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Malaysian Neighbourhood: A Photo Series

I’m back!

I know, I haven’t updated for close to a month now. Being cooped up at home is getting stressful, even for shut-ins like me who can go for long periods of time without human interaction lol. Even embroidering (hobby I picked up earlier this year) has lost its spark.

For some reason, I can’t seem to get out of this state of languishment. I dread having to submit work these days, despite having the luxury of working from home. Also I had a COVID scare a couple of weeks ago; tested negative and recovered from the flu, but ever since then I’ve been having trouble breathing / a feeling of tightness in the chest. The doc says it could be GERD, but it could also be anxiety.

I feel slightly better this past week, so I’ve been going for walks around the neighbourhood, just to get out of the house and get some fresh air. It’s funny how being deprived of the basic freedom of going out without worry, changes the way you see things. Every leaf seemes greener, and I notice tiny details, on shrubs and flowers and on the ground, that I would never have paid attention to before. It’s true what they say about not knowing what you have until it’s gone.

Here are some photos from my walkabouts. Enjoy!

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The park near my home is small but pretty. It hasn’t been well kept so there are a lot of leaves and branches strewn around, but it’s still a good place to go jogging. But if you’re a mosquito magnet like me, don’t go in the evenings. Alternatively slather on some repellent.
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It’s mango season. I never noticed how many houses in my neighbourhood have mango trees.
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Also papayas

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Bougainvilleas are also called ‘paper flowers’ (bunga kertas) in Malay because of their thin petals.
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There’s a house a street away from where I live that has this beautiful garden in front, and it’s always bursting with blooms.
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Ixora, known locally as bunga jenjarum (needle flower). When we were kids, my brother and I often chained the flowers together to make garlands.
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Yellow alamanda

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A neighbourhood tuxedo meow in the grass. Despite its grumpy look, it was actually very friendly and allowed me pats.
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My parents have been into gardening these days.

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Notices prohibiting people from going to the adjacent neighbourhood.

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The Malaysian national flower, Bunga Raya (hibiscus).

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Hope you enjoyed this photo series!

2021 is coming to a close; I feel like I haven’t even processed 2020 yet lol.

Hope you’re all doing okay, wherever you are.

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My COVID-19 Vaccination Experience @ IDCC Shah Alam

It has been over a year since the COVID-19 pandemic first started raging across the world. In the initial stages, many countries implemented stringent lockdowns, but with economies teetering, it was not a viable, long term solution – which is why people are now putting all of their hopes on vaccines. The rollout in Malaysia has been slow but it’s gradually picking up. We still have a long way to go, but as for my fam and I, I’m thankful that we’ve been able to secure vaccination slots for AstraZeneca.

My dad was the first to get inoculated, and had his first dose last week. I had mine a couple of days ago at IDCC Shah Alam, a convention centre that has been turned into a vaccination facility.

Honestly, it was a little nerve-wracking because I haven’t had any sort of shot for over a decade (I think the last was for HPV, when I was 18 or 19), but I didn’t have to worry – the process was very fast and efficient.

Arriving at IDCC, we were directed by traffic personnel to the 6th floor of the building. Vaccinations are done on the 7th floor, and you can park at floors 4 to 6. If you’re taking Grab, there is a drop off point on the ground floor, where you can take a lift up. Parking is free.

Video (Although I barely had time to film anything because the entire process was so fast) :

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6.45PM: After scanning my temperature and checking in on the MySejahtera app, I followed the signs up the escalator to the 7th floor. There, ushers directed me to the first waiting area outside the hall. We sat for about 10 minutes, and once the area had filled up with people, staff members gave us two forms. There was a slip clipped to the top with a number and QR code.

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These are basically consent forms; Malay in front and English at the back. You only have to fill it in the language you prefer. There are two forms; one of which you will keep later. You can fill it in now if you want, but you can only sign in front of a witness; ie a doctor, when you’re inside the hall. Pens are provided, or you can bring your own.

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7PM: We were told to enter the hall, where there were many counters. I waited for my number to be called on screen, before proceeding to the relevant counter, where a staff asked for my IC and keyed in my details.

7.05PM: I made my way to the next section, where there were more counters, but these were manned by doctors. No numbers called here; simply waited until a table freed up. My doctor was a young lady who proceeded to ask me about my medical history and explain to me the vaccine I would be getting, ie AstraZeneca. After I acknowledged everything, I was told to sign the consent forms. She kept a copy while I held on to the other.

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7:10PM: It was then on to the waiting area for jabs. The jabs are done in sequestered booths for privacy, so you won’t be able to see other people getting their shots. An usher directed me to one of the booths, where my QR code was scanned to update my MySejahtera status to “Vaccinated”. The nurse showed me the syringe and confirmed that I was taking AstraZeneca before administering the shot. It took less than two minutes!

