July 27, 2010

N asks what I remember of my first days in her office.

I remember O in her sunshine yellow top and hair the colour of fire, smoking a cigarette as she walked into the doorway. She is my first memory of working at a women’s rights organisation. Those were 4 wonderful weeks of starting to understand the life of activists. Not everyone is stable and self-assured because they fight against injustice. Nor are there only feminists that fight for women’s rights.

Some buy into the idea of mass-produced beauty – like N, who is so thin yet and weighs herself everyday. At first I thought she was naturally thin but at the lunch table everyday she is nervous and only eats from a small plate.

Nor does everyone believe in a monogamous ideal – like O, who is dating a married man. She spoke of him several times to me, always with such tenderness that I wondered why they aren’t engaged or married (something common in a Muslim country). I try to hide my surprise when her boyfriend, 62 year-old A, casually shows me photos of his French wife and three children.

Nor are the women there radical, bra-burning sexually-deviant caricatures – like S, who seems to want, more than anything, the acceptance of a young man she finds exceptional . She spent much of her first weeks in Morocco with him, and getting a piercing together seemed to her the start of something special. He is gallant in paying for and cooking meals and openings doors and she readily accepts that despite her ideals of a feminist revolution. This double standard is, a close guy friend told me, what frustrates men, even the most exceptional of them. S’s radical revolution cannot come about as long as she supports these ideas which fall under her purview as ‘patriarchal’.

More than anything maybe, modern Moroccan women negotiate for themselves in the proverbial difficult space between a rock and a hard place, like – N, who was caught between tradition and her own ambitions. No different from women in any other country who has to choose between motherhood and a career. N spent many years studying in France so she could not give that up to marry a man from her country, who would want her to stay home and attend to the house and his needs, as was the norm in her prime. Her PhD is a symbol of her privileged French education and cosmopolitan career. She says that the only kind of man that would understand her would be a European, not an Arab. But she would not leave her parents alone, so she chose good food, a beautiful house and a motherhood of students.

She tells us of the importance of a career and education, to ensure our independence. She thinks that young girls like us should try to work in international organisations. It is exactly that she finds internships important that my application was accepted within 2 days, and why I was eating paella, couscous, and tagines while speaking to her at her dinner table.


July 1, 2009

It seems that since I’ve had this blog, I’ve been travelling so much (and for various reasons!) that I haven’t even had the time to write about every single trip. Anyways, I’m in Rabat, Morocco now. I’m interning at an NGO dealing with women’s rights. I flew here with crazy stopover locations and durations which does not make sense in any way except financially. Singapore-Mumbai-London-Marrakech tickets bought two weeks before added up to a perfectly acceptable amount.

Here’s a belated post on Marrakech. I stayed there en route to my final destination, Casablanca.
Saturday, 28 Jun. 09

This time round, Marrakech is completely different. There is no longer the suffocating forty degrees of last year’s heat wave, where it sufficed merely sitting down to sweat, and one had to carry a 1.5 litre bottle of water to just take a walk. I remember feeling incredulous at the sheer heat upon walking out of Marrakech Menara Airport. Glasses of water seemed to evaporate straight away, out of my skin.

This time round, the temperature hovers around thirty degrees, but pleasantly drier than Singapore. Jacques meets me at the airport; it is always a lovely sight to see old friends! I thought I would leave in a few hours; I feel no rush to see any sights. I saw most of them last year, and I figure I will just rest before leaving for Casablanca.
I uncomfortably remember the men around every corner looking at me, making undecipherable comments, guessing my origins. I don’t feel ready to face such a crowd again. Instead, I watch BBC, which constantly recycled the same few news sound bites about Michael Jackson’s death. I eat lunch with Jacques: meatballs cooked in a tagine, in a tomato sauce and covered in eggs. It is dry and I wash it down with Coca Cola. I go up to the terrace to watch the sunset; there is a girl with a brown scarf on the roof on my right, and a teenage boy masturbating on another roof to my left. In front of me the sun sets, and flocks of birds are flying south.
I cannot get through to Karim (although his cousin Amine says he will try to get him and then call me back) so I stay the night. Nicolas prepares dinner: pasta with courgettes and cheese. At night, it is even cold, which was the biggest surprise. I sleep without trouble until four thirty in the morning, when the calls of azan reverberate from the five surrounding mosques, each one with varying start times and tones.

