Saturday, October 07, 2006

Extraordinary everyday people

I like everyday people, people you see going about their daily lives, without others taking interest in what they do. But I do. This is the story (it shouldn’t be a story, because it’s real) of an extraordinary girl (lady) called Salmah.

I met her in the bus, going back to KL. Yes, I still do commute with the bus, at least I’m saving the environment from additional smoke emissions from my car! We’ve enough smoke from the haze already, and from my hostel neighbour…ooopsey daisy…shh…the authorities don’t know she smokes…and we didn’t report… smoking is banned in the hostel…oh heck, she doesn’t know the existence of my blog anyway, so there.

Sorry about the environmental rant, now back to Salmah. I take my seat beside a girl who’s studying a book on Kanji (Japanese writing). She then keeps the book and doze off before I could become nosey. So I decide to shut my eyes too (not sleep, just into alhpa mode).

She wakes up as the bus stops for WC break

Me: (Upon seeing her fidgeting) Uh, do you wanna get out?
Salmah: No, just adjusting my position. So, where are you from? Student?
Me: Yeah, UTP. (I skip the working for a few years then taking Masters part, in my vain attempt to give the “I’m still a student” impression to others, haha). Likewise ?
S : I’m a lecturer in UiTM (she looks young to me, I thought she’s a student. She’s 29)
Me: I see that you’re studying Japanese (being nosey).
S : Yeah, I plan to pursue my Masters in Japan. So I’m taking this class to learn Japanese. I commute every weekend (from Sri Iskandar, Perak to KL). It’s on every Saturday, 5pm in Cheras.
Me: (Impressed !! Woah , that’s perseverance !) It must be really tiring then.
S: Yes, but I want to do this. I want to pursue my Masters in Fine Arts (Glass Design). I design sculptures, specializing in glass. It’s still in its infancy in Malaysia, that’s why I want to pursue this in Japan, and bring the technology here. We don’t have the machines to design glass here. (She talks with so much passion, I am in awe) You can sculpt it the way you want, it’s not solid, imagine Colgate (toothpaste), you can twist and bend it.
My ultimate dream is to open my own gallery and be able to tell people what I’m trying to convey with my sculptures, and of course, to sell them !
Me: Have you sold any of your designs?
S: (Proudly beams) Yes ! I’ve sold one that was featured in a magazine! Only that it features the owner’s house who happens to buy my art, and it was pictured in the mag. Although it didn’t mention the designer , I’m still proud ! (You go girl !!)
Me: How much you sold it for? (Being nosey again)
S: About RM 1K + (Hmmm…not bad…)
Me: That’s good money !
S : It can fetch thousands of dollars, provided if you’re famous! I’ve seen designs that to me, it’s just ordinary, but people still buy it for exorbitant prices because the designer is famous! So, in this field, you have to build up your name first. Then you’ll be able to get a market.
But it’s not that simple! You know how I started? My SPM result was not good. I took my STPM in Malay Literature after that.
Me: But that’s not in your line of art ! How did you get interested in arts?
S: It was natural for me. I had the flair. I found it easy to draw things, and I’ve always liked arts. I took Malay Literature because I’d like to start from scratch, start all over again. There are so many words in Malay that you still don’t know! But anway, my STPM result was also not good. I didn’t get the cert, just a partial pass. So after STPM, I took odd jobs. One of it was painting a mural at a school. I liked arts, I liked doing it.
Then someone from the Education Ministry saw my mural, and suggested that I apply to study Arts in UiTM. I followed his advice. I’m a kampung girl, from remote Kuala Lipis (yes, I know someone famous is also from there). I knew I had to get out of there, broaden my horizon. I have to go to KL. So I applied for Diploma in Fine Arts, based on my SPM result, and I was accepted into UiTM Shah Alam. But it’s a nightmare there! Lunch alone costs almost RM 10. I didn’t have money, I’m from a poor family, my father has passed away, just me, my sister and my elderly mother. But I persevere. At one point, to save money to buy things for my projects, I’d buy a loaf of long, cream bread, which costs RM1, and I’d break it into 3 portions – for breakfast, lunch and dinner. (At this point, I felt how lucky I am to be able to eat everyday, as I please, and sometimes, just throw the leftovers, when someone, somewhere, does not have money and is constantly in hunger. So be thankful! Don’t complain if your food doesn’t taste good, at least YOU GET TO EAT! Some don’t, some cry in hunger, SOME DIE OF HUNGER)
