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10 (Illegitimate) Thoughts on Bali

September 22, 2016


I was recently in Bali to celebrate life and time. During my solitary sojourn, I experienced things and had a lot of thoughts (mostly illegitimate ones). Here are some of them.


First of all, one can’t help getting affected by Balinese Hinduism resonating from every single nook and corner on this Island of the Gods. Looking at a pura (a Balinese Hindu temple) that perched quaintly on top of the 70-metre-high cliff in Uluwatu, I was emotionally captivated in the spiritual world full of charm and magic (I was told that, out of respect, a Balinese building should not be taller than a pura). Each time I stumbled upon Canang Sari offerings and walked past a throne of Sanghyang Widi Wasa donned in poleng cloth, I thought to myself, “Could a place get any holier?”


Of course, one of the main reasons people keep flocking to Bali is to savour her natural splendour that it is almost a crime not to stop and admire her spectacular beaches, stunning landscape of hills and mountains, and, not to forget, extremely poetic sunsets. As I was enjoying the chilly weather in Bedugul and walking around the iconic Ulun Danu Pura built on the shore of Lake Beratan, it dawned to me that I could be in paradise. For a moment, I thought I was talking to Ida Batara Dewi Ulun Danu, the Goddess of the Lake, and then I heard myself saying, “Dear lake charmer, help me to keep going in Bali, and help me not to stop exploring this beauty.”


But when I get back to reality, I saw Bali as an abroad version of Australia. I was pleasantly surprised to bump into Australia’s Commonwealth Bank branches and ATMS in many tourist-packed areas (4 branches and 62 ATMs to be exact!). It was also equally comforting to hear familiar Australian accents on the street, talking in their typical high-rising intonation. Cruising along the chaotic three kilometer-long Legian Street and walking past a huge variety of western shops and modern bars, I was lost in a sea of Aussies. And I kept thinking: “Am I in Melbourne?”


As expected, Bali is so well designed for foreign tourists (Bali received more than 4 million visitors in 2015, thanks to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love). Well, it was easy to forget that I was actually in Bali when I toured around Kuta, the most highly developed area in Bali where shopping galas, nightlife jollies and lower-end party cultures concentrate. In fact, I quickly learned to simply say “liburan” (to go on holiday) when asked by the immigration officer about my reason for visiting Bali, which made me wonder: “Would I be deported immediately if I say that I want to make money in Bali?”


Talking about money, I was endlessly lured by many strangers for massage or tour deals. I admired their persistence to say the least (one particular Ketut practiced her best diplomatic skills for good 15 minutes before walking away). Some deals were just ridiculous and costly. I remember being forced by a local guide to try lavish seafood dinner at a high-end restaurant in Jimbaran Bay. On another occasion, I was “charmed” and led to join a pricey water sports package in Tanjung Benoa. I declined politely to these deals and told myself: “You are smarter than these sneaky dealers, Hilmi!”


Yes, the thing about traveling alone is that it can be both adventurous and dangerous. I was tricked by an innocent-looking money changer in Kuta and lost Rp200,000 during the transaction. I was ripped off by a supir (a local driver) to pay some “convenient” fees for a half-day tour. No, I was not discouraged by this “street robbery” as I was learning an important lesson – Bali is full of well-rehearsed schemes and acts, both for the cunning locals and a bold naïve tourist like me. Standing at the edge of a high cliff in Uluwatu, I imagined myself shouting my heart out: “I love you, Bali, but now I am going to scheme you back!”


So this is how I schemed Bali – I made the best out of my time in Bali! And this place quickly enchanted and hallucinated me with its traditional myths. The Barong Dance, the most well-known “lion dance” in Bali, casted a spell on me with its classic story of the good (Barong) triumphing over the evil (Rangda). The Kecak Dance, a traditional Balinese “exorcism” based on the Ramayana Hindu epic, hypnotized me with its endless chanting of “cak”. Accompanied with the empowering sunset, I thought I fell into a trance. I saw Laksamana, one of the characters, and asked unguardedly, “Did you come from the Malacca Sultanate?”


But when the illusion was gone and I was sober, I could sense some sort of melancholy and loneliness about Bali. I remember seeing a number of banners on the street depicting the movement against the reclamation plan for Teluk Benoa. Being a carefree visitor, I felt a tad guilty when thinking about the locals who are not happy with the government’s plan to turn Bali into a giant “tourism playground”. As I was admiring the dramatic Tanah Lot temple placed on a magnificent rock, I heard a distant voice saying, ”Help me restore and preserve this old temple,” upon which I lamented, “What a ruined and lonely world we are living in.”


