What A Waste!

I found this gem from my journal where I used to write down my thoughts and, from time to time, events which took place in literary nonfiction form. This particular writing is taken back from December 2010 when I was 15. As you could probably tell, I was very emotionally affected by the events in the story. Some of the dialogus are written in Malay as exactly as I could recall them when I wrote this down hours later. I have neither changed the formatting nor edited the writing so please forgive my teenage imperfections. 

“I can’t believe it – it’s a real wastage of papers and ink!” I thought, as I saw Pak Cik Amin tearing off our paper signs and crumple them, ready to be thrown away. I don’t know if I have the courage to tell him so but I do know another way of reducing this wastage. I sprinted down the hall and very carefully, I pulled the paper off the wall and stripped off the tape. I managed to pull out quite a lot but I’m not fast enough – I had to run.

And so I ran upstairs to ‘rescue’ more signs… and that was when the Mak Cik, who was the head of the catering, called for me. “Dik, ni ada banyak makanan tak habis ni. Kalau nak, mari pek. Kalau tidak, makcik masuk tong sampah je ni.” I was stunned. I mean, throw all the tasty, food! How can you do such thing when there are thousands of poor people out there who couldn’t eat and would grab all these even if they were from the bin! How can even one think of throwing!

“Tapi makcik sayanglah kalau buang,” I stammered. I briefly closed my eyes to recover from the shock I had. “Em, macam ni, saya pergi tanya orang nanti saya datang balik.”
“Ok,” she said, “ Kita orang ada plastic dengan bekas nak bungkus semua ni tapi getah kita orang tak de tau. Cepat sikit ya. Kita semua ni nak balik dah. Kalau lambat nak buang je ni.”
I nodded. “Makcik tunggu ya, nanti saya datang. Saya janji.”

I ran downstairs, two steps at a time, and leapt down at the bottom of the stairs, skipping the last five steps. I felt pairs of eyes burning at me, accusing me of misbehaving, but I believe that manners and the perception of others could be ignored at a time like this. I found my dad packing in the conference secretarial room. “Abah, makcik caterer nak buang makanan tak habis. Dia kata kalau nak, pergi pek sekarang. So nak buat macam mana.”

My dad stood up and thought for a while. In the end he said, “Pergi cari Pakcik Burhan, suruh dia pergi berkira,” and he continued with his packing. I can’t blame him for not bothering. As the head secretary of MUAFAKAT, he has loads of things to do.
“Mana Pakcik Burhan?”
“Tadi ada dekat atas. Pergi cari.”

I ran for the stairs. On the way, I passed by the conference hall and decided to peak in. Nobody was there except for the two reporters from Utusan Malaysia and the TV crew from TV ALHIJRAH. I ran back up, two steps at a time and sprinted into the dining hall. He’s nowhere to be seen, I ran across the whole area of the 2nd floor until I came back to where I started. Presently, I found Pak Cik Amin tearing down more signs. I shook my head; I can’t be bothered just yet. Instead, I walked over to him to ask him a question.

“Pakcik Amin.”

No answer.

I walked closer and tried again, this time slightly louder. “Em, Pakcik Amin.”

He turned around, “Ya?”

“Pakcik Amin ada nampak Pakcik Burhan tak?”

He straightened up and thought, his eyes wondering far away. “Tadi Pakcik Amin makan dengan dia dekat dewan makan.”

“Aiman dah tengok dah tapi tak de.”

He wrinkled his eyebrows, “Ya ke? Oh… mungkin ada dalam bilik.”

“Aiman dah cari tapi tak ada.”

“Dalam dewan?”

“Pun takde”

He frowned and looked down to the floor. Then, he suddenly smiled and said, “Takpe lah. Adalah tu Pakcik Burhan pergi mana mana tu.” He then turned and went back to his paper tearing.

My brother came running with a few more crumpled signs. “Ni Pakcik Amin,” he announced and proudly handed him his ‘assignment’. A thought suddenly struck me. “It might work,” I thought and chased after Ali as he ran back to pull off more. “Ali, jangan koyak, ni semua waste kalau koyak sebab kertas ni boleh guna untuk lain kali.” Ali paled slightly. He hadn’t thought of it. As a boy who is very much concerned about the environment, he thoroughly understood what it means to waste, even if he is only seven. “Tapi Pakcik Amin yang suruh,” he said as he cast a guilty glance to Pakcik Amin.

“Tahu, tapi Ali tahu kan Ali tak boleh buat macam ni. Ali try save yang mana Ali boleh,” I suggested to him.

