Remembering Sam

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There are a few things that would make one feel truly like a grown-up – paying for your own property, sex, having children and going for funerals, especially if the deceased is not a family member yet you go anyway.

I’m not sure how to behave at funerals. The few that I have been to were of grandparents and elderly relatives… do I have a heart of stone for not feeling enough grief? It was their time to go and I wasn’t very close to them. There were no tears to be shed. I did feel sad at their passing, but it was more of a sobering thought than heart-wrenching pain. My concern is more for the living. I don’t pray much but I would make it a point to offer at least a decade of the rosary for the deceased and for God to give strength to the family.

Last December, I found out from Facebook that an ex-colleague had died on Christmas eve due to heart complications. We had lost touch over the years but I still remember him from three agencies ago. We were not best buds but he was nice to me and I enjoyed his company. He was my senior, in profession and age –  a difference of 17 years. We met at Bates where he was a DM writer at Bates 141. I was with Bates Advertising but we shared the same office.

I didn’t go for the funeral but decided to attend his memorial last Saturday on 18th January when I saw a notice for it in the Sunday papers. It was held at the parish house of the St. Joseph’s Cathedral – a place easy enough for me to get to.

Sam was a friendly chap. He would keep to himself and mind his own business but he would be warm towards people around him. He had an arsenal of jokes, mostly bawdy though I don’t recall any of them. There were probably a few about me being a skinny person. Sam was a big guy, so big that he would often be out of breath after a walk or climb up the stairs.

When I was at M&C Saatchi and he was at Tequila down the road, I would sometimes go to his office building to meet him for lunch. He would be at the food court with his newspapers (probably Malay Mail or the Sun – I don’t remember for sure) and order a second teh limau ais towards the end of his meal.

The only time we met ‘outside the office’ was when he asked if I would like to go to a Mongolian restaurant he wanted to check out. It was somewhere in Pudu. We went on a weekend and he picked me up from my place. His car was small and when he sat in it, it would tilt to one side.

Making an appointment with Sam meant calling him at the office. He did not own a handphone. If someone from work needed to contact him outside office hours, they would have to call his house number. I wondered if that’s just to keep people from calling him back to work at night or on the weekends. Surely he had a handphone for family members and friends to get a hold of him. I asked his sister, Agnes if this was true. She confirmed that he did not own a handphone. His company gave him one but he didn’t use it. His family had to call him at the office too.

Knowing this, I was surprised to find out that he was on Facebook. When I first heard of his passing, I looked him up on Facebook. I learned from Agnes that he joined Facebook because he was looking for poker buddies. Checking his Facebook page shed more light on the kind of man Sam was. Those from work knew him as Sam (his surname) while family members called him by his middle name, Damien. He did not like to be called by his first name, Joseph. I don’t know why.

One of my favourite stories was shared by Joe Najib:

When I first met Joseph Damien Sam, it was it was in 2004. The company I just joined was leaving for Hawaii for a company incentive trip, and because I was new, I couldn’t go. So I jokingly told Sam to “bring back some volcanic rocks” for me. To my surprise a week later, he actually did! And I still have those rocks with me today.

Jovian Lee wrote about working with Sam:

RIP Joseph Damien Sam, fellow copywriter, ex-colleague from KHK who studied in Hyderabad and used to rhyme “equine, bovine, feline, canine and swine” and together we coined up names for F&N ice cream variants like “Sang Vanilla Utama” and “Lick Astley” – which the client never bought.  – they would come out with crazy names for ice cream flavours that never saw the light of day – Lick Astley and Sang Nila Utama. 

At the memorial, a few others shared their stories. Sham SunderBinwani, who was also the MC, reminisced about Sam being the first customer of his book business. And a tractor tyre that had to be brought in as a float for a Redang trip. A cousin shared about his first school holiday away from his parents with Sam’s family. Sam was warned not to tell the young lad any dirty jokes but he was deflowered anyway.

His brother-in-law shared a nice one about his son’s explanation for why God made Sam so big. Because his body had to fit his big heart and his brain had to have enough space for his encyclopedic knowledge.

