Writer . Editor . Author
Today I have been running last minute errands, buying last minute things I don’t want to forget to cart home to Manchester.
After my shopping spree I drop by to see best friend S, because his Kakak is making karipaps.
Kakak means sister in Malay, but many Malaysians use the term to refer to their live-in maid/nanny, who are mostly from Indonesia.
Karipaps are curry puffs in Malay, which are puff pastries filled with hot curry potatoes, onions and peas. A bit like the Lancashire pasty with its ribbon knots to keep the filling in, it also slightly resembles Greggs’ vegetably pasty. Except, it is semi-circle, not square, and is only the size of your palm and can be swallowed in two bites.
I go in the house and help myself to as many karipaps as I like. We are sniggering at my sisters at home who are missing out. They have also been invited to the karipap party, but they are too lazy to get out of the house.
After karipaps we are just lazing on the marble floor in the living room. S is playing the guitar and I am lying on the floor, half-watching ASTRO, the cable network in Malaysia.
Kakak sits on the floor with us. I ask how her family in Indonesia are, and she tells me her son is now in university. She talks about the plight of other Indonesian home workers who come abroad and the binding contracts they come under.
Unscrupulous work agencies and abusive families are common. Poverty in the rural part of Indonesia where they live drive many girls and women to find work abroad, leaving their families behind. Some, like Kakak, are lucky to be in good families, but many are not so fortunate.
Welcome to my Gmail teahouse
Just then, S’s parents come home from work. It is already late afternoon. His father crashes on the living room sofa and opens up his laptop. S is teaching him how to use Gmail. I am learning as well, despite having used Gmail for years. I discover how to label my incoming mails and set background themes.
Now, I feel the constant need to check what my Gmail fox is doing. Early in the morning he gets up to do taichi, and in the afternoon he sweeps the house, tends to the garden and feeds the birds. In the afternoon, he has tea with Monkey on the pavilion (above left). Later in the evening he goes inside to practice calligraphy, then makes a bowl of noodle soup for himself. How intelligent Google really is! Reading your mail and spying on your fox at the same time.
Family secrets from family friends
They say all forms of narratives are biased. I have always believed that, but today it hits home. I am chatting with S’s father, and because we are family friends (he is friends with my grandfather), the conversation inevitably turns to family affairs. “How’s your mother? How’s your sister? Have you seen your grandfather lately?”
I use this opportunity to find out as much as I can about people who don’t always tell me everything I want to know. Sometimes the best way to know about your family is to ask others who know them well in business and in leisure.
In that one afternoon, I learnt so much more about my parents and my grandparents than they would ever want to tell me. I learnt why they did the things they did, why they chose to live where they live, why they sent me to the school they sent me to.
I learnt characters, aspirations, dreams. I learnt failures, successes, circumstances. I learnt pride, I learnt humility. I learnt celebrations, I learnt tragedies.
Just then, Big Sis gives me a ring on my mobile phone.
“Where are you?” she barks.
“I’m at S’s house,” I say.
“What time are you coming back?”
“I dunno, whenever,” I say.
“Come back now. We are going for dinner.”
“And bring me some karipaps,” she orders.