Countdown to Chinese New Year

Happy Chinese New Year!

Being Malaysian Chinese carries along with it so many things that make up who I am. As much of a banana* that I am, so many aspects of the Chinese culture have seeped into my life. For instance, the kind of food we eat, the way we relate to our elders, etc.

Add to that the labels and expectations that are attached to being Malaysian AND Chinese, and then there is a whole added layer to what makes up my personality.

Anyway, the predominant thought over here at this moment is that I am not 100% proud of the heritage that we inherit by being Chinese (although only in part by now, since my ancestors have been on Malaysian soil for a good few generations by now), but this is who I am and I guess there must have been a reason for God to have fashioned this background that I have been born into.

This little video here, in some ways, says a lot. Never mind that it’s not about Malaysian Chinese in particular, it still reflects a lot on how the Chinese culture and mentality affects those of us who are born into this ethnicity. Notably, it speaks a lot about Chinese parenting in general: That emotionally distant, tough kind of love, the emphasis on studying hard, that inclination towards mathematics and numbers and money, that dedication to work, and sense of duty towards providing for the family.

Chinese New Year is mostly a family centred celebration. So all these things come up. All these family traditions, histories, imperfections… It is, to me, happiness tainted with a large dose of reality. The realisation that there will always be some family member that is alienated. Another who is indifferent. Yet another who tries too hard to unite everyone. All these things.

The angpaus. The hierarchy of family positions and titles. That emphasis on money. Those seemingly eternal debts: be they financial, emotional or all sorts of other in-between stuff. The polite small talk to mask the years of stories, sometimes buried out of convenience.

Hope I haven’t dampened the cheeriness of your Chinese New Year. These are just my musings. I love my parents. I like certain aspects of my Chinese heritage.I just hope to break the mould and be that bit different somehow.

Not to be that stingy, uncaring, crude person that the world might expect of me because I am inevitably Chinese. (Let’s leave the Malaysian bit for another post, another story – that too has a long list of things to be said about which is not worth delving into right now).

What’s your CNY reunion like this year? Mine’s alright, but a part of me always feels it could still be way better.

* A local slang which is used to describe a person who is Chinese but yet cannot speak/write in any of the Chinese dialects proficiently.

Weekender

The weekend! That wonderful breather from the weekly grind.

It’s the weekend! 

Over here, I love the weekends because that’s when Deric will be around all day and we get to do stuff as a family which we can’t do at other times. 

Jamie is also generally happier when everybody is together, just as I am too. 

This weekend, we haven’t done anything too fancy so far, but a lot of what we did was influenced by a desire to create fun and happy experiences for Jamie. 

Actually, that basically sums up a lot of our motivation whenever we find ourselves with a considerably sized block of free time. 

This time around, it was about taking him on a train ride via the LRT line that runs near our place as well as letting him linger at the car workshop while we sent one of our cars for a routine service. 

Along the way, he had other delightful wishes fulfilled too, like yet another ice cream and a chance to use his new kid sized umbrella. 

It’s interesting to note how our focus changes when we’re a family now. 

Back when Deric and I were just dating, weekends were wide open for whatever we fancied doing. We would often go for dates that lasted all day (and night too, sometimes). Eat lots of nice food. Hang out with friends. Practically anything. 

But now, we need to break our weekend activities into segments to make sure we don’t get our chirpy toddler into a nasty grumpy spell. 

And then there’s the consideration of how crowded a place might be and how unsuitable that might be for him. And limiting dining options to venues where there’s something decent on the menu for a young tummy to ingest. 

These and more. 

But the part that makes our hearts sing the most is when his face lights up while experiencing something that we had planned for him. 

There’s hardly ever enough time on the weekends, and usually not much from my To Do list gets done, but these tiny moments we have, these joy inducing ones, they make it all seem worthwhile somehow. 

Making memories with our son is the little bit of magic that we have been afforded and for which we are grateful.

