Friday, November 10, 2017

Regrettable Things That Happened Yesterday by Jennani Durai

Regrettable Things That Happened Yesterday by Jennani Durai
About the Author
(Source: Goodreads)

Name: Jennani Durai
Born in Singapore August 29, 1986
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary

Jenanni Durai (Pic source: Goodreads)

Jennani Durai is a former journalist, a VONA/Voices fiction fellow for 2016, and a co-author of the official commemorative book of Singapore’s 50th birthday, Living the Singapore Story (2015). She was selected for the Ceriph Mentorship Programme (Prose) in 2014, and won both third prize and an honourable mention in the 2015 Golden Point Awards. Durai currently lives in Guatemala with her husband, and Regrettable Things That Happened Yesterday (Epigram Books, 2017) is her debut collection of short fiction.

About The Book
(Source: Goodreads)

A teenager discovers his grandfather's secret identity only after his death. A young immigrant to 1940s Singapore is convinced the end-times are nigh. A man is tasked with bringing the corpse of his estranged brother home from Phuket. A reporter is torn between doing her a job and respecting her friend's privacy. From obituaries and job ads to crime reports and horoscopes, Regrettable Things That Happened Yesterday is a collection of ten short stories connected by the motif of newspapers, and the unexpected ways they end up affecting our lives.

Personal Feeling From Her Stories :)

The book consists of 10 short stories, suitable for those who do not like a very heavy stuffs. I picked this book up as the first story (about a teenager discovers his grandfather's secret identity only after his death) reminded me of the real story someone told me when his childhood friend experienced similar thing when the father passed away.

In loving memory...

The story went more or less just like this:

"Suddenly, during the funeral wake that was held at the HDB (Singapore's government subsidized flat) void deck, an unrecognized group of people (about 40 persons in total) - mostly sturdy, muscular, and well built body filled with many unhidden tattoos (varies in sizes), some from head to toe, plus hair painted in many different colors, from all age between 20s to 60s - came and paid their respect by holding three-burned-incense-stick on each of their hands followed by a three-time-bowing gesture in front of the coffin and the deceased photo, fully commanded loudly by one of the guys in the group, shouting 'yi qi gong', 'er qi gong', and 'san qi gong', exactly like the scene that people often saw in the Hong Kong's movie.

Those guests who came and attended the wake were awestruck and did not dare to move out from their seats. They sat quietly on the blue plastic chair facing each other circling a round table that was covered with a huge white plastic bag. Each of them were acting busy, cracking peanuts and sunflower seeds that were served in a paper plates in front of them. Many question marks filled their head and mind of who these people were, why they came, and what were their relation with the deceased and/ or the deceased family members. And that question marks too, even applied to the deceased son and daughter.

Only after the group disappeared (after passing a thick white envelope to the deceased family member), people could then breath and talk easily again. The only person they could carefully ask was the deceased wife. She should have known better about the deceased past.

Taking a long deep breath, she started explaining reluctantly, as if it opened back the recovered wound, the filled, dusty, and forgotten journal, from the past. She said that a long long time ago, when her husband was still very young and ignorant, he was once joined the triad. But later on, after falling in love with her and getting married, he realized that he had to quit as not to create troubles to the family members. And perhaps, he had served the triad remarkably because otherwise, he would have long been forgotten and none of them would appear at the funeral wake.

How I would like to be remembered quote (Pic source: Google.com)

No one (including the deceased children) could believe the truth though, as the deceased was generally a quiet and decent type of person, a very family oriented father who never misbehaved in the course of the family life. He was the kind of person that would go back home after work and spend the rest of his time with family every single day, even on weekend and public holiday. It seemed that he was determined so much to change into a responsible and protective father, taking care the family as much as he could. Really remarkable!!!"

Well, I found the story was pretty similar with the story that Jennani wrote in her book. I found it very interesting though. So many meaning behind it. Like we could not judge people from their appearance and behavior from the outside. It might be very much the opposite from what we usually thought he or she was. And only when they left the world for good, the dark secret of their life then would come to light. After all, who on earth did not have secrets in their life anyway??

