Letter writers

My high school best friend sends me pictures of her new place in Sydney. Bright halls and white walls, lavender bunches in shelf corners, framed autumn leaves from her high school trip to Japan, white soy sauce and chia seeds on her kitchen counter, a futon in every room and multicolored Nike running shoes at the door. The letter that comes with the polaroid shots is written in bright blue ink and signed with a serious hand.

Morrey has moved in. Somewhat. He has a drawer of socks and shirts and books in my room and a toothbrush in both bathrooms (mine and the guest bathroom). We don’t see much of each other but we work in labs that face the same side of the street. I have taken to drinking coffee (tell me YOU HAVE NOT!) and microwaved mac and cheese for dinner. With wine. Red wine, chockful of tannine. When Morrey stays over he whips up a storm. We have steaks and roast. Always with a chocolate dessert. He is quite the cook. 

I imagine her laugh at the end of her letters just as she does at the end of her phone conversations. I grab a velvet-inked pen and rip two pages off my sunflower Moleskine and instantly regret it.

Tannine is good stuff. Or at least that is what I tell Nat when he worries about my dark chocolate addiction. He tries to save me from everything with even the slightest hint of caffeine in it because I bust a nerve every time I touch caffeine. I love your home and I love how much you enjoy your home with Morrey in it. How’s the park situation? Nat and I had a long nature walk Sunday morning despite my back still hurting. We spent a good deal of time gawking at pretty nature-al things and filling our lungs with O2. 


The easiest, simplest, happiest way to deal with things you cannot change.

I worked hard at my PhD for 2+ years. Late nights, blocked-out weekends, traveling to meet people and attend conferences in places I never wanted to go, put a lot of things on the back burner and all to make sure this manuscript was complete by graduation 2014. 

Many months, presentations and emails later, I found out I very likely did not make the submissions deadline. 

I was miserable. 

Nat has a saying he repeats every time things don’t go the way we plan – “We’ll make the best of it”. 

So make the best of it, I did — or am doing. 

I started writing 2 papers that I hope will be accepted by end-2014, in collaboration with (by the time those papers are published, will be an) associate professor of U of Hawaii. I spent more time fine-tuning and polishing Malaisie. I went on a 5-day holiday to Seminyak-Ubud-Uluwatu. I unboxed my art-tools and books to work on. I took on more projects. I decided to swim, walk and meditate as often as possible. 

Someone, somewhere on the internet said “we either make ourselves miserable or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.”

Here’s to making the best of sad news & hoping for better breaks to come 🙂 

Passive aggressive rant [please don’t read this, it’s probably not meant for you]

What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? A passive aggressive rant happens somewhere in the universe.

And today, it just happens to be right here, ON MY BLOG.

Passive aggressive rant #1 : Why aren’t you married / Why don’t you already have kids / Why are you not seeing someone?
I appreciate your concern and I need you to know that I’m in a “happy situation” right now. I am not suffering. I am not depressed. I am not wanting something I do not have (except maybe a cello. A cello and a chocolate fountain). In short, I daresay I’m enjoying where I am right now while I’m getting to wherever I want to be in life. And when I meet someone, I’ll know it and yes, I’ll be ready for marriage, kids, the whole works. But if (as your worries go) I do not meet anyone, it wouldn’t make me any less happy because my happiness is not dependent on a person or thing — AND READ THIS: it’s not something I’m mindlessly repeating but something I practice. So, really, don’t worry about me. I promise you:  I will be happy, I will be satisfied with life, I will enjoy myself and I will NEVER be that crazy, old, unmarried cat lady.That or your money back.

