Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Life in a small town Part 5 : How to hide a pregnancy

The last few weeks have seen two cases of abandoned babies in Brunei. Both were dead. One was found in a rubbish dump and the other was found in a box underneath a flyover. It's sad, but even more tragic is the fact that these incidents are not particularly shocking. From memory, there are always a few incidents of abandoned babies every year; more than you would expect for such a small population.

A few Brunei bloggers have commented on it; here is what Pablo and Sher have had to say.

Here's a true story: When I was working in Brunei, one of my colleagues attempted to hide a pregnancy. She wasn't a teenager - she was in her mid-to-late twenties and engaged to be married. Yani* (*made up name, of course) had been to University in the UK; first impressions would be an intelligent and confident young woman.

Looking back now, I can remember clearly the first sign that something was not right. We were always dieting or talking about losing weight, and one day she mentioned that she hadn't been eating much anyway because she had some kind of tummy bug, i.e. vomiting. (Hey, I was only 22 at the time! I didn't know about pregnant women!)

Fast forward a month or two, it's Hari Raya and some of the other women in the office notice that Yani has put on some weight. They suspect that she is pregnant, and the gossiping starts. Apparently, women who have had kids can spot a pregnancy a mile away. I think that they are just being bitchy, and laugh it off saying - oh come on, it's just fat. Too much food over Hari Raya.

Then some of the married men noticed too and suddenly I thought - Yani does look pregnant, she seems to be constantly distracted and she can hardly keep her eyes open in the afternoon.

This went on for months and we were so worried about her. I'm sure that her mother knew what was going on because she used to give Yani herbs "to bring on her period". At one point she used to eat lots of young pineapple every day; the women in the office whispered that eating young pineapple can cause miscarriage. (An old wives tales, I think) All this time, she never admitted that she was pregnant.

It got worse and worse, until we were sure that she must be ready to give birth. At this time, she confided in a few of the older women that she had started bleeding, and they were really alarmed. We tried to persuade her to go to a doctor, but she wouldn't accept any help.

I remember it was a Friday, and we were so worried about her that we wouldn't let her go out for lunch alone. So about seven of us (all women) went out for lunch together, and as we walked back to the office slowly, I said to her - Look, if you could be pregnant, please tell me. We can help you. She kept denying it, until finally I said - Is there any chance, any chance at all, that you could be pregnant? She weakened, and nodded.

That whole day she was obviously in distress. At 5 o'clock, we stood outside the office and watched her clamber into her car. She was in such a state, she couldn't even start the engine for 10 minutes. Then we watched her drive away.

The next day she didn't turn up to work and at mid-morning her father came to see the Boss and the company secretary. Finally, the secret was out.

On Friday night after dinner, Yani went into labour and her family rushed her to hospital. Amazingly, she had kept her pregnancy a secret from her whole family (although personally, I think her mother must have known) so they thought she was suffering from appendicitis, or something similar. As soon as the doctor put his hands on her abdomen, he knew straight away so she was rushed to the labour room where she gave birth to a healthy baby girl.

Her father said that Yani was stupid to keep it a secret as she was engaged anyway. If she had said something, she could have just got married quickly and had the baby quietly at home with a midwife. So why did she try and keep it a secret? Was she denying it even to herself because she was ashamed, and she couldn't face it?

How did Yani keep it a secret from her father and brothers? Well, she spent as little time with them as possible. She would get home from work and eat dinner quickly on her own, then spend the rest of the evening in her room. She didn't attend any family functions, giving the excuse that she was "tired" or "not feeling well".

And if you think that you might not be fooled, consider this - many of the men in the office were completely shocked when they found out. Even one guy who used to sit about 10 metres from her every day didn't have a clue.

So now, whenever I hear about abandoned children I always think of the mothers and how desperate they must be. Personally, I think that in many cases the fathers or other family members must be complicit in the abandonment and thus murder. I can't imagine a woman who has just given birth going to a rubbish dump or driving on the highway to find a convenient flyover. Other people must know about the pregnancy, but for some reason they are not willing to give their support to the mother. Is it shame? Financial reasons? God forbid - rape or even incest? (It's not unknown in Brunei)

Are we, as members of society, part of the problem? If the parents had felt less social pressure, would they have been more likely to at least put the baby up for adoption, or even take a chance to leave the baby somewhere safer?

