Sunday, October 9, 2016

that old clutter dynamic

I went back to Kuala Lumpur for ten days to sort out some work things and got back earlier this week. I think Mum was glad to see me: she likes what I cook, she's become increasingly tired and unable to sustain the energy to do things, and I think she likes having someone around the house, even if I'm just pottering or working.

I've found it harder to settle in. I was quite shocked when I got back to see how much Mum had changed in only ten days, not only the tiredness in her face and action, but also because she is now bald and wearing little beanies all the time. Also because I miss Paul, and because I miss our sparse, empty, sunny little Kuala Lumpur flat.

And herein lies the hardest thing about moving back in with Mum: she is a clutterer. I don't want to use the word 'hoarder', because in the sense of Hoarders on TV, she isn't. She doesn't have stuff piled up to the ceiling, she isn't an obsessive shopper and thankfully while things are VERY dusty they are relatively clean. But she also inherited a bunch of stuff from her parents, who in turn inherited a bunch of stuff from their parents, and now she has boxes of stuff piled every where that she is weirdly attached to. More and more as I see it, she considers herself a custodian of all this stuff and her job is to dispose of it thoughtfully and purposefully, or otherwise to hold on to it. Not to chuck all that junk in the bin, which is what I would rather do. 

Have you ever lived amongst piles of clutter? I can assure you, as a minimalist and lover of chucking things out, it is not easy. There is no way to be zen amongst clutter. Dusting just transfers the dust from one pile of stuff to the next. What is odd too, is that I've always hated Mum's clutter. Even when growing up I was an obsessive thrower outer and I found Mum's stuff immensely frustrating, and when I moved out at 20 I was deeply grateful to never have to live among that stuff again. Even in the changed reality of terminal cancer our clutter dynamic remains the same. 

So being back among the clutter sucks. I really struggle with it. I love and want to help Mum, and be here to make things easier, but being surrounded by all this stuff makes me want to gouge my eyes out. Keeping clutter clean is almost impossible. After spending a day scrubbing skirting boards we almost came to blows when I suggested chucking out a cane washing basket that hangs on the wall that she hasn't used for 20 years. 

So this is a good exercise for me. I have to bite my tongue and accept that this is her house, and her comfort, and her way of living and its fine that's it not the same as what I would choose. And while I appreciate this is a deeply boring blog post, it makes me feel slightly better to express my clutter related angst. And then go and make a Pinterest board of empty white spaces and pretend I am there. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

the prodigal daughter

I'm reading Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson. Have you read it?

It took me a while to get into. Its about an elderly preacher in the Midwest of the United States, who is writing a memoir of sorts to his small son, to read when he gets older. Its also a meditation on a lot of things, faith, love, and forgiveness. I have to read it quite slowly, and I think its a book I'll have to read again, because there is a lot there to unpack. Its worth the effort though.

Anyway, I've just read a bit that I thought was interesting. A history of my religious life, very quickly: baptised Catholic due to the influence of my religious Grandma rather than my irreligious parents, and thirteen years of Catholic school. I flung any kind of religion far away from me as soon as I left school and have been flirting with atheism ever since (its hard to give up the old tenets, not necessarily intellectually but through habit and instinct).

I don't believe in the existence of a terrible Catholic male God, but I do struggle to give up on the idea of the afterlife. My wonderful cousin committed suicide aged 25, and I find it impossible to believe he isn't in a better and happier place, in all senses of the world. It is impossible to believe that my mother, when the time comes (hopefully not for a good while) will join him there.

More on that another time. What I came across in Gilead today was the story of the Prodigal Son. If you have had any kind of religious upbringing you'll know that tale, when the bad son runs away and gets into trouble, the good son stays home and the father ultimately welcomes the bad son back with open arms and kills a fatted calf for him. I've always found it a stupid story, as I think many do, because why is the father so nice to the bad son? Its an insult to the loyal good son, and the message is really unclear. Be bad as long as you repent afterwards, because its better than being good all the time?

