Friday, December 17, 2010

Guns n Roses Live in Abu Dhabi

A couple of weeks ago, news all over was abuzz that the legendary hard rockers Guns N Roses would be coming over to Abu Dhabi for a one day only concert. When I first heard bout it, I brushed it off thinking 'No Freakin' Way!'. Not long after that, it was official ... Thinkflash, a local events company announced in all major publications that the show was on. The best part, general admission tickets were going for AED150 (approx. RM125). VIP tics a.k.a. Golden Circle tics cost AED450. A couple of my colleagues were all excited and began planning for this 'MUST SEE' event.

In the end, eight of us including Ferdie, a chap from our sub contractor's company confirmed our attendance by purchasing the tickets. What's even better was that if tickets were purchased in batches of 4, we get AED25 off ... which translated to only AED125 a stub. Now this is a real STEAL!!! :D

So on Dec 16, we packed up and left work slightly earlier that usual. Once at the villa, everyone rushed to freshen up and had an early dinner. At 6:15pm. we were on the road ... bound for the Yas Arena (next to the Yas Marina F1 circuit and Ferrari World) where the concert was to be held. Ferdie decided to go on his own since he wasn't ready by the time we left. On the way there, Khairi was already blasting Sweet Child O Mine from his mobile just to get everyone in the mood. Our driver wasn't very sure of the direction but luckily all we had to do was to follow the throng of vehicles headed towards the same direction.

After a slight traffic congestion, we arrived and had to walk a couple of hundred meters from the car park to the arena. That was ok though as the weather was sublimingly cool. Along the way, we also feasted our eyes Ferrari World's rollercoaster track. It looked amazing and am sure the ride is even more so. Everywhere you see people donning GnR T-Shirts chatting excitedly ... obviously waiting for the show to begin in eager anticipation. The MASSIVE crowd of 25000 were made up of mostly Westerners, Filipinos, Indians and locals. A good mix that clearly proved GnR have reached out and garnered fans from every corner of the globe.

At about half past 7pm, we made our way through the front gates of the arena. It's my first time there and I must add that the place is rather impressive. Humongous open field area that allowed the concert goers to bask beneath the bright crescent moon and the millions of twinkling stars ... but the only stars everyone were waiting to see had to be the ones getting ready backstage. :)

While waiting, we browsed at the merchandise booth and they only had pathetic Yas's t-sirts and caps ... nothing from GnR whatsoever. *Boo hoo* Anyway, I headed to the booth with a big sign that read 'Beer Only'. For AED30, I snagged myself an ice cold pint of Heineken. What's a rock concert without booze eh :p Also available were other non-alco drinks and finger food i.e. kebab rolls, fries etc.

We picked a spot behind the VIP area facing the center of the stage. Those VIP ticket holders have proper seatings while the rest of us 'poor' folks had to stand. But then again, wouldn't it be weird watching a rock concert seating down? By 8pm, the crowd were pressing in and there was no need for a jacket despite it being winter over here. Both the large LCD screens on stage were playing a mix of adverts while the speakers were blarring mostly pop rock tunes.

At precisely quarter past 8pm, the lights on stage went out and a bunch of guys positioned themselves behind their intruments. Introducing themselves as Juliana Down (a local western rock band), the pumped out a couple of their songs which this blogger think is very very mediocre. Credit must be given as they tried really hard to get the crowd going but it's just isn't good enough. About half and hour later, they thanked the crowd and made their way ot of the stage. The stage crew then went about tuning the drums and guitars for the main event guys. It's very apparent that everyone was filled with uncontrollable eagerness. The level of expectation created electricity in the air.

But alas, we waited and waited ... each time the organizers tested the stage lights, the crowd went wild ... thinking that the show was finally starting only to be left dissapointed when another lousy song blasted on the speakers. We bitched amongst ourselves that the band was probably OD-ing backstage *lol* but I personally think they weren't even at the venue yet at that time. I guess this is what rockstars do ... revving up the enthusiasm by being exceptionally late :p

Our spot was very close to the camera crew's podium. So when I saw two burly guys climbing up and stationed themselves behind their respective cameras, I knew this is it!!! I grew up in high school listening to the few of GnR's better known hits and to somehow see these idols performing live is some sort of a dream come true. Before this I never thought I'd ever see GnR rocking it live, so this is one item I can cross out of my bucket list :)

The lights went out. The crowd cheered deafeningly. Everyone was clapping, shouting and wolf-whistling wildly. The screen played a collage of images from the band's latest album, Chinese Democracy and then the screeching sounds from Slash's guitar sent everyone into a fanatical frenzy. Axl Rose then came out and belted out one of their newer hits. Don't ask me what song it was cause I'm only familiar with their older ones. :p

Here's the opening in case you guys wanna see it ...

They rocked and they rocked HARD ... non stop for the next two and a half hours. All the tiredness from standing for the past 3 hours or so seemed to be have evaporated. There were quite a few solo performances which were nothing short of amazing but it was after Slash's solo effort that he 'goreng-ed' his guitar for Sweet Child O Mine. This is when things EXPLODED!!! Everyone started headbanging in unison and I couldn't even hear Axl cause everyone else including yours truly were singing along at the very top of our lungs. The other GnR 'classics' I really enjoyed last night were Knocking On Heaven's Door, November Rain and Don't Cry.

Here's the ending to November Rain with Axl on the piano ...

One incident stained the outing when a jackass from behind thought it'd be funny to throw a pint of beer on the people in front. So a bunch of us got drizzled by Heineken. It's not that big of a deal for me but for my Muslim colleagues, it was a big turnoff. We suspected that it was done by one of the ang moh teenagers since the group was getting rowdy ... moshing around with their shirts off. Subsequently, another group ... also ang mohs confronted them and a near scuffle ensued. But the efficiency of the organizers was showcased as the security bouncers appeared out of no where and neutralised the situation instantaneously so everyone else could get back to enjoying the concert.

It wasn't long before they guys bid everyone goodbye and the lights went off but the show wasn't over. Why you asked? ... cause the camera guys were still manning their stations very attentively. *Haha* Everyone shouted 'We Want More!!!' and it didn't take 5 minutes before the band was out again and the crowd roared.

The show finished with a bang with Paradise City. The stage was fantastic with no expense spared. The lightings were breath taking ... in fact, the best I've ever seen and the spontaneous filming editing by the crew was superb. Most importantly, the showmanship by each and everyone of the band members were incredibly astounding. Slash also displayed his trademark ciggie on the guitar :) With a combination of fireworks, shooting fireballs and a shower of confettis ... this is without a doubt the best concert I've been to as echoed by my colleagues as well. Okay ... so I've not been to that many anyways but you get my drift. *Haha* Guns N Roses ... truly rock legends in their own right!

Before this, I never imagined ever seeing GnR rocking it live before my eyes and I'm glad I did. As we made our way home, my knees were aching, the neck sore and my throat parched but the overall satisfaction more than made up for it. Tiesto will be playing in Feb and I heard Metallica is headed this way too. Oh boy!!! ... >:D

Note : The two videos above were taken off Youtube

UPDATE : That wasn't Slash that played that night ... read the comments.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The One Where We Moved In :)

So I went back home for a short trip recently with one main agenda in mind. It's something both the wife and I have been planning and looking forward to but I'll come to that later.

I exited the gates of the KLIA to be greeted by gloomy grey skies ... not suprising since it's now the dreaded monsoon season. Wifey took the day off to pick me up from the airport but I was being all cranky from the severe lack of proper rest. I guess it's the built up from weeks of lousy slumber and the red eye flight I was on was absolutely torturous with a toddler literally screaming his head off through out the 7 hour flight. If only murder wasn't a crime, I wouldn't think twice about flushing that li'll bugger down the toilet.

Anyways, I perked up after getting my much needed dose of caffeine at Old Town Kopitiam with the family. From there, wifey and I adjourned to the in-laws and we were presented with a gift from YJ. It's one of em' steamboat cum grill set which I'm certain we'll put to good use. :)

We then braved the rush hour traffic frenzy to the gym in PJ for a special Body Combat class by Peekae (a Les Mills Master Trainer from our nothern neighbour). The crowd was overwhelming without an inch of space to spare in the studio. Even with the intteruption of the failed sound system, it was a awesome class and I enjoyed the preview to the upcoming release. After a good workout, wifey and I treated ourselves to some delicious grub along Jalan 223 ... we feasted on Hokkien Mee, ikan bakar and ling chee kang. And that concludes Day 1.

The next day, we met the in-laws for breakfast before taking Bryan to the hypermarket for some grocery shopping. Bryan was gonna serve us chicken chop for lunch and we spent quite a fair bit of time buying the ingredients as wifey and I were also shopping for our own. Back at the in-law's place, I met Bryan's other half for the first time and Abby turned out to be a rather pleasant girl. Although it was a wee bit too salty, Bryan's chicken chop in mushroom sauce is good enough to sell. Credit must also be given for his efforts in the presentation of the dish. Later that night, wifey and I thougt of heading to Feast Village for dinner but detoured to Paya Serai @ PJ Hilton instead since it's been a while since we both had buffet. The spread was decent and by the time I paid the bill, satay and rendang were oozing out of my ears.

We met up with the Lims for lunch the next day at Duck King @ Jaya One. Shaun's buying in conjunttion with his graduation from the management trainee program. The food was excellent and we adjounred thereafter to Starbucks for coffee. Later that night, we attended a friend's wedding dinner and it was good to catch up with some ol' mates. Food was aplenty that night since 4 others from our table decided to emulate Houdini's dissapearing act.

We were invited by the in laws for lunch the next day. Tony Roma opened a new outlet along Jln Yap Kwan Seng and wifey's parents being regular customers were invited to grace its pre opening. The management of Tony Roma wanted to train their staff and so we were the designated 'guinea pigs' to test out how well the team was doing. Food was delicious although teething problems with the service were encountered. That is to be expected though and we couldn't really complain much since the entire meal was on the house. *Woot*

Alas, disaster soon struck. It was pouring heavily and Rain (our family dog) was barking like crazy as he is terrified of thunder. So to calm him down, dad released him from his leash, so he was roaming free within the porch area. When I got home, I totally forgot that Rain was unleashed despite my dad sms-ing me earlier bout it. The moment I opened the gate, Rain dashed out of the house. By the time I parked my car in and went out to look for him, he was no where to be found. Dad and I drove around the area but there was no sign of the furry bugger. This isn't the first time Rain 'escaped', so we were hoping that he would eventually find his way home, just like last time. Wifey and I hit the gym later that evening but I guess Rain being missing really affected me. Halfway through the class, I lost focus and left abruptly. We had a simple dinner of porridge before calling it a day.

