My first writing retreat

Over 10 years ago, I began to wonder where I could find a community of writers¬†to hang out with in Malaysia. Of course, the writers must be meeting up somewhere in Malaysia, but where? ūüėČ

In June 2014, I went to the Cooler Lumpur Festival, where I signed up for three workshops. One of them was a writing workshop by Zen Cho. It was called¬†‚ÄėInspiration, Influence and Interaction‚Äô, which sounded very abstract, proper and serious, but it turned out to be really fun and engaging. At the workshop, I wrote a poem in 15 mins called ‘What am I to do?‘,¬†which ultimately started this blog.

At the end of¬†the workshop, I asked Zen Cho – where could I join a group for writers? Much to my delight, she said there was one called The Writer’s Tower on Facebook. After a few months of participating in the group’s writing prompts,¬†my friend Sheela Prabhakaran introduced me to the¬†Malaysian Writers FB Group¬†(#MYWriters) in late 2014. Being part of the group has been interesting and rewarding. I made new friends in the group, which I eventually met in person at the group’s various activities and write-ins. I participated in the group’s writing prompts, which gave me a lot of writing practice, and at the same time, gave me ideas to produce more writing, especially poems.

In August 2015, during the Independence Day weekend, I finally attended my first writing retreat, organised by #MYWriters. It was an interesting experience, which I finally got around to describing in an article last week. The article was published in the Pencinta Alam January 2016 issue. The Pencinta Alam is the national monthly newsletter of the Malaysian Nature Society, the largest and oldest homegrown environmental NGO in Malaysia.

Pencinta Alam Jan 2016_p.4

You can also read the article in plain text below:


 

The Malaysian Writers FB Group’s First Writing Retreat

Article by Khor Hui Min

The Malaysian Writers FB Group was set up by Tina Isaacs on 13 October 2014 as a platform and community by writers and for writers, that transcends genre, language, function, medium and experience levels. It was designed to be an inclusive and non-profit organisation for all writers in Malaysia, specifically Malaysian citizens/PRs, and foreign expats who write, live and work in Malaysia. This is the first such writers’ organisation in Malaysia. By December 2015, we had already pass the 2,500 members mark.

As one of our major landmark events leading up to the first year anniversary of the group’s inception, the admins Tina Isaacs and Gina Yap decided to hold our first writing retreat. At first, they surveyed potential apartments and hotels for rates, but these seem expensive because the retreat would run on from four to seven days. Understandably, many writers could not afford such accommodation. So, we spread our survey to include other options where accommodation costs would be minimal. Earlier on, I had heard of Nava’s Retreat in Genting Sempah, which belonged to Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam, a council member of the Malaysian Nature Society, and decided to enquire. The esteemed Tan Sri let non-profit organisations and charities use the bungalow for activities and programmes without charging any payment, and I hoped that he would consider our application to hold a writing retreat there. To our delight, he gave his consent, and we had the chance to write there for a week, and we only needed to share the costs to buy our own food.

There was a build-up of excitement leading up to the retreat. All kinds of people applied to join it, but in the end, nine writers from diverse backgrounds writing all kinds of projects came for the retreat. Head honcho Tina wrote a few short stories. Malay language novelist Gina Yap wrote thousands of words in a day for her upcoming thriller novella. Veteran novelist Chuah Guat Eng worked on her article series for The Star newspaper. Shankar was finishing up on his first novel. Sharifah Fareeda worked on her memoir. Paramananthan wrote a short story. Dr. Jayati Roy worked on refining her short stories and wrote a poem. I wrote a few poems and a short story. We all came with goals in mind and set out to fulfil them in the conducive environment of the comfortable bungalow, and the idyllic, natural surroundings of Genting Sempah.

Being the organising committee, Tina, Gina and I were the first to arrive ‚Äď on the afternoon before the retreat was officially supposed to start. We set up a long table and arranged chairs in the living area. On the day of arrival, the writers chose their own writing corners. Some picked to write at the long table we set up. Others chose to write at the sofa in the living area, while some selected the dining table, and one even set up a table at the back of the kitchen. Morever, some decided to write in their bedrooms on selected days. If we needed WiFi, we would go out to the McDonald‚Äôs at the R&R nearby in the evenings.

