Friday, January 27, 2006

Emer Mayock and New Year

it's 2 nights before Chinese New Year, and i'm sitting in my room now trying to study. my exams are in a month's time, and time is running out. Celtic music is playing over the Internet; i'm listening to Emer Mayock. i don't know if Emer is a he or a she. the name of the song is Dog on Rope. it sounds like there are a lot of strings in the song, but i don't know which instruments, and a lot of flutes as well.

now it's Kay McCarthy with Cunla. there are lyrics now, and i can see Irish lasses dancing to the sound of the violin, or something like that. there are drums in the background, and it's really earth-y. she's saying "dum-dee-dum, come near to me...". there are more violins now, and she starts singing again. it sounds like a tongue-twister, she speaks really fast and when she's singing, the violin stops in the background. it's almost like a song from The Wizard of Oz - bouncy, happy, optimistic. i can see Dorothy clicking her heels on the yellow brick road and saying "yee-hah!"

Barra McNeils now. probably a she. the song is called The Longest Day. strangely, the name of the album (released in 2001) is called Racket in the Attic. more violins, this time the flutes are more aggressive. the violins are playing accompaniment now. it's a very folksy dancing song - green skirts twirling on top of the bar, pints of Guinness threatening to fall to the floor, laughter and the smell of potatoes permeating the air, no reason to be unhappy and every reason to smile. the song is climaxing, the flutes and violins are all coming together in one huge crescendo of happiness.

i miss my dad. i wonder what's he doing now.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

lazy sundays

i wrote this in August 2005 in my blog, and i feel like i want to re-publish this particular piece again. it's something, perhaps, but definitely inadequate.

***

lazy sundays

you know who should have a blog? my dad. he's a 50 year old fiscal conservative, social liberal, educational conformist, American apologist, philosophising ballroom dancer who's currently in the throes of his second childhood, and i say all that in absolute admiration.

i remember when i was in form4 when the computer and the Internet came. looking back, buying a computer in 1997 was probably one of the best decisions we've ever made, as it set us up for years of convenience and (ahem) education. and no, i don't mean porn sites.

well anyway, my dad used to view the computer as some sort of evil machine designed to draw his children's attention away from studies and other worthwhile pursuits. it didn't help that my sister and i took turns staying up till 2-3am every day just to chat on IRC, inflating not only our own pitiful egos (we could, after all, pretend to be someone BETTER than who we are), but also the phone bill.

i don't think there was a gradual transition, but circumstances changed in his life that forced him to use the computer a lot more often, for work, communication, entertainment or what-not. firstly, he got promoted, and now found that if he didn't master the Powerpoint, he'd quite literally be laughed off the stage. he did that bit fine, creating presentations that won the National-level Veterinary Dept Quality Control Project, or something like that. i've lost track of how many competitions he's won.

then my sister went off to London for accountancy. in came a new computer, and he learnt all about hotmail and yahoo, and more recently, the wonderful virtues of gmail. he'd wake up at 5am everyday to check the mail, copy everything onto a Word document, go to work at 6.30am. then after dinner at home, he'd sit down and type out a reply, for hours!

worse, a year later, he discovered his high school friends. they were always in touch, but only recently the Old Georgians Association became more active. there was a massive reunion, and some IT genius (apparently there are some IT geniuses aged 45 and above too) created a yahoogroups for them. voila! yet another channel for his opinions, this time to a greated audience of hundreds!

recently, he wrote a letter to the NST, and it got published, and it was a good letter too. of course he drew more encouragement from that publication, and he's now contributing to the Perak Veterinary Dept website's guest column!

salutations, dad!

Monday, January 23, 2006

My Father Plays the Guitar

My father plays the guitar. He also dances the tango, rumba and waltz. My father also plays basketball, football, chess and hopscotch. He loves motorcycles, and he would ride them all over Malaysia; Kuala Kangsar, Teluk Intan, Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur and Gunung Jerai. He’s crazy in that way, and he would have ridden all the way to Singapore too, if someone gave him half an excuse.

My father is also a part-time actor (he was an extra in Anna and the King), an antique collector (18 locks, 12 clocks, 5 stand fans, 4 irons that use charcoal, an adding machine from 1920, an accordion from 1940, about 2 million old pictures of Taiping and another few million odds and ends), and a collector of Coca-Cola merchandise (as old as 1972, as far as South Africa, as weird as a woolly cap made from Coke cans). He loves hi-fi sets, F1 races, big cars, New Year’s Eve celebrations, self-help books, Linda Ronstadt and contributing to his Class of 1973 YahooGroup.

