Saya Seorang Novelis

This year was supposed to be a year of change. I wanted to leave behind the old me, the jittery and always feeling guilty and self-conscious me. I wanted to take care of myself a bit better. I started off by taking weight loss very seriously. Take care of my health. And I wanted to do things that I never got around to doing that would make me feel better, be it emotionally or physically. One of them was doing a crown on my tooth.

See, many years ago, I distinctively disobeyed my parents and got into a bumper car even when they told me not to. I think God was trying to tell me something, since I chipped off a big chunk off my front tooth when I hit my teeth against the steering wheel. I got off the bumper car immediately, burst into loud heaving sobs. At that time, I had visions of going through life with a chipped tooth and being mocked relentlessly by my schoolmates forever. And I was never going to win Miss Malaysia at this rate.

Give me a break, kay? I was eleven. I had many ambitions.

Thankfully though, my parents loved me enough to forgive my transgressions and take me to the dentist the next day. Apparently, achipped tooth is not uncommon especially amongst stupid children and they had means of fixing it. They fixed it down with a filling and told me to think about doing a crown later on. Like in a year or two, when I’m older.

Of course, that was more than 15 years ago.

After overcoming much procrastination, I finally dragged myself to the dentist to talk to them about doing a crown. This was last week. The dentist did an x-ray on my tooth and then he said, ‘I think you need a root canal before we can proceed with your crown’

‘Oh, okay?’

‘Do you know what a root canal is?’

‘Yeah, well, I hear about it all on tv.’

The dentist probably held back a little sigh and took out a picture book, not unlike one that you would read to a toddler, and proceeded to tell in a voice that he had probably used countless of times to soothe young children right before he yanked their teeth out, to explain what a root canal is.

‘See, what we’re going to do is, we’re going to drill a hole through your tooth. And then see all these red lines in your teeth, those are the roots that we’ll put out and we’ll clean out and empty out the organic matter. After that, we’ll seal down with cement.’


‘Sounds alright? How about we schedule the root canal for next week?’

‘…yeah. I suppose.’

I had to be practically lifted out of the dentist’s chair when I was done as my knees had turned to jelly over the prospect of doing a root canal.

Root canal? All I wanted was a prettier tooth. I didn’t sign up for a root canal. So for the next one week, I moaned to each and every person I met that I was up for a root canal. From the way I behaved, it sounded like I was giving up a kidney rather than doing something routine.

Come Tuesday, I walked into the dentist’s office feeling terribly alone. My dad told me to pray but somehow the thought that I had to pray as I entered the dentist made it even scarier. And then, I was even more terrified when the dentist inside the room was a new dentist. He introduced himself and told me that he was referred for my case. He seemed like a pleasant enough fellow.

‘I was told that you needed a root canal. But I’ve looked at you X-rays, and I don’t think you need one.’

I practically melted in the chair from jubilation.

The rest of the consultancy was routine. We picked the colour of the veneer – sorry, Hani, there was the option for gold and diamantes but the dentist talked me out of it. Something about it not being very classy. And then as he jotted it down, I told him that I was opting for an all porcelain veneer. He was surprised, he thought I was opting for the usual procelain attached to metal veneer but I was rather insistent. This was the new me, I had already started the process at the beginning of the year and I want to continue.

The dentist went on to explain the pros and cons about an all porcelain veneer. One of the biggest one is that I have to think about the possibility of a porcelain veneer shattering, if I bite into anything that is hard.

‘Anything hard?’ I ask. Wait, the new me has to give up certain kinds of food? That did not fit into my calculations at all. I run through a mental list of hard foods that I enjoy that I may have to give up. Is vanity worth more than food? ‘Do you consider steak hard?’ I ask.

‘Well, no, I mean, you just have to careful.’

‘So steak is hard?’

‘I wouldn’t call it hard, but like you know, you can always chew it on the left side as opposed to the right.’

‘Oh. So that means, steak is okay.’

‘Yes, it should be.’

Phew. Not eating steak forever does not fall under taking care of myself better. I nearly called the whole thing off but thankfully, drastic measures were not needed. The dentist explained to me again the procedure of doing a crown. I listened half-heartedly, the last dentist had already done so, complete with a model of how he’s going to shave the tooth down, etc etc.

‘Any questions?’

‘I can eat steak right?’


