In the beginning, we all sort of thought that the Restricted Movement Order (RMO) due to the current COVID-19 pandemic was going to last only for a little while. Well, that was what most of my friends and I thought anyway. But it has been almost 3 weeks, with no real sign on what it might look like in the near future. Everyday the news posts something terrible - someone is dying somewhere, the death rate steadily increasing, people are struggling with the shut down of small businesses and loss of employment, the healthcare frontliners are struggling to make ends meet with the lack of manpower and proper safety wear, and the government is desperately grasping to manage everybody and everything.
On top of that, a quick glimpse into the social media world and you could see what this survival-mode has truly unraveled - all emotions are amplified. We are getting angrier than usual, internet bullying more than usual, criticizing more than usual and are more desperate than usual. I find myself feeling exasperated seeing social media ‘celebrities’ struggling to be relevant during these trying times. Unfortunately, selfishness is also extremely liberated while we are all confined within physical walls.
So what can we do, us sitting at home, jaded and waiting? Eventhough we’re not frontliners, revered philanthropists or charitable millionaires, isn’t there something we could do to help this situation? Each person has the power to make a difference, and although they may be small in comparison, understand this - our acts create a ripple effect. They pay it forward, and whatever energy or contribution you give out to this world will carry on ahead and beyond into other things.
So maybe to start, we can all ease up on polluting the social media space. See something or someone you don’t like? Then don’t give it/them anymore attention that you don’t think they deserve. Remember that attention is power - making something ‘viral’, whether it is a good or a bad thing, gives it power. If you disagree or disapprove of something, stop commenting or retweeting or spreading it around (unless of course, it requires the intervention of authorities). Stop giving it power.
Next, how can we directly support the good cause against COVID-19, while sitting at home? Here’s an obvious thing; LISTEN TO THE AUTHORITIES. Doing that alone is already a contribution. You’re helping control the situation, not spreading it around, and not adding to the number of nuisance the authorities has to deal with. Isn’t it amazing to think that just by complying to the current law, we’re actually assisting in a big way? On the other hand, not cooperating or thinking that you’re the ‘exception to the law’ immediately makes you a dick. So there you go.
Thirdly, let’s talk about financial distress. A lockdown equals small businesses shut down, and people in services (your cleaning lady, the masseuse, the local handyman etc) are not able to make the usual payroll. There are people who are financially struggling to make ends meet at this time, and I don’t need to tell you these things. You read about people not able to afford meals and baby formula everywhere. So let’s contribute, even if it’s RM10. More if you can afford it. Imagine this - RM10 is hardly noticeable by you sometimes, but that could mean a meal for an entire family somewhere else. So please donate. Cut your makeup budget in half. Maybe you don’t need that steak dinner this month. If you really, really, really can’t afford to give financial aid, here’s something else you can do - spread the awareness! Share information on donation outlets in your social media and within your family/friends. This is so much better than doing nothing at all.
And lastly, when ordering our food takeouts, let’s try our best to order from local eateries and businesses. They are being hit hard by this as the purchasing power plummets, so since we’re all ordering in anyway, why not support them while we’re at it? The same goes for fresh produce - get your fish, meat and vegetables from local vendors if you can.
Let’s help each other. Let’s do SOMETHING. Aren’t we sick of not doing anything? Often we have a tendency to not feel like we’re responsible in helping our community, but we are that community! We are part of it. So let’s spend our energies on the positive things, and not only will that contribute tremendously, it will also lift our spirits and chins up during this uncertain time.
It’s bootsoverbooks.com’s birthday month! It has been 7 years (surreal), and it’s one of my great loves. Over the years it had given me sanity (it’s basically my unpaid therapist), and a lot of other people the delights of (hopefully) entertaining reads and laughing about topics that would otherwise be bummers in life.
As a little celebration, I’ve compiled my personal top 10 favorite entries over the years and I’ve explained why. You can click on the title to read the whole entry!