The memorial was a nice way to honour Sam. Remember the good times, because Sam lead a full life and was a kind soul to his friends. It’s not about the time you spend with a friend, but the imprint you make as one. Live life fully, joyfully, honestly.

Reza Salleh was also invited to sing a few songs that Sam liked. I only recognised Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car and Talkin Bout A Revolution. He wrote this on his Facebook page:

I was invited to play at the remembrance day of Joseph Damien Sam, a man I’ve never met. He passed last Christmas Eve unexpectedly and I was contacted a few weeks ago by his sister Agnes who saw me perform at a corporate event organised by her company last year. I’ve never been invited to play for such an event before, let alone one dedicated to someone I didn’t know. I was unsure at first as it felt like I might be intruding on something intimate but Agnes said “He loved music and he would’ve really liked yours.” Last night I played to a small crowd at the Old Parish Hall beside St. John’s Cathedral in KL. It was a small, touching event, led and attended by family, close friends and colleagues. You could really feel the love for the man in the room. Wish I could’ve met you Sam.

Sam, it was nice meeting you. I’ll see you when I see you. Teh ais limau, dua!

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UPDATE 27 Jan

The other songs performed by Reza are:
What The Hell Just Happened I’m Not Really Sure
For Her
Half The Soul
Putera Jaya

The songs can be found on YouTube but the live recordings are unclear, hence I am including only the first song. Enjoy!

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On death, and life

I have recently acquired a new habit. Reading the obituary pages in the newspapers.

I have not reached that age where my friends begin to check out one by one. Maybe not yet, but close enough. I already have a will in case I expire prematurely.

I didn’t think I would have to deal with death so soon. Yes, I’ve had elder relatives pass on, but the Grim Reaper seems to be visiting more and more of the younger ones these days.

Nine years ago, an acquaintance was killed when his car caught fire in front of his house. He left behind a wife and two kids. He was in his 40s.

Some years later I returned from a holiday to find out a business associate had collapsed and died. He was 30.

Then two or three years ago, a friend’s brother-in-law died less than a year after he was diagnosed with cancer. He was in his 40s.

A colleague shared about his former business partner who died of blood poisoning. It happened so fast that he did not even have time to say goodbye to his girlfriend in person. He was either in his late 20s or early 30s.

More recently, a friend’s cousin died from lung infection. It started out with a month of on and off fever and coughing. She just turned 40.

Death can happen at any time, when we least expect it. With the increase in crime, irresponsible driving, depression, stress, rage and lifestyle diseases, the probability of untimely death is now higher than ever.

The realisation that life could be snuffed out anytime even led me to write a 5-page ‘I forgive you’ letter to my ex. I was leaving for a holiday after half a year of depression and had to do spill my guts out once and for all just in case I didn’t make it back alive. Or just in case he could sink no lower and decided to call it quits.

Not long ago, my friend Wee wrote to me:

A friend of mine passed away. Dumbstruck.

I thought it was cancer because she had lost a few friends to the disease.

Heart failure. I didn’t even know she was in a coma for weeks. I know this is random – but if you really want to go to Cuba… and you feel like you want to explore freelancing, do it.

An opportunity to visit Cuba and Mexico had come up. I had another trip to a different continent lined up before that but could cancel it and go for Cuba instead. The problem is Cuba is a much longer trip and I would need to take unpaid leave. I’m fine with the unpaid part but we’re shorthanded in the office.

While waiting for my boss’ decision on my leave, I toyed with the idea of quitting my job if he could not release me – then I could go for BOTH trips.

Maybe the stars are aligning. Cuba is at the top of my bucket list and a chance comment on a Facebook post brought me that opportunity.

Perhaps this is the universe’s way of telling me to yank myself out of my comfort zone and pushing me into trying a new place or even freelancing.

While I mulled on that, I asked Wee if she could be a guest writer on my blog and put her positive spin on death.

Six days later, she shared some good news. Her sister had just delivered and she had an angle for her story – death and life.