Everybody contributed money to buy food, and also brought their own. On the first night, we had a welcome BBQ at the porch area, then on Wednesday night, we had a steamboat dinner using my multipurpose cooker pot. In the mornings, I would make either lots of pancakes or French toast in my multipurpose cooker for breakfast and leave them on the dining table, then go for a walk in time for sunrise. Even though everybody worked on their own projects, eating together during mealtimes fostered camaraderie and a sense of community among us.

All in all, it was a great experience for us, and we look forward to the next annual retreat.


 

You can see the Pencinta Alam January 2016 issue by clicking on this link: PA Jan 2016

 

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RonovanWrites #Weekly #Haiku #Poetry Prompt #Challenge #76 Sing&Day

Christmas is just around the corner, and it is the season to be merry. I’m not a Christian, but I like Christmas like any other person on the street. To me, Christmas is about reconnecting with family and friends, and the spirit of giving.

For RonovanWrites Weekly Haiku Challenge this week, I was inspired by the season, Christmas songs, choirs, family reunions and the word prompts ‘song’ and ‘day’. ūüôā

Ronovan Writes Haiku Challenge


Songs of Joy

Let’s sing songs of joy
Remembering family
On this Christmas Day

Khor Hui Min
22 December 2015

#mindfulmonday: Mindfulness in eating

Like water, food is a necessity for survival. Some people love food and enjoy it, even to the brink of overindulgence. Others, on the other hand, view it as only a requirement to fill the tummy for continued sustenance.

Of course, caring for your family and what they eat every day is important, but what you put into your own body is equally important. Before we can care for others, we must ensure that we ourselves are strong, hale and hearty, so that we can carry out our tasks and responsibilities to the best of our abilities. If we fall sick, who is going to take care of us and our family?

Chicken Breasts with Cherry Tomatoes
Chicken breasts with cherry tomatoes

 

Be mindful of what you eat

‚ÄúThe path to healthy body, and happy soul is based upon self-study, mindfulness, love and awareness.‚ÄĚ

‚Äē Natasa Pantovic Nuit

Being mindful is not only about what we think. It also includes what we do and what we put into our bodies. Yes, food is fuel, but what kind of fuel we choose to put into our bodies to keep it running smoothly makes a difference.

There are many kinds of eaters out there. Some people are instinctively drawn to fresh, natural food such as fresh vegetables and fruits, and other fresh ingredients. They are satisfied with the natural flavours and textures of the fresh produce, hence they add minimal seasoning.

Roasted pumpkin
Roasted pumpkin wedges seasoned with nutmeg, cinnamon and olive oil

At the other extreme, there are people who prioritise convenience. These are busy people who work late and have no time for activities like cooking, so they buy and eat processed food of the frozen, canned and instant varieties. Anything that can be cooked in a microwave in a few minutes, or boiled in a pot in 5 mins are ideal. However, these types of convenience foods have a lot of seasoning, additives and preservatives. What is lacking in natural nutrients is made up for in artificial flavours and additives.

What is in processed food?

‚ÄúWe do food every single day! Conscious eating is a big step toward conscious living. Quality and quantity of food is directly related to our health and state of mind.‚ÄĚ

‚Äē Natasa Pantovic Nuit

Processed food is usually (mashed up) foodstuff shaped into something that looks appealing to consumers. If it does not look good enough, colouring is added to increase its attractiveness. If the flavour is not appetising enough, flavouring is added.

