Sunday, 23 July 2017

An exclave in Peninsula Malaysia


exclave (noun)a portion of a country geographically separated from the main part by surrounding alien territory

It is quite common for us to come across the word `enclave', a country or region that is completely surrounded or enclosed by the territory of another country. Examples of enclaves are :

1. Lesotho (enclaved by South Africa)
2. Vatican City (enclaved by Italy)

Before the re-unification of Germany in 1990, the city of West Berlin was also considered an enclave because it was surrounded by the former East Germany.

A logical extension of this concept is the 'exclave', where only part of a country or region is geographically separated from the main part by another territory. I have only recently found out what this word means and that there is an example in Peninsula Malaysia itself.

I was browsing Google Maps not long ago to look for interesting places to visit in Port Dickson, Negeri Sembilan. I noticed that the cape of Tanjung Tuan (also known by its Portuguese name of Cape Rachado) has a state boundary crossing it. I have been to this place before and loved the shallow beach known as Blue Lagoon (see post here -> Port Dickson) but I never realised that Tanjung Tuan is not in Negeri Sembilan. It is actually part of the state of Melaka.

When I was in Port Dickson last week, I made a stop at Tanjung Tuan to take some photographs confirming this fact.

So there you have it. The small protrusion of hilly land extending its head to the sea known as Tanjung Tuan, which is mostly forest reserve and site of Cape Rachado Lighthouse is an exclave belonging to Melaka.

It has taken more than a half-century of my life to discover this. We learn something new every day...

The signboard on Federal Route 5, giving first indication that
part of Melaka is isolated by Negeri Sembilan

As we approach the cape, the state boundary signboard (right background) becomes evident

The road on the left leads to the lighthouse (Melaka) while the one on the right
leads to Pantai Tg Biru (Negeri  Sembilan)

The Google Map showing state lines cutting across the neck of the cape

Thursday, 13 July 2017

A clinic for the masses

Tucked in an obscure corner of the UTC Kotaraya complex in central Johor Bahru is the government health clinic known as Klinik 1Malaysia. It offers both medical and dental services at a nominal price.

Earlier this month I made my first visit. At the registration counter for dental services, I handed over my MyKad and was asked to fill up a form. The nurse then keyed in my data into the system. While doing so, she asked me a few questions.

"Have you been here before, sir?"

No. My first visit.

"May I know your occupation?"

Retired.

"Do you have a pensioner card?"

No. I work in the private sector.

She returned my identity card, gave me a queue number and asked me to wait until my number is called. There were not that many people in the waiting lounge, maybe six or seven, I can't recall now. The lounge itself is bright and clean. There is a television on, tuned to the Suria Channel of Singapore. The TV reception is quite good and I assume that is why it's tuned to a neighbouring country's programme. Unless you are subscribed to Astro, the reception of local stations using normal antenna can be quite dismal. Except for the stiff and uncomfortable metal seats, the overall waiting experience was generally bearable.

The duration of the wait, under different circumstances, I would call as exceedingly long. But then you have to remember that this is a government clinic. Waiting for one to two hours is normal. Furthermore, I was a walk-in patient. No appointment needed like most private dentists.

When my number finally flashed on the screen, I walked into Treatment Room 8 where I was greeted by a smiling young male doctor. He asked me a few questions and then told me to sit on the dentist's chair. The chair and other equipment in the room looked as modern as can be.

After performing the descaling process on my teeth, the doctor pronounced that all my white chompers are in good condition. He praised me for taking good care of them. Wow... no other dentists have never praised me before.

Of course I walked out of the clinic with a big smile on my face. And I paid only RM3 for the whole treatment (RM1 to register plus RM2 for the scaling work).

Convenient and inexpensive. A very good government initiative.

Friday, 30 June 2017

One local destination a month - Part 5 : Jugra, Selangor

The 5th instalment of my 1LD1M series is somewhat delayed in making its appearance. The trip was actually done on 24 May 2017, before the Muslim fasting month. So I'm squeezing this post in just before the month of June leaves us.

This time, I managed to make the journey to Jugra in Kuala Langat, Selangor, the place where I intended to visit in April. There are a number of interesting historical spots here which are not so well-known and discovering them made our trip so worthwhile.

1. Istana Bandar

Within the district of Banting in a small village with the oxymoronic name of Kampung Bandar, there is an old palace built by a former sultan of Selangor. Known alternatively as Istana Bandar or Istana Sultan Ala'eddin, this royal dwelling was built in 1905 by the fifth Sultan of Selangor.