Wee’s story

Here is the truth: At the age of 33, my life isn’t where I imagined it would be. Once upon a time, most twenty-somethings had a common dream. To grow older into a life filled with cocktails (Cosmopolitans, to be precise), designer shoes (Manolo Blahniks, again, to be precise) and endless nights of bed-breaking nocturnal activities.

Alas, the alcohol-drenched glamorous thirty-something life plugged by the ‘deceitful’ Sex and the City was not meant to be for some. And by some, I mean me. While I am still nursing the damages inflicted by the delusions of my younger days – I find myself thinking about death.

I was in the midst of throwing myself a pity party, when I heard the news: A friend I have not seen in ages has departed from this world. The first emotion I felt was shock. I couldn’t believe it. She can’t be gone, she’s my age!

Grief was the second. (She left too soon…) The third was guilt.

There I was, about to moan and whinge about the unfairness of life when the truth is – we are all dangling from a thread that could break anytime, on a whim.

It felt all too familiar. I had lost another friend, someone close, years ago, and I was fraught with guilt then – I was supposed to mourn her, to focus on grieving for her, not trying to find a goddamn silver lining from the void she had left behind. But the clichéd lesson – “Life is short, make the most of it” – managed to lodge itself onto my thoughts before the next bout of mid-life crises appeared to drive it away.

So here I am thinking about death – why must it take the passing of a friend to make one feel that no matter how unfulfilled one’s 33-year old life is – one must be grateful for every second, every minute she is given to live?

But I believe that the final, parting gift from our beloved departed is that clichéd lesson – the realisation that life is indeed short and we must, we need to make the most of it.

As the cycle of life goes, when there is death, there also is the birth of new life. My nephew arrived in the world, a week earlier than the expected due date. He announces his presence by giving the loudest of cries – and whenever I hear the strength of his voice box, I am filled with optimism – something that often plays peek-a-boo with me.

The cries of a newborn. The memories of the ones who have left me too soon. My clarion call. It is time for me to face this other truth: At the age of 33, it is truly time for me to try to live life the best I can.

Wee is a writer by profession and a fangirl by admission. Check out her illustrated humour book Fangirls Inc. and her insightful and funny ha-ha blog, Conan, Neil and Me.

Fangirls Inc,

Happy coincidence

You know that saying about being at the right place at the right time? I experienced it last Monday. A string of events led me to be where I needed to be at exactly when I was needed. This coincidence was delightful, as most coincidences usually are, but it benefited someone else, not me.

I had overslept, so instead of taking the 9.07 KTM train, I aimed for the next one at 9.22. However, as I had to prepare my lunch for work, I became even more late, and missed the 9.22. After that, the train ran at half hour intervals instead of 15 minutes, so I had to wait till 9.52, which meant I was almost an hour late on the first day of the work week. Not a good sign.

From the station, I still had to take a bus to the office. That meant more waiting. I joined the queue and a man behind me, a foreigner, asked if it was the right bus to the Argentinian embassy. He showed me an address with just a number and the road name – No. 3, Jalan Semantan.

The bus passes by that road, but it’s more like a highway with several high-rise buildings – not the kind of road you could walk along aimlessly looking for a number. Without the building name, I had no clue where he should stop and I doubt the bus driver would know either. Not many people get the chance to go to Argentina (a 23-hour flight away). I’ve been to the country but even I didn’t know where the embassy was because Malaysians do not need a visa to go there.

On a hunch, I texted a former boss who’s Argentinian. Did he know where exactly was the embassy? While waiting for his answer, the bus arrived and the queue moved.

I moved along too. Then just a few people before my turn, I received his reply. He said the embassy had shifted. Okay, I texted back with great difficulty because I had forgotten my reading glasses (again, not a good sign on a Monday)… Did he have the new address?

Before I could complete my sentence I got another reply with a complete address. It was at Menara Keck Seng in Bukit Bintang, a different direction. The line behind us was getting restless so I asked the passengers to go ahead first while I gave the man the address and directions to take the Monorel train.