For example, a bag of chicken nuggets bought from the frozen food section in a supermarket is made up of minced chicken meat mixed with leftovers from the chicken processing industry. A¬†paper published in the¬†American Journal of Medicine by¬†Drs. Richard D. deShazo and Steven Bigler, and Leigh Baldwin Skipworth, B.A., who bought and analysed nuggets from two rival fast food restaurants, revealed that one nugget was 50 per cent chicken muscle – the part of the chicken that we generally refer to as ‘meat’. The other one was just 40 per cent meat. What about the rest of the nugget?¬†The 50 per cent nugget¬†contained a lot of added fat, blood vessels, nerves, glands and skin. As for the 40 percent nugget, it also contained¬†a lot of fat, bone and tendon.

Giving foods with notorious reputations a healthy makeover

‚ÄúUnderstanding our relationship to eating cultivates a lot of insights and help us start living our highest potential.‚ÄĚ

‚Äē Natasa Pantovic Nuit

A nugget is a nugget is a nugget, right? Well… not all nuggets are created equal. We can actually make our own healthy nuggets at home with 100% lean chicken breast meat. Each nugget is a whole chunk of chicken breast meat, and not minced meat.

Just search the Internet, and a multitude of healthy chicken nugget recipes appear in the search results. Here are some recipes you can try:

1. Herbed chicken nuggets
2. Healthy baked chicken nuggets
3. Healthy homemade chicken nuggets and chips

I plan on trying them real soon, and I hope you do too! ūüôā

Hamburger patties sold in the frozen section of supermarkets have an equally bad reputation. However, we can make healthy versions of burger patties too. All we need to start is to buy ground-up lean¬†chicken, beef or mutton from the market. Then we can add herbs and spices of our choice to the mix, including finely chopped garlic and onions. I experimented with a healthy¬†chicken and carrot burger patty¬†not long ago and it came out well. The recipe is on my other blog, which is all about food. ūüėÄ ¬†These hamburger patties can be made in advance and separated using grease proof paper or¬†cling wrap, packed neatly in containers, then stored in the freezer for future cooking. I think of it as homemade frozen food.

Cooling on kitchen towels to help soak up excess oil
Chicken and carrot burger patties

I hope you will take the time to try out healthier alternatives to processed food. It does not have to be complicated, but it is important to find something that works for you.

Happy experimenting! ūüôā

 

Further reading

  1. Mindfulness: From the garden to the table
  2. What’s your flavour? Mindful food preparation
  3. What’s inside chicken nuggets? Far less chicken than you’d think

 

 

3 poems published in EASTLIT Dec 2015

I have gotten into the habit of writing poems every week, and if I feel like it, a few a day. To me, it is a fun activity – an exploration of life and experiences, and sometimes the telling of fictitious stories, through an artful play of words. When I feel like it, I like to toy around with the number of syllables in each line, and mash up the rhyming schemes.

I was delighted when EASTLIT ‚Äď the Journal of English Literature, East and South East Asia, selected three of my poems to be included in the December¬†2015 issue. This is the second time EASTLIT has published my poems. The first was in the August 2015 issue.

 

Eastlit December 2015 Cover. Picture: Sunset Near Corbett, India by Kamakshi Lekshmanan. Cover design by Graham Lawrence. Copyright photographer, Eastlit and Graham Lawrence.

The three poems selected were The Happiness Within, Dance of the Sea and In Between. I have copied them from the journal and shared them with you below.

The Happiness Within & Other Poems

                                                                                              by Khor Hui Min

The Happiness Within

Happiness; ‚Äėtis an age-old pursuit
Humanity’s constant search
Would you rather refute?
Looking, high as the bird’s perch

How much for happiness?
Per chance a billion or two?
How much for completeness?
To make one whole; goodbye woe?

What does it take?
Conquer the highest mountain?
Swim to the abyss of a lake?
Drink from eternal youth’s fountain?

Who can bequeath it?
A father or mother?
The best mate; perfect fit?
Or why does one bother?