At nine in the morning, I eat breakfast with Nicolas. He sings in a choir and he makes delicious, soupy cherry jam. He asks if I can eat the crunchy baguette considering my shaky teeth; I demonstrate how I dunk it in the hot Nescafe coffee with condensed milk. I ask him where the Sidi Bel Abbes shrine is; he draws me a ludicrously zig-zaggy map to get there and to the Souk al Khemis, the flea market.

This time I wear a scarf and the number of disturbances drops to about two. I am a little more confident about finding my way and looking furtively at the map. I go to the shrine first, and there are a lot of disabled people in three-wheel drives with a steering wheel, and wheelchairs. I make a gesture with my hand to ask if I can enter the mosque/shrine. Tiles are the same as the ones in the Musée de Marrakech, maybe it’s the same artisan. In the main hall, where the mihrab usually is in a mosque, there is a tomb of Mr Bel Abbes I presume, with a man in black round-framed spectacles looks at me suspiciously at regular intervals. At the left side of the hall, two plaques are inscribed in Arabic, stating the location and name of the saint. At least, that’s all I’m sure of; I can’t guess the rest of it.

What astonished me was the two people bowing down and prostrating to the plaque. Then I think to the keramat we have in Malaysia and Singapore (especially the most recent one Hon and I discovered in Kusu Island!), and I get over my surprise. I think everywhere people have a tendency to worship the dead. The bespectacled man hollers at me for taking a picture in that general direction, so I quickly get out of there.
I follow the zig-zag map of Nicolas and surprise! I actually find my way out of the medina, and enter the flea market. At first the market seems a little useless to me; consisting largely of motorcycle shops, carpenters and carpet-sellers. One man keeps trying to talk to me; I duck into another alley where there are piles of clothes (which all the same! Bermudas, shorts and tee shirts) and shoes. I peer periodically at piles of electronics, trying to feel lucky enough to find a replacement for my adaptor that has stopped working today. I am lucky; I find one for 10 dirhams! Actually, I couldn’t understand the price because the seller was speaking to me in darija, but he gave me 90 dirhams back.

I leave at 2.20pm and there isn’t time to walk to the train station, but I dread having to handle taxi drivers. The usual price is 15dh so I try asking some taxis for that, but apparently grands taxis will only go for 50dh. One petit taxi says he will put on the meter, but he doesn’t say much else and I don’t feel confident that he knows where I want to go. Finally, I find one petit taxi that will go for 20dh. However, once I get in he says it’s 30dh to the station and I say no, come on, you said 20dh. On the way there he asks if I am muslimeen (aren’t I muslimaa?) and I say yes in a tone implying that he should charge me 15dh. When we reach the station, for 20dh he gives me 10dh change and calls it baraka.



April 4, 2009

planning another long trip with tine now! it’s contingent upon a lot of things, like visas, bus tickets, plane tickets, accommodation. and i should probably tell my parents, like Exactly where i’m going. heh.

today i had good conversations about traveling and pictures. i’ve never really realised how many places i’ve been to; little trips to randomly-chosen places add up significantly, it seems. i’m terribly fortunate because my parents let me go almost anywhere i want, and they fund part of it. now that i earn a little bit it’s not so bad. but compared to many girls i know, it’s remarkable.

i can’t wait! more cherry trees, lakes, boats, slow-drip coffee, dusty air, cranky buses and hopefully, a chance to visit this ngo for burmese refugees. it’s really a wonderful world!


March 30, 2009

there have been too many running, trying weeks. i was so happy in the dust, in the sand, picking malayan cherries and drinking juice under the stars. i want that back. there have been too many times i hear sounds like leaves crunching underfoot. i lift my feet, but it’s only the sound of my heart breaking.

at times like this i want to make lakes, and sleep in the soft, warm, bed at the bottom.


