3 Sep 2014

Going to Kota Bahru, Kelantan

,The next day we started out around 10.00 am, after a leisurely breakfast of nasi lemak, scrambled eggs on toast and some salad at the picturesque beach side restaurant. Wan took some final photos of the surrounding area and then off we went on the way to KB. 

Looking at the map, KB is at least 400km away so Repin decided to share the drive with Wan. He took the first shift and we drove slowly along the coast passing serene looking fishing villages, small towns and by 12.30pm we had reached the outskirts of Kuala Terengganu. Earlier we had stopped for a bit of a snack of keropok lekor (a fish sausage made with fish and flour) and eaten with a sweet and spicy chill sauce. The ones sold along the roadside seems better than the ones we buy at home, maybe because its freshly made on the spot and fried then and there. 

We also stopped for some pictures along the way. This coastal road is really picturesque with lots of photo opportunities. 

Wan and Repin at one of the beaches we passed by




a fishing village


We stopped for prayers at one of the masjid in Kuala Terengganu and then stopped for lunch at a restaurant nearby where they sold nasi campur - rice with a mixture of fish, curry and vegetables. 
Then off we went again, this time with Wan doing the driving. This is a very unfamiliar road because none of us had ever driven to Kota Bahru recently. In fact Wan  had never ever been to Kota Bahru. This would be his first trip there. It's a pity that Emma could not come with us. It would have been more fun for Wan if his wife came along.

Anyway according to our guide/ gps WAZE we should be in KB by 7.30pm. However we made it there earlier by half an hour - we reached there by 7.00pm and was at the hotel by 7.30pm. 
Wan was very impressed by the hotel - it has a luxurious lobby with a definite age-old charm and an ambience. Palm trees decorated the entrance with liveried bell boys waiting to help us with our luggage. After the registration were taken care off we went up to our rooms to freshen up and then went back downstairs for dinner at the Chinese restaurant downstairs. That night we decided to have an early night and went back to our rooms although Wan decided he wanted to explore a bit. 

I had a bad experience though in this hotel and I vowed never again to use this place. The next day after we had explored the town and visited the museum, I decided to try out their spa and facial. I made an appoint for the evening just after dinner. Thinking that this was Kelantan ( where people are supposedly more religious) I left my handbag unguarded in the facial room. After my facial I went up to my room and since it was already 10.00 pm decided to sleep early since we were going home the next day. In the morning I opened my handbag to look for my necklace and locket which I had left in it during the facial. I was shocked to find that it wasn't there. Thinking that I had forgotten where I kept it I emptied the bag and looked in every pocket and zipped area but it wasn't anywhere in the bag. I knew then that it had been taken. So I went downstairs with hubby to reception and told them but they said the spa was not operated by the hotel but was a private enterprise. They gave me the owner's name and number however and I called the owner and explained the problem. But even though she sympathised and made apologetic noises she maintained that her staff were all above suspicion and very trustworthy. If they were trustworthy how did my chain go missing? So that's it - never again will I go there! 

30 Aug 2014

Our East coast road trip

This trip had been planned by Repin since last year when he first got the Exora. In fact one of the reasons he wanted to go to the East Coast was because he wanted to test the car. When Yati went back to Indonesia and was detained at Surabaya Airport, we thought - there goes our trip!  But luckily she managed to come back in time for us to still drive there, although we had to cut short the trip by one day.

So here we are in Cherating at last! We started out a bit late yesterday because we wanted to send Sarah and Neville to Sentral for their express bus yo Singapore. Then drove up to KL to leave Saru's food and finally picked Wan from his house in Ampang. However in spite of delays, we arrived in Cherating at 3.00 pm- just in time to check in.





It wasn't a bright and sunny day but the sea was beautifully calm, the breeze welcoming and cool to the senses and we had a pleasant tea break on the beach. That night we decided to try out the firefly watching which was on the River Cherating and run by a passionate nature lover, Hafiz, who originally came from Myanmar. He gave a short talk on the habits of fireflies and how we have to conserve it's natural environment, ie the mangrove swamps where they are found.

