Thursday, November 18, 2010

My 3rd Aunt -- farewelll, till we meet again

3rd Aunt is in red jacket, in front.

What is it about death that so preoccupies us? I think about death or dying often. It is morbid. But our gurus tell us to practice dying. So often, I think, about how I want to die – peacefully of course, and in my sleep. Hopefully my death will not cause much grief. Hopefully by then I would have gained enough merits so that I will have a good rebirth. That’s a simple wish. For now, I wish to live a long and healthy life!

My third aunty died about a month ago. I call her Koo-Ma in Cantonese. Sam Koo-Ma, to be exact. That’s how I will always remember her.

I will always remember how she loves to put curly fringes on my hair. She thinks my hair too straight. Everytime we go to her home-based hair saloon, she would put little curlers around my fringe to make them curl. How I hated those curly fringes. Out of politeness, I always told her they looked good (how can anything which shimmers in front of your head like little black earthworms look good?). For the first 14 years of my life, I reckon, I had my hair done by my Sam Koo Ma. Her fashion was to be my hair style.

The last time we had a big ball was when Sam Koo Ma came with other aunts to visit me in Auckland. So in Auckland I heard, for the first time, my Sam Koo Ma’s vocal prowess. She was a fa tan (principal female voice) in the Cantonese opera troupe she sang in. She tells me then, she practices daily, even into her 70s. She sang at my friend’s house – and she gave me a sense of her real accomplishments. How I wish I had asked her more about her love of Cantonese opera, how it came about; what she sang of; and whose stories she was singing.

We visited Queenstown – she marvelled at every shop in Arrowtown, fussed over buying the choicest bit of greenstone but didn’t end up with a piece. She loved the Warehouse, going through bits of cheap Chinese imports there. She loved the WinterGarden at the Domain, and marvelled at the plants -- their vibrancy. She loved the feijoas in our garden and helped sweep my back deck – putting me to shame. There she was, with my other aunty, cleaning my house while on holiday. That’s their nature…never sitting still. Working, working every minute.

She ran a hair saloon, cooked, cleaned, raise 4 children. I know her to be strongly independent and fiercely outspoken, never once to mince her words. What amazes me most is her having her last child, at 40. My cousin, the most beautiful baby ever, was born when my aunt was 40 and my mom looked after her baby for a while, while my aunty ran her saloon at home. She didn't stop her work even when a new baby arrived. She just kept on and on.

When I think of her, I also think of someone who just gets on doing what she does best. She is full of her own brand of wisdom, telling me once to always wash my dishes with a clean little towel so the detergent doesn’t linger; to always eat without too much salt; to not eat too much fried food. I must confess, her food is a little bland to me but she makes a mean Hainanese-style curry chicken. She practices her own brand of compassion: when my step grandmother died, Sam Koo-Ma helped take her ashes to be spread out in the sea at dusk, weeping for my step-grandmother, sharing in my mother's step sister's grief.

She was never one to raise her voice. But you can feel her anger or disapproval. Her eyes, they told you everything. Her face is pretty much an open book. She was a pretty black and white person.

The last time I saw her was in Klang, in July 2010. I made an attempt to drop by her house – by then she was in a wheelchair, unable to speak due to a muscular degenerative disease (I was told). She tried to give me back a little money I gave her…generous to the end, that’s how she was. She couldn’t speak – but through her eyes I could see defeat, frustration. I see disappointment too, a sense of “what has become of me”. I soothed her hand for while, letting know all is well with us in Auckland. Princess is fine. I told her to take care. Inside, I wept for her loneliness which she shares alone, for her inability to do anything for herself. Inside, I wish she had a peaceful death. May you have a good rebirth my beloved aunt. You will always have a special place in my heart. Till we meet again.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Halloween no more - the things we used to love

2008: Halloween Loot

Today and for the last few days, it dawned on me that my little Princess is no longer little and she has definitely been pushing away things that confined her to what what she was. A definitely pre-teen has emerged full blown – monster or angel who can tell?

