If you are following me on LinkedIn and other social platforms, you would have known that I changed job, again.

Since 2012 until now, my current job at International Medical University is the forth within five years. The dire determination of changing job extends each time, depending on the situation within that organization but if I could insist you with my chain of swift-logic, I would say there were, a lot of times, droughts of satisfaction – and if anyone dares to ask, “What will give you the ultimate satisfaction?” I would say, “Writing.”

I want to write stories and at least two novels in a year. However, truth is, I cannot now and maybe never earn a living by my writing even though that is the one profession I want. Just like how Sylvia Plath wrote in The Unabridged Journals – What if our work (writing) isn’t good enough? We get rejections. Isn’t this the world’s telling us we shouldn’t bother to be writers? How can we know if we work now hard and develop ourselves we will be more than mediocre? Isn’t this world’s revenge on us for sticking our neck out? We can never know until we’ve worked, written. We have no guarantee we’ll get a Writer’s Degree. Weren’t the mothers and businessmen right after all? Shouldn’t we have avoided these disquieting questions and taken steady jobs and secured a good future for the kiddies?

Writers I know, cannot enjoy quite the same luxury as professionals. I wrote before the doubts I had in my mind whether I wanted to write for money. However living in this century, where money gives you a pinch of happiness, it would be an injudicious move to set that one enormous hesitation aside. Having written all these, I wonder why cannot writers earn just as enough as professionals. Enough is subjective which the term and its application vary according to ideal prosperity one thinks. In my case, I am honestly, greedy. 

No one seems to be willing to question the obvious discrimination our country at large has been practicing since secondary school – science students’ excellence matters compared to art students. This is highly unusual if we ever turn to how our neighbor, Indonesia utilizes their talents in every corner of all islands. Meanwhile in Malaysia, science and technology have an admirable reputation for what we call national development. In such rapidly poisonous force, attempts to foster Malay language as linguistic culture and enforcement seem ludicrous. We had become habituated to neglect what art students can achieve and contribute to this country, hence the result, art people are paid lower for their talents, skills and knowledge. 

There is an underlying theme – that of discrimination. Now it wouldn’t matter if I were alone in this respect. However, I know I am not.

I leave you with one puisi by Usman Awang, Penghinaan;

Bagi kami besi tiadalah erti
kerana besi hancurnya pasti
darah dan hati permainan suci
padanya cinta-kasih termetrai.

Siapa datang memberi kuasa pada cinta
hei penyair, puisimu tiada guna
tutup lembaranmu yang berkhayalan saja
duniamu asing dari keriuhan maya.

Betapa kosongnya dada mereka
hatinya buta matanya terbuka
Sedang dunia kami yang mengisinya
segala warna kami yang mempunyainya
Kami bukan dewa terbang mengembara
kami pengisi dunia dan dunia memberi kami
segala kasih semua derita yang dipunyainya

Luasnya dunia kami sejauh sinat matari
padanya nafas kami menerima dan memberi
cinta-kasih dan kemanusiaan sejati
bukan sekadar gembong menonjolkan diri

New York cheese cake sad story

I cannot sleep.

Five years ago, a week before my ex-boyfriend finally exclaimed the hallucinated sparks between us, I celebrated his birthday. In my purse, I only had RM120.00 before I could go back home after completing a course in Kemaman. With that small amount of money to survive another week there, I bought him a whole Secret Recipe cake priced RM89.90. He loved New York cheese cake and that was what I always be reminded with. I had never bought any cake before, not even for myself, and it was much too expensive for me, as that time I just started working but I bought it still - with the advance pay my office gave to me. I only realised after the birthday celebration that I didn't have enough money to go back home. I felt dry and a wee bit sick a little at first but later I cursed myself when I had a fight with him. A week after that, he left me after five years of long distance relationship. He left me the moment we discovered means of seeing each other better than the university years.

I wasted my money, he enjoyed the cake. I never liked a cheese cake from that night only until now. Tonight, I feel like having a bite of New York cheese cake.

