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Christmas 2021 Recap: Of Food, Friends and the Spirit of Gifting

Anddddd just like that, another year has gone by.

I have much to be thankful for as I bid adieu to the old and welcome the new. Although it wasn’t a great start to 2021 – what with extended lockdowns due to the pandemic, job uncertainty and a general feeling of being stuck in limbo – things picked up towards the final quarter; the highlight being that my husband and I were finally able to reunite after almost two years apart from each other. He had to spend Christmas in quarantine, but we were able to usher in the new year together – and that for me has been the best present ever.

While waiting for the hubs to finish quarantine, I busied myself with preparations, finishing up work for my old job (I’m starting a new job tomorrow!), and catching up with old friends – which helped keep my nervous energy to a minimum. Here’s what I’ve been up to:

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November to December is typically monsoon season, and floods often occur on the east coast of West Malaysia, due to their proximity to the South China Sea. It is rare for serious floods to occur on the west coast, where I live, as we’re protected from most bad weather, thanks to the Indonesian islands. On 18 December, however, a continuous heavy downpour (it rained almost non-stop for more than 24 hours) caused by a tropical depression caused parts of Selangor and Kuala Lumpur to be inundated by floods.

The flooding was so severe that in some cases, homes in low lying areas were completely submerged up until the second floor. In total, 50 people across the different states lost their lives. People were extremely angry with the government, as they were ill prepared and the response was slow – leaving victims to fend for themselves, and some lost their lives while waiting for help that was too slow to come. But where the government failed, it was heartening to see how ordinary Malaysians from all walks of life banded together to help each other, with volunteers risking their lives and bringing their own boats to help with search and rescue.

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My brother and I did our own little part by volunteering to pack vegetarian food, to be distributed to victims at relief centres. The activity was organised by the Kuala Lumpur Chung De Confucian Association, of which my brother’s ex-lecturer is a member – that’s how we came to know about it. We were up early to head to May Yen Vegetarian Restaurant in Kepong, KL, where we joined a group of mostly young volunteers to pack 900 packets of lunch boxes.

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The kitchen was sweltering hot, and there was little space to maneuver about. It was a bit chaotic in the beginning, but once we had coordinated the roles, things moved quickly – there was a team assigned to ladling food (tofu, mock meat, vegetables and rice) into plastic containers, another team assigned to putting garnish and sealing off the lunch boxes, and yet another in charge of packing them into plastic bags for transport. We didn’t really have much chance to mingle as everyone was focused on completing their tasks as quickly as possible, but it was a good experience nonetheless.

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As of the time of this writing, flood victims are still in need of help, so it would be good to donate either monetary assistance or in the form of goods, if you’re not able to be on-ground for relief efforts.

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That aside, I’ve been taking time to catch up with old friends. Shopped for gifts for a few close friends, and also met up with G, a high school friend of mine whom I’ve been friends with for over 18 years. We don’t always get to hangout since she’s based in Ipoh, but we managed to have a quick catchup session. I think she badly needed some alone time that didn’t involve bringing her kid along.

Motherhood is an immense sacrifice – I think a lot of mothers give so much of themselves to their child, that they lose who they are as a person. I’m not here to judge, but that shouldn’t be how it is, even though society often expects it of mothers – and it’s sad that in Malaysian society, we still have this mentality. A healthy environment should involve a mother having the proper support to raise her child, but also the freedom to stay true to her own dreams.

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Anyway, I brought her to 1Utama and we ended up at Rocku Yakiniku, a Japanese-style BBQ buffet that offers free flow of various cuts of meat and seafood, including lamb, chicken, beef, pork, shrimp and squid. I’ve been here several times, including once solo for my birthday celebration (yes, I celebrated my birthday by gorging on a BBQ buffet alone. lol), and they’ve never failed to disappoint. This time was no exception, and I think we got back our money’s worth.

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We got to 1Utama pretty late, so I was starving. While waiting for the charcoal brazier to heat up, I got some quick bites – stir-fried udon, samosas, hams and fried dumplings. I know you’re not supposed to eat a lot of these at a buffet, coz they’ll fill up space in your stomach quickly, but the fried dumplings were exceptionally good.