For the first time this year she didn’t make me buy her a Hallowen goodie bag, and she didn’t dress up, and she didn’t go trick-or-treating. YAY! No more Halloween dress ups and cleanups!

Somehow, the moment also struck me as sad -- a strange passing – a sort of rite of passage. That’s how our specie evolve. We take on new experiences, discard the old. We grow new cells, the old ones die. We take on new adventures, look for new heights. What used to be important can be of little significance. Ah, the passage of time can dull even the sharpest thrills.

So Halloween came and went without much fan fare. I always grumbled about the work associated with getting her ready. Last year, our dear Princess was still Cleopatra, lugging home mountains of lollies in her Halloween goodie bag bought from the $2-shop. She has been a princess, a fairy, a sort of nothing…But every year for the last 5 years, she always went trick-or-treating. Once, a grumpy old lady who was our neighbour, told Princess and her friends to “Go away, I am too old for this.” I thought that was mean. The kids thought so too.

Our dear neighbours’ two little girls came knocking on our door on Sunday – “Trick or treat!” Eva said in an animated voice. Her little sister Xanthe came toddling by….Oh how sweet…We gave them heaps of our snake-shaped lollies…They stayed for a while and went away to their next house. I secretly wished there were more trick-or-treaters. I secretly wished I had put up black rubbery spiders sitting on home-spun web on my front door…for the fun of it all!

Time flies. My Princess is more interested in her ipod, skping, boys, dealing with a sprout of pimples invading her forehead, and chatting with her friends on Facebook.

In another time, another year, she would have had her loot from Halloween spread all over the floor, stuffing herself silly and going on a sugar high for the rest of the evening. Today, all she wanted to do was get back to her online chats!

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Klang I used to love

I was home in Klang for nearly 3 weeks during July. I lament the fact that the Klang I used to know is not anymore the Klang I can claim to know. Growing up in 68 Jalan Meru, everyone knew everyone on the street. If I did something silly, my neighbours will be the first to tell my mom. The first shop on the block was a coffee shop (owned by a Hainanese); the 2nd shop was a car workshop/sales showroom (owned by a HockChew); the 3rd shop was us, the laundry (owned by my grandpa a Cantonese)…and so on and so forth. We chatted with our neighbours everyday. I played with the kids on the street for hours on the weekends.

Back then things came with little or no packaging. We recycled our coconut oil bottle, going to the local grocer to get fresh supply which he pumped out of a bigger tin. We went to the Wonton Noodle Seller with our stainless steel or aluminium carriers which we used for decades. Back then, 20cents was a lot of money. Back then, my dad earned $200 per month and fed the entire household.

Reunion with old classmates, Class of 79 at Convent Klang

Back then, Klang was a sort of happening place. The circus used to come to town every year. I would watch from our shopfloor, upstairs, the parade of animals, jesters and circus managers – elephants and horse plied the main Jalan Meru to get to the big tent set up for the circus about 5 mins from my house. It was such a crowd puller – the big tents, the weird and wonderful, the smell of animal defacation putrifying in the tropical heat; the flies swarming on elephant poo…The trapez artist arms and legs of steel. The lady cuddling her giant pet python in a box which we had to pay 50cents to watch.

We kids used to roam along Jalan Meru, crossing the road into the huge padang across our shophouse. We flew kites in the backsteet, learnt to ride our parents' bicycles on the gravel road. When election time came, our streets were filled with party propaganda. We watched the Barisan National posters overtake every other party, but somehow the DAP surreptiously, manages to get in their posters up in obvious places.

These days, Klang is a veritable mess. There is so much traffic I am too scared to go out. I can’t drive so I need to be ferried around. This is what it feels like to be displaced. I have no sense of where things are because I haven’t lived in Klang since 1990 (and from 1979-1985 I was in Canada).

When we go to the Malls, I feel like Klang is an alien land – all dressed up with the latest laptop skins, fashion accessories, big labels; the Americanization of the world...everyone wants an Iphone or an Ipad. Trends get to Klang quickly.

