the backstage epiphany

where reality is so subjective it's entirely optional

Monthly Archives: April 2010

Refurbishing the home and heart

Kitty: OK, Scotty, I know I’m not exactly a cake person, but aren’t you using excessive force with whatever that stuff is in the bowl?
Scotty: No. It’s like your mother said: when the world is shifting, you hold your ground. She chops, and I beat butter and sugar into submission.

Brothers & Sisters

My mother likes to send me text messages to tell me the most random things at all hours of the day. I’ll be sitting at my office desk trying to make sense of a poorly-written memo and a message will come in from her: My son* calls a bottle ‘bettol’! Same letters but jumbled up!

Or when I’m sitting in Afham’s living room watching TV: Daddy was cooking and spilt gravy on his foot. My son* couldn’t say ‘your foot’ so she kept crying “my foot you!”

So when a message came in one night, some weeks ago, saying that she and my father had spent the entire afternoon at a furniture exhibition and come away with orders for new bathroom doors for our house, a new shower door for her bathroom, a new grill for the front door and a diamond-coated knife-sharpener, I was surprised, because (a) they have just built their new ‘retirement home’ and if bathroom doors were needed anywhere it would be in that house, and (b) we’ve spent 23 years and 5 months in the same house without having had to change a single door, bathroom or otherwise.

“Why do we need new bathroom doors?” I asked.

“Because the wood at the bottom of the doors are all splintering away, and let’s face it, they’re a hideous color, and these new ones we ordered are all nice and white,” she replied. The hideous color in question was peach — or what used to be peach many years ago.

“But aren’t you going to be moving to the new house at some point? You’ll have no use for new bathroom doors here then,” I argued.

“First of all, I’m hoping we won’t be moving anytime soon, because I dread the packing and clearing out this house. And second of all, until or unless we actually move to that house, we’ll have to live with our horrible bathroom doors, so we thought we’d just get new ones. Anyway, you or Justin will inherit this house one day; you can’t be having dilapidated bathroom doors!”

She paused for a moment, and then said, “Daddy saw the ad in the paper for this exhibition, so we just thought of going. Now that we’re older and y’all are grown up, we can’t really sit around and rot. We have to find ways to keep ourselves occupied, so we go to things like furniture exhibitions. It was fun, and you know how he likes to look all these things. You’ll be like that when you get old too. It’s the cycle of life.” Another pause. “Your father calls it ‘bonding’.”

My mom has always been very accepting of the fact that I moved back here, not as the 19-year-old who was going away for school on her own for the first time, but as a 23-year-old who had her own life to rebuild and live. My dad, on the other hand, ever the emotional drama king, has had a harder time realizing that he can’t just pick up where he left off with me when I was 19, so it means all the more to me that he’s managed to come to terms with the fact that I’ve spent every weekend over the last ten-odd months away from home. Now, when my mom sends me messages saying they spent a Saturday driving to Klang to inspect their new house and stopped for beef noodles in Kota Kemuning on the way home, I think of it as her way of telling me, “We’re OK here.”

So now we have new bathroom doors.

* This is what my parents now teasingly call our Cambodian maid, who still cannot grasp the concept of possessive pronouns, after she started referring to everybody as ‘my son’.

The skinny (or lack thereof) on me

“I basically stuck with fruit, vegetables and fish (to slim down for the movie). I wouldn’t recommend that. Emily Blunt and I would clutch at each other and cry because we were so hungry.” – Anne Hathaway on losing weight for The Devil Wears Prada

Two days ago, post-photoshoot-from-Hell, I received a call from the executive producer of the film, who had just come out from a meeting with the photographer. After very succinctly telling me that he didn’t like the hairstyle I had for the shoot and that there were, essentially, no photos that he found ‘perfect’ enough, he asked, “Have you gained weight since your last movie?”

That question, and the conversation that followed, is the very reason disclaimers exist. When he first informed me three weeks ago that he was going to arrange a photoshoot for me, I wasted no time in telling him that (a) I do not photograph well, (b) I have gained a significant amount of weight in the three years since filming The Wait, and (c) I am generally very uncomfortable in front of the camera. My protests very clearly fell on extremely deaf ears, because now, three weeks later, he’s saddled with a slew of photographs depicting a fat girl with bad hair.

Nevertheless, there were two outcomes of that conversation. The first is a severe diet over the next few weeks in an effort to diminish what the producer very tartly called my ‘chunky arms’ and ‘thick waist’. The second is that any belief I’ve ever had in my friends’ insistence that I look good in photos is now officially out the window.

I’ve always found it baffling when people — both friends and acquaintances — tell me that I should be a model. I find it even more baffling when we look at the exact same photograph of myself and see completely different things, especially since I have no illusions about my looks and have always made very transparent the fact that I am not photogenic. So when I met up with Yuh Wen, the girl who also acted in The Wait with me and whom I hadn’t seen since right up until last weekend, and she said that I should consider trying out for this year’s Miss World Malaysia pageant, I had to laugh. And then I was completely taken aback when I realized she meant it, not in the least because she had been in last year’s pageant and knew the thinner, taller competition I’d be up against, but she declared that I have the face, body, and verbal abilities for it. “You haven’t seen what’s under this dress!” I retorted.

