Archive for August 2008

Addressing differences

August 28, 2008

I met up with K yesterday and we popped into Laura Ashley. I always end up wanting to buy everything in there and feeling so inspired. We were checking out some lovely Venetian-mirrored dressing tables when K said, “These are beautiful, but my [live-in] boyfriend wouldn’t let me get a dressing table. Thinks it’s a waste of space.”

I looked at her in disbelief. We actually share the same plight! I told her about the tiff R and I had in Ikea. Over the dressing table. Yes, he thought it was a waste of space. And money.

Gosh, what’s wrong with British men? We squabbled and ended up having a very sullen lunch. “Why do we have to spend £150 on a table you only use for 10 minutes every morning?!” he asked. I cursed him under my breath and stuffed my face with fish and chips.

After lunch, I felt very bloated and disregarded. Thankfully, we managed to snap out of our grouchy mood and tried to be more constructive.  Finally, without killing each other, we agreed on a small white bookshelf with an interesting curved headboard. I like it a lot. It’s a good size and also provides extra storage for my toiletries. Ok now I sound like I’m desperately trying to tell myself I like it.

But I mean having been apart for the most of our time together, this is the wake-up call and a steep learning curve. Being in close proximity and learning about giving and taking. About listening, discussing and compromising. About knowing when to fight and when to back off.

Amazing what 7 hours in Ikea and arguing about a dressing table can teach you.

Bleating good time

August 26, 2008

It turned sunny one day after two weeks of rain and I had so badly wanted a day out, preferably to a farm where I could get to meet lotsa animals.

Unfortunately there are no animal parks near us, but R remembered that his colleague, Anne, lived in a cottage 15 minutes away with her hens, goats, dogs, cat and plenty of plants. So we grabbed a jar of strawberry jam from our fridge and paid her a visit.

There, I met her three lovely British alpine goats. One was so friendly she kept offering me her hoof, a sure sign that we’ve clicked, according to Anne. During the winter, she’d put them on her land and let them eat all the weeds and thistle. To keep them dry and warm, Anne even got a builder to construct a field shelter for them!

“I could never live without goats,” she told me. And after I’d realised how warm and affectionate they are, I understood why she worked her ass off to keep them going. These sweet-natured babies would make perfect pets if not for them being so big and pooping everywhere all the time.

When rain doesn’t go away

August 20, 2008

The weather has just gone all the way downhill since my canoeing trip couple of weeks back. It has been grey, gloomy, windy and drizzling everyday. I accept that in winter but for the whole of August? When I’m supposed to be in my floaty summer dress and eating an apple while sitting on the grass?

I don’t know where on earth Britain gets all these ‘systems’ of rain from. “We’re surrounded by water!” R says. Yeah but gosh do you have to empty the oceans of it?

Anyway, because of all this rain I’ve been thinking – where do small animals and birds hide? I mean we feel miserable enough when we have clothes and bedding to keep us warm and houses to shelter us, but what about the animals who must go out and find food in this awful climate? They must feel like crap.

Then today while walking in the rain, I finally discovered why God invented bushes! They are rain shelters for birds and any other living thing that is small enough to fit under it when the weather sucks! I saw a few feathered friends sitting underneath bushes to wait out the rain. What a good idea!

Oh but what about the cows who have to stand in mud, horses who end up with wet, limp manes/tails and sheep with stinky fur? How come they don’t catch colds for standing for hours in the rain? Or feel cold and need a cuppa hot tea?

I guess they just get on with life and don’t moan or know how to moan. I suppose I have a lot to learn from them.

A tribute to the Supertramp

August 18, 2008

Chris McCandless.jpg

How do you define freedom? Does being penniless set you free? Does being uncontactable and unidentifiable and all alone in the wild give you the ultimate freedom?

After getting to know his story through the movie, Into the Wild (2007), I’ve decided to pay tribute to Christopher McCandles who died on this day in 1992 when he was 24. His emaciated body, weighing approximately 30kg, was discovered in a sleeping bag in an abandoned bus in the Alaskan wilderness by hikers some 2 weeks after he had died.

McCandles had arrived in the snow-covered Alaskan bush with a pair of rubber boots, 2 tuna melts, a sack of rice and a bag of corn chips to pursue peace and solitude. He later stumbled upon a bus which was used as a hunting shelter and had made it his home for several months.

McCandles managed to live on some small animals and wild plants, but his lack of experience in wilderness survival led to his eventual death. With little left to eat or hunt, he had tried to leave the area, but found his original trail now blocked by a very swollen river.

Born into a wealthy but emotionally turbulent family, McCandles developed growing contempt for what he saw as the empty materialism of American society. Shortly after he graduated from University, he donated the all remaining money given by his parents for his studies, US$24,000, to Oxfam International, and began to travel under his new adopted name, Alexander Supertramp. Strongly influenced by American philosopher Henry David Thoreau, he dreamed about leaving society for simple living in natural surroundings.