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7.15PM: Waited at another area for my number to be called. A staff gave me my vaccination card, which I will need to bring for my next appointment. Finally, I was told to wait for 15 minutes and report to them immediately if I felt ill or dizzy; after which I was free to go.

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I was pleasantly surprised at how efficient everything was; staff members were helpful and polite, there were clear signs everywhere, and the entire process was smooth. All in all, it took me less than an hour.

Of course, the procedure may differ from centre to centre, so you may have a different experience – but if you’re going to take your shot at IDCC, there’s nothing to worry about. I would suggest bringing a jacket because the air conditioning is super cold.

My second dose is in about 8 weeks time. Hopefully things will go as smoothly then as they did for the first dose!

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Covid-19 and Life Updates: Getting The AstraZeneca Vaccine

Malaysia has come a long way from last year – and I don’t mean that in a good way. From being lauded as a ‘model’ for other Southeast Asian countries for its quick response to curbing the coronavirus pandemic, we now have the highest cases of coronavirus per million people, at 205.1 cases (at the time of this writing) – higher than that of India.

How did it go so wrong?

Well, if you ask me, it’s a combination of many factors: poor governance, weak leadership, a lackadaisical attitude and a lack of discipline among the public, poor enforcement, double standards… the list goes on. Malaysians are also notorious for being super invested and enthusiastic at starting things, but are terrible at sustaining them. Sure, in the beginning, it seemed like we had our shit together. Everyone cooperated, and there was a sense of solidarity that we’d all get through this together. But as time went on, people either got tired of keeping up appearances, or simply did not care anymore. There are some who have no choice but to be out and about, due to economic reasons. But there are also plenty who are contributing to this current wave because of a “it won’t happen to me” attitude. And frankly, as someone with two elderly parents in the vulnerable category, I find this behaviour disgusting, and I cannot fathom how anyone can be this reckless and selfish.

There was a viral post by a local doctor recently on how she had to perform an emergency surgery for a pregnant woman who was diagnosed with COVID, and yet STILL went to visit relatives over the holiday season, KNOWING FULL WELL she was putting everyone’s lives at risk, including that of herself and her unborn baby. It’s time like these that I wonder if there could be a waver of some kind; like if we know you’re going to contract COVID because you’re being a stupid idiot, doctors can refuse to treat your stubborn, selfish ass.

But we can all talk about my lack of faith in the human race until the cows come home; it doesn’t change the fact that we are in a serious situation. I’m not trying to be a doomsayer, but our front liners are exhausted and on the verge of a breakdown, many people have lost their jobs, our hospitals are bursting, and our vaccine rollout is super slow.

Which is why I signed up for the voluntary AstraZeneca vaccine programme recently. And I was very VERY lucky to be among those who managed to grab a slot, because thousands of others did not make the cut and will have to wait for whenever the next one, whichever brand it is, becomes available. Of course, AZ was not my first choice, but with how things are going, I think it’s the ONLY choice for many people to protect themselves and their loved ones.

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To give you a bit of a background, Malaysia is supposed to get a bunch of vaccines from different countries. The three main ones are AstraZeneca (12.8 million doses), Pfizer (32 million) and Sinovac (12 million), and we’ve also placed orders for Sputnik V from Russia, and CanSino Biologics, from China. That sounds plenty for our population of 32 million. The problem, however, is that only a sliver of these orders have arrived in Malaysia, and our government is extremely slow at administering the vaccine to the population (you can read a more detailed report about the reasons why in this article). So it is that while neighbouring Singapore has already vaccinated 25% of their people, and even Indonesia with its large population has done 4%, Malaysia is lagging behind at an abysmal 3%.

In the early days, the government announced that vaccination would be done in stages: frontliners first, followed by seniors and those with comorbidities (since they are most at risk), followed by everyone else. Being a relatively healthy 30-year-old, I fell into the LAST category, which meant that if everything went according to plan, I’d be inoculated sometime at the end of the year, or early 2022. Seniors, like my parents, were supposed to start their vaccination in April.

Malaysia being Malaysia, April came and went, and my parents (and many other seniors) were still waiting for an appointment. The government seemed to be dragging their feet, and the lack of info further added to public frustration. Now I’m not blaming our medical system. I know our front liners are working crazy hard. But I think they are limited by many things (like manpower and availability of vaccines and facilities), and the poor way the programme is coordinated isn’t helping at all.

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The vaccines that arrived earliest were small batches of Pfizer, which were given to our frontliners. Then came the AstraZeneca shots, and many were reluctant to sign up because of the blood clots scare. This was a couple of months ago when cases weren’t that high, so a lot of people adopted a “wait and see first” attitude. The take-up was so bad that the government opened it up for volunteers, even if they weren’t from the Phase 2 (seniors/comorbidities) category. I initially wanted to register for this, but my mom cautioned me strongly (I’m being polite here) because she was worried, despite me explaining that it was all rumour-mongering and that the percentage of blood clots happening is really low. Like 8 per 1 million. To set her mind at ease, I decided not to volunteer. Cases weren’t that high at the time, and I thought as long as the seniors were vaccinated first, then I could always wait, since I didn’t get out much anyway.