Obviously, I am not about to be a part of any pageant, not only because I’m neither tall nor thin enough, but, more importantly, also because I’ve made it my lifelong principle not to be stereotyped as an events girl or pageant girl, two labels that are synonymous with the terms ‘uneducated’ and ‘Chinese-speaking-only’ (with Yuh Wen as the sole exception). But I’m still going to try to lose weight, if for no other reason than to stop the producers’ ceaseless complaints. The probability of this rather haphazard diet succeeding is, naturally, extremely low, due to the uncharacteristically big-boned frame and weight problems I inherited and battled all my life and my own aversion to diets, and the probability of me reneging on said diet out of rebellion is increasing exponentially.

Disclaimer (because it seems so important these days): I am well aware that this is how the entertainment industry thrives — on the notion that one can never be tall enough, thin enough or pretty enough. I am also aware that no matter how bravely the rest of the world is trying to embrace women’s curves, the survival rate of women’s social lives in this country is still precariously linked to how not curvy they are.

Model for a day

Yesterday I was put through my first professional photoshoot for a new short film that Giovanni (the very same) is doing. Despite putting both feet down and insisting that I am not thin enough and do not photograph well, the producers insisted on getting some shots of me for publicity and film posters, and also to start my own portfolio (though what I would do with a portfolio is beyond me). So I sat and stood and smiled and pouted my way through five hours for a photographer who kept telling me to ‘seduce the camera’.

Several things that I deduced from this photoshoot:

1. I will never do this again.

2. If one is not photogenic, it does not matter how good the camera is.

3. My hair obeys everyone except me. Yesterday was the first time in possibly months that my hair actually looked good, thanks to the stylist, her teasing comb, and about nine ounces of hairspray.

4. Acting is infinitely easier than modeling. It was easier for me to play a prostitute in The Wait than it was to ‘look sexy’ for yesterday’s shoot.

5. The amateur work I did for some of my photography major friends back in Buffalo was nowhere near as difficult and nerve-wracking as it was modeling for a professional photographer.

6. Photoshoots are really not for people with bad and short tempers. There were moments when I almost let out a stream of expletives because I was tired of trying to act nice and cute with the girl who will be playing my friend in the film.

7. Photoshoots are also not for people who are self-conscious. Half the time I was busy wondering how I was going to strike any pose at all without looking at fat and unphotogenic as I knew I was. As the pictures below show, I failed spectacularly.

8. I need to lose weight. A lot of it. I hope the retouched photos will depict me looking at least 30% thinner.

Still, at the risk of facing the fashion firing squad — or just public humiliation — I am posting behind-the-scenes pictures anyway, because this is, after all, my first and last photoshoot.

At the end of all that, the photographer chirped, “You should do this more often! Build your portfolio!” which earned an almighty snort from me.

Faith in Color

Every time we enter a new relationship, especially women, people around us — friends, family members (both immediate and distant), and the occasional nosy colleague — tend to express some form of interest in it, if only to satisfy their own curiosity. They ask what his name is, then follow up with what he does, how old he is, and if they’re a particularly prying audience, if the sex is any good. The result is usually a spirited discussion about the relationship and its highlights, with perhaps a little rant thrown in about his bad habits.

In my case, however, it’s a little different. When people hear that I’m now in a relationship, their reaction comes in stages:

1. Surprise: I was single for so long before this that they can’t remember or imagine me being in a relationship;

2. Interest: They ask for his name;

3. Bewilderment: They realize from his name that he’s not Chinese;

4. Curiosity: They ask what I plan to do about the differences in our religions;

5. Astonishment: They discover that I have no immediate plans to address the religious issue, and then ask why I’m in this relationship anyway.

Naturally, there is no talk of sex after this point.

I used to be fairly amused at their surprise that I would actually be with someone who isn’t Chinese or Caucasian — a preconceived notion that stems from knowing that I used to live in the U.S. But now, ten months into the relationship, it grates on my nerves when people decide to be a little more forthcoming with a straight “Why? He’s Malay.” Or, as Becca so caustically put it, even before I was actually in this relationship, “I know you have more than one man to choose from at the moment, but can it not be the one who will require you to become a Fatimah or Sarimah in the end?”

To a certain extent, I don’t blame them entirely for their questions or concerns, which are raised because we live in a country that occasionally appears to go by only one religion, and one cannot speak or think of race without factoring in religion as well. Yet amidst all of this, it never really crossed my mind that our religious differences would be an issue, because I just figured that we would cross that bridge if it ever chanced upon us, so questions like “Wah, so if you have to convert then how?” have always been met with a shrug or a mumbled “I don’t know…” (until one of my very racist friends thoughtlessly asked if I gave up pork for Lent this year, and I icily reminded him that it’s customary to give up all meat for Lent)

I’ve never been opposed to mixed relationships or marriages, having previously been in a couple of them (relationships, obviously, not marriages) myself. This is partly because I was too young to think about a possible future with any of them, and partly because when I liked them, nothing else mattered. Being in a foreign country at the time, no one really thought much of it, and the only ones who did were a few friends in this country who went, “You’re dating a(n African American)? Aren’t they, like, dangerous?” My response to that had been to tell them to stop believing everything they saw on TV.