He knows so many things. If I needed to know how far it is from Machang Bubuk to Segari, he’ll tell me. If I needed to know how to take a bank loan, he’ll tell me. If I needed to know how to take a prolonged-exposure photograph, he’ll tell me. He’ll tell me about freshwater fish, Indian cuisine, World War II, the Royal College of Physicians membership exam and carburetors. He knows everything.

A man so varied that he seem’d to be, Not one, but every mankind’s epitome

He loves to buy little gifts for other people. He would buy little toys for his nephews’ and nieces’ children. He would buy Harry Potter and Star Wars books for his youngest nephew, the one who stayed with us for 6 years. When he was head of the Taiping and Kuala Kangsar District Veterinary Offices, we suspected that he loaned sums of money to his colleagues, and sometimes he would go without lunch. He once told me that he was certain that my sister and I would not need his support once we grew up, and therefore when he retired, he wanted to use his gratuities and pension to help his less fortunate relatives and friends.

Most of us wouldn’t look twice at an old decrepit lady who rears pigs and gets around in a tricycle. She has kids who don’t visit her. She has very little money and very few friends. Maybe we would cross the road so we wouldn’t have to smell her, or we wouldn’t have to feel uncomfortable about being in such close proximity with poverty. My father embraced her and her fate. He would go to her little farm deep through impassable roads, whenever she needed any help with her livestock. He would do so on Sundays and after office hours, anytime at all she needed his help. And he never spoke about it; we only knew from the depths of her gratitude whenever she showed up at our home bearing simple gifts, like some vegetables that she grew in her little farm.

In his simplicity, there was so much sophistication and elegance. In his life, there was so much joy in knowledge and its acquisition. In his little ways, he touched the hearts of so many people. In his heart, there was so much space and so much love.

***

He has never flown, he has never been outside South-East Asia, and he doesn’t have a degree. He doesn’t drive a flashy car, or own a big house. He doesn’t eat in fancy restaurants, or go for luxurious holidays. Does that matter? Does that matter when he awoke at 5am every morning to watch Discovery Channel and study for his Governmental promotional exams? Does that matter when he taught himself from life and experience and people, and manuals, pamphlets and newspapers?

Does that matter when he passed every promotional exam he studied for, and gained more promotions than was considered possible for a Chinese man in a decidedly Bumiputera-favoured Government?

Does that matter when he twice won the National Level Veterinary Department Agro-Based SMEs Competition? Twice he supervised Small and Medium Enterprise projects in rural villages for a whole year, and twice he worked with the inexperienced entrepreneurs to success, and twice he brought his story to the Competition, and twice he won.

But does it matter that he passed all his promotional exams and twice won the Nationals? His achievements paled in comparison to who he is on a daily basis, and we all know how difficult it is to be successful every day. Every day he was patient to his colleagues (I am sure my father would disapprove if I use the word “subordinates”) and inspiring to the villagers he worked with. He was humble, and the common man loved him dearly. He didn’t care for race or background, and that is evident by the love shown to him by Malays, Chinese, Indians, villagers and Datuks.

Every day he was committed, and every day he was driven. He would not settle for half-measures, and he made sure that everyone else around him was infected by the enthusiasm and energy that he brought into work every day. He hated bureaucratic inertia, and fought it tooth and nail. He drove himself so hard that he lost weight and started having grey hair. It was a big thing to him, as he was recently voted the 2nd Youngest-Looking Old Georgian among his classmates during their recent reunion.

To my father, none of his achievements matter, the same way none of his social handicaps mattered. That’s because my father was intrinsically a simple man. He would not have enjoyed all the trappings of wealth and pleasures of achievement anyway. He would have said that character was above all the criteria by which people would judge you.

I guess that’s all good, because he was in line for recognition from the Government in the form of a PJK, for his contributions to society. He would be one of only a few people I know who would have received the PJK – who doesn’t belong to a political party, Lions or Rotary Club, or is a rich businessman donating money to political parties, or some medium-level Government functionary who happens to know the right person.

He would have deserved it for who he is and what he did, and it would have been appropriate, after 25 years of service to society. It would have been appropriate to mark his life by his character – driven to improve himself and everything around him.

***

More than what my father did or loves to do, or who he is to the thousands of people he has touched in the course of his work – is who he is to his family. He was just an ordinary man in an ordinary job and ordinary life, but how he lived his life is not in the least bit ordinary. Here is a man who genuinely lived for others while denying himself even simple pleasures.