Over the years of being friends with mostly females (I hail from an all girls’ school), one of the most inconvenient issues we whine about had always been about periods. It’s a bloody war, both literally and figuratively. A monthly commitment that comes with symptoms, it really does have the power to drive emotional consequences, damage relationships (for instance, did you know that statistically, most breakups happen during the woman’s period? Explains a lot doesn’t it?), and create physical distress. So for those who will never have the chance to experience it, or are blessed to have smooth-sailing cycles, I’m here to indulge you in some insider’s information.
Also, these are not necessarily my own personal symptoms, but rather a more generic overview.
1. The “I’m-Going-To-Stab-You-To-Death” Mood
Maybe it’s because of the discomfort of bleeding for days, maybe it’s the hormones, but it always seems like anger has a much shorter fuse at this time. You’ll get easily angered by everyone, and that includes colleagues, security guards, girl at the cash register who takes forever to pack your groceries, babies crying and the final episode of Game of Thrones. Sometimes you’ll get extra touchy too. For example, when your friends make jokes about how you should lose weight, it’s usually just good banter. But during these testing times, the same jokes will make you want to punch somebody.
2. The Sadness Over Everything, For No Apparent Reason
Definitely the cause of hormones. One minute you feel like life is pleasant and filled with amazing opportunities and good fortune, and the next minute you’ll see a homeless puppy and the sky turns immediately grey. You begin to wonder what a hard life it must be for that pup, and you worry about how it will ever get a proper meal. Then you look into the puppy’s sad eyes and you contemplate about how horrible the world is that we’re living in, and injustice is everywhere. And that includes bad things happening to good people, which also includes yourself at times. Then you start tearing up because it’s now raining, and now that puppy will be cold. You begin contemplating to start a homeless shelter for animals.
3. The Cramps
Have you ever experienced giving birth to a full backpack? Well, me neither, but I would imagine that the period cramps is a close enough approximation. A girlfriend told me that the whole myth of “once you have children, the period cramps will settle down” is an absolute lie, and that’s terrible news. It’s the back pain, butt pain, uterus pain and an overall sensation as though you’re carrying the villain for the next “Alien vs Predator” movie. This would usually last enough time to disrupt your usual life routines.
4. The Horrible Partner Episode
I find that I was the worst kind of girlfriend during this window of turbulent time. The clinginess, the neediness, the constant need for emotional validation always made me cringe later when I was back to my normal self again. Everything a man says has a tendency to be a lot more hurtful than usual, even if it’s as innocent as remarking that your food needs a little more salt. Based on my observational experiences, these things happen even when women are in stable, happy marriages. Therefore I really just feel bad for all the men out there having to face the demon that is the dark, PMS-ed side of their spouses.
5. The Insatiable Hunger
Good God the hunger. Sometimes the pangs feel like you’ve just gotten off an island where all you had for the past 5 years were coconut water. For some strange reason your body also begins to crave the unhealthier options – the carbs, the sugar and red meats. Looking back at my food photos (I’m always taking pictures of my cooking), this is the time when I’m constantly baking, making elaborate rice dishes, and eating a lot (I mean A LOT) of potatoes.
6.The Skin Rebellion
One night you’re sleeping with a somewhat clear skin, and the next morning it’s “hello boils!” Skin tends to behave badly during this magical time, producing zits and inflamed imperfections that look like traffic red lights. This is particularly inconvenient if there is a date, a job interview or any social activity coming up that requires proper self-esteem. The bad news is that there really isn’t much to do when it comes to avoiding hormonal conflicts such as this one.
And it always feels like I'm capable of eating all these kuihs....
There is little good news about this, except that you may soothe yourself by saying that this is all happening as part the required sacrifices in your social contribution in populating the earth (no, it’s not really that soothing at all). But if you’re in your twenties chances are you would’ve experienced this cycle at least 180 times, and so certain tips to calm the fires would’ve been established, as below;
So there you go. I think I’ve compiled pretty much everything I know, from my own experiences as well as my female friends and family. So the next time you’re faced with a woman possible going through an uterus make-over, consider yourself armed with these useful information and you can then safeguard yourself from being stabbed with a kitchen knife.
