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.
‘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.’
‘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?’
‘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.’