Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The lonely becomes the surly

Sorry I've been away yadayadayada. I'm a busy man, deal with it. I mean, why bother apologising when I know I will make the same mistake again, am I right? An apology brings with it the promise that the transgression will not be committed again. But some mistakes, you just know you'll do again, intentionally or not. Then, not only I'll be guilty of screwing up, but I'll also be guilty of lying. Anyway I think that that brand of logical reasoning is one of the reasons why I can't hold a steady relationship. "But, honey, I'm PRETTY SURE I'm gonna do it again. That's why I don't want to say sorry! Then you're gonna accuse me of lying!" Hey if being upfront only turns a guy into cannon-fodder to the women-folk, I estimate a protracted bachelorhood for myself. 

It's now almost a year since I uprooted my life to move to Kelantan. Hold the confetti though. Plus I'm pretty sure confetti and party horns and hats are deemed illegal here for being unIslamic, or I'm just confusing Saudi Arabia for Kelantan. Anyone miss me back home? Anyone? No? Well fuck you too, orang kampung.

As I've repeatedly told, implied, insinuated to you, Jeli is a quiet place. I go the office in the morning, close the door, do my thing, drive home when it's quitting time, and lock the door behind me when I get home. People don't bother me, and more importantly, I avoid getting in other people's hair. Sweet deal, and I like it just the way it is. Perfect. Almost too perfect.

The last time I was sent to somewhere a lot closer to the city for a few days, I found myself getting very irate. There were too many people around, my co-workers annoyed me, and the clients were getting on my nerves with their inane chittering and inconsiderate requests. I didn't feel like talking to people, and I would do my job just so people would avoid trying to talk with me. And when other people eventually stopped trying to talk with me, I would be irate at finding myself actually doing work.

When I go back to my hometown, I would find friends to catch up with, but even then I can't stay long. It would be awkward as hell. Unless there are adult beverages served, of course.

I just wanted to be left alone.

I was never the friendliest guy around, but I think I'm getting surlier here by the day, shutting myself in my cocoon. But it's really comfortable and hassle-free, y'know?

At least for now, I still smile at colleagues and people I pass by, but God forbid they stop and chat. So what's the problem? I don't know. On one hand, it's comfortable. But on the other, I sort of have this feeling that this is not the right way to live. Like, I have an inkling that that's how most serial killers, or Malaysian taxi-drivers start out. 

Anyway, come on science, you're long overdue on that active camouflage.

Friday, October 19, 2012

A long distance relationship

My previous two entries have focused solely on me complaining and being insecure like a bitch. Wah wah wah, blah blah blah. Fair enough. I admit it. But the truth is, I haven’t been completely honest with you. It’s not just the loneliness, sheer and utter boredom that get to me. It’s also the fact that I have been away from my love.

Before I came here, I was very much involved with her. Once a week I would go see her, along with a bunch of friends. We liked to think of it as some sort of a charity work. Sometimes being with her means travelling to other faraway places, spending a lot of money and time and effort. Foolish, you say? No, not exactly. For one, the reclusive me found company in other people who also love her, far and few they might be. Secondly, they found me committed enough to let me within their ranks, and they seemed to respect me for my commitment. And respect is a highly-valued currency in the world of men, especially since what I do for a living is quite a rare talent that not many people possess, surprisingly. Let me tell you, every other aspect of my life had improved because I was happy being with her. My work was top notch, and I was more sociable and diplomatic. This coming from a guy who was borderline suicidal before she took me in. And thirdly and most importantly, I simply love her, without rhyme and reason, the kind of love that defies professional commitment and parents’ disapproval. The kind of love that leads a man to spend most of his hard-earned money, and be punched by a bunch of cowardly cops.

So if I love her, why did I uproot my life to move to Jeli?, you might ask. I don’t know myself. Maybe I foolishly thought a life of solitude would be easy. Maybe I thought a long-distance relationship could work for us. That watching her from afar and seeing her only once in awhile would be enough. Oh the naivety. Maybe it was vanity, the desire to prove that I could be a better a person professionally than she is. Here I am now, 10 months into my tenure in Kelantan, and nowhere closer to that PhD than I was in the beginning. Maybe the idea of having to be away from my love for seven years of my post-study bond terrifies me. I don’t want to simply be a bystander. I want to be in the middle of the action, fucking and burning shit up, and being sucker-punched by middle-aged, armed, uniformed criminals we call Malaysian cops. And the fact that the guys constantly keep posting about me being away from her, almost mockingly even, on my Facebook wall doesn’t help. I guess I’m not as big a recluse as I often make myself seem to other people. I want to come home to her. 

All I can say for sure now is that a man with no passion, for his family, for a cause, or for a woman, is a soon to be dead man. Another thing; kasih sayang is a responsibility which is more or less reciprocal. Cinta on the other hand is almost always one-sided, unfair, but always voluntary in nature, obsessive even, but ultimately more rewarding in the end, even in its one-sidedness. If you find this entry cryptic, I apologise. I want to write about how things are going with me, but I kinda hate expressing all of my feelings. If you don’t understand Bahasa Melayu, then tough luck. Learn it. It’s not that hard. Anyway, sleep on it, friends. I have a job application to fill up.

Fraternity in mortality

There were two men. One I didn’t know as well I should. The other a complete stranger, I am not even sure that he was male. But somehow, in the dead of this rainy Jeli night, I feel a strange affinity to both.

The first one was a relative. He was my mother’s cousin. I called him Pak Su, as he was the youngest among his siblings. Being on my mother’s side, he came from Kedah, But he moved to KL when he started working (as an engineer I think). Soft spoken, dark skinned, gaunt, willowy, almost effeminate. He used to drive a black two-seater Honda. But the keyword here is ‘was’. He passed away almost ten years ago, rather prematurely. Wasn’t married, and obviously had no kid. I remember the day I learnt of his death. In fact, I was the first to learn about it in my immediate family, as my family was supposed to come back from an overseas vacation which I decided not to go with, the day he died. Leukaemia or something. Sickly-looking, that’s the word I was looking for. He was buried, and that’s about it. I know about him now as much as I knew back then. All that’s left of him, as far as I know, is his Honda, which I had last seen in front of his mother, my grand-aunt’s house, around a month ago went I visited my mother’s hometown. Shit, even his mother is still alive. But sometimes, that’s how life is, with the old outliving, and burying, the young.

The other, to say that I know less of him would be outright lying. I never met him. Let’s just say that he’s the former tenant of the house next to mine. I’ve explained about him in an earlier entry. He’s also dead, and when he died, it took people a few days to realise that he was dead. When he died, he died alone. Now his house is abandoned, with a wall missing and facing my kitchen window. But that’s besides the point. He was ill and rarely went out, and lived alone. So it was no surprise, I guess, that he also died alone.

