Friday, December 25, 2009

Roar Again, and Again

Gosh! Have not updated my blog for 2.5 months, since I started my new job:)

I'm sure some would be wondering. Yeah, it started out well, very hectic and a lot of writing. But for the first time, I actually get a boss that I can get along well with. From day one, I observe her carefully, how she manages people especially. I think that is the only thing that puts her above me. In terms of expertise, we are quite at par. I have to say that managing subordinates in the private sector is not half as tough as in the government sector. I was really relieved not to be the head anymore though, to have nobody reporting to me.

She is soft spoken, but demanding in her own way. I was physically tired, but comfortable. There is an arrogant foreign colleague who gets on my nerve, but she is junior and powerless, so it's not a big deal. I thought she was the only unpleasant element. I stepped onto a senior person's toe on my third day at work. By that, I accidentally nailed down the key problem of the organisation. She was pissed off with me but there wasn't any long-term damaging effect. I was glad to stumble upon it early and not waste my time churning out the solutions to a problem that cannot be solved, because the people involved are reluctant and defensive for some reasons.

Deep down, I knew it was too easy. Never had it that easy before. After 6 months, I'll get a confirmation, no delay. I spoke too soon.

2 months later, there was a major change, politically-motivated, and a new department head came in. She changed the structure and put everybody at the same level, reporting directly to her. Pity my boss who had given her heart and soul to the company for years. Now, I have to prove myself. My job descriptions have the least change, as compared to the other members of the department. And to be fair, the new boss is still more tolerable than many bosses I've had in the past. Just that it angered me, because now I have to struggle just like everywhere else that I've been at during the last 10 years. No time out at all. I am exhausted.

The only consolation I get is that I get to learn some high-level politics by frequent interactions with a pro, yeah, this new boss is a master manipulator. I could see that already, after a month. And she has set her mind to tackle that specific problem that I had stumbled onto. She is more politically savvy, maybe she can do it. Anyway, I tell myself that I cannot get stuck in this post forever, though it pays well. There will come a time when I need to make a career advancement and head a department, or two, again. This is my chance to pick up a few tricks.

For now, I am going for a week-long unwinding vacation in the Lion City again. Yeah, city of memories, every time I go there, I'd be fighting a different demon. No exception this time. Merry Christmas and see you soon:)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Splashing Syawal

Back from a relaxing 2-week long Raya break and straight into a hectic first week at work, LOL!

I utilised my break fully to re-connect – menyambung 'Silatulrahim'. The imam's ceramah after Raya prayer was inspiring. After a quiet, low-key Raya celebration, my mother and I visited 3 of our Haj roommates. One in Nakka (near Thai border) – her daughter's wedding where we ate authentic kampung dishes under a tent facing the paddy field. The other was our oldest roommate at 75 and her daughter in law in Kodiang (near Perlis). My parents and I spent a weekend in Hatyai. I loved the nasi lemak ayam and unique teh tarik served by a Muslim couple at a roadside stall near our hotel.

After that we took off for Penang and I had coffee with an old acquaintance whom I have not met for 5 years. Shocking revelations which I would share in another entry. I also met blogger Rad for the first time. We had lunch at the airport while waiting for my flight. Too many topics to talk about and not enough time, obviously. LOL!

Mr Designer fetched me from the Subang airport. He called to say he would be 30 minutes late but ended up being only 10 minutes behind. Luckily, I hadn't ordered a cup of coffee at one of the cozy cafes yet. I was so excited about my new job and revived by the fact that I didn't have to go back and face my immediate superior aka the idiot anymore that Mr Designer became the last thing on my mind. Yeah, I'd stopped missing him.

I only texted him once to inform details of my arrival, not even a Raya wish or anything. He agreed to have coffee but suddenly his ex-wife called and asked if he could fetch the kids. Her car broke down that morning and could not be repaired on time. I took it as a 'reminder' from God to forget about him. During our last outing in Ramadan, I told him flat out that I won't be outsourcing my new company's design jobs to him. I'd need a stable, reliable and tip-top supplier.

Unfortunately, the job interview he attended just before Raya didn't come through. He was quite sure that they had offered him a job and was going to revert with formality and details. He waived another job interview after that.

It struck me then how he had wasted his unemployed period and not go all out to look for a job. I had forwarded him suitable vacancies on Jobstreet and he kept on delaying creating an account that would enable him to apply online. I had also written him a sizzling reference letter. All he needed to do was sit in front of the computer long enough. He didn't even have the initiative to edit his CV as per my suggestion. I know ever since he wakes up at noon daily, his time was filled with his mother and sister's family activities and visiting his kids but... he doesn't work and he doesn't have to do housework, so...???

On Saturday, I had a nice dim sum lunch with an ex-colleague from the hotel. Dropped by at the main kitchen and caught the men in white at the end of their Chef's table. And then, delicious lamb and chicken briani dinner at my uncle's spacious bungalow. The kids ended up in the swimming pool.

On Sunday morning, I had an unpleasant surprise. A friend was supposed to have breakfast with me at La Bodega and shared useful contacts for my new job. But I arrived 5 minutes late finding that she had bumped into a Chinese family that she knew and expected us to sit at the same table. Excuse me, I didn't sign up for breakfast with strangers and time is precious.

I excused myself saying I needed to go upstairs and use the plug point. I finished breakfast and was online for an hour before she finally came up bringing this Chinese guy with her. She saw my comment on FB and tried to cover up with a lame excuse that she was introducing him to me as a contact. Wrong person too, he was the designer and didn't have a clue what the PR team did. She insincerely & discreetly apologised after that, and I said I've got to go, my parents were leaving for the airport. I got a window into her core character, reminding me that my first impression is always correct. That would be our last outing, for me at least.

I did a lot of preparation for my new job, especially in terms of dressing. Went on a shopping spree just the week before going back to my hometown. Bought jubah, blouses, long skirts, tudung, handbag, eye shadow palette and 5 pairs of shoes (before that I've only bought like 3 pairs in the last 4 years). I went back to my hometown and ordered 4 pairs of dark trousers from an old Chinaman tailor. Bought another 3 tudung CT from Pekan Rabu.

And during the weekend in Hatyai, I found the ideal briefcase, a black blouse, hair bands and eye liners. Finished that off with final shopping spree upon return to KL – foundation, powder, mascara, more eye shadows and blushers. Having to tie up my hair neatly in a bun also means new fashionable hair accessories – hairnets, hair clips and glittering hair combs to push my fringe back. Okay, that is a lot for someone who does not occasionally enjoys shopping, LOL!

What triggered that? First of all, the dress code requires the female employees to wear head scarves (of any type – includes transparent ones and selendang ). That means I have to choose my outfits carefully to match. And then, the HR clerk at my former company suddenly lashed out a long advice to me on dressing well. It seemed that the employees there were bitching about my dressing.

Sure, I had gotten uninspired, but their (gomen) definition of well-dressed is something else - “Baju dia serupa dengan baju aku ja...” Yeah, they expect a manager to wear a material of superior quality to the others, probably with those glittering artificial stones as well:p. She also stressed to me about making a strong first impression at my new work place and dressing well (to counter off the negative things my former colleagues have been spreading about me).