March 3, 2009

post-europe. i always asked tine why she’d never gone to see much of europe. she explained that it’s all so near to her, and she has her whole life to see it. it’s the same reason i give for not travelling much in southeast asia. after seeing so much of what is so far away, i decided it’s time to discover my own backyard. over christmas and new year, i went to ponorogo, indonesia to (for lack of a less-cliche phrase) discover my roots.

i think travelling is best done with minimal preparation: just a map, one backpack and lots of salt. indeed, my mum and i bought our plane tickets, i decided i would like to see borobudur, my dad’s mosques and our kampong, and then we arranged with her cousin to meet us in jogjakarta.


i didn’t expect to stay in the original houses of my grandparents. i most definitely didn’t expect to visit the graves of my great-grandparents and further ancestors. in abbas’ words, tempat ditanamnya kakek dan kakek kakek kamu (where your great and great great grandparents are buried). and i didn’t expect to be embraced so warmly by people i’d never met before. yes, family, but i’d never seen them before this. it was definitely a relief to meet saiful, a second cousin of my sister’s age. compared to the 1970s, when my mum couldn’t speak much to the elders who spoke in javanese, i had it easy with bahasa.


even the teachers and administrators of the mosque at gunung kidul treated us like family. i saw what a good thing my dad had started, this mosque is amal jariah, a good deed that lasts generations. success builds upon success: the government built a primary school near the mosque, and development has just mushroomed in the area.


the gifts they heaped on us! tea, cakes, batiks, fried grasshoppers, dried fruit and dried bits of keropok ready for frying. it was like eid everyday: visiting a relative or a relative of a relative, being served sweet sweet tea, having to ask for water for my at-diabetes-risk mum, tracing the family tree, explaining why it took me 23 years to visit, and taking a picture.


even the touristy section was made so much easier thanks to couchsurfing and ayu. it was the first time i met a practising couchsurfer, and i saw that it doesn’t have to always be party-crazy people who travel and accept different people.



July 31, 2008

it’s been two weeks since i got home, and hey, suddenly it’s so hip to be green! everyone should take public transport (even though costs have risen), bring (expensive) foldable bikes onto the train, recycle, use rags and save water!

i have had to reclaim my green room. been digging around for my things, and i found an old shoebox of letters, dated from 1996! i had a polish penpal in 1999, and i wonder if he is still at the same address. i remember knowing nothing about poland, and now i actually have polish friends! and a roommate. haha. i wonder if he’s still around, i am going to write back to him. it’s been almost ten years though, this is so mind-flipping.

andrea’s birthday.

June 21, 2008

5 months and it’s over. i didn’t really have time to update this blog as often as i had wanted. that’s one thing i learnt from valencia. second thing: as testimony to my much-improved spanish knowledge, i have to correct my erroneous blog name. there is no such verb as ‘cambinar’ (from whence i conjugated ‘cambino’)! haha. i confused two verbs: caminar (to walk) and cambinar (to change). but in the end both work, because i did lot of walking and i changed too! o the cheeziness.

the flat is slowly emptying, it is depressing. we celebrated andrea’s birthday a few days ago before she left though, that was fun! ok so she cooked her own birthday dinner of lentil fozelek (which we all relished),

but we surprised her with a cake! she loves coconut, and i didn’t find a decent coconutty-enough cake so i decided to assemble my own:

the base is coconut-chocolate (like bounty!), middle ‘cake’ layer is lime sorbet, top layer is fresh cherries. drizzle with honey on a white plate to make it look gourmet :D

and she loved it! thank goodness for instincts on tropical flavours. heh.

paris 9-10 may

June 9, 2008

sometimes ryanair is completely loveable, for example when they offer 5-euro flights to paris. what’s unloveable is the extra five they charge non-europeans who are de jure unable to check in online, the extra few more they charge for using a debit card, and general blankfaced unwillingness to help. rar! nevertheless, look at the lovely winding river! somewhere south of paris.

