Friday, October 22, 2021

Back in the Kingdom of Wonder.... Third Time's a Charm?


I've exchanged my YG lakeview to the PP river view
I've been putting off writing this blog piece for a while now. For one, about 90% of my time is taken up by work stuff. And then I guess I am still trying to wrap my head around being back in the Kingdom of Wonder. 

(Some of you reading this may not have a context of what happened with me in the past few months but let's just say I'm a little bit more careful with my mental well-being now)

Cambodia, Cambodia...... can you believe this is my third "tour" of the country? Was here way back in 2000 (when it was totally bad-ass cowboy town), and then again in 2008 and then now, after almost 10yrs in Myanmar, I'm back here. For a country with which I generally have no affinity or emotional ties, I'm surprised to find myself back here again and again and again. Not counting the time we both came back for a visit in 2018. 

After breezing through my 14-days of quarantine (TBH, I had enjoyed my quarantine actually. I was like 300% productive and managed to wrap up a lot of work so that I didn't have to drown when I was out of my luxurious jail-time!), I came out discovering for Cambodia, much has changed. But also, some things never changed. Moving from Yangon to Phnom Penh is like doing a 180-degree switch. In Yangon, it was large area, limited living choices. In Phnom Penh, it is small area, unlimited living choices. When I talk about "living choices", I mean stuff like getting groceries, products, access to eateries, amenities, hobby places, good dentist etc, etc... you get my point. For a population of 2.1 million in PP, I just don't get how the hell this small little city needs like a million Starbucks or Cafe Amazon and another million supermarkets and grocery stores. Not to mention malls. Not small ones, large ones! But then again, Cambodia had thrived in terms of tourism, pre-Covid-19. In 2019, the tourism sector had earned an estimated USD 5 billion just from tourism. Of course, all of these came to a devastating halt when the pandemic hit the country. Siem Reap, it seems, is a ghost town now. Prolly the best time to visit if you do not want to be drowned in a sea of hoomans! 

Anyway, I missed most of the strict lockdown that was happening here in PP. During one of its strictest 14-day lockdown, I was conveniently locked up in quarantine anyway. But PM Hun Sen was hell-bent on leaving a great legacy - the kingdom is one of the fastest, behind Singapore, to inoculate her population. Today, as I write this, over 90% of the population had been vaccinated, and as of this week, everything is back to BAU - tourism visa will also start being issued again this coming November, apparently. Quarantine period is now 3-7 days for vaccinated travellers. This is good news for a country whose economy survives on tourism - especially for the hotel and F&B businesses. Me? I was also very lucky and had my vaccination done within 2 weeks out of quarantine. Although I had to travel 4 hours away to Praek Traeng village to get my single dose of J&J vaccine. I didn't get a choice of what vaccine I wanted, but it was also a bit of a last-minute arrangement, and I just had to not think - just get it bloody done. Today, some places expect you to show your vaccination card before you are permitted entry into the vicinity. 

Some of my favourite eateries from back in the day are still here. In particular, one is the local noodle shop owned by two local Chinese sisters, and the other is the best ever coffee in Phnom Penh. I'm glad that they had survived the pandemic. And what's more - they both still recognised us! In fact, the first thing Mr. Bunareath of the Best Coffee in Phnom Penh said to me when he saw me was: "Why are you so thin now??!!" 😄 Of cos, some restaurants didn't make it. Also, some of the F&B businesses in Siem Reap moved over to PP. I can only imagine how crowded and congested the city will be once everything returns to near-normal levels. And I am not looking forward to it. When it comes to food choices for dining in or delivery, one would be spoilt for choices here in PP. I can almost be transported to different countries throughout the day just by eating - I could be having breakfast noodles in a Chinese shop which is amongst a row of shops that all bears Chinese signages, complete with a Chinese chef, owner, staff and Chinese-only menu, with all other customers speaking in that loud and obnoxious Chinese manner - so you really feel like you had entered China...... and then I could be having lunch at a hole-in-the-wall Indonesian restaurant (Warung Bali 😅) situated in a maze of alleyways that transported me back to Ubud, Bali as I explored the alleys and shops there..... maybe dinner at a no-frills Brussels restaurant owned by a Belgian chef with an authentic Belgian menu, where the decor and vibe brought you back to the terrazzo sidewalks of Europe. In a country with such a diverse melting pot of culture, you can find real authentic food from all over the world - including another one of my old favourites - Russian food. Cambodia has always been very foreigner-friendly. The ease with which a foreigner can live here is amazing. I feel as if this is more like Bangkok now, where you can get whatever you need, be it groceries or OTC medication. Back in those days, I usually had to cart things back from Malaysia! 

As soon as I got out of quarantine, I worked on settling into a routine almost the very next day. And a month plus now, my routine had not changed. This is part of my "survival mode", I know. Again, bear in mind, I'm an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person - go Google what problem HSPs face). Hence, need my routines to keep my sanity. MOH sorted out our living arrangements - we had gone to living tiny! We're on long-stay at a hotel, so it's just a room, no kitchen, no extra bedrooms, no nothing. Thanks to the pandemic, the price of long-stay for hotels worked out cheaper than some apartments outside. Not to mention, we don't have to worry about the electricity bills, water bills, internet bills, etc, etc. (coming from Myanmar, you might get a shock with the electricity bills here in Cambodia!). We've both always spoken about "going tiny", and this is our one real test, I guess. I must say, it is working out pretty well. There's a tiny, very tiny refrigerator in the room, and that just means we don't go overboard with our grocery shopping or daily cooking. I bought a multi-cooker, and my God, this multi-cooker is doing wonders. So that's how I still get my meal-prep in without a kitchen! There's not much storage space, so you tend to think twice about buying anything. One of the problems we had in Myanmar was just filling up our living area with more and more things that we thought we needed, but we didn't! Me, I didn't bring a lot of my clothes. So every Monday, it's the same attire, Tuesday, the same, Wednesday, so on, so forth. And repeat the next week. The same goes for my gym attire. I have a planned set for each day! MOH, on the other hand, occupies 2/3 of the wardrobe space. Ugh. Why does he have so many clothes?? And shoes!!  Being in a tiny space also means we've had to adjust certain things because there's no place to avoid each other if you fight! LOL! And worse is when one farts. But we adjusted very well to this. Particularly because there's a pool and a gym - so we're also saving on gym membership fees! Uninterrupted power, water and internet is also good for my mental health. I don't have to worry about how to charge every single device for the day in case the power goes off, I don't want to have to worry about not having internet and hence can't get my work done. I never realised this was, in itself, stressful. 

I also sorted out my fight training which is a 5-min walk away from where we stay. As fate would have it, my Cambodian coach knew my Myanmar coach - Sayar Sai and Phoe Thaw and in fact, when the 2 had a few months training stint in Cambodia, Coach Bora was the one holding pads for Sai. Now, he's holding pads for me! It had been enjoyable. But it's just not the same, you know. Not that Bora is a bad coach. But in Cambodia, everyone is super business-minded. Here, I feel like I am being trained just as a business number. It's an hour means, it's an hour to the dot. And even before the month ends, a "friendly reminder" to pay up! C'mon, I always pay on time, no need to keep reminding me! Not that they don't push you, they do. They train techniques and etc. But I'm still just a business number. Back at Team PT, I was trained like one of their own. And an hour means it's 2 hours at least! They don't talk money first with you (in fact, I know I've been spoilt because the Team PT people had refused to take my money!). Anyhoo... I was hell-bent on doing my fight training and also hell-bent on not embarrassing Sai and Team PT. And sure as hell, I didn't cos some of the other members at the fight club had asked Coach Bora if I was a pro-fighter and Bora had mentioned: "No, she used to train in Myanmar." 👊

Besides fight training, we've also sorted out our yoga session. This has been arguably painful, but the teacher is really good and patient. We both need this sesh, even if only once per week. Other than that, I don't spend much time training outdoors because the stuffiness of the air here is really next-level. I had forgotten how humid and stuffy it gets in Phnom Penh, even during the rainy season. But the rain here is not like in Myanmar, where it rains non-stop, day after day after day. Here is much like my temper - blow-up storm, and then 5 minutes later, it's done. And the sun shines again. LOLOL! 

I've been eating a bit more, managed to gain back 2kgs, hopefully, muscle weight and not all that sugar I've been consuming, and my sleeping is a bit sounder - though I still wake up at an ungodly hour. But I try to lie there in bed till it is actually time to wake up. However, my sleep "aggression" hasn't quite gone away. It's a little worrisome for MOH, who has to sleep next to me. He has caught me on video many nights where I am pounding his side of the bed with my "lethal" elbows and hammer punches. 😅 What he tries to do now is get the aggression out of me first, calm me down before he climbs into sleep. Honestly, if all these were not recorded, I would not have believed a single word he's saying. I have absolutely zero recall of such incidents the next morning! I guess, mentally, I probably still have a lot of anger in me, I dunno. But whatever it is, he can sleep either with his eyes open, or he can wear a helmet. His choice. LOL! 

I said that some things never changed in Cambodia, right? We can find skyscrapers and modern development everywhere, but sometimes, I still feel that the people here just see a bloody $$$ sign on your forehead. There are a million apps for booking your rides. One afternoon, I placed one on of these apps. I can see there were about five tuk-tuks hanging around, but none refused to take my ride (which was at the cost of USD 1). So, I walked towards where all these tuk-tuks were hanging out, thinking I'd do the manual thing by booking directly with the driver. Guess what? They asked me for USD 5 !! Do I look like I am stupid or what? So this remains the same for me - they want quick wins, easy wins. Nevermind that the tuk-tuk sitting around not taking any passengers = zero income. They just want one ride that will rake in their entire day's income. All the tourists who used to pay such kind of sum are all gone now, and they still sit around thinking I'm willing to part with my USD 5 for no good reason. Sigh. And also - snatch-thieves are rampant here. No handbags, no funny sling-bags, be aware of your surrounding - pretty unnerving having to remember these after not needing to for so, so, so long. 

After nearly 10yrs in Myanmar, returning to Cambodia - there's one thing that I am also not used to - in Myanmar, your local colleagues or new colleagues or friends or whoever, would ensure they took care of you cos you're a foreigner in their land, and they know it might be a little difficult to navigate the peculiarities of Myanmar. In Cambodia, even though you travelled the 4-hour plus with the locals to a strange province, they really just leave you absolutely alone. Stopping at a halfway point for food and toilet break during my trip for vaccination, the locals really couldn't care less whether I ate or not. They weren't unfriendly, don't get me wrong. But if it was Myanmar, the first thing they'd do before they even went to place their orders would have been to check if that idiot foreigner wanted something to eat, or if he or she was comfortable. They'd already tell you where's the toilet, etc, etc and asked if you're hot, do you need water, drink, what do you need, please tell me. That's one thing that is starkly different between the Cambodians and the Myanmar people. So strange right, when I first arrived in Myanmar, I was not used to this over-hospitality. Now coming back to Cambodia, I find they lack warmth. Some in the hospitality industry here are warm and friendly. BUT - I cannot shake off the feeling that I am still just a business number. Because they're always asking you to rate them on Google, please. Why only 4 stars? Why not 5 stars? (I never give anyone a 5-star rating! Nobody is perfect!) And don't even get me started with the language. Almost every time, if I needed to speak to a local Cambodian who couldn't speak much English, I would end up speaking in Burmese! Some of the Khmer words are now coming back to my brains. Slowly, I guess, I'll pick up the language again.  

