Friday, September 30, 2016

Identity and Persona

So a couple of days ago I talked to my students about identity and how we have more than one of them at any given time, even though we are just one person, one soul, one carbon-based organism (1Malaysia? No. Bad joke. Down boy).

I told them that everyone has multiple identities. For example, at that moment, they were a student in the class. At the same time, they were also a friend to their classmates. And a child of their parents. And a brother/sister to their siblings. And an et to their cetera.

And I guess I talked to them about identity because I was (am) having a hard time with it as well. Some of you might know that I am currently talking on two podcast on the regular. For those who don't, one is the Buah Mulut podcast which I usually host with my wife, and the other is the Mentol Pecah podcast in which I regularly get on to talk to the real host, Muzakir Xynll aka Mozek.

And in one of the episodes, Mozek talked about persona and how a comedian or a rapper has a persona and uses them to their advantage. It got me thinking about my persona and what my identity was as a person, but mostly as a performer. Like, Eminem has a persona that's a nasty person who doesn't give two effs about anything. Kendrick Lamar has this Compton good kid trying to find his way in life kinda thing going on. Louis CK is a divorcee with two kids that says a lot of disturbing and taboo things.

It made me ask "what am I?" And to be frank, I don't have an answer to that. I just don't know.

When I write songs, I'm desperate in finding things I want to sing or rap about. When I write articles, I'm desperate in finding what I want to write about and how I want to write about it. When I think about doing comedy, I think about what would I want to joke about and how I would joke about them. After typing all that out, I come to one main question: what about me is interesting?

Because a persona is a way of being, it's an identity. And, as I've said before, I have many identities. I'm a son, I'm a brother, I'm a husband, I'm a dude, I'm a teacher, I'm a writer, I'm a music fan, I'm a movie fan, I'm an et cetera.

What about these identities of mine is interesting? How may I look at the world through my existing identities and present my point of view to people in an engaging manner?

And the answer is still: I don't know. Thing is, I don't find myself to be a very interesting person. I'm pretty vanilla in every way that I can think of. I'm not particularly well-read about anything at all (even in the thing that I have a degree in, I only have cursory knowledge of). I'm a dilettante. A pretender. And a half-assed, uninteresting one at that.

I understand that the struggle is in finding out. I can't just say "pfff, aidono" and leave it like that. I need to find ways to look at myself, possibly look into myself and find a thing about me that I don't hate. And I have a feeling that that's going to be super tough. But once I find that thing, I can latch onto it and find a brief sense of fulfilment. Here's to hoping that I find the thing.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

A Thing My Headmaster Said

So my school replaced its headmistress with a new headmaster, and about a week ago (week ago), we had our first official staff meeting with him. He had a list of things to say, and he said them without dilly-dallying a whole bunch. I appreciate that very much.

Like I said, he mentioned a number of things (be in class when it's your time to be in class, pakai nametag, etc.) but one of the things that he asked of us teachers was to start each lesson with five minutes of talking about morals, values and the such.

This was a bit of a revelation for me because throughout my education as a teacher, we had always been taught that the first few minutes of a lesson was supposed to be set inductions (which is basically a thing a teacher does or talk about or show to the students to get them interested in the coming lesson). The headmaster addressed that, saying that yes, set induction was important, but he still wanted us to try to fit in a talk about values and morals before the lesson started.

His reasoning was that kids today don't have a lot of guidance in that regard, and if it didn't come from the teacher, then who else was going to talk to them about being decent human beings? (I'm paraphrasing, of course)

Yes, we were taught to instil values and morals during lessons while we were in teacher training, but it was never an explicit thing. It was supposed to be weaved into the lesson, or probably end up being a post-lesson pep-talk. This guy was talking about a pre-lesson pep-talk. And as I'm typing this out, I know it doesn't seem like a big leap of imagination, but it was for me. Because – as a long-time reader would recall – I am a mediocre teacher, and these small things appear big to me.

So I tried doing that in class. Every time I have entered class this past several days, I came in and started my hour with each class with a talk about being a decent human being. I didn't know how to do the "kalau kamu buat benda ni, kamu jahat. Kalau kamu buat benda tu, kamu baik, dapat pahala., masuk syurga" speech, so I tried to get the students to start thinking about things.

The very first topic I tried to talk about was respect. Spent a good five minutes trying to talk about respect and how it can manifest itself and why we would want to respect others and how we would do that. Earlier today I talked about self-awareness to eight-year-olds. I even talked about the concept of discipline. I hate that word.