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Two things that I recommend: the enoki mushrooms, and the scallops. They come served in small aluminium bowls that you can heat directly over the grill. The former has butter, which brings out the rich, natural sweetness of the mushrooms; the latter comes swimming in a clear, sweet broth, with sizable scallops that squirt juice forth with each bite.

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Another thing about Rocku Yakiniku: the shrimps are huge. Just eating the shrimps alone will give you your money’s worth, since shrimps of this size are usually expensive. They’re not marinated, but they’re fresh and juicy, and the grill highlights the meat’s natural sweetness.

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The meat selection is great too, especially if you eat it with fresh lettuce, which cuts through the greasiness.

Our meal for two came up to RM120, inclusive of drinks. Quite a reasonable price, given the amount we ate, the variety, and the service.

ROCKU YAKINIKU (1UTAMA)

F.355, F.356 & F.357, First Floor, Rainforest, No. 1, Lebuh Bandar Utama, Bandar Utama, 47800 Petaling Jaya, Selangor.

Opening hours: 11AM – 10PM (Daily)

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Dropped G back at her house and took the chance to play with her cats.

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And that was how I spent my Christmas! It was a great one, all things considered.

Here’s to a great 2022 ahead!

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2021 in Pictures

In the long-standing tradition of this blog, I’m back again with another year in review!

Like most of 2020, 2021 felt like being in a perpetual limbo – a year peppered with uncertainty, and where life seemed to move neither forwards nor backwards. I missed my husband the most: due to pandemic restrictions and endless lockdowns, we were unable to make any concrete plans for him to travel to Malaysia for much of the year. But more on this later.

JANUARY

The year was off to a sluggish start, and I did not get much done other than routine work. This was when Malaysia had its second MCO (Movement Control Order), which meant that we were not allowed to be out and about for leisure, or visit family and friends in other states.

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As everyone was stuck at home, I took some time to try candle-making for the first time. It didn’t turn out bad, considering how sucky I am with artsy fartsy stuff. In a fit of boredom, I also finally succumbed to a Netflix subscription.

FEBRUARY

One of the perks of being able to work from home is flexibility. Much of February was spent ferrying my mom to the doctor for her eye surgery, as well as follow-ups. February was also Chinese New Year month, and although we weren’t able to visit relatives, we had a quiet celebration at home with lots of food.

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MARCH

Movement restrictions were eased slightly, so I took the opportunity to try out new cafes, eat out at restaurants and just grab whatever chance I could to get out of the house, while still adhering to health and safety rules.

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It’s amazing how changing your perspective a little can work wonders. I found joy in simple things like going out for a meal, or just going to a mall for groceries: I’d think of it as a ‘trip’, just like how I would for a holiday. And I’d pay attention to things that I would have completely ignored before. Take, for example, the time I drove my mom to the eye clinic. While waiting for her surgery, I walked around the CBD, and just spent a couple of hours soaking in the sights, taking videos and photos, like a tourist would. It was a refreshing feeling.

APRIL

I continued my trend of exploring local spots. One particularly memorable spot was Kedai KL, an artisanal market concept housing small businesses, from kimono stores to cafes and tattoo parlours.

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April was also when I picked up embroidery, surprising even myself. Being an INTP, I’ve never been good with my hands, prefering learning through books and pursuits of the mind. But I found embroidery to be therapeutic, especially when it involves making a pattern or filling up a space on the fabric with repeated motions. It’s a hobby that has stuck with me until the end of the year, and I’m looking forward to working on more projects, and upskilling myself.

MAY

I went to check out the newly opened Don Don Donki store, which is the first of its kind in Malaysia, at Lot 10, Kuala Lumpur. It was my first time in over a year being in KL again, so it was nice to be out and about.

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After some deliberation, I gave my old phone to my mom (because the camera wasn’t good anymore, and since I like taking photos this was a sore point), and bought a new one: the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE. It was my most expensive phone to date, but half a year on I’m pretty happy with how well it works.

JUNE

Didn’t do much in June, except subscribe to a book bundle. I think at this point I was deliberating whether or not to quit my job. Work had become extremely tedious, and I felt disinterested and uninspired. It didn’t help that some of my other colleagues were also leaving the company for better prospects.