As for my friend Yani, she has a happy ending. A few months after the birth, she married her fiancee (the baby's father) and as far as I know, they are still living together happily.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Sunday - Sugar is a Drug

As part of Mr K-E's family weekend, his family came round for lunch today and we had a simple buffet style meal. After all the red wine on Saturday night I couldn't do anything more strenuous than switching on the oven and opening packets. Just in case you are interested, we had
  • ham
  • pizza
  • green salad
  • coleslaw
  • potato salad
  • cherry tomatoes
  • samosas (chicken, lamb and beef) with raita
Mr K-E's mother made a yummy dessert from meringues, cream, strawberries and dulce de leche. Dulce de leche is a delicious toffee caramel sauce; it tastes lovely with pancakes. I should have taken a photo of the dessert before we demolished it, but it tastes much better than it looks anyway.

We also had brownies with hazelnuts (freshly baked by Mr K-E's sister, C) and some Somerset fudge. You can see extra dulce de leche in a bowl in the background. (Mr K-E's family love sweets and puddings.)

C has just some back from a holiday in Italy, so they gave us some Italian chocolate florentines, pasta and sweeties. Sugar addiction is terrible, I tell you.

We also had some serious family business to do; signing legal documents after lunch. Today's lesson learnt is: white wine + legal documents = bad signatures. :D

Saturday - War, the Mousetrap and Italian food.

B (Mr K-E's brother) and his girlfriend arrived on Friday night ready for Mr K-E's family outing on Saturday. We went to see The Mousetrap, Agatha Christie's long running play. It has been running for 52 years and is the world's longest running stage production. The play has not been updated, so as you can imagine it is quite old-fashioned. I thought it was a little bit slow and not something I would recommend to someone who has never been to the theatre. Well, it fulfilled my expectations I suppose. :) Worth watching, but I think the only reason it is still running is because it has been running for so long. If you see what I mean.

Mr K-E's parents saw it 40 years ago, but they couldn't remember any of it. I hope it doesn't run for another 40 years, because frankly, it's past its sell-by date. But who knows, the Mousetrap is practically a West End institution now, in a few years time it will probably be raised to "National Treasure" status.

There was also a big anti-war demonstration in town on Saturday and Trafagar Square was full of people waving "NO TO WAR" placards. I didn't have my camera with me, which is a shame. There was a stage set up and some rapper I had never heard of was singing that song -"War!/What is it good for?/Absolutely nothing!/War! etc etc ".

We were walking along, and I sang "War!/What is it good for?/ The economy!" A greasy-haired man turned his head round and scowled at me... ha ha ha.

After the Mousetrap we went to Strada in the Royal Festival Hall. Oh, lovely food, lovely wine. Amarettos, Limoncellos and Frangelicos all round. A fabulous time was had by all.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday

So did everyone have pancakes on Pancake Day?

Pancake Day or Shrove Tuesday (the "formal" name) is the day before Ash Wednesday, which is the first day of Lent. If you are a Catholic like me, then you will know that Lent is the build-up to Easter; a time when we should fast, repent, do good works and get ready for Holy Week. In the old days, Christians were not permitted to eat rich food, meat or other animal products (except fish) during the 40 days of Lent. So the day before Lent, all the perishable "rich" ingredients such as flour, eggs, butter etc had to be used up....hence pancake day. In some countries, it is known as Mardi Gras (or Fat Tuesday) and people party, party, party before Lent. I think nowadays, most people celebrate Pancake Day without observing Lent, so it is just a secular tradition.

We had pancakes (they were more like crepes) with lemon and sugar. Simple and delicious. It's quite pathetic that I have to look up a recipe for pancakes, but I only make them once a year. Maybe this year I'll make them twice a year. :)

Ash Wednesday is a Holy Day of Obligation for Catholics (No, it's not. We are only encouraged to go to mass. It's not compulsory. Thanks, Justin - edited 21/2/07) which means we should go to mass and fast. We shouldn't eat any meat, and we are encouraged to fast if possible. I always find Ash Wednesday mass meaningful as we are reminded that - "you are dust, and to dust you shall return". The priest places a blob of ash on your forehead and says something like - repent and believe the Gospel. It's a day to remember that our bodies are only temporary.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Life in a small town Part 4: Blogging

I've turned into a bit of a "lurker", hanging around other people's blogsites silently. Well, actually, just Brunei blogs which I read with a kind of nauseous fascination. Just from the blogs, it seems that Brunei is still as clique-y as ever, and as s m a l l as ever. All the people from my peer group seem to have married each other or their friends' siblings. Scary. Many of the people who emigrated to Australia or New Zealand seem to be back. (Huh? what happened there?) The rich kids have opened shops/restaurants/spas and stay in business because a) their parents have deeeeep pockets and b) the shop doesn't actually have to make money, it's just something for little Lily*/Yazrin* to do. (*Made up names. Of course.)