There are a lot of Chinese in this country - and I don't mean Chinese like myself. So, I try to avoid them. But sometimes, they're unavoidable. There is one Chinese couple living on the same floor as us and is constantly fighting and banging doors everyday and throwing things. I'm like, here we go again. Don't they ever feel embarrassed or that they could be disturbing others? Anyway, MOH and myself have basically got nicknames for a lot of the people who are also doing long-stays in this hotel. There's the "Shameless Fatt Kuok Lou" because he's always "diu diu feng" with his little birdie hanging out by the poolside. There's Mr. Tsunami, who, when he swims, creates monster tsunami waves, so it wrecks up all my timing and shit and for whatever reason, loves to swim like right NEXT to me, almost touching shoulders! WTF. (in order to avoid him, I swim earlier!!). There's Alice in Wonderland. There's Tony "Ton-Ton". There's Astro Boy. So many. Ya, that's what we do at the poolside after we finish our training session. LOL! In terms of foreigners, again, please don't get me wrong, but the type of expats here hasn't changed since back in the day. A friend and I were also talking about this. And also a topic I discussed with MOH as well. Let's put it this way - expats who chose to live in Myanmar understands a lot of the "luxury living choices" they have to give up in order to live there and for those who really choose to do so means they want to, and they want to do something back for Myanmar. Here, it is easy-living for expats. It's like a Bangkok or a Singapore, with less restrictions. In terms of governance and sustainability - I better not even say in case I get hauled-ass! I even feel that the locals are less empowered. I mean, the general line for expat business owners is: "If you want to get something done well, you better do it yourself." And this I am directly quoting an expat business owner here. There's an overall sense that the locals here have less hunger in terms of wanting to learn. Digital marketing-wise, believe it or not - Myanmar was years ahead of Cambodia despite the head-start this country had. Unfortunately, Myanmar is now reduced to being close to a failed state. The hardwork of everyone put in during the last 10yrs all gone down the f***ing drain. 

As mentioned earlier, I've been spending almost my entire day working. My training usually finishes by 8am and by 9am, I'm ready to start my day. I can now call myself a digital nomad, although I've been working remotely since even before smartphones happened. I don't even know why it is a fad now. The moment mobile phones, lap tops and WiFi happened - it already meant that you are mobilized to work anywhere! Anyway, yeah, it's been good to keep myself so busy with work. But the one thing I don't enjoy is all that video calls. Sometimes, it annoys me greatly. Mobile working is not about making video calls after video calls. That's not productive. But anyway, that's not the point I was talking about. Point is, I trust myself as a digital nomad because I'm so f***ing disciplined. I also see a bit of an opportunity in the near future for me to travel away for a bit. A lot of countries and cities are offering digital nomad visas now, and once travel resumes back to near normal, this might be my next course of action. 

For now, I still don't have plans. I literally wake up everyday, train and my brains process only the workday or the work week ahead of me. I also have very little motivation to meet people or talk to people. In fact, at the hotel where we stay, I've found a backdoor entrance / exit and I use that just to avoid the front desk, so I don't have to say "hello" to hoomans. The hotel staff are very nice, polite and accommodating to requests - though I've literally made none since I've been here. But it's Cambodia, where tipping is a culture and when you tip, you get better service. That's just that. Business number, remember? I've caught up with some friends, especially with my previous team here, the two Cambodian boys who are literally old men now (OMG, I don't even believe it myself! The years, just flew by, eh!) but that's about as much as I am willing to do. Mostly also not motivated to meet people or make new friends because I don't want to have to talk about Myanmar. If I don't want to talk about Myanmar, 10 years of my life is gone so, I'd rather not talk to anyone, really. Aside from my video calls, unavoidable greetings with some of the hotel staff or ordering coffee from my favourite roadside coffee stall, I generally don't interact with hoomans. I've been keeping up the calls with my girls, Sharm and Anu though. It's just nice to be able to talk to them, even if it was for 2 minutes. These days, we're all bit busy, but we keep the group chat somewhat alive. I am always grateful that they were there for me when I needed them to be. 

I guess, right now, I'm more focused on me for now. I am also not particularly gung-ho about exploring PP. I mean, been there, done that - three times now, so if I see it, I see it. If I don't, I don't. That's in general, how I feel at the moment about PP. There is one thing I have yet to do - and that is to visit the kids from Happy Tree. Used to spend every single weekend with them and the last time I met them was in 2018. They're all grown up. Now that things are all opened up, it'll be time to make that trip to go see them again. 

In my head, PP is a stop-gap. But I don't know what is next. I'm thankful to be alive and healthy after a bit of an ordeal in Myanmar. So, the only thing to do is keep my focus on my work and take it day-by-day. 

Sunday, August 8, 2021

184 Days of Coupvid ... A Denial Of Mental Duress and Escaping Myanmar

That last sunset in Y-town

I had been avoiding piecing my thoughts together for a long time now. Frankly, I don't really know where to start. Where do I start? 

Let's start with the 184 days of Coupvid. And there is a lot to process, especially in the last 4 months, and I had not really allowed space or time for the processing. This had started chipping away at my mental and emotional strength, and I had hit an all-time low in the final month. 

So, really, where do I start? 

Maybe I start with admitting the fact that I am in a state of mental and emotional distress, which I cannot even begin to really understand yet, I guess. I've never really been through this nor experienced any of this in my life. At times, I questioned why I was hitting an all-time low mentally and emotionally? I am blessed with the privilege of "having." Don't get me wrong, it's not that I am not thankful for my blessings. I am. Everyday. I have my health intact, I have food, bed, shelter, my loved ones are all safe and well. That is one reason why, at first, I couldn't fathom why was it I had hit a mental low. How could this even be possible? 

Looking back, I remember a lot of anger when the whole coup took place and turned ugly for the people in Myanmar. I guess I need to understand myself as a human being. Even as a kid, when I saw injustice, when I saw a poor person with no food, when I saw an elderly person with no family, my heart crumbles. Even as a kid, I've hated the sight of suffering. I remember once when I was 8yrs old, and my family went to make a donation at an old folks' home. One of them had missed the lunch bell and was crying that she was hungry. I ran and hid and cried. I couldn't bear someone so old and frail and hungry at that with no loved ones next to them. This is, in essence - who I am. I wear my emotions on my sleeves. I would rather hide behind my Enid Blytons than read the news because the world was just one big hoolabaloo drama. Of course, as I grew up and I matured, I learned to control these better and better. 

One Thing After The Other 

 I would say the real downhill started from the mass massacre on Army's Day in March. Over 800 killed in one single day, and images and videos were floating about social media. How could anyone witness this and not feel anger? To be right smack in the middle of it, to have to keep quiet about it, to know you have people you cared for on the ground, to go insanely crazy hunting down those exact people because you desperately needed to know that they were safe. The worse part is - there was literally not much that I could do. Short of throwing myself in front of a rifle. That day, I remembered that we were at the gym. My first breakdown was on this day. I went to the toilet and cried. And then washed my face and came back out pretending everything was ok. I had not mentioned this episode at all.... until now. 

It wasn't just witnessing these on social media. On Black Wednesday, shit went down near my apartment. I happened to be on the way out. The smell of tear gas in the air and those fucktards destroying cars and barricades and properties along the road. I did whip out my video and caught 8secs of one of them pointing a rifle in my direction and fired a shot. Well, you would all think that the first reaction was to run and hide. No. The first thing that happened automatically was for my legs to turn into jelly. I think it was a good 10secs before I jumped behind a car, and that was because I heard people shouting at me to do so. (Pretty sure my Mom and Dad would be in shock if they found out about this!). MOH said I cannot go to Syria if that was the way my legs behaved. There were two other instances where my stupid legs turned into jelly when it was supposed to run - one was when a bomb exploded next to our apartment carpark just as I alighted from the car. The second one was when I was stopped by a bloody fucktard with a gun at a checkpoint. These damn legs, I dunno why I train them so hard for them to become jelly at crucial moments. 

The massacres continued on and on. And then the revolutionaries started regrouping and fighting back. Intermittent bombings and shoot-outs that escalated. Youngsters taking up armed training and going into the jungle. Some of them, my students. Again, how heartbreaking it was to know that this was their solution. That I had lost contact with ALL of them. I had no way of knowing if they had survived or were they out or what. Let me make it clear that I genuinely cared for and loved my students. Once again, nothing I could do but to pray. 

Meanwhile, I buried myself with work despite the mobile data blackout. MOH and I went to leech the WiFi at the gym at Melia Yangon. This was where we stationed ourselves every day for work. Instead of Enid Blytons, I now hid behind my workload. Work kept me busy and kept my brains busy. Every single new project, I raised my hands. At the climate action job (which Day 1 coincided with the first day of the damn coup), I took on every new project possible. I worked on eBooks, eReports, editorials, editorial planning, etc. My boss, T said I had raised the bar for speed of eBook production so high that nobody could ever reach up to that. 

Then my MMA fight gym got bombed, and my beloved fight coaches disappeared. Well, one was bombed and hospitalised and is now in prison, another arrested, and the rest are .... in hiding somewhere. The one place where I could say I was the happiest training. Gone. Poof. Just like that. In the morning, I was there training, and that night itself, it was bombed. No chance to say proper goodbyes or whatever. Just poof, gone. These were literally brothers who had my corner. 

But I continued training on my own. Punching sandbags, whatever. My morning habit and routine were really what kept me up and starting on my feet each day. For someone who was so planned, so organised, and so routined, (did you know that highly sensitive people [HSP] thrived when they followed a strict routine? And what's funny is that they do not like structures set by others. Only their own! Me in a nutshell) the repetition of changing routines over and over again since the first wave of Covid-19 - lockdown, open, lockdown, open.... must've also silently taken its toll on my brains. At that time, I was so proud of myself for being so "agile" and changing with what needed to be changed. Couldn't even hear my brains silently screaming away. Maybe I did, but I told myself to suck it up. The world is in an emergency. I kept up my usual bitch-mode on and told myself over and over again, suck it up. Gotta keep my head low and gotta do my work. Outwardly, I displayed positivity. In group calls, I still made jokes like, "last one to arrive buys drinks when we ever get a chance to meet again!" 

Then the surprise news of MOH getting a job offer in Cambodia and would be leaving in 2 weeks. I took it in my stride and just thought that we all needed to do what we all needed to do. But I guess the first cracker was really this move. We never spoke much about it. After he left, I was obviously expected to join him. Obviously, no one was encouraging me to be in this "don't-know-what-will-happen-next" place alone. After the first two weeks apart, we started fighting. It was unpleasant, to say the least. Everything was so vague and unclear, and it just threw me off. I realized now it was because we were not aligned - unlike when we both left Cambodia back in 2012. We had our first real communication breakdown as husband and wife. During the fights, I realised in the past year or so, we had totally really been "together but apart." We lacked communicating our thoughts or feelings of the whole fucked-up situation. I refused to leave, and he wanted me to get my ass over as soon as possible. How could I leave when none of the people in Myanmar that I cared about was ok?