Hidden treasure

The days slip by quickly, and each time something shifts in leaps and bounds.

Dear Globetrotting Friend,

As wonderful as it is to see these picturesque views you encounter at each magical destination you arrive at, I often wish you would not post them on social media. It’s not that I would want to deny you the right to revel in the beauty around you, but sometimes your endless stream of picture perfect images makes me feel a little out of place.

I spend most of my hours behind the same four walls, living a quiet, unnoticed routine. Views like the one you see above are what my eyes feast on every day. It is nothing extraordinary, but it was important enough to me that I decided to be bound by them. To be this hidden person, seen only by a tiny pair of eyes to whom I am the world.

I wish I had inspiring images to show others just as you do, but the ones I take are instead mostly commonplace. They do little to hide the mess behind them. The haphazard tumbling through hours. Days slipping by quickly, one after another; each time something shifting within them, an unnamed thing, growing in leaps and bounds.

My husband is often discouraged with this dull, mundane world we live in, enamoured instead by the adventures you tease us with from your Instagram feed. He always had this bit of wanderlust gripping him, and at times, I feel sorry as if I am the one holding him back.

But this is the life we are building now. And it is called Family.

Beneath the mountains of laundry, behind the unkempt array of toys strewn all across our living room, there is this little boy coming into his own. His is a slow and steady journey, years stretching ahead of him, yet uncounted, unwritten. Mine is the heavy burden to shape this life, to offer it meaning and hope in a universe that often cares little for the crumbs that fall from the tabletop or the stories that need to be read… aloud…. and right now. Or else.

I don’t envy you, my dear Privileged Traveller friend. I just wish I didn’t often find myself making comparisons between us , thinking how vastly different our paths are now, and how we were walking the same trail once upon a time, long ago, when we were but youth.

Because it seems like I have lost myself, and that my days will be endlessly meaningless as they feel. And that I am not living life to the fullest and condemning myself to a predictable outcome.

Perhaps someday I will find greater confidence in the choices I have made.

It’s just that right now those photos of yours don’t seem to be helping.

Tales from home

It's a rare moment. I am able to sit here with the leftovers of my latte and cake (from my Mum's birthday celebration earlier today) and write. This is too good to be true. I expect to be interrupted anytime. Perhaps soon.

So… while I can, I'm checking in here for a bit.

Here's a brief snapshot of what things looked like for me this past week:

Prolonged mealtimes at the dining table with Jamie. Overwhelming restlessness and boredom felt. Lots of "I don't want" which strangely morphs into "I want" the very next second. Plenty of crying. Some shouting (from me). The usual helpings of guilt afterwards. Just so you know, he's two years old.

Most of it was down to an ear ache. Which turned out to be an infection, as confirmed by the paediatrician. It was yet another visit to the clinic on a Wednesday night. The night we are supposed to attend cell group. Which we have not been attending for months. Probably since Jamie was born, actually.

So we're on a course of antibiotics now. Jamie is, I mean. But it might as well be said as "we" since all of us were up at 4am when Jamie awoke and decided he was energetic enough to stay up from then till 6+am. We cooked in between. Again. YES. If you pass our apartment door at silly hours in the middle of the night, you will most likely smell nice things coming from our kitchen. And yes, we are sort of insane.

Books about cars. Jamie's got new ones, quite a few. It's his latest thing. And trucks. Still some interest in trains. But CARS! Lightning McQueen. Ka-chow!

Plants flourishing on the balcony. Testing out my own concoction of compost tea on them. Nearly dying from the stench (smells like vomit). For the first time ever, I have plants doing well on my watch. I still remember the ones that inevitably died when Jamie's delivery day rolled around. We were all so busy we forgot about the plants and a pandan plant died. Those are supposed to be really resilient.

