Sunday, September 25, 2016

Book Nook: Letters to a Young Poet

I’m in the midst of reading Letters to a Young Poet and it’s a testament to how beautifully written it is that it’s a short book and I’m not even near half of it. Now on the face of it, that seems to defy the very definition of page-turner, but the best analogy I can think of (surprise, surprise, it’s food related – but hey, you write what you know!) is when you take a bite of something so delicious that from the get go, you force yourself to slow down and savour every bite. It isn’t only that every phrase I’ve read uses words that feel so deliberately chosen and lyrical (hehe, like how a great chef chooses every ingredient of his dish), but Rilke's advice itself is nothing short of insightful. 

I confess that I've never consciously read any of his poems, but that's definitely going to change. Although his letters went to an aspiring poet that he got to know, they are just as applicable to any one of us. Here's one of my favourites:
“to keep growing, silently and earnestly, through your while development; you couldn’t disturb it any more violently than by looking outside and waiting for outside answers to question that only your innermost feeling, in your quietest hour, can perhaps answer.”
Yes, yes, and yes. 

As he shares his advice, he holds little vanity for the help he offers. In his words, “many things must happen, many things must go right, a whole constellation of events must be fulfilled, for one human being to successfully advise or help another.” Sure, this doesn’t necessarily gel with my job of giving out legal advice, but when we look at how people receive advice, often it has to come at the right situation, with the right words, at the right time for it to really hammer home. Recognising this reality takes away so much of the pressure with giving advice and even in receiving it. 

It must be incredible to write with the passion with which he does. He implores the recipient of his letter to seek the reasons for which he writes, to see if it has “spread its roots into the very depths of his heart”, and if so, would he “would have to die” if he were forbidden to write. Whoa, right? I don't know if such an intensity even exists. There's hardly anything I can find myself dedicating months to, yet alone an entire lifetime. But let's say we've found this passion, this thing of which we could not live without; Rilke then advises that we “build our life in accordance with this necessity, and turn our life, even in its humblest hour, as a witness to this impulse”. Purposeful living at its finest. His words ring with a religious rigour and have roused a desire in me to seek out things I’m passionate about, rather than pick out the life that brings the most comfort. How rewarding it must be to pursue passions and yet know that the validation we seek isn’t external. 

I’m not sure if Rilke intended this, but I find his words so inspiring in my exploration of Christianity. When asking us to seek out what we would die for and to dedicate our lives to it, it gives a little insight as to how the disciples must have felt when sharing the gospel. Looking away from external validation reminds me to look to God because it’s not about what the world thinks. And as I learn more and more about this faith, I stumble across so many hurdles and am by no means done learning. Rilke has this to say about growing: 
It's not like “numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn’t force its sap, and stands confidently in the storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come. It does come. But it comes only to those who are patient, who are there as if eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly silent and vast.” 
Maybe if I had read this sooner, I wouldn't have written my previous post the way it turned out. Because I have dedicated many thoughts on adulthood and growing up, and if I just trust in it and do as Rilke suggests, maybe I'd be less concerned with who I want to be, and instead, be more interested in who I am. 

It’s such a great book, with a pdf available online here for those who are interested. Highly recommended for anyone who's stuck in the millennial conundrum of who to listen to now that real life is rearing its head. If you’ve read it, do let me know your favourite bits and we can start a conversation.

Till next time! 

Friday, September 16, 2016

What makes us adults?

Not the kind of question that there's a definite answer to but the kind that gets lots of answers anyway. 

I think adulthood is the sort of thing that always seems a little elusive - you know, when we're 13, we think we'd really be grown ups after high school at 17, only to realise ha, not really, we're not; then waiting till we're 18 because somehow being able to legally drink means society trusts us enough to make responsible decisions, which well, for the most part just plainly isn't true, so maybe we'd be adults after university, or after our first jobs, or after our first heartbreak, etc - and it's something that seems almost perpetually out of reach because when will we ever be truly mature??

I think we live a lot of our lives having people look after us, and then almost suddenly, we're the ones responsible for someone else. I suppose, one day, you'll be reflecting on your life when you wake up to find that you have lived a decent number of years and learned very many things and perhaps, that's when you'd realise that adulthood you were searching for as a child has arrived and boom, you're in it and people are relying on you. Well, that's what I think. 

And it's a fitting thing to think about because in a little over a week, I'll be turning a year older. It's not so much the age of 22 that's significant, but the fact that in the year that's passed, there has been many milestones to celebrate. From graduating from university, to moving back home to Malaysia, and starting my first ever full-time job, (which are conventionally 'adult' things), there have been a couple of times where I've wondered if this was what adulthood is like? 