The boat ride to see the fireflies cost only RM25 per person but I think it was really worth it. The night was dark and at first a bit eerie but I enjoyed the breeze. There were about 15 people on each boat and 3 boats all together. At first we could not see anything but slowly as our eyes got used to the dark we saw tiny flickering lights. At first, just a few then there were dozens of them everywhere- mostly nearer the water's edge, just above the shore. Hafiz had mentioned that bright lights frightened them or kills them so nobody was allowed to take pictures. Even a small light from our phones could distract and confuse them according to Hafiz. And since light is their means of communication to each other especially when they want to mate, by flashing lights at them we would essentially be blocking them from mating and thus indirectly cause them to slowly disappear, which was what had happened in Kuala Selangor. Today there are so few fireflies there tourists no longer visit the place anymore. Also according to Hafiz, they are very susceptible to water pollution. If the rivers are polluted, the mangroves too will die and this too will endanger the fireflies. So he and his team will clean the river every once in a while- collecting plastics, tins and other rubbish thrown by careless people, to make sure the environment is clean.

At one point the mangroves looked like a fairy land- with the tiny flickering lights on the trees and they were so friendly these fireflies even flew down to our boats and landed on our hands and clothes. I felt awed and fascinated by these beautiful lighted creatures and was so glad we made a point of coming here to see them.


16 Aug 2014

The Guest Cat, by Takashi Hiraide

Title: The Guest Cat
Writer: Takashi Hiaide
Published by New Directions Publishing Corporation
Translated by Eric Selland 2014

When a young Japanese couple, both writers, rented a house somewhere near the Shinjuku area in a quiet part of Tokyo, they are visited by a female cat, belonging to the small boy next door. Working at home the write and his young wife allow the cat easy access into their home and their lives.

Slowly, without realising it, the cat entwines itself into the very fabric of their lives and every day affairs and into their hearts. The day becomes brighter, the hours  more precious and their events more meaningful with the advent of Chibi, the cat. They even sometimes pretend the cat belongs to them, buying it special tidbits and enjoying its playful habits.

Without them realising it, a year had gone by and the young cat has now become an adult. Sometimes it would even sleep in their house and on their bed. However one day both husband and wife had to go to a dinner party in another part of town and did not come back for the night. The next day they realised the cat had not come to their house and through the next few days they didn't see it either. Both husband and wife became perturbed by the cat's disappearance. Finally the writer goes over to the neighbour's house to find out what had happened. They were told that it had died in an accident - apparently hit by a car. For a long time they mourned the cat's loss and even wanted to see where it had been buried but its owner, the neighbour, became aggressive and even angry when told the cat had visited them every day and even slept in their house sometimes.

Soon the couple moved away and bought their own house not far from the neighbourhood. But one day they were visited by a couple of kittens, a male and female which looked exactly like the guest cat which they had lost. Soon the kittens too visit the couple, now older and just like its predecessor settled in.

A beautifully written book by Japanese poet, takashi Hiraide, this book should be read by animal lovers everywhere, specially by cat lovers. It is about love and loss and love regained. The book reads like poetry, moving and subtly conveying deeply felt emotions of the writer and his wife concerning their guest. A lot of the writing is philosophical. I would definitely recommend this book  and will give it a 5 star rating. A book that will change you and how you look at relationships.

My favourite line from the book is this lines from the first chapter:
" I often remember the appearance of Chibi the cat and the scene in the guest house when she first came inside. It was in the late Autumn of 1988...
There was a narrow space with an earthen floor for the washing machine facing the courtyard, which was a mere partition off from the spacious garden off the big house. One shining, sunny afternoon, through a crack ion the open door,four bright white feet stepped inside the the room's insulated drain bard and with a well-honed curiosity rushing through her entire body, Chibi quietly surveyed the meagre interior." This was the introduction of the book.

11 Aug 2014

Idil Fitri 2014

 After a month of fasting Eid is finally here. In fact it's now more than 10 days that Ramadan has ended. The siege on Gaza is given a respite - there is a 10 day ceasefire. More bodies have been identified from the plane crash. And when I really sit and think and feel... I just feel so hopeless and helpless. I can only pray and enjoy the day. What was that Latin phrase - seize the day! Can't remember the Latin words anymore. But sometimes I feel sick of the whole world - killing and maiming children and animals. You can't really run away from images of these on the internet. FB is full of them that I no longer read them. And yet it is Eid. Eid Mubarak world! 