This is where I’m supposed to segue into the point I’m trying to make. But it’s 1.30 in the morning, I’m sleepy and I’ve been drinking a little (fine, a lot), so fuck subtleness. The long-winded point I am trying to make here is I think I am going to share the demise of the two people I just described. Alone, premature or due to a fatal illness. I’m putting my money on lung cancer. Or aneurysm. Or heart attack. Or stroke. One of those illnesses which used to only afflict the elderly, but are now starting to affect the younger generation. I smoke to keep myself distracted from the dreariness of my nights. I don’t exercise at all, because I have been reduced to chasing down instant gratification from the internet, Playstation and cheap booze, and I don’t see myself wanting and being able to commit to the kind of women I am into as long as I’m in Jeli. Wooing a woman has been rendered nigh impossible these days, and I am not a man with a lot of patience to begin with. So if I were to suffer a heart attack while I’m alone at home, that’s it from me.

But there’s also this cousin of mine on my father’s side, who used to be single and lived with his rich mother, and honestly looked kinda sad without having a lot going in his life, until he surprisingly (at least to me) married a Kelantanese woman, took over some of his mother’s enterprise and now has two kids of his own.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

All turn to ash

As a kid, I wasn’t much to look at. Scrawny as a stick insect, short-cropped hair and pimples that somehow decided that my face was a really sweet place to hang out on. And due to the fact that being in all-boys boarding school meant that there were no girls that needed impressing, I certainly didn’t dress to impress.
In university, of course there were girls (and surprise, surprise, I had a girlfriend too), so I did dress and look after myself better, but I still wasn’t one of the guys people considered good looking. Just less shabby. The thing is, me being me, I could never quite comprehend this fascination and single-minded obsession with looking good.

The way I see it, you try your damndest hard to look good, spending your money on straightening your hair, getting new clothes every month, hunting through the town for bundle stores for that particular pair of shoes, only for your good looks to wither away from that inescapable disease that is called middle-age. All for nothing. Also, this attention to what’s outside sounds a bit too much like we are trying to hide the terrible aspects of ourselves that is contained within by our mortal body. A misrepresentation of the personal, if you will. But I’m not saying that I’m right and they should wake up, sheeple. No, it could be that I’m just a misanthrope and bitter towards the better-looking population.

And that’s not to say that I dont put any effort into how I look, either. I do. Now that I’m a responsible, working, adult member of the society (supposedly), I can afford to and do spend my money on better attire. But whatever I buy, they are still relatively conservative articles of clothing. You won’t catch me wearing a fedora hat or a fur coat, no sir. I can’t pull fabulous. And my hair, it used to symbolise me really well, in the sense that it was really stubborn and refused to be styled according to the way I wanted. Now that it (and me) is approaching 30s, it seems that it has mellowed out somewhat (also like me?)  and is now more acquiescing towards me.

And you know what? I am now quite good-looking.

it’s just not me. Sometimes I catch the womenfolk just sneaking glances at me when I am in town, and some rather, err, effeminate men doing double-takes at me. Well to be fair I won’t get to tell the ladies to please form an orderly line and contain their excitement anytime soon, but what little visual attention of the feminine variety that I’m starting to receive now is comparatively more than how it used to be.

Even if they are just my imagination, it’s still fine. Why? Because even I myself think that I look good now. I am my worst critique, and my looks is one of the most frequent topics of criticism. But now, I would see the reflection of myself in the car windows of the car that I pass by, just to inspect the angle that my hair is standing at, at that particular moment. And the guy in the window who is looking back at me would be such a handsome SOAB that I could kiss him. No homo.

So how did this transformation came to be? I haven’t had any cosmetic surgeries performed on me, and I most certainly have not read anyone of those ‘love yourself’ self-help books, if you think that the change is just a matter of my perception. If you’ve watched the movie Benjamin Button, there is a scene whereby the title character stands in front of a mirror with his wife, discussing about how that moment is when they are at their physical peak; that’s it’s downhill from there. I think that’s what’s happening to me. I am nearing 30, and all the changes in my physique have converged and congregated at this moment to make me into how I look today; better than how I looked a few years ago. And it’s not just me. This also happens to everyone that has ever lived and walked on this fine earth. We get a small time-window during which, even the ugliest of us look our best. But as hinted by the movie, this also means that it’s downhill from now on for us. For me. And this scares me.

Now that I have this gift of being better looking after spending most of my life not looking much, the idea of having the gift taken away from me in a few years’ time is a bitter pill to swallow. I don’t want to end up looking like the many middle-aged men in their dowdy, ill-fitting work clothes and rotund figure. And it’s not like you can fix it just by wearing young people’s clothes. When you’re old but are dressed up like young, you’ll stick out like a sore thumb. You’ll just look weird. And guess what? After all these years of me thinking of the effort to be physically attractive as hypocritical, it seems that I now like what little attention I get due to my looks. Funny, huh? Well, I’m not laughing.

The only consolation I have to temper my worries with is the fact that I have more of my mother’s genes and the men on their side, my uncles and cousins, when they grow older, don’t grow fat or pot-bellied. They stay lanky and they don’t lose their hair. Whereas men on my father’s side, although they are fair-skinned and quite well-built in their youth, when they hit 40, they’ll start losing hair and gaining weight. Chills!
So think about that, friends. Use this time-window well. To philander, become a model, actor, whatever you want to. You are not good-looking for long and it’s all shit from then on. Bye friends, until the next entry. Sleep tight tonight.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Big Yellow Taxi