To this end, I’ve become somewhat fiercely protective of my relationship and everything that comes with it. Every race has its flaws and stereotypes, but I believe — and have seen for myself over the years — that there are the exceptions to the general rule, and ultimately, the two things that matter the most are the relationship itself, and the person whom we know is worth facing all the backlash — both racial and religious — for.

Surprisingly, my parents have been the least opinionated about it, largely due to their lack of faith that I’m able to sustain any relationship at all and they’re sure that this will be over at some point, but I’ll take the silence where I can.

Separate togetherness

Carrie: What do you want?
Big: I don’t know. Let’s save an hour. Why don’t you just tell me what I want?
Carrie:
No, really, in your mind, what is the ideal living situation for two people in a relationship?
Big: Exactly what we have.
Carrie: And what is that?
Big: I have my place, you have yours. We’re together when we want to be, we’re apart when we want to be.
Carrie:
Like Woody and Mia.
Big: Before Soon-Yi.
Carrie’s voice-over: Ever since Woody Allen described waving to Mia Farrow across the Park, single men in Manhattan have yearned for that kind of separate togetherness. I felt like the last dinosaur. Was I the one who needed to adapt? Was my view of a relationship extinct?

I’ve deduced from this that I’m at a crossroads between being T-Rex and Woody Allen. Or Mia Farrow.

Two years and two shipwrecks later

“Don’t count the years anymore. You live in KL now, baby.” – Afham

I have a weird way of making milestones out of everything. I’ll note how many months or years it’s been since I went somewhere, met someone, did something, even saw something. Most people think it’s a silly thing to do but it’s how I remember things, etching them in my memory so that I don’t forget — because, obviously, milestones are for the things that are worth remembering.

So today, I’ve been in this country for exactly two years. A year ago, I would have whined about it — which I did — sighing about how I let my life spiral so far out of control that the only way I could think of to take control of it again and rebuild it was to admit defeat and come back here, how I allowed myself to waste a year of my life in this godforsaken country, and how I hated everything about this place, from the traffic (which I still do), to the weather (which I always have), to my job (which only occurred much later), to the spectacularly failed attempt to build a relationship with someone who had no sense of anyone else around him.

Over the last year, I’ve been reminded that things do happen for a reason, no matter how bad they may appear. For barely a week after I whined about my wasted life, I ran into someone I hadn’t seen in over a decade and couldn’t remember ever speaking to, who would end up helping my (personal) life take a turn for the better. I was able to get myself certified as a scuba diver, along with my best friend, which is something I never had the chance to do when I was living in the U.S. My job may have become a travesty of this profession we call public relations, but, as Becca and I have discussed to great lengths and I’ve come to realize over the past few weeks, it would merely be a step towards something bigger and better, and all I needed to do was look at the big picture and figure out my next step.

But I will continue to count. There are some who have openly declared me as a sad and emotional little girl who keeps living in the past, but it’s my way of keeping that chapter of my story alive, of making sure that I remember the people I met, the places I went to, and the lessons I learned during my time in that part of the world that have led me to where I am now. By remembering, I can live in the now and look to the future without feeling as though I’ve lost something that can never be regained.

And so, with two years gone by and the third looming, I can honestly say I’m looking forward to seeing what else is in store for me. After all, looking at the Advanced Open Water certificate lying next to me on my hotel bed at this very moment and thinking of the two shipwrecks I saw over the last couple of days, surely it can’t all be considered a waste now, can it?

Back to the sea

My very first mask! Black skirting with a white frame, so that I may dive in style

My very first mask! Black skirting with a white frame, so that I may dive in style - taken with BlackBerry Bold 9700

After more than eight months, I’m finally back by the sea, this time to obtain my advanced diver’s license. It’s funny: up until last year, if one gave me a choice between the mountains and the beach, I would have chosen the mountains (probably because in my mind the mountains equate to snowboarding). And now (at least until I’m back in a place where snow exists) I would give it all up to be by the sea. Or rather, 40 meters below it.

I’ll be back on Friday!

Resurrected hope

“Easter is not a time for groping through dusty, musty tomes or tombs to disprove spontaneous generation or even to prove life eternal. It is a day to fan the ashes of dead hope, a day to banish doubts and seek the slopes where the sun is rising, to revel in the faith which transports us out of ourselves and the dead past into the vast and inviting unknown.”

The Lewiston Tribune

May this day give me hope again — hope that with enough time, faith and perseverance, I will be able to turn my life around for the better, care for the people who matter the most to me and free myself from the burden of my sins that I’ve carried with me for so long.

Happy Easter.