A Lesson From A Tree

I stood by my herb bed and looked up. The moringa tree that I’ve moved there two years ago was now more than twice my height, a testament to the length of time I had neglected my garden. What used to be a row of chili, eggplants, lemon grass and various smaller herbs was now a thick mass of ‘kadok’ and ‘belalai gajah’. Lemon grass leaves both dead and alive were tumbling everywhere like a wild mess of tangled hair. Amongst them were vines, which I do not recognise, climbing whatever they could grasp and pulling them down with their weight.

And of course, there was the moringa tree, towering over the whole place like a misplaced giant among dwarves. The thick and sturdy trunk stretched up into the sky to where I couldn’t reach if I wanted to fetch some of its leaves. Moringas are not hard to care for once they’ve gotten themselves securely rooted. They could withstand the lack of water when I forget to give them their drink so unlike many of the other plants that did not survive my absence, my moringas persevered.

In the past, I would trim down my trees at least once a year to allow for an easier harvest and to avoid having its roots digging in too deep so I could easily move them around. However, with my exams taking place last year and my months-long eczema breakout, my garden was slowly being transformed into a mini forest and as the number of days grow, so did the difficulty of the restoration project. And instead of taking the sensible and rational route of early intervention, I let the tides of sorrow crept onto me.

One of my biggest frustrations is how passionately I launch myself into things that I truly love and yet in the end, they somehow die away into nothingness. Some of them happen because of chances and circumstances but many, many more are lost by my own hands, either by neglect, fear, frustration or lethargy. Often times I find myself letting my own bitterness contaminate the sweet taste of pure fervor, and the satisfying scent that accompanies the exhaustion after a day’s work had soured into a musty odour of fatigue. Little by little, I lost sight of the sparkles that comes with tiny victories and saw only the mountains I have yet to climb–and I couldn’t find it within me to take another step.

However, every now and then my zeal would return and at a whim, I would pack my backpack and step back out into the blizzard with the intense wish to gain back all that I have lost. The medals in my trophy cabinet back at home assured me that I have done it before and I could do it again–but the assurance last only for a moment. Fixing a mistake is often harder than starting anew and while you may lose the height of your skills, the memories of them stay, mocking you in your face. It doesn’t take long for me to doubt everything that I do and sometimes everything that I am; because if this present me is nothing like the person I was–then who am I?

But for now, I pushed all of those thoughts from my head and I had one clear objective. This tree is too big for my herb bed and I am going to move it to a more suitable home,  some place where it would be given all the opportunity to grow and bring us the first of the much loved drumstick fruit. I sawed the tree down to a manageable height and kept the leaves for my mother. I pulled the mess of ‘kadok’ and ‘belalai gajah’ for our ‘ulam’ until there is nothing on the ground but the trunk of the tree and the roots beneath. And with a rusty trowel in one hand, I thrusted it into the Earth and started digging.

As it is my habit when I work in the garden, I began talking to the plant, apologising for my neglect and telling it that I am trying to get back into the swing. I told it about how the last time I felt I couldn’t do something turned out okay in the end and although I don’t really feel it, I think it’s a sign that I need to pick myself up and move on. I thanked it for waiting for me even though I don’t deserve it. The tree never said much but it lets me talk nevertheless.

The day was not hot. The sun hid behind clouds and our mango tree provided me a lovely shade from the dimmed sun rays. Nonetheless, my lack of physical activities in the recent months had started to make itself known. Although the moisture within the soil couldn’t be more perfect (not too dry and not too wet), I started to feel tired after going past half a foot down. It didn’t help that the deeper I go, the harder it was to navigate through the root and avoid the sharp edges of the sides of the bed which was covered in tiny stones. So I grasped the trunk tightly in my arms and gave it a gentle but strong tug. It didn’t give.

Of course, it wouldn’t be that easy. I know that, I whispered, as I continued to dig. Say what I want about my own inner conflict, I made the decision to leave my garden and I have to make amends.

But, my dearest, my sweet, could you please help me out a bit?

I paused to look up at its leaves. The little green circles danced prettily as the wind blew, breaking its perfect mosaic for but a few moments. No, I gulped and pressed on. No, the tree had done more than I had done. It too had its struggle when the ground was dry and the moths fly by. I wasn’t the only lonely one. 