At home it is as usual very busy. Traditional foods must be prepared and served for guests. This year we have a very small celebration, in respect for the downed plane MH17. But my house was full of guests even then, specially in the morning of the first day. My sisters and brothers and their family all came over for the usual morning feast. This time however it was a quieter than usual affair - no noisy children running, no shouts from my brothers and no jones from my sisters. My bother in law Rahman, the husband of my beloved sister Laila, had passed away just a week before raya. It was sad but not unexpected because he had been ill for more than a year, and towards the end had had to be given morphine to stop the pain. He was a heavy smoker in his younger days and it had destroyed his lungs. I think after he retired instead of cutting down he smoked even more, mainly out of boredom. So in the end you can say that his lungs gave up on him - he developed COPD. 

The best thing about raya or Eid is that all my children came home. Rizal stayed longer than his usual 2 days and even Wan came home a day before Eid. So all 4 of them and their spouses were here in Malacca for the celebrations. We even took a family photo in the garden. 
Family photo 2014
As usual we held an open house on the first day, albeit a small one. Most of my friends and Repin's friends turned up and also the whole family - the Tahir family as well as the Ibrahim family. Then we visited my brother in law in Semabok. His open house was of course very grand. Lots of food - with the typical rendang and ketupat and lemang as well as nasi Bukhari or BukhariRice, which is a kind of pilau cooked with lamb.




Above photo - Rizal and daughter, Rania


Above photo - the guys in our family - from left to right  ( Neville, Rizal, Repin and Ridzuan) 


4 Aug 2014

Ramadan and the chaos in the Muslim world

I don't know whether all this is a test on our faith - the whole Muslim world all over is in a chaotic state. So many things are happening and so many people are dying. First it was in Myanmar where just before the beginning of Ramadan the Buddhists went on a rampage, burning and killing the Muslim ethnic minority in Mandalay. Emma, my daughter in law's relatives are mostly in Mandalay. It's her mother's hometown so her aunts, uncles and cousins are all there. In fact, her cousin had to go into hiding because he had inadvertently  strayed into Buddhist territory while visiting some school friends. Luckily his friends parents are open minded people and they helped to hide him from the Buddhists extremists. Why is it when it is another religion they are called extremists but if they are Muslims they are called terrorists? 

In Syria things are getting from bad to worse with  rebel groups trying yo take over the government. The same goes for Iraq, but the ones in Iraq I was told by a friend are extremely dangerous because they kill everybody in their way. This is the ISIS. 
And in Gaza, the Zionists are pounding and shelling the tiny enclave every day, in the name of self defence! Of course with the tacit approval of the great US of A! It's okay to kill women and children because they are only Muslims after all. Kill one Israeli soldier and the big bully Israel kills back 100 women and children, and the whole world looks back in pretended innocence. Who dares go against Israel, except perhaps one tiny country many miles away which cannot even defend itself, if the Israelis decide to wGe wAr against us. 

Every day we are bombarded with horrific images of suffering children. The Western media reports that Israel is only defending itself. Against what? Simple home made rockets and mortars that cannot even reach it's borders? Poor Israel, forever being bombarded by the big bad Palestinians with stones and rockets. After one week of heavy bombardment the Israeli casualty stands at zero and Palestinians had soared to more than 100. There is simply no where for them to go - the Zionists target schools, hospitals and even the UN compound. Babies, children and women are the main victims. Even boys playing at a beach are targeted. Why? Are the boys militants? 

This is a form of ethnic cleansing that the world is ignoring. Yes there are protests but no one listens. 

And finally our plane was shot down - and nobody would admit the shooting. 298 innocent lives gone in a poof . The pilot had no inkling it was going to happen, after all they were well above 33000 feet and the route was one well used by many airlines. Was it just bad luck or was it a planned attack. Are the Russians just a scapegoat? Two planes within a space of 4 months? Co incidence or what? A conspiracy? A Singapore Airlines plane was just 25 km behind our plane and an Air India plane was just ahead. Why us? Who would stand to gain ? So many questions unanswered. 

21 May 2014

A Japanese Alpine village

From Fukuoka, we were back on the Shinkanzen to Takayama. Takayama is a little town right up the mountains in Central Japan. Actually it is situated in a valley with the Japanese Alps all around it. It took us a little more than 5 hours from Southern Japan to Central Japan - a journey of more than 800 km. we had to change trains in Osaka because the only train that goes to Takayama is the limited express. 

On the way we saw really beautiful scenery - crystal clear rivers , gorges that take your breath away, fields of spring wildflowers. Parts of this scenery reminded me so much of New Zealand - except that sometimes we would see cherry blossoms or the Zakura tree.  We passed a number of small towns too that looked quite picturesque. 