The house is a mess. And laundry started piling up again. Often times, I don't know where to begin dealing with this chaos. We've begun plotting a solution to the problem of clutter and lack of space in the kitchen. Bought some stuff from Ikea to improve the storage part of the equation. But we have yet to fix a time for the handyman to help us assemble the racks. So the problems remain for the time being. Sigh. It's to the point that I have to waste time clearing or moving things around daily just so I can cook or reheat food. We really need to reclaim our kitchen counter space.

Thankfully, there is a lull in work at the moment. I am waiting for further instructions from my client before I proceed to complete my part of the bargain. So technically, I have time to spare for Jamie. Other than dealing with chores, that is. But ironically, I don't feel like spending time with him when I have the opportunity to do so. It's an odd feeling. I feel bad for even feeling this way. But I do. What do I do? I hope this changes soon.

I keep a lot of things in hopes of recycling/upcycling them. So this contributes to more mess at home. I need to get round to certain craft projects or home improvement projects.

Okay, Jamie is up from his nap and crying. Gotta run now.

Different

Got up awhile ago. It’s 6+am over here. Am about to attempt to get some overdue work done. 

Before doing so, however, I decided to do some housekeeping for one of my email accounts (yes, I still keep a few). In the process, I came across an email from klpac about an upcoming Malaysian Jazz Piano Festival

I suddenly recalled those more carefree days in the past where such an email would have triggered me to forward it Deric (we were merely dating back then), and it would probably end up with either one of us spontaneously saying, “Let’s go!”. That was the life we used to have. One that I sometimes almost barely remember. 

These days, our lives (and schedules) are so tightly wrapped around work, cooking, cleaning (and other miscellaneous house chores) and raising Jamie. In between, we sometimes manage to slot in some chatter about pop culture (movies, music and the like). But it’s a case of observing and marvelling from afar. 

We’ve only been on one movie date since Jamie was born. We haven’t been on any other dates besides that. We haven’t attended a concert together since… I can’t remember when. We also haven’t had a leisurely, fancy restaurant meal in quite some time as well. 

We are a little challenged financially at the moment. So we cook as much as we can. Buying things on a whim is something that happens more rarely. Or rather, we only do so when the cost involved is pretty low. Concerts like that sold out Coldplay one in Singapore are just passing clouds in our expansive blue sky. Gone are the days we would actually go for it. Because we can’t. More or less. 

From the moment I wake to the moment I nod off to sleep, Jamie is by my side and needing me (especially when he wants to nurse). Some days, I take it well. On others, I feel resentful and sometimes wonder if we did the right thing having a child. 

Forcing myself to be up to work at this hour used to be a rarity. But it occurs fairly often now (for as much as my body can tolerate it, and Jamie remains fast asleep, that is). 

Everything’s different now. But would I change it all? 

I’m not sure. Probably not though. 

The curious adventures of Little Dot

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The lady at the reception glanced disbelievingly at my belly before meeting my gaze again.

She obviously was not convinced that I was in need of a gynaecologist. Much less so for reasons of being pregnant. Nevertheless, probably just because her job obliges her to be nice to clueless looking women like me, she gave my husband and I the information we asked for.

It was the first few hurdles we had to overcome: deciding on a doctor that we were reasonably comfortable with to examine me and to confirm whether or not I was indeed pregnant.

I recall us being flat out tired after visiting two destinations on our list that were in our consideration. Having returned home, we both sat on the bed, poring over the brochures we had taken home with us.

Not long afterwards, we were both sound asleep, and remained so for a good few hours.

That was just a week ago, actually.

Since then, we have not only decided which gynae to consult, but have also had our first appointment with him. It was really reassuring to finally have an ultrasound done and to confirm what we suspected all along: that I am indeed pregnant.

Of course, prior to that, Deric and I had actually done one of those simple pregnancy kit tests at home. And on the day after Merdeka, in fact. But somehow, perhaps because we are new to all of this, we somehow felt the need to hear a doctor confirm it. Well, at least I needed that.

