Sunday, December 31, 2006

Eidul Adha - Celebration of Sacrifice

Eidul Adha is another important celebration in Islam. It takes place on the 10th day of the twelfth and last month (Dzulhijjah) of the Islamic (Hijrah) calendar.

Eidul Adha is the celebration of sacrifice. It is to remember the spirit of Prophet Ibrahim and how he was willing to sacrifice his son Ismail to show his obedience to Allah.

Muslims all around the world will celebrate this day, although it has particular significance for pilgrims who at this time will be completing the Hajj pilgrimage in Makkah. The day begins with a sacrifice of an animal in commemoration of Prophet Ibrahim’s sacrifce of a lamb in place of his son. When this is done, 1/3 of the meat goes to the needy people, 1/3 is given to neighbors and friends, and 1/3 stays with your family.

The Sacrifice

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Centuries-old Religious Observance

The Hajj journey for millions of Muslims who are currently in Makkah begins today. News reports that there will be 2.5 million pilgrims who will be doing Hajj this year.

The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam. It is a requirement for any Muslim who has the means to carry out the Hajj to perform it, at lease once in a lifetime. It is a centuries-old religious observance, one that draws all Muslims closer to their spiritual roots. This year Hajj is even more significant as the Day of Arafah occurs on Friday, hence it will be the Hajj Akbar (Great Hajj).

At about the same time last year, I was among the millions in Makkah performing my Hajj. Together with me were my husband and Mom. Hajj is once in a lifetime opportunity, who knows if there will be a second chance. And because of this too….I was glad that Mom could come along. Even though both my husband and I had attended a series of religious classes prior to going for our Hajj, I felt that it was always good to have someone who could really guide us during this journey. And who else would be the best person for this… if not Mom. She has been for Hajj a few times in the last couple of years. She did her first Hajj with my late father when she was 35 and at the age of 67 she was still having the go for it!!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

It's Christmas Time Again

Monday was Christmas Day. As it was a holiday, waking out of bed was such a drag. But it was such a beautiful day outside. So bright and sunny and the smell of coffee was enough to get me up.

When I went downstairs I saw my little girl sitting happily in front of the TV watching her favorite program on Disney Channel. I could hear Mickey singing a Christmas tune and she was singing along with him too. Kids will always be kids. Holidays are always the best time for them.
I recalled how different Christmas was many years back when I was studying in the US. Christmas came during winter. Even though the sun was out…it was freezing cold outside. Being outdoors was a challenge as one would have to brave the chilly Wisconsin air. The day time temperature was between 30˚F – 35˚F and it was even colder at night. Well, it’s the Midwest…what would you expect!!

I remember one Christmas season during my senior year. I was working as a library assistant in one of the libraries on campus. As most of the locals had gone back home for Christmas, my supervisor had scheduled a few of us the foreign students to be on duty during the day and close the library in the evening. Just imagine having the entire library all to ourselves!!…It was fun as work was easy.

The place was very quiet as there were not many students around. But it was kind of eerie too having the entire place all to ourselves. We worked a full day shift, from morning right till evening. Having spent the entire day in the library prevented us from knowing that a snow storm had hit our campus area.

As always, we closed the library at 5.00pm that evening. Both my roommate and I grabbed our coats and were ready to head home. The moment we stepped out…boy, it was snowing so hard and the whole area was already filled with a few inches of fresh snow.

In fact it had started to snow earlier, but we didn’t know how bad it was as we had been indoors most of the time. When we headed out, snow was about 5 inches thick. The weather forecast had it that a blizzard had hit the area. Visibility was very bad and one could hardly see the road.

No matter how bad it was, both my housemate and I were determined to get home in one piece. Blizzard or no blizzard!! It was no use trying to wait for the campus bus or try to hail a cab. No one who was in the right frame on mind would want to be on the roads during this time. In fact the police had advised motorists to stay off the roads.

Leaving us with no choice, we decided to walk. Our apartment was a few blocks from the library. It was cold…but we just had to brave the freezing temperature and the blowing icy winds. It was one of our most daring attempts and also was one of the longest walk of our lives I guess. Braving the snow storm was really a challenge. We were like zombies…all wrapped up and walking wobbly in the snow.

We got home alright…exhausted and very cold. Our feet were almost numb from the walk….and our cheeks were red like the Eskimos. Lucky for only took us a few mugs of hot chocolate to “defrost” ourselves. But that was surely some experience to remember…and that Christmas season became very snowy season for most of us ;-)

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Imagine having a fort as your postal address….