After thinking about it, I've come up with a preliminary hypothesis about how to do life that would work for every scenario. Put simply, focus on priorities and consequences. It's pretty obvious but once I vocalised it, it really helped me think about the person I want to be and making decisions became a lot clearer. I don't think anyone knows our priorities better than ourselves and we are the ones who have to live with the consequences of our decisions. 

When we make decisions, we can always ask ourselves what are our priorities and what are the consequences of it? What is it that's important to us? Why is it that we do the things we do? Family? Money? Feelings of validation? Once we determine what's important to us, we know the choices we'd consider. 

After that, we think of the consequences. And this is a potentially never-ending list depending on how imaginative we can be. But when it actually comes to making a decision, the only question you really want to ask yourself is.. "Can I accept the consequences?" Every action comes with its own set of consequences that may range from good to bad, to meh doesn't matter, and if you can deal with these consequences, even the worst possible one, then make that decision. No one can tell you how the consequences make you feel, because like it or not, we all react differently to different things. 

It's easy to get bogged down with making the right decision. At the end of the day, think about things that matter to you, whether it is God, or your family, or the opinions of others, and recognise there aren't really any right decisions; if someone makes up their mind to do something and things do not go as planned, if they can deal with the consequences, they can make the best of the situation. 

So in the past few weeks, I've been trying to live life with that in mind. My family recently adopted a dog from the SPCA, which was a very difficult decision to make. We've been dog owners before and it definitely isn't easy. We eventually settled on Lisa, a golden retriever mix with tendencies for nipping that she developed at the shelter. It's been a tough journey trying to get used to having her but rewarding at the same time. At the point of adoption, I felt that getting a dog was a priority to me. 

I really wanted one after coming home, but it was the consequences that we had to think about. If things didn't work out, what was the plan? Since she's been home, she's chewed on furniture, bitten me till I bled, and we have a few ripped pairs of slippers. But I find myself being blessed by her company and her cheery face; I felt that I could deal with the consequences, although I've had others recommend that I send her back or even wait a few months before picking her up again. It was what mattered to me and being able to accept those consequences made me more relaxed when dealing with her, and I don't just hope she doesn't act out, but prepare for the event that she does. 

The dog that gets treated like an Egyptian goddess 

I've been trying to make my family a top priority and have been taking steps trying to show them more that I appreciate them. The great thing about finally beginning work is that I now get a paycheck, and I was privileged to have been able to treat them to a meal from it! Now it's not anything extravagant but it's still a pretty satisfying feeling being able to sit on the other end of the bill. 

My brother very kindly offered to get the cheapest thing on the menu :P 
Over one weekend, my mother and I headed back to Taiping for some food hunting with the grandparents. Is it just me or are sunsets in rural areas so much better?? As per custom, we took a walk around the neighbourhood my mom grew up in, complete with the requisite oohing and ahhing over the changes her old primary school went through. We strolled as the sun began to set and by the time we got back to my grandparents' house, the sky was a burst of warm colour - a beautiful gradient we couldn't help but stop and admire. 

Spent some time admiring the gloriousness of RM3.50 meals (about 70p?) too.

Weekends are built for activities and my mom and I even signed up for a pretty lame workshop on making candle holders. Notwithstanding the damage I caused to my fingers with the provided hammer, I have to admit it was pretty therapeutic putting my hands to work. And I suppose thinking of my priorities and the consequences I'd accept helped me a lot more in deciding whether to hammer that next nail in. And well, what I wanted to do with my time, money, and stomach space. 

Hammered at my fingers so many times because.. hand-eye coordination is a stranger I never got to know. 

Right now, adulthood is as elusive as ever. But I like where I am and am going to enjoy it. I'd like to think the decisions I'm making now are ones I can look back fondly and free of regret in the way I'm choosing to spend my days. It's not to say that years later I won't look back and wonder why is it I chose to spend so many hours of my life typing away here, but I guess for now, that's a consequence I can deal with.

Till next time! 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

It Takes Two!

Best faces are familiar faces.
Sealing the deal as Zhengs' manager. :P
Loved ones.

Zheng Xi and Joanna, two people I'm very happy to call friends, had their debut duet performance at Theatre Lounge Cafe yesterday. There comes a tinge of pride with having to pay money to watch high school friends perform ("Yes, we were all good friends back in the day," I would say to a reporter, insisting that I be referred to as an anonymous insider) and more satisfyingly so, to do that, and leave knowing every Ringgit was well worth it for such talent.

