Yesterday, I saw a coffin.

“Yesterday, I saw a coffin,” my grandmother said.

“Really?” The wards in the Klang hospital were really crowded, about a few feet of space to walk between the rows of beds that are placed so closely to each other that patients practically sleep next to each other. I can hardly imagine a coffin in these wards.

“She means that someone died yesterday,” the elderly asthmatic patient whose bed is next to my grandmother said. She had been hospitalised longer than my grandmother but I could tell that the two of them have become fast friends.

“Uh…okay.” I’m squeemish about bringing up the subject of death around, you know, very sick people but this lady, with a nasal cannula for her asthma issues just shrugged. “We’re right by the ICU.”

“Chinese lady,” my grandmother said.

“The other lady was a Malay woman,” the severe asthmatic patient said. “Yeah, they died yesterday.”

“Yeah. They died. Guess it was their time.”

*
Klang Hospital feels like the busiest hospital in Malaysia. In fact, it feels like the busiest hospital in the world. The wards are clean but cramp. And then during visiting hours, it feels like a wet market with relatives piling in to visit. The humanity packed into one room is almost frightening. One patient had about ten members visiting her at one time with three babies, one a wee newborn, piled on her bed.

The atmosphere in the wards are a combination of joy and sorrow. One family was fast talking and their merriment punctuated with loud hearty laughter every so often. While another, a husband holds onto his wife’s oxygen mask as she lay there. I am not sure she is even aware that her husband is there while his face was a blank look of defeat.

I don’t know if my grandmother can see any of this, or is easily defeated by the sadness in the ward. I’m the sort of person who notice the sorrow and helplessness. Hours after I left, it was the faces of concerned and sad family members that remain etched in my memory. On the other hand, my grandmother epitomises optimism, she makes fast friends and was quick to point out to me everybody she had met: “This aunty here has kidney problems. This one has diabetes. That one – Parkinsons” and everyone is happy. The kidney patient is not sad, she has a doting daughter who takes good care of her.

She seems cheerful. The three ladies all requested that I bring them prunes tomorrow because “we can avoid taking the medicine that makes us poo”. I offered to bring orange cake that I baked for her but she said to save it for Eid which is in 5 days time. I tell her we will come back tomorrow.

There is ash on our car when we leave. I can’t help but hope it is not an omen.

*

It is difficult to reconcile how I feel. On the one hand, I know that government hospitals do have some of the best doctors and specialists around. On the other, well, it is a government hospital. There is no aircon, the wards are cramp and from the outside, it looked like it caught fire and continued to function as a hospital despite the disaster. And there are rats that come out to play at night.

We are continuously debating whether to move my grandmother to a private hospital. But the answer is not that straight forward. To put it simply, private hospitals especially at my grandmother’s age will be very expensive. Even more so because she does not have insurance. She is too old for insurance and everything will have to be paid out of pocket.

The thing about private hospitals is that niggling doubt that I have. You’re always wondering, is every procedure necessary? Do I need to take this drug? Are you really watching out for my best interest or are you milking me for money? My own experience at private hospitals is mixed. I had an excellent specialist who cared for me during my asthma episode and helped me recover. On the other hand, I paid nearly RM 300 per visit from a gynaecologist who came by to my room twice a day to say “Hey there, how are ya?” He’d stay for 3 minutes, max, we timed him and pocketed a cool RM 600 from me daily. RM 100 a minute.

In government hospitals since it’s public healthcare means continuous care even after you have been discharged. They will move your case to the KK and you are always monitored for the ailment that you came in for.

In a private hospital, well, once you’re done, you’re done. There is no continuous monitoring – you’re on your own kid. But there is comfort in a private hospital, it feels like a hotel. The rooms are air-conditioned, there is cable TV and room service.

Do you show that you love someone by taking them to a place where its more comfortable as they recover despite always wondering if the healthcare is better? Relatives assume that you don’t love your parent enough to actually spend money and put them in a cushy hospital.

Or do you grit your teeth and put up with the rats, the cramp spaces because it was in this hospital, the head of trauma, following his gut instinct refused to let a seemingly okay patient go? Because it was also this hospital that a specialist noticed something so minor in a blood test that most would have just discounted and noticed that it was a symptom of a far graver problem.