Klang has money pouring out of its pores. Everyone seems to drive around in shinny cars. Every kid has tuition either in the morning or at night. Every parent seems to work late into the evening or night. Every house has several locks and many metal grills. Every other house seem to have a maid – an Indon or a Cambodian - these days. Every employer of a maid has a nasty story to tell, of a maid having stolen money; of a maid having an affair and getting pregnant; of a maid running away. Every road seems packed head to tail with cars, going everywhere, going nowhere.

Agar agar is the only constant in an ever changing world. One of my favourites as a child.

Princess and I were glad to touch down in Auckland where the air was clean and everything looked perfectly green. The traffic towards our home was manageable.

I have grown attached to Auckland. It is home for me now. I know where the bargains are; where the cheap haircuts are and where to go to for my foot massage. I know the back street to Princess’ school; I know the lady from the local Paper Plus and the Cambodian lady who cuts my hair, the local chemist who dispenses our drug.

Leaving Klang, I felt a sense of loss. Of times gone by. Of a place I have loved but cannot claim to love anymore. Of family members I do not get to see except once every so often over a few years. My aunties are getting old; my cousins have all got kids who are growing so fast I can't ever catch up. We are all getting old. Absence, they say, makes the heart grow fonder. Absence for me, leaves huge gaps unpatchable.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

I have a mom who read me stories

Mother’s Day came and went. I rang mom to wish her “Happy Mother’s Day”…she was happy that I rang, happy that I remembered. I hadn’t organised any presents although on her birthday, which was just a few days ago, I organised some chocolates and cake online for arrival on her birthday.

Mom loves cakes, in fact, she loves anything sweet. When she gets angry, she often takes out her biscuit tins or chocolate bars, if any, and munches. It must be for the sugar rush, and the high it provides.

Mom spent a lot of time on the call telling me what the domestic helper is doing wrong. For Mom, I am the boxer’s punch bag…I listen to her as she vents her frustrations.

There is much to say about Mom’s threshold levels – she has a very high tresh hold, for pain and suffering, and hard work. I hope I can develop such high tresh holds.

On this particular Mother’s Day, I am reminded of one of Mom's golden rules, one which I use on Princess as well. Never default on the time you should get home from school.

I remember once, after Chinese school, I was playing in the rain, oblivious to the rule that I was to head home right after school. Some friends of mine were playing in the courtyard, and I lingered to watch, then got tempted to stay, a bit longer. Then I got attracted to the game they were playing in the school courtyard, so I too stayed, to participate in the game. It was nearly dusk, and the sky was turning somewhat grey and dull. There was a surreal feeling to the school yard, all empty except for a bunch of school kids having a good time. I forgot the golden rule.

Mom came looking for me. I froze the minute I saw her. It was almost like death had come to visit. I knew for sure I would get a good walloping when I got home. No words were spoken as I trailed behind her on our way home. Me the errant sheep returned to the fold. My skin burned with shame, as I trudge behind her, in hurried steps. I could see fury written all over her face. I learnt my lesson that day.

I remember this incident because this is one of mom’s many golden rules that Princess has taken to heart. If there are changes to the time she needs to get home, she has to inform me, where ever she may be. I love this golden rule.

Once, I broke a set of tea cups when my skipping rope dragged an entire tray of cups onto the floor. My friends and I were livid with fear, watching the family cups crash into tiny pieces. My great grandmother was furious and cursing us in a language not suited for kids. I thought I would die from a good hiding. But mom didn’t even seem that bothered. She told me to pick up the pieces. No fuss over the shattered cups. I think the cups were not important for her. She knew how to distinguish between what is really important, and what is not. Breaking tea cups was a small matter in her scheme of things. Not keeping time was a major sin.

