Thursday, July 19, 2012


There was no group more targeted by the Apple campaigns than the Stevens kids, raised to abide by the dogma of Macintosh by a crazed fanatic preacher. Our house is littered with Apple icons, from the 1987 Macintosh SE desktop with the floppy-disk insert at the front to those colorful 90's clam-shell ibooks and iMacs. Growing up, Apple was the standard of technology and my siblings and I knew no different (or at least I didn't, they may have). All other PCs were considered cheap Chinese products susceptible to viruses like Swine-Flu or syphilis, and we were warned to stay away.

I lived in this ideological bubble up to university level. It was then that I encountered some compatibility issues with the library desktops and sharing documents with peers. I studied humanities, so I needed the RAM space for papers and PDF files, but it was taken up by pre-installed features like iMovie or Garage Band; which were nice and easy to use but ultimately useless during the last-minute writing crunch time for submitting research drafts.

I envied students who could transfer data between devices with no worry of viruses or diseases. I assumed it was because they spent their lives fighting that uphill battle with McAfee or Spywear softwares in order to do simple tasks.

It wasn't until I needed to buy my own laptop for work that I started to see a problem. In the house of Mac I was never required to pay for any of the devices, so I didn't realize when I moved out how expensive they were until it was coming out of my own pocket. I stood at the counter of laptops lined up like soldiers, so unlike the Apple store in its matter-of-fact lists comparing their specs and prices: Acer, Toshiba, Dell, IBM, Hitachi, Fujitsu, LG, HP-- so many choices and figures and numbers. A corner of the counter was devoted to the Apple computers, so I shimmied a little that way to be with my old mates, retreating from an unfamiliar world.

In this corner of Mac, I stared in horror at the Apple specs. When I had no frame of reference, I was told they were the best, but in the stark light of this electronics store I could not see why less computer space meant higher prices. What what what what? My fathers' teachings resounded in my head, but I couldn't deny what was in front of me. Betrayal stung the heart of my frail wallet. A halo of realization dawned on me in the florescent light of Jumbo Electronics that maybe... there was something not right here. 

I spent a restless night rethinking what I was told and what I knew now. So strong was the Apple hold on me that I decided at times that I would live off Indomie noodles for years to pay off the beautiful computers I so knew and loved.

I began a painful recovery into what I think is called the real world, where the average person cannot afford an Apple computer and often can live without one (the sacrilege spillth from mine lips!). I was forced by my intern budget to learn to adapt to a PC, and so for less than half the price of a Macbook air (and two-fifths of a MacbookPro) I took home a Samsung laptop and had to install all the software myself (and handing it over to the tech-savvy boyfriend is the same thing as installing it myself).

I was often bewildered that this laptop did not come in a lovely box, tucked in and with 80% battery as a Mac did. Nor did it protect me from viruses without asking. I eventually came to know my Samsung laptop and we became acquaintances. At my office job I could download and transfer data without a hiccup in the system, and with careful updates I kept her running smooth.

I left that world of bright and shiny silver slivers of laptops and have emerged victorious and covered in grit into another world where you tell your laptop what to do, and not the other way around. I came to appreciate the diversity of different PC manufacturers and my increased knowledge of devices and gadgets extended beyond laptops. And when it came time to graduate into the ranks of smart-phones, I adopted a cute little Taiwanese HTC one X into my life.

Oh how I've progressed.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Excess bullshit

It is my belief that at times when the bullshit gets excessive, it's time to put on your headphones and disappear. Reevaluate the causes of the excess, identify the key players who benefit from raising the level of bullshit beyond acceptable, and then destroy them.

Or, should destroying them be an unavailable option, put on your bullshit-blockers and tune them out with some chill-step du jour.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A generation can mean a continent apart

Culture: System of symbols, beliefs, and values
Society: System of groups, roles, and norms

If you grew up in one society where you knew your place, and then grow up, get married and take your kids to a completely different society, can you really blame them for not copying you?

It's like me deciding to move my kids to Scotland so that they can grow up with a Scottish accent, but then I wonder why they've also developed interests in kilts and sheep.

[Durkheim and the Social Anthropology of Culture by James L. Peacock]

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Free-writing: Atuk and Wan

It's been a stale month overall, and I've fallen behind in any kind of writing, so I hope to embark on a writing spree with the intent to overcome my writer's block as well as hone the writing skill. I thought it would be easier to start with some family portraits, so here is my grandfather from my mom's side.