We woke up early the next day and had some dim sum in USJ 21. Still no sign of Rain but we've got pressing matters at hand. Today is the day wifey and I are officially moving into our home. We bought a small condo and spend the last couple of months doing up the place. Bit by bit, the place is almost complete now and we're proud to call it home. After breakfast, we went to Carrefour for some last minute shopping before making our way to he condo. My mom had earlier prepared an auspicious basket of pineapple and oranges as a token of luck and prosperity. I've also printed out a list I found on the internet pertaining to the do's and don'ts of moving into a new home. We turned on the lights, gas and water for some time and opened all the windows to regulate the flow of 'chi' in the house. We also boiled some water and sprinkled a mixture of rice, salt and tea leaves on all corners to ward off uninvited guests. :p Next, we hung up a piece of red cloth at the main entrance and placed sweets on all desk and table tops ... apparently this is for garnering wealth. Better to be safe than sorry no? *Hehe* We then said a simple prayer before 'asking' all 'uninvited guests' to please vacate the house. *BOOOooo ...*

We then busied ourselves to prepare for dinner. Both our families were coming as well as a couple of YJ's and Bryan's friends. We cooked some and bought the rest. Our families helped as well. Mom prepared her signature chicken curry and helped with the dessert. Shaun made his trademark almond jelly while YJ whipped up an awesome raspberry and blueberry cheesecake. Sree made roasted chicken, yellow rice and fried up a very tasty dish of mixed vegetables. I made 'char siew', salad and coleslaw while Ah Yi added a fruit salad (which kicked my salad's ass) as well as a cheese dip that went along very well with crackers. We also ordered satay ... A LOT of satay and some ketupat to add on to the menu. Oh yea, we also had some nyonya kuih that added pretty colours to the food spread. Everyone enjoyed the sumptious meal except Shaun who couldn't make it due to work commitments. Ryan presented us with an ice bucket as a housewarming gift. He knew I was eyeing it at the Kitchen Shop previously. *Thanks bro*

We ate drank and be merry. By the time the party ended and we all helped with the cleaning, we were totally worn out and I slept like a log. Wifey had a little trouble adjusting to sleeping at our new home though.

When we woke up the next day, we vacuumed and mopped the entire house since we didnt do it the day before. Apparently we weren't suppose to clean up the 'luck' on the first day of moving in. :p

We re-heated up the balance of the food from the night before and wifey's family came by again to help us 'kautim' all those grub. Later that evening, we had a few friends from gym drop by to see our place. Ping arrived first while Sharon and Celest busied themselves shooting photos before we went to Madam Kwan's @ Empire Galery for dinner. After that, we walked around the mall for a bit before heading home.

I promised Wifey that I'll cook her a meal, so we went to Sunway Pyramid for grocery shopping at Giant Hypermarket. Lunch was at Canton-I and it wasn't long before we were home and I started preparing for dinner. Since there seemed to be quite a lot of food, wifey suggested we invite my family over to join us for dinner. Mom, Dad and Ryan took us up on the offer. Shaun couldn't make it again due to work. :(

Anyways, it was going to be a simple meal of soy sauce chicken, pickle veg soup, stir fried mix vegs and fried rice. Sounds easy and I'm sure it is for most people but it's the first time I'm cooking for five people ... so this is pretty huge for me. *haha*. The food turned out to be pretty okay, so I'm giving myself a pat on the back for that. *pat pat* For dessert, I made caramelised pear with honey and orange sauce and vanilla ice cream. Although it didn't exactly turn out the way it was supposed to, I reckon it wasn't half bad either. *keke*

Now here's the amazing part. Just before dinner time ... mom called to tell us they are going to be late. Apparently someone called and said he might know where Rain is. Here's the story. The day before, my dad was chatting with one of his client and the subject of Rain goine missing surfaced. So his client suggested that my dad check out Paws (a center for dogs and cats), just in case someone who found Rain might have brought him there. My dad went to Paws and met an elderly couple who enquired if my dad was there to adopt a dog. My dad told them bout Rain and soon the couple were describing Rain's looks. Apparently, their son had a friend who called the day before saying that there was a lost dog near my housing area. Someone had tied Rain to a lamp post hoping that its rightful owner would be able to come and claim him. By the time the couple's son went there after work, he said Rain wasn't at the lamp post anymore. The son's friend also took a photo of Rain and posted it on FB. My dad then asked for a copy of the photo to confirm that it is indeed our Rain. The next day, just as my family were getting ready to come over to our place for dinner, they received a call from the couple's son who said he might know where Rain is. My dad and Ryan met the young chap at a temple in SS13 and indeed they found Rain there :D Looks like it's all been fated as a string of coincidences miraculously led Rain back home to us. When we bought Rain ... it was raining heavily. When we lost Rain, it was raining heavily. When we found Rain, it was raining heavily. Hmmm ...

Anyway, suffice to say, everyone was really glad that four legged rascal is safely back home and dinner that night tasted especially delish!

The next day, we took things easy. We were suppose to head to Ikea to buy a serving tray and some stools but ended up spending a lot of moolah on so many other stuff. Everything is soooo tempting to buy there and it's excruciating to say 'no' to them. *Blehhh* Later that night, we made our way to Kepong for a friends' gathering at Eric's place. Although not the entire SASA gang was present, it was a good catch up session nonetheless.

On Saturday, we had our housewarming session with the same SASA gang. Good thing is more of them were able to make it this time around. The menu was almost identical to the food we had with our families before except this time, we had spring hoppers (putu mayam) instead of rice. I would like to think everyone had a jolly good time. We ate, drank and be merry. Got ourselves a couple of nice gifts as well. As our last guest left and we cleaned up the place, it was already past 3:00 a.m. It's been a while since wifey and I partied till the wee hours. O_O

Next morning, I went to church and was about to head home for lunch when Shaun called to say his car suffered from a tyre puncture. So after we both fixed his tyre, I got him over as well for lunch and we were joined by Ah Yi's sister and family. We polished the leftover food from the night before. Haha ... not good to waste food ma.

We barely had time to digest before we made our way to Lemon Garden @ Shangrila Hotel for a scrumptious buffet dinner with my family. The food spread was nothing short of splendid and we makan makan makan. *nom nom nom* This time, it was wifey who overstuffed herself but who could blame her ... the food was THAT good.

The next day, we ran some errands before I headed back to the sand pit. Till my next trip home ...

P.S. Photos for all the above will be on my FB :)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Ip4 vs BB vs Andr.

Source : Soyacincau

Friday, October 29, 2010

Happy Birthday Baby :)

They say distance makes the heart grow fonder

But every waking moment I wonder and I ponder

My thoughts echo the feelings of my heart

The wretched bitterness from us being apart

On the same day last year, a promise was made

That this time, surely I’ll be around to celebrate

To be together to cherish this special day of yours

Instead of sending flowers from an online store

But alas, here I am missing another opportunity

I hope to make it up from now till eternity

Although beside you I cannot be today

My affections and love ... you can feel I pray

To the very love of my life

Happy Birthday my darling wife

Everytime I listen to this song, it reminds me of you ...
Everytime I think of you ... my day gets a little less blue ...

Friday, October 15, 2010

My Memoir ... Life in the U.A.E. so far

Cliche' as this may sound but truly, I remembered it as if it was yesterday ... my boss called me into his room. He sat me down and gave it straight to me without beating around the bush. The company wanted to send me to the U.A.E. ... its capital, Abu Dhabi to be exact ... to construct a district cooling plant. He said the project duration is planned at 20 months but he was pretty certain that we could easily finish at 16. 20 months on paper was just playing it safe he said. I asked him if this was a request or an instruction. He just smiled. I told him I needed to consult my surgeon to check if I was physically fit to work under such environment. Four months prior, I had undergone two surgeries on my brain and spine. I was still recovering. Truth to be told, I didn't know if I wanted to go or not. Hence, I decided to let my surgeon help me decide. When I met the doc, Prof. Vicky, he asked me how I felt bout myself. I shrugged. 'Ok I guess'. But I didn't know what to expect. I couldn't anticipate for the unknown. Before I left, the doc said that in the worst case scenario, I can always hop on the next flight and come home. I couldn't argue with that.

The other fact was at that time, I just got involved with someone. For some time I pursued her but my labour wasn't fruitful. Only when I told her about my surgery that she realised what her heart had wanted all along ... and that was to be with me. She visited me almost everyday while I was warded in the hospital. Since the damaged nerve on my arm was causing me pain, she often massaged it till she doze off. I reckon that earned her major brownie points in my parents' eyes. :) During my recovery period, we got closer than ever. Life was blissful indeed. I told her about me being asked to work in Abu Dhabi. We talked about it and she felt she have no right to stop me. Logically speaking, it was a good oppurtunity for me career wise. I figured that it would give me a head start on life. A couple of weeks before I was due to depart, we planned for a getaway on a little island. As the waves lapped the shore and the sun bidding the day goodbye, I popped the question and asked her to be mine. She said yes.

On the 28th of July 2008, I boarded the plane with a heavy heart. Seven hours later, I touched down and hailed a cab to the hotel. The humidity was atrocious and for the first time in my life, my feet were literally sweating. I hated the place already. The next morning, I was greeted by one of my colleague who brought me to an Indian restaurant opposite the hotel for breakfast. The place was small and reeked of sweat and customers were packed in it like sardines. For the following 10 days, my colleague and I had all our meals there for convenience sake. Eventually, I got used to the flies hovering over my food and flicking away the roaches that were occupying my seat.

The other thing that needed getting used to was the sweltering heat. The rays were most unforgiving and blazed every inch of the city. I tried to stay indoors as much as possible but there were times where I had no choice. Once, our freelance driver left me by the highway because he needed to rush off to pick up another customer. I had to make a mad dash across the highway and hope I wouldn't end up as roadkill. Good to note that we never engaged his service after that.

There was also the time where our office was raided by Immigration officers. Our visas and work permits were in the hands of our Public Relations Officer (PRO) then, so we were hauled up to the Immigration Department and since their detention area was undergoing renovation works, we were remained in their transport vehicle ... a caged van. Funny enough, two of my female colleagues were not 'detained' despite not being able to produce the required documents. Anyway, our PRO rushed to us and helped sorted out the issue. Looking back now, it was quite an experience.

Work was slow, there was an issue with a water pipe belonging to the government which cut acrossed our construction site that prevented us to start work. It took eons for them to relocate that bloody pipe before we could do anything. When work eventually kicked off, we had to deal with unscrupulous subcontractors ... all trying to make mince meat of us given the lack of experience we have working in this region. Being the only sheep surrounded by a pack of wolves isn't a pleasant feeling. Malaysian contractors were labelled as being too soft, too trusting, too obliging and I guess we lived up to that billing initially. We learned many things the hard way over here ... but through blood, tears and sweat (literally), we're finally sprinting towards the finishing line (I hope).

