Wichita, Kansas


Among friendly strangers


It was wet and gloomy Saturday but I was feeling strangely funky. It was supposed to be a busy Saturday with an outstation appointment in Kuantan and my already-missing-many-hours-class in the afternoon. But my FB status read “ OK everything else can wait, I’m going to my WSU reunion”. It was two days away and had to make a few phone calls to ”divert” the task and free my Saturday. Well you know the little mouse has to move swiftly and discreetly so not to wake up the big bossy cat…so to speak.In the beginning I was not too keen to join the event although it’s just 10 minutes drive from my doorsteps; I have been to many reunions(read about WSU Reunion 2010 here) and everything about it is the same. The enthusiasms are highly charged, expectations sometime are heart-wobbling, nostalgia reigns supreme, old wounds would bleed again and some unfinished business would see a new beginning. I went with warmth nostalgic memories but often returned home feeling so empty and lonely. I can hardly manage those feelings due to reasons that I don’t know to explain myself; maybe the reconnection to the past times is not good to a man at my age. That’s only my guess. The thing is that I don’t need to feel empty and lonely again because I have a home and a family that I love very much. They wil never leave me; but friends do…they come and go. Sometime they come back again but some never do. Maybe this one is different ,I don’t know.
The afternoon sky continued to sprinkle but it did not dampen my spirit to be with my friends. My thoughts played and replayed the old faces that might be there. The things that we did in the many summers in Wichita or the many nights during the cold Midwerstern winters. Enduring the slippery icy roads to buy groceries at Foodbarn or Safeway. The long drives to visit friends for summer holidays or winter breaks. I long to enjoy reminiscent of those times with my good old friends; well only if they showed up …..The days in Wichita have always been special to me. It was really my home away from home; the place I grew up to know the world…and my own self. I never had a chance to go my own way before that; I lived the life of other people—my family, my school teachers etc always someone else charted the way how to live my life. But in Wichita I played my own songs and picked my own melodies. I drew the picture of my life the way I wanted it to be; sometime it took me to places and made me do things out of my ordinary mind frame. I fell and tumbled but always had the energy to get up and get going again. I had my friends with me that I could rely and get help. Maybe today I will have the chance to celebrate those moments again and be thankful for being “ the wind beneath my wings”…only if they showed up of course. The bad times in Wichita were not so bad at all; even when I failed so many classes I did not feel failed or stupid. But it took me to conquer the subject until I was so comfortable with it—the subject like English and Maths. I now know that classroom lessons like my academic classes did not help me too much to learn about life. They were boring and not fun at all. Especially the summer classes when you had to drag yourself to the class when everyone else was enjoying the summer sun shines. But I failed a lot in many relationships which I hope will not turn this reunion into an ugly Malay drama.Ahh..I’m sure she’s not coming and that ugly boyfriend is no longer her mate…maybe he’s dead for all I care. No I think I’m okay…it was not that serious..I was mainly “perasan syok sendiri” kind of thing. I was really bad in that category…with the lady and all…..never knew how to ”mengorat”; in the end—aah what the heck!…susah betul nak layan minah sorang ni….and that was the end of everything.
I know the place of the event very well; I came to smash the little white balls every now and then. But today I came without the set, the cap and the towel but with warm and happy feelings to meet the faces that have been disappeared for more than 25 years. Such a long time but ironically felt just like a few years ago. Time really flies when you are old. I went in and greeted everyone. The surprise faces and handshakes follow every greeting. At first, I felt so out of place..were they really my friends? Of course they were but I could not remember their names. Are they strangers to me now? I hope not; strangers don’t greet you like that. I did not eat that much because I was not hungry but took the food anyway just to be in the queue and made myself similar to everyone else. After the what?Who?Why?Where?and when? Questions I didn’t know how to continue, the conversations immediately died—usually happen when you talk to strangers. I moved on , snapped a few photos and greeted another person. Soon I met everyone but my buddies were not there. So I was right—only strangers come to a reunion.

