A Partridge in a Pear Tree: A Picture of 2013

On the 1st day of Christmas my true love gave to me…A partridge in a pear tree!

Yey! We’re almost done with this year’s song. In a few hours, it will be a brand new year, a brand new start.

I’m supposed to share a picture of what I am seeing for my 2013 and what better way to do that than to paint the scene with words and phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and interjections? Oh, but I shall add an accompanying illustration as well — an original which looks like it was taken straight out of a Final Fantasy fanfic site, in my opinion. But I “drew” it myself. Okay, enough intro. Here’s a painting of my 2013 for you:

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Brick upon brick, upon brick, upon brick, upon brick. Slab upon slab, upon slab, upon slab, upon even more dazzling gemlike slabs of stone. I spread a layer of cement between each one, the glue unusually silky but dependably strong.

That should do the trick. That should keep them steady. That should hold them in place.

That should be enough to keep them from toppling over.

I scrape off the excess putty and take a look at the brilliant wall. It was no joke trying to build it. But it was all a work of love, a labour of devotion, an endeavor of enamorment. All that made lifting the heavy bricks, touching the jagged slabs, and putting every single thing in place so much easier than it would have been if love hadn’t been part of the equation.

I pause, daring myself to believe it. Completion. The word resounds in my ears.

Sure it’s just a wall. Sure it’s just a portion of the house, of the Cathedral, of my castle of dreams.

But what I have been putting my focus into building is now — well, technically “are now” —

Complete.

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2 Turtle Doves: 2 New Things

On the 2nd day of Christmas my true love gave to me… Two turtle doves!

We’re almost there. My house is already filled with drummers drummin, pipers piping, lords-a-leaping… But there’s still room for a few more gifts.

Like those two turtle doves. They look sweet, don’t they? Cooing and cuddling in that little corner there?

Teehee. So. What are the two new things I would like to do this coming 2013?

  • I would like to go on a getaway. A solitary one. I would like to take two or three days off from work, travel to a beautiful, beautiful place far, far away, disconnect from the Internet and…. Write. Draw. Make music. Be filled with wonder. Be overwhelmed by inspiration. Be taken over by imagination. That.
  • I would like to sing a duet. With a guy. I was singing along with Mercy Me this morning while I was driving to work an I realized that I have never really sung a love song — or any song for that matter — with a guy, i.e. just him, me, and my low alto voice. I mean, I sang backup vocals in church, I do songlead, and I did sing a duet with my female cousin during my parents’ renewal of vows. But I have never sang a duet with a guy, never sang a full song with the opposite sex in a public performance. It might be nice to try it out.

Sigh. It’s so nice to dream. Dare I make those dreams realities next year…?

3 French Hens: 3 Wishes for 2013

On the 3rd day of Christmas my true love gave to me… three french hens!

Three magic wishes granted. Three dreams fulfilled. Three goals reached. Or three fluttering poultry from a tiny area in France. Take your pick.

While we were having our Noche Buena dinner, I asked my friend Prescious what her Christmas wish was and I shared what mine were. We both wanted world peace and a boyfriend for a close common friend. And a whole lot of other stuff. We were half-serious, half-joking, but sharing those things made our Christmas Eve dinner a bit more fun (read more about our quaint Christmas celebration here).

But if you’d ask me seriously what my three wishes for 2013 are — just in case you’re my Fairy Godmother, a Magic Genie, or you are simply a kindhearted soul — they would be:

  1. A new laptop. I am extremely thankful for the one I am using now — it’s a Butterfly HP net book the close common friend lent me. It’s good enough for writing, listening to music, watching a few movies every now and then, and photo post-processing, but its size and speed keep me from doing some other important things — like video editing,  design learning, and e-book publishing. I am actually saving up for one. Thinking of getting an Apple. At the rate I’m going, I’ll probably have enough money by — oh, I don’t know. By the middle of next year. Aww. But no matter. I shall get an iPad first (a second hand one, most probably) to cater to the “e-book publishing” need. Which brings us to wish number 2.
  2. A published book. Or collection of short stories. YES. Let’s take this seriously, shall we? I know I’ve got some stories to tell and I want to share them with the world. I’ll be needing people to encourage me. Care to be a part of my personal pep squad? :D
  3. 2012’s dreams and promises fulfilled. Okay, this is cheating. This wish is similar to the “more wishes” thing, but hey, I make the rules here. So I’m seeing what was still being halfway built in 2012 to be fully built in 2013. Forgive me for the metaphors. But yeah, I’ve been building (and I’ve been helping to build) a couple of things this 2012. Who knows — God could surprise me still. There are five more days before the new year starts. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if those buildings would stand firmly by 2013? It would. It really would. :)

So how about you? What are your three wishes for 2013? I’m not sure if I could help out in granting them, though. I’ll try. Else, I’ll ask someone in France to send you those three french hens.