So far I’ve written about mostly about how I, a Klang Valley guy am adjusting to my new life in Jeli, a rural area and apart from feeling a little lonely from time to time, I can safely say that I am doing okay. Not great, but could be a lot worse. However, today I want to tell you about one aspect of my new life that I am having troubles adjusting to; the food.
It’s not that their taste is too dissimilar to mine. Even before I moved to Kelantan I used to eat lunch at a nasi campur restaurant owned by a Kelantanese because the budu there was really good. Like pour-it-on-my-nasi-for-kuah good. And tomyam every other night. It’s just that there is very little variety here on account that there are not as many stalls and restaurants here as I’d like. And they tend to offer the same menu. Nasi campur, nasi kerabu, and tomyam. It’s not that I want fancy stuff that is easily available in the cities. Like I told you, I am a man with simple tastes. But there’s only so many times a man can subsist on tomyam in one week, don’t you think so? Even nasi ayam is hard to find here. And it took me three months to find roti canai (in the Jeli town). 
When I was still living in my hometown, I rarely ate fast food. Maybe once a month, once a week was the most often I guess. And there is no fast food joint here in Jeli. You know the old cliché that you never know what you have till it’s gone? That’s how it is with me now. I’ll be sitting at home doing nothing, then I’d get hungry, and ask myself “What am I going to eat?” Then Bam! I’d get a hankering for some Jewish goodness and shed a single hungry, manly tear because the nearest fast food, a Pizza Hut and a KFC is in Tanah Merah. If I am really desperate I’ll hop into my car and drive all the way there, if not I’ll just find some nasi campur, and hum ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ to myself while eating.
At least I can still find fast food if I’m up for a long drive. If my stomach suddenly acts up by reminding me of Bubba Gump or Friday’s, maaaannnn it’s gonna be a long and lonely night. I’d have to literally placate it. “There, there, Papa’ll take you to dinner there when we go balik kampung, okay sweetie? Now finish up this nasi”. And when I do go back to my hometown, oh it’s balas dendam mode indeed. There was this time back home, I ate everything I saw, not necessarily out of hunger, but out of the idea that I didn’t want to miss them when I’m back in Jeli, and later I had to drive back to Jeli with a stomach ache. Whoops.
I am a picky eater in the way that I don’t like to eat the same things too often, I guess, and it got to a point where I only ate proper meals once a day, especially when I didn’t have a fridge to keep easy-to-cook perishable food items like patties and fries. It also got to a point where I lost a lot of weight, and I wasn’t a big guy in any way to begin with. Friends back home would ask why I was so thin when I saw them, even one of my aunts was so worried that she even called me on the phone once just to remind me to eat more regularly.
But if you are concerned about me, don’t. I appreciate it, but don’t rush to the post office with a care package just yet. I have a fridge now, so I can cook if I don’t feel like eating out, and I am eating more regularly. 
That’s about it for now, I’ll write again sometime soon. I hope you guys are doing well, and also eating well. Think of me when you’re eating that steak and drinking that Long Island Tea. Cheers!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Provincial Life

Hello there fellow readers. It’s been awhile. Been preoccupied with work and stuff. So today I want to share with you what Jeli is about. I mean the title of this blog has the name Jeli in it, but I rarely talk about Jeli and prefer to yak about my personal experience instead. Ah, the ‘Me’ syndrome. The curse of today’s younger generation, yours truly included. So today I want to write about the places in Jeli, where to get the basic necessities, pay for bills and the likes. I know, I know, all this information can be easily googled up within seconds, but do you know of another of our generation’s syndrome? The reluctance to google information up while on the net. So shut up and bear with me, you whino.

Simply put, the populated areas, and the places I frequent in my daily routines in the district of Jeli lies alongside the Jeli – Gerik road. I am starting my directions from Gerik because whenever I go back to Jeli from my hometown, I prefer taking the PLUS highway, exiting the highway at the Kuala Kangsar exit, and from there straight on to Gerik. I would suggest taking the same route if you are interested in visiting Jeli, or Kelantan for that matter. Driving along PLUS is breezy, and the traffic on the subsequent federal roads is not awfully heavy. The alternative route through Temerloh – Kuala Lipis – Gua Musang is too taxing for my liking with the narrow winding roads, busy traffic, and you will spend a lot of time having to travel behind slow-moving lorries without being able to overtake them safely. Starting from the town of Gerik in Perak, travel east along the road, crossing over the lake of Belum, and the Titiwangsa range (a really picturesque drive too, if I may add) for about two hours before entering the district of Jeli and essentially the state of Kelantan. Then if you were to continue along the road for about 30km, you will get to a T-junction with the right turn taking you to the Jeli town. Now this is where the action is, so to speak. There’s the Jeli district police headquarters (IPD), the Jeli hospital, bus station, district council, Petronas (which also moonlights as the local supermarket of sorts), Shell, Muamalat and Agro banks, post office, grocery stores, keymaker’s and the other places you frequent for your basic needs. Whereas for me, I rarely go into the Jeli town myself as I can do most of these things in my neighbourhood and it is a little out of my way.

But back onto the Jeli – Gerik road. The town is only a small part of the district, and as I’ve mentioned, one that I rarely frequent at that. Keep travelling east for another 5km or so, and you will find the Jeli campus of Universiti Malaysia Kelantan on your right. Hard to miss. This is one of the three campuses of this university, with the other two in Kota Bharu and Bachok. And just a little further down the road is the Jeli Inn and R&R, on both sides of the road where I also send my laundry. The laundry’s service is quite good, in that if I send my clothes before 11am, I might be able to get them back on the same day, on my way back from work in the evening. And there are also some food stalls and grocers at the R&R, which I stop by from time to time for cigarettes, and also to chat with the really friendly dude who mans the counter. I wish more shopkeepers are as friendly as he is. And just beyond the R&R is the Jeli MRSM.

If you go further on, you will see the many kampungs lining the sides of the road; I only remember the names of Kg Gemang and Kg Dabong. After about 5 more km, you will see on your left a relatively big hardware store; Mustapha dan Anak-anak, owned by a rather financially successful Jeli clan with other business interests as well. In fact, one of their younger family members is my former boarding school mate and he and his father were the ones who helped me get in touch with my current landlord when I first got here, and for that I am grateful. It’s quite amusing to note that that friend of mine has been away from Jeli since he was 13 and now works in Klang Valley whereas I have moved the opposite direction. And a few hundred metres down the road is a rather innocuous looking river with a rather sinister name; Sg Satan. I assure you, there’s nothing sinister looking about this narrow river, but for some strange reason I keep picturing a bunch of black-metal fans turning up here from time to time for their pilgrimage, and Harian Metro, Mastika and Bacaria reporters surreptitiously following not too far behind. I haven’t encountered any dismembered black goat carcasses, though. At least not yet.

One of the biggest kampungs in the area; Kg Ayer Lanas lies one kilometre down the road, to its right. Here you will find a Pasar Tani right by the junction, a few more grocery shops further inside the neighbourhood, with one being owned by the aforementioned Mustapha clan, another post office and a police station. If you continue east along the road, you will find the neighbouring town of Bukit Bunga (5 km from Ayer Lanas), then a junction (20 km) that takes you to the border towns of Rantau Panjang and Golok which is also the shorter route to Kota Bharu from Jeli. The town of Tanah Merah lies 30 km down the road.

That’s about all there is with the places in Jeli that I frequent almost daily. You can find what you need if you know where to look, and I am a man of simple tastes. I mean I don’t even have a TV. Although it bothers me that I still haven’t found a mechanic nearby. One of my worst nightmares? My car breaking down. So hit me up when you’re in town or just passing by. I’ll show you around the place.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Zaman tanpa ISA

Hey guys. It's been awhile. Sorry. Truth is,  I got myself a new PS3. So I got distracted from writing, work and many other admittedly more important responsibilities. But a request from a loyal reader got me back in the mood (although not immediately).

