Thursday, 31 December 2015

Is it worth being brand-loyal?

In our present world of endless material consumption, there are thousands of manufacturers who pitch their products to us in all manner imaginable. We end up buying, owning and utilizing the product after being influenced by advertisements. When we are buying a particular brand for the first time, we would sometimes seek the opinions of our friends or relatives who have possessed that brand before.

After that first purchase, our experience of the product's reliability, usefulness and suitability would influence our decision on the next time we buy a similar product. After going through a number of such experiences, we become convinced that the maker of the said product is top-quality and would have no qualms of buying anything else of the same name. This is part of the process of brand loyalty.

That would be the normal process for me although I cannot deny that some people do buy on impulse. Especially when an item is on offer so cheap. Such is the persuasive strength of commercials.

I am generally a brand-loyal person. I would normally stick to a particular make when the time comes for me to upgrade, replace or simply get new. When I do want to try a different brand, I would normally read up a bit to get more information.

Let's take the example of home electrical appliances. My old television set (the original bulky cathode ray tube type) was Philips. When I wanted to buy a VCD player, I went for the same brand. That TV set gave me great pictures and nice sound. It served me well for many years, undergoing two repairs along the way. I finally had to make the change when the third time it blacked out, the repairman said the parts needed are no longer available. Time therefore, to switch to the newer flat-screen TVs whose prices had fallen to within reasonable reach.

However, the new television set which I bought was not a Philips. I read a few consumer review websites and decided on a Hitachi. Not a very popular brand (Samsung and Sony are tops for flat-screens) and certainly not many outlets selling it. But I did manage to find a store in JB that sells it. This Hitachi has been in use for more than 5 years. It had a fault once while still under warranty. A call was made to the dealer who contacted the local service agent. The service guys came to my house the next day, diagnosed the problem, replaced the faulty component and the set was up and running in no time. I have not regretted making the switch to this different brand and when the time comes for an upgrade or replacement, I would probably go for a Hitachi again.

But it is the only Hitachi in the house. The other appliances are from different manufacturers. The refrigerator is a Samsung, running well. The washing machine was also a Samsung until being replaced recently by a Panasonic. The DVD player is a Sony. By the way, the Philips VCD player still works and is also hooked up to the Hitachi TV although I can't remember when the last time it was used.

The other Sony gadget that I have is a smartphone. I have been a loyal Sony mobile phone user for a long time, back from the days when they started off as Sony-Ericsson. My first SE mobile was a Walkman W660i (as seen in this Blogger profile pic). Sony was a bit slow in getting on the smartphone business. Samsung was leading by miles when Sony came up with their first model. But I still stuck to Sony when I made the switch to Android operating system. It was the small-screen entry-level Xperia X8. I later upgraded to Xperia V, which had a great camera. It hanged up on me once but a quick software fix at the local dealer solved the problem. Other than that, I was perfectly happy with the phone.

In September this year I resumed work at a friend's construction firm. He gave me a mobile phone plus line for business use. Rather than carry two phones, I decided to upgrade to a dual-sim handset. Naturally I opted for another Sony model. The new Xperia M5 Dual was launched just the month before and was attractively priced at mid-range with features approaching the top end. I made the purchase.

Just after over a month of use, the handset started to give me problems. It would suddenly switch off on its own and could not be turned back on unless attached to an external power source or a power bank. I returned the phone to the dealer who mentioned it as an `auto-off' problem. After a week, I called the dealer who told me that my phone is still with Sony Service Centre in Kuala Lumpur. No idea when it was coming back.

I logged on to the Sony Support website and sent an email. The reply came back, saying that it was a battery problem and my phone is expected to be repaired in one-month's time. Needless to say, I was very disappointed. How can a brand-new phone have such a problem? I then checked a few forum websites and found out that other M5 Dual owners worldwide also face the same situation. It is obvious that the M5 has a manufacturing defect.

I continued to send emails to follow-up on my case and even posted a message to their Facebook page. While the Sony personnel did reply to my emails and respond to my message, I felt that they were not doing enough to address the issue. At one stage, I even thought of cutting my ties with Sony, swallow my losses and buy a new phone from somebody else (perhaps an Asus Zenfone or, god forbid, an I-phone).

After the long wait, I now have my M5 back. It has been almost 2 weeks and so far it has been holding up pretty well. We shall see...

Beautiful phone. Bad first experience.

Happy new year to my dear friends and readers. May you all be in good health for the whole year to come.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Thursday, 12 November 2015

The brief encounter...

Ashraf wakes up earlier than usual that day. The sleep of the night before was not sound. And now a full bladder is forcing him to leave the comfort of his bed.

He heads for the bathroom located at the back of the kitchen. It is not yet daybreak but the light from the streetlamps outside filters in through the rear windows. As he is about to turn towards the kitchen, he catches a glimpse of a familiar figure in the dim hallway by the entrance door. He freezes.

He recognizes his father who is putting on his shoes and looking ready to go to out.

'Dad, is that you?' he asks, just to be sure.

'Yes son. It's me. You are up early. I'm just about to go to work.'

Without missing a beat, the son asks another question, 'But you know you're dead, right?'

He sees the figure in the hallway smiling back. 'That indeed I am, my son. But I am going to work anyway. You take care now.... and tell your sister to finish reading the book that I gave her.'

The figure then makes a move for the door and without the need to open it, leaves the house like a fading mist.

The young man remains rooted to the spot. He wonders if he is dreaming or he has just really seen what he has seen. After a while, the urge to pee makes him realize why is up from bed this early.

He makes a shake of his head and walks towards the bathroom...

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Johor Football Back To Glory

The Johor football team has created history tonight. They beat the team from Tajikistan to win the AFC Cup final, the first time a team from Malaysia has done it.

It was the narrowest of wins. A single goal against 3 in the net from the opponents which were overruled for offside. An element of luck perhaps, but having started as the underdogs and playing at a venue thousands of miles away from home, every single bit of good fortune is most appreciated.
For the past few years, the impact of Johor football in the national soccer scene has been obvious. Credit must go to the Tunku Mahkota for having the vision and leadership in driving this transformation. It brings to memory the glory days of the late 80's when Johor was the Malaysia Cup champion.

