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Hungry Ghost Festival: When The Gates of Hell Open

Come straight home from college after class. Don’t loiter around until late at night.” 

Don’t stare and point at people by the road.” 

Wash your feet properly after coming home.” 

Back when I was younger, these were just some of the things my mother used to caution me about whenever the Hungry Ghost Festival approached. Celebrated in many parts of Asia, predominantly among Chinese communities, the festival proper falls on the 14th day of the 7th month according to the lunisolar calendar (August 22 this year) – but the entire 7th month is generally known as Ghost Month.

During this time, ghosts and spirits are believed to wander the earthly realm, so the living pay homage to their ancestors as well as lost spirits by burning offerings, as a form of merit making. The practice can be traced to the ancient Chinese practice of ancestor worship, but over the years, has evolved to absorb elements of Taoism and Buddhism as well.

Like many young people, I used to think superstitions associated with the Hungry Ghost Festival were a load of baloney – but I guess with age comes the wisdom of hindsight, and an understanding of how cultural beliefs are tied to our identity and our place in the world. These are practices that have been passed down through the generations, sometimes for thousands of years – and in a rapidly modernising world, there’s something to be said about keeping them alive, even though you might not believe in them per se.

While my family is not particularly traditional, we do observe some superstitions and practices which I think are quite fascinating, especially to people of other cultures. There are also differences between how it is celebrated and observed among Chinese diasporas around the world, such as in Malaysia, where I am from. So without further ado, here are some interesting facts and trivia about the Hungry Ghost Festival! 

OFFERINGS

During the Ghost Month, the gates of Hell are opened and spirits roam the earthly plane. Among them are ancestors whom the living forgot to pay tribute to, those who died without a proper send-off, and lost spirits. Because of this, they are ‘hungry’; hence the importance of providing them with food and entertainment so that they won’t cause harm or mischief.

ProjectManhattan, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Filial piety is an extremely important part of Chinese culture, so even after their death, you are expected to honour your ancestors with offerings of food, drink and material goods. It is common for people to burn paper effigies of items like houses, cars, servants, clothes and hell bank notes, in the belief that these can be enjoyed by the deceased in the afterlife.

There are also people who make offerings for lost souls: those who have no one to pray for them, or victims of suicide, murder or accidents. Aside from accumulating good karma, it is believed that it will appease these angry spirits and prevent them from harming the living. Prayers for lost souls are usually held at temples, or by the road – so if you see people huddling over a fire in the evenings with bowls of food and joss sticks, it is best not to point and stare because you might risk offending wandering spirits.

PAPER EFFIGIES

Paper effigies are an inseparable part of the Hungry Ghost Festival – but if you think they’re just rough, crudely shaped pieces of paper, then you’d be wrong. While I won’t deny that some are printed with machines, there are still effigy makers who make it the traditional way by hand. They are often commissioned to create items such as mansions, life-sized effigies of guardians, servants and deities, vehicles, even ‘designer’ clothes. These master craftsmen are artists in their own right, often creating incredibly intricate pieces that take months to complete. It’s crazy when you think about the amount of time and effort that goes into each piece, only to have them go up in flames in seconds.

Paper effigies are burnt in the belief that the deceased will receive them in the afterlife. As you can see, there can be some pretty quirky items – like gold watches, mobile phones and even dentures! Photo: Jorge Láscar from Australia, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The first time I took part in a paper effigy burning ceremony was when I was eight or nine, and I vividly recall the beautiful patterns on the paper samfoo (traditional Chinese clothing for women, usually with floral patterns) that was meant for my late grandmother. Over the years, paper effigies have become more and more creative (?), with items like mobile phones (what service provider do they use in hell, I wonder?), SIM cards, laptops and the like. My colleagues in Singapore even shared a photo of paper durians with me recently. Now, I definitely don’t subscribe to the idea of my grandparents operating mobile phones and texting each other in the afterlife, but it’s certainly a unique part of the celebration.

