the backstage epiphany

where reality is so subjective it's entirely optional

Monthly Archives: February 2010

Race, relationship, reflexology

Last night Afham and I tried foot reflexology for the very first time in my life. I’ve always loved a good massage, but I used to think that foot reflexology would be redundant if I’m already getting a full body massage, and Afham’s tendency to be ticklish below the knee made him apprehensive about getting a foot massage. However, after spending the last few weekends going out on both Friday and Saturday nights, and feeling the snowball effect from wearing 4-inch heels every single day, I decided it was time to give foot reflexology a try. And despite his misgivings, Afham was willing to try it as well.

So after dinner last night, we made a wild stab at one of the numerous foot reflexology and massage outlets in Sunway Damansara and got an hour’s foot and shoulder massages. It was, by far, the most effective, and the most painful massage I’ve ever had, and this is coming from someone who has sat through seven tattoos and never told a masseuse to lighten the pressure. It was all right up until the masseuse started kneading my heels and calves, which hurt so badly that even the cheesy Taiwanese Human Tetris game show on TV could not distract me; next to me, Afham was cringing and huffing in the chair next to me as he was torn between pain and ticklishness, but could not tell the masseuse to let up because they were both Chinese nationals.

It was this that led to a conversation — in Mandarin — I would normally never have, much less with anyone I’ve just met:

Masseuse 1: Miss, why can’t he speak Chinese?
Me: Because he’s not Chinese.
Masseuse 1:
Oh, then what is he?
Me: He’s Malay.
Masseuse 1: Oh… But he can still watch that Chinese show and laugh?
Me: It looks funny enough to him, I suppose. But he can understand a litte bit of Chinese.
Masseuse 2: Waaah, but he’s very fair! And so good-looking. He doesn’t look Malay at all!
Masseuse 1: Is he your boyfriend?
Me: Yes.
Masseuse 1: But are you Chinese?
Me: Yes, I am.
Masseuse 2: Oh, really? You don’t look very Chinese. So if you marry him, you will have to convert, right?
Me: Oh, we don’t talk about that!
Masseuse 2: Why? You must talk about it. You are old enough to get married already!
Masseuse 1: And if you marry him and he wants to take another wife, would you be able to accept it?
Me: Um… I guess not.

From that conversation, I deduced that:

  1. My boyfriend apparently does not look Malay to anyone who isn’t Malay;
  2. Even without makeup on, I don’t look Chinese enough to be recognized as one, even by fellow Chinese (nationals, at that);
  3. Our religious differences, and my refusal to address them are apparently two things that have come to be of concern to everyone except myself; and
  4. As soon as one is old enough to be married — which, these days, can be anywhere from the age of 10, or whenever increasingly early puberty strikes — every relationship is automatically inducted into the Marriage Potential List.

And after all that, we took one of the center’s business cards before we left. I suppose now that the masseuses have satisfied their curiosity over our races, religions and relationship, a more peaceful session wouldn’t be too far off.


Romance on the runway

I finally managed to catch up with the Spring/Summer 2010 Ready-to-Wear collections, and the one that caught my eye for the season is by the House of Valentino at Paris Fashion Week. Maria Graza Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli, who were appointed Creative Directors in 2008 after Valentino Garavani retired, put together a collection that is romantic  — ‘fairytale-like’, as the designers put it — with a lot of chiffon, tulle and ruffles, edgy with black silk and mesh, and intriguing with sheer fabrics and neutral and earth tones. In short, an incredibly sophisticated and elegant collection, and probably one of the few that I want in my closet — and in its entirety.

But the true works of art are the shoes that were created by Philip Treacy for the collection — court shoes and sandals in lots of lace and frills that should never be worn anywhere except at home:

Change of hands


If your heart’s not in it for real
Please don’t try to fake what you don’t feel
If love’s already gone
It’s not fair to lead me on

‘Cause I would give the whole world for you
Anything you ask of me, I’d do
But I won’t ask you to stay
I’d rather walk away
If your heart’s not in it

Westlife, If Your Heart’s Not In It –

Sometimes I wish I had never learned its power. The power to make or break a relationship, the power to control every situation, every circumstance, the power to love, to hurt, to give, and to take away something that means everything to a person.

Brave heart

What is love, anyway?

Ah, best for last. If I were Spock from “Star Trek,” I would explain that human love is a combination of three emotions or impulses: desire, vulnerability and bravery. Desire makes one feel vulnerable, which then requires one to be brave.

Since I’m not Spock, I will tell a story.