When I returned my office handphone on Friday last week, I found myself stepping into a pressure-cooker. The staffs were preparing for a politically-motivated outstation Raya event. My 2 former senior executives were roaming around like little Hitlers, power crazy and out of control. Apart from the mualaf, a senior clerk and an executive were brought in to replace me. Still no manager. Staff were being transfered without plan and customer service became short-handed again. The driver turned librarian was the main person in-charge. Several people wanted to talk to me 121 that I spent like 3 hours there. The best news of all - an external candidate was hired to fill in the post that the idiot had been eyeing all along, yeaaaa!!!!

Shall write about my first week at work in my next entry:)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Rahmat Ramadan

It's the 20th day of Ramadan. My search is finally over. On Friday last week I got a phone call on a great job offer from a Middle Eastern company. And instead of 3 months, I'm getting out with less than 2 weeks' notice. My future employer is paying for 2 months of my notice period and I still have 10.5 days of annual leave left. Which means my last day at work is Thursday next week and I won't be coming back after Raya. I've dreamed of leaving by Ramadan for so long that I couldn't believe that it would actually happen, especially at this late stage. It is fate. Alhamdullilah!

And the best thing is that they are offering me the exact salary that I requested for, much higher than my present job. In my new job scope, I will only be in charge of a section of PR, reporting to the head of PR. Yeah, not even a department head post. They are really paying a lot there. I am kind of nervous too, considering that they are also buying my notice period. Expectation is going to be really high with them investing so much in me. In comparison, here I had to oversee 2 departments at monkey salary (before my transfer*). And I didn't even know I have to handle customer service on top of PR until I got my appointment letter.

On Monday morning, I took half-day emergency leave and rushed like mad from 9am onwards to settle my medical check-up. The clinic was packed, it was Monday morning made worse with the H1N1 scare. I nearly had a hick-up with my eye test of all things. The woman was so 'kelam kabut' and I misread the letters, hence she concluded that my left eyesight was very bad. Hello, I just had a thorough check up and bought new glasses 3 weeks ago. Luckily, the doctor got another person to test after that and she said it was normal. I then collected my appointment letter and arrived at my office at 11.58am.

Shortly after, I was in the HR Manager's office. He was a bit surprised, despite knowing I was all geared to get out for so long. He asked me to re-write & attention it to the MD instead. I might as well get the HR exec to review first considering the company's strange practices. And then, I had to wait for an hour to see the MD. He was stunned when I handed him the resignation letter. He opened it in record time asking, "Pasai apa nak berhenti pulak ni?" I decided to keep my gripe for my exit interview, I just wanted to clear it asap. So, I just said, "I got a really good job offer." He asked 'Where?' but didn't pursue after that. Apart from having people waiting to see him outside, I think he knew that my future employer is unbeatable, he was from the same industry. So, it was quick. He said he noted my request for early release. Well, I'm not like some people, the muaalaf in particular, who used resignation as a stunt to seek attention. I take it very seriously.

This has happened really fast. I only attended my second interview with the Acting CEO and Head of HR the Friday before. I was dressed in a black jubah with a bit of white, a black jacket & my mother's tailor-made black tudung with a bit of beads. Yeah, a real tudung which covers all my hair. And that was the first time I have gotten new clothes for an interview, LOL!

I had taken care to dress extra carefully based on the feedback that I received from my first interview 2 Fridays before. That was conducted by the GM, Head of PR (my future boss) and a HR rep. I was dressed in black top and trousers, jacket and short peach tudung. The first one was tougher as the questions were general. It was informal too, I couldn't tell when the GM was kidding and when he was serious. The second was very much focused on expertise. Thank God.

From my previous interviews, I have learned to be relaxed as normally they don't expect you to know much about their industry (for an outsider). And none has conducted an interview as tough as I do. LOL! I have interviewed like almost 100 candidates here & hired only 2. That gave me a really good insight into HR and the hiring manager psyche.

My exit interview form was 4 pages long. HR people said I could really write, LOL! Normally, when employees give negative feedback, they would ask to re-think and re-consider. But in my case, they didn't. Even they agreed with me. I've said it all, clearly, an advantage of being a writer. LOL!

*Note on my transfer: I was transfered to business development on 10 August - yeah, the exact post where the GM tried to move me before but the MD refused to sign the letter. The transfer order letter sounded like a termination letter. There is a major re-structuring going on and many have been moved, some to suit their academic qualifications. Come on, some of us decided on a career path away from our Degree a long time ago.

The worst thing was that I still have to report to the same GM. Neither of us have expertise in this sub-area, which was really stupid. A few days later, a request came in and I had to handle the development of the industry blueprint. That would have been challenging except that a blueprint was already developed by a consultant 4 years ago but was never implemented due to the frequent change of management. In fact, the current MD is finishing his contract this November. So, it's hopeless. The only positive thing I can say about this whole exercise is I have my own spacious office upstairs and lots of privacy, LOL!

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Last Saturday, my editor/publisher gave his feedback on 5 of the 28 stories that I've submitted. He said mostly I need to work on my rhythm. Stories have rhythm too, just like songs. He suggested that I read the stories out loud and hear what they sound like. He also said that I'm self-censoring myself. Some stories have potential to become erotic, but I stopped it before it could go down that path, LOL! A good example is 'Counting Raindrops'.

One story, 'Water Warrior' was really off though. He said there were too many things there that I did not know eg bank robbery, smoking ganja, etc. Maybe I'll drop it for this round, I'm going to need a lot of time to re-write that. I shall rework it into 1 of my boarding school's unique culture stories for my next collection.

Meanwhile, I got a big surprise while attending an author's creative writing workshop on 9 August. I met Kak Teh for the first time! And she was sitting at the same table as myself, facing me too. A quick personal intro by this Malay woman in tudung made me think she was Kak Teh, and it turned out that I was right, hehe... Didn't expect her to be soft spoken though, her writer's voice is very crisp and strong.

We did a bit of freewriting during the session. Below is a story that I managed to churn out from the workshop, 1 of my Haj ones. Interestingly, I kicked start 'Hide and Seek', another Haj story, from a freewriting exercise during a creative writing workshop too. I guess my holy land pieces need special recall techniques to start off. They are kind of tough:)

Street Singers - 1st Cut

Orange light spreads across the sky. Sunrise. It is our second day on the holy land. My three roommates and I have just left the Al-Haram mosque. The crowd from the Subuh Jemaah prayers shuffles ahead of us. A pilgrim shoves my left shoulder, another one on my right. More and more people knock against my arms and my back as they rush to overtake us. I adjust my white Telekung and neatly tuck in the few strands of stray hair on my forehead.

Along the way, we saw Indian merchants busy opening their outlets. The men quickly roll up their front shutters to reveal colourful displays of goods. Road-side sellers have already laid their mats on the ground and started business. “Nasi kerabu, nasi lemak, mee goreng!” A woman in black robe and long Tudung with a white veil covering her lower face calls out to us. She is seated on a low stool. I glance at the familiar triangular packets of food in front of her. A Tabung Haji officer told us that Patani settlers often take advantage of the Haj season. This is the time of the year to make money from local delicacies that remind Malaysian pilgrims of their home.

