Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Perspektif Tayar Pancit

Earlier today, while on the way to school on the motorcycle, I hit something on the road (a piece of rock, maybe) and it punched a hole in my front tire. I had to pull myself over to the side of the road with a flat tire (not an easy feat, I have discovered) and called my father for help and waited. I took advantage of that time I had while waiting by studying up on Laura Marling’s A Creature I Don’t Know and reading Murakami’s After The Quake that I brought with me and started the project that had long been kept in the stables.

After about half an hour of waiting, a 40-ish person on a motorcycle pulled over as well. I took out the earbuds out of my head and he asked “jadi apa?” so I answered “tayar depan pancit. Ada langgar sesuatu tadi.” and he replied with “dah panggil orang untuk tolong ka belum?” then I answered “dah, dah.” 

He nodded and continued on his journey to wherever he was going, leaving me smiling in his wake. It made me smile that there was a soul so caring about his fellow human being that when he saw a person who seemed stranded by the side of the road, took the time to stop and ask if everything was okay. It gave me hope that good people were indeed out there.

But then I checked myself and thought, hey, I could have totally gone the other way with the way I interpreted the situation. I could have taken offence to this brother who stopped to ask about a stranger. I could have thought, “ish, menyibuk gila pakcik ni. Bukan dia boleh tolong pun. Buat aku takut ja. Nasib baik dia tak curi apa-apa daripada aku. Dia dahla dok tengok aku atas bawah atlas bawah. Mesti dok usha tengok kot dia boleh amek apa-apa daripada aku.” and then probably complain about how my life sucks as a facebook status, saying dahla tayar pancit kat highway, kena kacau ngan a creepy pakcik plak tu ugh fml.

It’s all about perspective, if you haven’t picked up on that yet. Will we take in the things that happen around us or to us as things that will enrich our lives and allow us to come out of it a better person or simply just feeling a little bit better? Or are we going to brood over the negative aspects of those experiences and go “ugh fml”. We do have some control over our perspective, believe it or not. It makes sense to use that to our advantage rather than our detriment, don’t you think?

Dealing With Losing

Last week my school sent a team of students to compete in an inter-school action song competition. For those who are unfamiliar with action songs, think Glee, but for nine-year-olds. Some fellow teachers and I had trained them a couple of weeks prior to the competition, so it was only right that we were the ones to bring them to the competition.

Long story short, we lost the competition. A lot of the kids were disappointed, but none more so than this one student whom I shall dub here as Siti. Siti kept saying sorry to me that they lost the competition. Even before they performed, she expressed her grievances to me, saying that she was afraid that they might lose. I gave her the whole “winning or losing is not important; what’s important is that you try your best and have fun” speech, but she wasn’t convinced. She had high expectations where results were concerned. Her only response was, “Mister ni cakap benda sama ngan Ayah saya cakap.” I told her, “ya la, pasai betoi la Ayah kamu pun cakap benda sama.” It didn’t calm her down much, unfortunately.

Like I said, after the results were announced, Siti apologised to me for losing, and I kept telling her that it didn’t matter, and that they did their best and I’m glad for them that they had done their best. But she kept on asking me “Mister kecewa ka?” and I kept saying no. At one point, I asked her back, “kamu kecewa ka?” and she answered “ya la, pasai kami kalah.” and I replied “tapi kalah ka menang ka tak penting kan?” to which she had no answer, so she just kept quiet until we went back to school.

Later that day, a teacher came to me in the staff room and told me that Siti cried in class. When the teacher asked why, Siti told her that they had lost the action song competition. I was a little taken aback by this. I knew that she was feeling down because of the loss, but I didn’t think it was so bad that tears would be dropped. I thought wrong.

It reminded me of myself back when I was still in school, only this happened when I was in Form 5. We went for the national inter-premier school rugby tournament, and I was the captain of my team. I had been a part of the school’s rugby team from the beginning and that tournament was THE tournament to win, for all the batches that came before us, so I was very serious about achieving something in that one. 

As you might have guessed, we lost that tournament. It was while we were still in the group stages, we won the first game, but lost the other two, so we didn’t make it to the quarter-finals. It was raining very heavily, and half of the field was submerged in water, but we had to play it anyway (games would only be postponed if there was lightning).

When the final whistle was blown, I was so devastated that I fell to the floor and threw my mouthguard away. I just laid there for a couple of minutes and wept in the rain. Finally, after some time, a teammate picked me up and we went to shake the hands of the team that defeated us. I remember one person commenting “dia ni mesti Form 6 ni!” upon shaking my hand. I was in no mood for responding.

After shaking their hands, I (rather drama-queenly) walked off to the far-side of the pitch to cry by myself. While crying in that water-submerged part of the field, I used the water to clean the mud off myself as well. So cry cry cedok air lap kat badan and kat muka. I stayed there for a good fifteen minutes, I think. All that time I was thinking to myself that I had ended my school-team-captaining days with a loss at the group stages, and how terrible that made me feel.

When I got back to the rest of the team, the coach (my father) was talking to the team. I guessed he was calming the team down. I felt a tinge of guilt for being all diva-like and heading off on my own to calm myself down, when all of the team were where they were supposed to be, in front of the coach.

Then I heard my father say, “dalam semua kamu ni, siapa yang paling saya rasa baguih sekali?” and deep within my itty-bitty heart, I wanted it to be me. He proceeded to say “Badang" (bukan nama sebenar). I was taken aback. Then he explained, “Pasaipa dia? Pasai bila bunyi final whistle tu, dia look up and immediately shook the hand of the opponents. That’s how you lose. You say good game, and you respect the other team, you accept the results, and life goes on. Success is not winning or losing. Success is giving it your best. Success is doing better than you did previously. The results are in the hands of God. Our job is to give it our best. And all of you gave your best. You deserve to clap for yourselves.” And we clapped.

Up until then, I had always expected a lot from myself, particularly when it came to rugby. I was used to winning, and I came to expect that from myself and my team. We had our fair share of losing by then, but I had high hopes for that particular tournament. So when we eventually lost, and in the tournament that meant the most to me, I didn’t know how to deal with it. I crashed and burned.