I have a mom who loves a good yarn. How many nights have I spent listening eagerly to her interpreting for us, her readings from a Chinese newspaper serial of the story of a mute and how unwanted and unloved he was. How many nights have I wished I was the maiden traipsing across the bridge of birds as she went to meet her love, the cowherd. How many nights have I wondered about how lucky I was to be born in an era where girls were allowed education, not like the Butterfly Lovers (Liang San Bao, Zhu Ying Tai) where the heroin had to disguise herself as a man to get an education. How many times have I heard stories of the bizarre, of a maiden whose tummy grew full of scorpions due to evil magic, of crickets who grew so large, they terrorised me in my dreams.
(image:sourced from

If there is one thing I grew up with, it is mom’s love for romance, adventures, tragedies, or tales of sword and sorcery found in novels and movies. Once I woke up at 3am in our apartment, then in Singapore, to see the lights on in her room (her sister was visiting as well). I turned the knob of the door to see a sea of tissues on the floor, and two red-eye women, sniffling their hearts out to a tragic Cantonese serial! They burst out laughing when they saw me. I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or despair!

Here’s a poem I love that depicts in part my mom’s love for adventures and her love for newspaper serials and wuxia (sword and sorcery) serials. Thanks mom for all the stories you gave me as a child. Happy Mother’s Day!

The Reading Mom

I had a Mother who read to me
Saga of pirates who scoured the sea,
Cutlasses clenched in their yellow teeth,
"Blackbirds" stowed in the hold beneath.

I had a mother who read to me the things
That wholesome life to the boy heart brings-
Stories that stir with an upward touch,
Oh, that each mother of boys were such!

I had a Mother who read me lays
Of ancient and gallant and golden days;
Stories of Marmion and Ivanhoe,
Which every boy has a right to know.

You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be-
I had a Mother who read to me.

I had a mother who read me tales
Of Gelert the hound of the hills of Wales,
True to his trust till his tragic death,
Faithfulness blent with his final breath.

By Gillian, Strickland, "The Reading Mother."

Monday, April 26, 2010

Living with a broken achilles tendon

I am missing my left leg heaps. A couple of weeks ago, I broke my achilles tendon while playing tennis with Princess, at our neighourhood tennis club. The beauty about the injury is -- contrary to many accounts I have read where the injured is in heavy pain -- I suffered no real pain. Or not the sort of pain that would scar me for life. I remember reaching for a top-spin from Princess, and the next thing I knew, I was on my knees, and when I tried to get up, I fell over. So I turned to sit on my buttocks, and laughed my guts out. All I could think of was "this is ridiculous, me being on the floor sitting on my bump in the middle of the tennis court." Princess thought it might be that I had snapped my achilles tendon, I ignored her, as usual, she was right (she knew exactly what to expect as grandpa had told the story of how he snapped his, and I wasn't listening as usual.)

They tell me I am to be in a cast for 6-8 weeks. Over the weekend, someone told me he had a friend who had his injury in October last year and was only beginning to walk. Horrors! I want to get back to full steam. I want to be able to mop the floor with two hands, to vacuum,to be able to carry heaps of groceries into the house, and to sleep without lugging a tonne of bricks as I toss or turn at night.

Still, to be able to walk is a world better than having to hobble on two crutches.

Here's what inventors of medical equipment should think of....
1) A lightweight mobile platform, that operates like a mini ride-on but with a less heavy structure, something you can sit on, and rest your leg, and allows your free movement of your hand to do your chores.
2) Crutches: they kill your palms, and your hands. All the pressure you put on your hands while hauling your body around is no joke. A sort of soft-gel handle to go with the crutches would be nice.
3) A better version of plastic leg cover for when you shower. The one I have is quite good but when I walk on it, into the shower, with my metal cast/stomper, I fear it will tear at some stage. At $45, I don't want to have to replace it too soon. I can't think of a better version yet, when I have, I will let you know.

I have found that my family is not good with housework. With me being incapacitated, the first week, I felt like hell...with the mess around, and especially not being able carry a fresh cup of coffee to my study!

I have some wonderful food offerings from my friend, Michelle, who made me nice roast pork, and stir-fries; helped me with shopping, my friend Cindy who made me yummy peasoup; and my dear friend Kororia who insisted she cleaned my house, Jenny who brought me stew and Madeira cake. Jo-Ann made us dumplings for dinner and helped me unpack all my weekend stuff strewn across my living room, making it a living hell for me.

Mom rings me regularly to ask how my leg is doing. "Same old, same old." I tell her...She sighs and tsskss, but there is nothing much she can do for me being thousands of kilometres away! Plus she has more on her hand coping with her grumpy, demanding husband.