*

Bad Day

I think I’m having a bad day. The bad day being the day after my grandmother had been admitted to hospital for a mild heart attack. This is what we know now, that it was a heart attack. On Thursday, we did not know this – my grandmother was complaining she was feeling weak and wanted us to take her to the hospital.

Problem is, my grandmother was and remains a hypochondriac. Just a few months back she checked herself and my grandfather into DEMC, a posh private hospital in the centre of Shah Alam, to which the final bill after 4 days came up to a whopping RM 13,000. She was absolutely fine, mind you. Before she checked in and after she checked in. So when Thursday morning she complained she was feeling unwell and wanted to go to DEMC, everyone suggested perhaps we check her into a hotel instead.

Thankfully, both my aunt and my mum decided to take her to the Klinik Kesihatan (government clinic), just in case. They conducted an ECG on her and the results of the test concerned the doctors enough to refer the hospital in Klang. It took 2 hours to transfer and then there, my mum, aunt and grandmother waited for 8 hours to see the specialist. During which, my grandmother declared that she was fine – who wouldn’t be, after sitting next to a on orange-clad convict surrounded by coppers – “Why is his chained to the bed?” my grandmother queried that nice police officer keeping the convict company. “He’s epileptic,” the nice police officer replied. “It’s for his safety” – and burn victims with angry blisters all over their back.

My aunt and mum spent those 8 hours badgering junior doctors to release my grandmother (all of them refused) before the specialist made a grand entrance at 8pm with the head of ER. They explained that the blood test results showed she had a mild heart attack. Obviously, at this point both my aunt and mum probably looked and felt like douchebags for trying to discharge their 80-something year old mum from the ER when she had a heart scare.

As they say, when it rains it pours. The next day I had an appointment for tea tasting in Bandar Manjalara. For those of you who know Malay, it sounds like fancy area but for those of you who know KL; Bandar Manjalara is in near Kepong, a superbly dodgy part of KL. I was hoping that the client would cancel on me, I can’t possibly go to the other end of KL when everybody is fretting about my grandmother.

But he was keen and I should be a professional and so off I went on the most hectic day involved for everyone.

*

I got into an accident back on the way from conducting a tea-tasting session with a prospective client. We, being me and my staff Kid, were in Bandar Manjalara, a suburb very close to Kepong, renowned for its sprawling viaducts and overhead bridges. The roads in Kepong climbed and towered over each other like the overgrown lawn in my tiny garden outside my house, with weeds that is taller than my toddler. It was a hot day, the GPS in Kepong came on and off and Waze kept taking us around the scenic route of Kepong. By scenic I mean, there was a chance we would be made residents of Kepong and never leave because how-the-fuck-do-you-get-out-of-this-area? And then halfway through the tea tasting I received news that the doctors will not let my grandmother leave the hospital for at least 5 days.

I was tired, mostly emotionally spent and I wanted to go back home. I could already imagine the drive back and it felt liberating.

That is up until someone rear-ended my car.

I could hear the screeching of tyres before the awful sound of metal and metal smashing into each other. I jolted forward but by not that much. Not enough to give me a whiplash anyway and so the first thing I thought off was – “Hey, can’t be that bad. I can drive off can’t I? It’s not going to be considered a hit and run. I’m the one who was hit and then I ran off…”

Kak Lin!” Kid said. “You have to stop the car and check it out.”

The car that rear-ended me was a Proton Wira. The lights were smushed in, the bumper caved in and it was a miracle that its engine and compressor were still working. The Chevrolet was nowhere in a bad shape, just a broken bumper. Of course, the first thing that came to mind was my dad, who would not see it as just a broken bumper. This Chevrolet has been to the workshop more often than some young men going to Friday prayers in Malaysia. He was going to flip.

A tall, reed-like young man with bloodshot eyes came out of the car. It was a bright day, the sun was in our eyes and he blinked a few times. He slurred as he spoke. ‘Oh,’ he said when he saw his smushed up car.  And then he looked at us. ‘What do you want to do about this?’

“Why did you hit us!?” Kid demanded.

He told Kid later that he got confused with the clutch, the accelerator and the brakes. “They all looked the same,” he whined.