But then May came and there was the Raya holiday. Despite being warned that there would be fines and possible jail time for travelling interstate or visiting friends and family, thousands still slipped through the cracks and risked their lives and health to go see their loved ones. I know it’s difficult to be away from family. Heck, I haven’t seen my husband since we had our wedding ceremony in February 2020. But that isn’t license to do whatever the hell you want. Sacrifices are necessary – we are essentially at war with an invisible enemy. The worst thing would be to infect a loved one and watch them die because YOU can’t fucking stay at home. Well, maybe you wouldn’t feel the guilt, because if you did – if you had even a shred of responsibility in your being – you wouldn’t have done it in the first place.

So here we are, at 8,290 cases as of May 28.

Now, seeing that shit has hit the fan, people started to go into panic mode. My mom, who was initially so against getting AstraZeneca, finally asked if I could register for her on the MySejahtera app, when the second phase of the voluntary programme opened for seniors aged 60 and above.

“What made you change your mind?” I asked.

“Well, I called your cousin and he was talking about how your aunt and uncle are getting it. And it seems like the chances of blood clots are low.”

“That’s literally what I’ve been telling you since Day 1, and you didn’t believe me.”

“Yeah, well… the cases weren’t that high before. And our rollout is so slow. Even seniors haven’t been vaccinated yet. Who knows how long we’ll have to wait?”

I would have very much liked to say “I told you so,” but I didn’t want another fight so I just did what she asked. And as long as my parents are getting vaccinated, I guess it doesn’t matter if it took an outsider to convince her lol. “You and Cyrus (my brother) should take it too,” she said. “You’re both in the last category, and we’re not even sure if you’ll get it next year, at the rate this is going,”

From naysayer to advocate! I thought.

Unfortunately, the time for being able to leisurely sign up was over. EVERYONE was thinking the same thing. On Wednesday, when the government opened registration for below 60s, it was pandemonium. If you’ve ever tried buying concert tickets for a popular band online, it was exactly like that.

I knew it was going to happen, and that the website would probably crash due to traffic, so my brother and I had our laptops and our phone at the ready at 12pm. The registration got delayed until 12.15pm. Once the button appeared, we were both clicking furiously on both sides: I had one hand on my mouse and the other hovering over the refresh button on my Samsung. True enough, the website kept crashing. At one point, I managed to get to the registration page – but it wouldn’t allow me to select the state I was in. At another, I got past that stage, but it wouldn’t allow me to set the date, even though the slot showed it was still available. Then, of course, the dreaded “I am not a robot”, and having to pick out the frames with bicycles or highways, only to have it crash and repeat everything all over again.

By sheer luck or force of will, I finally managed to submit my details after 40 minutes, and my brother got his shortly after. Registrations were closed after just over an hour, in which over 1 million slots were snapped up.

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You won’t believe the relief I felt when I saw this screen lol. Like I can finally give my fingers a break.

I was one of the lucky ones. Many of my friends expressed frustration, not only because they didn’t get it, but also because the entire experience with the website was such a shitty one. There were memes about how many laptop mice and phone screens must have been damaged that day.

Surprisingly, there were people who appeared not to have gotten through, but received a notification the next day that their application went through. My notification came almost 48 hours later. The earliest available date when I clicked was on 4 July. So July it is. My parents are getting theirs in late June, and my brother in late July.

Honestly, I just feel like it’s a load off my back. I’m not really worried about myself, because I feel I’m fairly healthy and strong – but I’m worried about catching it and spreading it to my parents, who both have comorbidities. Beyond the physical aspect, I also think getting the vaccine is a good thing for my mom’s mental health – at least she would feel a little safer knowing that we have some form of protection. My mom has always been an excessive worrier, and this pandemic has just exacerbated the condition, to the point that it makes things difficult for everyone else living under the same roof. Not that it’s her fault, of course – that’s just how some moms are, and I know that despite her demeanour, she wants what’s best for us.

Life feels like it has been on hold for the past 1.5 years. Can’t wait for things to resume some semblance of normalcy again – or at least normal enough that it’ll be safe for us to go out again (and for the hubs to travel here!).

It will be a long and hard road, but I’m hopeful the day will come. Until then, all we can do is keep ourselves, and our loved ones, as safe as we can.