I had never really grasped the virtue of doing your best and that being an achievement in itself already. “You don’t have to win to be successful” were the wise words of my father that I only fully grasped after losing that tournament. And since then, I’ve been better at dealing with not only losing, but also winning. I’m nowhere near perfect, but I am more accepting of it being a fact of life that we win some and lose some.

So Siti, at nine years of age, is definitely allowed to cry because of losing. But I hope I am able to teach her the value of hard work and giving it your very best. I hope I am able to let her see that winning and losing are natural occurrences in life, and that success doesn’t only come from wins. Success comes from being better than your previous self. Success comes from giving it your best shot and not giving up until the final whistle blows. Success is being able to take losses in your stride and winning as a reason to be even more humble. If I can do that, achievement unlocked la for me.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Getting Back On Horses

So I’ve been gone for a while. Work-and-hustle-related matters have made me come back home to the laptop pretty late in the night, and I have opted for sleep over composing pieces of writing for a string of nights now. Alasan semua itu, I know.

If you’ve noticed, my writing consistency has been on a downward slide. I am slowly but surely writing less and less, from the “write every damn day” thing I intended to do early on in the year to two posts every three days, to one post every other day, to now even less than that. That’s been on my mind for the whole time it’s been happening, and I feel terrible about it, figuratively kicking my figurative head over it, but I haven’t really taken any steps to rectify it by writing more or to even level out that gradient and possibly stick to a consistent writing habit. 

Thing about it is, I’m way too lenient on myself. I give myself way too many “chan”, as we say. I’d convince myself that I’ve actually exceeded my own expectations of myself with all that I’ve done and that I deserve the rest. I’d tell myself that hey, Within these four months pun hang dah tuleh more posts than you have done in the past three years combined. I’d say to myself hang letih gila kot weh, tidoq la, esok nak kena mangkit awai lagi pi skolah plak. And I’d fall from the writing horse.

What I’ve noticed about falling from any (figurative, not literal) horse is that you need to get back up on it immediately after you fall. If after you fall you decide to stay on the ground for just a little bit (because you deserve it or whatever), then that horse will run away from you. Then it’ll take SO much time for you to chase back that horse in order to get back up on it again. 

A recent example from my own experience is the “recording of rap songs” horse. I fell off that one when I had a super busy and tiring week, so I didn’t record anything that week. And here we are, more than two months later, still seeing me off that horse. It has run away, because I decided to rest on the ground for a while.

The same is true about reading as well. I convinced myself that I didn’t have the time (or more truthfully, didn’t want to make the time) to go through a few pages in a day to get some reading done, and now I’ve been stuck on the same book for about a month now.

As you might be able to tell, this “falling off the horse and resting on the ground” thing is a pretty common occurrence for me, and I hate myself for it. It doesn’t lead to anything good, I’m not being as productive as I want to be and as I know I am capable of being, all because I decide to rest on the ground for a bit, then spend months trying to chase that horse back and re-climb it. It slows me down, my journey towards where I want to be. Dah la jauh gila daripada target, dok buat rest pulak. Bila ja nak sampai, kan? 

The solution to this situation is pretty straight forward: when falling off the horse, get back on it immediately. Immediately? Immediately. (High-five to those who got that Spongebob reference)

But it’s so much easier said than done. At least for me it is. I am a weak human being, who is attached to sleep way too much to be able to go very far in life. I need to remember to always get back on my horses real quick. Do it Anwar. Do it. Do it. (High-five to those who got the 2004 Starsky & Hutch reference)

Monday, April 20, 2015

Agenda Jahat Dettol

When I was in primary school (standard 4 or 5), an ustaz came into my class and told us that the Dettol logo was an “agenda jahat Yahudi untuk melemahkan umat Islam”. He also threw around a bunch of other stuff (such as there being a Malaysian black metal band named Sil Khannaz — and indeed there was) which emphasised to all us kids that everyone in the world was out to get us, even the Malays in Malaysia, so we weren’t safe. Even though it seems ridiculous now, at ten or eleven years old, I believed him. And I’m sure a lot of my classmates did too.

I grew out of that line of thinking eventually enough, because I’ve been fortunate and privileged enough to be able to learn from people who know better. My father was and is a very opinionated person, so I was exposed to reasoning through him from an early age. I’ve been fortunate as well to have had amazing lecturers while in teacher-training who developed my thinking and reasoning abilities. I’ve also been blessed to be given access to Youtube and all the awesome people that come with it like Phillip DeFranco, Ryan Higa, Suhaib Webb, Hamza Yusuf and the like. So it’s understandable that I was able to grow out of thinking that a cross would be able to weaken my faith.

The question that I want to pose is: how many of that ustaz’s students were not as fortunate as I was? I am aware of just how privileged I was/am to have grown with the surroundings and environment of learning that I did. I am also aware that a lot of people aren’t so privileged. A lot of people grow up at the same place and are surrounded by the same people from their childhood up to adulthood, never having the chance to expand their horizons, nor do they have any reason to do so. They can feed themselves doing what their parents did before them and watch/read/consume what the people around them consumed. With that kind of cycle, and with the belief that one or two teacher had instilled in them since they were young, did they have a chance to grow out of it?

Some might say, “la, kalau dah mengarut tu mestila dah taw mengarut!” but the thing is, schools rarely encourage students to question the authority of their teachers’ knowledge. What the teacher says is expected to be taken at face value and be accepted as gospel. Teachers frown upon students who ask too many questions, or even worse, catch them out on their bull. They are immediately labelled as “disrespectful” and “macam-macam”, brushed off as delinquents. Students respond to this and tone down their inquisition and eventually move towards becoming a person who swallows with ease. And these students grow up with accepting whatever the teacher says, taking on they teachers’ truths as their own.

This is the truest, I think, when it comes to religious matters. Society frowns upon those who a re critical towards their religion. When a person asks a question they don’t know how to answer, labels such as “sesat” and “kafir” are quick to be thrown around. So when a flyer with comic sans serif font says that “Pokemon” means “aku Yahudi”, we believe it. When a Whatsapp chain text says not to do the peace sign because that sign is the calling card for satan, we don’t do the peace sign anymore. When a book provides them with insights that are against the ones they’ve been brought up with, the book gets banned. Is it any wonder, then, that we are the way we are?