‘Then, no questions.’

As I left the dentist took a look at my appointment form. ‘Alright then, Ad-lee-na,’ he said. ‘Oh, you tulis kat sini, you penulis.’ (It says here on the form that you’re a writer)

If you had been following this blog, you would know how much of a milestone this is. I almost never tell people I’m a writer, a remnant from my old corporate days. I used to be so embarrassed that I did not have a ‘normal’ day job, one working in the office – that sort of thing. I hated telling people I was a writer and then having to hear them say, ‘Why don’t you get yourself a real job?’

But I refuse to be embarrassed about it now. I’m a writer and I’m proud.

Ya,’ I say proudly.

Oh, wow! Apa yang you tulis?’ (Wow, what do you write?)’

Oh shit. Now, I’m just proud that I’m a writer – I haven’t gone that far into coming up with an answer on what I write about. What should I say? How do I explain business plans in Malay? Or screenplays? Copywriting? What is the word for screenplay in Malay? Would they judge me if I say I’m a business writer? Would they judge me if I talk about my screenplays? Oh, why don’t I speak better Malay? And why is my brain frozen?

And that was when I uttered the immortal and rather untruthful words, ‘Oh, saya seorang novelis,’ (I’m a novelist) because it was the only Malay word for writing that I can think of at that point. I mean it’s not that untrue. I have an incomplete manuscript at home that I hope one day will be published. I’m a hopeful future novelist.

‘Oh wow! Can you bring a copy of your work next week? A signed copy! That would be really cool.’

Oh, fucksticks.


The Putrajaya Floria Show

If you can’t tell what happened on Saturday as a Malaysian in Malaysia, you must be hiding under a giant rock somewhere. If so, please tell me where the rock is, I wouldn’t mind hiding under it sometime!


But Saturday, July 9th came and went with both sides making all sorts of accusations, claims of victory etc. For me however, it prompted a lot of soul-searching and a deep kind of sadness for me. It made me wonder what makes us Malaysia Malaysia, what makes a Malaysian, a Malaysian – something that goes beyond ethnicity, citizenship and all those little political ingredients that you would find in a constitution and a charter.

If the British have tea, are we Malaysian for our teh tarik?

If the British have the Chelsea Flower Show, what about Putrajaya Floria?

Come Sunday, I was dying to get out of the house after staying indoors all day Saturday. We did brave a roadblock to see my in-laws where we hunkered down. Having only been a week since we returned home from the UK, and since I’m pumped up in all my anglophile glory with all my anglophile habits, I did not want to just be so Malaysian and stay at home and watch tv all day. I was going to go for a walk in the park.

The plan was grand, but as always in true Amiruddin fashion, the execution was awry. Eizwan spent the entire night playing Infamous 2. While I would like to be a good wife and blame the husband for not prioritizing sleep, it was my fault for egging him on. And criticising his game play. And accusing him of not approaching the monster battle with a sort of game plan. And that was why he kept dying instead of going through with the game as fast as he could have.

You have backseat drivers. Well, meet me. I’m a backseat gamer.

Anyway, the end result was, we struggled out of bed around 11am and by the time we got to flower show it was 12pm. And oh, Adlina, are you so full of yourself that you’ve forgotten that while it may be pleasant in the UK for a stroll around 12pm, by 12pm Malaysian time, you would positively be baking?

Of course I did.

It had rained earlier and walking about in Putrajaya park was a lot like walking in a sauna. Ten minutes in, walking from the parking lot, I was not so sure that I could survive this, and that perhaps we ought to surrender and be a proper Mall-aysian and hide in a mall. Of course, I was not going to tell Eizwan, that as always, my ideas might have not been the brightest and so we ploughed on.

As we walked along, I looked at everyone at the park. Were they feeling the same way I do, a melancholy over what happened on Saturday? Have we changed as a country from yesterday? Or am I mistaking all of that glazed look as that look when dammit, you just can’t decide because there are so many things to buy!

There were a few things I’ve learnt on this trip to Putrajaya.