Relationships go both ways, do they not? But love, would you please, please lend me a bit of a hand?

The trunk did not answer.

Ah, you are just as stone hearted as I. Then so be it.

My hands are now red and a few of the cracks on my fingers which were about to heal had burst back open as they pressed on the hard edge of my trowel. The small bits of concrete jutting out from the inside of the bed are scratching me every other minute and the roots showed now signs of tapering off. My back was aching and I couldn’t find a comfortable position. I had forgotten how to whisper, or the fact that I have neighbours, and they could probably hear me having a full blown one-sided argument with a tree.

My child, the reason why I couldn’t go out was because of my eczema. Well, partly anyway. And if you don’t make way any time soon, I’m going to hurt it and that could cause another outbreak. Yes, patience, I know. I am trying to be patient but patience would not stop my hand from breaking. Do you want me to just saw your roots off?

The trunk stared me down.

Fine. Fine. Fine. You were patient, I will be patient too.

I groaned and went back in with the thinnest of patience. My hand was now shaking with a mix of exhaustion and frustration. I was covered in soil from head to toe and I no longer cared about keeping my hand safe. I stabbed the trowel into the ground again and again and again and the dirt that got into the cracks of my skin were now practically cemented with sweat and bits of blood. I was now a foot in from when I started. I placed my hand between the two main roots and tugged with all my might but I couldn’t move it even a bit. And I was starting to feel like a fool for even trying.

Please, I am trying to be better. I want to be better, I really do but it’s already so hard. Just the idea of it all seems so insurmountable. If I can’t even pull you out, my sweet, what can I do?

The trunk stayed quiet.

I was now desperate. I had done nothing today other than digging this hole and I have nothing to show for it. The sun would be setting soon and the roots showed no sign of thinning. I looked around at my garden in its horrendous state and asked myself if I have anything to show for all that I have done in my life. I just wanted to stop.

Then I paused and looked back at the tree. Something clicked at the back of my head and I eyed it tentatively.

Are you… are you trying to teach me a lesson on perseverance?

I waited for an answer which did not come. I turned to the pile of unearthed soil and back into the hole in the bed. The way I see it, I only have three choices. I could just leave the whole thing be and probably let the tree die now that I’ve upset it so much. I could push all the Earth back in but that would only get me back to where I started.

Or of course, I could keep going. I know that somehow, in the end, I would get to tip of the roots. Even if I have to use a stone as a makeshift shovel, I could theoretically get it done eventually. The tricky circumstances, the need for time and my own doubts are obstacles I need to overcome all my life, whatever the struggle. Whether the problem is restarting a garden, finishing a book draft or just pulling out a tree, I still have to face problems from within and without, and I have to learn to wait.

Okay. Well, I guess I’ll take it then.

With that I went back in, this time quietly, as I reflected on the things that I already know deep inside and even discussed about in my head but which are now being repeated to me. I thought of the many tiny knolls I succeeded to climb because I went on despite the obstacles. Silat routines, NaNoWriMo challenges, artworks, school achievements and public presentations. Even little things that I am proud to have done but never shared because they seem so insignificantly small. But I did them.

And so with the hole nearly two feet deep, I hugged the trunk of the tree, took a deep breath and gave it a sharp tug. Finally it gave way and I had in my hand another medal to add to my cabinet. I grinned at it and thought I could feel it grinning back.

Was my tree really teaching me a lesson on perseverance? You tell me.

 

Covid-19: Our Fear and What Can We Do About It?

On the morning of the 17th of March, I went to a nearby supermarket to buy a few things we’re running low on. The night before, the prime minister had announced that starting on the 18th, Malaysia would be placed under movement control, and although we already have been stocking up on some essential items, we thought it would be a good idea to get some fresh food, just in case they would be hard to come by in the future.

The roads leading to the supermarket were eerily silent. They weren’t completely empty but for a Tuesday morning, there usually would be a lot more traffic especially on the main road. As I approached the supermarket however, I began to see some of cars slowly building up a mini traffic jam but it was nothing compared to what greeted me next.

