Tuesday, March 5

Travelling; in a nutshell

To tell you the truth, I hate travelling.

It really takes a toll on you: the endless walking to and fro, the constant sliding of your debit card , the tiredness at the end of the day, not being able to sleep in your own bed, the time taken up that could've been used to hibernate and sleep all day, the crowds of people that stress you out, the sudden need for souvenirs and crap you will probably never use again or even needed in the first place, the losing of basic toiletries after  moving from place to place, the pain of having your arse sucked into itself after sitting down in the bus for long periods of time, the packing and unpacking and packing again, and worst of all, the feeling after returning from vacation when you realize all of that will only be for memories that, unlike all other things, exist only in your mind and can't be used or felt or enjoyed every day.

But then again,

With travelling, you gain so much else. You make new friends from all around the world, sometimes with the locals or sometimes with other tourists - who suddenly have a mutual understanding with you even though oceans and mountains separate where you come from on the map. You learn that the world isn't that small, and that people are friendly, and are more like you than you could probably imagine. You understand new cultures, and become more cultured yourself; you will never see the world around you in the same light again, as your mind has widened. You come to terms with the fact that smiles don't only come in the color that you see in the mirror, but in many colors, and shapes, and sizes. You stop taking little things for granted, and may even find joys in completely new things like architecture, art, and music. And even your taste buds, they may change too; suddenly you want more chili in your soup, crave a curry or two now and then, buy more types of fish and cheese than that sold in the supermarket, and search high and low for that fruit you found halfway across the world. Most importantly, you realize that memories, even though they exist only in your head, are much more important and valuable than any other material object that you could've bought with the money spent.

And after coming back home, you can't wait to set out and discover the world again.

The City of Charm

Where do I even start?

I'm in love with Baltimore. There's no other way to put it. The sights, sounds, and people light me up in a way that I have never felt before. I have never felt at home in the States all the time I've been here, and I've been to quite a few places, but I feel at home in Baltimore. The corner ice-cream shop, the dusty music store with the foreign owner, the underground bookstore with the best latte in town, the old man with the golden smile that you befriend after randomly walking into his store, and many the little places you wished you lived - all of these things and more will make you fall in love with Baltimore. And at the same time Baltimore will convince you that it loves you too.

Sorry for the lack of nice pictures - I didn't have the best lens for the job, and half of the way I got tired of taking pictures and just wanted to enjoy the surroundings without having to take our Mr. Canon every few seconds. But you should know that pictures only speak so much; to experience Baltimore, you must visit Baltimore itself. And make sure to have the crab cakes while you're at it.

Tomorrow I'll be heading out to Washington D.C and I hope mother nature will continue being really nice to me with the gorgeous weather.

Tuesday, February 19


A Dialogue example for class.