The committee has done a good job, I must say. It’s not easy to put together an event like that—someone must be sacrificing a lot of money and effort to see this event materialized. I hope he or she will be happy as so many of us had turned up. And I also hope for me to have a chance to continue supporting them in whatever way I can. Maybe this one event didn’t turn to be as I expected but who knows what will happen in the future—things will come your way insyaALlah.

Shockers Reunion 2010

It happened last Saturday Nov 13, 2010. What can I say ? Chaotic. Noisy. Deafening. Everyone was trying to say something all at the same time. I guess the 20-odd years being apart is just too much for everyone. Too many stories to tell, too many confusions to explain and too many wrongs to be corrected. We wanted to nod more than what to agree, or laughed louder to the jokes than what they deserve. Being friendlier than what it used to be. We missed each other a lot, I can say that for sure. I saw many familiar faces, some were not so familiar and a few that I never knew existed in Wichita. But it was great fun don’t get me wrong. It’s always good to know someone especially your old friends. Friendship binds people in a very unique way; transcends who we are and where do we come from. Sometime we depended on each other more than anything /anyone else. We learnt things with each other and from each other. Very often we made mistakes together and now realized how stupid we were to even been thinking about it. But as friends we did not get on each other’s back so to speak for the mistakes that we had done. We survived through it. For a few days after the reunion I was trying to absorb all in; putting every single face into my mental compartments and relate them with a story, now and then. I must say that I was speechless the other day; just did not know where to start and what to ask. A usual me that I think will never change. I just did not want to spoil things, that’s all.

Ironically, everyone does not change that much. The second look will see that old face again. The body gets blimp up here and there, of course, but basically I saw my Wichita friends like we always do day in day out some 20-odd years ago. The MC asked, What was your most memorable moment in Wichita?—a very hard question for me to answer because every single moment was so memorable to me. I talked about some of it here, here and here. I am indebted to each and everyone of you guys for being there in Wichita with me. Maybe after the excitement has settled down a bit, we could think of how we can help each other now. Or is it a little too late for that? I hope not. Having family and all plus the burden of keeping own self healthy, we can use all the help we can get.

But the important thing is that we have done the first step; and everybody seems to be happy. In the next event, if we could get a bit more people to join in, it would be another great success.

Behind those smiles and laughter ,we keep within our own little secrets. Maybe it was not time to revisit those secrets but when we do, we will be in another level of reunion- the one that redefines our present. But there is nothing to be afraid, it might be more fun than we thought.

Defining Moments of my Life

Living in Wichita in the early 80’s has indeed defined my life in many ways. It was the prime time of my adolescence and come to think of it, right now, I feel the details of those moments have later on become a big chapter of my life. But the life I was living back then was as flat as the land of the Midwest itself. There was nothing extra-ordinary to it but being in the strange land surrounded by strange people carved a strange character without much effort. I learnt a lot of things over there, well, since that time of your life you started to know many things , of course you must experience a lot of learning. The thing that I treasure until this day is the part when I learnt how to choose and make decision on my own. Somehow you have to because of you living away from your parents and what not. I made a lot decisions and lived with the consequences of what I have decided. Sometime there were good decisions but mostly there were plain stupid, so I thought. When I look back OMG why did I do that, or that? But hey who cares! I have survived through that you know. I learnt how to drive although my car was sitting there parking most of the time. It was an old Mazda RX-7. When my friend Azmi wanted to buy his car I kinda ask him to buy one for me. Just like when you know a friend going travelling you kinda ask him to buy you a cool t-shirt. It was like that and the car cost me 400 dollars. But the car broke down most of the time; I changed the exhaust system once for 400 dollars and still it could not run as well as it should be . Bad decision. Once I drove it to the mosque for a maghrib prayer and hit a sign post . That was the end of it; I just left it there by the road side and the next time I passed by, it was towed away. I had a Ford Fiesta once; nice little car that I paid for 700 dollars. It ran better than my other cars and used it to drive everywhere during that summer. I brought Abdul fatah to test drive the car when I wanted to buy it but I spoilt the negotiation. He was furious. Someone told me that these people prefer cash buy(well who doesn’t, duh!) so right away I offered him cash well before Abdul fatah said anything. Why did you ask me to come along if you want to do that? He was obviously upset. I felt bad and it was really stupid of me; I could get the car for a lot less. Another lesson for me, don’t rush into things.
Love life. Well that was the time when everybody else was having a good love life except me ( and a few other losers like me..hahaha). It did not bother me that much actually because I did not know how to anyway. I found fun and laughter with the guys until sometimes I wondered if I was gay. The AIDS disease was found in 83-84 so I just came to know what “gay” means. But to manage love life (or sex life) was really a daunting task for me. So I just let it go without putting much effort into it.