On top of that, the SoyAi boy that was arrested (for no good reason except to be standing in line waiting for a stupid bank token) still had to go to court every two weeks. Apparently, that's just how it works here. They have all the tools to make life as difficult for you as possible. Every two weeks, bribe money had to be paid. Htet Shine reassured me that he was taking care of it and was still trying hard for the SoyAi business. In the end, I told MOH, end of July. End of conversation. I felt like a coward for leaving. I felt like all of my privileges were used to keep myself safe. Trust me, it was not a nice feeling at all. 

Meanwhile, I continued to bury myself in my work. But signs were showing that I was cracking. Yet, I was in denial. T mentioned my careless proofreading during one of our weekly one-on-one meetings. I noted it and blamed my poor eyesight. Ugh. I buried myself deeper with work and used up extra energy to ensure I took care of that "problem." Another day, I uploaded the wrong content onto the wrong platform. Can one even imagine - someone who's always got her shit together for work can make such a terrible blunder? I blamed it on the digital tool instead. I spent extra hours and energy to ensure I got things under control. But there would be days where I had, for example, done a full copy-editing and had no recollection that I had done it. Alarm bells were dinging. But I ignored them. I was telling myself, I've got this! 

Fear Of Arrest 

In this place of "don't-know-what-will-happen-next," where nothing made sense, the idiotic fucktards will always come up with something to curb the rising revolution. As we all know by now, the banking system and economy are at the brink of collapse (or maybe it already has, with more than ten international businesses pulling out of the country). Well, I, for one, had no bank account whatsoever here. My cash was literally under the mattress! And then those fucktards announced that it was illegal to hold over USD10k in cash, and by doing so, it means you are part of the revolution, yada-yada-yada.... 
So when I decided that I would leave, I had a huge problem - I couldn't risk carrying all my hard-earned cash with me to the airport. 

Worse of all, the fucktards also announced that all airlines must provide the flight manifest 10-days prior to flight departure. This was what everyone assumed to be a background check of passengers so that they could make their arrests. People who made donations were high on the target list. So you can imagine that my fear wasn't unfounded. On top of that, I was also in fear of some possibly incriminating SMS-es sent to my fight coaches at the start of the coup. They were on the frontlines of the revolution. 

Digital surveillance was also brought up a few notches. I no longer posted on social media. When I did, it was just about my training or some random shit like song lyrics just so to bury the previously vocal posts to the bottom. 

I was literally worried and frightful of being arrested. It killed my brain cells trying to think what I could do with my cash in hand. Nobody outside Myanmar would understand this issue or the banking system's collapse. Just as my Papa said: "It doesn't make sense!". I know nothing makes sense. It is what it is. I have no way myself to make sense of it either. It killed my brain cells worrying about being arrested at the airport. This fear - this was probably just a portion of what the Myanmar people were going through. Meanwhile, the fucking CIMB bank in Malaysia was annoying AF and offered absolutely zero help. On top of that, gave me more trouble with my accounts. I wanted to literally punch them in their faces. The next time I get a chance to see them face-to-face, I would. 

Did I already mention that I couldn't sleep at nights? For many, many months at this point. Looking back, I suppose, it was my sleep-talking that MOH recorded nightly that should've been another alarm bell. I shared mostly the funny ones. But in between those, there were many aggressive and angry ones of me killing some fucktards. Anyway, despite insomnia, my morning routine must get done. Otherwise, I felt I might spiral downwards out of control. 

As an introvert, I didn't want to see people anyway. I didn't want to put on a mask of positivity and that everything was ok. On the occasion where I did catch up with a friend or two here and there, it literally drained me as I needed to put on such a tough pretend front for a few hours! I also didn't feel right about reaching out to anyone. I mean, hey, grow up in an Asian household, and you would know that one was always brought up to be "strong." Stiffen that upper lip up, and don't stress about it. In Chinese, we have a saying: "Even if the sky fell down, just treat it as a blanket and wrap yourself warmly with it." Not being able to deal with struggles and stress is a sign of weakness. Hence my denial that I was hitting a mental rock bottom. At work, I kept up my gangsta-bitch mode. 

Strange Spookiness

After MOH left, I took to sleeping out in the living room on the sofa bed. That lets me hear of any emergencies, if at all. About 2 weeks after he left, one night, I heard knocking on the iron grill of the window. At first, I thought I was dreaming. But it was loud and clear. Windows were all shut, with no wind; hence I couldn't really rationalise the sound. But I didn't wanna think too much about it. Because I still had to live there! 

Then, there was this one night where I had drifted to sleep, and all of a sudden, I was woken up by something tapping hard on the armrest of the sofa bed that I was sleeping on. I kept my eyes shut although I was awake, and the tapping continued. I was like, you've gotta be kidding me. I chanted my prayers all night long. 

I was beginning to think that I was going a little insane due to my insomnia. I tried every possible way to rationalise the knocking and the tapping. I let my brains think that perhaps it was the wind or I was actually really dreaming. 

And then, yet another night, to confirm all of my fears,..... in the middle of my fitful sleep, I heard a loud effing crash. I jumped up and switched on my torchlight, wondering what the hell crashed like that. To my horror, it was the chair from my working table. It had fallen over backwards onto the floor. Now this, this I absolutely had no explanation whatsoever. A 4-legged chair that I had pushed in properly after use just fell backwards like that. I didn't get out of the sofa bed. I closed my eyes, chanted my prayers, and I hoped to God that maybe I was actually dreaming. Maybe the chair will be in its rightful position the next morning. No such luck. Next morning, I got up, and the chair was literally still on the floor, on its back in all its glory. I picked it up. And then I found myself negotiating. I said, "Look here, I have to live here, so please don't disturb me, and I won't disturb you." 

There was one more night of knocking - this time at the alley door that led to the kitchen. Once again, no wind, no nothing. My mental health was deteriorating, and I wasn't sleeping well, and ugh - my weight. If I had been on a weight-loss journey, this would have been one good news. But I wasn't. I ate; it wasn't that I wasn't eating. In fact, I even started eating carbs, drinking alcohol, although on the weekdays, I still generally tried to eat decently clean. But I was losing weight. Before Covid-19, I was 53kgs, ripped AF with popping abs that looked like chocolate bars. Day 184 of the Coupvid, I was at 44kgs, still ripped, though. Can't even qualify for minimum fighting weight for MMA! I couldn't understand this, but I reckoned the mental duress and emotional stress contributed to this. Granted, I didn't have a big appetite, but I ate. Because I still wanted to get up and train like a beast. Who knew straight-up mental duress would equal weight loss! 

I had also started speaking to my grandparents. I just thought, maybe it helped that I had "people" on the other side. Besides my prayers, I spoke to them. I asked them to please look out for me, you know. Ah Por, Por Por, Kung Kung, Ah Kung, please look out for me. 

The Mother Of All Shit Show 

The bombings and shootings continued. Sometimes, I can hear the bombs from my place. Sometimes, I don't know if I'd roll over one by accident and be collateral damage. But it got to a point where I was also angered by it. It's like one fucking small bomb here and one fucking small bomb there isn't gonna do no shit, you fools. There's no plan, no strategy whatsoever. When will this end??? 

And just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, it did. 

Covid-19 third wave struck with the Delta variant. And all of a sudden, the days turned dark as hell. 
People were dying left, right and centre. Every five minutes, you could hear sirens. How ironic that there was a time ambulances were shot at, now they were allowed to transport the dying to the hospitals. However, with hundreds of doctors arrested for taking part in the protest movement, hundreds more in hiding, and even hundreds more vowing never to work under the boots of the tyrants, the medical system had already collapsed. 

Suddenly, Covid-19 was staring everyone in their faces. Social media became an obituary. Up until now, I can still hear the sirens in my head. And the stench of death for some reason, I am not sure if I am imagining it or what, but I can smell the stench of death. People I knew started falling one by one by one. Everyone was losing their loved ones. It was very, very dark days. For someone hyper-sensitive like me, it was too much for me to take. I stopped looking at social media. 

I had begun to lose more of my shit. Literally. I lost my computer pen, I lost my watch. Those who know me would know that I'm not someone who loses things. The TIMEX watch I had with me since my first triathlon race more than 10yrs ago would tell you I don't lose stuff. Thankfully, these were found again by the gym staff - I was still camping out there to work using the WiFi. Also to avoid the goddamn power cuts. The only setback of not being home is having to travel back before curfew. (I once got carried away with working, I totally missed the curfew hours. It was a very tensed and extremely stressful journey to get home for me that night. Every road was blocked!) 

My students and friends alike were telling me to get out and get out now. They were adamant. In fact, a few of them told me that worrying about me is stressful for them! Since when did I become a burden?? Even Htet Shine was telling me to leave if I could. I told them there was no need to worry about me. I am fine. But I finally made the decision to change to an earlier flight. First, a decision to leave. And then a decision to go earlier. It was grating me. And then Singapore decided to close its borders, and my flight was cancelled. It was a stressful, extremely stressful period of trying to sort out another flight. Seemed like the whole world was trying to get out too, and there were no flights available till August. 

The night the flight was cancelled, MOH and I had another fight. He said, "I don't want to blame anything or anyone, but I told you to leave earlier." That cut. It really wasn't like I didn't want to leave because the air here was fresher. I refused to speak to him after that, and at this point, I knew I had hit an all-time lowest of low - both emotionally and mentally. I told him I no longer had the mental capacity to brain what he said or whatever. And no mental capacity to make him understand anything anymore. I closed up and clamped up.  

While I could stop myself from looking at news and social media, unfortunately, I couldn't for my work here in Myanmar. Colleagues were falling left, right, centre. The manpower resources were crippled. In the BCP meetings, I could see the leadership teams crumbling in pain as they lost their staff or when staff's families were affected. Someone was losing someone every day. As one of them rightfully put it - "This is not what we had been trained to do. We are now fighting to save lives." Damn right. The internal communications work I needed to do was stretching my limits. I knew I was no doctor. Not even a nurse. My solution for a flu was to do burpees. It was frightening and depressing. There was one instance where we had managed to get an O2 concentrator to a colleague. However, there was a power cut because it's Myanmar, and due to that, she didn't survive. I was put on the task force for counselling of staff members who were grieving. I really didn't think I had the mental capacity to do this. But I didn't want to be a baby - everyone was fighting to put out the shit fire. This task completely drained me. I still got my work done as well as I could. I saw my team members too, were losing their marbles, handing in shoddy work filled with mistakes. And when they did, I told them I'd cover for them and forced them to take an hour's break to get their shit together. I don't know why I never told myself this. I should've done this for myself. 

