder their intention of even saying these things out loud, and whether by doing so achieves to make them feel crap about themselves (which if it does, is single-handedly one of the most sadistic way of treating yourself).

This worldwide fascination on weight, on being slim and toned sometimes can be taken way too far, and way too seriously. Just yesterday I was catching up with a few friends. One of them talked about her recent 700 calories-a-day diet and this website which she apparently draws inspiration from. I get it. If one’s goal to shed a few pounds is to achieve a healthier lifestyle and a healthier self-image, then good for you. But losing a couple of pounds and being able to take more attractive photos in your bikinis will not instantly fix your life, your relationship, your finances, your family dramas and whatever else that may be troubling you.

Growing up I had always been on the lean side. Underweight, would be one word that I am no stranger to. Except for a short few months when I was adjusting to the food, weather and rhythm of living in Melbourne, I don’t think I had ever hit the normal BMI threshold. And that has never been a problem to me. For as long as I am healthy and I feel healthy and happy, to me those numbers that appear on the weighing scales are only just numbers.

I’ve been told that I cannot donate blood due to my weight. And that’s fine with me. (You don’t want my blood? Ok fine, I’ll just keep it where it belongs then..). I carry an organ donor card with me everywhere I go, and I doubt at the moment they need to decide which organs they want to harvest from my body, my weight will stand in between saving another life.

It seems that a lot of people conclude your physical body appearance to your eating habits. Voluptuous and curvy = he/she eats a lot and thin = ohdeargod I bet she skips her meals every day to be that thin. But what they forget to take into account are many other things like genetics, metabolism, and type of medications they may be currently taking that affects a person’s weight.

There are plenty other stressors that affect our daily lives, and I certainly don’t think food should be one of them. The rule is simple, nourish yourself with the best possible food you can afford, eat what makes you happy and always within moderation. Even when you think it’s healthy stuff – like how too much beta carotene from carrot juice can make your skin turn a sallow shade of orange, or consumption of raw spinach juice on a daily basis can lead to increased oxalic acid in your system.

So if you lean more towards the slim side, celebrate your metabolism. If you are voluptuous, just know that your bodies are revered by other women who wish they could have your curves. Don’t listen to what others think of you. Instead, truly listen to what your body is telling you. Most of the time I can bet you it’s pretty happy with the way it is sans the noises from outside telling to put on/lose weight. Take your mind off the numbers on the scales, the noises that those people are making, and shift your focus to sustaining your health in a holistic way. That, I believe is one of the ways to being a first rate of yourself.

The upside of Upward Yoga

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Upward Yoga is yoga studio opened sometime in 2011 by Ninie Ahmad-Forget, one of the better known yoga teachers around Malaysia. I only knew about her recently when I stumbled onto her blog, intrigued by her writings and finding out that she has a yoga studio quite close to where I happen to live.

For the last 6 years, I have been a frequent student to the Kevala Center. During this time, I took many classes with different teachers mostly out of convenience of timing rather than a purposeful choice. I went through a number of teachers, all bringing their own unique way of teaching and understanding yoga. The diversity was great and it showed me that there is much to learn about yoga, and ones own understanding and acceptance of it can vary greatly from one person to the other.

Nevertheless, I always find myself gravitating back to Dr. Dhilip and his classes and for the past 1-2 years, he has been the only teacher which I have been learning my poses from, and the one that continues to teach me great many things about the philosophy of yoga beyond what is required on the mat.

One of the beautiful things that he’s taught me about yoga is that it encourages you to tune into yourself, and really listen to what your body is trying to tell you. A new pose might feel uncomfortable, yes, but it should never feel painful or make you temporarily stop breathing because you’re trying so hard to keep still in that one pose. A great article covered by the Yoga Journal recently summarizes this point perfectly (Yoga shouldn’t hurt). When I recently got my best friend, Z to sign up to his classes, one of her ways to describe his classes was “wholesome” which is true, because I am always calmer, and more at peace at the end of his classes. His classes can be challenging at times, one which I have grown to love but lately I have been feeling the need to attend classes which ‘pushes’ me more and further into my poses. In short, something that will challenge me outside of my comfort zone.

So when I learned that this wonderful, tiny teacher by the name of Ninie who writes so eloquently has a studio nearby, I decided to drop by for some trial classes today.