          
            



In Takayama we stayed at a lovely hotel called .... Which was within walking distance of the railway station. The weather was cool and breezy - perfect spring weather!  Our room too was fantastic - it faced a small stream running behind the hotel and we could see glimpses of the mountains in the distance. That evening we took an exploratory walk around the town and saw a lot of interesting things. First of all, Takayama is actually an old Meiji emperor town. Some of the shops in the town goes back to the 17th century and the roads are cobbled still. However there is also a modern part of town with a few high rises ( about 10 stories) . We passed an old shrine that looked as if it has stood there since the 17th century! Then we crossed the river - this is really a fantastic place. The river is so clear you can see the stones in it and there are Japanese carp or koi ! Imagine that. In Malaysia the koi is an expensive fish and is only reared in man made ponds but here they swim freely. 


The river we passed by. 
That night I had a steam bath and slept like a log! 

12 May 2014

Fukuoka



After Osaka we went to Fukuoka, on the island of Kyushu. We were supposed to go by Shinkanzen but the tickets had been sold out - no tickets for seating places but we could take the non- reserved cars so we decided to take that anyway. However the earliest train would be at 1.50pm and we had already checked out of our hotel so we had to take whichever train that was traveling south that was earliest, and it happened to be the Hakata Express. Express is actually a misnomer. Once on the train

we realised this was like a mail train - it would stop at every station, big or small, passenger or no. So it took us all of 4 hours and 30 minutes to reach Hakata whereas the normal Shinkanzen would have taken us only 3 hours. Anyway it was a good experience and we could see much more of the countryside.

Japan is really very developed and even though Kyushu, when we studied Geography in school, was an island off Honshu, in reality it was almost part of the main island of Honshu. We could not even see where Honshu ended and Kyushu began - it was all one smooth track, with lots of bridges and tunnels linking one island to another.

Hakata, or its old name Fukuoka was quite a large city. There are many canals linking  different parts of the city and gardens. The hotel where we stayed was the New Otani, about 10 minutes away from the station. After checking in and refreshing ourselves we decided to take a look at the shopping centre which we saw was very near the hotel - just a stop away by subway. 

The shopping centre was actually part of the subway - everything was underground and you could practically walk from one end of the town to another without getting out. And it was all shops along the way, shops, restaurants, caf├ęs and even a small garden! 








6 May 2014

Going to Japan

Tomorrow Repin and I will be going to Japan with our daughter Marisa. The trip was planned by Shasha (her nickname) since last year - she was the one who planned the itinerary and got the hotels etc, of course with the help of Miss Tan our travel agent.

I'm all packed and ready to go but with a bit of sadness because I'll be leaving my cats again. Mulan especially because she has just started to come back to sleep by my side. Ginger of course  sleeps with me or on the bed, whether I'm there or not. But since I went to India in March, Mulan has been avoiding keeping me company. I think she is pouting - in Malay we say merajuk. 

Yukie looking pensive
Yukie and her brother Tommy too are not so friendly anymore as before I left them. I have been going out of the country every month this year - India, my umrah and now Japan. At least June is a quiet month for me - no overseas trips except maybe to see my grand daughters whom I miss very much.

This trip to Japan will be different - we were in Japan in 2010 and 2005 but only in Tokyo. This time we plan to take the Shinkansen and go south to Fukuoka, then up to Osaka, Kyoto and Takayama and finally to Tokyo for the last two days. Takayama is a city but it has a number of traditional Japaneses villages which I am looking forward to see- most of them go back to the Meiji period which was in the 16 -19th century. In Kyoto we plan to visit them any beautiful gardens and other sights just outside Kyoto. It looks quite packed, this itenary  but since we are doing it on our own we can of course rest as often as we like! 

27 Apr 2014

At our orchard

Durian fruits


Last June Repin and I bought a piece of land at Telok Gong. Telok in Malay means a bay and this piece of land is very close to the sea. Its not by the sea but we can see the sea from the house there. The house is actually rather old and in need of repair and enhancement but it's quite solid, with 3 bedrooms, although they are rather small  bedrooms.

Anyway the land is fairly large - an acre and a bit more with fruit trees already planted. The owner wanted to move away and wanted a ready buyer and we were quite thrilled to get it. There are at least 5 rambutan trees and a few durian trees. Yesterday we went over to clear the leaves under the trees and also from the house. The owners had left quite a lot of their household rubbish and it took Yatie and me 5 hours to clear it all, with Wan's help. But it was worth it. Just looking at the young rambutans hanging on the trees is enough. They should be ripe in June, insyaallah. We want to renovate the hour and make kit nicer, repaint it and add a few more bathrooms so that by the end of this year we can stay there or make it into a home stay to add to our income later on, insyaallah, or God willing.