Happiness; ‚Äėtis not a void
To be filled and quenched
A gaping hollow; fixed by Freud
Or a deal to be clinched

Happiness comes from within
From the heart and soul; enduring
Fulfilment sprouts from therein
Life enriched; love encompassing

 

Dance of the Sea

A marvel of beauty and grace
In a garment of liquid lace
Expressive pirouettes; unfaltering
Enraptured in melody; pleasing
Existing only for the moment
In an intoxicating sea of movement
Living only to dance; shrouded in song
Where muses and sirens belong
Rhythmic figures of the deep
The ensemble that never sleeps

 

In Between

In between
Slumber and wakefulness

In between
Consciousness and unconsciousness

In between
Brightness and shadow

In between
Light and dark

In between
Sight and imagination

Was it there?
Or was it a dream?

Can we see beyond
Our limitations?

Or are we forever rooted
To the confines of our mind?

 

#mindfulmonday: Mindfulness in yoga

My journey in yoga started on 26 September 2006. It was an important day, that day I signed up at a small yoga centre with my friend in Sea Park, because prior to that, I had never been seriously interested in fitness and exercise. Walking was something I did to get from point A to point B. Running was something foreign to me. Swimming was a hobby, and the closest thing to an interest in exercise in my whole existence at the time.

Omega_Institute_Yoga_Girl_Wordcloud

 

Most people started playing sports rather early in life Рfrom childhood, to their teenage years, and their 20s. I heard from quite a number of people that they kind of get sidetracked after that. Exercise sort of took a back seat to work, social and family life, and relaxation time.

I was 30 when I started yoga. No spring chicken, but optimistic and hopeful nonetheless. It is never too late to try yoga. Of course, I had trouble touching my toes and all that in the beginning, but I refused to give up. After weeks and months, my body got used to it, and I began to enjoy the practice.

Yoga is a Personal Journey

There is presently a wide selection of classes available for students of various levels and capabilities. Hatha yoga, widely available in yoga centres throughout Malaysia, offers basic yoga training for all levels. Ashtanga is a series of graceful yoga postures synchronised with the breath. Some practice prajna paramita, where the focus is on the breath Рpractising various breathing techniques and meditation. There is also mindfulness yoga, which I have not had the good fortune to experience yet.

Yoga means different things to different people. To some, yoga is a challenge to be conquered Рto master difficult poses such as inversions and arm balances. To others, yoga in a hot room is great to work up a sweat to detox the body after a whole day of sitting in a cold air-conditioned office. To a few, yoga is a form of stress relief and therapy for aches and pains from past injuries, as well as sore back and limbs.

To me, yoga is a personal journey, and each of our journeys is special and unique. Due to anatomy, not everyone can master the same poses, and not everyone can master all poses. Certain people will find certain poses easier than others. Some may be flexible, so they can be good at poses that require bending, stretching and binding. Others may possess good upper body strength, hence they can be good in arm balances.

Tulipmania @ Flower Dome, Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

Mindfulness in Yoga

To me, mindfulness is an important aspect of yoga. We usually begin our yoga practice with sitting meditation Рit is a centering exercise, where we focus on the breath to help us calm down, empty our minds of all thoughts and concentrate on the present. We take deep breaths, fill our lungs with oxygen to energise our body, and we settle down into the class. Our heartbeat slows to a relaxed rate. Then, there is only the here and now in the yoga class for an hour.

Over the years, I have cultivated mindfulness during the yoga class as well. I focus on the yoga instructor, his or her voice and demonstrations, and I focus on my own posture, the poses and the sensation in my limbs and body. To balance, I clear my mind of thoughts and gaze softly at a single static point in front of me in the room. In this way, I cultivate a semi-meditative state throughout the one-hour class. In doing so, I not only build strength and flexibility, have a good stretch and a good workout, but I also come out of the class with a relaxed and calm mind.

Most people think of meditation as a static practice, where people traditionally sit quietly on the ground or on a chair, or even lie down. However, there is also a form of meditation known as dynamic meditation, where there is movement involved. For example, even walking can be a form of dynamic meditation. In this dynamic form of practice, the movement is frequently repetitive or rhythmic, and so I have brought the essence of this idea into my yoga practice. I find BodyBalance most conducive for this, where the class incorporates repetitive Tai Chi, Yoga and Pilates moves.

