Tong Hing

Tong Hing Supermarket.
I don’t know how old is Tong Hing supermarket. In those days ( of the British), Tong Hing was the only (decent)grocery shop in KK and people used to drive all the way from Kota Belud ( 7 hours drive on gravel/mud roads! one way) to buy stuff from Tong Hing.
I loved going to Tong Hing. In those days (early to mid 90’s), all the pastries were sold at half price at 9 pm..and I remember loading up the tray and staring at the clock and waiting.. and on the dot of 9..I was the happiest person on earth..( Usually before going to Tong Hing, I would call my friends and ask if anyone wanteds any pastry, likewise my friends would do the same..The excitement of buying pastries at half price was one thing we all lived for !)
I also bought my first doughnut cutter from Tong Hing. it was made of brass and it costs me 7 RM. The excitement of making my own doughnuts..and that too with extra cinnamon sugar..the joy.. sitting down on the steps..looking at Mount Kinabalu..with a book in my hand and a plateful of doughnuts by my side!
I remember gawping at all the Jacob Creek wine bottles..Wine from far away land..Australia was then a dream..I couldn’t afford to buy the wine then..only dream..
Tong Hing has changed so much.. They no longer cater to the oridary mortals..They only sell premium products..It was odd to see all the Australian Biscuits, jams etc on the shelves..( And I was looking for Kiang Hing cookies..the little buttons with green, pink and yellow frostings..I only liked to eat the frosting!! and white rabbit candies!!)
They still sell Jacob Creek that I could afford to buy them, the pishukki ( stingy) in me reared her ugly head and reminded me that I can buy the same wine for a fraction of the cost in Australia!!!

This used to be the old JKR building..demolished and making way for the new monster??
In  Malaysia, where everything that you do..from the length of your hair ( boys in govt school) to how you dress is controlled by the govt.. it was a rare sight to see grafitti..

 The faces in the crowd??

Another school year

School will reopen next Monday after two months of summer holidays..

Yaya will be in grade 9, toothless in grade 7 and baby in grade 5..

In 4 years my oldest child will graduate from high school, and my youngest will be in grade 9..

How fast time flies..

I wish I could live my life as a mother in slow motion..instead of this ‘blur’ where years seems to disappear in to some sort of black hole..

Last school year two things happened that I am very proud of..
Baby got high distinction for ICAS writing..until last year, all three of them always got distinction for writing..and my youngest is very competitive when it comes to her siblings..So it was a big deal for her to get a high distinction when her siblings only got a distinction..You should have seen the big grin on her face..

Yaya  got a C for maths in the third term..and she worked really hard in  the fourth term to make sure that she got an A..which she did..and by doing that she ensured that her overall score for the final report for maths was B.. ( When she got the C, her friends advised her not to tell her mother and Yaya told me that even though her friends advised her not to tell me, she is still letting me know because she felt it would be wrong to lie to me )

When I was little, the day before school reopened, Amma would wrap all my books with brown paper, write my name on the label..I looked forward to getting Amma to write my name on the label..because she has the most beautiful handwriting..
I also spend considerable amount of time going from shop to shop to collect name labels..How exciting it was to buy Balarama or Poompatta that came with free name labels..( and the sadness of having to share them with my sisters!)

Last time I took kids to India, we went to Vega land..and along with the admission ticket, I was given some name labels..that too sticker labels.. I was so excited..I divided the name labels equally and gave to my children and they looked at me puzzled and asked what do we use them for? ( ente helium balloonte kattu poyinnu micham!!)

Kids did all their back to school shopping at Donggongon market..Much to the surprise to all my friends whose kids would rather die than be caught shopping at the local market..
Yaya bought 4 Levi jeans ( all fake) and she is so happy..
Baby got 2 pairs of converse shoes ( fake!)
My son got a diesel school bag ( fake la)
Few billabong tshirs, adidas tshirs..Nike hats..all together I spend 400RM..and I have three very happy children and they have one very happy mother!