Alas, Bali will remain strong and mighty despite being overdeveloped. During my visit to the Monkey Forest in Alas Kedaton, I was informed that Bali has a strong underlying philosophy that protects the relationship between Man, Nature and God. This special ally with natural environment makes Bali a secured, calm and mighty place (and I had a special moment with a mighty monkey too). I particularly felt this mighty feeling when I was wandering around the Taman Ayun Temple of Mengwi. Looking at the huge royal water temple surrounded by a beautiful garden, I couldn’t help thinking: “I want to build a mighty house here.”


I finally realized that I had been dreaming in Bali when I was having a taste of Luwak Coffee at the Bedugul Coffee Plantation (this civet coffee is the world’s healthiest and most expensive coffee). Immersed in the wonders of Bali, I think I invested too much emotion and imagination in this dreamy island that is also part of Wonderful Indonesia. As I was getting on the plane to return to Malaysia during the wee hours of the morning at the Ngurah Rai International Airport, I heard myself whispering quietly, “Thank you for safeguarding me, dear Angels of Bali. I will definitely return to keep on dreaming.”

Photo: Having a moment with a mighty monkey in the Alas Kedaton Monkey Forest, Bali

10 Best Moments With My Best Friend

August 27, 2015

Hilmi & Halim



I joined Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) in March 2008, and barely a few weeks later, I was introduced to this wonderful soul with cool spiky hair whom I dearly call Halim (our names – Hilmi and Halim – also rhyme nicely). Since then, we have been close buddies at many levels, both personally and professionally. Here are 10 best moments that I have shared with Halim, my best friend.



1. The PhD Dream

We started off our professional journey at UTM with the same goal in mind – to get a PhD. So, together, we attended many tiring courses and trainings, sat for nerve-cracking examinations, and braved through many other painstaking processes with style and confidence (and some tears too). As it turned out, I went to Australia and Halim chose a local Malaysian university. We didn’t end up at the same university for our PhD studies, but fate and faith surprisingly connected us in a way we had never imagined. We were both living the same PhD dream.



2. The Jakarta Tragedy

Oh, before we began our doctoral pursuits, we travelled to Jakarta, Indonesia to (hopefully) seal our friendship. But, the moment we landed at the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, things went awfully wrong. We almost lost each other at the airport and, later, we found out that the hotel that we booked was bogus. Feeling cheated and scared, we were forced to drag our luggage into the street. Our friendship was truly tested, but like many other tests, we endured and smiled to our advantage. It was the moment to cherish indeed, this Jakarta tragedy.



3. The Doctoral Journey

Throughout my four years of PhD struggles abroad, I met Halim only on several occasions. He visited me once in Melbourne and fulfilled his dream of meeting up Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open (yes, he did it!). When I returned home for data collection, Halim was part of the magic, making the saga of my literature-hunting a successful one. We had only other brief encounters during this PhD period, but his cameo appearances were always like Fairy Godfriend who continuously helped me find the light at the end of this doctoral journey.



4. The House Keepers

Happy tears welled up in our eyes, we both returned to UTM at almost the same time and we brought home our own success stories. But more than that, we became housemates! It wasn’t planned at all, but it was the best unplanned twist ever. As (academic) housemates, we set the rules and regulations that complemented each other’s idiosyncrasies. Both perfectionists in nature, we carefully planned and turned our shared house into some sort of a myriad that was neither too personal nor too professional. We were the dedicated house keepers.



5. The Research Geeks

As PhD holders and senior lecturers, the world was now our oyster. Halim was, most of the time, my kind mentor who helped me beat many complicated procedures and secure a number of research grants. Thanks to Halim’s tireless efforts, I was invited to be part of his publication team on academic journals and conference proceedings (our PhD travelog still remains a dream!). I wondered sometimes whether we were working or playing; the work/play dichotomy almost seemed blurry. We were two research geeks who seriously needed a life.



6. The Stress Relievers

But not to worry, we had a lot of ways to de-stress. At the end of the day, we normally sat together and let out anything that came to mind – crazy students, poor theses, demanding seniors, inefficient staff, etc. Naturally enough, we switched these toxic topics into juicy ones – cheesy Malay dramas, cheeky songs, recently-divorced celebrities, over-the-top movies, etc. (but never on politics or sports – two subjects we always found irrelevant). It was always good to have common stress relievers who made me realize that the world was not about to end.



