Friday, December 28, 2007

Happy New Year 2008: Lets go Japanese?

Nengajo: Japanese New Year Cards

Its end of December, and another New Year beckons.

On New Year’s night, thousands of Malaysians will throng the streets to party and celebrate the coming of the New Year.

Big corporate entities – and even a few government agencies – will be falling over each other to provide entertainment for the masses for the occasion (it’s CSR, lah*). Fireworks are a must. Concerts? Well…in Malaysia, it goes almost without saying.

Once the fireworks go quite, and after the last artist has belted out his last song, the entertained crowd will slowly head home. Tired and sleepy, no doubt. But hugely satisfied with the value-for-money (read: free) entertainment.

But after that, what?

I’m afraid, when it comes to welcoming the New Year, there is nothing much meaningful to it, for us Malaysians. It just comes and goes. Apart from the public holiday to look forward to on the day itself, it’s back to the usual daily grind after that. Nothing much will have changed.

But then, who am I to question these great celebratory events, which will be graced by no less than some of the top leaders of the nation and corporate big wigs?

So, let me just play safe. Let me take this opportunity to tell you something about Japanese New Year celebration instead.

The Japanese New Year is called oshogatsu in Japanese. Its date used to be determined based on the lunar year calendar. But the Japanese, being an adaptive lot, adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1873. So since then, the first day of January is the official New Year's Day.

The shogatsu is without a doubt the most important holiday in Japan. This is when the Japanese really take a break, rest and celebrate the holiday with the family. It is a day for eating and drinking together with the family, at home.

On the eve of New Year the Japanese will visit shrines to pray and pay respect to their ancestors. The New Year itself usually starts with whole family having traditional food, such as the ‘mochi’ (rice cake) for breakfast, in front of the television set which usually features traditional performing arts of Japan.

Then they would read the New Year greeting cards, or nengajō, that they have received. Before that, they will have sent cards to their own friends, relatives, work mates and bosses. The cards are sent so that they reach their recipients on 1st of January. And the ever-efficient Japan postal service duly oblige by taking extra special care during this time of the year to ensure all cards are delivered on January 1.

One thing I like about the Japanese New Year cards is that they are usually simple in design, and yet do the job just nicely. It’s a contrast to our normal greeting cards, which has a riot of colours and cluttered designs.

Some Japanese proudly make their own cards. But, being ever busy with university assignments (no sniggering, now!) I used to buy mine off the shelf at stationeries. Sometimes (well, most of the time actually), I would buy them at the post office where it’s much, much cheaper.

Like many other Asian New Year traditions, Japanese adults also give money to children on this auspices day. Akin to our ‘duit raya’ and ‘ang pow’, in Japan it is called ‘otoshi-dama’ which means ‘new year treasure’.

The New Year’s season lasts well over a week in Japan. Most of the shops will be closed. So if you do not do your shopping and stock up before the holidays, then you would find yourself in the unenviable situation of having nothing to cook for week! In Japan, for a family of five like mine, the costs would be enough to run me bankrupt.

But we take the cue from the highly-organised Japanese and take to the stores with a shopping list in hand a week before to buy enough items to last a week of cooking.

As for the New Year day itself, we’d stay at home eating mee-curry or spaghetti made by Mem Besar. To avoid the wintry cold outside, we’d be huddled in front of the television all day long, in the warmth of our small, but comfortable University family accommodation at Ichinoya Gakusei Shukusha.

But if it was snowing, then you won't find me at home. Instead, I would be frolicking in the snow with Sakinah, Syafiq and Anas somewhere in one of the parks in Tsukuba. Aahhh, such nice memories.

Wishing everybody lots of Happiness and Joy. Blessings for the New Year 2008.

And to all Japanese friends, Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu!

Note: * CSR – corporate social responsibility

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Longing for Makkatul Mukarramah

Jeddah King Abdul Aziz International Airport: Hajj Terminal

Last Friday, 21st December, was the last day of stoning of the jamrat in Mina for the Hajj pilgrims now in Makkah. With that, they will have completed most of the obligatory rituals. All that remains was for them to make the short 5 km trip to return to Makkah and perform the obligatory tawwaf and sae’i.

A short trip it may be. However, with three million pilgrims intent on getting back into Makkah almost at the same time, it is a huge challenge for the pilgrims, as well as, the Saudi Government officials who plan the logistics.

Just imagine thousands of buses ferrying three million passengers towards one point of destination within the space of a few hours. During this mass exodus, Makkah shall be choked full of traffic. A journey which would normally take not more than 15 minutes would now stretch to 3 or 4 hours, minimum, as the buses inch their way into the city.

Not surprisingly, many buses will fail to reach their final intended destinations in order to drop off passengers at their respective hotels.

What follows will be the sight of hundreds and thousands of pilgrims getting off their buses making the long trek to their hotels on foot. Each one will be lugging their bags behind them, forcing their tired limbs to the limit, mindful at the same time, that there is the obligatory tawaf and sae’i still to be performed.

Alas, once the tawaf and sae’i is completed, a huge sense of relief, joy and happiness breaks out.

The mood will now much more relaxed. Pilgrims congratulate each other with a huge smile and a sense of triumph reflected on their faces. They make jokes and tease each other as they call one another ‘hajji’ and ‘hajjah’, their new salutary, well-earned title.

But for those who had come to Makkah on the earlier flights, it is now time to start preparing for the trip back home.

And ‘preparation’ would include, of course, the customary last minute shopping. No doubt, the focus of the Hajj trip is to be close to God. However, spending and contributing to the economic and social well-being of the Makkah inhabitants is also said to be a sunnah. So, it would be a normal sight to see husbands and wives going out in pairs returning a few hours later, smiling sheepishly, with a handful of shopping begs in tow.