As for the future..Yaya wants to join Harvard academy for international and area studies, my son wants to join the mathematics dept at Princeton..and my baby wants to study in Columbia University.

Will they? Time will tell..


When Yaya was turning 4 years old, she wanted a Donald duck cake.. I was expecting my youngest child and it was a very difficult preganancy. I couldn’t bake the cake for her. So I took her and her brother to the bakery and she chose the cake that she wanted. Before we left the bakery, she insisted that I must buy a small cake for her brother so he also gets to blow out the candle..and I did.

Now Yaya is 13, toothless will be 12 soon and baby just turned 10..
Poor baby.. she gets the most awesome Christmas gifts and each year, her siblings and I promise ourselves that next year we will buy her birthday gift first and then look for the Christmas gifts..and each year, the day before her birthday..her siblings and I run helter skelter trying to find something..anything..that we can buy as a birthday gift..
Ideally, when you are desperate, you buy anything..but not Yaya and Toothless..They insisted that whatever we has to pass their standard..because it is for their baby sister.. So I left baby with my friends and went shopping..We went to every shopping mall…
Baby needed a new watch..How hard it is to buy a new watch? If the colour was right, then the dial was too big..or the pattern was all wrong.. We searched for the perfect watch..from 10 in the morning till 3..finally they found the perfect watch..We also bought Ben 10 pencil case ( recently there was a Ben 10 live show in Brisbane and I took baby to watch it.. She was the only girl..the rest were boys between the age of 4 and 7!!) a treasure chest ( baby loves collecting stuff for her memory box and every other year, we buy her a new treasure chest) a boom box and a box of chocolate..
It is our tradition that we decorate the house/tent/hotel room the night before the birthday, so in the  morning the birthday child wakes up to a surprise..and we searched everywhere for balloons and streamers..All we managed to get were the paper pineapples ( Chinese NY).
I was tired after all the 8 hours of driving and then the whole day of shopping. So I went to bed after wrapping the gifts and hanging the pineapples from the ceiling.. Yaya and toothless were reading their books when I went to bed.
I was a bit sad that we couldn’t get proper birthday gifts for my darling and couldn’t even decorate the room for her..
I woke up to find..a huge message on the wall..Yaya and toothless used my Swiss knife, cut individual letters out of the wrapping paper..and wrote ” Happy birthday are the best sister on earth”
I felt my heart would explode..and somewhere at the very bottom of my heart..there was a tinge of envy..if only I had siblings like these..

My children are not angels.. they fight with each other all the time. ( No physical fights, I will not allow physical fights )
In the last few days..Every time my son passes  Yaya’s room.. he  roars like a lion….which drives Yaya insane…and because it is a free world we are living in and he has the right to make any sound he wants to…. his act will go on till Yaya finds something to counter act…. i am waiting to see what she is going to do..


I found raw green mangoes ( not that I am any good at identifying the type of mango..but it does look like kilichundan mangga and tell you what?? you can sail a boat in my mouth as I dream of eating uppumanga)
Ammachi used to make uppumanga with small green ones..The ones I found are not that small and I was wondering if I can quarter the mangoes and still make uppumanga? ( It is still brining the mangoes and I think it should be ok..has anyone tried it?)

At the risk of sounding too much Ash poosh..
I also found unakka kappa ..and …how do I cook it?? Do I soak it first and then boil and add all the ingredients? ( I know it is a sad day for mankind.. that I, grand daughter of famous Methran Thambi doesn’t know how to cook Unakka kappa)