Passive aggressive rant #2 : Linguistics? Does that mean you teach English?But you’re so smart. Why are you doing language? Will you make any money after graduating? Why aren’t you a doctor?
Two things : 1. My life, my decisions and 2. Educate yourselves — linguistics isn’t all to do with language teaching and no, I am not an English major. I speak, read, understand and/or write in English, Bahasa Malaysia, Bahasa Indonesia, French, Russian, Portuguese, Spanish (because of Portuguese). I understand Mandarin and Tamil, having studied both languages for 6 years each. I am learning Hebrew. I plan to one day learn Arabic and Urdu. I am interested in translation studies, cognitive processes related to language, etymology, psycholinguistics and polyglotism. I’m not pursuing a PhD to up my career options nor am I doing this because it’s glamorous .. I’m doing this for fun. Yes, you heard me right. I enjoy doing this. Well, it’s not all fun and games .. there are times when it’s arduous, grueling hours of pure sweat and blood but that’s what I like doing. It’s my vocation. My call in life. And how do I know this, you ask? Because I actually turned this decision over thoroughly before going with it. Because I turned down a scholarship to do engineering. Because it’s something I feel strongly about. Also, to answer your question, I’m not a doctor because I’m not great at dealing with sick people day in, day out and the scent of burnt skin makes me throw up. I’m horrible at blood (fainted after the needle at a blood donation drive) and I get squeamish at things like pus and gangrene and festering wounds or maggots on skin. I think doctors and nurses are nothing short of being one of the noblest people around. I love people and I love helping people but I will not make a good doctor. I should stick to writing, learning, researching and staying clear off hospitals. As for the money … I don’t like to talk about it but since we’re on that topic, I make a pretty good living as it is and the bonus — I enjoy doing what I’m doing even though it tires me out. And about being smart … I don’t know how you gauge “smart-ness”. If it’s any good, I teach Physics and Math to O- and A-level candidates, I’m pretty good at Math (no kidding), I graduated with an above 3.91 CGPA, I’ve never had to pay a dollar for both my first degree and my PhD candidature.. so .. if that helps you with the “smart” thing, then good. Otherwise, I’m not your level of “smart”.

Passive aggressive rant #3 : Why do you let Elfie sit on the furniture / lick you?
Elfie, my (sister’s) dog belongs here. It’s her house just as much as it’s my house. If she’s in her house and chooses to sit on say the table/chair instead of on the floor, it’s alright because like I said, it’s her house. You’re being really rude when  you tell her to get off furniture and to be on the floor because you’re the guest here. Plus it’s not like she’s dirty/slobbery. She’s well-groomed, doesn’t stink and she never leaves the house – bonus: she doesn’t shed! So stop with the complaints. It’s hard for me to bubble-wrap your rudeness and hand it back to you.

Passive aggressive rant #4 : Why don’t you drink alcohol/eat pork? Are you trying to be Moslem?
As a joke, I pretend I’m “halal” but really, you’re either Moslem or you aren’t. There’s no try. And for the record, no, I’m not Moslem. I do not like the taste of pork, beef, venison, mutton, etc. I eat fish and chicken though. It’s a matter of personal taste and you don’t have to make everything a religious issue, you know. I’m also allergic go alcohol, both consumed and if applied on skin. It doesn’t bother me because I don’t care for alcohol. I also don’t feel like I’m missing out on it because I have worse things to facilitate a cause for addiction. Like chocolate.

I guess I’ll leave it at that. And now you know the answer to that paradox of a question! Phew. Thought it’d never be solved in this lifetime.

December’s playlist

  1. The Weepies – Same changes
  2. Ingrid Michaelson – Ghost
  3. Diane Birch – Fools
  4. Passenger – Let her go
  5. Birdy – Skinny love
  6. The Script – Nothing
  7. Nickelback – Far Away
  8. And every single video clip of Loki dancing

Books and clothes sorted out for yet another year. Work in progress. Sleep cycle regulated. Peace reintroduced. 

Hello, 2014.

Books, books and more books

Among the things I collect are Bibles, dictionaries, thesaurus, grammar books and academic books in as many languages as I can find them in. I have the Bible in Greek (given to me by a good friend of my parents), French, English, Malay, Indonesian, Hebrew .. in all manner of versions and transliterations from various places I’ve travelled; I have an oak bookshelf (so strong that once I stubbed a toe on it that wouldn’t heal for a month) that literally sags under the weight of my bilingual and monolingual dictionaries and let’s not even get to the academic books. 

So … I am meaning to get my 2000++ books sorted out before the year ends. My books and my clothes too because I’m tired of dressing like someone’s aunt .. which, yes, I am (Ryan Lee’s, Aryan’s, Arianna’s, John’s, Lisa’s, Divya’s, Eu Joe and Eu Jyn’s aunt) but mainly my books. 

The plan is to sort them out by type (thesaurus or dictionary or reference etc) and have a D.I.Y bookshelf for my fiction collection. 

I also believe in delegation and because I’m pretty much tied down with work, I’m PAYING my little elf, Danielle, to do it for me. Will report on the results of my clean-up plan by the weekend. 

