Tag Archives: food

Understanding a Little Better, or Day 26 NaNoWriMo

I should have remembered word travels fast.

The only person I’d told was the restaurant manager. But it didn’t take long for the kitchen staff to wander in my direction while I hovered somewhat uncomfortably over the too-low sink, my hands flying over dishes that hectic Saturday night. My last night there, for a while.

It started with: “Would you like this pancake?” one of the girls asked me in Mandarin, by the grilling stove. “I’m afraid it’s a little burned but it should still be good.”

I smiled. I’d love to have it. This was the same girl who’s passed me a mandarin orange and once a Hershey chocolate – both welcome little surprises in the midst of intense dishwashing.

Then one of the cooks passed by my sink and chirped, “So where are you going?”

I said I had a temporary Christmas job at this supermarket. When I told them the name, they said, “Wah! Can I still apply?”

“Any more jobs for me?”

“I should apply!” one of the newer cooks said, a lanky handsome bloke peering in on the chicken in the deep fryer.

“That place has long hours, you know!” the girl at the grilling stove agreed.

Lanky sighed, stirring the chicken. “Ahhh, all I know is cooking anyway.”

I’m used to being in my own little world when I do the dishwashing. While my mind passes the time lately by replaying Skyrim theme music over and over, I’d be conscious of the cooks bustling around the kitchen and bantering with each other in Cantonese.

During less hectic moments, more than one would always burst into song. I can never understand the words, but I could tell by the way the boys poured emotion into the soft, wistful words that it would be something about love, about finding that Someone to end their loneliness. The best Chinese ballads usually are.

Then when I had about an hour to go on my shift, one of them again wanders in on me. Alan is a longtime restaurant staffer who usually does waiter duties. When the orders come flying in however, he’s been known to step into the kitchen and whip up a mean stirfry.  He’s also cocky and cheeky, and I’ve learnt to take everything he says with a pinch of salt.

Two weeks ago, he must have seen how much I was struggling with the dishes, back when I had yet to develop a system for doing it efficiently. He’d said in English, “Aiyah, come! I help you! Very easy! Very fast!” And he proceeded to demolish the mountain of dishes while I watched…and learned.

That night when I was about to leave, Alan had said, “Hey! You owe me ten pounds! I helped you!”

“I’ll give you a foot massage later!” I’d retorted, playing along with the jest to the amusement of the kitchen staff.

But the next week I baked brownies for Alan and other restaurant people, as thanks and also to spread some goodwill among the staff. The manager – who’s worked in an Italian restaurant and baked cakes for them before – paid me the highest compliment when he said the brownies were beautiful and evenly cooked.

Alan, however, said: “Your cake, ah, not good! Not enough chocolate! Put milk in next time. You still owe me ten pound, ah, I help you!”

“He’s just joking,” the manager told me later. I nodded. It’s how Alan is. Alan, in my mind at least, exemplifies what many Cantonese are like – rough and gruff but actually possessing deep layers of kindness inside.

Last night, Alan again said, “Come, I help you!”

I didn’t really have many dishes left to wash, but I let him anyway. He did the soaping while I rinsed and put away the drying plates. And he fell to talking. Boy, could he talk, jabbering in an amusing spatter of English, Cantonese, Mandarin and Malay.

“My Malay not very good, let’s practise!” said the boy from Seremban, Malaysia. I wandered away to put away the dishes and came back to find him reenacting how he might order something in a typical Malaysian coffee shop. It translates to something like: “Hello, I’d like to order your roti canai, kopi ping and–what’s chicken wings again? Can you give me discount? Thank you, good bye…”

“You are very funny,” I said in English.

“I not funny, but I’m funny! You know what I mean?”

“That you’re kay poh chee?” I deadpanned. I don’t think he heard me calling him a busybody.

Then for some reason we got to talking about his time in school, which made me realise that I knew very little about him or even what age he was. He looked like a teenager but acted like a world-weary veteran of the restaurant scene.

“My Malay teacher, ah, I ask him if I can pass this test. He say, Caaaaan! I can pass with flying colours! Flying colours all red down the paper! Then when exam time came, I got 100 percent mark. You know what I do? When I pass up the papers, I put ten ringgit money there for the teacher, all pass!”

