Ordering Drinks at a Traditional Malaysian Kopitiam

ordering drinks at a traditional Malaysian kopitiam Shermian Lim
You would think that ordering a coffee, tea or juice would be just that simple. It is, at a modern eatery or cafe, but a novice will almost certainly need time to get used to the terms used for ordering drinks at a traditional Malaysian kopitiam. If Starbucks wasn’t established thousands of miles away in Seattle about 40 years ago, I’d have thought they took the idea of custom-made drinks from our kopitiams, which have been around for almost twice as long as Starbucks. (You know how they are with their drinks. Care for a tall, iced, no whip cream, no sugar, half soy milk, half low-fat milk, green tea frappuccino, anyone?) Continue reading

The Day I Caused Traffic On Sprint Highway

A decade of driving on the right side of the road had my parents worried about me getting behind the wheel in Malaysia. Here, we drive on the left.

“Can still remember the roads ah? Will you be disoriented or not? Later drive on the wrong side then kena accident, then how? And do you know how to drive Dad’s old Volvo?”

Valid questions. But my pride wouldn’t let them know that. I’m a grown woman now, for goodness sake.

“I’ll be fine, I learned how to drive here in Malaysia,” I said with a tone of exasperation. “Of course I know how to handle a car, been driving for over ten years. I’ve even driven a full-size SUV in America, something none of you have ever done.”

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Ancient Taoist Rituals of Ching Ming in Modern Malaysia

Ching Ming in modern malaysia

Tires crunched under the car as we drove slowly onto uneven parts of the worn, tar road. Riding alongside on her motorbike was Aunty, a private caretaker at the cemetery. One hand steered the bike whilst the other held a broom that she pumped upwards in acknowledgement upon seeing us. Aunty stopped when we parked on the side of the road, dismounted with broom still in hand and began chattering happily to my dad and uncle.

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Moving to Another Country for Good: Things to Pack

After 11 years of living abroad in the United States, I’m packing up my life (and the cat) and moving back to Malaysia.

Eleven years worth of belongings. Deciding what to bring back, what to sell, give away or simply leave behind — it’s a bit of a nightmare.

I’ve mailed about 118 kilograms (260 pounds) of items back, spread out over about 10 medium-sized boxes. On my flight, I’ll be carrying a total of about 45 kilos (100 pounds) in carry-on and checked luggage. And the cat.

“It’s just STUFF! Just throw EVERYTHING away,” one of my older lady friends practically screamed. Continue reading

How Does a Traveller Define Home?

“No New Year celebrations as there is little meaning without you and others around. I miss the family togetherness every once in a while maybe because I am getting on in age.”

When I read this line in this email from my dad awhile back, I gulped with guilt. Here I was, blissfully involved in my own world here in the D.C. area. Nary a thought for my dad’s feelings. Still, I stuffed away his words into the deepest crevice of my mind and carried on.

Recently, a post on the International Herald Tribune’s Rendezvous blog, which was titled, “Dark Side of the Expat Life” made me think of his email again. Continue reading

You Say Tomaydo, I Say You Need To Adapt

From behind a glass screen, a young man in a grey green apron and baseball hat, in charge of putting together ingredients for my turkey sub (sandwich bread) asked what I wanted on my sandwich. “LeT-Tuce,” I said. But the response I received wasn’t quite what I expected. A blank stare, a couple of blinks and a moment of silence before he seemed to register what I said. People behind me looked on, waiting for a reaction. “OH. You mean leD-Duce,” he finally answered, shooting me an accusing look as if displeased that I’d put him in an awkward spot.

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Stop for the Yellow School Busses

American school bus shermian lim

Without any snow days, the winter break ended has ended for D.C. area school kids, so you may have witnessed this scene a little earlier than usual: A yellow school bus parked on a neighbourhood street; its’ octagonal red-and-white STOP signs robotically swinging outward from both sides of the bus, to the tune of high-pitched beep–beep–beeps. Then comes a clatter of sneaker-clad footsteps as schoolchildren tumble out, laughing and chattering, glad to be done with school for the day. Cars rolling up behind the bus come to a halt, as do vehicles coming from the opposite direction.

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Musings on Thanksgiving & Black Friday Traditions

In a three-bedroom apartment in State College Pa., a pan of creamy green bean casserole and a pumpkin pie sat on the faux marble breakfast bar, both dishes still untouched. The aroma of couscous simmering in a spicy, tomato-based broth rose from the pan and wafted through the kitchen. Past the oven — where a large, spice rubbed turkey was roasting — and into the living room, where a Christmas-themed movie played on HBO. Thirteen-year-old Semi sat crossed-legged on the carpet, eyes glued to the TV set as she recited movie lines from memory. Ade, her older sister and my college roommate, shook her head endearingly, then bustled back into the kitchen to check on the turkey while fending off her little brother, Aziz, who declared he was hungry; when could he eat Thanksgiving dinner?

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When a Derecho Hit D.C. Last Week, I Saw the Chaos it Causes — Firsthand

derecho hit D.C.

Flickr: woodleywonderworks

For a thunderstorm that lasted barely an hour and half, last Friday’s derecho sure caused a lot of havoc in the D.C. region. Most people were quite likely enjoying their Friday evenings like they always do. I was at home, getting ready for a trip the next day, when the derecho hit D.C. The sound of gushing winds prompted me to leave my packing and look out the window.

Wish I hadn’t, because I immediately felt like I was on a ship, riding angry waves and beating back relentless wind and torrential rain. Trees were swaying wildly, making disconcerting crackle sounds as they went. On Rockville Pike, cars were going slowly; a couple of drivers had stopped on the side of the road, unsure of how to navigate in the storm. I hadn’t paid attention to news about the weather lately and thought that we were being hit by a hurricane. I panicked.

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