The last time I watched a match at the Larkin Stadium was when the team had Nasir Yusof aka The Professor marshalling the midfield. Maybe it is time again for me to sit in the stands at Larkin to enjoy the live atmosphere.

Congratulations to JDT!  Hope for more success to come.

A Singapore registered car in JDT colours. Pic obtained via Whatsapp circulation...

Monday, 12 October 2015

Mobile blogging

The ability to blog while on the move has been in existence for quite a while now. With the advent of smartphones and tablets, all you need is a stable and preferably free WiFi connection, and you're good to go. Of course you can do it on your mobile data plan but you wouldn't want to use up your valuable quota on something as mundane as blogging, would you?

I'm trying out mobile blogging today just to see if it's a worthwhile effort. It's a real challenge to type on the small screen of a mobile phone but the predictive text input of the SwiftKey keyboard seems to be proving its worth.

I am now in the waiting room of the urology clinic at Puteri Specialist Hospital, accompanying my mother on her scheduled check-up. It's still a while to go before her turn to meet the doctor. Since PSH is kind enough to offer free WiFi, I thought I might just type out something. Browsing the social media gets to be boring after a while.

So what are the other waiting patients doing? Understandably about half are looking at their phones. Maybe a third are snoozing. The rest are simply keeping silently to themselves, probably wondering why life is an endless waiting game...

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Interlude

Here's the first interlude for this year...

An elderly couple goes to Burger King, where they carefully split a burger and fries. A trucker takes pity on them and offers to buy the wife her own meal.

"It's all right," says the husband. "We share everything."


A few minutes later the trucker notices that the wife hasn't taken a bite. "I really wouldn't mind buying your wife her own meal," he insists.


"She'll eat," the husband assures him. "We share everything."


Unconvinced, the trucker implores the wife, "Why aren't you eating?"


The wife snaps, "Because I'm waiting for the teeth!"

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Mosques in Malaysia

In this post, I'm sharing the photographs of some mosques I have visited in my travels throughout peninsula Malaysia. I hope to extend my collection with pictures of mosques in Sabah and Sarawak plus other parts of the world, insyaAllah.

Masjid Terapung Tanjung Bungah, Penang - May 2010
Masjid Al-mukarramah, Sri Damansara - July 2010

Masjid Jamek Sultan Hishamuddin, Sabak Bernam - February 2011
Masjid Al-Azim (Masjid Negeri), Melaka - November 2011
Masjid Jamek Sultan Ibrahim, Muar - February 2012
Masjid Tengku Tengah Zaharah (Masjid Terapung), Kuala Trengganu - August 2013
Masjid Ubudiah, Kuala Kangsar - May 2015

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Social networking for photographers

My first digital camera was a Nikon Coolpix compact bought in 2003. It boasted a `healthy' resolution 3.2 megapixels and cost me an excess of RM1k, a real princely sum at the time. Although not quite top-of-the line, I was fairly pleased with its performance. It was easy to use and produced quality photos. With that camera, I had an enjoyable time taking tons and tons of pictures, both for personal and work use.

After about 6 years of dedication, the camera finally gave up on me. By that time, there was no point in getting it repaired because obviously there were better (and cheaper) products in the market. I bought a Canon Powershot compact as a replacement. Although this camera has a higher pixel count, I somehow felt that my old Nikon gave more vibrant photographs. This fired the urge to upgrade to an entry-level DSLR a year later.

With the large collection of digital photos that I have, it therefore make sense for me to share or store them online, doesn't it? Well, not quite for me. Internet connection those days was real slow and memory storage at a premium. Home internet connection was only available via the pioneer ISP called Jaring (which I sadly heard, has closed shop) at a mere 14.4 bits/sec. High-speed internet was only available at business premises or at cyber-cafes. Uploading a single photo would take an agonizing few minutes.

The first photo-sharing website that I used was Photobucket. I can't remember how many pictures I uploaded to that site but I don't think it was that many. Probably ten to twenty files arranged in a few albums. I am not sure of the quantity because I no longer have access to the site, having abandoned my account many years ago. I'm certain the account is obsolete but Photobucket itself is still alive and kicking.

Later on, I found out that many of my photographer friends use Flickr (owned by Yahoo). When Google became an established IT company, they provided Picasa as a direct competitor to Flickr. Even so, I was not moved to be a user of either of the two most popular photo sites. I prefer to share my photos sparingly as part of my blog posts.

When mobile computing came into the mainstream with the use of smartphones, Instagram became the hot app for photo-sharing. Still, I have not been drawn to ride on that bandwagon, at least not for that particular app. But yesterday, things changed a bit...

I was browsing through fellow blogger Pak Adib's pages (Adib Noh - The Reader) when I chanced upon an old entry where he mentioned that some of his photos are on sale at Getty Images via a new photo-sharing app. I got to know of Pak Adib from the Sentraal Station FB blogger's group and noted that he is a keen photographer. He has uploaded a number of his photos in his blog and very good photos they are.

The app recommended by Pak Adib is called EyeEm. It works primarily for mobile smartphones (both Android and IOS) but there is also a desktop version. I had a look at the app and viewed some of Pak Adib's already extensive collection of photos on show. I have been bitten. I soon signed up for an account and started to upload some photographs, just as a start. I now have the app running both on mobile and desktop.

To my photographer (both serious and casual) friends, do have a peek at this site. If you decide to join, feel free to have a look at my profile. Just search for https://www.eyeem.com/u/oldstock or Fadhil Isma. Perhaps then, we could follow each other.

Port of Tanjung Pelepas at dusk. A similar pic can be seen at EyeEm.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Formerly broad, not long

The 2015 Athletics World Championship in Beijing has just ended two days ago. For the week that the sports event was in progress, I was mostly in front of the television, engrossed in watching the live transmission from China.

I am hardly a sportsman myself. The only games that I seriously play are football and badminton. However, I did have a minor involvement in athletics while in school. I ran the 400 metres. For this, the tiny achievement I managed to accomplish was a 3rd-place finish in the boys 400m relay. Among the 4 boys in our team, which really was the weakest team in the competition, I had the fastest individual time. Our coach, following the conventional thinking of the time, placed me to run the anchor leg. As we were getting ready at the start line, my teammate who was our 2nd fastest runner (and slated to run the 3rd leg), told me his plan on how we could possibly win something out of the race.