What would we do without our legs? We would use our hands a bit more, and in time, grow longer hands with very awesome grips. It is funny how insecure you feel, having one long leg, and a shorter one. Going down the stairs, I have to remember not to tilt too much, or I topple, like a badly assembled Leggo. It is amazing watching others watch you, as you walk, they fear for you, and are ready to catch, in case you crash like a rainforest tree chopped down.

In the shower, I miss not having the freedom to stand up and scrub the shower walls...And most of all, I miss not being able to run...Time slows down when you are hobbling on crutches. Your spine gets too much work, and your back and shoulder hurts from all the extra exertion you put in the wrong places. Glorious homosapiens, that we are, walking upright, standing on two feet...arms free to do as we please!

It is also amazing how quickly you can innovate. I have found many uses for my crutches. Use them:

1) To whack anyone who crosses me.
2) To draw curtains.
3) To turn the lights off in the night while in bed.
4) To push the start button on my clothes dryer.
5) To to poke/push baskets or to reach for things from far.
6) To shove laundry into a pile without bending!

All in all, the past few weeks and next month will be one where I will have to move like a slug, and retell my tennis injury story ten thousand times. I am not planning to go to parties, not that I am embarrassed. I can't be bothered to socialise.
I am not planning to do much beyond reading and whatever housework I have to do.

Love (both) your achilles need it more than it needs you!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

10,000 hours to be truly good

I bought this book called Outliers, The Story of Success, for Tony as a Christmas present. It was a cheeky thing to do but I learnt this trick from him who excels at buying me things he wanted.

Outliers is written by Malcom Gladwell, the guy with the buffy hair who also wrote Tipping Point. Gladwell’s theory is that geniuses do not become what they are until they have put in the hard yards. Mozart may have wrote his first symphony at 10 but it wasn’t a masterpiece.

He also postulates that cultural environment shapes a lot of what we are or become. My favourite story in the book is about Jewish lawyers, how their forefathers started off in clusters, in parts of the US, often as tailors. But by the second or third generation, their kids quickly become lawyers or doctors. There is a certain level of charm in the story for me, as the grand daughter of a Chinese immigrant to Malaysia. My grandfather owned a laundry shop, so did countless clansmen from his village. My dad was an accounts clerk, I became the first in my family to have a University degree, followed by 4 of my first cousins, and my brother is an accountant. We moved on from the laundry shop because success was imprinted into our minds from the time we were born by our parents who did not want to revert to poverty in China.

It may seem like a cliché to see the Jews dominating the tailoring trade in parts of New York. But this reality appears in most cultures. The Jews who went to America who subsequently became tailors already came with a lot of knowledge about their trade from their country of origin. They used it. My grandfather and his clansmen got together capital and provided the expertise they learnt or acquired, to become the Cantonese “laundromats” of their era. Many Teochews (a dialect group), from Southern China, were provision shop owners, based on what the clansmen shared with each other – their knowledge of acquiring rice, flour, sugar, cooking oil and a 1,000little things you can buy in their shop. And if you want to learn the diamond trade, a good place to start is amongst the close-knit Palanpuris in India, who control the diamond cutting and polishing trade in the world.

I like Gladwell’s story because this is lesson I have been trying to impart to Princess. Hard work is everything; and if you do something long enough, you will get good at what you do. You can’t help where you are born, or to which family you have been born into. These are “given”. But you can be a master of your trade by doing the 20 hours per week for 10 years to be truly good at what you do, be in piano, ballet, tennis, or golf, a writer, a hairdresser or an accountant. The other key is to start early, or to have a head-start. The girls at Princess' tennis club have mostly been playing since 4.5 to 5 yrs old...that's how young we started. There is a girl in Princess' class who does 3 hours of tennis a day...she is no doubt, an elite sportswoman already, at 11. So, it is all about the hours.

Gladwell told CNN in an interview we are often impatient to see success. Success, like good cheese or wine, comes with sufficient time. What we need to do, he says, is to create opportunities or institutions allowing people to acquire the mastery they need to be successful.

