Going from 1 to 2: the long awaited BABY news.

Good people of the world, I have a very important announcement to make: after what seems like a lifetime in child-rearing years (9 precisely, next Australia Day) I’m going to give my singleton, Amanda, a sibling. Yes, you read right. I’ve got a bun in the oven that’s due this Christmas. It’s a boy. And yes, I’ve been teased about hogging all the public holidays – as though one can time these things.

I shared the news with my facebook friends this Monday and everyone was extremely congratulatory. After all, 9 years in anyone’s book is a long, long, Rapunzel-please-let-down-golden-hair long time. The question hovering on everyone’s lips, but which none were rude enough to ask, at least not openly, is “Is this baby the result of an accident“?

I can emphatically say No. This is very much a planned baby, one whose journey into being has been marked by way more concerns than Amanda’s (it has a lot to do with me being much older), whose very arrival has been anticipated by HRH’s clan (yes, I don’t mean family) for roughly 2 decades. HRH, who you might remember me saying is Chinese-school-educated, is a second son of a second son whose clan adhere to the tradition of giving all males a “generation name” from a typically 40 character “family poem”; a once flourishing practise that today is followed only by the most traditional of Chinese families. With HRH’s brother and male cousins all having resisted marriage, this boy is his paternal great grandfather’s only male descendant to go forth into the future, a living symbol of the clan’s continuity.

Although his English name Ethan Alexander was chosen by HRH, his Chinese name Tzetan (pronounced “Certain”) was picked out at the time of HRH’s mother’s death from bowel cancer, some 18 years ago, etched on her tombstone as a promise to perpetuate her lineage, since dying without descendants is very bad for a Chinese person. Amanda’s Chinese name is there too, but as we are a sexist, ageist and dare I say, racist, people (that’s just being honest), use of her name was optional whereas this boy’s is not. There is one other male name there but I’ve already informed HRH I’m shutting down the baby factory after this. In more ways than one, this has been a difficult pregnancy for me and even HRH agrees that my body might not be able to cope with another.

In the first 4 months, I had horrible “night sickness” and was constantly fatigued. For a meat-eater, I couldn’t stand the smell, much less taste of meat, and had terrible sleep, which left me even more run down than what I already was. At the 12 week mark, I went for the obligatory blood test and ultrasound to determine the health and development of the baby. I walked in to the doctors’ rooms with roughly a 1:300 chance of having a baby with down syndrome, I left with 1:83. I was told that this put me in the high-risk category.

Even though I knew that in no way had I contributed to those odds, I was distraught and devastated all the same. I opted to have my blood extracted (from my arm) at a cost of AUD1250 (with zero subsidy or reimbursement from my medical insurer or the government) and flown to the US for the Verifi Prenatal test that’s just been recently offered to expectant mums in Australia.

A close friend of mine on being told the news commented that, “It’s good to have money.”

I replied, “Money doesn’t change the outcome of the test. All I’m buying is information.”

I would have much rather not gone through the angst of being told my high-risk as I walked around with lead balls in the pit of my stomach for the next 3 weeks – it ended when I received a call from my doctor with results from the test. 99.9% accurate, I was told the baby is healthy, normal and well, a boy. I was so rapt at the news I quite forgot HRH’s and my desire for another girl. Yes, we are strange Chinese. Most people would think we’d want a boy but he and I actually wanted a second daughter because we are so enamoured by our first.

Throughout this pregnancy, we’ve consistently said to Amanda, “The only reason we want another child is because you’re fabulous. You’ve made us very happy just by being yourself and we want to give you someone for when we are dead and gone.”

Amanda had the mother of all melt-downs when she was first told. I was so upset by her reaction that I had to leave the room while HRH placated her. With weeks to go until D-Day, Amanda has not only come around to having a sibling, she’s actually looking forward to it. She’s already talking about the games she’ll play with her brother when he is old enough.

In my second trimester, the nausea subsided and my energy returned, but so too did my appetite with a vengeance. At this point I could out-eat even HRH who is 6ft 1 inches tall. Where he ate just the 1 Vietnamese roll, I had 3. Suddenly Australia portions were just the right size. I could wolf down a typical main meal and still have space leftover for desert. Predictably I gained weight at an alarming rate of 1 kg a week. My back began to kill me and I had to see a physiotherapist at the hospital, who kindly undid the knots in my back, kitted me out with tubi grip and taught me some exercises.

Around 26 weeks, I went for a Glucose Tolerance Test. I didn’t expect to have any problems since I guzzled 5 litres of Ribena a day while carrying Amanda and was perfectly fine. That, on top of the requisite Boston Bun for breakfast. This time around, apart from the vast quantities of food I was consuming, my diet was a lot better. The midwives I was now seeing told me that under new guidelines, I had gestational diabetes. One of the hospital’s dieticians rang me and we went over my diet. Without my realising it, I was eating enough carbs for the whole Australian army.

At 28 weeks, I looked like I was 32 weeks along. At 32 weeks, I looked like I was due. Thankfully on my new “diabetes-friendly diet” my weight, 20 kg more than when I fell pregnant, has stalled. Another mother from school, also due about the same time and in the same “no-sugar boat” as myself, and I started to go for walks after school drop off.  We formed ourselves a “Diabetes Club”, the purpose of which serves to spur us on to eat within the recommended guidelines while still allowing us to enjoy the foods we love. In the weeks since, we’ve both controlled our blood sugar while partaking in such delicious meals as Seafood TomYam soup, Kerabu Tanghoon (Peranakan Green Bean Noodle Salad), Soto Ayam ( Indonesian Chicken Soup),  Tekwan (Palembang Fish Ball Soup), Yam Woon Sen (Thai Glass Noodle Salad) and so on and so forth.

A picture of me 35 weeks pregnant.

A picture of me 35 weeks pregnant.

Now in my third trimester, my water-retention is so bad that my toes resemble sausages and my neck has all but disappeared into my puffy face and shoulders. The skin feels tight and somedays, I can’t bend any of the fingers in my right hand, which, along with the left, has been afflicted by carpal tunnel syndrome. Sleep is sort of a hit and miss affair, with me no longer needing PJs since I am 5 or more degrees warmer than everyone else. I have been sleeping on my side since 25 weeks as on my back, I simply can’t breathe. The fatigue has returned and with it, pain in the pelvis and knees.