Anyway whatever. In Gilead, the preacher suggests instead that the tale is really about the father, and the grace and glory of his capacity to forgive. That the gift is not only the forgiveness given to the son, but the forgiveness that the father allows himself to give. For we are forgiven, but we also forgive, and both are symbols of the love of god.

Ok, take the god part out and stick whatever you choose to believe, but isn't that kind of wonderful? Yes, its still unfair on the good son and frankly I can't get over that, but really the true message is: forgive forgive forgive. Which is lovely. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Every day is a gift (that is why its called the present)

I'm back in New Zealand because my mother has terminal cancer.

I say this in lieu of an actual update. Obviously many things have happened in the six months since I posted last. I got some work, I coped with KL, I ate a lot of things, I did some travel around Malaysia and Borneo.

Then about six weeks ago, Mum got rushed to hospital. A quick potted history: she has had breast cancer three times, all of which were caught on mammogram, caught early, and excised through lumpectomy and then radiation. Since then, her mammograms have been clear.

She went to the GP extremely short of breath. My sister works in healthcare, and predicted some kind of anaemia or heart trouble. As it turned out, she was in acute renal failure. The tumours which have grown on her kidneys have blocked the ureters (not to be confused with urethras) which connect the kidneys to the bladder. She was carrying ten kilos of fluid, concentrated around her heart and lungs, and her kidneys had almost completely shut down.

I'll spare you the details, but stents have been inserted and her kidneys are working relatively well. She is back home, minus ten kilos of fluid.

The cancer, it turns out, is from her last bought of breast cancer. A couple of lymph nodes were removed at the same time, but not all the cancer was caught. Its travelled through her lymphatic system, and is now in her liver, kidneys and pelvis. She is having chemotherapy for 18 weeks to try and slow the growth of the tumours, but the doctors have said this will be life-ending. There is no cure, and from now on its management of tumours and eventually management of pain. We will have to eventually make decisions about treatment versus quality of life, but we hope that will be some time away.

So I am home, and happy to be home. I'm in my old bedroom, catching the bus at my old stop, getting in to the old groove with Mum, who I haven't lived with since I moved out twelve years ago. Its lovely and strange how old familiar patterns start up again, and we're building new ones too.

I work on my freelance writing, and I am chief cook, cleaner and sometime house plant repotter. I'm also writing this blog again because I need a wee outlet for how things are going. There might not be much vegan food, and you don't have to read if you don't want. That's OK. But I like to write it, and sometimes I might talk about the vegan food we are eating (green vegetables are cancer-busting, so we eat them a lot) and sometimes I'll talk about whatever comes up.

I spoke to a friend who is going through a similar experience with her grandson, a tiny boy of three who has lymphoma. He won't make it, but she told me that they treat every day as a gift with him.

I went home to Mum, and she cried, and then grabbed my hand and said, "that's why its called the present". And it is.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Nadine of the Rings

There comes a point in life where one realises this truth: I'm probably not going to get a job in Malaysia through legitimate means (ie I can't get a work visa) so I might as well kick back, read Lord of the Rings, and wait for Game of Thrones season six to start while I plot what to do with my life.
Reading about Hobbits makes life better, and that is not only because I'm from New Zealand and I like eating six meals a day.

This weekend we also got out and about and went to the Islamic Art Museum in KL. Its really a beautiful building and worth going to for the architecture alone. Its got a dome reminiscent of a mosque, and stunning tiling.
Inside is kind of a mix of stuff - there is a section devoted to copies of the Qu'ran and the different styles of writing, calligraphy and painting that evolved in different parts of the world (I personally liked the Kashmir versions, which have a lot of gold and pink). There are also sections on clothing, fabrics, weaponry and ceramics, loosely covering areas including Malaysia and Indonesia, as well as the Middle East and North Africa, Turkey and the Stans and smaller Muslim communities in China and other nations. There is also a section showing how Islam spread across the globe, through sea and land routes which I found really interesting.

