31 Dec 2013

End of the year review

Sometimes I feel that Time flies with wings of exceptional speed and yet there are other times when it feels that Time is just crawling away. This year 2013 is no less. Sarah has finally finished her grueling housemanship of 2 years at the Malacca General Hospital. She is also now a young married woman though her husband is still in Kyching, waiting for his transfer. Sarah too will be transferred to Johor, in spite of our appeal for her to remain where she is. I thought she was safe from the vagaries of our slipshod civil service but there it is- after just a month in a clinic in Masjid Tanah, she is suddenly told there are no vacancies in Melaka and she must go to Johor! Isn't that ironic- she already has a place in Masjid Tanah and they don't even have enough doctors there! 

2013 has been a year of ups and downs, both in our lives and outside. As for Malaysia, the elections came and went and even though the Opposition claimed all kinds of trickery, the ruling party won by a narrow margin and things have more or less gone back to normal.  For Repin and I we got another grandchild to love- Rania of the smiling eyes and laughing face, though I know that she can also cry so loudly and angrily! 

The last two weeks before the New Year Sarah and I have been driving up and down to KL , to appeal against her transfer, to buy some new stuff for her future house  and to clean up the Zamrud Apartment. Finally we got news that Sarah's transfer is final and she has to report to Johor Bahru by 2 January . Neville came down from Sarawak to go with her to Johor and we took some time to visit Rizal in Singapore. Then  Sarah and Neville went to Batu Pahat where she would be working and looked at houses for rent.

29 Nov 2013

Rain rain go away

It's been raining almost incessantly for days now. Luckiily it wasn't a deluge but a gentle drizzle.Who are we to complain though  when other countries, especially our near neighbors have had it so badly. The Phillippines for example had a typhoon flatten parts of their country and killed hundreds if not almost a thousand people and many are still unaccounted for. And China too have had some really serious flooding that destroyed so much and killed somany. In Indonesia too,two volcanoes in separate parts of the country erupted, forcing people to evacuate. So I shouldn't complain when all we've been having is a little rain!  It's not that I am being ungrateful but sometimes I do wish we have just a bit more sun.

Today's news hasn't been good either- 5 states have people being evacuated, with Pahang leading at more that 30,000 evacuees. Luckily the exams are over by now so students are not stranded. I pray the rains and floods stop in the East coast. It seems Kemaman is completely surrounded by water, virtually cut off on all sides by the floods. Two deaths have already been recorded- a father and son who fell off their boat and feared drowned. 

A water logged road

A car stalled in the middle of the road in a flooded town 

18 Nov 2013

Sarah's wedding reception

The wedding starts with the solemnisation ceremony where Neville promises to take her as his wife and protect her through sickness and in health....
the dais on which they will sit after the solemnisation ceremony 

Neville handing over the dowry to Sarah

The dais at the Hilton Crystal Ballroom 
Preparing the hall. 
Neville and Sarah walking down the aisle to the dais
The couple walked towards the dais or pelamin accompanied by the song "Beautiful in White" and also "I want to marry you"

The welcome symbol at the entrance to the hall 

The wording for the background with Neville's name written as Michael!


Sarah, getting ready
Sarah getting ready by the makeup artist. 

A radiant bride
Almost ready


14 Nov 2013

Sarah's nikah ceremony




One day before the solemnisation ceremony, Sarah went to do her mehendi or colouring and traditional painting of her hands done.


Sarah's mehendi coloured hands
The Dais

One week before the solemnisation ceremony my sister Laila, who is a wedding planner, came to design and create the wedding dais, or pelamin for Sarah's wedding. This is where the bride and groom will sit after the ceremony.


The bride getting ready for the ceremony



Sarah putting on Neville's ring for him



Neville handing over the dowry to Sarah 
 In Islam there is something which for easy interpretation we call the dowry, which the bridegroom gives to the bride. This is different from the dowry in India which the bride brings with her to the groom's house. In Islam the groom gives her a sum of money or something equivalent for her to use in her marriage. She keeps this money for herself. In Sarah's case Neville gave her 10 thousand ringgit (10K) which she put into her bank account for use later. I found lout later that she used it to pay for their honeymoon in Bali and kept the rest for a rainy day.