7. The Culinary Planners

Among other things that made us happy were good foods and good coffee. Since both of us were perfect planners, we normally created a grand scheme for our lunch/dinner/coffee dates. We didn’t have a fancy log book for this, but we did make a strong mental note for our dates that could be fully booked up for the next two weeks (Wednesday nights were always reserved for our special Ikan Kembung!). We were two freaky culinary planners who always wanted to be in control of everything that made its way to our jolly stomachs.



8. The Health Devotees

As one can expect, we were both on diet despite our love for foods. There was a time when a fat auntie selling nasi lemak stared at us in contempt when we asked her to split our nasi lemak in half. Her workers complained unnecessarily when we left some food on our plates (how kind of them!). We banned her nasi lemak ever since. On Mondays, we regularly went to a gymnasium, followed by a taste of roti canai at a mamak restaurant (great combination, eh?). We were the health devotees who designed and redefined our own first-world problem of food intake.



9. The Padini Idols

I liked slim fit jeans, while Halim usually went for regular fit ones. However, we did have similar taste in fashion, at least for our office attire. Our favourite brand was Padini and we were regular faces at many Padini Concept Stores in JB. One could imagine the office wear collection in our closets. Many times, we had to plan ahead so we didn’t end up wearing the same polka dot shirt on the same day (it wasn’t unusual though if we did). We were the Padini Idols whose accumulated shopping points were worthy of a return trip to New York.



10. The Dream Catchers

When I decided to move to Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM), Halim was supportive. He was there for me, listening to all sorts of stories and twists that caused headaches and heartaches. At the same time, I was happy to be all ears for Halim’s dramatic movement to his own bought apartment. Now that we are worlds apart, I’m thankful that we have had our fair share of God’s blessing – our time-proof friendship. We have both fulfilled our dreams and we can now move forward and start chasing the dreams of our own. Because we are both the Dream Catchers.



Happy birthday, Halim!

The Adultery of KIPIDAP

August 3, 2015


When I first encountered the trending expression KIPIDAP (an adulterated Malaysian version of an English phrase KEEP IT UP), I was annoyed and enraged. The later emergence of DONGIBAP (DON’T GIVE UP) made things worse. I was even aghast at the casual use of these horribly spelled phrases among some English teachers in their so-called “urban” writing. I mean, as an English lecturer myself and also as a phonetic researcher who appreciates words, sounds, spellings and their accuracy, I found KIPIDAP and DONGIBAB extremely distasteful and detrimental (please don’t kill me yet, the Kulup fans!).

Now, my argument is purely academic and educational; as a second language learner and teacher, I firmly believe that English should be learned and taught from its original and pure sources, not from some distorted or fabricated forms most netizens use these days in their virtual interactions. This is more alarming for younger English language learners who should be adequately exposed to more acceptable and supportive learning environments. I can already foresee that phonics instructors might be facing a hard time in the future if the KIPIDAP culture persists; the phoneme/grapheme equilibrium would potentially go haywire (I would one day be flabbergasted if DONGIBAP appears in my daughter’s writing!).

Nevertheless, when I think of it again, I realize that there are a lot of interesting layers and idiosyncrasies beyond the spelling disaster and the hashtag addiction in the social media. From a sociolinguistic point of view, this linguistic phenomenon is something that no one can resist; it is real, natural and acceptable especially in a society in which English is used as a second language, like in the Malaysian community. In fact, thousands of English words and phrases have been successfully localized, which is the result of systematic orthographic/phonological transfer from English to Malay. As many of you are already aware, here are some examples of English words and phrases that have been transformed and “bastardized” into the Colloquial Malay lexicon:

Action = Eksyen
Alright = Orait
Artist = Retis
Awesome = Ohsem
Babe = Beb
Budget = Bajet
Brother = Brader
Cancel = Kensel
Chance = Can
Colour = Kaler
Common = Koman
Don’t Know = Donno
Famous = Femes
Friend = Fren
Glamour = Glemer
Go astern = Gostan
Gorgeous = Gojes
Government = Gomen
Guarantee = Gerenti
Handphone = Henfon
Handsome = Hensem
I say = Aisey
Jacket = Jeket
Jealous = Jeles
Oversea = Obersi
Tension = Tensen
Thanks = Tengs
Relax = Rilek
Respect = Respek
Steam = Stim
Terror = Terer
You all = Uolls