Jane Doe
c/o Agra Fort
Uttar Pradesh India

I visited Agra Fort a couple of years back. To me Agra Fort is a great place. It is the best place to understand about the Mughal Empire which was founded in the early 1500s. Walking through the gates of the fort, gives you this immortal feeling of a Mughal warrior riding back from war….sounds so corny right? Well…at least that’s how I felt when I hopelessly allowed myself to be transported back into time.

The Agra Fort was built on the same river bank as Taj Mahal and is less than 2 kilometers from this monument Shah Jahan built for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. It is one of the most important and robustly built stronghold of the Mughals, embellished with number of richly decorated buildings showcasing the imposing Mughal style of art and architecture. It was constructed by the third Mughal emperor Akbar.

The fort was built alongside the Yamuna River and stretches almost 2.5 km. It consists of a wall built in red sandstone and several buildings inside. Legend has it that the attacker would have to get past lions and tigers before they are able to get into the fort.

The wall has 2 gates, the Delhi Gate and the Amar Singh Gate. Public enters the fort via the Amar Singh Gate.

The fort offers one of the most beautiful architectural designs from the 16th century Mughal Empire. The palace in Agra Fort can be divided into two sections based on material, red sandstone and marble. The red sandstone buildings mean they were built before Shah Jahan or early years of his reign.

The marble areas were built by Shah Jahan. The marble sections are absolutely breathtaking with marble inlays with colored stones. The view of the Taj Mahal is incredible and you would understand how sad was Shah Jahan when he was imprisoned and saw Taj Mahal everyday, so close but yet so far away.

The fort has halls known as the Diwan-i-Khas and two very beautiful mosques the Nagina & Mina Masjid.

The place is immense and it is easy to lose yourself in all the interconnecting courtyards and sun-baked rooms. But when you view the jewelled pavilions and towering cupolas - you will swear you would want to come back here one day….and the experience of the fort will stay with you for the rest of your life.

Entrance through the main gates.

The red walls of the fort.

Carved pillars with inlays.

The marble area which was built by Shah Jahan.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Life is a succession of moments

Last weekend both my husband and I attended a wedding reception of an old friend’s son. We were college mates at the University of Wisconsin, Madison way back in the mid 80s. The father of the groom, Syed and my husband did engineering together. The groom’s mother, Kak Aiza was my senior. In fact when I first arrived in Madison, she had helped my friends and I who had just gotten over our jet lag to deposit our scholarship money and open our bank accounts.

The reception which was attended by many relatives and friends was held at Seri Melayu Restaurant. It was a very nice and simple reception. The food was delicious and it was definitely a very pleasant way to spend one’s Sunday afternoon.

What was even more interesting about the reception was the fact that we met up with friends whom we have not met for ages. I have not met some of them since the time I graduated in 1986. Some of us looked the same and some may have added a few extra pounds here and there. It took me a while to recall their names but as we talked memories of the good old college days came back to mind.

Time has moved on so fast since those days we were in college. Our worries of sitting and passing for exams have long gone. Instead we worry about the children now. We start drawing up plans of providing them with the best education. We start looking for good universities to send them to and source for sponsors or loans for their college education.

But most of all…I was very happy to see that most of us are blessed with wonderful families, good careers and we are enjoying every moment of it.

After all…as an American artist Corita Kent puts it… “Life is a succession of moments. To live each one is to succeed.”

I guess that’s how it goes.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Much A Do About Il Divo

There has been so much buzz about this group IL DIVO. News has it that they will be coming to town and will be performing in Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre (KLCC) on January 16, 2007. So…what is it about this group that got their fans all so crazy about them?

Well… to begin tell me! I was inquisitively introduced to this group when a friend sent a note asking about its concert here in KL. Then there was another friend who asked if I would like to go see the concert. Huh…IL DIVO? Concert? What’s going on? I’ve never heard of this group before and the best part was when I asked my husband he said…well these guys sing the opera. Huh??

I guess I have been really out of date with current developments in the musical industry. Well…never have followed it closely..other than what’s new been playing on the radio. Of course, I know the songs of Beyonce, Nelly Furtado, Pussycat Dolls etc. But IL DIVO..hum…never heard of them before. So...that got me into my search about this group.

Thanks to the Internet I managed to find what I needed to know about IL DIVO.

My search led me to discover this. IL DIVO is a musical group that has sold millions of records, that fills arenas with legions of frighteningly devoted female fans.

IL DIVO are American tenor David Miller, Swiss tenor Urs Buhler, a French pop singer named Sebastien Izambard, and Spanish baritone Carlos Marin. According to Wikipedia IL DIVO is Italian for “divine male performer”.

