Thursday, 21 April 2011

My Religion is The Best..!!

That's the exact virus that kills mankind. 
That's the exact poison that makes people kill each other
That's the exact sentence I hear over and over again...

My mother is a believer of Confucious teaching
My late grandmother was a devoted Buddhist
My late grandfather was an Atheist
My father is an Agnostic
My sister is a Christian
My other sister is a Catholic
My brothers are both Christians
My husband is Muslim
And I am Muslim

I believe each of my family members thinks that his/her religion is the best..
(and i believe a lot of people think we are one hell of a crazy family too...)

Nobody kills each other..
Nobody tries to convert each other into different faith..
Nobody thinks that each is better than the other..

If only everyone can do this....

In China : the Tibetan monks can concentrate on praying and preaching
In Indonesia : the Christians won't be afraid of celebrating Christmas in the church
In America : the Muslims won't be scared of being stoned and teased by passer-bys
In Belfast : the Catholics won't be terrorized by the Christians and vice versa

Isn't it really a wonderful world...?

Friday, 15 April 2011

The most automated country : Indonesia..?????

The word automatic is derived from a Greek word "automanos" which means self-acting.  The first class infrastructures always emphasize on the importance of being automatic, starting from Automated Teller Machines, Automatic laundry machines, Automatic vending machines for food until Automatic Car Parking System.

When the first time I arrived in US, I was so amazed looking at the automatic gate in my host-parents' house.  Just a press of a button opened their gate... Cool...!! Then when I went to college, I had fun trying all the automatic vending machines in campus until I ran out of coins...!!! Pushing different buttons buying black coffee, cappuccino, cream soup, chocolates, cookies, water, etc. The tastes of those coffees from the machines were horrible but I still bought from there.. The satisfaction of inserting the coins, waiting and watching how the machines brewed my coffees and picking up the super hot "paper-cup-coffees" gave me more pleasures than drinking the coffees itself.  At home, I was so happy with my dishwasher machine and dryer for my laundry.. I wished I could have ones like that in Indonesia.  

When I went back to Bandung, I told my dad on how amazing the technology in the US was. How everything was automatic.. how it made my life so much easier.  I told him maybe we should bring back the motor for autogate, dryer, and dishwasher to Bandung.  My dad smiled and said he didn't need all those coz everything he had in Bandung was far more automatic than everything I had mentioned.

Before I could protest, he asked me," How automatic is this autogate?"  I told him, just a press of a button, the gate would open automatically.  He said," Here in Bandung, just a press of my car button, my gate would open, and if it rained, I would automatically get me an umbrella.  Besides, if I had my shopping bags, I don't even need to take them out from the car.  The bags would be in my room automatically!"

And before I asked more questions, he said," You said you get drinks and snacks just by inserting coins to the machine?"  He continued, "Here in my house, you just say one sentence and you can get anything you want, from coffees, hot pipping noodle soup with fresh chillies, to fried rice. No coin needed."

"I put my dirty clothes in the laundry basket and the next day they are automatically arranged neatly in my closet."

I smiled... and realized how automatic everything was in Indonesia... 

Most middle class Indonesians have helpers in their houses, from maids (housekeepers), babysitters, drivers to gardeners.  We can't live without them... Other than Lebaran holidays where all the helpers go back to their hometowns, we never really do laundry, we don't sweep and mop our house, we don't wash dishes... Our helpers in the house will do that for us.  They are hired to do the houseworks, from cleaning, washing, ironing, gardening, cooking, baby sitting and even driving.  Yes, I have to admit,shamefully and thankfully.. that Indonesians are the super spoiled brats...

Contrary to the western view of "slavery" when we mentioned the word "maid' or "servant",  Indonesians view a maid or a servant just like any other profession like being a secretary or a clerk in an office.  The maids are treated like how we treat our employees in offices or factories.  Employers provide proper meals, accomodations, medications when they are sick, toiletteries, and annual leaves. Those maids usually send their salaries home to take care of their children, parents or to buy farms.

My father convinced me that we don't need machines to get things "automatically".  Even when we want to eat, we don't need to go out from the house. We get food vendors passing our house almost every half-an-hour, from fresh-from-the-grill satays, hot noodle soup to ice cream.. everything will "automatically" come to us.

Well.... Now I see my small little town of Bandung as a "hi-tech" town which provides me with everything "automatic" without jumping up the electricity bills...!! Automatic yet environmentally friendly and allow me to exercise my social responsibility by providing employment...!! Besides, it can also sharpen my management skill... We do know that "managing people" is far more difficult than "managing machines", right?  Isn't it a great way to being "automatic"..?

Monday, 11 April 2011

Green Green Grass of Home

When i grew up in Bandung, i was always fascinated with big metropolitan cities like Hongkong, New York, LA and Tokyo.  In TV and movies that i saw, those cities looked so beautiful with colourful neon lights, handsome men in suits, stylish ladies with pretty handbags, and fancy restaurants visited by famous people. I dreamt of living there... leaving my quiet small boring town forever...