So there we are, folks. Soon enough my parents will be here to help me through the period post-birth. Like with Amanda, I will be observing the traditional Chinese practise of “confinement”, which lasts for a whole month. During this time I will be fed a special diet, mostly consisting of copious amounts of ginger with protein, and won’t be allowed to bathe or go out of the house. Don’t fear for me: I’ve already bought myself 2 cans of Klorane dry shampoo to manage.

So if you don’t hear from me for the next couple of months, you know what I’m up to. If this is to be my last post for the year, I wish you a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year! May we meet again in 2014!

 

 

 

 

The Great Gatsby: is it a story of love and lost or inevitable self-destruction?

By now everyone’s probably heard of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”, said to  be the magnum opus of a master storyteller, based very much on his own life, which some might say was defined by a compelling need to be a success, in order to win the woman of his dreams. Made for the sixth time into a movie, this adaptation stars none other than Hollywood heavyweight Leonardo DiCaprio, himself too, like Fitzgerald, of humble origins, once a long time ago.

I think it’s instinctive for those of the middle and lower classes to cheer for the underdog, even when that underdog assumes alpha status and thus, The Great Gatsby has that timeless appeal of poor boy – Gatsby – made good; his subsequent quest for what I’d call “social validation” by the rich whose ranks he’d managed to  scheme and maneuver his way into is what the more aspirational among us can relate to. Most men I’ve observed, like to imagine themselves as him. Women like to imagine that a young, handsome fellow such as Gatsby would set out to conquer the financial world, only to sleep alone on a bed of fine Egyptian Cotton a good 5 years just for them.

Perhaps I’m too cynical for a tragic love story such as this, but I watched it 3 times, the first 2 times with Amanda and the last with HRH, to make sense of the melancholy I felt after the first time watching it. And as a writer, I was keen to see how Fitzgerald had drawn from his own life because, as we acknowledge in the business, the best told stories are the ones we know most intimately. Furthermore, I was told by an old friend that a cousin of mine (on my father’s side, estranged due to family politics) worked on the special effects for The Great Gatsby and since she’d raved about his work in the past, going so far as to send links to me with it, I decided that even if not for the sake storyline analysis, I had to see the great talent she was determined to show me.

The story is set in the 1920s, an era characterised by superficial strictures on morality and underlying excess and decadence. In it we have Gatsby, the protagonist, Daisy, his married love-interest, Tom, her blue-blooded husband, Myrtle, his mistress and Nick, Daisy’s cousin, narrator of this timeless tale. Summarily, Nick is forever scarred by enabling Gatsby’s relentless pursuit of Daisy, whose flakiness combined with duplicity, eventually costs Gatsby his life.

The story is timeless even in the year 2013 because we all still want to get ahead – now perhaps more than ever – and we all still fall in love with impossible people in ever more impossible situations. It calls to mind a poem I once studied doing English Literature in secondary school about whether it is better to love in hell than to suffer in heaven. Personally, I’m partial to the latter, but you’ve probably figured out by now I’m not the most romantic person around. I did however, so like how Gatsby woo-ed Daisy.

The third reason why The Great Gatsby is timeless is because even in the year 2013, mid November at that, men are still expected to make a go of themselves before committing to a woman. Now, definitely more than ever, with the steep price of housing and spiralling cost of living, peer pressure to live a lifestyle commensurate with one’s social standing, that’s proving to be even more impossible than finding someone suitable to fall in love with. Alpha men may settle for Beta and Gamma women – in fact, most rather prefer it that way – but women, all the way from Alpha to Epsilon want to marry Alpha men. But such is life; we struggle and strive for our 5 minutes in the sun.

At the end of my viewing with Amanda, she remarked, “It’s NOT really worth falling in love with such a person (like Daisy), is it?”

I said, “Why do you say so?”

“She didn’t even send Gatsby a flower when he died.”

“That’s why you’ve to be careful who you fall in love with. There are worse things than not receiving flowers when you’re dead.” In my mind I was thinking, things like people disappearing for donkey years and expecting you to still be in love with them. I fancy that Gatsby was not so much “the most hopeful person” that Nick ever came across or is likely to come across again in his life, but the most unrealistic one: Gatsby “felt wedded to Daisy” even though Daisy was, for all the time that he was away, wedded to someone else.

Watching the movie with HRH, I was taken aback to see he had tears in his eyes. Usually, with his inviolable sense of right and wrong (as opposed to my flexible one) he sides with the chuck-holds; after all, one most relates to the character closest to one’s self. Husbands relate to other husbands, wives to other wives. But with Tom being a compulsive cheat and born-privileged racist one to boot, HRH couldn’t help but side with Gatsby, who, when you think about it, is the very definition of a home-wrecker.

HRH exclaimed, “But what pure love he has! To love only the one person.”

I contend that Gatsby was in love with an image he had of himself  and Daisy just happened to be a means by which to manifest it.

Afterwards HRH had me find on youtube “Young and Beautiful”, the haunting theme song from The Great Gatsby by Lana Del Ray. You can click the video below to have a listen.

Having said all this, the movie is a well-crafted adaptation of Fitzgerald’s masterpiece through which we can all study human motivation and character, the intricacies of relationships and the consequences of choice. Here is the trailer if you’ve yet to catch it. And like the song accompanying the official trailer, I do agree that “Love is Blindness.”

 

To tell or not to tell.

Intrinsic to the Australian education system is the weekly performance by children of an item known fondly as “Show and Tell.” Depending on the age of children and class size, most are rostered to stand in front of their peers for something like 5 minutes. When Amanda was in kindy, aged 4, her weekly “Show and Tell” had no designated topic; the purpose then was simply for children to get used to standing before an audience and opening their traps. As you may expect, being my child, Amanda had no difficulty doing this. Her first “public performance” was at the age of 2, unprompted, on a wooden dias of a Japanese restaurant, to which our fellow diners clapped afterwards.

As Amanda got to grade 1 and then 2, “Show and Tell” became a more structured activity. We parents were given hand-outs of topics our children had to prepare for in advance. We were to help them, if they needed help, which was almost every time. I began to suspect this “Show and Tell” to be an means by which parent-involvement in the upbringing of a child is gauged, if not why else was I – by no means an enthusiastic cook – spending the better part of a morning making Chinese pork jerky for 25 seven year olds, just so Amanda could talk about “Malaysian Food” for 5 minutes? You can click on this link to have a look at the recipe I used.

When Amanda, aged 8, entered grade 3 at the beginning of this year, “Show and Tell” became “The News”; but the basic premise remained the same – the child still had to present something to his or her classmates in the allotted time. In this new school of hers, children are free to choose what they want to talk about. This week Amanda wanted to regale her classmates with her new purchase from the newsagent across from our street, her favourite store.

