Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Salam Aidilfitri

Ketupat palas serunding daging,
Nasi dagang ikan tenggiri,
Hidangan enak dari pantai timur.
Buat sahabatku di alam blogging,
Salam ukhuwah di Aidilfitri,
Semuga berkekalan sepanjang umur.

Maaf zahir dan batin dari Oldstock dan famili.

Ar Raudah Mosque in Bukit Batok, Singapore where I'll be performing my Aidilfitri prayers, insyaallah.

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To all my blogger friends and everyone who has kindly dropped by, I wish you Happy Holidays. Watch what you eat, okay? Stay cool and see you after the break.

To tide you over until the next post, the following is the first part of my attempt at writing fiction. Just a short story that was first written years ago but re-discovered recently on an old 3.5" floppy. Luckily the file was still intact. Although written some time back, the story is still a work in progress (how's that for procrastinating, huh?).

A BINGO STRAIGHT TO THE HEART (Part 1)

It had been a very trying day. The drizzle that began early that morning further compounded the inevitable traffic jam in Kuala Lumpur on a late Saturday afternoon. My spirits weren’t particularly high that day; it hadn’t been for the past few weeks. There were problems at work and my car’s air-conditioning chose a nice time to run out of gas. Bummer.

I was in the lift lobby of the Ampang Puteri Specialist Hospital, waiting for the elevator to take take me up to the 3rd floor where my father was being warded. The lift seemed to take ages to arrive, as things are wont to be whenever you are in a hurry. I had not noticed the tall gentleman standing a few feet behind me when he spoke.

“Assalamualaikum. Sorry… but are you Junainah?”

I turned my head, slightly surprised to see a smartly dressed young man who somehow knew my name.

“Alaikum-salam. Yes, I am.” I replied. The young man’s face does not look familiar to me, but then again, I’m poor at remembering faces.

“You studied at Sheffield Hallam University about 5 years ago, I believe. I don’t think you remember me but I was at your house once in the winter of 1990,” he said. I was searching my memory bank when he continued, “We played Scrabble that day, together with Aida and your housemates. I’m Johari, Aida’s classmate, or former classmate I should say.”

The mention of the Scrabble game suddenly brought the memories flooding back. Of course now I remember! How can I ever forget that day; it had been a day of many `firsts’….

End of hijacking saga

NST online reported that MISC has successfully negotiated the release of its tanker Bunga Melati Lima, from Somali pirates who hijacked the ship exactly a month ago. The paper also carried an article about the relief felt by families of two of the crew -> The best Raya gift, say families.

One of the crew of Bunga Melati Lima, Rizal Shah Bin Abdul Jabar, is a nephew of mine. Rizal's mother, Puan Fauziah Salleh, is my cousin. I'm happy for my cousin that her son has been released. Alhamdulillah.

It was reported that negotiations for the other ship, Bunga Melati Dua, is still ongoing. Let us all pray for the successful release of this ship and the safe return of all the crew.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Approaching the end of Ramadhan 1429AH

Today is the 27th day of fasting. There are only three days left to go before we leave this holy month of Ramadhan and end our compulsory fasting for this year.

There are many from amongst us who would be sad with the passing of this month. We would miss the bountiful rewards that the Almighty reserves for His faithful servants only in this month. Perhaps there are some who rue the missed opportunity to do good deeds on Lailatul Qadr, the Night of Power that is better than a thousand months. Others would miss the state of being calm and patient that the ritual of fasting is meant to inculcate.

At the same time, I guess there would be many people who would not be missing Ramadhan. They need not worry anymore about sneaking a bite, sipping a drink or puffing a cigarette behind closed doors. May Allah have pity on these type of people.

So how was my Ramadhan for this year? Alhamdulillah, praise be to the Almighty... it has been a very fulfilling so far. I have been relatively healthy... the gastric problems that I experienced earlier in the year did not resurface. Things at work, although busy, were all under control. I had to travel to the Head Office only twice this month so most times iftar and sahur were together with my family.

And yes, I would missing Ramadhan very much. Apart from the religious rituals, I would miss one of the most lively event that happens only during the fasting month, the Ramadhan Bazaar. For a food aficionado like me, the enormous range and variety of food and drinks that you can find at these bazaars are mind-boggling. Dishes from other regions that are not normally available at other times, can now be found at the bazaars. For example, the east-coast dish of nasi kerabu and nasi dagang can be found sold at many stalls here in Johor Bahru. There is this one stall at the bazaar near my home that sells Penang Char Kuetiaw (the Bukit Mertajam version). There are of course, the normal Johor favourites such as lontong kering, nasi beriani, nasi ambang, asma rojak, mee rebus, sup tulang merah, murtabak etc. etc. etc. It is very tempting to try all at once.