GETAI

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Chinese opera was the main form of entertainment during the Hungry Ghost Festival, but these have since been replaced with more modern performances. Photo: grungemann/Flickr

In the old days, villages and towns would host large open-air stages, and a troupe would put on a show in the evenings. The benches at the front were always left empty, as they were meant for unseen guests. Over the years, traditional opera fell out of popularity, but the practice of hosting entertainment for the dead did not – instead, it evolved into Getai, or literally ‘song stage’. I’m not sure how it is celebrated in China as I wasn’t able to find references on the net, but in Malaysia and Singapore they are quirky, lively affairs.

Tents are set up in fields or commercial spaces (where I live, there’s one every year in front of a food court). There would be live auctions and a dinner (proceeds usually go to charity). Sometimes there are still traditional opera performances, but you’ll also get stand-up comedy, entertainers singing pop songs or oldies, and even women dressed in skimpy clothing dancing to modern numbers. This aspect might seem blasphemous to some, but I find it very unique because it goes to show how adaptable Chinese culture can be – you gotta move with the times. In Singapore, where 76% of the population is ethnic Chinese, the getai culture is even bigger; shows are broadcast on national TV.

SUPERSTITION

Every culture has superstitions, but the Chinese in particular have many. Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to cut my nails or whistle at night, because it might attract bad spirits. In retrospect, I think there was a hint of logic behind them: electricity (and nail clippers) did not exist in the old days, so it was dangerous to cut your nails in the dark. Also whistling at night would disturb the peace. But because we often parrot what our elders tell us, we continue handing these superstitions down even in modern times when we can turn on the light with the flip of a switch.
As for Ghost Month, here are just some of the common beliefs:

  1. Don’t stay out late. – Night is when the spirits are at their strongest, so to avoid anything untoward, avoid staying out after dark.
  2. Don’t go swimming – Angry water spirits might try to drown you.
  3. Don’t swear – you don’t know when a spirit might be lurking around and feel offended.
  4. Don’t wear red – apparently spirits are attracted to the colour red, and might follow you home.
  5. Wash your feet when you get home – to get rid of unwanted bad energy.
  6. Don’t hang your clothes out at night – you might just have an extra guest coming into your house when you collect them
  7. Don’t tap someone on the shoulder – it is believed that a person has three ‘lights’ – one on their head and one on each shoulder, which ward off evil spirits. By tapping them, you’re essentially extinguishing the light.
  8. Avoid killing insects – the Chinese have a belief that spirits might be reincarnated as insects like butterflies and moths. They could be visiting relatives, so if you just smacked that moth flat, you might have killed grandma.
  9. Be wary of offerings. – Sometimes people leave offerings out by the side of the road (especially in Malaysia) so it’s best to keep an eye out. You wouldn’t like it if someone stepped all over your food now, would you?
  10. Don’t take photos – The idea of photographs and how they can capture spirits is not unique to Chinese culture. So it’s best not to snap any, especially of offerings. I’m sure you’ve watched Shutter.

As the world grows ever modernised and practices that are deemed old-fashioned and superstitious are abandoned by the younger generation, it is heartening to see that The Hungry Ghost Festival still has its proponents. It’s a case study of how culture is fluid and ever changing; where tradition is valued but also adapts to the times.

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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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Time Princess: A Different Kind of Otome

When I was growing up in the 90s, paper doll cutouts were all the rage. 

For the benefit of my younger readers, these were basically booklets containing figures (mostly girls, but sometimes they had boys too), which you could cut out and dress up with outfits. The ‘clothes’ were held in place with folded paper tabs. 

Thinking about it now, it’s brilliant how something so simple could provide hours of entertainment – all you needed was a pair of scissors, and a whole lot of imagination. The best part was that they were inexpensive: you could buy them from the stationery shop for a couple of ringgit, or better yet, make your own. It certainly helped me as a child to exercise my creativity, especially when ‘designing’ my doll costumes and coming up with storylines for my doll theatre lol. 