Read about my other recollections here and here.

Academically, it was hard as well. But Alhamd I manage to get through. I learnt Computer Science without knowing how great the technology will be later on in life. I did programming by punching holes in a card; so ancient that my student could not imagine how. So you carried a round a stack of cards in your bag? Heck yes! And imagine also if that stack of cards fell off and scattered all over the place; you would be devastated. But I persevered and dragged my self one semester after another, only to know later in life that programming skill is the lifeline of my career. I also struggled with English (read here!) but later on came to love the language; and now I will never let it go. Everyday I will write in English and brush up my grammar as well as vocabs. I’m still sometime confuse between “is” and “are”, the active and passive verbs etc but the beauty is that the language is so rich and vast you won’t get to the end of it. But in the end I did not make good grades just a pass. I felt nothing to cherish or to shout out loud; I did not bother to attend the convocation. What the heck for?
And in the summer of 1987 Ahmad Azhar Wagiran and Mazlan(thank you guys!) drove me to Peoria ,IL for my grad school. Another exciting chapter of my life was about to begin.

Halal meat and cooking meals

Saudi brothers doing the lamb.
I’ve got it. I think!
The view from my front door ! WSU campus was just across the street.

I am supposed to finish up my programming today about my research but you know I just feel not in the mood to do anything academic today. Well actually it has been for the last two weeks I think; the laziness has overtaken the noble intention to produce an award winning research product that will save the world from something…. But as I sat still in front of my half written screen my mind set off to the far far away land that I used to live and used to wake up to the glorious summer sunshine. Wichita looked like home in the summer only hotter. The wind blew in the heat as if you put your bare ass in front of the hot oven. So we spent a lot of time outside the house because most of us could not afford an air conditioner. In the summer we would go around the farms looking for lambs. Since halal meat was so difficult to get some of us would go and slaughtered the lambs ourselves. The farm owners would always be stunned with the way we handled the animals. But as we explained that this is our way then they would leave us alone. “tell me once you guys have finished, I’ll be out front” he would say as he left us, maybe disgusted or something. Actually he would be in a lot of trouble if somebody find out about this as it is illegal to kill animals without permit in America. I slaughtered a calf once with my friend at the back of a farm way outside Wichita. The farm owner came to us with a big hammer. “what is that for?” I asked him “ to kill that little cow, of course” he said. Usually he would hammer that thing down before he cut out the meat. I explained to him how we are gonna do it. “Okay whatever you say boys” he shrugged and threw the hammer to the corner of the barn. I think we worked on that calf for about 2 hours; took us sometime because we did not how to skin it properly.
The trip was always exciting—summertime fun. I’m the one with the ass-face look (leftmost).
But getting halal meat was always a priority to us and alhamdulillah we managed to get it eventually. During thanksgiving time we would go and get some turkeys (ayam belanda) and that would last a week or so. Sometime we had to travel all the way to Kansas City to buy some halal meat; or the nearby Stillwater Oklahoma for halal chickens. To resort to non-halal meat was really an excuse. Towards the end of my stay in Wichita the local supermarket had stocked some frozen chickens and were labeled “halal”….but we stayed away from ‘em because we did not really trust these people. Seafood was really expensive as they came in frozen so we did not get much of fish, crabs or anything like that. We bought some dried sotong once from a Thai store and that didn’t do anything good to us as we did not know how to cook them. Speaking of cooking, that’s really a big challenge. Most of us did not know how to cook but at the same time we did not eat outside; so the solution is to take turns and do whatever you feel like with the meat or chicken. As long as it is “eatable” we just swallowed it down. At first it did not work out well because some of the cooking just “not meant for human consumption”; but after a while we get used to frying chicken without burning it. So it was okay.