Its well worth a visit - I would say my only issue with it is that is exists in a bit of a modern contextual void and doesn't necessarily tackle or mention any of the wider issues of Islam (or any religion for that matter): ie the roles of women and historical and modern interpretations of texts, including the Qu'ran. Having said that its possibly not what that particular museum is there for.

Also good, a platter of goodies at a vegetarian India cafe in Little India (next to Merdaka Square) consumed on route. I had the mini Thali, which came with a small potato dosa, a lentil doughnut, a small dish of idli in sambar (tomato and lentil broth) with sides of savoury semolina, coconut chutney and a dessert scoopy of some sweet carrot thing. Not sure what it was called, but it was really lovely. Looking at the plate now it does look kind of fried, but it was great and cheap and I cannot WAIT to go back!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

End of Month Two

I'll tell you what the hardest bit about being a so-called "trailing spouse" is: completely losing your sense of identity as a person and being subsumed into this role of "wife", which honestly is a role I never in a million years wanted.

Currently I don't have my own income, and I only have one friend here, and I don't have a job, and the lack of income means that I don't feel like I can go out and DO a lot of stuff. (Not that there is much in KL that I want to really do, but still). All these things that I usually have to build a sense of purpose, and a sense of self, and a sense of achievement. Without them I feel purposeless and like so much flotsam, like I'm in a life but somehow detached from it. Its an odd feeling, and hard to describe. I feel dislocated.

Also difficult are well meaning friends who constantly ask if I have a job yet - I know they care, and they perhaps haven't considered the challenges of trying to find work in a foreign country on a tourist visa (Paul's employer does not assist with spouse work visas). I feel like a complete failure most of the time, and angry and fed up the rest. Its difficult to keep up the motivation - I went to a ladies coffee morning yesterday (I know you are judging, but I'm desperate for social company) and a nice lady from Melbourne told me she had been here for two years and still hadn't got a job: and she was a TEACHER which is supposedly highly in demand here. So what good a half-assed "communications professional" which a somewhat sporadic CV? And please don't ask me about volunteering, cos I'm applying for that too. But actually, I want to get paid for working. Sorry.

Its make me think a lot about the role of women in the world and my experiences in Jordan and now here, and I've realised that, there are two things that are critical for women to actually achieve equality.

1) education as a means to financial independence. What I hate is relying on Paul for money. Yeah I've got savings, but keeping an eye on the future I'm trying not to spend them. Paul is paying for all our daily goods (this was the agreement of me coming here), but I hate not being able to go out and buy shit that I want. I want a new nailpolish, you know? Its a stupid example, but enlarge that into the difficulties of women without, education family or social support. You can't leave your husband, or your situation, if you have nowhere else to go. You can't make good choices for yourself if you are totally reliant on someone else.

2) Contraception. It was noticeable in Jordan, and Syria, and even more noticeable in the Rohinga communities here, that if you have no control over your own body you are ever at the mercy of pregnancy. Women in Rohinga communities here are married off young (so as not to be a burden on their parents) and then seem to have a baby almost ever year. There is no hope for education, for independence, or for change if you have five kids under five and no way out (see: financial independence, above). Things won't change until women can make their own decisions on relationships and children, rather than have men make it for them.

Its easy to get defeated. I feel defeated now and I know its just a bad day. I'll keep going with my job applications and study and something will happen, or I'll move on and find work elsewhere. But its made me very aware of how limiting life can be without meaningful well paid work and the means to get it. Bah humbug.

Anyway - here's a picture from a hike we went on a couple of weekends ago. Its Bukit Tabur, and the vista was lovely:

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year was a blast. Even though technically you only get two days off from work (by which I mean, those who have jobs get two days off from work) the actual celebrations go on for twelve days. KL does a good job - there are lots of acrobatic lion dances (super impressive), fireworks and performances around the city, which make for a colourful time. Also, lots of people leave KL to go home for the holidays, so the city is almost peaceful and traffic almost flows. Miracle!

