Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Along came Morgan

The house was only occupied by my mom and I before Morgan came along.

I was so exited when I heard the news that Morgan-from-Canada-is-coming-the-one-who-will-save-our-lives-by-editing-and-filimg-the-Portraits-Of-Perseverance-documentary-for-four-months. The best part was she would be staying with my mom and I in our house. As I cleaned her room, I compiled a whole list of places to take her during her stay here.

That fateful day in November, Morgan came. My first impression of her was somewhat like this picture. Her eyes especially gave off some sort of piercing look. I couldn't blame her for looking glum. I would most probably look the same way if I were to land in a foreign country. Although my mom and I were a legit home stay, looks can definitely be deceiving... we could have eaten her alive.

I was surprised by how productive Morgan was on her first week. She didn't show any signs of jet-lag, she slept earlier than I did, and woke up (much) earlier than I ever did every single day.

As the days went by, I began to like Morgan a lot. Growing up as the only child, I always wished I had an older sibling to look up to. Morgan has definitely played that role well, even though she has only been here for a short period of time.

Since graduating from secondary school last year, I felt like I was at a big crossroad in my life - from lots of friends in school to not seeing them at all for weeks; from tons of laughter to almost not talking all day long.
Thanks to Morgan, I had someone to talk to about what I was facing. She made me realize that I'm not the only one facing something like this, because she had felt the same way too when she graduated high school... and it is all part of life.

It was also because of Morgan that I decided to buy some new blouses while shopping with my friend. Even though Morgan claims she didn't bring many things to wear here, she always looks nice no matter what she wears. Her clothes are suitable no matter what event she's attending. From wearing a uniform everyday for the past 11 years to now having to look decent while working in an office, I was at a loss about how I should look proper and professional. Observing Morgan's closet of (always decent) clothes, I decided I should use her as an example.

My mom was surprised by my choice of clothes. "They all look like something Morgan would wear!!" she exclaimed. "Yup," I said. "That's the whole point".

In my states of panic on what to wear for fancy occasions, Morgan is always a room away to help -  whether its choosing the right dress, hairpiece or necklace. She always helps me, and I'm forever thankful to her for that.

Some people say we look alike. 
Morgan also opened my eyes to a whole new set of career choices. Since I was 7 years old, I wanted to work for the animation studio, Pixar because I was fascinated by how they made toys come to life, I couldn't do that!

By the age of 13, Pixar fascinated me by the way they captured the emotions of audiences of all ages. But after 10 years of having that dream, I decided that working for Pixar wasn't right for me. I couldn't sit in one position the whole day drawing characters. It was a hard decision - thinking that you had your life all planned out from such a young age, to growing up and knowing you'll never be happy doing that and giving up on that dream altogether. Good thing I didn't take up designing as a college course!

Thanks to Morgan, I now see TV journalism as a career that I might enjoy a lot. Before Morgan came into my life, I thought that news stations only consisted of cameramen and reporters. Now I know there is more than what meets the eye. Besides being a news anchor, Morgan also decides what goes on the news. The kicker is that she can do everything herself without any assistance! She gets the information, contacts the interviewees, interviews while filming the whole episode, edits the footage and submits it to the station. Talk about a hard working lady!

It is Morgan's last few days in Malaysia now. I'm not looking forward to the day she leaves, but we can't keep her here forever. Although I may never see her again for years to come, she's definitely made a big difference in my life. I really thank God for sending me a big sister when I needed one the most.

Monday, 27 February 2012

So many thank you cards, so little time

My mom always taught me that any good deed deserves a thank you card.  I have less than two weeks left in Malaysia, I’d better get writing!

Ching Ching is the best!
That’s my cute way of saying that the people here have been very good to me.  As I look back and try to remember all the people I need to thank, the list is ....extensive. 

Topical reference: I feel like one of those winners at the Academy Awards who drones on and on about how nothing would be possible without the dozens of people who helped along the way. “First of all I want to thank God...”

Ok, I don’t want to compare my part in the Portraits of Perseverance documentary to the leading role in an Oscar winning film, but you get my point.

Fikri & I eating lunch
This weekend I was chasing around Sulastri and Nisha, taking up time on their valuable off days, usually reserved for much needed rest, to get some last minute footage.  I had to film Nisha singing a song that our talented friend Diane Soh had written just for the project.  So I required the help of Nisha (singing), Diane (piano), Diane’s husband Hock (tech support), and my friend Fikri (sound).  It was quite the production!  Then when it was all done, Ching Ching treated Fikri to a delicious lunch as an impromptu payment.  A lot of people volunteered a lot of time and effort to help me with just one scene.