17 Apr 2014

A pilgrimage to the holy cities

Inside the Prophet's mosque 
  

On 5th April Repin and I flew to Madinah for our umrah or pilgrimage to the holy cities. It's been awhile since we last visited the two holy cities and I'm sure things have changed a lot. We arrived in Jeddah airport around 9.30 pm and after customs and immigration clearance we were transported by bus to Madinah, another 5-6 hours away by road. 

The journey was long and tedious, and most of us were already tired after our 8 hour flight. Luckily the night air was cool and I drifted in and out of sleep. We stopped for a break at a rest area, and was given a simple meal of rice and chicken. After a half hour break we were back on the move, arriving in Madinah around 1 am in the morning.   

Early the next morning we were up again to pray at the Masjid Al Nabawi, also called the Prophet's  pbuh) Mosque because this was where he died and was buried. It is one of the holy mosques in Islam and prayers here are supposed to give a person 1000 times the reward of prayers in an ordinary mosque. 

Women coming out of the masjid Al Nabawi 







Days in Madinah consisted mainly of going to the mosque to pray five times a day, back to the hotel to rest and sometimes in the evening, walking around some of the shops. The city has not changed much - there are of course a lot more hotels than 5 years ago when I was here last. Basically though a lot of it is still the same. We stayed at the Mubarak Silver hotel which was about 500m from the mosque so it was easy for us. 
On the second day we were taken to view some historic sites - Mount Uhud where one of the worst battles between the Quraish and the Muslims took place. The mountains are barren and very very rocky. This was the place where the Muslims took one of their worst defeats and the Prophet' s (SAW) uncle, Hamzah was killed trying to protect their hill. It was said that after he was killed the Quraish mutilated his body and even carved out his heart and that Hindon, a woman who's husband had been killed by Saidinah Hamzah RA in an earlier battle, ate his heart. Urrhggg... Sounds gross! But the early Arabs were a rather terrible people - cruel in the extreme, vengeful and ferocious. My late father used to say that was the reason why Islam was sent to Arabia. Allah Subhannallah Taala wanted to change them and make them a better people.  Of course this was only my father's opinion, not a fact. 
For this Umrah, I wanted to return home to Malaysia a better person completely. I want to be more patient, especially with my mother in law and others less fortunate than me. I want to be humble and more caring and I really hope I can be better. 







15 Apr 2014

Makkah Al mukaramah

For This year's umrah Repin and I managed to get a Hilton package. In Madinah we stayed at the Mubarak Silver Hotel but in Makkah we stayed at the Hilton Towers, and it was the nearest hotel to the mosque. We didn't have to rush to get to the Masjid Al Haram every prayer time. Our travel agent was Andalusia and the mutawif or Guide who took us was a very young man by the name of Amirul. He was very knowledgeable and a pleasant as well as sweet natured guy. In fact he was one of the best uztaz that we've had so far. So we managed to do 3 umrahs or circumbulating around the Kaabah while reciting certain prayers, with our Uztaz Amirul guiding us the whole way.

On the 3 rd day we were given a short tour of the various holy sites. I had been to these places before but it was more interesting with our mutawif because he told us stories related to the site's history. For example Jabal Rahmah which is a small hill outside of Makkah was the place where Prophet Adam and Hawa ( Eve) his wife met after almost a decade of not seeing each other. The story is that after Adam and Hawa were sent out of Paradise for disobeying Allah they were sent to Earth. But an Earth which had no humans on it. They were the first humans. But they were not sent together - one fell somewhere on Mount Arafat and the other fell somewhere near Yemen or even further. For years they both prayed to God to ask for forgiveness and finally God forgave them and let them be together again and Jabal Rahmah or the Mount of Mercy was where they met. So it is believed that whoever asks God for a partner or a child here that prayer would be answered. I don't know whether this is true or not but my brother in law did pray that his son gets a child here and that son has now 4 children, after 8 years of childlessness previously. 

At Mount Rahmah or the Mount of Mercy


After doing our "tawaf" or walking around the Kaabah reciting prayers.
Our young Uztaz Amirul and us after performing our tawaf. 