“BOOOOOORRRRIIING!” I called out with a yawn.

As Amanda’s mother, I have to be honest with her. People showing off their new crap, as they do on facebook day in and day out – ball gowns, kiddy clothes, new cars etc – bore the hell out of me. I have worked in TV before and trust me kiddo, unless it is a very slow day, “Cat rescued by fireman” – honourable though it may be of the fireman to save a distressed cat – does not make it on to the evening news. We want action, drama, a pulling of the ol’ heart-strings to make the audience to ditch their day-dreaming over stale milk.

“But I don’t have anything else to present!” Amanda said.

“Who said so?” I countered. “You could tell your classmates about tempe, a staple food of Indonesian people, which you tried last night. Since I showed you the video, you can tell them how it is made, what it tastes like. You can mention how it has kept the poor of Indonesia well-nourished. Or how about that video (of Indonesia’s poor) eating KFC from the rubbish dump? Surely that will pique everyone’s interest? Or what “Children For Sale” in India?”

Here are some of the videos I showed Amanda over dinner two nights ago. The reason tempe came up was because I had scored a fresh piece from an Indo friend; a real treat because the ones sold in stores have a bitter aftertaste that like people, comes with age.

My Indo friend tells me that the poor eating KFC from bins is a fact, not fiction.

“Yes, but that’s what you want me to present. I don’t think children are interested in any of this,” said Amanda.

And they are interested in 235 piece boxed-set of art supplies you bought from Newspower?” I said, sarcasm-toned down specially for her age. “I’m not carrying that box home once you’ve finished your presentation, you know? I’m not gonna be responsible if someone nixes it or ruins it either.”

“Fine. Fine,” she said, sounding like what most women do when forced to do something they don’t like.

When we arrived at school, I chirpily informed her Thursday and Friday teacher, Mrs D, in front of the assembled class that I had saved them all from a presentation on arts supplies.

“Instead, you will be hearing about ‘Children For Sale in India’,” I said, rubbing my now-chubby paws (due to water-retention, causing carpal tunnel syndrome) with glee.

Amanda returned from school later in the day and said, “Mrs D requests that in future we only present ‘child-friendly’ topics.”

“What was wrong with your presentation?” I asked. I thought it was better than the same-old, same-old “This is what so and so bought me”, “These are the sausages I ate on the weekend”…inane topics one and all.

She said that “Children for Sale” scared the children.”

“And it should. This is what happens to children in India, Brazil, Nepal…all the poor places in the world. They get sold into slavery and prostitution. How about eating KFC from dustbins? Didn’t they feel so lucky to not have to eat from bins?”

“I told them to imagine a bin of chicken in our classroom. No one said they’d touch it. Mrs D said we are very lucky to live in a country where we have fresh food that hasn’t been consumed by someone else. But the talk may have offended Sophie (her classmate)?”

“Why is that?”

“Sophie was born in Indonesia.”

“Then Sophie is a wuss. A big fat tofu. She may be born in Indonesia but she doesn’t know the first thing about being Indonesian; she can’t speak the language, doesn’t know the culture, much less the socio-economic situation. It’s like you being offended because someone in Melbourne (Amanda was born in Melbourne) murdered someone else. Does that make you a murderer? What’s it got to do with you?”

“I think my classmates would have preferred to hear about the arts supplies.”

“Ahhh…all big fat tofus,” I said, despondently.

Somehow I have the feeling Amanda won’t be asking me to suggest topics for “Show and Tell” from now on; which is just as well. I don’t want to be making more Chinese pork jerky.

The straw that breaks the camel’s back: when hired help pushes you too far.

Up until very recently, I thought of myself as an exemplary employer: I took on a single mother on an AUSAID scholarship who agreed to come and work for me once a fortnight. Her hourly wage, which I should have asked beforehand, but thought would be reasonable since she is a devout Christian whose kid plays with mine, was AUD32 per hour, CASH ONLY. This, I discovered not long after our arrangement began back in April, is above the normal rate  of AUD25 per hour for a house the size of mine in our area.

Notwithstanding, I thought maybe she’d bring something extra to the job like outstanding work ethic (punctuality would be nice) or an eye for the finer details (like picking up ALL things from the floor when vacuuming). After all, she wasn’t the first cleaner I’ve ever had. Since I’ve had other cleaners in the past, and rolled up my own sleeves to straighten this pad, I have a pretty good idea of what needs to be done and how long such a job will take.

It’s about now you probably wonder why I even hired a cleaner. I’ll give you two words. The first: laziness. The second: rhinitis. My nose goes all crazy on me for days after a cleaning marathon. Perhaps, the other two (as in Amanda and HRH) can create mess faster than I can clean.

Maybe my first cleaner set the bar too high for the others to follow: we met while I was living in Wanganui, New Zealand, nauseous with all-day-sickness from being pregnant with Amanda. A young grandmother, M, knew just what a house like mine needed. Asking only NZD12 per hour CASH, she would arrive on the dot to vacuum all the floors, mop the lino-ed surfaces, scrub out the shower stall, euphemistic throne and vanity, wash all the plates and pots mounting in the sink and dust and oil all wooden furniture in the hour and a half allotted to her. Afterwards, I’d fix her a cup of tea and we’d sit in my lounge for a friendly chat.

HRH’s only objection to having M clean for us was that he often saw her in Emergency: one of her sons used to routinely kick and punch her. Sometimes she brought in one of her grandchildren who was being abused by the child’s stepfather. As such, HRH saw her working for me as blurring the doctor-patient boundary. I saw ours as a very good deal.

Subsequent cleaners all did a passable job, but were no where near as efficient as M. Moving to Melbourne, I hired a Chinese lady who attended the same church as a friend of mine for AUD12 per hour CASH. The Chinese lady was newly-divorced and as such, probably had not made childcare arrangements for her daughter in time for her first clean with me. She asked to bring the child along and I acquiesce. The cleaning went well enough but there were too many times when she paused to give me “marriage advice” – extolling her situation as superior to that of a married person since she was no  longer hindered in achieving her “financial goals” as she’d gotten rid of the deadweight – ie. husband.

I allowed the Chinese lady to prattle away since I supposed she was simply venting, but decided not to hire her again when she said, “Your microwave is so cheap. Who can believe you are married to a doctor with such a cheap microwave?