I wanted to take my children to Sandakan for two reasons. One was to show them their relatives and the other was to teach them about the Sandakan death march.
Upon hearing my plans to drive to Sandakan, a friend insisted that he is coming along in his car with his family and I am to follow him in my car..
Ok, I accept..In my youth, I was a rather reckless those days in Sabah as it still is, there were no cops with speed cams, there were hardly any cars on the road and being young with my youthful freedom and don’t care attitude..I  crashed my car..once.. and no one has forgotten..
For the record, it wasn’t my fault. Yes I know every driver who crash their car tells you the same. But seriously, it wasn’t my fault. There was a sudden depression in the road right after a crest( I saw it too late) and my car travelling at 100km ( may be a little more than 100 KM, definitely less than 140) suddenly found itself airborne..
Much as I told my friends that I have changed and I never drive recklessly when I have my kids in the car, no one believed me. So I had to follow my friend..99.9% of Sabahans don’t know how to drive. I don’t care about butting is a malady of urbanization and me first mentality. What bothered me so much are the idiots who tried to overtake me before a crest..Thy can’t see the vehicle coming from the opposite direction and in the last minute they have only two options..head on crash or swing to the left, where my car is..
I had driven the whole strech from KK to Lahad Datu before I left Sabah and the roads were in in a bad condition. ( actually Indian roads were better). They have repaired the roads a bit.. and it is now better than Indian roads…but still there are stretches that are really dangerous and one wonders where has all the money kept aside for road maintenance gone.. Which Datuk built a new mansion with that money?

We stopped by Kinabalu Naational park..Visitor information center on the 2nd floor is still the same.. There is a time capsule there only to be opened in 2050.. Read the last sentence..”All the items inside are priceless historical collections..”
Really?? Personal belongings of Mahathir and his wife are historical??Since when?
I did find this on google.. Perhaps there was a mistake in actual contents in the box.. Time will tell.

The restaurant inside the visitor center was doing ee aa.. ( my cousin invented this term for certain famous aa.. stands for eachey attuva ( swatting flies)) The washroom was stinking and my kids wanted to eat Chinese food ‘outside’, much to the surprise of my friend..who thought my kids having lived outside Malaysia must be missing western food..
So we went to Ranau town.all the old restaurants are still there and we had Chinese food for lunch..

We reached Sandakan by evening..another friend had already booked a place for us at Tang Dynasty..90RM for double bed..nice place..

I didn’t want to spend the new year’s eve drunk..So kids and I watched the fireworks from our window..We had a great time..
I don’t usually make much of a fanfare for new year’s resolution.. Hey,  you don’t need a special day to make resolutions.. you can do it any day..
There is nothing I want to change in my life.
I may not have everything I wanted in my life.. But I have so much more than many.. Years one of those breakfast show on Doordarshan.. the one with the puppet..there was a quote..”I complained I didn’t have shoes, till I met a man without legs” On days I am unhappy.. I think of all the things I have that makes me happy..and life is good..

Kasigui and a lifetime of stories

My grandmother and my father were great story tellers. Amma has often claimed about reading stories/fairy tales during her lunch break, so she could tell us a new story in the evening when she fed us. I don’t remember a single story. I am not saying that amma was lying..I don’t have any explanation as to why I don’t remember any of the stories purportedly told by Amma, when I can remember every story told to me by others.

I like old people because they have a repertoire of stories and legends, wise from their own experiences while waiting patiently for the end to come with no complaints..
One such old man lived in Kasigui..
I used to meet him most Sunday mornings.He always had a toothless smile..timeless..priceless..each time when he saw me walking in to the restaurant. ..An old kadazan man in his late 70’s or 80’s and an Indian woman in her early 20’s..The regular patrons called me his side kick, for lack of any other explanation for our unusual friendship.
He lived a life worth the fullest..
He like his ancestors worked in the paddy field, grew what he needed . As he became old, he gave the land to his son and sat in the coffee shop..waiting for me..each sunday. He never owned a car or a credit card. He had his land and his land provided what he needed.
Simple life. Extraordinary to the point I envied him. His patience was as high as mount Kinabalu and mine was..what patience?? I never had any.
When he told  me a story, I always tried to hurry him, because I always wanted to know how the story ended and he would laugh..each time I pestered him to tell the story fast. ( I didn’t have all of sunday to sit in the restaurant and listen to the story. I had other chores to do..sunday was my only free day!)
He told me the story of Huminodun
Huminodun was the only daughter of Kinoingan ( god) and his wife Suminundu.
She was beautiful, intelligent and kind.
Life on earth was good and there was enough huvong ( grain) for everyone.
Then one day there was a massive drought. The rivers ran dry, the grounds parched, trees and grass withered and there were no more huvong.
Kinoingan was worried and Huminodun saw the sadness in her father. She offered herself to be sacrificed..
Her father cleared a large section of the land using his magical  power..
Her mother cried and asked Huminodun not to sacrifice herself because she is her only child.
But the lives of people, her father’s people were more important than the grief of her mother.
It was said that when her father sacrificed her, great darkness covered the earth, followed by thunder and rain and from each part of Huminodun’s body a new plant grew.

