Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Fonts have Won Me Over (Goodbye, Blogger)

Starting today, I will be moving my blogging base to thefabulist.wordpress.com. Wordpress blogs have snagged my heart in the past (particularly their header fonts), and yesterday, I gave up trying to modify a Wordpress-template-for-Blogger template for The Real Thing. So please bookmark / RSS / graffiti the new site and visit often, because it already feels more homely than this one.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

BERSIH / Beings

Last weekend, yellow was the colour on everyone's lips. I'd forgotten about the Bersih rally until my sis called and said it was jammed everywhere; did I want a lift to church for worship practice? Then she proceeded to tell me about her colleague who was on the KTM Komuter and noticed that it was filled with makcik-makcik and pakcik-pakcik who looked like they were going for a picnic, what with all the bekalan they had.

She asked them where they were going, and one makcik related that they had come to protest against the price hikes(?!), and how hard it had been for them to travel down from Baling, Kedah. Everywhere there had been road blocks. Later, they decided to switch to the KTM Komuter and were still journeying. Fatigued, she started crying and my sister's colleague felt like flinging herself out of the train in shame. Here she was in the capital city, cursing the jam when hundreds or thousands of folk were flocking in from the remotest corners of Malaysia to try and join the rally.

I don't know what you know or have heard about the rally, but I do urge you to read alternative news sources. You can't depend on mainstream newspapers--they are owned by the main political parties and are limited in what they can say. For example, they say only 4,000 people gathered for the rally, compared to the number of 40,000 upwards given by the organisers. Go to blogs and read firsthand accounts of what happened. You will find that the rally was significant; it wasn't just an illegal blip in our lazy media's radar that should go unnoticed.

( |o}===:::

Meanwhile, I've been having loads of fun on my new Macbook. Trust all those Mac fans--it really is great. I won't talk about the looks, cos we've heard enough about that, but the OS is so worth um, selling your used underwear online for! Or, or... taking bets to swallow a live goldfish for! Yeah. (Of course, you can do it the hard way, like me, and blow your bank balance to smithereens.)

Due to jealousy I suspect, my PC decided to fake death last week. It wouldn't turn on. Then, it turned on (there was a yellow light) but wouldn't boot (didn't send anything to the monitor). I opened the cover and peered in--not that I know what to look for, but I guess if you see a dead rat or cat inside, that'd explain that something was wrong--but it looked normal. A-okay, just very dusty. I unsettled the dust with the air squirter I use to get specks of dust off my digital camera, then tried turning it on again. Didn't work. Planned to take it to the shop today, so I tried resurrecting it one last time. Hallelujah! It was alive! So since this afternoon, I've been digging up my MP3s and other stuff and trying to burn them to CDs. Can't risk another bout of PC jealousy and depression.

I will also be attending the Writers for Women's Rights Programme, organised by AWAM (All Women's Action Society) next Thurs to Sun. An ex-classmate whom I got in contact with again thanks to Facebook had been a participant the previous year and urged me to go for it. I applied, and got in. Little did I know that I would be expected to stay the entire duration at the hotel where they're having it at, which is
so near my house! I could walk back every day to take a pang (i.e. crap) in the privacy of my own home, and sleep in the comfort of my own bed if the room stinks. I don't think they want that, though. I think they want us to bond with the other strangers we will meet; one of whom will be my unlucky roommate. (Shudders.) Oh, the beauty of rooming with unknown persons. (Shudders again.)

Anyway, I'm pretty excited about that. I don't think they will turn me into a violent, shoulder-slapping feminist like some people I know, but I reckon it'd be good exposure for me. More reports about that once it's over (hopefully).

Lastly, depending on whether I can finish writing any songs real soon, I may or may not appear at Project OMG next Sunday night (which stands for Open Mike Gig, though
ohmygawd is what I'll more likely be feeling if I manage to make it there with guitar in hand and voice stuck somewhere in my colon). A friend is one of the co-organisers so I feel like I have more time to decide on whether I'll be terrorising the audience with my ditties, though she may not agree. So unless you want to see me twirl on stage in a pink tu-tu during my supposed slot, please pray for inspiration to descend on me like a gentle mist. Or with the furore of a storm, I don't care, as long as I have some decent songs!!!! ARRGGGGHHHHH. If you're asking why am I torturing myself, well, let's just say that it is the end of the year, and if you can't do the crazy things you've wanted to do since the beginning of the year at the end of the year, you're probably never going to do them.