Weather in the city was more forgiving than in the desert. Here, the sun scorched everything. I found it to be unbearable initially. A visit to the stuffy loo was excruciating. It's like being in a natural sauna except that the thermostat was cranked to maximum temperature all the time. Spend 5 minutes in there and we'll be drenched in our own sweat from head to toe. If you want to lose water retention, I bet there isn't a better way :p

Our clients and supervising consultants, after dealing day in and day out with them, I can confidently conclude that they are either lazy or stupid. Most of the time, they fullfill both criteria. They talk well and they present well. But shake em' up a fair bit and the phrase 'an empty tin can makes the most noise' comes to mind. Nevertheless, their incompetence isn't entirely a bad thing. There are times where it works to our advantage. We get things done easier since they know jack shit bout the actual work. I've acquired the skill to butter up people's ego real nice throughout my duration here. *Yay*

There really isn't much to do for leisure in this part of the region. Ok, so maybe there are but the option is not made available to me. I don't possess my own car here. So getting around is a real drag. Imagine walking to the bus stand under the desert sun ... NOT FUN! In addition, cost of living here is pretty high. Most of us are here to save up the money we earn. So the limited spending power also tightens the leash on our wallet. With that being said, all is not lost. Certain things are cheaper than it is back home. Vehicles here are being sold tax free ... no import duties, no road tax etc. So I see Porches here as often as I see Protons back home. I come across Bentleys on a daily basis ... you get the picture. The money I paid for my Honday City back home ... I can afford an Accord here with change to spare. I've also re-discovered my affection for Gap. Yeap, the American casual clothing retailer. The trick is to buy when its on sale. So what if it's last season's line ... a Gap T-shirt for AED29 (bout RM24) is a good bargain in my books. In M'sia, the Gap sales are a rare occurence and even then, it's crappy. Just yesterday, I was scouting around at for an Ipod docking station and was told that it's cheaper by about 30-35% compairing to prices back home ... depending on the brand and model of course *woot*

Now let's get on to my diet. Since being here two and a half years ago, I've taken more curries than I did in my entire life. The same goes for McDonalds, instant noodles, briyani and 'yong sum so' (some chinese herbal roots supposedly works well to cool the body). Overall, my food intake is appalingly unhealthy but it really isn't much of a choice. When there's only one kitchen shared by almost 16 others ... we can't afford to be fussy. The company used to hire a 'chef' to prepare our daily meals. This chef was previously working at a mamak restaurant in KL, so to him, chicken curry and mutton curry is an entirely different. To me ... curry is curry. And curry we had almost everyday. When management decided to let the chef go to cut the company's expenses, we relied a lot on instant noodles. they say beggars can't be choosers, so who am I to argue with that. Besides that, with only a part time cleaner who comes in to clean the place once a week, we share the kitchen with thousands of roaches. Nasty buggers who won the battle against every insecticide available on the market. Our request for management to hire a pest exterminator is still pending. Sighhh ...

Appliances in the villa is constantly breaking down ... especially the air-conditioners. Being in the Middle East, not having AC is akin to not having air to breathe. When the owner of the villa signed the rental agreement with us, he insisted that maintenance of the place should be borned by us. I guess we were conned again then. Funnily enough, almost each time we got a repairman to service a broken AC, another unit will give problems shortly after. I'm beginning to suspect something foul is going on but without proof, it's my word against theirs. Mind you, these repair charges comes from our own pocket and not the company's.

My colleague's and I are housed in a three storey villa. Inside, there are a few rooms on each floor. Some of us have to share rooms while others are fortunate to have their own. I had my own space until someone of higher position was hired and I had to relinquish my room cause no one wanted to share with him. Ok, so none of us could stand him cause he's no more than an bungling wanker. When his service was terminated, we said good riddance to old rubbish and I gladly moved back into my old room. I get along generally well with most of my colleagues but then again ... to see the same faces almost 24/7 was more than I could bear. Imagine seeing them the moment you wake up, during meals, during working hours, after working hours etc. ... not exactly my cup of tea. Also, to have so many people of different characters living under one roof, conflicts and difference of opinion are bound to occur. In addition, having an inconsiderate superior who thinks he's king of the world despite being out of office doesn't help. How would you like for your boss to come over to your house after working hours and still boss you around? Mostly on Fridays which is my day off, I will head to a nearby mall for a movie and then hole myself in a quaint cosy cafe for a cuppa. With soft music and high speed internet, this is the luxury escapade I permit myself to indulge in. It helps keep things in balance or I swear I will start going on a killing rampage. Haha. There's only one TV in the villa and the boss ... yea, that inconsiderate one will be occupying it most of the time. So to pass the time, I read for leisure. Soon the bookshelf at home wouldn't have enough space to accomodate my collection of books :p

What about the people here you ask? Well, we have all sorts to make this world go round. I've seen the good, the bad and the ugly. The local Emiratis make up the minority while expats and labourers from all over the globe poured in with the promise of a better life and a fatter pay cheque. I'm pretty certain you heard stories of how selfish and unreasonable some Emiratis can be ... especially the rich ones ... well, it's true most of em' are ridiculously wealthy. Either through inheritance or support from the government / royal family, some of these people have taken their priviledge for granted and have gone to the extend of abusing it. Take for instance, I've witnessed a local lady parking her car outside a grocery store. She honked repeatedly for the shopkeeper to come out to attend to her. After about 5 minutes of no response, she called the police who came and arrested every worker in the shop. These poor buggers were released later in the day. On another occasion, I was part of a massive queue at the local telco provider's office. We each had our number and was waiting for our turn. Two local men just waltzed in and demanded to be served immediately and their request was met. On a plane, a little boy refused to be buckled up as the plane was about to take off. His mother sitting beside him said she could do nothing as it isn't within her right to tell the little brat what to do. Only his dad (who wasn't on that flight) can do so. Beggars belief huh. I'm not saying all locals are rotten ... I'm simply implying that some of them are and it's these maggots that are tarnishing the overall reputation of their nation.

Before my surgery, I used to hit the gym almost everyday. I enjoyed working out and teaching classes in the gym's studio on a part time basis. Not only did it enabled me to avoid paying for gym membership fees, the gym pays me in return. The additional income made it possible to spend on luxuries I wouldn't have otherwise been able to afford. The experience from teaching transformed me from being an introvert into an extrovert. I enjoyed making new friends and meeting new people. I socialised and was enjoying it. Over here, gym memberships cost a bomb. Hence, I resolved to running. So everyday, I would run around my villa area to maintain in shape. Not easy to keep this up since it's getting really really reallyyy mundane. I've also missed out on many outings with my friends and had to skip weddings and birthday parties. Thank God for Facebook ... at least through it, I'm not entirely cut out from everyone I know back home :p

Now on to better things. Let's face it, the main reason most of us are willing to work here is because we're lured by the moolah. To be honest, it's not as good as some might think, but it's definitely better than what we could earn back home. It afforded me a proper wedding and a wonderful honeymoon. Not only that, I'm now the proud owner of a humble abode ... a little place for Wifey and me to call home.

So all in all, being here for the past 28 months have blessed me with some and at the same time taken some away from me. To look at it from a positive angle ... with the bad, I learned to appreciate the good. If given the choice to do it all over again ... I guess I wouldn't change a thing. I say this now since I'm almost done with this place. If all goes well, I shall bid it goodbye by year end and the thought of heading home for good ... into the arms of my wife and being in the presence of family and friends ... now that's something I've been looking forward to for a long time now. Wish me luck! :)

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Fairytail : Chapter 16

‘You’ve all got ten more minutes,’ the examination invigilator boomed over the microphone. Anna was writing furiously trying to cramp as many words as possible on her last sheet of answer paper. From the corner of her eye, she caught Wei Yee who was seated beside her, tapping the tip of her ballpoint pen on the table rhythmically, as if willing for time to pass quicker. Anna, filled with anxiety and irritation, shushed her friend who replied with a lop sided grin.

The two girls have always competed against each other throughout their academic years. Anna would spend countless hours burying herself in her notes and textbooks but alas, Wei Yee would always emerge the victor despite taking things a lot easier. Wei Yee would contribute the fact that she paid her utmost attention during lectures and tutorials but Anna often argued scornfully that her best friend is blessed with a photographic memory and the intelligence of a rocket scientist. She frequently blamed this unfairness on the genes she inherited.

‘Pens down everyone,’ the invigilator said. ‘And I mean now!’ she added, referring to the few students who obviously ignored her initial statement. After their exam sheets were collected, the girls along with the rest of the students thronged towards the bottleneck at the exit of the hall. A few of them were spotted browsing deep into their textbooks, trying to confirm their answers. Some looked relieved whilst others appeared dejected.

Outside, the weather was simply lovely. The air was fresh from the after-rain and the sun was still playing hide and seek behind thick heavy clouds.
‘I need to head to the library. Got a book overdue,’ Wei Yee said.
‘Oh ok. We’re still set for lunch tomorrow right?’ Anna asked.
‘Yup,’ Wei Yee answered and offered her friend a pinky promise.
‘See ya babe,’ as she walked towards the opposite direction.
Gabriel was leaning against one of the concrete pillars, playing on his mobile, oblivious to the group of girls who were too busy admiring him to notice Anna approaching. Anna was close enough to make out the whispered words hot, gorgeous and yummy before one of them spotted her and promptly nudged the rest. The group scooted away with much reluctance.
‘Enjoying all the attention huh?’ Anna said with much sarcasm.
Gabriel looked up and responded with a blank look, the confusion making him look all the more dashing.
‘Nevermind,’ she said as she looped her right arm into his left.
From behind, a voice was calling loudly, ‘Anna’.
They both turned around and a guy was running towards them. He was catching his breath when he finally stood in front of the pair.
‘Here,’ the guy said, handing over a cardigan to Anna. ‘I saw you left it behind in the hall earlier’.
‘Oh yea. Silly me,’ Anna said as she took her cardigan from the smiling guy. ‘Thank you so much ...
‘It’s Rufus,’ he said, still smiling.
‘Well, thank you Rufus. I’m Anna and this is ...' she answered.
But he cut her midsentence and said ‘I know who you are. You’re from 10B right?’ he referred to her class.
Anna looked over at Gabriel who was trying to stare down Rufus before nodding awkwardly.
‘I’m from 10A. So I guess I’ll see you around eh,’ he said with a wink before turning around and taking his leave.
‘You know him?’ Gabriel asked as they descended down the staircase.
‘Obviously not. I don’t even know his name,’ she said.
‘Well, he most definitely knows you,’ he said with a tone of jealousy.
‘You’re acting all silly. Come on, our exams are just over. You promised to take me some place nice to celebrate,’ she said reaching out to tickle his chin.
His attempt to stay livid failed miserably and he broke into a smile. He squeezed her waist a little tighter and said ‘I know just the place’.
As they exited the college grounds, they heard a honk. They spun around and saw a silver BMW 7 Series flashing its headlights at them.
Puzzled, Anna looked over at Gabriel whose shoulder had slumped and a scowl plastered across his face.
‘Wait here for me,’ his voice stern.
He didn’t wait for her response and walked towards the car. From the back, his body language seemed abnormally rigid with tense. The tinted window at the back wound down and she saw Gabriel lowering himself, speaking to whoever it was inside. From where she was standing, she couldn’t hear the conversation but she saw that the sentences exchanged were brief. He straightened himself and jogged back towards her. She could tell he wasn’t his cheerful self by the looks of his tightly clenched jaw.
‘I’m so sorry baby but I’m afraid I’ve got to give our date a miss,’ he said looking utterly disappointed.
‘Hey, don’t worry ‘bout it ok. We could always do it another time but is everything ok?’ she asked worryingly. ‘Who’s that in the car?’
‘I’ll tell you everything later ok. Promise,’ he said as he hurriedly walked back to the Beamer.
Gabriel got into the back seat, closed the door and the car sped off like a bullet, leaving behind a very distressed Anna.

