What's cooking?
February 28, 2008

I was born with so many useless talents I make Chuck Norris a sad panda. I can eat like Takeru Kobayashi, sleep like the Sleeping Beauty (not with her, as we all wish to), snore like the beanstalk giant, belch like Barney Gumble and dance like Naim, our drummer. While none of the aforementioned traits are actually astounding, not everyone could execute them all, could they? For I, am nothing without these cringeworthy gifts.

Nevertheless, I wouldn’t mind giving up all of them for the one talent that surmounts the rest; the ability to cook. In the words of Robert Rodriguez, merely verbatim, “Not knowing how to cook is like not knowing how to make love.”

Which is a fair point... it's all about making love. And cooking blends science and art like no other. From the biological reactions in the farming of the crop, to the gravitational separation of the yolk from the egg, to the fusion of different chemicals in the mixture of the spices, to the embellishment of the dish before it’s being served -- bringing delight to our body’s senses of sight, smell and taste. This whole chain of activities, coming from the depths of the people’s hearts, for the people.

My current cooking repertoire is, simply put, dreadful. As a matter of fact, in this lifetime at least, I’ve perfected the preparation of zero dishes. Well there is boiling water which I can prepare flawlessly as it only involves flicking a switch. But even then, further downstream, I would put the boiling water to no further use than soaking instant noodles; which I’ll overestimate 93% of the time.

The earliest recollection of my cooking experience would be in ’94. I was 11 and it was a rainy afternoon. I was home alone, starving to death. After looking up and down for something to eat, I found nothing edible. There were these scented candles in the living room but wax sandwich couldn’t be good for the digestive system. I decided to have a go at this quarter full box of Pillsbury Pancake Mix, which was hidden deep inside the kitchen cupboard. God knows the number of critters who’d used the box as a pit-stop.

With only the Pillsbury Doughboy on my side, I managed to heat up the pan nicely and made me some 3 - 4 pancakes, which weren’t bad at all. They weren’t Aunt Jemima good but they weren’t Judd bad either. As I was stuffing in the last stack of pancakes, in came my mom and aunts who’d just got back from shopping. Looking at them leaning on the sofa, all tired from carrying their 32kg shopping bags, the least I could do was treating them with my newly discovered, special home-made Golden Bridge pancakes (nothing to the name, sounds majestic doesn’t it?); without telling them, to make it all more adorable no less.

It was then that I realized that I’m the world’s worst estimator. With the box now only an eight full, I figured that if I mix them with half the amount of water used earlier, I’ll get the mix right. Surprise surprise... I had the powder all diluted in water, to which Master Yoda would say ‘a failure, you are’. Into the sink goes the mix and I went back to my video game. Only for my mom to nag on me, saying how little I’ve done throughout the school holidays. So much for my charming pancakes eh?

But it wasn’t all about the lows. The height of my culinary preeminence came in ’01 when I was a prep student in Bloomington. It was a cold winter evening and there were myself, Judd and Ajep doing nothing in front of the TV, listening to each other’s fighter-tank sized stomachs grumbling. We were also at the time, penniless. Eating out was not an option and all that’s left in the kitchen were maybe some three pots of rice.

That year being the early days of the new millennium, we were all deeply inspired by the wonders of innovation and improvisation in solving problems. Ajep worked on the rice and I was mixing everything I could find in the fridge into the pan. Judd, on the other hand, was laughing at these Comedy Central stand-ups whose jokes he barely understood. The smell coming out of the pan was alright, so I was pretty convinced that I had the mix right -- no detergent or rat poison had accidentally gone in.

In the rice department however, Ajep was getting a bit restless. The timer on the rice cooker was like that teacher who’s teaching the class before recess, and never seems to stop even when the bell has rung. So he did what any hunger-stricken being would do. He ‘poured’ the half-cooked, sticky rice into the pan and had them ‘fried’. Since our understanding of basic chemistry was very limited at the time, we were under the impression that the water in the bits of rice would vaporize on the pan, leaving the rice dry.

