Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Mostly Wordless Wednesday: Food Preparation Malaysian Style

This man is cleaning fish to make Fish Head Curry. He is sitting at the back door of the kitchen of one of our more popular restaurants.  Those fish are lying on the pavement, and that big hole next to them leads to a storm drain.  I enjoy showing pictures like this to my friends in Europe who own or work in restaurants.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

COT: Au Is Upset

Au woke me up at 4AM to ask for biscuits.  Then he hit me up again at 5AM.  When the mosque went off at 530AM or so, Au hopped up on the bed again.  This time I reached out with my fingers, and pushed him on the shoulder.  Au toppled off the bed.

Shocked, Au jumped up again.  I pushed him off.  From his furious squeak, I realised he got the message.  But our fuzzy was determined to try again.  He waited ten minutes and popped back.

If it had been up to me, I would have pushed him off.  But the other servant got up and yielded to the furry one's demands.  I guess that's why he's Au's favourite servant.

Au is still annoyed with me.  He ate his breakfast in frosty silence, then stalked upstairs to go to bed. 

I'm going to give him 10 minutes, and then I'll go waken him up.  It's called tit for tat.

cats on Tuesday more cats, check out Gattina's Cats on Tuesday.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Monday Writers Craft Online: Pseudonyms

Most publications don't like to write articles unless they can state the real names of the people they interview.  Why?  Because otherwise we'll be accused of making it all up.  So it's real names, and pictures.

However, very occasionally there is an exception.  A while ago I interviewed a lady whose husband abandoned her and her child.  This woman needs to be anonymous as her husband is a vindictive type.  As her story is super special, and can help lots of women, we said OK to the pseudonym and no pictures.

So, when I'm talking to her, I suggest she picks a false name for her and her kid.  She leaves it up to me.  As it turns out, this is a big mistake.  Out of the thousands of names about, I pick one that happens to be that of her sister.

Lesson learned? Always make the subject pick the pseudonym!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Living In Malaysia: White People Don't Steal

There's a gang of us at the pub who put money together every month for a local orphanage. The Fun Club buys them books, takes them on outings, and provides green veggy, good meat, and goodies like donuts and chocolate biscuits.

As I work from home, I am the accountant, buyer, and delivery person.

Yesterday someone came up to me in the pub and handed me RM50. I didn't know him, and offered to send him the monthly statement of accounts.

"No thanks," My man told me. "I don't need to know what you're doing. I trust you."

At this point my mate Sara starts grinning. "Orang puteh (white people) don't steal," he says loudly. And then he giggles.

You see, I hear this all the time because in Malaysia orang puteh have a reputation for being honest. This must be why there is no crime in Europe, or North America. Honestly, this trust really perplexes me. But hey, in this case the guy's right. I'm spending that money on donuts.

This is a series of notes about living in Malaysia. Love it, hate it, whatever, this Saturday Living In Malaysia series is just one opinion. You can leave brickbats and comments in the comment section.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Repost Friday: Bad, Bad Person

This repost is from 1st May 2007

Au on the stairs
When Au asked for biscuits on Sunday evening, I discovered we had none in the house. It was an awful moment. There was Au, sitting on the stairs, saying meow? in a friendly voice. I confessed and apologised. Au smiled, thinking it a good joke. Then, when he realised I really meant it, he drooped.

Au lay on the staircase, looking at me pathetically. How, his eyes said to me, could I have done such a thing? How was he, he said pathetically, a lovely and loving little cat, going to survive the night?

I offered cat food from a foil packet, tuna for people, and his all time favourite ham, but Au wanted something crunchy.

Luckily we were rescued. Our neighbour Umi who lives across the street feeds strays in her back garden. She donated some biscuits to Au who ate them with a satisfied crunch!

Since then we've stocked up on biscuits so the crisis is over. Au has forgiven me but I still feel guilty. I'm a bad, bad person...

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Review Thursday: Malay Sayings By C.C. Brown

Malay Sayings
By C.C. Brown
Paperback: 287 pages
Publisher: Graham Brash (Pte.) Ltd ,Singapore; New ed of 2 Revised ed edition (September 1, 1989)
ISBN-10: 9971491540
ISBN-13: 978-9971491543
Price: RM29 (but that was 4 or 5 years ago!)

One of my passions is understanding language.  I am particularly interested in understanding where phrases come from.  This is why I bought this book the moment I spotted it in some dusty little book shop in Kuching some 4 or 5 years ago.