Else, I could just cook you up a nice dinner.

Or maybe I could just cook you up a nice dinner.

4 Colly Birds: 4 New Places

On the 4th day of Christmas my true love gave to me… 4 colly birds, 3 —

Oh, don’t get excited, don’t get too excited just yet. If you’ve been singing along, you know this is the part of the song where it begins to pick up more speed. But again let’s linger upon them colly birds and —

What on earth are colly birds anyway?

Well, they are birds. They fly. They are technically European blackbirds. So on my fourth day of Christmas, I’d like to disclose to you the four places I’d like those four colly birds to take me to next year:

  1. Myanmar. I’m going to complete getting the immigration stamps from the different nations here in Southeast Asia if it kills me. Even if it’s just one stamp a year. This year, I was able to go to Vietnam. Last year it was south of Thailand. The year before it was Cambodia. Thank You, Lord, for the ICPM family. Well, soon, I’d love to be able go to Europe, too. But first, Asia. Southeast Asia.
  2. Penang. Since I can’t go to Europe yet, I think a European style town in Malaysia will do. I want to go to Penang! We had plans to make monthly visits there next year, but… no buts. We have to go to Penang! Even if it’s just once next year.
  3. Langkawi. I just realized something. I’ve been living here in Malaysia for 3.5 years already but I’ve never been to a Malaysian beach. Seriously. I’ve been to the highlands, I’ve been to kampungs, I’ve been to historical cities — but I’ve never been to any beaches. Not even Port Dickson. But next year — Langkawi — lezgo Langkawi!
  4. Lego land! I love theme parks. I wanna go to Lego Land — I promise I’ll ride the big kid rides. Else — does anyone want to go to Singapore’s Universal Studios with me?

I’d have loved to add more non-Malaysian places to my colly birds list. Like some beautiful places in the Philippines. Or, again, Europe. Or the States. But for now — priorities. I’ve got to get my finances lined up for some certain priorities. So I’m just going to make the most of my stay in Malaysia Truly Asia.

Well, that’s it. And oh — it’s Christmas Eve! Happy Noche Buena everyone! :D

This year: Vietnam. Next Year: Myanmar.

This year: Vietnam. Next Year: Myanmar.

P.S. I would love to write more about the places I’ve been to, or will be going to. I’m planning to write about the adventures and misadventures in my new blog, Stories from Distant Shores. Wanna drop by and pop in for a cup of tea? ^_^

5 Gold Rings: 5 Things I am Grateful for

On the 5th day of Christmas my true love gave to me… 5 gold rings!!!

The Mayans had us duped. It’s already the 21st of December but the world is still spinning, the sun is still shining, and — as far as I’ve observed — zombies have not yet taken over the world.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m grateful for that.

And really, I am just so grateful for these five gold rings:

  • I am grateful for my family. It’s hard being away from them on December. My parents will celebrate their wedding anniversary this month. My brother will celebrate his birthday a few days after that, too. And don’t forget the Noche Buenas and the Media Noches by the open fire — can someone Skype me up when the Christmas program starts? Okay? I am grateful because I shall be seeing my family again soon and I’ll get to drive them around and I’ll probably be filling their bellies up with lots of teh tarik and nasi lemak. And durian cendol. Mom won’t rest unless she’ll get a taste of that durian cendol.
  • I am grateful for my adoptive family in Malaysia. So what if we’re scattered around different parts of Asia and North America and wherever right now. Let’s watch ICE Age 4 and sing out the “We are family!” theme song together! Movie + food trip marathon starts on Sunday. Bring a crazy hat.
  • I am grateful because I have a stable job. I can pay my bills (which are currently at a minimum), I can pay my monthly rent (which, oops, isn’t really at a minimum), and I can have some good laughs with my officemates while I’m at it. I am learning the ropes of independent living. (Define independent. I don’t even have a decent jar of sugar at my house. Which reminds me. I’ll have to stock up on that. Soon.)
  • I am grateful for the Internet. All hail the Internet! Thank You, Lord, for gTalk, for YM, for FB Chats, and for Pidgin which links all my accounts together, letting me connect with everyone using just one desktop application. Thank You, Lord, for email, for social media, and for just letting us all have the means to keep in touch. Thank You for Skype, thank You for IDD calls, for — gosh. I can only imagine how it must have been like living during the time when the only means of connection between loved ones were telegrams and postal mails.  I’m not sure if I could have survived back then. I would have probably died. Or I’d have stayed at home and not made friends with anyone who was likely to go far, far away.
  • And finally, I am grateful — as previously mentioned — for the fact that the world is still spinning. Some good friends have yet to tie the knot. Some good friends have yet to give birth and cuddle their little bundles of joy. And the gospel has yet to be preached to the end of the earth. Methinks we still need a little bit of time for that.