*fingers crossed*


Today is the lowest I have ever been in 2013 — physically and mentally. 

Physically : Even though I have been going crazy on vitamin C after sleeping 3-4 hours daily since the beginning of the week, I just couldn’t hold up. The vitamin C didn’t help. Had to skip the final day of the ALAPP conference because of a fever + sore throat + raging headache upon waking up and hello there period. You were supposed to arrive 10 days  later, not today. A quick check with a few girl friends confirmed that yes, one does start an early period under stress. This hurts. 

Mentally : For some time now I have been waking up in a state of panic. Yesterday was the worst. I had a nightmare, and upon waking, rushed out of the room to look for a friend (who was in the dream). Not okay. Also, I’m pretty demotivated even though my self-set deadlines are looming closer and closer. I really have to wrap everything up for good. I need to. 

Things have been surprisingly great. But stressful. The ALAPP conference was good. And since I looked so beaten up, I had to use make up to look halfway decent. I met many new people. Dr David Yoong and Dr Kuang broached questions on my parameters which help me rethink how I’m putting them out.  

I’m sending Michelle texts like “I don’t wanna live” and for some reason she’s not being her usually razor-sharp-witted self and responding with “You do.” 

I wish this would go away soon. Like really soon. Such an energy vampire. 


George Town Literary Festival 2013

On Friday morning (3 a.m. to be precise), I packed a tiny suitcase, pillows, a blanket, my mum and sleepy baby sister into my car and drove all the way to Penang for the GTLF 2013. For 2 days, we drank good coffee (mum, actually. Danielle had hot chocolate and I had Naturalis green tea), stayed holed up in our little room by the beach and read, bought stacks of books, and attended the events at Sekeping Victoria and China House. I had amazing fun as did Danielle. We listened to poetry + readings, heard from world-renowned writers and Danielle got her book signed by Tash Aw. I particularly enjoyed the sessions by Tash Aw, Annelies Verbeke and Christine Otten. Very inspiring and so much to bring home.

On Saturday night, I had the privilege of being driven around to the best local spots for street food and to hang out with the most interesting company — I always feel so blessed to find “my” kind of people, people who do not need alcohol or a dark space with deafening music to enjoy Saturday night. After stuffing myself silly, I ended up in a quaint little art-filled place (which had a disco ball!!) drinking honeyed green tea and laughing the night away, discussing art and life. I miss Penang already and I’m making plans to go right back the soonest I can (after I finish all my work).

If you’re ever in Penang, a place you MUST visit is China House. I had many meals there with Danielle and my mum. The ambiance is beautiful — just like Sekeping Victoria (Sek San is a genius .. I adore the Tempinis Gallery and the Sekeping spaces) and the food, even more memorable. I especially enjoyed the banana bread with cream and their series of home-made ice-cream, particularly the gula melaka flavour with chunks of palm sugar in it. You can always tell when fresh ingredients and no short cuts are taken in cooking and at China House, the wait for the food is definitely worth it. For coffee lovers, Michelle suggests Mugshot Cafe and I’d suggest Gusto, both on Chulia Street. Wes messaged me on Friday saying “You’re in Penang! Stop eating hipster food!” after I posted pictures of Mugshot’s delicious bagels. The local street food I had here were o-chien, spicy hokkien noodles, ais kacang, nasi kandar, fried koay teow, chee cheong fun and sweet+sour chicken rice. Not bad at all for a 3-day trip!

Definitely looking forward to GTLF 2014. My book will be out by then too 🙂

How decisions are made: a musing

Life is weird. 

One moment it’s 8 a.m. and I refuse to get out of bed, wanting to figure life out, almost in tears, fighting my guilt and pain but pulling myself out anyway to trudge through 2 hours of diodes with my 17-year-olds. The next moment it’s noon and I’m sitting at a coffee place in the middle of nowhere, breathing in second hand cigarette smoke, watching Manuel edit my French poems and letting Michelle talk me into doing my eyebrows because they drive her insane from not being tidy. 

Coffee, cigarettes and Tintin. Tintin, cigarettes and coffee. 