Brown was a lecturer in Malay at the University of London, and as you might expect, the information in this book is laid out neatly and cross referenced with academic precision.

It's a very simple book.  It lists 1200 expressions in Malay with an English translation.  As it's written for English speakers, it starts with:

AN ABSURDITY, (an action or statement that is merely ridiculous)
Mahu-kah orang menghujankan garam-nya? 
Is a man going to put his salt out in the rain?
     For a different but very inmproabbaly interpretation by WEM see RIDICULOUS.

And then lists more absurd phrases.

I love this book because it says so much about traditional local culture and thinking.  However, I have tried to use the odd phrase in conversation with friends and so far I have met just a handful who know these expressions.  Malaysians don't read much, so it's hard to find people who really know the language.

It may not be of use in a practical way, but this book is really worth a look. 

And as I really can't resist, please check out my book Logomania: Where Common Phrases Come From And How To Use Them.   You can buy it online at MPH Malaysia and Times Malaysia, and Kinokuniya too!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

COT: Recovering

Last week Au showed me he had a small hole in his side that had turned septic.  I took him straight to the vet, and he had a jab.  Luckily the abscess was quite small, so we didn't have it bursting and draining.

Poor old Au though turned out not to like his medicine.  He was terribly ill twenty minutes after taking it.  I went and got him a different lot, and that was OK for one day.  Then that made him ill too.

As his abscess was shrinking nicely, I decided to leave him alone.  I just check on it twenty times a day by "petting" him.  Au knows perfectly well what I'm doing but he lets me fuss.

Today the abscess is almost totally gone.  And Au is feeling his old self again.  When I opened up a new bag of cat biscuits, Target and Au both raced over to eat the first bit from the top of the biscuit barrel.  As Au would say, "It's my favrut!"

cats on Tuesday more cats, check out Gattina's Cats on Tuesday.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Monday Writers Craft Online: Self-Editing Is A Must

Today Eric Forbes, Senior Editor at MPH, shares his thoughts about the importance of self-editing.

You must learn and develop self-editing skills. Most writers lack self-editing skills.

Make sure you proofread and edit your typescript to an acceptable standard before sending it off to an editor or publisher for evaluation.

Most writers tend to send their typescripts without polishing them up, hoping that their editors will clean everything up for them once they are accepted for publication. The fact is, most editors will just ignore the typescript and go on to the next one.

Pay attention to your grammar and punctuation; tone down on circumlocutions writing, the use of big words and overly long or dense paragraphs; avoid clich├ęs at all costs; spellcheck the typescript and use consistent spelling (American or British) throughout your typescript; etc.

Remember what Isaac Babel said about punctuation: “No iron spike can pierce a human heart as icily as a full-stop in the right place.” You should spend more time on punctuation because that’s where writers are usually weak at.

There’s nothing wrong with checking up on the basics of punctuation. Good punctuation brings clarity and makes writing more powerful. Read up on the basics of grammar if you have forgotten the rules of grammar. Or consult someone who is good at it. But then, if you call yourself a writer, you had better be good at it.

Doing your best is simply not good enough. You have got to go beyond. Joan Didion, the author of The Year of Magical Thinking, once confessed that it often took her a whole morning just to write a single paragraph to her satisfaction. What can I say, writing is hard work.

Eric also blogs. Visit Eric Forbes's Book Addict's Guide To Good Books

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Living In Malaysia: Free Thinker

Many Malaysians are religious. I am an atheist. I have never understood the concept of gods, angels, devils and such, but I love reading about them. I also enjoy people telling me about the fabric of their beliefs. The stories of the Greek gods, bird omens in Sarawakian cultures.. it's all fascinating stuff.

I visit temples and churches and other places of worship on a regular basis because I find the art and architecture interesting. But I try to avoid going for things like weddings and baptisms because I don't want to pretend to take part.

To me, pretending to worship is mockery; being that sort of rude makes me uncomfortable. However, in Asian culture it is proper to be part of the group and fit in. So when my friends insist I attend some function, and give me an agonised look of entreaty when I hang back from the rituals, I go with the flow and burn incense, chant, or do whatever is required.

I do this because I think it's more important to give my friends face (to not embarrass them) than to stick to my own values. Guess I've become quite Asian after all!