In the intimate setting of the Theatre Lounge Cafe, Jo, Ce and I were seated at the back of the room, where we were treated to a great view of the stage, and a welcome drink to boot. We arrived at customary Malaysian timing, reassured that we weren't really late, as we were walking through the doors alongside Zheng Xi's brother. We squeezed in a few hellos to familiar faces before the lights dimmed, we were ushered to our table, and the show began!

And what a delight it was. The show was like peeking into an audio diary, as both Joanna and Zheng Xi shared experiences from their university lives and time in London, taking us on a ride with them through happiness, sadness, and a little bit of sass along the way. Some favourites like Frozen's "Love Is An Open Door" planted a wide smile on my face whilst their rendition of "All I Ask of You" from the Phantom of the Opera left me wiping away some very proud tears.

Having known them both personally, their talent was never in question. But the extent of it was shown that night as Zhengs seemingly effortlessly accompanied his singing with the piano, and Joanna laid out some pretty sick rap lines. They took on ridiculously ambitious songs and although I'm no music expert, did them so well I wish I was more familiar with the musicals they quoted and songs they sang. There were times after the intermission that you could feel their energy fighting to stay high, and kudos to them both for powering through, always with a smile on their faces!

Throughout it all, despite the sheer professionalism in their singing as they embodied their characters, the audience got to know them better as their personalities shone through their lovingly awkward script. I couldn't help but smile as they made friendly jabs at each other and cracked jokes so lame that I felt forced to laugh. When they adorably told us they prepared an Encore number for the audience (even before we had finished clapping), I thought to myself, "How could anyone not love these syok sendiri people?"

It takes two to tango and from the name of their performance, it misleadingly implied it takes two for their show. But I assure you, once you've heard them charm the audience through their solos, you know for sure that those two could very well hold their own. Both of them have remarkable individual stage presence, but luckily for us, decided to perform together anyway because they have excellent stage chemistry too.

I had a wonderful night watching It Takes Two, and when you know the performers are loving their work, you can't help but love them for it.

They featured on The Edge here.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Cravings in Malaysia

I was speaking with a friend the other day and the topic of blogging came up. ‘Wasn’t your last post the one where you said you would start blogging again? And wasn’t that one like.. ages ago?’ I know, I know! I’m guilty! It’s easy to think that something you don’t like would be difficult to do, but it’s surprisingly difficult to get myself to the computer to type... although admittedly, when I’m here, it’s even harder to make me stop.

I have lots to say about graduation and all its associated feelings (happiness, confusion, uncertainty, etc.) but inevitably, when I returned here, my life instantly began revolving around food once again. Before I was due to come home, I was so eager about all the food I was going to have in Malaysia that I almost completely forgot about shedding the weight I put on over the exam period. Of course, it hasn’t helped that I’ve been closely following Bangsar Babe’s food adventures. But rather than deprive myself of all my favourite things, Boyfriend suggested I come up with a list of 5 things that I really wanted to have and pace those out.

With the entire packing period being too hectic, I wasn’t able to eventually come up with a list, which eventuated into glorious meals with my friends and family. From delicious banana leaf rice with my mom, oooey gooey matcha lava cake with my friends, yummy durian, to amazing chicken rending from my very own kitchen, I’ve really been able to indulge, hehe. 

Now that I’ve settled down a fair bit in the past week though, I’m finally sitting down to put this list together. And in no particular order, with images sourced online, I’ve narrowed down these cravings to:

1. Mee Mamak (+ ayam)

I haven’t found the one true place that does it to my heart’s content, but mee mamak is my ultimate favourite order at a mamak shop. Not even maggi goreng can top this for me. For the uninitiated, mee mamak is pretty much fried noodles with egg, tofu, a hint of vegetables, and a huge burst of flavour. I always add some chicken to it which takes the entire dish to another level.

2. Nasi kunyit + curry chicken

I’ve had cravings for this for ages. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve adored nasi kunyit. It is chewy and sticky, and when warm, it just goes down so incredibly well with a side of curry chicken. For my non-Malay speaking friends, kunyit is turmeric, which is what gives it its distinctive yellow colour – so none of that artificial stuff! I didn’t know how good it could be for you (read more about its benefits here!), and in this day and age where so many food articles seem to indicate foods being harmful and cancer causing, it’s great to justify my indulgence with good news.