This post marks the seventh post I've written for my fledgling blog, and it's apt that this post, in a way, is related to this blog. Around a month ago (told you it's been awhile) I attended a meeting at the HQ of my employers in Bachok (~20km from KB). Everyone in the department was there. By the way, the distance from Jeli to Bachok is around 100km. My department holds a meeting at least once every month. I know it sounds kind of far, but you get used to it after awhile, yknow? Especially when the nearest town from Jeli is Tanah Merah; 40km away. And also the boss unofficially closes one eye on me arriving half an hour late to the meeting (I'm just a small fry, so they will start without me everytime I'm late. Fine by me)

So everytime there's a meeting that I have to attend at the HQ, the routine is I'll wake up half an hour later than I should, rush into the toilet, try to dress up all handsome-like as quickly as possible and drive like a madman for a 100km while muttering all shades of curses at whomever is blocking my way by not driving like a madman on the single-lane, single carriageway road from Jeli to Bachok.

So during this meeting, things were a lot weird. My department had always been rife with internal politicking and petty bickering, but hey, whose workplace isn't, right? But during this meeting, something was off. My boss, who up to that point, had always more or less tried to avoid badmouthing other employees publicly, was on full on verbal attack mode. Simply put, according to my colleagues, there was this one female former colleague who purportedly had attached herself to the top management and tried to use our department to do her job and to advance her career. I don't want to pay too much attention to this, because I only heard from one side, and she wasn't present in the meeting. So my boss was indirectly making insinuations of her, cracking inside jokes about her and pretty much everything short of mentioning the lady's name. And everyone else agreed with him, laughing at his indirect jokes. Awkward much? I incredulously signalled my friend F who was seated across the table from me with my eyes and we pretty much had this conversation without uttering even a single word.

"WTF is going on? He's insinuating about her right? During a MEETING?"
"Trust me, this IS happening"

It was quite uncharacteristic for him because I had not seen him do that in a meeting prior to that, and I think it was unprofessional, especially so for a head of department, regardless of how angry he was at her and if he was in the right.

But that wasn't to be the end of it. My boss moved on to the topic of Facebook rants on work-related topics, why we shouldn't do it and so on. Which I totally agree with. If you have a problem at work, or anywhere else for the matter, you should be confronting and facing it instead of facebook-ing about it (get it get it? Har-dee-har) It's unprofessional is what I'm and he was trying to get at. But what he mentioned next sent chills down my spine.

Without mentioning any names, he told everyone present at the meeting about a new employee of the organisation who supposedly went online to state how he is a starborn who has descended from the night sky to bring light to the darkness and desolation of this arid land (okay, it sounded better in Bahasa Melayu but I could't remember the exact words), which could be interpreted as how the person in question wants to be the supposed saviour of Kelantan, to lift it out of the dark ages. He then added that the new guy was in one of the more artistic departments. WHAT. THE. FUCK.

I have a blog (the one you're reading now) on my experiences of working and living in one of the territories of Kelantan, sometimes I write about how some aspects of life are markedly different in Jeli than in my hometown, things that can be misconstrued by people with poor reading skills as demeaning to Jeli and its residents, and I have an M.A. So imagine how bright red I must have looked all of a sudden in the meeting, wondering whether my boss was talking about me and this blog, and whether everyone else's subsequent laughter in the meeting was actually directed at me. Had I badmouthed Kelantan, or talked smack about the people, and someone from work had read it?

The meeting soon ended and after the post-meeting refreshments (that's what I like about the meetings; the free food), I approached F and pulled her aside, away from prying eyes and eavesdropping ears. No doubt she could see my paranoia and nervousness all over my face and I didn't even have to ask the question. "Hahah, I knew you were gonna get paranoid, but no, they were not talking about you. It was some of the upper management people who was roped in by the boss. Guy's not from around here, so what he had done apparently pissed off many of the local staff"

Phheeewwww what a relief it was to be exonerated. I mean I was pretty sure I have not demeaned Kelantan in this blog, but like I said, some people interpret everything they see and read into what they want to believe. And sometimes I think the more vocal section of the Kelantanese have the tendency to view themselves as victims of persecution by the majority of Malaysia in a "woe is me" fashion a little too much. Hence the indignity that my colleagues felt towards the new guy's online musing. Secondly, don't they realise that this guy is an artistic type? What he had written could have been for him a work of art, in the sense that it is fictitious and not real. When Mamat Khalid made 'Zombi Kampung Pisang', Perakians were not up in arms and they did not bring out the pitchforks because they think it was insulting to the state, didn't they? And let's not go into the literary concept of 'persona'. Come on, he didn't even mention the name of Kelantan at all. He was basically vaguebook-ing, like what 90% of people on Facebook are doing nowadays. And my colleagues were simply reading what they wanted to read and jumping into conclusions.

Well, I do realise that even though I had not criticised Kelantan and any of the locals in any of my earlier posts, now that I'm writing about my colleagues' over-reaction to someone else's online writing, I am starting to sound critical. So be it. I am only making an honest observation, without any intent of malice whatsoever.

But having said that, is anyone hiring back home?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Rumah seram

I'm not really superstitious. I mean I enjoy a good ghost story now and then, but at the end of the day, they are ultimately just stories, fictitious ones at that. And I do get scared of things that go bump in the middle of the night, but I've always managed to keep my more irrational fears in check. Why am I telling you this? This is why:
Daylight makes everything look safer and nicer. Come visit me during the night!

That happens to be a house that is neighbouring mine, although the actual neighbour had long departed. You can see on the left that a wall had rotted away, and one end of a mattress peeking out from behind. Keep these in mind as they are going to come into prominence later in the story. Looks just like another run-of-the-mill abandoned house, doesn't it? Nothing to shout about. My mother's childhood house also looks somewhat like this. (Weirdly, hers IS creepy. It's right next to a cemetery, and the cemetery sits opposite another cemetery right across the narrow kampung lane) When I first moved to Jeli, I asked my landlord about it.
"Pakcik, what's the deal with that house?"
"Oh, the owner passed and he has no one around to look after the house" he answered breezily.
What do you know? It's even similar to what happened to my grandparents' house. They died and their children are either too busy with their own lives and families or live too far away to bother with the maintenance of a wooden house that was already decrepit to begin with. So I didn't think too much about it and carried on adjusting to my new life in Jeli.

That is until around a month ago. My roommate (yup I have a roommate. I know, I know. I'm lousy with expositions) ; an ustaz one day came home and without any encouragement nor provocation whatsoever, told me something. Now I am not the chattiest person around, neither is he so we rarely speak to one another expect for the customary greetings, pleasantries and the occasional conversations on practical matters. So the eagerness in his eyes with which he told me the following story, I found to be odd and slightly unnerving.