Well, here’s to everything that we are all grateful for. Christmas is just around the corner. Enjoy your time with your loved ones. And — like a good friend told me once (or maybe a couple of times) — enjoy life. :)

Life without the Internet...

Overseas letters. I’d like to receive some, but still… e-mail is so much easier.

6 Geese-a-Laying: 6 Photos that Made Mari Smile

On the 6th Day of Christmas my true love gave to me… 6 geese-a-laying!

Six pictures that leave me smiling! Six pics that keep me grinning! Six — Uhh, whatever. The phrasing’s a bit off whichever way you try to sing it so never mind.

I didn’t realize it would be so hard to pick just six pictures from 2012. Browsing through my FB albums made me wish I could put all the photos posted there here.

But I must pick only six (did that phrase leave your tongue in a twist???) so here are the ones that made it to the list:

Mari, phone home.

Mari, phone home.

From the sad and lonely girl sitting next to (behind) me

From the sad and lonely girl sitting next to (behind) me.

"Oooh, what's this?" --> Photo by Xious.

Oooh, what’s this?  (Photo by Xious)

Kame hame wave!

Kame hame wave!

"We are family!" --> Photo from Arvin

We are family!  (Photo from Arvin)

"Pasko na Sinta Ko" --> Photo from the Phil Embassy in KL

Pasko na Sinta Ko. (Photo from the Phil Embassy in KL)

My family makes me smile. My friends at work make me smile. Getting surprises wrapped in shimmery wrapping paper (which I am likely to transform into tiny paper stars sooner or later) also makes me smile.

Fun jump shots with fun and passionate friends make me smile. Celebration of life  and singing my heart out at church and in choirs make me smile as well.

Did these pictures make you smile, too? :)

7 Swans-a-Swimming: 7 Books I’ve Read and Loved

On the 7th day of Christmas my true love gave to me… 7 swans-a-swimming!

Or — in my case — seven books-a-swimming, drifting, sailing all around my literary inclined faculties.

It has been a great year, in terms of book reading and literature devouring. I’ve finally caught up with the many years of reading I had lost because of lack of time and resourcefulness (yep, you read that right — resourcefulness not resources). This year, thanks to e-books and excess books, I was able to grab hold of many worthy reads, reads which have long been on my list but I have never gotten round to ticking off.

Now, I must choose seven which will serve as my seven swans-a-swimming. So without further ado, let me introduce those swans to you:

1. Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne

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“If you happen to have read another book about Christopher Robin, you may remember that he once had a swan (or the swan had Christopher Robin, I don’t know which) and he used to call this swan Pooh. That was a long time ago, and when we said good-bye, we took the name with us, as we didn’t think the swan would want it any more.” (Introduction, Winnie-the-Pooh)

See. One swan-a-swimming. But that would be the last you would read about swans because, upon poring over the rest of the book’s pages, you’ll find out that this children’s tale won’t make mention of any more fowls but would proceed to elaborate about the adventures (and misadventures) of the much loved Edward Bear (or Winnie-the-Pooh, as we all know him now), Christopher Robin, and their friends at the Hundred Acre Woods.

I bought this book at BookXcess at a super low price (RM5). You can not believe what joy it gave me when I found the little orange book peeping at me from the shop’s bargain tray. I’ve been wanting to read this book since forever — my mom used to read it as a bedtime story to me and my brother back when we were kids, you see. Now, at 24, I still find every childlike page magical. Who could beat silly-old-bear and his unassuming antics? This is a must read if you just want something fun and amusing to make you chuckle and shake your head in wonder.

2. Monkey Bridges by Lan Cao

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Another book I bought at BookXcess. I really like books set in non-US countries. They give me glimpses of other cultures. Other ways of thinking. This book was written by a Vietnamese woman and tells a story of a young Vietnamse girl and her mom who were forced to migrate to the US because of the Vietnam War. The summary’s paragraph reads: “Like navigating a monkey bridge — a bridge, built of spindly bamboo, used by peasants for centuries — Lan Cao’s narrative traverses perilously between worlds past and present, East and West, in telling two interlocked stories. One of these stories is the Vietnamese version of the classic immigrant experience in America, told by a young girl; and the second, a dark tale of betrayal, political intrigue, family secrets and revenge — her mother’s tale.”

I traversed through the monkey bridges during the early part of this year, when I still commuted to work using buses and trains. It was easy to get lost in the narrative, easy to forget I was in the train to bound for Putrajaya, easy to think I was in Saigon, Little Saigon, Ba Xuyen, and Farmington instead.

I loved it.

3. Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones

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This one I bought at National Bookstore last year while I was on “Christmas Break”. 90% of the book is set in Papua New Guinea and the protagonist here is a young girl who finds herself absorbed in the tale of Pip in Dickens’ Great Expectations. It gets a bit morbid around 80% into the tale but the rest of the book shows the profound effect of literature on the life of people young and old, on men and women dark and white. I was shaken when I got to the end. Shaken in a good way.

4. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

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I bought The Moonstone at MPH because it was thick and cost only RM10. Did I say it was thick? It was thick. It’s a classic and was one of the first detective stories during its time. At first, I couldn’t find myself finding the story in the thread of narratives told by varying characters. But once the plot eventually unfolded, I couldn’t put the book down. I even brought it with me during my “Midyear Break” in the Philippines. Trust Mari to lug a bulky book like that around.

5. The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis

This could actually stand as the seven swans on its own because the set consists of seven books. But I shall count the sevenology (is there even such a word???) as one. And yes, I, the book buff, have only read this series just this year. I feel so ashamed. I guess I was just too stingy to shell out cash for the collection.

Well, this year, I managed to grab hold of an e-book containing ALL the seven books: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe; Prince Caspian; The Voyage of the Dawn Treader; The Silver Chair; The Horse and his Boy; The Magician’s Nephew; and The Last Battle.

C. S. Lewis is a genius. I still feel a bit sad about Susan though. Oh but the spoilers will end there. But I love how the stories leak out Christian truths in an adventure-filled and magical way.

6. Strictly Business by O. Henry

Strictly Business is a collection of short stories by O. Henry. Mr. O (not his real name — and O. Henry is just the guy’s pen name) is quickly becoming one of my favourite short story authors (well, I still have many more short story authors to discover). But it’s crazy how his stories suddenly take uncanny twists in the end. You may know him from one of his more famous works, The Gift of the Magi

I have yet to grab a physical copy of his collections. I read Strictly Business in the Project Gutenberg repository and put up with online reading because I found the New York tales so amusing. My favourite shorts there would include The Thing’s the Play and Proof of the Pudding. READ THEM.

7. Uprising by E. R. McManus

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And a non-fiction inspirational book makes it to the list. I LOVE MCMANUS. The back portion of Uprising warns readers: “This book is dangerous! It is only for those who are ready to join the uprising — a revolution of the soul that will change and ordinary life into an extraordinary one. It is only for those who want something more out of life, who desire to tap into the divine potential that was placed in them at their creation.”

I like how McManus breaks it into “Quests” instead of the usual “Chapters”. In his book, you go from your Point of Origin on a Quest for Honour, a Quest for Nobility, and a Quest for Enlightenment until you get to your Final Destination. 

Read this book and be changed. And while you’re at it, read McManus’ other books as well.

* * *

Well, this entry turned out to be one of my longer pieces. I decided not to break it into parts but I hope it still worked out well with you all, dear readers.

So how about you? What books did you read and love this year? They might just make it to my next year’s reading list. ;)

Cheers!

Nothing beats "real" books.

Nothing beats “real” books.

8 Maids-a-Milking: 8 Songs (Part 2)

On the 8th day of Christmas my true love gave to me… more maids-a-milking! 

I posted the first four yesterday, now I shall post the last four today. For those who couldn’t take yesterday’s mush and cheese, rest assured that today’s batch of maids-a-milking consists of songs that are more… serious.

Well, hopefully not that serious. We’ll see.

(Or should that be, “We’ll hear”?)

>> Steady my Heart by Kari Jobe

Even when it hurts, even when it’s hard, even when it all just falls apart. I will run to You cause I know that You are Lover of my soul, Healer of my scars — You steady my heart… It’s unexplainable, but He really does heal. It’s a mystery, but time and time again I have seen and experienced that even when there’s no one there to understand us and hold us through all the darkness we are going through, He is faithful to see us through.

>> One Thing Remains (Bethel Loft Sessions Version)

Oooooh-ooohh-oooohh-oohooohoo… This might just be our team’s theme song this year. We sang it in Vietnam, we sang it in our celebration this November. And really, it’s so true that His “love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me” — on us. Because when everything is said, when everything is done, it would all boil down to One Thing — His Great and Enduring Love.

>> How You Live (Turn up the Music) by Point of Grace

I’ve learned that we could be so busy with so many things that we forget how to live — like, really live. We could be so busy with work, with our ministries. We could be so busy with our worries. We could be so busy drowning in pits of depression. We could be so busy with, well, being busy. But Jesus said that He came so that we might have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10b). So why not simply live it to the full? Let’s turn up the music, shall we?

>> So much for my Sad Song by Chris Rice

I have been so guilty of this. I’ve been guilty of waking up thinking, “I’m gonna write a sad song today.” But then “love flood[ed] the world right before my eyes” and I, like Chris, ended up singing a love song instead.

Let’s sing more love songs.

Give it a hand, folks, for those eight maids-a-milking. :)