Huminodun also gave instructions about how to harvest the paddy.
7 stalks of paddy has to be cut first, tied on a bamboo pole and kept in the middle of the field before harvesting. This is followed even to this day..The spirit of Huminodun lives on.. each year in May, Kaamatan festival (harvest festival) is celebrated and Unduk ngadau pageant is part of the festival.

My friend is no more
The restaurant has changed many hands.
The old buildings gave way to new
and I conquered my fear of heights..( only for this time) for my friend..

Moyog river

The bridge..looks solid and constructed well!!


Real solid construction

My son.. walking right behind.. It costs me two Mathew Riley’s books to get him not to shake the bridge and not to ask me to walk fast !!

My daughters running on the bridge..fear is not their middle name, only their mother’s. See where my youngest is standing!

and yes.. it took a while ..and I survived the walk back..( yes I had to gripe the sides..and took small steps, not once looking down and threatened my son with bodily harm if he as much as attempted to shake the bridge and told him he can say goodbye to the two Mathew Riley’s books I already promised on the way to the other side.)

Friends are the little seeds that are planted in your memory..they live on..forever..
His favourite song.

Devi’s cafe. Near Promenade apts. Lorong Api Api. KK

Sense of belonging..
Have you ever felt that you belong somewhere?
I have lived in so many places..
I stuck out like a sore thumb in doubt there were so many Indians.. even Malayalees where I stayed.. But I was different from all of them. I look different. I dress differently. My priorities were different. I hated having visitors over, especially Malayalees..( You know, the snoopy, gossipy kind) and the only way you belonged is by going for visits and encouraging visits to your home.

It was the same in Canada. I love Canada, but I never felt I belonged there. I lived in a large Indo Candian suburb and again I was so totally out of place. I attempted going to the Mallu church..not because of belief..but because I just wanted to be a part of was not easy. I didn’t have any sarees or Salwars..and the look those devotees give you..because I wore a long skirt to church..and my kids didn’t speak Malayalam.. I was branded “Ash poosh” and there was a collective decision to avoid me, unless I bucked up and changed!( which was not going to happen and the second week, one faithful devotee and the Achan were practicing kungfu and effectively ended my need to belong!!)

I don’t join any Malayalee association..It is a place you join, if you want to show others that you have the latest TV/car etc..or your child can sing or dance the latest song..I refuse to use my children as an extension of my ego. I can’t stand the ego trip of the committee members either..So I stay miles away..

But in Malaysia, be it in west Malaysia or east, you always belong. It doesn’t matter if you are thin or fat, if you wear saree or shorts, if your hair is purple or green.. you never feel out of place. I have cousins who are Chindians ( Chinese and Indian), Sino Kadazan Indians ( Chinese,Kadazan and Indian parentage).. And during Deepavali, you can see this totally Chinese looking girl wearing salwars and speaking fluent Hokkien and Tamil..and no one gives a second look. They are all part of the cultural fabric that makes Malaysia truly what it is..a multi cultural society..

