Fay Khoo Su Ming wrote for Esquire Malaysia from its inaugural issue of August 2011 until Mar 2016, for three editors, in an unbroken run of what seems like umpteen columns. Prodigal only begins to describe her output. As the current editor of this magazine, I have the privilege of a perspective on the range of subjects she covered in her food column, and the intensity by which I know she would have kneaded, rolled, pressed and churned them out like ayurvedic chapati and ghee balls, in between bustling to make time for everyone and everything that she could on her regular visits to KL and Penang from Sydney, where she lived her family. And then some. To my eternal regret, we had not renewed our partnership in crime when I received the news. There is something to be said for replying email when you receive it, no matter how stupidly peeved. Perhaps there are other lifetimes in which we get to complete unwinding our karma. For now, it is impossible to say any more. Fay will be cremated today. Here is a piece of her work. – Jason Tan, editor-in-chief
This article was first published in Esquire Malaysia's November 2011 issue.
ROCK HER BOAT
Sports is a man’s world, but it doesn’t mean a thing without a woman or a girl.
Women are discouraged from a young age to participate in sports deemed too masculine or too aggressive for their delicate spirits and physiognomy. When I decided to teach myself to windsurf at twelve, and returned bloated with jellyfish stings and involuntarily swallowed seawater, my mother looked as though she was trying to pass a fully-grown animal through her rectum. It didn’t get better when I moved on to dinghy sailing. With time, I added skiing, wakeboarding, Muay Thai, and full-fledged sailing to my repertoire.
In an age when female presidents are par for the course, why are we still incapable of validating the inclusion of women in extreme sports? This prevalent sexist attitude is one of many hurdles I face regularly as a competitive sailor—and more so in western countries, strangely enough. Men assume that we sail primarily because we’re trying to get laid or hitched—and that’s because many women do, the direct consequences of which are: 1) they give every woman with a genuine passion for the sport a bad name, and 2) they get laid. A lot. The reality, however, is that there are many women who genuinely enjoy venturing far beyond the limits of their comfort zone. It’s not just the addiction to adrenalin that drives us to crave the speed or eckless unpredictability of Mother Nature. There’s the challenge of pitting ourselves against the elements and emerging triumphant.
In sailing, women like Isabelle Autissier (the first woman to complete a solo navigation of the globe in 1991) and Dame Ellen Macarthur (who broke the world record for the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe) have proven that we can more than hold our own in a sport where men outnumber us by, like, eighty-to-one. Yet the assumption that we serve no better purpose than making warm meals during long races prevails. Flippant masculine assumptions about women aside, the toughest judges of women are women, and it’s their disapprobation that cuts the deepest. I know because I’m guilty of it myself. Jealously protecting the hard earned respect I’ve gained in the sport as someone who can add value competitively to the teams with which I sail, I’m reluctant to let other girls onto my turf to ruin it all for me, whether with their squeamishness to trying conditions or their femme fatale guiles that compel men to rush to their aid.
The reality is women in sailing often work twice as hard, twice as long, in order to convince their male compatriots of their genuine ardour and capability. Every little victory is savoured with more relish precisely because it’s so hard won. While I dream of the day when we can be accepted as equals, I’m equally proud to be part of the minority that have transcended the boundaries of my sex in this sport.
Fay returns to sail with and manage the three-time winning crew of Baby Tonga in the Raja Muda Selangor International Regatta this month.