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PS: Update – The government has just announced a full lockdown from June 1 to June 14, whereby only essential services will be allowed to operate. This will be similar to the first lockdown we had back in March 2020. Dunno, just feel it’s a bit too little too late seeing as how people have been calling for one for the longest time.. rather than allowing leniency and just letting things drag on until it got to this point – but hey. I’m not a policy maker, nor am I an economist, so what do I know?

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Why It Can Be Hard To “KonMari” Your Stuff

This month has been pretty bad for blogging – it’s already the 17th and I’ve only made two posts. Partly it’s because Malaysia is currently undergoing another ‘lockdown’ due to the rising number of cases (and deaths, which is worrying), so I haven’t been able to go out much; but it’s also because I’m in a writing slump again.

We had a four-day weekend for Hari Raya, but celebrations have been subdued as people have not been able to go home to visit their loved ones, some for the second year in a row. As for my fam and I, we took the time to rest. My mom has been very worried throughout this entire pandemic, and with cases on the rise, she won’t even let us go out to buy food unless it’s absolutely necessary, preferring to cook all of our meals instead.

But enough gloom and doom – I did something productive over the break, ie cleaned my workspace!

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I am currently working from home full-time, so having a proper workspace is important. But I’m also not the most organised person in the world and my workspaces (even when I had an office) tend to get messy with bits of paper and notes. To tidy up, I took some of my books to the shelf outside so there’d be more space, wiped down the dust, and put away smaller accessories that were contributing to the clutter. Also gave away two Apple mouse units that I’ve been keeping for the office (company told me to get rid of them coz they didn’t want to ship it to Singapore, but I didn’t want to throw them).

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While cleaning up, I sorted out my accessories and trinkets, thinking to throw away the older ones that I no longer use.

I ended up keeping everything lol.

A couple of years ago, there was a lot of hype over the KonMari method, attributed to Japanese consultant Marie Kondo. In her approach, Kondo advised people to keep only the things that ‘spark joy’, and let everything else go.

The thing is, all of these things have sparked joy to me at one point in my life, and in some small way, they still do. I still feel nostalgic and happy when I look at them and think back on the memories associated with each object. I know some people would call it silly and sentimental, and maybe it is, but it’s also vulnerably human.

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Some people enjoy collecting fridge magnets or keychains as souvenirs from the places they’ve traveled to. For me – and I did not realise this until I looked over my ‘collection’ – I apparently enjoyed collecting accessories. Some of these were given as gifts, which makes them even more meaningful.

On the left is a bead necklace that was gifted to me by my hosts on a trip to Siniawan, aka the Cowboy Town of Borneo. The ‘town’ is really not more than a dozen traditional wooden shoplots along a main street, a town hall and a nearby temple – but I enjoyed the experience tremendously. I got to ride a sampan across the river (which has crocodiles, by the way!), experience a Gawai festival with the local Bidayuh community, eat amazing kolo mee that was just RM3 ffs, and take in the sight of a gorgeous pink sunset for a few nights in a row.

On the right is also a bead necklace, which I bought from Auntie Sina Rang at the Bario longhouse where I was staying. This trip was an unforgettable one because I got stuck on a hike for 11 hours in the Borneo rainforest, and the longhouse residents were so worried they sent a search and rescue team because it was already dark and we were supposed to have been back like 6 hours ago lol. You can read about it here.

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Me and my fellow members of the media before everything went to hell (for me).
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Hardcore hiking
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Siniawan, the Cowboy Town of Borneo.
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Also from the Bario trip: woven bracelets which I bought from a visiting Penan tribe. They are nomadic and only come to the longhouse occasionally so it was fortunate timing!
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Coconut shell bracelet from a 2014 Bali trip. It was my first time visiting Indonesia. Since then I’ve been to Bandung and Yogyakarta. Can’t wait for the pandemic to be over so I can travel, to different parts this time.

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Decorative necklaces from Venice, from my 2012 graduation trip to Europe. Venice was gorgeous in is own way, but it was also extremely crowded with tourists, and the canals smelled. Still glad I got to see it in my lifetime, before the city sinks.
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A brooch from Fuhu, Genting. Also a Sarubobo doll from Japan, which Japanese grandmothers make for their grandchildren for their safety and wellbeing. On a trip to Tokyo, I got to write my own well wishes for the sarubobo’s clothing and pin it onto the doll.
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A Catholic necklace with wooden crosses and a carving of Jesus, which I got from a shop outside Antipolo Church in the Philippines. I was there with my ex on Ash Wednesday, and it was interesting to see the rituals and sit in on mass. I didn’t get the necklace because of religious reasons, but because one of the ladies manning the shops insisted we buy something, I didn’t know how to say no lol.