But I guess what I really want to talk about is competitive Brunei blogging. I know Brunei. And I know it may seem like a nice cosy community, but in fact it is a hotbed of back-stabbing bitchiness with competitive everything. Someone posts about the fabulous meal they had at the Empire, you blog about your shopping trip to Singapore/Hong Kong/Sydney/London/New York/Los Angeles (in order of blog-points). Oh naughty me, I spent so much money on handbags darling.... smirk smirk. And the boyfriend, he bought the latest MX-12976 titanium golf club/laser pointer/rocket ship etc...

Funny how nobody blogs about what a hard time they are having at work, for example. Apart from monkey fruit, who just lets it rip, colleagues be damned. I like her!

The creepiest thing is when there are blogs written by sisters-in-law. Living in the same house. Mmmmm. I bet that's cosy. Not. I can imagine the bitching that goes on in bedrooms. Your sister thinks she's so funny...all her photos are blur anyway....her english is so half-past-six....anything I do she wants to copy............

Hey, people can blog about what they want. The internet is for everyone to express themselves. :)

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Gong Xi Fa Cai

I spent the weekend at my sister's place. She and her husband have just moved into a new house and it is much bigger than their old place. To Londoners like me and Mr K-E, used to living in cupboards, it seems almost mansion-like. They have four large bedrooms (two with en-suite bathrooms), dining room, huge kitchen, study etc etc.

On Saturday she had a house warming/new year open house for her friends and colleagues. She had an interesting mix of food, I thought. Beef rendang, roast chicken, ham, satay chicken, cous cous with roasted vegetables, sausage rolls, fried noodles, scotch eggs, parmesan+rocket+pear salad.... the list continues.

My sister loves collecting perfumes, not because she likes the perfumes but she loves the bottles. She has decided to display them in her main bathroom, and it does look fabulous. She collects variations of the same perfume, and you can see different versions of the same perfume in the photo. I couldn't fit the whole display in one photo and this only represents about a third of her collection.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Chinese New Year: Life in a small town Part 3

My childhood memories of Chinese New Year are:
  • wearing new clothes and shoes that were always uncomfortable for some reason
  • unlimited amounts of soft drinks and prawn crackers. Lots of kuih mor - sweet cakey balls of sugar coated loveliness, still my favourite
  • my sister and I counting our "ang-pow" money discreetly. Ang pows are little red envelopes with cash gifts inside. They are traditionally given to children and unmarried people during CNY. The amount you get depends on your relationship with the giver. So the "big money" ones are from your grandparents, uncles and aunts etc. When I was a kid, the standard was B$2 from people you didn't really know, $5 from your parents' friends and $10 from rich people. It was rare to get $10 from someone who wasn't a family member. It all evens out in the end because my parents had to give out loads of any-pows too. So it's just a way of circulating cash I guess. When we grew older (say from 11 or 12) we were allowed to keep our ang-pow money, and boy did I love it! It used to pay for my Smash Hits/ No 1 magazines all year.
  • Visiting other people's houses and comparing their snacks/biscuits. Playing with other kids, while indulgent adults look on.
I remember when the lion dance was banned in Brunei (why? what the point of that?) and I'm glad to see that it is now back. On the first day of New Year we would have open house, and the next day we would normally go and visit our relatives in KB and Seria. Some years we used to go and visit family in Miri, which was great because they had lots of super-duper lion dancing there.

Anyway, one thing I remember distinctly is that the neighbourhood kids used to come visiting at Chinese New Year. They would come in groups of up to 10, wearing their best clothes with their hair all nicely combed, neat and tidy. They would sit politely while my Mum served them soft drinks and kuih sepit*, and wait patiently for their ang pow. Looking back now, they were so cute. I wonder if kids do that nowadays?

I hope that little Malay kids do feel that they can visit the homes of their Chinese neighbours, and that in return their Chinese neighbours make them feel welcome. I know there is a problem with the "food/drink" thing nowadays i.e. that some Muslim people are wary of eating or drinking in pork-eating households. On the other hand, Chinese and Malay people have lived together (reasonably) happily in Brunei for generations - we should feel at ease to visit each other's homes right?

To any Muslim people (and I am not trying to make light of your religious beliefs), Chinese people are not on a mission to secretly feed non-halal products to you. Hey, if you are really worried just stick to the biscuits and the soft drinks. Gong Xi Fa Cai!

*kuih sepit: crispy egg-roll things rolled up into "love letters" or folded into triangles

Happy New Year everybody!

I went down to Chinatown on Valentine's night and it was absolutely heaving. As soon as I left the tube at Leicester Square tube station I knew I had made a mistake. People were all backed up on the escalators and it was getting a bit dangerous because people at the top of the escalators had no where to go; it was so crowded.