Two weeks ago I spent a few days on an island, by the sea. A good friend of mine has a place right next to a beautiful lagoon and steps away from the beach, and she gracefully invited me over for a little retreat. I spent a great deal of time in peaceful contentment – swimming while watching the sunset, reading in hammocks, and just marvelling at the harmless, vast beauty of turquoise waters, which at some point of the horizon transitioned into a deep blue, with white frothy waves surging towards me … it all felt very ‘Cast Away’ (minus the fugly beard, psychotic ball friend and rotting teeth).
It reminded me of one of my earliest memories of my life. That memory was vague, patchy and colourless – I remember a sea, waves, my Mother’s face, and some fish. My Mother would later tell me that this was perhaps a moment in Merdeka Beach when we went there for a picnic and I was around 3. There used to be a lot of fish swimming by its shores. She also mentioned me in a diaper, but that is hardly fashionable so let’s skip that.
It then brought me to think about how people are embedded into our memories. By unintentional actions or choice, ones that come into our lives will inevitably find a mould into our minds where they sit there unencumbered as a snapshot of life, just like my Mother’s twenty six year-old face in my first recoverable memory. It is then safe to say, whether we like it or not, that we are bound to live forever in someone else’s mind, even after we are long gone, whether it be due to change, circumstance or cruel time.
The fact that we will all go away someday, that our days are numbered before we remain as only fragments of fading memory to others, highlights a simple but often forgotten question in life. The question is this – were we ever brave enough to go for that exciting but unfamiliar choice, or did we spend the rest of our lives just worrying what others may think of us and trying to fit it? Did we coward out too soon and missed out on our chance for a truly amazing life adventure? If it doesn’t scare you, it will never change you. And not changing at all? Well, then we’re missing the whole point.
Being aware that we are destined to be a part of someone else’s memory is also sometimes intimidating. It makes one realize that this only leaves us with either one of two choices – we can either choose to be a good or a bad memory to someone else. This in turn affects how we see our actions in everything. Did I thank my Father? Did I smile at that stranger? Did I make you feel understood? How would you remember me, if at all, years from now?
By the end of the day, as the sun set at the polar opposite side of where I saw it rise that morning, it began to dawn on me that there really isn’t a prefix to that trail of thought. The simple fact is, someday, we will all be gone, only to remain as eternal pieces scattered in the minds of others. Someday, we will all just be a memory, so let’s strive to be a good one.
One day, a long time ago, a friend of mine was assaulted and as I went to visit and asked her the details of the incident, I proceeded with my next question. “So was he Malay/Chinese/Indian?”
To which my friend answered, “Why? Why does it matter?”
Why does it matter?
This little scene in my life will then proceed to become one of those small occurrences that passed me by, unnoticed by my own self but undoubtedly making a huge impact on me later on. Perhaps I was only asking to help myself further visualise this human being that assaulted my friend. But perhaps, it was also my subconscious mind showing the effects of many years being exposed to direct or indirect projection of racial profiling within the community I grew up in. I would later learn that it is really quite simple – a reliable friend is a reliable friend, a criminal is a criminal and a good man is a good man. And you’re a silly person to think that these are all subject to skin colour or how they like their rice.
Many years ago I was on a college field work for two weeks, somewhere off the grid in the harsh outback of Australia. We were assigned to a partner for the whole two weeks, and mine was a tall gorgeous Australian girl, with lovely freckles and brown hair. I dreaded this at first because we rarely talked in class and it was impossible to imagine spending all that time with just this girl in the middle of nowhere, with just a map, packed sandwiches and rock samples. I’m sure she felt the same way too. There I was, an Asian girl with a hijab, a frame small enough that I could possibly be eaten by a kangaroo, and she probably saw some suicide bomber on CNN that looked like me. I mean, what can we possibly relate on?