The moment I walked through the glass door, I found the supermarket to be absolutely crowded. Trying to make your way from one end of the supermarket to the other was a complete obstacle course. People of all ages were clearing out already bare shelves. Elderly couples and families with young kids are standing shoulder to shoulder, snaking their way into the cashier queue which have stretched all the way to the entrance. And although I’ve decided that the grocery is not worth spending any more time than I need to in the mini mass gathering, I still had to worm my way between the crowd just to make an exit, trying in vain not to touch anyone.

Back at home, we hear about similar events taking place all over Malaysia. People are rushing into stores in a manic frenzy and families are frantically packing to escape the city. Instructions on precautionary measures like staying at home, standing a metre away from each other or just frequent hand washing are nothing but hazy recollections at the back of one’s head, blocked by a more urgent sense of impending doom. The people’s underappreciated freedom to do whatever they please have now been revoked and that have placed everyone into a state of uncertainty, confusion and fear. And as varied as the colours of people who walk this Earth, so are their reactions to their fears.

The Need to Act

For most of us, fear drives us into immediate action. We are plagued by a sense of restlessness and helplessness, propelling us into doing simply anything to ease our discomfort. It doesn’t matter if we know which mask to get, how a mask even works against infection or how to use it best; we simply buy them by the dozens. It doesn’t matter that proper hand cleaning with soap and water is the best way to prevent the virus from spreading through contact, we’ll just get bottles of hand sanitizer because it seems much more medical.

This is partly why people are buying seemingly irrational things too. After news of the toilet paper robberies in Hong Kong and Australia spread through the social media, people all over the world are buying rolls and rolls of toilet paper. Fueled by FOMO (or the Fear Of Missing Out) and the shock at such desperate an act, even those who usually don’t use toilet paper are now asking themselves “Should I get one too? Or perhaps a few, just in case?”

Similarly, it is the reason why people are leaving their homes in droves in a search for a ‘safer’ place. The availability of good facility in major hospitals has given the appearance that these cities have high number of cases and those seeking assurance assume that it would be safer for them to stay away.

For others, the thought of living far apart at a time of crisis is too much to bear even in the age of instant communication. Their sleeps are disturbed by the thoughts of loved ones dying far away from them and they want to be together for each other. The unseen risk of them being the catalyst for spreading the disease seems negligible in compared to these more imminent fears.

State of Denial

Another common reaction to fear is to rebel against it as the thought of being weak is too uncomfortable for us to deal with. Instead of admitting to ourselves that there is a problem which they have to face, we would rather tell ourselves that everything is okay. And the harder the world tries to force us into believing that something is definitely wrong, the more inclined we are to not face it. Suddenly, the thought of staying at home is giving us the heebie-jeebies even though we could spend hours on the game console without a word of complain.

To others, this denial may be more subtle. They are consciously aware and admit that it is a time of crisis, but to actually live in a way which reflects that is so unbearably uncomfortable. It is similar to the actions of a heavy smoker who, deep inside, do feel the need to cut down a few packs, but would rather just not think about it and keep smoking.

Is It All Fear Though?

Of course, humans are much more complex and no matter how much we try to dissect each other, we would never be able to even begin comprehend the whole truth. There are lots of different factors that affect our actions in all situations. However, humans are social beings and in a society, emotions can be just as contagious, or even more so, than the virus that threatens our lives.

And fear itself is a very powerful emotion that had been hardwired in the brains of all creatures to ensure their survival. We often hear amazing things one could do in the midst of an adrenaline rush. At the same time, fear can cause you to do something that you would regret as it often only cares about your short term survival. And at a time of crisis, even those who generally have a good hold on their fears are now being affected by the accumulated anxiety of the whole population that surrounds them.

So What Do We Do?

Fear often cause the steadiest of people to act on their impulse. It comes with a sense of urgency that demands immediate action. Especially at a time like this, it is wise to practice a bit of mindfulness and self awareness as a tool to help us make wiser actions. Keep checking in with yourself and ask yourselves questions like “What is the reason behind my action? How am I feeling and how is it affecting me? Do I really need to do this or would it harm other people? Based on my beliefs, what is best thing that I could do right now?”