“Tapi Ali nak buat macam mana?” he asked me. Knowing how smart my little brother is, I knew that he’ll think of something himself. “Ali fikirlah, Kaman ada benda lain nak save.”

I left him standing solemnly with the paper sign in his hand. I went past the dining hall and the lady called for me again. “Cepat, dik. Kita nak balik dah ni!” I was already almost in tears. “Kejab, sekejab, please tunggu sekejab,” I pleaded to her and I ran back downstairs in the same manner as I had done before. This time, nobody bothers much. Everyone is just as busy at the moment, packing and rushing here and there. I found mum talking to Aunty Ram.

“Ma, makcik caterer nak buang makanan,” I almost yelled, words tumbling upon each other as they jumped out of my mouth. “Abah suruh cari Pakcik Burhan tapi dia takde. Nak buat macam mana ma. Diaorang nak balik dah. Kalau lambat they’ll just throw them away. Sayanglah. Mama, cepatlah.”

“Chop, chop, sabar. Nantikan mama pengsan dulu. Pening mama laju sangat.” Mum excused herself and walked up the stairs. I attempted to run but she stopped me from doing so. I thought we were wasting precious seconds.

Mum came up and met the woman. The woman told mum that there were a dozen packs of food, about 3 to 4 trays of kuehs, a whole tank of teh tarik and another of pengat pisang. “Tapi air dengan pengat tak boleh nak pek sebab kita tak de getah,” the woman said.

“Tak pe. First things first. Jom kita pek. Nanti akak pergi kutip lagi askar askar kat bawah,” mum replied.

“Em, ma?”

“Yes, Aiman?”

“Ju, Hana, Khadijah and Sham dah balik.”

Mum looked at me and sighed. “Alamak, kalau macam tu susahlah. Tak pe, mama pack dulu. Aiman go and look for your sisters and Abang Sha-din,” mum told me.

I giggled as I ran back downstairs. Sha-din isn’t his real name but his actual name (which we found out later was Syarafuddin) is just so long that the ‘sha’ and the ‘din’ parts were the only ones that mum managed to remember. We all climbed up the stairs and went into their pantry. The floor was really, really dirty and it has the icky-sticky feeling that the kitchen floor at my house never had. I had to walk on tiptoes and imagine that I was somewhere else. Mum gave out the tasks: Aeshah and Anisah were told to bring down the food and offer them to the people around the area while Abang Sha-din and I would pack the food. And so we worked out quite well until Abang Sha-din’s parents were looking for him. Anisah brought the message to him saying that they were about to leave. Abang Sha-din took a generous amount of food back with him when I told him that we are unable to distribute all of them.

So I was left packing alone. We ran out of plastic bags and I went out to fetch more. Upon reaching the serving table (where on it was a box of plastic bags), I saw my eager brother at the other side of the corridor, waiting as Pak Cik Amin pulled out the signs. Once he did so, Ali would snatch it, solemnly fold in the tape and waited for the next one. Pak Cik Amin looked curiously at Ali but he then smiled. I stifled a giggle. Although Ali is famous for his ingenious ideas, this one is really funny. Especially when you look at Ali’s serious expression and Pak Cik Amin’s confused look.

I brought back the box with me and continued packing – the sticky floor doesn’t bother me any longer. The boys (employees of the caterer) ridiculed at me when they see me frantically packing the food. I ignored them. They then tried to insult me by asking questions on the wacana. Thankfully, I could answer all of their questions, I believe, correctly. They stopped their ridiculous behaviour after I answered them straight without showing signs of anger or despair. The lady pitied me and helped me packing after she’s done with her job, scolding the boys and told them to behave.

“Nak tak pengat ni?” one of the boys asked me. “Nak, tapi tak ada getah nak ikat.” I answered.

“Ha? Tak nak?”

“Dia kata tak ada getah. Dah, pergi buat kerja kamu tu.” The lady said angrily to the grinning boy.

“Okay! Jom buang!” yelled the boy and the others cheered. I closed my eyes when I saw them tipping the large tank of pengat. I just don’t want to see this. I prayed that I’m not a part of the crime. How can you laugh while throwing food? How would you feel if you throw a tank of edible stuff? Certainly you won’t laugh! What about your obligations to Allah? Oh, and they’re all Muslims, mind you.

I inhaled slowly and realized that my body is shaking from anger. I believe that had they acted out just once more, it would set my already boiling temper ablaze. This is REAL crime killing THOUSANDS of people who die from starvation and malnutrition. You could save many with that tank of food and they did what?