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A necklace inspired by Aboriginal art. Got this from the shop at Tower Hill Reserve in Victoria, where we saw a bunch of koalas hiding in trees, and encountered a rogue emu blocking the van that we were travelling in.
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Of course, travel memories aren’t the only things that makes it difficult for me to throw stuff away. I also have a lot of random accessories that I have fond feelings for – like these wooden bracelets. One of them is falling apart, but I can’t find it in me to just dump it because it was my favourite bracelet to wear in college and through the early years of my adult life (back when lots of accessories were a thing).

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The evolution of my earrings – from a sharp, rebellious-looking stud in my college days, to the ‘elegant’ ones that I wear for social outings today. By today I mean like two years ago, when we could still go out for gatherings. lol
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And other, assorted bracelets.

So you see, it’s not easy to KonMari your stuff, when there is so much to reminisce on each time you look at them. I think this is also why people find it difficult to let go or throw things away. They are all reminders of a happier time, and form a part of your life’s story.

I guess I’ll be holding on to some of these things for a bit longer.

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Picking Up A New Hobby: Embroidery

I think I’ve mentioned this many times before on my blog, but i’m not exactly good with my hands. There are people out there who have a natural affinity for this sort of thing (painting, pottery, fixing lightbulbs, cooking, etc.) — I, sadly, am not one of them.

As a kid, I always had my nose in a book, and while I could spout obscure trivia about ancient Egyptian religions, theories on evolution and how dinosaurs could have gone extinct, I couldn’t make or fix anything to save my life. I also sucked at sports. In short, I was (and still am), a big nerd. In an RPG, I’d probably be the wizard or some sort of priestess; all brains and no brawn. INT5, AGI, STR and DEX 0.

The hobbies I enjoy (and can stick to) tend to involve pursuits of the mind, like reading and blogging. Also, being an INTP with the attention span of a goldfish, I tend to flit from one hobby to another — usually whatever catches my fancy at the moment (I dabbled in drawing comics, making figurines, soap making, candle making). My interest usually fizzles out if:

a) I don’t get the hang of it within 2 sessions, or

b) I find that it’s actually pretty easy, and I get bored lol (I do sound like a fickle and hard-to-please person, don’t I?)

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So when I ordered an embroidery kit a couple of months ago, I surprised even myself. The idea of repeatedly poking a needle and thread through a piece of cloth didn’t exactly scream excitement, but I was bored of being stuck at home (thanks, COVID!) and wanted to do something different.

A couple of weeks prior, I had ordered some air-dried clay in a horribly misguided attempt at making polymer clay jewellery. After the first few pieces ended up looking like they came out of Satan’s butthole, I promptly gave up. My embroidery kit seemed set to end up in the same place; at the bottom of a box in a corner, together with the rest of my failed ‘projects’.

But then…

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I actually found stitching to be… oddly satisfying. And it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, even for my sausage fingers. Sure, I couldn’t pull off dainty, tiny stitches, but the ones I made seemed good enough for ‘everyday use’, so to speak. It was challenging enough to keep my interest, but not difficult to the point where I’d give up.

One of my biggest weaknesses is wanting fast and easy results — if I don’t pick up something immediately (or within a few tries), I tend to get discouraged and lose interest. To prevent this from happening, I chose a piece with an easy pattern: one that used basic, easy stitches even beginners could follow, but would still look nice enough for display.

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The first piece came together nicely, and although I messed up some parts, it still looked pretty good. Knowing how bad I am usually with handicrafts, and seeing that it was my first time, I felt a tiny surge of pride at the results.

Which prompted me to order another kit. And another.

At the time of this writing, I have completed three pieces, with three more to go. Not counting all the equipment and thread I bought separately.

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My second piece had a bit more colour, and I learned a few different stitching techniques.

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While I enjoy embroidery as an activity for relaxation – there are a couple of takeaways from this new hobby of mine, which I think are good to reflect on.

It’s okay not to be perfect

I am a perfectionist, and I often think that whatever I make doesn’t match up to the standards that I have in mind (A lifetime of being told you’re not good enough will do that to you). As a result, I often miss opportunities to showcase what I have, because of my pervasive fear of rejection and failure. That, and I refuse to present anything short of (what I think is) perfection. I miss out on a lot of things because my lack of self confidence holds me back; even if I have a great idea, I overthink things and end up not voicing them out at all. It’s true what they say, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

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That’s just it though – in the real world, perfection rarely exists. Even when I was posting my second embroidery piece, I kept criticising my own stitching, despite other people telling me that it looked okay. It’s a bad habit, but being more aware of it means that I can actively take steps to prevent myself from getting into that head space. So yeah, it’s okay for that stitch to not be completely straight; I shouldn’t beat myself up about it. If anything, it adds character to the piece and shows that it’s made by a human, not a machine.