Then he started giggling and chatting with the other cooks in Cantonese, saying certain choice (and I suspect raunchy) words that made one nearby waitress – who was from China – blink and quickly tell me in English, “You don’t need to know what he said!”

Alan, back to me while he heaped in another pile of dishes, “In my school, there was one Indian girl. She, ah, the most beautiful girl in class! Everything she do, she do better than me. I get B, she get A. I get A, she get A plus! My school got a tennis team and we only need her, one!”

My leaving was with relatively little fanfare. The kitchen staff had whipped up some “really nice” dishes for supper, said the restaurant manager, which I suspected was because of me. However because I was given some extra greasy grilles to wash, I didn’t have time to sit down at the table with them. They made sure however to pack me a takeaway before I had to rush for the bus.

“Keep in touch,” the manager said to me. “Just give us a call if you want to come back.”

I nodded.

NaNoWriMo wordcount

43000 / 50000 words. 86% done!

To recap: my mission this month of November – to do NaNoWriMo novel by day, my other Malaysian novel by night, and blog about something vaguely interesting every day of November.



Filed under Books, Fantasy, Food, Malaysia, Novel, Photography, Skyrim, State of Mind, Triumph, Work, Writing

Cake, or Day 17 NaNoWriMo


Survived the interview, which wasn’t as hellish as I thought. It was actually almost pleasant, and I didn’t barf on the interviewers’ shoes. Which I suppose is always a plus.

Better yet, I have rescued my laptop from the repair shop and I finally caught up on my word count! Woohoo!

28458 / 50000 words. 57% done!

I hereby rewarded myself with a quick three-minute chocolate cake in a mug!

Mmmmmn. This was deliciously warm and scrumptious, especially after a hard slog. I usually whip this up when I can’t be bothered to cook an entire cake which I certainly cannot finish alone!

It used to be the same Chocolate Cake in a Mug recipe on the internet, but now I see all sorts of weird variations. I repeat below for whoever’s interested, with my notes and substitutions 😉 It requires a microwave and is super easy.

Chris’ Super Easy / Lazy Chocolate Cake in a Cup (or CSELCCC)

4 TBS flour
4 TBS caster sugar – although I have used granulated or brown sugar with no problems
2 TBS unsweetened cocoa
1 egg – some recipes suggest 2 tablespoons of whisked egg!
3 TBS milk
3 TBS sunflower oil – don’t laugh, but I used olive oil. Some recipes suggest butter as substitute
3 TBS chocolate chips
1/4 TSP vanilla – some recipes do away with this
1 mug – or things are going to be somewhat awkward

Toss flour, cocoa powder and sugar into the mug. Stir together thoroughly – recipes keep suggesting a whisk, but this penniless writer uses a fork.

Add the milk, oil, vanilla and egg. Whisk ingredients together until smooth. A spoon is easier to stir with at this point. Make sure your fork/whisk/spoon reaches the bottom of the mug! That flour down there be tricksey and likes to hide.

Once smooth (I always can only achieve “semi-smooth with the occasional pimple”), add in the chocolate chips. Some recipes seem to like adding cinnamon or peppermint. Experimenting is lovely and how all good mad scientists are born.

Pop mug into microwave for 2 1/2 to 3 minutes. Don’t be alarmed if the cake rises and shoots all the way above the rim of the cup. It’s supposed to do that. Do be alarmed if microwave comes on fire – reach for extinguisher or call fire services.

Once cooked, remove carefully and allow to cool a bit before removing cake onto a plate to eat. Some suggest having ice-cream with it. I don’t bother and eat it virginal from the cup. Mmmmmn.

Happy cakeing!


Filed under Books, Fantasy, Food, Novel, Photography, State of Mind, Triumph, Writing

My Ode to Spam, or Day 9 NaNoWriMo

Couldn’t make my word count yesterday. I was so sleepy I could only achieve some 300 words last night.

I swear, it had something to do with the fact that firstly, I slept the day before at 10.30am (my fault), only to be awakened two hours later by the gorgeous, maddening smell somewhere of frying spam.

Yes, Spam.

Malaysians also call it luncheon meat. But apparently according to my friend Alison, luncheon meat in Scotland is more luxurious, whereas spam is just “things with gristle in them”. Euw.