3. Claypot lou shi fan

Man, a good bowl of this and I’m satisfied for ages! Silky noodles and runny egg are the absolute perfect combination. It’s not exactly a new thought, considering carbonara runs on the same principle. But throw in some minced meat, chopped mushrooms, lots of soy sauce and you get this glorious steaming bowl of deliciousness. If you think it’s good, wait till you get to the bottom charred bits.

4.  Face 2 Face Dry Curry Chicken Pan Mee

I have been having a particular craving for this dish. The curry here is thick and spicy, going well with the springy noodles. When topped with a huge tablespoon of chilli, this dish gets me sweating and gasping for water, but I can’t stop till I reach the end. I don’t think anyone else I know has the same affinity for this, but I put it down to them not having tried it the way I have. If you’re ever in Malaysia, look for Face 2 Face (it’s a chain restaurant) and if you can handle the heat, please give it a try! 


I don’t actually have a 5th dish although I thought about it for ages! So I’m leaving my 5th as the abundance of iced Milo I’m bound to drink back here. Although we can always make our own from sachets, it isn’t quite the same as having a cool glass in front of you, sweet from a more condensed milk than I’d ever put on my own, and served in that iconic mug that will always remind me of my childhood.

Cheers to being back!

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Afternoon Tea in Harrods

Right now, I have no clue if I'm jetlagged or just plain tired. Or if in fact, whether there's even a difference between the two. All I know is that my eyelids feel heavy at 7pm, my brain is awake at 4am although my body's begging for sleep, and at 11am, I'm groaning as I force myself awake. Bright-eyed and chirpy in the mornings, I am not.

But as a woman on a mission - that mission being show my mom around London - I've been determined not to allow the days to pass by idly in bed and we force ourselves out of the house and into the outdoors for the beautiful summer days that have been so kindly presented to us. 

Today was one such day, which began with my favourite duck confit sandwich at Brunswick Square Gardens, which you must must try! Head over on a Saturday, fork over the £6, pile on the plum sauce and savour every happy bite. I've had it more times than I can remember and every single time I've gone, I've murmured Ahhs and Mhmmms in between bites of delightfully crispy duck confit and warm bread. 

But as much as I love the sandwich, the star of today's post is the afternoon tea at The Tea Room in Harrods. After some strolling along King's Cross to make room for more food after the sandwich and some paella we got at the market, we boarded the tube and set off to Knightsbridge for a lovely afternoon spent indulging, both in the food and in people watching. 

If there's one place to people watch, The Tea Room is most certainly one. With a huge window facing the inside of the department store, you could argue it was specifically designed to allow half your face to remain hidden behind a floral cup of aromatic tea with your eyes peeking over to watch all sorts of people walk by. Many have designer bags on one arm, shopping bags in another, and almost all are dressed incredibly well. 

It was 2pm and we queued for about 10 minutes before being seated, and for £32, ordered The Wedgwood which came with a pot of tea, two scones, one of their sweet treats, and some finger sandwiches.

The first time I had scones there when Boyfriend took me for Valentine's Day, I was blown away by how buttery and melt-in-the-mouth they were. Combined with their clotted cream and Raspberry jam, it was like a very sweet happy party in my mouth. This time, their scones didn't come out as warm and was more dry than the previous time, but after lathering on their delicious cream and wonderful jam, I still finished every crumb and my mom had no complaints. 

I really enjoyed the sandwiches too which comes in three flavours - egg, smoked salmon, and beef. I especially liked the one with beef which was very tender and flavourful. Was there caramelised onions in there too? I'm not sure, but whatever it was, it was fantastic and the clear winner of the three. Although the rest were nice, I feel like I could have them anywhere else, yknow. Not with the beef. No, this one tasted special. 

We had a choice of a dessert from their display and oh boy, was that a hard decision or what! With a weakness for chocolate, I almost went for their chocolate bar, but was strongly recommended to try their Strawberry Pistachio Fraisier and I was so glad I did! 

This was absolutely delicious! Not only were there huge fresh strawberries on the outside, the cake was light and fluffy - almost like mousse but less creamy - and right in the centre, there is a molten wonder of pistachio goodness. My mom and I took a bite, and our eyes widened because it was just so good. Apparently it's a big bestseller of theirs and I can see why. 

Although not the best value for money afternoon tea set out there, I say it's worth the money for the chance to have that 'English experience' of having tea in Harrods, sitting in the company of those with vastly different lifestyles and for a moment, sharing in it too.