23 Oct 2013

Sarah's wedding preparations

Sarah's wedding is just under a month from now. I think most things are okay, except for the guest list. We had not wanted to invite a lot of people- just very close relatives and friends. People ( relatives who were not invited) keep asking why they were not invited! I never realised its so hard to say no, we can't invite you because seats are limited and if you don't attend we would lose a lot of money. I had this problem at Wan's wedding. Friends say they will attend and then on the very day itself tell me 'I'm so sorry but I can't attend because of a family emergency! " 
Don't they realise that the seats will still have to be paid for since we can't replace them as they told us too late? I wonder at the inconsideration of some people. 
Today I got a note from my sister in law who insists that I invite her two brothers, who are not really related and not even close to us. Sarah says just ignore it and pretend I didn't receive the note. Maybe I'll do that. If we had the wedding at home it would be so easy. We'll just invite everybody! 

There are still some things to do - I haven't ordered the flowers yet and the door gifts for the Malacca ceremony. Thought of doing that today but now I'm down with a horrid headache - had to see the doctor yesterday. Hopefully I'll be well enough by this afternoon to go out. So many things to do and so little time



The wedding invitation
Sarah's invitation card which she designed herself.

And this is her solemnisation ceremony dress. The ceremony will be held at home and we are having a very small  gathering after that . 
the wedding dress that she will use for the solemnisation ceremony 

21 Oct 2013

The Ghost Bride

Title: The Ghost Bride published by HarperCollins Publishers
Writer: Yangze Choo
Year published: 2013


 The Ghost Bride, written by first timer Yangze Choo, a Malaysian settled in the US tells the story of Li Lan, a young motherless girl in Malacca in the late 19th century. What pulls me about this book is not the characters, nor the plot but the setting. Set amidst the hustle and bustle of colonial Malacca, a port city in then Malaya, it brings to life the realities of historic and colourful Malacca. I enjoyed reading about 19th century Malacca, partly because I am a Malaccan and also for the beautifully described cultural scenes. 

Lee Lan is a genteel Chinese girl, whose mother had died of smallpox when she was just a child. Brought up by a father who is more often clueless and drugged on opium, she depends a lot on her old Amah. The family fortunes had dwindled and now they are living in almost poverty, when one day Lee Lan is told by her father that one of the richest family in Malacca had approached him to propose her as a wife for their dead son! Fortunately her father had rejected the offer. 

However things changed when Lee Lan was invited by the Lim family to play mahjong with the matriarch. Wandering around the house after going to the rest room, she comes across a young man and is at once fascinated by him as he courteously explains to her the intricacies of the clocks in the house. She did not realize that young man is actually the nephew and heir to the Lim family, Tian Bai. Soon after Lee Lan takes her leave but just before she leaves the Matriarch of the house asks for her hair ribbon. 

That night Lee Lan dreams of the young man who had  died. His name he told her was Lim Tian Ching and he was courting her. Frightened, Lee Lan blurted out "Aren't you dead? " which kind of made things disappear. She wakes up sweating in bed, too frightened to go back to sleep, until she finally dozes off in the early hours of dawn. 
F

From that night onwards Li Lan is haunted by dreams of Tian Ching who insisted that he loved her  and wanted to marry her! 


The first part of the story is rather slow and in spite of Li Lan's  journey through the spirit world and her experiences there I found that I really had to push myself to read on. If the romance part of the novel had been better developed it would have made better reading. In the second part we follow Li Lan through the spirit world in her fight against Tian Ching. She finds help with a spirit guide, Er Lang and with his help finally makes it back to the real world just in time to claim her body which had been stolen. 
I spite of its slow start, this book does have  a satisfying ending and I would recommend it to anybody who enjoys something different. Li lan as a character is different from other girls of her time. She is educated, strong and brave and even though puled into the underworld, fights against it.

A book that has many things to offer - ghosts and ghouls, demons, dragons, good guys and wicked vengeful spirits. Very interesting read. I'd give this book a 4 star rating, out of 5.

2 Oct 2013

A short trip to Bandung in Indonesia

After I came back from Mauritius, my sisters Laila and Sabar invited me to follow them on a shopping trip to Bandung, in I ndonesia. Indonesia is our neighbor and although I won't say that it has fantastic shopping ( not to be compared to London or Paris) but things there are really much cheaper than here in Malaysia. We were there for three days and two nights- just a small forage into their fabric market where one can buy Swiss voile and French lace for a third of the price here in Malaysia.