I can't say exactly when but my atuk was born in the 1930's in a port city called Klang, on the west coast of Malaysia. Back then it was Malaya and under the British rule. His name is Abu Hassan but we call him atuk (grandfather). His parents had come from Indonesia, they were 13 and 14 when they got married and lived in a poor industrial area where most South Indian laborers lived and how my atuk came to learn Tamil. When he was around 10 years old the Japanese came and wrested power over Malaya from the British and my atuk was absorbed into the Japanese school system. He used to sell his mother's baked goods in the market after school, and he'd cross the Klang bridge where the Japanese placed heads on spikes as a warning and prevention of future transgressions. He told me that people called a back-handed slap a "Japanese slap" due to the cruelty with which the soldiers treated the people in Klang. My atuk said he enjoyed school though, and was going to advance well into his Japanese courses when the war ended and the soldiers left.

My atuk has an older brother, Hussain (but Tok Long- eldest grandfather- to us grandkids) and for a while it was just the two of them. They had a younger sister, but when she was still an infant she died when a bunch of coconuts fell from a tree and crushed her. It sounds like a joke but unfortunately it's true, and my atuk's mother grieved bitterly, until they adopted a Chinese girl, who we call Busu. She grew up to be a typical Malay woman, wearing batik sarong skirts and her hair in a serkop (scarf) pulled away from her face. All the times that I've seen her as a kid she would be sitting at the threshold of the house, working something in a plastic tub (chicken, fish, I don't know) and her skirt hiked up around her. She would cluck and smile when we came over and scold us in a very typical Malay 'mak cik' kind of way which was endearing.

My atuk was a smart student and worked very hard to make it to the teacher's college in Penang up north, where he eventually met my grandmother, who at that time was Tan Kim Kee. My Chinese grandmother had a very different upbringing in Seremban. It was luxurious compared to my grandfather, and even during the war she had access to luxuries like chocolate. She does recall a troubled time however when she and her cousin were hiding from Japanese soldiers out in the rubber plantations and she rolled down a hill. She was fine though. She used to study at a convent where Irish nuns taught her everything from pslamsto home economics to dancing the fox trot. She was a touch vain, and found reasons to visit her photographer uncle who'd take portraits of her. She was beautiful and a bit proud, and when she met my grandfather she didn't think much of the boy who bossed the younger freshmen around and yelled often from the top of the stairs. My grandparents don't elaborate beyond this point however, as they say the rest of their story is a secret and they fast-forward to the part where my grandmother converted to Islam and Tan Kim Kee became Mona.

Her mother was furious over the conversion and even more furious at her new son-in-law who often came to the gate of the house with a chicken as a peace offering. She used to chase him away with a broom. Over the years when my grandparents had five children and my grandfather's responsibilities grew as a teacher, headmaster, and eventually as a member of the board of education, my great-grandmother began to soften towards him. In the end she was the one who bought the chicken and prepared his favorite dishes, and before she passed away she confessed that out of several son-in-laws he was by far her favorite.

Since my grandparents retired as teachers in the 90's they been travelling like a pair of NatGeo adventurers. They've been to nearly every country in the world, first visiting their kids in university in Europe and the US, then expanding around the region (Vietnam, Indonesia), around Europe and the Matterhorn. My grandfather recently had open-heart surgery, but that didn't stop him from going onto a 30-hour-flight to Cuba a few months after.

These guys, they can't even see what kind of a legacy they're leaving behind. They think they're just ordinary grandfolk.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Learned Bangla

I spent about a month in Dhaka, Bangladesh, with my wonderful boyfriend and his family. During my stay I managed to learn some helpful words and phrases. I tried my best to categorize what I've learned.

Note: The country is Bangladesh (home of Bangla). The people and culture are Bengoli, and the language is Bangla.

The Bengolis fought a war to retain the right to speak Bangla, and their war is acknowledged by the United Nations when they declared February 21st as Mother language day.


What's up? Ki Khobor
How are you? Kemon acho?
How are you? (Respectful, for elders) Kemon Achen?

I am good. Ami Bhalo/ Bhalo Ase.
Not good. Bhalo na.

What's happening? Ki hoi se?
Nothing. Kichew na.

Where? Koothai/koi
When? Ko khon?
How? Kemon kore?
Why? Kano?

Basic commands:

Come. Asho/(respectful, for elders) ashen
I'm coming. Ashtasey/ashi
Sit. Bosho/(respectful, for elders) Boshen
Wait/stand. Darow/(respectful, for elders) Daren
Will you not eat? Kaba na?
I will eat. Kabo
I ate. Kayasee
I ate too much. Kaysee onik.

Very. Onik.
Too much. Khub.