My next cleaner was a friend’s sister, a university student, who was keen to work for AUD10 per hour CASH (since this was more than the Chinese restaurants, which only paid AUD7 or AUD8) but didn’t know how to do anything. I spent much of our first meeting showing her what was expected of her, what to use for each task and how to use an iron since at that point the dishes in the sink had been replaced by HRH’s crinkly work shirts. Also by then, my regular hour and a half had also morphed to an acceptable 2.5 hours.

After the friend’s sister, I did without a cleaner for a while. Amanda, then just over a year old, was napping on and off and I found I could get some tidying done while she slept. It wasn’t until we moved to Brisbane, after Darwin, Cairns and Townsville, that I decided to employ a cleaner once more. Our apartment in Brisbane wasn’t so much big as it was perpetually dusty. On my weekly visits to Paul and Tania’s up the road, I began to notice that their home was always clean and dust-free so I asked them to let me on their secret; were they hiring someone? And if so, could this person come clean for me too?

A couple of doors down from them lived 15 Indian guys, all in need of some form of work. Paul and Tania’s regular cleaner, who was an electrician in the old country, couldn’t take any more clients on, but he could pass my query along to one of the guys. Usually, I’d be hesitant to allow any male into my home, but my next cleaner, S, came with a indirect recommendation (for safety that is) from Paul and Tania’s cleaner, who I’d never met, but who did a good job. For AUD17 per hour CASH, S did what he was asked to do, but I felt the clean wasn’t as thorough as what Paul and Tania’s cleaner did for them. That, plus he was in the habit of leaving 10 minutes early. Hence, I used S only a couple more times before I had him swapped with another of his housemates.

My cleaner after S, R, also worked for AUD17 per hour, but was more open to instruction. With a masters in biology, R, was whiling away time post-graduation, until the Indian government offered him a job. Even though he wasn’t such a fantastic cleaner, R gave me many useful tips on the preparation of pulaos and biryanis, gleaned from his other job as a cook in an Indian restaurant, for which he was only paid AUD10 per hour.

After R came K of Nepal, who also worked for Amanda’s besties mum, Melissa. K charged AUD25 per hour CASH but brought a knowing for how to clean borne of experience to the job. Aside from showing her where I kept all the cleaning implements, I didn’t have to instruct her on what needed doing. I could sit there with my laptop at the dinner table, banging out a thousand words an hour while she went about her business.

Sadly, because K was so good, she was offered a full-time job 3 or 4 jobs in to our arrangement. To the job hunters reading this: that just goes to show you that if you do things well, someone is bound to take notice and offer you something better. K was courteous enough to call me up to inform me of the development and to my surprise, express how much she enjoyed coming to clean for me!

After K, I probably had another 1 or 2 forgettable persons come to clean, but as with M, the bar was yet again too high for them to reach. Which brings me back to my most recent cleaner. What broke this camel’s back was NOT that she routinely came late (sometimes by as much as 15 minutes) or finished early (by as much as 10 minutes) or didn’t do things without me pointing it out to her, tersely I might add (like wiping down the bathroom mirror, vanity and taps or vacuuming the staircase), or allowing some spots to go un-vacuumed, or using a broom to sweep downstairs when she could have used the vacuum in the time given to her…it was that after paying her AUD32 per hour CASH (which means she pays NO TAX on any of it), SHE OPINED she was too poorly paid for the job. She text messaged me to inform me that as of October, her hourly rate would be raised to AUD37.

I smiled to myself. Nay, actually my face broke into a Cheshire cat grin, for as you might realise by now, I’m not all strawberries and cream in the behaviour department. Certainly not when my tail has been stepped on more times than I care to recall.

My response was, “About your increase, your hourly rate is already $32 (TAX FREE!). My friend who works as anaesthetist (that’s a specialist doctor) only charges his patients $34 (which he has to pay tax on) for calls out in the dead of night. Someone offered to clean for me for AUD15 per hour (that’s less than half your rate) a month ago but I declined to take her on because I was sympathetic towards your situation (single mother on limited wage). I’m sorry but this increase is untenable. I will no longer be requiring your services.”

She apologised for having brought up the raise but the dye was already cast. The poor often say that the rich (which I am not) are out to screw them when, from observation, the opposite is more the case. Since then, we’ve run into each other a couple of times. Initially, she’d scurry away – in embarrassment perhaps – but as I’ve acted like nothing has changed between us, when everything in fact has, we can still be civilised in front of the children – which is all I really care about right now.

Old China Meets New China.

I’ve been told, nay reminded, by many Malaysian Chinese friends that we, Malaysian Chinese, are different from China Chinese. We’re different too from Singapore Chinese, the majority in Singapore, and Indonesian Chinese, who make up less than 3% of the Indonesian population, who, unlike us Malaysian Chinese, had Chinese language and culture suppressed under Suharto. As if those are not enough distinctions between various members of what is essentially the same race, give or take the influences of our adopted countries, being a master race, the majority, a minority or in the case of Malaysian Chinese, a majority minority, I’m reminded every time I go back to Malaysia that there are another 2 categories into which we are divided: Chinese-educated and non-Chinese-educated.

Meanwhile Amanda, who was born here, announces, “I’m not really a Chinese person. I was just born into a Chinese body,” which would be blasphemy to many Malaysian Chinese, but ironically, it’s a sentiment my China Chinese friends seem to relate to.

Few seem to give as much thought to their racial identity as we, known collectively as Overseas Chinese, do. With us Overseas Chinese, being our version of Chinese is a full-time vocation, an uninterrupted show of filial-piety to long-dead ancestors, a badge by which we distinguish ourselves from the other races we’re born amongst and raised to adulthood with. China Chinese don’t need prove their Chinese-ness. They just are, regardless of purity of bloodlines, cultural-adherence or linguistic-proficiency, Chinese.

Maybe it’s because they don’t expect me to be able to speak Mandarin, much less insist on doing so all the time, that they are effusive of what my fellow Malaysian Chinese consider to be rather atrocious Mandarin. Then again, I suppose it’s where you set the bar. HRH, himself a fluent Mandarin speaker thanks to 12 years of Chinese school, says I sound like a Westerner speaking Mandarin.

“Would you rather I not speak Mandarin then?” I ask him. “If Mandarin is all you speak, I’m sure you’d rather I sound bizarre than not make an attempt to communicate with you at all.”

Perhaps, one can only improve through practise, and practise is nigh impossible if you are overly self-concsious. Furthermore, it should be noted that those who point out your inadequacies, have inadequacies of their own. All those Malaysian Chinese who moan about my Mandarin for instance, only speak mangled English or market Malay at best. But as I said, what I’ve found among China Chinese is a complete lack of justification for who they are. They simply are Chinese. For instance, due to Mao, they cannot understand why anyone would follow the orders of an Emperor.