I have countless other examples just like that, probably one for each scene in the documentary.  At  a total run time of 45 minutes, you can imagine, I have a lot of “thank-you” to dish out.  That is only on the work side of things.  I am getting treated to hospitality all over the place on a personal level too.

Rainbow cake @ Gareth's bday. Boom!
Last week Rhonwyn’s boyfriend Gareth and his family let me tag along for his birthday dinner.  (See massive cake picture...Mmmmm Cake.)  This weekend, Rhonwyn invited me to see her in action at a drum circle.  It was a great chance to release some stress in a delightfully musical way, and there were a lot of cute kids there! (Again, see picture)

I am a sucker for a cute kid shot.
Even though thank you cards don’t begin to make up for the kindness that has been poured over me here in Malaysia, they do help me to express my abundant gratitude.  I will leave this experience with a new understanding of how great people can be.  I may not be able to repay the favours here, but I will be looking for opportunities to pay it forward.  So watch out! 

By Morgan ReedJ

Saturday, 18 February 2012

After a hurricane, comes a rainbow

Some time ago, one of my close friends tried to commit suicide by jumping off from a building. Thankfully he survived the fall. We, his close friends, were all very disturbed. We had always been there for each other,  why didn't he confide in us if he was having problems?

He was hospitalized for a few months, and those were the quietest times of our group's friendship life.  As teenagers, we were all grappling with the ups and downs about growing-ups, we thought we have answers to our friends' problems, but we didn't!  Who would think that a guy like him --funny and always joking around -- would try committing suicide?

He was a young, healthy boy. What was on his mind when he decided to jump? He lost a few of his teeth, and he had staples and stitches all over his body. He will physically never be the same again, just like Jenny when her legs were amputated over 26 years ago.

Jenny didn't choose to give birth to still-borns. She didn't choose to have her legs amputated, let alone having them amputated wrongly. Reading her story makes me think how we should choose the courses of our lives.

During the recent Chinese New Year, I had the opportunity to visit Jenny at the Ipoh General Hospital. She was admitted again to prepare her for a surgery at the KL General Hospital. I went with a friend, his family and their friends, to see her to give her good wishes.

There she was, laying on the bed, perched on her elbows, dressed in the typical hospital gown, smiling so happily when she saw us. "Kong hei fatt choy," she greeted us.

We stayed in the hospital for almost 2 hours talking to her. One of the little girls who was with us asked Jenny how tall Jenny was before her legs were amputated. "5'6," Jenny replied, to which the little girl responded, "Wow, you must have been very pretty!"  Jenny smiled and gave her a hug.
It was a rainbow smile -- a smile I will always remember.
I smiled too.

Despite all her struggles... Jenny always chooses to be happy. It seems so easy for her to do this.
I wish my friend could meet Jenny and learn from her.  What is there bnot to smile when he has health, youth, family and so many friends!

Everyone has tough situations to deal with in life including us teenagers. Its just a matter of  handling things without doing anything negative. Whether we want to embrace tough situations and make the best out of them  or complain... especially when it comes to the small things in life that don't really matter.

So the next time you complain about the little things in life that won't matter in a while, think about Jenny.
So what's your excuse for being upset?

One of my favorite songs, "I can see clearly now"


Friday, 17 February 2012

I am learning to relax

Justina ( Lucy's best friend who passed away in Jan 2011. Both of them have been models for the Salaam Wanita project for eHomemakers) had a list of places to visit in the world and people she liked to meet - President Obama at the White House in Washington DC, Queen Elizabeth in Buckingham Palace, the mayor of New York, Bario in Borneo Sarawak, California,  London, and the seven wonders of the world. She also dreamt about taking a cruise around the world for a year with Lucy.

"Where to get the money to go-oh?" she laughed about her silliness when she recounted these places to me.
It was her enthusiasm and curiosity for life that made me promised her that I would find her a way. I didn't know how then ( and still don't know how to spread her ashes to those places.....), but I knew one thing -- one step at a time.

Justina and my family were showing intern, Jugo, how to taste durian in this 2010 video. See her lively and carefree persona.