He said that he intends to run flat out fast from the moment he gets the baton and hope that his stamina will hold until he cross the finish line. He suggested that we switch positions, the idea being that I could hopefully catch up on some lost ground while running the 3rd leg. Leaving it to the last leg would be too late, he said. At the spur of the moment, I agreed. We switched places just as the starter was about to call for the 1st leg runners to take their mark. (Of course, technically this is against the rules, but what the heck... this was just a school sports meet held some thirty years ago.)

The race started and as expected, our first two runners could not match the other teams. By the time I received the baton, we were in 4th (last) position. I had some distance to catch up to the 3rd-placed guy. This I did while nearing the bend at the 300m mark and finally managed to overtake him as we entered the home straight. When I passed the baton to our last runner, he sped off as if he was sprinting the short distances. As I watch him run, I was worried he would lose his steam and be overtaken. But true to his word, he held on just enough to maintain the 3rd-placing and secure the team a bronze medal which we never expected to be within our grasp.

No doubt, we did not win the gold but it was a race I remember to this day because of a friend's very quick thinking on strategy. Which is why I love to watch track and field events on TV, especially the relays. The final event at Beijing on Sunday was fittingly enough, the Men's 400m relay. It was an enthralling race won by the American team despite some thrilling running by the Jamaicans.

Ok then... let's end this post with some track & field trivia.

Did you know that the long jump event in athletics was originally called the broad jump? In 1967 it was renamed to long jump because the term `broad' was considered as derogatory to women. Ooops...

The long jetty at Teluk Sengat in Kota Tinggi. Pic not relevant at all to story :-)

Friday, 21 August 2015

And then there were three...

In April of 2010, I posted an entry where I introduced my brothers to the readers of this blog. The short entry, titled Four Brothers, included a photograph of the quartet of men whose maximum age difference is only six years apart, with yours truly being the eldest.

Only three of us remain today. On this day last week, the 3rd brother Azhar, left us... quite suddenly.

It was early morning of last Friday when I received a phone call informing us of his unexpected demise. Apparently, he had woken up that morning, feeling a bit under the weather. He had asked his elder son to accompany him to the clinic. Since there was a paramedic post at the next apartment block, the son suggested that they get the aid of an ambulance to go directly to a hospital. As they were walking towards the post, my brother collapsed and fell on the sidewalk, just a few yards short of the post. A paramedic on duty saw the incident and rushed to provide CPR assistance. My brother could not be revived. However, they still put him in the ambulance and took him to the nearest hospital, just to be sure. But it is God's will... I was to lose a brother. The death of the closest family member I have experienced thus far.

My brother did not have any history of serious medical problems, which is why his departure was very much unexpected. And because of this absence of medical record, the doctors at the hospital which first received his body would not sign off the death certificate. An autopsy had to be performed at the Singapore General Hospital to determine the actual cause of death. This meant that the burial ceremony could not be carried out as soon as we would have liked.

The post-mortem examination could only be carried on Saturday morning. This delay put additional stress on my sister-in-law, the widow. I also had a bit of trouble keeping my cool as some relatives were pressing us to secure the release of the body as soon as possible. Nonetheless, with the help of my two other brothers, we handled the situation as best we could by dividing tasks. One of my brothers arranged for the burial process with our local mosque committee while the other was stationed at the coroner's office to update us on the progress of the autopsy.

The autopsy was completed around 12.45pm. The official COD was listed as coronary atherosclerosis. In plain man's language it means that there were blockages to the arteries that supply blood to the heart. In other words, my brother died of a heart attack. He was only 49 years old.

The due process of the burial requirements proceeded immediately after the body was released from the coroner's office. My brother's body was brought back to his home in Choa Chu Kang where it was cleaned, shrouded and final prayers offered, before burial at the Pusara Abadi Muslim Cemetery at around 4 pm. Praise to Allah swt for the reasonably smooth process and the pleasant weather.

The most difficult part was actually the day earlier... how do I break the news to our mother? At that time (and even till today), she was warded at St. Luke's Hospital in Bukit Batok for physiotherapy treatment following her heart attack which happened in June. While the death had occurred in early morning, my two other brothers decided to wait for my arrival from JB in late afternoon for me to tell our mother the sad news. It is probably the gloomiest moment in my life to date. I could not imagine the sorrow going through her heart to be told that one of her offspring has departed ahead of her.

As I sit now and contemplate the recent conversations I had with my late brother, it becomes inevitable that certain ironic instances come to the surface. I'll share one such example.

Some time ago, my youngest brother (no. 4) created a Whatsapp group for the 4 siblings to facilitate the sharing of news and family updates. It is a convenient tool because we are located in three different countries (Singapore, Malaysia and the UK). However, the group has only three members because Brother No. 3 could not be added. At first we assumed that he was still using a normal mobile phone. When I met him in June at the time our mother was admitted to hospital, I saw that he actually used a smartphone. So I told him that we have a Whatsapp group for the brothers and it is a convenient way to communicate, citing the particular example of the present situation where our mum is in hospital. Why don't you install the app, I asked. His answer then, was quite surprising. I don't believe in social media, he said. I don't have Whatsapp or Facebook or all those other stuff. I am using this smartphone only because it is the cheapest phone on contract offered by the telephone company.

Indeed. I guess our Whatsapp group for brothers, which started with three members, is destined to remain at 3, at least for now.

Al-fatihah untuk allahyarham Azhar Bin Isma Yatim. Kembali ke rahmatullah pada pagi hari Jumaat, 14hb Ogos 2015M, bersamaan 29 Syawal 1436H. Meninggalkan seorang isteri, 2 orang anak perempuan dan 2 orang anak lelaki. Semuga Allah swt mengampuni dosa beliau dan menempatkan roh beliau di kalangan para soliheen.


Same photo from the April 2010 post. Allahyarham Azhar is seated right.
Final resting place...