My sister Laila intends to open a bridal boutique and the best source for bridal wear and other stuff is tally Indonesia. A beautiful lace kebaya here costs only RM20/- while here in Malaysia the same one could cost up to RM200-300/-. So off to Bandung we went - my sisters and a niece and myself. It was a fairly hectic trip because Sabar is a shopaholic and does not know the meaning of tiredness or fatigue. After the first day of going around looking at fabrics, haggling the prices, trying on clothes, I felt ready to give up. But Sabar and Lin my niece will go on, saying oh this is beautiful! Or 'you should take a look at this one!' The many willing salespeople were so so helpful - demonstrating  lines and shapes, pulling out more and more fabrics for our perusal and persuading us to make our decisions to buy.


24 Sep 2013

Evocations

Midnight
the rain falling
trickling desolately on pandanus leaves
rapping on zinc roofs
like Vanilla Ice.

Dreams
dealing with another,
a mist swirling in the dark
tapping on the mind
like steel fingers

Morning
brings with it a watery sun
a grey dawn and muddied roads
chasing the day
like petals opening.

Working
half the mind elsewhere
a foggy brain groping
for sunlight
like elusive shadows.

The day is almost gone...
and all around
tiny spears of green
shoots out
from the rich brown earth.

(K.Tahir Khan, 1996)


22 Sep 2013

The dream

He woke up, sweating. His heart was beating fast, like a train and he was panting. Looking around he realised he was having another of the dreams, that he was safe in his bedroom, with his wife beside him. Sighing, he lay down again and soon was fast asleep.

It was the third time he had the dream. This time he could feel every ounce of pain, every bite of the rope. His hands were tied with a thick rope that bit into his skin and his eyes were blindfolded. He could hear the sound of water rushing by and feel the soft squish of mud as they pushed him. He stumbled and stretched out his hands to prevent the fall. Someone pulled him roughly and hit his face, hard. 

Somewhere he could hear voices in a language he didn't understand. He wondered what was happening and where he was. If it was a dream, why was it so real? The pain was excruciating he thought he would die of it. 

Then the voice barked an order and he was pulled to a stop. They were now so close to the river he could almost touch the water. The next part was the one he dreaded most. In the previous dream he was shot and he fell into the water.

Now at the sound of the shot, he could feel the sharp pain as the bullet hit his chest. He found himself face down in the water, gulping for air. Water rushed into his mouth, his lungs. He thought, if this is a dream, let me wake up now God.

When his wife came in to pull the curtains, she screamed. He was lying on the bed, eyes wide open, blood congealed on his chest and the sheets stained red. 

To this day, nobody could answer why his clothes were wet, his feet caked in mud.

20 Sep 2013

Mauritius scenery in pictures

The sea  near our hotel
A British schooner of the time
The seven coloured earth - a geological phenomena
a local festival  celebrating the birth of Shiva
Setting sun at our hotel
Sea front at Grand Bay
That's me, infront of the Chateau De La Bourddanais
At the Sucre Adventure Museum

Mauritius- a fascinating land of varied cultures

Last week on 14 September, Repin and I went to Mauritius - he for a business meeting and me, just for the fun of it.While preparing for the trip I realised that most of my pre-conceptions of this island were wrong. First I found out that it was closer to Africa than to any Asian continent so technically it is an African country. Historically the island had been in use by Arab traders for a long time, normally to rest and stock up on food after a long journey around the Cape of Good Hope. However there were no original inhabitants of the island unless one calls the dodo bird as a native. Then sometime in the 16th century the Dutch came and they too used the island as a resting place and to refuel. Like the Arabs, they did not settle on the island, although they did give it a name - Mauritzius, in honor of their stadholder, Prince Maurice Van Nassau. Unlike the Arabs though, the Dutch were held responsible for the extinction of the dodo, a bird that looks rather like a duck but much bigger in size than our present ducks and unique to Mauritius. The dodo was a flightless bird and could easily be trapped. So they were hunted down in large numbers to feed the Dutch soldiers and sailors who stopped here. By the time the French came in the 17th century, the dodo was already dead and gone, never again to reappear .

The French stayed for almost a 100 years, bringing settlers from France to open up the island. To encourage settlers to stay, they were offered parcels of land of about 90 hectares per family to open up the main crop of the island - sugar cane. The French  brought in slaves from Africa to work their plantations and renamed the island Isle De France. 