This story of New York cheese cake isn't a selling point of a miserable stupid me but a fear of not succeeding in the relationship I always wish which is the worst blow to security. I told myself several times while writing this, "Out of it, Sheriel. This is the monumental obstacle you created." I even asked me, "You want to live by past reputation?"

Would it sound wrong of me to say: I want? But I do want: a happy love story consisting of two human beings appreciating each other or having someone with wisest sense to not leave the girlfriend (immediately) after she bought a RM89.90 cake. I want more than a happy love story. I want to be alive, seen and heard.

I forgave him long time ago, for deserting me. Last year I heard, he married a doctor and perhaps now expecting a baby. I don’t know. I never had any intentions to be updated with his life. I moved on. But tonight, let’s put the blame on New York cheese cake.

“Would you have the guts to admit you’d made a wrong choice?”, asked by so many people. I didn’t simply answer. How could I know that the choices I made were all wrong until he proved himself so. I liked his warmth, bigness and being-there. I liked his jokes, stories and what he read. I baked cookies and cake, delivered to his campus every raya without failed. All my likings were effort too. I compromised to bear with his weakness, afterall he is just a human being. Was I not good enough? So how could such efforts turn suddenly into a wrong choice just because it was not a successful relationship?

I got rejected by him saying that, “I don’t feel the sparks anymore.” I had no guarantee from the very beginning that how hard I tried and developed myself, it was all just more than mediocre.

Of efforts and relationship, of forgiveness and moving on, of writing and craving – I should have just started my engine, perhaps by now I’d found New York cheese cake at any store available at 2:00am, or, it is just as impossible as having love in return.

A little adrift in Japan (Part 1)

Now, how do I begin?

Before everything else, ‘adrift’ defines our journey in Japan the best. We experienced weird cluelessness, de trop disorientation, and several occasions of losing Google map’s bearing (on serious note, couldn’t even identify south, north, east, and west) and very poor estimation of the distance – despite those wonderstruck moments we ever had. We looked, listened, and observed our surroundings carefully, enthusiastically. Gladly, we made till the end even with a serious incident happened in Osaka. Afterall, our Japan trip was full of stories and surprises.

After several discussions and fixing of flight, accommodation, internal transports, itinerary, petty and critical stuffs, Kuncup, Leen and myself were ready to go. I had the humongous nervous so dubiously, I packed and repacked my clothes at least more than five times. My friend, Izzati who went to Japan umpteenth, besides lent some gears also gave me an advice, “You don’t need the whole wardrobe to be taken with you. It is winter.” Well of course I didn’t listen to her. So now, you can imagine the headache and pain to carry 20kg bag on my shoulder every time we transported from one place to another.

Everything was set so on the 25th December, we assembled at KLIA and were too excited to depart.

Before the running, sweats and curses.

It was an eight hours flight and we couldn't sleep along the way. There was a wailing kid who was annoyed with everything; her mom included. The entire flight, I sat by the window and looked down at the scenery. Approaching twilight, the sky was very beautiful. The red sky stretched far and endless wide it made my thoughts wandered to too many directions. It was really a good distraction.

The night on the same day, we reached Haneda International Airport. It was almost midnight and the airport, like others, full with people around the world sitting and sleeping on the benches. Like us, dozens were coming, going and looking for a place to spend the night. The pilots and stewardesses, strutting back and forth in the lobby with heads held high, all familiar. I couldn't help to see and get outside of the airport to have a different view. But at that time, what mattered the most was a private space. We climbed up to the highest level and slept on floor before the shops. It felt strange and hesitating at first, but after a few minutes, people started to chock. I considered that as something normal. I didn't tell my parents this part of course until today. To my siblings/cousins who read, this is just between us, ok?

