The Tummy Grabbing Game

Eizwan and I are generally hermits. Sure you may see us flitting about town, carrying big pots and various plants or…doing something really stupid like buying an oversized steamer that you have to carry from the home décor fair just because it’s on discount, all the way from Hall 2 in PWTC up the ramp into Hall 1 PWTC and then into the Best Western Hotel and out of the Best Western Hotel onto a road that’s filled with heavy machinery because they’re doing massive road works, all the while juggling a beast of a product that might topple you right into the direction of a speeding Mercedes who is far too important to stop for an ordinary pedestrian like moi, trying to navigate across a treacherous road like Kuala Lumpur because, really, who needs to stop for people who can’t afford cars or drivers to drop them off, but generally. Yes. We’re both homebodies, so you rarely do see us about town.

But when we do go out – we find that the number one question people ask us is this: “So…how is married life?” The thing is,no one actually ever waits for the answer, they usually have a glint in their eye and they zone in on my tummy. Which thankfully since I’ve lost weight, is less flabby these days.

The second question that follows, is the most pertinent question that everyone wants to know. Most people are subtle, as in, as subtle as a brickbat to your face: “So…biler lagi?” (When is the hypothetical baby coming along?). Some are less subtle like the open grabbing of your flabby tummy in public, groping you and then shouting aloud: “Eh? Takde isi ke?” (What? Is there nothing inside?)

I know pregnant mums complain about this constantly – saying that the moment they get pregnant, their tummies are fair game for everyone to touch, to caress and to grab. But do spare a thought (just a few seconds, won’t hurt you) and think about the newlyweds whose tummies are also fair game. This is a common trend amongst Malaysian aunties, like somewhere in the Book of Aunties there is a commandment that says, ‘Thou Must Grab the Stomachs of Young Newlyweds and Harass Them on Their Fertility.’

Is it terrible to say that I’m so used to the groping that it’s become a motivation to lose even more weight? How embarrassing would it be to have someone grope you and announce proudly to everyone that a baby is on the way, while you stand there, red-faced, stammering, ‘There’s no baby, I’m just fat’.

It is funny though, that in a modern world, we still see fertility issues as a predominantly female issue. Malaysian uncles don’t grab their newlywed nieces’ stomachs (perhaps there is that issue of sexual harassment, arrest and jail-time hovering over them), only Malaysian aunties do. But everyone should know by now that fertility is an issue that covers both men and women and if aunties do feel the need to be nosy and to humiliate, it would only be fair if they humiliate both parties.

That is why, it’s only fair that after grabbing a woman’s stomach, it would be best that Malaysian aunties grab the husband’s crotch as well, and then shouting aloud, ‘Why? Not performing well, is it?’

My plants, my lovely, lovely plants.

When the going gets tough, the tough….well, procrastinates.

I really try hard not to procrastinate – but when work becomes unreasonable with you, it only seems fair that you become unreasonable to work. The number of yellow stickies are growing by the minute on my mac and soon, it will leave the desktop to crawl onto the dining table. Eventually it’ll crawl up the stairs and then swamp me over when I’m in bed. It would be an embarrassing way to end your life – Death by Sticky Notes.

Of course, the most practical thing to do when swamped with work would be to – well, work of course.

But this is Adlina, we’re talking about. I laugh in the face of practicality and efficiency. I’m not German! I’m Malaysian!

Therefore, whatever free time I have, I dedicate to gardening instead.

I’ve been thinking about gardening for a long while. I love to cook and buying Western herbs in Malaysia becomes very expensive after a while. Also, I have a fridge that has a habit of freezing everything that goes in there, even though, as far as I know, I did not actually buy a freezer and so a lot of vegetables in there go to waste.

As always, all my obsessions stem from something. When the meat curing obsession started (stopped for now because I could not find sodium nitrates, and there’s only so much salted beef I can take without my blood pressure reaching to the roof) – I started it because of the bresaola I had at Vicenzo IT. I made cheese because the yoghurt had begun to curdle and I did not want to waste it.

