I was born in Hospital Kuala Lumpur on 14 September 1983.

I am the only daughter. I have an elder brother Wafi who is two years older than me. Then there was a 14 year gap and my little brother Aqil arrived. There is a big age difference because my mum remarried. Aqil is a special child: he has Down’s Syndrome. But don’t let that fool you; he’s as smart as a button.

I’ve lived in this house since I was two years old. I grew up with my grandparents and my mum. It was like having your parents around all the time. I had three parents. I called my grandparents ‘mama’ and ‘papa’. I call my mother Mummy.

My mum and I are very good friends. I don’t feel my mum should work anymore. I want my mum to just be chilling in the house or meeting up with her girlfriends. When I am rich, she won’t have to work anymore.

I grew up in Shah Alam because my mum wanted to raise me in a good neighbourhood. What I love about my neighbourhood is that it’s so homely. And it’s very cosy. It gives me a sense of belonging, a sense of family and friends. Right here.

I live in a neighbourhood where there are 37 roundabouts. I like the roundabouts because I know them like the back of my hand. People say “I hate Shah Alam because I get lost” but those roundabouts keep the traffic flowing.

As a kid I remember Shah Alam being quite a dark place, with a lot of pokok getah everywhere. Right now it’s very bright.

We’ve got Starbucks. And then Subway Sandwich arrived. We also have a cinema now. It arrived this year. And suddenly Shah Alam has grown; now it’s got all these new neighbourhoods sprouting up. It’s very big, it’s a township.

There’s this chicken that lives across the road, Uncle Razali’s chicken. It crows at 5am, then at 7am, then at 9am, then at 11am. And not just once but 20 times.

We used to go to Lake Gardens on Sunday mornings as a family. We would pack nasi lemak and sit there on the tikar. Play in the playground and climb trees and and feed ducks. It’s a very lush park.

My kindergarten Tadika Melodi was just down the road from this house. Every morning in the kindergarten we had to do the Twist. Pick a boy and do the Twist before we start class. My partner was a kid called Bala.

I believe that the friends you make in primary school, they stay with you for life. I’m still friends with my girlfriends from school, 17 years after we left. Those friendships have been sustained because everyone’s family still lives around here.

I was never allowed to walk to school because my grandparents were very protective. “Nanti kena culik”, they used to say.

There’s a place in Section 13, my mum and I will go to eat fried noodles made by Aunty char koay teow. This aunty loves my mum. She says my mum has a lot of “ong”.

I do plan to move out one day although my mother gets sad when I talk about it. I want to find a place that is similar to Shah Alam. I do want to have my own space. I would choose to remain in Shah Alam if I could get an affordable place here. But this will always be my family house.

I don’t know how to play guitar. I got a guitar when I was 15. I started picking up tunes, pressing strings because I wanted to play so badly. I liked it. My sessionists all studied music so I just show them how my song goes. When I talk to them it’s not about chord progression. I play by feeling, by heart. They call it jiwa.

For music I travel a lot. But nothing beats home. I have such a connection to this place. When I’m coming home and approaching the roundabout near the big blue mosque, the moment I see the mosque, I’m like “Okay, I’m home”. Especially if I’ve been away for some time. When you step into your house and you feel your feet on the floor, there’s no feeling like it.

When I am away I miss my food, my home, my bed. I miss everything my Kakak cooks. Kakak Nasiah is not just domestic help. She’s part of the family because she’s looked after me since I was one. I’m 29 so she’s been with me since I was a baby.

My biggest fear is drowning. The idea of drowning at sea, the waves crashing into me and the water going into my nose and my eyes, I can’t imagine having to feel that. I can swim; I’m a very good swimmer. I started off at swimming club at school. But I stopped because of vanity. I started to get man shoulders.

I am not a creature of habit. I love being spontaneous. If my passport is ready, I can just drop everything and go. I’ve always wanted to go way for a year to see if I could handle myself. Because I never got to go and do my degree abroad. I want to explore.

Learning how to deal with grief was a defining life experience. My grandparents both passed away from cancer. First my grandma from womb cancer and then a year later my grandpa from lung cancer. I had never lost a close family member and nobody told me how to prepare for it. It was very difficult seeing them slip away from you. Everybody grieves differently. Some people want to handle it by not talking about it and some find it easier to talk about the person who died.

I hope that one day healthcare and education will be free for all. If I were a politician I would definitely strive for that. I think all politicians should strive for that.

I registered to vote but I don’t know who to vote for. They seem to be just as bad as each other.

The meaning of life? Take things as they come because our life here is not permanent; we are here preparing for our next life. Whatever that’s happening, just let it be.

It doesn’t matter where you go; when you come back, you come back here.

 

Liyana Fizi is a singer, rhythm guitarist and songwriter. Formerly part of the band Estrella, Liyana became a solo artist in 2009 and has since released an album, Between the Lines. She performs regularly around Malaysia.

Interview by Anucyia Victor; Photos by Stacy Liu