"The neighbours told me something about the abandoned house next door"
"What about it?" I enquired uneasily.
"It is now abandoned after its previous occupant died in it last year. He was an elderly man with no kin, so when he died the neighbours only found out about it after a few days, and that was only because he started to smell"

Fuck. Just my luck. I'm not superstitious, but I'm only human, so learning this definitely upped my fear-o-meter readings. You might ask "what's the deal, you poofter? So a guy died in the house. Big deal, big pussy" The deal is, it is unnerving to me because my kitchen windows face the missing wall of the house, and the mattress I mentioned earlier, which I suspect to have been the elderly man's deathbed. I need to pass through the kitchen every time I go to the toilet, and doing this in the middle of the night is not in anyway fun. 
"Can I come use your toilet? I won't haunt you, promise"

Luckily, all my house windows are of the glazed type, instead of the transparent ones. Whatever on earth or beyond it that appears outside my windows are going to have a tough time making itself apparent to me. Also luckily for me, if anything weird happens in that house, it is nevertheless happening outside of my house. Until the Ju-on inside my in-house well tag-teams up with it and let it in, that is. I'll be royally screwed, then.

Friday, May 18, 2012


(This chronologically sits after the toothache entry and the mother entry)

As much as my relationship with my parents are strained when I live with them, one silver lining that I had always cherished when I was home was when my younger brother was around at home too. Most of my siblings would get to a certain age when they would want to fly the nest to go to a boarding school, and he was no exception. He did well in his PMR and he duly left for a boarding school in Penang, so I didn’t get to see him as much as I would have liked. After his SPM he went for his foundation, thankfully that time he only had to do it in Puncak Alam, but he was still not home much. I left for Jeli around the time he finished his foundation and was about to come home. Yep, FML. He is eight years younger than I am, but we are really close, a lot better than how my parents are with me. We share the same physical characteristics, slim, dark skinned and we are spectacled, and we also share the same morbid sense of humour (all thanks to me of course), although we are slightly different in our temperament. He is more religious, chatty (boy can’t stop yakking in the car) and my parents are closer to him than they are to me because he is more obedient. Far from being jealous at him, I am relieved that he is who he is as we the children undeniably need someone who is traditionally considered a bearer of the family name after my parents and take over my father’s business and he fits the bill better than I do. Whereas I prefer to start my own clan, complete with my own coat of arms, motto, and all that jazz.

That’s why when he volunteered to come with me when he heard that I was moving to Kelantan at the end of 2011, I accepted his offer right away. He was at the tail end of his foundation studies, and had a few days to spare. Plus my mother was insisting that she came with me. It was not that I was ashamed to be seen with my parents, but come on, I am in my mid 20’s and if I couldn’t move without my parents’ help, I might as well cut off my own penis and start wearing dresses to work. When he came with me, he only stayed for two days in Kota Bharu because I spent my first two months in Kota Bharu, and he never got to see Jeli when I was eventually assigned to this place.

Fast forward five months later, I asked him to come visit me because he was sitting at home doing nothing (the gap between his finals and university intake is really, really long). He said yes, lured by the prospect of playing my Playstation non-stop. So when I returned to Jeli from my monthly balik kampung session (I find it queer that for me; my ‘kampung’ is more urbanised than my place of permanent residence, whereas for many Malaysians it is quite the opposite), I brought him with me, along with my mother’s extra cooking utensils, pots and pans and the likes. I included the cooking utensils in my last sentence because 1) my brother is quite handy in the kitchen and he was planning to cook for the both of us in Jeli and 2) to show that my mother can be a real sweetheart when she is not constantly breathing down my neck.

I was glad to have company. I would do the bare minimum required from me at the office so I could go home, hang out with him and watch that CBS show ‘The Big Bang Theory’. And getting home to a hot meal is so awesome, it was like having your mom around, minus the nagging. Apart from that, I took him to KB again when I had to attend a meeting there, and also to Pantai Irama in Bachok. He wanted to swim at the beach, so I swam with him although Pantai Irama is not exactly the nicest beach to swim at. But guess how I felt upon getting back in the car and hearing on the radio that an earthquake had just occurred off the coast of Indonesia, the same earthquake that also shook the island of Pulau Pinang a few months ago and triggered a tsunami warning. We laughed nervously to ourselves before quickly leaving the beach.

But nothing bad ever comes without the good and vice versa. One day while at work, I went out for lunch with a friend. It’s the same friend who informed me of the job opportunity here and I have a feeling that I’ll be mentioning her quite a few more times in my writing since she’s about the only person here I talk to relatively often so let’s upgrade her with a designation; let’s call her F. But hold the confetti. While having lunch, she told me “You know what? Since your brother was around, you’ve been looking a lot happier”. I duly thanked her for her compliment. But my mind did a double take on that remark, for you see, I’ve learnt that most compliments that we receive carry in them a subtle disparaging insinuation regarding our previous condition. What does your boyfriend mean with “you look great today”? Did you look like shit yesterday? “Great presentation just now”? So your previous presentations were bad? Ah, the bane of my existence; over-thinking. But the mind cannot unthink what it had already thought of.

“What do you mean I look happier now?”
“You know, you really looked miserable being in Jeli before he got here”
“How could you tell?”
“It was plain as day on your face”

It dawned on me. I wasn’t doing okay in Jeli; being away from my family and the things that I used to be able to do was starting to take its toll on me; and I was affected after all. And to learn about it from someone else. She had unintentionally incepted an apprehension in my mind. I started worrying. Was I really miserable? And am I going to be more despondent when I am alone again after my brother returns home? 

Towards the end of my brother’s stay, I became more anxious. I was listless. If I couldn’t take being alone in Jeli for almost half a year, what is going to happen when it is time for me to go do what I came here to do; to further my studies? And even after that, I will have to come back here for seven more years as I’ll be bound to a contract with my employee who is going to foot my study bills. Eventually, my brother returned home. To his credit, my brother didn’t leave because he was bored or restless in Jeli, but because my father wanted him to help around the office. To my credit, I tried not making it obvious that I was upset at having to be by my own again by joking with him on the way to the bus station. But since I had just learned that I am not as good at hiding my feelings, who knows whether he bought my ruse or not?

The thing is, what F told me might not be true at all. Maybe she was just making a coincidental connection between two unrelated things; my countenance and my brother’s visit. Maybe if she had not told me about it, I might now be able to go on with my life blissfully unaware of my own state of mind, no worse than before my brother came to visit me in Jeli. But it had enough sense behind it for me to consider it, be aware of it and eventually be affected by it. Whether she was at fault or not, I have to admit that I’ve come to the realisation that my current life in Jeli, this self-imposed isolation, is not as peachy as I had expected it to be.

Or maybe I’m just exaggerating, that in the act of writing about an experience, I have unnecessarily influenced and altered my own feelings regarding said experience, instead of just describing it.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Mother's suffocating embrace

I’ve never really told you about the circumstances and cause of me leaving my hometown to work and live in Jeli. Yes, my current employer had offered me a chance to continue my studies abroad (hence the title). But what drove me to find a job out of state in the first place? Now, pull up a chair and huddle up. Yours truly is going to tell you all the details.