Friday, September 3, 2010

A Fairytail : Chapter 15

The stillness was shattered by her coughing. When it eventually stopped, spots of greenish phlegm plastered her callused palms. Anna walked in groggily and passed her a warm glass of water. She stroked her mother’s back for a bit before Claire urged her daughter to head back to bed.

She stared out of the window as the first rays of the morning peeked from the horizon. Up above, the crescent shaped moon still lingered stubbornly, unwilling to slumber. Claire pushed opened the double glass panes and a sudden chilly breeze caressed her face. It freshened her instantly. The street in front of her home is barren except for the attendance of the neighbourhood mongrels who had parked themselves lazily at the front gates of a vacated terrace. Perched on the window sill next door, two pigeons were having an early argument. When they noticed Claire staring, they flapped their wings furiously and disappeared from sight.

After a series of agonizing chemotherapy sessions, her doctor seemed positive that she’s well on her way to a full recovery but he warned that a relapse is always on the cards. Before discharging Claire, he reminded her to cherish her second chance at life.

Everyone had advised her to take things slow but Claire had so much she wanted to do and she wanted to do them all now. The phobia of her illness returning continued to haunt her. Still feeling weak from the treatments, she was certain she wouldn’t survive another battle with the cancer.

She spent very little time doing nothing during her three months of medical leave. She wakes up at dawn and walks herself to the playground nearby where she would join the elderly folks to practice tai chi, (a graceful martial art focussing on internal force of the mind and body). Soon after, she would busy herself in the kitchen preparing a scrumptious breakfast for Anna. Gone were the days where her daughter started her day with stale bread or dry biscuits. Nowadays, Anna filled her belly with poached eggs on crispy toast, fluffy pancakes drizzled with honey, chinese porridge with pickled cabbages just to name a few. Once Anna’s off to college, Claire would religiously surf the cooking channels to pick up new recipes. In the afternoons, after a deserving nap, she would do some light reading or occasionally go for tea with Mrs. Chan to catch up on the latest gossips. For the better part of the evening, she will cook up a storm, experimenting on the various formulas derived by the kitchen scientists and enjoying every minute of it. Then, mother and daughter would take pleasure eating and chatting about the silly nothings of the day. Sometimes Gabriel would join them as well when invited and Claire is beginning to get used to him being part of her daughter’s life now.


It was a dream like no other. This one felt uncomfortably real and the sheer intensity of it seeped into her soul. Claire was trapped in total darkness. The sense of being lost suffocated her. When she lifted it to her face, she couldn’t even see her own palms. She shouted frantically for Anna. There was no response, not even the echo from her own voice. She dared not move, not knowing what lies in front or behind or beneath. Claire flung her arms around, hoping to grasp on something … anything. Panic surged and though she saw nothing, she felt the shadows hiding behind the darkness mocking her. Is this what death is she asked herself. Claire broke down and dropped on her knees, sobbing uncontrollably. She choked on her own breath and gasped for air. The thought of this dreaded feeling never ending depressed here immensely and she wept even harder. And then she heard it. It was very faint she was certain to have missed it if she wasn’t shrouded with absolute quietness. She strained to listen and there it was again, it seemed like a dog’s howl and it reverberated her skin. It’s as if it was trying to draw Claire towards it. She was trying to pinpoint the direction it was coming from and then heard a bark so loud it drummed her ears painfully. Claire jolted awake with her heart beating rapidly and felt that her blouse was soaked with sweat. Outside, rain was pouring. She was startled as lightning flashed across the window followed by the deafening boom of thunder.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Fairytail : Chapter 14

Mr. Foo Chee Seng is a proud man. At sixty four, he truly believed he have the world at his feet. Beginning at the ripe age of twenty two, he had conjured an obscene amount of wealth out of nothing and in doing so, he bestowed upon himself, unquantifiable confidence and an even bigger ego. His fairytale story of a lowly office boy to becoming one of the nation’s most affluent business tycoon glossed the pages of many publications. He advised would-be-taipans that sharp focus, unwavering determination and of course, hard work are the key ingredients he used in his recipe for success. What he failed to mention was that malicious shrewdness, horrifying blackmails and immoral back stabbings were utilised generously during his transcend from rags to riches.

As his business domain expanded, so did his name. That was how the once scrawny lad people in the office called Ah Seng became Raymond Foo. He chose Raymond because it rhymed with diamond. Diamonds are equated to luxury and extravagance and Raymond Foo had always aimed to live life luxuriously and extravagantly, regardless of whatever it takes to get there.

Raymond's life seemed perfect to the outside world. When he had made his first million, he also bagged himself a trophy wife. Felicia was the anchorwoman of the local news network. Charming, intelligent and gorgeous, naturally she became the prime target of countless eligible bachelors. Her list of pursuers consisted of business big wigs, entertainment artists, sons of very prosperous people and even a member of the royal family. It wasn’t long before the race to win Felicia’s affection narrowed down to two horses, Raymond and the other guy, Rob, an editor of the country’s hottest fashion magazine then. Both had their respective attributes that appealed to her, Raymond with his arrogant charisma, unshakable self-belief and financial stability while Rob was suave, highly intellectual and had his network with people in the industry. Finally, tabloid reports made the decision for Felicia as claims by a struggling fashion model that Rob had fathered her child surfaced. It wasn’t until much later that the model confessed to having lied to the media to smear Rob’s name. She admitted it was done after he turned her away when she auditioned to be featured in his magazine but a darker truth remained untold. In reality, a certain Raymond Foo had paid her handsomely enough to let the malevolent slander slip out of her mouth. By the time Rob’s image was restored, Raymond had sealed the deal with Felicia to carry his last name.

Now with most of his business ventures running like well oiled machines, raking in a combined profit enough to administer a small country, Raymond busied himself spending time with his bevy of mistresses, all of them young enough to be his daughter. He parked each of them in various luxury condominiums and would often switch from one to the other, depending on which tickled his fancy best. The one other thing Raymond was very particular with is giving back to charity. Through his Ray-Of-Hope Foundation, he frequently donated liberally to the needy. This was done not because he advocated in doing good but because he is a staunch believer in the universal laws of karma. For all the sins he had committed, Ray prayed that his benevolent nature would eventually help him escape the destined punishments decreed by the unforgiving Gods of his religion.

There is only one thorn that the great Raymond Foo isn’t able to get rid of. Tried as hard as he might, he hasn’t been able to get through to his one and only son. His son accused him of being morally corrupted, often abandoning his mother to be with his other women. To overcome her loneliness and depression, Felicia turned to the bottle and it wasn’t long before she drank to herself to death. He was wrong to assume that his son would in time, outgrow his rebellious personality and embrace Raymond as depicted by the status quo. As the boy grew, he took notice to the fact that their lavish life was being sustained by dirty monies earned through depraved methods. He made a vow never to be involved in his father’s dealings and have honoured it ever since.

Raymond realized that time is ticking and age is catching up on him. He had so far ignored his board of directors and investors to consider taking a back seat role in the company’s day to day activities. He envisioned them to be ravenous sharks, waiting to devour him whole at the first sign of blood. His strained relationship with his son was no secret to this ungrateful bunch and this knowledge only served to fuel their hunger to have him removed from the power seat. Raymond Foo desperately needed Gabriel Foo to willingly take over the reigns of his business empire before it’s too late.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Fairytail : Chapter 13

Cuddling against the immense trunk of the college’s angsana tree on a lazy afternoon, they tried to guess the shapes of the floating clouds against the sky’s blue canvas. A particular one caught their interest and a cheery debate ensued.
‘It’s a dog!’ Anna exclaimed. ‘Look, can’t you see its shaggy head on the left?’
‘If it’s a dog, then it’s a mutated one cause it has three hind legs,’ Gabriel retorted. ‘That’s its tail, dummy,’ she laughed out loud.
‘A tail that’s longer that its legs?’ he feigned ignorance and that earned him an elbow in the ribs. ‘Hate you’, Gabriel whispered as he planted a tender kiss at the side of her forehead. This is paradise, she thought.


‘So what would you like?’ Steve asked as he nervously fidgeted on the one page laminated menu, dog eared on all corners.
‘Hmmm, I’m still undecided,’ Wei Yee replied, her fore finger twirling her fringe habitually. ‘What about you?’
‘I always go for Set A,’ he said, referring to the value meal consisting of toasted bread with butter and kaya (coconut jam), eggs and a glass of iced coffee.
‘Hmmm, I might as well go for the same. It looks good in the photo here,’ she said, still scanning the menu.
Steve signalled the waitress over and placed their orders. All week he had been looking forward to this weekend where Wei Yee had agreed to go out on a date with him. Although it might have seemed weird that she suggested they meet up for breakfast because she was planning to finish her assignments in the afternoon and then visit Anna’s mom in the hospital later that night, Steve thought it would be the best to grab at whatever Wei Yee is offering now.
When the waitress left, Wei Yee was starring at the traffic outside the café. The morning rays were resting beautifully on her face, radiating what seemed to Steve like the very essence of beauty itself. His mouth felt as dry as the desert while his palms were moist like the dews of dawn.
She turned to look at him and with a puzzled expression said ‘What?’
‘Oh nothing,’ he tried to recover. ‘So what do you usually do on Saturday mornings?’
‘Well, I usually sleep in. It’s the only day of the week I get to wake up late,’ she casually answered.
‘What ‘bout Sunday? Steve continued.
‘Oh, my parents do their weekly marketing then, so I’ll help out,’ she said, squinting this time as a passing car reflected the sun into her eyes.
She looked astonishingly adorable, his mind gushed. ‘So I guess I wrecked your beauty sleep huh,’ he said bashfully.
‘Nah, didn’t they say the early bird catches the worm,’ she chipped in.
The waitress came and placed their iced coffees at the center of the table and as they reached for their drinks, the tips of their fingers brushed against one another. Out of reflex, Wei Yee instantly pulled back and Steve caught the action, causing his heart to slump down a couple of beats.
‘Sorry,’ she muttered.
‘What for?’ he replied.
‘Umm, nothing,’ Wei Yee said, suddenly feeling awkward.
Both of them were rather relieved when their food was served and they ate in an uncomfortable silence.
‘You like it?’ Steve asked referring to the breakfast set.
‘Oh yea. It’s really good and the butter is especially rich,’ Wei Yee lied.
As they resumed eating without conversing, Wei Yee surprisingly noticed how they actually ate in a similar peculiar manner. Both of them would discard the skin of the bread before slathering the butter on one side and kaya on the other and they would eat both slices separately. The eggs would be consumed last. This eating habit of hers had bugged her ex-boyfriend to no end and they even once had a silly argument over it in a restaurant.
Just then, a meow brought Wei Yee back from her thoughts. A brown and white stray feline had parked itself next to Steve’s feet and was shamelessly begging for food. Steve took the leftover bread skin on his plate and tossed it lightly on the floor. The cat moved in and was immediately chewing on it hungrily. Wei Yee took hers and bent under the table to feed the stray as well. Their gazed locked and she felt her stomach flutter, a sensation she haven’t experienced in a long time. Before she could even try to digest this newly developed emotion, she felt something else, something not good.
‘Steve, I need your help,’ she said embarrassingly.
Someone had stuck a piece of gum under the table and now it’s lodged between the strands of her hair. Steve immediately came over and he knew as soon as he saw her predicament. He tried to remove the gum by tugging it but it seems the more he tried, the messier it got. When he eventually gave up, Wei Yee’s hair was in total chaos. Patrons from the other tables were looking, some chuckling.
‘I think we need professional help,’ Steve said seriously. ‘We need to get you to a salon’.
She stared back at him blankly and then they both burst out laughing, attracting even more attention from the other people.
‘If I still look okay after my hair is fixed, how ‘bout I treat you to a movie,’ she said. ‘If you’re available this afternoon of course’.
Steve beamed and said ‘Now let’s get you to the nearest saloon’, oblivious to the dog shaped cloud drifting above.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Fairytail : Chapter 12