Or rather, I hate what it has turned into. Or better yet, I hate what school has used the word for. It's always been used by people in positions of power (ie teachers) against those who were in positions of less power (ie students) to control them. The word has been thrown around to mean that if you obeyed and did what you were told, you were good and disciplined. And if you didn't, you weren't. And being an undisciplined human being was simply unacceptable to my old teachers. If you were bad, or did something bad, you would be dikenakan "tindakan disiplin", and that was definitely bad. So the word has always meant – to me at least – physical/emotional abuse.

So in talking about the word/concept, I got myself and the students to think about what the word meant, why it was important to them and why it was important that they had it. And I tried my best to tell the students that there was such a thing as self-discipline. That discipline doesn't come from a cane; it comes from themselves, ourselves. That some of them already have it when they baca doa makan before they eat without anybody asking them to do so, or when they put a piece of trash in the garbage bin without anybody telling them to. That they could be the masters of their own discipline.

And by telling them that, I hope that they grow up to have a more positive view of the word than I did.

Now, you would think that talking to eight and nine year old kids about these things is ridiculous, right? That they're too high-faluting for a child's brain to process. At least, these were my reservations about talking to them before I did. I worried that they wouldn't get it. That they wouldn't pay attention to what I was saying. That they would continue making noise in the class the whole time I'm talking about those things.

To my surprise, the kids responded positively. At least, most of them did. More than I expected, for sure. They were attentive. They listened to what I had to say. They answered my questions when I asked. Several maintained eye contact with me throughout my talking about those things (which was a little bit of a surreal experience for me, to be frank). So that's encouraging. For me, at least, because now I can continue down this path of talking about ideas with the students and helping them think about things that I was never invited to think about when I was anywhere near their age.

So this is a bit of a thank you post to my new headmaster for putting this idea in my head. It feels great doing it, and I feel like I'm doing something positive for once (I rarely feel that way about anything I do). So thank you.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Typing Out Loud

So in a couple of days I'll be participating in a bit of a talky session thingy about self-expression with the wife, and like good organisers, the people running the event gave us the questions that we'll have to address a week prior to the event so that we could prepare. 

They're interesting questions in the sense that I've never received them before, so I know that I will personally have a tough time articulating the answers come crunch time, so I'll brainstorm some stuff here to have some sort of an idea of what I'll say on the event day itself. So here goes.

1. When did you start to really express yourself?
Tough question. I guess I've been expressing myself ever since I could remember. I a particularly fond memory would be the time when my friends and I made up a fictional chain narrative amongst each other in class while we weren't paying attention to what our teachers were saying. They were weird stories involving digimon, space pigs and professional wrestlers.

But I guess the question is, when did I really start to express myself, and I guess the question means when did I start expressing myself on purpose. And I guess the best answer I can give is when I started blogging. That was a start to a lot of things for me. Thinking about things and exploring ideas and putting those thoughts and explorations on a page, making them tangible things instead of randomness that was floating around in my head. I don't remember what actually sparked me to want to make a blog, but I do remember what opened my eyes to self-expression, and that was an English Literature course that we had to take in our TESL foundation semesters. Those lecturers taught me how to read poems and stories with a critical eye, and I've been learning ever since. I feel like I've come a long way since then, but I know that I have such a long way to go still.

2. What importance do you see in self-expression?
I think it's a human thing, to express yourself, or at least to want to express yourself, either in the form of poetry or songs or films or stories or even just conversations that we have with each other. We have this innate need to tell other people what is on our minds. Maybe that's hard-wired into our brains or maybe that's just me, but I feel like everyone wants to share stuff that's in their heads with other people.

To me, it's a question of whether or not you're aware that that's what you're doing. Once you are, you do it on purpose, then maybe you feel the urge to get better at it. And that's my never-ending struggle for the past several years. Just trying to get better at expressing myself to other people.

But why would you want to get better? Why aren't you happy with just being able to express yourself period? (I added these questions myself)

Honest answer is, I don't know. Maybe it's just my way of keeping myself from being happy. I think I secretly get a kick out of making myself feel inferior and incompetent, because I do that so often it's unhealthy.

Or maybe I want to get better so that I can eventually hear other people say "hey look at that guy, he's so competent at expressing himself in his chosen method of self-expression!" and I'll feel happy about myself when I'm validated like that, feeds my ego and stuff. Maybe. I don't know.