Thursday, 13 August 2015

What a coincidence

Last weekend saw me and my better half travelling north to Kuala Lumpur to visit relatives and friends. On such long drives, I would usually have the walkman of my mobile phone playing a selection of mp3 songs piped through headphones. Radio reception via the car's stereo is inconsistent because the station frequencies change as we travel.

One of the songs in my playlist is Purple Rain by Prince. I was listening to this particular song when I drove past a large advertising billboard at the side of the highway. The image that caught my eye was this pretty young lady dressed in racing-driver garb standing next to a sports car. It was an advertisement for Prince Lubricants. Well, not quite Prince the music performer but it was an interesting coincidence nonetheless. (By the way, I googled the product and the hottie race driver is called Leona Chin).

Such coincidences have occurred quite frequently to the extent of making me wonder if they have any meaning at all. The phenomenon has a specific name - synchronicity. It is a concept first proposed by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung. One definition of this concept, as given by Google, is as follows :

synchronicity (n) ~ the simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection.

So what has prompted me to be writing a blog post on this subject? Of course it has to be that another synchronistic event happened again, right? Well, not one... but two. Last night.

1. Mellifluous

I was watching this new TV series on National Geographic called Innovation Nation. In one segment of the show, the host Mo Rocca, was explaining that the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan, USA has a very large collection of items. So large that many are not displayed but kept in their extensive archive. Among these are a few precious Stradivarius violins. One of the adjectives Rocca used to describe the Stradivarius was its mellifluous quality. Rocca mentioned that he would explain the term later towards the end of the show.

Not wanting to wait that long, I opened the Dictionary.com app on my tablet. Lo and behold, without even the need for me to type in the word to search its meaning, the app opened with its customary 'Word Of The Day' page and there in bold is displayed the chosen word... mellifluous. How's that for a coincidence. Mellifluous, by the way, means sweet-sounding.

2. The Tower of Babel

After watching Innovation Nation, I was still not sleepy and so switched to the History Channel. It was showing an episode of Ancient Aliens. Not one of my favourite shows actually (too much conjecture and too little proof). This particular episode touched on the story of the Tower of Babel, as mentioned in the Book of Genesis. The tower, which  reached a height of 300ft, was supposedly built by the people who survived the Great Flood. To have the skill and technology to be building a structure of that height at that time, the programme suggests the possibility that aliens may have provided assistance of some sort. Seriously?

I couldn't hold my interest much longer so I switched off the TV and thought that it was time to doze off. I still could not sleep so I picked up the book I was currently reading. I was halfway through reading The Story of English (authors Rob McCrum, Robert MacNeil and William Cran). It is the story of the history and development of the English language and its spread to become the global choice of written and spoken communication. I had paused my reading at the part where the authors were telling of the Scouse accent unique to the region of Liverpool in north England. Resuming my reading, the book then went on to the chapter called 'Black on White', where it describes the effect of the black African slave trade had on the spread, variation and usage of English.

A sub-chapter of this section is called `The Tower Of Babel'. It caused me to pause in surprise. The authors chose to use this phrase as a sub-heading because they quoted a line from a 1744 writing by Captain William Smith named A New Voyage to Guinea. Needless to say, this coincidence caused me further difficulty in falling asleep.

(Note : My further reading about the ancient Tower of Babel, indeed is related to the story of languages. But let's leave that for another day.)

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

In my haul of inexpensive books from the Big Bad Wolf sale in JB earlier this year, I picked up a book called The 7 Secrets Of Synchronicity written by the husband and wife team of Trish and Rob MacGregor. I have not read it yet. But with these recent occurrences, I guess I'll start reading it today.

So, does all these coincidences have meaning? Let's find out, shall we...

Meaningful coincidences...

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Down with dengue

In the slightly over half-a-century of my life, I have so far only required in-patient hospital treatment on two occasions. The first time was in 2001 (I think) when my tonsils were so inflamed that they were causing breathing problems and my doctor advised to have them removed. That particular operation was carried out at an old government military hospital in Kinrara, Puchong. How I ended up undergoing tonsillectomy surgery at a military facility, which today is no longer in operation, is perhaps another story on its own.

The other time I had to be warded in hospital was last week. I was suffering from high fever, headache and muscular pain all over. When the illness did not recede after 4 days, I went to see a GP who quickly suspected that I was down with dengue and suggested that I go to a hospital for a blood test. The next morning, I went to the nearby Puteri Specialist Hospital. Upon registering, the doctor's assistant asked me how long I had been ill. Five days including today, I said. She immediately arranged for a blood test even before the doctor had time to examine me.

By the time the doctor checked in to his clinic after doing his morning rounds, the test results were in. Confirmed I had dengue. Based on the blood platelet count, my condition is not considered too serious. The doctor gave me the option of whether I wish for outpatient treatment. If so, I have to ensure I rigorously take in sufficient fluids and come in daily to do the blood tests. Not wanting to take any risks, I chose to be admitted.

There is actually no specific treatment for dengue fever. The standard medical advice is to drink lots of water. The non-standard advice are many... consume crab soup, drink pomegranate juice, take in lots of isotonic drinks and perhaps the most frequent advice of all, as suggested by well-meaning friends and relatives who have suffered the same, drink the juice extracted from papaya leaf shoots. I tried them all... but the papaya leaf juice takes the cake when it comes to comparison of tastes. I managed to down one small glass of the stuff. It was the most bitter liquid concoction I have ever swallowed. All good medicines are bitter, they say. But this one is right up there on the bitterness scale.

The first night I was in hospital, an IV drip was inserted in my left hand. To further aid recovery, I drank copious amounts of plain water. This regime meant that I visited the toilet more often. Dragging the IV stand to the toilet every time I had to pee was somewhat inconvenient, but what to do. At first, I kept count of how many times I got up to relieve myself but when I pass the figure of ten, I stopped counting.

Alhamdulillah, my blood platelet count improved after the third day and I was allowed to go home. I am now resting at home and recovering well. Dengue fever in Malaysia is reaching alarming proportions. According to the Ministry of Health, the number of reported cases for the 6 months of this year has reached more than 56,000, a 34% increase over the same period last year. There have already been 162 deaths.

Very serious indeed. Please take care. Thank you to my dear friends and relatives for the kind thoughts and prayers.

