Dreams

Listening to the usual big-picture talk by my leader reminds me of how oceanic it is, the knowledge and experience gap between me and him. It will take years if not decades for me to even comprehend half of what he is saying.

I feel like I have wasted 6 years wandering around. I feel like I’m a little bit old to just get started. Especially when surrounded by friends making headlines, being successful.

But what is success? Who defines success? As awed I am of what they do, it is important to remember that they have their own unique interpretation of success. As do everybody else.

Make sure the dreams you are chasing, are truly your own.

I want to create. I want to learn. I want to make human connection. I want to be like the everyday women and men in my life. As determined as Joanne, as humble as Nguyen, as free-spirited as Michelle.

At least for the first time in 6 years, I feel like I am in the right environment to do so. My heart tells me that this is the right place.

I couldn’t be luckier now that I am surrounded by leaders and comrades whose wisdom are way beyond me. For as long as there is something to learn, there is still a reason to get up in the morning.

Crash

Last night, a car swirled and flipped in front of my eyes, not 10 meters from where I was waiting for bus.

The driver could have been drunk or sleepy. Or just plainly made a mistake. But it didn’t help that the road was pitch black, barely any street lights functioning. Construction work nearby made every roads narrower.

When these kind of irresponsible city planning happens, you know who get it the worst? No it’s not you driving Ford Fiesta stuck in morning traffic. It’s not the hobby cyclists lobbying for a safer path along Taman Tun. It’s not Taylor’s students with their selfie stick sipping on 10 ringgit skinny latte.

It’s the pedestrians. The real cyclist. Immigrants and blue collared workers. Students from middle-class families. These people are too busy struggling for a living that they don’t have time to complain. They don’t have a voice. These are the unrepresented.

Every day I see these people crossing the streets to IKEA hazardously. Gambling their lives in between moving vehicles.

Unless today is Labour Day and there’s some fancy big-budgeted campaign going on, chances are no one is going to give two flying chipmunks about these people.

And things still wouldn’t change for the next 5, 10 years.

I exchanged all USDs at the airport (Hanoi, 2011)

As with a lot of life-changing decisions in my life, my first time traveling out of the country was done on an impulse. I was 22.

“I’m going to Hanoi, wanna come?” Mich asked.

It could have been just a joke or a passing remark. Just like how your Australian colleague greeted you in the morning saying “how are you” with a big grin on the face and nothing behind the eyes. It was like that. But since it was Mich who said so, which at that point was The Most Important Person in My Life, of course I took it seriously. I wanted to. There was an Arabic saying that went “You never really know a sister until you have travelled with her”. I wanted to know more of her. And I did. A little bit too much unfortunately.

“Do your research!” she said and I obeyed. I skimmed through the Wikipedia page on Vietnam four times. That was more than I ever studied for Operating System papers. On the night before the flight, I fell sick. My body temperature rose, liquid oozed out of my nose, my head was squeezed by an imaginary wrench. Yet I went ahead with the flight. I wasn’t going to waive my RM600 tickets, no sir.

The plan was to regroup with Mich and her friends in Hanoi, so I took the flight alone. It was my first time on a plane, on a window seat no less. As I soared above the sky, I couldn’t help but think how lucky I was to be born in this century. Where flying was such a commonplace that a middle-class, white-collared worker like me could afford it. If I were born just a generation earlier, I might not even have a chance to get out of Pahang.

I was grateful, just to be alive.

As the clouds ran through the wings, so did tears rolled down to my chin. Partially, because I wished she could be there next to me.

The transit

Touched down in Saigon. I visited a nearby mall for a meal. Everyone was speaking Vietnamese, and I couldn’t really wrap the currency exchange around my head. How much was too much? Did I really look out of place? There was a Malaysian couple shopping for handbags, I didn’t want to be associated with them! I was a backpacker not a tourist!

Surrounded by Mongolian-descendant locals, it was odd to see all the advertisements featuring tall and slender Caucasians. Hello globalisation. But then again, Kuala Lumpur looked exactly the same. Uh-huh.