With just about everybody going on a shopping spree it was hard not to be infected by the shopping bug. Personally, I had to restrain the Mem Besar from over-spending. Alhamdulillah, she understood my reasoning - but, only just.

With the shopping over, suddenly a mixed feeling of happiness and sadness overcomes us.

Happy because we are now starting to think of our loved ones left in our homeland. The smiling faces of our children, parents, brothers and sisters even start to appear in our dreams as we sleep.

But yet, we will feel sad at having to leave this glorious city Makkah Al Mulkarramah, the blessed city, which has been our ‘home’ for the last one month. For the experience afforded by this sacred city – with virtues unparalleled by any other city on earth – is just overwhelming.

This is the place where our beloved Prophet Muhammad SAW was born. Makkah is the city where the first house of worship for Allah, the Ka'abah, was built. The Masjidil Haram is Islam's most sacred mosque where prayers are rewarded 100,000 times more than prayers in other mosques. This is also where the Zam-Zam well and the Hajar Aswad are to be found. And the list goes on.

As one sits in the King Abdul Aziz International Airport, in Jeddah, waiting for the plane which will fly him or her back home, already he or she will have started to miss Makkah and Medinah the two holiest cities in Islam. Yes, the longing will already have started.

In fact, in a do'a recited by all pilgrims after performing the tawaf wida' (the final tawaf before a pilgrim leaves Makkah for home) he will have begged of ALlah in front of the Ka'abah:

"Oh ALlah, bring me back to the Baitullah, provide me with the sustenance to return to the Baitullah, and let not this day be my final day of appearance before the Baitullah".

As for me, even as we entered the Malaysian airspace, and as I looked down at the lights dotting the streets and the buildings in the far distant below, the fond and exceptional experiences in Makkah Al Mukarramah kept playing in my mind. I hope it will remain indelibly etched in my memories forever.

And may Allah give me the strength and the means to visit Makkah Al Mukarramah, again.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Hajj: a true test in sacrifice

In just two days time, more than three million Muslims from all over the world would congregate at Arafah, a plain about 22km outside Makkah. This act, called the ‘wuquf’, represents the climax of the Hajj pilgrimage.

The Hajj is a test in sacrifice in the way of Allah. The sacrifices cover a completely wide spectrum from the time and money spent, to leaving behind loved ones and the comforts of one’s home. But more importantly, each and every of these sacrifices is aimed at seeking the pleasure of none but Allah subhanahu wa taala.

It is a totally different level of sacrifice compared to what one is used to when going through worldly challenges and experiences. It is an act of whole-hearted and total submission to God.

The Talbiyah, recited by pilgrims doing Hajj, perhaps encapsulates this very essence of act of submission and servitude to Allah:

Labbaik Allah hummalabbaik…“Here I am, O Allah, here I am. Here I am, You have no partner, here I am. Verily all praise and blessings are Yours, and all sovereignty, You have no partner”.

With just two days left to wuquf, all pilgrims will have arrived in this holy city. As a result, Makkah will be very, very crowded. The Masjidil Haram will be bursting at the seams, literally.

If you want to perform your five times daily obligatory prayers inside the mosque, you’d be well advised to be in the mosque at least one hour before the azan. Or else, you would most likely be praying on one of the streets of Makkah. And if you start leaving for the mosque only when the azan is being called then, for sure, you would find yourself praying at the very entrance doorstep of your hotel !

During these last few days before wuquf, pilgrims are advised to ‘take it easy’. What this means really is that they should rest and take care of their health and prepare for the big day of wuquf.

I remember how I spent this time sitting a lot on my small bed in our equally small, five-bedded hotel room. I would find myself looking up the do’a and zikir booklet given to all Malaysian pilgrims by Tabung Haji.

I would also make notes on additional do’a which I’d wanted to communicate to, and ask of, Allah during my wuquf. For wuquf is a big day in every sense of the word. It is the day when Allah would descend to be the closest to His servants, the pilgrims. It is, therefore, one of the best occasions to make self-reflection, ask for forgiveness and make do’a to Allah.

The day after wuquf is Aidil Adha, or what many Malaysians know as the Hari Raya Kurban. Muslims all over the country would slaughter cows or goats as a mark of sacrifice.

To many, this is the only sacrifice in the way of Allah that we have come to know. But for Hajj pilgrims the world over, the sacrifices had started a year or maybe even much earlier, as they prepare themselves financially, physically and spiritually for the journey of a lifetime. A journey to be the guests of Allah. A journey in answer to the call of Allah, …“Here I am, O Allah, here I am…”

May Allah reward all the pilgrims with Haji mabrur.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Another vintage European night performance

Gerrard scores the first goal

“Classy Liverpool qualify in style!”, screamed the headlines on BBC Sport web page this morning.

I could not have asked for a better headline for starting the day on a good and joyful mood.

Yes, Liverpool defied the odds yet again to book their place in the Champions League last 16, after beating Marseille 4 - 0. It was hardly a few weeks ago that they were rock bottom of their group. As usual, all and sundry were writing Liverpool's European season off.

Alas, three games later, they are in second spot -- just barely missing the top spot by a single point.

Well, what can I say. Liverpool FC just ooze confidence on European nights. Our European pedigree is second to none amongst British teams, full stop.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Liverpool whacked 3 - 1 !

Liverpool were knocked-out cold 3 -1 in last night's match against Reading. With that went the 14 games unbeaten run in the start to the season, leaving Arsenal to be the only team unbeaten so far.