Asma rojak at bazar ramadhan Bandar Baru Uda

The range that's available is so huge that I can choose one dish for each day of breaking fast, and when the whole 30 days of fasting is up, there would still be many dishes that I have not tasted. But of course, that was not what I did. In the first week, I sort of experimented by trying the options available and once I found a few stalls that sold tasty food that I liked, I just stick to those few.

Bandung soda, another Johor specialty drink

In our house, the drink that is more or less compulsory to have at iftar is Air Kathira. This particular drink only surfaces during Ramadhan (well actually, some drink stalls sell so-called air kathira throughout the year but these are tasteless). The most famous air kathira in Johor Bahru is called Kathira Abu Bakar. Many news articles have been written about it. However, a new contender has emerged since last Ramadhan to challenge Abu Bakar's top position. It's called Kathira Urip, and I have been a loyal customer since last year.

Air kathira (also spelled khatira or katira) is a cool drink made with evaporated milk, pandan-flavoured syrup, kathira gum, biji selasih and buah kembang semangkuk. Some versions of this drink also include grass jelly (cincau), raisins and shredded dates. The kathira gum is a tree-extract and comes in powder form. It is mainly produced in India. You probably know that biji selasih are called basil seeds in English. I found out from a friend of a friend in Facebook that buah semangkuk is called malva nuts in English. Malva nuts (see pic below) come mainly from Thailand.

Air kathira is a delicious drink. I cannot describe the taste. What puzzles me is why Abu Bakar and Urip only sell their drink during the fasting month? I have googled and found a recipe for this drink so that I can try make one myself.

In a few days, I bid farewell to the holy month that is full of trials, temptations and rewards. May Allah be graceful enough to grant me the time to meet the next Ramadhan.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Local version of an Indon song

Pencinta Wanita Versi Kelantan

I had previously heard the mp3 recording of the song Pencinta Wanita that was sung in Kelantanese dialect, but it was only until a few days ago that I saw the Youtube video after a friend, Shimdin Hashim, posted it in Facebook.

Shimdin also included the lyrics, if you fancy to sing along.

The original song was a hit a few years back and sung by Irwansyah of Indonesia.



Tajuk Lagu : Minak ko ore tino (Pencinta Wanita versi Kelate...)

Di mano koh buleh cari cinto
Cinto sengoti dale hidok ambo
Lebih kure hok srupo dio
Semugo temu denga dio.....

Ambo toksey nok jangji ngan dio
Pasti sene hidok denge ambo
Biar dio sendiri yang raso
Betapo gilo nyo ko dio

Ambo meme minak ko ore tino
Tapi buke jenih boyo
Tok leh dok nok cari tino sokmo
Ambo cinto hanyo ko dio...

Ambo meme minak ko ore tino
Ore jughuh srupo dio
Ambo toksey doh pado laing so nyo
Hok dok cari dok berjumpo
Cinto ambo ternyato ambo nok hanyo lah dio

Ambo toksey nok jangji ngan dio
Pasti sene hidok denge ambo
Biar dio sendiri yang raso
Betapo gilo nyo ko dio..

Ambo meme minak ko ore tino
Tapi buke jenih boyo
Tok leh dok nok cari tino sokmo
Ambo cinto hanyo ko dio...dio

Ambo meme minak ko ore tino
Ore jughuh srupo dio
Ambo toksey doh pade laing so nyo
Hok dok cari dok berjumpo
Cinto ambo ternyato ambo nok hanyo lah dio

---------------------------------------------

Hmm.... do Kelantan guys really call their ladies `ore tino'?

Teman Tapi Mesra (macam-macam versi)

While we are at it, I'm reproducing here, the lyrics of another hit song from Indonesian group Ratu called Teman Tapi Mesra.

The first set is the original Indon version, followed by seven (7) Malaysian regional versions. Being a Johorean myself, I cannot vouch for the accuracy of most of the revised lyrics but I can somewhat sing along to the Ganu and Kedah wordings.

If you think the regional lyrics could be improved or corrected, feel free to drop a comment.