Tulipmania @ Flower Dome, Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

Yoga for Life

To me, yoga is something that can be practised¬†by people of all ages¬†throughout their lives,¬†according to individual abilities. Just do what is suitable and¬†holistic, rather than force ourselves to achieve impressive poses through pain and suffering. At the end of the practice, we should feel good –¬†our body should feel good, and we should feel good about ourselves. ūüôā

Further Reading

1. Bring More Mindfulness onto the Mat
2. Hatha Yoga
3. Ashtanga Yoga
4. Prajna Paramita
5. Yoga & Mindfulness for Kids

 

 

 

#ThreeWordWednesday: Island Interlude

This week, I stumbled across an interesting website that offered a three-word writing prompt every Wednesday. It is aptly called the Three Word Wednesday.¬†I wrote a poem entitled¬†‘Island Interlude’ for 3WW Week No.456, which offers the word prompts ‘lackadaisical’, ‘makeshift’ and ‘nude’.

My poem¬†is about the build-up to the Penang Bridge International Marathon¬†2015, which was held on 22 November 2015. It was my first run out of the Klang Valley. Travelling with a bunch of veteran marathoners to Penang, the Pearl of the Orient, and back was fun. I learnt a lot listening to stories about their¬†adventures. ūüôā

Marathon_start
Penang Bridge International Marathon 2015: Waiting at the start line for the flag-off for the 10km women’s run at 7am.

 

Island Interlude

The bridge is jammed up; weekend’s here
Holidaymakers throng the streets
Bringing an air of festive cheer
The run at Queensbay tomorrow
Footsteps of thousands we will hear
White makeshift canopies and tents
Reflecting the heat from skies clear
The fairgrounds await happy crowds
While lackadaisical youths peer
At the preparations on site
And gawk at ladies with veneers
Powdered with Urban Decay nudes
Party plans move on in full gear
We wait in anticipation
It’ll be the event of the year


Khor Hui Min
8 December 2015

Georgetown
Georgetown on Monday morning, 23 November 2015. Photo taken from an overhead pedestrian crossing. Georgetown is the capital of Penang state.

 

About the Penang Bridge International Marathon 2015

Since its inception in 1986, the Penang Bridge International Marathon has gained popularity not only in its home country of Malaysia, but attracted participants from Asia and beyond. Over 28,000 runners signed up for the 2015 marathon.  Organized by the Penang State Tourism Development office and supported by the State Government of Penang, the marathon is held annually on the iconic Penang Bridge, which connects the island of Penang to Peninsular Malaysia.

 

 

 

 

 

#MindfulMonday: The victim, the hero & the villain

Most of you do not know this, but I work in educational publishing. One of the more interesting projects under my care for 2015 was a new project on personal development, and when we work on these projects, we have to read and digest the material in order to understand it, before we can edit it and make improvements to it. Furthermore, we have to ensure that the right kind of graphics compliment the text in the best way.

One of the topics that stood out for me was Gary Harper’s ‘Drama Triangle’, where the people involved in a conflict often feel that they are trapped – not by the conflict itself, but by¬†their perceived pigeon-holed roles of either the victim, the hero or the villain.

In a state of conflict

Conflict‘ is¬†a serious disagreement or argument, typically a protracted one.

The Oxford Dictionary

In order for people to co-exist harmoniously, there needs to be tolerance, patience, and an attitude of give and take, among other practices. Due to the fact that people are individuals with different outlooks, belief systems, perceptions and experiences, there will surely be conflicts when they have to co-exist Рlive together, work together, and share resources.

A conflict is a situation where people perceive that their interests, goals, needs or values have somehow been ‘interfered with’, threatened or undermined.