“The Emperor used to be God incarnate. You did whatever he asked or else you and your kin would be put to death,” I say, explaining why 500 nobles of the Ming court would agree to accompany the legendary princess Hang Li Po to Malacca, in what was, one would assume, a one-way journey to an alien land.

How do I know this? Because it’s what Malaysian history books I grew up reading told me; it’s what learned elders say when expounding the Confucian principles underpinning our practise of filial-piety: children obey parents, parents obey rulers, rulers obey Emperor. Even without an Emperor, children still have to obey parents and parents still have to obey the law for there to be a well-run state.

Have you ever heard of the Er Ya?” I ask them.

Most shake their head; one or two have heard of it but can’t say for sure they know what it is about. If you must know, these China Mamas are all university-educated, some with multiple degrees.

“Have you ever wondered why we Chinese do the things we do? Why our relatives have the individual titles they do? What defines our relationship with them?”

Few may have heard of Er Ya, but it is the oldest surviving Chinese encyclopaedia known, from which we – especially Overseas Chinese – unknowingly draw guidance for our personal conduct from. So yes, I may be a bastardised non-Chinese-educated Chinese, whose Mandarin sounds decidedly phelgm-free, whose Cantonese is only slightly better, but there’s a core of me that’s undeniably Chinese.

But why should I have to justify any of this? Am I any less Chinese if, like my China Chinese mates, I don’t? Must I have a PHD in Mandarin and be able to recite all the classics from memory to be deserving of the race identified on my birth certificate? Or am I not just what it says I am?

Recently I’ve taken to identifying myself not as Chinese, not as Peranakan, but as a dinosaur. “Yes, you better believe it. I’m a jurassic creature,” I joke, before sharing with them the news that China’s top brass has visited Malacca to observe ancient Chinese culture in practise, conserved ironically by the Peranakan, descendants of the first Chinese settlers to the Malayan Peninsula.

I often feel that we modern-day Malaysian Chinese are the result of an unintended social experiment into cultural transplantation. The reason our forefathers’ culture has survived the competing foreign influences of our adopted homeland is because we cleave to it with a ferocity not shown by the Chinese communities in neighbouring lands. It is this that often puts us at odds with the Malays, because in order for us to defend our culture, we’ve had to reject all others. This of course precludes any meaningful integration. Having said that, we already know this. If not, why the on-going debate about what it means to be Chinese?

 

Inhabitants of border-town: caught between generation X and Y.

Before I went to Melbourne, I came across this article call Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy. Even without reading it, I knew the reasons why Generation Y Yuppies are unhappy: they’re spoon-fed softies who expect to have the wealth and fame of…name whoever you want…minus the years of toil that person has endured to be who he or she is. After reading Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy, I was even more convinced that this is the case. The only question I had, as a 78 baby, was whether I was Generation Y Yuppy (in which case, I retract my less than flattering earlier statement about Generation Y Yuppies) or a Generation X Yuppy (which no one writes about because we are generally well-adjusted, if not particularly exciting, members of society).

Let’s face it: no one is going to dedicate virtual or real pages to you if you pay your taxes, stay within the defined limits of the law, produce the national average of children and have a retirement plan in place. Lawmakers, sociologists, journalists, even your fellow bloggers, are only interested if you are creating a ruckus about essentially nothing, spending your inheritance to sustain the entire economy, and not keeping up your end of the national repopulation plan. Hence the endless yarns about Generation Y Yuppies.

So being born on the border between X and Y, where do I fall? Many of my friends – coincidentally all border-town inhabitants – have asked themselves the same thing.

“But I’ve always been responsible,” insisted one. “I took the first job that came along.”

“I’ve never thought of unicorns,” said I, in reference to how unrealistic some Generation Y Yuppy aspirations are; although there was a time when I harboured a desire for Pegasus-type achievements. That’s the border-line influence I suppose.

Then of course came reality, followed by a crash down to earth. I can’t say that I dream of anything more than a overflowing bank account anymore. The Generation X Yuppy in me has come to a begrudging acceptance that bills are paid with money and not unrealised potential or good feelings inspired by something that may or may not materialise with plenty of hard slog. Unlike most Generation X-ers, I’m not waiting for Boomers to shove off so I can take their place. I can’t speak for the other X-ers, but I certainly have nothing to gain from them vacating their perch at the top of the resource tree: I have not asked or taken a dime from my parents since graduation and leave it to their discretion to do what they want with what they have. It’s after all their money. Thus my own advice and concerns for my daughter, a Millennium Yuppie.

“You can sing, paint and collage all you want but just make sure you have a proper day job,” I often tell her. “Mama and Papa are not going to give you anything more than love and a good education.” That’s also to keep away the would-be gold-diggers – there’s too many of those around.

The mistake Boomers made with their Generation Y offspring is they imbued them with this sense that they can achieve anything when in reality, they can achieve anything with untold amounts of luck (which is God-given), talent (also God-given), plenty of blood, sweat and tears. Boomers also neglected to teach their Generation Y offspring anything about money.

If my Beijing friend is to believed, Generation X and Generation Y yuppies are the same the world over. You can tell what generation a person belongs to simply by observing his or her spending.

Those born in the 70s are used to saving a large part of their wagesThose born in the 80s, like my sister, don’t save anything,” she said. “Those born in the 90s are worse. They take out loans for trifling things like mobile phones. Can you imagine taking out a loan for a mobile phone?” she asked.

With just a trace of Generation Y Yuppie about me, I might have seen the value of  buying by instalment in my younger days, but I have since become the 35 year old that prefers cash purchases, recalling the frequent exhortations of parents to refrain from buying one’s way into debt. Moreover, I was taught that the fastest way to lose a friend is to ask for a loan, which would inevitably happen if I were to stay on the spending path. Then there are also reasons besides lost of friendship and financial insolvency for not doing so.

I remember reading about this boy in China who sold his kidneys to buy an Ipad and an Iphone,” I said to my Beijing friend. “He probably now realises that fancy electronics are a poor exchange for 2 good kidneys.”

“That’s sad but the desire for nice things is driving young people to do all sorts of things.”