At the end of the day, in order to move forward, we have to have a sense of mutual respect for our fellow human being, whether they are of different race, religion, worldview, socio-economic status or even age. It’s about being open to being proven wrong. Not being afraid of being wrong, I have found, opens us up to so many new things in life, and for the most part, we learn so much from just admitting the fact that we might, in fact, be wrong. 

But how many teachers are able to admit to their students that they might not actually know everything, and are humble about it? We learn through example, and kids are no exception. If we show to students how to be humble in our knowledge and in our awareness of our lack of knowledge, then they might pick up a thing or two from watching us be that way. Telling them to act in a certain way is one thing, actually living up to our words is an entirely different matter. It takes effort and awareness.

Saturday, April 18, 2015


Amir turned off his motorcycle engine and took off his helmet. He exhaled and ran his fingers through his hair. Well, this is it, he thought. He got off the motorcycle, locked his helmet strap to the underside of the motorcycle seat and made sure he locked the handlebar as well. Then he walked the ten metres to the bar in which he had put off going to for the past three months.

He pushed through the door and took in the sights. Tables and chairs laid out rather tightly, lights just dim enough, the stage he’d been eyeing for several months now to his very left, a black leather couch to his very right, and the drink bar on the far corner of the room. A faint smell of beer wafted through the air from the glasses of the few patrons that were already there. It was a bout to get a lot more crowded as the night progressed, he knew. He was no stranger to the place, but that night, the place just radiated a different kind of light and energy. Everyone else seemed oblivious to it, though. It was as if the place was about to be shaken by an earthquake, but Amir was the only one who knew. He swiped the sweat running down his forehead and headed for Sathish at the bar.

“Hey, Amir! Glad you could make it!” Sathish got off the bar stool and shook Amir’s hand. 

“Hey! Yeah, I made it!” Amir smiled and shook back while hoping that Sathish didn’t notice how sweaty his hand was.

“Well, I already wrote your name down for tonight. You’ll be on third, after two other people. They’ve done it before a couple of times, so they might be more comfortable on stage, but don’t let that discourage you. We’re all just here to have fun, alright? Would you like something to drink?” 

All those words by Sathish at the same time made Amir even dizzier. He forced a smile, “Plain water would be great, thanks.”

“Plain water’s at the end of the bar there. You can go help yourself and make yourself comfortable while the place fills up, yeah?” Sathish smiled and put his hand briefly on Amir’s shoulder before turning around and went to go talk with what Amir could only conclude was the sound man.

Amir made his way to the end of the bar to get the plain water. He always had plain water here, so he was quite accustomed to where it was. It’s just that Sathish had never seen him there before kot. As Amir approached the plain water bottles, he felt something at the pit of his stomach. He needed to hurl.

He walked as calmly as he could past the plain water and through to the back where the restrooms were. He tried pushing the men’s toilet stall door, but it was locked. Damn, time ni la nak occupied kan? He noticed that the ladies’ right beside the men’s was vacant, and after a look around to make sure that nobody was coming, he went into the stall and locked the door behind him.

He bowed over the toilet bowl and wretched a couple of times. Nothing. He waited for a bit and breathed. He imagined the toilet bowl being filled with poop. Still nothing. He imagined it covering the walls and floor. He wretched some more. Still nothing. He put down the toilet seat and sat on the toilet while running both his hands’ fingers through his hair. The feeling in the pit of his stomach was still there. 

He tried going over his poem again. Now / I take your time for just one minute /  in hopes of pushing your minds to its limits / raise your spirits with pictures so vivid / drawn with words not a thousand, a hundred / take —

There was a knock at the door. Damn, he was still in the ladies’. Oh well, what to do? He stood up, flushed the toilet and opened the door. The woman at waiting outside gave a surprised look and looked at the door of the stall to check if she was mistaken. Amir did the only thing he could do, smile apologetically and mouthed sorry before rushing off to the bar area. Amir felt the woman’s eyes burning a hole through his back, but he couldn’t do anything about it anymore.

When he re-entered the bar area, the place had filled up significantly. Only a couple of tables were still empty, while all the others were taken up by people talking over their drinks while waiting for the open mic to start. Empty chatter and the clinking of glasses filled the airwaves. It was a popular joint for open mic performances. Maybe he had made a mistake, Amir thought to himself.

Microphone feedback disrupted the evening air. It was Sathish on the mic, getting the show started. “Good evening ladies and gentlemen! Welcome to tonight’s open mic performance organised by The Random Arthouse! We’ve got a great lineup for you tonight! First up, we have Yvette Ling, the songstress with her guitar and catchy tunes! Then up next we have Andrew Lim, who is going to be laying down some raps for us. Then we have Amir with a poem to share with us all. And finally, we’ll wrap things up with the singer-songwriter Eric, who most of you must know already by now! So let’s get this show started, with Yvette Ling!”

Amir made his way to the bar and took a bottle of plain water with him. He asked for a glass from the bartender and started pouring himself glass after glass of water. Every time he poured the water into his glass, he looked intently at how the water fell to the bottom of the glass, made its way halfway back up the walls of the glass and splashed back down while being flooded by the rest of the water. Then, only the calmness of the surface of the water. He drank up each glass, hoping that the calmness in the glass would transfer into his self.

“Hey, you got your poem ready?” Sathish asked right after Amir’s fifth glass.

Amir cleared his throat. “Yeah, I’m good.” Amir gave a half-hearted thumbs up.

Sathish smiled and put his hand on Amir’s shoulder for the second time that evening. “Don’t worry, you’re going to do great!” Sathish promptly went back to the stage and held the mic.

“Whoo! Now that was some smooth flowing by my man Andrew, or as he likes to be called MC Ayy. Be sure to check him out on Facebook, just type in MC Ayy, as in A Y Y. Or else, you’ll get a whole other kind of party. Haha, now, we make way for a poet by the name of Amir! Come up to the stage Amir!”

Amir staggered from his seat to the stage, trying ever so hard to keep his legs from falling from under him. He stood behind the mic on the mic stand and looked around the room. So many eyes, just looking at him. Why could’t they just sit there talking to each other and drink their drinks and be merry? Why did they have to pay attention to what was happening here? Amir cleared his throat.