Thanks in advance. (*crosses fingers*)

By the way, my granny, who fell down recently, has been recovering considerably well thanks to God's grace and expensive cactus juice. She can walk short distances, though she pants a lot and you can hear her lungs straining. I don't know if she can hear it cos she's also rather deaf. But to those who have prayed for her, thank you. It's scary cos she's so old and fragile, while I am but a human with no superpowers.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Wayang Kata / (And we thought we were poets)

I'm not exactly a poetry kind of person, though I will say I was born under a corny star, inheriting that rare superpower to plague almost any earthling to submission with the most corny rhyme. Said in time. Worth a dime. How sublime.

Feel the power yet? :D

Anyway, yesterday I tried expanding my appreciation for poetry by attending Wayang Kata at No Black Tie. A friend was amongst six poets competing for a spot to Singapore for some poetry competition, and I didn't mind the impulse decision to go, spurred on by other reasons like the chance to hang with the twins a few days before their birthday(s).

On the whole, it was a rather different experience for me since I don't usually go for readings of any kind. I really liked some, and got mildly annoyed with some others. But what I loved best was when Ciplak and Fahmi Fadzil performed an ode to our Angkasawan, which had me grinning till my cheek muscles almost cramped. Of course, their performance had nothing to do with poetry whatsoever.

In the LRT today, I pulled out the book of poems the British Council gave to make us feel better when we passed them our hard-earned admission fee of RM10. I've only started on a few pages, but it seems to promise a good read.

On another front, I was forced by my Mum to clear some childhood junk a few days ago. Besides some very shocking photos of me undergoing puberty the World must never, ever see, I came across my primary school autograph book, signed by my very own poet friends. They're fantastic.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Existentialism and reasons for insomnia

I'm alive
In case you were wondering if I had joined a caravan of singing beatniks or if the aliens had finally overcome the gravity pull to suck me into their space craft (in which case let it be known that I was the first Malaysian astronaut, not Dr SMS), no such luck. I'm alive, busy as usual, procrastinating like mad, and playing too many Scrabulous games on Facebook. Came back from Phuket a few weeks ago and have been at the mercy of my computer as its memory is down to 256MB RAM (I think one card got busted), all the while wasting my life away as Photoshop loads, stalls, says hi, stalls, lets me adjust stuff, stalls, saves, stalls... you get the drift. I have 500+ photos, of which 50% I will likely delete cos I don't have the patience to touch them up and they look yucks without any Photoshop magic.

So is my grandma
Some of you may also know that my only surviving grandma (maternal) fell down twice recently. The first fall happened on Wednesday, 26th September. She was teasing my niece, doing that 'shame-shame' thing with the forefinger stroking her own face, while backing up. There was a stool behind her. Either she'd wanted to sit on the stool, and missed, or tripped over it by accident. But she fell back and was in pain. I only got to know of it at night when I came home from work, and saw the doctor walking into our house. It was the shoddy, el cheapo doctor from the opposite clinic who—on the last occasion I was sick and went to see him—had wrapped the thermometer in CLINGWRAP before shoving it into my ear to take the temperature (there are disposable covers you're supposed to buy and use, ya know), and whom I suspected had REUSED the wooden stick you hold down people's tongues with to say 'aaaaaah'. Cheap Chinaman con-doctor who charged me RM40 for a simple check-up. Gah! Well anyway, he gave my granny a jab, which she thought would work a miracle as she tried standing immediately. But bones take a long time to heal, especially if you're 97, and eventually she decided that lying down was better.

On Friday, 28th September, I boarded a plane to Phuket with my colleagues. It wasn't after I came back on Sunday that I found out she had had a second fall on the day I left. She'd fallen in her room—perhaps she'd overestimated the strength in her legs. But she was really weak after that, and my aunt said that if she has a third fall, that would be the end of her. My uncle and aunt brought her to Assunta Hospital for a check-up that lasted all day, and the X-Ray showed her bones to be extremely brittle. She broke a hip bone, I think, and also fractured a part of her spine. I don't remember the details. The doctor gave her some calcium thing to sniff up alternate nostrils every day. I know because I sat on her bed twice, and let her talk. I haven't done that before.