Practice

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As mentioned earlier, I have a short attention span and little patience. Unlike people who feel a sense of accomplishment when they reach a milestone after months (or even years) of hard work, the same concept when applied to me would just make me feel stupid and incompetent. I like to be able to grasp something quickly – which is why many of my projects have a great head start but run out of steam eventually. The reality is, many things require practice – Rome wasn’t built in a day. I have to constantly remind myself that it took years for masters to reach the pinnacle of their art, if ever.

You do You

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I follow many artists on Instagram, and it can be daunting to see how amazingly talented some people are. It can also feel like no matter how hard I work, or what I do (channeling some Rock Lee from Naruto here), I’ll never catch up to their level of genius – so why bother? This kind of apathy can be dangerous and soul crushing for aspiring creatives. Again, I have to constantly remind myself that I, too, can make good art and contribute useful ideas. Art is subjective, really – and there’s beauty in just the act of creating. Even if you’re the only person who admires your own art, as long as you’re working to create something and improving on your skills, then there is no such thing as ‘wasted’ effort. And that applies for things besides art. Like life, in general.

Currently, I’m looking to work on more pieces and if I’m comfortable enough, open up for commissions. Embroidery is a pretty expensive hobby when you count in the cost of materials and time, so I’m hoping that by doing so I can offset some of the costs. And who knows? Maybe this’ll be one of those things that will keep my interest as long as blogging has.

What are some of the projects that you’re currently working on? Have you picked up a new hobby during the pandemic? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear about them.

And if you enjoyed reading this, please consider supporting my website by buying me a cup of coffee through Paypal. This will go towards hosting fees and ensuring that I can continue to deliver authentic content for your reading pleasure. You can also support me on Patreon. Thanks for stopping by!

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How To Gain Weight: CNY Edition

Happy Chinese New Year!

This year’s festivities are much more subdued due to the pandemic, but I still had an enjoyable time bonding (and eating!) with the family over the weekend. To save on the hassle of preparing an elaborate meal for our reunion dinner night, we decided to have hotpot/barbecue out on the porch. We bought most of the ingredients in advance so we wouldn’t have to rush to the market on the few days leading up to CNY.

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Aside from the quintessential pork belly slices (you can get these from the local butcher nicely packed), our hotpot ‘buffet’ also had all the other essentials: chicken and fish slices, pork balls and fish balls, needle mushrooms, squid, seafood cheese tofu, fried beancurd sheets, and for carbs, udon noodles. Moomins opened a celebratory can of mini abalones – they’re especially cheap this year due to a dip in demand.

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We bought a 2-in-1 BBQ/hotpot stove from Lazada, just for this.

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The soup base we used was from Hai Di Lao. We bought the shrimp flavour thinking it would be mild, but it was actually quite spicy. It also had preserved vegetables, which gave it a sour tang. Personally, I prefer something milkier and sweeter, so I will probably go for another flavour the next time around.

I know processed foods aren’t the healthiest, but seafood cheese tofu and bursting pork balls (above) are my favourites whenever I have hotpot. Seafood cheese tofu is usually made from surimi, so the texture is bouncy, and it has bits of creamy cheese within; while bursting pork balls are so called because there is hot soup in the centre, so caution should be taken whenever you bite into them so the juices within don’t spill everywhere and burn your tongue.

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My parents weren’t keen on the pork belly slices, so my brother and I ate most of them. I can safely say that I ate my fill lol. I prefer mine cooked in the hotpot, because they tend to get crispy and hard on the grill (I like mine to be soft so you can taste the texture of the fat and lean meat). Dip them in some soy sauce and chilli, and voila! Magic. We rarely have hotpot at home, so this was a very satisfying experience.

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By the time we finished dinner and the washing up it was nearly 10pm. We had initially planned to have our yee sang right after, but everyone was too full, so we watched Bad Genius on Netflix and waited for midnight.

Instead of the usual salmon yee sang, we got a fruits version this year. My cousin and his girlfriend are doing it as a part-time business, so it was our way of showing support (I also sent two sets to friends). It was basically a fruit salad consisting of green and red grapes, strawberries, mandarin oranges, carrots, pomegranates and dragonfruit (we didn’t add this in because it was too soft and watery), plus toasted pumpkin and sesame seeds. In place of plum sauce was honey.

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All in all, good, albeit on the sour side despite the addition of honey.

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After all that feasting on reunion dinner night, our first day of CNY was tamer affair. Traditionally, many families will observe a vegetarian meal after the extravagance of the previous night – we had a simple meal of udon and mock meat with fried egg for lunch. Also spent the afternoon playing mahjong. Everyone was rusty, because we only do this once a year lol.

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I received a nice surprise on the morning of Day 2: my friend H sent me a CNY package!

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Went out in the afternoon with Pops to Moon Palace Restaurant, to pick up our order of poon choi. For my non-Chinese readers, it’s basically a Cantonese dish comprised of a pot filled with luxurious seafood and meat items, which are then poured over with a rich sauce. Due to the large portions, it is meant to be shared, and you’ll often see it at festive occasions like Chinese New Year and weddings. I’ve only had poon choi once or twice during food reviews, never with the fam, so it was a first for all of us.