By being more in tune with your values, your actions would bring a more permanent sense of satisfaction rather than the quick bites of temporary relief that would simply lead to another round of panic. And by constantly checking in with your emotions, you would be more sensitive to the irrational urges that may cause you to do something that you will later regret. The more control we have over ourselves, the less burden we will put on all of the healthcare workers and members of the public service who are racing against the clock to save lives.

On top of that, keep yourself informed with current updates from reputable sources that would help you prepare yourself for what is to come. Pay attention to and carry out the precautionary measures given by the authorities so you could tell yourself honestly that you have tried what you could to protect yourself, your family, your friends and your community.

Be patient and be calm. Insya Allah, if we all work together, by His help and guidance, we will get through this.

Finding The Spark

There is a gas stove that is about my age sitting in our kitchen and it had been faithfully serving us for well over twenty years. As is expected with its age, the stove is hardly perfect. The flame on one of the hobs would simply die out if you try to lower the heat while I haven’t seen the spark of another kicking the gas alight for more than ten years.

The biggest hob is the most troublesome of the functioning three as there are days when the gas simply refuses the light and you need a match to get it started. And if you’re pressed for time or simply lacking on motivation, it’s just too much trouble to hunt for a matchbox or a candle to catch the fire from another hob just to get it started.

And like its peer, I have days when I wake up with a roaring spirit brimming on exuberance and I work on the chores or projects of the day with a singing heart. Ideas after ideas are lighting the bulbs in my head as I pick a few to be my passion projects and label the others as ‘to-be-considered’. Every step is rewarded with a sense of purpose and quiet satisfaction. Every thought is treated as a possibility and I turn the house upside-down with my “let’s do this NOW!”

But sometimes I wake up to a dark, bluish tint as the world is enshrouded in cumulonimbus clouds. Without the sun to light up the flowers in my garden, my eyes catch only the weeds that pop out of nooks and crevices. All around me, I can only see shadows of quenched dreams, failed expeditions and love lost. The knolls I skipped over everyday become imposing mountains that laugh in my face. And the fire, the fire that used to burn so brightly, now fizzles away in the rain.

But just because the knob on the gas stove wouldn’t work, it doesn’t mean that my only choice is to buy my meal. There is always the lighter or the matchstick. There are two more smaller hobs that I could use with a little tweak of the recipe. There’s also the oven and the rice cooker if I’m feeling more adventurous. All I need is a bit of determination.

And although it is harder when the raincloud filter is in my own eyes, it doesn’t mean that I couldn’t do anything simply because it is too dark for me to see. Just because I am blinded to the light, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t there. Even in the bleakest of nights, we are reminded of the bright sun by the gentle glow it lends to the moon. And with eyes so dark that I forget the images of my own sight, I can still find that spark to relight my fire as long as I have my faith to fuel my heart.

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Nota Tingkatan 4 Bab 10 Dasar British dan Kesannya Terhadap Ekonomi Negara SPM

Nota Tingkatan 4 Bab 10 Dasar British dan Kesannya Terhadap Ekonomi Negara SPM

For my SPM preparations (2019), I drew up a mind map with the complete notes for Sejarah, Form 4, Chapter 10. I actually took these pictures for my own keepsakes but I have decided to share them in hopes that it could help or inspire others. I arranged these notes in such a way where I could see how they relate to each other which helps me better digest the information. All of the information are taken strictly from the textbook. I apologise for the lack of quality but I hope that other candidates could find something to take away from them.

Sebagai persiapan untuk SPM (2019), saya telah membuat satu peta minda nota lengkap bagi mata pelajaran Sejarah, Tingkatan 4, Bab 10. Sebenarnya saya mengambil gambar peta ini untuk dijadikan kenangan tetapi saya mengambil keputusan untuk kongsikannya bersama anda semua. Manalah tahu, mungkin ada yang dapat mengambil manfaat. Saya menyusun nota-nota tersebut agar saya boleh melihat bagaimana sesuatu perkara berkait dengan perkara yang lain supaya mudah untuk dihadami. Semua nota-nota diambil hanya dari buku teks sahaja. Saya minta maaf di atas kualiti yang kurang memuaskan tetapi saya berharap gambar-gambar ini cukup untuk memberi idea kepada calon-calon SPM 2020.