McCandles kept a diary while living out in the wild, containing entries covering 189 days. He also had a camera and a portrait he took of himself in front of the bus (above) was discovered after the film was developed. In his diary, his last words were, “I have had a happy life and thank the Lord. Goodbye and may God bless all!”

Though his pursuit of happiness ended in tragedy, I admire the man for having the guts and the determination to chase his own dreams. For staying focused on achieving his goal. For pushing ahead when others called him mad.

I mean afterall, how many of us will get to die doing what we want to be doing and leave with no regrets?

Death in the shed

August 16, 2008

I saw three of them playing in the back garden earlier this week. When I went to the garden shed to pick up the fish food for the goldfish, they scurried and hid in a corner in the shed.

I don’t know how long these patchy black and brown kittens have been living in the shed. They must only be a few months’ old. But from the way they behaved around humans, they were certainly strays.

I didn’t leave any food out for them because I didn’t want to encourage them to start living in the garden. If they were wild, I had hoped that they would eventually leave to seek food.

To my shock and dismay, I went back to the shed a few days and found one of them dead on the ground. She just laid there peacefully and I thought she was asleep. It was when she didn’t rouse that I noticed she wasn’t breathing.

Sadly, I had to leave her there for another cold night before R could remove it the next day. I was on edge the whole night and did not sleep well, thinking of the poor kitten lying all alone in the shed.

The next afternoon, he picked it up and I insisted that we dig a hole in the back garden to bury it. I didn’t like the idea of chucking the body out with the trash because I think it deserved a decent burial. So R dug a foot deep hole and I placed the plastic bag at the bottom. I said a prayer and hummed a religious tune, then covered it up with soil. Then I plucked a stalk of honey-suckle from the bush and stuck it on top of the grave.

That night, I couldn’t hold back and cried. For a kitten whom I don’t even know. Whose life was so fragile.

I kept thinking of her lying there in the cold, scared and alone. Could I have done something to prevent her death? Did my actions kill her? I don’t know. But I’d like to think that she is at least now safe, warm and about to start a new blessed life.

Lessons from Old Age

August 16, 2008

I think all children should grow up having old people in their home. I think the experience helps to highlight their roles and responsiblities as a younger person and makes a great difference to the way they treat and perceive the elderly in the society.

I grew up living with my maternal grandparents and thus am fluent in the Hokkien, a dialect which the younger generation these days may find foreign. I grew up learning to enjoy and appreciate carefully prepared wholesome meals, traditional delights such as Ngoh Hiang, Hae Zoh, watery porridge, Hokkien mee, and double-boiled rich soups. I learnt to love dishes my grandparents liked but didn’t usually appeal to kids: black olives, pickled chai sim in jars, chai por with egg, sweet potato leaves and steamed fish.

Growing up with my grandparents not only taught me to speak my native dialect, to appreciate fresh food, but also taught me love, tolerance and respect. To want to love and care for them, to want to have meals with them at the table, to accept and live with their quirky ways.

Perhaps that’s why I don’t particularly feel difficult to live with R’s mum, who will be celebrating her 90th birthday next month. I don’t find it hard to understand why she has some weird conceptions about certain things since I grew up with my grandma who imposes equally strange ‘restrictions’ on my family. For example, my grandma doesn’t like us to use the washing machine, gas stove, water heater or air-conditioner.

The only thing I took some getting used to living with his mum, was calling her by her name. For the first few weeks I kept calling her Mrs H until she said to me, ‘Call me V, love, not Mrs H.’ It seemed wrong and disrespectful because back home I certainly didn’t address any of my elderly relatives or neighbours or anyone who looked vaguely middle-aged by their names. Because back home you should address them as ‘Auntie’.

It took a few days of practising and getting over the intial awkwardness, and then gradually I felt comfortable enough to suppress my instinct to call her ‘Mrs’ whenever I see her little wrinkled face, but to call her V instead.

Sometimes I think about what she thinks of me. This girl who just bursts into the family and starts sharing the space. She’s been lovely to me, and ever so generous. So there are times where I just sit in the living room with her as she tells me the same stories over and over again, though I now know it well enough to repeat it word by word. Still, I nod earnestly and pay attention, just like I did at home when grandma goes over her tales again and again.

Then I realised that old people all over the world are the same. They just want a tiny bit of our love and attention.

Wedding ring

August 10, 2008

He came home from work one day, sat me down and told me that his colleagues asked if he has popped the question and bought me a ring. He said his reply to them was “not really”. 

As he said this, he slowly reached into his uniform pocket to produce a huge emerald ring with thick gold band. I couldn’t believe he’d gotten it. He said it was specially crafted by a lady jeweller and is not available anywhere else.

I took a look at the emerald. It must be about 1cm wide and is such a rich dazzling green. It was truly sensational. Carefully, he slipped the ring onto my ring finger as I held my breath. And what can I say? It fits perfectly!

Here’s a sneak peak …

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Words can’t describe how I feel.

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 Tada! Do you like it? Lovingly made by his colleague, Michelle, using Quality Street chocolate wrappers when she heard he’s not bought a wedding ring. I think it’s pretty neat, don’t you?