A simple example of conflict: Two families lived side by side in a row of double-storey terrace houses. We will call them Family A and Family B. In front of them, there was a large strip of empty land covered with grass and a few sparse trees planted by the housing developer. Both families decided to utilise the empty land immediately in front of their own houses to plant vegetables and fruit trees. At first, everything is fine. They shared gardening knowledge, sometimes even borrowing and lending gardening equipment amongst themselves. This peaceful co-existence continued for many years. Then, one day, Family A’s extended family,¬†the man of the house’s mother, came to visit for a few weeks. After a few days, she pointed out to her son that Family B was planting too close to their vegetable patch – they are encroaching into their space. She insisted that her son demand that Family B remove the offending vegetables so that Family A’s vegetable patch¬†remains intact. The two families had been friends for years. The head of Family B was very surprised that Family A took this matter so seriously. To them, they thought that they had remained well within their boundaries, hence they refused to remove the offending vegetables. The two families stopped talking to each other and now view each other with distrust.

 

The Drama Triangle

As long as we see ourselves as victims or heroes, we automatically create villains in our conflict.

Gary Harper

In ‚ÄėThe Joy of Conflict‚Äô, Gary Harper described conflict¬†using the metaphor of¬†a¬†‚Äėdrama triangle‚Äô, where the parties in the conflict are actors playing three classic roles – the¬†victim,¬†the villain,¬†and the hero.

The Drama Triangle

An easy example we can use is a classic fairytale Рthe victim is often a helpless damsel in distress or a weak defenseless child, the villain is often a vicious fire-breathing dragon, a heartless witch, or a man-eating giant, and the hero is typically a handsome prince or a knight in shining armour.

These classic roles can be seen everywhere – in novels, in television programmes and in the movies. They are so prevalent that we do not even think about them. Furthermore, as the conflict progresses, we might change our roles!

Monkey_god1.jpg
The Monkey God (Chinese name: Sun Wukong), a famous hero from Chinese legends. Photo taken in Lijiang Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Yunnan, China in October 2013.

 

Now, let’s look at the earlier example of the two feuding families. Family B thought¬†of itself as the victim, while they viewed Family A as the villain. If they wanted to bring the conflict to a third party to help them resolve it once and for all, they can approach the head of the resident association of the housing area – and this person will be the hero.

 

The show’s over: Getting out of the roles

Conflict cannot survive without your participation.

Once we are aware of this drama triangle that we have invariably put ourselves in, we can take steps to get ourselves out of it. Firstly, we must take a step back and determine what role that we have (subconsciously) put ourselves in. Maybe we thought of ourselves as the victim (highly likely).

Now, we look at¬†who we thought was¬†the villain – the person we perceived to have¬†wronged us, treated us unfairly, got us in trouble, etc. We need to drop the ‘villain’ label. We must look at this person as someone we must work together with to solve the problem at hand. Thus, there are no longer any victims or¬†villains in this conflict.

By doing this, we can successfully move beyond this quagmire of a drama triangle, solve the problem bothering us, and then get on with our lives with the least amount of fuss.

For our example of Family A and Family B, they can actually agree to have their vegetable and fruit tree plots measured out and demarcated with sticks driven into the earth at the four corners and have lines of rope all around the plot. So each family will have a plot of identical size and shape.

 

Finding Balance

haikuhorizonsbig

This week’s word prompt by Haiku Horizons is ‘balance’. So, I thought about striking a balance in life. Nowadays, people lead really busy lives, chasing all manner of deadlines and goals, day after day. How do most of them find a balance between personal life and work?

 

Finding Balance

Making sense of life
How do we strike a balance?
In the here and now

Khor Hui Min
7 December 2015

 

 

 

RonovanWrites #Weekly #Haiku #Poetry Prompt #Challenge #73 Black&White

I read with interest that Ronovan is¬†starting a free eBook project to share the work of those participating in the weekly haiku poetry prompt challenge. The book will first be published as an eBook on Smashwords. After a period of time, the book will be put on Amazon as well. This is something to look forward to in 2016. ūüôā

Now, on to today’s entry for week #73 of the weekly haiku challenge. The word prompts are ‘black’ and ‘white’.

Flower Dome, Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

Black or White

What do colours mean?
Does it matter ‚Äď black or white?
Fresh outlook needed?

Khor Hui Min
6 December 2015