Anyway, I was there to buy some biscuits/snacks for Chinese New Year. My sister has just moved into a new house and she is having a Chinese New Year open house/house warming party on Saturday. She asked me to get them for her because she doesn't live in London and there aren't many chinese people where she lives.

Tomorrow Mr K-E and I are heading over to her place and staying overnight. Yay, Happy New Year everybody!!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Milky Tea: The fuel of English workmen

Mr K-E reminded me (twice) that I should offer the carpet fitters tea and biscuits when they turned up. Yes, I know; I said, do you think I just got off the plane yesterday? In fact we had to buy a pack of chocolate hobnobs especially, as we don't normally have any biscuits in the house.

As it turns out, only one bloke turned up and he took about three hours to fit the carpet. Usually, carpet fitters work at the speed of light but our hallway stair is all wonky; each step is different and it's all a bit of a nightmare. He also had to remove the old carpet and put the underlay down; so three hours is quite quick really. The fitter said the stair had "character", but I don't think he meant it in a nice way, ha ha ha.

As I am a well-trained English wife nowadays, I offered him tea and bikkies as soon as he arrived and then made him two more cups without even being asked. If a workman has to ask you for tea, you have committed a bit of a social faux pas. A few years ago, Mr K-E was at home while we had a new kitchen fitted and he was just pottering around the flat, fiddling with the computer etc while the kitchen fitter did his work. Mr K-E doesn't drink hot drinks during the day, so he neglected his tea making duties until finally the kitchen fitter (in desperation) said, "Is the kettle working?"* hint* hint*.

The carpet fitter didn't eat the biscuits, by the way. So I'll have to eat them instead. :)

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Hearts and Flowers.

Do you hate Valentine's Day? Do you dread the time of year when restaurants advertise unimaginative "lover's menus" and tacky red hearts fill shop windows everywhere you look?

This year, why not spend February 14th in Brunei Darussalam, where Valentine's Day has been officially discouraged? Every year, Muslim religious leaders (Imams) announce how Valentine's Day is a western construct with roots in Christian tradition and has no place in a good Muslim's life. This doesn't stop all the florists, restaurants, hotels, travel agents etc in town from trying to cash in on the "romantic" day. I think it's kind of cute how religious leaders make all these pronouncements (Pope - birth control?) and everyone just ignores them and does what they want anyway. It's the sign of a civilised society. :)

Frankly, I think Valentine's Day is ridiculous. Isn't it a complete waste of time if you are actually in a loving and happy relationship?

Valentine's Day is either for
a) teenagers or
b) couples who don't spend any time together all year. For one night a year, they are forced to gaze at each other in a crowded restaurant, trying to make small talk and desperately trying to keep up the "romantic" mood. Yuk, yuk, yuk.

Ignoring teenagers (because they are silly and totally controlled by their hormones); don't people realise that restaurants are open all year round? Flowers don't just appear in early February and disappear from the shops on February 15th. You are allowed to kiss your wife and tell her you love her on any random day....I could continue, but I think you get my drift.

Someone (I think it was Johnny Vaughn) said that Valentine's dinner in a restaurant reminded him of prison visits i.e. rows and rows of couples facing each other, while waiters (jailers?) hover around making sure everything is OK.

Let's not forget, it's also a crap time of year if you are single. However, I did hear a good idea for a Valentine's Day singles night (or indeed any time of the year). You can only attend as a pair, i.e. you have to bring along a friend of the opposite sex who is also single, and you meet other single people for drinks etc. Great idea, huh? As:
a) the organisers are always assured of equal numbers of men and women
b) you know that you aren't going to meet anyone too crazy - I mean, they have to have a friend of the opposite sex to attend. So they can't be complete creeps/bunny-boiling psychos.
c) if you get trapped in an eyes-glazed over conversation with the IT Expert from Hell, hopefully your friend will come and rescue you. Maybe.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Korean Lunch

I had lunch with some colleagues at a Korean restaurant today, the New Seoul on Clerkenwell Road. Not bad. I felt a bit sheepish because I rang up earlier to reserve a table - but when we got there the place was deserted.

I had a beef/egg/rice dish which came in a super-hot stone bowl. The beef was served raw on top of cooked rice and vegetables, with a raw egg on top. You stir in the egg and beef in the bowl, which cooks the raw ingredients. Served with a yummy chili-type sauce, mmm mmm.

And it's fun eating with those little metal Korean chopsticks.

Other books....

Some other books I've read recently.

A pretty fun book. With advice ranging from how to wear sunglasses while swimming (they "aid vision and add glamour to the pool") to how to use a compass; it's amusing and potentially useful at the same time.

