Monday, April 30, 2007

The Firewife - Tinling Choong

I definitely want to take thoughtful time over these impressions. I was excited to be able to get this from Amazon - since there are no author readings this side of the pond that I can tell. I know she is coming to a Lit Breakfast in KL in July and that Kenny is probably going to do her poster! Finally though, I wanted to celebrate another published Malaysian author.

I found that this novel separated into a few levels for me: there was this whole Nuwa creation myth level and Hindu Goddesses; there were each of the women photographed and a sort of political/ feminist statement for each one linked to an aspect of their sexuality/womanhood, including the opening story of Lakshmi which underlined the plight of brides in India who displeased their in-laws and were set on fire and killed. Unsurprisingly, the level I enjoyed the most, and which I identified most with as a reader was the story of Nin, the photographer, who is a Malaysian woman now living in the USA. Her chapters were interspersed with each of the photo subjects. They reveal her tragic family story, and chart her journey to find the locked away passion in herself. I found the language of her thoughts and narrative extremely entertaining, lyrical and well written. I like looking at her angst. I like wondering how she will resolve it. I like it that her thoughts are peppered with film and music references of this time, and that she has a thing for Russell Crowe's mouth!

I am trying to write without any spoilers in case you intend to read this. There are some wonderful nuggets of Malaysian tastes. The highlights of this novel for me, were the excruciating protrait of the unique Chinese familial ability to brand shame deep into your soul, with no recourse or redemption. You bear this searing blackness and it drives you to extraordinary lengths. Just fantastic examples of this, I cried buckets. Also, Nin's desire to Not Be the eldest - very poignantly written. More buckets. Favourite chapter? Chapter 6: the discussion on earlobes - this is so very Malaysian I really chuckled over this. My family is also obsessed with lucky earlobes, and I will confess looking surreptitiously at my future husband's earlobes when I met him.

As much as I carry on enjoying the writing, I do get cross with the plot. It is an ambitious and courageous plot. Very modern and disconnected, flying between times. Her writing on sexuality is frank and confident - she is the recipient of the Henry Miller Award after all, where readers of an e-zine vote on the hottest writing. Maybe I am supposed to get annoyed with Nin as her "Water" self - a neutral vessel, unfilled. I wonder why she can't naturally grow to balance her Fire and Water, and there needs to be so many devices involved. The characters to be photographed aren't very deeply rooted, they are transient despite their very real plights - her journey carries her relentlessly on to the next thing before we can reflect much, she makes no difference to them. There is a lot of symbolic mythology here, but I am uncomfortable that nothing of the creation myth and the Hindu myth connects on a heart level with these characters - or least my readerliness (this is not a word...) cannot detect it. The blurb on the jacket says,"Firewife is a poetic, exploration of contemporary Asian women unknowingly connected over time." Poetic, I'll certainly grant - and yes! an exploration - but I am left still unknowing about how to make some of the connections. Maybe I'll have to read it again, I may be simply too tired to think!

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Wot I et this weekend

I put my mouth where my blog is and cooked a wild garlic omelette - ku chai or chinese chives, with a very light oniony taste. Not bad, if I were foraging in the forest, I would definitely choose this!

If only I knew how to identify safe mushrooms...

I also made rendang, but we ate it before I could take a picture. I obviously have not got the idea, plus since I used brahim rendang sauce, as I was busy, felt like it was not real cooking!

I only had one chance with this cheese on a cracker because I then ate it - it was blue enough to walk I think, so I ate it fast. Or I was impatient. I think I am too impatient to be a food blogger because I just want to eat the food, forget about shooting a nice pic of it!