But more than unbeaten runs is at stake here. A lost against a middle-rung team is something to be absolutely avoided if Liverpool is to really cement its credential as a title chaser this season.

I hope this will be just a small setback for Liverpool. After all didn't mighty Manchester United also lost to lowly Bolton recently?

All teams will undergo some lost of form. Well, at least I hope so. And I certainly hope Arsenal is in that group too -- sooner rather than later, I might add. If not, than it is going to be a hell of job to try and catch up with them come May next year.

From another angle, this lost might be a blessing in disguise. It might home in the point to the those ignorant American owners of the club that Rafa has a case when he says he wants to talk about the strengthening of the team as early as possible. They should learn to appreciate that Rafa is truly a strategist who thinks well ahead, and always for the goodness of the club on the pitch.

In the mean time, keep your chins up lads and continue with the fight. And of course, lets pray also that Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United will drop points, loads of them.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

School holidays: time to rileks habis?

The end of year school holiday season has started. Apart from my eldest, Sakinah, who is preparing for her semester exams at the polytechnic, all my children are back at home.

So, a couple of weeks before the holiday started I'd started scratching my head thinking: “what would they do during this one-and-a-half month’s break at home?” Left to their own device, the scenario would most likely be as follows:

Subuh: wake up for solat (but not after a few rounds of shouting to wake them up)

After subuh: back to sleep

9.30 or 10.00am: wake up for breakfast

10.00 – 1.00pm: switch on computer, open internet (mySpace, Friendsters, Footy tube, BBC Sport, Liverpool FC TV etc.), watch TV, read newspaper or magazine (sometimes only)

2.00 to 5.00pm: more of the above

6.00pm: play football

After Maghrib: watch news on TV

After news: more internet or play games on Play Station

After 10.30 (after Abah and Umi have gone to bed): watch sports on TV-ESPN, Astro Sports etc.

1.00am: go to bed (finally...)

3.00am: wake up - watch live EPL or Champions League football on TV

5.00am: back to bed again.

Yes. School holidays are akin to a honeymoon period for all of them. All play and no work, and not a worry in the world. Really makes me jealous sometimes.

That’s why this time around I am quite determined not to let them go scot-free.

I signed Syafiq and Anas up for a summer camp in Hulu Langat towards the end of December.

In addition, a few chores are lined up: paint the kitchen, paint the bedroom, buat kebun at the back of our house (kacang panjang, kacang buncis and kailan), go for tuition (for Syafiq who’s taking SPM next year), help out in the front garden, and so on. On top of that, Anas, who is waiting for his PMR result (and is in a real ‘honeymoon mode’), is to finish reading at least two books. Even Nadiah has her own small stack of books to read.

They still go to bed late. And they still wake up at 9.00 or 10.00am. But at least they get to do something worth over the holidays.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Oh! What a mighty tough presentation

Had a big presentation at work place today. It was for the procurement of the services of consultants.

To be sure, I was not expecting everything to go plain sailing. The grilling and bullying by tender board members are legendary. A feeling of tension and nervousness is bound to afflict even the not so faint-hearted ones amongst us.

But was I in for a shocker.

Yup. A shocker it was. Debates and arguments ensued. Fortunately, everything went right, towards the end. Well, almost!

Sure, I came out of the meeting room slightly bruised and battered. But, what’s more important is that I achieved my objective.

Back in my room I said my syukur. To unwind, I played music on my PC: Stairway to Heaven, by Led Zeppelin.

Ahh…what a life :-)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Malaysian teachers: there's still hope yet

Today is the last day of the school term for 2007. Parents all over the country with children in boarding schools were out in force making their way to these schools to fetch back their children.

With Anas, in Batu Kikir, being taken care of by a friend, I made my way to Kuala Kubu Bharu MRSM to collect Syafiq.

Before leaving the college, I stopped by at the administrative block to meet up with the college principal. She is the new principal, having just been transferred here since early of this month. So, my visit was partly a ‘courtesy call’ to get to know the new head. But it was also to discuss Syafiq’s running into trouble with the school authority – like any normal teenagers would.

As I approached the door to her room, I must admit that I was half expecting to be greeted by a matron-like, stern-looking grumpy old lady. You know, like the mean, cane-wielding teacher from the Lat cartoon character.

To my surprise, what I found was this mild-mannered lady who nevertheless exudes confidence as she speaks. She was a good listener, and it showed. For every time after I had finished my piece, she would give her views and comments, which just seem to hit the right notes.

Even on the issue of disallowing students to use hand phones in college – always a sore point for me, what with two of Syafiq’s hand phone already being confiscated – she managed to not irritate me with some feebleminded reasons I have heard before such as “hand phones encourages students to show of…bla, bla, bla”.

But what really impressed me was that she came across as being sincere. She also displayed something of a rarity among the current crop of teachers, which is a passion for teaching. Even though she is the principal, she told me that “saya tak suka dipanggil puan”. Saya lebih suka dengan panggilan cikgu, sahaja, sebab saya seorang pendidik. Teaching is my passion”.

When I asked for her phone number, she volunteered it without a moment’s hesitation. She even requested for my number. Later on, whilst driving back home, I received a phone call. It was the principal “just checking” to see if the number I had given her was correct. Now, how’s that for sincerity?

I know I have always had doubts with the ability of our teachers to truly “teach” our children in every sense of the word. Unlike those in the 1960s or even 70s, the current breed are merely salary earners. They lack passion, competency and, as a result, respect from students and the community at large. But my meeting with this madam principal has proven that there is still hope yet for the teaching profession – and more importantly, our children.