This is a series of notes about living in Malaysia. Love it, hate it, whatever, this Saturday Living In Malaysia series is just one opinion. You can leave brickbats and comments in the comment section.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Repost Friday: Kittens

This repost is from 27th April 2007

Someone has had kittens, and has deposited them on our back doorstep for safety. We've given them a towel and they're all curled up, looking chocolate box cute.

If they survive, we'll be looking for homes for them. Their mum is a stray, a cat who lives in the storm drain, but the kittens are tame. And also very stripy!

Scoop and Au aren't pleased. Every time they hear the meow of kittens their ears go back and they start to sulk!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Review Thursday: The Great Wall: China Against the World, 1000 BC - AD 2000

The Great Wall: China Against the World, 1000 BC - AD 2000
By Julia Lovell
Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Grove Press (February 21, 2007)
ISBN-10: 0802142974
ISBN-13: 978-0802142979

We picked this one up at a book fair recently, and it turned out to be a gem. Lovell teaches Chinese history at Cambridge University. She's a terrific writer, and uses the Great Wall to write a nice history of China and it's relations with other countries.

What grabbed my attention first was the story of Albion football team going over to China in the 1970s and refusing to visit The Wall on the principle that, "Once you've seen one wall, you've seen them all." Brilliant.

Then Lovell dives into the real history of the wall. First, she says there is no Great Wall of China. It's a collection of walls built at different times by different people. She also delves into Chinese perceptions of wall projects through the ages.

Lovell's research is thorough, and her writing lively and interesting.  This is a terrific read. It's taught me tons about Chinese history and culture, and I'm looking out for her other books.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

COT: Lamb Lunch

On Sunday I made roast lamb for lunch.

The cats were delighted.

Target, "Is it ready yet?  Can I have some?  Pleeeease?"
Au, "The survice here is terrible!"

Target, "Mummy!  I've meowed three times and there's no food yet!"
Au, "Dis survunt is not responding to de kontrols."

Finally!  Yum, yum, yum....

Target, "Ugh, it IS possible to eat too much!"

Au, "Tell it to the paw.  An nobody switsh on dis tredmill."

cats on Tuesday more cats, check out Gattina's Cats on Tuesday.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Monday Writers Craft Online: Fame Or Money?

My work rarely appears online because I write to pay the rent - and the cat biscuits which Au thinks is much more significant. 

People often ask me why I don't give my stuff away online "so you can be more famous, lah!" and my reply is: why should writers work for free? 

Giving away newspaper content for free has killed thousands of newspapers, and has put tens of thousands of people out of work.  Magazines have been more circumspect, and have survived.

It's true that if you give away your work online for free, you get a big international audience.  But it doesn't pay.  And I need to pay the rent.

Having said that: the day I get 1000 followers for this blog, I will write a weekly short Katz Tale.

Also, although I won't write for free, I do a bit of pro bono stuff: I will give free career advice to people who want to get into the word business, and I am happy to look over the first 1000 words of anyone's work and give an opinion. 

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Living In Malaysia: Evil Indians

Racist stereotyping is alive and well in Malaysia.  Some people bitch and moan about it, but our mate Saravanan who runs Kusar Cabana pub has tonnes of fun with it.

"You know I went to Kuantan last week, right?" he tells me while leaning over the bar.  "Well, my youngest daughter caught a chill, so we gave her some medicine. She complained it tasted nasty so we stopped outside this coffee shop and I went in to buy a bottle of water."

"The second I walked in I saw the cashier look all worried.  The owner was there, a lady, also looking worried.  I look and I know what they are thinking!  They see this big black Indian man, right?  So they think I'm going to rob them, because that's what Indians do!"

Sara giggles, and continues, "So I walk in veeeeery slowly, and look from side to side without smiling, you know, like a mean look.  By the time I get to the counter, I can see they're thinking give him what he asks for! and they're ready to reach for the cash."

"So I stand there, unsmiling.  Then, when they're all good and nervous I ask for a mineral water.  You've NEVER seen such fast service!  I look at them, still unsmiling, and then reach sloooooowly into my pocket.  They're all holding their breath, wondering what will come out.  A knife?  A gun?  Then I slap the dollar on the counter and they all jump!"

"I'm telling you, being a big Indian fellah is a lot of fun!"

The pic is of Sara with one of his favourite toys: an elastic band gun.  I'm just happy they didn't see him with this.  They would have had a heart attack.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Repost Friday: Beach

This repost is from April 24th, 2007

We went to the beach last weekend, to Port Dickson. It was so absolutely gorgeous that the pictures turned out like post cards.