I did a quick mental calculation to see if I could just pay off this bumper because I really did not want to go through the hassle of reporting the accident. But I really did not want to get this kid who was obviously high on drugs get away with it. I hinted that perhaps we could settle it outside. Kid thought he looked like the sort who would bail.

“Police report then,” I sighed.

I asked Kid on the drive to the police station later if she thought the kid was high. “I’m quite sure he is,” she said. “I’m gonna ask him.”

“Kid, you’re not going to ask someone if he’s on drugs in front of the police!”

“Of course I am. Watch me.”

Actually, one did not need to ask if he was high. His drive there was obviously so erratic, his behaviour in front of the police merely confirmed everyone’s suspicions, including the police that he was on drugs. The police snapped at him a few times and he was oblivious that he was annoying everyone there. When the police showed the write up of the report – a simple formality really – instead of just saying okay, he tried to embellish the report to make him look good.

“Wait, sir. As I drove into the lane, the bonnet of my car flew open, it blocked my view and I drove into her car.”

“It did?” the bored policeman asked, skeptical.

Funny thing was, it did happen. It actually happened after the accident when we were driving to the police station. It certainly did not cause the accident.

“Yeah, so I couldn’t see. It’s not really my fault,” he surmised.

“No. It’s still your fault.”

*

Two hours later, I was finally on my way to dropping Kid back at the shop. Kid was able to grill him what he was on and how much. He denied it at first but Kid called him out on it. “I can tell when someone is on.”

“I didn’t take it today,” he protested. “Just yesterday.”

Apparently he took batu. And at a empat dua kosong dosage. I nodded sagely before confessing, “I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.”

Batu is cocaine I think. Or heroine. I’m not sure. While I may be familiar with street drug terms in the West from, err my watching of The Wire, I’ve no clue what they are in Malaysia.

And empat dua kosong is 420 which I presume are milligrams.

“Is that like a lot, I’ve no idea really what a normal dosage is?”

Kid shrugged. “Depends really. Some people take 500, some people take less. Depends on the quality, how much money you have.”

*

On days like these, I sometimes say something a little blasphemous and that I should mandi bungaMandi bunga is an old animistic belief in Malay culture to rid yourself of bad luck. What you do is you take a bath with flowers. I’ve no idea why this rids you of any bad luck but at the very least you’ll smell good.

I joked with Eizwan that I should mandi bunga after today. And since I have a gorgeous tea blend with roses and tea, our Lady Grey, I joked that I should mandi Lady Grey.

Eizwan nodded. “Actually since you carry hibiscus tea, you should add them too.”

*

Blows Dust Off Blog

So it seems I may have accidentally abandoned this blog. Well, there are many, many, many reasons why this happened and I feel compelled to make a million and one excuses on why it happened.

And although I do subscribe to former President Clinton’s philosophy, “As an adult you may have a reason, but you don’t have an excuse,” I’m gonna say that I have plenty of reasons and excuses on why this blog was abandoned.

This has been an extraordinarily busy and utterly crazy year.

It all started last year. Last year, my little company The Good Tea Company was formally launched. After travelling to India to buy tea and then spending a long time with our perfectionist designer – designing the product, we were able to launch our product. After a successful stint at The Curve, 2013 was the year we wanted to grow bigger and took the plunge with opening our own retail outlet.

At the same time, the house the husband and I were renting was starting to wear us out. The house was old and in dire need of renovation. The problem is, well, our landlady was sweet but she really would not invest the kind of money the house really needed to get it fixed up. We’re talking stripping the electricals, new plumbing etc. We tolerated everything about the house because rent was cheap – including going to the toilet in a separate bedroom from the master bedroom, a tap that fell off often or water that trickled whenever it felt like doing so and living in the darkness in half the house since the cabling was just so old that we can’t run the oven and the fridge at the same time without the whole house tripping. But when the landlady opted to raise the rent without throwing in massive amount of home improvement, I threw a fit worthy of a Roman emperor not getting his way because Maximus won the  gladiator battle.

And so, last year, we house-hunted and did a respectable adult thing and bought a house.

Also, another thing that I never mentioned was but alluded to several times last year was that last year Eizwan and I were ready to expand our family. In true to form of the most impatient generation – I thought that well, you know it should happen like well, NOW!