IV needle attached to left hand
Crab soup. Normally delicious but when you have no appetite..
Papaya leaf juice. Top of the bitterness scale..

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Aidilfitri 1436H / 2015M

The aidilfitri celebration, like most other religious and cultural festivals in Malaysia, is a time when family members gather for the chance to reinforce or renew relationships. It is a time when sons and daughters, who work in the city, make the trip back to their respective home-towns or villages to spend the first day of Syawal with their parents. For those whose parents have already departed, it then becomes a day of remembrance and reminiscing the memories of hari raya days of a long time ago.

I am very lucky to still have both father and mother to celebrate this special ocassion with. However, for the past two years, the annual family gathering had been a bit different. Last year, my father spent his hari raya in the ward of National University Hospital in Singapore. He was suffering from pneumonia and was hospitalised for a total of 42 days. This year, on the third day of fasting, my mother had a heart attack and was transported to the same hospital in an ambulance. She was discharged just 2 days before Aidilfitri, after undergoing treatment for 24 days. She is now staying with me for a short while before I have to send her to be re-admitted to another hospital for further therapy.

Praise be to the Almighty. I am counting my blessings each day.

Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri to all my friends and readers. May all of you be in good health and joyful spirit.

Masjid Ubudiah in Kuala Kangsar, Perak. Pic taken in May 2015.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

The Cave of The Seven Sleepers

On the outskirts of Amman, the capital of Jordan, there is a historic site where it is believed that seven young men hid in a cave to escape religious persecution from their tyrant ruler. They fell asleep for what they thought to be a day or so, but turned out to be for a much longer period. Upon rising from their slumber, one of the youths went out to the nearby town to buy food and when he wanted to pay for his purchase, the shop owner discovered that the coins offered came from a time when a different emperor ruled many years earlier.

This story of the People of The Cave or As-habul Kahfi, is well-known in Islamic teachings and even has a parallel in Christian tradition. The story is mentioned in Surah 18 of the holy Al-Qur'an, beginning from Verse 9 to Verse 26. While popular accounts put the number of the young men at 7, the Qur'an does not give an exact figure. Verse 22 indicates the possible number at 3 or 5 or 7, but with a gentle reminder from the Almighty that such an uncertainty should not be leading us to arguments amongst ourselves. Only the Lord knows... plus a few others. And who might these few others be, I wonder.

Another interesting aspect of this story is that the young men had a dog with them. This pet canine kept watch at the cave's entrance, possibly deterring any unwanted parties from venturing into the cave and discovering the hiding place. Such a loyal trait that has been recorded in divine revelation.

Within those 18 verses that tell the story of the cave-sleepers is perhaps another important lesson for the Muslim faithful. Verse 23 and 24 are translated as such :

23 - And never say of anything, "Indeed, I will do that tomorrow,"

24 - Except [when adding], "If Allah wills." And remember your Lord when you forget [it] and say, "Perhaps my Lord will guide me to what is nearer than this to right conduct."

The said verses impart to us the need to cite the phrase `Insha Allah', meaning `if Allah wills' whenever we mention our intention to carry out something in the future. There is an interesting backstory to this.

Prophet Muhammad (sallalahu alaihi wa-sallam) faced a lot of scepticism and doubters during his early days of preaching to the people of Makkah. The leaders of Makkah sent two of their men to check with the Jewish rabbis of Madinah on Muhammad's claim of being a prophet. Since the Jews are people of the book, they would have more knowledge about such matters. The men described the new prophet and his teachings to the rabbis who then told them to ask Muhammad (s.a.w.) three questions, the answers to which would reveal the proof of authenticity.

 "Ask him about three things which we will tell you to ask, if he answers them then he is a Prophet who has been sent (by Allah); if he does not, then he is saying things that are not true, in which case how you will deal with him will be up to you. Ask him about some young men in ancient times, what was their story? For there is a strange and wondrous tale. Ask him about a man who traveled a great deal and reached the east and the west of the earth. What was his story? And ask him about the Ruh (soul or spirit), what is it?"

The men returned to Makkah and relayed the questions to the Prophet (s.a.w.) who accordingly replied, "I will tell you tomorrow." He had neglected to add, "Insha Allah".

The Prophet (s.a.w.) waited for Allah's revelation to enable him to give the answers. A whole day passed and the revelation did not come. As more days went by without any divine assistance, the people of Makkah made more fun of him and accused him of not keeping to his word. The Messenger of Allah was very sad to face such ridicule. It was only after 15 days that the angel Jibreel (alaihi-salam) came to the Messenger with the revelation of Surah Al-Kahfi which had the answers to questions posed by the rabbis. Indeed, also contained within the surah is the subtle reminder on the proper etiquette when promising to do something. Allahu-akbar!

And so my friends, what about the questions concerning the man who traveled a great deal or about the Ruh? Perhaps I will explore the answers to these questions in future postings... insha 'Allah.

Signboard at the cave site
Entrance to the cave located at a hill slope

Footnote : Apart from this place in Jordan, another site in Turkey called Ephesus also claims to be the Cave of the 7 Sleepers.

Monday, 6 July 2015

A picture paints a thousand words

In almost all of my non-fiction articles in this blog, I have included a photo or two of the subject matter in question. A well-taken and relevant photograph helps to make the post interesting. In my early days of blogging, I have sometimes resorted to 'borrowing' some images from cyberspace because my own stock of original photos had not reached a sizeable collection yet. When this happens, I would credit the original website by providing a link within the article. I'm not sure if this would suffice as an acknowledgement of copyright but I make sure that none of the borrowed pics are used for commercial gain.

Nowadays, all the pics which I use to accompany any of my posts shall be my own original photos. After 8 years of blogging and hundreds of published postings, the number of photos I have uploaded to the internet is quite substantial. And if we are to include the photo albums I have on my Facebook account, the overall quantity is not insignificant.

Which now brings us to the reverse situation where any one of my photos available on cyberspace could be borrowed by another person. I had thought of this possibility some years ago. I wouldn't mind if my pics are being used by another party as long as they credit the source. But I guess in the super-duper huge borderless world of cyberspace, this seems to be an unrealistic request.