Another interesting story that I found in the book was 'Yours truly, Vimala'. It was about the young girl who kept sending story to the radio with a hope that it would once be chosen and broadcasted on the radio. But the ending was really funny and unexpected!!! :D

'Anita Cemerlang' - Youth magazine (Collection of short stories) - Pic source: Google.com

It reminded me of my childhood time. I used to read 'Anita Cemerlang' - the Indonesian monthly magazine - first published in year 1978 - filled mostly with short stories targeted to youth (with theme of falling in love, broken heart, friendship, family, betrayal, etc.) My eldest sister subscribed it and I read it when she was not around.

It was actually from there I started developing my interest in reading and writing. I felt my imagination running wild after getting so much inspiration from what people wrote and how they wrote it. I too started sending a short story, with a hope that it would be published one day.

There was no typewriter at home so I usually wrote it with my handwriting on a paper torn from my school's note book, put them inside the envelope, pasted with stamp and sent them away from the post office nearby my house. It did not come out of my mind to make any copy before sending it away (I was too young, perhaps between 13 to 15 years old). I regretted so much for not doing it as I would not have any chance to reread what I had written before. It must be funny to see what was running on my mind at that period of time :)

And anyway, the point is, it had never been published in the magazine. I was too young I guess. My thinking was still too narrow and my language was still too immature. They might also have problems reading my handwriting :P Hahaha... Good memories though!!!

I'd better stop here and leave you to read the rest of the stories. Overall I enjoyed her stories and am looking forward for her next book to come :)

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Reopening of Sengkang Public Library and Upgrading of NLB Apps Functions

I still remembered the day it was opened. It was on Saturday morning, 18 March 2017. As a bibliophile - or ardent reader, I was very exciting that the Sengkang Public Library was finally to be reopened again. The shopping mall had undergone a major renovation and it took about a year to complete. The library was only opened few months later. This was the nearest library from home and since it was new, most of its books were definitely new and crisp :)

My bestie and I were queuing to enter the reopening Sengkang Public Library :)

I reached there quite early. There had been many people queuing before me. Perhaps I was one of the 'kiasu' Singaporean who joined the queue. Hehehe... I called up my bestie who stayed nearby the mall to come and join me. She loved reading too and was as exciting as me. She reached about half an hour later. We waited for some time until the Guest of Honor reached the library. When he came, they started the opening ceremony and in a while, we entered the library slowly.

Children's heaven :) - Sengkang Public Library

Woahhh... Just like other libraries in Singapore, this one never failed to impress its visitors. A user-friendly furniture and safe environment space were especially designed for early literacy learners (a. k. a. children) and they were pampered with many new varieties of picture and wording books. As what I mentioned, most of the books there were new, fresh, and crisp!!! Parents did not have to worry of the gem spreading between the old torn pages books :)

Fiction books section - Sengkang Public Library

The above section - adult fiction - was my-most-often-visit area. Before going there, I checked the NLB Apps (NLB - National Library) for the availability of books that I wanted to borrow (Hahaha.... again, a 'kiasu' Singaporean :P). So once entered the library, I immediately looked for the them and secured it with me before taking pictures and getting detailed look on the library's layout and design. Lol!!!

My loot on that day :P - Sengkang Public Library

New book - Fresh and crisp!!! Yummy!!! - Sengkang Public Library

And just like other renovated library, this one was equipped with Audiovisuals material and various magazines' rack, designed in such modern style :)

Audiovisuals Material - Sengkang Public Library

Magazines' rack - Sengkang Public Library

But unlike its previous structure, the new one was divided into two floors. The one I mentioned above was located at the upper floor. While in the lower floor, there was reading space, multimedia corner, newspaper reading area, and shelf for general books and non-English books.

Multimedia and newspaper reading area - Sengkang Public Library

General Non-Fiction, Art, Travel, Religions, etc. - Sengkang Public Library

To make it convenient and easy, they had improved the NLB Apps by allowing users to fasten the borrowing process. Last time we used to queue for the machine and borrowed the book using our ID or other form of library card. With the Apps, we just had to scan the book's barcode from our phone right after taking it from the shelf. So we eliminated the precious waiting time :)

Barcode scanning - NLB Singapore

With NLB Apps, we could check the book's availability at different locations by searching the title and/ or author of the book that we wanted to borrow. You could also reserve it with a fee of S$1.55 per book and collect it at the library of your choice.