“Em, hi there. Good evening. Everybody. So, I’ll be reciting to you guys a poem I wrote not too recently. It’s called ‘Vignette’. So, here goes.” Amir inhaled and exhaled. He closed his eyes.

“I’m sorry, hey now hey now don’t dream it’s over suddenly ran through my mind.” The crowd laughed and two or three people clapped their hands in encouragement.

“Okay, here goes. Now / I take your time for just one minute /  in hopes of pushing your minds to its limits / raise your spirits with pictures so vivid / drawn with words not a thousand, a hundred / take my life, your life and theirs / examine them close like your yearly affairs / …” Amir closed his eyes, trying to remember the next line. 

A few more people in the crowd clapped again to encourage the person on stage. He seemed like he was trying really hard, and they wanted him to succeed.

“Ummm,” Amir still couldn’t find the words. “I’m sorry, this is my first time ever doing this kind of thing,” Amir apologised with a nervous laugh. With that proclamation, all of the people in attendance clapped their hands and cheered Amir on.

“Ahaha, thank you all, very much.” Amir sighed and tried again. “take my life, your life and theirs / examine them close like your yearly affairs / … for in a … a million million years / I …” Amir couldn’t go on. “I guess, I guess that’s all from me folks, Thank you.” And with that Amir walked off the stage and tried to go back to his seat. He was surprised to hear people clapping their hands and cheering for him. Sathish shook his hand when he went down and said in his ear, “It’s okay, happens to all of us,” and went back to hosting the night. Even the people he passed by on the way to his seat shook his hand and patted him on the back saying “good job!” and “better luck next time!” It forced a smile out of him.

After the final performance, Amir went to say goodbye to Sathish. “Hey, it’s okay man! What happened up there happens to the best of us. I still remember the first few times I got on stage, the exact same thing happened. You’ll get used to it and you’ll get better, you really will! You should come back next month man! It’ll give you time to get your material down and you’ll do better, okay?” Sathish’s smile was very comforting.

“Okay, I’ll try. Thank you again for having me, man,” Amir returned the smile.

“Great! See you next month then! Same time same place!” Sathish finally let go of Amir’s hand.

“Alright, same time same place,” Amir waved as he pushed the door to exit the bar.

He walked to his motorcycle, savouring the night air. As soon as he arrived to his motorcycle’s side, he felt his stomach churning, his mouth salivating and his head spinning. He ran to the nearby drain and vomited into it. It was one of those clear vomits, where it was mostly water, with a few beads of rice here and there.

Amir spat the remains of the vomit in his mouth before wiping it with his sleeve. He checked himself in his motorcycle’s side-mirror and after making sure that he didn’t have any vomit residue on his face, he put on his helmet, got on his motorcycle and started the engine. As he put the motorcycle into first gear, he started reciting his poem back to himself.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Being Mentah

So the art group by the name of “Zine Satu Malam” published a poster announcing that they are taking in new writers. I love the idea of the group, and whether or not I am a part of them, I support the art movement they are propagating. I tweeted the poster so that interested people can know about them and their pursuit for new members. The poster looks a little something like this:

So in response to the poster, a person replied saying that they wanted to join, but felt that they were too green to pursue it. The exact words used were “tak cukup confident and masih mentah lagi”. I’d like to discuss this rationale and how we (myself included) should view it in order to move forward in life.

Firstly, why do we say things like that? Say that we are unworthy of an initiative, even though they fall into what we wish to do in life? In my opinion, the most probable answer would be: fear. We are afraid. What are we afraid of? Failure, most probably. We are afraid when we do something that is outside of our comfort zone because we might not do very well. And when that prospect freezes us dead in our tracks. It has frozen me a few times in the past, and I’m sure there will be instances in the future where it will happen again.

Thing about being frozen is that we don’t move forward, we don’t grow, we don’t do anything about it. But we still have that desire to do those certain things, and we’re painfully aware of that, so we blame ourselves for not doing anything about it, and self-loathing comes about because of our inaction. It’s a vicious downward spiral: want to do something, confidence too low to do it, end up not doing it, hate self for not doing it, self-confidence is lowered from the self-hate, even less of a chance to do it, hates self even more… You get the idea.

What we need is to break that cycle. To do that, we need to change the way we see that outside-our-comfort-zone zone. That unsafe place where possibilities for failure are endless. We need to see it as a place where not only failure is possible, but also success. The comfort zone is great for chilling and stuff, because everything there is pretty much a given, but outside of it is where we grow, where we are able to face challenges and beat them, and come out of those experiences stronger. It’s like a video game character that has to go on a long journey away from home. If they just stayed in whatever village they hailed from, they’d be fine too, but they’d never collect the experience points of going on the road and battling wild pokemon in tall grass. They would never level up if all they did was go to Professor Oak’s lab to drink his coffee.

So if we want to be not “mentah” anymore, we’re going to have to step into the fire and cook ourselves. Especially if we’re no longer students in school, no one’s going to push us into a frying pan anymore. It will be up to us to masak ourselves by turning up the heat and bearing with the discomfort that comes with it. The question becomes: how much do you want it? The more you want it, the more you will goreng yourself. Or rebus. Or even bake. Whatever tickles your fancy.

So back to the responder to my tweet earlier. They ended up applying for membership with ZSM anyway, even before I had a chance to respond to their tweet. I’m glad that person did that. It showed great maturity and initiative towards becoming a well-cooked person. And that’s all we want, really. To be cooked. 

Dah merapu.

Performing Arts

So I’ve been occupied these past few days with school stuff, particularly training s group of students for an action song competition that is going to be held in the middle of next week. It’s been fun, but really tiring, and these kids have so much energy to spare I keep wondering where they get all of it from. If I could only harness half of it, I would be twice as energetic as I am right now at all times.

Next week shall be the English Language Competition Carnival thingy, where all the contests (action songs, choral speaking, poetry recital, story telling, public speaking, etc.) shall be held in one whole day at one school in one fell swoop, so all of the training for all of the competitions are happening at the same time at the school right now, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have been able to give my input in some of the things that are going on, namely action songs (where I am one of the teachers who is in charge), choral speaking and poetry recital. 