My exchange flight to Hanoi was delayed for 5 hours, so there was nothing much I could do but sat in the airport in front of the telly. It was a Hollywood movie dubbed in Vietnamese, but only with one male voice. That’s right, the entire cast – men and women, young and old – was dubbed by one monotonous male voice. It sounded weirder when they switched to a cartoon show. I stopped watching when it was time for a Hindi soap opera.

But I was a child of the summer

Early morning in Hanoi airport was cold. So I put on an extra layer of shirt. Still cold. I put on another. Until I ended up wearing the entire wardrobe on my back – 5 tees and a hoodie – yet I was still freezing.

The dawn broke, I grabbed a cab with an address of the backpacker’s hostel that Mich was heading towards. The cab dropped me off in front of a different hotel because he didn’t know how to get there. He could have ripped me off for all I care, but I was too cold and hungry to give a damn. I checked in anyway, bought two pieces of bread and ate them under the hot shower.

I came out of the shower a different man, ready to take on Hanoi. I hired a bike without a clue how I was supposed to find my fellow country mates. Yet somehow, I did. By fate or pure luck, I stumbled upon Mich and the rest of the gang crowding a back alley. I jumped off of the bike and ran to catch up with them. I was never going to be alone again.

Or so I thought. Until Mich found out that I have exchanged all of her USDs to local Vietnamese currency.

I exchanged all USDs at the airport

Back in Saigon airport, I was too panicked to distribute all the cash in my hand before exchanging it. Apparently, this was a dumb move as: 1) exchange rate in airports sucked 2) you could actually use USD in Vietnam.

“Why did you changed all of MY money? We are not even married yet!” She was furious and I kept quiet. When a woman was furious, keeping quiet was the right thing to do. I learned that by living with mom.

And quiet I was, throughout the rest of that one-week trip. I didn’t know the rest of the gang much. Mich was my only close friend. So it sucked not having anyone to talk to, to ask questions, to make jokes. They did have fun with each other, but I just sat there like a chump. My emotional switch had been turned off, there was no way of turning it back on. It wasn’t fair for me to be scolded that way. But I got to stay cool, it was my first time travelling and I shouldn’t let anything fuck it up. But she didn’t have to do that. But I got to carry on. Stop. Stop thinking Khairul. Please don’t cry. Please don’t cry.

City of warmth

I turned into a true-blue introvert. But it wasn’t as bad because I was too preoccupied with the city of Hanoi. The cold weather was a good thing as it reminded me that I was in someplace else, hundreds of miles away from home. It made me feel grateful every time, to have been blessed with such opportunity.

Despite the 10 degrees temperature, all I saw were human warmth. Hanoi was a city packed with people. On one corner there were streams of working adults rushing to get to someplace. On another corner there were little girls braiding each other’s hair , young men peeling sunflower seeds while drinking tea. The roads were spilling with motorbikes who would go out of their way to avoid pedestrians. I even bumped into one as I walked mindlessly, mesmerized by the city’s fullness of life.

It is worth nothing that Hanoi were full of pretty girls in their winter attire. One girl in particular left a mark in our hearts. She had long black wavy hair, sporting a red jacket. She was carrying her bike as she walked away, leaving us in awe. We might never know her name, but she would always be the girl with long black wavy hair, sporting a red jacket.

Food were in abundance too. Every few steps we would come upon a food stall, food stand, or simply a big pot surrounded by bowls and stools.

The shopkeepers were unforgiving, probably the worst in all Southeast Asia. Every time we tried to bargain, no matter how little, they would display such expression of shock like somebody has just died. Good thing none of us were much of a shopper. I got for myself a winter jacket. For tours and guides, we were lucky to have the ever-kiasu Mich to make sure we wouldn’t be conned too badly.

Sapa village

We took a 6-hour night train to get to Sapa village. A compartment could only hold four beds, so I moved to the next one, leaving the rest of the group. It wouldn’t make a difference if I was with them anyway. As I was shivering throughout the night, a local covered me up with a blanket that was stolen from my bed.