So when I finished high school and my mom asked me where i wanted to go for college, my immediate response was America..!! I would love to go to Hongkong or Tokyo but language would be a big problem for me. My mom enrolled me in San Diego States University.  She had never been there but her friend's daughter was there and said the place was suitable for studying.  I was a bit dissappointed coz i thought I'd go to Los Angeles.  My mother said no, saying that city was just for fun not for studying..

When I arrived in San Diego, I fell in love instantly.. Stepping out from the plane, I was greeted by the beach lined with palm trees.  The people were very friendly, instantly smiling whenever they made eye contacts with strangers.  I ended up staying a good five and a half years there, enjoying my college years filled with mexican food, barbeques by the beach, strolling thru La Jolla, meeting people from all over the world, disco trips to Tijuana and so many interesting activities that i would never be able to do in Bandung.

After finishing college, a lot of foreign students decided to stay and apply for green cards to live in US.  As for me, I decided to go back and work in Jakarta.  I couldn't imagine going back to the quiet and boring town of Bandung.  I worked as an accountant for 5 years in Jakarta.  I worked hard and partied hard.  My bosses loved  me coz I could happily spend nights in the office to meet deadlines.  I enjoyed working on weekends as much as I enjoyed club hopping after work. It was a life that I had always dreamt of... Until I met my husband and moved to Kuala Lumpur.  Prior to meeting my husband, I had no idea what Kuala Lumpur was like other than it was an Islamic country.  I was a bit scared imagining how my life would be.  Reading about shariah laws in Saudi Arabia gave me goose bumps, how thieves would have their hands chopped off when they were cought.  How women are not allowed to drive and go without any male companion.  I imagined KL was similar to that. How women do not go to school after puberty.

So when I landed at KLIA, I was surprised to see girls in tank tops and lipsticks driving around town. When my husband introduced me to his friends, I met nice interesting people who talked "the same language" with me... I was soooo relieved and totally embarassed for being so ignorant and not doing any research on Malaysia.

I have been living here for 11 years now, totally enjoying my life... Of course life here is so much different from Bandung, San Diego and Jakarta but I did fall in love with KL. I love the public parks, the wet market of Taman Tun, the variety of food, the holiday celebrations, the colourful culture, and the list goes on and on.

During my 11 years here, i went back to Bandung about 3-4 times a year.  During those visits, my husbands made me fall in love all over again..  not with him, but with Bandung...!! The place that I thought to be boring is actually a very interesting place to live.  When we were in Bandung, I had time to pamper myself. I had massages at the comfort of my own room, I enjoyed the delicious tastes of nasi kuning, batagor & mie kocok, I spent hours in coffeeshops by the hills in Dago, I spent hours shopping at the factory outlets without poking too much holes in my pocket and I did creambath (scalp and back massage) anytime I wanted.  All those possible because I didn't need to think about my kids..!! My mom took them for horse riding, shopping, or taking rides on becak.  My kids could play with their cousins and uncles.

My husband told me how relaxing it is to live in Bandung... he even thought about retiring there.  He wanted to have a house with huge garden in Lembang, half an hour drive from Bandung.  He is dreaming of having his meals from our garden harvest.  He is dreaming of playing golf in cool morning breeze everyday. He is dreaming of spending his afternoons seeping teas while enjoying the mountain views.  And all those are possible in Bandung.

So when I read the book Alchemist by Paulo Cuelho, I really could relate the story with my life.  After travelling and living in several countries, at the end of our life, we have the tendency to go back to where we started.  The grass always looks greener at the other sides but actually the greenest grass may be in our own backyard.  We just have to stop and have a good look at our own backyard, noticing not only the dirts but also the flowers and butterflies that live in it.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

What Are You..??

That's the questions i got the most eversince i live in Kuala Lumpur for 11 years.  At first I was confused, didn't know what's d meaning of the question.  I thought my English was not that bad, but i really couldn't understand the question.  Overtime I got used to it and know what to answer.

Most people in Malaysia are grouped into 3 major ethnic groups, Malay, Chinese and Indian. Other than those 3 major ethnic groups, there are few other minorities, mostly living in Sabah and Sarawak. While the Chinese and Indians can choose their religions, either Catholic, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Tao or even atheist, Malays do not have the freedom to choose theirs.  All Malays are born to be Muslims, period.  No arguement, no question asked. Because of this, the society tends to blur the context of religion and race.  A lot of my Malaysian friends and acquaintances do not understand how to differentiate Malay and Muslim coz it's been glued together since long time ago. 

The same thing with applies with names.  While the Chinese and Indians can have "western names" such as Michael, Darren, Michelle, or the weirdest name that even the westerner will frown upon, such as Fish Liew or Urine Lo, Malays can only use malay or arabic names.

Growing up in Indonesia, I was exposed to people from 27 ethnic groups, all with their own languages, cultures and religions.  Not one ethnic group can be associated with one particular religion.  Freedom of religion is guaranteed in the constitution, whatever race we belong to.  So a Malay can choose to be a Muslim, a Catholic, a Buddhist, a Christian, or even a Hindu.  When we meet people in Indonesia, nobody really asks question what our religions are.  Except maybe in Ramadhan month when the muslims fast.  People will ask for our religions to avoid serving food or beverages to the muslims who are supposed to refrain from eating and drinking during daytime.