3. How did being able to express yourself change your life (or didn't)?
I think it opened my eyes a lot more. I feel like I notice more things, nowadays. Things that I probably wouldn't have noticed when I wasn't expressing myself on purpose. Like, I wouldn't have been able to appreciate sarcasm as much as I do now if I didn't use it myself as much as I do.

And I don't think I would be able to appreciate a lot of other art too, like songs. I write the odd song every now and again, and it has allowed me some insight into the amount of work and creativity that it takes to produce songs, and I feel like I can appreciate (or not appreciate) certain songs with more certainty now compared to back when I didn't engage in the act. I can say things like "man, that must have taken SO MUCH WORK to get done!" or "nikhirim malaih gila dia ni buat lagu camni ja," just when listening to stuff, because I have an insight into what it takes to get those things done. And that goes to other forms too, like video or film-making, writing, even sports. But of course, like I said earlier, I'm still learning so many things, so I always leave room for myself to be wrong.

4. Do you have a method to build confidence or to shake off nervousness?
I think confidence is one of the bi-products of experience. So whenever I'm nervous as eff or when I don't feel confident before a performance or whenever I'm doing stuff in front of a group of people, it helps to remind myself that I'm super super nervous right now because I haven't done this a bunch of times yet. I'm going to suck at this one right here, and that's okay, because I have to suck a whole buncha times before getting kinda sorta good at it (yes, that's a Jake from Adventure Time quote). And giving myself permission to be bad at something is so liberating, like you wouldn't believe. So yeah, embracing my mediocrity is what I do.

5. What are some common myths about self-expression that you, through experience, have doubts about?
I don't know about any common myths about self-expression, so I had to google it. The results weren't that many. I couldn't find anything relevant in the first page of the search, so they must not exist, right?

All joking a salad, I did find one thing that said self-expression was related to narcissism. I guess you can sort of see it that way in the sense that when you express yourself, you're essentially spilling your guts in the form of your words and thoughts for all the world to see and kinda sorta imply that you're saying "HEY LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME I HAVE STUFF TO SAY LOOK AT MEEEE (noodles)", but I don't know.

I feel like learning how to express myself has allowed me to be more empathetic too. I feel like I understand what it takes for me to produce a certain something and the kind of courage that is necessary to be honest about yourself and your views in a world where conformity is valued so much, that it helps me understand the plight of other people who are expressing themselves too, or at least who are trying to express themselves. I feel like we're all working towards making ourselves understood by other people when we can barely even understand ourselves most of the time, it makes it easier for me to put myself in the skin of other people and try to understand why they see things the way they do and why they express themselves the way they do.

6. What problems do you still face when expressing yourself, and what problems did you experience in the past?
One of the things that I've always struggled with is figuring out what I think. I feel like 99% of the time, my mind is a floating space of nothingness and to extract something, anything out of it requires exertion and effort. So that's always a struggle for me, finding something to think about. Like my videos. I struggle so much with them, because like I said, 99% of the time I have no idea what to talk about, especially when asked to talk about something. It just goes blank.

I go through this so many times. I'd have thoughts and stuff floating around in my head, things that I find interesting, but as soon as I click on the Word icon or the "Tweet" icon, my mind goes blank. Absolutely nothing. All of a sudden I have no memory of what I was thinking so profusely about just literally two seconds ago. And so I scroll through Twitter and think "oh look at all these people that have interesting stuff to say" and wonder how they did it.

7. How did you manage?
I still don't know. I think saying it aloud helps. And nowadays I like to record myself on the phone using the voice memo app thing on the phone. Most of my voice memo stuff are random melodies that sometimes come into my head and I hum them out to the phone so that I don't forget them in five seconds.

I also started an idea bank about a year ago. It was during a challenge I made for myself to write everyday on my blog (what a failure that turned out to be), but I feel like that helped. I needed to catch myself in a train of thought and quickly jot them down and save them in my twitter drafts so that I can go to my laptop later in the day and read from those drafts to know what I was going to write about that day. That idea bank thing was super helpful because sometimes I would have five thoughts a day, and somethings I would have zero thoughts a week, and being able to extract one idea a day from that bank was super helpful in getting me to write so much more than I had ever written before. But like everything I do, I stopped doing it at a certain point because me and consistency are like oil and water. I should probably start that again.

8. What's your advice to people who are afraid to express themselves?
I would have to ask first, why are you afraid? What are you afraid of? If it's that people are going to laugh at you, then chances are, people don't really care. All people care about is themselves, and if you're not directly affecting them in any way, then express away. if you're worried "what will people say about me?" or "what will people think about me when I do/say this thing?", chances are, those people are asking the same exact questions to themselves. Everybody is worried about their own selves, so don't worry about them. They're already worried enough about themselves as it is.