That’s not to say I don’t admire the boundless self-belief Generation Y Yuppies have for themselves. While the rest of us are stuck in some less-than-ideal version of ourselves, Generation Y Yuppies morph Machiavellian-like into whatever suits their purposes. Being a border-town inhabitant, with a strong leaning towards the X, I see more hurdles to the transformation than benefits to be gained from such a soul-altering undertaking. Accordingly, even the grandest of my aspirations are pygmies beside that of the typical Generation Y Yuppy. Even then, they aren’t things I go about declaring to the whole wide world. I have that Generation X tendency of playing it safe by saying nothing – that way, whether I succeed or fail, no one is to know. There is of course, another reason for this:

When I was in my early 20s, a colleague further up the Generation X tree than I am, said, “Don’t ever tell people what you want to achieve. If you do, they’ll try to stop you.”

Over the years, I’ve encountered the people I was warned of so I can fully appreciate the reasoning behind that former colleague’s advice. Meanwhile Generation Y Yuppies, perhaps luckier than I’ll ever be, have that loveable naivety that everyone is on their side and thus set about broadcasting their plans to anyone who will listen.

 

Lost in translation: converting from third world to first.

Most migrants I know lead double lives. There’s us, bright and cheery, speaking in rose-coloured tones about things as mundane as the weather to friends in adopted homelands and there’s us, huddled together in a sombre circles, discussing some new calamity (there’s always one) to have befallen our original homelands. In the second scenario, many of us even manage to crack one or several jokes – humour often veiling contempt, frustration or even plain despair. But it’s not something we care to share with those in the first scenario  because our inner reality – fear for family far away, fear for the lands of our birth – is just too different from our outer reality of sunshine, picnics and BBQs. Perhaps, why piss on everyone’s parade?

This has gotten a friend of mine down. “All anyone wants to talk about is what they’re doing on the weekends or where they are going for holiday.”

“Isn’t that why we moved here?” I asked her. “To get away from it all?”

My most memorable conversations have been with people who’ve survived worst than the legally codified racism of Malaysia. One was with the husband of an acquaintance who survived being shot in the bum as a boy, escaping the rebel forces of Sri Lanka. His mother stood down tanks and now in her twilight years in Australia, is standing down anyone who says she has to accept her Chinese daughter-in-law. I’ve never met the woman but she makes me – who’s been labeled the yakuza of the family – look like a tame pussy cat.

Another woman I chanced to talked to many years ago when visiting a friend who’d recently delivered a baby, had swum from China to Hong Kong to be with her husband, back in the days when China and Hong Kong were two separate countries instead of one.

“There used to be a watchman guarding the  coast,” she told me in Cantonese. “We’d wait until nightfall and five of us would try to swim across at a time. If they caught you, you’d be in big trouble. They’d sent you back a long way from there. The worst part of this,” I expected her to say the swim in cold waters with an armed guard at her back, “was there was no soup to drink. Not a drop at all!”

So what’s a couple of conversations about BBQs, picnics and holidays every week? If not contemplating the fate of family left behind – inhaling heavily polluted air romantically called “haze”, or enduring chronic power outages and water cuts, or living in fear of masked bandits wielding parangs – a fate you, by virtue of having migrated to this gloriously safe and well-governed land have left behind, what is there to do otherwise?

The problem I’ve found with first generation migrants like myself is we come with too much memory. We come with an ingrained knowledge of real lack, real poverty, real hopelessness, sometimes gleaned first hand. We also come with too much logic for refuting things like the need to prop up the lazy, stupid or undeserving – a first-world conundrum that seem to bother only the most unenlightened of arm-chair activists.

To be sure, we have ample compassion for the downtrodden but to say to us, marginalised and disadvantaged means to not have the money to go to a private hospital or private school because one’s parents breeds young they cannot feed, or to expect me to be responsible for young that don’t belong to me which I have fed through my taxes, forever and ever in some cases, is like waving a red flag at a very wound up bull. The animal will charge, I warn you. Best not be in the vicinity when that happens or it will be your entrails flying everywhere.

Tellingly, my best Aussie mates are other migrants or those with enduring memories of their parents hardships settling in a new land. They appreciate the difficulty of acquiring English as an adult (not that I’ve ever had that problem, as you can see), or adapting to the myriad of peculiar customs and ways the second generation find as easy as breathing. Defying the call of those unacquainted with such emotional baggage, to lay our pasts to rest, a precious few even remember the history of their people and what drove them to seek greener pastures. But they are in the minority and are few and far between – your troubles too deep, wide and high for them to comprehend, much less juxtapose theirs against comfortably.

Which is why we should all stick to safe topics like the weather, BBQs and holidays; especially before happy hour when everyone’s too sober for murder-conspiracies in far off lands, involving peoples none is particularly inclined to know about. Which is why I showed Amanda several videos on dole bludgers yesterday (people who rob your father, I told her) lest after a privileged childhood in this blessed country, her conversation is restricted to politically-correct, gender-neutral, colourless, position-less, statements about the weather, BBQs and holidays.

That’s not to say there aren’t any dull birds where I come from. There are plenty.  When checking out the pages my friends LIKE on facebook, I was consternated, alarmed and insulted in turn to find that in a land where political, social and economical issues are rife, “Lady of Liberty”, an elderly woman who puts herself in harms way to fight for political reform has fewer fans than the bimbos who cut their faces and take off their clothes.

Maybe this is the way of the future. Maybe we’re all meant to be bright and cheery and speak only of mundane things, in case we offend anyone, which, with uncountable, cross and semi-cross interests, that could be just about anyone. Maybe. A small voice inside my head says, “I’ll be damned if anyone expects me to keep quiet.”

 

To jump ship or not to jump ship? The Migrant Experience

I’ll be the first to admit that the migrant experience varies considerably: if you arrive on these shores, indeed any shores, with enough gold bars to interest the US treasury, chances are you’ll have a swimmingly good time. Ploughing in feet first, you’ll find all the doors opened to you previously, still open, now wider, and then some. On the other hand, should you arrive with little more than a suitcase and appropriate working papers, then life will be as if once was, after the veneer of newness has worn off, complete with the same ol’ frustrations of being at the bottom of the pond, except if you’re eligible, they’ll be some tax-payer recompense, paid through Centrelink, to soften the blow. That, in a nutshell, is what most migrants encounter. Now for the burning questions, some of them thinly veiled protestations, I hear most often:

But isn’t Australia an egalitarian society?

Well, you’d think so, wouldn’t you? The truth is, we are a flattish society, in that I’d talk to the person beside me in the queue at Australia Post, perhaps even share a laugh with him or her about some trivial matter, but wouldn’t go so far as to invite the person over for tea, unless we belong to the same social strata; and yes, there is such a thing as social strata.