Our poon choi came with abalone, dried oysters stuffed with fat choi (a type of cyanobacteria with the appearance of human hair – it sounds gross lol but tastes like seaweed), roast duck, poached chicken, brocolli, huge shiitake mushrooms, abalone mushrooms, prawns, yam, scallops and roast pork. The oyster sauce that was to be poured over coagulated slightly from the cold, but otherwise everything was excellent. I especially liked the abalone mushrooms: they were thick and juicy. It’s no wonder people use them in making imitation meat – the texture is very similar.

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And finally, to round up our 2nd day, another round of yee sang; this time vegetarian.

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Bonus: Air-dried clay Mandarin Oranges my brother made for fun.

While this CNY lacks the cheer and pomp of yesteryears, I think I actually enjoyed it more. The weekend was spent bonding with the fam, playing Divinity 2: Original Sin, embroidering (new hobby!), and just eating. Like a lot. I think between Pops, the brother and I, we finished five cans of snacks and a dozen canned drinks. Also, I got no exercise in at all, so it’s not surprising that I gained 2kg.

It’s back to the grind tomorrow, and I’ll be getting back into my workout routine as well.

Hope you all had a good celebration!

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Merry Christmas!

Christmas has always been my favourite time of the year. Although I don’t celebrate it religiously, I just like the cheer and excitement that comes with the season – the beautiful Christmas decorations, the splendid feasts and festive dishes, the gifts and the gatherings.

The pandemic has certainly put a damper on things, as many people are unable to celebrate the holiday season with their loved ones due to safety/health concerns, work, or travel restrictions. I had been looking forward to my first proper Christmas with N, but since he’s still stuck in the Philippines, we have no choice but to be patient and hope things get better soon. The important thing is that we’re both healthy and safe.

While I wasn’t able to celebrate Christmas with the husband, I still got a bit of low-key celebrating in with a couple of friends. So here’s what I’ve been up to!

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I met up with some ex-colleagues for Christmas brunch, and bought them some pampering items from The Body Shop as gifts.

My office used to have a tradition where we’d all go for a Christmas dinner – usually a buffet at a hotel – where we’d eat and exchange gifts. It’s true what they say about not knowing what you’ve got till it’s gone – I never realised how much I’ve come to enjoy them. It feels a little weird that the company started off with 11 people this year… and now I’m left all by my lonesome. 😦

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More gifts, but for a different group of friends.
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Also took the chance to grab some pampering masks: ChrisZen was having a sale – only RM1 per mask!
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Also, finally managed to clear out the office a couple of days before Christmas. My ex-colleague was supposed to help before he left, but he dropped the ball so I was left to do all of it alone lol.

The main problem was the boxes of electronics and files I had to ship to our main office in Singapore. There were two huge Apple monitors, and I couldn’t find boxes that were big enough to fit them (lesson learned: NEVER throw away your original box). Custom-made boxes are expensive, and it would take time to make them to the required specifications.

In the end, my ex-designer was a lifesaver – she came to the office with two of her friends who do prop-making on the side. They basically cut and put together smaller boxes to make a big one so that the monitors would fit. They also helped to dismantle the wooden cupboard and shelves we had in the office, so I didn’t need to get a lorry service to cart them away. Thanks guys!

I still had to throw a lot of stuff away; 10 boxes of keychains, luggage tags, old magazines, cardboard boxes and stuff. I’m not young anymore so it was torture lugging all the stuff to the big dumpster outside the mall, four floors below. A good workout but my back was killing me for days after lol.

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Rewarded myself for all that hard work @KFry, 1Utama
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Met up with a high school friend, G, who’s back from Ipoh for the holidays. She has three adorable cats. They’re triplets, so they have the same orange and white pattern.

Cats are like people and have unique personalities: which is the case with these three. The oldest, Big Bean, is friendly, playful and affectionate; she loves pets and rubbing on your legs. The middle child, Zhong Fen (Mandarin for ‘centre parting’ – because she has a pattern in the middle of her forehead) is quiet, haughty and antisocial: she shot me a distrustful look when I put out my hand for her to sniff, then promptly turned around and showed me her butt. She also dislikes being manhandled, and protested loudly when my friend’s son tried to hug her.

The youngest, Small Bean, is calm and cool, and likes to observe. The first thing she did after being let out from her cage was jump on top of the fridge, so that she’d have a good view of the surroundings.

I think G’s doing an excellent job with her cats, despite being a first-time owner. They’re all fat, fluffy and clean.