It is still a difficult subject to broach now although Eizwan and I are able to talk about it a bit more openly lately – but  last year, we struggled with infertility. Despite the many good things that actually did happen to us last year, infertility was this great big shadow that hung over us. The year passed by in a blur, consisting of measuring daily basal body temperature, scheduling our lives around, *ahem* fertile periods and surviving through the inevitable monthly disappointment. As each month passed by, it became painful to see friends and family with babies, listening to pregnancy announcements for people who got pregnant without even trying.

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Apparently I was always “cold” and that was why I couldn’t get pregnant. They gave me lots of smoky things to keep me warm. Pardon the belly. I’m not exactly trim.

It was a physically trying time as well – I saw a number of different doctors, saw an acupuncturist (which led to a bright blue bruise on my stomach) and took a chunk of medication, all in great effort to conceive. I was hormonal, exhausted and on some days in a lot of pain because some of the meds gave crippling stomach cramps.

And yet, 2012 passed by and 2013 came and Eizwan and I were still childless. But I was becoming at much better at handling the situation. It was  heartbreaking but I did not want it to cloud over me all the time. I can’t put my life on hold, hoping for a baby. In 2013, I told myself was going to be an awesome year. I was going to focus on the Good Tea Company, I’m going to focus on writing and we’re going to move house.

On the month that we signed to open our first retail outlet, on the month that we started to pack up and receive our keys for our new home – I began to feel a little queasy and exhausted. I found myself sleeping more and on April Fool’s day we tested and found ourselves pregnant.

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Mum asked why three tests? I said it was because we couldn’t believe the first one, nor the second one. Not after so many failed tests.

And so hopefully this will explain my absence for the past 6 months. It has been an incredibly hectic exercise, 2013. In between adjusting to doctor visits, the dreaded morning sickness, adjusting to a new life of becoming parents Insyallah, we were moving house, renovating the house and renovating the shop. And unfortunately something had to take a backseat. Unfortunately it happened to be my writing.

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Moving out of our first home. Well, it was mostly Eizwan moving and me bossing him around.

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Come to our shop! It’s open now! This isn’t me but our tea “psychologist” who isn’t really in anymore but in Australia

I’m currently 7 months pregnant, a huge milestone for someone who thought could never get pregnant! And for the family it’s exciting! God willing, it will be the first baby in both our families for a long time – most of us have forgotten what it’s like to be around a baby already. And babyhood is confusing – so many things have changed since my mother first had her baby and the two of us trying to go through the myriad of products can be quite overwhelming.

I’m also working full-time at the retail outlet, till hopefully when things settle. Come and say hello and pick up some speciality tea! We’re at Lot 22, Lower Ground Floor, Plaza Shah Alam Jalan Tengku Ampuan Zabedah E9/E Shah Alam.

It’s taken me 6 months to adjust but finally, I’m back! And hopefully just a little be more consistent from now on.

On Golfing and being married

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Before I got married, I used to worry that because Eizwan was such an avid golfer, I would end up a golfwidow, never seeing my husband on weekends, losing him to golf.

The irony is that after we marry, Eizwan barely touched his clubs. Sometimes I wonder if it was my disdain for golf that stopped him from playing.

Which is why this picture is a wonder. This is Eizwan at a golf festival testing out clubs. If you told the younger me that one day I’d be insisting Eizwan go and that I’d wake up early to support his golf, I’d tell you that you were bonkers.

Which goes to show marriage brings out the things in you that you never thought was possible.

Hearing a Bollywood Star Narrating Your Life

One of my favourite things about Bollywood movies, is the narration. Usually the narration would be done in Hindi, a deep throaty male voice waxing lyrical about his life’s philosophy, reflecting essentially what this movie would be about.

I can’t quite explain what I like about it so much – film-making-wise, Bollywood narration can get it quite wrong. It’s long, it says too much. Avoid narration, let the pictures tell the story.

But I love it. I love the way it sounds, the rhythm of the Hindi language, even though I barely know any Hindi (except shaadi and pyaar but those are standard Bollywood words that everyone should know). I imagine that it sounds a lot wiser, a lot more profound as though life is going to change dramatically just because it’s said in Hindi.

