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Editor's Note: Hi Readers! Allow me to introduce you to guest blogger Kathrina Daud. Kathrina reached out to me via Instagram after I called out for writers. Kathrina is usually a lecturer of English Literature and Creative Writing at UBD, but is currently on a year-long sabbatical. She received an MA in Writing from the Uni of Warwick and completed a PhD in Creative Writing at the Uni of Manchester in 2011. At the moment, Kathrina lives in Oxford, where she spends her time researching the Venn diagram of Islam, Southeast Asian literature and popular fiction, watching plays and being rejected by publishers. She will move to Seattle in December, where she expects to do more of the same, plus snow.
I am a Bird was a shortlisted story selected by a panel of judges appointed by the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival on culture360.org.
I am a Bird
By Kathrina Daud
I migrate with the seasons. I fly away from the monsoons and the heat of Brunei in September, using metal wings to alight into London Heathrow, where I am searched and questioned. I heave a sigh of relief when my bag, which is stuffed secretly with harmless contraband, sugared cuttlefish and tins of corned beef, white rabbit sweets wrapped in edible transparent plastic, makes it docilely through customs and immigration. Years ago, when I first arrived in London, the grey cold of the air outside the airport was a revelation – clear and crisp and burning through my lungs. These days, I make sure I am wrapped up against the chill, and I can make my way from baggage to the coach station with my eyes closed.
In the summer, the Junes and the Julies, when the academic year is over, I fly away from the dry heat of England back to the heavy humidity of Brunei. As soon as I step off the plane into the terminal building, the air compresses and exhales droplets of moisture. The lines here are slower-moving, less anxious. My heartbeat is steady and home. My bag will be heavy, with Marks and Spencers biscuits, Harrods trinkets, requests from Mothercare, all the chains that we do not have. As I step outside, I know my family, my parents, will be waiting for me, waiting to greet me with smiles. I will have chosen light clothing, airy, weightless, a barrier against the press of the air, and of expectation.
In the months and seasons in between, I will use my legs to walk – walk – walk everywhere. It feels sometimes that I have walked the length of England on my way to school, to the bus stop, to the grocery store, to the train station. I marvel at the white-haired men and women who seem to think that walking at their age is natural, a necessity, who have no expectation that their sons and daughters will go to the grocery store for them, will replace their old legs with the service of their own. In the spaces between, the Decembers and the Marches, I fly tentatively to new places – the Spains, the Frances, the Italies and Hollands, and my eyes are dazzled by tulips and paintings which blend into each other, always the same Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, the white-and-pink complexions daubed onto canvas, immortalized into smooth white marble. I don’t see my own brown skin anywhere in these masterworks, or even in the newspapers in England, the Daily Mail and the Guardian. I see black and white and sometimes dark brown – usually Pakistani or Indian – sometimes designated “South Asian” but never Southeast Asian. The missing syllable is a missing me.
So this is why, when you ask me to marry you, when I look at your light brown hair and your brown eyes, and your pink-whiteness and your lovely strong bones and jaw, and my heart breaks with the loving of you, I say, “No.”
You ask, Why? Your face is confused and betrayed and I can hear your heartbeat shock into speed and heat, the way mine does when my visa is scrutinized at the borders of your country.
I could tell you that I have loved you, have loved the loving of you, but that when I dream I dream of a heat that warms the bones instead of the skin. That when I picture you in Brunei, I see you confused and lost and increasingly angry when the queues become slower, the explanations vague, and there is no number to call when your pizza comes more than an hour late and you cannot return your socks for a refund and there is a directive from the ministry which you disagree with.
When I tell you, I could only love you in England, I also mean that you could only love me here, as well, but I cannot say this because you would not understand, you would argue, and tell me that love conquers all. We speak in English, and I cannot tell you that I know this is not true.
I saw the truth while I was in the air, when I looked down past my metal wings and saw the dark heavy solidity of land stopping the movement of the vast ocean, and there was a moment when I could not tell, from up there, whether I was coming or going.
If you are interested in guest blogging, reach me here. I'd love to hear from you!
Greetings Readers! Allow me to introduce you to a local outfit that call themselves 400mlFiends. In their own words, they are "a collective of graffiti writers, visual artists, music enthusiasts, trainspotters and all around street culture lifestyle nomads". I got in touch with them and spoke around the topic of Creativity. This is what they had to say.