Where I depart, I think, from the author, is the difference between "having it" and not having it -- talent or in-born knack, the code in your DNA which gives you just that edge in differentiating yourself between good and outstanding.

Now, I realise why I can’t make good bread -- I need to truly do 10,000 hours of baking before achieving any form of mastery in getting the perfect dough!


Saturday, January 23, 2010

30 years later -- how the world has changed

In 1979, a bunch of us girls, left school, Convent Klang, a highly popular school in our neighbourhood started by the Catholics. I had little knowledge of the world around me, having at that stage never been 30km outside of my precint, Jalan Meru. It was the last year for those of us in 5th Form. We took our major exams -- the one that would mark us for life -- the MCE or Malaysian Certificate Examination. A good aggreggate would mean access into Lower Six (6th Form) while a not-so-good result would relegate us to find other alternatives. For some, 5th Form marks the end of school to find a job, either as a secretary or typist, or whatever it was that came up. Most of us haven't seen each other since 1979.

KFC came to Klang in the 70s
Up until the 5th Form exams, life was of little concern to us girls. We were self-absorbed teenagers, soaking in the Americanisation of the world. In the 1970s, I remember, Colonel Sanders and his red strippy bucket of chicken, first came to Klang. Kentucky Fried Chicken was a treat!

In the 1970s, we girls at school swooned over Donny Osmand. The Beatles were still breaking girls' hearts all over the world. In Klang, Bollywood was already a phenomena way before the word Bollywood came to symbolise Indian prowess in movie making. My friends and I went to watch Bobby, and left the cinema much in love with Rishi Kapoor. I watched Haathi Meere Sathi (a story of friendship between a boy and his elephant) and learnt to sing the first few lines of the song Chal Chal Chal, Meere Sathi, Oh Meere Hathi... Farrah Fawcett was a rave as one of Charlie's Angels, so was the 6 Million Dollar Man.

Bell bottoms and high-handle bars
The 70s came with high handle bars on our bicycles, hippie-inspired dresses, and bell-bottom pants. Then came the platform shoes, and Afro hairstyles. A lot of the fashion didn't make sense to me -- a teenager coping with outrageous growth spurt, pimples and weight issues. Mom seems to be always in a stress mode, and the best times were still the times at school.

I looked forward to school as the school ground is a place to destress. Of course back then, in the 70s, we girls didn't think the word stress even existed. Our teachers were mostly dragon ladies who told us we were useless; and the authority at school was something to be feared at all times. We had tests and report cards to bring home to our parents. Mimicking today's global world, our school had its fair bit of competition -- some girls were always studying. Others like me did what I could get away with -- which meant the barest minimum. Some girls were so talented, everything they touch became magical in a short time. Others were born scholars while others had little chance to show they too can excel.

How to bake with no ovens
I remember well the Indian girls in the lower classes (we were streamed, yes). Poor things. What were the teachers thinking, asking for white shoes and white socks, when they had to walk through muddy estates to get to school during the monsoon season? What were they thinking, asking for ingredients for cookery class when most people were struggling to keep mouths fed in their households. What were they thinking, teaching us to bake when most of us didn't have ovens.

Troubling 70s
The 70s was a testy period in world history. Richard Nixon was trying to end the Vietnam war to no avail and landed himself into hot soup with the Watergate scandal. Vietnam suffered tremendously during the war. It wasn't until 1975 the last of US diplomatic personnel left Vietnam. Shortly after, Cambodia experienced what we now come to know as the Killing Fields, plundered by the Khmer Rouge.

Malaysia was battling Communism in the 70's. We were brought up to feared the name Chin Peng, a Communist guerilla. Communism was loathed. We were told to loath what it represented because of the larger part of the world was still feeling the effects of the Cold War, and the wise men of our time couldn't decide which to fear more -- the Russians' brand of socialism or China's brand.

China was in a bigger mess. Mao's wife and her gang of four was terrorising China. Mao died in the 70s, leaving behind a pit full of vicious vipers to fight it out. Zhou Enlai came into power. I remember his face all over the Chinese newspapers, not that it meant anything to me back then.