Chanting resonates from afar. Its’ intriguing melody and crispness are haunting. The beautiful, high pitch voices seem to have risen from further up the street. It is accompanied by loud rhythmic clapping. The synchronised singing becomes louder and louder as we move along...


Monday, July 13, 2009

Red Water

After sending off my draft stories to my editor/publisher, I felt so light. So, I managed to do much more reading. I've also completed another one of my Turkey stories:)

Red Water - 1st Cut


He takes her straight to the thermal pool. They step up onto a low staircase and enter through the door. The scene before their eyes startles her. It feels like a whole different world altogether.

Rising steams make the walls seem hazy, causing the place to appear smaller than it actually is. Bubbles popping out of the hot reddish murky water makes the pool seem like a huge pot of boiling soup. Its rust-like mineral dregs remind her of a documentary of Planet Mars that she caught on National Geographic.

A Caucasian woman and child have just arrived. The little girl pulls off her top, puts on her bathing cap and slowly steps into the pool. Her mother follows suit.
“I come here a few times a week. My friend gives me a good rate.” He stresses again, in case she has forgotten. “Do you bring your… I don’t know what you call it, you know for swimming?”
“Swimsuit? No, I don’t.”
“Would like to come again? I can fetch you from your pension."

She thinks about it for a while. Obviously he is planning to swim too, to fully utilise the time he takes to drive her there. She squirms inside. Being in the narrow pool in the hot turbid water with an old man for company is too much for her to stomach...


Thursday, July 2, 2009

Striking Gold

On Tuesday evening, I finally submitted my first draft of short stories to my editor/publisher. There are 27 stories altogether. From experience, it will take around 2 months until the book is published.
Only the day before, my co-author from our first book was shortlisted for an international award for her solo collection. That is great news. It gives a strong recognition to Malaysian literature. The award provides a solid platform for our publisher to stand and strike big deals from. He can now directly market his books internationally.

It is hard to believe that it was only 2 years ago when we worked on our first book together. I've seen how much she has improved. Of course, she started at a slightly higher level than the 2 of us; her language command is stronger. Nevertheless, her win is a boost to all. It proves that dreams are not too far away. I am so inspired, but also very nervous. I know my editor/publisher is going to come down even harder on us now, if that's possible. After years of patiently searching for hidden gems, he has struck gold, finally:)
Below is my latest boarding school tale. I've wanted to include a racial piece in my upcoming collection. I am so glad that it came, even at the 11th hour.

Colours - 1st Cut


He pushes back the tip of his glasses and finally speaks. “Assalammulaikum.”
“Waalaikumsalam, Cikgu.”
“Before we start the session, why don't you introduce yourselves first? Let's start with you, Tok Batin.”

He gestured towards a plump and short boy seated next to him. His unusual choice of a nickname seems to fit as somehow the smart-looking lad does remind one of a village medicine man. We giggle quietly. The boy seems startled before regaining his composure and starts speaking confidently. “Assalammulaikum. I'm Nizam from Perak.” The teacher signals to the next person and we all take turn one by one.

Once we finished, he turns to the first boy again. “So, Tok Batin, tell us what made you choose this uniform?”

He looks puzzled.

“You are the only one here who is not dressed in light blue top and dark blue bottom. So, why? You like this colour?”
He looks down at his peach cotton shirt and dark brown pants. “Yes,” he grins.
“This is a good colour. It's a warm colour. Warm colours show courage.” He pauses for a while and turns to look at the rest of us. “Do you like blue?” He asks no one in particular. “Blue is a weak colour, it's the Malays' favourite colour. Blue and green. Chinese likes warm colours, red, orange and yellow.”

He points to my lap. “Even your file is blue.” He chuckles.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Commuter Tales 2

My low blood sugar experience on the way to work yesterday morning triggered another story. So this morning, I completed 1 more commuter tale. It's much longer than the rest though, at 1200 words.

Sugar - 1st Cut

As the door of the train opens, she pushes her way between two rows of passengers to reach the deeper part of the compartment. People are leaning along the walls, there is no more empty space. She has to make do standing in the centre. She puts her bag down, against the side of her leg. She looks for the plastic holder hanging from the metal rail near the ceiling. To her surprise, the was none, they have been removed.

She grumbles silently and puts her palm against the wall to steady herself while the train takes off. It is difficult to maintain balance without actually holding on to anything. At times, her hand accidentally hits the book that the woman opposite of her is reading. She wishes she could trade spot with her and comfortably lean against the wall, peacefully enjoying the short story collection in her bag.

Even the metallic connecting floor is fully occupied that morning. Normally, that is the least favourite spot. Every time the train turns, the floor moves to the left and the right, making one standing on top feel giddy.

Her hand felt stretched. Tired, she releases her palm from the wall. She takes a deep breath. The route is a bit longer from KL Sentral to Pasar Seni; this is where the train suddenly speeds up, almost making her lose her footing....


Friday, June 12, 2009

Commuter Tales

Somehow, lately, I've started writing very short stories inspired from my daily experience of using the public transportation system. This range from LRT and monorail to commuter and transit train. I'm talking about between 350 to 800 words here, or the new term for it is flash fiction. Maybe one day, I'll have a separate collection of these. Right now, I think it's sufficient to include them in my general collection. That is subject to what my instructor has to say about it though. He has not read any of it.

An excerpt from my 5th commuter story which I wrote this morning:

Beads - 1st Cut

When the LRT train stops at Dang Wangi station, a young woman steps in. She carries a black plastic folder under her arm and a brown leather handbag on her shoulder. A crisp two-piece dark blue suit, matching light blue blouse and black pumps show that she has taken care to dress well. A long string of brown beads complete her attire. When she moves, the necklace colour changes from orange and amber to maroon and dark brown.

She notices the empty seat near the connecting part of the train. She tugs her skirt neatly before carefully sitting down. The folder and handbag rest on her lap. The woman beside her gets up at the next station. The seat is not taken after that. Suddenly, a loud popping sound is heard, once, twice, three times. It resembles pieces of marbles tumbling down onto a large wooden floor. The sound is heard once more before the woman realises the source. One by one, her brown beads drop onto the empty plastic seat before rolling down onto the floor.

She touches her necklace, only half of it is still hanging around her neck. A look of surprise spreads across her face....


Sunday, May 31, 2009

Revisiting & Reuniting

Last week when I dropped by at my publisher's place, he asked if I would be interested to read through a collection of short stories' drafts submitted by my co-author & comment on the logic, as well as language. Yeah, he beat me to it, so it looks like I would the last to publish my solo book, among the three of us. LOL!

I had to attend a dry 2-day course so I brought the drafts along. I actually finished reading & commenting on all his 20 stories in 2 days. I have to say that his type of stories are not in the local market yet. He had found his niche - surreal/fantasy element mixed with another element eg relationship, crime, etc. However, this batch is not as gripping and shocking as his previously published bunch. Nevertheless, I think they would appeal to a wider group of readers, and not upset so many people. LOL!

As for me, I am nearly done with my first drafts. I have 22 complete stories, these are enough & they meet the minimum number of words given by my publisher at 60,000. However, I would like to squeeze in at least 2 more because these are different ie Hide & Seek and The Kid.

