As I was leaving for London last year, I received a few heartwarming farewell gifts from loved ones. One of them was a list called “The Alphabets of Living Rights” that was brilliantly concocted by a dear friend. It’s a checklist of A-Z of the things I should accomplish during my time here. So far, I have more or less completed 70% of the list, most of which are pretty straightforward, such as eating ice cream in winter (that’s I), embrace your roots in Chinatown (that’s E), sing loudly, smile widely (that’s S), and so on.
What a year it has been!
This is the first time that I’m celebrating my birthday in a different timezone, without my family and without a customary bowl of ‘tang yuen’ as part of the winter solstice celebration because they both always coincide. Instead, I made my way down to Brighton with my friend Jean to join in the annual Burning of the Clocks. It is said that people do it to ward away bad stuff, and this year they also added a tribute to those who have passed on. We couldn’t think of a better way to spend the eve of my birthday.
That was what I said to him before I left for London.
Where do I begin?
How do you write about a man who has written all his life?
To many, he is known as Soo Ewe Jin, editor of The Star and inspiring columnist of “Sunday Starters” who has lifted the spirits of many with his heart-warming articles (and probably the sole reason I still read the local papers).
To me and my cousins, who were brought up in a large extended family of eight aunties and one uncle – he was our one and only Ah Koo.
Hello, from sunny UK! Yes, we’re approaching autumn but it has been rather sunny and warm since I got here. I will write about my time here in the later posts, but I’ve been getting requests from friends and strangers to do a write-up about my talk on scholarship applications, which was organized by Mensa Penang in August. It is the scholarship application season now, so I hope what I’m about to share helps you in your preparation.
“Why Ghent? Actually, where’s Ghent?”
Those were the common questions I would get when I share about our little holiday. I first read about Ghent when I was trying to find a common place to stay when we travel between Bruges and Brussels. I knew those two places are very touristy and my idea was to settle at a quieter area after the hustles and bustles of Paris.
Some online research led me to places like Ghent and Antwerp, with many seasoned travelers vouching for the first. Ghent is situated strategically between Brussels and Bruges, just a half hour train ride between those two and I was particularly intrigued to discover this “hidden gem”.
Nothing prepared us for Paris. Even though we had a scrumptious brunch at Le Pain Quotidien (I will later find out that this delicious chain of pastry cafes originated in Brussels, not Paris) at the St. Pancras Station before we departed for Gare du Nord, the French capital would soon present itself in a way that we will remember for life in a span of four short days.
But first – all aboard the Eurostar!!!
We all have goals. Short term, or long term, they’re in the same to-do list that tells the stories of our lives. One of my short term goals was to bring mom to the UK as she had always wanted to see what life is like in that part of the world (and so did I). Another reason was more personal for me which I won’t divulge here, but let’s just say all those reasons combined with a desperate need for a holiday and the will to part with a chunk of fortune – it was high time we boarded that plane to the land of tea and scones!
It was one of those weekend mornings. For some reason I woke up really early to get my day started, anticipating tons of work to be done before the weekdays commence (yes, I have an odd habit to get most of my stuff sorted out over the weekends instead of doing them on weekdays). I found myself hungry, and headed to Bangsar early in the morning for some breakfast to kick start my day. It was a familiar territory, since I used to go there a lot, and I made my way to the corner coffee shop for a plate of good ol’ wantan mee. Eating in KL can be expensive, and for most parts, boring. I was just craving for something cheap and close to home.
She looks at me from the corner of her eyes, and a smile forms at the edge of her lips. We don’t speak, we don’t make direct eye contact yet – but she knows that I’m just as thrilled to see her. The aroma that permeates the air awakes my senses as I walk quietly behind her and turn on the tap, allowing the sound of water flowing fill the silence. It’s about time, I thought as I wait patiently for her to finish her morning routine. She knows what I need, and she was going to give it to me – hot and bittersweet.
Me: Nat, shall we catch a play on Sunday, 3pm? It’s directed by Jo Kukathas and features Sharifah Amani! And they’re working with Singaporeans on this too.
Ten minutes later…
Me: I’ve bought the tickets!”
Nat: Alright, how much is it?
Me: RM80 per ticket!
Nat: Wow, gee thanks for the heads up, Vern!
Me: So, are you free this Sunday afternoon? There’s a really interesting play going on.