Being a public holiday, Z and I woke up nice and early and headed straight for our class at 9am. We had about maybe 10 students in there and went through the sun salutation – a variation which was different to what I am used to. I am not sure if sun salutations should be practiced in exactly the same way in different types of yoga but variety in this case was truly the spice of my morning 🙂

I wanted to be pushed out of my comfort zone, and that was exactly what I got. Straight out of the comfort circle and into the wilderness of sweaty, challenging, and uncomfortable poses. Maybe it was because I was new to the class, I felt like I had something to prove (and you know how that ALWAYS ends up ugly right?), at times feeling like I should be able to do what that chick in front of me in her grey Lululemon yoga pants and top is doing.

Once I lost my balance in the Ardha Chandrasana pose and nearly crashed into Z who was beside me, narrowly avoiding a domino effect of stumbling yoga students in that class. A couple of times I find myself thinking “how to become yoga teacher like this??”

But Ninie was a good teacher, leaving you to decide at which pose to safely remain in whilst giving you options to take those poses deeper and challenging yourself further. She made the effort to know her students by name (which always scores brownie points in my ‘yoga teacher evaluation’ books). She complimented on my “line” during a variation of the Bitilasana pose, but also pointed out that I had the wrong leg up during the Vrksasana pose. She was big on the safety part of the practice and gave a couple of reminders throughout the 75 minutes. Never have I been in a class when my sweat threaten to drip to the floor while holding a pose. At the end of it, there was a certain sense of rejuvenation, and I felt energetic like my internal batteries were all fully charged up. I most definitely got what I wanted out of the class, and I think I will be back for more when my need for variation and an extra challenge calls for it.

Market of everything on a Sunday morning

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There is a farmers market that I have been passing by for a number of months since my parents moved houses. Farmers market (or Pasar Tani in Malay) takes place in almost every town around Malaysia. Each varying in sizes and usually held either on Thursday, Saturday or Sunday mornings depending on which town you happen to be in. My appreciation for fresh produce market happened during my undergraduate years in Melbourne when I would walk the neat aisle of South Melbourne Market and admire the vibrant fabolous colors of fresh vegetables and fruits, and when I moved into the heart of the city in my final year, Victoria Market became my weekly haunt for fresh ingredients. It was also here where I was introduced to organic produce and how it is different from all the others stalls selling similar items. Later on when I decided to complete my Masters degree in Brisbane, I began to understand the concept behind a ‘true’ farmers where you are buying directly from the farmer who grew those produce thus eliminating the price hike that usually happens when there is a middle-man involved in the process. One of Brisbane’s farmers market which I love and would happily wake up early in the morning and go through multiple-transfer and modes of public transportation for is the Farmers Market in West End. If you ever associated farmers market as the true hippie, make-love-not-war type of congregation minus the illegal substance, this would be it.

That, plus if you find a friendly, happy seller behind the stalls, you get to strike up amazing conversations on food and how those produce came about. Nothing like knowing exactly where your food comes from!

Back at home and every Sunday, the roads surrounding the Melawati Stadium in Shah Alam will be filled with cars notoriously parked on either side of the roads and families jay walking across towards the vast car park area around the stadium lined with rows and rows of blue-topped stalls. Don’t ask me why they don’t choose to just park their cars in the proper parking area (Ah Malaysians, we are such a creative bunch sometimes). Last night, I convinced my sister that we should at least have a look, because we happen to live so close by and it’s kind of pathetic if we keep experiencing these mad traffic not knowing what brings the crowd back here every single Sunday without fail.

So off we went, at the ungodly hour of 7:30 in the morning to beat the crowd and while the weather is still slightly cool. And boy, have we been missing out! Most of the stalls selling fresh produce were already up by then, so was the ones selling hot, cooked (and not always necessarily healthy) food for breakfast. The term ‘market of everything’ popped in my head as we zig-zagged our way from stalls to stalls.

From fresh colorful vegetables, fruits and herbs..

to hot kebabs …

to mountains of dried anchovies …

and even live fishes to add to your aquarium!

I hope these pretty little babies don't run out of oxygen anytime soon..

The photos obviously doesn’t do justice to the real thing itself like how the tiny fishes in the plastic bag were really colorful and pretty and all you can see from it are just.. numbered plastic bags with water. I was walking and trying to snap photos from my Blackberry while holding on to all the stuff we bought along the way. Next time around, we’ve decided we’ll bring one of those trolleys that you pull along from behind.

While we were there, I bought a whole bunch of fresh bok choys, kailan, and gotu kola or penny wort (pegaga). It makes me really happy to see fresh produce being sold, it reminds me there is still hope against the canned, preserved and pasteurized food industry that has become so convenient and mainstream these days. Now I’m tossing between wanting to make some green smoothie with a handful of each thrown into it, some fresh coconut flesh and bananas or just boiling some of the gotu kola to make a nice, cooling tea. What do you think?