While helping these kids doing these language-related performance-y things, I keep thinking back to when I was a kid. All the way from primary school until I finished secondary school, I was never involved in any of these things, even though I had a deep interest in English language related stuff and things. I remember back when I was in standard 4 or 5, I discovered that some of my friends were selected for the school choral speaking team (because they weren’t in class for long periods of time), and even though I had no idea what choral speaking was (and I remained clueless until I entered teacher training), I knew that it was English-related, and I had always wondered why I wasn’t selected to be a part of the team as well, because I was confident in my language proficiency, even at that early age. But of course, I chose to keep that confidence to myself and didn’t express that desire to get into the team to anyone at all, not even my friends.

I remember another instance in secondary school, when I was in Form 5 if I remember correctly. I discovered that my school had a debate team, as well as a drama team, and they went to competitions and things like that. I noticed because, again some of my classmates wouldn’t be in class and I would ask where they’d been and they’d say debate or drama practice. I was intensely jealous of them for being able to participate in such things, but, again, I kept that jealousy to myself and kept to my rugby.

I could only explore the stage performance side of myself in teacher training, since we had to do a lot of that as teacher trainees. We had to know how to create and be a part of choral speaking teams, create drama performances, recite poetry, present the topic of the week to the rest of the class, debate, even dance. That’s where I learned that I liked being on stage and was willing to work on myself to make sure that I had what it took to be able to carry myself on stage to deliver a performance. I took initiatives to put myself out there. I auditioned for plays, I volunteered to sing and dance, I entered TESOL Idol and stuff like that. I now notice that I pursued those things. Where in school I was never given any opportunities, I created opportunities for myself to be on stage and perform at the institute.

Now that I think back to my time at school, I had to create opportunities for myself to be on stage as well. When the school had a dinner thing going on, my band friends and I auditioned and got the gig. When there was a karaoke competition in school for Teacher’s Day, I entered the competition and did a Kuch Kuch Hota Hai duet with my chemistry teacher (we even won that one, to our surprise). When I was told that a theatre club would be started at the school, I went to their practice sessions (I didn’t last long there since the timing clashed with rugby practice, so I dropped out of theatre club).

I had always had a tendency towards performance-related things, especially if they were in English, since I knew that I was somewhat proficient in it, but the opportunity to explore those interests never arose throughout my school years. My friend just now gave input into why that may have been the case: it was because I was so shy and never opened my mouth in class that made teachers doubt that I had it in me to be in front of a whole bunch of people and talk, let alone perform. That’s a very valid point, I think.

In retrospect, I may have lost out a little bit on performing and things in school because my potential never shone through bright enough for anyone to see, but I’m glad that no one eroded my interest in those things by scolding me or anything. It could have been the case where I was actually selected for choral speaking way back in primary school, but my interest in performing arts was completely crushed by a really bad comment or a bad experience that I wasn’t ready for that made me turn away from that world from that point on.

In the end, things happen the way they’re supposed to happen. We just have to go through those doors that are presented to us that get us closer to our goals, and if the doors don’t present themselves, build those doors yourself. 

Monday, April 13, 2015


Truth be told, aku sebenaqnya malaih gila nak tuleh lani. I don't really feel like writing anything at all. What I would like to do is finish watching the movie I paused on Youtube two seconds ago and then go right to sleep for the day ahead. Today has been a tiring day. These past few days have been tolling ones, actually. And all I want to do is sleep for days on end.

It's not that I don't have anything to write about. I could just go into my twitter drafts where I put blogpost ideas, pick one and write about this that or the other. Instead, I'm writing about how much I don't write to be writing right now. Why is that?

It becomes a question of want. What do I really want? Do I really want to sleep all day? Do I really want to finish watching the movie? Do I really want to look for those leaked Game of Thrones episodes? I would say, yes. I do really want all those things, and a bag of chips (90s reference!)

But why am I writing instead? Because I want this more. Because writing takes precedence. Because becoming a better writer comes first. Because I need to improve as a writer by practicing and practicing and practicing and practicing, and this is me practicing.

Writing is tough man. It may come so very easy to people who seem to be able to type out paragraphs and paragraphs as a mere facebook status, and make a couple of those a day, but it's tough for me man. It takes a lot out of me. It forces me to think, so much, and by the end of it I'm usually exhausted.

But where do my priorities lie? Right now, they lie in me pushing myself to write more in order to become a better writer. This piece right now is sucky kot, but I do it anyway, I type it anyway, and I'll publish it anyway, as a stepping stone towards that ten thousand hour mark as well as proof to myself that I've been in terrible conditions, yet still persist on the things that are important to me. I do have it within me to keep moving forward, or at the very least, try.

Saturday, April 11, 2015


Malik adjusted his coffee cup, out of boredom more than necessity. He wanted to take a sip, but the beverage was still too hot for his sensitive tongue to consume. The inside of his mouth had been burned way too many times in his youth to not have learned from all those instances. 

“Sorry I’m late Uncle Mal!” his staggering 19 year-old nephew exhaled as he took out his hands to shake his hand.

“It’s okay, Daniel. I haven’t been here that long pun,” Malik said with a smile after his nephew had bowed. He remembered a time when Daniel used to give wet kisses to his hand whenever he salaamed his hand. He’s grown so much since. It’s hard to believe that he’s now in university, studying journalism of all things. His choice caught everyone by surprise. But Malik was the first to give him a vote of support, even offering to buy him a netbook. His parents naturally declined the offer and bought it themselves.

“Daniel ada kerja satgi, so can we get straight to the interview terus?” the tall young man said as he pulled up a chair to sit opposite his uncle and took out a notebook.

“Alright, no problem Daniel. Eh, tak order apa-apa ka dulu?” Malik gestured for the waiter to come to their table.

“A-ah, okay,” Daniel waited for the waiter to come. “Teh o’ais limau satu?” He always ordered the same drink ever since he was 14.

“Alright, so what have you got for me?” Malik feigned to stretch his neck muscles.

“Haha. Em, let’s see,” Daniel flipped through his notebook and stopped at the latest page that didn’t have scribblings on the whole page. They were running out. “So, Uncle Malik, what do you do for a living?”

“This also you don’t know is it?” Malik gave a stern look.

