Tuesday, December 27, 2011

5-Hour Existence

Raja died aged 5 hours old.

Raja had a fatal birth defect called anencephaly – which means he was born with much of his skull missing, and most of his brain exposed. His optical nerves failed to form normally, so he was totally blind. Anencephaly strikes 1 in 10000 babies. Raja happened to be that baby. He was not expected to live long –babies with anencephaly, after all, often die almost immediately after birth.

Raja’s mother knew about her baby’s condition 5 months into her pregnancy. Needless to say, it was devastating news. A typical expecting the birth of a child would spend the pregnancy preparing for the arrival of a brand new individual – their own flesh and blood. Raja’s family spent the pregnancy preparing for the death of the child. There would be no baby shower, only a funeral. Instead of preparing a crib, they prepared a coffin.

Raja’s 5-hour life was longer than anybody expected it to be. Some expected him to, quite literally, drop dead instantly after birth.  Yet he stayed around long enough to spend time with his extended family, who was all there. He spent his brief life close to his mother, a cap covering his vulnerable head.

The most touching part of the documentary was after Raja had died, and his diminutive body was being passed around the room, to be held by his family members. Watching the love in their eyes, love for a family member they would never watch grow up. Then he was lowered into his coffin, like any baby being put to sleep for his afternoon nap.

Watching this documentary on TV made hit me hard. I compared myself to Raja’s parents, his family. To Raja himself.

Am I as strong as Raja’s mother, who chose to carry her baby to term despite knowing about her child’s fatal birth defect?

Am I as supportive as Raja’s family, who dropped everything to travel from afar and comfort a loved one in need?

How many lives have I touched in my life…the way Raja has touched so many lives in 5 hours?

Do I value the gift of existence…a gift denied to Raja?

We always complain that 24 hours a day is not enough to do anything. Raja teaches us that you can do so much in just 5.

I admire Raja. He was blind, but he inspired others to see. He died young, but he inspired others to live. He did not leave any last words, but his message is priceless:

Thank God every day for the simple gift of existence.

Raja’s full story below:

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pedas Giler? Challenge Accepted

The sign said ‘Nasi Goreng Kampung – Pedas Giler!!!’

A cheap, cheesy sales gimmick, admitedly– but I fell for it. The sign felt like a challenge to the very integrity of my tastebuds, and if I could answer the sign in two words or less, it would be this:

“Challenge accepted”

Order up; I called for “Nasi Goreng Kampung” with a voice which conveyed authority and confidence. My tongue never felt so ready to face the barrage of spiciness I was sure it would face (or rather, taste).

But I was careful not to let my confidence blind me to the trial I would face. In preparation for my showdown with NGK, I ordered a cup of laici susu (which turned out to contain more ice than laici susu) due to milk’s properties as an antidote to spiciness.

The chef played a good psychological game. For one thing, he took a really long time to prepare the meal. In the meantime I was subjected to air laden thick with cili padi particles from the kitchen. Sneezing uncontrollably, I soon realized that it was a cunning, sinister move by the chef to undermine my tastebuds through my nasal cavity. Well played, chef. I have to admit that I was slightly shaken. A sip of laici susu to calm my nerves.

My resolve stood strong – I was not to be defeated before the fried rice even arrives. For 30 minutes I waited; once again, a sneaky move by the chef to build the suspense. Several more sips of laici susu to calm my nerves.

Finally the much-awaited plate of nasi goreng kampong appeared before me. My laici susu reserves were already at half its full capacity. The plate of NGK looked innocent enough. It was not deeply-coloured, as I expected. For a while I mistook it for nasi goreng cina, until I looked closely and spotted the flecks of cili padi hiding malevolently among the rice. A tentative taste confirmed it – it was definitely nasi goreng kampong. And as promised, it was ‘pedas giler’.

How do I describe the taste? It wasn’t the type of spiciness which attacks the tongue alone. Rather, it carried out a carpet-bombing tactic; the spiciness travels slowly, inevitably down your throat. The only way to overcome this was to eat continuously. Occasionally I would slow down to savour its “oomph” (and because it was quite hot), but I was doing it at my own risk.