I am a happy parent for that. And just by the look on Syafiq’s face, I think this teacher has managed to convince him to be a better student. Here’s hoping to a better year in 2008, Syafiq. Together, with the support of your madam principal, let’s make sure that it culminates in an excellent result in your SPM, insyaALlah.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Genealogy, anyone?

Family Tree

The advent of the month of Zulkaedah tomorrow, sees the “official ending” of this year’s Raya festivities period.It has been a hectic one month.

It started with our trip back to kampong in Ipoh in the wee small hours of the morning, complete with on-the-road sahur. It ended with a flurry of activities – visits mainly – to close, as well as, long-lost relatives.

During my childhood days, I would glee in anticipation of Hari Raya for the new baju, mercun, bunga api and duit raya. It is now my children’s turn to enjoy such things. For I have now “advanced” to a different level, so to speak.

What I look forward to now is just being back with the big family – my brothers and sister and my parents. And instead of waiting to receive goodies, the joy for me now is also in the giving. Helping my parents to do the chores around the house – cutting the lawn grass, buying stuffs for preparing the Raya spread, or sometimes even helping to bakar lemang.

But there is another satisfaction which I get these past few years. It is something which I could never even start to comprehend during my mercun-playing days.

This is the joy of meeting relatives – especially the elders – trying to get to know them better and, in the process, strengthening our silaturrahim.

Is it a sign that I am getting old? May be. But so what? I have no qualms with that notion.

What’s for certain is that it has moved me to start collecting family stories and listing down the names of relations, their spouses and their descendents.

To be sure, I have been quite interested in our family’s history, origins and family tree since the day I got married. The idea that two souls from different families could meet and unite, thus unifying the two families, really intrigued me.

So a few years ago, I started carrying my Buku Salasilah Keluarga with me whenever I balik kampung for Hari Raya and do the rounds. As I would discover, Hari Raya is the best time to catch up with relatives and update the Buku Salasilah.

Would I call myself a genealogist? Far from it. But I sure am fascinated with it. I am sure there are many out there who share this same fascination, right?

I would love to learn from those with experience working on their own family genealogy.

In the west tracing family history and genealogy is a big thing. They even have genealogy software programs to facilitate in building and managing genealogical database.

I wonder if any of such programs are suitable for working on Malaysian-Malay families.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Leave the green open space alone!

Whilst flipping through the latest Town and Country Planning magazine recently (TCPA, June/July 2007) I came across a very short article by David Lock entitled “Playing out – a child’s right to roam”.

Lock was lamenting the sad reality facing planners in the UK in that they have had to resort to campaigning for the provision of “such an obviously necessary ingredient as family homes with gardens to be part of planned sustainable communities”.

It amazes Lock no end that they have had to “fight for this pathetic victory” whereas common sense would have told that it is a basic ingredient in good planning.

Nevertheless, Lock remains discontented. And this makes for another interesting point of view.

For he goes on to declare that this so-called “victory” should only be taken as a beginning. What’s necessary now is also to “press home the argument for space for older children to play out – to roam away from the house and garden with their friends, and thus complete their transition to adulthood”, he adds.

I must admit, we planners just love to carry out studies and, at the end of it, come out with more of our perennial “tools of trade” which is the planning standards.

As regards open space, we have a nice, orderly hierarchy (as always) of open space beginning from the metropolitan parks, urban parks and right down to pocket parks within residential areas.

The standards are fine. After all, they are there to ensure that the open space system is complete, catering to the needs of children and adults of the various age groups.

The problem, almost always, lies in the implementation.

From my observation, developers of residential schemes would gladly provide for a playground or two, if only to meet the requirements imposed upon them by the local authority.

However, what tends to be forgotten – perhaps conveniently – is space for the older children to roam, explore and to tough it out. Yes, the very type of open space which Lock is up in arms trying to secure in the UK.

Football fields, large open green fields and parkland for formal and informal activities. These are what’s lacking in most Malaysian cities – even in the newly-planned ones.

However, I believe the situation in Malaysia is much more serious. It is one which even Lock would find the UK experience pale in comparison.

For in Malaysia, the lack of provision is one thing. But unabated conversion of public open space to other (read: unplanned) uses is another.

The latter is a bane to good planning and the need to meet the recreational requirements of our children.

It is quite common to hear whatever green space allocated earlier at planning stage to be "taken up” for development of community centres, or even, local centre for political parties.

For crying out loud, why can’t they just leave the sekangkang kera open space alone?

What ever’s left of these little spaces are badly needed by OUR children, mine and yours! Mind you, these are the future generations of our nation that we are talking about. Our future leaders in the making.

Do we not want them to achieve balance as they grow into adulthood? Or do we want Malaysia to be led, and populated, by nerds and geeks come 2020?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

UNESCO brouhaha

The Education Minister, Hishamuddin Hussein, was elected to the Unesco Executive Board on 25 October 2007. And the brouhaha it caused among the local media was nothing short of spectacular.

If they had it their way, they’d have you believe that Hishamuddin Hussein was elected as the Secretary-General of the United Nations. And to top it up, his election was touted as “membuktikan negara mempunyai produk pendidikan yang diiktiraf dunia”, whatever that means…

Alas, the brouhaha is just that – a clamour arising for no good reason.

Firstly, there’s nothing much special about being elected to the Executive Board. Hishamuddin is just one of fifty-eight (58) elected members. Others include representatives from minor-league nations such as Niger, Albania, Cuba, Jamaica, Mongolia, Pakistan, and El Salvador.