Fate also had it that I reunited with a friend from boarding school whom I have not met in 20 years. He had a solo exhibition recently, his third. He paints as part of a therapy for his schizoprenic and bipolar disorder. Coincidentally, his favourite painting matches the title of one of my stories - Hide & Seek. I requested to use it for my book cover and he agreed. He wants royalty should I sell more than 100,000 copies though, LOL! Later on, my publisher advised me to go for a more abstract piece. I found a simple but yet distinct one using the 3 primary colours only. Mr Designer is working on the cover design right now. I can't wait to see it.

The story below is not part of the last 2, I am still not sure of it. I first started writing it around 2 years ago, during Raya holiday. Those who follow my blog would know who inspired it. I had a problem continuing it though. I only picked it up around 2 weeks ago and re-wrote it completely. The cotton castle of Pamukkale, Turkey had inspired the background of this fantasy world. Yeah, it had turned into something else. No more a simple alien-psychology story. I didn't plan for it to be a romance - fantasy/sci-fi - psychology piece, but it became that way, LOL! It may still not have the element of a romance, who knows, I still have a long way to go:)

A Liar's Brain - 2nd Cut

Today is the last day I am allowed to walk around on my own. Tomorrow, I will become someone’s wife. The realisation hits me, as much as I try to ignore it. Nervousness, fear, doubt and all sorts of feelings force its way into my mind.

“The stranger whom you will marry is due to arrive soon.” That’s what The Hat announced during the people’s assembly last week. The human has been identified from a foreign land and will be brought here to enrich our community. As curious as I am, I dare not question his decision. He has led our land for many centuries, he knows best.

I use a plastic basin to scoop the chalky mineral water and pour it onto my Hat. After repeating it a few times and ensure that I have covered my whole body, I lay in the deep and narrow calcium pot for a while. The top comes up to my shoulders. The snowy sand stretching for miles and miles away was breathtaking. Ivory mountains wave at me. The equally white trees dance around me. “Good morning,” I shout out to them and laugh when my voice echoes back at me.

I squeeze out some fragrant algae powder and shampoo my hair. I reach for another container and pour out some star fish powder. I use it to scrub my body. Several more scoops of chalky water and I am done. I climb out of the pot and sit on the sand, allowing the cool breeze to dry my body. I run the tortoise comb along my hair. Being early means that I have the whole bath to myself. And I love the calmness of the dawn, it is so quiet.

I wonder what my husband to be is like. I shall find out soon. The Hat had asked me to be at the People's Hall to welcome him when he gets here later.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Awful, Awful April

I've put off writing this entry for a while. April had been a really tough month for me, work wise and personally. Gosh, even in 2007, Ad 'died' in April.

On 23 April, I had another episode with Mr Designer, quite a definite one. I came close to not seeing the RM3,000 that I lended him (short-term for 3 weeks only). And if that is what it cost to get over him, it might just be worth it. He claimed that a relationship would ruin our friendship. I beg to differ, I think money would ruin it instead. On the other hand, I'm also doing copywriting for his business and the fee is quite substantial as compared to the little time spent, though payment can be late.

He said if we are friends, we can be friends forever. He did care about me, a lot, and he'd help me in any way that he could. Relationships, on the other hand, burn bridges. And under pressure on 7 April, he finally blurted out that there were other women pursuing him too, and clueless on what to do, he gave them the same answer that he gave me. That hurt like hell. Furthermore, I have to finish off the copywriting on a brochure for his business that same night, I stayed up till 2.00am. Anger nearly caused me to throw it back in his face, deadline or no deadline.

On his 41st birthday on 11 April, I only gave him a greeting card, through his partner. They were attending his late father's tahlil, which his mother had combined with his birthday. My words were deep though. I reckoned that if he meets the right woman, he'll open up his heart again. And he hadn't yet. Anyway, I'm too tired to share all the details here, and I think readers are also tired of reading about him & how I still have a soft spot for him, despite everything. Probably, I should open a new blog, LOL!

Now on work:
On Friday, 17 April, on the LRT back from work, I had a call from a stranger. It was past 8pm and I was damn tired. At first, I thought it was a supplier, then he started giving a 'ceramah' and I thought it was a salesman and naturally, I cut him off, asking him to get straight to the point. He said he didn't like me pressuring his wife, yeah, just like who the hell are you!!

It was my staff's husband. He said he was taking his family to the mosque and I shouldn't be calling his wife after office hour. Furthermore, she is a Mualaf, he had to guide her. Hello, his wife left the office without meeting a work deadline. Not to mention, she had been avoiding the tasks delegated to her in a new role, she wasn't doing well in her former role either. His wife claimed that I was rude to her. The thing is that before he told me, I didn't know his wife had a problem with me specifically, though she always complained about the workload.

Her husband threatened to complain to the MD. Hence, I had to alert him, and my MD finally returned my call at 10.00pm. He was calm, and he took it easily though. Luckily, I decided to meet up with an ex-collague, whom the Muaalaf sabotaged from moving to my department. She was the one who asked me to call my MD. I also made like 10 calls to the Human Resource Manager that night. The incidence was kind of terrifying, it had me shaken. I spent the whole Saturday pouring out to the sensible woman at my publisher's place. I was kind of trembling until Monday.

On Monday, 20 April, I lodge a report with the HR Manager on harrasment and threat. He asked me to consult the legal head, which I did. The woman amended my letter, stressed on how my staff was not cooperating to achieve the department KPI and the company's. But her advice is to let HR take care of it, and the best way was to push my staff to another department. How was she going to work? I assigned work to her through email every morning and made her come up to my office before leaving. That was torturous enough, I think. This was the same woman who betrayed me before, and I shouldn't have given her a second chance.

On Wednesday, 22 April, HR interviewed my staff on the incidence. The next morning, she tendered her resignation. That same afternoon,HR interviewed me on the incidence. At first I thought they pressure her into leaving. But that couldn't be, it was conducted neutrally. So, perhaps she was embarassed. I thought that was the end of it, but I was so wrong.

On Friday, 24 April, my other senior staff threw a tantrum and walked out at 5.00pm (office hour is until 5.30pm). Why, because I made him re-write a proposal 5 times. Well, he is really careless with writing. Regardless of how productive he is and how fast he moves, in PR, writing is no 1. I extended his probation because of that, and because of insubordination which I stated clearly in his appraisal form. Also, he missed a handover meeting before I left for my long Turkey holiday, and he immediately went off for a week holiday without a handover. He also tend to ignore my phone calls when he is out. Plus, he had a habit of going straight to Popeye and vice versa, and I couldn't do quality control.

Anyway, he returned to the office an hour later, all emotional, saying that I purposely 'nak kenakan dia'. None of his four female ex-bosses had extended his probation before. Well, I'm honoured to be the first. LOL! He rambled on and on like a woman, half apologising and half egoistic about the whole thing. He said I can cold-storage him but I cannot fire him immediately.

Hmm, I tried to explain to him that extending probabation didn't mean you want to get rid of someone, it just to give staff a chance to improve. From where I come from, it is something very common, even for a mere reason like my English wasn't up to it. I actually hired a tutor to help me. I didn't throw tantrum to any of my all-female bosses. He also blamed me for not being able to fill up the vacancies in my department quickly.