Say you decide to adopt a baby girl in China. You receive her photo, put it on your refrigerator and gaze at it as the months pass, until finally you’re halfway around the world, holding her in your arms, tears of joy streaming down your face.

But later in your hotel room, after undressing her, you discover worrisome physical signs, in particular a scar on her spine. You call the doctor, then head to the hospital for examinations and CT scans, where you are told the following: she suffered botched spinal surgery that caused nerve damage. Soon she will lose all bladder and bowel control. Oh, and she will be paralyzed for life. We’re so sorry.

But the adoption agency offers you a choice: keep this damaged baby, or trade her in for a healthier one.

You don’t even know about the trials yet to come, about the alarming diagnoses she’ll receive back home, the terrifying seizures you’ll witness. Nor do you know about the happy ending that is years off, when she comes through it all and is perfectly fine. You have to decide now. This is your test. What do you do?

If you’re Elizabeth Fitzsimons, who told this story here one Mother’s Day, you say: “We don’t want another baby. We want our baby, the one sleeping right over there. She’s our daughter.”

That’s love. Anyone can have it. All it requires is a little bravery. Or a lot.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

– Excerpt from Explaining the Irrational by The New York Times

Love will lead you back

A good friend of mine got engaged on Sunday (I’m sure it had more to do with the fact that it’s a long weekend and therefore more convenient for the out-of-towners, than that it was Valentine’s Day; we’re not that cheesy), one out of a string of people I know who have gotten engaged or married recently. I woke up on Sunday morning with two thoughts blaring in my head: that it was the first day of Chinese New Year, which meant I would have to drag myself out of bed to go back to my own house to be with my family, and that it was her engagement day.

So in my groggy stupor, I sent her a text message along the lines of: “As much as I may laugh at you, I’m still a closet romantic. So congratulations, darling, and have a lovely day today.”

Because when I remembered that it was her engagement day, I also thought, She’s really going to do it. This was a woman who, not six months ago, was proclaiming quite firmly that she wasn’t looking to get married again, having tried once before and come out of it with nothing to be glad for except her two sons and her freedom from her in-laws, and she was even more determined not to have any more children. She was, at the time, also not too certain about where she wanted to stand with the man she had just started seeing, content with keeping things as casual as society can view ‘casual’ to be.

So when she told me last month that she would be getting engaged soon, my inability to be anything other than candid made me blurt out, “That was fast,” and then try not to laugh because she looked as though she had agreed to marriage at gunpoint, and also because it was set for Valentine’s Day. As the weeks went by, she appeared increasingly agitated when talking about the engagement or wedding, and there were times when I was tempted by candor, but knew better, to ask if this was what she really wanted.

But when I saw a photo of her and the man who has been bestowed the greatest gift of all by God, I realized that it didn’t really matter what I wondered. It didn’t matter if she had agreed to marry him to dispel the insecurities he harbors, a trait that makes men so unattractive, or to put an end to her parents’ fear that she may become a cat-rearing spinster when her sons are all grown up. What mattered is that she did, that she was willing to try again, despite all the failures and the disappointments, to give love another chance.

We often spend so much time trying to heal from failed relationships and pulling ourselves up from the depths of our own dark places that we sometimes forget that no matter how low we’ve been brought down, there will always be a way to get back up, and always something to remind us that we can be as happy as we deserve to be. It may take a few failed relationships along the way, but those failures are the risks we have to take, and can only be lessons for us to learn so that when we finally find what we’ve been looking for, we’ll know it was worth the loss, and the pain.

So this is to Eza, who made her journey and came out on top, who believes (or at least tries to) that some things are worth trying for, again and again.

A different tradition

Chinese New Year has come and gone (well, not quite, but the eve of and first day are over, which is good enough for me). Any liking I may have had for Chinese New Year fizzled out when I was old enough to realize that Chinese New Year wasn’t always the happy occasion my young eyes had seen it to be, and I was extremely upset that my one legitimate excuse for not being around for Chinese New Year became invalid as soon as I set foot back in this country.

But this year, I was able to stomach it a little better. It wasn’t only because Afham was with me for the reunion dinner and throughout the first-day obligations of being at home with my family, but also because my parents themselves asked for him to be there. It was the first time that someone not from our family was part of the celebrations, and it made me appreciate my parents for feeling that Chinese New Year didn’t always have to be about family, but more of having the important people around us to celebrate it with.

And, as if he knew how I was feeling as we were making our way back to my parents’ house in the morning, Afham made my day by saying, “Happy Valentine’s, baby. We’ll do dinner next week, OK?”