  1. I’m not in England. Despite pretending that I might be. 20 minutes in, and I was sweating profusely. 30 minutes in and my shirt was soaked. 2 hours later, you could cut me open, fluff me up and fill me with a filling of your choice. Butter is nice. So would sour cream and chives.
  2. DSLRs are the bane of every show’s existence. Going through Putrajaya park was like going through an obstacle course with people hunkering down every two minutes or so, to do a macro shot of EVERY DAMNED FLOWER THEY SEE. And since this is a flower show…
  3. You can grow Western herbs in Malaysia. And they don’t have to look as manky as mine. Sigh.
  4. I’ve discovered another wonderful thing that makes us Malaysia Malaysia. The first time David ever came to Malaysia, I took him to Sunway Pyramid, one of my favourite malls in Malaysia for dinner. There, a giant lion greeted him, complete with glowing eyes. He cracked up laughing so hard that he nearly fell of his seat in the car, had he not been strapped down.

David mentioned something about us Malaysians loving our tacky structures. Like giant lions with glowing eyes. Giant pitcher plants made of concrete spouting water in the centre of KL. Even the supposedly sophisticated Singaporeans are not immune to the Tacky Structure Syndrome with their wonderful Giant Merlion spouting water.

I was affronted, of course. We are not tacky people who enjoy tacky structures. So far, in this garden show I’ve not seen a single tacky structure. Until I saw Penang’s beautiful gardens. They did not win a prize. I wondered why they did not. I surmised that it could be because they were a state held by the Opposition – nothing is free from politics here. Or it really could be the three giant cats grinning at me while wearing the Malaysian traditional outfit. I know some of you would be disappointed that I did not take a photo of it, but I don’t want to have a memory of the gleaming cats staring down at me forever. *shudders*

And then there were these, done by the show organizers. Nothing says class more than a….

Giant bee in the Garden

Giant ladybirds

And should you feel so inclined to actually have one of these structures in your own home, please contact this landscape designer, who could make a giant swan structure for your home.

Should you come over to my place and see a giant swan structure, well.

The day ended well though. I met a supplier who sold acclimatized Western herbs. He was trying to sell to me a vanilla bean plant for RM 25. I was not convinced. To try an convince me, he told me that if I were to own a huge field of vanilla bean plants, I’d easily be a millionaire. Thing is, I’m still a plant newbie, and my parsley is barely hanging on and my thyme plant looks like its been fried. So I highly doubt I would end up a millionaire, I could end up facing foreclosure with a plantation filled with dead vanilla bean plants.

And I bought lots of plants.

Two of them, as you can see are for eating. Aesthetic values are all fine and dandy but really, what we really like are edible plants. Was trained an economist after all, there must always be a return on investment.

Remember the Chili

I can’t remember when I decided that I wanted to grow my own chillis. The earliest memory I could think of was when I was still working in The Evil Corp. A few of my colleagues, as we did in Gamen Office were spending ages standing together over at the cubicles. Specifically my cubicle, which since I barely had any work anyway, I did not mind.

One of my colleagues suddenly asked, “Hey, you guys want chilli?”

I’m sure this was frankly bizarre that anyone could ask such a question when, as an organization we deal mostly in finance.

But, we are, Malaysians at heart and chilli is a very important part of our life. Except for me, of course, since despite being born Malay as my Malaysian friends mock, I can’t eat chilli without choking. Heck, I’ve been deceiving a very dear friend of mine for years about my ability to eat spicy food – I had to play up the I’m Asian card and everything, you know.

But I digress. This is not about my wimpiness on consuming chilli. This was about the chilli that my colleague was offering.

“Say what?” was everybody else’s response.

“No, seriously. A friend of mine came back from Bangladesh recently and she brought back chilli. Damn hot one! You want?”

It was an offer no one can refuse, really.

A bit of background to this story. As of late, chilli in Malaysia had become extremely inconsistent. Sometimes you could buy a bag of bright red chillis, chop them up and find that you could munch on them like snacks without a hint of a bite at all. And then the next week, you could buy the same bag and then spend about an hour sticking your tongue out under a running tap.

Again, it could just be me, I’m a big wimp that way.

But the overall consensus within my family and friends, using a highly unscientific polling technique, is that chillis in Malaysia in general have not become rather mild. Food is starting to taste rather bland and my dad has resorted to munching on green chilli like crackers for some sort of bite. Nowadays, he takes it like a salad since it’s that mild.