I have such fond memories of spam! I used to fry luncheon meat with tobasco sauce, front and back, then make a sandwich with mustard and more tobasco sauce. The fumes of cooking tobasco sauce would smack into your face like a freight train of chilli shipments. A spam sandwich is seriously awesome with butter, but luncheon meat is juicy even without. Mmmmmn.

We’ve eaten spam with anything! Chopped into cubes for fried rice, fried it with eggs… heck, some creative people have even made sushi out of it. How wonderful is that?

I would so eat that.

Inspired, I shall now compose my ode – well, more like haiku since poetry is not my thing – to SPAM.

Oh Spam how sinful

you sing, hot with buttered bread 

and cholesterol.

Grieving for Skyrim

Tomorrow, 11.11.11, Skyrim releases into the world, and I can only weep. I have literally waited months and months for this video game that would make up for Dragon Age 2 as the ultimate computer RPG.

But come tomorrow, I won’t be one of those bloodthirsty fans getting it, simply because I can’t afford it yet.

Again Skyrim joins the long list – Dragon Age 2, Fallout New Vegas, Deus Ex Human Revolution, Mass Effect 2 and Witcher 2 – of video games I am waiting patiently to play. Like a piranha waiting for that fat tourist who’s just prematurely peeled off his foot scab to dip toes into the Amazon river.

Not only is Skyrim ridiculously expensive at launch time, but I’ve told myself I will only allow myself to play the games when I’ve finished the Malaysian novel. And I’m so close! I can sense blood in the water!

Let’s see, which will I play first… Ooh, decisions, decisions.. Probably Fallout New Vegas, first, at least until the price for Skyrim drops.


Right. Should get back to the writing. Ahem, carry on.

14374 / 50000 words. 29% done!


Filed under Books, Computer Games, Deus Ex, Dragon Age, Fallout, Family, Fantasy, Food, Malaysia, Mass Effect, Novel, Procrastination, Skyrim, State of Mind, Witcher, Writing

Food for Flying, or Day 5 NaNoWriMo

In trying to think of something worthwhile to blog about, a friend suggested I blog about food.

Flying Fox - I took this picture. That girl smiling there? NOTHING like me when it came to be my turn.

I didn’t realise doing NaNoWriMo would involve not just making my 1,700 word count every single day, but writing the Malaysian novel and blogging too! This is such a wild ride – as crazy as the time I thought zooming down a thin rope, legs kicking over a jungle floor while my face rips loose with a Tarzan girly scream, was a great idea. (I was pushed. Honest.)

So, yes! Food. I’ve heard about writers needing mood music while they write (not me, I prefer dead silence when I write, actually), but what about mood food?

As I write this, I have a bag of raisins and nuts at hand. It’s a new addition, and an attempt to be healthier as opposed to the dark chocolate bar I usually keep at hand, along with the occasional bag of chips (crisps, they call it here).

Every once in a while, I’d have a banana or apple, and my desk would usually have a few dishes waiting with puppydog eyes for me to wash them after I’ve decimated breakfast or lunch off them.

Since I go to bed late (around 5am) and wake up around 10am to noon, breakfast usually ends up being lunch as well. There’s no particular food that gets me in the writing mood, as it were.

Probably cake. Which stops me writing. Yes, the whole world can stop for cake.

And then buzzing with sugar, I would peck fingers over the keyboard, letter by letter.

PS. I lost my temper in the kitchens today after again being told to WASH FASTER. Strangely, the nagging cooks left me alone after that. Even more annoying, I got the mountain of dishes done while fueled by plate-clanging female rage. I feel somewhat embarrassed now.  Broken Plate Count for Today: 2.

8550 / 50000 words. 17% done!


Filed under Books, Depression, Fantasy, Food, Malaysia, State of Mind, Triumph, Writing

Malaysia should not equal Failure

Our name tags for the literary salon

I have to admit, the last two weeks have been pretty rough.

For some reason, much to my embarrassment, I ended up crying on my friend Babs outside a bar, without my coat, in the freezing cold. It happened on a Tuesday. I was already in a pensive mood when I chose to accompany good chums to a literary salon, but I told myself I had to shake it off! After all, I’m not usually such a downer.

Ignoring the anniversary of my grandmother’s death, and my failed job hunts, and my feelings of inadequacy and panic at not doing enough, I liked to think I was a pretty chirpy person. No, seriously.