I opened my eyes and looked down at my unfinished job. Right now, this is my work and I must concentrate. I thanked Allah for allowing me to save most of the food. At least these won’t go down the drain, Insya Allah.


A Level Tips and Advices


Being a homeschooling private candidate whose last schooling experience took place twelve years prior to taking the CIE A levels, I believe that I approach the exam from a different perspective compared to most. I had little assumptions and almost no expectations of what the examiner wants me to show in my response and how I should best prepare for the exam.

As part of my exam preparations, I took private online tuition classes two months before the date of my first paper so I could have an idea of what an examiner would expect of me. But whether it is because of my age, my personality and interests or my unique experience, I see the exam as more than just another rung on the ladder I have to climb past to get into my tertiary education. Being mostly a self-taught student, I tried to look at the exam from an educator’s point of view and observe how does an A level exam prepare someone for their undergraduate programmes, which skills would student gain from their A level preparations and how the examiner identify one’s mastery of those skills from the exam responses.

Listed below are what I believe to be some of the most important advices I would have given to my past self. Some of these were given to me from others and I had been lucky enough to be able to apply them for myself. Others are lessons learned from my failures which hopefully would help guide my steps in the future and perhaps help some of you from making the same mistakes I did.

1) Your response is a one-way communication in which you only get one chance

The person who would be marking your answer sheet is a total stranger. They do not know you, they could not assume your level of knowledge and understanding and they could only mark what you actually write on your paper. It is a brilliant way of removing biases but it also means that they could not judge you based on any other cues or a history of past work. They don’t know if you’re a literature geek who’ve read twenty different interpretations of the same poem just because you could quote an obscure reference to a non-academic writing, especially if what you wrote is ultimately irrelevant to the question.

In my first English Language tuition class, my tutor explained to me that even if I make a very detailed dissection with accurate terminology, I must also include the most basic but crucial details in my analysis to demonstrate that I have a thorough understanding of the text. For example, just by explaining how Speaker A hesitates and repairs her language does not prove that I understand from the conversation, and the context given, that she is confessing and that there is an imbalance of status relationship within the conversation. The examiner should not assume that I do unless I state that specifically in my response.

2) Your breadth of knowledge is just as important as your depth of knowledge

Prior to my A levels preparations, I focused a lot on the Science subjects in my studies. As a child, my father taught my sister and me what causes an eclipse by demonstrating with several balls and a flashlight in a darkened room and I absorbed the mechanics of it almost instantly. And so whenever I learn a new concept, I would look for references online or in our library to help me understand them on a deeper level. Similarly when I study Mathematics, it was important for me to understand the logic behind the laws and notations and not simply accept them at face value.

A level examiners would also be looking at how deeply you understand the topic and how adept you are at applying them. It is not enough for me to sense intuitively what makes for a good writing. Like a movie critic who would analyse the angle of a single shot and how that influences our sentiments, I have to be able to understand the language tools a writer has at their expense, inside and out, be able to point them out in a given text and then utilise them myself by either adapting them to their style and purpose (in Paper 1) or design my own in my text reconstruction (in Paper 3).

However equally as important is being familiar with as many different forms and examples of whatever it is that you are learning. This applies to all three of the subjects I took. With Geography, I had to understand not just how all of the processes take place but also how they interact with each other and the many ways humans have interfered with them. With Mathematics, this means doing lots of practice and really train that brain of yours into applying what you have learned into many different situations. With English Language, I had to familiarise myself with many different forms of texts in both written and spoken language, learn their different formats and understand theories inside out.

Which leads to…

3) Always back up your arguments with case studies or theories (and actually use case studies or theories to back up your words)

Every site I refer to for A level Geography emphasises the importance of knowing a ton of case studies to prove that you could apply what you have learned in real life situations but the A Level English Language resources I found don’t stress on them as much. While this is generally true, you still need to refer to other academic works or past events when stating your argument (and I assume this is also true in other similar subjects).

This does not mean that you could just drop case studies wherever the topic seems to be relevant. Only use your case studies deliberately for the purpose of making a point. Similarly, only give out relevant information that would help to strengthen your statement.

If you are explaining how the development of English in countries where English is used as a second language causes a conflict between Standard English and the local variation, it is a good idea for you to mention briefly on how English first spread. However, it would not help if you go on to give a detailed account on the differences between the first and the second diaspora of English. It makes much more sense for you to focus on a single country where a conflict actually takes place and explain why that happened instead.