I met HR Manager but due to the current 'political scenario', he cautioned me against giving my staff a warning letter. Well, the week after, I think the outburst sort of made him nervous, and more cautious. I now have one point against him, and I can report him anytime.

And concluding April, Popeye, my idiot immediate boss, suddenly decided to conduct my appraisal on the 27th. I knew he was up to something. It was 17 months after I came onboard, and 11 months too late. I heard that he wanted to extend my probation many months ago, but my MD refused to sign the letter due to the personal nature of his remarks. Luckily, he had HR manager and executive in the room, so I took the opportunity to fire him directly and later, put my counter attacks to his remarks in black and white.

He threatened to relocate me, saying that I couldn't handle my staff. When asked, he said he'd create another position under him, but I won't have to supervise people. To cut a long story short, I dared tell him he couldn't do certain things at whim. It was easy because he didn't follow the proper procedure. He would have been able to get rid of me already if he had.

And last but not least, the Muaalaf retracted her resignation a week later. Air head! I had over-estimated her. To date, there is still no black and white from the MD to accept it.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Onion on the Wall

I haven't had time to update on the consecutive blows that I faced during the last 3 weeks. Emotional outbursts at work where they don't belong plus the lack of emotion in my personal life where I could use some... hmm... a trying month indeed.

And I had just returned from my school reunion in Perak a few hours ago. There's more to that too.

In this entry, I just want to quickly share an excerpt from a short story that I started during my 3-day corporate video course on Wednesday. This experimental piece combines romance, supernatural and violence.

Onion on the Wall - 1st cut

The clock is unlike any that she has seen before. Resembling a two-dimensioned onion, it hangs flat on the wall at the outer front of the cafe. Its' body had been meticulously crafted from thin sheets of brightly coloured metals; these unfold horizontally like a rainbow. At its' centre, two tiny white arms spread out to 2.30pm.

Rose takes a deep breath and tugs her feet underneath the rough wooden carved table. Despite the drizzle, she chose a spot outside. She sits back on the stool and leans against the big damp tree trunk behind her. Her flip flops lay apart on the wet earthen floor. She flips Murakami's 'At Night' novel in her hands several times before putting it down again.

“Hello.” The cheerful voice belongs to a petite waitress. She hands over a square orange menu. “What do you want to order?”
She reads the first line. “Just some Hot lemongrass tea, please.” The girl takes the menu and walks off. 10 minutes later, she returns with a full tray. “Thanks,” she stares at the beverage. The big glass plunger carries enough cloudy lime green liquid to fill up at least five cups. Somehow, it reminds him of the moss that grows at the side of the lake. She pulls the holder up and pour a bit into the small red cup. Her fingers shiver slightly.

She looks up at the clock. It is 2.55pm. She wipes the trickles of water on her brows and nose. It was raining heavily when she left the gallery 15 minutes ago. Funnily, it was her third time down the lane and she had never noticed the tiny cafe before. While her hair, clothes and flip flops are drenching wet from the rain, her cheeks are equally wet from tears. After going back and fro three times, she decides to stop by. The first thing that caught her attention was the onion clock.

As she sips her tea, she wonders where Zack is at that moment. He has asked her not to worry, assured her repeatedly that he has everything under control. She doubts it. She knows that he has not received the payment for his last job yet. Even if he had, it was far from enough. There is nothing else she can do. She had dug deep into all her bank accounts and scrapped the last bits of her savings...


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Someone will pay...

I have attended a few funerals but the one on 23 March was really heart-wrenching. It was the way she died... Just a week from her 40th birthday too. Her colleagues were planning a big party to celebrate.

One day, I heard a relative had been missing for 5 days. The next day, police had already found her body in Malacca, floating in the swamp. It happened so fast. 36 hours had passed and the body had already started to decompose then, so the forensic test results were off. She was 39, the test claimed 29. Nevertheless, the thumb print showed a 70% match. They are still waiting for the results of the dna test. However, her parents were worried that it was really their daughter so they decided to accept it and perform the funeral. Waiting further would torture the body. It was the weekend so they had to wait till Monday to claim the decease.

I dropped by at her parents' house for a short while. Family members, including many the from neighbouring country, gathered. Finally, at 5pm, the van arrived from Malacca and we adjourned to the mosque in Cheras for prayers. I couldn't imagine how the decease's parents felt. Even the guests were a bit confused, was it really her? And how did we move from 'not sure' to 'accepting that it was really her' within hours? Or are we performing this regardless of whether it was her but we are still hoping that she was alive out there somewhere?

Amazingly, her parents were extremely calm. One of her brothers is a tabliq member and he was so in charge that at first I thought he was the mosque's staff. Her twin brother who lived abroad flew back and started hitting the walls, screaming and all, he was still in shock. Her only sister really broke down, it was hard to digest. Even aunties, cousins, colleagues and friends couldn't stop crying from the mosque to the graveyard. (Muslims are discouraged from crying at funerals). And guest what, the decease's mother coolly consoled them, her smile remained.

At the graveyard, the victim's father slowly supervised the carrying and positioning of the coffin. It was tricky, the lot was right at a steep and uneven hillside, with trees blocking their ways. It was also 2 lots away from the decease's late grandfather's grave. It was in the 80s. He had just arrived from Jakarta. The taxi from the airport got involved in an accident and he was killed on the spot.

Family members gathered very close by. I could see everything clearly, I could still smell the freshly dug earth. They placed the coffin on the ground while waiting for the Imam to come up. The Imam asked 3 people to go into the hole to receive the body. The deceased brother, my youngest brother and a grave digger volunteered. They placed the body into the hole. The Iman asked them to make sure that the head faced Kiblat. They pressed earth into balls and used that to lock the body's position. After making sure that the body is tightly placed, they put a piece of plywood on top of it. All the men took turn to use two spades to pour earth on top of the plywood until the hole was filled.

The decease's non-Muslims colleagues observed from afar. After the burial, they carried the empty coffin back to the van. Even then, it was tricky going around the trees and uneven land. The decease's father asked her mother and sister to shorten their prayers and proceed to thank the guests. He even held a short speech to show his appreciation.

It was an unforgettable occasion. The decease's boss said she called a week ago to say that she fell down and strained her hand. Therefore, she couldn't go to work that night and asked for masseurs suggestion. Her boss advised her to go to the clinic and take MC instead. But she never called back. Night shifts were her favourite since she was an insomniac. Experts and layman all thought the same thing - the killer was someone she knew. It wasn't a matter of being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

I didn't know her well, had only met her a few times. People spoke highly of her. That she put others before herself and were always doing things for others. She was also a star employee, her wall at home didn't have enough space to put her awards. When I first heard the news, it struck me how similar we were and that it could have been me. She didn't drive and took LRT and monorail to work. She also lived alone. Up to a few days after the funeral, I was shivering-ly scared. I often slept late and left a few lights on outside. I even came close to asking my brother and sister in law to move back. Mr Designer sent me home a few times, and I think after that, the fear just faded away.