The sound of the flamenco echoed off the cobbled streets. The guitarist stood tall, his eyes directed away from the sunlight as to not distract him, his feet tapping softly to the rhythm of his music. He was lost in his own world.
               Play me a song.
The guitarist looked up. Beautiful blue eyes looked back.
               This is a song, he said.
               No it isn’t, I’ve never heard it.
               Just because you’ve never heard of it doesn’t make it not a song.
The blue eyes rolled, and the wind blew a wisp of silky brown hair over them. She’s beautiful, thought the guitarist.
               Well play me song I do know, she said.
               Why should I?
               Can’t you?
Her eyes were locked on his. She knew that question agitated him. The male ego can’t handle a challenge, she thought to herself. But the guitarist didn’t stop, and the sound of the flamenco still rang loud in between the shop houses.
               He asked, You don’t like flamenco?
               What’s that?
               Music, from Spain. You know Spain?
She paused. Spain? Of course she knows Spain. I’m not an idiot, she wanted to say. I don’t know flamenco, but I know Spain dammit. Do look like an idiot to you? But she didn’t, and the sound of the flamenco still rang loud underneath the warm sky.
               She asked, Are you from spain?
               Si, tengo. And you?
               I’m from around here.
So this senorita is local, thought the guitarist. He didn’t know any locals.
               So how long have you been around here, she asked.
               Two days.
               Only two?
               That’s funny.
               What is?
               You are. You’ve been here for only two days and already you’re busking on the streets?
The guitarist smiled.
               It’s what I do. I travel the world and the sound of the flamenco travels with me.
               That’s all you do? Sounds like a waste of life to me.
Well it’s my calling. I love what I do. People tell me, Sergio, you are a smart man, you should get a job, get a life, get some money. But I don’t live for money. In Spain we have a saying, No solo de pan vive el hombre. We people cannot live on bread alone. Sometimes, we must chase our passion. For me, it is my music. My future, well I don’t think of it much. Carpe Diem, eh?
She smiled at the phrase. Seize the day. She was in envy of the guitarist. She didn’t know what she wanted in life. Sure, she was a college student with a scholarship and a promise of a successful career, but she didn’t want all that. Somehow, it didn’t make her feel that she belonged. It wasn’t her calling.
               Senorita, I didn’t catch your name.
               It’s Madeline.
               Ah, Madeline. Such a beautiful name. I’m Sergio.
And suddenly, underneath the warm sky and in between the shop houses, by the cobbled streets that were colored by the morning sun, the sound of the flamenco stopped ringing, as the guitarist reached out a hand, and hoped that the beautiful blue-eyed girl that he was just beginning to get to know would reach her hand out too. 


A Character sketch:

They called him Mat. No one knows his real name, but nobody has ever asked. Why would they? They all come from a place where no one goes to make friends. A place where no-one wants to be, where the law puts you to repent for your sins, or just leave you to die. It’s their fault for breaking the law. Useless scum, father used to call them, murderers, pillagers, rapists, thieves, the lot. You break the law and you’ll just end up like them, he would also say, looking at me right in the eyes. Mother said they are people who are just a waste of breath and life, who are nothing but a burden and shame on the rest of us normal folk. A bit unfair, I think. Not all of them were bad at heart.  

Mat was one of the good ones. Quiet guy, never really said much, or start a conversation. But when he did talk, he’d treat you like an old friend, with sincerity that was reflected on his face. Not everyone could do that, make you feel welcome with just a look, but I guess he had just the right eyes for the job. Like sparkling marbles they were, resting in his wrinkled eye sockets like someone crudely stuffed them in there. Whenever you spoke to him, all you would look at are his eyes, and thank god for that too, as the rest of his face wasn’t really a pretty sight. He had the bulbous nose of a Dutch monkey and the lips of a donkey, with wrinkles that traveled around his face like mountain ridges. And as if that wasn’t enough, his cheeks sagged like old dough. But he didn’t give a rat’s arse how he looked. Mat was happy in his books. He loved them more than his life.

Mat worked in the library. Not the public library, of course, but the useless scum wanted to read too, so they made a library just for them. And Mat called it home. He spent his days, his evenings, and his nights in the library, reading every book, savoring every word. Dickens, Dante, Lovecraft, Hemingway; Mat would read them all. Heck, he would even read them twilight books if there was nothing else to read. And when not burying his face in books, he’d find enjoyment in arranging the books by letter, or sometimes by author, or sometimes by year. He’d switch the system around now and then, out of boredom most probably, but Mat had always been a perfectionist. Even though his clothes were drab just like the rest of inmates, he always made sure to keep them clean. Mat liked it that way.

Friends? Mat didn’t need them, but I guess he had a few. There was Yusof and Talib, who shared his interest in books. Those three would talk until the cows went home in the library. But they talked strictly literature, nothing else. There was Kassim, a young fellow, who treated Mat like a granddad of sorts – asking for advice, that kind of thing. Heard that the advice did Kassim quite a bit of good too, if the tales are true he now owns a shop down Ampang street, which he bought with the money he worked for after being made a free man. Nice to hear that, a former scum turning things around for himself after being released; wish I could say that about Mat.