As a Kelantanese, I have also observed that there is a classic phonetic trading relationship between English and Kelantan Malay, leading to many pidginized cute-sounding terms. These are some of the words in English that have long made it to the spoken dictionary of Kelantan Malay (phonetic transcriptions for Kelantan Malay words are provided in slashes):

Big Work = Bek woh /bɛʔwɔh/
Boat = Bok /boʔ/
Book = Buk /buʔ/
Bottle = Boto /bɔtɔ/
Cash = Keh /kɛh/
Charge = Cah /tʃʌh/
Chocolate = Coklak /tʃɔʔlʌʔ/
Cigarette = Segeret /səɡəɣeʔ/
Colour = Kala /kʌlʌ/
Corner = Kona /kɔnʌ/
Double = Daba /dʌbʌ/
Handle = Henda /hɛndʌ/
Line = Laing /lʌiŋ/
Manager = Meneja /mənɛdʒʌ/
Mail = Mae /mɛ/
Meter = Meta /mɛtʌ/
Motorcycle = Motosika /mɔtosikʌ/
Office = Opih /ɔpih/
Plug = Plak /plʌʔ/
Post office = Poh opih /poh ɔpih/
Private = Prebek /prɛbɛʔ/
Reserve = Rizak /rizʌʔ/
Roundabout = Raun embak /rʌuŋ əmbʌʔ/
Screw driver = Skru dreba /skru drɛbʌ/
Signboard = Saing bok /sʌiŋ bɔʔ/
Skirt = Skok /skɔʔ/
Slipper = Slipa /slipʌ/
Smart = Smak /smʌʔ/
Spanner = Spana /spʌnʌ/
Start = Stak /stʌʔ/
Steering = Stereng /stɛreŋ/
Straight = Strek /streʔ/
Time = Taing /tʌiŋ/

Yes, linguistic transfer is a reality than has certainly “tarnished” the holiness of the English language. Yet, it has also added many colours and spices in the Malay language and in our life as social beings. Quite often, these words and expressions have been part of popular cultures among our community, serving as lighthearted jokes and amusing puns to language lovers and dialect enthusiasts. I fully acknowledge this fact, and this current KIPIDAP-DONGIBAP frenzy has definitely succeeded in making everyone’s social life more cheerful and, to certain extent, more efficient.

So, here is my conclusion: I’m neither supporting for nor rebelling against the KIPIDAP affairs. What I’m trying to point out here is that, while we can enjoy the digital trending that many popular social media can offer, I hope younger generations can take time to learn and appreciate the English language from its accurate forms. New and innovative English teachers should not take this situation for granted; they should sometimes return to the old grammarian textbooks while employing the communicative language teaching method using authentic real-life DONGIBAP materials. More importantly, keep learning and improving English and, yes, KEEP IT UP and DON’T GIVE UP!

UUM Brand

July 30, 2015

00a UUM Brand

I found names and branding around UUM cute and endearing. Most organizations are wittily abbreviated in English.

To begin with, there are three main academic colleges: CAS, COB and, the cutest of all, COLGIS.*

All graduate schools are adorably personalized in honour of prominent scholars: AHSGS, OYAGSB and, the Singapore-sounding name, GSGSG.**

For academic faculties, they are organized (or rather Americanized) into schools, and they are also amusingly coined in English, like SOA, SOC, SOG, SOL and, my own school, SEML.***

So well structured, managed and Anglicized, I think UUM truly lives up to its tagline – The Eminent Management University.

* College of Arts and Sciences, College of Business, College of Law, Government and International Studies
** Awang Had Salleh Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Othman Yeop Abdullah Graduate School of Business, Ghazali Shafie Graduate School of Government
*** School of Accountancy, School of Computing, School of Government, School of Law, School of Education and Modern Languages

10 Lessons I Learned From My Previous Employer

July 27, 2015

My Previous Employer

When I left Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) to join Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) recently, I had worked at UTM for more than seven years. Today, I feel the need to look back and appreciate the journey at UTM that has led me to where I am now, so that my current professional life will be as luminous as possible. Here are ten lessons I learned from UTM, my previous employer.



Lesson 1: Stay Focused

Being sent abroad and passing UTM’s complex requirements for my PhD were nothing short of dramas and obstacles. But I learned that, by overcoming each great obstacle in my own way, there is always a greater lesson to learn. Yes, there may be 1000 giant steps towards getting what I want, but if I set my mind and heart to it and stay focused, I am already halfway there, before I even realize it.