"Creativity to us means exploring every avenue of possibilities in every artistic aspect and medium. The creative process includes various, brainstorming sessions, trial and errors, experimenting whilst having in mind the goal, which in an overview we aim towards positive progression. The end result of creativity should be an increased standard in quality and audience stimulus within one's artwork, adding more value to the art experience. The opposite of that is complacency which basically means you're producing a repeated product or result, keeping you stagnant. So, creativity isn't a skill or a talent to us as much as it is a willingness to avoid the comfort zone."
Here's some of their work.
Photograph with Yang Berhormat Pehin Hazair, Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports at the Berakas Youth Park
What do you do?
I am a final year business student, doing a Bachelor of Business Administration degree at Curtin Sarawak.
Where are you from?
I am from Pakistan, though I was born in Europe and was raised in Brunei.
Describe yourself in a few words.
Driven, friendly, humble.
Tell us about Curtin Sarawak. Why did you decide to study there?
Curtin Sarawak is a very technical university, where whatever you are taught is applicable immediately in both daily life as well in your specific field of work. It differs from traditional universities, which focus on theoretical learning rather than practical application. The knowledge I am gaining here is realistically helpful to me and aids my ambitions in a very real way. I chose the Sarawak campus because it is close to home and cost effective.
I mean that what you learn isn't just theory for the sake of writing it in exams to pass - you learn things you can actually apply at a practical level in life. This is for the business school. For the engineering school, studies are literally practical in the sense that there are indeed on field attachments and placements students can undergo with companies such as Shell.
What's the ratio of students to teacher per class?
For the business school which is what I am a part of, there are roughly minimum 50 - maximum 200 students maximum per lecture (taught by one lecturer), and around 20 - 40 students per tutorial.
Do you folks get a lot of 'homework'? Is there a balance to allow for study-life balance?
The homework we get depends on the course we are doing and the specific unit; it is not an unbearable amount but it does become a heavy workload as you enter your final years. I would say that, as at any university, you have to choose between the student trinity: study, university life, or sleep. Pick two.
That's me (second from right) involved in a public debate in the main foyer outside the main lecture theatre at Curtin Sarawak
A few friends taking time out on the weekend to play DOTA
A painting my friend did on the weekend. We usually end up doing random things like this to pass the time on weekends.
What is it like as a student living in Miri?
Student life in Miri has been made easy by the university. There are bus services running daily except for Sundays to and from the university from the three different housing complexes the university owns, namely Curtin Villa, Curtin Village and Curtin Waters. There are buses that run on Fridays to help Muslim students like myself go for prayers. There are also buses that go to town at noon on Saturdays and return at 6.30pm, so that students may go relax at the malls, have something nice to eat and maybe catch a movie or do some shopping. I personally live off campus as it is better value for money for me, and I can opt to live with my friends. Living with friends helps a lot as you can support each other and life never gets dull. (Photograph: lying down in a hammock outside my friend's house to relax after a long day of classes)
What do you do?
I am originally from Malvern, Iowa which is a very small town in South-western Iowa but I moved to Des Moines, Iowa four years ago for college. I graduated in May 2011 from Drake University in Des Moines with Bachelor’s Degrees in Politics, International Relations, and Rhetoric.
I write about disability culture, covering topics ranging from dating and disabilities, to disability representations in music and film, to local politics and their influences on disability. I also pull a lot of my topics from personal experiences to try to have an open and honest discourse with my readers - link to blog here.
I have had Bilateral Hip Dysplasia since birth so I know that sometimes it can be hard for people to talk about their disabilities but I try to be open about mine in order to help other people with disabilities feel comfortable with my blog and our non-profit as a resource for them.
In the last two years, I worked at a Disability Rights non-profit law center and then received a research grant to move to Japan and study disability policy in Japan. So I went to a university in Japan for a year and now I am back in the United States. I start law school in New York this August.
Tell us a little about Malvern, Iowa.
Malvern is a very small town (pop. 1300 I believe) but I think it was a great place to grow up. My school was very small (35 students in my graduating class) but it was big on opportunity. Because it was small we could literally be in any and every activity we wanted to be in which is something I don’t think I could have had at a large school.
Even though I have lived in the city and have travelled a lot, I am still a country boy at heart. An ear of sweet corn can stop me dead in my tracks and every couple of months or so I make a pilgrimage to my family’s farm to just to lie in the middle of a field and count the stars. I have been a lot of places but I think the most beautiful night sky in the world is in rural Iowa.
Describe yourself in three words.
I always think the “describe yourself in three words” questions are the hardest ones to answer and it’s very hard to do without sounding pretentious. Hmmm, I guess if I had to pick three I would say I am passionate, compassionate, and open-minded. Allow me to elaborate.