Over the four day break we took the opportunity to explore some of the beautiful Buddhist temples around Chinatown, and were lucky enough to see the process of New Year offerings for the Buddha.

Unlike my own dreary experience of church during 13 long years of Catholic schooling, this was noisy and fun. Worshippers burn incense and give offerings of citrus fruit, lotus shaped candles, bamboo stalks and in one case a can of Guinness. There is also a lot of paper burning which seemed to be based on what year you are born in (FYI, this is the year of the Fire Monkey, I am a Dog, and its not a great year for Dogs, just warning you now). 

We also went to a little family-run vegetarian place in Chinatown. Paul recalls going there in the 90s when he first visited KL. The couple who run it are kind and funny, and the food is reliably great. You choose from a GIGANTIC menu of faded photos - I had the tofu and vegetables, which came with lots of mushrooms. Salty and delicious in the heat. Yum.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Laneway Festival, Singapore

So, one of the best bits about being in KL is having access to Singapore, which is a city I love and which has a fairly regular stream of gigs which I might be able to attend. One of the awful things about Jordan was the lack of gigs, and while I got a few in while in London I want to keep that up. So when I realised that Laneway now goes to Singapore I almost fainted with excitement and pretty much bought my ticket without looking at the lineup.

Laneway, for those that don't know, is an indie festival that orginated in Melbourne and now goes around Australia and NZ in January/February each year - and now Singapore! I've been in NZ (and saw Bat For Lashes and Of Monsters and Men, both amazing) and was super excited - also it was held at Gardens By the Bay, which is a great venue.

I had a good time and it was so great to be back at a festival, BUT I'm going to give it a mixed review for a number of reasons:

The good:

- the organisation. OMG. Practically no queues the entire time, ample food and drink stalls, many portaloos, cheap(ish) water and lots of iceblocks.
- the food. Paul was really anxious that there would be nothing for us to eat, or that we would have to live on fries for the whole day. But while there wasn't TONS of choice there was definitely enough to satisfy and feel slightly healthy! I ate a couple of dosirak pots, which are the Korean version of a bento box. The vegetarian choice had pumpkin and sweet potato with sauteed greens, bean sprouts and grated carrot. You could pick a base of brown rice or tofu, and because we were there for 12 hours I ate one of each. I also ate brown rice and eggplant sushi, and chocolate sorbet, and had a gin and tonic and a mango margarita. Good times!

Brown rice sushi with grilled eggplant.

- Battles and The Internet. My two favourite performances of the day. Battles had a few technical issues at the beginning but they pushed through, and their version of Atlas was epic. The Internet I'd never heard of before but I'm now a big fan - I didn't realised Syd the Kid was from Odd Future?! But the jazzy vibe and her beautiful voice was amazing.
- Local bands - shout out to Singaporean bands Cashew Chemists and Riot in Magenta, and Manila band Cheats - great music and the only bands to not sweat their brains out.

Battles ripping it up.

You can sort of see Syd the Kid there. Sort of.

The bad:

- The headliners. I was not in love with any of the headliners in the end. Grimes was fun and poppy and I did enjoy her, but I cannot get behind Chvrches who are really unexciting. Compared to Battles' musicianship, they just seem - insubstantial and one-note. And fuck me, The 1975 are practically a boy band. WTF were they doing there? Am I crotchety and old? Possibly. Anyway, here's a blurry pic of Grimes.
Grimes, dancing with a bow on her head.
The ugly:

- Paul got food poisoning. We think it was from the ill-advised wedges he ate at 9pm, probably combined with too much sunshine and heat. Needless to say it was a rough early morning and a very long bus ride home. Was so good to be back in our quiet little flat with the air con on full blast. He's better now, but man his temperature was so high for a while there I thought it might actually be dengue fever.

So am I glad I went? Definitely - but next year I'll be checking the lineup a bit closer. Also - can we all send good vibes to the universe that PJ Harvey comes to Singapore??????
The venue at night - Gardens by the Bay is so pretty.