That man must have thanked his lucky stars because he was at the right place at the right time. He could have asked anyone but I happened to be the one he queued up behind. And even though I did not have the answer at first, I knew someone who did and bothered to make the effort to contact him. I saved that man from travelling in the wrong direction and wasting at least two hours getting lost and trying to get back on the right track.

It sucks to be running late, especially on a Monday, but I had a spring in my step after that because this incident was such a delightful coincidence, even if it was so for someone else.

Love is like a pint of Guinness

You’ll either love or dread next Thursday. In a week’s time, it’ll be Valentine’s Day.

For lovers, pleasant surprises await. The single ones on the other hand, would probably wish that they could go into hibernation until all the fuss is over.

Yeah, yeah, like Jay Leno, we could call Valentine’s Day ‘Extortion Day’, nothing more than a commercial gimmick to pressure men and women alike into parting with obscene amounts of money to lavish their partners with overpriced flowers, teddy bears bearing heart-shaped cushions and conveyor belt set meals.

But admit it, if you’re attached, you too will jump on the Venetian gondola with all those saccharine sweet couples we loathe for their FDA (Facebook Display of Affection).

I am happiest when Valentine’s Day falls on a weekend because I could hole up home until it’s over. It’s not just restaurants with couple tables and perfume counters promoting Valentine’s Day sets that remind you that your only date is the TV at home, which of course will be screening romantic movies starring Reese Witherspoon or Meg Ryan.

Drowning yourself in work at the office is no solution. Not when the tables around you will be graced with big bouquets of flowers taunting you like Cinderella’s stepsisters.

So where does this leave us single gals?

“Maybe some women aren’t meant to be tamed.
Maybe they just need to run free till they find someone
just as wild to run with them.” ~ Sex and the City

Will we ever find someone to love and love us in return, or will we wake up one day and realise the love boat has long left the port?

Don’t despair. Love is like a pint of Guinness. Good things do come to those who wait, like Eve Pell.

The author of We Used to Own the Bronx: Memoirs of a Former Debutante recently wrote about meeting the love of her life at 67.

He was a widow, she was twice divorced. They both belonged to the same running club. Eve knew a gem when she saw one. Sam was charming, single and fit for a 77-year-old.

With the help of a friend, she set herself up with Sam. A house party led to movies, runs together, dates in Chinese restaurants, a holiday in Europe, and finally, marriage three years later.

Read the full story of The Race Grows Sweeter Near its Final Lap here in the New York Times. I promise it’s one you will want to finish. Happy Valentine’s Day.

P.S. I would like to thank the regional boss of a former workplace of mine. He anonymously arranged for every woman in the office to have a rose on her desk on Valentine’s Day. It was a very thoughtful and sweet gesture.

Karma and the taxi driver

I needed to go to Mont Kiara again. The last time I went there, the taxi driver took me for a ride. Halfway through the journey, he wanted to make a U turn because he didn’t know the way. How could he be a taxi driver and not know where Mont Kiara is?

I roughly knew the route but we took a wrong turn and ended up on the highway. I expected him to take the nearest exit but he did not.

Four toll booths later, he had the cheek to demand for the full fare. RM27! It would usually cost me around RM10. He haggled it to RM23, minus RM4 for the toll. In circumstances where the driver gets lost, he would usually give me a discount. But no, not this one. I would’ve shared the cost (which I think would be fair – again, how could he not know where Mont Kiara is?) but no… he laid the blame squarely on me. I gave him RM20 and some harsh words. 

Two Sundays ago I hailed Mr. Ganesh’s taxi from the main road not far from my home. There was already a passenger inside, so he asked her if it’s okay with her if he picked me up. She was staying just opposite my place. 

After dropping her off, he mentioned that she was waiting over an hour at PWTC.

Why? There are many taxis there. 

They didn’t want to use the meter. 

Oh. 

Kesian, dia belajar, mana ada duit banyak? (A pity, she’s a student, where got so much money?)

I took that as an opportunity to launch into a rant about the driver who cheated me. 