You could probably guess how this story ends. I eventually learned, after days and miles trekking together, naps by the railway tracks, lunches under the trees, freezing wet and caught in a storm by the roadside and getting sunburned beyond repair, the simple fact of it all; we are not really that different. We tell each other stories about our lives, and amidst the cultural and religious differences, here is what I understood. We love our family the same, we both get broken hearted the same, we both share humour over the craziness that is life, we both had hopeful plans for the future, and most of all, we both just want a joyful, content life. I was just there for my degree credits but as usual, life sneakily decided to teach me other things as well.
Over the years I would meet people and experience the unfortunate discomfort of being racially profiled, because of the way I look or the way I dress. Such is the reality of the current world we live in. We often fear or hate things we don’t understand. On rare occasions I even find myself slanting towards this attitude, and immediately tell myself off. Such is the reality of a flawed human being sometimes.
But then, occasionally you come across wonderful revolutionary people who understands the emphasis of character beyond what is physical. These people become friends, loved partners, trusted colleagues, even family. They would remind you that by the end of the day it is the connection, the meaningful relationships, the shared life aspirations and the happiness we bring to each other’s lives that would actually count. Those are the things we’ll reminisce when we’re eighty and watching the sunset from the balcony of our beach house (oh God I want a beach house).
Happy Ramadhan to those celebrating.
Well of course we all want to make a good first impression with everyone. Everyone. Including our gynaecologist. I know I do. That’s why people put on clean shirts to work and pretend they like their boss’ cats. Say what you will, but even beneath the very statement of a person’s “I don’t care what people think” lies a certain level of consciousness, however small, to want to be impressionable. This perhaps roots from the human’s genetic need to belong to a society, a unit, or even a family.
Sometimes we get a little too desperate to nail an impression that we begin saying things that are not necessarily true. One day when trying to make new female friends at the office, I noticed that most of them were mothers who liked talking about children and I began lying that I adored children just to get myself in the group. As a result I ended up being forced to view so many phone snapshots of babies in one sitting that it was like a witness interrogation program. Similarly, I went out for lunch with a boss once due to saying I would like his thoughts on the economy and almost snoozed and drowned in my bowl of soup as he went on and on for a good hour about the US oil sanction.
Similarly, I have also made up versions of myself to try and impress boys. This happened mostly when I was younger and I was a lot more insecure about myself. I said I liked metal music (I don’t. It’s horrendous). I pretended to enjoy an RM17 plate of banana fritters (not really. The pisang goreng stall near my parents’ house for RM2 per plastic bag is still the bomb). I said I believed in things I didn't. I admitted that I was a night bug to appear fun, got dragged to do things in the city into the early a.m. and ended up spending the next day with a headache at work. I piled on so much makeup that I looked like a Cher reincarnation. I even claimed that I am not at all concerned about money, which for some reason invited really cheap guys into my life (and honey, I know the difference between ‘careful’ and just plain old stingy).
By the age of 25 I began to realise that making up things just for the sake of impression is a sure fire way to create destructive, pretentious relationships with people around me. I mean, how long can you pretend that you enjoy exchanging thoughts on collagen youth drinks during lunch hour? One week. One week until you realise that it is just not worth spending all that time talking about seaweed that can make your skin fairer. On a bigger scale, appearing that you share the same aspirations, interests, passion and opinions just to seem agreeable to other people is exhausting and frankly, pointless. There is absolutely no way you could please everyone. Not even Oprah can pull that off.
So these days I go down the road less taken. I think we all do as we get a little older, as Meryl Streep once said, “I find that I care a lot less about a lot more stuff with age”. By no means at all implying that I am as old as Meryl, I think we all get more and more comfortable being ourselves with time. There is less and less personal need to exhibit ourselves as something we’re not whether it is in the workplace, with friends or with dates.
That being said, it is no question that first impressions are crucial. It’s what gets us a job. It’s what latches people’s interest to further probe. It’s how we make new connections. But at least by understanding where the line is drawn between portraying our best self and pretending someone we are not, we inch a step closer to build sincere, substantial and meaningful relationships with people around us.