So here in KL, when people look at me : Chinese looking gal, with Malay name, can barely speak Mandarin, said to be a Muslim, the parents are Chinese, loves sambal belacan, dim sum and rassam.  All those attributes are just too confusing to be grouped into a particular ethnic group.

I got this supplier whom I knew for 3 years, one day called me and said, "I just couldn't get this out of my mind.  I knew you for 3 years but I really don't know what you are."  "What are you actually?"

My initial reply usually just a cheeky smile and a sentence of, " I am a human being, just like you."

But of course that reply can never satisfy anyone.  They have the need to group and categorize people into a certain "department". 

Although I got a bit tired having to do this over and over again throughout the years, I still do explain that I am born into Chinese parents, grew up in Indonesia and married to a Malaysian muslim.  But again, this answer will lead to another question : If you are Chinese, why don't you speak Mandarin or Cantonese or Hokkien or Teow Chew?
My next answer is history lesson about Indonesia during Suharto regime : during my time growing up in Indonesia, the Chinese couldn't have Chinese name and the government forbade any Chinese language or character to exist in the country.

Then another question : So now you are a Muslim? Don't eat pork ah?  Aaaaarrrggghhh I don't know what's so important about pork to the Chinese.  It's like you are not Chinese enough if you don't eat pork.  It's such a big deal not to eat pork...

Well.. i used to get irritated for having to answer these questions for at least once or twice a month.  Sometimes when i went to parties, i even had to answer these questions like 10 or 20 times in a night..!!  But now, instead of getting irritated, I take it as a compliment... I am a unique individual.. I am special.. that's why people are curious about me... But of course, when the questions were popped while I was savouring my chilli crabs with all fingers drenched with gravy, I can just be totally very mean and say, " I am a crab eater, and if you don't stop disturbing me, I can eat you too..!"

Eating Halal

I am a self-confessed foodie who enjoy cooking, trying new food, shopping in traditional markets, and travelling.  I grew up with a father who encourages me to try every kind of food under the sun as long as it's real.  Real food means we can trace where the ingredients come from, be it animal or plant. Nowadays a lot of food in the market have beautiful colorful looks that can last 1 or 2 years..!! We don't know what's really inside it that can make it so vibrant and long lasting.  To him and me, those food are not real.. as we don't know what chemical, colouring or industrial waste go inside them.

 I was raised as a Chinese Christian who loved my mom's pork knuckle stew, mapo tauhu, snake soup, fried spareribs, and sweet and sour pork. 

When I lived in US, i frequented Tony Roma's for the famous baby back ribs and Denny's for the crispy bacon on breakfast plates.  Living in Indonesia enabled me to enjoy delicious spicy Crabs in Padang Sauce, sample Kelelawar Rica Rica from Menado (bats in spicy sauce) and slurped the sweet taucho-based frog leg soup of Swike Jatiwangi. Spending my college years in California has exposed me to drinking wines and mexican tequilas. I enjoyed the Mexican food tremendously, from the humble tacos to menudos.  I ate everything i wanted to eat, as long as it's not poisonous and my wallet could afford it...

The word halal came only when i had to go dining out with my muslim friends.  I used to be irritated when I had to settle eating in the same restaurant almost everyday in Paris because that is the only halal restaurant my friend could eat.  For a person who wanted to try French food in Paris, Pastas in Italy, Tapas in Spain, and Bratwurst in German, settling for some vegetarian fried rice at a cheap Asian joint in Paris was just madness. But again, my parents taught me to be tolerant and respect other people's religious requirements.

So.... when i converted to Islam 11 years ago, all my friends went, "WHAT????"" Some thought I was out of my mind, some thought I was delusional, some thought I was sick and had cancer, and some even thought that my boyfriend (my husband now) brainwashed me..!! And the first thing that they asked me,"So... if you convert to Islam, will you still eat pork?"  When I answered, "Of course I won't eat pork anymore", then come the second question," Are you sure you choose the right man?" Then they will keep on repeating the same jokes,"Aduuuu...uuh, you are missing the delicious taste of roasted pork for a strange guy from Malaysia."

Well... 11 years passed since the last time I had Smoked Polish Sausages, Bak Kut Teh and Char Siew.  It was not that difficult afterall.. Sure I miss it sometimes, but over the years my tastebuds had grown, my choices of food had refined, my knowledge of ingredients had improved and my lifestyle had changed.  Looking back, I was surprised that my cholesterol level was within normal range.  Now I carefully choose what I eat as the food has to be halal and healthy.  I avoid junk foods and frizzy drinks as well as food with empty calories.  I believe I am eating better food and enjoying healthier lifestyle.

Living here in Malaysia, i find it very convenient to get "pork replacements".  I can find chicken char siew, chikuteh, beef ribs, beef bacon, chicken wantan and smoked chicken sausages.. I can even still go to Tony Roma's for their ribs..!!


Until now, some of my friends still asked me," Have you ever regretted your decision to stop eating pork?".  To my friends, I answered ,"If I have to choose between a pig and a nice, kind, trustworthy husband, which one do you think i will choose?"  They just laugh and still think i am crazy....:)