What happened to Mat, you say? Well due to good behavior the law let him out early. Mat never asked for it, mind you, he was probably let out to make room for more inmates. Poor guy, the library was all he ever cared for; he had nothing left for him on the outside. But the law didn’t care, and Mat was set free, and given a job at the grocers. An old man like that, working 9 to 5? Of course Mat couldn’t handle it; drove the poor man crazy. And then one day, just like that, Mat took his own life. Sad really, but no one expected different from a guy whose entire life was based within those walls. They shouldn’t have ever let him out, he didn’t belong with us normal folk, especially because he didn’t have his books with him. But I guess that’s just fate, and Mat died by his own hands. I wish I could say that there is moral to this story, but there really isn’t. Maybe I could say that, even though we normal folk think otherwise, life and happiness can be found in the weirdest of places, even in a place filled with useless scum. 

Wednesday, February 13


The Keris

For class I had to write a short story (well, not really a full story with the proper structure) about a strange object. Sticking with my style of implementing Malaysian culture in my writing, I decided to do a short story about the Keris.

It laid there, still, and silent. On the wall, where it has always had been. Father never moved it, even though most of the furniture in the house had been moved many, many times by my mother, but she too never wanted to move it. Don’t ever touch it, father used to say, not realizing that was telling a six-year-old not to do something is like telling the monkeys not to touch the rambutans on the rambutan tree in the yard, which used to really piss mother off as she loved her rambutans. I guess that’s why she married father, an orchard owner, who owned the biggest orchard in the kampong. But father never really did anything; the orchard was passed down to him from his father, who probably got it from his father, who then probably got it from his father. Instead, father took interest in collecting. He really loved the macabre, and the walls and corners of the house were littered with the stuff: preserved toyol corpses, witches’ tools, bones from the alleged local Sasquatch, and anything odd he could find.

But the most peculiar piece was the thing on the wall. I used to spend my evenings staring at the thing on the wall, frantically deducing with my six-year-old mind what in the world that thing was. I would have said that it was some kind of sword, but it was curved, like a snake, not like the swords the cartoon characters wielded on television. It was wooden on the outside, but I could tell that it was a case, a shell for something hidden beneath. I tried to ask father many times about the thing on the wall but all he would say is I got it a long time ago, from a trader, at the foothills of Kinabalu. Short old man, with a long white beard that swept the floor, like your mother does with a broom, my father would add. Father would never tell me more than that. Wait till you’re older, son, and I’ll tell you.

I had to take a closer look. When I was eight and little bit taller, I decided to make a move. I waited for father to leave for the orchard. Mother was still at home, but she was busy in the yard, chasing monkeys away. Standing on a chair I grabbed from the kitchen, I reached for the thing on the wall. I grabbed the snake-like end firmly. It was cold, but shouldn’t have been as the room was warm and humid. It’s much also much heavier than expected, I thought to myself as I unhooked the thing from the wall. Finally after all the years of painful anticipation, I had the thing in my hands. The wooden case had dragons that slithered along the sides, in between intricate flowers that looked like the ones on mother’s dresses. I stroked every caveat, admired every detail; my mind lost in fantasy as I pondered the thing in my hands with a cat’s curiosity – even holding it up to my nose to smell the teak wood. Satisfied with my conquest of the unknown, I slowly hooked the thing back up on the wall. I was careful, but not careful enough, as I suddenly heard mother shout from behind me. What are you doing with that Keris? Her shrill cry sent me of balance, and with a sudden jerk, the thing went hurtling towards the ground.

Mother went faint. Her hands covered her gaping mouth that dropped down to her feet. I tried to say sorry, but my quivering voice did nothing to break the silence that spilled into every corner of the room. I heard Father’s motorcycle come through the gates. I saw him come into the room to the sight of the thing on the floor. I saw the blood run from his face. Mother cried. Father picked me up and held me. But there was no anger. Only fear. I could hear him mutter under his breath, astaghfirullah, astaghfirullah. And it was the only thing I heard. Astaghfirullah.