I've also inserted a Youtube video at the end but in the original Ratu version so that you can try to sing along with whatever versions that you wish. The vid, however, contains only a still pic... those Ratu girls are too hot to show at this time... ;-)

Teman Tapi Mesra - Ratu

VERSI ORIGINAL - INDON

(1)
Aku punya teman
Teman sepermainan
Ke mana ada dia selalu ada aku

Dia amat manis
Dan juga baik hati
Dia selalu ada waktu
Untuk membantuku

(2)
Namun aku bingung
Ketika dia bilang cinta
Dan dia juga katakan
Tuk ingin jadi kekasihku

Reff :
Cukuplah saja berteman denganku
Janganlah kau meminta lebih
Ku tak mungkin mencintaimu
Kita berteman saja
Teman tapi mesra

Aku memang suka pada dirimu
Namun aku ada yang punya
Lebih baik kita berteman
Kita berteman saja
Teman tapi mesra...

==================================

VERSI MALAYSIA

(I) VERSI GANU (TEMANG TAPI MESRA)

Aku ade temang
Temang sepemainang
Kat ane ade die sokmo ade aku

Die manih letieng
Hati die pong baik
Die sokmo ade mase
Nok tulong akuu

(2)
Tapi aku bengong
Mase die kabo nok kaseh
Pahtu die kate pulok
Nok jadi kaseh betol

Reff :
Aku kabo padang la kite kawang saje
Mung jangan mitok lebih2
Aku dok akang suke ke mungnye
Kite jadi kawang cukup ar
Kawang tapi kacip

Benonye aku suke gok ke mung
Tapi ade doh org chop aku
Baik kite kawang je
Kite saing doh la
Kawang tapi kacip molek
ke guane...


(II) VERSI KELATE (SAING TAPI MESRO)

kawe punyo saing
saing sepermaine
Kemano ado dio selalu ado kawe

Dio amak come
Dan jugo baik hati
Dio selalu ado waktu
Untuk tulong kawe

(2)
Namung kawe bengooww
Ketiko dio ghoyak cinto
De dio jugok ghoyak
Tuk ingin jadi gewe kawe

Reff :
Cukup lah sajow saing nge kawe
Jange demo mitok lebih
Kawe tok ser mengcintai demo
Kito bersaing sajo
saing tapi mesro

kawe meme berkene pado diri demo
Namun kawe ado gewe doh
Lebih baik kito bersaing sajo
Kito bersaing sajo
saing tapi mesro..


(III) VERSI JOWO (KONCO TAPI RAPET)

aku ono konco
konco sak mainan
nang endi ono de'e nang kunu lah ono aku

de'e ayu banget
kambek apik atine
de'e ono wa'e wetu
gawe rewang sama aku

(2)
GAWE aku mumet
wetu de'e ngomong CINTo
de'e jugak ngomongke
AREK djadikan endot'te

Reff :
djadi lah koncoku wa'e
ojo ku'e njalok SENG ORA ORA
ku orak iso MENCINTAI ku'e
Kito berkonco wae
konco TAPI RAPET

aku memang sukak karo de'e
tapi aku wes ono seng du'e
apik'e kito konco wa'e
Kito berkonco wa'e
konco tapi rapet


(IV) VERSI NOGORI (TOMAN TAPI MESRO)

den punyo toman
toman sepermainan
mano ado den selalu dio pun ado

Dio amek la lawa
Jugo baik hati
Dio selalu ado waktu
Untuk tolong den

(2)
Namun den bingung
tiko dio koba cinto
dio pun koba
nak jadi buah ati den

Reff :
Cukup lah yo betoman dongan den
janganlah ekau nak mintak lolobih
den tak nak ngan ekau pun
Kito betoman yo dah la
toman tampi mesro

den sobona'eh suko kek ekau
tampi den dah ado (laie lawa dr ekau)
Lobih baik la kito betoman yo
Kito bertoman ajo
toman tampi mesro..


(V) VERSI PAHANG (TEMAN TAPI MESRA)

Rodong Tapi Rasi
Koi ade rodong,
rodong sepermainan,
mana ade koi ade la dier skali.

Dia bapok la lawo,
baik hati ye juge,
dier slalu ader masa
untuk tolong koi.

(2)
Namun koi bingung,
menkala dier cakap cinte,
dier pun cakap nak jadi gir-pren koi

Reff:
Cukup ler berodong dengan koi
Usah ler mintok lelebih,
koi tak nok ngan awok pun,
kite berodong udah ler,
rodong tapi rasi.