S: When I finished my Diploma, I decide to pursue a Degree. So I applied for UiTM Sri Iskandar (USI) to get out of KL, because I can’t afford the cost of living there. I was accepted. After finishing my Degree in May this year (2006), I applied to teach in USI, then pursue my Masters under UiTM’s lecturer program to pursue my dream! I didn’t get accepted instantly, so I worked odd jobs again. I worked in a restaurant in KL, and it was so tiring ! At this point of time, I’d started my Japanese class already, it’s self financed. Again, at one point, I was without money, so with a thick face, I asked the restaurant manager where I work to lend me money to pay for my Jap class. Fortunately, he was kind enough to lend me some. Then in July, I was accepted and started teaching at USI. My goodness! There are so many kinds of students here. I’m teaching Fine Arts. Some of them are just not interested, some are arrogant, they won’t listen to me. I sometimes feel like deducting their marks for those who caused me trouble, but I told myself, not to judge them by what they’ve done to me, but by their quality of work. There are students from rural areas and poor, so I have the responsibility to change their fate. There’s also arrogant students, one girl didn’t silent her hp, and answers the phone in class, when I myself, never disrupt the class. So I expect them to do the same. It’s really tiring to teach, to study (Jap class) and to design my sculptures at the same time! But I believe I can do it! (You just don’t know how very respectful and full of admiration I am of her already at this point)
Me: (I never said anything, just my mouth gaping open, but not that big, in awe)..continue listening..
S: I taught them from the very basics, that’s why some of them wouldn’t listen when they feel they already know. Do you know there’s a method to draw a straight line without a ruler? And it’s really straight! And do you know to be able to do that, you have to sharpen your pencil a certain way to get that result! No, I’m not telling you how ! Haha (Cheeky !) I told them to go back during their break to get an object of nature, bring it back, and draw it in their own imaginative ways. Some just picked up leaves from the campus area, and they were shocked when I told them I knew they took them from campus! I told them I’ve already collected almost everything from the campus compound for my own project! Oh, speaking about projects, I remember, when I was a student, I didn’t sleep for days! I’d keep perfecting my design, until the last minute, it would still be imperfect for me! Even my lecturer was worried that I may not able to finish them in time. But I knew myself, and I did. You know, we, art people, can be so engrossed with our work that we won’t be realizing the passing of day and night. It’s like something has taken over you, like you’ve been possessed, it’s not you who’s working, but that “something”. That’s why people like us can continue work for days without sleeping! I try to “break out” from that possession and keep sanity by praying. (Is it true that M Nasir once was admitted to a mental hospital? But then again, these are the kind of people who are flowing with creative juices, I envy them)
Me: (As we are approaching Dewan Bahasa & Pustaka) What do you think of that mural? (on its building. I ask this because I’ve read an article about the state of public appreciation of art in Malaysia )
S: It’s not really abstract, you can see the meaning directly about Malaysia’s multi racial nation and progress towards development. (I agree). Have you seen the sculptures at Taman ASEAN?
Me: Yes (trying to remember the picture from the article I read). I don’t understand the meaning.
S : Those are abstracts. It depends on your own interpretation. That shows how Malaysians do not see the value of art, and is just not appreciative. (I am slightly embarrassed, but I still don’t get the meaning of those sculptures! At least I have an “acquired taste” in music, I’d like to believe that, haha.. Hey, not many people “get” the kind of music I listen to anyway. I’ve noticed this – I stayed outside hostel before, during my degree, and stayed with Industrial Design students, and mixed with them. It’s true, they can work without sleeping for days. I exchanged CDs / music with them, they dig what I listen to, and it’s really cool because I can discuss with them on my other passion- music. But I still don’t play any instruments, except the keyboards, no! That’s the computer keyboard I’m referring to haha)
S: Hey, we’re already here (Puduraya). Thanks for listening.
Me: Sure, I enjoyed it. Thanks to you too!
S : I’m going the other way. OK bye!
Me: Bye! (And later regretted that I didn’t get her hp no. It’s really interesting to befriend her. Perhaps I’ll try to find her out. USI not’s really far from my hostel)

If you are reading this, then you’ve managed to read that lengthy conversation till the end (unless you’re cheating!). If you didn’t cheat, I thank you very much because I really want people to know about these kind of people, their story. They are the inspiring ones, and I’d sure like to meet more of them!



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