Lucy in Cambodia
With a stroke of luck, this project was able to combine the attendance of a Fair Trade Conference in Cambodia with a filming activity for Lucy's story.  Lucy finally met with other homeworker leaders who barely spoke a word of English and she realized that she was a capable lady!!

The opportunity was really a miracle, it just came!  When I was sitting in the tuk tuk with Lucy, watching Morgan and Rhon cycling behind us towards Angkor Wat, I felt so good that my promise to Justina to visit Angkor Wat and Tonle Sap was fulfilled.  Her ashes were in a plastic tupple wear in my knapsack and I carried it everywhere I went- field trip in a slum, Angkor Wat, museum, Tonle Sap temple and walk arounds!!!
Lucy looking out at Tonle Sap

Lucy spread her ashes at the two places. And Lucy laughed, not feeling sorrowful about her best friend's absence -- this was what Justina had wanted for Lucy all these years! 

 "Laugh and be happy, who cares?" I heard Justina saying this in my ears.

My guilt about my inability to help her get an immediate surgery for the gall bladder stone removal was finally ebbing away.

Lucy preparing Justina's ashes.
A friend told me recently, "Justina went away to a better world because her time here was finished. She went away because she is giving Lucy a chance to grow into the person she had wanted her to be -- a Lupus patient who takes risk to try anything new, be active publicly, has no fear about what people say about her, and has a 'can do' attitude."

"And Justina is also giving you answers to the questions you have about God!" she said pointedly.  
I pondered about her wisdom for weeks. Answers to my questions about 'why', 'why the dark hours are so long', 'when am I getting breakthroughs to what I am doing with eHomemakers?' are beginning to form shapes.

Am I not seeing the answers?

So I started to be more conscious about everyone abnd everything's presence in my life.

Think positive, Ching Ching, don't sweat the small things, don't take things too personally, look at the non-toxic people around you, look at all the good things around you.
Look, look, look!!!

Yes, I am LOOKING!!
 Lucy is really a different  person now. She talks and laughs more. I did begin to see her in a different light during the Cambodian trip!  I felt a sense of peace just sitting with her in the tuk tuk despite the scary traffice around us.

 I got to see two young ladies, Morgan and Rhon, being fascinated by the Conference and all things Cambodian.    
Morgan and Rhon at a dressed up as Indian and Chinese for a get-together night at the Conference in Jan 2012

When I look at the picture of both of them, I tell myself, "Hey, you have blessings and you are not treasuring the moments with them. Stop moaning about God's absence. He has sent you all these angels! You have not been alone! When you needed assurance at the beginning of 2012, you got Lucy, Rhon, Morgan to be with you in an unusual place full of history.  You heard laughters. You saw their curiosity about life.  Remember what Jenny Pong said in her video journal at the hospital ( when she has painful infection)?  Always think positive, life is too short."


Think of the moments, the NOW that you are living in!

Yesterday, I watched this video of me eating crickets in Siem Reap for lunch and I laughed and laughed.  All the worries about finance, eHomemakers's future, and me standing at a cross-road in life just disappeared.

I felt light-hearted.
These are moments to treasure.

This one-year project has given me so many insights about life's ups and downs through all the people involved.  And it has been confirming to me that I have been blessed in many ways, it is just that I don't seem to see the blessings when I am down.  I know I mustn't dwell on negative incidences which are part of life's trials. I must move on like Lucy, Pong, Swee Lian, Sulastri and Nisha.

Life is too short. All of them have said this to me over the last few months when I got to interact with them at a more personal level.

Ok, what else do I have in my life that give me enthusiasm? MY daughter and her friends!

                                           A walk to the Mother Fall in KKB in 2009 with teenagers!

Me and a group of teenagers in October 2011!

So Ching Ching, keep going, keep eating, keep laughing, keep dreaming, keep having life in your heart, and keep hoping!!!

(And keep dreaming that this blog site will continue with several other women of perseverance series. And don't worry even if others think you are a nut, again! )

By Chong Sheau Ching

Slowly coming out of the shadow

Justina Law and Lucy Goh, best friends, have been the models for eHomemakers' Salam Wanita project.   Lucy was the one who counselled Justina when her bi-polar acted up and was always the helping hand when Justina needed help.  The song "Like a bridge over troubled waters" came to my mind every time I saw Justina calling Lucy for help.   Lucy was the friend who would never go away.
Lucy working hard at eHomemakers.