Koi sebenornyer suka amat kat awok,
tapi koi dah ade yg lain,
maka itu la pasal,
kita berodong ajer,
rodong tapi rasi.......

nyanyi ikut slang Temerloh.


(VI) VERSI KEDAH (KAWAN TAPI RAPIT)

cheq ada kawan
kawan selalu dok main
tang mana ada cheq
tangtu mesti dia ada

dia segak sungguh
paihtu amat baguih
dia selalu ada masa
dok mai tulong cheq

(2)
yang dok buat cheq runsin
tang dia habaq ada hati kat cheq
dia habaq mai lagi
teringin nak buat cheq jadi marka dia

Reff:
dah la aihh takat berkawan dgn cheq
toksah hang dok gatai mintak lebih
cheq tak dak hati kat hang
kita kawan dah la no
kawan tapi rapit

cheq memang suka kawan dgn hang
tapi cheq dah ada marka dah la
kita kawan saja kan ka
kita berkawan dah la
kawan tapi rapit


(VII) VERSI SARAWAK (KAWAN TAPI RAPAT)

Aku berisik kawan
Kawan sama main gik kecik marek
Sine ada aku sia ada nya

Nya nang kacak
Nang bait ati juak
Nya nang selalu ada masa
Nulong aku

Yalah aku angol
Bila nya madah hal bergerek
Kakya nya madah
Nya ingin nak jadi gerek aku

Reff:
Cukuplah berkawan jak ngan aku
Iboh ko mintak lebih
Ku sik dapat nerimak kau
Kita kawan jak
Kawan tapi rapat

Aku nang suka ngan kau
Tapi aku dah ada gerek ku pun
Bagus kita duak kawan jak
Kita kawan jak la
Kawan tapi rapat

------------------------------



Video credit to TESSIOviral

Monday, 22 September 2008

A story about zakat

Zakat or almsgiving is quite a complicated subject in Islam. Verses in the holy Quran place zakat with almost equal importance with that of the daily prayers (solat) but unfortunately, not many Muslims see it as such.

During the month of Ramadhan, all Muslims are required to pay zakat fitrah, regardless young or old, rich or poor, bonded or free. The other form of zakat, called zakat harta (assets), is only obligatory if certain conditions are fulfilled. In Malaysia and indeed many Muslim countries in the world, the practice of paying zakat fitrah is in the form of cash as a substitute to a `gantang' of rice.

Since the administration of Islam falls under state jurisdiction, each state in Malaysia determines the value of this cash substitute. We therefore have different zakat fitrah rates for different states. For example, the fitrah in Johor this year is RM6.50 per person (last year RM5.00). In Kedah it is RM7.00, in Kelantan RM7.60 but in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur it is only RM5.20. It would seem that Muslims in the poorer states have to pay more than their brothers who live in the richer states. Sure doesn't seem logical to me.

Table of zakat fitrah from JAWHAR, Jabatan Perdana Menteri

So why this discrepancy and a significant one at that? Muslims in KL pay RM2.40 less that those in Kelantan. That's a 46% difference.

This issue of having a uniform zakat fitrah rate has been discussed by the various state religious councils for many years. From the look of things, I doubt that they would reach a consensus any time soon.

To understand why this non-uniformity exists, it is perhaps good to know the basis of how the zakat fitrah is calculated. The first aspect to consider is quantity. The requirement of zakat fitrah (zakat ul-fitri in Arabic) is based on Prophet Muhammad's hadith that states that one Sa'a of barley or dates be made as payment. Now, one Sa'a has been translated into one `gantang Baghdad' in Malaysia. But what exactly is a `gantang Baghdad' and what is its equivalent in modern terms?

Scholars are in disagreement on how much a gantang Baghdad equates to, but a common value cited nowadays is 2.7 kg. In Singapore, they have calculated it to be 2.3 kg. I have no doubt other Muslim countries have different figures too. In standard Malay, the gantang is principally a measure for rice. It measures volume rather than weight. Therein lies part of the discrepancy.

The next aspect to consider is the commodity itself. The original `barley' or `dates' in the Prophet's hadith have been interpreted to include the wide definition of `staple food or diet' (makanan ruji) of the general population. In Malaysia, this is of course, rice. But then, what type of rice is normally eaten by the average Muslim in Malaysia? Most state Islamic councils have adopted Beras Super Special Tempatan Gred A as the basis of calculation. Since the price of rice as determined by Bernas is not very much different from state to state, the huge difference in fitrah rates is still puzzling.

