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.