And we spent the evening (trying to) eat these unintentionally fried, rice balls. If nightmares ever had a taste, it would taste like the things that we ate that night. Though we did try to minimize the torment by adding some 3 year old potato chips into our bowls, the effort bore no fruit. It did taste like rotten fruit though. Not surprisingly however, not affording anything else, we finished whatever that is we cooked that night before going to bed (in front of the TV technically) sleeping like logs, snoring away the memory of the dinner we had earlier.

So yeah, cooking is the last thing anyone in the world wants to be bad at.



Kids
February 21, 2008

Jealousy, as they say, is like a Steven Seagal movie. It sucks.

And there’s no one I’m more envious of in the whole wide world than kids -- even more than Seagal himself for actually making money off his dreadful movies.

Oh no girls, don’t go hating me just yet (yes, all three of you in the whole wide world who haven’t already). I’m alright with kids. I’m just jealous of those rascals that’s all.

It’s hard for me to not groan whenever I see kids have fun. Their eyes glow as they run away from each other, laughing their hearts out like there’s no tomorrow. The only time they’ll close their eyes is when they’re laughing so hard they have to grasp their bellies. Before you know it, they’ll be back running and jumping and skipping and sliding their way; signaling no loss of energy. Even if they ever fall down, a simple wipe off the knees does the trick and they’re good to go.

The whole sight illustrates the negligible amount of worries that they have to bear.

Their joy, though heartwarming, does make me feel forlorn realizing that I was once one of those worriless rugrats who had no deadlines to meet or bills to settle. While I’m still a big laugher nowadays, cracking jokes every now and then (albeit their hilarity, or lack thereof), through time, I don’t get to laugh as much. As I got to know the world better, I had more to worry about. The more I know, the more I had to swallow.

You know the one thing that takes the fun away from your college life, or your whole academic years for that matter. Exams, lots of it. It wasn’t really the studying or physically working on the exams that was excruciating. It was the worries that you had waiting for the result that really suck the joy out of life.

I walk pass by a playground on my way to class back in the day. And there’ll be these kids who only need to go to three hours of school everyday, playing there all the time. So whenever I’m walking back after a bad exam, I can’t refrain myself from taking their elation on the playground as a mockery of my life. It was as if every one of their hardy har-hars was for every answer I got wrongly in the exam. The agonizing pain of the bliss that they found from my despair is unbearable.

My depression, only to be shrugged off with a deep sigh, until I reach my dorm room to send the obligatory ‘bad day at the office’ e-mail to my professor. No harm vying for a C- from a D, would it?

Kids face minimal issues when it comes to socializing. Take a snoop at Ikea’s children play-pen whenever you’re there. They get along with each other so well, without having to even know each other’s names. Parents go there, register their kids and tell them to ‘go play with their friends’. There seems to be this unspoken understanding between parents worldwide that their kids are friends.

Kid A goes in, looks up the slide, Kid B slides down and before mommy could toss the first random Ikea product into her trolley, they’re both going down the slide face-first, with Kid B holding on to Kid A’s legs.

Us adults on the other hand, we think too much when we mingle. Even my good friend Judd, whom I see as the quintessence of an ultimate socialite, needs to take a few steps before making new acquaintances. He 1) goes to the bar 2) grabs some ice 3) throws it on the floor and 4) squishes them before 5) saying,

“Now that the ice is broken, can I buy you a drink honey?”

That, in itself is already a 5-step action... of which he only does to guys however.

So where does that leave me, a neophyte of the socializing world barely knowing even its most fundamental aspects. Thus Judd, I can only beg you, my good man, to lead me to the zenith, the paramount of socializing prowess... where you now stand stalwartly.

Well, maybe once you actually quit picking up guys and start doing it with women instead, that is. You can begin by putting down that Thunder Down Under poster on your bedroom wall, mate.



Ambitions
February 08, 2008

It’s what most socially healthy men like myself do on a weekday break. I spent the day sorting out old documents at home; which have been piling up and collecting dust industriously, just like any Kevin Federline CD would.