Al-fatihah for arwah.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Single Room Ensuite

I initially thought of sharing the story of my frustrating stay at Homeros Pension in Selcuk, Turkey in an entry. However, when my instructor showed me a writing contest in Harper's Bazaar, UK with the theme 'mother', I knew this story will be perfect for that. I have decided to tell it from the pension owner's mother's point of view. That is challenging considering that she speaks very limited English. As I write, I realise how many times I actually bothered the poor old woman. Her son deserved a a good spanking, he was so thoughtless and insincere. You can read my online review here:

It will be tough keeping the story below 2000 words though. Let me know what you think, ya?:)

Single Room Ensuite - 1st Cut


The next morning, I hear a female voice calling me. “Mamaaa! Mamaaaa!” The clock shows 6.30am. I climb up the stairs. The guest is standing in front of her bedroom door in her white thermal under shirt and pants. Her long hair looks uncombed. “There is no hot water,” she gestures with both hands. I put up my palm, a sign for her to wait. She nods. I climb up the stairs to the first floor and walk to the master bathroom. The hot water has been switched off. I turn it back on and then tell her to wait for another half an hour. I lift up one finger and indicate cutting it into two. She nods in understanding and re-enters her room.

After breakfast, Osman takes her to the Ephesus ruin site around 5 kilometer away. He tells me that she has ventured out on her own after that. She does not return when darkness creeps in and I start to worry as I wait in my room. To my relief, she turn up at 7.30pm. “Yoohoo...” I sing and rush up the stairs. She smiles and nods in appreciation. By then, she notices my concern.

The morning after, again she calls me at 6.30am. “Mamaaa...”
“Yes.” I climb up the stairs. “There is no hot water,” she says.
I recognise trouble. Winter does not stop this Asian girl from bathing twice daily, and from her irritation, I know that she did not get a hot shower that morning either .
“I give up,” I put my hands up and try telling her that it is caused by the cold. “Upstairs got hot water.” I pointed to the stairs and ask her to follow me. She goes into her room and picks up her transparent toiletry bag from the dresser and the used bath towel hanging on the wooden chair. We climb up. I point to the master communal bathroom. She goes in and thanks me.

During breakfast, she complains to Jervis, my son.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Wet, Hot and Clean - Cagaloglu

This is my 8th entry on Turkey.

Being a spa fan, I had looked forward to visiting the Hamam, or Turkish Baths, during my holiday. Before that, the closest I ever had to experiencing one was the Morrocan version of Turkish Hamam at Bangsar Village. Hmm.. that was like 5-star when compared to the popular ones in Turkey.

And I managed to cover 4 hamams in 15 days. By the time I got back to KL, my skin had become so smooth. Really, LOL! I have to say that no hamam was perfect though. Each one had its' own pros and cons. However, the first hamam I went to on my second day in Istanbul was the most memorable. It was kind of like being nurtured back in history. And a shot of hot steam in cold Winter was heavenly.

'Cagaloglu Hamami has remained more or less unchanged since it was built on the orders of Sultan Mahmut I in the mid-18th century. It's a favorite for the makers of TV ads, who consider it an essential element when selling their soapy wares! Celebrity bathers are rumored to have included the likes of Franz Liszt, Florence Nightingale and Tony Curtis. Cagaloglu is listed in 1,000 Places To See Before You Die. '

I arrived at a colourful stain-glass door and stepped in. A man greeted me at the counter and showed me the list of treatments available. I opted for the most luxurious one, I think it was 50Euro for an hour treatment. After paying, he took me pass the cafe and lounge into another room. I got to choose a soap for free. It was a tough choice, they all smelt nice. I decided on Honey. He showed me a range of Kese or square scrubbing mitts to choose from. He said it was better to purchase one for hygienic reason. I went for the hardest and most expensive one, a black piece. Guess I was in for a treat, and I didn't know if I'd have time to go to another hamam.

He then asked me to go straight into the lavish Camekan, the women's changing section. One of the women there greeted me and showed me the individual dressing cabin. It has a desk and a small bed to lie on. I closed the door and locked it with the big golden key. I could still see the happening outside as the top part of the door and wooden wall next to it was covered with glass. I changed into a pestamal, a distinct check red and white cloth worn at hamams, and stepped out. The old-fashioned wooden clogs made me fumble badly. A woman showed me the washroom. After I got out, I found a pair of plastic sandals laid on the floor. I laughed. Apparently, my lack of skills was obvious to everybody.

My therapist was a big-sized, bubbly Turkish woman with short curly hair named Nuva. She took my hand, opened the big wooden door and and brought me into the steam room. There was a big Gobektasi in the centre of the room. The hot hexagon-circular-shaped marble platform was meant for lying or sitting on but it was empty at that time. In fact, the only guest inside seemed startled to see us, probably because she was not wearing anything. She quickly turned to the wall.

There were several marble wash basin stations next to the walls around the Gobektasi. Nuva gestured towards the one next to the door. She made pouring water gesture with her arms and left. I sat on the edge on the marble next to the basin and looked around. There were two taps, for hot and cold water. Feeling warm from the steam, I use the copper scoop and poured water onto my body.

After a few rounds, I sat back down and took it all in. It was beautiful. A 300-year old bath, the architecture was ancient and very intricate. There was a leave-shaped design behind each basin. The mostly white and a bit of light grey marble colour was a bit run down, yellowish, but the signs of age added the place's charm, I think. The whole ambiance was so calm and peaceful.

Before long, another woman walked in. She went to the other guest and asked her to lie down on the Gobektasi. It was time for treatment. Nuva walked in shortly and asked me to do the same on the other side. I got up on the lukewarm marble slab and lied down. She asked me to put my hands above my head. I stared at the inside of the high dome top. I could see the fine carved ceiling and shiny holes resembling round disco lights. It was kind of hypnotising too. At times, I felt like it was the rays of the sun piercing through, it wasn't glaring though. I soaked in the whole atmosphere, feeling very relaxed.

Nuva adjourned to one of the wash basins, removed her clothes and quickly poured water onto her body. Then, she re-appeared in a bright swimsuit. She took the black bath mitt I brought in and started scrubbing my skin. It was so soft to the extent that I wondered whether she was doing it properly. LOL! And she used it on my face after that, without washing it first, err? She then asked me to turn around. She gave me a light back and neck massage before asking me to sit up so she could massage my arms. Then, I had to get up and walked to the wash basin nearby where she would pour water over me. She would also pour water on the marble platform to get rid of the soap before I could lie down again. Telling me what to do was tricky with her very little English, but at least I understood her.

She repeated 1 more round with skin peeling mixture and told me that after the third massage, my skin would become smooth. The final round, she used a piece of cloth and lathered some soap into white foam. I could feel the delicate bubbles multiplying on my body, and before I knew it, I was covered in foam. I nearly got a bit in my mouth. LOL! It was slippery too, and it was tough to stop myself from sliding around too much. And yeah, I had to get up and walk to the basin 3 times altogether. It was kind of strange.

During the final wash, she asked me to sit down on the marble edge at the basin so she could wash my hair. After she was done, she gestured towards the other basin and instructed me clearly, "Water, water, water. Steam, steam, steam. Understand?" Apparently, she was using the basin we were at for her bath. LOL! I did as she said and stop from time to time to enjoy the steam.