Fighting the System

It had been a good day so far: I was up fairly early, a result of having consumed alcohol the night before, and was able to dash out to 1Utama to pick up the dress I had put on hold at Topshop before going to Bangsar Shopping Center for my manicure. Traffic was smooth, the single greatest advantage of living in a city which is subjected to large-scale exoduses during the festive seasons, and I didn’t have to prowl the parking aisles for too long before I was able to find a spot.

And then, as I made my way through Sri Hartamas towards Bangsar, wondering quite accurately if the speed traps that highway is so famous for would be set today, the eve of Chinese New Year, I was waved to pull over at the side of the highway, where several policemen were running the roaring trade they are so well-known for, especially during the festive seasons. So, knowing I had been going well over the speed limit, I pulled over, driver’s license already in hand, hoping I wouldn’t be held up too long as I was fifteen minutes away from my appointment.

Cop 1: Miss, you Chinese?
Me: Yes.
Cop 1: Oh… gong xi fa cai (Happy New Year), ya…
Me: Thank you.
Cop 2: You want pay saman (summons) RM300?
Me: (horrified at the amount) Now?
Cop 2: You want settle now?
Me: Well… no, because I don’t have cash. Just give me the ticket.
Cop 1: How much cash you have?
Me: None. I don’t carry cash.
Cop 1: Cash don’t have?
Me: No. Nobody’s stupid enough to carry cash these days. I only have my debit card.
Cop 1: Oh… Miss, are you stewardess?
Me: (highly indignant at the insulting stereotype) No, I do P.R.!
Cop 1: Mana you kerja (Where do you work)?
Me: Bank. Now, can you please just give me the ticket? I have to go.
Cop 2: OK, OK, we send saman to your house.

Obviously, I had been lying through my teeth when I insisted I hadn’t any cash on me, because that is part of their roaring trade: forcing bribes out of people who don’t want to be slapped with a speeding ticket and a hefty fine. But I refused to give them the satisfaction of getting what they set up the speed trap for and perpetuate the blatant, shameless corruption that goes on in this cursed country, even if I had to swallow the violent urge to say, “I’m not about to bribe you, if that’s what you’re asking.”

On another note, I realized the most effective way to get the cops off your back in this country is to speak English, and only English, to them. Their completely inability to converse in English cripples their intention of being intimidating, and they realize fairly quickly that it would be easier to extort money out of someone else who will speak their language.

And maybe someone else stupid enough to work with the System.

Uncharted territory

It seems that as we grow older, there’s just no escaping it.

Last weekend I caught up (via Gtalk) with an old friend, who announced that she had gotten engaged in January and is planning to have the wedding in the summer (I suppose being weighed down in a big white dress and having her makeup sweltered off in Charleston, South Carolina’s 90°F weather is her thing).  With her parents in Queens, New York, and relatives in other parts of the U.S., they decided that anyone significant enough and who doesn’t live in the U.S. would have to fly or be flown to Charleston for the wedding.

I wasn’t surprised that she would be getting married. She is only my age, but had been with the man since we were all still in college, and even then they were already talking about tying the knot; I was only surprised that they had waited this long — three years, to be exact — after graduation to even get engaged. And although I’m happy for them, I’m only sorry they have to dive into  the wedding planning immediately to meet the summer deadline, instead of having a little bit of time to just enjoy being engaged.

What really surprised me is that they are going to have both the church wedding and the Chinese ceremony, complete with the trend of humiliating the groomsmen when the groom comes to fetch his bride, so favored by Malaysian wedding-lovers these days. It’s a trend that, my friend assures me, has been both explained to and approved of by her all-American fiancé; she suspects he agreed to be put through it because he’s never heard of such a thing and figures it would be no harm trying.

On these unusual terms, part of the planning would also involve coaching the groom-to-be and his family, in the most tactful way they can think of, on the customs and traditions of a Chinese wedding, from the tea ceremony to that-part-I-don’t-know-what-it’s-called that involves a whole roasted pig. It would certainly be a learning experience for the groom’s retinue, and also a chance for the bride’s own family to have the traditional wedding that our race so unconditionally demands.

So when I commended my friend for having the patience to put up with two versions of a wedding, and for having future in-laws who were willing and respectful enough to be put through the ordeal, she said, “It’s really not as bad as we used to think. I think it will be fun, watching them do something that is so completely alien to them. Now that you’re in a serious relationship, you should seriously consider changing your mind about not having a wedding.”

I didn’t tell her that now that I’m in a serious relationship, a wedding — or lack thereof — would be the least of my problems.