Having been a doctor’s wife for a good 12 years, I can tell you that I never socialised with the wives of HRH’s consultants while he was a resident or junior registrar. It’s not that they weren’t friendly or I wasn’t open to having new friends, but even within the same professional pool, there is a great disparity in incomes, and hence lifestyles, between those starting out and those already established.

While HRH was in training, my friends tended to be the spouses of other trainees. We all suffered the same neglect, enjoyed the same occasional perk of being tagged along to work conferences, all looked forward to the same green pasture we’d glimpsed when attending rare Consultant-hosted events.

So you see, Australian society, while not as egalitarian as one might think, is not intentionally discriminatory, unlike Asian society. In Asian society, it is an understood fact that those at the bottom and those at the top of the food chain, do not co-mingle, unless related by blood or marriage. Even then, co-mingling is ruled by one’s social status relative to the other. But this, my dear readers, is what has migrants – especially less educated ones – lured here by the promise of absolute social equality, disillusioned. They come here to get ahead only to find the same social obstacles to their progress.

But isn’t Australia about giving people a fair go (as in equal opportunity)?

Recently I received a comment from a new reader with regards to my post on the outcome to Australia’s Federal Election, bemoaning the discrimination one supposedly faces as an Australian-educated, Asian jobseeker. While discrimination does exist, it isn’t in all sectors of the job market and certainly not to the extent that one might presume from reading random stories in the news. Australians are generally fair-minded and if you have the goods, they’ll usually give you a go. However, as I pointed out to my new reader, even whiteys (as in white Australians), encounter great difficulty trying to land jobs in law and finance. This loops back to my earlier comment about “social obstacles.” For you to understand what they are, please read my post on the value of a private education.

The thing is, Asians think that the saying, “It’s not what you know but who you know” only applies in Asia when it clearly applies here as well. Moving with the times, I’ll add to that cleverly phrased sentiment by saying, “It’s not just what you know or who you know but who KNOWS YOU that matters.”

Of course, who knows you is hardly important if your skills are such that society can’t function without you. Except for the unicorn wunderkinds in each profession, we can’t all claim to be so indispensable, can we?

Why would I want to leave behind my family and friends then?

No one is holding a gun to your head saying that you have to but for my money, I think some people rather enjoy being as far away from family as they can – especially if family is controlling and meddlesome. I’m not referring myself, thank you very much, but inferring from the countless conversations I’ve had with other migrants. I live here because I enjoy the simple things one takes for granted growing up in a country like Australia, like safe streets, crisp, unpolluted, lung-fuls of air, clean water straight out of the taps, an uninterrupted supply of electricity, a dependable supply of untainted fruit and veg.

As I often tell anyone who will listen, public schools here are like private schools where I come from; the class sizes are half what they are in Malaysia, the number of classes for each year not even a third. In the schools my daughter has attended (okay, so we sent her to a private school for kinder), each class has a teacher and a teacher aid, proper-lighting, air-conditioning, computers, some have overhead-projectors and sound systems, parent volunteers to help with reading, trainee teachers to lighten the workload further. We have educational outings, school discos, a constantly replenished library, a multitude of “themed days” to encourage learning. When I was growing up in Malaysia there were close to 50 to a class, at least 8 or 9 other classes like mine, 1 teacher to each, and only chalk and talk. “Crowd control” was often unstinting use of physical punishment, from which none of us emerged into adulthood bruised or scarred or requiring counselling.

So how do I know if I’m suited to migration?

First things first: what do you want from it? If you come here expecting a Cinderella-transformation in lifestyle, you’re going to be left gnawing away on a rotten pumpkin. As you may have heard from family or friends who’ve already made the treacherous swim across from wherever they were originally, this is the land of Do-It-Yourself. Come prepared to take care of your day-to-day needs and you’ll be delighted by all the opportunities to show off and expand on your self-sufficiency. Come here expecting to be waited on by Yati and Maria (my mother’s favourite names for maids), and you’ll be humbled by what your income, hitherto perhaps large, can afford.

Most migrants I know live simply. Even those in pole position on the income charts don’t live as large as they would back in Asia. They might have cleaners visit their homes, but this is seldom more than once a week. Even if they eat out often, they rarely entertain in restaurants; something to note if you come visiting. For that reason, potlucks are very popular in migrant communities as almost everyone has something they are particularly good at making to contribute. Perhaps, when you are a migrant, what you miss most is not ostentatious restaurant fare – that’s widely available over here – but humble home cooking and the variety of delectable morsels from hawker stalls, which no one sells for lack of demand.

Yellow-facing in Cloud Atlas: is it offensive or simply art?

As part of our weekly husband-and-wife date, HRH and I decided to watch Cloud Atlas, which we’d borrowed from our local Video Ezy on the weekend. Since most movies run for an hour and a half to two hours, we thought we’d have plenty of time after Cloud Atlas to grab some lunch but little did we know, it’s one of those sci-fi epics that go for a full 3 hours!

Not that we complained. With 6 parallel story lines converging towards the end into one, arguing for the twin New Age beliefs of reincarnation and karmic resolution through rebirth, HRH and I were just too engrossed in the movie to notice the time. For a full synopsis of Cloud Atlas, please click on this link.

Being a wordy-person what I marvelled at most was of course the script, followed a close second by the boundless talents of the make-up artist to transform protagonists into people of different ethnicities, from various time periods. For instance, Halle Berry who appears in all 6 story lines plays a Native Woman, a Jewess, a Black woman (which she naturally is), an Indian party guest, a man and a coloured woman of undefined ancestry.

The make-up artist for Cloud Atlas did such a stand up job of  transforming the actors that we couldn’t identify most without looking on the internet for a breakdown of their roles in the movie. This inevitably raises the prickly issue of yellow-facing, which is the use of white actors to portray East Asians, a practise which has been in existence for as long as Hollywood has made movies. It would seem that without names known to the Western movie goer, none would see it, hence the need to yellow-face white actors.

As an East Asian movie-goer I’d usually be offended (hey, you think I don’t know what I look like!) by yellow-facing except that East Asian actors in Cloud Atlas also get the same transformative treatment as white actors, turning one Doona Bae, who’s ethnically Korean, white, then Mexican, then into a machine-birthed human slave. Now there’s a mouthful.