(all this while pondering my reader impressions...aiyah, must have food for thoughtlah!)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Stephanie Lehmann and Karen Miller

I picked this book up in a hurry but it has surprising depths, despite its cover! Ginger is studying at the NY School of Culinary Arts. She is uncomfortable with her body and with her image. She dresses down (and wears funky sneakers) - trying to hide herself away. This is a reaction to growing up with her mother, Coco, who used to work as an exotic dancer and still teaches hen parties for a living. Coco is Very comfortable with her own skin. This book is about seeing your parents with new eyes when you grow up and your reassesment of them. Ginger has to move past simple feminist prejudices and see Coco as a living embodiment of a strong woman who has always been there for her, despite apparently revelling in being a sex object - very nicely observed.

I chose this book carefully. I have read a lot of SFF and if one is not discriminating, it can all blur together into one big quest. I was not disappointed - this is a good, well written story with an active pace. The characters are well drawn and you care for each of them. There is a decent magical premise and a suitably complex political plot. There are no boring long drawn out bits. The relationships are fairly sympathetic, though everything is terribly secret. Still, as it is unusually, a duology - I shall be getting Book Two.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Tooth Fairy is about!

Tooth number two:
Good for you!

The Fairy Queen’s

Favourite drink is dew,

Captured in the morning’s dawn,

In a goblet carved from –

Your milky tooth

That wiggled loose.

from Fairy SlumberSloth

Meg Cabot and Shannon Hale

Meg Cabot is chick lit, all right? But she's funny and clever and she knows her target audience well. So I let my 9 year old read the Princess Diaries, and she's a very emotionally intelligent 9 year old. But these last two books (7 & 8) are a lot about "Should one Do It with your boyfriend?" Fair enough questions, but the 9 year old seems to be taking it in stride. Should I be worried?

Shannon Hale has always written about strong, intelligent heroines who think out of the box, who find and gather community, and are not afraid to provide leadership. The heroes in her writing are simply heroes because they recognise and support this. Brilliant! My sister sent me Princess Academy on my birthday for one of the kids, but I admit I read this for myself (and I've read her other books!)

Right, just play catch up on my last four books: The Art of Undressing by Susan Lehmann, Innocent Mage by Karen Miller, Firewife by Tinling Choong and Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman - and then I can just do them as I read 'em.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Reader Impressions

I've been posting the covers of the books I've been reading, but not saying much about them. I was gonna not just post the "literary" stuff but all the stuff I read in between, and let me tell you, nowadays...I'm just happy to be reading! Book reviews? Don't think I can do it. So I'm going to call these Reader Impressions - please feel free to suggest some stuff to me based on what you see here. I'm just going to casually say how the book made me feel, hoo and if I am really feeling brain snappy, I may have a thought. But probably just one.

Sometimes, I read 4 or more books at a time. I read lots of kids books too, as I like to keep up with what my kids are absorbing into their impressionable heads. But sometimes, I simply read them for me, probably takes me back to a time when I was a happy reader and could simply be a sponge. Anyway, I'll not excuse anything which shows up here, that's the deal. When I was little I used to take out say, 10 books from the library (basket basikal pecahlah!) and then I would play a game where I would find things in common linking one book to another. They would be tiny little details like, in book one there would be a story about a hummingbird. In book two, the heroine would notice a hummingbird come to her porch to sip on hibiscus, in book three, the hero would have a monologue about the place of porches in his world. Get the gist? OK, I lived a lot in my head. So if I notice something I will play the game.

The last book I read is a book I've been meaning to read for a long time. What a pleasant surprise it was. How I enjoyed and savoured its language, laughed really hard at the characters, cried for the narrator, dreamed in the golden summer sense of place this writer conjured up. Wow, this wins Best Read of the Year so far award. It belongs to Mr. G. Even he was surprised how much I liked it. It's about a young survivor of WWI, marriage bashed and wounded, who arrives to restore a church mural in a northern country church in England. Yes, it is quintessentially English - dry, wry and self-aware. The kind of writing where you stop and roll the sentences round your tongue. Yum! Sometimes I don't think I get to reading certain books because the time is not right, that I haven't learned enough to truly appreciate what it means. Perfect timing for this one, sigh. Mr. G said, "Well, it is a book about healing." By jove, he was right.