Zakat Fitrah poster by Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura

To add to the confusion, some states like Perlis and Terengganu (and Singapore too) have different classes of fitrah rates depending on the quality of rice that you normally eat. So if you consume the higher rice grades such as Beras Siam Wangi, then you are expected to pay the higher rate. A blog entry by Ibnu Hasyim has an interesting write-up on this subject that you can read here -> Zakat Fitrah Orang Kaya Sepatutnya RM13.50 Seorang.

It's not my intention to make all this sound too perplexing. It has been oft-said that Islam is a simple religion... it is only the people that make it difficult.

Which now brings me to the story that prompted me to make this post in the first place. It happened back during my student days in Sheffield, United Kingdom. I was with some friends at their house for the iftar. As we were waiting for the time to break the fast, one of my friends named Arazi, said that earlier in the day after Friday prayers, an Arab brother had approached him. Arazi was asked by the Arab whether he had any debts, to which Arazi said yes.

`He then shook my hand and gave me some money. The Arab brother said that this is zakat money for me', I remember Arazi saying.

This prompted some of my other friends to remark that they had debts too... and wondered why rich Arabs have not approached them to give zakat money. Hehehe... memang dah rezeki kau tu Arazi.

To my non-Muslim readers, let me just explain that last part. There are eight (8) categories of persons who are qualified to receive the zakat collections. Apart from the poor & needy, other qualified recipients include those who are in debt. Many Arabs interpret this literally and make it easy to comply with the many requirements of religion. Simple.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Colourful words

When I was at my parent's home two weeks back, I came across an old Reader's Digest book belonging to my father. It's called `How To Increase Your Word Power'. Since the book was just gathering dust, I decided to take it home with me.

The book is a wonderful guide on how to improve our English by teaching us proper pronunciation and spelling, giving us aids to grammar and punctuation, and showing us how to master and build up a better vocabulary. It also contains some useful word games and quick quizzes.

Here's the second interlude for this month, a simple quiz taken from the book. The book actually uses American spelling but I've converted it to our more familiar British style :

Colours

How good is your colour vocabulary? Can you match the colour in the first paragraph with its description in the second? Answers to follow.

1. cerulean
2. indigo

3. ochre

4. azure

5. cerise

6. ecru

7. chartreuse

8. fuchsia
9. sorrel

10. mauve


(a) pale yellowish green
(b) light yellowish brown
(c) vivid blue
(d) purplish rose
(e) dark yellow
(f) deep violet blue
(g) cherry red
(h) reddish or yellowish brown
(i) bright bluish red
(j) clear sky blue

--------------

ANSWERS (posted on 22.09.08) :

1. cerulean - (c) vivid blue
2. indigo - (f) deep violet blue
3. ochre - (e) dark yellow
4. azure - (j) clear sky blue
5. cerise - (g) cherry red
6. ecru - (b) light yellowish brown
7. chartreuse - (a) pale yellowish green
8. fuchsia - (i) bright bluish red
9. sorrel - (h) reddish or yellowish brown
10. mauve - (d) purplish rose

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Another experience of fasting elswhere

In the previous post, I described the experience of the holy month of Ramadhan while working in the United Arab Emirates two years ago.

My other experience of fasting while away from Malaysia was very, very much earlier. That was the time when I was a student in the United Kingdom in the early '80s. As most of you probably know, the daylight hours in temperate countries change with the seasons, being longest in the summer and shortest in the winter.

Fasting is the ritual where we primarily abstain from eating and drinking during daylight hours. In tropical countries like Malaysia, days and nights are of almost equal duration. Hence the hours of fasting is almost constant. But in my final year in Sheffield, the Muslim month of Ramadhan occurred during the summer season. I remember that first light of dawn was around 2.30am while sunset was around 9.30pm. That works out to a daylight (and therefore a fasting) duration of about 19 hours. At first, the thought of fasting for 19 hours was a bit daunting. Fasting is however, also a form of mental training to enhance our tolerance to difficulties and improve our level of patience.

For the first few days, it was quite difficult but after some time, I got used to it and it became routine. Although the daylight duration was long, the warm English summer is not humid like in Malaysia. The dry air is not energy-sapping and since we do not sweat as much, we didn't feel that thirsty.