For years, we counted on both of them to sell at exhibitions and do the backend admin work the ecobaskets.  Amongst the hundreds of women we have helped, only two of them were so dedicated to help other women. They travelled about two hours to eH office and more than 2 hours to go back to Kajang daily. The allowances we could afford to pay were small compared to the hours they put in. Yet they came weekly, so reliable and so honest, because they just wanted to help other women.  They even reported Rm1 buyer donation for their bus fares to us. 

                      Lucy still comes to eHomemakers office weekly todo the backend admin work for
                      the ecobasket project.

After Justina passed away last January, I felt lost for a few months. We could't save her, she was waiting for a gall bladder stone removal for over four months but the appointment was postpone monthly.  How could such  a well-equipped hospital postponing a surgery every month  and let the patient suffered in pains? Was it because she was a poor Lupus patent with no backing?
Lucy also works at the SLE office, helping other Lupus patients.

We had no answers.  We still do not have any answers.

Over the years, a few of the Salaam women passed away in hospitals, often with sudden infections and complications.  Those of us who were close to them remember the situations.  A weight sits on our memory-- black and heavy. 

Why? How?

I asked Lucy once, "How do you deal with Lupus friends' death? There are also Salaam Wanita friends who passed away. Do you feel sad or scared?  Do you feel angry why they have to go?"
Justina's funeral

She lowered her eyes, "It is part of life. I just have to deal with it and keep going."

She has kept herself very active since she recovered from the Lupus relapse about ten years ago. "God gave me a second chance, so I must make full use of my life to help others," she told us when we taped her first video journal for this project in May 2011.  She was still the same quiet person then, the one who was a shadow to the more flamboyant Justina.

Lucy took care of SLE Association affairs with Chee Siew Lian before the new office manager started her work in 2011.  She still travels on buses to hospitals to counsel new patients.  The motivation to do something for others comes from her heart, deep down inside.  Just like Siew Lian, there has been no publicity about her dedication but she has been one of the most important doers for the SLE Association.

At the beginning of this project, Lucy was really afraid of the camera. She froze as soon as we turned on the switch!!  After months of getting her to practise speaking in front of the camera, she finally talked without shyness about her ecobasket selling at a French coffee morning!  Voila!
                                                She has made peace with Justina's going away.
                                                Time is short," she reminds me when I ask her
                                                                to walk slower.                        

Here is another new Lucy! She spoke without giggling
about her buzy weekend and she did it in public!

Over the last few months since Morgan arrived, Lucy has really changed!!! She is now more talkative, more outgoing and she laughs a lot more. When we went to Cambodia to film her fulfilling Justina's wishes to see Tonle Sap and Angkor Wat, I was pleasantly surprised by her cheerfulnees, her excitement over small rocks and her curiosity over foreign foods. She even did a jump at Angkor Wat like Morgan! 

She was the Justina minus the flamboyant mood!

Last week, Morgan went to film her at the SLE's Chinese New Year party.  She spoke in the public and demonstrated hair dying in front of the group. Lucy wasn't the shy Lucy I used to know!!
Lucy speaking in front of a crowd!!!

But, I am so glad to see the change.

I am sure Justina is smiling at her, 'free-oh', like she used to say to us.

By Chong Sheau Ching

Thursday, 16 February 2012

The Three-in-One Angel

Last year was a memorable year.  
I prayed and prayed to God to help me to raise resources and funds for this community multi-media project.  Not only that  high quality HD camera is expensive and unaffordable, I also couldn't find people to use a normal three-year old camcorder to film video journals and edit them as you-tube videos. Every one I approached was asking for high amount of money which I didn't have.
How do I get this TV documentary done with no resources????? God, where are you?

I was really frustrated and scared..... oh oh.... couldn't sleep for many nights......

Then an email changed my life!!!

Help International, a Canadian NPO, announced that it found a  Canadian TV journalist named Morgan Reed to volunteer for four months to make the documentary!! 

I was scared at first, she had never been to Asia. KL could be too hot for her, and the food too spicy and we might have work style clashes!! The interns assigned to her must also be able to work with her, carrying camera, microphone, tripod and lighting equipment besides making appointments for her. A team must follow herm, would they work out? I said 'yes', and praying silently that everything would be ok.