And good morning! It was time, to finally explore Tokyo. It was breezing cold. The morning air turned steadily cooler upon approaching the train station. We could hear the winds clearly. We got out the map from Airport Information Counter and it helped us a lot, even though the overlapping subway, train and bus lines was all complicated like a misshapen spiderweb. As we went out early in the morning, we were smack in the middle of a train with hundreds people roaming to work, classes and personal business. What people say about Japaneses walking culture, it is all true. They walk fast. What you will see in the video as well, how effortless they formed line and queued up for escalator at Shinjuku Station (if I'm not mistaken) and another video of people crossing road at the most busiest crosswalk in the world at Shibuya.

And let me tell you one more time, it was very cold. There was no sun and the wind grew brisker and meaner as we stepped further. We covered pretty much of tourist attractions in Day 1. Let pictures present the words, shall them?

Since we already arranged and planned to check-in at 8pm, we only made move to our stay around that time. At Ikebukuro Station, we were bewildered of not knowing which direction to go to our Airbnb when the Google Maps suddenly stopped responding - made us even more clueless. There was a lady walking with her bicycle behind Leen to go back home which at that time we decided to ask her for direction. Instead of just showing us the direction, she warmly had a conversation with us and kindly walked with us to our place. It was almost 3km walk but she made it possible - with her laugh and very kind hospitality.

At one junction where we parted, we asked for a photograph and in return, she gave us a small box of cookies. Dumbfounded we were, we are until now. This will be a story that we will not forget until forever. Yuyi taught us a lesson that the practice of random kindness brings out one's beauty at its best. Yuyi has it.

 See you at Part 2.

Talking siblings

With five posts this month and now writing the sixth, my youngest sister questioned the state of my mind and feelings. To her, I only write here when I am at wits' end, in a cul de sac and never when I am happy. I am not sure whether it is true because indeed, some anecdotes were written intensely with a little teary. But I also believe that everything in life is writable when your imaginations have the guts to improvise, so do experiences attached to you and even without these, your daily routines can be as interesting as hedonic journals. It is your writing. You have all the choices. This favourite youngest sister is talented at ensuring myself to be at my best condition, although sometimes she's worried more than my mother. Now that she is graduating, I cannot believe she is approaching adulthood soon. She has expectations of what this working world will offer and I want her to learn every steps she's going to take. I can guarantee, she will be doing just fine.

17th August today - marks the 25th birthday of my brother. He deserves one part of my perfect loves and I shall always love him. He has good hearts. He is handsome and strong too. Though I expressed a lot of times how I hated him but in my deepest emotions, I think of him as the second best male in the world. We barely have proper conversations in this house. He has his own world. I guess that is what most of the boys love to do - being in their own world. But he sometimes took risks and stepped outside from his comfortable tenement and these were the times my joy and happiness overwhelmed. "Angah buat chocolate chip cookies?" He couldn't deny the smell and good taste. My brother convinced me even not directly - I am not the nervous insecure miserable idiot I was when the jerks left me. He told my mother that I have all the qualities a woman should have and the right man is finding his way to me. I was touched. A moment later when he texted me to remove his car as he blocked our neighbors', I cursed him and told him again - I hate you. With strong hate and love combo, I pray for him to always stay strong.

August so far is a kind month. It could be a reason too why I'm on a blog roll. Three weeks before, my eldest sister complained a lot about her great cramps, stirrings and waves of nausea. I asked whether she was pregnant but she said my excitement shouldn't have excused me to become ridiculous. Alright. She got married in January this year and all those questions of "Dah ada isi ke belum?" definitely disturbed her fattening calm and deliberately put herself into a self-pitying helpless state. I don't like that. She regressed terribly and ofttimes I could listen to her sobs in the toilet; pouring together with the shower but she lost it, I knew. We prayed a lot. We asked from God if that was a sign, make it very clear to us and if it was not, please make her feel better. A zenith of sorts happened few days later, she used the pregnancy test for the eleventh time when all the ten failed. Alhamdulillah. She and her baby both are goodly healthy.

People say that it is the strangers that are easiest to love because they do not demand. I rather wish my love to be difficult. When my people demand, I know because they care.

An informal letter that bends

Yesterday almost passed like the usual days, but I'm glad it didn’t.