Perhaps that was when I started to be interested in growing my own chillis. That instead of relying on other people to grow my chilli for me, I could grow it myself. I thought about it as I stood by my colleague who continued to rave about the chillis from Bangladesh. And then I received an email from my boss who always want things done by yesterday, and promptly forgot about it.

The next time I thought about growing my own chillis was when I suddenly got a thing for nachos. It’s not just a thing. It’s an addiction. Still is.

The thing about Mexican cooking is that it uses jalapenos instead of bright red Thai chillis that we are used to. I made chilli once using Thai red chillis and it did not give me that wonderful earthiness chilli has in the States. And using Thai green chillis as a substitute for jalapenos is just wrong, wrong, wrong. Don’t believe me? Try whipping yourself a batch of salsa – one with Thai green chilli and the other with jalapenos which you can get at Jusco supermarket. Taste the difference as Sainsbury’s would say.

I once told my mum that I am going to open a chilli farm. “After I write my bestselling novel, of course,” I said to her. My mother cracked up so hard, she teared up. I would like to think she was mocking either the chilli farm or the bestselling novel idea. Not both. Because that would be well harsh.

Because around the same time I discovered jalapenos, I discovered that there were millions of varieties of chillis out there. There was the habanero, the naga chilli, the scotch bonnet which features predominantly in Jamaican cooking. And since keeping halal meant that I can’t just drop by restaurants worldwide, I wanted to find all these great ingredients so I can taste the flavours other cultures have created. I wanted these chillis, dammit.

All the while I’ve been dreaming about growing my own chilli farm, another country, my ahem, other motherland, had stopped dreaming and started doing. Which motherland? Why, the UK of course! Somehow, within the last ten, twenty years the British began craving chilli. The British? Craving chilli? Surely not, the purveyors of bland food cannot actually be wanting chilli!

Come on, I lived in the UK. I knew what their food was like. Bland. And rather boring.

Which was why when the Guardian published their very smug article about how Britain has some of the best food in the world, I cracked up. And forwarded the article around. We had a good laugh altogether. And then there was a segment on River Cottage where Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall went to a chilli farm and had some chillis. He choked. I laughed, thinking, ah Westerners. They can’t handle their chilli.

I went to the UK as a student in 2001. Ten years have passed since I got the shock of my life when the Resident Tutor told us that “If we wanted to have a fag, just step outside since this is a non-smoking resident hall” My poor, poor, virgin, politically correct ears. Fast forward to 2011, I was keen to see how much have changed in the UK.

Of course, some things have changed. But most of all, I was really surprised with the quality of food that you can get in the UK. There had been a campaign for all things fresh, and food is very fresh and very tasty. But most surprising of all, was the abundance of chilli. While 10 years ago, chilli was in tubes that you buy at the fresh produce section, today you can get a variety of chillis at the supermarket. Even in Scotland. In a tiny town called St. Andrews you can get birds-eye chilli from Britain. British birds-eye chilli. Would wonders never cease.

My dad was excited, I don’t know why he was so excited to see chilli but there he was like a small boy, having seen the chocolate aisle in Tesco for the first time (wait, that was my brother). He insisted my mum bought him some and then later that evening, he did what he used to do in Malaysia. He munched on them like snacks.

Which was a big mistake, because automatically, he teared up and he choked. He stopped talking because he could not handle the heat. It was only after he felt better did he say that it was spicy. Like a lot spicier than the chilli in Malaysia.

“But they’re British!”

My dad, who had always been a champion of British engineering said, “Whatever the British do, they do it very well. Even chillis.”

I joked to my friends later on that it’s all set. I can move to the UK now. There’s chilli in St Andrews, enough to make an Asian a happy bunny. But in another way, it’s terrifying to think that what used to be the purvue of Asia, the chilli has now started to become the staple of a Western palate. This is no means to be used to rile up xenophobic sentiments but it should give us pause for thought. In the last ten years, the country was changing itself – from eating bland, boring foods to growing some of the best chillis that I’ve ever tasted.

*Look away now, unless you can tolerate a bit of pontificating from my end*

There are so many things I admire about the British, which is probably why I keep going back there. While our former Prime Minister told us to look East in the 80s, I still look West. There are many things I admire about what the West had done, their own atrocities, stupidity and arrogance aside. I’ve always admired their innovation and most of all, their fierce independence. No one can tell them what to do, and if they want to do something, by God, they’ll just do it.