As you grow older, you tend to grow out of things too. Your dolls. Your cooking sets and toy soldiers. Your cars and action figurines. Even video games. But once in a while, something comes along that takes you back to simpler times. 

So a couple of months ago, out of boredom, I downloaded this mobile game called Time Princess. Yes, I’m fully aware that I’m a 30-year-old playing a dress-up game targeted at tweens and teens. (At my age, my parents were saving up to buy a house and planning for the future lol.) BUT. These are different times, and if there’s one thing I learned over the past 1.5 years of being stuck at home – having to care for a sick, aging parent, taking over the role of breadwinner, being separated from my s/o, worrying about my loved ones getting COVID  – it’s that life is short and you should just do whatever you want, and whatever helps you cope. If playing a game helps to keep your sanity intact, so be it.

And to be perfectly candid, despite the childish-sounding title, Time Princess is actually a well-thought out game, with beautifully designed characters and rich plots themed around history and fantasy. 

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As the heroine, you inherit a magical storybook, which absorbs you into its pages ala The Pagemaster. You’ll get to play historical figures like Queen Marie Antoinette, as well as characters from popular literature such as Christine Daee from the Phantom of the Opera, Jo March from Little Women and Helen of Sparta.  There are also stories adapted from fairy tales and folklore, such as the Magic Lamp, Swan Lake, and Romy and Julius (based on Romeo and Juliet). 

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Like most otome games, you encounter characters that you can romance in each story. Depending on choices you make throughout the story, you’ll get different endings. But what differentiates Time Princess from other games of its kind is the dress up element: in order to clear stages, you’ll have to dress up your character based on the required theme. Clothes can only be crafted by gathering certain items either through mini games or gifts. Think of it like the gacha system for other mobile games like Genshin Impact. 

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But what I like are the stories. They’re all well written; the dress-up element is woven nicely into the narratives, and the characters are well fleshed out and don’t feel one dimensional. The Queen Marie storyline, for example, has some pretty tragic and bittersweet endings, forcing you to ‘make’ difficult choices.

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The stories are also peppered with interesting historical and cultural references; sort of like how you would find historical nuggets in the Assassin’s Creed series. For example, the Gotham Memoirs storyline, where you play a tenacious reporter in 1920s New York, highlights the rampant corruption that was prevalent among politicians and the law enforcement in that era, as well as the mafia and their crimes (drugs, human trafficking, murder) – which imo is pretty dark for an otome game. 

Another thing that Time Princess does right is the art. The animations are beautiful and fluid, and the costumes are gorgeous. You can tell a lot of thought has been put into designing each piece, and they’re just really pretty to look at. 

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The downside? The game is an absolute money sucker. It is designed to make you pay. Actions like gathering resources and reading each chapter require energy, so if you’re impatient like me, and want to read more of the story quickly, you’ll end up spending a lot of money. I’m still waiting to finish reading some stories because I don’t want to spend any more than I have, and it can be a damper/take away from the immersion when you can only unlock one chapter at a time. Still, if you’re patient, it can be a fun experience – there are mini games to keep you occupied, and they have in-game ‘events’ where you can win and collect prizes. While it’s not one of those games that you need to spend days grinding over, it’s a nice 10-15 minute escape that you can pop into every few hours. 

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Minigames that you can play for added bonuses and crafting materials.

So yeah. This was an otome game review by a 30-year-old. And I’m not ashamed to say I play what others may call a ‘childish’ game. Some friends my age talk about being productive, achieving something in life, and chasing their dreams. And if that’s what they want in life, more power to them. 

As for me, I’m perfectly content taking on the days one step at a time.  The next day will bring me another chapter to look forward to. And that applies both for the game, and life. 

You can download Time Princess on the Google Play store for free. In-game purchases apply. 

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Why You Should Watch Netflix’s New Filipino-Themed Anime, Trese

Based on the critically-acclaimed comics by Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo, Trese is an original Netflix animated series that follows the story of Alexandra Trese, an occult investigator with magical powers. She is also the resident lakan/babaylan, aka warrior/healer; one who upholds the balance between the mortal and the spiritual world.