Another thing that helped was that our classes were already over and basically, we had free time. The lazy summer days were spent watching sports on TV, playing cards or board games, or just simply dozing off. Sometimes, me and my friends would take a leisurely walk around town to kill time but I didn't like to do this often. It was a bit difficult not to look at the so many pretty English lasses in short and thin summer dresses ;-)

There was this one time when we were really bored... so I suggested that we go to the public park and have a game of football. My friends initially thought it was crazy to be playing football while we were fasting but we decided to try it out anyway. So we trudged down to the park at around 7pm, had a kick-about with the ball for an hour or so, and returned to our house with ample time to shower and then prepare our iftar meal. Surprisingly, it wasn't that tiring and so we continued to play soccer on subsequent evenings as long as there were enough guys who wanted to do so.

I stayed at a rented flat with two other Malay students. Two other friends rented the flat below us. The five of us pooled funds so that we shared meals together. At least, the breaking of fast was not a lonely affair. Our iftar meals were simple home-cooked dishes but had variety because each of us hail from different parts of Malaysia. I'm a Johorean while my housemates Karim and Yusof come from Negeri Sembilan and Kelantan respectively. Azhar and Amir, our friends from the flat below are from Slim River and Ipoh. One thing's for sure, our meals were always fun and lively.

In Malaysia, the indication that the fast can be broken is normally the azan (call for prayer) for Maghrib (sunset) that can be heard from the national radio or TV, or directly heard from a mosque if you live near one. In the UK, the local newspapers publish the daily sunset and sunrise times. We referred to this as a guide for our start and break of fast times. Actually, the commencement of fast is the first light of dawn (fajar), which is earlier than sunrise. We therefore had to make allowance for this interval and make sure we have our sahur (pre-dawn) meal well before first light. Another reference that we used was a booklet containing the prayer times for major towns and cities in the UK. Nowadays, you can just go online and check the many websites that provide prayer times for almost every significant town in the British Isles or even almost anywhere in the world.

As noted earlier, the nights during summer are short so there was hardly much time to catch any sleep between iftar and sahur. The sahur meal would be quite light since we had the heavier iftar meal just a few hours ago.

While Ramadhan during the summer months would result in a very long fasting day, the reverse is true when Ramadhan falls during winter. The sun sets around 4pm in winter, meaning a very short fasting day. While it may seem that the short duration would make the fast easier, the cold weather makes us feel hungry more quickly.

Presently, it is autumn in the UK now. A check with a prayer-times website show that Maghrib for the city of Sheffield today is at 7.18pm, about the same time as Kuala Lumpur.

This cycle of Ramadhan falling at different seasons every year, happen because the Islamic calendar is shorter than the Gregorian calendar by about 11 days. Each year, a day in the Islamic calendar moves forward 11 days relative to the Gregorian calendar (see sub-story below). The 1st day of Ramadhan this year falls on 1st September. In six years, the 1st day of Ramadhan would fall around the last week of June. At that time, Muslims in the northern temperate countries would be fasting during the summer months.

Now... this brings us to the interesting possibility of the situation where a Muslim who is located somewhere where the sun does not set for days on end (e.g. above the Artic Circle) during the month of Ramadhan. How does he break his fast when the sun doesn't set? Does he fast the whole duration of daylight hours or does he not fast at all? Trivial questions they may be, but interesting nonetheless.


The Islamic Calendar

The Islamic or Muslim Calendar is a lunar-based calendar. It is made up of 12 months in a year and each year has about 354 days. This makes the Islamic year about 11 days shorter than the Gregorian year.

Efforts to formalise an Islamic calender was initiated by Caliph Umar. Upon consultation with his fellow companions, they chose the Hijrah event (Prophet Muhammad's migration from Makkah to Madinah) to mark the start of the Muslim year. That is why the Islamic calendar is also known as the Hijrah calendar. The present year is 1429 AH.

The twelve months in the Hijrah year are as follows :

1. Muharram
2. Safar
3. Rabiul-awal
4. Rabiul-akhir
5. Jamadil-awal
6. Jamadil-akhir
7. Rejab
8. Sya'aban
9. Ramadhan
10. Syawal
11. Zulkaedah
12. Zulhijjah

Because the Hijrah year is shorter than the Gregorian year by about 11 days, there would be times when the Hijrah year occur entirely within the Gregorian year. This year of 2008 AD is one such occurrence. To check this, have a look at a calendar that displays both Islamic and Gregorian dates. If you don't have this type of calendar, a standard Gregorian one would do as long as it highlights the Malaysian public holidays.