Ramson or Wild Garlic

Allium ursinum

click for recipes

Arrival of Leaves

New cell, new surface
Full of green blood
Power is calling from root
Hold, hold, hold
Reach, be bold

Bolt from the sun
Burn and turn into green creases
Bark thicken, wind teases
Time is now, taller, layer
Distance from the decayer

Free the shackles of husk
Ramsons be your bride
To stem the tide
Turn over new leaf
I have arrived.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Sweet Ylang Ylang

A graceful, exotic name from the Fillipines. A sensual, sweet and earthy fragrance. Ylang ylang embodies the energy of the Sacral chakra, associated with pleasure, love, passion and sexuality. Svadisthana is another name for the Chakra - the dwelling place of the Self - where the spark of our creativity is first lit.

Relaxing and uplifting, ylang ylang connects and balances heart to mind. In TCM, it cools the anxiety which can flare along the Heart Meridian, calms Heart-Fire which can be seen as a red tip to the tongue and tonifies the Heart-Yin. Soothing restlessness and insomnia, it regulates the heartbeat. Heart meridian is of the Fire element. It runs from the inside of the wrist to the armpit. Putting a 6 drops of ylang ylang in 10ml oil is very calming stroked along this pathway. Halve the dosage for children, they like it when restless and it helps them to sleep.

I use ylang ylang to remember joy. It was one of the first two oils I ever bought - the other one was Bergamot. In my practice, I save using ylang ylang for someone so overwhelmed by their mind they have forgotten their body, which is their vehicle in this world and needs to be looked after. Or I use it simply for someone who needs some more joy in their life. Ylang ylang is also good for the stressed out student, for both those reasons! Use it with moderation because the heady scent can quickly become headache-y if used too often. It blends well with the citrus oils - grapefruit, sweet orange, bergamot, lemongrass. It also goes well with the earthy oils - sandalwood, vetiver, patchouli, spikenard. It is kind, cooling and soothing to the skin, good for complexions which get red or flush easily.

When using essential oils, it is good to take a break from them. Even I try to have a day off - or a weekend off , if I am using them consistently. If I am using them for treatment and I have a dose 3 x a day - I usually do weekdays and break on the weekends before resuming the dose. If I need to continue the treatment, I would mix a totally different blend for the next phase. If you have them for the occasional bath, this is not the case. We are surrounded by scent everywhere we go - much of it synthetic and chemical, a good bit of it pollution. Our noses and systems become very overloaded, and this sensitises us and makes us allergic to many things. Using too much of anything can make us sensitive to it - so to prevent myself from ever becoming sensitised to essential oils - I use them carefully and with respect, when I need them. I enjoy them fully and follow the adage, "Less is more."

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Frankincense, Acupuncture and the Individual Prescription

Frankincense resinFrankincense Tree
Frankincense resin and the tree

My favourite essential oil is distilled from Frankincense resin. You can imagine its sweet, calming, heady smell. Frankincense has been used for many religious rituals, it stills the mind for meditation. One of my clients, a lapsed catholic, said that once he had got over the fact that it reminded him of priests, he then liked it very much! I was using a combination of Frankincense and Cardamom for his Spleen at the time. Frankincense is both an Earth oil and a Metal one. It's sweetness nourishes the earth but there is a quality to it which makes us breathe deeply and strengthen the Lungs, which is a metal element quality. Being an earth oil, it helps the mind be calm - which makes it an ideal oil for exams and anxiety. I get a lot of comfort from Frankincense - it makes me stop when I am in a stressed and hectic place, it helps me to look from a higher perspective and let go of the little niggly details, it's sweetness warms me and reminds me to also breathe in the sweetness of life.

Frankincense is a great wound healer and famous cosmetic element in skincare and anti-ageing creams. It is often mentioned in the same breath as Cleopatra, well..and also embalming! It's great, especially if you have dry, irritable skin - it can be soothing and hydrating.