“Ah, of course, mechanic, my bad, sorry Uncle Mal. It’s just that I wrote it down and—“

“Haha, tahu takut. Joking only lah! Continue terus, you have kerja pulao satgi kan?” Malik always liked to usik his nephew. He’s surprised Daniel isn’t used to it by now.

“Oh, hehe Uncle Mal ni. Emm, okay. What made you choose your line of work?” Daniel read out from his notebook.

“Hmm. Do you want to long answer or the short answer?” asked Malik while stroking his stubble.

“Em, medium answer can?” Daniel asked with squinted eyes.

“Hehe, alright, medium answer. Well, back when your mother and I were kids, we lived with your Tok and Opah in Penang. One day, we received word that my grandfather — your moyang lah —had been involved in an accident near his house in Ipoh. Your Tok got us in the car immediately and drove down there. He drove an old Datsun. Well, on our way on this journey, the car breaks down somewhere near Kuala Kangsar. You have to remember that back then, there weren’t any highways. We were so distraught, we didn’t know what to do. I remember my father just pleading for some other cars to stop and help us out.” Malik took a sip of his coffee and waited for Daniel to finish jotting down whatever he was jotting down.

“After about fifteen minutes, I think, of waving, a motorcyclist stopped. He didn’t say much. He just asked my father what was wrong and looked under the hood. He told my father some things and said that he needed to get some things from his shop first. He left, and about half an hour later he came back with some tools and stuff and fixed the car for us. My father was so thankful and offered to pay him, but the guy just smiled and went off on his motorcycle. I don’t remember much of what happened, but I do remember my father dropping a tear or two in the car when we continued our way to your moyang’s house in Ipoh. I saw how happy that person made my father feel, and ever since then, I’ve always looked upon that person as a hero who saved us all.” Malik ended his story with a smile. He noticed that Daniel wasn’t jotting anything down anymore.

“Wow, Ibu never told us that story before.” Daniel said, looking past his uncle’s face.

“Of course not, she was 9 at the time. She’s probably forgotten all about it,” Malik sipped his coffee.

“Oh, hm, okay.” Daniel seemed like he just remembered that he was actually there on an assignment and continued scribbling into his notebook.

A few more questions after that, and the interview was done. Daniel bid his uncle farewell and walked out of the restaurant. When Daniel was out of sight, Malik suddenly remembered that his nephew had ordered a drink earlier. Malik started thinking about getting angry, but then thought better of it. He finished his coffee and got up to pay at the cashier. He had better get back to the workshop too.

Thinking Before Writing

Yesterday I was supposed to post a piece of Fiction Friday, but I ended up not writing anything for it because of I got back home too late and didn’t have the mental energy to conjure up a story for that purpose. I apologise to all of those who were looking forward to it (I know of at least two people who were, so yeah). I’ll post that piece of fiction later tonight, inshaAllah.

About writing, I remember a person on twitter once tweeting something along the lines of “Most of writing is first thinking. If you write more than you think, you’re doing it wrong.” I was definitely affected by this, maybe mostly because I respect the person who tweeted it. 

I had a think about all my writing before this. My main question was: Did I think more than I wrote, or did I write more than I thought? And I’m glad to be able to answer that in almost all of my writing, I have thought more than I wrote. 

I don’t know man. For me, I can’t write without thinking. I have to have a clear thing I want to write about before I even start putting any words on the page. I have to know what I’m going to be writing, or writing about. Admittedly, sometimes, as I write, those things change. I get ideas while typing and it changes the course of the piece, and I end up surprised by how it turned out (either pleasantly or otherwise depends on the piece, really). 

But the fact remains that I can’t, or rather decide not to write anything before I have a clear idea of what I want to write, where and how my writing will go before I start putting words together to construct it. This is true for the blog lah, at least.

For the rap songs I’ve written, however, it doesn’t particularly work that way. Of course, I would prefer to have an idea before I jot down the lyrics, but in some instances, I just have a line in my head. I put that line down, and then try to rhyme it with something, then again with something else. Then by the time I have a few lines, an idea begins to show itself in the writing, then I just go with the flow and see where the piece takes me. It’s a different-ish process that I go through. I’m not complaining much, since at the end of the day, I’ve written some verses that would have otherwise not have even existed.

I’m not sure why it’s looser for me when writing songs than when writing paragraphs. Maybe the process is a bit more lenient because I’m not trying to achieve anything with my songs. I’m just simply trying to express myself in a free and creative way. When writing short stories and blogposts, I want to deliver something, be it a message or a feeling. And when that element of needing to deliver comes in it, more pressure is put on yourself to have something specific to deliver. Maybe that’s why I think a lot more before writing paragraphs than I do writing verses.

But then again I could just be talking ayam jantan. Who knows?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Prizewinning Short Story Books

So the latest book that I’ve been sitting down is a collection of prize-winning short stories from the Asiaweek short story writing contest that ran from 1981 to 1988. It’s basically the the best of the best short stories to come out of Asia throughout those years. I wasn’t even born yet then. The participants ranged from people who have lived all or a significant part of their lives in Asia, to people who have moved out of Asia after being raised there. Here’s a picture of the book:

I found the book at last year’s Georgetown Literary Festival (that was an awesome festival, by the way). I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to acquire the book. One would expect something as awesome as this to be swooped up by the first few people to browse through it. I’ve only read 7 of the 28 stories included in the book (they include the first, second and third place winners of every year’s contest), but the talent that is showcased in the book gives me sort of a mixed feeling. On one hand, I’m amazed by how well these people write. Being able to read such expertly-written stories, I feel privileged. On the other hand, I feel down because it puts into perspective just how far I still have to go in writing. The gap between the quality in this book and the quality I produce now is just so huge that one can’t help but feel discouraged by the obvious lack of skill in oneself.

Reading this book reminded me of another contest book I have around my house called Livin’ It. It was produced and published by MPH when they organised a similar writing contest, but for Malaysian teenagers. It was to look for young Malaysian talent and get them published, and it worked. I remember when reading the book when we first got it (2004, if I’m not mistaken), I had to refer to the dictionary so many times. These writers had such a wide vocabulary it made me jealous. I didn’t set any sights on being a writer back then, but I did want to write well (even if only for the SPMs) and the mastery of the language these guys had made me feel very small indeed. It was like they were on a different playing field, while I was the kid at the sidelines, just admiring them from outside the fence. I haven’t reread the book yet, but it’ll be interesting to see what I think of the stories in the book nowadays, ten years after my first reading of it.