If you're afraid that nobody will care, then I'll probably borrow Bo Burnham's words: If you can live your life without an audience, you should do it.

Because if I've noticed anything about self-expression and stuff, things have a way of finding their own audiences. They might be small, or they might be weird, but they're real, and they're supposed to be there. Care more about the quality of your product than what other people think about it. Because if you're happy with what you've made, then you've already gained one fan. Yourself.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

What You Need To Know Before Buying A House

So a couple of weeks ago, I made a video about the preparations one has to go through before investing in property. You can check out the video here:

As I said in the video, there are a few things that we need to find out about before going on our journey towards purchasing property. 

One of the firsts steps on that journey for most of us is getting a loan from a bank in order to buy that house. Now, when we go to the bank, they won't just give is money willy-nilly. They take into consideration a few things, namely these four: your Debt Service Ratio, your risk profile, the price of the house you intend to buy, and you Loan-To-Value ratio. What we'll be discussing in this blogpost is the Debt Service Ratio, or DSR for short.

Whoa, that sounds highly technical! What does that mean?

DSRs are basically a percentage. Some people are have a 50% DSR, other people have 60% DSR. The percentage basically shows how likely or unlikely it is for you to be able to pay back your loan to the bank. The lower your DSR percentage, the better, as it shows that you have a higher chance of paying and lower chance of not paying your monthly repayments.

 But how do I know how much my DSR is?
Good question. I'll walk you through how I get to know my own DSR.

For convenience's sake, let's say that I get a monthly income of RM3000.

Firstly, I add up all my monthly payments that I have to make.
Rent (RM300) + Car repayment (RM550) + Phone Bill (RM100) = RM950

And then I add to that the amount of money I would have to pay every month if I were to purchase the house I want. Let's say that's RM1050. So,
RM950 + RM1050 = RM2000

Next, I divide that number with my monthly income.

RM2000 / RM3000 = 0.66

Finally, I multiply that number by 100 to get my DSR percentage.

0.66 x 100 = 66%

So that's my DSR if I wanted to buy a house that required me to pay RM1050 every month to the bank.

And that's it, really. To wrap it up:
1. Add up all your monthly commitments.
2. Add to that the amount you will pay every month for the house.
3. Divide that total with your monthly income.
4. Multiply by 100.
5. That's your DSR.

Remember, the lower your DSR is, the better your chances of getting a loan from the bank to buy your house. Aim for getting below 60% DSR, as lots of banks take that as the typical cut-off point.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Merchant (PART 2)


Veena reached a hand into her bag and looked for her doodle book that she always carried with her. As she was looking for it, it suddenly went dark.

For a small moment, she thought that she had somehow gone blind, as she could suddenly hear screams from where seemed to be the inside of her head, but then she heard Amar’s voice saying “Alah, blackout ke?” and she heaved a sigh of relief.

It seemed as though the whole campus’ electricity had been cut off. Even the street lights were dark. Being a campus that was a considerable distance away from the nearest main road, they couldn’t see just how badly the area had been affected. All they knew was that the cafeteria and all the buildings around it was out of electricity.

“Haiz, at time like this got blackout also ha?” She asked almost to herself.

“Okay lah, we postpone meeting lah kan?” Amar suggested while standing up, bag in hand right after the ruckus of the group died down a little. He probably wouldn’t be able to continue watching his Running Man episodes, so he figured he’d probably go out for shisha with the boys.

“Hey, cannot! We need to prepare the performance! Don’t got time already!” Shirley rejected the motion, looking to what looked like the silhouette of Amar.

“Yeah, we should probably find somewhere else to continue the discussion,” said Hani into the darkness of the cafeteria. Their eyes were adjusting to the darkness and they could make out each others’ faces in the dark now.

“Okay, so where should we go?” Jasmin inquired.

“Hey, is it just me, or has this cafe gotten really quiet?” Rafiq suddenly asked.

The group fell silent and tried to listen for all the other people that filled half of the cafeteria with them just moments earlier. 

Pin-drop silence.

“La, phone ada torchlight, guna ajalah!” Amar said while taking his phone out of his pocket. To his horror, his phone was dead. “Alamak, takdak bateri plak, Fiq, suluh tengok!”

Rafiq took out his phone and pressed on the home button several times. Nothing. His phone had died on him too. “Phone aku pun habeh bateri!”

Everyone else at the table quickly took out their phones and checked too, only to find out that all their phones would not turn on for them.