When I think about it, apart from misrepresenting East Asians in cinema or depriving East Asian actors of roles in Hollywood, the practise of yellow-facing itself is harmless. After all, if East Asians can take over-exposed pictures to wash out the colour in their skin, tape their eye-lids open and contour their faces with powdered bronzer and highlighters – so as to look white – what’s wrong with white people doing the reverse in order to look yellow?

With the number of cam-whoring East Asian 20 something females I see on facebook daily, all attempting to look some version of white, perhaps there will come a day when even we, East Asians, no longer know what we really look like. Perhaps then yellow-facing will exist not because Western cinema-goers refuse to be lured into the cinemas with foreign, unpronounceable names, but rather because there are no authentic-looking East Asians left. If you think that’s far-fetched, consider that a Korean director (I think he made the hugely popular “My Sassy Girl”) worried about being able to find an authentic-looking Korean girl to play the lead in his movie since the prevailing trend is for East Asians to try to “white-face” themselves.

Ethnic-bending aside, if ever there was a movie that could convince the audience of the existence of previous lives, this is it. Cloud Atlas is intelligent, well thought out, daring and bold. It’s singularly visionary. I haven’t read the novel by David Mitchell which the movie is based on, but now I’m raring to give it a go. If these borrowed lines from the movie are anything to go by, I reckon it’d be a damn good read:

“A half-read book is a half-finished love affair.”

“My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?” 

“Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.”

“I believe there is another world waiting for us. A better world. And I’ll be waiting for you there.” 

Fantasy. Lunacy. All revolutions are, until they happen, then they are historical inevitabilities.” 

“You say you’re ‘depressed’ – all i see is resilience. You are allowed to feel messed up and inside out. It doesn’t mean you’re defective – it just means you’re human.” 

“. . .my dreams are the single unpredictable factor in my zoned days and nights. Nobody allots them, or censors them. Dreams are all I have ever truly owned.” 

Why roll up your sleeves when you can always hire someone?

Despite growing up in a house filled with the smells of freshly baked goods, lunches that were never the same as dinners, no less than 3 dishes of meat and vegetables at every meal, accompanied by soup that takes donkey-years to boil, I had scant appreciation for home-cooking until I left home. In the ignorance of my youth, my most oft-spouted response to being asked to help out in the kitchen was, “I don’t want to spend all my time slaving over the hot stove.”

After all, apart from having the physical dexterity of a chicken with duck feet, I was going to become a career woman. What need did I have for cooking when all the working women I knew had catered food delivered to the home or bought family dinners from the economy rice stalls?

When my extremely hygienic mother (she’s a former nurse, if you must know) asked me to help her clean for the umpteenth time, I’d grumble, “Why do I need to know how to mop and clean when I can pay someone to do all that for me in the future?

Oooh…the things you say that come back to haunt you. Little did I know that my future involved living in a land where cleaners command upwards of $25 an hour (about the same as or more than entry-level professionals) and economy rice stalls do not exist. Ha! And guess who I had to crawl back to for easy recipes on not-so-humble home-cooking?

After living more than half of my life away from home, I’ve come to see the wisdom of what my mother said earlier, in response to my many protestations: “When you can cook, you can make food taste EXACTLY THE WAY YOU WANT, instead of the way someone else wants.

When you can clean, you won’t be held to ransom by maids and cleaners.

Back then I had no idea what my mother was on about. Who would quit on me if I pay them? Why wouldn’t the chef make food the way I want it to be made?

Obviously I had to learn the hard way. This morning for instance, I discovered that although big fry-ups are a staple at most breakfast cafes, not all know how to make a proper one. Sure, the eggs were poached as I requested and there was a sausage, which I was looking forward to, but the eggs tasted of the vinegar put into the water to poach the eggs.

Now, I’m no master chef, but I can tell you that if the eggs were very fresh, the vinegar would not have been necessary. At any rate, they should have been rinsed and drained well enough after the poaching so I wouldn’t taste the vinegar. Meanwhile, I swear that the sausage came straight out of a microwave: it was split right down the middle from over-cooking and the ends where it had been cut from the other links had oozed out to form crusty “muffin tops.” On top of which, the sausage was as dry and chewy as a piece of bark. The other elements of the fry-up were all right, but as I said, fry-ups form the bulk of business for most breakfast cafes so they should know how to serve up a decent one.

Having said that, my taste buds are simply spoilt from all those years of home-cooking. My mother wasn’t just one to cook and bake, she’d go over the one recipe until it was perfected, totally convinced that the author of the recipe had left ingredients out or given erroneous measurements on purpose. Until today, many of her cookies, cakes, tarts and whatnot are still the best I’ve ever had (and I’ve eaten heaps) but please don’t think of asking me to ask her what she puts in them because I haven’t the slightest interest in baking and the only people she’d tell are family.

Nowadays, the one who preaches the benefits of DIY is me. My mother practically rolled her eyes when a couple of years back I showed her Shannon Lush’s “Spotless.” That’s probably because, with few exceptions, I have someone clean my house for me. Nonetheless I do know how to roll up my metaphorical sleeves and dig in, should I need to. Since her accident, my mother has been having catered dinners. My father usually hops out at midday to buy lunch from the coffee shops near their house. Since we kids left home, she only makes the cakes, cookies, tarts and whatnot for church bake sales or when she comes to visit me, at Amanda’s request.

Amanda’s most recent request has been for her to make apple pie and apple crumble when she passes this way again in December. Last December when we went home, the two of them made 2 batches of walnut-topped, blueberry muffins together. I was chuffed to see grandmother and granddaughter working side by side, the two of them bonding over flour and butter, even as I sat there with my legs up, surfing the telly.

I suppose, regardless of where you live and what your means are, it all boils down to how badly you want something done. Because I had to have “keropok lekor” and no market stocks that over here, I scoured the internet for recipes, then using the amalgam of several, attempted to make my own. I’ve also made my own Chinese pasta from scratch, which I wouldn’t have thought to do if I could have just bought it ready-made, cooked and flavoured from a shop.

True, you can buy whatever it is I make in Malaysia or Singapore, but do you really know what goes into your food? Rumour has it that fried foods bought from the stalls stay crispy for hours because plastic is melted into the oil to form a coating on the food. I’ve also heard that tissue paper is routinely mixed in with flaked fish to bring down the cost of each bowl of Assam Laksa. And just yesterday, I read of the link between maternal nutrition and autism. While the author of the article didn’t say autism is caused by food per se, the only thing to have changed between 1990 and 2000, accounting for a 870% increase in the incidence autism, is our diet and the food chain. If that doesn’t make you sit up and take notice, I don’t know what will. Perhaps it’s time to dust down that apron.