After she arrived on Nov 24, it seemed like most of my hurdles just melted away with her aura or her ancestors' blessings. Interns came along because she showed them how to use Window Movie Maker to fade in and fade out, to slow scenes  and upload into You-tube.  Monash University's local campus film lecturer, Fikri, showed up at office to give advice and search for a HD camera.   She didn't even have jet lag and straight away made friends with the women featured in the documentary after I brought her to meet them. Other strategic partners came along because of her infectious optimism.
Morgan at KLCC Park on Jan 5, 2012

 Her 'can do' attitude brought a breath of fresh air to my own life. I began to be more optimistic about life.... and this project.
When we couldn't loan a HD camera, she went to Singapore on a bus to buy one herself and came back at 3.30 am, smiling and announcing to me, " I have named him Marvin!"
That day was a miracle in my life. I witnessed a cheerful, full of hope young Canadian woman caressing a camera. And then postive things began to unfold within hours from music to logistics!

Then we began to shoot scenes for the documentary. I assigned at least one intern to follow her in December and January, but we were surprised to learn that she is a 'one woman show'.

Morgan with Marvin at Sulastri's pasar in Chow Kit, KL
When we filmed in Crown Plaza Hotel in January 2012, there were 3 interns assigned to help her besides her sweetie, Joshua.  She carried Marvin on her shoulder, a tripod on the other shoulder, set it all up and filmed every thing by herself. We were just standing there watching, helplessly.... she used her handphone to contact every one for appointment. Production assistants didn't have to coordinate her at all!! This is exactly the opposite of the advice I was given - you must have a team of three people to help the film director - one to coordinate, one to carry equipment, one to drive/find the scenes for shooting.

Morgan being mobbed by kids at Siem Reap, Cambodia, all wanting her to take pictures for them.

When she was filming Pong at the Twin Towers, I watched her from behind. Filmed everything by herself without any one carrying anything or organizing the subjects for her.  So energetic, so strong.....  I was in awe of the confidence and dedication. 

She is the production team herself!!
What a good role model for my daughter and the girl interns, and for all the eHomemakers members!! A woman can be skilled in traditional male domains such as filming a documentary with a camera. She can do this all by herself, and even better than any man!!!

By Chong Sheau Ching

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

The rough cut

Aptly named, because at times, it has been rough, but today, I feel a small sense of accomplishment as I finish a rough draft of the documentary.

Jenny at KLCC Petronas Towers
I have been obsessing over the Portraits of Perseverance project for the last three months.  It has been such a fulfilling and challenging experience, getting to know the five women, following them around, filming their lives and then finally going through the footage and trying to do their stories justice in a film format.

Nisha has a great voice!
Nisha, Jenny, Lucy, Sulastri and Ching Ching have such compelling personalities.  My job was fairly easy in that sense.  They jump off the screen when they recall the events that have shaped their lives.  I only hope I have captured that with my interviews and videos.

As I mentioned, it hasn’t been an easy process.  I have nicknamed my poor laptop Bruno.  I felt it was appropriate to name him since I am working him like a dog.  I have loaded hours and hours of footage, along with pictures, video journals, and text into my Vegas Pro software. I then proceeded to spend the last month fiddling around with it like pieces in a puzzle.  Every few minutes Bruno says, “I’m tired” and freezes or un-syncs the audio and video and then I have to turn him off and give him a rest.

Lucy in Cambodia, where she spoke at
a sub-regional workshop.
I am also going a bit stir-crazy staying inside all day, (even though C2 has given me a beautiful space in the eHomemakers office to work.) I woke up one day and February was half over! I asked myself, where did January go? 

When I arrived in KL back in November I felt like I had oodles of time, but this past six weeks has flown by.  As I edge towards the finish line of this momentous journey, I realize this has been so much more than just making a documentary.

Sulastri working on a beautiful quilt.
All of the women contributed.
During my three months in Malaysia I have learned about perseverance, patience, faith and family.  It might be hard for C2 and Rhon to believe, (I still have my angry moments), but I am a kinder, more sensitive and patient person now than when I left Canada.  The women in the Portraits of Perseverance film have been the best teachers I could ask for.  Watching them, and learning from them has changed me, I hope forever.

For the friendships, for the experience and for the adventure, I will be eternally grateful.
Ching Ching stretching before a walk.
She's possibly doing a Morgan immitation...

Stay tuned in the next few weeks for details on the finished product!!!!!  I leave March 10th so that is my deadline and everyone has to watch when it’s done. You will be amazed by the strength and inspiration of these women.  I know I was...
By: Morgan Reed