The last Europeans to come to Mauritius were the British who also had interests in the Indian Ocean.
In the 19th century the British made a number of attempts to take over the island but failed until in December 1810 they came again with 76 vessels armed with more than 20,000 soldiers. They took the French by surprise and conquered the island in one epic battle at sea.

The English took over the island officially after the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1814. Once again Isle de France became known as Mauritius and the British quickly began a policy of agriculture that would change the landscape of the island forever. They were more interested in exploiting Mauritius's agricultural potential and began planting sugar cane on a large scale. They abolished slavery  and freed all the slaves, most of whom had become entrenched on the island and even spoke a kind of pidgin French they called Creole. To help them work their plantations, the British used indentured workers whom they brought in from India and China, two large countries in which they were already deeply involved. They included workers from various parts of India - Bihar, Madras, Oudh and some even from the North west provinces. Thus it is that the people of Mauritius today consists of Indians, Africans, many of French-Mauritian descent, Arab Muslims and Chinese.

The language spoken today is still called Creole, and taught in schools as their mother tongue, while English is the language of instruction and commerce. The capital, Port Louis is a bustling metropolis with an intriguing combination of cultures, languages and religions. By the time Mauritius had gained its independence from the British in 1968, Mauritian Creole was recognised as the main  language which united these various ethnicities
La Bourddanais Park
and English became the official language in government and in commerce. All the various festivals are celebrated, just as in Malaysia. It is a fascinating country with splendid views wherever one turns, whether it is the sea, the hinterland or the rugged mountains.
 
Part of the Black River Gorge National Reserve


5 Sep 2013

Cats

Oh How I wish I can go out!
It's been nearly a week here in KL and I miss my cats . This is my little rascal Tommy who can never stay still. He's about 9 months old now and is as hyper as a monkey. The first week he joined the household he broke my favorite blue vase ! Now I have learned to keep all breakable items in storage.
Tommy, peeping through the stairs
This is Bear bear , who is actually Sarah's cat and imported from Russia. He's acclimatized to the heat now but still prefers an air conditioned room. 
 Mulan playing hide and seek
Bear Bear


Mulan is my personal favorite. She's the queen of them all and haughty with it. She allows only me to cuddle her and refuses anybody else, even Repin. 
Mulan
Mulan, the warrior princess
Yukie and Tommy

And these are the brother and sister pair - Yukie and Tommy. Here they are actually grooming each other though it does look like Yukie is bullying Tommy. 


28 Aug 2013

Reflections

A day in Paradise
"Let me always remember the refreshing gift
Of a walk in the woods,
A day by the sea,
A moment of solitude "

anonymous

A trip to the Maldives

Soft white sand, clear blue skies and the sea 
The water chalets where we stayed for 4 nights
Last week Repin and I followed the Open University of Malaysia delegation to the Maldives to attend a convocation - their third to date. This is the branch campus of our OUM in the maldives and all together 77 students graduated this time around, most of them doing Business Administration and a few in Education. 

The trip there was by Sri Lankan Air which was surprisingly good. We were in business class and the seats were very comfortable while  the food was great. We landed in Maale around 4.30pm and were quickly whisked off to Paradise Island Resort, about 15 minutes away by boat. It was a speed boat so the ride was swift though a bit bumpy. All around me were tiny islands, some inhabited, many uninhabited. At the resort we were met by the Liaisons officer,
Fatimath Nadja Ibrahim who would be with us throughout the trip.

This was the beginning of a wonderful 5 day 4 night trip, full of new experiences and sights. The first day there, which was a Tuesday was a free day and we explored on our own, walking on the beach, exploring the whole island (which was about 2km by 3 km only) and swimming in the shallow lagoon made by the corals surrounding the island. The water was so clear one could see the bottom very easily and sometimes this could be deceptive in that it may look shallow but can easily be 6-7 feet deep. We could see the variety of coral and other types of fishes swimming gracefully in the water. In the early morning, walking to the restaurant for our breakfast we saw some baby sharks and even a bay manta. Even a baby can easily be at least 3 feet in length! I was so excited at the sight I nearly dropped my iphone to catch their images!
A school of dolphins passing by our boat

On the third day after attending the convocation we were taken to see a tuna factory, where the tuna were caught, graded and processed before being exported to Europe. However I did not stay to watch because I was overcome by the sight and smell of raw tuna being processed I had to leave. That night we saw the feeding of the sharks, which was an awesome sight. It seems that the sharks are offered free food every night  by the seafood restaurant at 8pm. So every night around 7.30pm the sharks would assemble before the restaurant hoping for a free meal! It was a sight I wont forget easily - 10 or more sharks fighting for the tidbits thrown to them by the kitchen staff! 
A view from the shore 

1 Aug 2013

A new interest - Percy Jackson!