I was so tired the moment I reached home from work, I wished to skip my tuition class but Khalid came to me with a wide smile, “Can you help me with something, Kakngah?” I tried my best to dismiss the aching ague of a tired body and instead promised to help with his essay.

I rushed to shower and hoped to call the day off very soon. Once done, I sat with Khalid at his favourite table, noticed he has already begun. “Your friend wants some tips on how to prepare for his coming examination. Write him a letter advising him at least three things he needs to do in order to do well. Write your answer between 50 to 80 words.”

I carefully read the address, date, sentence structure, spelling, grammar just to identify if there was any mistake on that piece of paper. I identified some and asked him to immediately correct them. Khalid didn't protest like yesternights and nebulously did what I asked. Khalid was different. He kept his mouth shut most of the time. The pencil was hardly held and there were sometimes weary sighs in between. “Ikhlas.” I said. “Belajar kena ikhlas.” He just nodded. But the grey sad face was very distracting. I couldn't stand it anymore. “What is it? What is the problem?”

He pointed at the recipient name of the letter.

“Dear Umar..”

“My friend.”
“Anything wrong with him?”
“Umar dah tak datang sekolah dua bulan. He has problems.”
“Tak. Family problem. The parents divorced and Umar lives with his mom. Mom dia…”
“Tak. Mom dia alchoholic. Malam-malam mom dia tak balik. Umar penat tunggu mom dia balik. Bila mom dia balik, dia kena cuci rumah sebab mom dia muntah. Umar kena jaga adik-adik dia. Umar tak boleh datang sekolah dah.”
“How do you know about this?”
“Khalid called him…”
“Khalid rindu Umar?”
“Khalid harap jumpa Umar masa UPSR nanti. Khalid nak masuk boarding school dengan Umar.”
“So you are literally writing this letter to him…”

Khalid tried to finish his essay with struggles. His thoughts and remembrance broke open the sadness and missing he has been keeping for more than two months. I told Khalid several times before - a story must have a character that bends. Khalid did it excellently, even though he was only writing an informal letter. "Umar bends your heart, Khalid?"

This is an essay of someone’s life, on the problem: the weariness of a kid with single-handedly mother. This kid no longer creates his wild imagination with his friend, no longer spends his playful time with football, ninja-goh and Pokemon cards, no longer thinks like what a 12 year-old should think and proves exceptional maturity beyond dreams.

What I told Khalid earlier that, “Belajar kena ikhlas”, I should have reminded me myself too, “Mengajar kena ikhlas”. Umar and Khalid both taught me priceless lessons.

A cliche coming true

Is there ever a day other than feeling exhausted? All I feel like doing after work is sleep. But instead of fulfilling what my brain wants, here I am writing. Yesterday before bed, I wrote a beautiful poem about my life in its discipline, a prison. But sorry, I rather not share it here. I noticed that I’ve been writing a lot these days. Nothing really matters but myself and my writing. As I started this blog when I was in first year at university, this has been recognized as a live journal and keeping this for closely eight years now – I easily notice the patterns of my writing. I am growing wiser. I grew my confidence in writing too, so confident I submitted my manuscript, CARI, to Fixi publication in 2015 which later published online at their Wattpad. To be honest, I am not sure whether CARI is a success so there is no point to brag about it. I have other two manuscripts on my desktop – pending motivation and inspiration so they have been procrastinated for more than two months now. I sometimes got it – having lines in my head here and there so I put them nicely written but either they were too boring or too fancy so they were sent to trash. I mean the lines, not the manuscripts. I sometimes am afraid too of the perceptions on my writing – if it’s a hollow and failing substitute of my real life. That is scary. I also feel a little helpless when I think of my writing being nothing, coming to nothing especially when CARI is not printed. I wonder too if my life would be different if I could put my signature with a short script on the next page to the cover, if I could store money like Ben Campbell of 21 stores his in the ceiling. Would writing make me rich? Would I still have the same Nasi Lemak for breakfast or elegant? Do I write to be rich? There were days, my lethargy came out intensely but I still washed a pile of laundry, my cat, my hair – even those days were the paydays. However great money would make me, I don’t want money to change me. Writing helps me even without money. Just like now - my exhaustion has disappeared.