So while some people motivate themselves by reading motivational quotes, joining groups. I hear Amitabh Bachan’s voice in my ear. S each time I get into the car or as I wake up in the morning to do work, I hear Amitabh Bachan’s voice. He’s narrating the story of my life in Hindi. Presumably, he is saying, this is the story of Adlina’s life. It begins rather quietly, and slowly. Because that’s how it goes with Adlina. She starts of nice and easy. Steady as she does it. But  watch out, this is Adlina we’re talking about. It never is quiet. It never is easy. It’s always something fantastic. And in 2012 something amazing is going to happen.

Of course, since I know very little Hindi, Amitabh Bachan’s narration is probably a mish-mash of dialogue from all the Hindi movies I’ve seen. So as long as my year doesn’t end up just like a Bollywood movie (see Singham for reference)-I’ll be fine.

2012 started very quietly. Eizwan and I welcomed 2012 at home, hearing the fireworks go off about half an hour early. Not quite sure why anyone would want celebrate New Year’s half an hour earlier – either you made a terrible mistake with your clock, or my neighbours really are a kiasu bunch, that you want to be the first to welcome in the New Year. We didn’t have fireworks – since well, you know they’re technically illegal but we did have The Wire. So we welcomed 2012 by watching another episode of The Wire before going to sleep. Actually come to think of it, the first ten days of 2012 have mostly been about The Wire. The two of us essentially have been incommunicado with the rest of the world because we’ve been watching The Wire. It’s a bit like home – eat dinner – clean up – The Wire. Wake up, wonder if we could squeeze in an episode of The Wire before we get to work. Weekend is canceling on friends – watching more Wire. If friends manage to get us out – we talk about The Wire.

Celebrating the New Year at L.Table in One Utama. We managed to squeeze in a lunch between The Wire of course. 

I would probably do another entry on just The Wire alone, I know, I’m only about 10 years behind the trend – but hey, some things are worth catching up on and babbling about incessantly after.

But I am actually quite busy. I knew that December was my last quiet month and I did treasure the quiet times. Since January had begun, work has been at full steam. Remember my vague ambition of getting one of my businesses up and running? Well, this Saturday I’m off to India again to work on this vague New Year’s resolution of mine. In between I’m squeezing in some more reading, a tiny bit of writing (naughty, naughty I know) and daydreaming about Dominic West. Is it bad to have a crush on Dominic West from The Wire?

Eizwan is a very patient man.

The Wire aside, I’m looking forward to 2012. It has been 10 quiet days but the voice of Amitabh Bachan in my ear may be saying – it is going to be a fantastic one.

New Haircut

Argie, I’m definitely approaching that age where it’s inappropriate to have photos of me without make up on

So yesterday, I got a haircut.

It was a spur of the moment thing. No, I lie. It was not a spur of the moment thing – more like a peer pressure kind of thing. My mum got a haircut and so I wanted one. I don’t think I’ve ever outgrown this ‘If you have one, I want one too!’

To be fair though, I’ve been wanting a haircut since before I left the UK and as most people know, I usually take a couple of months or years to decide on anything that requires spending. As a professional tightwad, I finally bought make up brushes about 4 years after deciding I want some. So you know…

This is the resulting haircut. The hairstylist said that it was the most popular cut right now, as inspired my Korean dramas. A full mid-length haircut

I think I look like a particular archetype that you find in K-dramas. You know, the pretty rival to the wide-eyed innocent, the evil bitch who wants our heroine’s love interest, who doesn’t hesitate to scream at the lovely, ‘That man is MINE!’

Which is fine by me. Who wants to be the abused wide-eyed heroine who almost always eventually gets the most good looking, arrogant man who happens to be really sweet deep down inside and who also happens to be the son and sole heir to a rich industrialist?

….Dammit.

The Night We Eloped

Sometimes, you can be so stupid as to tempt the universe. As I lazily woke up on Friday, I thought, my life had been very quiet as of late. And then as I got ready, I thought to myself, ‘Gee, life has been very quiet lately. If only it were a bit more exciting.’

The Universe heard me and declared, ‘Challenge accepted’.

Which explains why, on Friday night, in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, the husband and I were stuck by the side of the highway, me in our pretty baju kurung and Eizwan in his baju Melayu complete with his sampin, waiting for Eizwan’s cousin to rescue us. The rain was getting heavier, and I was trying very hard not to feel low.