“Okay, this getting really creepy now! Let’s go out of the cafeteria first,” Shirley was trying her best to keep calm, but she knew that she was failing.

“Yeah, let’s just go outside,” Hani said while putting her bag strap over her shoulder.

They left the table and headed for the door.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Merchant (PART 1)

"Merchant was suggested by Muzakir Xynll. Thank you.


“So who’s going to be the merchant? Shylock? Shylock kan?” Amar’s voice rose above the commotion that was wont in the campus cafeteria as he addressed the rest of his group members. He intended to get the meeting done as quickly as humanly possible so that he could go back to watching Running Man. He just jumped on the bandwagon three days ago in order to impress his Facebook crush who was a big Running Man fan, he found out, and he was still on season 2. He had a lot of catching up to do.

“Yes, Shylock,” Veena chimed in as she fanned herself with her floral-motif hand-fan. The warmth and humidity of the cafeteria had always bothered her, which made her want to get out of there as soon as she could as well.

“Wait,” said Shirley, raising her hand so that she was noticed, “shouldn’t we pick which scene we want to do first before we assign the characters? What if we lastly pick a scene that Shylock never have, then how?” 

“Yeah, betul. So which scene we want to do?” Jasmin had to raise her voice to levels higher than usual for her to be heard by the whole group.

At this point, Rafiq, Hani and Wida flipped through their Merchant Of Venice textbook, seeming to look for a suitable scene.

“Alah, pilih ja whichever scene pun, the easiest one to do, kita buat kerja senang!” Amar put his hand on the table since he didn’t bring his textbook.

“Cannoooot like thaaaaat!” Shirley turned to face Amar. “This is 30% of our marks okay? You think what?” Her grip on her textbook tightened as she was saying this.

Amar sighed. He forgot that he was in the same group with Shirley, of all people. “Okay la, faster choose which scene want to do!”

“I think we should do the scene in the, apa tu? Courtroom? When the trial is happening, where the pound of flesh thing is said,” Hani put forth her suggestion.

“Ha, Madam Ros suggest that one too, right? We can try that one,” Shirley opened her textbook and looked for the scene.

“Tengok, pilih scene yang ada Shylock gak. Aku dah tanya dah awal-awal tadi kan?” Amar said silently to Rafiq while rolling his eyes, to which Rafiq shook his head to show his agreement with Amar.

“Okay, so in this scene got quite a few characters, so we can choose. We want to choose on our own or draw lots or how?” Shirley said while examining the script in the textbook.

The group went quite for a little while before Shirley said, “We draw lots la ha? Easier like that. Veena, you bring book or not? Can do cut the paper to draw lots?” as she gestured to Veena sitting right beside her.


Looks like I'll need to spend a little more of my time on this one. To be continued.

Click here for PART 2

Sunday, March 27, 2016

I Need Your Help

So I've noticed that I've not been writing as often as I want to, apatah lagi as often as I need to in order to hone the craft. And the things that I do write nowadays are mostly non-fiction, when in my heart, I want to write more fiction. I'm giving myself a lot of excuses as to why I can't do it, and being the weak person that I am, I give in to these excuses and it keeps me from doing things I tell myself that I want to do.

One of the main excuses that I give myself, however, is that I don't have anything to write about. Which is sort of a ridiculously weak excuse because we're surrounded by so many amazing things around us that to be uninspired should be almost unthinkable.

So here's where I need you, dear reader of this post, to help me out. I would like to ask any of you who are willing to drop into the comment section of this blogpost a one-word suggestion for me to write a piece of fiction about, very much in the way of a writing-prompt. Some examples would be: iron, power, camera, idea, etc. I am going to base my next blogpost on any one of your suggestions, and I'll make the suggestion the title of the story and remember to credit the person who suggested it. If it's from an anonymous user, I'll credit it to "anonymous".

The blogpost after that one will be based on one of the comments on that post pulak, and we'll go on like that until the end of the year (this is my hope, at least). By the end of the year we should have quite a number of stories on our hands, and I'd love to have the knowledge that you helped a big deal in making that happen.

I come to the blog to ask you this because, I think it's no secret now that I hold my blog readers most dearly to me. I tell you guys the things that hit closest to home. Here is where I go to become vulnerable, and to know that some people appreciate that and keep coming to read is very heart-warming on my part.

But of course, I'm not forcing anyone to do this. There is no compulsion here, I am just asking for your help is all. Help me become a better writer, and I shall be entirely grateful for it.

May peace be upon you.