It is wishful thinking to want a life free of big mistakes. Even the best of us are bound to make them at some point in our lives. A histogram of mistakes will show a large concentration of them being committed between the late teens to the mid-thirties. When I say ‘big’ mistakes, I don’t mean the mundane ones such as not saving enough for retirement, deciding to not go for an European adventure in 2015 or wearing a hideous outfit to an event. I’m talking about major, earth shattering ones, ones that change your course of life altogether, betray your own ethics or even at times, destroy an important element of your livelihood.
I am product of a judgemental society. That means I will immediately judge you the minute you commit an action that is not the norm of my culture or a huge disobedience of my beliefs (this applies if you are also a member of my faith). Come to think of it, it is normal to make judgement. Humans are designed to be able to assess a situation when it occurs, and assessment and judgment are two peas in a pod. When people say they have no judgement, they are lying. What makes a difference is the extent of the judgement, and a person’s ability to make the most unbiased response based on it.
Unfortunately, for the most of us being judgmental and socially punishing people for their mistakes have grown into a sense of entitlement. We feel righteous in doing so, as it becomes a way for us to reassure ourselves that we are better than these people who made mistakes and were outed for them. I remember a distinct time not too long ago when a girl I knew got knocked up and her boyfriend fled the scene. To that girl, the incident was earth shattering. Imagine being young and clueless, and a mistake is costing her a lifetime of fixing her relationship with her devastated family, making ends meet as she didn’t have much money, and facing the scary world with a child, alone. She was repentful and humbled by what she had done. I became a member of that society who talked about her behind her back, showed little empathy and was judgmental of her circumstance. We set her doom and made sure she never forgot it.
The truth was, if she was sorry she did it and had learned something from it, isn’t the rest of it now between her and her Maker? Meanwhile, it has been accustomed within our society to not be forgiving even when it is obvious that she will already spend the rest of her life making up for it. Now she has moved away and the last I heard she is happily married and beginning a new life. But I can’t help but think – if I had been less harsh and more helpful, perhaps I would have eased her sorrow and made a difference during her hardships however little it may be. I am sorry for how I conducted myself at the time.
Through privileges of meeting people to discuss faith I have also realised a significant difference between the real pious ones and the so-called ‘religious’ followers. The ones that are sincere believers forgive and reach out, always more concerned with what they can do to improve things and make a difference. While the rest of us, well, the rest of us are too busy passing judgment and bitching around to move a muscle and do the exact thing that is asked of us; to become an example of a compassionate human being.
Sometimes I think about the amount of screw ups I had done in the past and how many times I had gotten away with all of them slack-free. I will always be forever grateful with the chances I’ve had, although sometimes it is hard to process what I did to deserve them. But more importantly, perhaps if we are the lucky bunch who made major mistakes and recovered from them scoff free, it is made to turn out that way so we may understand those who are not so fortunate. Perhaps when someday we come across someone that is paying for their own mistakes, we would be empathetic and supportive, instead of tuning into the judgemental monster that lurks inside us, waiting to punish people as we see fit.
I’ve always found myself attracted to people and things that I feel understood me. I like certain kinds of music and certain kinds of books, and I like talking to certain people who sees the world in a certain kind of way. I guess I am doing what everyone else is doing too – we strive to be understood.
Essentially this is what everybody wants for themselves. A black sheep of a family is called a black sheep because nobody else understands what it is like to be him or her. You find soul mates because you have ‘chemistry’, and ‘chemistry’ is for me, just a fancy word for two people who get each other despite the differences. We value friends who we feel have the ‘same wavelength’ with us. Musicians write music and thinkers write books, all for this very same reason.