So here was me at this literary event, actually having a good time (free wine and sandwiches are always a plus!), seeing familiar faces like the bouncy Sam Kelly, Ian Rankin and the lovely Ken MacLeod. And meeting new people like Charles Stross who seemed like an important bloke, judging by the quick introduction Babs whispered into my ear.

Unfortunately I was in such a state I only vaguely remembered him as “being in science fiction”. Anyway he and his friend (Nick? Nic?) were already chatting with me and happily I got a chance to practise pitching my Malaysian urban fantasy premise to them while having no idea who Charles Stross was. They seemed intrigued at least, from what I recall with a head already comfortably buzzing from a single glass of wine (yes, I have near zero tolerance).

And then sometime during that event, it started hitting me all at once. Babs announced she needed to step outside for fresh air, and that was all the excuse I needed. One awful breakdown later, I made excuses to leave early and walked all the way to my flat, feeling my feet drag and trying with my limited powers to figure out what the devil was wrong with me.

My three closest friends here (imaginatively called The Edinburgh Trio) have been amazing, with Alison constantly assuring me I am doing so well, which is a lifesaver when all you want is someone to believe in you. But all the while I can’t help but hear this clock ticking eternally away in my head. It’s the sound of the countdown of how much time I have left in this country – one and a half years – and if I don’t find something, a job or an agent within that time… I have to admit I am haunted by that spectre of failure.

Your Life is not Over

My best friend Liz, who believes in tough love, tells me I have to prepare myself for the idea of a career beyond the UK. “Your life wouldn’t be over,” she says. It’s perfectly sound advice, but when the notion sinks in that I’d have to return to Malaysia…

Part of me flinches.

“Don’t come back to Malaysia,” my dad says via Skype. “Stay in UK. There’s no future in Malaysia.”

“Come back to Malaysia,” an ex-colleague tells me on Facebook. “Don’t add to the Brain Drain statistics. Come back and help build the nation!”

…With a Creative Writing Masters?

Okay, so perhaps I can teach in Singapore or something, but one day I have to face up to how I feel about my country. Should I be patriotic, help “build the nation?” Or say, F*ck it, Malaysia’s a washout?

Will people even appreciate what I love writing, or will they continue to thumb their noses at fantasy and science fiction in favour of so-called ‘serious literary fiction’? I know there is virtually no government support back in my country for writers, and part of me recognises that I can’t compare Malaysia to a developed nation like UK. (And let’s not mention the corrupt and greedy politicians running my homeland).

No, one way or another, I have to make my remaining 1.5 years here count.

Tick, tick, tick.

Comfort Food

After that long walk home, I sat on my couch and probably brooded. And then seriously, at 10.20pm I was seized by this impulse:

I must have Japanese!

A little rumpled, but divine.

To be precise, I needed to have my Unagi Don. It is my absolute favourite Japanese dish, and I’ve lost count of the number of fishmonger shops I’ve walked into around Edinburgh, hoping I can save money by making it myself, only to be told “Sorry, we don’t sell eel”. You’re a seafood shop! How can you not have eel!?

Apparently they don’t really like eel in these parts. I get the impression they think of it as a yucky sort of fish.

Unagi Don! Look at that picture! How can your lips not smack at that juicy chunk of grilled eel flesh smothered in mirin and soya sauce, gracefully perched on a bed of steaming hot sushi rice… And it just so happened a Japanese restaurant nearby does food deliveries. I ordered at 10.20pm. The restaurant closes at 11pm. The food arrived at 10.40pm.

Talk about service! Ahhhhhhh. My world was right again.


Afterwards I found some websites and sources that seem to link creativity and depression. Disabled World posted an article which said: Edgar Allan Poe, Honore de Balzac, Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Audrey Hepburn, and even Jim Carrey all had something in common. Aside from being renowned artists, they were also afflicted with depression.

This part intrigued me: Studies have established that there is a very close relationship between creativity and depression. Many artists are prone to depression due to the highly emotional aspect of their craft. The angst and solitude that usually surrounds the creative process also makes them vulnerable to bouts of sadness. The strong emotions that compel artists to create are the same forces that lead them to pits of depression.

Another website suggested that mild depression actually helps creativity. I have to say I don’t think I have depression, although that breakdown really scared me. Especially with some of the symptoms I was experiencing: lack of interest in things I used to enjoy, loss of appetite and so on. Luckily that went away, the moment I had my Unagi Don 🙂

Now who is Stross?