Fast forward to today and she's making progress. She can stand on her own, but still needs to be pushed around on either a wheelchair or a typist's chair (easier to get on and out of). Some church members have visited and prayed for her in Chinese, which is good. She nods her head and allows them to pray. My aunt who's a Catholic had been pushing to get her baptised by a priest, as she believes that through baptism alone, one's salvation is sealed and sins are forgiven. The day before the priest was supposed to come, my grandma told my aunt that she wasn't ready and doesn't have the faith to believe in her heart. That appointment was cancelled.

I pray for her healing, and her salvation. My mum's been a solid help, finally earning praises from my all-too-critical grandma. Her remarks and judgmental comments have always cut my mum, who, despite serving my grandma all these decades, has never really been 'good enough' for my granny. Everything she does has always been unappreciated and seen as second-grade. We are hoping there will be a glorious ending to this accident yet; that God would turn this fall into a miraculous, redeeming act.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

KL / Sepuluh Tahun Sebelum Merdeka

I don't like KL. It's filthy, chaotic, and littered with shady characters acting as if they own the place. After sundown, it gets worse. The high-pitched sounds of traffic are replaced by dark desires that rumble in low decibels. The emancipated man at the bus-stop becomes a drug addict in need of fast cash; the shifty-eyed man sweeping floors becomes a sex-starved maniac whose wife is a continent and a half away. You don't need much imagination to commit a crime.

Yet, here is the heart—and soul—of the nation. More pertinently to me at least, here is its arts scene, buzzing and beating harder since The Annexe opened its doors to the public. Twice this month, I've ended up here alone, at night, praying on the LRT that I don't get mugged or raped or assaulted or battered or harassed or decapitated (maybe you do need some imagination after all) while walking the 200 metres or so from Pasar Seni station to The Annexe and back. It's not the wisest thing to do, but somehow the friends I ask to come along always can't make it. Grrr.

Fortunately then, for both my solitary nighttime adventures, my mind came back piqued by a new idea, a new concept, a new insight. In other words, the hassle was worth it.

( |o }===:::

And so I decided to risk my life tonight because a historical documentary called Sepuluh Tahun Sebelum Merdeka by virginal filmmaker Fahmi Reza was being screened. For free. I tend to avoid historical stuff because it has such a powerful effect on me, leaving me snoring and unconsciously sniffing at the next person's shirt, which I can't decide in my sleep is a durian or not, but tonight's doco won The Most Outstanding Human Rights Film award at this year's Freedom Film Fest organised by Komas, while excerpts from reviews, plonked into the promo postcard, all praised it. I am a sucker for ratings and good reviews, so I was sold.

Basically (which means I don't remember the details), the documentary covers the period from 1945-1948 in Malaya, and brings to life a historical nugget missing from our Sejarah textbooks—of how left-wing political parties formed a multi-racial coalition that demanded independence from the British, and came up with a referendum dubbed the People's Constitution. This version of history is gleaned from archived text, historical commentaries and interviews with former leaders and members of these parties. The snappy editing and music choice helped heaps in sustaining interest, and a particularly humorous section comparing this alternative referendum against UMNO/Britain's referendum hit the nail on the head. Oh, and I love the fonts.

But the highlight of this doco is an event that has been blanked out by the authors of our history books. In 1947, after the British refused to cater to the wishlist of the multiracial coalition of Putera-AMCJA, a Brit-educated Baba called Tan Cheng Lock suggested a hartal as a way of getting their attention. Having spent time in India, his inspiration came from Gandhi and Nehru, who were also fighting for independence from the Brits and had used this strategy successfully many times. The idea was tested out in several states, and, having been found successful, thousands of flyers announcing a nationwide hartal for 20th October 1947 were printed by the printing presses belonging to the Chinese merchants (an ally) and distributed. Finally, the day dawned. During this hartal, the rakyat showed their support for independence by closing all shops and staying in. Business came to a standstill, costing the fuming Brits 4 million pounds—a huge sum in that day. It was the biggest single public demonstration our nation has seen, yet most Malaysians don't know anything about it. (Unfortunately, as history has proven, the British Government still did not acknowledge the voice of the rakyat demanding freedom, and only granted us independence 10 years later.)