People of all races doing the tawaf


26 Mar 2014

The worst air tragedy in the history of Malaysia

It's been a heart breaking two weeks for Malaysians in general- our national carrier MH370 - on a routine flight to Beijing in China,suddenly lost contact with the control tower. There were 239 passengers on board, 152 of them Chinese nationals going home to China. At first everyone thought the plane had crashed in the South China Sea because that's where we last had radar communication with the plane. It was supposed to have arrived in Beijing at 6.30am. 

After almost 24 hours of searching, the military finally admitted they had a blip on their primary radar around 2.45 am 8 March and it was flying west towards the Straits of Malacca. Even then they were not sure whether it was MH 370 - it could be any commercial plane since all the primary radar recorded was a commercial plane flying through its airspace. 

Today is the 18th day. 26 countries are involved in the search and rescue effort. However until today all we know is that it veered west towards the Indian Ocean and then down towards the southern corridor where all you can sea is large tracts of ocean- an immense body of water, unbroken by land. The sea here is harsh and uncompromising and searching for the plane is like searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack. 

There are satellite images of what seemed like debris spread around a certain area but so far nothing has been found. For one thing the weather is not being agreeable - rough waves of up to 10 feet or more with strong winds prevent the search ships to stay too long. If the plane had indeed crashed here, there would be no survivors. Apart from the cold the ocean here is just too remote, too deep to even send divers down. The depth of the ocean in this part is at least 2 miles or 4km. 

The question that is on everyone's mind is - what happened to the plane? Why did it divert from its route? Was it a failed hijacking? Sabotage? An act of terrorism? Or simply an electrical failure that led to a fire in the cockpit, thus putting the two pilots unconscious ? In spite of help from the world's best aviation experts, satellites from so many countries, nobody knows what actually happened. We are as perplexed as the US, China and Britain . 

Meanwhile families are waiting in vain. The Families of the Chinese passengers react violently and angrily, accusing our government of hiding the facts/ truth or not being open enough. Some are seen crying loudly , shouting at the MAS personnel sent to look after them and even throwing water bottles at them. Emotions run high. It is understandable in a way. They are frustrated, after waiting for weeks to find an answer, yet there is none. One man just said, " We want to know where they are. If they are dead, we want to see the bodies." But what can we say? I put myself in our government's shoes and see there really is nothing they can do except go on searching, spending hundreds of thousands and maybe later, millions to look for this plane that has gone missing. Speculations abound. So many theories fly all over the social media, even some saying that it is pilot suicide. That was a suggestion from a most unlikely source- the US no less. But to me it is too far fetched and it looks like the investigators are grasping at straws! 

Here in Malaysia, in the social media, words of condolences pour in. Finally on 24th March, Datok Seri Najib the PM announced that the plane ended it's journey somewhere in the South Indian Ocean, and that most probably there were no survivors. 

Today's press conference just confirms that the satellite images showing hundreds of debris is the most likely area where the plane crashed . But even then not one debris has been identified properly. My heart aches every time I see the images of the passengers and crew. It is not a story one reads about in the news anymore. It is closer to home than I'd like. There are people my neighbours know and loved. A friend's daughter just confirmed that her best friend Dina and her mother was on that plane. They were going shopping in Beijing. She and Dina had met for a dinner date just hours before they went to Beijing and had talked about children. 
My neighbour of two years, who lives opposite me at the corner house, lost her nephew and his wife. Their two children are now orphans. There are so many similar stories. One stewardess had a husband, also a steward on that plane. She is expecting her second child. Her first is 3 plus and she asked her mummy ,"Where is papa?" The mother answers with tears in her eyes that Papa went to work but Papa's plane rosak (  had trouble) and now Papa has gone to Heaven. The little girl asks again, " But I want to see Papa.." " Well, we have to pray hard so that one day we too can go to Heaven and meet Papa." 