NLB Apps Search page

Check the book's location availability or simply reserve at a cost!!! - NLB Apps

Other than physical book, now we could also borrow the E-book from the Apps. To read it, we had to install the Overdrive Apps into our mobile phone, and used the NLB log in ID and password to proceed reading or downloading it.

How the E-book looked like in Overdrive Apps

I knew about the E-book since some time ago but only recently I downloaded it because I could not manage to get the book that I wanted to read physically from the library. They were always in the hand of other readers (on loan). Haha... How impatient I was, wasn't I?? :P

I could download the Overdrive Apps using the tablet too and read it there (bigger words and screen were definitely better for me). So with this function, I no longer had to wait so long to read the book that I yearned for :) We were given 21 days to finish reading it and the Apps would automatically deleted the book that we downloaded. And I think if it was not enough, I could borrow it again as long as it was available. Well, let's see!!!

Library Quote by Isaac Asimov (Pic source: Google.com)

So, hopefully this post could add greater knowledge for those who did not usually borrow book from Singapore library. And after reading this, they could now advise their dear families and friends about the functions that they might not aware of previously. This would definitely create convenient and save their time. Happy downloading the Apps and playing with it lah!!! Cheersss..... :)

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

10-Day Silent Meditation Retreat at Suan Mokkh - Part 5 (End)

Deng deng deng deng... Deng!! Deng!! Deng!! Deng!! The bell rang loudly. I was awaken from my nap. I wiped off the half wet half dried saliva from the side of my lips using my shirt sleeve. Oh my!! Time flew so fast!! I faster got up and went to the hall bringing a small bag filled with umbrella, water bottle, shawl, mosquito repellent, medicated oil, and the room key. Those were the must bring items wherever you go.

Rain would usually come in the evening after 3 to 4 pm, or at night. It would start with the wind blowing first, which was very comfortable, and then, followed by the rain. It could rain heavily sometimes and umbrella would be very useful in such situation. Rain was the most welcome thing in this season as it cooled the air and less mosquitoes would hang around human, or perhaps the frogs were having mosquitoes' party :D

You could borrow the plastic water bottle from there or you could use your own. Water filters were provided in several places. You could fill it anytime. Drink more as weather could be very hot in the afternoon.

I used big shawl to protect the lower part of my body from the mosquito's attack. The mosquitoes there were very scary - I called them "commando" as they were super tough mosquitoes that attacked us persistently, could bite through thick clothing, and survived harsher conditions than normal ones. 

Must have items!!! Left to right: Medicated oil, lemongrass with eucalyptus local and made in Indo mosquito repellents 

At first I used the repellent spray that I bought from Indonesia (the right bottle in the photo above). But it seemed not working. Like after a while, the effect was gone, especially when sweating (I just learned there later on that sweat would attract mosquito easily to your body). So I thought the local made one should be much more effective, as it might be tested using local mosquitoes (who knows Indonesian mosquitoes were not barbaric enough).

Therefore, I bought it at the provision store - a mixture of lemongrass and eucalyptus (the middle bottle in the photo above). It smelled nice and not so oily.  At first I used it before starting any activity confidently and thought that the mosquitoes would go away. But again, I was wrong!!! ^^" Same thing. The effect was  gone after a while even after pouring it all over my skin. I think I applied it at least 10 times a day on my skin, yet it didn't deter the mosquitoes bites.

Worse thing, the mosquitoes could suck the blood even the body parts was covered with clothes!!! Omg!!! That time onward, I applied the repellent not only on my skin, but also on my pants and clothes.  My body smelled of repellent. Luckily I wasn't the only one though! Ha ha...

Aaarrgghhh...... (Pic source: Google.com)

The bites on my body was everywhere and uncountable!!! They even bit my butt!!! Especially when doing business (big and small) inside the toilet! ^^" So when squatting or sitting on the toilet bowl, my both hands had to keep moving at the sides of my thigh to prevent the mosquitoes' bites. Can you imagine that??? However, sometimes the time was too early and I was too sleepy to do so. My butt ended up itchy and swollen when I finished :(

And the bites were very disturbing especially during meditation. Aarrrrgghhh..... I knew it was part of the test. Lol!!! We were tested how to control our craving not to scratch the itchy parts, and not to slap it, as more often than not, I accidentally found the flat mosquitoes with blood on it as well :D

That's why I always brought the shawl with me. Although it was hot and sweating, it provided double layer clothes protection. I could at least have a peaceful meditation session :)

By taking a bath at least twice a day and soaking the bodies inside hot spring often would help in reducing the swollen faster. It healed after two to three days. Thank Buddha!!! I used up 2 bottles of repellent during my stay there. And medicated oil helped me to reduce the itchy feeling on the skin. I used up a bottle there. 