A bit like the chilli farms. I doubted the government told them “Go forth and make chilli farms!” Nor did they wait until the every factor was right. They just did it. I’m sure people mocked them, saying the Brits don’t eat chilli. But they did it anyway. And they’ve succeeded.

In Asia, especially in Malaysia, it is in our culture to wait, to get angry and to hope that things will change for the better. We can’t go into business, the government is corrupt. I can’t drive my car, oil prices is too high. I can’t do anything, unless someone else changes things for the better.

And by changing for the better, I mean, by not waiting until the conditions are right, you just do it. The conditions in the UK are all wrong for growing chilli. And they’ve done it fantastically well, even better than a country that could grow chilli, for a country whose staple IS the chilli.

I doubt it is because the government gave them the right incentive, or the sun shines a bit more over there (you know it doesn’t). It is because they have a will, they found a way and they did it in the best way possible. No excuses. And because of that, they have overtaken us.

The British are not better than us. They just worked harder. And they worked well.

Sometimes I get really frustrated living in Malaysia like everything seems to stand in the way of what I want to do. And then I think of the British chillis. They could do it and they’ve done better than us. Remember the Chillis guys, when you think all is lost. Whatever the circumstance, overcome it. And do it well.

The Mystery of the Disappearing Coastal Path

Day 4

There are two things that my mother brags about quite frequently. One is, I’ve mentioned before – getting an A during her PMR exam for art, despite not knowing how to draw feet. The second is that as a uni student in the 70s in the UK, she went on a walking holiday with her British friend.

As though to relive the moment, she announced that she had planned a walk by the coastal path in St. Andrews, an ambitious plan of walking from the town centre all the way to Anstruther, a beautiful fishing village about 15 miles away from the city centre.

‘We will start in the morning, around 8am. Giving ourselves about 4 to 5 hours, we should arrive in Anstruther for lunch.’

Anstruther is famous for its fish and chips. Their restaurant had been an award winning one, winning the best fish and chips award in the UK. As a a self-proclaimed foodie, I had been looking forward to eating this for a long time, despite it being calorie laden.

‘We will be working up a sweat and therefore, burning calories. That way, we won’t put on weight.’ I said.

My dad refused to join along, insisting that something would go wrong.

‘Have you looked up how you’re going to get there?’


‘You’re going to get lost.’

‘How hard can it be? This is Britain. There will be plenty of signboards to say where we are. And it’s not like they’re going to mislabel them like in Malaysia.’


My mother privately told me that all the talk about not being prepared was just an excuse. He was just plain lazy and insisted that the rest of us should set a good example to my father.

‘That way, when we eat fish and chips, and not put on weight, Ayah will regret not joining us.’

The beginning of the path was absolutely beautiful. Breathtaking. It was close by the coast and the weather, despite it being slightly chilly was sunny and perfect. We kept stopping every few metres just to take in the beautiful scenery, and I thought, how lucky was Hani to study here. How lucky were the Scots to be bestowed with such a beautiful country that even their weeds look like flowers. Our weeds just look like they’re going to eat us. Or hide a snake in there.

There were many families walking down the coastal path, all taking in the beautiful view. I thought what a wonderful day this was going to be.

Of course, this wouldn’t be an entry by me if Something. Did. Not. Go. Wrong. In true Amiruddin fashion, things did.

Firstly, the easy, walkable path suddenly became much, much steeper. Instead of a steady incline, we started going up and down the hills on very slippery rocks. The familes that accompanied us began to disappear, and soon we were the only family by the rocky beaches, heading further away from roads and civilization.

‘Are you sure about this?’ I asked Umi.


‘You said the path is easy! This is not easy, we had to climb over fences, are you sure we’re not trespassing!’

‘Oh, God, you’re such city children. Climbing over fences is normal for coastal walks.’

We were city children, I admit. The last time I actually went hiking was in 2005 and I gave up halfway because I was too tired. My brother, the Artist was whining about how there was mud everywhere and it was getting on his shoes. My sister, the hipster, was well, dressed like a hipster hiker, complete with the clinch belt, long cardigan and skinny jeans while going hiking.

On the other hand, my mother is well-known for her direction skills. Or lack thereof. As I always say, my hopelessness when it comes to spatial recognition had to be inherited from somewhere. My mum is the sort who would bossily tell us to drive up a ramp before saying, ‘Uh, so where does this ramp go?’