With gardening, I’ve always wanted to grow my own basil I’ve had daydreams where I’d have bushels of basil that I can, of course pulverize – and then make basil pesto. Gardening for the sake of gardening? Pshaw! I don’t do that. I do things if there’s benefit to me. Like cats keep out the pests (but they seem to be a bit useless these days, eating more and lazing about more) and plants are meant for eating.

I dragged the husband a week back to Ace Hardware to get all the stuff I needed to plant. I did my research (ish) and was ready. Eizwan was stunned through out the entire escapade – he already had to risk botulism with my cured meats, and now he has to support the wife through another one of her silly adventures. He stayed mostly gobsmacked through out the entire time at Ace Hardware and only occasionally said things like ‘Uh, are you sure about this? You’re not going to be wasting money are you?’

To be fair to Eizwan, I’ve not had a very good track record when it comes to plants. I bought a ton when my friend D came over to visit, because I bragged to him about having a garden over email. It all died before he came. And then I bought a basil plant which also struggled. I tried to nurse a basil plant by talking to it, having conversations and still it died. I was quite sad.

We spent our Saturday putting our little garden together. I bought all the herbs from Cold Storage – I’m just one herb away from completing Simon and Garfunkel’s Scarborough Fair (Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, for the uninitiated  – missing parsley) and we re-potted them.

The basil, next to my mint, which I’ve nicknamed the Water Monster.

Sage that is growing really, really well. The thyme, well it was rescued from oblivion although I think it’s a 50-50 survival rate

Well, actually, Eizwan started to repot them and I bossed him around until he said ‘Hey! This is supposed to be your project! Don’t just stand there! Get your hands dirty too!’ But I think he really got into it, to the point that he woke me up in the middle of the night a few days ago, in the midst of a terrible thunderstorm to ask, ‘Do you think the plants will be okay?’

We repotted them in compost with a bit of organic fertilizer in there to help them grow.

And then I brought out my seed packets and said ‘Okay, let’s plant these!’

In true Adlina and Eizwan fashion, we did not really know what to do nor were we patient enough to go back to our PCs and do a bit of reading. I remember vaguely from Geography and Kemahiran Hidup (Life Skills classes) on what to do. I know it’s something to do with putting the seeds in a separate pot and letting them grow and then transplanting them.

I’m not going to go into detail what we did next but let’s just say that we got it all wrong. I’m not going into detail with what we did (err…take entire seed packet, pour them all in?) what I did but let’s just say when you garden, don’t do stupid like how I did.

Stringbeans and my err…carrot seedlings. Don’t. Just don’t mention it. I know. We were being silly.

I mean now we have to think about transplanting lots and lots and lots of seedlings from one tiny pot without affecting their roots. Oh, the joy.

Been one week and so far so good! Perhaps the curse have been lifted. They’re still alive. I’ve used some of the herbs in my cooking already, sage, thyme and oregano for a herb roasted chicken – although I admit, I’m a bit stingy. I like herb plant bountiful as opposed to naked.

My mum is warning me not to get too attached to my plants – they can still die but really, in  my mind, I’m already daydreaming about the wonderful things I can cook with the produce from my concrete garden. Hmmm……

Doing Things Yourself – Or The Buncho Paint Story

Sometimes, people find my fiercely held independence a little bizarre. I am fiercely independent – I don’t like depending on people. Sometimes I take it to the extreme. That is why I cure my own meats. And why I’m planning a vegetable garden in the little plot of concrete in the front of my house. And why, in my grand designs for the future, a maid is never in the picture. I like doing things myself.

And that is why I don’t hesitate buying expensive equipment to help with the chores in the house. If it helps make my life easier – why not? A few weeks back, it was a ridiculously expensive steamer so that I no longer have to iron using a traditional iron.  I am currently saving up for a little robot vacuum cleaner, and then eventually funding research for a robot that will clean the house for me (as long as it does not declare robot war on me. Robot wars are almost always, in my mind, worse than zombie apocalypses).