The older I get, the harder it is for me to feel like I am understood. In school we all wear the same uniform, in college we all want to graduate. But once real life begins, everybody disperses in a million different directions, with our own goals and outlooks in life. Some of us want to achieve a certain career goal and off they go, with their weekend work ethics and million-dollar aim. Some of us just want to get married as quickly possible and off they go, having ten kids before they’re thirty five. Some of us just want to leave home and travel the world, and off they go with their postcard-perfect pictures. Some of us find the life questions a bit too baffling and we take our own sweet time to figure them out, until we’re ready to get to the next phase, whenever that may be.
Unfortunately we live in a community where instead of being understood, we are forced to understand and comply with a set of rules, set by the common community. If you dream too big your feet won’t touch the ground. If you’re bad at maths, you’re probably stupid as a whole. If you don’t have it all figured out by a certain age, then you’re wasting your life away. If you see the world and life differently, then you’re wrong. We keep listening to these sentiments all the time, and yet it never occurred to us that if we’re all meant to think and feel and want the same, wouldn’t we be made as robots instead of people with independent thoughts?
I used to panic whenever I find myself not quite on everyone else’s timeline, or not really understanding things that other people seem to have already figured out. I felt like in my position, predicament and troubles, nobody understood me. Then I realized that if I wanted a solution, I would have to be a part of it. So instead of demanding people to understand me, I tried to understand other people first (it’s not easy though. People are complicated, I’ve come to realize). Their problems. Their life goals. They way they look at life. If I understood people, maybe, I’ll get the favor returned.
Cards I've kept, some dating as far back as the late 90s.
One day, my Mother asked me to clear up some space in my bedroom. I am a hoarder. I keep everything from old school books to empty perfume bottles, weird teenage-phase accessories (like a belly button ring. Why the hell did I have a belly button ring?) to worn out posters of Justin Timberlake. I came across a bag filled with greeting cards.
There were not only greeting cards. There were love letters, small notes scribbled on a piece of torn paper, postcards from friends and even apology notes from girlfriends. I sat on the floor of my room and read through them one by one. Some are hilarious, some are so grammatically incoherent I had no idea what they were saying, and some are downright touching that I immediately remembered exactly how I felt at that moment when I got these notes and writings.
As I went through them each I realized that there are three groups of people who wrote all these – people that have remained in my life up to this day, people I used to be close to but not anymore, and people whom I no longer talk to at all and have no idea what happened to them.
Why do we meet certain people in our lives? I have long ago succumbed to the fact that there is absolutely no such thing as a coincidence. That being said, there is absolutely no such thing as meeting someone by coincidence. It’s all part of the plan, how you fall into a situation where you’ll end up meeting somebody, whether it is a friend at a gathering, an acquaintance introduced by someone else, or a stranger in the bus who you’ll probably never see again, ever. Everyone you meet in this life, you meet for a reason.
Sometimes this leaves me baffled. Why do I always end up sitting next to a weirdo in the plane? Why do I meet friends who drift away eventually? Why do I meet guys who would proceed to hurt me? I spent a lot of time analyzing this as I grew up.
As I made my peace with the fact that no meeting is a chance meeting, I realized that people exists in your life to teach you things you cannot teach yourself. It is part of the Big Plan that you would meet these people, so that you can take away something that you’ve learned about your relationships with them. It doesn’t have to be a prominent lesson or anything, but these are the small things that would eventually build you up to become who you are right now.
The more I settled with this idealism, the happier I became. A friend who turned up to be unreliable? Well at least I now know that relying too much on other people is stupid. An annoying guy you sat next to all through your flight who kept talking about Canada? Well now I know one about one other place in the world. A guy who broke your heart? Well thanks to him I now know a few different bands with great music from his iPod selection.
Knowing many people throughout our lives is a great way to upgrade ourselves. After so many of it we would eventually understand what is and isn’t acceptable in a relationship with other friends. We would understand what really matters when it comes to meeting a guy. We would learn how to be pleasant to everyone, even strangers. We would see that being constantly angry does no good to anyone. One could only hope, that as we grow older, all these ‘upgrading’ processes will eventually leave us with only great, happy relationships with people that matter, in this world that doesn’t.