Lesson 2: Work Harder

Leading a post-PhD life was extremely overwhelming – teaching, supervision, research, publication, consultation, etc. Trained in a performance-driven environment, I learned to keep working and avoid gossiping. When the university presented me with a river, I could not rely on luck to supply a boat; I had to dive into the water and swim. Yes, luck only comes to those who work hard to find it.



Lesson 3: Be Passionate

Being given the chance to teach TESL-related subjects and to conduct research in phonetics was always like a dream come true to me. Throughout many years of teaching life and research practice, I learned that Passion is always an integral aspect of my professional existence. What I do doesn’t matter so much; what matters is that I love it and that I do it to the best of my ability.



Lesson 4: Open Up

Supervising and guiding students in completing their final year projects, teaching practices and dissertations made me realize that I was not the all-knowing professor. I learned that there is always something to discover in sloppily written literature reviews or poorly organized findings; I just need to keep my mind open to new experiences and take human flaws as perpetuating agents of growth.



Lesson 5: Stick Together

Crossing paths with students of various backgrounds every semester was always a joy; they came and went away like moving trains at a busy train station. But I learned that, if we are kind to each other and we touch each other’s lives in a deep and meaningful way, we would stick together beyond the classroom and beyond the many funny forms of networking technology.



Lesson 6: Take It Or Leave It

Managing conflicts with dear colleagues was a trivial affair. But I learned to grab on to those who help nourish my career, and not to focus on whoever that decelerates the progress of my professional being. It is crucial to know when to stop and say NO and take a step back from those who could harm me. When an opportunity comes my way, I am the only one who should decide to either take it or leave it.



Lesson 7: Be Strongheaded

Handling research grants and keeping up the projects at an expected rate were not an easy matter; some unforeseen things might turn up that made me waver with doubt and uncertainty. But I learned that, while I work so hard to achieve my research goals, I can stay strongheaded and be handsomely rewarded (or positively cursed) in a way that I would never imagine.



Lesson 8: Stay Alert

Working at a prominent research university like UTM requires a shrewd scheme and strategy. I learned that, if I sit around and wait for SCOPUS-indexed publication to land in my laps, I would probably get old waiting. The most important thing is to always stay alert to various opportunities that arise. I just have to grow in response to circumstances and make the most of my chance to shine.



Lesson 9: Play The Game Well

Being part of the transformation plan that UTM always strives to execute, I learned to play the game well and not to fall below expectation. I should be able to master the unwritten lessons, because they are like a series of closed and opened doors; upon gaining the insight and learning the relevant lesson, one door closes and another one opens, and I should always walk faster and further.



Lesson 10: Let It Go

Being a Kelantanese who moves constantly from the East Coast to the West Coast and then to the South Coast and now to the North Coast, I learned that I could always let go of my comfort zone, start a new life in a totally strange environment, and still be happy with it. I saw changes at many levels at UTM and I look forward to seeing many more. Change, as scary as it may seem, comes with an infinite realm of new possibilities.



Yes, every single experience at UTM taught me something that helped me become a better academician. So, thank you UTM for all these valuable lessons. I shall take this knowledge with me and continue my professional journey at UUM with more confidence and style. And I shall try to remain open to everything and make a concerted effort to always find new lessons in this new professional chapter of mine.

Airis & Frozen Kite

July 23, 2015


Airis’ first “frozen” kite ~ Pantai Batu Buruk, Terengganu

Terengganu Public Library

July 22, 2015

00c Terengganu Public Library

I discovered another open secret in Kuala Terengganu today. No, it’s not a keropok lekor shop – it’s a public library.

Officially opened in 2001, the building looks pretty impressive. Yet entering this five-storey building feels like entering a government office – set, orderly and boring. There’s a kid section on the ground floor, which I can already imagine Airis playing and singing merrily on top of the colourful books. On the first floor, there’s a Samsung Smart Library, which reflects the management’s initiative to transform the Terengganu folks into an ICT-proficient society. Collections of theses, galleries and multimedia rooms are located on the second floor; they are mostly occupied by what look like local students who are probably tired of shopping at MyDin or Giant located just a few meters away.

I found my favourite section on the third floor that safeguards many books and references. Interesting titles on languages and linguistics are lining up on dustfree shelves. The collection obviously needs some updating. Oh, did I mention that there’s also a Language Centre here? Yes, I’m pleased to see that some efforts have been undertaken to address the linguistic needs among the local community.

Well, notwithstanding the subdued environment, I love this library. It feels good to be able to see, touch and smell real books amidst the glory of digital world these days.