Americans, still reeling from the impact of fighting a pointless war that was not theirs to fight, was also facing domestic challenges. The Americans were going through a stockmarket bear phase, and the economy was in the doldrums. Life repeats itself -- or so it seems.

The British government was by then only a shadow of its former self. The coloniser was facing its own challenges at home, massive labour strikes and power shortages. At one stage, Britain had to ask the IMF for funds to keep the country afloat -- sounds familiar?

In the 70s, the world was not a happy place. There was war in the Middle East following the lost of Palestinian land to the Israelis. The Arabic world was up in arms, there was an Arab oil embargo, causing what we know as the oil shock.

Malaysia was then a nation with just over 10 million people (peninsular) and rubber accounted for over 20% of our exports. It was then, still a primary producer. We had Indian friends whose parents worked in the rubber estates. We had Chinese and Malay friends who were rubber smallholders. Tin was by then on the throes of its demise as a lucrative commodity.

Self-centre teenagers
As teenagers in the 70s, these events meant little to us. Our world was was all about us, and our happiness, or the happiness of our parents or immediate and extended families.

I believe school was theraphy for us. We met our friends in the school yard, we traded gossips about the latest episode of Peyton Place, and caught up on the latest hairstyles our posh friends were into (Farah Fawcett was a definite rave for a while).

At the school yard, all the effects of what was happening in the world evaded us. We were with our friends, playing hopscotch, badminton, netball. We were learning about bits of Southeast Asian history. My favourite was the Malacca Sultanate and the Thai Mongkuts and Chulalongkorns. I had little time for Math or Science or Commerce. But I think most of us didn't pay attention because Math and Science were such dry subjects given the way they were taught.

At school, a little bowl of noodles can go a long way. 20 cents was a big deal. We could buy a plate of noodles and a cup of rose-syrup water. And if we saved up enough, we could buy some kerupuk (prawn crackers) or a snack of our choice.

Connected world
Recently, a few of us got connected on Facebook. In the 1970s, the world's vision of computers was there was room for one large computer (IBM's mainframe). The world then progressed to semiconductors, revolutionising processing power. Then the nerds got more clever, and now we have powerful chips that run computers and computer programmers who design super softwares that run fancy algorithms which only, again, nerds can understand. Yet, we thank the nerds for Facebook. Without them, those of us on Facebook wouldn't have got in touch.

I looked for my lost friend Zubaidah on Facebook. And found her to my delight! I couldn't believe my luck. Then I found, our friend Kay, who thanks to her foresight, set up a group on Facebook called Class of 79. First it was her and Anom, then a few of us got hooked up. Now we have caught up with a friend in Adelaide, one in France, one in the US, me in NZ, and a few others. We have over 2 dozens of emails now...what a beauty email is. The girls have had a face-to-face meeting early January, thanks to Zahara Awang, a smiley, can-do gal that she is, who cooked and hosted the lot! I couldn't be there but was watching via Facebook!

We have grown too, from our cocoons. From being self-absorbed, we now have to put up with our kids' self-absorption. Some of my friends have kids in their 20s! Mine is only 11.

Dreams can be built
We learnt over the last 30 years that dreams can be made. We learnt your teachers can't tell you what you cannot be. Your teachers can also give you interest, or the small encouragement that would make a world of difference in how you view your ability. My first real inspiration was Cikgu Zaleha, a fair Malay lady who had class and compassion. We learnt that we can become greater than what our school teachers would have us believe. For some, school wasn't so much a place to learn, but to build character.

I feel so happy just to have reconnected with a part of my life that reflected mostly my self-absorbed teenage years. School was my oasis in many ways. It was at school, amidst the laugher of my friends, that I forgot how hard my parents had to stretch the budget, or how much I was costing them just for school uniform and accessories for school.

At school, we were a vast melting pot -- learning to like what each other eat, and learning how we can be different and yet the same. We all have one basic instict -- that of self-preservation, and that of having a chance to have a go at making life better for ourself, and our family.