I talked about the gap of quality between these amazing writers and myself earlier and how that gap was daunting to me. It represents the amount of work and improving that I have to do to get to that level, and I could be all negative and turn away from it. I could easily say “ah, screw it!” and continue scrolling through 9gag or whatever. And believe me, I’ve done a lot of that. But I could also see the gap as a challenge; as a step or steps that I need to take in order to get to where I want to be. I could see it as a taunt, as an entity that says “you’re weak, you’re never gonna make it!” and climb those steps while punching that entity repeatedly in the face while doing it too. After all, they are just steps. One piece of writing at a time. One page at a time. One hundred words at a time. And if I’m consistent, I’ll be up those steps in no time.

So it’s all a question of how I see that gap. Do I see it as a reason to give up? Or do I see it as a reason to keep going? To keep working? To keep writing? To keep improving? To keep punching my self-hatred in the face? 

Monday, April 6, 2015


So the other day I was cleaning my room and I chanced upon a notebook that I used to use back in my last year of teacher training. This wasn’t just any other book, though. It was my logbook a.k.a. my diary.

Some of you might be familiar with a book by Austin Kleon called “Steal Like An Artist”. It’s basically a book guiding those who wish to do creative work but don’t know how to get started or how to get work done or don’t feel like they’re producing good enough work. I’ve written about stuff in that book before in this blog, I’m just not sure where. I highly recommend it to anyone who wishes to undergo any kind of creative pursuit.

Anyways, in the book, under Chapter 9: Be Boring, Kleon encourages his readers to keep a logbook. He says “A logbook is … just a little book in which you list the things you do every day. What project you worked on, where you went to lunch, what movie you saw … In the old days, a logbook was a place for sailors to keep track of how far they’d travelled, and that’s exactly what you're doing — keeping track of how far your ship has sailed.”

The book is chock-full of other useful advice and tips to get you improving yourself as a creative being. As you could imagine, after reading the book I had this burning desire to do stuff, but never the actual willpower to get up and go do stuff, because I was (still am) terrible at that. But amongst all the things that the book encouraged the reader to do, I did the logbook thing. Granted, it only lasted 26 days (not even a month, gosh), but reading through the whole thing again when I could it a few days ago was a wonderful experience.

It just so happened that that 26-day period of me writing in the logbook was also one of the busiest periods in my life, both personal and professional. I didn’t even have one weekend off throughout the month, with each weekend either off to a faraway university campus to talk to people or going for band rehearsals in Selangor. The weekdays were packed too with a lot of the stuff you would expect from students in their final weeks of their degree programmes to be busy with. I fought with people, made up, finished reading several books (I’m surprised that I made the time), made new friends, met up with old ones, parted ways with some others. It proved to be a very entertaining read for myself. It made me miss those days. Nostalgia, man.

I don’t know why I stopped updating it, though. What most probably happened is that I forgot to update it one day and then let it slide just like that. That sounds like something I would do. What’s for sure is that when I found the book again, I had forgotten it had ever existed. So reading through it again made me feel like I was reliving those moments again through someone else, as if some other person had written all this stuff down from my last days in maktab when they were all happening. 

I was flipping through the book again to find a page in which to share here, but all of them were too personal for me to post on the internet, so you’ll have to make do with Kleon’s examples only. Right now, I don’t know if I’ll continue updating the book. I most probably won’t. But I like the fact that at one (key) point in my life, I decided to do it.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Loudly Curious

A friend commented about me the other day that I was "loudly curious". They added that that was one of the things that they liked about me. Now, whenever someone says they like you, for whatever reason, and if you feel that they were being honest, you blush. At least I did. And I said thank you. 

I've always known I was a "loudly curious" kind of guy, but that friend put those words together, and when he said them, it made sense. I like that phrase now. Loudly curious.

To me, what it means is that whenever I have a question about something, anything, I ask it, usually out loud to anyone around me. If the people around me cannot give me any good answers, I'd resort to asking strangers on the internet. And there are many instances of me doing just that, whether through videos or through twitter. I tried through facebook, but I've never gotten much of an answer there, so I just stick to twitter nowadays.

But I can see the merits of being a loudly curious person. You're firstly aware that you don't know stuff, and you actively seek answers to the questions in your head. It also shows that your mind is at work, asking questions, trying to figure things out. You're also a person who likes to listen, since in your pursuit of these answers, you're looking for someone, anyone with a potential answer, so you'll be more likely to allow them the space to give you the answer rather than to cut them off and give your version of the answer, since you don't even have a good answer yourself in the first place.

I am aware that there can also be some dangers to being loudly curious. You might ask a question that makes people uncomfortable, thus repelling them from you. You might also ask some questions that end you up in hot soup *coughcough government coughcough sedition*. People might also be generally annoyed by you and your constant questions. For some, hanging out should be a time of leisure and rest, not intellectual strain.

But overall, I'm glad I'm seen by that person as a loudly curious person. I think the pros outweigh the cons. I might be wrong, but I don't really mind. They might have meant something completely different, though. In which case, I am still inclined to like their explanation of the phrase.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Solat Berjemaah

This is the first of (hopefully) many Fiction Friday short stories on this blog. What that means is that I'll post a fictional story here every Friday. I hope you like it.


“Assalamualaikum warahmatullah. Assalamualaikum warahmatullah.”

The salam given marked the end of their first congregational Maghrib prayer as a family in their own home in just under a year. Fitri wiped his face and crossed his legs. His father would now recite some supplications, the ones Fitri himself has learned word for word because of praying with the family throughout his life, whenever he got to praying, of course, which was getting more and more frequent since he went off to Dublin to pursue his degree. 

A tudung-clad Malaysian girl on campus had caught his eye, and he knew that he had to be more alim-looking if he wanted her to take him seriously. Gone would be the days of praying only once a week on Fridays. He was now up to praying three times a day over there, which, even to him now, seems like a miracle more than anything.