This extremity is not limited to me. I think perhaps, it’s best to say, it was inherited from my mother. I was not alone when I bought the steamer – my mum bought one too so that she could steam the clothes away and save time whilst she does some other mad superwoman thing. Her house is filled with DIY goodies – she drills walls, plants herbs (though they die when the cats eat them) and she does everything herself.

Even….

‘Herein lies the problem,’ my mum huffed. ‘This house that we live in today is huge.  And it looks terribly plain. I don’t like plain houses.’

‘So the countless of paintings and pictures you have,’ I said, thinking about the time when my brother and I yanked out 50, yes, count that, 50 hooks used to hang up paintings, from our small apartment when we were prepping to sell it, ‘isn’t enough?’

My mum did not look convinced. ‘No, it’s not.’

‘So what are you planning on doing?’

‘Well, since now I have a little bit more time since I steam the clothes as opposed to ironing, I’m thinking of picking up a hobby. A useful hobby.’

‘Oh?’

‘Yes, yes. I shall pick up watercolour painting. That way, I can paint stuff and hang it up on the wall! And I’ll have a hobby.’

At which point my brother, The Artist, burst out laughing. ‘You paint?! I went to an Art School ™ and even it was hard then! What makes you think you can paint?’

‘Hey, don’t you laugh at me. Have I told you the story about my PMR exam?’

‘Countless of times,’ my brother and I said at the same time.

‘How can we forget? You painted rocks to hide the feet of people because you didn’t know how to draw feet.

‘The subject was ‘Picnic by the beach’. So there were lots of rocks by the beach. Well, whatever. I got an A. So you can’t say I can’t paint.’

‘Are you sure that they did not give everyone an A? You know, like how everyone is a little bit special?’

‘Hey, not everyone got an A.’

‘Regardless, think back to when you actually did your PMR? How long ago was that? Forty years ago!’

‘Oh, that long ah? I’m sure painting is like riding a bike, can’t ever forget it.’

My brother and I spent ages trying to convince her to find an alternative to painting. I suggested she get herself a dSLR, my mum used to take plenty of photos and some of the nicest photos she hung on the world were the stuff she used to do on her own.

‘Photography is expensive,’ she said dismissively. ‘How expensive can painting be? I’m going to get some cheap brushes, some Buncho paint and then I’ll paint.’

For those not in the know, Buncho paint is a staple, an almost rite of passage for every Malaysian school child doing art. I paid RM 10 for a set of paint about 15 years ago. It was a crappy and cheap set of paint, it always turned rock hard by the time class started – and then sometimes fungus would grow inside them. I don’t actually have fond memories of Buncho paint – it reminds me of my scary art teacher, a domineering Chinese lady by the name of Puan Christine (Mrs Christine) who always wore dark sunglasses.

A part of my fear of art still stems from her, especially since she had so much glee in failing her students and sneering at our pieces.

‘Buncho paint?’ my brother, The Artist exploded. ‘No, you buy special paints! Why don’t you start with acrylics – it’s much easier.’

‘But Buncho paint is much cheaper.’

‘And you can’t buy cheap brushes,’ my brother, The Artist continued to argue. ‘It’ll leave streaks on your paper. Believe me, I’ve done it.’

‘I’m not an artist,’ my mother said, defending herself. ‘Cheap brushes will be fine. Buncho paint is cheap.’

‘Fine,’ I say. ‘So what will be the subject of your painting?’

‘Buncho paint.’

‘No, what Lin is asking, is what are you planning on painting. Not the medium of your painting.’

‘Oooh. Yes. Well, I was thinking of painting paddy fields, kampung houses and buffaloes. They’ll go very nicely on the walls.’

‘Have you seen a paddy field recently? There aren’t any buffaloes in KL. You’re going against the first rule of painting! Paint what you see, not what you think you see!’ my brother, The Artist said despairingly.

‘Well, yes, but we’re taught to paint kampung houses and paddy fields in school, you see?’