Secondly, the sloganeering “produk pendidikan yang diiktiraf dunia” does seem to ring hollow, doesn’t it? What does it really mean? What international recognition are we talking about – if any?

After fifty years of Merdeka, what have we got to show in terms of education advancement?

Our children continue to be subjected to endless “experimentation” as a result of the politicization of the education system.

Just look at the policy on the use of English as a medium of instruction.

As our politicians stumble and muddle through it to suit their political interests, our poor younger generations are slowly but surely being turned into a confused lot – not to mention possessing poor language skills.

As a result, while the Malay students can’t even construct a single sentence in English without being littered with grammatical errors, the non-Malays would shy away from using the National language at the slightest of opportunity. This certainly does not augur well for our future unity as a nation.

To say that this is a sad situation would be an understatement.

I say this because it is at the schooling age that our children have the biggest opportunity to interact closely and make close friends with people of all races without any of the inhibitions and prejudices that we adults might, unfortunately, posses.

It is also here that they can get exposed to the cultures and way of life of other ethnic groups. Oh, what a fertile ground for nurturing and instilling the concept of muhibbah, isn’t it?

And from my personal experience, bonds of friendship developed over that period are the most meaningful and long-lasting.

Too bad our politicians are more interested in getting elected to the Unesco Executive Board in far-away Paris, rather than focusing on real and more pressing issues back home.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Post Raya blues

Just got back from kampong this afternoon in time for solat Jumaat at our local surau. The traffic on the highway today was smooth, thankfully. But wait till tomorrow, or this Sunday, and the balik kota traffic will reach its climax as people rush back in time for work on Monday.

The thing with balik kampong for Raya is that, no matter how bad a propspect it is to 'do battle' on the roads and highways, one has no choice but to join in the exodus.

This is not to say that one is forced into it. For there is always that nice thought and warm feeling of joining our parents, siblings and relatives for Raya to look forward to.

There will also be chances to catch up with old friends, and to engage in bersoreh with the elder relatives as I update our Buku Salasilah Keluarga. And of course there is the joy, laughter and merry-making by the children which is very infectious during the festive period.

And the food. Well...what can I say. I am pretty sure the term 'balanced diet' was never meant to go with 'Hari Raya'.
Caution goes to the wind as I gulped down plates of rendang (Mak's), lemang, ketupat and lots of sweet drinks and kueh (Mem Besar's jam tart...mmm). Enough to get my doctor to give me a good dressing-down when I see him during my next appointment -- IF he finds out, that is (wink, wink).

Alas, come Monday, it's back to work!

What a drag. I can just see Mem Besar pinching me out of the bed this Monday. And mind you she's got a mean of a pinch. Ouch!

Happy Hari Raya while Shawal lasts, but together, let's not forget to do puasa enam, okay.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Selamat Hari Raya

Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Fitri
Minal Aidin Wal Faizin

to all my friends, colleagues and visitors to Seri Kepayang blog
May ALlah grace us with the chance to greet Ramadhan again
next year

Azizi Hj. Ahmad Termizi
Kampong Kepayang Fair Park
Perak Darul Ridzwan

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

"Lift off, we have lift off...!"

Right after solat tarawih at the surau we rushed home to switch on the television and catch Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, Malaysia's first astronaut, hurtling towards outer space.

Of course by then we had missed the countdown. But it was an exciting and proud moment nevertheless.

A quick check on the internet, and below is how the BBC News reported the event at 13:48 GMT (9.48pm Malayisan time), i.e. exactly 16 minutes after lift off.

Soyuz rocket sends crew to space

A Russian spacecraft heading to the International Space Station (ISS) has blasted off from Baikonur, Kazakhstan.

The Soyuz rocket propelled Malaysia's first astronaut into space alongside the first female astronaut to become commander of the space station.

Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor and American Peggy Whitson were accompanied by Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko. Ms Whitson and Mr Malenchenko will remain on the ISS for six months, replacing two other astronauts.

Mr Shukor will spend nine days on the space station before returning to Earth with the outgoing crew.

The launch has been eagerly anticipated in Malaysia, where it has been hailed as a landmark for the Asian nation.

The Soyuz-FG rocket lifted off on schedule at 1752 Moscow time (1322 GMT), topped with a spacecraft containing the three crew members.
The crew are expected to dock at the space station on Friday.

Friday, October 05, 2007

A clean bill of health for Syafiq

Just after iftar today, whilst resting on the sofa in the living room, I received an sms on my handphone.

It was from my son, Syafiq, who is studying in MRSM Kuala Kubu Bharu. He had good news that the specialist doctor at Hospital Selayang has given him a clean bill of health.

You see, Syafiq injured himself playing soccer at his college last July. In fact, he wrote about the incident and his Super MRSM KKB soccer tournament on this blog. He had internal bleeding and, as a result, acute pain in the stomach.

This morning he went for his appointment with the specialist. After looking at the result of the urine test for signs of blood and an ultra-sound scanning the doctor was satisfied that the wound has healed.

Alhamdulillah, I am a much relieved father for that. I had been worrying for him all this while for fear that the injury might be long term.

I guess it is all part of parenting to be worried and sometimes stressed-out with our children's sickness, injuries, emotional rollercoasters, tantrums and demands.

We get worried because we love and care for them. When it comes to our children, we always want the best for them. Always.

Sadly, the simple acts and pleasures of parental love are not always appreciated by children. It is only when the parents are no more around that the stark reality sets in.

Surely this need not be the case? Ask Raudhah, the little orphaned girl whose story has been recounted by Count Byron, just how painful it feels to miss the hugs and tender love of a father she never had.

