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. However, if you knew Blackcrow long enough, you could've expected by now very poor time management, and perhaps you would want to remind us too - at least reach KLIA 3 hours before boarding so everyone could share their excitement over lunch and reckon any possible problem with overweight luggage. Sadly, you weren't there so we had ‘fun’ running to the gate because it was the last call already and none of us actually paid attention to time. We had people cheering for us, “Lari dik, lari! Kapal nak terbang dah!”, I considered the percentage of missing our flight, whence almost threw up the lunch. But phew enough though - only a few minutes before the gate was closed, we got to the entry successfully. Everyone was staring at us with killing eyes the moment we stepped into the cabin. Sorry lah.


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.


video


video

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..”

“Umar?”
“My friend.”
“Anything wrong with him?”
“Umar dah tak datang sekolah dua bulan. He has problems.”
“Buli?”
“Tak. Family problem. The parents divorced and Umar lives with his mom. Mom dia…”
“Sakit?”
“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.


What is the most important thing in the world


I yesterday drove my niece from tuition to home. It was almost 8.00pm. At one junction in Kota Damansara, she saw some labours assembling at an entrance of construction site. She asked, “What are they doing?” I took a glimpse but couldn’t see clear enough if there was an accident causing these people to amass. About 20m ahead, I stopped my car. I noticed that all of them outside the gate were not wearing safety helmets nor the safety boots. I wasn’t sure what they were up to. We waited not long enough to know what exactly was happening.

A few minutes later, the gate was opened and a man with safety helmet, boots and striking lime safety vest walked out. These people began to shout and cry. It was chaotic. I later could listen to a very loud voice from the man with striking lime vest answering these people’s scream, “Sepuluh sahaja!” (“Ten only!”) before these men running into the gate desperately like it was a fierce competition. The ten who made it were lucky, and the man with striking lime vest went behind the gate immediately - leaving the rest hopeless labours shouldered walking, deadly net of frustration and maybe in hunger. They slowly left the site while I sighed and continued driving.

My niece was all quiet until the minute we almost reached home. In her wobbly cracked voice, she teared up, “Kesian uncle tu semua!” (“Poor all the uncles!”) I didn’t reply to her.

That situation before my eyes was an enormous under-estimate, because we were fed that our country had so many jobs to offer that no one in this country shall be unemployed. Everyone in this country has the opportunity we say but we are choosy. I begin to doubt that.

I remember when I was in primary school, my teacher once asked, “What is the most important thing in the world?” Some answered house, some said food and some said family. The teacher then told us that we are primarily a bag for putting food into. Only with foods, we live and build a family. And to buy foods, you need money. If you want money, you have to work. I asked my teacher, “If food is the most important thing in the world, why are we building factory instead of having more rice fields, poultry farms and grass fields for cows?” Unfortunately, I don’t remember if my teacher replied or I was kicked out from the class.

Having seen the situation of the labours yesterday, I started to wonder the question my teacher asked me, “What is the most important thing in the world?” These labours begging for job must be living their lives in heat, noise, confusion, darkness, foul air and unbearably cramped space. I wonder if foods were the only determination to strive against the steeplechases of immigration.

Sungai Penchala for instance is filled with majority of Indonesian Kerinchi people. Do your research and you will find beautiful paddy field across the lands, alongside their roads. Or whenever you come for lunch at infamous Sambal Hijau, have a chat with the kakak behind Kedai Runcit Hayati counter; she will be so excited to show you her lovely kampung, maybe the chickens and ducks too. When my family and I lived in Taman Tun Dr. Ismail while Abah was serving the police station, Abah made friends with the Indonesians in Sungai Penchala, Once, when we were desperate looking for someone who could repair our leaking roof and do piping work, we asked the kakak behind the counter at Kedai Runcit Hayati and she introduced us to Uncle Mohsin. I remember the first day he came to our house with his wife. I was also amazed to listen to his lingo which sounds ever alien than the TV3 sinetrons which later he told me that they were from Kerinchi. I also learnt that day that they were in Malaysia for money.

“Untuk makanan ye, Uncle Mohsin?”
(“Is it for food, Uncle Mohsin?”)

“Tidak. Semua di sana punya sawah, kebun dan lembu sendiri. Di sana pasar tak laku.”
(“No. Villagers have their own paddy fields, farms and cows. There (in my village), the market has no business.”)

“Jadi?”
(“So?”)

“Supaya ada wang boleh membeli. Supaya boleh membeli kereta, membeli batu buat rumah lagi besar, membeli buku untuk anak-anak di sekolah, membeli baju cantik-cantik.”
(“So we have money to buy stuffs. So we could buy cars, bricks for bigger house, books for kids in school and pretty clothes.”)

I wanted to ask further but I didn’t want my question to be misinterpreted as an insult. I knew some stories of people coming to Malaysia by boat and the foul air they have been breathing in the construction site, coughing the dust out of their throat and nostrils – I wonder whether being in Malaysia is wonderful enough with the amount of money these people bring back home. I also wonder whether their rights as labours are protected. I wonder whether they successfully build big house as they dream or the children go to school without new books, new uniforms. I wonder a lot.

But, what is the most important thing in this world for the labours begging for job at the entrance? They might not come from Kerinchi where availability of foods is unquestionable. They could be coming from the poorest family in the district and having bedridden parents. They also could be escaping from wars in their hometown. They could be having many stories to tell.

The unemployment among immigrants is a problem to think. It is scattered and queerly unobtrusive. These unemployeds cannot settle to anything. They cannot just simply command the spirit of hope to bring good news to their families, with that unemployment hanging over them. I believe that they came here to prove the existence of hope but instead of raging against their destiny, they pushed themselves to make hope tolerable by lowering their standards. They begged for job. The competition among themselves has become so fierce. I don’t want that to be an extraordinary custom well worth seeing. I didn’t stop my car to enjoy watching them losing hopes.

I didn’t tell you earlier. When my niece cracked, “Kesian uncle tu semua!” (“Poor all the uncles!”) and contemplated such sadness, there were two questions that stroke me. First, is this inevitable? Second, does this matter to ‘us’? Me, you?


The matriarchal dominance

I'm back.

Last week, I visited a hospitalized old auntie, regardless having zilch idea who she was but climbed up the ward stairs nonetheless for the sake of common courtesy.

That old auntie was warded due to chronic shaking after several times of attempt to injure herself. The son told us that his mother thought she was still in her 20s and that day when she saw her face in the mirror, she went tantrum. I wasn't sure that time if the hospital could do anything to convince her that the gray-haired she sees in the mirror is no one but herself. I wasn't sure too if amnesia could be treated.

I stood there ironically feeling rather blissful to listen to her witty talk trying to flirt with my friend in her 20s sway. She spoke slowly and soft with a peculiar enunciation but never forgot to insert titter each time my friend replied to her. She didn't see anyone else in the room but my friend. She seemed to be on her heels and she liked my friend so much.

Until a few minutes later, my phone rang and that disturbed her focus. Dead silence awkwardly filled the air very immediately. She hated me. I was convinced that I must be one attractive lady who imposed a monumental obstacle at the moment she almost won it.

"Sorry..."

I was generous. She needed my friend more than I needed him. She needed human kind. As I stood there, distanced a little further from her bed, she felt better.

May you always be happy, Aunty Nor.