It was around this time that I felt at an all-time low. I did not feel as if I could move forward or grow anymore, but I was also worried about leaving the job and not having a stable income to support my family, especially since my parents were retired.

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JULY

Feeling dispirited at work, I spent most of my free time escaping into games as a coping mechanism. Also got my first AstraZeneca shot.

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AUGUST

Got my second dose of AstraZeneca. Around this time, I started having problems with breathing, as well as atopic dermatitis (which hasn’t resolved by the way, even as I write this in December). I wasn’t sure if it was due to my body responding to the vaccine, or whether it was stress induced from my work situation and basically being cooped up all the time. At one point, my dyspnea was so bad I thought I was suffering from COVID, as I couldn’t breathe properly and was gasping for air. The doctor, however, said it was just GERD. To this day, I’m still unsure if it is GERD, because although the medicine did not cure me ( I still have breathing difficulties), it is much better now and does not disrupt my daily life as much.

SEPTEMBER

Had a quiet birthday month. Friends weren’t able to celebrate it with me, as my parents were still afraid of COVID, so I tried not to hangout with people too much. My birthday meal was Putien, which I finally got to try after all this time.

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At work, the situation was on a downward trend. Another colleague resigned, leaving me and another colleague to shoulder what was essentially the workload of a five-man team. As the situation did not seem like it would be improving, it was around this time that I started thinking of making an exit, even without a concrete job offer. I felt like I had enough savings to last me awhile, as I was really in a bad place emotionally and mentally, and needed the break.

OCTOBER

Things suddenly started picking up in the last quarter of the year. I went for a series of interviews, and successfully landed a new job. Armed with this, I tendered my resignation. It feels sad to leave a company that I’ve spent five years in, building and honing it to what it is today, but all good times come to an end, and I feel like it wouldn’t have been beneficial to both me or the company if I continued stagnating where I was. I still had to finish up all my tasks before leaving, so I busied myself with making sure that everything was in order before I left.

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Managed to squeeze in some time for local sightseeing at Jenjarom.

Towards the end of the month, the husband and I finally decided to start making plans for him to travel here and apply for the Long Term Spouse Visa, which was long overdue. We had initially wanted to do this after our wedding ceremony in 2020. Unfortunately, the pandemic hit, and he got stuck in the Philippines. And then it was just one travel restriction after another. We felt like if we waited any longer, who knows what other thing the universe might throw at us – so we took the plunge.

Of course, travelling these days is no longer just about hopping onto a plane and flying to your destination. It took us months of planning and multiple rejections, running to the immigration and so on and so forth. In the end, it took us three months to have everything in place.

NOVEMBER

November passed by in a blur of work, eating out, exploring new local destinations like the World of Phalaenopsis in Ulu Yam, more work, and getting things into order for the husband’s travels in December.

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DECEMBER

And in the blink of an eye, here we are in December. The highlight of this month, and of the year, really, is that after nearly two years of separation, my husband has finally made it back to Malaysia. He will be here to apply for the LTSVP, which was delayed for so long.

It’s hard to describe in words how I feel – the sense of how much time we’ve lost in between, and the excitement that we’re finally going to make up for it, and build a life together. Of course, it’s not going to be easy, but the important thing is that we’re going to be around for each other; no longer through a screen, thousands of miles away.

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The earlier part of the month saw me visiting new places – a Thai wat, the new Don Don Donki store in PJ – and burying myself in work, so that time would pass by quicker until the day he arrived. I’ve never been a religious person, but I found myself praying to the universe that things would go smoothly, as it would be terrible for us to have our hopes up only to be dashed by another challenge being thrown our way.

But I’m happy to announce that the hubs arrived safely last week, and will be out from quarantine tomorrow. I will finally be able to see him after close to two years. I spent the last week almost in auto pilot, finishing up all my work for the current job before doing the handover, and also volunteering to help pack vegetarian food for victims of the recent flood.

The day has finally come.

So yeah. Year started off shitty, and there were more downs than ups, but all of it worked out in the end.

2022 is the year.

What about you? How was your 2021?