I am using Frankincense and Roman Chamomile for cough at the moment. Frankincense for its Lung strengthening and soul soothing properties - Roman Chamomile for its antispasmodic effect on muscles (relieves spasm - a cough is like an involuntary spasm of the muscles) and its very calming effect. I've put them in a base oil of St John's Wort - a lovely red rich herbal oil (made by soaking the chopped herb in sunflower or olive oil). It has anti-inflammatory properties and is soothing to skin - but don't go sunbathing in it as it has the potential to make the skin more sensitive to the sun. This blend is right for me, because of the kind of cough I have, my emotional state and the fact I don't live in a very sunny country at the moment. It won't cure just any kind of cough. Aromatherapists like me believe very strongly in the Individual Prescription - the blend has to be crafted for you and your immediate situation. No two persons blending the same recipe will result in exactly the same smell - this is known as an energetic signature - a theory that the person who handblends for you puts a little of their energy into the blend which makes it unique. There, a little aromatherapy mystique for everyone.

My friend Hux used to wander around Borneo as a young man with his acupuncture needles, I must get the full story from him sometime. He has just returned to practice after a break of 10 years - he says himself he doesn't know why - as we have been all asking him this because he is so good at it. Now I don't particularly like the needles myself, no no. Only Hux could persuade me, as he is very open minded and also trained in Tui Na (Chinese Massage) and agreed to put the blend on me as well as the needles. Here is a picture (yes, this is my actual hand):

Hux has put the needles in the Lung Meridian - Lung 9 and 10. He also put them in lots of other spots but we don't need pictures of those too! I felt like a pincushion. Then he also twanged them! I could feel the deep swirling and tingling sensations go through the channels. This is the first time I have been able to look at the needles without flinching - and take a picture! Perhaps it is also a testimony about how brave blogging has made me. Let's hope I get better soon - with a little help from my friends!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Sungei Wang and the Bad Man

There was once upon a time, when Sungei Wang was the first and newest shopping center in all of Kuala Lumpur. The terrazzo tiles were shiny white and the air-conditioning blew vigorously, sometimes accompanied by white streamers flapping out of the vents with manic gaiety. I don’t remember very well, but it seemed like five levels all looking down into a central, square area – connected by many escalators. Everywhere the tapping of feet tramping up and down these five levels echoed endlessly and blended in with the Chinese pop songs, or Malay ballads or Lionel Ritchie coming out of the cassette tape vendors on every floor. Clean neon signs blinked without any dust or grime, yet…from the humid, traffic laden air outside.

What do people do on the weekend? Whole families come and stroll in the cool clean breeze and bright lights. They come from all over, from the suburbs, from outlying villages – Cheras, Kampar, Klang, Kajang. They tramp all over industriously window shopping, looking for a shrewd bargain.

I looked over from the dismal choice at the bookshelves in front of me and there was a Bad Man talking to my little sister. He was dressed like an office worker in a white shirt and smart slacks. He was a very confident Bad Man, smooth and sweet like a barracuda gleaming in between the humanity passing around us. My parents had left us there and gone to do an errand, assuming a bookshop would be a fairly safe place. There was no one else near us, the place seemed deserted as I craned my neck to see if they had returned. Yinmei was only four years old but she had a mulish expression on her face, she was a smart kid. She wasn’t buying any of this chat from the Bad Man, he was offering to buy her a book. He was in between us. I was twelve and hypersensitive, I knew he was dangerous with his smooth eyes and his smooth words and I felt like a little fish in front of this barracuda. I knew that Bad Men who lose face or felt like you threatened them would retaliate in ways I could never imagine. I may have been twelve but I already knew that, the boys in my town got angry if I wouldn’t speak to them. They threw invisible stones at your back.