Hidden in between the pile of junk however, was a piece of gem -- my primary school report books; which I managed to pull out with the strength of two and a half herculeses.

Flipping through the books, ornately filled with vowel-less grades (though I did get an ‘O’ for ‘Blood type’), I couldn’t help from noticing the many ambitions that I’ve had through the years.

Among the many, none actually came close to what I’m actually doing now. While my business card simply reads ‘Analyst’ under my name, a handful of my friends had problems spelling it correctly. Their misspellings ranged from the cute ANAL-yst to the more adorable, analrapist.

The primary schools that I went to, SRKs Kampung Tunku and Sri Subang Jaya God bless them, were nothing out of the ordinary. The orientations of the schools weren’t geared to any particular discipline of study, language or culture. In other words, we were free to practice, or preach (if need be) any school of thoughts. Hence the options were pretty much open-ended as far as filling out the Ambition field goes.

For the first few years, all I did was blatantly copying whatever my friends wrote in their books: doctor, lawyer, engineer, lecturer, accountant, policeman, fireman, Lion-O of the Thundercats.

Apart from the last one, which came from the heart, I didn’t really want to become any of the above. Well, maybe a policeman as I was afraid of them back then; as was the case with my friends. Becoming a policeman was ergo, a way of making my friends afraid of me thus following my commands. Failingly, I did not realize that by the time I’m old enough to actually become a policeman, my friends would’ve overcame their fear of policemen.

I had the slightest idea what the job scopes of the other professions were. Figuring out what doctors, firemen, lawyers and Lion-O had to do wasn’t that bewildering as there were certain attires that I could relate them to. On the other hand, I understood engineers, lecturers and accountants back then as much as I understand quantum mechanics today.

Though I wanted my friends to know that I couldn’t care less about my ambitions, the voice inside of me was screaming the most bizarre of occupations to outdo them. It wasn’t until the later years of primary school that I was really into that notion however.

I became more adventurous as I progressed to standard four when I had ‘cartoonist’ as my number one choice. I’ve always enjoyed drawing cartoons. Though many can’t really differentiate my drawings to that of a five year old’s, I liked the idea of portraying reality, in graphical stories, through the two simple mediums of pen and paper. I had so many cartoonists to look up to those days and my pocket money went to the fortnightly published Gila-Gila and later on, Ujang. Cartoonists portrayed a thoroughly balanced, ideal life through my eyes. They spend their days doing what they seem to enjoy most and are good at; which would make a couch potato as the ideal job for me by today’s standard.

As my interest in music didn’t really creep in until I was entering secondary school, I didn’t have the chance to put Mick Jagger as my preferred ambition. Nevertheless, I was already exposed, and fell deeply in love with the world’s game, football. And the last ambition form of my primary school report book reads, ‘footballer’.

Footballers are modern day heroes. Just as my aspiration to become Lion-O, I wanted to also become Gambit of the X-Men, Michaelangelo of the Ninja Turtles and Son Goku. But I was old enough to appreciate the fact that I had a slim chance of ever becoming a card-flipping Cajun, let alone a teenage mutant ninja turtle. Therefore a career in football seemed to be a fair shot.

It was amidst the 1994 World Cup USA that I was really gung-ho in becoming a footballer. Seeing the heroics of Romario and Bebeto bombing goals into the net and the joy they brought to the cheering crowd was for one, inspiring. It was all natural for an eleven year old to dream about living a glorious life, even to such a magnitude. My days were filled dreaming about scoring the last minute goal for my school, Manchester City and Malaysia; all of which being cup finals no less.

But gone were the days. The things that I dream of nowadays are less outlandish, so to speak. It didn’t take me long to realize that I actually have a better chance at becoming a teenage mutant ninja turtle before I become a proper footballer.

Nowadays, I don't even know what to answer should I'm ever given the ambition question. I'll just answer 'Mawi' I guess.



Photography by Azalia Suhaimi

About
  • Asrif, b. 1983
  • Subang Jaya, Malaysia
  • asrifomar[@]gmail[.]com
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