Now I’ve mentioned my parents in an earlier post and we now get along fine. But it’s only because we’re not living under the same roof. Before I became a resident of Jeli, I worked near my hometown and lived with them. Ever since I was a little boy, they’ve been a bit overbearing. Probably not my father, but he is the type who nods along to what my mother wants. She likes things to go her way, and sometimes at the expense of her children’s balanced growth. She has always been one of those mothers who do not really care about the importance of growing up socially and recreationally. When I was in primary school, I hated her. So when it was time for secondary school, I applied to get into a boarding school, got accepted, and duly left home for five years and learnt to keep a safe distance from my parents and then came university for six years.  (in addition to this, my siblings also followed suit by leaving home for boarding school when it was their time) Then came the time for me to be chucked into the real world of adults, I started working near my hometown, and came to live with them. That’s when the problems started and our relationship deteriorated even more.

My parents started questioning about me coming home late. I was involved with some ‘charity’ work which required me to attend meetings at night. They also questioned my lack of piousness, of course I couldn’t tell them the truth. But I still wanted to be left alone.

There was this time she woke me up at 7am to scold me for coming home late the night before; “how would it look like to the RELA security guys, when you come home late?!” 1) I am in my middle 20’s. I can come home late when I need to 2) if I were to take into consideration every single stranger’s opinion of myself, I might as bloody well stop learning for fear of offending the stupid and the uneducated. I got up, closed the door and got back to bed in annoyance at how both upsetting and amusing her remark was.

Another thing that infuriated me was how very little they appreciated what I had done at that point, academically and personally. Sure it wasn’t like I had cured cancer, but I was surely doing better than those sons who are Mat Rempits and drug addicts, and I had a lot planned for my future yet. No acknowledgement? No problem. But cut me some slack, will you? At one point I got exasperated, and I responded to her: “Mak, even if I were the Prime Minister or a Quran hafiz, you would still find something wrong with which to criticise me”

The funny thing is, when I was a teenager I successfully developed a way to get them off my back. I simply ignored them. No response, no reaction, not even a small acknowledgement that I was listening to them. There was this time that my mother was tearfully scolding me about my exam results. When I was watching a semi final World Cup match on the television. Great timing. Needless to say, the match won the competition for my undivided attention. And for a few years the tactic worked. I was left alone, life was great, the stock exchange was doing well, petrol price didn’t get increased falalala. But perhaps it was due to the fact that I never stayed home for long periods of time when in school and university. Ultimately, that tactic stopped working when I moved in with them after university, and they would not get off my back and nerves.

So we kept on clashing, and I thought that maybe the problem was caused by me staying under the same roof with them. I decided then to move out. I found a friend who was staying by himself in a neighbouring town, and gradually moved out. The thing is, I couldn’t tell my parents that I wanted to move out. They would be enraged if I did so. But after awhile of not coming home, they figured that something was up with me and confronted me. The jig was up. They brought up the issue of needing my help around the house. Fair point, but I countered that they only needed to let me know and I would be there. I had rarely refused to help them with anything before. But they were having none of that. I were to move back in. My father also insinuated that I wasn’t religious because I’ve become a Shiite. Yeah right, trade one lie for another. That’s my MO alright. And that he wouldn’t count on me on taking care of them when they are dying and old. Hey, thanks for that vote of confidence, Pop!

That was the breaking point. Even not staying in the same house didn’t work. There was only one option left; to move out of state. I immediately shot a Facebook status update asking my friends about any out-of-state job opportunities. Now some of you may ask, “why so drastic? Why must it be out of state? Couldn’t you just find a job in another town or district?” The answer is that because I’ve done it before. Sometime after graduation, I started working in a town near Subang and stayed for awhile with a few friends near Subang. When I moved out, my parents were really upset. I still remember what she said upon finding out that I had moved out; “One day when you have your own children, you will realise how hard it is” Dramatic much? So it wasn’t sufficient to simply abscond to a different town. For the chord (or leash) to be severed, a different state must I venture to.

Fortunately a friend of mine responded with a job offer in Kelantan with a better pay, and the chance to do what I want to do; continue my studies (hence the title of this blog). And it seemed that they really wanted me. So after deliberating for awhile, I decided to accept the offer, to make my own fortune and also to be on my own. After receiving the offer letter, I informed my parents of my decision. They didn’t look to eager, but then again they were never the type to discourage me when work and studies are involved. But if I were thinking that I was going to get away scot-free, boy was I wrong!

Exactly during my last day home, my mother found out that I hadn’t gone for my Friday prayers (I’m not religious, sue me). She confronted me about it, one thing led to another, and she ended up tearfully demanding that I showed my Facebook account to her to see what I’ve been hiding from her. Yup, WTF. I said no, and that she was being ridiculous, went to take a shower. That was the end of it, and the next day I left for Kota Bharu and a new life.

That was how and why I am now working and living in Jeli. True to what I had surmised, after being away from them and not being on each other’s throat for a few months, our relationship has improved significantly. We talk on the phone once in awhile, I go back home once a month or so, and they have even visited me once in Jeli.

Before you accuse me of being nasty and harsh with my own parents, let me just say for the record that I love them very much. I would do anything in my power to make them happy, will move back in to look after them in the future (and to sarcastically tell my father “you’re wrong about me”) and I fully acknowledge the fact that I am where I am today because of their hard work and upbringing. But there are some things that no adult should put up with and I’ve left my order-following days a long time ago. I see me moving out not as an act of disobedience, but an action I had to take to maintain my identity, to save our relationship and save myself from having to respond to them in a harsh manner, much like how married couples who don’t get along anymore would get a divorce. What other options were I left with? To defy them directly and openly? To scold back when I was scolded? I may not be religious, but I’m not ungrateful and I will never be harsh to them in this life. Not because of the threat of eternal doom and hellfire, but simply because no child should ever abandon and hurt their parents. When two identities clash, one has got to lose, so I would rather relent than lord over them in a false win that will eventually ruin me in the long run.

The sad thing is, now that we are apart, my mother is really nice again. She often asks me why the need to go all the way to Kelantan, and I time and time again would explain that the place I’m working for is the only institution that I know of which offers a guaranteed chance for me to continue my studies abroad. I once told her that theoretically if there’s another place that offers the same pay and opportunity, and that institution is closer to home, I would definitely apply for a job there (Hey, Jeli is a bit boring. Don’t judge me). One morning I woke up and she had texted me about a job offer in Negeri Sembilan with an offer that is supposedly similar to what I am receiving here. I applied for it, but since it was very close to the application closing date, we decided that it was quicker for her to fill the forms for me and mail it herself. But she didn’t mail it. She drove all the way to the place herself instead to send the application by hand. How can I ever openly defy this woman, a woman who single-mindedly tries to keep her children close, to the point of being overbearing, despite our differences? And more importantly, what do I do when a job offer comes, but I am not satisfied with the terms? If I reject it, won’t I break her heart by putting to waste all her tenacious efforts (even if indirectly) to get me out of Kelantan and closer to home? 