Of course, he couldn’t skip the ritual Maghrib congregational prayers his parents had in their living room. They had been doing that ever since Fitri could remember. All the other prayers were done individually, so he always skipped those and told his mother that he had already prayed “five minutes ago” whenever his mother asked, which wasn’t very often since he would spend most of his time home locked up in his room, but Maghrib had to be done as a family. “A family that prays together stays together,” he remembered his mother sending one of those hipster-images throughout their family Whatsapp group a couple of months back when he was still in Dublin. He still remembered reading the message while he was on the crapper on campus and sighing a breathe of relief that he had already prayed Zohor at that time.

Even though he hadn’t prayed with his family in almost a year, he still knew the proceedings like the back of his hand. About ten minutes after the azan on television, the prayer mats would be spread on the floor of the living room. That would be his job. One for his father, one for himself, to his father’s right, and one for his mother a couple of paces behind him. His parents would come and they’d pray straight away. After the prayers were finished, his father would recite his supplications, and after that was over, he would salam his father, then his mother. Finally, his mother would ask for her Quran on the table just a couple of metres away. Fitri would hand it over to her and go back into his room. Maghrib done.

“Ameen.” His father’s vocalised amen brought Fitri out of his reverie. He wiped his face again and went to kiss his father’s hand first before turning around and kissing his mother’s hand. After kissing his mother’s hand, he was taken by surprise when his mother suddenly put her arms around him and hugged him. It took Fitri a few seconds to snap out of his bamboozlement and hug his mother back.

“Mak rindu Fitri.” Normah allowed herself to say. It was a strange thing for her to say, but it had been 11 months and two days since she had seen her only child, which was the longest he had ever been away from the house. She had always been the strong mother, the one that isn’t about all that cheesy typical mother kind of talk. She was the headmistress of a school, so she always kept a professional and respectful air about herself, both in school and at home. She feels proud that she had the ability to silence a crowd of a thousand primary school students just by going up on stage without having to say a single word. That was to be her legacy, she decided, ever since she set foot into the profession all those years ago.

She let go of her son and cracked a smile. Her son was quite obviously as surprised as she expected him to be, what with that being the first time he had ever heard those words coming from his mother. Her husband seemed unfazed by this new occurrence in the household, as she saw him out of the living room into his study. Alright, back to normal, she thought to herself. “Ambil Qur’an tu kat Ibu?”

Fitri was seemingly still in shock, since he only noticed what his mother was saying after she said “Fitri?” for the second time, it seemed. “Ya Ibu?” he heard himself say.

Normah sighed. “Qur’an Ibu, amekkan,” she said, almost impatiently. Her son sure was being melodramatic. Was it that strange for a mother to say that she missed her son?

Fitri finally snapped out of it and went over to the table nearby to get the Qur’an for his mother. He held the Qur’an with both hands, stared at it for two seconds, turned around and handed it to his mother. 

“Thank you Fitri,” Normah said curtly. She proceeded to open her Quran to where she last marked it and rested it on her crossed legs. She was about to start reading when she noticed that Fitri was still standing where he was. She looked up at him and gave him an inquisitive look.

“Erm, Ibu. Fitri nak baca Qur’an sekali ngan Ibu, boleh tak?” Fitri blurted out. His face felt warm for some reason. His throat was dry too. He cleared it and waited for his mother’s response.

A sudden rush of butterflies suddenly felt like they were making a tornado-formation inside of Normah’s torso. “Okay, sure. Sat, Ibu nak lena pergi toilet kejap, then kita baca, boleh?”

Fitri watched his mother get up and enter her room to go into her bathroom, he supposed. Fitri didn’t quite know what he was doing, asking her mother that, but he just felt like doing it. He walked to his room and looked for the travel Qur’an that his mother had given him before he flew off to Dublin (that he conveniently left out of his luggage). He found it in between his copy of Catch-22 and Sydney Sheldon book, all three of which he had yet to read. He started reasoning with himself. “Well, at least reading the Qur’an will score me points with Amirah.” Recalling the tudung-clad girl’s brought a smile to his face and he went back towards the living room.

As soon as Normah closed the bathroom door behind her, she burst into tears. She didn’t know why she was crying, but it felt so good. She let herself cry, but kept in mind not to be too loud. She couldn’t have her husband come in to check up on her all of a sudden. It just felt good to let her eyes pour out the emotions that she was feeling right there and then. Her son wanted to read with her? She tried and tried to contain her sobs and just let the tears trickle down her face.

Once she had regained her composure, she washed her face and looked at herself in the mirror. She inhaled and exhaled a few times and smirked at herself for feeling the way she did. She stepped out of the bathroom and joined her son who was sitting there on her praying mat, waiting to read the Qur’an with her, at long last.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015


One of my least favourite things that I have to do in the world is moving. It is tedious, stressful, and takes up a lot of energy. It forces you to make decision after decision, whether to keep something or throw it away. And for everything that you choose to keep, you're going to have to carry it all the way to your transportation vehicle (if you have one), unload them all at the new place and rearrange them to make it feel most like home, even though the place is way too new to you to be even considered home-material.

But, as much as I despise moving, those instances where I have had to move to a different house so far has made me cherish the company I keep. The ones that help you with your moving, or better yet, the ones who are moving with you, go through the same things you're going through, and through that experience you bond and grow closer to each other. There's just a thing about sweating over the same things that allows us to connect with each other, don't you think?

And, as much as I loathe moving, I am even more in love with travel. The idea of staying in one place for too long really doesn't jive well with me. I don't know if I've said it here before or not, but my dream job would be to travel the world telling stories. A globe-trotting story-teller.  That would be living the dream, for me.

Reading about and seeing pictures of places around the world really gets me excited about seeing and exploring all the splendours that God has put on this great good Earth. Not to mention meeting all the amazing people that are potentially out there. Just think of all the stories they have to share, and the stories that I could share with them. 

I'm not much of a touristy person. Being a shoobie is a no-no for me. I do not wish to be a tourist, I wish to be a traveller. An explorer. Change my name to Dora. Lame joke, sorry. Maybe this feeling is just a twenty-something's wanderlust, but I hope I never lose it.

So, even though I intensely dislike moving, I would dislike it even more to not move, to stay in my comfort zone and not have to face those hardships and miss out on all the wonders of this blessing we call Earth.