I blurted out chattily, “That’s my little sister!” I had to buy some time till my parents came back. He turned his cold barracuda eyes on me, face softening as he judged my youth, the ribbon in my hair, my deliberately innocent face. My sister looked at me in a puzzled manner, how often had we heard the old adage, “Never talk to strangers!” I felt in my bones I had to keep talking, babbling brightly and innocently, and not in any challenging manner. What if he picked up my light little sister and ran away with her? His legs looked very long. I felt sick, I kept talking like an idiot twelve year old who didn’t know about Bad Men. “Do you like books? I like books very much!”

He was edging us closer and closer to where the shop turned into the walkway. There wasn’t an entrance to the bookstore, it was open along its entire frontage. I don’t think people shoplifted books a lot. I tried to get round to the same side as my little sister. He was cajoling, “Come, let me buy you some books or some toyslah!” “We not allowedlah, supposed to look only,” I whined. He held his hand out to my sister. She looked at me. I looked round carefully to see if my parents were in sight. The crowds milled around us, walking past ceaselessly. Could I tell someone? If I stopped to try to tell someone, would he disappear with Yinmei? “Let’s walk around the bookstore!” I said, like I wasn’t sure if I should accept such a treat. “My parents might be coming back in a little while.” We walked around the shelves. I had nodded to my sister to take his hand, I walked alongside, close as a limpet, and as frightened. I could tell he wanted us to leave the shop. He was losing his patience, he knew they would come back for us soon. I am stupid, I am stupid, I am stupid, I sang in my head. “Let’s go to the shop next door,” he said. I blinked at him innocently. “Watch your sister!” my brain screamed. “There might be something nice there,” I said slowly as possible. Walking slowly as possible.

There was my Father! He was coming up the escalator. “Dad!” I called out. He looked suspiciously at us. The Bad Man dropped my sister’s hand and I grabbed it. The barracuda was sidling away. He told my father he was just keeping an eye on us. He swam off into the crowd. I can still see his face. Thwarted. Hungry. My father looked at me. “You are the oldest,” he said. He took my sister’s hand and we all went down the escalator. The River of Money swirled all around us. He never mentioned it again. I never got to explain to my sister why I had her hold the Bad Man’s hand.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Never making a deadline

If you know my previous incarnations well enough, you'll understand why the title is such. You'll chuckle a little at the irony that I went to journalism school. Did I ever hand in assignments on time? Many a long suffering professor could probably tell you, I am not cut out for the deadline life, the media whirl, hot news or...even the average term paper.

It's time for a change in perception, I have to stop thinking that my life is a series of uncatchable deadlines I can chase after all the time, and the constant failure and guilt that might suggest. My first paradigm shift should involve my birthday. Instead of going, this is the date I turn 40 what have I achieved? I am going to say, this is the year I turn 40 and I will spend the year giving myself permission and time to achieve some things which mean something to me. There. I've said it. I am going to sidle past the part of me that seems to be in a rictus of " no one and nothing tells me what to do and when to do it" and one day I am going to soothe that inner child rebellion within me - may need a horse whisperer. That's my promise.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Decadent Household

What can I say, Mr G goes on and on in culinary triumph! Home made meringue with strawberry, raspberries and cream. YUM.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

A visitor

The apple tree in the back garden is about to burst into full blossom. Mr G took a great photo this morning.

Going to Glencot

Glencot House Hotel

We went to a party for the launch of a new hotel. Everyone had to dress with "decadence". I usually wear a cheongsam to such things, but mr G was disappointed not to have a red velvet smoking jacket and a cravat. He almost refused to go. But once we reached the elegant Victorian villa with flaming torches on the terrace, and he had had his first sip of wine and nibble of chocolate eclair, he settled down to the ambience of candlelight and stuffed peacocks, ornate mirrors and overstuffed armchairs. There was a roaring fire or two and the crowning glory of his night was the abundance of Daim chocs everywhere, jars and dishes overflowed with his favourite treat. You can see the top of the jar above. The gin cocktails ran out in an hour (400 guests, free booze!) but the Daim remained and a goodly few came home with us.

Having a laff with my girlfriends!