To all my beloved children, I pray that you will all be able to understand and appreciate this. Hormatilah ibu bapamu. Ingatlah bahawa melakukan kebaikan kepada ibu bapa merupakan suatu perintah dari Allah s.w.t.

Berbaktilah kepada ibu bapamu, doakan kebaikan kepada kami semasa kami hidup, dan apatah lagi setelah kami tiada nanti. Kerana sesungguhnya do'amu adalah antara bekalan buat kami untuk ketika kami menghadap ALlah kelak.

Friday, September 28, 2007

In Kampong Kepayang, a long time ago

All the way north to Butterworth (my kampung is on the right side of this railway line)

Reading Pak Cha's childhood antics of long, long time ago on his blog Nginap Srengenge reminds me of my own childhood days in Kampong Kepayang, Ipoh.

Kampung Kepayang is a traditional kampong right smack in the middle of Ipoh city. It is a gazetted Malay Reserve Area surrounded by ever-encroaching urban development on its peripheries. The kampung is bounded on its west by the KTM railway line which runs all the way to Buterworth in the north, and Singapore down south.

To the north is the Tasek Industrial Estate (famous for producing, among others, the Tasek Cement) as well as the North South Highway which links Ipoh to Kuala Kangsar and farther beyond.

To the south is the Ipoh town proper -- the Ipoh Anderson School and Cator Avenue school compounds and Fair Park, to be exact.

The kampung has not changed much since my childhood days.

Its area size has not grown bigger. On the contrary modern housing schemes are forever knocking on its door, so to speak. The total number of population seems to have stagnated, too.

Those days it used to have a lot of dusun buah-buahan (fruit orchards) with durian, rambutan, nangka and cempedak trees.
One of those dusun belonged to my Nyang (my grandmother's father). It was located in a lembah (valley) close to the Kinta River. The dusun had a neat dangau for us to sit when enjoying our durians. The dangau also provided a very comfortable and cooling resting area whilst waiting for the durians to fall from the trees around us.

The dusun is still there. But the dangau is no more. The big durian trees still stand tall. But one could tell that they are well past their 'service life' and not producing fruit anymore.

The woods around the kampung were our playground. My brothers and I used to spend hours in there looking for "fighting-spider", cutting down rattan plants, searching for woods to make hockey sticks, catapults and so on.

Sometimes we'd get a sting or two, or bruises here and there. But the lure of the kampung surroundings was too great for us to resist.

Putik durian Kampong Kepayang

I remember once during one of my outdoor excursions a black snake slithered and crossed the path right in front of me. I froze. And the snake did enough to make me retreat (ok, actually I dashed home in panic) and promised myself not to wander too far away from home next time.

But of course I broke my own promise! Ha, ha.

Boys will be boys. What's more, any kampung boy worth his salt is not going to be intimidated by the mere sight of one Mr. Snake, is he?

You know, sometimes I feel sorry for my own kids for not being able to do and enjoy what I did and enjoyed. The freedom to roam all over the kampung. To stay out and play in the rain when there is a downpour. To wander in and out of the woods at will.

Perhaps I am partly to be blamed for this too. Over-protectiveness. Yes, that's the problem with us parents nowadays. For example, a light pitter patter of the rain drops would hear parents hollering all their kids to "masuk rumah, hari nak hujan!".

But then again, I wonder if my kids would be interested at all in all those things we used to enjoy. By the look of it, they are more into computer games, internet (mySpace, friendster etc.), television (Astro), music (mp3 players) and going on an outing to downtown KL with friends to catch the movies or merely time-wasting window shopping .

*Sigh* how times have changed.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Iftar, tarawih on Putrajaya Lake

A totally unique and moving experience.

That is how, in short, I would describe my boat ride on the Kelah yesterday.

For the uninitiated, kelah is a prized freshwater fish in Malaysia. But this Kelah I am referring to is one of Perbadanan Putrajaya Cruise Tasik's handsomely-built dinning cruise boat that ply the routes on Putrajaya Lake.

I have been on the Kelah a few times before. But this time around it brought a different experience altogether. I was invited to have iftar (break of the fast) on the boat as it traverses the beautiful, clear waters.

As the time for iftar approaches, the boat captain anchors the boat in the middle of the lake at its the deepest end (14-15m deep), facing the qiblat.

As maghrib sets in, a beautiful call of the adzan was made by an ustaz from a local university. How serene and enchanting the lake looked at that point in time, especially against the background of the beautiful sunset, forming dramatic silhouettes of the distinctively charming Alam Warian development in the foreground.

Subhanallah. It makes me feel so tiny in front of The Creator.

After the Maghrib we continued with our iftar. This was followed by Isya' and Tarawih, also on the cruise boat.

Ramadhan is the month of barakah. And to my mind, this small but meaningful event should bring lots of barakah to those who came up with the idea for iftar and tarawih on the beautiful Putrajaya Lake.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Longing (for Husnul Khatimah)


This morning whilst driving to work, by the grace of ALlah, I had the opportunity to listen to a talk over the radio by one Ustaz Zahazan Mohammed.

Ustaz Zahazan is a lecturer at the International Islamic University of Malaysia. His morning talks is usually on tafseer of the Al Qur'an. But today, due to un-avoidable circumstances, he couldn't come on air. So the radio station (IKIM) played a recording of his past talk instead.

It was on Husnul Khatimah.

I was overwhelmed (floored, literally).

Ustaz Zahazan said "Husnul khatimah ialah mati atau berakhirnya kehidupan seseorang itu dalam keadaan baik, iaitu beriman, dalam keadaan ingat kepada Allah.