By now, news of Anna’s mother’s illness has spread within her close circle of friends in college. They offered their genuine sympathy and tried to help her out in ways they could. Knowing that Anna would head straight to the hospital after her classes, Steve negotiated with his sister to give Anna a lift there on days which they shared the same lectures. Katie insisted that Anna take her notes for all the classes she had previously missed and everyone knows there isn’t a more comprehensive set of notes in the entire college than Katie’s. Ivan and Jung Ho recorded a Japanese / Korean get-well-soon song for Claire. Though none of the rest understood a word from this horrendously tuneless collaboration, Anna appreciated their fine intentions nonetheless. The Outdoor Society sent a huge fruit basket directly to the ward and even Maya seemed to stop sneering at Anna whenever they cross each other in the college hallway nowadays. Her lecturers were also being understanding towards her as they thoughtfully rescheduled her tutorial sessions so that she could afford more time to spend with her mother.

None of their combined efforts could match Gabriel’s as he practically committed all his free time towards helping mother and daughter in any way possible. He made himself her personal chauffeur much to Steve’s sister’s delight, ferrying her to and from the hospital. This particular action earned him many brownie points from Claire as she often worried about Anna’s safety especially when she had to commute home from the hospital late at night. Many a times, Gabriel would ensure there’s a hot meal waiting for Anna during dinner hours and the two would enjoy their meal in the hospital’s cafeteria. He would collect mails from their home and deliver them personally to Claire. When the utility and credit card bills are due, he would help pass them to Uncle Leon to be taken care off. There were also occasions where he would sneak his family’s maid into Claire’s home and have the place cleaned and tidied up before Anna could put in her rejection.

Despite everything that is keeping her fully occupied, Anna couldn’t help realising that her fondness for Gabriel has grown deeper. She was secretly delighted that they were now spending most of their free time together even if it means running her errands or simply willing the hours away in the hospital. At least she now has something pleasant to look forward to everyday.


Notwithstanding how much her doctor and nurses tried to prepare her for, Claire couldn’t prevent the depression from showing when the first after-effects of the chemotherapy treatment finally kicked in. She was constantly shrouded in exhaustion. A trip to the bathroom to ease herself took so much effort that she gratefully traded her dignity for some assistance from the nurses in return. If it was even possible, Claire is looking even frailer than she has ever been. Her tremendous loss in appetite limited her food intake causing her body weight to plunge border lining a critical stage. Worse still, she vomited aggressively without fail after each and every chemo session, leaving behind only the bitter aftertaste of the regurgitated bile. Her sunken cheekbones magnified her popping eye sockets and her once healthy looking skin is now almost translucent white, radiating a sickly glow over the branching highway of her purple and green veins. The knockout punch came when clumps of her hair effortlessly came off while being brushed. It took only days before her thinning mane started revealing the obvious beige of her scalp. She began developing a natural fear to shower as the clogged drainage hole was a sight she couldn’t stomach. No amount of comfort could stop her heavy tears from gushing freely. Soon after, Claire refused any visitors apart from Anna, Wei Yee and Mrs. Chan. The three of them went shopping for a wig and found one that was more or less similar to Claire’s former hairstyle. It helped for a while before it began to irritatingly itch when worn over a long period due to sweating. In the end, Claire chose to don a cotton knitted bonnet instead and it proved to be a lot more comfortable. Gabriel still visited as often as before but courteously met up with Anna either in the cafeteria or the hospital’s garden area.


Claire was napping and Anna was completing her assignments as her mobile vibrated silently. She saw that it was Gabriel calling and answered it. ‘Dinner is served my lady,’ he said with a regal tone. She smiled and said ‘Make known that the lady shall be proceeding to the royal dining chamber immediately’. She packed her stuff and left a note to her mother before taking the elevator to the cafeteria. On the way down, a pair of young giggly nurses gave her knowing looks but they had already reached their floor before she could enquire more.

She found Gabriel by the entrance, leaning casually against the wall. When he caught sight of her, he straightened out himself and flashed her a heart melting smile and she still hated herself for feeling so flushed. When she reached him, she tilted her head slightly higher and said ‘Her highness wishes to know what’s on the royal menu today’. He gave a little courtesan bow. ‘Dinner today is a little special my lady. Shall we proceed?’ as he gestured towards the elevator. She gave him a puzzled look before saying ‘You may lead on, my good man’. She was surprised when he pressed on the 7th floor button, the highest level of the hospital. ‘Where are we exactly going?’ she questioned, a tinge of excitement welling from within. ‘Just wait and see,’ he answered, his eyes showing an impish glint. Once at their designated floor, he led her to the emergency staircase and proceeded walking upwards without a backward glance. She had no choice but to keep up from behind.

They stopped at a narrow passage way with a door at the end. He took a deep breath and swung it open, allowing a refreshing breeze to wash over them. He grinned at her reassuringly and cocked his head towards the outside. She took a step on the hospital roof’s flat surface and immediately a light source caught her eye. Like a shiny beacon, a table was laid out at the corner and a cluster of lighted thick pink candles were sitting on it. ‘Come’ he softly said. As they approached, she could see that the table was scattered with champagne rose petals and a basket laid waiting on one of the chairs. ‘May I,’ he asked as he pulled out the empty chair for her. Still recovering from the surprise, she sat down slowly but deep down, she could feel her insides performing a triple somersault, over and over again. Without saying a word, he opened the basket and took out two plates and two pairs of fork and knife. He laid them on the table like an experienced maitre’d. Next, Gabriel opened a container and immediately, a scrumptious aroma enveloped their surrounding. He placed a piece of succulent steak on each plate and drizzled brown sauce generously over it. Anna thought it looked mouth wateringly delectable. On the side, he spooned portions of potato salad and finished the presentation by arranging a few pieces of baby carrots for added colour. As for the beverage, he uncapped two chilled bottles of sparkling grape juice. Perfect.

Anna was utterly lost for words but Gabriel wasn’t done. He placed a cute pair of mini speakers on the table and hooked his Ipod onto them. Soon, the air was filled with the romantic melody of ‘Till We Ain’t Strangers Anymore’, a duet by Bon Jovi and LeAnn Rimes and also Anna’s favourite.

She could only look at him, her heart threatening to explode and her mind frantically trying to look for the perfect words to befit such a dreamy scenario. She realised then about the giggling nurses. ‘One last thing,’ he said. He carefully took out two cupcakes and placed them at the center of the table. Squiggled with icing on each of them was Happy and B’day. She was simply overwhelmed. Even she had forgotten that today was her birthday. This was an experience like no other. This was so special it was almost magical. At that moment, Anna felt like a princess in a happily ever after story.

‘I hope it’s not too much and errr ... I took the liberty of assuming that you would be available tonight. Good thing you didn’t have anything planned out,’ he bashfully said, ruffling the back of his hair, a habit for whenever he’s nervous. She could only continue starring at him and whispered ‘Thank you’. He replied ‘Hey, it’s your big day. You have every right to be treated like a princess. Besides, it was my pleasure to ...’. She cut him out mid sentence. Through glistened eyes, she lunged forward, grabbed him by the collar and put her lips to his. His was surprisingly soft and she tasted a hint of sweetness probably from some chewing gum he had earlier. They both knew this was what they had wanted all along and the sensation was purely wonderful. It’s as if nothing could go wrong and even if it did, it didn’t matter. After a while, they pulled away breathless. They couldn’t help but to exchange smiles shyly and he grabbed her hands. Lacing his fingers between hers, he said ‘Now try my cooking. I laboured the entire day for this’. But she couldn’t remember how the food tasted as every part of her body is bathed in a delicious warmth of love.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Fairytail : Chapter 11

The next couple of days whizzed by in a blurry daze. Anna soon became accustomed to the punishable routine, often using the bitter sorrow to numb her fatigue. By 6:30 a.m., she would have already collected the piping hot porridge Wei Yee’s mother had generously prepared. Anna wanted her mother to have at least one proper meal a day. She tasted the soupy macaroni served once at the ward and likened it to eating rubber pellets soaked in diluted bleach. After breakfast, she would read her mother the daily news hoping to take both their minds off the horrible fate that has befallen them. Her mother would then take a nap or watch chinese soaps on the fuzzy tv while Anna used the time to search for potential curing methods for her mother’s illness on the web. She soon became very familiar with the medical jargons and was comfortably applying them when speaking to the doctors. By 5:15 p.m. Anna would rush home for a quick shower before heading to the nearby coffee shop to buy her mother’s dinner. She would have Aunty Ho, the noodle seller to specially cook her mother’s noodles without oil or too much salt, usually just a dash of pepper in the aromatic chicken broth and sprinkled with some finely chopped spring onions. Fifteen years of patronage granted Anna this exceptional treatment from Aunty Ho. On the rare occasions that Claire is blessed with a better appetite, Anna would take away instead steamed rice topped with stir fried bitter gourd with chicken and black beans. It is her mother’s favourite but it pained Anna to see Claire being able to finish no more than half of what is served. By the time Anna reaches home at night, it is usually close to 11:30 p.m. and she goes to bed with an aching back from sitting too much on the unforgiving plastic chair beside her mother’s bed. She’s thankful that her exhaustion serves also as her nightly lullaby.