Even if you're not a history buff, rest assured that this documentary is as accessible as any mamak in Malaysia. And we were lucky to have Fahmi in attendance for a discussion session after the screening. It helped in understanding more about how the Government (the hand that weaves those historical words) either claims a piece of history as theirs, or plays other events down, championing instead their political agendas. Meanwhile, the left-wing leaders who also struggled for independence either ended up in jail or in silence, their sacrifices all but wiped out.

The event left me with several questions and impressions. Would a hartal of sorts work in today's Malaysia, in the event that the ruling Government acted way out of line? Who would organise it? Or even if some left-wing group tried to organise say, a total boycott of government-linked companies like Petronas, would the man on the street be afraid of being openly accused as a Government detractor? What would the effect be of screening this film ahead of the elections to the younger generation, especially Malays, who seek a different Malay role model other than the keris-waving drama queen? The documentary showed progressive-minded Malay leaders of yesteryear, who did not talk all day about racial issues so as to divide and remind us of our differences, but instead focused on gaining independence through unity.

Fahmi also brought up the point of how our textbooks keep emphasising racial divisions, but fail to mention segregation by class, which has had more impact on our nation's state and laws than you and I would probably like to know. It's certainly stuff to think about, and an interesting alternative to those who find it hard to entrust an entire nation's future to UMNO's present leaders, or their ability to write truthful textbooks.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Buku Muka

I'll tell you a secret. I'm addicted to Facebook. Since my boss (older than me by at least a decade) mentioned in a meeting that he's on Facebook, I figured I should succumb to the hype and jump on the bandwagon, y'know. Can't be seen as a non-nerd—not while I work in a tech/web company!

On a slightly more noble note, I am actually interested in web culture and social trends. So Facebook fits in nicely with my learning goals and interests. And for some reason, perhaps because I never was on the other social networking Goliath i.e. Friendster, it's made me rather hyper about finding friends and checking notifications. These days, I'd consider myself an evangelist for Facebook. I've been asking heaps of people if they're on, and explaining that there are so many fun, time-wasting things to do on it.

"Like what?" they ask.

I usually say that you can poke people, have an aquarium or zoo, draw graffiti, fight with others, buy people drinks, send baked items, and play Scrabulous, but even as the words come out, I feel like a nine-year-old kid jumping up and down with his new toy. Listen, all ye working folks. Facebook is dangerous! If you're as easily distracted as me, you can get addicted to it!

On a side note, my main gripe with Facebook is that it doesn't give you the flexibility of choosing how you'd like your name to appear. For those who type in their Chinese names with surname first, Facebook will automatically assume that those are their first names and thus address you as such. I hate being called by my surname, and attempts to change that have been ignored by Facebook. In fact, they've officially rejected my appeal and banned me for two weeks from attempting to change my name again. Idiots, I say.

Sickensore / Lab Rats

Two paper cuts and one sore throat mark the end of a week cooped up in a very small, very white and very cold research facility in downtown KL. For company, I had a sick research partner, loads of A3 paper, marker pens, a videocam, ciplak Post-it Notes (not from 3M), a one-way mirror and 25 strangers who came and went out a little richer. My colleague poisoned the air with her germs and took it upon herself to help them breed and inherit the earth. This morning, another colleague and I fell sick: wet stuff was coming out of his nose while he questioned the day's first participant; I remained sullen, taking notes while my throat burned.

Research work is both boring and fun. I'm not an extrovert or people-person to begin with, so listening actively to people talk (and trying to be interested) did stretch my personality quite a bit. I had to learn to ask questions clearly—I tend to stop mid-thought in conversations, especially if I start concentrating on the sound of my own voice ("Oh gosh, what am I saying? Do I sound that bad? La la la la la la...") or alternately, if I have one of those 'moments' that exist only in my head—and responding with appropriate follow-up statements/questions. I also tried varying the tone/drone of my voice so that participants wouldn't fall asleep, framing questions in as neutral a way as possible, and adjusting my language and word choice to match the other person's lingo.

The first few sessions I was forced to moderate required a lot of energy. I needed time to hype myself up and mentally prepare. But as I got the hang of it, it grew easier. I pretended I was acting out a stage role; here, (duh) the role of a researcher. In some cases, I tried giving 'fake' responses by acting casual or ignorant about a subject, but what I was really trying to fish for was their honest opinion of things. This role-playing was fun.

So it's been an interesting week out of the office, to say the least. I've been very pooped, but it was cool learning new things about myself and trying on a different work scope. It's all gooooooooddddd.... :)