I learnt how to make curry so every time it’s my turn to cook then it would always be curry. Since santan wasn’t there; I used tomato paste instead. Now it is my favorite dish to cook curry with tomato paste. Quite delicious, you know. OK time to go now. Tomorrow I will come back and stare at my half written screen again hoping for the program to finish. Hopefully the mood will get better; otherwise I will tell you another story !

Wichita & The Wheat shockers

The Wichita State University; I was still skinny so it must be during my first year there (with Halim)
I was in Wichita during the golden years of my adolescence. It was the time I learnt to pick up my life from the shattered memories back home. I really wanted to change and be someone. The years in Wichita had really seen me grow up to face the world. I owe it to my friends at Wichita during that time for supporting me in every way. Well, there were about 500 Malaysian students in and around Wichita during that time , so it was really at home.

International Day at WSU
Wichita had become home for the next four years or so. I lived in an apartment at the Wheatshocker Apartments.It was a nice place but not a type of accommodation that we
used to back home in Malaysia…..it was like living in a hostel that I hated so much. But you have to service the contract so I was stuck there for another year I think.

My favorite place in Wichita(North Roosevelt) where I spent most of my time living in one of these houses

at 1747 North Roosevelt with Yahya and Rosli

At the WSU,  learning computers and programming was primitive. Back then we used punch card machines to type in the programs, and then we brought that stack of cards to the machine reader that would read the program , compiled and executed it. Sometimes it took two or three days to get the run back, just compare it to what we have today. I learnt Pascal, PL/1 and Cobol that way. By the second year we had a terminal ( a monochrome with IBM blue console) and that was a relief as the execution of the program had gotten much easier.

at The Wichita Airport

Summer time in the Midwest was hot and dry. Most Americans would escape the hot summer in Wichita by holidaying at the coasts; but most of us would take that opportunity to catch up with the summer school. So most of the summers I would be hanging around Wichita for classes and lab sessions. It was really hot sometime, I tell you. We would spent time playing a lot in the afternoon; basketball, American football, tennis etc. There were so many of us, so finding team members to play with would not be a problem. We did go traveling after the summer school finished; about a month or so before the new semester began.

on the way back from LA

America is a big country so traveling by car will take you across an endless plain field of the Midwest. Usually we would hire a car and went around the country visiting friends at the big cities like LA, New York or Florida. The drive was long and seemed endless but we always had company as everybody was into traveling in the summer. The rest areas would be packed with people and it was like a “funfair atmosphere” sometimes.

having picnic at the lake in Wichita

my favorite past time

with the trophy we were fighting for that summer.

The fall season was short as we spent at the lecture rooms most of the time. Otherwise watching NFL or NBA on the telly. Before you knew it the cold season had arrived. Cold wind blew you off at minus degrees most of the time. And the rain just spoilt your day; could not go out and play like we used to in the summer. Towards the end of my stay; WSU had just opened up a new gymnasium, so we spent playing basketball and what not over there in the big gym. By Christmas, the snow would arrive making the roads and the fields white. Winter season was nasty in Wichita; sometime there was an ankle-high snow on the road. It was beautiful, no doubt, as the snowflakes covered the leaves and branches; but after a while when the sun took a peek for a few hours, the snow turned icy , dirty, and slippery and that would be mighty dangerous. Days were short in the winter and most of the time the atmosphere was cold, dark and gloomy. Utterly depressing. So most of us would escape the long cold winter in Wichita to join other Malaysians at a convention somewhere. It will be quite sometime to see the snow before the spring arrived in Feb/March.

at a Malaysian Students Convention in Houston

relaxing in between the lectures
The cycle began again for us there, with the school and all, but every time the new season began I would feel like growing up into a whole new world. In fact Wichita had taught me a lot and will remain as part of my life for a long long time.

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