There wasn’t a day where Claire didn’t have any visitors. They comprised of distant relatives (some Anna had never met in her entire life), close friends (they are only a handful), neighbours (less than a handful) and Claire’s colleagues (Anna lost count but suspected they came as only an excuse to get away from work). By the fourth day she was warded in, Claire already had 3 standing bouquet of flowers by the corner of her room, all well wishes of a speedy recovery punctuated in bold. Anna hated the aroma of the daisies and gerberas because it reminded her of the same smell emanated in the funeral parlour when her grandad passed away. She beared with it since the colours added a certain vibrancy to the otherwise dull and depressing room.

Wei Yee and her mom came as often as they could for which Anna is grateful. Sometimes, Mrs. Chan brought along double boiled herbal soup which is supposedly good for revitalisation of the mind and body. Mrs. Chan being Mrs. Chan wouldn’t leave until Claire swallowed the very last drop.

To take care of her mother, Anna had missed the first three days of the college’s second semester. Although she was sure she’s falling way behind in class, it couldn’t be helped. No one needed her more than her mother now. Uncle Leon is trying his best to source for a part time maid to relieve Anna of some of her duties so she could attend classes but his limited income is making his search especially tough. Wei Yee would make copies of her notes and pass them to Anna by the end of each day but they weren’t sharing all the same classes. As far as Anna’s friends from the other classes are concerned, she wasn’t ready to share her recent family tragedy with them yet.

One day, Anna was washing up the dishes in the ward’s bathroom and she heard a male voice speaking to her mother outside. She assumed him to be one of her mom’s colleagues and didn’t give it a second thought as she began skinning an apple. When she was done, she walked out of the bathroom and was utterly stunned to see Gabriel sitting on her plastic chair, chatting animatedly with Claire. ‘What is he doing here!’ her thoughts screamed. They both looked at Anna’s bewildered expression and smiled. A few seconds passed before Gabriel spoke up ‘So … you’re just going to stand there all night?’ Anna blushed and quickly came over to the bed and said ‘What are you doing here? And how did you know?’ ‘Well, I didn’t see you in class and you’re not answering my calls. So I asked around and everyone’s as clueless as I am. So left with no other choices, I cornered Wei Yee and my boys threatened to scar her pretty face unless she spilled the truth,’ he joked. ‘You did what!’ exclaimed Anna. ‘Woah, I was just joking, silly. I simply asked her very nicely and she told me what happened. Besides I figured you needed the notes from all the classes you’ve been missing,’ he replied. He then looked over to Anna’s mother and said ‘Aunty, I asked the shop keeper and he said all you have to do is to boil it for three hours with the rest of the herbs and it’s ready’. Anna realised then that Gabriel was referring to the very big box of American ginseng he had bought for her mother. ‘Aiyo, I can’t possibly accept something so expensive from you. Please take it back,’ Claire said embarrassingly. ‘Don’t worry Aunty, that shop keeper is a family friend and I got a very good discount. So it’s actually not very expensive,’ Gabriel graciously countered. Anna wanted to say something but the door opened and Mrs. Chan walked in. The inquisitive lady immediately said loudly ‘Waaa Nana, who’s this hemsem young man? Your boyfriend ar?’ ‘Aiyo Aunty! No la! He’s just a friend and he’s here to pass me some notes,’ she replied very quickly as blood rushed to her cheeks. ‘I didn’t know they thought you all how to make ginseng in college. Waa! And look at the size of it, surely not cheap eh,’ Mrs. Chan replied as she playfully nudged Gabriel. ‘Eh Claire ar, looks like your future son-in-law is treating you very well hor,’ she continued teasing. ‘Who are we to control these young people nowadays,’ Claire said with a smile. Gabriel looked at Anna and a mocking grin was plastered on his face. ‘Nana?’ he silently mouthed.

Just then Wei Yee walked in and said ‘Ma, I parked the car on the street opposite the main entrance. The hospital’s car park is full already. Oh, you told Anna yet?’ ‘Tell me what?’ Anna responded. ‘Oh, nothing la. Just that from tomorrow onwards, I’ll be your mother’s full time caretaker. I’ve already arranged everything with Uncle Chan. So you can go back to college okay,’ she said seriously. ‘I can’t trouble all of you this way Aunty. You’ve already done too much for us as it is,’ Anna replied. ‘Don’t talk nonsense la. It has been decided. Next week onwards, your mother will be undergoing chemotherapy. She will need banyak (a lot of) nourishments to pull through. My cooking will do a lot more help than the ones you bungkus (take away) from the coffee shop. Also, you can’t miss anymore classes or you’ll flunk out of college. You want to give your mother heart attack some more ar,’ Mrs. Chan said wisely. ‘Besides, it’ll give us old ladies more time to gossip,’ she added less sagely as she launched into her trademark hyena cackle. Before Anna could respond, her tearing mother was already thanking her friend profusely.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Fairytail : Chapter 10

Wei Yee’s parents dropped Anna at the hospital and they left for home on Anna’s insistence. Wei Yee had persisted to stay with her to offer comfort and help in any way but Anna preferred to face this situation with family only, at least for now.

She found the caller sitting in the ward’s common area, his gaze fixed on the styrofoam cup he was grasping with both hands. He didn’t blink when the steam arising from the coffee connected with his eyes. ‘Uncle Leon,’ Anna sniffled. ‘Oh Anna,’ he replied while getting up and circling his arms around to give her a tight hug. Her uncle looked drained. His hair was ruffled and his expression pale. ‘Where is Ma? What happened exactly? I tried calling so many times but I can’t get through to you or Ma’ she asked as tears blurred her vision. ‘You must’ve called when I was in the doctor’s room and had my phone turned off. I guess there’s no point trying to hide it from you any longer. Did you notice any change in your mother lately?’ he said. Anna thought for a moment before answering ‘No, not really. Perhaps she has been going to bed earlier nowadays but I thought it’s because her age is catching up’. ‘Yea, she gets fatigued easily and her weight has dropped steadily over the last four months,’ Uncle Leon added. Anna was silent. She felt stupid for not noticing these signs earlier. ‘She’s in pain Anna. For the past couple of months, the pain had gotten worse. Earlier this morning, she was heading out to the market. She wanted to cook your favourite soy sauce chicken tonight but the pain came suddenly. It was so unbearable she collapsed and after a while, she managed to drag herself to the phone and called me. I rushed over and got her admitted,’ he said. Her tears were now streaming down her cheeks as she asked ‘But why? Why is Ma suffering like this?’ ‘The doctors did some tests and they just confirmed it. Your mom has leukaemia,’ he answered her dejectedly. When the words finally sank in, Anna felt her gut being turned inside out. Her head was spinning as if the entire building just crashed on her. ‘I need to go see her now,’ she said.

Claire was warded into a twin sharing room. Because the bed beside her was unoccupied, the lights on that side were switched off casting an overall gloom over the already dimly lit ward. The walls painted with pastel green shows signs on peeling revealing the truer age of the building. A 14 inch tv hung by the top corner of the room with the pieces of its remote held together with lots of scotch tape. The entire place stank of bitter medicine and artificially scented floor detergent.

Anna stood at the doorway starring at her mother. Her mother’s body looked shockingly frail under the bare fluorescents. Her face was ashen and her lips showed a hue of purplish blue. A drip was inserted into Claire’s left hand and Anna could clearly see the swell of her mother’s vein where the needle pierced through the skin and then flesh. Anna couldn’t bear the depressing sight and silently, the tears kept flowing. Claire turned her body slightly and the metal bed creaked fiercely in response. She grimaced before letting out a series of violent coughs. Anna rushed to her mother’s side and rubbed her chest to pacify the irritated lungs. Claire slowly opened her eyes and managed to give her daughter a very tired smile. ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ Anna said in between sobs, her tears splattering on her mother’s dry cheeks. ‘I didn’t know it’s cancer and wouldn’t want to worry you. I also wanted you to focus on your studies,’ replied Claire weakly before coughing again. Anna turned to her Uncle and asked ‘How come Ma’s condition changed so quickly? She looked fine before I went to camp’. ‘The doctor said with leukaemia, things can turn bad very rapidly,’ Uncle Leon explained. ‘Come Anna, we should let your mother rest. I also need to get you home to pack your mother’s stuff to bring over. We rushed here this morning we didn’t have time to take anything with us’.

Anna bent over to her mother’s ear and whispered ‘Ma, rest well you hear. We’ll be back real soon. Everything is going to be ok’. She gave her mother’s arm a reassuring grip before leaving with her uncle.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Fairytail : Chapter 9

Anna could already anticipate the questions Claire would ask and she will take pleasure in telling her mother everything over a lovely dinner. Although it had only been three days, Anna was surprised to find herself missing Claire. The bus dropped them off at the college and everyone started bidding each other goodbyes. The trip presented the opportunities for new friendships to be formed and the harrowing episode by the stream only served to deepen the sense of camaraderie between them. The very same Mercedes was waiting for Gabriel and he insisted on giving Anna a ride home but she stubbornly refused. A part of her wondered how her mother would react to the scene of her getting out of a flashy car with an unknown guy beside her no less. She didn’t dare to risk the consequences just yet. Gabriel then offered to stay back until she has safely boarded the bus but she literally pushed him into his awaiting vehicle telling him not to worry. ‘I’ll call you when I’m home ok,’ she said. Truthfully, she was touched by the nature of his concern. Wei Yee was also seeing Steve off in a beat up Ford TX3 driven by his elder sister. He wanted to wait with Wei Yee but his unaccommodating sister was having none of it. As the siblings drove off, Wei Yee could hear them arguing already. Anna walked over to her best friend and they sat on a kerb stone. The road was mostly deserted as the college is having its semester break and the next car that appeared belonged to Wei Yee’s parents. ‘Hey Nana,’ Mrs. Chan greeted Anna loudly. ‘Aunty! People actually recognize me here’ Anna faked a shocked appearance. ‘Aiya, no leng chai (attractive guy) around also,’ Wei Yee’s mom sportingly played along. ‘Eh, we’re going for a simple dinner. Come join us la,’ Mrs. Chan proffered. As far as Anna could remember, Mrs. Chan is a firm believer that it’s always better to give than to receive. Hence, she’s always being as big-hearted as she could afford. ‘Cannot la Aunty. My mom’s waiting for me at home. Am sure she has dinner prepared too,’ Anna politely declined. ‘Then we send you home first la,’ the generous woman offered. ‘It’s ok Aunty. You all go makan (eat). No need to susahkan (inconvenience) you all. See, my bus is here’ Anna said pointing to her oncoming ride. ‘Ok ok, you be careful ar. Sms Wei Wei once you’re home,’ she added maternally. ‘Promise,’ Anna replied with a smile. The girls embraced as Anna whispered to Wei Yee ‘Hey, don’t mention anything ‘bout the incident ok. My mom will get a heart attack and probably ground me for life. Don’t tell your family too. You know how your mom and my mom like to tittle-tattle with each other’. Don’t worry la,’ Wei Yee said adding a zipping motion across her lips.