We arrived at the station and Mich got me a legging. Good God, who knew this piece of women wear was so comfortable. I met a cat too, at the station. The cat sat on my lap. He was my only friend throughout the entire Vietnam trip.

Sapa village was way colder than Hanoi, as low as one to two degrees. It was a long walk under the drizzling rain. We were accompanied by a 12-year old tour guide that didn’t talk much, and countless of other tribeswomen who offered their hands for help. The help wasn’t entirely out of free will as they asked us to buy souvenirs afterwards. But that was just the way business worked yo.

We stayed at a homestay and met a cool Dutch couple. We played Monopoly Deal. As usual, Mich was very good at making connection with people, well except the one who mattered. Just kidding. Or was I.

I put two layers of blanket and slept with my jacket on, and woke up with a sore back because they were too heavy.

We resumed our walk the morning after. Passed by mountains, pig farms, and paddy fields. Children ran without pants or shoes on. Before we boarded the train back to Hanoi, I gave my copy of The Alchemist to our 12-year old tour guide. The book inspired me to apply for my very first passport, and I hoped it would do her the same.

Saying goodbye

We were back in Hanoi, and we had KFC. KFC in Hanoi tasted like any other KFC. Then it was time for us to go home. I took a separate flight back, stopping at Saigon before arriving in Kuala Lumpur.

In retrospect, I was glad that the trip happened. Hanoi wasn’t exactly the first thing on everyone’s mind when they think of Southeast Asia, but it was my first destination. It would always hold a special place in my heart.

I was glad I took that trip with Mich. It added to our collection of shared experiences. But even without it, things would have stayed the same. We had always been close, and would continue to be. All these strong feelings I had in the past, would eventually simmer down in few years, if not months. These infatuation, these limerence. With anyone at all. I had always been too quick to give my heart away. But it would eventually fall out. In the end, nothing mattered. Nothing at all.

That moment when I was on the plane, touching clouds for the first time? I had it all to myself. It was my moment, and my moment alone.

Rejected

When I was rejected by Unrepresented KL, I couldn’t get it off my head. I was witty, genuine, and avoided the use of pompous words such as ‘pompous’ in my writing. Plus with a premise as original as Platonic Love, how did I not get selected? Bloody peasants with no taste.

Today, I got rejected by The Cooler Lumpur.

Yet I felt grateful, really. Grateful that someone up there still cared enough to poke me in the ribs, saying hey Khairul, where in the seven hells did that came from? I hadn’t earn anything. I was nothing but a greenhorn, a fucking white bread. I was, and still am, a nobody. I spat on my own grave for my sense of entitlement.

Keep me close to the ground, please, keep me close.

(I won’t be applying to any such thing no more though, not good with heartbreak.)

On related news, I started at the agency this week. During my first day, we had a company-wide meeting in the morning. My colleague was talking about an account that I was involved with, projecting the website to the screen and I was like HOLY MASTERS OF PARKOUR THAT’S MY COPY! I FREAKING WROTE THAT BABYGIRL!!!EXCLAMATION!

I saw my work. My work. Man. Almost called home to tell mom.

Every morning onward, I hope I would still be snoozing my alarm at 630, only waking up at 7, take the bus at 730 and arrive at 830. Then I would go to lunch with my colleagues around 1230 or so, come back no more than two hours later please cause I might have a meeting, then linger around until 8 in the PM, the earliest.

Then spend the rest of my waking life just to write, write, write, write, and write. Preferably with the Oxford comma.

Backpacking 101

For everyone who has been travelling for a long time, we all know that planning is already half of the fun.

Not me. I always do my research the night before the flight. By research, I mean a skim through the Wikitravel page. Every time a trip ended, I told myself that I’m going to do better next time, yet I never did. But that’s just who I am. A NFP on the Myers-Briggs scale. A sanguine among the many masks. Or to put it simply, a lazy bum.

So here it is, I present to you travel tips for the carefree, for the children of the wind. First, what should you bring on a backpacking trip:

1. Passport and printed flight ticket, duh.

2. All you need are 3 shirts, 2 pants, and 1 hoodie (better if it is waterproof). You are given free will, however, to bring as many undergarments as you wish.