The 1st of Muharram 1429 AH (officially known as the Maal Hijrah holiday) fell on 10 January 2008. Have a look at the month of December and you can see that another 1st of Muharram holiday, this time for 1430 AH, falls on the 29th. In other words, 1429 AH sits between 10.01.08 and 28.12.08.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

The experience of fasting elsewhere

I was reading the post by blogger-friend Nurie the other day about her experience of fasting and other activities in the month of Ramadhan in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. This is the second year she is spending the holy month away from home. Her observations on some of the differences between fasting in Malaysia and Saudi Arabia can be read here -> Ramadan 1429.

Nurie's post reminded me of the time that I spent working in United Arab Emirates two years ago. I was posted to a project site in the Emirate of Fujairah, about 130km from Dubai. When Ramadhan arrived that year, it was towards the end of the summer. The weather was still hot where daytime temperatures range in the mid-30 degrees Celsius, sometimes touching 40 degC. It was a really trying first day because the heat made me very thirsty. But then, a fast without the trials and tempatations would not be a fast at all.

There is no such thing as a `Bazaar Ramadhan' over there. No place where you can feast your eyes on a whole variety of cooked food for sale. For iftar (the breaking of fast), you either cook your own meal, buy take-away dinners from the Indian restaurants or join other muslim brothers to break fast at mosques. In addition, there are some well-to-do Emiratis who offer free iftar meals at their houses to anyone who wish to join.

My local sponsor is one such generous person (a `sponsor' is an Emirati citizen who, for a fee, supports your work permit application). Since I was a temporary bachelor, I mostly took my iftar meals together with about 200 other foreign workers at the large courtyard within the compound of my sponsor's house. We would all break the fast initially with some dates and a yoghurt-like drink locally known as `laban'. The sour taste of the laban actually complements the sweet taste of the dates.

The congregational maghrib prayers would then follow. After prayers, the area would be cleared, plastic sheets rolled out on the floor and the main meal would be served. The meal consist of briyani rice with both mutton and chicken, local Arab flat bread, vegetable curry, fresh salad and sweet desserts. I try to remain low-profile and like to have my meal sitting next to other foreign workers, normally Arabs from other middle-eastern countries such as Jordan or Egypt. But sometimes, I am spotted by the host, and he would gesture to me to come sit next to him. My sponsor is somewhat of a local dignitary but he is a very kind and gracious person. He would ask how I was doing and then ask about my family back home in Malaysia as well.

The food portions were always generous and we were encouraged to pack the unfinished portions to take home. Most of the other workers would do this as it saves them the trouble of preparing the sahur or pre-dawn meal. But I never did so because I preferred to cook my own sahur. Having chicken or mutton briyani day in and day out can be a bit boring after some time.

My sahur meals were rather simple. Rice with fried eggs and fried ikan bilis (which I had brought from Malaysia). Sometimes, I would make do with fried rice using the pre-packed flavorings also brought from Malaysia. I would then eat my sahur quietly and alone. Perhaps the saddest moments to experience during my time being posted overseas.

Looking back now, I savour the experience... but given a choice, I would always want to spend Ramadhan with my family.

Friday, 12 September 2008

And I thought my question was silly...

I came across an interesting book titled `What Makes Flamingos Pink?' while browsing at the Popular Book Store in JB City Square a few weeks ago. The book is a collection of trivia questions and their corresponding answers. It is written by Bill McLain who is the official Webmaster for Xerox USA.

McLain and his team handles all the queries to the company website. While most of the questions he receives are Xerox-related, every day scores of curious fact seekers write in with questions ranging from the useful to the bizarre to the downright comical, and everything in between. Here are some samples found in the book :

What does SOS stand for?
Why do golf balls have dimples?
Why are there no A and B batteries?

The questions in the book are grouped into 16 chapters, each chapter covering a certain common subject. McLain answers each question factually but in an interesting and amusing way. And he does not stop at simply giving the answer... other interesting factoids relating to the issue in question are also presented. At the end of each chapter, the author lists out some useful websites that the reader may wish to explore to further satisfy his curiosity.

This is apparently McLain's second book, the first being the intriguingly titled `Do Fish Drink Water?'. At only RM25.90 for a hard-cover version, it was a steal and I quickly snapped it up.

It is not the type of book that you have to read from front to back. I scan the contents page and pick the interesting ones that I want to read first. Even so, I have only managed to read only a few of the questions. I've selected a very trivial one to share with you, below. Well actually, it is the one with probably the shortest answer ;-)

What makes your fingers and toes become pruney after you have been in the bathtub for a while?