I was a bit disoriented at first without my glasses. I could see, but the haziness from the steam plus my lack of vision made it all seem rather dream-like. During my treatment, a few Caucasion guests had come in. By the time I was done, the Gobektasi was filled with mostly naked women covered in foam, with a therapist attending to each of them. Apparently, everybody went for the luxurious package. At least, the therapists 'arranged' the women neatly at a comfortable distance from each other. And I think only 1 woman was wearing a pair of bikini.

Around 2 hours later, I got out of the hot room and changed into a towel. Then, I re-entered the Camekan and got dressed. A woman knocked on the door to hand me a free gift in a plastic bag, it was a pair of black cotton panties. After that, I slowly put on my sport shoes in the women reception area and absorb it all for the last time. A staff offered me a drink, I ask for apple tea, it was not free, LOL! And finally, I put on my bulky Winter jacket and left.

Anyway, I soon learned that visiting one hamam may opened a new window, but I was far from understanding what hamams were all about.

For better pics, click here:

(Next: Chamberlitas Hamam)

p/s: This is not a hamam review, just an account of what happen at the point of time that I was there:)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Lost in the Labyrinth - part 2

This is my 7th entry on Turkey

By the time I arrived at the entrance of the Grand Bazaar, I was already sweating. I had to unzip my Winter jacket, which I wasn't comfortable of doing as it exposed my waist pouch. The place might seem complex and tricky, but fortunately, I didn't have much trouble there. I got lost slightly when the tour guide left us there during the city tour on Day 2. However, walking by myself was much easier as I didn't have to remember a specific entrance or spot to gather, etc. I can just wander off naturally. And the guidebook was right. The Grand Bazaar consists of 1 main lane that branches out into side lanes on the left and right. So, it was fairly simple.

Feeling tired, I decided to find the cafe I saw at one of the side lanes the other day and have lunch. It took me only a few turns and turning back, and there was Havuzlu Restaurant, am elegant and nice outlet. There was a fountain in front of the entrance. I chose a cozy table for two outside. It was interestingly placed as I enjoyed the dining backdrop of leather jackets, which belonged to the stall next door. I asked for the menu. The waiter called the energetic Captain to attend to me. I noticed that when I dine, normally the Captain or the owner himself would attend to me, probably due to language barrier. He suggested that I sit inside, said that it was nicer. I didn't agree.

He said not everything was in the menu, so what don't I go and see their food selection and decide. He took me inside and explained everything in detail. They have an appetizing selection. I decided on meatballs. It came with vegetables and potatoes like a casserole. Forgetting that they always served bread with each meal, I ordered the oily rice too.

Shopping at the Bazaar did not appeal to me. I only got a small 'evil eye' necklace and pendant. Locals believe it would protect you from evil. I wanted to buy key chain, but I didn't see anything I like. Of course, merchants were calling after me like mad. 'Excuse me, lady. I say, Lady!

After a short window shopping, I decided to stop by at Cafe Amrosia for Coffee. Then I saw the menu display. 'Sahlep'. I remember reading about the creamy traditional drink with hibiscus roots in Tom Brosnahan book so I ordered it. It was really thick and burning hot with a sprinkle of cinnamon powder, I think they boiled the milk in the pot. After that, I went to change money. The waiting area for 4 was really cramp and I didn't feel comfortable as the staff attended to all customers at once. That means the others would know how much money you had on you. And I was exchanging USD1000 too. There were 3 men when I got there and they invited me to have a sit.

After that, I stepped outside. It was raining. I opened my folded umbrella but it kept turning inside out from the strong wind. I quickly hailed a cab to go to Chamberlitas Hamam. When I was done, it was already dark at 6.30pm. There was a cab waiting at the junction. Having learned my lesson, I ignored it and strolled along. I waited at the road for a cab to pass by. The driver was eyeing me so I stepped into a Turkish Delight shop nearby. I ordered 2 types of goodies before realizing that 50 gram of each was a lot and I didn’t want to carry 2 extra boxes to Canakkale the next day. So, I only took one. The owner gave his card, asked me to go again. He wanted to show me the way to walk back to Sultanahmet. I asked him where could I get a cab instead, it was too dark. He went out and hailed the same one which was waiting for me. He said I shouldn’t pay more than 5 TL and talked to the driver for me. We agreed on 5 TL.

I was due for another nightmare. When we arrived at the crowded area of Sultanahmet, the cab didn’t know where the hotel was. He also didn’t know how to read the address from the card that I gave. When I asked him to stop and asked for direction, he ignored me and kept on going. I then rolled down the window and called a person near by to ask. After a few trials, a man I asked spoke good English and showed the way based on the address. We didn’t get there but this time the arrogant driver himself rolled down his window and asked. The second one didn’t speak much English but he knew the way.

When we arrived in front of the hotel, the driver insisted on 10TL instead as he had to turn around many times, as if that was my problem. I had sensed that coming and quickly grabbed my stuff and opened the door. One foot already out, I yelled at him, “You said 5TL!’ I threw the money at him and banged the cab door before quickly crossing the lane to my hotel. I was lucky that he got a shock and sped off. Naz Wooden Inn front door was always locked and you had to knock. He could have come after me. And Han, the receptionist, listened patiently to the long-winded account of my misfortune. He agreed with me, the nice cab drivers are really nice, where else the bad ones are really bad.

Feeling tired of cabs, I asked him to arrange a dinner booking at a Fish Restaurant for me that night. I knew it would be a classy and expensive outlet as they provided complimentary pick-up and drop off service. I spent 40TL for salad, main course and Cay. I seldom exceeded 10TL per meal before, except the two treated by Simah and Havuzlu. Anyway, the fish in tomato gravy with cheese in a hot plate was delicious and fresh. At first, I was not happy sitting quite near the entrance. Fortunately, the Captain moved me to another table as soon as it was empty. Oh, it was Valentine’s Day and my new secluded seating area were reserved for couples mostly. LOL! The place was full and we could hear loud music and singing from the function upstairs.

I found out that my pick-up to Canakkale the next morning would be delayed to 3.00pm due to snow. So, in the morning, I took Han’s suggestion and took off for the Asian shores on my own. Having learned my lesson, I made sure I walked until I found the tram station. From Eminonu, I walked to Kadikoy Iskelesi and took a ferry. Onboard, I walked right in until I came across a nice seating area, like for VIPs. The ferry docked at Haydapasar before reaching Kadikoy. I showed my Istanbul Time Out guidebook to the merchants at the convenient stall near the jetty and asked for direction to recommended places.

When I was crossing the road, I saw many policemen lining up, at least 100 pax. At the closed area in front of the jetty, a group was putting on loud Turkish music and making announcements. I didn’t think much of it and went off to venture. At the old Bazaar, I got myself a nice pair of pink Winter boots at 50TL. I surveyed the restaurants in the area, having read that Kadikoy has the best selections. I finally decided on one filled by local diners. The waiter was surprised when I ordered both fried anchovies (they ran out of shrimps) for appetizer and grilled Seabass for main course. The fishes were very fresh, and the price was slightly cheaper than European Istanbul, I think.