Watching this scene on the news I cry silently. 
" Cry not for them...
They have gone away to a far away land
Where flowers bloom all day long
And the Sun and Moon are one. 
Cry not for them...
They are lying at peace
Deep in the waves
And the cascading falls
Gently keep them in thrall. "

Kat 24/3/14 

21 Feb 2014

The drought is here

I can't believe it - just 2 months ago we were worried about floods. Now we are worried that it hadn't rained for so long  - 2 months to be exact!  The weather has been playing with us for so e time now . In November, during the examinations season the prolonged rainy days brought on floods in almost every state. People had to be evacuated from their homes and schools were closed. Today there is a disquietening piece of news- some parts are so dry that fish are left struggling in the dry river beds and many have died. Paid fields are dry and turning brown in the northern part of Malaysia and some parts of Selangor already have water rationing taking place. There are news  of bush fires everywhere. Yesterday when I sent to the tailor I had to pass a bit of forest reserve which I noticed was very dry and brownish in colour. There was a family of monkeys at the roadside. Usually you hardly see the monkeys near this road because there were enough fruit trees in the reserve for them. Now I guess they are looking for food - poor things. I didn't have anything with me otherwise I would throw some food  to  . I  wonder  how they survive if this drought is prolonged. I sure hope that it will rain soon.Right now I hear we are buying water from Johor, a neighbouring state which has many large rivers. Malacca is so small and we don't even have any real rivers or lakes! 

We have had no rain at all for the last two months . For a country that is so used to getting rain every other day, this is unbearable. Not only is it hot and dry, my plants are dying and we are told to conserve water. I buy a huge container to store water , just in case rationing starts in Malacca. In KL water rationing has already begun.

17 Feb 2014

The Taj Mahal

I think most of us know the history of the Taj Mahal. According to our guide Taj means a crown and Mahal means Palace. So translated the Taj Mahal meant Crown Palace. It was built by the emperor Shah Jahan who was the grandson of the man who founded the Mogul empire - Akbar the Great . Shah Jahan had three wives and any number of concubines but his favourite was his beautiful first wife- the lovely Mumtaz, or sometimes known as Noor Jahan or the light of Jahan.Together they had 14 children. The King loved her so much that he could not bear to be separated from her even for a day, so the story goes. However at the age of 39, she died while giving birth to her last child. The grieving king himself was still in his early 40s but he never remarried and he vowed that he would house her remains in the most beautiful palace in the world. 

And so the Taj Mahal was designed - as a palace to put his lovely queen. It was made completely of white marble obtained from a all over India and the architect was imported from Persia.  It took him almost 22 long years to build it with thousands of workers from all over India and also from Persia and from Bukhara were hired to design and build this most magnificent  palace for his wife as her final resting place. But the story did not end here, nor is it a beautiful story. In fact it was a very sad tale. 

The King's third son, Auranzeb, angry at the wastage of public funds by Shah Jahan his father,  deposed him and placed him under house arrest. The now sickly king no longer took interest in the kingdom anyway and spent his final years in what is known as The Red Fort or Lal Qilla , gazing longingly at his wife's  mausoleum opposite his palace just across the Yamuna River. After the Taj Mahal was completed Shah Jahan planned to build a similar mausoleum for himself but this time using black marble as his own resting place. However his plans were never fulfilled. 

The Taj Mahal itself is not just a beautiful building - there is simply no words to describe its splendor and it's magnificence. Built totally of white marble it's colour changes hue at different times of the day. We were there just about the time of the setting sun and looking at it one realises why it is called one of the 7 wonders of the world. 
The Taj Mahal 



REpin in front of the Taj Mahal 

Agra, and the most romantic gestures of all time

The Taj Mahal seen from the main gate
( above - view of Taj Mahal from Northern gate) 

The mosque on the east side of the Taj Mahal

 From Jaipur it took us more than  6 hours to reach Agra. Like the road to Jaipur, the road to Agra wasn't really a highway. It was slightly better in that there were fewer camel caravans on the road but it was congested nevertheless. We started out very early in the morning- it was very foggy and cold too. So foggy that there wasn't much of a view. In some places the visibility was so bad that you could only see about 50m ahead. There was much honking of horns as usual. We stopped at a rest area for a bit of hot chai - masala chai has now become a favorite of mine. Even Zaiton who wasn't really fond of tea became an enthusiast. 


At 12.35pm we reached Fatehpur Sikri an ancient town built also during the time of the Mogul empire. It was a huge complex of buildings which included ruins of a palace, a masjid or mosque, a Dewan where the king held audiences and also a fortress. However our visit was spoiled by the dozens of ragged boys, young men and even women, young and old , trying to peddle goods. They carried bangles, fridge magnets, necklaces, and all kinds of wares and were so insistent and determined that it really spoiled my enjoyment of this ancient city complex. They followed us all around, pushing their wares at us even though we said No. 