3. Running short and singlet for backups in case of rain, as they are very quick to dry.

4. An universal converter and an all-purpose microUSB charger. Sucks for you iPhone elitists for having to bring extras.

5. A pair of shoes for hardcore trekking, and a pair of flip-flops for the occasional temple visits.

6. (Optional) An iPod/Mp3 player to deter overly-talkative neighbors, and to tune out local radio station on public transports. A Kindle/tablet to pass a lot of commuting hours.

7. Waterproof bag for electronics. You could also bring a small towel and a toothbrush in case those cheap backpackers don’t provide any.

The most basic preparation:

1. If you have a smartphone, mark the places you want to visit in Google Maps and save the area to be used offline. It’s amazing how much money you could save by going around on foot. It’s good for the scenery too.

2. Know the baseline cab fare from point A to point B, or how much is the usual fare for n distance. This way you can haggle your price confidently without being a douche.

3. Too lazy for research? At least know the get-ins and get-outs from airports/train/bus stations to your hotel.

Well that’s about it. A travel guidebook is always handy but also pricey. TripAdvisor on your phone could be a good and free alternative. But no amount of guidebooks or smart-apps in the world could ever replace… a decisive travel partner. Someone who knows where to go and what to do next. I couldn’t write a how-to on getting this kind of friend, you are own your own on this one.

Til then, safe travel!

Mugshot

Burma: Day 0

As I was filling out the VISA application for Myanmar, I put ‘copywriter’ as my occupation instead of the usual ‘programmer’ or ‘IT guy’. I know I haven’t earned the bragging rights yet, but just let me bask in its glory.

Upon collecting my passport, the officer suddenly turned to her superior and started whispering in Burmese, but I heard she mentioned the word ‘copywriter’. Both looked at me with such vendetta. The supervisor stepped forward, straightened up her shirt, and asked, “So you are a writer?”

Yes, I answered. I am who I am and no one could tell me any different. Not even you Ms Officer.

“So… what do you write about? Do you comment on politics?” She said with a raised chin and squinted eyes, but I maintained my dominating posture that I’ve been practicing for years in the Territorial Army.

“Well not really, I do TV commercial and the likes”, I would love to say films and TV shows but that would really be pushing it.

After an intense four seconds of stare down battle, she finally released my passport which I clutched firmly in my arms. My friend almost died of heart attack upon the prospect that she might have to go to Burma only with the memories of me. But all is good now.

So this is the life that I have chosen. The life of a copywriter. The life of living dangerously.

*

Disclaimer: Narrative was altered for dramatic flair, I really don’t read political news don’t arrest me.

Thank you

After a rock-climbing session with the colleagues, we took an obligatory group photo, shouting tee-effff-emm! (As if the shout would actually get into the photo). A random passerby asked, “Are you guys from Teach For Malaysia?”, and proceeded to shake our hands.

“Thank you for your work”, he said.

It was one of the most magical moments that you get working for this organization, no matter how rare, especially for non-teachers like us. An unexpected kindness.

Thank you stranger.

(On another note, I’m going to an advertising agency soon. I wonder if people would shake my hands saying, “Thank you for making me buy more…”)

Thank your sadness

A friend once joked that I might have the opposite case of Asperger’s syndrome. Instead of having difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication, I overinteract socially and overcommunicate nonverbally. Do you like me? Are we cool? Have I done wrong? It’s as if I COULD FEEL EVERYTHING SO HELP ME GOD.

A joke is merely dramatization of truth, but there is indeed truth. It is true then, that I am emotionally sensitive. Sensitive comes from the word sense, and I’m saying that my emotional sense is highly receptive. I experience all ranges of emotions to a higher degree. Joy, love, fear, sadness, anger, jealousy. Even writing this very piece makes my hair stands, my eyes well up. But I bask in this state, it makes me feel like I’m entering some sort of fifth dimension trance that no drugs nor alcohol could ever induce.