For once we saw a Malaysian beach that is clean, without the usual litter of plastic bags, tin cans, etc. The water was like a warm bath.

When we got back, salt encrusted, sticky and a little bit pink around the edges, Scoop and Au inspected my shoes, my Tshirt and my shorts with horrified little sniffs.

Once he'd checked it all out, Scoop looked at me and shook his head sadly. He realised I'd been floating about in the water the way I do in the bath. And as far as Scoop is concerned, that's just plain silly!

Here's the beach!


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Review Thursday: Grow Your Own Vegetables

Grow Your Own Vegetables
By Lee Chew Kang
Paperback 219 pages
Marshall Cavendish Editions May 2009
ISBN 9789673035380
Price: RM48 and S$24 before GST

To be a plant in my house is the equivalent of being on death row.  Therefore I look at gardening books with a mix of envy and wonder.  Most books are filled with how-to tips and lots of glossy pics.  This book is quite different.

The author is an agriculturist, and he has several audiences in mind for this book: people who want to grow their own veggies, and students and teachers at universities and colleges.  So the tone is rather academic, and there's lots of info about the ways commercial farms are managed.  It has a practical, textbook type of look. 

The bits I found interesting were the pictures of pests, the discussion about growing pesticide free crops, and the sections on how to use your own urine to help crops along.  It's very much aimed at the local market, so if you are a keen gardener, or want to be, then this one is worth a look.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

9 Things About Au and Target

Whoohoo!  We were tagged by the kitties at the Katnip Lounge for the Versatile Blogger award.

Rule 1. Thank the person who gave it to you.

Thanks Felix, Kona Kitty, Tiny Johnson, The Baby, Maui, Rupert, Sweet Pea, May, Ling, Grayce, Scouty, CC and Salem!

Rule 2. Share 9 things about yourself.

1. Target can curl his tail into a square with three sides.
2. Au has a passion for tandoori chicken this month.
3. Target has won the pillow battle: he gets 2 and I have 1.
4. Au woke me up two nights ago because he wanted me to flush the loo for him - he loves watching the water swirl about.
5. Although I am grumpy when woken up, Au always persuades me to do what he wants.
6. Target is getting brave: he now defends his garden territory with huffs, puffs and growls.
7. Au only likes Target.
8. Target likes the cats who live across the street.
9. Au and Target both have very loud purrs.

Rule 3. Pass this along to 9 other bloggers!

One girl, too many animals
Combat Loaded and Mission Ready
Henry and Rosie
Cats of the Wild Wood
Ginger Jasper
Dennis Diary of Destruction
Eric and Flynn

Monday, June 07, 2010

Monday Writers Craft Online: Writing Adopt Me Notices

When The Star started buying Katz Tales and Dog Talk columns, the editor gave me a little space to highlight pets who need a home.  There have been more than 150 Adopt Me boxes published so far, and I've noticed that the best results come from following a formula.

I've also noticed that when people rescue an animal from the streets, they tend to focus on the change in their charge.  So they write about the broken paws/fleas/starvation etc at great length.  This is a mistake.

Most people want to adopt a healthy pet, not inherit an animal that may be spending all its time in the vets.  If they were in the market for an animal that needs such help, they'd step out of the house and pick one up themselves - it's not like Malaysia isn't full of such sad cases. 

To get good results, consider that most people look at the picture first, and then the text.  BUT they don't read beyond the first few sentences if the message doesn't feel right. 

In order to get the best impression of your charge, put up a great picture showing the pet in action or smiling.  Then keep the information short, to the point, and cheerful. Focus on name, age and character.

SAY: "Harry, aged 6 months, is a lively dog who loves to go on long walks and play frisbee."

DON'T SAY "Harry was left with a broken paw after a hit-and-run car accident..."

Of course you must be open with people who write/call/visit and disclose the animal's history.  However, if the pet is 100% OK, then that's the thing you lead with to gain interest.  The more people you get to show an interest, the better your chance of finding a good match. 

Winning formula: great picture, short text with name, age, and character summary.

I just wish I could write every week and double the adoption boxes available.  There are so many pets out there who need a chance.  Like my two fuzzies: Au was a battered kitten when we got him from Dorothy, an animal lover in Malacca, and Target had been rehabilitated by Naemah, an animal rescuer in Subang Jaya, when he joined our family.  They've brought us so much joy, it's indescribable.  