I wrote too much about it but that's because it was one of the greatest disturbance that we had to face during the meditation retreat as the location we were in was really natural (surrounded by bushes, trees, ponds, hot spring, etc.)

Sand wasp (Pic source: Farangs gone wild)

Another thing that disturbed us inside the meditation hall was the sand wasp. As sand was the base used inside the hall, you'd see many sand wasps flying and building its nest surrounding where people sat. You could hear and see it digging its nest, making a hole and usually it buzzed in the afternoon until evening. Luckily it didn't sting if you did not disturb them or destroy their nests. 

Well, there were many others animals appeared inside the hall. Just had to be careful not to kill them purposely or accidentally. Just gently moved them back to nature whenever possible. 

Those were external disturbance. Haha... As internal disturbance, we all had it inside our mind individually. The baggage that we brought in - mentally - before reaching the area, had to stay away during the retreat, or better to let it go. The teachers kept reminding us to let the things go, whatever things that clung inside our hearts and minds, and focusing on the present moment, being right here and right now. 

Be more mindful with whatever things we do was also part of the meditation practices. And to be honest, I was very bad in it. Having born, grown, and live in big cities most of the time in my life, had forced me to do everything in a very fast pace. 

PM Lee Hsien Loong National Day speech on Productivity (12 August 2017)

Multitasking was another skill I mastered when doing my work as our Prime Minister always highlighted productivity as one of important skills we had to have to make the nation progress well. So my mind was full of plans on what to do next, started from I woke up until I fell asleep, so that I could make full use of time in a most productive way. 

I was envy to see a participant who was very gentle and mindful in her actions. The way she brushed her teeth, washed her clothes, walked, ate, and so on (her room was located not far from mine, that's why I could notice all that). I was the opposite of her. I was rush in everything I did, walked like running as if I was in competition with others, poured the water noisily when washing or taking bath, and so on. Lol!!! It made me wondering if I was woman enough??? :'D Not gentle from the outside at all!!! :P (Although from the inside I have a very soft and weak heart ^_^)

Many times I tried to move my body slower, but it was just not working for long. I did my best sometimes though, but perhaps my mind was not mindful enough :(

Full moon and its reflection on the pond (Pic source: Google.com)

The best moment I had during the retreat was when we were doing walking meditation at night and there was a beautiful full moon in the sky together with its reflection in the pond. Wow!!! At that moment my mind was no longer focusing on my steps and whatever things I stepped into. Lol!!! I would rather stealthily looking up to catch the glance of it and searching for the stars as well. 

There were many cloudy and raining days before that, that's why I found it amazingly grateful for that beautiful night. I was not alone anyway. Some confessed too that they secretly enjoyed the full moon view instead focusing on walking meditation, on the last night we were together (we were allowed to talk on last night we were there, sharing our feeling during the retreat on stage, one by one using the microphone).

The thing I loved the most there was the nature and its surrounding. It was completely natural and back to basic. The sound of rain, thunders, the flash of lightning was another thing I loved during my stay. Lying down on my hard based bed and hard based pillow, I closed my eyes and enjoyed the super heavy rain. The cooling air, the patter sound of dropping rain on the rooftop, it was just feeling so marvelous!!!

Pluviophile definition (Source: Google.com)

There was a night I really hoped it rained because the meditation timing was too long and the weather was too hot (It was on day 9. They changed the schedule slightly so that we could experience how monks and nuns spend their days daily in their real life). And amazingly rain poured heavily soon after I made that wish!!! Omg, it felt like magic how Universe could read my mind!!! 

And during the evening break on that same day, I was lying down inside my room thinking of buying long pants once I reached Bangkok, to replace the 3 pants that i broke during the retreat. I only had 1 that was still in good condition and I couldn't possibly wear that all day all night for three next few days (I broke my pants due to excessive washing - I washed it daily - and sometimes it just broke when I was squatting down - I told you how rough I could be in my movement).