Terengganu’s Big Hill

July 21, 2015

00d Terengganu's Big Hill

While most people were still sleeping at my in-laws’ place this morning, I sneaked out and decided to explore Bukit Besar, the landmark of Kuala Terengganu. So I climbed (with my sandals!) and made it to the top of this Big Hill located right in the middle of the city. I think I’m back in shape after the recent Raya Galore of Calories!

Aidilfitri 2015

July 17, 2015

00d Aidilfitri 2015

Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri

Balik Kampung

July 15, 2015

00f Balik Kampung

Pasir Mas, here we come.

Selfie Philosophy

July 7, 2015


Do your best and don’t worry.

UUM Academic Staff

July 1, 2015

00g UUM Academic Staff

Officially a UUM academic staff!

Farewell Musings

June 30, 2015

00g Farewell Musings


Aku ingin mengambil kesempatan,
Menitip sedikit coretan,
Mengucapkan selamat jalan,
Khas buat seorang teman,
Yang hampir lapan tahun berkenalan,
Berkongsi warna-warni kehidupan,
Tentang ahli akademik yang pelbagai pengalaman,
Tentang pengajaran, penyelidikan, penyeliaan, perundingan, penulisan, penerbitan,
Tidak kira masa dan keadaan,
Di rumah mahupun dalam kenderaan,
Ketika menonton televisyen ataupun sedang makan,
Kami bercerita tentang pekerjaan,
Berkongsi kisah duka dan kegembiraan.

Hari ini hari terakhir beliau di UTM,
Untuk bergelar pensyarah di UUM,
Untuk kembali ke pangkuan isteri dan anak tersayang,
Yang sudah lama dipisahkan oleh sempadan,
Seorang di utara dan seorang di selatan.

Terima kasih Dr. Hilmi Hamzah
Seorang insan yang bagiku amat komited dengan pekerjaan,
Yang bersungguh-sungguh mencapai impian,
Yang ku kenal seorang yang hidupnya penuh perancangan.

Semoga persahabatan yang terjalin kekal sampai bila-bila,
Didoakan agar terus berjaya,
Di dunia mahupun di akhirat yang kekal selamanya.


The Day When My Daughter Was Born

June 12, 2015

photo-165 - Copy

“Yes, yes, yes … you can do it!” I heard a nurse scream her lung out in her thick local Malay dialect to a pregnant woman in labour. There were now five struggling patients in the fear-filled labour room. Gloomy blue curtains hung loosely around me so I was unable to take a peek at the unfolding drama. But I could hear clearly all the cries, yells, moans, groans, grunts, sobs and wails as if they were echoes from my worst nightmare. The loud nurses sounded like “cheerleaders”, encouraging and “coaching” those weeping ladies on how to face their deepest fears. I was more than terrified, trying my best to stay composed during this intensifying moment called Childbirth.

I had been nervously sitting in this hectic room since early morning, waiting patiently next to Nurul, my wife, to give birth to our first child. She had been admitted to this hospital for the past two days, surviving and living each minute with hope. Lying weakly in bed, she was now looking at me. Her fragile eyes strongly transmitted the pain I could never fully comprehend. The hollow look on her sunken face resonated the agony that defied my logic. There, I could vaguely sense the painstaking and laborious hours she had been through all night. She had some pregnancy complications and was instructed to deliver at a government hospital only. We were told that the government facilities were the best, so were only hoping for the best.

The last 48 hours had also witnessed one of the most eventful episodes in my life. I was still running my daily chores in Melbourne when Nurul informed me that she was already on her way to the Sultanah Nur Zahirah Hospital in Kuala Terengganu. She said that the contractions were painfully frequent and true labor was imminent, which came to me as a complete shock since it was two weeks earlier than the expected date of delivery.

“Sayang, our little princess can’t wait to see her Daddy anymore,” texted Nurul casually, upon which I rushed to the Melbourne Airport and flew back home with huge luggage full of worries and anxieties a first-time father would possibly carry. I landed in Malaysia a couple of hours later, only to find myself totally lost in the commotion of the hospital environment. Then, amidst the hullabaloos of the frenzied crowd, I saw Nurul lying in bed in a third-class hospital dorm filled with what looked like hundreds of pregnant ladies bracing through their final stage of pregnancy. It felt like the aftermath of tsunami.

