Friday, September 10, 2010

A tale of two sisters, shopping

By Petra Gimbad

Dedicated to my sister

“Above all, remember that the most important thing you can take anywhere is not a Gucci bag or French-cut jeans; it’s an open mind.” – Gail Rubin Bereny

It is one thing to shop for the office and another to shop for the jungle: an important realization.

Recently united, my sister and I embarked on a shopping spree long overdue in glitzy Kuala Lumpur.

We would find the best bargains for the best quality, and stuff that was pretty as it was practical for our village, jungle and street environments. We would go where no woman (or man) has gone before.

My sister is the researcher who hikes into villages and jungles at least every second week. I am the child protector who works in a red light area.

She gets to scrub her body frantically at the end of the day to search for leeches, and I get to scrub my head and feet for fear of tuberculosis and needles.

She needed, among other things, a pair of jeans: “I need them to hike in the jungle and to visit ketua-ketua kampung (village heads) – it’s disrespectful to wear track bottoms.”

So off to the mall we went.

First stop: Stage Cosmetics.

“Here, you help her – my sister knows nothing about lipsticks,” said my sister, who reviews skincare and cosmetics part-time. The lovely makeup assistant, B, had welcomed us and introduced an array of pink lipsticks.

“How about this?” B dabbed a shade of pink on my mouth.

“Too Siti Nurhaliza. I’m not a pop queen.”


“Alamak, too Mak Datin. I belum cari Datuk lagi!” (Oh dear, too Datin. I have not found a Datuk yet!)

“How about this now?”

“Er, very nice. But… people in my work area will think I’m a sex worker. I don’t want to unintentionally offend some tai kor (gang leader) if I say no when he asks what’s my price.” I was slightly miserable by then.

“Where do you work?”

My sister and I told him.

“Have you ever been asked whether you’re a prostitute?”

“No, but someone I know was.”

B gasped. “Apa jadi?” (What happened?)

“She said she was having her period, so maybe he can ask our colleague instead.”

He laughed.

Next: Caring Pharmacy.

We looked for moisturizers and sunscreen. A sales assistant suggested a brand.

“No, that doesn’t work in the jungle. My skin will peel,” said my sister absently. She turned and pointed to another brand. “Now this brand’s good if you’re planting padi (paddy). Aunty X uses it when she’s in the fields and she’s fairer than I am. But it breaks me out.”

“Maybe it only works if you’re working the paddy fields.” We pondered awhile before realizing the sales assistant had scuttled off.

Third stop: Metrojaya.

The fact that my sister works in an office on weekdays and that her feet are more attractive than mine made me sigh. We discovered a white pair of shoes that fit her perfectly.

I insisted that she purchase them: I cannot wear shoes that show dirt because of the street outreach component of my work and wanted to live vicariously through her feet.

“Value the fact that you work in an office, and able to wear heels and white shoes,” I exhaled dolefully. Her feet did look pretty.

The sales assistant tried to sell me a pair of high heels and I refused. As any clubbing kaki (buddy) would know, most women’s shoes in Malaysia are made for fashion and not function. Wear them for three hours and you will lose your toes.

Many Malaysians do not understand the word “No”. My sister helpfully explained to the assistant: “My sister can’t wear shoes she can’t run after kids in. She works with street children you know?”

The woman was flabbergasted. She tried to sell us another pair of heels, made in suede.

“No, no. I can’t rinse these in the sink. I need to be able to run in them, and rinse them to attend night functions.”

My sister turned to the sales assistant, “My sister is serious, you know.”

We knew we spoke gibberish when the assistant looked confused.

In the end, we abandoned the plan to buy a pair of jeans for my sister at the department store, opting for the market near my workplace instead.

“How much?” asked my sister.


“Ok – let’s go!”

The writer works at a children’s organization.

1 comment:

Ken Wooi said...

haha.. cheaper better huh? =P