Tales from Cheras, the Langat side

MARCH 26 — “Covid cases in Suntex Garden... there’ll be carriers in Cuepacs for sure... minimise contact with everyone.”

My sister all the way from Annecy, France. Being more than 10,000 kilometres away could not hold her from sharing the gossip from her schoolfriends’ WhatsApp group.

I’m unsure how much more minimising I ought to attempt. Maybe cull my FB friends’ list?

Week Two began with the prime minister informing us there’s to be Week Three and Four.

Twenty-Eight Days Later, [N1] see you world!

Anyway, Week One was memorable for not being memorable.

This is the longest spell of staying put ever in the family home — Taman Cuepacs Cheras, which sits at the edge of Hulu Langat — Selangor’s third hottest Covid-19 hotspot presently. [N2]

It’s a government retirees’ suburb. If my late parents were alive, they’d be in that high-risk group of above 70 years old, like the majority inside Fasa 1.

So, as I was saying, I’m getting completely re-acquainted with the house. You live somewhere for decades, but until you’re kept inside beyond your interest, you’d not take notice. 

Like the fact I’ve tens of hooks and nails on the four walls of my room. [N3] Also, looking at my bookshelves too long and asking how true the Wilde quote, “You are what you read!”

True too, having the new-makeshift office two feet from my bed has also set me down a torrid path of a love-hate relationship with the room, as you inevitably do with workspaces.

An unexpected funeral before the expected MCO (Movement Control Order) spared my sister-in-law and my niece my company for a whole month, as they remain at her hometown with a large compound. 

Work keeps my brother home. Just the two of us. He’s turned the living areas into teaching area as he runs his tuition centre from the house till this clears over. 

Which also means I get an update on the state of education in the country listening to the Zoom — plugging, see! — enabled online classes. 

Syam loses interest quickly it appears, the Straits Settlement is history and Jorind — or I mishear — is quite ahead of the class.  

The back of the house offers some amusement as the monkeys from the shrinking forest reserve come to visit close to dawn. 

In the mid-morning, the resident monitor lizard emerges for an inspection. My late mom, years ago, in her excitement walled off the back of the house by the drain with no exit. 

The Indonesian contractor she picked up from another neighbour convinced her about his fool-proof plan to keep the snakes out. His plan also keeps us in, unfortunately.

But I like to come upon the monitor lizard. He’s single, my brother tells me. Ever since the other one ate too much, thanks to human kitchen waste, and died in a burst of repulsion.

I’m serving my time in the kitchen now. Chicken sambal night was almost too fiery thanks to the India-imported chilli powder. Stir-fry has been as ever, the safe course, and garlic is dominating the diet — with dating a non-event these days. [N4] 

With all the talk of rassam — the South Indian spice soup which conquers all, apparently — I’m eyeing an attempt. Maybe, it’s only a bad conference call away from happening.   

How about keeping up with the world? If I settle the ladder on the lawn and sit at the top, I’ll get a proper view of the MRT line. [N5] The outside world. Otherwise, I turn to WhatsApp mostly.

The five groups which dominate. The local homeboys one, keeps it proper Cheras. The school batch group, where there’s reassurance we’ve all headed in all kinds of direction since Form Five. Not everyone can have Rahman in their team.

Next, a bunch of “mature” professionals, racing past their mid-careers seeking ways to improve a country, blenders included is number three. 

After that, my futsal group, which has an unhappy Bhutanese, and reminders that I’m not the only one wanting to kick a ball and celebrate “Meditation” Mondays. Laces!

The final one, is the smallest one but the noisiest, a trio of former colleagues who’ve turned disagreeing into an artform. There are no prisoners.

Sure, I can just browse, but where’s the fun to be had? Anyhow, if there is one section in news completely bereft of meaning, then it’s sports.

I can imagine the depression on the sports news-floor, do not give them guns. It’s either who’s contracted the disease, or the latest rescheduling of matches set for further rescheduling.

Before, in the days of yore like last month, it'd be sifting through tabs for Tottenham Hotspur news, of potential but never realised player deals and our lack of trophies. Really no news, even then. Now, all sports readers are Tottenham fans. [N6]

Obviously, the safest and common recluse for these days would be TV, or a monitor — is there a difference anymore? Movies, for me.

Though, ill-advisedly, I screwed myself over by ramping up the depression with the morbid tale of desolation on an island surrounded by a rough sea courtesy of Robert Egger’s The Lighthouse. Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe word-battling in black and white, exactly what the doctor did not order. And yes, there’s the lighthouse.

From my error, as a public service announcement, I’d warn you off the following titles.

Misery. Kathy Bates taunting a leg-broken James Caan in a remote home.

127 Hours. Danny Boyle again. And James Franco deciding to saw his leg stuck between a rock and a rock.

Alive. Massively misleading title, as fit Uruguay rugby players on the snow-filled Andes rediscover their appetite via close friends.

Shutter Island. It’s Leonardo DiCaprio not ever getting out of a mental asylum, thank you Martin Scorsese!

I can go on, but I won’t. Tender Mercies. Which is also depressing.

Ronnie just sent me a voice note. He’s my ikan bakar (grilled-fish) man, and his business has literally charred with the economy. He needs help, and maybe the great state of Selangor can aid him in the interim. This is a good plug.

So, life goes on in Cuepacs, and greater Hulu Langat. And we’d stick around for another three weeks in order to ensure “life” really goes on when we emerge out of our seclusion on April 15 — fingers crossed. 

Of course, the good people of Cheras wish the best to our men and women, including foreigners, who are manning the collective boat — at the frontline — till it gets better. And it will.    

I just have to figure out more recipes without attacking the lizard.

[N1] Twenty-Eight Days Later. Like the 2002 Danny Boyle zombie film, written by Alex Garland, who later helmed Ex Machina. They did The Beach together too. Don’t mistake it for the witless Sandra Bullock vehicle, 28 Days.

[N2] Not to be mistaken for Taman Cuepacs Kajang. Us, MRT Taman Suntex, them. Hopefully, the hotspots read differently in the weeks to come.

[N3] In my excitement returning home just before the millennium ended, I went a bit too gung-ho one afternoon with a hammer.

[N4] Ya, ya, a non-event a lot of the times.

[N5] Also a good view of the riot police’s training ground. What type of baton-shield charge for disgruntled supermarket customers bent on getting the few loafs of bread left?

[N6] If you can’t laugh at yourself, being a Spurs fan leads to therapy.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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