Two days ago, a friend shared a link on FB for the recipe for char kway teow, the so-called `wet' version that's so popular up north. When I first glimpsed at the photo accompanying the recipe, I thought it looked so familiar. I scrolled through my hard-disk for the stock of my original CKT pics (yes, I now have quite a few) and sure enough, I found the same photo which was snapped in 2012 when I sampled the dish at a roadside outlet in Taman Perling in JB. I had uploaded that photo both in this blog and in the Johor Sedap FB page.

Screenshot of the FB link
The original photograph, taken using a Blackberry
I then clicked on the link where the full recipe was shown. It is a page run by someone primarily to sell slimming products targeted at the fairer sex. Beneath the recipe was written `copy-paste', meaning that the page administrator had copied the recipe (and presumably the pic) from elsewhere. I did further search on Google and found that the recipe/article is actually an app on Google Play.

So how do I feel that a pic of mine is being used by someone else? I'm not sure yet... in one sense it feels fine that one's handiwork is good enough to be used by others. On the other hand, a simple credit to the original source would be nice too.

Anyway, just to let you know that the stall where I had this plate of CKT is no longer operating, or perhaps has moved to another location. A bit sad, really... because the taste wasn't too bad. Comparable to the ones I have tried in Butterworth and Bukit Mertajam in Penang.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Iftar in the Little Red Dot down south

I have previously written that the most significant event by which I mark the passage of time is the coming of the holy month of Ramadhan. Not my birthday or my wedding anniversary, but the arrival of the fasting month every year.

Tonight we are already entering the 13th day of Ramadhan of the Hijri year 1436. I have yet to put up a post to mark the occasion. So I guess I'd better squeeze in something before the month of June leaves us. Otherwise this effort of blog revival would not seem serious enough.

Last Saturday, I made a trip across the Causeway to the Little Red Dot to visit my parents. That's what some people call the tiny island nation of Singapore. I kid you not... just google those 3 words and the search engine will give you the city-state as the top result.

My mother is actually at the National University Hospital, recovering from a heart attack that occurred the previous Saturday. She is now in the normal ward after being in the ICU for 6 days. Alhamdulillah, she seems to be getting better although, for such an ailment to befall any senior citizen of her age, the overall effect of the attack is yet to be ascertained. Nonetheless, there is much we can be grateful for and to continue with our prayers.

Since mom is not at home, I had to look for somewhere to break my fast. Small matter actually. After about two hours of keeping mom company, I headed out to the old Masjid Hajjah Fatimah at the Beach Road area of downtown Singapore. My father is presently there on part-time duty as a muezzin (bilal, in Malay). In fact nowadays, he spends most of his time at this particular mosque, which is quite a distance from where he lives in Bukit Batok. There is another mosque just across the apartment block of his house, Masjid Ar-Raudah, but he still prefers the travel to Hajjah Fatimah, even though it means taking two different bus routes to get there. I don't have to ask him why, because I can well guess the answer. Sentimental reasons. Beach Road (or more accurately Kampung Glam) is the area where he grew up. No doubt, the kampung house of my late grandmother is no longer there but I'm pretty sure nothing beats the feeling of being in familiar surroundings of one's childhood days.

Masjid Hajjah Fatimah was built in 1846. Wow, that is a really long time ago. It is fairly small in size by modern standards but has unique architecture and historical connection. It is now a national monument of Singapore. One of the famous characteristic of this mosque is its leaning minaret, which is off-centre by 6 degrees.

While my father made the call for Maghrib prayer, which is also the indicator for the end of the daily fast, I sat down in the verandah together with other muslim brothers to break our fast. It was a simple meal of rice porridge plus mutton briyani served in a tray, to be shared at 4 persons to a tray. The meal was cooked in the mosque compound and paid for by donations from anonymous well-wishers. Simple and humble communal feasting at its best.

An old minaret surrounded by modern towers
Waiting for the time to break fast
Mutton briyani rice to be shared, with rice porridge for starters

Friday, 29 May 2015

Someone watching over me (Part 4 and Final)

Headnote : This is the 4th and final part of a short story that took too long to complete. The preceding parts can be read at the following links -> Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

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'I am so sorry… I didn’t know Amir has departed. I wish I had tried to look for the both of you much sooner.'

‘Now don’t be,’ my host graciously replied. ‘You couldn’t have known. It all happened quite suddenly, you know. My husband was out back tending to his favoured orchids when he collapsed. I was in the kitchen then, making him some tea. I heard something fall but wasn’t sure what it was, so I called out to him. When he did not reply, I came out to have a look. That’s when I saw him lying on the ground and his body jerking all over.’

She paused for a while. Her head was turned towards the orchid garden located at the rear of the sprawling compound, indicating to me where the incident occurred. We were sitting in the spacious verandah which the husband had built with his own hands. It was late afternoon of a bright and sunny day. A slight breeze was blowing and conditions were ideal for an afternoon nap, had it been different day. The verandah was constructed so that it faced open paddy fields, flat and green as far as the eye could see. In the distance, you could make out the balmy silhouette of Gunung Jerai, an imposing mountain overseeing acres of flat countryside. A truly magnificent view. I could well understand why my late friend had decided to uproot his city upbringing and settle down here. Indeed, it has become his final resting place.

My host turned back to me and continued, 'I was panicking at the time. I sought the help of some neighbours who took him to the hospital. He was there for one night but left us the following morning. Massive stroke, the doctor said. I informed as many of the relatives and friends as I could.’

She looked at me apologetically. 'I am sorry, I didn’t know how to get in touch with you. You went missing.’

It was my turn to say, ‘Don’t be. My fault.’

Amir and I had been very close friends while we were at university even though we studied different courses. We were housemates and shared many common interests, like movies and music. I was the best man at his wedding. I continued to be close to the couple for some time until their daughter was born. By that time, I was aspiring to start a family of my own but I wasn’t finding success in the courtship game. After two broken hearts, I took a job posting overseas and made myself oblivious to the happenings of friends or family back home. Two decades on, I decided to call it quits and come back. Amir and Maryam are the first friends in my Jejak Kasih list… and that’s why I am here now.