It turned out the hospital room of a better class was full, so we had to wait in line with many other panic-stricken couples. And so, I willingly waited for the whole sleepless night at the poorly reserved “lounge” for accompanying family members, surrounded by mostly restless young men in their late twenties who were probably naïve, “maiden” fathers like me. Together, we were like a sad community of frightened husbands who had been severely punished for all the wrongdoings we had possibly inflicted upon our wives. It was the longest night ever in my whole life.

It was early in the following morning when Nurul was finally admitted to this labour room. It was now late in the afternoon and the seven hours of prolonged wait had culminated in frozen fear and fossilized terror. A grim-looking nurse slid through the draping curtains and approached Nurul in a suave way. Professionally, she inspected the dose level of epidural anesthesia that had numbed and eased Nurul’s pain for the past few hours. She then examined the rate of cervical dilation.

“The cervix is not fully dilated yet,” she said in monotonous, dull tone. “If this persists, we have to perform a caesarean section.”
“Can we wait?” I asked gently, knowing that Nurul would certainly anticipate for a natural and normal delivery.
“Yes, thirty more minutes.”

The nurse walked out immediately, leaving us in desperation and uncertainty. While I was waiting, I kept staring at Nurul and admiring her courage and persistence. When she joined me in Melbourne the year earlier, she was the best thing that ever happened in my life. I was in the final stage of my PhD and Nurul stuck by my side and provided me with much-needed support. We savoured the hot summer days that welcome her in February. We had the most romantic love affair when the autumnal leaves started to fall in April. When winter came in June, we celebrated the chilly weather with warm hugs and kisses. We lived in a small studio apartment, but the space in our hearts was big enough for happiness to reside.

Until she broke the news that she was pregnant.

I was confused and disoriented. Shaken. Shocked. Scared. I didn’t see that coming and it seemed like all hell broke loose. Instead of being ecstatic over the news, I was flabbergasted and distraught. I was in the middle of a critical period in completing my PhD thesis and I wasn’t prepared for this huge responsibility. I was too focused, too selfish. I suddenly became aloof, distant and withdrawn.

My sudden change of attitude must have affected Nurul, emotionally and physically. There were recurring bleedings during her early pregnancy and we had regular visits to the Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne. After a number of ultrasound examinations, the doctor concluded that it was a miracle that they had survived the ordeal, my wife and the developing fetus. I felt terribly awful for my initial reactions. I didn’t know how it happened, but soon I started to develop a paternal bond for this tiny being squirming persistently inside my wife’s womb. I promised to myself not to let go of this gift of fatherhood anymore.

At the end of winter that year, we flew back to Malaysia and I retuned to Melbourne alone. We had decided that it’s best for Nurul to be around her family members in Malaysia while I was concentrating on my “godly” thesis in Melbourne. And so, except for her brief Spring visit in October, we had been away from each other for many lonely months.

It was now the 28th of February in 2013 and we were reunited here in the most unprecedented circumstance we could ever imagine. Now that I saw Nurul fighting intensely for our baby, I was again consumed with guilt and regret; I felt deeply ashamed for “abandoning” her during the early weeks of her pregnancy. I also felt truly sorry for not being with her during the final trimester of her pregnancy.

But I was here now, groping at my forlorn self-pity and hopeful redemptions while listening to the wails of labouring women inside the labour room. The same nurse now entered into our section, but she brought with her this time a new face of hope. She carefully checked Nurul’s condition and made a decision we had been waiting for – a normal head-first delivery. Later, two young doctors, who looked like fresh interns from a local university, joined the childbirth team. One of them said with all the firmness of a High Court Judge: “It’s time.”

I held Nurul’s cold hands and tried to say a number of encouraging phrases I didn’t even understand. I was petrified inside, like I was riding a super-fast car and about to smash against a big truck. But, for the next few minutes, things fell into place like magic. I saw the expulsion and “pushing” stage in disbelief. When the fetal head appeared and the “crowning” moment finally arrived, I was in awe and speechless. I could sense the intense burning and stinging sensation that Nurul was experiencing. When the placenta was expelled and the umbilical cord was cut, I thought I had been dreaming. Because it was the most incredible thing I had ever witnessed in my life. It was a miracle indeed.

I held the pinkish infant and recited the prayer.

