Kuala Lumpur

By Grace Cherian In sojourning back to the past, I flew into Perth on May 29 of this year. I wanted to spend some time with my very dear friend, Judy....

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By Grace Cherian

In sojourning back to the past, I flew into Perth on May 29 of this year. I wanted to spend some time with my very dear friend, Judy. We had studied together in Malaysia for eleven years. But we hadn’t seen each other for forty-two years because my family and I had emigrated to Canada.

Judy and I had a delightful visit catching up with each other and reminiscing about the past. As with all good things, my stay with Judy and her family quickly came to an end. The next leg of my trip took me to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where my oldest brother James lives. I arrived in Kuala Lumpur late at night. But I was so exhausted I went straight to bed.

The next morning I phoned my cousin Saviour and asked him if he would be in church—the Church of the Assumption where James and I would be worshiping.

After Mass I looked around for my cousin but couldn’t find him. However Saviour sought me out. I hadn’t seen him for 42 years! But he looked almost the same as I remembered him all those years ago. The only difference is that his hair had turned a little grey.

I also met some of Aunt Celine’s grandchildren. Aunt Celine was Mom’s sister.

After Mass James suggested we go out for non-vegetarian lunch. I’m not much of a meat eater so that suited me just fine.

At this restaurant, meals are served in tiny metal containers. This is known as a thali—a selection of a number of eight or nine different curries, rice, pappadum and even a dessert. Patrons eat their meals with their hands. Of course you wash your hands before and after eating.

It was interesting because in this restaurant you mixed your rice and curries not on a plate but on a banana leaf. That makes for easy dish washing. You just throw out the banana leaf after eating. Unfortunately, the practice of eating from banana leaves is dying out. Banana leaves are expensive because the trees are becoming scarce even in a tropical country like Malaysia. I really enjoyed eating out of the banana leaves with my hands because I’m a very tactile person who enjoys touching and feeling things. I had forgotten what this was like because I had last eaten with my hands when my family and I lived in Malaysia. We had no cutlery in the house but we ate out of plates.

I must confess that when I emigrated to Canada from Malaysia, I found it very confusing to learn how to use knives, forks and spoons. It seemed so much easier just to pick up my food with my fingers instead of daintily cutting the food with a knife and fork and lifting it into my mouth. But eventually, after some practice, I did learn in which hand I was supposed to hold the knife and fork and how to use them to eat my meals.

However, sometimes when I was invited out, life wasn’t so simple. I would be confronted with an entire array of cutlery. Somewhere along the way, I learned a rule: Use the cutlery “from the outside in.” That rule helped me a great deal. The other trick I learned was to wait and watch my hostess. Which utensil did she pick up first?

Eating that non-vegetarian meal was absolutely delightful. You see I live alone and I’m quite lazy about cooking meals for myself. I generally make a huge batch of food, divide it up in small containers, store them in the freezer and take them out as I need them. But to have eight or nine different dishes in one meal? What a treat!

Here you see my brother James really focusing on his food. Eating requires intense concentration especially when the food is so delicious.