The entire meal was a strange chase between these two sensations – the “oomph” and the spiciness.

But I am proud to say that I won the overall battle while hardly breaking a sweat. Sure, my tongue was slightly numb in the end from the heat of the meal (temperature-wise and spiciness-wise), but I can safely that the plate has been safely neutralized. If there were any parting words I would say to NGK it would be to compliment it for a battle well fought. But it has met its match in me.

Credit to the cup of laici susu which helped me through this battle. Although the cup was more ice than laici susu, I couldn’t have done it without you.

Overall, NGK lived up to its tagline.

Still, ‘pedas giler’? Challenge accepted. Challenge overcome.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

I am Me

“Are you proud to be Malay?”

Was the question posed to me during a recent course I attended. It was a straightforward question, for most of the course participants at least. But it was a bit tricky for me.

First of all, how Malay am I? My entire life, my Malay name and Chinese looks means that the two questions asked by a person I’ve just met are usually:

“Nama apa?”

And, at the mention of my Malay name, the next question asked with eyebrows raised in slight astonishment:

“Melayu ye?”

As a kid, I would duly nod my head to the second question. After all, my birth certificate, and later my IC, stated that I am “Melayu”. I didn’t really care, frankly. Rarely did I give my mixed heritage a second thought. I was indifferent to the fact that Mama is Chinese and Papa is Malay. I knew I was unique somehow, but so what? I rarely gave very much thought to it.

Later in life my answer to the second question would be “Melayu + Cina”, and a brief description of my parent’s ethnicity. I always saw myself as that. I was never asked to choose between the two. And I didn’t see any reason too.

Until my first real encounter with racism, which (perhaps ironically) happened during National Service. I remember taking my wudhuk outside the camp surau, and another camp participant telling me (jokingly for him): “Eh, ni bukan tokong la”.

Fortunately, I did not find myself the butt of racist jokes during the camp. Besides several references of “apek”, I found myself mostly accepted by all ethnicities at the camp. I count my blessings for that. But NS was the first time I noticed how bad racism really is. The ‘wiras’ and ‘wirawatis’ (as they called the participants) of the camp would, almost automatically, gravitate to those of the same racial background.

Melayu dengan Melayu. Cina dengan Cina. India dengan India. Yang lain-lain tu (which perhaps included me)…pandai-pandailah.

Unfortunately, I learned later that it was not a problem limited to the boundaries of the NS camp. Going to a college which was >90% Malay, I found that racism, though not extreme (yet), was well and alive even among students deemed the crème de la crème of the country.

It is at this point that I have to say this loud and clear: I am not ashamed of my Cina blood. In the same line, I am not ashamed of my Malay blood either. I just question why people have to be so damn proud of their own race to the point that it leads to hate towards others who look and/or act differently.

I used to be offended by jokes on my Cina-ness. The fact that my left eye is a lazy eye and is thus smaller than my right one (“Sebab separuh Cina la tu”) did not help matters. But I have grown past that. I now play along when Chinese jokes are thrown in my direction – why be ashamed? Besides, the eye infection currently going around my college means that I am no longer the only one with one eye smaller than the other (thank you to my roommate, Boiler, for starting off the infection) :p

I am no longer offended by jokes about my Cina-ness. I am, however, offended at jokes or statements aimed at harping on the flaws of the Chinese – to demonise them. I will always try to speak out against that. For that matter, I will also speak out against things said against the Malays if I get a chance to study overseas.

After all is said and done, my search for identity was, in the end, resolved in this college – and for that I will forever be grateful. I did not find my identity in my Melayu-ness, or my Cina-ness, as I always thought I would.

I found it in Islam. A religion I was born in, but perhaps never really lived before entering this college. I have found acceptance – brotherhood – among Muslims. Alhamdulillah.

Perhaps the question at the start of this post merely caught me off guard when I was asked. In retrospect, the question was good for me. It pushed me to decide between being Malay or not. And it made me realize that I have made that decision long ago.

Am I Melayu or Cina? I am neither and I am both. I am Malaysian. I am Muslim.

And most importantly, I am me.

Deal with it.

Fact: Mixed kids are cute :ppp