I was desperately thinking on what to do. Then minutes before the bell rang, I got up and got out from my room. There was a table outside the matron's room where people could put stuffs they didn't want but still usable for others, some kind of donations and be environmentally friendly. Among items put there were used shirts, short pants, shoes, slipper, leftover toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, lotion, washing powder, etc.), used towels, candles, and so on.

Give and take away table - Suan Mokkh IDH

Since matron's room was located just next to the other side of main entrance (on my right side), I often took a peek on what new items available. I mean, if it was usable and I needed it, why not? And guess what?? At that very moment, suddenly I saw new items on the table and when I walked closer towards it, I found 2 black pants were put there!!! I was controlling my emotions not to get happy too easily as the size of the pants might not suit me.

I opened it up one by one and was amazed that the size were big enough for people like me!!! (Perhaps I had lost some weight after being there for 9 days???) I checked the conditions of the pants (who knows there was hole or broken parts???), but it was fine. I immediately brought it inside my room and had a try.

Both were fit, but I only took one as another one was a bit strange shape. I did not need many anyway. Just one more was enough. And it seemed like the owner had washed it before giving it out. I could smell the softener smell from the pants. Oh my... to whomever had donated the pants that very night, I would like to say thank you!!! Again, I felt wondrous as Universe had heard my mind and answered my worry. Thank you, thank you, and thank you once again!!! :)

Thai Buddhist Monkhood (Pic source: Google.com)

Well, I heard from my Thai friend, it was common for Thai male son (in their 18s - before marriage) to undergo monkhood at least once in their lifetime, so that the good karma would be bestowed upon their parents as an act of filial piety.

The period would differ from one to another but usually would range between 1 week to 3 months, and the longer the better. He said, near completion of the monastic life (including many meditation practices), they would usually get super natural power like to see what not supposed to be seen, a.k.a spirit. It made me thinking if what the Universe responded to the rain and pants wishes would also some kind of super natural power that I got after 9 days of meditation retreat :P Hehehe... My wondrous fantasy.... :D

Life is a series of thousands of tiny miracles. Notice them.

So, this post would wrap my feelings and experience that I had during the 10 day meditation retreat at Suan Mokkh International Dharma Heritage. There might still some other things I missed out mentioning here, but personally I found it a wonderful experience joining it at least once in my lifetime. I have learned so many things there. Not only how to do the right and self-reliance meditation practice (Anapanasati - mindfulness with breathing, walking and standing meditation), but also remind myself and practicing Dhamma (Buddha's teaching). We recited chant in Sankrit language on daily basis too.

The Dhamma that we learned included: the Four Noble Truth (the truth of suffering, the truth of the cause of suffering, the truth of the end of suffering, and the truth of the path that leads to the end of suffering), the Noble Eightfold Path (right view/ understanding (samma ditthi), right thought/ attitude (samma sankappa), right speech (samma vaca), right action/ conduct (samma kammanta), right livelihood (samma ajiva), right effort/ diligence (samma vayama), right mindfulness (samma sati), and right concentration/ meditation (samma samadhi), Paticca Samuppada or the chain/ law of dependent origination, non-attachment to I, me, myself, mine, and so on.

Group photo - 10-Day Silent Meditation Retreat at Suan Mokkh (September 2017)

Being silence for 10 days was not that hard too. It was perfectly fine for me and enjoyed it so much. Not everyone stayed at the end though. Many chose giving up in the middle. So, I was grateful that I was one of those survivors of the retreat. Here, I would like to thank to Ajahn Buddhadasa or Buddhadasa Bhikkhu (Servant of the Buddha) one more time for founding the Suan Mokkh monastery, the International Dhamma Heritage, and Dhamma-Mata (residential facility for women interested in studying Dhamma and practicing nun-hood).

Thank you Ajahn Por, another monk (I forgot his name), fellow teachers (Supon, Kun Tai, Kun Chai), volunteers, cooks, and other staffs who had rendered all your knowledge, time, and efforts to make the meditation retreat going smoothly and made our lives meaningful, and also to all Dhamma friends from all over the world who had come and experienced this retreat together. It was nice meeting you all and hope we could bring what we learned there throughout our lifetime and be a better human being in this world :) Thank you SB for everything!!! Sadhu, Sadhu, Sadhu.... :) 
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