As I reminisce, a sweet young lady came to the verandah carrying a tray of hot tea and a plate of freshly-fried `cucur ikan bilis’ with some homemade chilli dip.

‘You remember this girl?’ Maryam asked me, as the young lady placed the refreshments on the table in front of us. She was of course, referring to their one and only daughter whom I last met when the girl was still a baby. Without waiting for my answer, she turned to address the girl, ‘Farah, this is the gentleman you have been asking about all those years ago. A very good friend of your father. The one in your baby photo where you’re sitting on his lap.’

I could see the young lady blushing. We exchanged pleasantries before she excused herself so that her mother and I could continue our conversation.

‘She’s all grown up now,’ I said. ‘How old is she? Twenty-one, twenty-two?’

Coming to twenty-three, her mother replied. ‘Amir told me that you were there during the time of her birth. And during the time when I was in that delicate state. I don’t think I had thanked you for keeping him company during that difficult time.’

I could have replied by saying that her thanks were not necessary, but kept silent because I could sense that she has more to say. There was a glint of tears at the corners of her eyes.

‘I had thought that my time has come. I would be leaving my husband and our little girl. But as you can see, it is Amir who has left us first.’ She wiped the tears from her eyes before they had a chance to fall down her cheeks.

‘I wish to tell you something… I hope you don’t mind. Something that happened during the time when I was in hospital. Except for Amir, I have not told this to anyone else. Not even to Farah.’

‘I don’t actually remember much of what happened during delivery. I must have passed out. But what I remember was the feeling of pain… intense pain. I really thought I was going to die. I kept praying to Allah Almighty… please, please take the pain away. Or if not, then please take me away. And then I remember the blankness. Cold and dark. And the pain came back again. It was like that, in cycles. I don’t know for how long.’

‘I thought I heard people whispering but all I could see were blurry figures. I thought some of the figures were beckoning me. I wanted to move and I wanted to speak but I couldn’t. And then it became dark and cold again.’

‘I heard a voice. A soft tone, not speaking but reciting. I recognized a phrase. Something familiar. “Salaamun kaullan mirabbir-rahim (peace, a word from a merciful Lord)”. Was I dreaming? I tried to open my eyes to see who was reciting those familiar lines… but I couldn’t. So I recited the words myself. Peace… and it felt peaceful, no longer that much pain. I think I drifted off to sleep.’

‘And then later, I don’t know how long, I heard the voice again. I fought hard to open my eyes. I saw a dim figure sitting by my bedside. When my eyes finally managed to focus, I saw that it was a middle-aged woman dressed in uniform. Not white like the other nurses but in light blue. She must be the head nurse or matron, I thought. She stopped her recitation when she saw me open my eyes. “Oh, you are awake,” I heard her say. “Praise be to Allah Almighty. They all thought you’ve gone, my dear… but I’m not one to be giving up so easily. I’m staying by your side until you come back.” I wanted to say thank you to her but my mouth just made mumbling sounds. She shushed me and told me to rest. “Go back to sleep, my dear. But don’t go too far. We’ll talk again tomorrow.” And I went back to sleep.’

‘The next day, or what I think to be the next day, I heard the soft voice again. This time I woke up quite easily and could see it was the matron of the night before. I manage to say the salaam and she replied in kind. I was able to speak a few words but she told me not to talk too much as I was still fairly weak. She then told me to continue to pray and be strong. Have the will to live, she said, because you have a beautiful daughter and a loving husband waiting for you at home. If you continue to recover like this, the doctors will let you go home in no time. It felt so wonderful to see a smiling face after those many hours of being in the dark and cold of nowhere. We chatted for a bit more before she advised me to go back to sleep. Before dozing off, I managed to look closely at the name-tag pinned to her uniform. Khadijah was her name. I managed to mumble a “Terima kasih, Kak Jah.” I heard her reply, “Sama-sama, Maryam” as she tucked me under the blanket and brushed my forehead with her nice warm hand.’

‘I finally recovered and later was allowed to go home where I saw my little girl for the first time. The most beautiful baby you’ll ever see. Amir told me that I had been in coma for five days. It was touch and go, he said. The doctors weren’t too confident that I would make it.’

‘I asked my husband to arrange to send some flowers to the hospital ward as a thank-you gift. On the accompanying card I wrote a brief note of appreciation to all the doctors and nurses for their good work. I made a special mention of gratitude to Matron Khadijah for being so kind and watching over me during the most trying period.’

‘A day after the flowers were sent, I got a call from the hospital. It was the Head Nurse who wanted to say that the flowers have been received. But she wanted to ask me something else. The matron by the name of Khadijah that I mentioned, could I describe her please? Well, I said, she’s middle-aged, slightly plump, fair skin, soft voice and the sweetest of smiles. Yes, that’s her, I heard the Head Nurse say. Well… if you know who she is, then why are you asking me?’

‘There was short silence. “Err… I’m sorry Puan Maryam, I’m just checking to be sure. Matron Khadijah is no longer with us.” What? I asked back. You mean she has resigned or retired? I just had a chat with her a few days ago.’

‘I heard the Head Nurse hesitating in her response. “Matron Khadijah works… err, I mean used to work with us. But she is no longer here. She died of breast cancer, five years ago…”’

Friday, 15 May 2015

In which state am I?

Cape (tanjung) or river mouth (kuala)?
Not in a confused state, I hope.

The above photo was taken during one of my unplanned off-the-beaten-track road trips recently. It shows a road distance marker (or milestones as we used to call them in the days before the metric system) where the name of two different states are mentioned. So am I in the state of Selangor or Pahang?

The answer may be quite obvious to some and an additional clue in the pic would confirm it. This milestone is of course, located in Pahang. Kuala Pahang is where the Pahang River meets the South China Sea. The main town in the same vicinity is Pekan. The 'C 101' label at the top of the marker is the road numbering system used by the Public Works Department (JKR) to record all the main federal and state roads in the country. The prefix 'C' is the one used for Pahang, similar to the registration numbering system for vehicles utilised by the Road Transport Department (JPJ).

What all this simply indicate is that there is a place, specifically a cape (tanjung), on the coastline of Pahang, named after Selangor. Tanjung Selangor in Pahang. It would be interesting to find out why or how this came about.