The only person who was not whining was Eizwan who was falling behind very often because he was admiring the sights and scenery. Then again, Eizwan rarely whined about anything and in fact, was rather excited about the probability that we would have to sleep on bunk beds in a hostel.

‘No,’ Umi said stubbornly. ‘We keep going. We’re getting to Anstruther and we’re going to call Ayah from there to meet us there.’

Soon though, we were going down messy ravines, slippery stones, overgrown weeds and going closer and closer towards the beach. It was becoming supremely hard to walk, I’d slip, and I was reluctant to stop myself from falling in case I’d grab onto stinging nettles. Two hours into the walk and I was convinced, all the plants around me were stinging nettles. No, Scottish countryside. You’re no longer pretty. You could not hear the road by now, it was just us and the sea. A sign warned us to watch out for high tide and I realized that we were actually walking on the beach itself which was susceptible to the rising tide. Visions of a Malaysian family drowning while walking on the coastal path, followed.

This could not have been a coastal path since it was supposed to be, you know, easy. Unless Scottish Tourism had a deathwish for their visitors, we were clearly lost and had gone off the wrong way.

To make matters worse, there was no reception on the mobile. I then imagined that Ayah would eventually have to call rescuers because we never called and we would have to be rescued in the evening. How embarrasing. And I only agreed to do this for my fish and chips.

Soon we came to a forkroad. One path was by the beach filled with sharp rocks, while the other was up a ravine to the golf course. The ravine was steep, like proper hiking steep while walking on the beach risked falling onto sharp rocks and drowning.

“Shall we go walk by the beach?” my mother asked.

The family disagreed with her like mutinous sailors. We instead decided to scarper up the steep slope, frequently holding onto the muddy sides as not to fall down. I did fall down. And so did Umi. Hani and Jan, so eager were they to escape this “easy” coastal path, practically ran up the slope leaving me, Eizwan and my Mum to venture alone.

Apparently when they climbed out of the ravine, a rescuer had come along, noticing the family in distress and clearly having lost their way looking for the coastal path. “Are you guys looking for the coastal path?” he asked my brother and sister. “Do you need help?”

In true proud Asian fashion, they said, “We are fiiiine. Nah, we’re just about leaving it.”

Yes, we meant to do all that. We meant to get spectacularly lost and climb up ravines and stuff.

We finally got out of the ‘coastal path’, with my mother proclaiming that was just brilliant and that we should continue on further. Jan and Hani, loudly disagreed, or as loudly as we could disagree on a golf course. We were muddy and cold and just wanted to go home. In fact, we were only a mile away from Balmashie and the two of them wanted to just go back and take a shower. (Let us not discuss after all that trekking, we were only about a mile away from Balmashie. So much for the 15 mile journey to Anstruther)

But my mother, being my mother was still insistent we city children knew not of what country walks were like. Umi headed off again and the rest of us dutifully followed, not wanting to let our mother get lost, through the golf course and into a jungle of a farmland where the grasses were taller than my waist.

At the sight of the disappearing path, she finally sighed. Disappointed, we turned around to walk away.

So we set off in the golf course, trying to find our way back. We also got lost here, but I’m not going to regale the tales of us getting lost on the course because that would be too embarrassing. If you’ve ever wondered if you could get lost on a golf course, let me be the first to assure you, that yes, you could.

We came home to find my dad lying down on the sofa sleeping, with his phone beside him, ready to go when his family called them up to meet him at Anstruther. Of course, he was a little shocked that we were already home and looking like what the cat would drag in after a night of hunting a nest of mice.

No words could describe the look on my father’s face. It was a kind of glee mixed with an ‘I told you so.’ He spent the rest of the day telling us how smart he was for skipping out on the walk.

Day 5

Drank quite a lot of coffee in town. St. Andrews is absolutely beautiful. I want to study here now. Maybe a Masters in Literature.

Umi told the owners of the Balmashie Lodge that the coastal path around St. Andrews being very difficult and almost impossible. They were flabbergasted. Because apparently we found out from the owners of the Balmashie Lodge that there was a coastal path on the golf course.

‘You should have asked us!’ they said. ‘We’ll show you the right way. It’s a really easy walk.”