He is the most devoted husband ever, loving and considerate. He would wait in the sun for my mother to finish so they could go home together. He would come home from a long day and sit in the kitchen listening to my mother talk about her day while she cooked. He wouldn’t buy her expensive jewellery or diamonds, but he would stay at home with her and look after the kids instead of going out with his friends. He doesn’t like to pamper himself, but always makes sure that my mother eats anything she wants, and goes to Australia while he takes care of us kids.

He is the best father anyone could ever have. He was everything I needed at the times when I needed it. He couldn’t remember my friends’ names, but he knows each and every one of them. He would ask them questions, interrogate them about their girlfriends and their future plans – and then make a joke about his son. He supported my sister and I through some of the most confusing times in our lives, and he is the constant bedrock from which we could launch our forays into academia, the dating scene and the real world.

He stayed his whole life in Taiping, except for a few years’ training in Ipoh, Teluk Intan and Kluang. My father took care of his parents, and was the perfect son. When my 93-year-old grandmother couldn’t walk anymore because of arthritis, my father would bring her meals on a plate and collect it when she was done. He put in satellite TV for my grandmother and bought her tonnes of Chinese music VCDs so she would be entertained. Every year he would go to his father’s grave and scrub and scour until it was sparkling. He would not let anyone else do it.

He stayed in Taiping and became the family’s pillar of strength. He sent forth letters and emails, phone calls and personal visits – to keep everybody in touch with what was happening to everyone else. All news came through him and my mother; they were the heartbeat of both their sides of my family. He would make it to every wedding and every funeral, near or far. He would be there at family functions taking photographs or helping out with crowd management. He would be there listening to some old relative, or buying snacks for the kids.

He would take days off work in order to make a trip to see a relative on a sickbed, and he would do it a few times until they got well. When his siblings are coming home, he would make sure that the house is cleaner than usual, and take them out for nice dinners that he wouldn’t ordinarily have. He would not stay with them if he thought that he was imposing on them, because he never wanted to trouble anyone else. All his life he lived thinking of someone else, and wondering how he could be of help and how he could comfort.

My father believes in the personal touch. He believes in how important it is to make sure that you’re going the extra mile for that someone else, because they are worth it. Because family is worth it. Because work is worth it. When you make sure that someone or something else is worth it, then you yourself become worth it. And my father was worth it.

***

I will miss the sounds that my father makes. There is the distinctive sound of his motorcycle when he comes home, at just the right torque and speed. There’s the sound of his SLR camera clicking and whirring. The sound of his typing on the keyboard, that certain pitch and pauses as he checks the dictionary for the precise meaning. The sound of him stirring the cup of coffee, black with 1 tablespoon sugar, at 5am, trying not to wake anyone up. The sound of him guffawing at one of his jokes.

I will miss his presence, so reassuring and constant. I will miss the way he gives advice through email. I will miss his emails. I will miss his dislike for phone calls, always quick to ask me to “…talk to your mother.” I will miss the way he refuses to shave and insists on plucking his beard and moustache, strand by strand.

I had postponed writing this piece, this tribute to my father. I was afraid that writing it would mean that the reality is stark – that he would really be beyond me, beyond my grasp and my comprehension. I have lost the most important person in my life, the person who has given me all of himself, the person who has given me the very foundation for everything I am today. Writing this seems like I am closing a chapter in his life, and I hate it.

I keep thinking that when I go home again he’ll be there. I keep thinking that when I’m lost like I am now, I can go home and I don’t have to tell him anything and he’ll understand. I keep thinking that everything is just the same, that it didn’t really happen. I keep thinking that he’ll be around, forever.

And he is, isn’t he? Yes, he is around. He will always be around.


Do not stand by my grave and weep,
For I am not there, I do not sleep.

I am the thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond’s glint on the snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn’s rain.
In the soft hush of the morning light,
I am the swift bird in flight.

Do not stand by my grave and cry,
For I am not there,
I did not die.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

come and gone

The wheel of time keeps moving. The old year goes away and the new year claims its place. Flowers don't bloom any differently just because a new year has begun. Clouds move at the same pace whether it's a new day or a new century. No animal announces the new year by squawking, screeching or snorting. There is no thunder to herald the new year, no rainstorm lashes to remind us, no earthquakes in case we forgot - plainly, the new year is all a human creation.

And so the wheel turns. And it turns for you, and it turns for me. Let it turn, let it turn!

Sunday, January 01, 2006

God is watching us


everyone posts something nostalgic and New Year-ish on new year's day, and i must resist the temptation.

i couldn't resist the temptation though, to refer to Bette Midler's song, From A Distance - it has the lyrics in it that goes...

"...God is watching us,
From a distance."


no doubt. i couldn't find a better first picture to put on this blog - taken from the Hubble Space Telescope by NASA. Happy New Year, world!