The building sits on a 12.6 acre flat plot of land and is a combination of Malay and Moorish architecture. It is a 2-storey design; the upper floor having the grander rooms and balconies while the lower floor has a relatively low ceiling height. When Sultan Ala'eddin (also known as Sultan Alauddin Sulaiman) passed away in 1938, his successor did not take residence there and the palace became empty. Over the years, the building went through a series of transformations in its use before reverting back to being an empty shell, left to be appreciated by only a few who care to have that inkling of interest in history. The palace is presently registered as a heritage building under Jabatan Warisan Negara.

On the day of our visit, we were the only ones there. The guard at the security post was probably surprised seeing a car with Johor license plates driving up to that quiet location on a weekday afternoon. After signing the visitor book, he allowed us into the compound and said that we are free to walk around.

The palace is totally empty inside - no furniture or furnishings or exhibits. A number of broken windows and rotting floor planks (properly cordoned-off) show the age of the building. Nonetheless overall the place is clean and tidy. Even the external grounds are well-maintained, i.e. no overgrown bushes or creepers and the like.

Serene and peaceful. And if you are alone, can be creepy as well.

View of Istana Bandar from the front. Visited 24 May 2017

A water reservoir or kolah in the internal courtyard

A view from inside to outside through broken windows

Wide staircase at the rear

2. Bukit Jugra

On the eastern side of Sungai Langat near its mouth, there is a hill known as Bukit Jugra on which sits the Jugra Lighthouse. The hill slope next to the lighthouse is a popular place for para-gliding enthusiasts. On the day of our visit, not a single para-glider was in sight because it was a weekday. I was told that they pack the place mostly on weekends.

Anyway, we were there to enjoy the view from a lovely vantage point. The Langat river mouth where it meets the Melaka Straits can be clearly seen. This viewing spot is surprisingly quite accessible by car. The road up the hill to the lighthouse is paved and there is even space to park your car safely, although I can imagine some congestion on weekends.

A barge being towed upstream of Sg Langat. The Melaka Straits on the horizon

Jugra Lighthouse

3. Makam Sultan Abdul Samad

I came upon this royal mausoleum by chance. As we were heading towards Jugra Lighthouse, I saw a signboard that indicated the grave of royalty. The cemetery itself was not visible from the small road and I decided to make a stop on the way back.

Sultan Abdul Samad ibni Al-marhum Raja Abdullah was the 4th Sultan of Selangor. He reigned from 1857 to 1898, a span of 41 years. At the time of his death he was 93 years-old. The heir apparent to the throne, his eldest son Raja Muda Musa had already departed ahead of him. This resulted in Raja Muda Musa's eldest son, Sulaiman Shah Musa (later also known as Alaudin Sulaiman) becoming the next-in-line. The 5th Sultan of Selangor was therefore the grandson of the 4th.

Perhaps the most famous building in Kuala Lumpur that bears his name is the Moorish-styled landmark known as Bangunan Sultan Abdul Samad, located opposite of Dataran Merdeka and the Royal Selangor Club.

This mausoleum at Jugra is a hidden gem. The place is well-kept with a wide parking area for visitors. The security guard on duty was kind enough to give me an impromptu tour. Other than the king, members of his immediately family are also buried there.

Resting place of the 4th Sultan of Selangor

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Salam Aidilfitri 1438 Hijrah


Ramadhan berlalu Syawal menjelang,
Yang jauh datang yang dekat hilang,
Pergi kembara tak akan pulang,
Jasad tiada budi dikenang...

Salam Aidilfitri buat sahabat-sahabat dan pembaca di blog ini. Saya doakan agar semuanya sihat dan selamat sampai ke destinasi masing-masing. Mohon maaf dari saya sekiranya tersilap kata, terkasar bahasa dan terlebih bicara. Tersinggung perasaan, tersalah pesan mahupun tertulis yang bukan2...

Semuga Allah swt panjangkan umur kita untuk bertemu dengan Ramadhan sekali lagi...

Monday, 19 June 2017

The fragrant aroma of clarified butter

My mother is an expert in cooking Indian-style briyani. Her skills have been passed down to my better half who has now become the go-to person when her siblings crave for tasty mutton briyani. For Aidilfitri, it is normal for our house to serve briyani when the normal Malay raya dishes would be ketupat and rendang.

There are many different recipes to cooking briyani, depending on the region or version. Pakistani style, Hyderabad style, Batu Pahat style, just to name a few. The ingredients in my mother's version are quite extensive. One of the most important is ghee. It gives the briyani rice a unique fragrant aroma. Recipes that make use of other fat substitutes would simply pale in comparison.