While the concept may not be 100% original (think Hellboy, John Constantine), what makes Trese unique is its Filipino setting: the story happens in the bustling city of Manila, and features many characters and creatures from Filipino mythology. 

When it comes to the fantasy genre, we’ve had plenty of stories revolving around Western, Egyptian, Roman and even Greek mythology, but very little on Southeast Asian culture – which is why the hype was massive (especially in the Philippines) leading up to Trese’s release. 

And I’m happy to say that it does not disappoint. 

Synopsis: 

Mysterious crimes are happening all across Manila, and they seem to be from supernatural causes. At their wits end, local police enlist the help of Alexandra Trese. Alexandra’s family has long acted as a bridge between worlds –  her father Anton was once the laban, while her mother was a babaylan (shaman) – so ever since she was born, Alexandra has had a strong connection to the spirit world. In the course of the series our heroine, together with her twin bodyguards Crispin and Basilio, investigate a string of murders and disturbances – culminating in encounters with beings such as aswangs (man-eating vampiric ghouls), duwendes (goblins), tikbalang (horse-like creatures), zombies and tiyanaks (baby vampires). The events are not isolated, and indicate that something catastrophic is coming – which would involve the destruction of both the human and the spirit world. 

Why You Should Watch It 

Trese’s Filipino touch makes for a unique and refreshing take on the fantasy genre. I mean, it’s not everyday that you get an animated series based on Southeast Asian mythology – which is a shame, because the culture is so rich with amazing stories, symbols and characters. The fact that it’s on Netflix is a great step in the right direction (especially in today’s climate where companies are looking to champion diversity), because it appeals to a modern audience of young Filipinos to reconnect with their roots, and at the same time, introduce the culture to an international audience. 

While the creatures are fascinating, you also get Filipino references in things such as Alexandra’s weapon (a kalis, which looks very similar to a Malay/Indonesian dagger called the keris). Another example would be Alexandra’s bodyguards Crispin and Basilio, who were named after characters in Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere. In the first episode, Alexandra investigates the apparent murder of the ghost of the White Lady of Balete Drive – a Filipino urban legend that is as popular as Bloody Mary might be to the British. 

And then you have a plethora of pop-culture references to spot: in one episode, a movie studio where Alexandra and her team investigates has a sign saying ‘ABC-ZNN’, a cheeky play on ABS-CBN, the now-defunct major TV news network that was embroiled in a licensing controversy last year. You also get glimpses of everyday Filipino life: commutes in jeepneys and packed trains, a neon-lit skyline – all captured through a pretty art style that perfectly showcases Manila’s chaotic beauty.

Granted, I think sometimes these references might be lost on non-Filipino audiences (I only knew about Crispin and Basilio because the hubs and I were discussing about Philippine Independence Day – I initially thought Crispin was from St Crispin and Crispinian), but even if you’re non-Filipino, it’s not crucial to the plot, and doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the story. They’re more like hidden Easter eggs that those in the know will find satisfaction in spotting. 

But what I like the most about Trese which sets it apart from others is that it does not shy away from shining the spotlight on real Filipino issues such as police brutality, the drug war and abortion, in a country that is highly religious and predominantly Catholic. Which to me shows that care has been taken to ensure the show is as culturally accurate and as relevant as possible. It’s not just one of those ‘feel-good, show only the best side’ kind of stories. 

Alexandra’s character, despite her grim demeanour, is likeable and well-developed. You feel for her doubts and her struggles, living in her father’s shadow, constantly being told that she is ‘just like him’, but yet feeling inferior that she might not live up to people’s expectations of what she should be. But at the end of the day, I like that she finds her own strength – and the message that one can trust to someone they look up to to guide their actions, but not need to be exactly like them.

My only peeve with Trese? The pacing is good in the beginning but feels extremely rushed towards the end – as is common with many animated series. 