Karma was mentioned. I also told Mr. Ganesh about my encounter with another driver. This time at Midvalley Megamall. If you go there, make sure to leave before 10.30 or 11pm latest because after that, it would be hard to find a driver willing to go by the meter.

The scums of public transportation would hang around outside their taxis waiting to fleece desperate customers. I refused to give in and went along the queue until I found someone willing to use the meter. I later asked him why he didn’t follow the others. He said that he wouldn’t want his own wife or sister to be cheated by drivers like that. 

Karma. 

Mr Ganesh agreed. He used to be one of those scums. Money came in, money went out. When a customer gives you money in anger, the bad vibes rub off. Once, he cheated a customer and five minutes later he got into an accident. 

He finally heard God telling him to cheat no more. So he stopped. And his life improved. His kids did better in school too. When he needed money, a customer from Singapore called up to offer RM7,000. With this, Mr. Ganesh could pay for his own taxi, not renting from a company. This means more take-home-pay every day. 

A driver like this deserves free publicity. If you need to book a taxi, call Mr. Ganesh at 017-630 7902, one hour earlier. Tell him you got his number from someone who believes in karma. 

 

 

Old love

I saw them a few times when I was at the Latin American Film Fest last week. An old couple, seated in the front row. When the show was over, I’d see them shuffle down the stairs. They would always be holding hands. I never saw their faces. Just their backs. 

They were not teenagers with excessive PDA (public display of affection). Just a quiet old couple spending time together. No grandkids to buffer them. I don’t think I ever saw them talk, but he would always hold her hand. 

Sometimes when I look at married couples, I wonder if they still love each other. If they enjoy being together. On their own. Not with the white noise of children and the drone of daily life. Do they still cherish each other’s company as much as when they were courting? Do they love one another out of passion and the goodness of their hearts, not out of obligation and ‘for the sake of the kids’? 

Remembering that old couple, I’m comforted by the sense that true love prevails. But what if one passes before the other? 

This is a love story that is inspiring and tragic. It took place when I was in my early 20s and it started with a death. 

Her name was Haseena. Her husband was Former Supreme Court judge Tan Sri Eusoffe Abdoolcader. He was her second marriage. I tried to find out more about them online but there is scant info on the two. I just remember reading the full page ‘ad’ he would run in the Star on the anniversary of her death. There would be poems in Latin professing his love for her, complete with English translations. I wish I had kept them. 

What is inspiring about them is the difference between the two. He was a learned man who spoke queen’s English and knew Latin. She was a simple woman who understood neither, so he would speak to her in Malay or Chinese. I read somewhere that they would just sit in front of the TV, enjoying each other’s company, holding hands. 

When she died, she left a big hole in his heart.  Three years later he filled it with a bullet from his gun. 

Here, I would like to share one of his poems, courtesy of another blogger

My love, Light of my Life!
I think of thee in silence
And often speak thine name
All I have are memories
And photos in a frame
To thy resting-place I wander
To place roses with love and care
But no one can know the heartache
As I turn and leave thee there
No monument can stand more stalwart
Than the everlasting love we share
Let’s then rejoice and ever bear in mind
That such a bond surely makes us but one of a kind

 

And here is one more from another blog.

My dearest darling, half of soul, light of my life and jewel of all wives
I think of thee, of thee and yet of thee, like thee there never yet can ever be
Thine two intoxicating eyes I miss, and thy cheeks and lips I used to kiss
If Helen of Troy were clad in the beauty of thousand stars, then thou gentle as evening air art in mine eyes, as shine the moon among the lesser fires
Of all the queens that ever lived, I chose thee to rule me, mine very own Haseena, my one and only, to the very marrow thou will see I love ye
O’ how in the world am I to live without thee?

To all who loved and lost, rest in peace.

UPDATE 17 November 2013

I recently came across an article by Wong Chun Wai in StarMetro that sheds more light on Eusoffe Abdoolcader. Read it here.

A lift on a rainy night

Something pleasant happened today. But the day did not start out that way.

I had an evening briefing yesterday. Was pulled into a job midway. Which resulted in working till almost 1am today. With no dinner except for cup noodles. Bleh. I thought I could leave by 10 but it just dragged on and on.