So the second day of my stay in KK, I took the kids to Devi’s cafe in lorong Api Api, ( next door to Promenade Apts). We had one dosai, three roti canai, three ice milo and one teh tarikh. The old lady charged me RM 61..and I paid..
It took me a little while to do the maths..( I was tired, the heat was killing me) I realized the previous day.. 7 of us ate almost similar food for 64 RM..
I called one of my friends and told him what happened.He said, the old lady who owns the shop is well known for ripping off the tourists..
Tourists? Me?
I am a Sabahan. I speak fluent Malay and Tamil ( and passable Kadazan)
How in the world I could be considered for being a tourist?

The anger I felt..mostly because she is a west Malaysian.. and she had the temerity to fleece my own state.( not that her act in West Malaysia will be justified..but she is a visitor to sabah and she is over charging me, a Sabahan..)
I went back to the restaurant..gave a her a piece of my mind..she acted all innocent.. and when I told her that I intend to lodge a complaint..she gave me back the money she over charged..
But I am still upset.. not because I was fleeced by my own kind.. but because my own sense of belonging is a bit shaken..

Kota Kinabalu

16 years ago, I was living in a house on stills,  I owned a 486 dx and my phone was an Atur (Automatic telephone using radio and it weighed a ton). KK airport was a shabby little building and KK town had three main roads. There was Center point and Kinabalu Emporium as shopping malls and Tong Hing was the only decent grocery.
The biggest surprise  when I landed in KK this time was the airport. It is huge and all fancy pansy with beautiful facade..( Somehow it is impossible to imagine KK airport  as a fancy place)
I was not expecting anyone to come and meet me at the airport.
But then again, friendship is such that you are always surprised. Before leaving Brisbane, I had contacted a friend to help me arrange a rental car for me, least expecting that he would tell everyone that I am coming home. Three of my friends took time off from work to come to the airport to meet me and my kids. One insisted that I take his vehicle instead of wasting money on rental cars.The first impression of my kids..unanimous..they are just like their mother.. as soon as my friend told me that I must take his vehicle, my son started asking him about the vehicle, the model..etc. My younger one was trying to practice her Selamat Pagi and terima kasi..She greeted everyone who came across her path..and Yaya was reading her book..

My first impression of KK.. was so bloody hot and I was hopelessly lost. There were too many bypass roads, too many shopping malls..and the traffic jam was horrendous.. But most off all, I just couldn’t drive..I lived in KL for many years and I was used to the chaotic KL traffic, so I thought.
Two lane road had 4 lane of cars and every cm of space in front of my car was apparently a welcome sign in bright neon light for someone else to butt in..It was so frustrating.

We went for Makan at my favourite Indian restaurant. It is still there. It is where we all used to meet on Sunday morning. The 4D shop next door is gone. I had roti canai and teh tarikh. Kids had ais milo ( milo ice), roti canai, dosai and more ais milo. 7  of us..and the  bill came to RM 64. ( 21 AUD)

At the time I was leaving KK,  Api Api apt had just finished construction.  It was supposed to be nice and clean and spacious. So I booked a place to stay there. My friends gave me a kind of look when I told them I was staying at Api Api.
It didn’t take too long to find out why.
The place is in real bad shape..
There was a dead mice in the corridoor..
The ceiling in the washroom was about to collapse! The toilet seat was broken and was fixed with tie wire!!
I was expecting my kids to complain about the place. They didn’t. not a word.
Double bed room for 50RM/ was good..if you didn’t look at the aesthetic part..

For dinner we went to Chinese shop
We had

Chef’s special ( Crab in secret sauce)

Clay pot tofu

Sabah vege in garlic sauce

Deep fried red snapper in Soy sauce

My son’s plate at the end of the meal

The bill..including beer, fruit juice, rice, a dish of prawns( can’t find the photo) and all of the dishes above..for 4 adults and three kids..191RM (68AUD)

And the biggest surprise of the day..
not the heat
not the shabby apt
not the horrendous traffic
not the blatant destruction of environment
but the one sentence my son told me on our way back to Api Api after dinner..
“Mom, this is home”