Friday, June 04, 2010

Living In Malaysia: The Child-Free Question

Anyone who tells you Malaysians are conservative people who don't like to talk about delicate subjects like sex is talking bullshit. Let me tell you why.

It's polite in Malaysia to start conversations with, "Where are you from?" "Are you married?" and "How many kids do you have?"

I have no children. Well, I have furkids, but no furrless kids.

When I tell taxi drivers, business men I interview, and other people I meet I have no kids, they ask, "Why not?"

The first time I was pretty taken aback. I mean, it's a rather personal issue, don't you think?

My pal Sandy who tried and tried but couldn't have kids cried so much when cross examined by a taxi driver about her childless state that he dropped her off and refused to let her pay the fare.

I am child-free (pardon the revolting expression) by choice. When questioned I have tried telling the truth, and ended up by being lectured on my Duty To The Family. Right.

I found the solution when driving in a cab one day. When the driver told me I really should have kids before it's too late (oh yes, he said that without a blush!) I told him that I'd love to have kids but that my husband couldn't have any.

At the mention of male sterility the man froze. I watched the blush wash up his neck and into his face. We drove home in total silence; blissful on my part, horrified and scandalised on his.

Luckily my better half has a wicked sense of humour.

Repost Friday: Road Kill

This originally posted on 20th April 2007

Au on the sofa
It's been boiling hot the last few days and Au has been comatose on the sofa by lunchtime every day.

He's so hot that if you ruffle the fuzz on his tummy, he just looks at you with half an open eye and says mew in a tiny voice. He's not just too hot to finger wrestle, he's too hot to complain in a loud voice.

I've offered him a cooling bath but he just glared at me as if to say, try it if you dare.

Let's hope it rains today!

PS Here he is, doing his best impression of road kill

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Review Thursday: The Malaysian Way Of Life

The Malaysian Way Of Life
Edited by Julian C H Lee
ISBN   978 983 384 5224
Published by Marshall Cavendish Malaysia October 2009
Paperback 192 pages
Price RM34.90/S$17.45 without GST

This collection of articles by various authors discusses all things Malaysian: the obsession with food, changes in Mosque design, the ruthless destruction of Hindu temples, censorship, homophobia, political change, and other popular topics.

This is a snapshot of what people in Malaysia are talking about today.  In 50 years, this will be a valuable resource for historians who want to get a feel for the first decade of the century.  In the meantime, it's interesting to read this collection of opinion pieces - and it's a good book to give to someone who has just started living here.

The three pieces I liked best were Where is the Audience?  An "Anti-Audience" Study of Malay Language Cinema, $#@% mak! The Oil In The Multicultural Machine, and United States and Malaysian Students: Encounters In Modernity.

The first by Gordon Gray gives a lovely sense of time and place, as well as insight into the gap between film makers and audiences.  The second by Yeoh Seng Guan answered all my questions about "dirty words" I hear in Malaysia - and answered them with style!  The third by Patricia Sloane-White that puts groups of students together and examines cultural differences was simply the best study of its kind I've come across in ages.

I also liked Jerome Kugan's comment Poking Fun at Malaysians.  I think it expresses something the weightier articles miss: that sense of irony and fun displayed by so many Malaysians.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Au Speaks Out: Why You Must Not Go Owt Wif Dogs

Here we are, wif me blogging again!

de feemale survunt begged an begged an begged an i sed NO but then she sed dat if i doo, she will make me somefin special. i am thinking maybee ros beef or chikkun tandoori.  or maybe BOTH!

my subjekt today was inspihured by wot happened sunday.  i was in bed, relaksing.  de fur brain was also in bed.  de feemale survunt was all happy about dis.  she petted and petted.  dis was good.
den, suddenlee, she got up and showered (ugh, dese hoomans haf some furry bad habits!) and den she went out.  wen she came bak, she melt of dog!!!!!  yes, she had bin out wif dogs: Abel and Whiskeee.

de feemale came bak all happee and smiling.  dis is a front.  i kan see through dis.

she had a horrible time, i am curtun.  for won fing de survunt was all smellee and had to showur again.  serves hur right.  and LOOK!  dis is a pikture of Abel de dog soaking her frend with watur. bet she had to showur too.

i haf no sympahtee.  dis is what you get when you sohshiolaise wif dogs. you shud stay at home and surve me.  dat is your job.