On top of all that, the fucktards continued their nonsense. While people were dying due to lack of oxygen, they closed oxygen plants or arrested people waiting in line for oxygen. And they issued another ruling which made it illegal for any private hospitals to take in Covid-19 patients - even though they had no resources to care for any patients. How can anyone not be affected by news like this? I secretly wished I wasn't in those meetings. It angered me because I was helpless. The sheer injustice, the impunity, the sheer INHUMANE nature of the fucktards really, really angered me. I wanted to shoot them all, like seriously! But nobody could do anything! We wanted to do a CSR donation drive to bring food to people affected economically by this whole shit show, similar to the White Flag campaign in Malaysia. People were starting to put up white flags/yellow flags as a call for dire help needed. This was also hampered because the fucktards were forcing people to remove the damn flags from their homes. As a large organisation, we also couldn't take the added risks of going against the fucktards. Due to a collapsed healthcare system, organisations had to look at providing their own quarantine centres. Our efforts were also hampered for reasons I won't even speak about. So tell me - how can anyone not be affected by these? When you think you could be at least useful, and then you're not. Just angry and helpless.  

After one of these meetings, I had another breakdown. I literally turned to the skies and cried out to my grandparents. Are they looking out for me? I was so desperate I even pulled out my "good granddaughter card." I had been, I had always been the most filial granddaughter to them all. I know that. But I never expected that I would play this card ever in my life. 


The fucktards, for some reason, declared a week-long public holiday which was extended and extended instead of calling it a lockdown. 

One morning, as I was leaving my apartment, I saw my neighbour outside her apartment, moaning and crying in pain. When she saw me, she hurriedly went into her apartment. When I got back that evening, the lift was not in service, and I could smell bleach. Immediately I knew we had positive cases in our building. MOH told me to get my ass out of there and go check-in to the hotel. I had zero sleep that night. I could no longer smile even. Energy levels were low, everything was at an all-time low. I did still continue my morning routine. I needed that. But my brain couldn't think of proper programming for my training. I repeated each workout every day so that the brain didn't need to think too much. Just get it done. 

I did check-in to the hotel. Just as well cos otherwise, I wouldn't have access to the gym. The gym was only accessible to in-house guests, and literally, no one uses, it so I'm good. Anyway, I had no appetite, and everything tasted bland. But I ate anyway. I shoved food down my throat because I needed to keep alive. The Melia team, though, for whatever reasons, was hell-bent on giving me huge ass portions of food. And because I didn't want to waste it, I gobbled them up. I had to repeatedly tell them I couldn't finish that much food, so please downgrade the size. I needed only enough food to keep me healthy and fit. 

On another morning, I was finishing my training with my usual swim. And I think I had an anxiety attack right in the water. My chest suddenly constricted, and I couldn't breathe, and I thought I was drowning. In fact, in my head, I thought I had the virus. For the first time ever, I had to stop midway through my swim to calm myself the fuck down. I didn't know what it was, but I knew it was time to admit I had issues. After I calmed myself down and started breathing normally again, I finished up whatever distance I had set out to do. I must finish, be it training or work. Otherwise, I won't even know how to explain the lowest of low feelings if I don't finish. 

By divine intervention or what, I don't know. But that same morning, after four mornings of pretty meh coffee from the breakfast crew at the hotel (all restaurants were closed and they only delivered food to your room), they must've realized I was staying in that room because they brought me mocha - in the exact perfect way which I usually ordered my mocha! I didn't even ask or complain about anything. I didn't think it was right to complain about anything during these times. But someone noticed it was me in room 1721, and someone remembered how I like my mocha. I literally cried. Because these were Myanmar people, struggling with their own shit as their country crumbled to the ground. Yet, they remembered something as insignificant as a guest liking their mocha a certain way. But that mocha made my day. And every day after throughout my stay. Something so small, but I would never imagine it would hold me up further. 

Again, when I mentioned divine intervention, it was also during this day that I watched the episode of Masterchef Australia where Brent Draper quit halfway from the competition because he needed to "sort himself out." He was doing so well too, especially in the Nigella challenge. And I finally realized it was ok to be not ok. I finally got over my pride and accepted that sometimes, we just can't deal with so much shit, you know. In fact, in one of her calls, my BFF, Sharm, told me, "the world around you may be collapsing, but you need not collapse along with it." A breakdown could happen to the best of anyone. It's not about being strong or being weak. It's acknowledging and healing. Sometimes, it is your "strongest" friend who might need checking in with. While I had pulled on the brakes for biting off more than I could chew at work, I wouldn't stop working. Obviously, my overly ambitious target of producing 2 eBooks every month wasn't realistic. 

Speaking of my best friend calling, well, MOH had put her up for the task since I refused to speak to him. He asked her to keep my spirits high till I leave Myanmar. (Ya, he thought it'd be a secret, but we gals got no secrets between us!) And Sharm and Anu both did, and Sharm made it a point to call every single evening. One good thing that came out of this was making us realise why we took it for granted and only called when we were in trouble? We should catch up for the fun of it, really. We've all let our lives and troubles get in between. We didn't wanna "impose." But we are supposed to impose! That's what friends are for! Nevertheless, I am so thankful to them for propping me up till now. 

Final Hurdles 

So it was, the entire floor of my apartment building was infected with Covid-19. To err on the safe side, I continued staying on at Melia. I guess, in a way, I was practising for my upcoming quarantine period. 
My insomnia continued as the impending travel stress loomed. There was the worry of borders closing. There was the worry of arrests. There was the worry of testing positive. It was just one helluva nightmare final stretch. 

One other thing that MOH did was to ask one of my students to help me with all the travelling and Covid-19 testing arrangements. Khant, a boy I've seen grown from nothing to something, one with no knowledge of marketing to one now heading up a team and running a business (I would like to use the word "thriving," but unfortunately, the time is not now to say that). A boy who turned the tables on me, and instead of me being the adult, he was the one taking care of me with "Do you have food? I'm sending an oximeter your way. You need vitamins? I can get you vitamins. What do you need? DO NOT come in contact with anyone! Must you still go to the gym??!!" And amidst all of these, he had sick family members to take care of at the same time. Somehow, I guess in my past life, I had done things right. 

Travelling during the Covid-19 period was no easy feat (and neither was it cheap). I had booked the PCR Fit-To-Fly test with the International SOS, and they scheduled a teleconsultation session the day before the testing. Let me tell you that doctor, I want to shoot him now thinking about it. He was of absolute zero consolation, only all about covering asses. He told me that the tests will pick out any exposure in the past 3 months and that testing could also be false positive. WTF. Exactly what I needed. NOT. Again, my brain went into a meltdown. After all that preparation and crazy stress to get a flight, to be tested positive would be quite shit. I couldn't keep calm. A million scenarios played in my head. In the end, Khant and I decided that we would get a second test just to be sure. 

Morning of the test, which I did at home, the doctor or nurse, I don't know, from ISOS was late. And they didn't seem like they knew what they were doing. Seriously. My confidence in them just went down even further. After that, I went all the way out to the Yangon Molecular Lab to get a second PCR test. I've never had my nose and throat poked at so many times in my life. 

Both my tests turned up negative. See? This was why I wanted to shoot that doctor. Maybe his message was in good faith, but his delivery lacked empathy. This was Monday, the day before I was due to fly. I worked half of the day and learned that the fucktards had announced a new government and that they would continue to rule until 2023. And then the Central Bank had announced the ban or the new regulation on hiring foreigners and all these ridiculous other restrictions. So sad for this country. It was crumbling further down every minute. Literally, it was watching what you helped build come falling apart. 

And then a new stress cropped up. My flight was at 7am, which meant I had to be at the airport by 4am to be on the safe side, as I didn't think travelling these days meant you could rock up to the airport one hour before flight time anymore. 4am arrival meant that I would have to leave the apartment before that, which would mean I would be on the road during curfew hours. FML. My Papa and my Godma even suggested going to the police station to request a travel permit - like, ok, I cannot blame them because this might be a solution anywhere else in the world. But just not here. "Doesn't make sense", I know. Anyway, after a few more scenarios with Khant, we decided that we would only leave at 4am just to avoid the curfew hours. 

I didn't say my goodbyes to anyone. At this point, I was on full robot-mode. I only wanted to get through my impending travel ordeal. It was as if my body was on survival mode and instinctively switched me to robot-mode with only one focus. But that night, I did send a message to my brother. It was just in case there's a possibility of any shit going down that he's gonna be the one taking care of Mama and Papa, and I told him I love him and that I think he was a fantastic father to his boys. 

20-Hours Ordeal At The Height Of A Pandemic 

We actually left the house around 3.45am. Httoo and Mie Mie came to pick me up, whereas Khant and Nyi headed straight to the airport. They had actually loaded all my luggage into the car the evening before. It was a tense ride all the way to the airport. However, at the final checkpoint near the airport, we couldn't see where the barriers were due to poor lighting. Httoo stopped the car a little far from the checkpoint, and that meant the fucktard with a gun had to walk to the car. By this time, it was no longer curfew hours, but that fucktard made life difficult. You wouldn't believe what he made us do. He asked us to make a U-turn and come back and stop exactly at where he was standing. I knew Httoo was fuming mad, but she did it anyway because the aim was, after all, to get me to the airport safely. But can you just imagine?? They can do as they wish and at their whim and fancy with no fucking implications or consequences. To think that I could ask them for curfew hours travel permission. I hope they all burn in hell. 

I had to don on a full PPE suit, and believe me, even before I arrived at the check-in counter, I was already drenched in sweat inside that sauna suit. Now, at the check-in counter, MAI had entered my connecting flight details wrongly, and in their system, it showed Emirates, whereas my printed ticket was for Korean Air. And they had the audacity to ask me which was the correct one! OMG. I said I don't care, as long as I can fly. After 30mins of waiting and soaking in my sweat, they finally corrected the system error and checked me and my bags in. My bags were to go all the way to Phnom Penh. I wasn't hopeful, considering what just went down, but I prayed. 

Next stop - immigrations. I don't know if the immigration officer was fucking with me or what. He asked me a lot of questions and even asked to see my old passport even though all my visas and documents and stamps were on the new passport. Everyone that was behind me had already gone past me. After more checking and clicking, he finally stamped approved for me to go through. What ridiculousness, seriously. My heart was pounding. I seriously hope they all burn in hell. I was so drenched in sweat. Thankfully, customs was a breeze. 

After boarding the flight, it was delayed for an hour, so literally, I sat in that flight for an hour and additionally another 5hours of flying time. I could only imagine the virus circling inside the plane. MAI - I didn't know if I could trust their hygiene levels. With the Covid-19, trust nothing and trust no one. Especially when many of the passengers were already not observing proper SOP with their masks. I was mortified. I had taken a bottle of alcohol spray with me and had already used up a quarter of it by this point. 

Then midway through the flight, the dude in front dropped his handphone under his seat. His friend stuck his head right in front of me to look for his phone! You can bet I screamed! "Can you please not come so near to me???!!!!" WTF was he thinking?? And then he asked me to pick up his friend's phone. I was like UGH, touching other people's stuff. I made a grand gesture of spraying my hands after that. I would've sprayed him too, if not for the fact that I needed my alcohol spray to last my journey. 