At the moment, I am racked by guilt for moving away and the possibility of having to reject the offer, even when my mind is telling me that it is no one’s fault and my mother is fully aware that my acceptance depends on the terms offered.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Kalau sakit itu membasmi dosa, no wonder my toothache hurt like a bitch

I am now in my mid 20’s. The last time I went to see the dentist for anything major was when I was in primary school. I don’t remember exactly when that was, but since that, I only go to the dentist for the small stuff such as for scaling, or those dentist check ups in secondary school that everybody has to go through. I haven’t had a toothache for almost two decades I guess and I intend to keep the number of my visit to the dentist at lower than one. Moreso when you take into account the fact that my visits to the dentist as a child always ended in blood (a little) and tears (a lot), and that I’ve always been scared of pointy and sharp objects. So, having a guy in a surgical mask poke around the inside of my mouth with sharp utensils is not very high on the list of ways I want to spend my weekend, even as an adult.

However, fate of course has a sneaky way of creeping up on you to screw you when you’re least expecting it to. I woke up that particular Thursday (last working day of the week in Kelantan, by the way) with a sore feeling at the right lower back of my mouth and my throat. No biggie, I’ve always had sensitive teeth near that area. The only problem was that my family was visiting that weekend and I was supposed to pick them up from the PC airport that day (for more info read this entry). “Hey, maybe a two-hour drive will take my mind off this definitely temporary pain” I thought to myself. How naive of me. If a two-hour drive cures anything, doctors would have prescribed it to patients, healthcare cost would be cheaper and petrol price in Malaysia would now be RM10 per litre.

So I got to the airport, picked up my family and drove straight back to Jeli. However it was Thursday evening (last working day, you city folks with your fancy normal working days) and the traffic going out of town was a bit heavy. Stopping the car made the pain obvious, and lord knows how hard I tried to stop myself from audibly cursing with my mother seated next to me in the car; I should probably get a medal or something. And to make it worse, my father was unusually inquisitive that day; asking questions about the places we were passing by; which I admittedly knew very little of, and asking me questions that I found to be annoying. Annoying questions X toothache = murderous rage. Enjoyable slasher movies have been made on lesser premises. However, my mother’s question was one that suited my predicament better; “Why don’t you go get that looked at?” I mumbled that I could still handle the pain and that was that for the day. We got to my house, I chatted a little with them before turning in for the night. I thought maybe the pain would have subsided when I woke up the next morning. But honestly, I didn’t want to get it looked at because it was still a week to pay day (I had to spend a lot of money on the house), and that I did not want to disrupt my family’s plan by having to rest and recuperate.

But of course, of mice and men and all that nonsense. On our way back to KB the next morning, the pain got really unbearable. Only then I found out that my employer’s healthcare benefit does not cover dentalcare (WTF? Don’t I work for the government?), and I decided to stop at the first private dentist that we came upon in Kok Lanas. The doctor, a guy who looked to be around my age, told me that a wisdom tooth had chosen the most unsuitable time to try to grow out of my gum. And in the most violent manner too. Since it had not come out of my gum, he had to cut my gum open and extract it because I did not have any space for an extra tooth to grow and flourish on; and afterwards sew the gum back together. It was in essence a minor operation. I said yes, do what you have to do (at that point I would have said yes to him removing my penis and reattaching it to my forehead if it meant alleviating the pain). Fastforward two hours later, the surgery was over. I asked him; “No MC? My work involves a lot of speaking and there’s no way I'm speaking with four stitches in my mouth”. He pooh-pooh-ed it and said it would be fine within “one day”. Guy skimped on the meds and painkillers, too. Motherfucker, you’re billing me RM400 (my mother footed the bill) for the surgery and you’re shoving me back into the world with just a few measly pills and no MC?

No bother, I had a family that wanted to visit KB and Pasar Siti Khadijah and I was dead set on getting them to the Pasar; sick or dead. God knows how I got to the place, but in my grogginess and pain, the first thing I did was get myself an A&W float while my family was at the Pasar; happily shopping. I didn’t feel like going into the Pasar; so I shuffled aimlessly around it, almost circling it even. What a sight I must’ve been that day. Feverish, gaping mouth (couldn’t close it shut), slurred speech, feet dragging, and eyes staring into the distance. I must’ve looked like a drug addict. Afterwards we checked into a hotel and rested which made feel a lot better that I could even take them to check out Pantai Cinta Berahi (screw political and religious correctness) and to this great Thai restaurant Keng Som for dinner. I even risked eating seafood, their food is that good.

I woke up the next day realising what a big mistake it had been giving in to the temptation, as I woke up with a swelling of the century on my right cheek; and the bleeding had not stopped at all. After sending off my family at the airport, I drove straight back to the dentist to ask his opinion; whether he still thought that it would heal in a day. Guy duly cleaned the blood, gave me some more shots and a three day medical leave (FOC this time). I went home, curled up in a ball, and sobbed like a little bitch. (Don’t judge me, okay? Falling sick does weird things to my emotions, I honestly don’t know why.)

Around two days later, I had to go out to have lunch. The thing is, I live in Jeli. It’s not like there are many diners or stalls you can choose from, so whether you like it or not, you will run into someone you know whenever you eat out. Not good for me, as I didn’t feel much like walking around town while looking like the Elephant Man of Jeli. I got to the place, got my food, and as I was starting to struggle with chewing (might as well be Olympics gymnastics at that time), some people I work with arrived for their lunch at the table across from where I was sitting, and they immediately saw me. 

“How are you feeling?” A girl asked. (Really? That’s the most suitable question you can think of?)
I gesticulated “Meh”

“Oh my, you do look terrible!” Chirped another girl. (Ring-a-ding-ding! Winner!)

Wanting to stop receiving anymore obvious remarks, I lobbed my own small talk their way. “Why are you guys here? Don’t you always eat closer to the office?”

“We’re celebrating you not being at work of course” (Ooooohhhh, a comedian.)

“Should I die instead? That should make it more convenient for you” (My joke’s better)

The coming punchline however wasn’t verbal. Immediately after our not-so-friendly banter, they changed tables to one where they didn’t directly face me. It might be due to the fact that with my chewing difficulty, I look like a paralysed-person trying to eat (no offense); dribbling and drooling. In short, worst lunch partner ever. But it did make me wonder whether I really looked bad eating while nursing a toothache. They won, although I think unintentionally. I would have gone straight home and cried like a baby for the second time in a week for the probably unintentional dissing, if not for the fact that I wasn’t feeling as poorly and I really wanted that lunch.