I then got myself to listen to their song that is getting the most publicity "Regresa A Mi," the Spanish version of Toni Braxton's "Unbreak My Heart”.

Upon listening to it..this is what I have to say. Boy… these guys are good!! I am no music teacher. I don't know who's the baritone, or who's the tenor, I don't often listen to opera. But I do know this....IL DIVO is an absolute pleasure to listen to!

Having heard what these guys are capable of, I went to check out their up coming concert in KL. Fuhhh…what do you know!!! The tickets are priced at RM1500, 1000, 803 and the cheapest is RM503. Man…that’s going to burn a big hole in my purse ..if I really decide to go watch them in action. I still have a couple more days to think about it. Who knows…"Santa” (not that I believe in one…) may just place one ticket under my pillow. Perhaps it also doesn’t hurt to ask my little girl’s tooth fairy to give me a ticket in exchange with my the tooth the she’s taken away from my daughter…heh..heh!!

Dream on…dream on and I… shall continue to wish and wait.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Gone Shopping

Just today I received a couple of sms exchanges asking me about places to shop. One was from a friend who is in Mecca performing Haj and the other was from an interesting lady who wants to shop and yet does not know what to shop. Pretty interesting huh…

I must admit that I like going out shopping. There are no specific things that I go for. However, most of the times I would end up with the usual stuff…clothes, shoes, crystal bracelets or cut fabrics. There were also times when I have ended up buying furniture for the house and a work out equipment which was to supposedly help me loose weight.

One time I was in Dallas, Texas and I had only about two hours to go out and venture the mall. Well….what do you know? In 10 minutes I was already in a cab heading to the nearest shopping mall and in about 1 hour I had managed to get some nice pants and dresses for my girl back home. I also managed to throw in a glow in the dark dinosaur jigsaw puzzle from ToysRUs. I was even early for my back to hotel pick up. Pretty cool huh?

Shopping has its ups and downs. In some places shopping is relaxing and hassle free. You can sort of take you own sweet time to look around and choose what you’d like to purchase. The sales assistants are around should you need help from them. Otherwise, you are free to move around to admire and appreciate the stuffs you like. If you hit the malls in big cities like Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Sydney, London etc shopping is a definite breeze.

However, if you would like to put your shopping skills to test, try shopping in the street bazaars or markets. Be it in the Silk Market in Beijing, Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok, Palika Bazaar in Delhi or Siti Khadijah Market in Kota Baru the key attitude to shopping here is to BARGAIN. If you are good at haggling prices and pretending to walk away when the price is not right, you are pretty much in good shape. Meaning…you will get what you want.

Unlike in the shopping malls where prices of merchandise are fixed, prices of stuffs in the markets vary. If the seller knows that you are a tourist or from out of town, the price will be higher. You could be paying double if not triple what a local would be paying. So bargaining is a must or else you may just be knocking your head upon discovering that you have paid more than you should be. Trust me…I have encountered such situations before. So to avoid getting “ripped off”…bargain and bargain hard. It may be exhausting but it is sure very rewarding.

Having gone through all these pleasant and some unpleasant moments of truth during a shopping stint…would I still want to do it again, one would ask. Of course, I would be looking forward to other interesting shopping rendezvous. You’ll get better with more practice and the reward may just be something that you will cherish forever. As the saying goes…you’ll never know until you try it.

Monday, December 4, 2006

Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah

If you are into autobiographies I would recommend you this book. I read it sometime back. Had no intentions of buying it but..I was getting tired of reading novels written by the western writers. I wanted a change from thrillers to something that could make me to speak. It was my luck I guess...I sort of stumbled upon this book at the bookstore.

Chinese Cinderella is a story written by a woman in her fifties about her own childhood. The story is set against a background of life in Japanese-occupied China and the civil war between the communists and nationalists which followed Japan's defeat at the end of the Second World War.

Yen Jun-ling life became catastrophic when her mother dies. Not only does her father turn from the five children he had by his first wife when he marries again, but her three brothers and sister also despise Jun-ling for being the cause of their own neglect.

Third Brother tells her:

It all stems from our mama dying when you were born. Big Sister and our two older brothers knew her better than I did. I only remember her a little. Things were much nicer when she was alive. You made her go away.

Jun-ling's story is seen through the filter of time. I find this book highly memorable. It has an extraordinary catalogue of abuse and malice which will hound you for a while after you finish reading it.

Narrated by Jun-ling herself, it is an intimate and simply told story. Read it for yourself and see if you agree with me.

Never Too Late to Start

After putting off the idea many times, I finally gathered the courage to start my blog. Don’t really know how the blog will take off…but I’m hoping that it will be a fun and lively space for all.