Category Archives: Special Times

An old spirit, glimpsed

We got a Christmas tree!

Christmas at Byblos Café & Lounge

Christmas at Byblos Café & Lounge

It’s one of those bizarre occasions which I would normally never be excited about, but for some reason, this year I am. As soon as Dani talked about getting a Christmas tree for the restaurant, I offered to shop for it. One reason I volunteered to do this is that it’s been quite possibly a decade since I put up a Christmas tree, and another reason is that if it were up to anyone else, we would end up with one of those hideous multicolored trees from the ’90s.

So last Thursday, we followed Yen Tyng’s advice and ventured to Petaling Street — no matter what anyone thinks of this touristy abomination, it’s still the place to go when you want anything that you know would be grossly overpriced in a mall — which is lined with stores peddling their wares at wholesale prices. We went to Petaling Street with the intention of procuring not only a tree, but also party favors for the restaurant’s New Year’s Eve dinner. Apparently, thinking of ways to lure the hoi polloi is what we do for a living now.

The weird thing about me is that I take to a project the way a hitman does: with single-track concentration and almost tunnel-vision precision. Normally I don’t like shopping with a man in town, especially a man like Dani, whose impatience is so palpable I could cut my teeth on it, but that day, I made him hanker along behind me with a laundry basket full of white and gold Christmas ornaments, all the while resolutely ignoring the increasingly dumbfounded look on his face.

Setting up the tree was strangely therapeutic for me. Walking round and round and round a tree, trying to figure out what would look best where, takes a certain kind of concentration that temporarily drives everything else from your mind, and for almost two hours, I saw little else but the tree, and the ensuing glitter that flew off the gold ribbon and stuck itself to my skin.

The tree was finally completed yesterday, after I proved my point that the gaping holes between the branches needed to be filled, and a tree topper had to be bought. When I stood back and surveyed my work, that familiar little feeling of accomplishment stole over me, followed by something I haven’t felt in a long time: peace.

I will admit that the last thing on earth I expected to bring me any semblance of peace was a Christmas tree. When I was a child, my grandmother used to tell me that Christmas was not about Santa or reindeer or presents — needless to say, I grew up with an acute awareness that Santa Claus most certainly does not exist — but about seeing the good in others, remembering the good things they have done, and appreciating what they may have had to give up in order for ourselves to enjoy what we have.

My own anger and bitterness towards so many things and so many people have long since eradicated every other good feeling in myself, but looking at my Christmas tree yesterday spared me a moment of clarity in which I saw how just how much I’ve lost to that negativity in my life. The circumstances of my life are such that I will never always have everything I want, but what I have at any given moment is what others can only dream about, and as sorry as I am for that, the only thing I can do is appreciate their sacrifice, and appreciate what I’ve been given.

So even though we have a ways to go, Merry Christmas, everyone.

Four more years

I’ve always been surprised by how closely I’ve followed American politics ever since I moved back to Malaysia. I think it comes from knowing how deeply American politics affect the world, or from missing that chapter of my life so much that it hurts sometimes. Or maybe, it comes from my eternal love for an underdog, which was what Barack Obama was when he first began campaigning for the 2008 Elections.

Besides being one of the best speakers I’ve ever seen, Obama embodies a kindness and compassion that so many leaders today lack (or don’t realize they actually need). And while the world may berate him for not fixing their problems overnight, what the world may not know is how much character it takes for someone to be in position and make a difference.

So congratulations, President Obama, and well done, America. I wish with all my heart I could be there with you.


I am because you were


Three generations of Audrey Hepburn fans

On Mother’s Day last year, I thought about the things my mother had taught me when I was growing up that she swore would ensure I would grow up to be a self-sufficient — if a little self-possessed — human being.

This year, I realize, though not for the first time, how much I really have to be grateful for, having been privy to some of the worst parenting skills I have ever seen over the past year or so. And I have not only my mother to be grateful to, but her mother as well, for teaching me so many things that I would never have learned had I been left to my own devices.

If not for my grandmother, whose Growing Up Essentials kit included fairy tales, nursery rhymes, classic literature and Golden Hollywood movies and musicals, I would never have learned the meaning of timelessness, nor the values and lessons behind the stories she made sure I could read by the time I was 2 years old. I would also probably never have known who  the likes of Charles Perrault, Enid Blyton and Audrey Hepburn were, and the qualities they brought to life that so very very few people have these days.

If not for my mother, who believes in following your passions and doing what makes you the happiest, I would never have found my voice, or learned to use it. I would never have learned to always try and put others first, or to keep my chin up at all costs when I hit the lowest points in my life. I would never have sighed and grumbled through daily etiquette lessons, or grown up knowing the difference between a salad fork and dessert fork.

If not for the both of them, I would not be the way I am now: what they had both grown up to be and what they knew they had to make sure I became. And for that, I would never trade anything in the world, and I will always be grateful to them.

Happy Mother’s Day!