So strange that in a coffee place I found out that my university best friend is pregnant and that her baby is due in March. That in this same coffee place, it was decided that I’m taking the C2 exam in Jan. That I also booked an eyebrow appointment and a nail appointment. I also settled what to wear for the reading and who I’d meet for dinner and whether I should buy the Bentley cello I’ve always wanted since I was 12 instead of taking the holiday to HK. Life decisions are not made in a coffee place. Neither are poems supposed to be finalised and edited here.

Manuel goes through the third cup of coffee. Michelle stubs out cigarette number two. 

All I can think of is that I should be working on method. Method. Method. 

However uncomfortable, however painful, life doesn’t give up on you. You shouldn’t give up on it. 

Coffee places is what’s strange. Not life. 

Like going on a sky cruise with cotton candy as clouds

That’s how I’d sum up the past 5 days. Although I had one foot in and the other out of my sister’s plans to visit our cousins in East Java due to work and the cost, it all turned out so much more than I expected and left me reeling hours after we arrived home, unpacked and went about our usual routine. We visited the beautiful remains of the thalassocratic archipelagic empire Majapahit and because we were the ONLY tourists for miles (it was a hot, dust-stormy day), we took full advantage of the space. We took pictures of the statuesque artifacts, basked on the sun-baked steps of ancient monuments til we were told not to touch them, ate food that tasted so good but smelled awful, bought Steve Madden footwear, window shopped for lovely silk batik, and spent time with the cousins (watching Thor in this beautiful cinema I first thought it was a 7-star hotel, swimming for hours at end and eating Chinese food). I even made tuna-paprika pasta for breakfast and slept in (but still had eye bags. Boo.). I was a little sad to leave because the house was empty by the time we were supposed to head for the airport and I had to settle with sticking post-it notes on everyone’s room door to say goodbye and how much I was gonna miss them. Thank God for What’s App and for Christmas being a couple of weeks away.

The moment I touched down at 2010h, Wednesday night, it was back to reality. I turned on my phone and found a gazillion missed calls, all work-related. Work missed me! It’s funny because no one else outside work texted/called.Lol. I spent the night and the next day working and teaching classes and the whole of today meeting old school friends and trying to work but finishing Ruth Ozeki’s intricately plotted A Tale for the Time Being. Don’t blame me. It’s unputdownable. And super realistic. I think I spent 5 hours curled up in my mother’s bed reading with Elfie snuggled by my side. Bliss. If you’re feeling exceptionally nice today, please go like Ruth Ozeki on Facebook. I should really get started on work and lock my Kindle up in a box. Ozeki’s is the 3rd book I finished since I got the Kindle last week. Not a good thing because I should be working instead. 

So much is going on. So much is changing. I expected the year to “sprint” to an end but it isn’t. Things are fading. Some things are slipping away, others are gaining definition and life as it is, has shifted paradigms. 




Breathe easy

Sit quiet. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat.

I wanted to buy Onitsukas to celebrate getting halfway through the Nobel symposium proceedings. I wanted to sit by the lake in the dark watching the kayakers plough the varsity lake while chugging on Merlot and holding hands with my best friend. I wanted to finish writing the song I wrote. I wanted to record the month in Polaroid. I want to pack for Friday’s shoot and for the trip.

Instead, I keep reading, finishing the proceedings in record time. Routine becomes meditation. The silence is deafening but welcome at the same time. I do more. I read more. I push more. And the silence becomes heavier. I say hi on Facebook and sleep in strange beds which feel like my very own. I wash my hair and use only a pea-sized blob of conditioner. Again, silence. Like life is moving in slow motion.

My friends go through rough patches themselves — one changes her name at the advice of a numerologist, the other resorts to meditation and a whole lot of positive thinking. I can identify. I understand the constant burning gut sensation, the ever-present persistent heartache that throbs like a stubbed toe, the constant feeling of fighting back vomit. It seems easy to give up. To climb into bed, wedged under layers of pillows and blankets (fluffy pets are a plus), cry and wallow for a bit, get someone to hold you and tell you that everything will be okay. But we don’t do that. We get up. We spend more time in the shower. We brave through the day and give it our best shot. We go home, listen to soothing music and sip on teacups of wine til we fall asleep.

Work is salvation. Music is salvation. Dreams are salvation.

Understand that everyone screws up. Accept that things fall apart. Know that life is a learning process and we always grow — into hopefully better people than we were yesterday. No one lives in the past. You have today. I have today. You have the future. I have the future.

“No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” – Samuel Beckett