By the time I got to bed it must have been around 2.30am. By 8am, I had to haul myself out of bed. The sore throat that reared its annoying presence yesterday had made itself at home. Then I threw up liquid because of my empty stomach.

Missed the 9.07 train. Had to wait another 15 minutes. By the time I got to KL Sentral, the bus had just left. So more waiting. Made it to the office with minutes to spare for a 10.30 meeting with the big boss. But Mr. Punctual who sent out a note yesterday asking us to be on time for work (9am, or latest 9.30) was not in.

After clearing some work, I decided to visit the doctor downstairs. The sore throat felt like it could get nasty. My ears were already hurting when I swallowed.

The bald doctor was on duty. It was a slow morning and he was in a good mood. He did a more thorough check-up – temperature, nose, chest… and also my blood pressure (I have hypertension). Chit-chatted a little… I asked for Imodium for my India trip next month. The last time I was there I had bad food poisoning. It took me years to recover. I had to go to the loo every time I ate sushi.

He advised I bring along a kettle jug, which I was planning to. Even bottled water must be boiled. It’s the safest way. Take less meat. Eat more vege. Eat freshly cooked food. Buffets are the worst meals to have (that’s how I got food poisoning last time – buffet at Holiday Inn Agra). Come back in one piece.

“So, do you want the rest of the day off?”

“Err…”

“It’s really up to you.”

Yeah. Why not? What’s wrong with me?! Doctors are usually stingy with sick leave. F*** work! I can’t make it through another mind-numbing day of arguing with suits over measly website updates and rudimentary eDMs and feeling disheartened over scraps of worthless work like “we need to name the stage because the client feels ‘main stage’ is boring” and putting effort into great ideas only to find out they have been canned because of “no budget” or “global said no”. Gah!

Went back to the office. Cleared some more work. Told Traffic No. 2 I’m on MC. “Why are you on MC?” Excuse me? Don’t you dare glare at me missy. Left a note for Traffic No. 1, shut down my computer and left. I’m not a doctor saving lives. The world would survive without me.

Got out to see the bus leaving. But decided to wait for the next one instead of taking a cab. I wanted to enjoy the warm sun. With the waiting, lunch hour jam and missing the train (next one over half an hour later) and a very slow ride, I reached home close to 2 hours later. Damn, should have taken a cab. Could have reached home in 15 minutes.

Grudgingly ate risotto and roast chicken – leftovers from the weekend. Loaded the laundry into the washing machine. Called a friend who just returned from a holiday in Thailand. Read two chapters of 50 Shades Freed and tried to catch a snooze. It was raining by then, which should have been bliss under the covers… but I hardly slept a wink.

Got up, hung up the laundry, took a shower, ate half my dinner (same as lunch) and then went off to klpac for the Latin American Film Festival. It’s just a 20-minute walk away. I did feel lazy but decided to go anyway. Needed to do something enjoyable. Stop feeling sad and sorry for myself, which I have been doing for the last five and a half months.

The movie from Uruguay on Tuesday was boring. I missed the Venezuelan one yesterday. Today’s film is from Mexico. The Candidate and Her. Rather nice. Love story about a presidential candidate and his wife.

The Mexican Ambassador gave a short intro as the new President (the real one) will be taking office next month. Mexican presidents serve only one term of six years and elections are always held on the first Sunday of July, so no guessing game like ours.

Halfway through the movie I could hear the rain outside. When the movie was over, I hurried out. Yes, it was raining steadily. A couple were contemplating how to get to their parked car. Hmm… I couldn’t share my one umbrella with both. But there was a girl on her own. I offered to walk her to her car.

In between telling her it’s no biggie because the car park is on my way out and explaining that I would be walking to the train station to get across to my home, I found out that she lives in Batu Caves and would be passing by my place. So just like that, I got a ride home because I shared my umbrella with some random stranger. Thanks, Shamala. Maybe I’ll see her again if I make it for the rest of the movies this week.

Film Fest schedule here.