"Lazimnya antara tanda mereka yang mati dalam keadaan Husnul Khatimah ini ialah mereka boleh mengucap dua kalimah syahadah.

"Lawan kepada ini ialah Su’ul khatimah. Ini ialah mati dalam keadaan tidak baik. Umpamanya tidak boleh mengucap, atau dalam keadaan marah kepada Allah, atau berada di dalam pengaruh iblis" (na'uzubillah).

"Mereka yang mencapai Husnul Khatimah adalah terpilih. ALLah akan memberi taufik dan hidayah kepada mereka supaya terdorong untuk berbuat baik dan menjauhi perkara mungkar.

"Lihat saja mereka yang ahli masjid, mereka yang mendekati Quran, atau suka berbuat baik kepada orang lain. Lazimnya, mereka inilah yang dipermudahkan oleh ALlah untuk mati dalam keadaan Husnul Khatimah.

"Sebaliknya mereka yang mati dalam Su'ul Khatimah adalah mereka yang berbuat perkara khurafat dan juga mereka yang mengulang-ulangi perbuatan dosa, walaupun sudah selalu diperingati".

Oh, ALlah. You work in mysterious ways, beyond our comprehension. You give guidance and enlighten whom You please, as and when You please.

Whatever you have in store for me in this worldly life, oh ALlah, please bestow me -- as well as my parents and my family -- Husnul Khatimah.

I seek your mercy. Amiin.

Note: Ustaz Zahazan Mohammed's talk can be followed on Radio IKIM, Monday - Friday at 6.30am-7.00am (repeats at 7.30pm-8.00pm).

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Ramadhan: What's the score so far?

It is now four days into Ramadhan. Before you know it, it shall be Shawal and Ramadhan would be gone for another year.

Ramadhan is the month when Rasulullah and his sahabah would increase their ibadah. For, it is the month when our deeds would be rewarded many times over by ALlah.

How have we fared in so far as increasing our ibadah and improving its quality is concerned?

I would ask my self, thus:
  • Have I done the Tarawih solat every night without fail?
  • No. of times Tahajjud solat is done at night
  • No. of times other sunat prayers are done - Dhuha etc.
  • Progress so far in recitation of the Qur'an
  • Reading to improve knowledge on Islam
  • Ceramah attended/listened to
  • Zikir, and do'a
  • How much have I given for sadaqah and fisabilillah
  • Good deeds done to my parents, family, friends and others.

That's a long list already. The big question whether I have achieved any of them?

I have to admit that I've still got a long way to go.

How weak I am, oh ALlah. I pray that You give me the strength and iman to undertake these responsibilities. And also ALlah, give the same strength to my beloved parents and members of my family -- my wife and my children.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Ramadhan al-mubarak

Ramadhan al-mubarak: A reminder to my family and I

The day after tomorrow will be the 1st day of Ramadhan, the month of barakah. It is the holiest month in Islam, the month when ALlah SWT is most gracious and generous with us.

Rasulullah SAW says:

"Sungguh telah datang kepada mu bulan yang penuh barakah, di mana ALlah mewajibkan kamu berpuasa, di saat dibuka pintu-pintu syurga, ditutup pintu neraka, dibelenggu syaitan-syaitan, dan di mana dijumpai satu malam yang nilainya lebih dari seribu malam.

Maka barang siapa yang tidak berhasil beroleh kebaikannya, sungguh tiadalah ia akan mendapatkan itu buat selama-lamanya"

(Riwayat Ahmad, Nasa'i dan Baihaqi)

Therefore, I am reminding and urging myself and members of my family to take this opportunity to seek the pleasure of ALlah SWT.

First and foremost, take care of your fasting. And then, do increase the quality of your ibadah in whatever means possible: be it through solat, reciting the Qur'an, do'a and supplications, by giving alms. Or by just being nice to other people.

May ALlah give us the strength to perform our ibadah so that this Ramadhan shall be a better month of Ramadhan than our previous ones.


Saturday, September 08, 2007

Perak 0 -- 3 Kedah

Ok, Ok, I know. Perak lost.

You could almost tell it by that big smirk on the Mem Besar's face. And I just can't stand looking at it. Arrrghhhh!!!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

NS: they never learn, do they?

Another serious misfortune has befallen on one of our National Service trainees. This time, a death.

The death of Mohd Rafi Ameer a trainee at the Cheneh Cemerlang camp in Kemaman last Saturday is said to be the twentieth since the National Service was started by the government.

I can just hear the defensive mode of the people in charge getting into overdrive here: “death occurs everywhere”… “the safety and interests of trainees are always on the top of our mind”…“some trainees do not properly declare the sickness that they have” etc. etc.

The truth is, we parents are being taken for a ride – and sometimes even – taken for fools, I might add.

And I’m talking from experience, here. For, my daughter Sakinah went through an ordeal herself at the National Service camp in Pasir Puteh, Kelantan. It was an experience which made me feel betrayed, and one which moved me to write to Malaysiakini in March of this year.

You see, when I encouraged her to go I was confident that she would be well taken care of. After all, these are teenagers we’re talking about. Hardly the G.I. Joes or Janes. But nothing could be farther from the truth – well, at least not at that Pasir Puteh camp, anyway.

The dinning hall was so filthy that the local authority had it sealed (as in closed down!). The equipments for training were next to non-existent.

But the saddest part is, a trainee girl from Cheras (staying not far from our place, actually) died in a bathroom. Whatever happened to her that fateful night, nobody really knows until today. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s being conveniently forgotten.

Please buck-up, the powers that be. You are gambling with the lives and safety of our children! Would you do the same with your children?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Perak vs Kedah

The Malaysia Cup finals match this Sunday at the National Stadium, Bukit Jalil, shall be between Perak and Kedah.