From Fatehpur Sikri it should have been a short drive to Agra but we had to make a detour because of some roadworks. By the time we arrived at the hotel in Agra, it was way past 4.00pm and lunch was long over. The cafeteria staff though were kind enough to prepare for us a lovely and sumptuous meal and we ate hungrily. It had been a long time since breakfast and even at the rest area we didn't eat anything. 

The guide told us we would have to hurry to see the Taj Mahal as it closed its doors for visitors at 5.30 pm. So after a hurried meal and and clean up we were taken to see the Taj Mahal. 
The Taj Mahal seen from the Western gate
We arrived just before closing time. It was really lucky for us because there were easily thousands of people once we were inside. Traveling into the huge grounds was by electric tram. It deposited us just outside the gates and security was really tight. In fact there were 3 levels of security checks - before the entrance, at mid entrance and just before the gate itself. Even the gate ( there are 4 gates - east, west, north and south) was most impressive. It was really huge and once inside, the grounds were sprawling. In the distance, one can see fountains and reflecting pools, right in the middle of the Taj Mahal. 

I think it is the most glorious monument I have ever seen in my life!  Glowing white and pink in the light of the setting sun, here is this grand gesture of a love that is lost which has lasted for centuries. 



10 Feb 2014

Jaipur- City of palaces


A drummer welcoming us into the hotel 
     

A warm welcome into the hotel lobby

Repin at Jantat Mantar, an astronomical laboratory
A warm welcome was given to guests at the Golden Palace hotel - a boy was beating a drum and puppets as well as a person playing some traditional instrument greeted us we stepped out of the van. After a journey of 5+ hours, this was indeed welcoming. Checking in into the hotel was also done in quick succession and we were soon ushered into our cool spacious room. Freshening up quickly and after our afternoon prayers we then walked to the cafe for a quick lunch, which was capatti , dal, chicken in some herb sauce, vegetables, rice and another kind of curry. 

 Next on our intenary was a visit to a Mogul palace as well as an observatory designed by one of the Kings of Rajasthan. It was called Jantar Mantar and had really accurate timepieces all made of stone and marble.  Just imagine it was made in mid 14th century - and a person with some knowledge of astronomy and mathematics could calculate exactly when the new moon would appear or know when was the next lunar eclipse and where!  There were also the 12 symbols of the zodiac - and you can see me here standing g next to mine - Libra ! 
Looking at the exhibits in the astronomical lab of an Indian king 
Me pointing at my star symbol, Libra


A short sojourn in India

A busy road in India
I had always wanted to go to India . To me, the word India resonates with all things mystical and romantic. And I can say that after more than 20 years of wanting to go I was suddenly told that our trip was booked and we would be flying on the 27 January! I was so excited that I began packing almost immediately !

Our flight was at 6pm Malaysian time and there was another family going with us - my husband's colleague and his wife and their 18 year old son. We met at the airport and once we had checked in browsed around the shops there while waiting to board. Soon we were up and away ! The seats were quite comfortable though it was a semi budget airline - Malindo Air. However the flight was delayed by almost 40 minutes : someone had checked in but did not board the plane. So the flight attendants and the ground personnel had to get his luggage back out, which I'm sure was not an easy task! 

The journey took us almost 6 hours and we arrived in New Delhi around 9.30 pm Indian time- still early by all standards, in spite of the delay. A representative of the tour agency was waiting for us once we cleared Immigration and took us to our van - a 12 seater Ford Traveller which was our transport throughout our stay in India. The drive to the hotel was long - it was situated in the outskirts of New Delhi.  

Our tour started the next day. We were going to Jaipur , a city about 250km away and took us the better part of a day to reach. Along the way we saw so many interesting and fascinating sites. The road was not an expressway though the driver said it was. Oh by the way his name was Samsar and he would be more or less our guide as well as our driver, throughout our stay ion India. 

The traffic outside Delhi I suppose can only be said to be horrendous- for almost one hour it was a bumper to bumper crawl and I grimace every time the van was manoeuvred into any line that seemed to be moving. That was an experience by itself, I tell you. If you can drive in New Delhi you should be able to drive anywhere! And the noise - honks everywhere . To us who are not accustomed to noisy driving it can be a bemusing experience. In fact on the backs of all trucks and buses one can see the sign -" Please honk! "

the words "please honk" on the backs of trucks
    
We finally arrived in Jaipur around 2.00pm in the afternoon, just in time for lunch, a quick freshing up and then we had to get out again to see the sights in Jaipur, which is the capital of Rajasthan.