So I’ve learnt a few things from this experience. Firstly, always make sure your employment health benefits cover your dental care. My current employer doesn’t and when signing up I thought “Meh, whatever” and now I’m paying for it through the teeth, just two months after signing up. Secondly, save up your money for emergencies. There’s nothing as uncool as being a full-fledged adult who can’t pay your own hospital bills, and having to ask your parents to do it, especially if you have a father who’s perpetually disappointed at your life choices as mine is. Finally, if you have an operation/illness/condition, don’t go around explaining it in full detail to everybody and their mother. You’ll look like an attention-seeking, whiny bitch. Oh, and if you have to go see a dentist, try and get older-looking dentists to attend to you (yeah whatever, I'm bad at coming up with lists). They are more experienced. And by the way, I'm completely healed already, just went to get the stitches removed this morning. Snip snip, and off I went on my merry way. Hospital Jeli; the doctor was experienced, the treatment brief, although the wait was a bit long. Will go there (when sick) again 9/10.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

My father; the kampung boy

So I’ve been in Jeli for almost a month now. The place is alright, if a bit too quiet for my liking. Now if you know Jeli, until a few years back it was one of the poorest and most rural places in Malaysia. Things are alright now, my house has TNB electricity, although the water in my house is supplied by a well which is situated right in my house (there’s an electric pump, of course). But I find it amusing when one of the office people who are from KB (I stayed in KB for almost two months initially) said; “you Klang Valley people are not gonna mind having to live Jeli that much, since you already find KB boring and quiet, the difference between KB and Jeli will not be too prominent. It’s us KB people who are gonna have a tough time relocating there”. Errr, thanks?

My parents decided to come visit me unexpectedly last week since it was the school holiday and stayed with me for a night in Jeli. Hey, no problem. I had the house all to myself (suck on that, you Klang Valley residents with your expensive rents!) and there was a lot of space to spare. But I told them to not expect the Shangri La, not even the Sri Malaysia treatment. I’d just moved in, didn’t have enough money for furniture and didn’t even have my own bed yet. I also mentioned the well, naturally. They told me it wouldn’t be a problem, they would make do and bring their own comforters. So when they flew in from KLIA to the Pengkalan Chepa airport, I went all the way (~110km) from Jeli to fetch them and to take them to my house (total distance: ~220km). We even stopped by Rantau Panjang which borders Golok to do some shopping. Protip: go shopping there between 6 – 7 pm. That’s near the shops’ closing time and by that time, the traders will be more eager to lower the prices when you haggle, just so you get the hell out of their faces and they get to close shop and go home quickly. But I digress. Heading to Jeli from Rantau Panjang was when the fun started.

Now to give you a bit of background, my father is the typical oh-you-kids-nowadays-have-it-easy-I-had-to-cycle-10km-from-school-when-I-grew-up kind of father who took pride growing up in the rural area of Rembau (back then). It was starting to get dark from Rantau Panjang when my father started asking questions like; “so, is it hard for you to get your meals there? Are there any diners?” “How far is your house from the nearest neighbor?”. I get it, he’s my father, he was just trying to show that he’s concerned about my well-being. But my car running a bit low on petrol at the time as there were few petrol stations along the way. He started panicking a little. “You sure we can make it to the next petrol station?”, and seeing the darknened roadside, he started fidgeting a little. Making things worse, I developed a toothache that day (a different story. Not fun). The trip took a little while, and coupled with having to tail behind slow-travelling vehicles, it took some time and my father was beginning to get restless. The last straw (his) was when he asked me:

“Are we taking this road again to go to KB tomorrow?”

I answered in the affirmative.

What he said next was so out of character for the supposed kampong-boy.

I’m laughing again just typing this. It sounded like something an impatient 10 year old boy would say. My mother agreed, we laughed at his outburst and I had to ask; “Abah aren’t you a kampong boy who’s used to this kind of places?” He sat sulking in complete silence, not unlike a 10 year old. And he seemed like he was almost panicking when we got to my neighbourhood later (the streetlights chose a perfect time to not work that night).

So there it is. I find it amusing that in a way I’ve bested my father in something. Me, the pampered Klang Valley boy actually doing ok living in a rural area, while my father the hardworking, kampung-bred man was complaining about the place throughout the journey. No so tough now, eh? But I am able to end this entry on a brighter mood because when we went out the next morning, he saw that my neighbourhood was not actually in the middle of nowhere. It was just that the streetlights had not been working the previous night, and there are grocery stores, a school and a police station just nearby, and that made him feel better; relieved even.

The asylum

I’ve been in Kelantan for a little over three months today. A city boy (okay, suburban boy) uprooting his life to ply his trade in a state whose original residents migrate for the trappings of Klang Valley and all that comes with it. The way I see it, I’m just evening things out. Hey, if there are many of them in my state, I might as well go to their state and pick up some slack for them.

Anyway, I find it odd that while driving in the city centre of Kota Bharu during my visits, I see a lot of people who appear to be mentally off by the roadside. Around every other day. There’s this guy in his baju melayu without the sampin shuffling back and forth between the exact two points near Wakaf Che Yeh, a scruffy middle aged man in shirts and slacks meandering at the Jalan Pengkalan Chepa heading into Jalan Dusun Raja traffic light, and just a few days ago I saw a clean looking mid-30’s man performing a dikir barat at the CIMB – Maybank – Bank Islam traffic light; to the amusement of the motorists stopping at red. And it is not just in the city area, since I live around 8km from my workplace in Jeli, sometimes I see these mentally challenged people by the roadside going god knows where. Maybe they are not out and out crazy as the people I described above, but you can see that the sparks you see in the eyes of mentally healthy, ordinary people that show their awareness of the surroundings and of other people, the drive to go do everyday activities such as grocery shopping, sending your children to school, and thinking of what to have for lunch, are gone and they are just shuffling along listlessly, without any purpose nor anywhere to go to.

And that is just those that I have seen in Kota Bharu and Jeli. I haven’t been in other jajahans yet, and if the law of probability can be trusted, what you see is usually the tip of iceberg; so there should be more of them.
Now to be fair, I haven’t lived in any other states that much, and one tends to drive in Klang Valley at a faster speed due to the many highways; thus eliminating the possibility of casually observing the goings on by the roadside, but it has sufficiently piqued my curiosity to warrant writing about it. Maybe it’s just that I haven’t been to other places that much, I don’t know. But I’ll definitely make a point to learn more about this and expand this entry some more. What is the cause of the seemingly numerous number of these mentally unsound people in Kelantan, and why does it seem like there is a bigger ratio of crazy people to normal people in this state as there is in other states.

Finally, needless to say, I’m not writing this to insult or make fun of these people and the residents of Kelantan. I’m not doing this to judge them. I write as I see. You draw your own conclusion. If you are offended or insulted by this, regardless of whether you are a Kelantanese or not, maybe it’s you who should re-evaluate your own prejudices and of course, your own reading comprehension skills.