It is always a good idea to include some data in your case studies as it is a great way to emphasise a point (and to prove that you’re not making things up) but again, unnecessary data would only make your response less succinct. However if a case is relevant to the situation and would definitely help in proving your point, include it even if you don’t have the data. This may apply if you have a case in mind that is part of your wider reading and you did not prepare it for your exams specifically.

4) Do your research and pick the right subjects (and topic) for your situation, your aim and your capabilities

One of my biggest frustrations with my A level result is that it is so polarised. I am definitely more than pleased that I got an A in Geography and an A* in English Language but because of my e grade (at AS Level) in Mathematics, ultimately, I only have two A level and one AS level passes and that limits my options somewhat as I intend to study for a Law degree. I chose to take Mathematics because it was the requirement for one of the universities I was eyeing for but had I taken a different subject (or perhaps prepared better for Maths), I might have gotten another A level pass and have a better prospect than what I do now.

On the other hand, English Language turns out to be the perfect paper for me. I am genuinely fascinated by the study of linguistics and the human psychology and I have an easy time understanding the many language techniques I needed to know for the exam from the research I have done for the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge since back in 2014. I have also been interested in understanding and interpreting group conversations since my teenage years. Although I did not learn either of them formally, the basis of my understanding was priceless when it comes to A level preparations and because of my genuine interest in them, I find the English Language classes I had with my tutor and the exam itself a lot of fun and indeed I was awarded with the Outstanding Cambridge Learner Award for this paper.

In a subject like Geography, my textbook covers a wide range of different topics and for two of the papers, I could choose to learn two out of four of the topics given. For Advanced Physical Geography, I chose to learn ‘Tropical Environments’ and ‘Coastal Environments’ as both apply to Malaysia where I am most familiar with. Similarly with Advanced Human Geography, I chose to learn ‘Production, Location and Change’ and ‘Environmental Management’ as they both relate to my interest and I have a pre-existing knowledge base on these topics, especially with the latter. In fact a lot of the case studies I used for my ‘Environmental Management’ essay question actually came from my casual reading (and educational YouTube videos I stumbled upon) on top of the ones I found in my text and reference books.

So that’s all four of them. If you’re sitting for an A Level exam or another exam where you would need similar skills, I do hope that these suggestions could help you. If you have any more of your own, feel free to leave them in the comment section below.

How It All Began

Any particular story could have multiple beginnings. I could say that the story of my blog began in a hospital the day I was born and my first thoughts began to form or perhaps in a hotel room in Penang when my dad sat me down at his computer with the ‘Start Your Free Blog’ button shining brightly on the screen. But I would choose the days leading up to the book launch of Growing Up In Trengganu as the start of this blog’s tale because that was the first time I was introduced to the term ‘weblog’.

Growing Up In Trengganu (GUIT) is a compilation of blog posts written by a ‘Trengganufolk’ Awang Goneng in a lovely and nostalgic book form and was launched at my grandmother’s bookstore ‘Alam Akademik’, also known by its former name ‘Kedai Pok Loh Yunang’. Since my parents organised the event, I was heavily involved in the preparations and witnessed the excitement they conjured in the comparatively quiet city of Kuala Terengganu. We even had little quips and blurbs pasted on our car windows that attracted so much attention that we even got stopped a few times by curious inquirers.

The book also introduced me to the use of language techniques with its broad vocabulary, uses of vivid imagery, metaphors and similes and good structure. It took me years to really digest how I could use them in my own writing but it was the first time I felt such a profound effect in a purely descriptive writing (as some of the chapters were) as narratives used to be my favourite read with their conflicts and heart wrenching drama.

So in the days that followed, I mused over the possibility of starting my own blog but I highly doubt that I would have created it if not for the support of my parents. The idea of giving the whole world a free pass to my thoughts for them to pry into and to judge was intimidating. However my parents saw it as a good way to build my confidence in my writing and have peer support as in the early days I interacted with a number of bloggers, both fellow readers of GUIT and those who stumbled upon my writing as well as loyal readers who until now still read my brother’s blog (since I had been much less careful in keeping mine active). It gave me an outlet to share my opinions, my perspectives and my own voice.

And I credit this blog to my good command of English, my writing capability as well as my recent A* grade in my CIE A level English Language and the Outstanding Learner Award I received for the paper. After all, my blog is also partly my collection of English assignments especially in my early blogging years. And I must thank my tireless mother who guided me, proofread my terrifying tenses during my early years and sitting through my relentless arguments on why my nonsensical analogy makes sense. And I must too thank my late father who introduced me to GUIT, the internet and from whom I have unknowingly inherited my narrative perspective.