A thick, tough layer of skin (in Latin, stratum corneum) covers the tips of your fingers, your toes and the soles of your feet.

If you sit in a bathtub for a long period of time, or soak in a swimming pool or hot tub, your skin absorbs water and expands. Unlike the skin on the rest of your body, the skin on your fingers and toes has no place to expand, so it just buckles. This causes the skin to wrinkle, which gives it the "pruney" effect.

Okay, so now you know... but what makes flamingos pink, I hear you ask. The answer to this, akan datang...

A nomination from The English Cottage

It has been more than a week now since I last posted. I had thought the slower pace of the fasting month would allow me time to post more stories in this blog but surprisingly, it has been a very busy week. I traveled up and down to Kuala Lumpur twice in the last 10 days. Last weekend we had our breaking of fast at a sister-in-law's home in Kota Tinggi. Plus the working week was filled with meetings and site visits.

I did not have much time to update or even blog-hop. So I was pleasantly surprised when blogger-friend Patricia of The English Cottage nominated me for an award. You can read what Pat wrote about this blog in her post -> here.

I'm flattered, Pat. But thanks anyway. Here are some orchid flowers for you.

I created this blog primarily as an avenue to sharpen my writing and story-telling skills. It's a very modest journal on personal experiences mostly. It also gives me the chance to meet other writers in blogosphere. Along the way, I get to be friends with readers, commenters and other fellow bloggers... and this is a good thing. Thanks to all of you for dropping by and having something to say about what I write. Most appreciated. I truly hope that we'll be able to meet in real life, one day.

Sorry about the break in updates this last week. Will hope to squeeze some time from the busy schedule and be telling more stories soon.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

A wish come true

Here's the first interlude for this month of September. Be careful what you wish for, guys...

A married couple in their mid-60s were out celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary in a quiet, romantic restaurant.

Suddenly, a tiny yet beautiful fairy appeared on their table and said, "For being such an example of married couple and for being faithful to each other for all this time, I will grant you each a wish".

"Oh, I want to travel around the world with my darling husband" said the wife.

The fairy waved her magic wand and...poof ! two tickets for the Queen Mary II luxury liner appeared in her hand.

Then it was the husband's turn. He thought for a moment and said, "Well, this is all very romantic, but an opportunity like this will never come again. I'm sorry my love, but my wish is to have a wife 30 years younger than me".

The wife and the fairy were deeply disappointed, but a wish is a wish....

So the fairy waved her magic wand and... poof!

The husband became 95 years old.

The moral of the story : -
Men who are ungrateful should remember fairies are female !!

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

First day of breaking fast

I've always tried my best to make sure we spend the first day of breaking fast every Ramadhan at my parent's place. It helps make a memorable start to the holy month. It's only my father and my mother left at home so they are always keen to have us come over. It gives a reason for my mother to display her cooking skills and feed her grandchildren to the max.

On the way over there, one of my sons asked, `Nenek nak masak apa untuk buka puasa, abah?' (What's grandma cooking for the breaking of fast?)

I replied, `Entahlah... kacang pool agaknya.' (I'm not sure, maybe kacang pool.)

Sure enough, that was what she prepared for our iftar or berbuka puasa meal. A mother can always read her son's mind, no matter where he may be, believe it.

As I've mentioned before in my post of 24 August 2008, my kids and I like kacang pool, especially the one cooked by my mom. My mom learned how to cook it because my father liked it in the first place. The tradition has now been passed down the line with my wife learning the recipe from my mom so that she can placate the tastes of her husband and sons.

In addition to the kacang pool, my father had brought home some bubur lambok (rice porridge) that was prepared and given away for free by the nearby mosque. My sister and her husband also came by and hence mom's tiny kitchen was packed with ten family members.

When the time to break our fast arrived, my three sons quickly tucked into the kacang pool voraciously. This prompted my father to proudly remark, `Tak rugi cucu-cucu atok minat makan kacang pool ni macam atok juga.' (It's good to see that my grandsons like to eat kacang pool just like me.') Seems that all my sons inherit their grandfather's appetite and penchant for good food.

Iftar meals at our home are mostly non-rice dishes. Dishes such as mee goreng, laksa, murtabak, mee hoon sup etc. If there are actually rice dishes, then they would be of the `special' variety such as nasi tomato or nasi beriani. Plain rice meals are served only for sahur (pre-dawn). My mother has been preparing it that way since I was growing up and now when I have a family of my own, I had my wife practice the same.