My girls have been trying to get me to read their fantasy books but for a long time I resisted. I don't really know why - after all I did read all the Harry Porter books and I loved them. I also read Madeline L'Engle's books and even the Narnia books. A few months back I started reading The Hunger Games and got so engrossed I began looking for the continuation until I had read all the books in the series.

Last week I finally read the first book of the Percy Jackson series and immediately got hooked! It's a bit late of course - those books have been out for years - since Sarah was still in school and both Sarah and Shasha have been discussing Percy Jackson and his exploits for years and years. When I ask them they will say - you ought to read the book Mum - you'll love them. But somehow I never got around to reading them because I always had my own books to read. I read Harry Porter because the girls were just so excited about the books and there was the movie of course. 

Well anyway I have started reading Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series and I must say they bear up well. Percy is not as great a character as Harry Porter but he is just as lovable a character. The idea of mythical creatures being real and that the Greek Gods have children with mortals is rather interesting but not really new or gripping. Perhaps it's not fair to compare the Harry Porter books with that of Percy Jackson but one cannot help it. Both the main characters are teenage boys and the books began when both boys are the same age - 12 going on 13. But where Harry seems to be a more developed character, Percy seems more like a shadow of him. Percy Jackson is the son of Poseidon and all the years he was growing up he thinks that his father had died and that his mother, just a normal mother. However one thing about Percy is that he always gets into trouble and is often thrown out of one school after another. After an episode in which he sees The Furies at a museum visit he is again thrown out of school but this time his teacher, Mr Brunner tells his mother to send him to a camp called Camp Half Blood. This is where Percy finds out that he is Poseidon's son and that he has been accused of stealing a Lightning bolt belonging to Zeus. 

Camp half Blood is a bit like Hogwarts and all the children there are also children of the gods, like Percy. He makes friends with Athena's daughter, Annabeth Chase and a young satyr Grover and together they set out on a quest to look for the lightning bolt. 

It is a good enough read - I enjoyed it and was fully engrossed reading the adventures of this young demi god Perseus. But that is mainly because I have always enjoyed reading the Greek Myths and its quite fun to imagine Olympus as on top of the Empire State Building and that pegasus or flying horses exist or that the entrance to the underworld is in Hollywood. 

Ramadan thoughts

Time is really flying - before I realise it the end of the year will be here again and it will be 2014. As for Ramadan, it is almost over. As with other Ramadan days, we are busy preparing for the end of the day. the Iftar or breaking of fast. Here in Malaysia, as I think it is for the rest of the Muslim community in the world, Iftar plays an important part of the fasting. Most Muslim families eat together for this the most important meal of the day. Sometimes we invite under privileged children from the orphanage nearby to join us in this meal. Ramadan means so many things to so many people but mainly it is a gift from Allah to us, who in his mercy gives us this month to do good and to perform all the prayers that are both obligatory and non obligatory. Every good deed performed in this month gets double or triple the reward which is why many Muslims who can afford it try to do all kinds of charitable acts. Of course it goes without saying that these charitable acts should be carried out throughout the year, not just during Ramadan. However, if done during this month the reward is greater. 

In Malaysia however, a lot of Muslims get rather carried away by the fasting itself. Every evening people throng the Ramadan bazaars to buy food for Iftar. Here you can see all kinds of foods - from traditional delicacies to western dishes and it is hard not to be tempted to buy them.  Often we end up buying too much and the food is either thrown away or we engorge ourselves in order to finish it. Which just goes to show that many people still have not got the principle of Ramadan itself correct. 

Some of the selection seen at the Ramadan bazaar

A kebab seller 


Ramadan does not only mean physical fasting or abstaining from eating and drinking. It means abstaining or keeping oneself away from all kinds of temptations - those of the eyes, of the soul and of the mind. One has to fast physically, emotionally and mentally so to say. Which means refraining from doing harm to others - animals included, from thinking bad thoughts and from feeling anger, hatred, lust and other sins of the soul. Whether a lot of Muslims actually carry out this is a different matter. Just look at the clashes and violence in Egypt, Syria and Tunisia, just to mention a few countries. And the saddest part is that the violence increases during Ramadan.