It’s true. My mother had a point. Even I was taught to paint paddy fields, buffaloes and kampung houses despite growing up in a very suburban part of Kuala Lumpur. And the first time I actually saw a paddy field proper was when I was 22. Suppose again it is another Malaysian education tradition.

‘Fine,’ my brother, the Artist said. ‘I’ll lend you my brushes. You can take some of the books I have on painting and you can practice.’

‘Does this mean you’re going to help Umi?’ I ask my brother, The Artist.

‘Of course not,’ he said. ‘I’m just going to sit back and laugh when this all goes wrong.’

What is it about me?

This has been a terrible and harrowing week for me. It’s a bit difficult to describe what exactly happened without revealing who was involved in it but to put it mildly, this was the week when I found out what people whom I loved and trusted really thought of me.

To put it mildly, after years of trying hard, after years of trusting and wanting to make it work – it all sort of collapsed last Sunday. The emotions were a bit of a roller coaster, I switched between raw anger to despondency within a week. The first few days were the most awful, a kind of numbness descended upon me – I felt nothing and yet I dissolved into tears at the drop of a hat.

You know, I can handle anger and I can handle emo-ness. But sadness, betrayal – these are difficult things for me to digest. While emo-ness leads to lovely writing, sadness just gives me an emptiness that makes it so difficult to do anything, from writing to even eating.

It’s an awful thing, betrayal. I feel empty and I feel worthless. Despite my family and my friends assuring me constantly, they love me for me, that I am special for me – I cannot help but wonder, is there something wrong with me? What is it about me that is so bad that someone would do something like that?

And if you know me, one small event can lead to me assessing everything as though it’s turning into a huge catastrophe. What? Dinner reservations are full? Death is next, I suppose.

Eizwan could not stand to see me feel this way, moping and staring into space. Immediately, he insisted on taking me away for the weekend as a means to recuperate. I was not keen at first, I don’t do spontaneous, especially if said spontaneous item means spending a lot of money – but for once, I relented. The trip was good when I was there, but as soon as I returned, so did the burden and the sadness.

This week, after years of learning to get over the insecurities, the insecurities came back full fore. What was it about me that it was alright to treat me like I’m worthless? That my respect and love for them, so insignificant that it did not matter if it was tossed aside?

The time away was filled with retrospection. I spent a lot of time trying to understand what is it about me, what was it about me that is so different that people justify hurting me just for being different? You may think I’m exaggerating but over the years, the most hurtful of insults were that I’m different, that I needed to learn to be a bit more Malay and this time was no different.

Sometimes, I feel that if I could change to fit in and be accepted – I would do it. But I can’t. I am what I am. If I can’t appreciate glass crystals and handbags but adore Daleks, that is who I am. If I am not someone who is obsessed with having a dream wedding – that’s just who I am. If I do not want to be a mother anytime soon, I don’t squeal when I see children, well, that’s just who I am.

Somehow, all these combined make me a terrible person and someone less worthy of respect. It hurts so much because despite the flaws I see in them, I willed myself not to see it because I believed in them. I’ve defended them over and over and for me to be pushed aside – is it me?

The Librarian told me not to be silly, as far as she’s concerned, she sees me as loving, caring and nice and that if people are determined to find flaws with me, there is nothing I can do to change the way they feel about me. I should not allow them to make me feel that way.

But I can’t help it. I feel stupid, so so stupid for trusting them, for trying to love them, for wanting all of this to work out. I feel so hurt that whatever effort I put in, was never good enough. I should have known, I should have listened to my brain, instead I listened to my heart.

I don’t know what’s going to happen. What I do know right now is that I’m not going to change. This is who I am, that is not going to change.

I’ll get over this soon enough and soon I’ll be back to the old me, posting up silly stories. I’ve been through worse, I’ve been through hard times and as the famous poem goes, my head may be bloodied, but it’s unbowed.

‘…I am the master of my fate

I am the captain of my soul.’