Upon arrival at Incheon (yes, I flew halfway across the world to get to neighbouring Cambodia. It was the only route in), an airport staff basically waited for me at the airplane door and escorted me halfway through while explaining that I needed to get myself to Terminal 2 to get to my transfer counter. I had to catch two different shuttle trains. The last time I was at Terminal 2 was when we travelled to Gunsan for our triathlon - this was with my fight coaches S and PT where as a team, we placed Top 7 against all the elite athletes from the Korean Triathlon Academy. What a feat! 

Anyway, more issues at the Transfer Desk. They told me that I didn't pay for my extra baggage. Lucky me - I printed every god damn document that needed to be printed. Showed it to them, and ugh, every time someone touches something and hands it back to me, out comes my spray bottle. Actually, even before Covid-19, I had issues with people touching my shit or me touching their stuff. So imagine the kind of ugh levels we are talking about these days. 

Final boarding after a 2hrs+ transit - and once again, only after boarding, it was announced that the flight was going to be delayed by 40mins. OMFG. So dying in my PPE at this point. I changed my mask, but I didn't have an extra PPE so. 

After another 5+ hours of flying, I finally arrived at the Phnom Penh International Airport. The whole arrival process is no longer what we once knew. Upon arrival, there were all these tables with plastic dividers set up. This place was for all your document checks, including your guarantee letters, residential letters, visas, etc. and Fit-to-Fly cert. Again, luckily I had all of these printed out. I don't know what kind of trouble I would be in had I thought digital copies would suffice. 

Immigrations here was a breeze though. Less than 5mins and I was through. But they kept my passport - to be returned only upon completion of quarantine. Straight through to baggage collection. I waited, and waited, and waited, I wasn't holding my breath though. But my luggage - including my bike came through. OMG. So thankful! 

Next, you're directed to another area with doctors and nurses in full PPE garb where the first test was done. More poking of my nose and throat. And then I went straight for the Sokha Hotel table. You see, previously, it all depended on your luck on where you would be assigned to for quarantine. But 2 weeks ago, the Cambodian government allowed for 2 hotels to be pre-booked for quarantine. So, I booked the cheaper one. More checking of documents, and then I boarded the hotel bus. Before that, I discarded my PPE in the bin at the airport. There were 6 others going to Sokha, and 2 of them were late, so I ended up waiting 45mins on the bus. Literally dying by now. It was already 11.30pm. 

When the bus arrived at the hotel, it wasn't the usual reception counter. I guess it must've been some sort of hall that they transformed into quarantine check-in with tables and plastic dividers. More document checking, and here was where the USD2,000 mandatory cash was handed over. OMG the hotel guy checked and checked each bill, and I wanted to tell him, do you think we are in Myanmar? I was so tired by then so I told him to hurry the hell up. 

Letting It All Sink In 

Today is Day 5 of my quarantine. Many of my friends back in Myanmar were surprised to see my IG of my workout done in quarantine. I didn't say my goodbyes. I didn't know what to say anyway. One final conclusion I can make of Myanmar is that while I had no intention of leaving this way, if I truly honestly asked from within my heart, I know 100% that I had not leeched off the country like how I leeched off the WiFi at the gym. I had done the best I could in my 10 years there, and I have to believe that they would work themselves out. 

I'm still trying to process things. But I'm sure my parents are very thankful that I am now safely in Cambodia - I only have one more Covid-test, one final hurdle to get through. Their stoic strength throughout the whole pandemic and then the Coupvid had propped me up. I also didn't particularly want them to worry too much. As it is, Malaysia is already another fucked-up nonsense. I think all these greedy fucktards who are running countries and human beings down the ground should all be burnt in hell in the most horrible way. Anyway, their morning greetings held me up too. Who would ever thought that morning greetings - even if by text made such a world of difference! I think had they panicked, I might have gone under. Papa was always very solutions-oriented, and he'd look for one solution after another at any roadblocks. Sometimes, it can be really overwhelming when he drowns me with his solutions. But then again, it kept my spirits up because it gave me hope. Mama was all about sending positive vibes. All that weekly family chats helped. 

No doubt, my BFFs for the nightly calls. It was about making time for me, not making me just a convenience. I'm grateful that I have friends like these. And of course, to my students who took care of me by way of errands and arrangements and sending me to the airport, ahhh, I don't know what to say. But I do know that you guys have grown and adulting is hard, but you're already doing it, so keep pushing forward. And of course, my climate action team who knew I was finally moving and had me in their prayers every day till I got here, and everyone cheered when I told them I had arrived. They just have no idea that seeing their faces on our weekly video calls every Tuesday had helped propped me up too! Looking back, I cannot even imagine how I managed this workload with curfews, internet blackouts, power cuts and whatever the hell not. Crazy unnecessary stress, that's what. 

I'm thinking now about my grandparents - my Ah Por was pregnant with my Papa during the Japanese occupation. What must she have experienced and gone through? In fact, I don't even know if she gave birth to my Papa in the jungle! She had lived through that and also the war with the communists. And my Por Por was also pregnant when the 1969 racial riots broke out, and they had to run into the jungle to hide. Did they ever go through mental duress? Or as I said, like any typical old-school Asian families, they sucked it up and suppressed their feelings and thoughts? And then went about life as normal in survival mode? When things got better? How I wish I had a chance to speak to them about all of these. 

I also think that I am going to have this anger inside of me for a long, long time. Until a time where I am able to voice out freely all the injustices, see people punished for their horrible actions of hurting others, I will be an angry person. From blatant killing to land grabbing to human trafficking to illegal logging, and at the centre of it - impunity. Maybe I shouldn't live in Asia because freedom of speech is almost non-existent. The blatant corruption, the big powers bullying the helpless, I could go on and on with this list. The world is too crazy, really. 

Many have asked, what are my plans now? I have no plans. I'll take it one day at a time. But I will be working remotely - both jobs, so it does mean that I will have ties to Myanmar. The climate action team had been on my ass for not taking a single day's break from the job since I joined. I told them I needed to work to keep my sanity. But I will learn to take breaks here and there. At least with this climate change and energy transition work, I know I am doing something on my path to saving the world. You cannot take that away nor out of me. I also am full of doubt about ever setting foot in Syria. This was actually a planned trip for April 2020 but then the damn pandemic happened. Now, I'm not sure. Am I strong enough to go there? 

As for the rest - according to what my Papa advised, "After all that hassle, just pray that you are safe and sound in Cambodia." 🙏

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

My 9th Year in Myanmar Right Smack In The Middle Of A Coupvid Situation

This was my first Thingyan in Myanmar. 
Noticed the car no. plate? LOLs 
I wasn't going to do a blogpost as I am thoroughly not in the mood to do so and there's too much going on in my mind to piece proper thoughts together. But then, I didn't want to break the tradition as I had done a blog post for every year's anniversary that I had been in Myanmar. 

So it was, 9 years ago, 19th May 2012, I left  Cambodia, the Kingdom of Wonder and arrived on a rainy evening into Mystical Myanmar. Yup - mystical it had been. In fact, enigmatic may be a more appropriate term for this Golden Land. 

As I sit here reminiscing those early days, I cannot help but crack up as some of life's most frustrating moments had happened here. I guess, it was those lifetime experiences that you get to regale your friends and families with. Let me try to put down some of those moments that is making me LOL right now. Getting into a taxi and for some reason back then, the drivers a) will never switch on the AC, b) at every red light they turn off the engine and c) they think turning on the headlights use up gas! Also remembering some drivers required you to hold on to the door in case it swung open when they take corners. 😅😅😅 Yup, I remember what I called the "Flinstone Taxis" with holes on the floor of cab! There was one stormy night, we got into a taxi, the AC wasn't working, and the windscreens were fogging up. The driver had faulty headlights and faulty windscreen wipers. He was driving (not slowly, mind you) with one hand, while the other was holding a cloth to wipe at the foggy screen. MOH and I just shook our heads in disbelief. 

Speaking of cars and driving, my driving test experience was a ball! Arrival at the office for registration, you can see it was filled floor-to-ceiling with files and papers. How anyone finds anything in that stack is beyond me. Anyway, theory test! We had a translator because everything was in Burmese. He could barely distinguish left and right in English and I mostly had to back-translate things with him just to confirm that we understood the questions correctly. But one question stood out :

"If you were driving down a narrow lane at night and going to turn the corner, what should you do?"
A. Honk 
B. Slow Down The Car 
C. Switch on your lights 

Obviously, we chose B. It could've been A cos that's what they do here. But the correct answer was C!!! So I argued with the agent and said "But it's at night! The lights should already be turned on!!" He just grinned and said the answer was the answer. Anyway, we passed that. On to the Road Driving Test. And surprise!!! It was a Daytona machine!!! Ooooh yeah. Bring it on. Dude manning the machine said just to follow all instructions on the screen. I passed with flying colours man. On my screen, there were not a single car anywhere. Just me driving down a scenic road. LOLOL! After this road test, I could well and truly understand why the drivers in Myanmar drive the way they do. Finally the Parking Test. Firstly, we had to bring our own car. Now, ours was a small car. Know what they did? They readjusted the car parking lot size (they used 4 metal poles) and made it smaller. I was in disbelief. I mean, do parking lots auto-adjust their sizes out there? No! Anyway,.... when it was my turn to do it, MOH said to me "You bang my car, you pay!" So much for the motivation eh? Whatever, so that's how I got my Myanmar drivers' license. 

Other things that cracked me up - first nevermind the lack of high-speed internet. To make a phone call, we had to dial like a hundred times before the call gets through. We used to joke that someone was actually sitting in front of a huge panel, connecting the calls manually and that is why sometimes when we called someone, somehow, the call ended up with someone else! Ordering of gas and water supply to your home - my gas guy was a breeze. You know why? Cos back then, there were few foreigners in Myanmar. All we had to do was call the gas guy and said "Hello! Malaysia! Malaysia!" and he would know exactly where to bring the gas. This worked then because I could hardly speak Burmese except for mingalabar, kyezu tin bar tal and ngai yote thee. LOL! My water boy back then was legit LMAO. The water brand name was "Superman" and without fail, each time he would call me and be like "Hello. I am Superman. I am now outside your door." Or "Hello. I am Superman. You need water?" 😂😂😂 Sadly, Superman closed his shop in 2014. So I no longer had Superman standing at my door! It's an amazing non-existent system that worked, somehow. 