Once she got off the bus, Anna trudged the path leading her home. For reasons unknown, an uncomfortable anxiety was brewing within and she hurried her pace, believing that she’ll be able to shake off the uneasy sentiment once she’s safely home. She heaved a sigh of relief upon arrival at her house’s lawn gate. Out of habit, she pushed the gate open before the piece of criss-crossed welded metal bounced violently back, almost slamming into her face. It took her a moment to reel herself out of shock and realised that the gate was padlocked. This is uncommon because Claire would usually lock the gate just before bedtime. Anna also noticed that none of the lights in her home was lighted up. Didn’t her mother knew she was coming home today?

Anna rummaged her bag for the keys and let herself in. Once inside, she switched on the lights and called out ‘Ma, you here?’. The only reply she got was a faint echo of her own voice. She ran upstairs to her mother’s room hoping to find her fast asleep but no one was on the bed apart for an old neatly folded duvet. After searching the entire house, Anna then whipped out her mobile phone and speed dialled Claire’s number. Her attempt went straight into her mother’s voicemail. Panic began to brew from within and Anna tried calling her Uncle Leon instead. Hot tears stung her eyes when she heard Uncle Leon’s voice requesting her to leave a message at the sound of the beep. Anna went out and asked for her neighbours. She prayed that they knew where her mother was. ‘Hi Mr.Ong. Did you happen to see my mother today?’ Anna asked. ‘Hmmm, if I’m not mistaken, I think I saw a car stopping by this morning and Claire got in,’ replied the seventy four year old retiree from next door. ‘Did you happen to see who the driver was? Or what car was he or she driving,’ Anna enquired nervously. ‘Oh, that I couldn’t tell Anna. I’m sorry I wasn’t particularly paying attention. I guess I was too engrossed tending to my bonsais. I’m sure your mom simply forgot the time and that she’ll be back soon,’ the old man said trying to sound comforting. ‘Thanks Mr. Ong,’ she replied. The added information worsened her fear.

Anna jittered from one end of her living room to the other and tried to think of the most sensible thing to do but horrifying thoughts keep clouding her mind. She contemplated filing a missing person report but knew that it wouldn’t do any good unless it’s past the twenty four hour mark. She called Wei Yee and her friend promised to rush finishing her dinner and immediately come over. Anna pondered if her mom could be waiting for her the college compound instead. Enveloped with a sense of dread, she decided to back track her way to college when she felt a vibration in her jean’s pocket. Her heart almost leaped out of her mouth when she saw ‘Mom’ on the caller ID. She frantically pressed the answer button and a familiar male voice on the other side of the line said ‘Anna, I need you to calm down and listen to me. Your mom’s in the hospital’.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Fairytail : Chapter 8

The loud clashing of metal against metal woke everyone up. Anna spied at her watch and it showed her the time was 5:33 a.m. Sticking her head out of her tent, she saw Bruce and Janice each had a spatula in their hands, banging it against the bottom of an empty pot. When Janice spotted Anna’s grouchy expression, she laughed out loud and banged harder. The next forty five minutes saw everyone washing themselves up by the well. Some of the guys were mocking the girls for bringing a barrage of facial wash and what nots on a camping trip. Everyone had to haul their own water through a bucket attached to the pulley and Gabriel aided both the girls to get theirs. Anna couldn’t help but to marvel at the sight of his biceps and triceps rippling in action to which Wei Yee teased ‘Look into a mirror and you know what you’ll see? A love struck dumb blonde’. Anna playfully smacked Wei Yee’s buttocks for that comment.

Breakfast was simple yet satisfying. They feasted on baked beans, canned tuna mayo, sliced bread and an assortment of Malay kuih generously supplemented by Pak Awan. Bruce then announced that the first activity for the day would be abseiling. This brought a thunderous applause from majority of the guys. Slipping their feet back into their mud soaked shoes, they trudged up to a little hill with a steep drop on the other side. Pak Awan briefed everyone on the proper methods of abseiling. No hero antics would be tolerated and that safety is their utmost priority at all times. Each of them had to select a partner of almost equal weight so that one can serve as an anchor while the other abseiled down. After putting on their helmets and fastening their harnesses, the group proceeded to the edge of the hill. With Bruce serving as anchor, Pak Awan demonstrated how it ought to be done. In a matter of minutes, the old man’s feet were both firmly planted on the foothill. He then motioned for the rest to begin.

Seeing that Anna was to abseil down before Wei Yee, Gabriel set himself to go as well but Steve came to ask if it is ok he went first. Weary in the beginning, Anna soon got the hang of it and was thoroughly enjoying herself. A couple of feet above her, Steve yelled ‘Hey Anna, wait up’. Anna stopped descending and it gave her a chance to catch her breath. When they were shoulder to shoulder, Steve grinned at her and said ‘Let’s go slowcoach’. They were almost half way down when Steve voiced out ‘Hey Anna, I just needed to ask you something ok’. Anna eyed him curiously and said ‘Shoot’. He inhaled deeply and blurted ‘By any chance, is Wei Yee seeing anyone at the moment?’ He didn’t dare look at her when uttered that question. Anna burst out cackling like a hyena and almost lost her balance. That earned her a nasty reprimand from Pak Awan. The guide wasn’t going to allow anymore hiccups after yesterday’s incident. After finding her composure, Anna said ‘Oh Steve. Haha. I never knew you had a thing for Wei Yee’. Steve looking embarrassed replied ‘Ok. Just forget I asked and don’t you go telling Wei Yee anything you hear’. He was suddenly very focused on reaching down below. ‘Hmmm, if I were her, I would be very grateful and not to mention, impressed by your display of bravado yesterday. We girls like that in a guy you know,’ Anna answered. His face glowed and said ‘You think I have a shot then?’ ‘You never try, you’ll never know Steve. You do realize we only live once right,’ she encouraged. ‘Yea,’ he said nodding to himself as both of them stepped foot on solid ground simultaneously.

By the time everyone have had their chance to abseil, the sun was already at its highest position of the day and that also indicated that it is lunch time. Instant cup noodles were passed around and most of them slurped on second helpings. They then savoured on some delicious bubur cha cha (sweet potatoes & yam in coconut milk dessert) courtesy of Pak Awan’s wife.

A free-and-easy session was allocated for the early afternoon. The students were allowed to roam around within a fifty meter radius of the camp site’s vicinity. Led by Gabriel and armed with their cameras, some of them ventured out hoping to catch breath-taking snapshots of what Mother Nature had to offer. Anna and the rest chose to take it easy and linger in their respective tents to rejuvenate from the earlier vigorous activity.

‘You know, a most peculiar thing happened during lunch time,’ Wei Yee said to her tent-mate. ‘Oh? Do tell,’ Anna replied interestedly. ‘Well, it’s probably nothing but Steve came up to me and sort of asked me out on a date, I think,’ Wei Yee said in a bashful manner. ‘And what did you say to him?’ prodded Anna excitedly. ‘Errr, I say I’ll consider it and let him know,’ Wei Yee answered. Anna laughed and replied ‘How typical of you. You know, when it comes to these kinda things, you think too much. Sometimes you just gotta go with the flow and see where it leads to. You might be pleasantly surprised to find the answer in the end’. ‘And being trapped in the jungle with Gabriel makes you a love doctor now?’ Wei Yee said mockingly. ‘Speaking of which, tell me everything that happened with him or I swear I’ll tickle you till you die of laughter. I want to know every single detail,’ Wei Yee threateningly joked. And so Anna spilled it all to her best friend. After all, they share no secrets between each other.

In the evening, Pak Awan escorted the entire group to a stunning waterfall hidden deep within the jungle like a buried treasure not meant to be discovered. On the way there, Gabriel was walking by Anna’s side. ‘So what was it that was going on between you and Steve earlier?’ he tried to sound casual. ‘It was nothing. Not any of your business anyway,’ she tried playing hard-to-get. ‘Oh ... ok,’ he sounded hurt. ‘I was just messing with you, silly. Steve’s got a crush on Wei Yee. So he’s sort of asking me to help him out,’ she explained. She was glad to know he was capable of being jealous. ‘Oh, haha. I should’ve seen that coming. He was acting kinda weird last night in the tent, as if totally lost in deep thought. I guess he must be thinking ‘bout her. Looks like the jungle rubbed off some of its magic on them too,’ he said. It was then that he tried to lace his fingers between hers but she dashed excitedly ahead, captivated by the beauty of a picturesque vista. From high above, the waters crashed down into a sparkling pool of jade crystal liquid. Its loud splashing muffling Gabriel's dissapointed sigh.

The boys took turns to fearlessly bomb dive from a colossal sized rock while the girls amused themselves chasing schools of red swordtails. As the sun began to set, most of them simply lazed around and permitted themselves to be enchanted by the therapeutic haven gifted by our creator. Anna spotted Steve and Wei Yee by the edge of the shore, enjoying each other’s company with a little chit chat. By instinct, she looked around for Gabriel and found him by himself, sitting on the sand banks, and leaning against a crooked tree. He was observing her and even from afar, she could tell that his eyes radiated nothing but affection.

That night, the sat around a campfire and grilled a galore of fresh seafood. Since they were scheduled to leave very early the next day, all of them wanted to make the most of their remaining time here. The students ate heartily, chatted, laughed and sang along to songs that Bruce strummed on his guitar. They also presented Pak Awan with a souvenier, the club’s T-shirt as a token of appreciation for the generosity he had bestowed to all of them. As the night drew to a close, one by one, they drifted back to their tents and capped the end of another fantastic escapade by the Outdoor Society.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Fairytail : Chapter 7

‘Do you even know where we’re going?’ Anna yelled. Back in the dense forest, with the rain still hammering furiously, the only way to be heard is to shout. ‘I figured that as long as we stick to the path, we shouldn’t go wrong,’ Gabriel hollered back. ‘What path!’ Anna said referring to the mud covered grounds they were tramping on. ‘We took almost two freaking hours to get here. Do you think we could ever find our way back under this condition?’ her voice loud but uneven. The cold, exhaustion and utter frustration are fuelling her sudden spike in anger. Gabriel stopped walking, turned around and said ‘Yea, you’re right and it’s getting dark. We better seek shelter somewhere’. They scavenged the area and stumbled upon an uprooted tree. The decaying trunk is easily forty feet long and its massive branches with its leaves attached provided just the refuge they were looking for. Sitting with a three feet gap in between them, Gabriel tried to console ‘Hey, it’s gonna be alright. They’re gonna find us soon’. Looking away, Anna ignored him and tried to appear brave but her trembling lips and shivering limbs ruined her poor pretence.

Shrouded in total darkness, they seem to lose track of time. It was hard to judge if a minute had passed or was it five. At least the rain had died down to a drizzle. At night, the jungle portrays itself in an entire different façade. Unlike the charming scene that greeted them earlier in the day, now everything around them exuded a sense of frightening menace. Threatening noises from creatures of the night send chills up Anna’s spine. Every now and then, rustling caused by unseen nocturnal animals would make her jump. At that moment, she wished she was curled up beside her mother, watching TV and sharing a tub of ice cream. The thought made her whimper.