So we took a visit to our regular GP a day later, but he didn’t perform any further tests and instead, merely dished out to us some general advice and handed me a month’s worth of folic acid pills to take for the benefit of the baby.

“Home pregnancy kits are quite accurate,” he told us. “Even if you had gotten a negative result, you could still be pregnant.”

He counted off on his fingers the other reasons that made it very likely that I was pregnant: I had missed my period. The fact that we had been trying for children (which in our terms just meant that we stopped using condoms). And the results of that pregnancy test we’d done.

But it was only after we’d seen the gynae at Assunta Hospital that I finally did truly believe that I was pregnant. And that’s not all: Our Little Dot already had a heartbeat by the time of that first ultrasound scan at the gynae’s office.

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But of course, this is only just a brief description of what has been going on ever since I took that pregnancy test.

Your body goes through an awful lot of changes once you are pregnant, and by the time Deric and I had begun the process of seeking out medical help, these symptoms were starting to slowly but surely manifest themselves.

I was often tired, often by midday, and almost always wanting to sleep.

My appetite was erratic: some days I could eat normally while on other days, I didn’t feel like I wanted any food at all. Usually, whenever my appetite was absent, my stomach tended to feel queasy as well.

Randomly, I’d develop light headaches and sometimes I’d feel dizzy. It was hard to concentrate at work. The air conditioning in the office was too cold.

Oh, and did I mention yet? My boobs felt terribly sore and I had tiny twinges of pain that would come and go at various spots around my abdominal area.

While at the gynae’s, he informed Deric and I that there was some bleeding in my uterus, and for this he promptly prescribed me some medication and gave me a 14 days MC (weekends included).

I was really thankful for this unexpected break where I can rest at home, although I’m pretty certain my colleagues have developed an unhealthy suspicion of me and my motives for disappearing from work by now.

But hey, I guess there are more important things for me to care about. Little Dot being one of them.

I’ve gotten into this queer habit of talking to it whenever no one is around. In fact, I’ve even started doing it while Deric is present too. It’s funny, but I guess it’s my way of frequently reminding myself that a tiny life has started budding inside of me.

It’s a strange feeling, and one that at this point I’m not sure if I’ll ever get used to. I feel a sense of responsibility I have never felt before, and have surprised myself with how eagerly I have taken to adopting immediate changes to my diet and lifestyle.

I’ve been advised by the doctor not to do any vigorous physical activities for now, and that includes swimming – my currently preferred method of exercise. It helps relieve me of my back pains, and I tend to swim at least once or twice a week. None of that now.

Intake of both coffee and tea have to be regulated daily and I am not supposed to exceed consuming a cup of either beverage each day. I also have to avoid raw foods which means that some things like sushi (which is among my favourites) is off the list for as long as I am pregnant.

Every single form of medication and even health supplements that I take has to be scrutinised and reviewed for whether they are safe to consume during pregnancy. Even the medicated plaster patches I use for my back aches are not permitted. And neither are the pills I like to use whenever I develop gastric problems.

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This Little Dot really is a fussy sort, but I guess I don’t mind it that much seeing that he/she is a blessing from God.

Unlike some other couples, Deric and I brought Little Dot into existence after laying off condoms for only around two to three months. It’s something to be thankful for, given that we’ve heard of others having to try for much longer before they’ve yielded positive results.

So this marks the start of my journey as a pregnant woman and a future mother. It’s both scary and exciting at the same time.

No amount of reading or listening to the advice of others could have prepared me for what it’s really like. In fact, if there’s one thing I’ve learned fairly quickly since confirming my pregnancy, it’s that every woman’s experience of it is uniquely different.

I would say I still have my doubts and fears about what’s ahead, particularly how our daily lives and future plans will be affected. But Deric and I are really looking forward to having Little Dot become a bigger part in our lives.

And after some point, we’d probably need to give him/her a more respectable name.