It had always been the kindness and warmth of the Myanmar people that won my heart right from the first day. They were always ready to help. I had witnessed myself, how taxi driver charged me 2,000Ks for my ride, and halfway through, he would donate 1,000Ks to an old beggar. Or this young garbage collector with punk hair, running across a main road just to give a few hundred kyats to a beggar lady. Back then, the simplicity and honesty of the people was just so, so, so..... heartwarming. In our first apartment, one of our neighbours from downstairs, climbed all the way up to the top floor to welcome us, and told us that if we needed anything, she and her daughter were just downstairs. She told us she knew Myanmar was a bit "rough" for foreigners. I also remembered those communal cooking of the Hta Ma Nae - a seasonal traditional delicacy of savoury sticky rice that is usually cooked at the end of the cool season. We had been invited to quite a fair few of these communal activities previously and I had enjoyed myself immensely. Of cos, as the nation developed and leap-frogged, all of these started evaporating away. People became less communal. They had their faces (like many of us in Asia) stuck to their phones when mobile data grew by leaps and bounds with the entrance of new telcos in 2014. And by then, there was just too many foreigners arriving into Myanmar to check in on them. It was no longer a novelty to see a foreigner or interact with one. Systems like the "Malaysia! Malaysia!" above no longer worked. People also became less honest. Days of taxi drivers driving all the way back to look for you to return your phone or camera or whatever you left behind in the taxi were rare now. (happened to MOH before!!) Before, there used to be donation boxes along the roads, filled to the brim and no one touched them. By late 2013, early 2014, these were gone too. That was indeed the price to pay for development. Yet, through it all, I still saw pockets of inspiration from the local people with their kindness and warmth. Of cos, by then, I also had my fair share dealing with greedy ones and bad ones too. Particularly after having to move from one apartment to another for literally the first 5 years!! But literally for the first 2+ years, I somehow didn't think bad people existed in Myanmar! 

Looking back at my own journey in this country, I too had learnt, had grown together with them. From the first day that I consulted at the largest retailer in Myanmar, when the then Marketing Manager told me her story of how she took 10 years to graduate due to the political situation, I had made a promise that I will help her to the best of my abilities and capabilities. I coached her, mentored her, helped her build up the marketing department and the marketing team and eventually saw all her promotions and finally as Marketing Director. Our 8 years of partnership had turned into a grounded and solid friendship, despite all of the face palms and bang-head-on-wall moments. I was seconded to the Group Level after that hence our partnership ended. But she recently told me that it was so hard to find this kind of trust level these days. I miss her and I miss working with her but she is doing well despite all the crazy circumstances. I always loved her for her positivity and optimism. 

The same promise I made to her, I extended to the people of Myanmar. I started a Youth Centre in 2014 after 2 years of spending time at the orphanages and monasteries we supported - and witnessing the evilness of the whole system (which I don't really want to talk about right now) - it is from seeing and hearing all these evil that I decided to start my own Youth Centre. And then we established SoyAi, a social enterprise making tofu and soy milk to self-sustain and to help support the rest of the children for their education and some daily needs. Both the Youth Centre and SoyAi had been the steepest learning curve of my life. It's not that I couldn't make soy milk or tofu or to sell them. It was the whole coaching and mentoring of these youths who had so much baggages and had been placed in a system that was all wrong, that I was unprepared for. The kids from Children of Tomorrow came from northern Myanmar and hence, I understand the ethnic problems and challenges even back then. I had my fair share of fighting the "system" and trying to right the wrongs. But the system failure was far bigger and definitely something beyond me (and even when I reached out to UNICEF, I heard nothing back despite them paying USD90,000 per month for their rental of a military-linked property). I focused instead on empowering the kids and the youths. And well, what a f***ing ride it had been! And I say that with gusto yeah. The Youth Centre was up and running all the way till Covid-19 last year, with computer classes, math, arts, classes - supported by MYME (Myanmar Mobile Education) team of teachers and in-between, some of my students who volunteered. Of course in the earlier days of the Youth Centre and SoyAi, I had many, many friends both local and overseas who helped made it all happen and helped spend time with the kids and the SoyAi boys too. SoyAi is still selling their delicious and nutritious soy milk and tofu, the SoyAi boys survived Covid-19 and they are now trying to survive Coupvid. I continue to order from them particularly for their Feed Myanmar Programme to donate to poor communities every month. Last week, one of the boys got arrested simply because he was standing in line to get a token for the bank so that he could access his cash. As people would know by now, the banking industry here, something that had took 10years to build up is now crashing down right under our noses. Anyway, back to this boy - reason for arrest was for nothing. He wasn't even protesting. Just wanted to access his cash! One of my students introduced a lawyer to me and I paid a hefty sum for his release. Thank Buddha, he was out by that day's afternoon. It was a very stressful ordeal for me and I'm sure it was for him too. But anyway, SoyAi is still striving. This is one succession planning I did well. Htet Shine is a stellar example of an underprivileged youth who worked hard and believed, and therefore had the chance to turn his life around positively. He even managed to graduate in between and invited me and MOH to his graduation ceremony. The rest of the children, wow, some are grown up now. Some are also in fact married with kids! Can you believe it?? I. FEEL. OLD. NOW. But I am thankful that none as far as I know had gone astray. Some have rejoined the army up in the north (not the gomen army ya), some are in mining, some had gone over to China, some had become pastors / monks themselves..... wow. For this, as a Sayarma, I feel very thankful to have had this opportunity to touch their lives, no matter how small. 

Both my parents were teachers, in fact my Papa was a Headmaster when he retired. I never thought I'd become one. But it happened here in Myanmar when the founder and owner of Strategy First University took a chance on me, despite my tattoos and blue hair - far from a model teacher here in Myanmar - and I taught for 5 years, until this Coupvid happened. At least during Covid-19, we moved to online classes. But this Coupvid shit, well with limited access to internet, online my ass is more like it. So, I feel really sorry for that last class. They had to stop due to Covid-19 lockdowns and when we were almost finishing the term online, the shit hit the fan again. Looks like they'll never ever get their certificate of completion! Anyway, I've had students from all walks of live walked through my door and I've seen some go off-track whilst others I've seen grew so much. It was a joy for me really to coach all of them in digital strategies, marketing communications and branding. This was one of the field that was sorely way far behind in Myanmar. Back then, agencies in Myanmar were far and few in between and even then, their work and service level was appalling. But this had improved drastically over the years. I'd like to think that I had inspired a handful of them to be great in this field. I know I wasn't the best Sayarma they had, but I truly and honestly gave my 200% heart and passion into making sure they got the right foundation to spearhead and lead this industry in Myanmar. I've coached teams to start their businesses, I've mentored students when they go off-track for a bit. No matter what, as long as they need, I would make sure to keep my doors opened for all of them. And I encourage them to give back to their own country. Once a year, during the Thingyan period, I marry both my worlds - my students and the Children of Tomorrow where my students supposedly "volunteer" at my request to put up a party for the kids. But these students, they are doing their own good deeds elsewhere, I know. I'm proud of them. I may be a very no-nonsense, don't-try-to-be-funny-with-me-I-will-beat-the-shit-out-of-you Sayarma, with my very threatening kyein lone, but at the very bottom of it, these young adults need someone who believe in them. And I believe in them. They just need to believe in themselves in whatever they choose to do. Sayarma arr paye ni par tal naw. I had even groomed some of them to take over my roles here in Myanmar as I prepared to maybe look into moving to another country. I was more or less asking some of these students to take over my place for a lot of those public speaking seminars and stuff. I always believed the young people should pave the way and the old ones should please move aside and don't stop the world from revolving. I felt at that time, the country was on the right trajectory path and I felt my students, they were already grown ups. They've got this. Time for me to go save the world. Till this day, I still cannot believe it - January 2020, MOH and I were SERIOUSLY making plans and enquiring on travels to either Syria or Palestine. Look at the SHIT that I am facing now. 🤦🤦🤦

As much as I do not want to talk about this whole Coupvid situation, it is unavoidable as I am right smack in the middle of it. 3 months into the Coopers doing the shit they did, I suddenly can't see the future for Myanmar. When I think about this current situation, my heart starts feeling heavy and it sinks. I can only shake my head in dismay at how much good had been thrown out overnight. Everyone lost. Everyone loses. Sometimes, I cannot understand the human race. Is the greed for money and power so necessary to cause so much harm and hurt and destruction? Why can't everyone just always aim for a win-win situation? Maybe I am being very idealistic. But I can never ever understand such kinds of greed and such kind of hateful need to dominate against another. I guess, I will never understand because I am not made that way. I was brought up right by my Mama, Papa and my family. It's a very simple living concept - Be A Good Person. Earn An Honest Living. If you do bad things, you're gonna get struck by lightning (this is provided my parents don't get to me first!). So, I will never understand these people with their warped fascists mentality and f***ed up brains, on the path to destroying every good thing in sight and yet, believe they are doing God's duties. Err... tell me how? 

And this whole global Covid-19 situation is probably someone up there really hammering down on human beings. It's maybe a way of saying "Stop the bad shit that you are all doing." But we human beings - we never will learn, will we? Greed, power, over and over again this vicious cycle. The work that I do for climate change has opened up a whole new world of greed under my very nose. As this greed continues, we will cease to exist by 2050. I can hear the aliens from another planet saying "Well done, Hoomans." Sigh. 

I derailed from my Myanmar topic. After 9 years here, what's next for me? As many may well know by now, MOH is no longer in country. Things are not looking good here at all and he still has his ambitions unfulfilled and honestly, at our age, we don't have time to waste. I agree too. At this moment, I am just thankful that I have internet that enables me to continue working, especially on the climate change work as that is kinda new for me (1st day of the Coupvid, was my first day reporting for work with the global network of activists!) Keeping my brains focused on work had truly kept me sane during the whole Coupvid situation. Especially after I lost my fight training gym in a bombing in Yangon. I'm still dealing with this episode, but I'm still training hard because I'm gonna keep my fight coaches' legacy alive. (Ok, I just laughed at my own statement. I am prolly the last person to be able to keep their legacy alive because when I spar with them, they said I don't look cool as I scream "Mommyyy!!" and run in the opposite direction 😅😅😅) 

As for the banking and cash situation, well, during Covid-19, MOH told me I should go cashless. "It's digital transformation! Cash is no longer king!" and pestered me to pay from apps and go cashless. Well, aren't we all lucky that I ignored him and continued believing that cash is king? Look at the shit show now. Mattress it will continue to be! AND years ago, he refused to get WiFi at home. He said mobile data was so fast, just use mobile data. NOW, look at where that got us. All mobile data is still a blackout (Telcos - you should have some balls and say switch it on or you leave. No? No need to issue more woke statements everyday). Well, our kind neighbour one day came over and said "I see you do not have any WiFi cable to your home." And bless him, he gave me his WiFi password. These days, I can use the WiFi while I am seated at my doorsteps. Still, this is what I mean when I say the Myanmar people has come back out to take care of one another during troubled times. 

As for Myanmar itself, I am really at a loss for words. I don't think it is going into a pariah state. It IS a pariah state right now. The one thing that stuck though was one of my students said to me (see I told you some of them are grown up!) "Eileen, you have to believe in the seeds you planted over the last 9 years. You have to believe that these seeds have grown, will be smart and are strong enough to survive." Yes, I believe in these seeds. So I pray everyday that these seeds keep growing, and keep thriving and will one day be part of the nation-building when the country is once again ready for it. Maybe at that time, the "Hello I am Superman and I am now outside your door" would come back alive again. 

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Caught In A Country Going Through A Coup De'tat

Unarmed civilians using a frying pan
to protect himself from live ammunition
Photo Credit : I took this from the internet
(anyone with info of original
photographer please let me know)
Today is Day 56 of the Coup in MM. I had been journaling everyday since this whole fiasco started, trying to pen my thoughts, my emotions and my activities during this dark period. Perhaps one day, I would be able to write a book on this. But for now, let me keep this simple. 