Yours truly is from Perak. The Mem Besar is of course from Kedah. Although she's not into football -- can't even tell a soccer ball from a basketball :-) -- she has already started taunting me.

This is an act of provocation!

So, who do you think will win?

My bet is on Perak. Kejor Yob kejor...!

Friday, August 31, 2007

Putrajaya Floria

After finished watching the Merdeka Parade on the telly today, we rushed over to Putrajaya to visit the Putrajaya Floria 2007.
A must-visit for flower-lovers and those into gardening. Just look at the riot of colours on display at the event above.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Merdeka !

Pics above: The Jalur Gemilang and the Perak flag put up by my Father at our kampung house in Kepayang Fair Park, Ipoh

Right: Mat Kilau, a true freedom fighter

Above: Celebrating Merdeka; it's no monkey bussiness, it should come from the heart (pic courtesy of TV Smith)

Hello again everyone.

In about two hour's time, when the clock strikes 12.00 midnight, thousands of Malaysians will be screaming their heads off shouting "Merdeka".

Yes, tomorrow will be Malaysia's independence day. For many, it is an occassion (excuse?) to be joyous and soak in the festive atmosphere. I just heard over the radio that all roads leading to Putrajaya are choked with traffic. That's just to show you how Malaysians simply enjoy festivals, carnivals and merry-making.

How will you be celebrating Merdeka?

To be sure, each Malaysian has his own individual way of showing his sense of patriotism and appreciation of Merdeka. We cannot be forced into it. This kind of thing comes from the heart.

Granted, some wouldn't give a hoot about Merdeka. Others might be highly passionate and feel full of pride just thinking about it. Notwithstanding his lack of sensitivity for the religious believes of others, the later group would include, I believe, the now famous (or infamous, if you like) Namewee, the Negarakuku rap singer.

If you ask me, we owe it to the TRUE FREEDOM FIGHTERS to make sure that Merdeka is properly celebrated. And by that I mean PROPERLY celebrated. Remembered and put in the correct context of struggle. Highlighting the blood, sweat and tears shed, as well as, lives sacrificed for the future sake of this nation.

These struggles did not start only fifty-odd years ago. It had its beginnings much earlier. Datuk Maharaja Lela, Datuk Sagor, Datuk Bahaman, Tok Janggut and Mat Kilau are just some of the many names that come to mind here.

In my book, understanding and appreciating the struggles of these heroes beats merely flying the flags, giving salutes at march passes, and indulging in boisterous festivities, any time.

For the sake of my children, sure, I will fly the flag every year in front of our house. But I would also make sure that they understand the true significance of the word 'Merdeka'.

I am not sure if my ramblings make complete sense to them. But, I will never tire of doing this.

As much as it is an act of gratitude to our fallen heroes, it is also about our responsibilities in shaping the future leaders of this nation.

Happy Merdeka! And may ALlah bless us all and our nation, Malaysia.

Left: the image most often associated with Merdeka

Below: The Jalur Gemilang in front of our house put up by my son, Syafiq

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Oh, Turkiye

So, after a roller coaster of a ride, Turkey has finally elected its Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul as the country's new president.

Abdullah Gul is said to be the first politician with an Islamist background to become head of state since the creation of the Turkish Republic in 1923. His candidacy had split Turkey for months, leading to street protests by the secularists and even forcing an early general election.

You see, under the guidance of its founding father, Mustafa Kamal Atartuk, Turkey changed totally from being the seat of the Islamic-based Othmaniyya Caliphate (1299-1922) to being an out-and-out secular state.

Mustafa Kamal Atartuk’s impact was total and wide-ranging. All symbols of Islam suddenly became a big no, no. For example, even the simple act of wearing the Islamic headscarf by women is banned from state institutions including in schools and universities.

Interestingly, Mr Gul's wife wears the headscarf. She will be the first First Lady to wear it. The big question is: how can this be done inside the presidential palace, the ultimate of state institution?

It will be fascinating to see how this historic nation – especially the secularists (strongly backed by the army) – handles this.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Things Change vs Change Things

Have you seen the re-print of the historical pre-Merdeka Straits Times newspaper?

Thats right. In the run-up to Merdeka Day, the NST is re-printing its pre-Merdeka editions (beginning 25th August to 31 August, 1957). They are given free of charge to readers of the NST.

I think it's a novel idea.

It provides for an interesting read, allowing for present-day Malaysians to catch a glimpse of the times gone by. In this particular case, the times when we were preparing to announce to the world that - after a long struggle - we are at last a fee nation.

My daughter, Sakinah, noted that the advertisements are interesting. But it was "kinda' weired", she observed.
The reason for her remark was because currently un-heard of products like Walpamur paint, Fraser & Neave drinks, and Doug's Clotted Cream were featured quite prominently. And so were Campbell's Frozen Soup and Vitacup chocolate drink (but for me, the pictures and illustrations that go with ads are so interesting and classics to my eyes).

No doubt, fifty years ago these products must have been the 'in-thing' and the 'must-haves'. Today, they are almost alien to the current generation like my daughter.

After fifty-odd years, things have changed in Malaysia too; socio-economically, culturally, and politically.

But the question is: what influence have we exerted to change things for the better?

As time passes by, whether we are ready for it or not, things WILL change. Sometimes - if we were lucky - for the better. But sometimes, far from it.

Those who are winners and the leaders amongst us change things. They take charge. And they make things happen. They are not ones to just sit back and let things pass by aimlessly, and left to luck alone.