Kadikoy’s many outlets were occupied by a wide range of products from vegetables and fish market to books and music equipment. At the flower shop nearby, remains of Valentine’s Day from the previous night were still there. Red heart-shaped balloons and romantic gifts too. I was so tempted to drop by at Starbucks for a cup of Coffee after that. However, on my way back to the jetty, I saw a group of people marching and shouting with pickets signs and all. There was a protest going on, which explained the batalions of police. The protest area was fenced in and it seemed under control. I wasn’t scared but I thought I better head back quickly. I had to follow the crowd and make a whole round to get to the jetty due to the closed space.

When the ferry reached Eminonu, I got of with the flock of commuters. However, I discovered that walking back in the opposite direction was not as easy as going. I lost my bearing completely. The few people I asked didn’t have a clue and nearly made me cross the road and walk all the way back to Sultanahmet (when I wanted to take the tram). The second time I asked, the ticket counter man finally got out of his cubicle to show the lower floor and the staircase down to the tram station. It was just 3 minutes away.

Getting down at Sultanahmet was another horror. I started walking down next to Aya Sofya. A tourist I asked was going to the Arasta Bazaar, so I followed him there. He advised me to use the Blue Mosque for bearing next time, the bazaar was not visible from afar. From there, I took a turn into a wrong narrow lane and got lost big time. It was to the extend that I was already worried about being late for my 3.00pm pick-up. After showing the address to many people (I really mean many), I finally found the Inn. A 5 minute-walk became 45 minutes. Not only I made 1-whole round, I think I might have made even 2, LOL! The place was as complicated and confusing as a honeycomb. I reached Naz at 2.50pm, just on time. Luckily, I had already cheked out of my Cave Room earlier, at 9.00am. I managed to change my clothes and washed my face like 5 minutes before my cute tour guide arrived. He was to accompany me on the Metro public bus all the way to Cannnakale.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Hidden Hospitality

This is my 6th entry on Turkey.

As much as I enjoyed my Turkey holiday adventure, I have to admit that the first 24 hours after my arrival was something else.

I took the MAS Golden Holiday package and that included airport pick-up. The driver who met me at the Ataturk International Airport was 'mute'. A frail looking man, he kept his right hand in his pocket. He did not smile and did not greet me. In fact, he didn't speak a single word to me, not even a Merhaba.

MAS list of accommodation does not include anything appealing in the old city part of Istanbul. I finally decided on the four-star plus Madison Hotel in Taksim, the modern district. The main reason was because I was afraid of being stuck indoor due to heavy snow and the place has a Hamam. Of course, that didn’t matter because snow only arrived much later this year. Also, the Hamam and recreational facilities were unisex, so they were useless to me.

The pick-up van had to pass by a security gate to enter the area. Madison checking-in was really efficient. I remember its porter practically jumping out of the door and sliding my luggage into the lobby as soon as the van stopped. Within 3 minutes, registration was completed and he was already carrying my luggage to the room. I found out that the room heater was great. I didn't even have to wear socks when I slept at night.

The neighbourhood was filled by modern dining outlets, which made me long for the day I’d move to another hotel in a more authentic area. The first thing that struck my mine within the first hour I was in the country was how European it was (and how totally non-Middle Eastern).

After leaving my things in the room, I went down for breakfast. The buffet spread was tempting. I gave my room number to the waitress but she appeared blur. The proud looking captain quickly approached and ask if I needed assistance. After helping myself to the huge selection of breads, cheese, fruits, local soup and hard-boiled eggs, I noticed something. I was 'underdressed' in my casual blouse and lazy blue jeans. The guests were either formally or fashionably dressed. They either had business suits or designer jeans with elegant accessories.

Madison seemed like an expensive hotel, MAS must have gotten a really special rate. And guests didn't have to identify themselves, they just go and eat. But then again, in Kuala Lumpur, you can dine in jeans at a five-star hotel and not look out of place. And I also learned that asking whether the food was 'halal' was kind of insulting to the Captain. That was another person who was allergic to smile.

The hamam was not yet opened so at 10.30am, I went back to my room. I had booked a boat ride tour with the New Deal Travel Agency at 1.00pm. There was plenty of time. I wasn't happy with twin beds, but they turned out to be useful. The spare bed served for me to lay the layers of clothes I was wearing for the day. When my mother did not reply my sms, I called her. After that I set my alarm clock and lied down for 2 hours.

I contemplated going for lunch at noon when my phone rang. There was a female voice. She was calling from the hotel lobby. She asked if I had booked a boat ride at 1.00pm. I said yes. She then spoke in a tensed and loud voice that I had 1 minute to get myself down there. I asked what time it was - she said 1.10pm. Unfortunately, I had set my clock 1 hour behind the local time. But then, the man I had spoken to earlier said between 1.00 to 1.15 pm, depending on the traffic. It didn't sound like a time-sensitive affair to me.

I quickly jumped out of the bed. I had already paid for the trip and my main concern was not to lose my money. I was still kind of disoriented when I put on the layers of clothes. I never had to wear so many pieces before. As I was grabbing my waist couch, my phone rang again. Gosh, the woman was uncontrol-able. After locking the door, I looked down to make sure that I had a pair of pants on top of the my thermal underwear. It was my first winter. I was worry about feeling cold.

When I got down to the lobby, the woman was standing in front of the door. I quickly apologised and told her I got the time wrong. I must have been really 'off' because normally if someone had scolded me, I would fire back. The 2 hotel receptionists stood there with their mouth open, obviously she had made a lot of fuss. It turned out that she wasn't even the tour guide, just the pick-up woman. She even had the nerve to try to sell me more tours. What pissed me off was that after my tour group got onto the boat, we had to wait for more than 20 minutes for the other tour groups to come and fill up the boat. After that, the guide gave us 15 minutes free time to explore the spice bazaar. Guess what I did? I bought a cheese bread and sat at a nearby bus stop to eat it. Yeah, that was my lunch on the first day of my adventure.
Later that evening, I had booked a cultural show dinner with belly dancing with the same travel agent. The man told me the pick-up was at 8.00pm. After an hour cat-nap, I got dressed and rushed down. After waiting for a while, I asked the receptionist to call the agent to check. He did and they said 5 more minutes. He said normally pick-up is at 8.30pm, the show only starts at 9.00pm and the restaurant was nearby. If they were late, they should call. They might charge 10Euro less than the hotel, but they weren't even there.

They bus didn't turn up until 9.05pm. The guide told me the traffic was bad. What infuriated me was that the restaurant was only 5 minutes away from my hotel. I could have gone there on my own.

I was really tired by then. I was put at a small table on my own. The over-eager waiter irritated the hell out of me. He asked too may questions about the food, if I understood the show, etc. The problem was that he liked to speak when the show was on and music was loud. So, he had to lean close to my side and I had to put up with his bad breath. And I hated to be interupted. Later on he said if I wish, I could give him a tip. He left the bill folder on my table. I didn't leave a single coin.

That evening wasn't memorable. I only snapped one photo, and that was of the appetiser. LOL! Well, the cameraman did take a photo of me with a belly dancer but I couldn't remember where I put it.

Merhaba, that was my welcome to Istanbul.