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Trese, and I think it’s worth a watch for fans of animation and fantasy stories alike. First Raya, then Trese – maybe this will be the start of the rise of Southeast Asian-themed shows. I’d love to see one with Malaysian mythological characters like Badang (not like the shit that starred Aliff Syukri, I mean a proper one), Mahsuri and Hang Tuah. 

Now, tabi-tabi po. Time to go catch up on some Trese!

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Vlog: Is This The Best Halal Ramen in Malaysia?

A couple of months ago, I wrote about Ramen Seirock-Ya, an up-and-coming halal ramen chain that specialises in toripaitan (chicken ramen) – and how it might just be the best halal ramen that I’ve tasted. Well, my opinion hasn’t changed – but this time, I’ve made a vlog about it. And in Malay, no less!

The video clips have been in my folder for some time now, but I just couldn’t find the time/energy to edit them. But better late than never, right? PS: This was filmed before the Movement Control Order 3.0 came into effect, when dine-in was still allowed. Fret not, though – you can order from them online here.

BTW, this is the first time that I’ve vlogged in Malay. Language gets rusty if you don’t use it often, which is the case with my Malay, and that’s why I wanted to at least practice it a bit in my vlog.

“But aren’t you Malaysian?” my non-Malaysian readers might ask. “You should be fluent in Malay, since you live there.”

Well, technically, I am fluent. I learned it for 10 years in school. I even got a “Best in BM” award in high school, which is a pretty good achievement if I say so myself, seeing that I’m Malaysian Chinese.

Here’s the thing though. It’s complicated. Malaysia is a pretty odd country. You have all these different races living together in relative harmony, but racial (and religious) polarisation has been on the rise in recent years, and it’s no longer surprising to find people who aren’t that fluent in Malay, even though they are citizens. My parents, for example, can speak in Malay relatively well. But they tend to mix English words into their conversations, and if you asked them to speak purely in Malay, they would find it difficult. Would that be considered ‘fluent’?

As for myself, well, being stuck at home means I only speak Cantonese and English (my first language) most of the time. And to be honest, my Malay has been on a downward spiral ever since I graduated from high school, because I don’t have that many Malay friends (or friends in general *cough cough*) who speak to me in Malay. The only occasions where I have to dig up my long-lost BM vocab are when I have to visit a government office.

Anyway, I hope to make more vlogs in Malay. I’m already an outcast when it comes to Chinese (I can’t read Chinese characters and I’m not fluent in Mandarin. Third culture kid problems), so I don’t want mastery of my second best language to go down the drain.

If you liked the video, please consider subscribing! Or you could buy me a cup of coffee on Patreon.

Til the next one!

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My First Book Subscription Box: Bookish Bundle

Subscription boxes were first introduced over a decade ago as a clever marketing strategy – but in the last few years, it has grown into a niche market of its own. I mean, who doesn’t like the idea of receiving a box filled with curated goodies? The mystery of its contents just adds to the anticipation and excitement.

In Malaysia, subscription box services are still fairly rare, with most of them centred around beauty or food – so I was surprised to find that we have one that caters to book lovers as well. Enter Bookish Bundle, a bi-monthly book subscription service which has been around since 2016. Run by a group of friends, the boxes are curated around a particular theme, and always contain a book plus various book-related goodies and artsy items, usually from local creatives.

I’ve been following their Instagram for awhile now, and decided to order their Skipping A Heartbeat box for the month of May. Based on the name, I guessed it had something to do with romance – a genre I do not typically read – so it was two firsts for me: subscribing to a box service, and also getting a romance novel for the first time. The box was supposed to arrive in early May, but due to delayed shipment, I received it at the end of May instead.

And here’s the unboxing! PS: If you haven’t subscribed to my Youtube channel yet, why haven’t you? 😛 #shamelessplug

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A quick look at the items fresh out of the box. So aside from a romance novel called Twice Shy by Sarah Hogle, the box also includes a cute poster of couples from popular literature, a photo frame with an art print, a bookmark corner, a thoughtful note from the Bookish Bundle team which doubles as a decorative card, an Amortentia (Love Potion from the Harry Potter universe) brooch, and a homemade butter cookie.