The use of one state's name as a place-name in another state, although peculiar, is not unique to Pahang. In the Pontian district of my home state of Johor, there is place called Parit Selangor. In Kota Tinggi district, there are two kampungs named after other places; Kg Kelantan (near the town itself) and Kg Singapura (further east near Sedili). In the Kelantan capital of Kota Bharu, there is this place called Pulau Melaka, the kampung of the late Tuan Guru Dato Nik Abdul Aziz. In similar vein, there is a river in Rompin, Pahang called Sg Pontian. The famous place in Kuala Selangor to view fireflies is known as Kg Kuantan. I'm sure readers can name other examples.

When it comes to the names of towns and villages, there are many duplicates or commonly-used ones. The place-name of Sungai Buloh is not exclusive to Selangor. There is one in Perak as well... but did you know that there are actually two separate and different places called Sungai Buloh in Selangor? The more well-known one is the area where the prison is located. The lesser-known Sungai Buloh town is located at the downstream end of the river that lends its name, in the district of Kuala Selangor.

Which place-name do you reckon, is the most commonly used in Malaysia? I have my own guess on this one but let's see if readers have other possible answers...

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

The best udang galah in Malaysia

The town of Kuala Rompin in the state of Pahang is located on the east coast of the Malay Peninsula, about 120 kilometres south of Kuantan. The by-election to choose a representative for the parliamentary constituency of Rompin was concluded yesterday, the 5th of May 2105. The ruling party retained the seat which fell vacant when the previous MP, Tan Sri Dr Jamaluddin Jarjis, met an untimely demise in a helicopter crash early last month.

During the time when I worked at Dungun in Trengganu many years ago, I would occasionally pass by this town on my drive back to Johor Bahru. My more frequent route would be Dungun - Kuantan - Segamat - Yong Peng and then entering the North-South Expressway at Yong Peng to travel down to JB. It meant that I would cross the width of the Peninsula on Federal Route 12, a delightful (but sometimes dangerous) road which cuts across large stretches of palm oil plantations plus whatever is left of our untouched rainforest. Sometimes I would take the alternative coastal route of Dungun - Kuantan - Pekan - Mersing - Kota Tinggi - Johor Bahru. Shorter in distance but longer in travel time due to the poor road condition (those days) and the many small towns along the way.

Kuala Rompin is one of these towns. Sometimes I would stop there for a rest break or petrol refill but I never had the chance to explore the place in greater detail. I had been told by a number of friends that Rompin is well-known for its `udang galah', a species of large freshwater prawns of which I know not of a specific name in English. It was also recommended to me that I should not miss trying to taste them at any of a number of foodstalls there. Fresh, tasty and cheap... those were the normal words I hear.

Unfortunately, my travel from Dungun to JB were almost always in the evenings and it would be late night by the time I reached Rompin and the stalls would already be closed. Hence I never had the chance to try eating those prawns.

But not anymore. In the middle of last month, we attended an event in Kuantan. The drive back to JB required a pit stop in Mersing and this meant that we would travel on the coastal road. An opportune time to drop by Kuala Rompin and check out what some people have been raving about.

Kuala Rompin today, is a very much developed town from the days of my earlier journeys. We spotted a restaurant at one of the new block of shophouses along the main road and made a random choice to stop there. It has a catchy name - Udang Galah King Restaurant. They serve the prawns in a variety of ways, cooked to order. Choices include `masak lemak cili api', `masak sweet sour' and `goreng black pepper'. My selection? Udang galah goreng telur masin...

What else can I say? Exquisite. Best udang galah I've tasted in Malaysia.

Tastes as good as it looks
The king is here..

Footnote : This post is my contribution to the collective blogger revival effort set for today 6 May 2015 and spearheaded by Kak Teh. May my other blogger-friends succeed in posting something too. But if you don't, then not to worry... just take your time, as long as you need.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Tujuh petala langit

In the Holy Al-Quran, there are a number of verses which mention the numerical value of heaven. The heaven referred to here is the sky (the Malay translation `langit') as opposed to paradise (`syurga'). It could well be seven separate and distinct heavens or seven layers of the same heaven. No definitive answer on that yet.

In Surah Nooh (71st surah), the 15th verse is translated as such : "Do you not consider how Allah has created seven heavens in layers."

Some Islamic writers have connected this concept of 7 heavens to the scientific findings that the Earth's atmosphere is made up of seven layers, thereby using recent fact to reinforce the miracle of the Quran that was revealed 1,400 years ago.I believe this is over-simplifying it somewhat. If we are to read other verses referring to this particular subject, it is quite clear that the heavens refer to a larger universe rather than just the atmosphere encircling our planet.

"And He completed them as seven heavens within two days and inspired in each heaven its command. And We adorned the nearest heaven with lamps (stars) and as protection. That is the determination of the Exalted in Might, the Knowing." (Surah Fussilat 41:12).

I do not think the present scholars and researchers have fully established what the 7 heavens mentioned in those verses actually refer to. It remains as one of the many hidden secrets contained within the Holy Book for future generations to discover. Indeed, Allah swt is All-Knowing.

Before I delve further on the title of this horrendously long overdue post, I must make a quick mention of the effort being spearheaded by veteran blogger Kak Teh aka Zaharah Othman and her friend Ailin Abdullah, to get dormant blogs (such as this one) to be revived and rejuvenated as in the days before Facebook and Twitter came into being. Quite a number of blogger-friends are being encouraged to get out of their slumber and simultaneously publish a new post on 6 May 2015. I am cheating a bit by putting up this one before the target date because I need to do it in this month of April (somewhat like submitting our income tax returns by the deadline). But fear not... I promise to join the spirit of mass blogger revival by writing another post for that particular day.

Ok then... April 2015 marks the 7th year of cyberspace existence for Just Observations...

My first post was made on 8 April 2008. In April of every year since then, I would write something to mark the occasion. Except for last year, that is. When my blogging mindset was entirely somewhere else.

Thank you to all readers and friends for the delightful company over the years. With this new impulse, I hope to rekindle the warm friendship with you all again.God-willing.

Early morning sun at Teluk Iskandar in Mersing, Johor