When I find something I like I tend to throw myself into it completely and I can be very passionate about the things and issues I care about. I am always standing by with my soapbox ready to climb on get fired up.
I guess what I mean by this is I am usually up for anything. I will try anything once though admittedly I apply the motto “One and I’m done” to many of these experiences. I will try the weird looking food, hitchhike (which I did in Brunei when I visited), seek out little sketchy back-alley shops and hang-outs, you name it.
If we all eat the same, dress the same, act the same, etc…then I think life would be very boring. I have made it my personal mission not to live a boring life and that requires being open-minded.
Me being a guest teacher in my friend's elementary class in Tainan, Taiwan teaching them English using Spongebob Squarepants characters
Me and the other students in my capstone research class in Japan
On a guy's trip on a mountain overlooking the city we lived in in Japan
Victoria Memorial, India
Riding in a rickshaw in India
A home for boys with disabilities I visited in India
Stumbled upon a rural family in India while lost driving through the countryside
You visited Brunei in 2011. Why did you decide to visit?
I was in Brunei just for tourism in 2011. I have wanted to visit Brunei for a few years now. During my travels through the region, I made sure Brunei was on my list. I studied International Relations with a focus on Asia and in one of my classes we had an energy-policy simulation and the country I represented was Brunei. By researching for my weekly debates I learned a little about Brunei and found it fascinating. Brunei just seemed like a place that would be great to experience first-hand. The religion, politics, and society are all very different from that in the United States and I think the best way to learn about something like that is through first-hand experience so I bought my ticket and went for it.
What's the story behind "Shiiz Candies"?
It is a husband and wife company, which we always wanted to start. Our vision is to be a one stop place/diner for anyone who wants a taste of the other side of the world, particularly the USA. We are more focused on this region as it has a lot to offer and that it is quite unique and can easily be accepted by our local tongue.
Who are we? For the most part I am the front man (Hafiiz Ar) of the business and not only do I do the initial cooking, my skill sets varies to the marketing and designing for the ads and other area of the business as well, and as for my wife Sajidah Abdullah, other than being the baker for Shiiz Candies, she has brought her calculative skills to the financial side of the business and see where/how we can further develop business.
A lot of people thought that the word "Shiiz" came for an abbreviation of our name, but in actual fact it came from Snoop Dogg (the rapper) way of describing certain things or action as "The Best" for example "Them hot wings are tha Shiiznit!" ... I decided to drop the "nit" but still keep the original word as a guidance to what we want to achieve, which is to be "The Best".
What motivated you to launch Shiiz Candies?
Like most things in life, family support is important, and with that in April 2012 my wife and I decided to start an online business, we started of selling cupcakes and sweet treats to family and friends and slowly build our customer base, through their continuous support and constructive criticism we moved forward positively.
And when I was in States for a two week trip, I had an epiphany while I was immersing myself with some Hot Buffalo Wings from Zaxby's. I said to myself "If cupcakes could be sold online, why not wings?" then I started to examine how they made these intensely flavourful wings, you could say I was studying every single bite! So as soon as I got back to Brunei, I made the decision with my wife, that we would change the business and that I am certain that this will work! Somehow I convinced her that this will change up the market and again that motivated us.
What are three lessons you have learnt so far from your entrepreneurial journey?
1) Be humble and be nice - Show great interest in everyone and take in every word they say, and the real secret is never look down at anyone that you meet as we are all human being and we are the greatest asset. Treat others as you wish to be treated and you will succeed in life.
2) Have a positive attitude and be professional - I believe in the law of attraction and that to have positive attitude, energy, thoughts and action...these shape up and reflect the outcome of what we do.
3) Appreciation and gratitude - it is very important to be thankful for all that has happened.
What are your three top sellers?
1) Hotlanta Wings "Brunei's Premier Hot Wings" with only three signature sauces and two of which are originally named Sissy and Bloody Spicy Wings. Furthermore, this is where we start the niche of selling Hot Wings online and we are thankful and humbled by it as it has emerge as a trend-setter, it is so popular that a few other vendors made the jump to sell similar Hot Wings on FB and IG and with that we can only hope a lot more will join in. we are looking forward to what everyone has to offer in a positive way.
2) Hotlanta Cheesesteaks "Brunei's #1 Cheesesteaks" which similarly come in three sauces - Sissy, Bloody spicy and Mushroom. This is an original Shiiz Candies spin-off of the "Philly cheesesteaks" (which is by the way, a must for everyone to have if they visit the States!)
3) Maine Shrimp Roll - This is a very different and again a niche, as this is more of a gourmet type of sandwich. It is fresh shrimp laid between hot buttered buns.
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