I had to laugh at the advice on how to deal with a blocked drain.

"Unblocking drains is really yuk. This is definitely not for you, so get someone else to do this. Go out for the day and hope that the problem has been 'resolved' by the time you return."

The foreword was written by John Galliano. I'm impressed! The writer Camilla Morton is supposed to be someone big in fashion.

You always know where you are with Dean Koontz. Easy to read, entertaining and not too scary. Unfortunately, this book is just too long at over 800 pages. I reckon Mr Koontz could have trimmed off about 300 pages and the book would have been better.

Maybe once you've sold a zillion books, editors don't have any power over you. (It's the same with the Harry Potter books.)

And is it just me, or does he just love dogs?

Another old faithful, J D Robb (aka Nora Roberts in a darker, edgier mood). I read my first JD Robb last year and got into a JD Robb frenzy, reading about 10 of her books in a row. Now I've calmed down a bit and am slowly reading through her backlist, but I still love Eve Dallas. She's the kick-ass heroine I wish I could be....She's so cool.

If you haven't read any of her books, please please try them. If you grew up reading Sweet Valley High books when you were younger, and if you think Jayne Ann Krentz rocks, I'm sure you will enjoy JD Robb. I would recommend that you read them in order to get full enjoyment from the character development etc.

The first one in the series is Naked in Death. And please don't blame me if you go to the bookshop the next day and buy the next 10 books in the series.

Would you please be quiet, please? by Raymond Carver

I didn't know what to expect when I started reading this collection of short stories. First off, they're not the kind of short stories where there is a twist at the end, a la Jeffrey Archer. I found the stories to be interesting and well-observed; some of the scenes were uncomfortable to read, as if you were intruding into someone's life uninvited.

I'm a rubbish literary critic, I know. These are some reviews that I think particularly sum up the book (these guys can say it much better).

"Carver is the master of the clear, sharp, resonant detail" - Daily Telegraph

"...alert to the unique, inconspicuous incident, when life or a marriage may change course decisively." - Sunday Telegraph

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Work Life Balance.

We got an e-mail at work yesterday about a place called the City Academy, which offers classes in drama, singing, dance and film. It's aimed at "City" workers who want to try something different, something not related to work. They have obviously hooked up with all the surrounding offices, because we can all get a 30% discount through work.

Sounds like a good idea, right? Leave the office at 5:30 for once and go to an evening class, instead of slogging at your desk till 8pm....Learn to tap dance, write a play or sing opera. You de-stress and your work improves; no more shouting at the wife when you get home. Everyone wins.

I was ready to sign up, then I saw the photos....

Err, why has that man still got his tie on?? It's a dance class, for goodness sake. I don't think the "tie police" would arrest you if loosened up for once.

And this guy ( at the back)...he's still got his suit jacket on!

Well, some people are beyond hope I guess. As Mr K-E said, you can take the accountant out of the office, but you can't take the office out of the accountant.

Sunday, February 04, 2007


Painting all day. Cooked lasagne for dinner. Exhausted.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

DIY Saturday

We ordered a new carpet for the hallway today. £550(!!) for a new carpet in the stair and landing only. The carpet (and underlay) itself was only about £160 but the fitting costs £220. Plus there are other bits and pieces like grippers and whole load of things I had never heard of.

I'm not surprised at the cost of the fitting - it is why everyone in the UK is obsessed with DIY. You have to sell your kidneys before you can afford to have any work done in your house. So the only alternative is to do it yourself. Carpet fitting is beyond us... but no way am I paying someone £200 a day to do the "general" stuff. Fuck, how hard can it be??

Mr K-E and I spent the whole day DIY-ing. Things I never knew before moving to London:
  • The stuff on used on walls is "emulsion" and not "paint". It is also normally water-based. Although I always say "painting" for everything.
  • "Paint" goes on wood or metal and is normally oil-based and looks glossy. If you emulsion your doors and skirting boards, they will look rubbish. (The previous owners of our flat did this - and it looks cheap and shit)
  • Before you repaint wood (especially if it has been neglected), you need to de-grease it with sugar-soap solution and rub it down with sand paper or else the new paint will not "take". This means it will come off after a few months.
  • There are different grades of sandpaper.
  • Never try to start painting if you don't have masking tape in the house. Or else you will get paint all over the light switches/door jambs/window sills etc. Nightmare.
  • Painting with rollers is not as fun as it looks on TV. It gets pretty boring after 5 minutes and then it starts to feel like hard work.
  • Polyfilla is your new best friend. Cracks? What cracks?
  • And last but not least...I hate DIY. When oh when am I going to win the lottery?