We can be more than that Mat Saleh

Malaysians maybe have finally resolved determinations to prioritise our tanah tumpah darah before pinning the colourful thumbtacks on the enchanting Europe map. I noticed the trend from TV initiatives that have snowballed circa last year. Some rural districts for instance have been commercially invested not ruining the natural beauty of the places but instead, making them more Instagram worth and worthy experiences. We have little flat space of island and mostly steep, the unforgiving hills, small colourful towns with recognitions of races, big city promising wonderful vista of skyscrapers, beautiful quiet beach, calming lake, forest with all home remedies available and many more.

Looking at the credits at the end of all programs, I do think people behind the scenes deserve rounds of applause for the commitments to put Malaysia on the map. It is astounding now that the tourists do not get confused with the location of Malaysia which had been said in Singapore; vise versa.

And since the initiatives have been cherished by the neophytes and experts (travellers), locals and foreigners, there is someone who attracts goodly attention. Dealing with Malaysia seems to be like breeding thoroughbreds – he knows and enjoys all bits and pieces in here which it all started with a vacation in Pulau Perhentian. Communications he said was the most enjoyable experience – the attempt to speak like locals - later intrigued him to learn some words. Eventually and surprisingly, he speaks like an expert now. The wonderful stay he ever relished so he didn’t want to move, didn’t want to go anywhere else. He decided to just stay here forever. He wanted to enjoy the beach to the fullest, without worrying about anything. And last but not least, he married our people.

I’ve been following him ever since watched his TV program. I enjoyed having my family sitting together in the common room - laughing and feeling a wee bit weird of why does a Mat Saleh speak Terengganu lingo so fluent and somehow matches with his look. Trust me. My family is obsessed with him.

But, really, what is so great in here that you decided to stay, Mat?

Abah said it could be an unexpected discovery for him, a totally new experience. And it could be too – people’s tastes change and the unexpected discovery produces certain feelings like an overwhelming attachment. But mama is more brutal obviously. Malaysia is beautiful. There is nothing strange about that, she protested.

I agree. Malaysia is beautiful. I am living in this free country but going hardly to spend my money discovering the beautiful spots whereby thousands of tourists appreciate their time and experience every year - with the colossal wave, enchanting flora and fauna without a slight boring signal of having Nasi Lemak every breakfast during their stay. This triggers me - fallacy of existence of mostly Malaysians my age: the idea that you have contributed so much to this country, so pessimistic when people talk bad about your country, being all proud of become a part of this country but yet, do not know some crucial facts about this country.

Are we representing our country very good? Well, we may skip that one first. So, here is more preeminent surpassing all other responsibilities – do we know everything about our country? Everything shall include but not limited to history, people of all kinds, festivals, custom and traditions – besides places and foods alone. These are among other significances of essential knowledge and behaviour to serve our purpose and commitment of being Malaysians. 

Last year I think, I was bumped into a friend’s post on Facebook that said, “We Malaysians do not celebrate Thaipusam. We Malaysians enjoy the Thaipusam holiday. And, what is Thaipusam anyways?” I also wrote in my book Cari, in one chapter about Malaysian students studying overseas, of the weirdest confidences and perceptions, “Janggal membayangkan bagaimana kepercayaan boleh wujud hanya atas landasan bahasa di negeri orang tetapi bukan di negara sendiri.”

But two posts I found on Twitter today furnished me with fruitful hopes and aspirations. These too have proclaimed the viability of our purpose and commitment. I am beyond proud.

Instant spirit of overnight nationality is rarely achieved, it is understandable. There is no wrong if you want to spend your money travelling in Malaysia, it’s your money but make it more than Instagram worth. Travelling can teach us more than our History teachers did in school.

We have come long, Malaysians. Learn to appreciate the journey, not the destination.