There are the pleasurable kinds of emotions. Love, of course, is the greatest of them all. Not joy nor happiness, but love. I have a lot of love to give, and blessed with an abundance of love to receive. My most memorable moment last year was upon looking at my best friend’s engagement photo on my Facebook feed. I couldn’t contain the love inside. I kept looking at it. Her smile brought so much delight. I kept thanking God because I had to channel that gratitude somewhere. I couldn’t explain or rationalize how could someone else’s life experience that have totally nothing to do with me, could bring such magnitude of emotions. But it felt it, and it was more real than anything else.

Then there are the other kinds. Anger, hatred, jealousy, and all of their derivatives. In retrospect, I don’t think I am the worst person in the world. But my tingling emotional spidey sense convinced me otherwise. Even the slightest amount of negativity could send me to a downward spiral. If I were to see a successful peer on my social media timeline, I might feel a tinge of envy. But what’s worse is the amount of self-loathing I feel for feeling that way. There would be this imaginary dirty little substance I have in my chest that I wanted to take out. I would have an endless debate between me and myself, getting deeper into that dark, lonely place.

Now I want to tell you something important. Only recently that I have come upon the realization that–there are no good or bad emotions. They are just that, emotions, and every single one serves a purpose. Joy, happiness, even love, could exist only with the rest. They come in a package.

Sadness is the all-cleansing remedy. It brings me back to planet earth. It makes me reflect on myself and be aware of my interior state. A good cry once in a while releases all the muscle tensions away. Sadness is the defragmentation process for the soul.

Fear keeps me on my toes. It allows me to calmly assess the situation in times of panic and anxiety.

There are myriad of other emotions that I have still yet to understand. All this while I have been suppressing them, denying everything that makes a human. Now and again I kept making my own 7 Deadly Sins of qualities that I try hard to avoid. But emotions are merely the messenger of what is happening within. To ignore them is to run away from the truth, and as they pile up, sooner or later it will come back to haunt me.

So here is a promise to myself that from now on I will trust and attend to all of my emotions. I will observe, identify, and only then will I be able to let go.

Thank your sadness as much as you thank your joy and happiness. Thank your fears of getting into a new job. Thank your guilt of not spending enough time with the family. Thank your jealousy, worries, hatred, and anger. For only with all these emotions would you be able to live a whole and fulfilling life. For only with them you would be able to appreciate beauty.

Thank your sadness.

Bersangka baik

A friend once told me that I might have anti-Asperger’s syndrome. I don’t have difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication. Quite the opposite, I interact too much socially, communicate too much non-verbally. As if I COULD FEEL EVERYTHING. Do you like me? Are we cool? Have I done wrong?

This is not a sustainable way to live.

Being emotionally in touch, I don’t want to simply ‘feel less’ because that’s now how I am designed, it doesn’t suit my circuitry. Instead, I want to remind myself of a phrase in Bahasa I find to be the most apt: Bersangka baik.

‘Bersangka baik’ is the inclination to seek for good intentions in other people (with the exception of candy giving strangers). If I were to be out of touch with somebody, it doesn’t me that I am of a lesser importance, it doesn’t mean that I am forgotten. Everyone is living a life as vivid as mine, with thoughts that come across their worried minds, with desires to seek for fulfilments.

I choose to subscribe to the positive side of human nature, and naturally, they will come to me.

Mr White

Say hello to Mr White.

Mr White was found on Xinch’s yard a few days ago. Left by his mom. Accidentally hosed down, he was drenched and scared.

Mr White has a brother, a Bengal-like kitten with stripes across the back and spots below the tummy. Everyone was gushing over the brother on how playful, sociable and majestic he was. Poor Mr White didn’t get no love.

Mr White was protective of his brother. Every time Xinch took the brother out of the box, he would meow non-stop until he could see him again.

Mr White and his brother had to be separated. I took Mr White first, even though he was the underdog. Or undercat, if you may.

Mr White is in my home now. Sometimes he meows non-stop. Probably still scared, probably still looking for his brother.

I hope I can be your new brother, Mr White. I will love you like the little engine that could. Because. You. Are. My. First. Choice.