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Zhong Fen
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“Gib pets”: Big Bean
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Christmas Day was spent playing with my DIY candle kit, which I ordered from Lazada. Now, I’m not very good with arts and crafts (or anything that requires working with my hands lol). But the process was actually fairly simple, and I’m happy with the result. Will detail this in a separate post! 🙂

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And finally, I met up with another friend, H, for lunch. It was good to catch up and walk around the mall. Felt almost normal again. The mall was surprisingly empty (we went to Sunway Velocity) – a far cry from how Pavilion KL was over the weekend. The crowd there was crazy. I think people aren’t even worrying about the pandemic anymore. You can’t blame the government when they announce 2,000+ cases if you’re not even practicing social distancing.

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H said: “You’ll probably laugh when you unwrap my present”. Sure enough, I did. It was just really funny that she gift wrapped the Super Rings But it was this simple gift and gesture that, to use the old-fashioned idiom, warmed the cockles of my heart.

So that was my Christmas! I initially wanted to bring a little festive cheer to the house by suggesting we get each other gifts, but was promptly shot down by the Moo. Not giving up though… there’s always next year.

How did you celebrate Christmas? 🙂

Yohoho!

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Pandemic Tales: Celebrating Our First-Year Wedding Anniversary Apart

2020 was supposed to be THE year. 

N and I had our marriage registered in Nov 2019 after months of groundwork (flying back and forth to get documents and approval from the respective departments, etc), and we finally had our wedding ceremony in February – before he flew back to the Philippines to wait out the six-month cooling off period (Malaysia has this law to avoid fake marriages). The plan was for him to apply for the Long-Term Spouse Visa at the soonest possible time (May), so that we can start building our life together here. 

But then the pandemic happened. The Malaysian government imposed a ban on travelers from the Philippines (indefinitely), even for spouses. While it sucks tremendously, we understand this is for safety, and we don’t want to risk any air travel right now (plus the insane costs of quarantine which is like RM5,000+ for foreigners). 

So it is that we’re going to celebrate our first year as husband and wife 2,490 kilometres apart. 

Murphy’s Law is a bitch. 

But if there’s one thing that our four-year-long LDR has taught us, it is resilience. The whole point of us getting married is so that we can physically be together – but now that a wrench has been thrown into our plans, I think we’re better able to weather the storm compared to people who have never had LDR experience, because of our prior ‘training’ (not that it’s a ‘good’ thing, lmao. We’d much prefer being able to be together!). To all the LDR couples out there, whether you’ve been in an LDR for a long time or just forced into one because of the pandemic situation – stay strong. 

A friend once asked if I find it difficult to be apart from N, since we’re newlyweds and this is supposed to be our lovey-dovey honeymoon phase. 

Thing is, it has always been a lovey-dovey honeymoon phase, as much as you might feel like puking from reading this lol. And while it is difficult to be apart, I find strength in knowing that he’ll still be with me when this is all over. Hopefully for good this time. 

Like many couples, there are occasional disagreements and I’ve often felt like wringing his stubborn neck (I’m sure he feels the same way about me, lol) – but I think at the end of the day, we’re just two imperfect people trying to do the best for each other. I love the fact that we’re like an old married couple at times, but also giggly, immature teenagers who can laugh at silly things and act like kids. Coming from a household where my parents are the complete antithesis of what I have in my relationship right now, all I can say is I’ve been extremely blessed to find someone who vibes with me as much as he does, and who tries to understand and accept me for who I am. 

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@RIUH Kuala Lumpur, 2018

Still, it’s surreal to think that we’ve been married for a year now. We’ve come a long way since our first date at a Jollibee’s in Robinsons Place, stuffing our faces with fried chicken. It was also crazy because I recklessly flew to Manila without telling anyone and it would have been extremely bad if he turned out to be an evil person (don’t try this at home, kids – not all stories have a happy ending). 

This might sound cliche, but my husband is my best friend. We’re both people who love experiences, and I couldn’t have asked for a better partner to share them with. Who else is going to spend six hours in a museum with me fawning over ancient weaponry? 

Outside the Museum of Natural History in Manila. It was memorable because we got stuck in one of Manila’s infamous flash floods and only got back to our hotel at midnight. We also had to slog through calf-high flood water to get to a bus stop and N’s mysophobia meant he had nightmares for the rest of the week lol

There is nothing that I can really ‘do’ for him this year because of the distance, aside from penning down these thoughts. We’ve both agreed that we’re not going to send each other stuff, but we’re going to have a virtual date where we’ll order our favourite food (he’s getting Jollibee and I’m probably going to get A&W), dress up and Skype each other. Since it’s a special occasion I might even get some boba, ha 

The way things are going right now, we’re not even sure we’ll be able to see each other in 2021. It would be a funny story to tell our cats in the future though, “Hey, mom and dad were separated for two whole years after we got married. Isn’t that crazy?” 

Happy Anniversary, mahal ko.