I need to go back to Day Zero. The day I scoffed at my Mama when she told me to stock-up as there was some "rumours" of a coup. I told her after almost 10 years of moving the country forwards in a quasi-democracy, the coup will not take place. This was going to be my first miscalculation of the shit that happened. 

Because it did happen. On the 1st Feb. Nevermind that it was the day I started a new activism consultation role remotely and had no internet or phone line access to let my new employers know of my unavailability. The shit had hit the fan. When phone lines and mobile data was restored, it was a frantic chase to communicate - with family, with my new activist job team mates, with friends, with students. 

The first 20+ days, I had a different viewpoint of this whole mess. Not that I was for the coup. I wasn't and I'm totally against it. But the first 20+ days, it was peaceful with protestors in the streets celebrating like it was some fiesta. There were even cosplaying protestors and pyjama party protestors. MOH and I even went ourselves to have a closer look at all the on-goings. Some foreign and local friends asked me why I had a different perspective of this whole situation. Well, in Malaysia, I personally consider us to have fake democracy. And by the by, didn't we also just had a coup in Malaysia in March 2020? Malaysians like us, we have been so fed-up with everything that we no longer give a damn whatever backdoor they wanna do. And then haven't we also gone through the Bersih crackdowns? We also have our Sedition Act and fair share of cases such as Teoh Beng Hock, Kevin Morais, Altantuya, Darren Kang, the infamous 1MDB scandal just to name a few. What could we do about all of these? To date, no justice had been served. As far as I know - ex-PM The Frog Face is still living his life scott-free. So, hence, I thought if it was to be BAU for everything and just losing freedom of speech, then let's get on with it. After all, we just wanna "cari makan". For me, which country really has true democracy in Southeast Asia? Furthermore, whilst I love the Myanmar people and have called this my home for the past 9 years, it wasn't in my place to say anything because I didn't even have voting rights. But we both supported them from our hearts. Then of course, the Coopers rolled out this draconian cyber security law which set the country back by years and I was like "God damn, the work that so many people did for the people of this country to bring them forward is now wiped off just like that!" 

I had read up on all the 1988 and 2007 uprising in MM prior to coming and living here and I still idealistically and naively thought that in such modern times, the Amoeba Coopers might have a bit more sense not to disrupt things in the same manner. This was my second miscalculation to the whole fiasco. After the first stretch of peaceful protest days, the killings began. And I watched in horror as the stuff I had only read about in books unfolded before my very eyes. This then crossed every single line in my books for me. I could no longer view this with a political lens. I do not stand for blatant mass atrocities. I watched in horror at clips of ambulances being shot at, of volunteer medics being beaten half to death, of young teenagers being shot in the head. In the head!! For fuck's sake, they are unarmed! Do you know what they have to protect themselves?? Non-bulletproof shields and like that photo I used above - frying pan for crying out loud. Is there a need to sniper shoot them in the head??? This was wrong for me on so many levels. And the worse part is, as a teacher, coach, mentor in this country to hundreds of youths - I feared for them. 

Ever since then, it had been a daily routine to check-in on everyone. Alive? Safe? Where are you? I can't even tell them not to go out because,....... they have to go do what they gotta do. I am in no position to tell them not to do it. I can only tell them to please stay safe and update me as soon as possible. Of cos, MOH and I both are doing what we can BTS. I will not divulge too much here on what's being done but we're not people who could sit down and not do anything. But of course, we are keeping safe. We have the privilege of keeping ourselves safe. But many of the MM people do not have this privilege. 

Fast forward to Day 56 of the coup, there had been over 400 deaths and just yesterday alone, the highest death toll was recorded at 114, including a 5yr old child. What did the 5yr old child do to the barbarians I have no idea. Coincidentally, yesterday was Army's Day. It is now Army's Day Of Shame. Everyday, is an emotional ride. To be honest, I've been trying to keep sane by focusing on work and my training but it is hard too. I go from feeling guilty because I am so privileged to being angry at the blatant, brazen cockiness of the Amoeba Coopers to feeling ashamed that I couldn't do more. When we go out to get our groceries and stuff - it kills me just to hear the service staff saying "Thank you, and have a good day Ama!" I don't even know where I can hide my face when they say that. Some students, neighbours and the likes have asked "Are you planning to leave?" and when we answer as "No, we will stay till we cannot stay anymore", their response is always, "Thank You for staying with us." My heart breaks to hear that. And even if one chooses to leave, they would not judge you nor bear a grudge on you either. They understand this is their fight. Not yours. Despite all of the odd enigma of the Myanmar mindset and culture, and certain things that drove me up the walls with them over the years, they are good people. They are kind people. They are honest people. They certainly do not deserve to have their lives threatened this way. Nightly raids and kidnappings, nightly shooting into their homes, some arrested and returned the next day in body bags, the list goes on. 

The day before that, the Amoeba Coopers were on national TV threatening their own citizens that they will shoot in the heads and backs if they are out protesting. I'm outraged and appalled by that. What kind of world do we live in that a person is able to threaten human lives in that manner openly in public? Why is this being allowed? I beg to question : if the international bodies continue allowing this small-fry here to continue their atrocities, what message is it sending to the bigger "powers"? I think there is something extremely wrong with their outdated policies and stuff and these needs a serious re-look into with utmost urgency. Meanwhile - I also wish they stop issuing rubbish PR statements. Cos those statements had not stopped a 1yr old and a 5yr old toddler and over 400 people from being murdered. This is no longer political to me anymore. I value human lives. I repeat again - it is just simply NOT OK to shoot to kill anyone that is unarmed and who are not even in attack mode. Believe me, some were just riding their motorbikes, just getting about their business to make ends meet. 

This morning, some of the gym staff spoke to me and one had tears in her eyes as she spoke about the atrocities. You can literally feel their pain of seeing their own fellowmen murdered with no sound reason. I don't even know what to say. Can't even fucking say "Stay strong," cos seriously - stay strong till when?? When every single person who is against the Coopers are killed?? 

Some may recall, at the beginning of January 2020, MOH and I were making some plans, even got hold of travel agency to try to make a trip to Syria or Palestine. I wanted to see what I could do to help over there. But then Covid-19 happened. Though, be careful what you wish for, they say. Now this is all happening right under my very eyes and my heart is totally unprepared for it. I've had a few meltdowns privately because sometimes, we just need to let it out. For my students, I too need to stay strong for them. 

To the Myanmar people - MOH and I have decided that we will stay on in solidarity till we cannot stay anymore. If the time comes and we have to leave, I want you to know that you are not alone. When you win this war, we hope you will let us return and let us have the privilege of holding your hands and help you rebuild the nation once again. To the Gen Z youths, this country's future is in your hands and make sure when you get it back, put in place a leader who is young and relevant. There is no space for old, stubborn and irrelevant leaders to drive the nation backwards. For now, I pray. I pray for all of you. 


Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Another Letter To Heaven.... A CNY Away From Family


This was circa 2018 when we actually
managed to take a full family photo
Dearest Ah Por, 

OMG!! The past two weeks had been rather crazy for me. I can now say that I had experienced a pandemic, and in the middle of that, I had experienced a military coup while I was in Myanmar. I don't want to say too much, except that it was quite a frantic and unpleasant with our telecommunications and internet access cut-off at times. I'm not sure if 2020 was just a trailer.... Ah Porrrrr! But thankfully, we are safe and sound. Pretty sure you recollect your days during the Japanese war, the war against the communists, the 1968 racial riots and the tyranny of our fake democracy in Malaysia. You're probably scoffing at me for being frantic just cause I lost internet connection. I cannot imagine how you had gone through the Japanese occupation and all of that. 

Anyway, Ah Por, tomorrow is CNY 2021 - the Year of the "Niu". Gonna be greeting everyone with Happy "Niu" Year! (I can almost hear the "aiya,.... ting nga yee!!" 

But I am away from family this year, Ah Por. Stuck here in Myanmar and I've been a little sad about it. The last time I missed CNY with the family was in 1998 when I was studying in Australia. I remembered, I was also very sad that year. I called many times (on reverse call, I remember cos I had no money to pay for phone calls!!! LOLOL!!), even during the family reunion dinner. Do you remember? It was that year though that I realized how important this celebration was for me and how important family was to me. It is a celebration of our culture, of our heritage, and also a deep root of family ties and values - for which without, I would be nothing. I made it a point after that, that no matter what, I will never ever miss another CNY with the family. Even though I worked abroad and some countries (like Myanmar) do not recognize CNY as a public holiday, I still took leave to be home and I would usually stay for the week and more. When I agreed to get married and you guys told me that my CNY would now be celebrated at my husband's side, you remembered how I bawled my eyes out and threatened not to get married? 😂😂😂 Well, thankful for my understanding in-laws. I was still hoping that this year, despite the craziness the world had experienced last year, (I told you about this crazy virus, you remember?) I would be able to get my ass home. But alas! That was not to be the case 😭😭😭 

So, here I am, moping around because I will miss all the family celebrations we usually do back in the kampung. We did not celebrate last year because we were in the mourning period. And this year - crazy virus period. I didn't even feel like celebrating this year. But a friend of mine told me that no matter what, we should still celebrate, it brings good "qi". And then I realized - it's true! Why should I let a pandemic stop me from being Chinese?? Right or not? I also know you wouldn't have liked that I was  not going to celebrate. It'll be so pantang! LOLOL! 