Allah is Greatest
He is the Only One
I believe in His Messenger
Come to prayer
Come to success
Prayer has started
Allah is Greatest
He is the Only One

For a few rare moments, the phantoms of my mind appeared and I went into a wonderful trance. I saw Heavenly Angels surrounding me in their funny clown-like costumes, clapping their hands and cheering me up for the blessed gift and legacy. The buoyant camaraderie was too loud and silly that I laughed to myself and almost broke to tears. The Angel of Linguistics looked at me and asked, “Do you have a name for your sweet little princess who was ‘accidentally’ conceived in Melbourne?” I chuckled lightheartedly and said: “Hanna Airis.”

That day, the Angel of Harmony showered my newborn daughter with love, caressing her with kindness and compassion. That day, the Angel of Courage awarded my wife for her audacity, lifting her up to the greatest level of heroism. That day, the Angel of Dream took me to the place that I had never dreamed of, bringing me closer to life and its beautiful intricacies, taking me up to a whole new level of awakening, and turning me into a better man.

That was the day when my daughter was born.

10 Reasons Why I Love My Stepmother

June 3, 2015


My mother passed away in 2004 and, 2 years later, my father got remarried to this wonderful lady whom I dearly call Ummi. Here are 10 reasons why I love Ummi, my stepmother.



1. The Reincarnated

When I first saw Ummi, I thought I looked at the reincarnated version of Ma, my late mother. Her smile, her warmth, her presence – they all reminded me of the intimate tenderness I used to feel for Ma. Ummi, of course, could never replace Ma, but it seemed like God had granted me a second chance to love another soul whom I could also call a mother.



2. The Sister

Ummi was only 39 when she was wedded to my handsome father (who was then 66). Naturally enough, she has been like a pretty sister to me. To be brutally honest, I have been closer to Ummi than my own family members; we share things that I don’t normally share with others. Calling her a stepmother or ibu tiri is so misleading and insulting.



3. The Housewife

Ummi knows perfectly well on how to handle Ayoh, my aging father. At 75 now, Ayoh is still a strong and active man who rears chicken at the back of the house, drives to weddings and ceramahs, and runs many other daily chores. Knowing that Ayoh is happily retired at home around Husnaa and other cheeky grandkids, I can rest assured that Ummi has done a splendid job.



4. The Bond

Oh, about that little Husnaa, my youngest sister, I think the world saved the best joke for Ayoh when Ummi gave birth to Husnaa 4 years ago (yes, Ayoh did it again!). Besides Ayoh, I was also the happiest brother on earth. I was certain then that the strong bond that I had sealed with Ummi would be never broken again.



5. The News Breaker

When I was studying in Melbourne for four years, Ummi was always the channel that connected me and my family in Kelantan. She was a dedicated news breaker whom I always turned to for updates or gossips in the family or in the country. Talking to her on the phone on a regular basis was like supplying nutritious food for my weary soul.



6. The Food Mistress

Talking about food, Ummi always knows how to make me dance in the kitchen. I usually grin childishly knowing that my food cravings will always be fulfilled whenever I get back home in Kelantan. It makes me mad sometimes thinking that my diet is ruined, but I always look forward to being spoilt again by Ummi’s Air Tangan.



7. The Wedding Planner

When I was getting married in 2011, Ummi was the best wedding planner in the universe. She took care of the details as if she were getting married herself. On my wedding day, I remember having cold feet and feeling panicked; I felt like I was losing Ummi that day. There was of course no Runaway Bridegroom, but I had never felt so emotionally attached to anyone in my whole life.



8. The Social Blender

I always admire Ummi’s demeanour and sensibility. Her social code of ethics is effortless and applaudable. She just knows how to get things done at the right time and at the right place. She just blends in smoothly and gracefully. Plus, her sheer eloquence beats my four-year PhD research in phonetics.



9. The Experimented

Speaking of research, I’m so proud to note that Ummi was the first participant involved in my pilot speech experiment in Kelantan. The recording session was hilarious and went terribly wrong, but the moments went beyond the experiment; they always stay fresh in my mind and remain fond in my heart.



10. The Great Spirit

Some people still resent Ayoh’s “new wife” and warn me about Ummi’s “malicious” attention to take over Ayoh’s wealth (I’ll be very happy to make Ummi’s “dream” come true anyway!). But, seriously, Ummi doesn’t need Ayoh’s many lands to live a comfortable life. She is already the heir of a greater spirit that has touched the deepest part of my soul.



Yes, for all these reasons, I will always love Ummi and stick by her for a long long time. You see, not all stepmothers are nasty, petty, jealous and evil creatures (I’m so sorry, Cinderella and Snow White!). Well, Ummi is just one step further to becoming a true and legendary mother.

p.s. Happy 48th birthday, Ummi!

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