after that mild annoyance, i am greeted by anna at gare de lyon! who very kindly let me crash for a few days. why do i go paris again? this time is only to see anna bessonova compete live at the rhythmic gymnastics world cup held in corbeil-essonnes, in the suburbs of paris. this is the closest i will ever physically get to her. haha. let’s see if she’s as quick and amazing in real life as in video.

we do a little sightseeing first, so you don’t have to. to the grande mosquee de paris, the colourful and mightilyethnic souk behind it, and the souvenir shop selling tea, dessert and calligraphy postcards.

the photosensitive windows of the institut du monde arabe/arab world institute. they open and close depending on how bright the sun is. i debate at length whether to buy french books – political, historical or pure childish fun. then to notre dame cathedral, from a different entrance. we attempt to discern the twelve apostles? but there were fourteen, so we give up

and watch people nearby feeding the birds instead, and do not envy the rich tourists having dinner on a restaurant-boat (boat-restaurant?) on the seine river.

a quick stop at the louvre to see the mona lisa/la joconde/la gioconda, but i think the reflecting walls in the halls were much more interesting.

this is the pont des arts/arts bridge, also known as the-bridge-where-lovers-lock-themselves-together. behold the little lock there for that  purpose.

paris has always been very melancholy and totally unlivable for me, so i make anna take a happy picture of me swinging along the seine! and other censored pictures of me scaring sleeping homeless people. i don’t know what these rings are for actually. and finally, the obligatory sunset picture of this romantic city.

budapest day 3

June 1, 2008

we start the day ‘well’, with a visit to the museum called the House of Terrors (does that give any ominous chills down your spine yet?) with a hongkong guy we met in the hostel. it’s a museum on the nazi and soviet occupations in hungary, and later on the life of fear most people lived under the hungarian communist party.

we come out well educated on that, and mighty low in spirits too. so we traipse to find a fozelek bar recommended by andrea, and we eat the same fozelek that she cooked. but hers is so much better! the one sold here was too sweet. fozelek is made from lentils, and is eaten with bread or egg, very much like kacang phool!

then a tour down vaci utca, the orchard road of budapest, and at the end is the great market hall. we taste sour-cherry strudel (deliciously sweet and sour). i try my hand at hungarian, asking a couple for directions to the post office -“ke’rem, hol vaar la posta?” and try to comprehend the barrage response of hungarian.

we couldn’t find the 1000cakes cafe, and fall instead into yet another Easter market. finally we walk to terez korut and we spend the evening in a cafe with a lovely ambiance – chandeliers on the walls – drinking strawberry-perfumed tea and writing postcards.

budapest day 2

April 29, 2008

met some americans and walked with them to the thermal baths of szechenyi, located in a beautiful park. this innocuous area actually has natural hot spring water pumping through to four pools of increasing temperatures. had to wait in line for the ladies’ guardrobe; i could go in straightaway though if i passed off for a boy. also tried to talk to a little german girl, but i didn’t get past ‘hello’ and she, ‘deutsch’. there are some amazing mosaics on the ceiling though, behold!

the waters are a little yellow because of the sulphur, but it was tremendous to soak in warm water, especially when it’s seven degrees outside.

not far from the baths is hősök tere/heroes’ square. i didn’t read up anything on it, and i have no idea, so let me wiki something to lessen the shame. here we go, those are the “statues of the leaders of the seven tribes that founded Hungary in the 9th century and other outstanding figures of Hungarian history”. on the two sides of the square is the fine arts museum (closed) and the palace of the arts (also closed, waiting for a new exhibition). and the roth györgy museum apparently exists solely on the map. alas, the museum-search has been in vain.

in front of the parliament, there is a grave and a flag with a hole where the soviet coat of arms were cut out. in 1956 there was a revolution against the soviet occupation. above are some explanatory notes.

okay, to lift the mood, here’s a picture of the hostel’s patio, and some beautiful street art.



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