Suddenly something touched her and Anna screamed. ‘Hey hey, it’s ok. It’s just me,’ said Gabriel. ‘Don’t you dare!’ Anna snapped. ‘I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to scare you like that. I can tell you’re freezing and perhaps if we huddled together, you wouldn’t feel so cold,’ he replied apologetically. ‘Why do you keep pushing me away?’ he asked after an awkward silence. ‘Hah! I don’t need to explain myself, especially not to you,’ she retorted. Better to sound angry than weak she thought. ‘I just thought we’d be better off being friends than strangers,’ he countered. ‘Being friends’, those two words hurt her. ‘Stupid. You’re just so bloody stupid Anna,’ she admonished herself in silence. ‘I mean, did I do something wrong? If I offended you in anyway, I swear I didn’t mean to,’ Gabriel pressed further. She looked at him and could make out the outline of his slouching figure. The glow casted by the crescent moon made the forest undergrowth a little less creepy now. ‘No, you did nothing wrong,’ she said softly and realised it was the truth. She was being unfair to him all this while but she couldn’t help it. He edged closer, testing her reaction. Finally, only an inch separated his right shoulder to her left. ‘What’s your story with Maya?’ she asked. ‘I know it’s not any of my business but,’ she couldn’t find the right words after that and left her sentence hanging. ‘Maya’s just an old friend to me. Our families knew each other from way back, so naturally, I grew up as her playmate,’ he tried to clarify. ‘And that’s why I know her so well,’ answering her question from when they got off the boat earlier. ‘She’s more like a sister to me,’ he said further. ‘I bet she doesn’t feel the same way,’ Anna stated as a matter of fact. ‘Well, she may feel differently about me but it doesn’t matter cause,’ he paused. ‘Cause?’ she asked impatiently. He faced her and said ‘Cause I already fell for someone else’. Anna hoped the darkness had helped hidden her smile. The butterflies in her stomach are back after a long leave of absence and they’re obviously overly excited. ‘You’re still cold,’ Gabriel said as he pulled her towards him. This time, she did not resist and allowed him to rest her head on his chest. Her cheeks were pressing uncomfortably against his damp t-shirt but it didn’t seem to matter. ‘Feel better?’ he enquired. ‘Yea,’ she happily lied. With the heavy burden lifted from her heart, she willingly gave in to the demands of her worn-out body and fell into a deep slumber.

After a while ...

Anna woke up hearing faint noises. At first, she thought she had imagined them but the voices became clearer. She shook Gabriel who had also fallen asleep. No doubt, people were calling out their names and they could see beams discharged from highly powered torch lights slicing through the area not far away. They excitedly stood up but Anna crumbled straight down because of the pins and needles in both her legs. ‘Go get them. I just need a moment,’ she told Gabriel. Gabriel nodded and started shouting out at their rescuers. ‘Praise Allah both of you are safe. Now let’s get you back to camp,’ said a very relieved Pak Awan. He led the search group with Bruce, Steve and two other boys in tow. Wei Yee pleaded to come along but Pak Awan vetoed sternly against her request saying her wounded leg would only slow them down. Wei Yee dejectedly complied and had the injuries on her palms and leg treated by Janice.

When they arrived back at the camp site, everyone stood up to applaud. A couple of them wolf whistled. Wei Yee ran and hugged her friend so tightly she squeezed every ounce of breath out of Anna. ‘I was worried to death. I was so scared they couldn’t find you’ Wei Yee sobbed. ‘I know. But I’m ok now. See,’ Anna replied and made a 360 degrees twirl. Bruce came to them and said ‘It’s best Anna dry herself and get some hot soup into her system’. The idea of food made Anna’s stomach growl fiercely. She didn’t realize how hungry she was until then. Gabriel brought over a bowl of chicken soup with some white bread. Anna accepted them and returned him with a most endearing smile before he went over to chat with Pak Awan. Wei Yee immediately shot her a questioning stare. ‘What?’ Anna cried out. ‘You tell me. I know that look,’ Wei Yee responded. ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about,’ she said dipping her bread into the boiling soup before putting it into her mouth. It scalded her pallet but she didn’t care. Food never tasted this good. ‘Fine. Let’s see how long you can keep it from me,’ challenged Wei Yee. ‘Fine. Let’s see,’ Anna replied adding a mischievous smirk.

After cleaning up, Bruce instructed everyone to get some shuteye as the next day will be another tiring one. Two to a tent, Anna and Wei Yee zipped up the opening and snuggled into their individual sleeping bags. ‘Still not telling huh,’ Wei Yee said. Anna replied by sticking out her tongue. ‘Hate you,’ Wei Yee said as she turned to face the other side. ‘Hate you too,’ Anna responded giggling.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Fairytail : Chapter 6

Upon arrival at base camp, they had to board a speedboat taking them up the river before they could hike to the camp site. Unlike travelling on the bus, everyone enjoyed the bumpy cruise along the emerald river. Shaded by the lofty canopy of the rainforest, they mesmerised at the sights of siamangs (black furred gibbon) peeping from behind gargantuan tree trunks, the symphonic hums of the jungle insects and even saw a kingfisher, diving into the river before soaring majestically back up with a tiny fish clasped tightly in its razor beak. ‘It really is a whole other world here huh,’ Wei Yee said in wonder. Anna nodded in agreement, taking in every bit of sight and sound presented by the thousand year old Malayan jungle.

Twenty five minutes later, the boat docked beside a brittle looking wooden jetty and everyone carefully got off. ‘You need any help with your stuff?’ Gabriel offered to Anna. ‘Nope. I can manage a knapsack,’ she said. ‘I’m surprised your Maya isn’t here,’ Anna couldn’t help but to add. ‘Errr, firstly, she isn’t MY Maya. She did sign up to come along but I guess after last night’s drinking binge, she should still be having a heated argument with her toilet bowl as we speak,’ he said with a chuckle. ‘Besides, she’s not really an outdoor adventure kinda person,’ he said. ‘Well, it seems you know her incredibly well. I guessed as much that when I saw you, she was the other one who didn’t show up this morning’ Anna sounded with a hint of jealousy. Just then, Steve and Wei Yee caught up with them and Gabriel dropped what he wanted to say.

The camp site is actually a very generous open area surrounded by a myriad of age old kapok trees. They stockpiled their belongings at a corner and had lunch. Famished, everyone hoovered in the pre-packed combo of curry chicken, stir fried cabbage, steamed rice and washed it all down with servings of diluted rose flavoured cordial. With their bellies filled, everyone felt a surge in vigour and started setting up tents. Since the girls know as much about tent setting as they would how to build a space shuttle, Steve ended up helping Wei Yee leaving Gabriel with Anna. Gabriel it seems is an expert and only needed Anna to pass him the material. They only exchanged words when necessary. When the tent was up, Gabriel sauntered over to help Steve who seems to be having trouble untying the aluminium rods for the tent’s support structure. Wei Yee was looking on, unimpressed.

At 4:00 p.m., they prepared themselves for their jungle trekking expedition. After a quick briefing by the local guide, Pak Awan (loosely translated : Uncle Cloud) they started moving out. Walking in a single line, they treaded on a path led by Pak Awan who will stop every now and then to explain the characteristics of certain flora and fauna. They learned how to spot wild tapioca leaves and that it can be eaten fresh from the ground. They identified herb roots that supposedly contain a range of medicinal benefits. They overturned moss covered rocks to expose a community of angry fire ants beneath it. They were taught to distinguish the piercing callings of the monyet balanda (proboscis monkey). The outing was thoroughly pleasurable and educational.

Gabriel and Steve were bringing up the back of the group followed by the girls and the rest of the entourage in front. There were instances where Gabriel’s sweaty arms would brush Anna’s and she tried her best to think nothing of it although each accidental caress would send a jolt up her body.

Without warning, it started to pour heavily. The echoes erupted as huge water droplets pounded the jungle surroundings was deafening. Anna could hear Pak Awan shouting up front but couldn’t make up his words exactly. Finally, the message reached her. They have to hurry up and cross the stream before it overflows. As if by magic, the dry dirt path morphed into a slippery mud slide. The more they rushed, the more they tripped and stumbled. Amidst all the chaos, Wei Yee suffered a deep gash at her left calf when she sliced it on a sharp protruding tree stem. The pain brought tears to her eyes but she was relieved that the rain was able to mask this show of vulnerability. When they came upon the stream, the water level was already dangerously high. The once serene stream terrifyingly swelled into a raging river right before their eyes. To get cross, one would have to walk on a man made bridge constructed out of lime stones. Over the years, flowing waters have polished the surface of the bridge making it extremely slippery when wet. Pak Awan was the first to cross and even he lost his balance when a sudden gush of water took him by surprise. Fortunately, years of trekking experience and a solid physical core helped him to steady himself. Once safely on the other side, he threw a rope over to be tied to a tree trunk. Using the rope, one by one, the students inched their way across. As the fifth student reached the other side, the rushing waters was already above their ankle level. Panic began to register on the faces of those yet to be on the safer side of the stream. The rain showed no signs of yielding and the constant ear-splitting thunder only adds to the students’ rising tension. Some of the girls were screaming fearfully as the knee high water is forcefully trying to wash them down stream. Pak Awan and Bruce were trying their best to motivate the group by screaming words of encouragement. People from both sides of the stream were shivering uncontrollably in the relentless rain.

When it came to Wei Yee’s turn, the water had already risen above her hip level. Pak Awan was afraid that she might not be strong enough to sustain the might of the water. So he said that they have to risk two people crossing the river together. The added muscle from the guys should provide them a better chance. With only the four of them remaining, Steve took the nylon cord Pak Awan had flung over and double knotted Wei Yee’s waist securely to his. Wei Yee was scared stiff she wasn’t able to take the first step. With tears streaming, all the possible ghastly scenarios flashed before her eyes. The she heard Steve’s voice, very steadily saying ‘It’s now or never Wei Yee. Don’t worry, I’ve got your back ok’. Grabbing the rope for dear life, she plunged one leg into the murky water and immediately lost her footing due to the strong currents. She heard Anna scream but Steve was already clenching her shoulders firmly. ‘Don’t worry, take your time,’ he reassured her. Though still enveloped with a sense of terror, she nodded. One step at a time, they inched forward. The water being surprisingly warm helped calm a bit of their nerves. Nevertheless, Wei Yee could feel the sting as the roughness of the rope bit painfully into her delicate palms. The wound from her ankle was throbbing so bad it made her dizzy. The only consolation was knowing that Steve was there for her. Every now and then, he would offer words of support. It was his way to let her know he’s right behind her in every step. It felt like an eternity before they both reached the other side. By the time Bruce helped pulled them out, the water level was hanging above Steve’s shoulder, leaving Anna and Gabriel trapped on the other side. With no other options, Pak Awan shouted for them to seek cover at least until the rain dies down and wait for the stream to shallow itself. Right now, any attempts to navigate their way across would be suicidal. As Gabriel pulled her back towards the direction they previously came from, Anna could see a sobbing Wei Yee begging Pak Awan to save her best friend.