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A nicer photo taken during the day (minus the cookie, because I was hungry).

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My favourite item of the lot – super adorable design!

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I’m one of those monsters that dog-ear my pages – but I guess I won’t have to do that now that I have this bookmark corner. The constellation pattern is nice too. BTW, Mybookbudz is a small local business that makes book sleeves and table sleeves. You can check them out and support the biz on Facebook.

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I’m not really one for posters, but the illustrations are cute. I also don’t recognise many of the characters because as I’ve said, I don’t read romance/drama often. The only ones I recognise here are Peeta Mallark/Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, Ginny Weasley and Harry Potter, and Bella Swan and Edward Cullen from Twilight (latter I know from the movies, coz I didn’t read the books).

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The synopsis says it’s about a woman who inherits a house in the Smokies and goes to claim her inheritance, only to find that as part of the conditions, she has to share everything with a grouchy housekeeper. Haven’t had time to read this yet, but the summary reminds me of a Hong Kong movie from the 2000s called Summer Holiday.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with my Bookish Bundle subscription box – there are some items I like more than others, but they’re all nice in their own way, and it feels good to be supporting local businesses whilst getting something I can enjoy.

If you’re keen on getting your own subscription box, go to instagram.com/bookishbundle – they regularly post updates and when orders are open for the next boxes. Each box is priced at RM95 for West Malaysia, and RM100 for East Malaysia (inclusive of shipping).

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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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May 2021: Another Bath & Body Works Haul

Once in awhile, you come across a deal that’s just too good to pass up.

At least, that’s how I felt when I saw that luxury and lifestyle conglomerate Valiram was having a sale for brands under its wing, including Bath & Body Works. Last Christmas, I went overboard with my shopping so I still have a tub of body butter to finish, but I couldn’t resist getting more lotions – because you don’t get deals like these too often. “But aren’t you just spending money for things that you could have done without?” you ask. Perhaps, but since I AM going to use them, I don’t think they’re a total waste of money, so shush. 😛

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The order came pretty fast and was nicely packaged.

Video if you’re lazy to read. Have you subscribed yet? #shamelessplug
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Of course, buying things on sale means you won’t be getting the latest products or much variety, but I think that’s a fair trade – and if you haven’t tried something before, isn’t it essentially ‘new’? At their regular price, each bottle costs RM75, so 3 would have been around RM220+, but I got all of these for just RM56 (excluding shipping) – which means a 75% discount. Don’t you think that’s a steal?

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The Winter Candy Apple has been a Christmas staple since 2014. If you like fruity scents, this one will be right up your alley, with fragrance notes of red apple, winter rose petals and candied orange, formulated with shea butter and added vitamin E.

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My favourite among the bunch is the Lovely Dreamer, which has notes of fluffy musk, clean woods and fresh bergamot. The delectable concoction is whipped to luxurious perfection with coconut oil, shea butter and vitamin E.

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Last but not least, we have Forever Red. This is perfect for those romantic dinner dates (well, when we can go out again anyway), with top notes of fiery pomegranate, rare French peach and luminous apple, mid-notes of red peony, night marigold and red osmanthus, and dry notes of rich vanilla, velvety marshmallow and oak wood. If you’re envisioning a dessert of some kind, you’re not the only one. Dabbing some on before you sleep can help with relaxation; almost like aromatherapy.

With this, I am all set with my body care needs for the next 6 months!

Or at least until Christmas sale.

If you’re keen on grabbing some lotions, body shower gels or other pampering items, Valiram’s sale is still ongoing at valiram247.com. You can also shop for other luxury and lifestyle brands under their umbrella, including Michael Kors, Montblanc, Godiva, Victoria’s Secret, Tory Burch, Swarovski, and more.

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