Let me regale you with my memories of our Lui family's CNY - although I'm sure you know very well how it was always celebrated because, I guess, most of it were your rules as the matriarch of the family! 😅😅😅 

It will always be the eve of CNY, where one by one, Yee Suk (in Sabah), Ku Cher (in KL), Suk Suk and family (in KL) and my family would take that journey home to the kampung. Some would've arrived a day or two earlier. My family - we usually started the journey early, early in the morning to avoid the god forsaken traffic jam coming home. I remembered one year, it took us 11 hours sitting in traffic to get home. We were so late for the reunion dinner! On CNY eve, there's usually a myriad of activities going on - the last minute cleaning (usually Ku Cher - she never finishes cleaning somehow! LOL), the hanging of new curtains or at least cleaned ones, new cushion covers, the hanging of the decorations (I would usually be the one decorating the whole house with all your leftover ang pows LOL!) and then the big prep for the reunion dinner! When you were still mobile, you would be the MasterChef, flexing your muscles in prepping all the dishes. There must be symbolic dishes - fish "yu", prawns "har" (for the hahaha laughter throughout the year) and of cos some vegetable dishes and like 10 dozen chickens. Ok, ok. Not so many. But you always had like A LOT of chicken on the table. And then I learnt that the more dishes we had on the table during the reunion feast, symbolized the wealth of the family and at that time, as a kid, I was conflicted. How the hell were we wealthy when we lived in a run-down wooden house?? As I grew older, I realized it was just all symbolical, you know. It was just your way of making sure everyone in the house at reunion had lots to eat and it was your happiness to see everyone filling up their tummy to the brim. One bowl of rice always gets a "Why you eat so little???" And then, I also realized, the chicken drumstick dilemma  - you had 6 grandchildren. One chicken would mean everyone had to fight for the drumstick. Having 3 chickens meant none of your grandchildren had to fight. We all had one each. And I still loved how you spoiled me cos you knew I wouldn't eat the white chicken skin so you always removed the skin from my chicken drumstick. In recent years though, Papa took over as MasterChef and Mama as the Sous Chef prepping this reunion dinner for the family. There's always the complain of why nobody was helping out much but it always gets done every year! 😅😅😅 

Anyway, after the dinner, it'll be a massive clean up - usually I try to hide and run but it was unavoidable as a kid. Funnily enough, as I started working, I got away with doing lesser of these chores. LOLOL!! Ya, you always say "why you so lazy, you are a big-eat-lazy!!" 😅😅😅 I just dislike cleaning up of any sort, till now! Anyway, after the cleaning up, there will be that long que to use the one single bathroom in the whole house! And you remember how the stupid water supply was always cut off on the eve??? Haiyo...... you would be very irritated cos "no water" (mo sui - meaning "no money"), particularly during CNY period was so pantang! LOL! After everyone had been able to get their shower done, most would gather round the TV munching on CNY snacks. And in my younger days, of cos the kids would be playing outside, with the 'Pop-Pop' and Moon Rockets and what-nots. And then I remember also, almost every year, Samsuk would read everyone's fortune guide. Well, but sadly though, as we all grew older, everyone seemed to hide in their own corners after the reunion dinner. Though Yee Suk, Suk Suk, Samsuk and Papa would sometimes sit outside, chit-chatting and catching up over beers. Ohhh, there's also the tong yuen that needed to be made by hand. When Ernie was around, this was his task to help you. After that, it was my Mama the Sous Chef who made this. I just didn't touch it cos when I did it, I would do stupid things like rolling out a worm shape or square or whatever shape and then I'd get into trouble and be shooed out of the kitchen! LOL!! 

Usually, the single men would go out partying with other friends who were also back in town (by partying, I meant they sat around in the open air and drank beer, talking-cock, singing-song, or they played mahjong or cards) and everyone else would retire to bed, except Ku Cher cos she could never finish cleaning for some reason and she would always be like "OMG it's almost 12am and I cannot clean anymore!!" But you and I, we would wait for the right hour to........ta-da!!! Welcome the God of Prosperity!!! For years, I've been the only one helping you out to prepare for the prayers for this ritual and for yearrrrsss I've been trying to remember what needed to be done and prepped and all. But I never got it right no matter what. I dunno was it because you kept changing the steps and arrangements (because you're forgetful 😝😝😝) or like you always scolded "you never pay attention and you don't put it in your heart!" I guess, every year, I simply relied on you for the instructions. Put here, put there, do this, do that. All your rules. Hahaha!  

On Day 1 of CNY, I would wake up, do whatever exercises that I do and have a shower before I greet anyone. It would always be NEW everything from top to bottom - new toothbrush, new undies, new towel, new top, new shorts, new slippers, new shoes.... ALL NEW. Do you remember how one year, during my rebellious years, I came out of the room in BLACK - like fully black? Hahahahahaha! Now I'm thinking about that and laughing my ass off. I'm sure you wanted to smack me so bad, but you held your tongue. Everyone did. I was that sensitive, teenage drama girl that year. Plus it was CNY so no scolding otherwise bad luck!! LOLOL!!! Anyway, when I started working, I thought this new, new, new thing wasn't very sustainable. That's why, I started keeping new clothes and I don't wear them - even those free triathlon or marathon T-shirts I get, I'd keep them. So I am able to use one every year to have "NEW" clothes for CNY. And that is also why I have a stash of new clothes all the way till 2030!!! Bet you're shaking your head now and saying "sei ting nga yee!" 😂😂😂 Anyway, you know what happened to last year's new clothes that I wore for CNY? Nothing happened to them! We were mostly in lockdown and couldn't go anywhere so my new clothes are still pretty new!! 

Anyway, Day 1 is also when I'm ready to receive my ang pows!!! Do you remember how I would scheme 2-3 extra ang pows off you? Well, I've been thinking about this - I think you just played along and entertained this ting nga yee of yours. Whatever it was, I got 3 ang pows from you every year - well, not every year. Only started when I thought you were starting to be a bit more forgetful than usual. We usually don't have guests on the first day. Just simple prayers at home and then ang pow time and a family brunch over your signature vegetarian dish - the Zai Choy - I had the privilege to learn how to cook this dish from you back in 2014 and still remember how to do it! There had only been 2 things I had direct masterclass with you to cook - Zung Zai and this Zai Choy. I never made a single Zung Zai in my life after our masterclass. I thought it was one helluva long-winded process to make!!! 😅😅😅.  Anyway, back to Day 1, it would pretty much be quite quiet. Back in the day, you guys would be playing mahjong and the kids (me, Ernie and cousins) would just be up to no good somewhere, somehow. Again, as we grew older, the sort of naughty fun just gave way to reading books, which you used to tell me - "haiya! why read book on the first day of CNY!" cos book means "shu" and literally translated means "to lose", and in more recent years, our attention had gone to YouTube and Facebooking instead of chit-chatting with one another. I know you've always found that strange. You'd always say "why is your face always stuck on that phone screen only?"

Anyway, we also usually don't have guests on Day 1. I read that Chinese families don't practise visiting on Day 1 because if the first guests who showed up at your home was not of "prosperous" vibes, it would spillover into the family. LOL!! All these superstitious. It'll be like oven hot in the house as well. Then recent years, we also escaped the heat by going to the malls in the city. Better the 1 hour drive than stewing in our own sweat!! Dinner was pretty much whoever wanted to eat, they just helped themselves to the rice and zai choy. Then once again, it'll be to each, their own time. Days like these were more fun as kids. Eat, sleep, play, on repeat! Best part was - no scolding because CNY period!! 😈😈😈

Then came Day 2 !!!! It was another round of the big preparation for the Hoi Nien feast!! The morning Hoi Nien prayers, before, it would be done by you. You were doing the prayers, you were doing the feast preparations, I dunno how you did it. But you did it. As you became immobile, Mama and I took over the prayers. And once again MasterChef Papa took over the kitchen with his sidekick Sous Chef - Mama. As usual, I would stay out of the way from the kitchen otherwise the first hoi nien would happen to me. I can still remember always being scolded with "Do you want me to hoi nien for you???!!!"  Day 2 was when scolding and smacking was allowed again! 😅😅😅  On Day 2, Ipoh Ku Cher would also come back with her family and that's when all 6 of us cousins would reunite annually. But what I would usually do also would be to arm-twist Yee Suk to get me my favourite Tanjung Tualang prawns. He'd always oblige no matter how difficult, he'd get them for me. Everyone says he's not reliable, but so far, all of my requests had always been met! He's just unpredictable to others, that's all. And then there was the lion dance troupe who somehow could never make it at the timing we wanted. It was just a big waiting game usually on Day 2 - wait for this person, wait for that person, wait for lion dance, wait for my prawns, and everyone would be agitated from the all the waiting - and yet, we do it year in, year out. That's called family, right? After lunch, another massive round of clean up, then it would be a flurry of activities. We'd have the usual family photos taken, then some would play mahjong, the younger kids would play cards, etc. I remembered the CNY of 2018, you and I were playing cards and somehow, I lost every round to you - I lost all the ang pows I schemed from you! Queen of Gamblers - how can I beat you! I even got off my seat and walked around the table three times and you said "No need to do all these silly things. Just lose all your money to me!!" 😆😆😆 We would also start having visitors on Day 2 - most of your side of the family would come, although don't ask me who they were - I would never be able to know which aunty was which aunty! 

Usually, most families would leave on Day 2....... some would leave on Day 3..... thus leaving just me, you and Ku Cher behind mostly. Oh, and Samsuk too cos he's the dude with the car 😁😁😁 The noise and festivities would have died down and I would welcome the peace and quiet of the kampung house and its surrounding. We would have our usual routine - me taking you for brekkie and then it's just quiet days. A few days for me to just write, read, spend time with you. I always annoyed you by sitting outside late at night. You'd always say "Thief will come catch you!" and I would always have some gangsta response to your threat. OMG, I was a real handful wasn't I?? 😇😇😇 Last year, I still stayed on after everyone had left. I did the same thing - exercised (cos how can I not let the neighbours comment on "that crazy girl who runs before sunrise!"), brekkie out in town and back to the house to read and write. Only difference was, last year, I didn't have to take you out for breakfast. 

This year though, I wouldn't get to do any of that. 😭😭😭
That's not all, I'll be missing all of that CNY snacks too - the kuih kapit, kai tan kuen, crabstick chips, lotus root chips, pineapple tarts. I won't even get my liver sausage. Boo....  oh well, I'll treat it as a diet then. But this sucks, Ah Por! 

It's not just me, many are affected too and have to celebrate apart. I had called Yee Suk. He is stranded in Sabah. Mama and Papa are in lockdown - yeah, stay at home jail time as the situation of the crazy virus in Malaysia is really very bad. Same goes for Samsuk, Suk Suk and all. I would try to call everyone just to keep that family ties going despite not being able to celebrate together. I know you would want that. You had been the glue that bound us together when you were present. I was hoping that everyone would remember that even after you're in heaven. But what to do right? This year, it's a global pandemic. I don't even know how to say the word pandemic in Chinese.  

Good thing is my husband is stuck here with me too. I don't think I would cook up a storm. We have dinner with some of our Chinese friends here who are also having to be away from family during this festive celebration. Not big, just the 4 of us - celebrating some sort of "reunion" I guess. I also managed to find some new t-shirts in my collection here - some are from 2016, but still new! Hahaha! And guess what? I even found new towels! I think Mama gave these to me in 2014! Too funny!! I have also prepared ang pows - it's good luck to give out ang pows, I know. So, it's a good thing. I shouldn't miss that! Oh oh oh! Did you know, that silly husband of mine told me - just use those cashless payment as ang pow. These days, we're all very high-tech. We no longer go to banks and we no longer pay with cash! I scolded him like hell. What nonsense! Where is the culture in that?? 🤦🤦🤦

Ah Por, hope you have a blast up there with Por Por, Kung Kung and Ah Kung. As far as I know, they don't play mahjong. So, hoping you've hooked up with some other mahjong kakis there. I know why I miss being with the family - I get to be spoilt rotten every time - I basically don't have to do any cooking, cleaning, well, ok minimal cleaning, and if I asked, I would get - be it Samsuk, Yee Suk or Ku Cher. Not to mention, Mama and Papa also fusses over me. As independent as I am, it still feels great to be doted upon like the big baby of the family. 

Missing you, and the family and the whole festivities. 

Till the next time, Ah Por. Don't you worry. Though it seems the world is continuing to go crazy and there seems to be a lot of stoopid people doing stoopid things around the world, I am well. I will continue to be a good person, eat well, work hard and be happy. But you guys in heaven please keep an eye on us too, ok? Protect us!! 

Your beloved Ting Nga Yee.