Much, much later, I decided to look up Charles Stross. I realised I had his name misspelled in the beginning, thinking it was ‘Strauss’. A search engine put me to rights, and I looked up his wiki entry.

Let’s see: Writer based in Edinburgh. Works range from science fiction and Lovecraftan horror to fantasy. Sometimes regarded as being part of a new generation of British science fiction writers who specialise in hard science and space opera..

Okay, so far so good. Then my eyes drifted further down and I choked.

Oh my god, this guy invented the Death Knight, the slaad and the Githzerai for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons! The Githzerai like the warrior/mage Dak’kon which is one of my most favourite tragic characters from my favourite computer RPG game, Planescape Torment!

I was talking to the guy who created a piece of AD&D history! ARRRRGH.


Filed under Computer Games, Depression, Family, Food, Malaysia, Procrastination, Writing

To Train or Not to Train

Yesterday I went to the skills training centre to ask about the sort of courses that might increase my chances of getting a job.

I was wrong. It’s not £100. One particular course costs over £1,000! The advisor said she’d throw in a touch-typing course for free, and that she already took £800 from the cost, but sheesh. That’s about all I have in the world. And there’s no guarantee I can find work with that certification.

Lesse, the course – which supposedly gives a diploma – would teach me Microsoft Word Expert, Excel, Power Point, Access and (wince) Outlook. It’s the certification part of it that I want. I could either be £1,200 poorer, or it might help me find work that would tide me over for my writing.

Or I could keep on submitting for freelance work or looking for temp jobs, hoping it all gives fruit before the funds run out.

The uncertainty and lack of financial security can be paralysing. I hate the idea of asking family for money. I mean, really, at my age shouldn’t I be self-sufficient?

I remember the days when I was rolling in the cash, relatively speaking. I’m not a miser (I think) but I like to imagine I’ve always been careful about what I spend. Whenever I wander into bookstores and pick up a volume I’d love to have,  I ask myself: Am I really, really, really going to read this in the next few weeks? Or is this going to be yet another book to add to the Will Read Someday But Never Do pile.

Chances are I put the book back down, telling myself I’ll get it in a library later. And I can’t help it, they tell me not to convert from pounds to ringgit in this country, saying it will stifle my enjoyment of being here, but I keep doing it. I absolutely love being in Edinburgh, but I am still conscious of every pound I spend. One Pound is nearly Five Ringgit our currency.

Five Ringgit can get you a generous meal, with drinks, at a roadside mamak stall. Hot nasi lemak with spicy sambal sauce, the combination of roasted peanuts, cucumber slices and boiled egg singing hosannas with each lovely bite of coconut rice… And now here comes the tray of drinks, with my frothy cup of teh tarik, the condensed milk tossed expertly together with the Ceylon tea to create nirvana.

Or my favourite ice lemon tea from Kota Kinabalu, the lemon freshly squeezed, just perfect, not too sweet, not too watery, sliding down the throat smooooth on a hot, hot day that makes you go Ahhhhhh…

Where was I? Oh, right.

During the session with the skills training advisor, I messaged me mum, asking if she would kill me if I squeezed her for more money for this course.

She texts back: If that’s what you really want to do, then do it. Just take care of us in our old age.

I absolutely love my parents. I’m blessed to have them support and believe in my crazy dream. Sometimes having someone believe in you is all it takes to keep you going. Even if my Dad so quaintly puts it to a friend – “I have no idea what on earth she’s doing.”

I’m going to have a week long think about it. £1,200 in our currency is nearly RM6,000–okay, okay, I must stop converting 😉

But I have to ask myself seriously whether a UK employer would hire a foreigner, no matter how educated, without the experience he or she needs for the job. My Diploma in Business Communications was earned in Malaysia, and my UK Masters might not be relevant enough for the role. I hate thinking about the race angle but I have to be realistic.

Come on, there has to be jobs out there! I just haven’t found it yet.

PS Meanwhile, looks like I won’t be travelling to St Albans for that writing contract after all. The employer rejected my bid before the interview stage. At least I don’t have to fly there.

Must keep applying, must keep writing.

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Filed under Food, Photography, Work, Writing