‘This is my fault, you know,’ I say to Eizwan. ‘I tempted the universe.’

‘You did what?’

‘I said my life was unnaturally quiet the past two weeks. The universe responded.’

‘You what? No-lah! These things happen. It’s not your fault.’

I pause, and thought about what he said.

‘You’re right, I said to Eizwan. It’s your cousin’s fault.’

‘Syeda? Syeda’s fault?’

Yes, the last time she got engaged, we got locked out of our house. Twice. Now, on the day she’s getting married, our car broke down in the middle of the highway, and we’re standing here with no way out.’

‘Hey, that’s not true. I mean, this is just a coincidence right?’

‘Maybe.’

‘…Or maybe she secretly does not like me very much. Maybe I’ve wronged her somehow and this is punishment.’ Eizwan replied miserably.

‘You know what this means, right? This means that the next time a major event happens in her life, like if she has her first baby or something we’re staying far, far away.’

***

Our car died the way the universe would, not with a bang but with a whimper. Well, actually, it died in a spectacularly creepy way – the lights started to flicker, the radio came on and off before it all started to dim down and faded away. Despite Eizwan’s insistence that he could coax the car forward and that we CAN get to the wedding on time, 100 metres before the toll on the AKLEH, it quietly said good night.

We handled the situation fairly well, you know, like motherfucking adults. We called the insurance company which then called up the tow truck company. And then we called Eizwan’s parents to come rescue us. The tow truck came after half an hour, and the super nice tow truck driver gave us a lift to the waiting area on the other side of the toll where it would be safer to wait. Eizwan’s parents said that his cousin was on the way, and that he would get there in about 20 minutes.

Of course, as everyone knows, the best-laid plans are always obstructed certain Mr. Murphy. We might be only 20 minutes away from Syeda’s home, but Eizwan’s cousin decided to play it safe and take a route that he was familiar with to where we were. Unfortunately for both him and us, that route was Jalan Ampang. On a Friday night.

He was joined by about a million other people on that 1km stretch.

But despite Eizwan and I being stranded by the roadside, Eizwan and I were in surprisingly good mood. I was determined not to feel low, a car breaking down was already stressful for Eizwan – no one wants to spend any more money on a car, and we were bound to miss Eizwan’s cousin’s solemnization – so I did not want to upset him any further.

We kept ourselves amused by identifying cars, talking about everything and nothing and taking random pictures with the camera.

‘I don’t get why people are staring at us,’ Eizwan said. ‘You see that guy there? And that other guy there? They’re all staring at us.’

‘Maybe they’re not used to someone as hot as me being stranded,’ I said, flicking my hair to the back.

‘Modest…. Hey, stop staring at my wife!’ Eizwan shouted.

I shrug. I really did not care if people were staring. But it really bothered Eizwan that everyone was staring. And it was kind of funny that they were. We were not the only ones stranded by the side of the road – but the ones gathering the most attention was us.

‘I suppose it’s because we’re dressed the way we are. You know, we look nice, we look like we’re going to a dinner or something.’

‘Yeah, I suppose.’

But after a while, even I could not keep my spirits high. I was starting to get hungry, the fumes from the cars whizzing by were horrible and my throat was starting to dry out. Eizwan noticed my shivering. It was getting cold from the rain and he pulled me closer. He pulled out my t-shirt from the rucksack that he was holding. And I covered myself in efforts to cover myself from the rain.

People finally stopped staring. I think they were starting to think we’re kinda creepy.

Eizwan and I finally got to the wedding 3 hours after the wedding was supposed to start. By the time we were picked up,  Syeda and her boy, were now man and wife.

Of course, nothing was more comforting than arriving at a wedding 3 hours late, looking like the cat dragged in than your relatives cracking up at you the moment you walk in. And Eizwan finally got his answer as to why people kept staring at the two of us.

‘Oh my God. Did you really stand by the roadside dressed up like that?’ Abang Khalid sputtered in between giggles.

Apparently, as Eizwan’s cousin pointed out, the two of us, in our themed baju kurung and baju Melayu, me in my pretty make up, Eizwan with his rucksack on his back and standing by the side of the road looked like we were about to run away and elope.

Sigh.