Ghee or clarified butter (commonly known as minyak sapi in Malay), is an expensive component. Even among the many manufacturers of this product, there are varying qualities. We have tried cooking briyani using different brands of ghee and conclude that the one from QBB is still the best. Not surprisingly, it is also the most expensive.

So expensive that the Mydin Supermarket chain has to attach security caps on the cans of QBB ghee to deter shoplifting.

Compare the prices of the 2 brands on this shelf

Anti-shoplifting bands on the QBB cans. Proof of its popularity

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Spread a little cheer...

No matter how bad your situation is, there would always be others far worse off than you. So be thankful, don't despair and never give up hope. Something I subscribe to for a very long time.

At every large city in the world, there is the problem of the homeless and destitute. Johor Bahru is no exception. These unfortunate souls gather around the old central train station where they lay down for the night on used cardboard boxes as their mattress. Men and women of various races and ages.

Last night, I joined the team from Free Market Johor and Friends & Strangers, to spread some cheer. We distributed food packs and some basic toiletries (small towel, toothbrush and toothpaste). As a special occasion to celebrate the coming hari raya, the FMJ team collected a large number of pre-loved baju melayu to give away for free. The fast food chain Macdonald's also contributed to the event by giving burgers and drinks.

The distribution was held at the KTM cargo bay at JB Sentral train station. Around 100 persons came and collected the food and clothes. It was a small effort by the team but I'm pretty sure well-appreciated by the recipients.

Volunteers helping to prepare the food packs

KTM Sentral Cargo Bay became the distribution point for the night

Pre-loved men's and women's clothing for some raya cheer

With fellow MRSM Kuantan alumnus, Amin Shade and his lovely daughters

More pics can be seen at this Facebook page -> Friends and Strangers

Monday, 12 June 2017

Iftar @ Chill

I can't quite remember when I first went to a ramadhan buka puasa buffet. Probably around 20 years ago. In those days, upmarket hotel restaurants would hold these `all you can eat' buffet spreads where you pay a single price to eat and drink as much as you like at the time of breaking of fast. Those days it cost around RM30 to RM40 per head, still quite a princely sum if you are to consider the average take-home pay of the time. If you can't quite afford the meal, the next best thing you can hope for is to get invited to one.

During my early career days, being invited to such events was quite exciting. Sub-contractors and suppliers would rush to get your confirmation of attendance to their invitations. The junior staff would always look forward to such events. We would then compare which hotel or restaurant had the best spread of food at what price (not that we would be actually paying, of course). It then became a somewhat a tricky decision among subcontractors on which hotel to choose because they would not want to be seen as being sub-standard. This is one of the unsavoury aspects of this practice.

The other negative aspect is unnecessary waste. While the spread of so many delicious food can be very alluring, there is really only so much that one person can eat. Buffet food layouts fuel human greed. More so when one is selecting food on an empty stomach.

Nowadays, the price of ramadhan buffet at certain 5-star hotels has reached three figures. Melampau. Over the years, I have declined attending such buka puasa meals, to the extent of needing to apologise to those who have invited. It is becoming too excessive. Last year I went to only one and even that was as a treat to my small team of 3 staff.

So far this fasting month, I have been to one iftar buffet. It was at Chill Cafe of KFCH International College where my third son is currently pursuing his diploma in Culinary Arts. The college holds this buffet event as a way to expose and train their students on the skills of running a restaurant. The buffet is open to the public.

We went there in the first week of fasting when the promotional price was at RM35 per pax. The choice of menu was reasonably good with offerings such as roasted lamb, various Malay kampung-style dishes and even pasta. Taste-wise was not too bad too. My son was part of the kitchen crew that day. He made the pulut mangga dessert which sadly I did not manage to try.

Since the opening week, the price has gone up to RM58.90 per pax, which is way too much for me, no matter what dish you serve.

Chill Cafe @ KFCH International College is located at Bandar Dato' Onn, Johor Bahru.

Chill is cool...

Roasted lamb. The most popular dish, of course

Mix of a few things for my 1st round

Sup utara and toast for my 2nd round

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Are wolves really bad?

In the European fairy tale 'Little Red Riding Hood', a big bad wolf tricked a little girl by pretending to be the girl's grandmother and then ate the girl up. Wolves have had a bad rap for a very long time. At the Yellowstone National Park in America, they were hunted to a near wipe-out by the 1920s.

In 1994, the US National Park Service embarked on a project to re-introduce wolves at Yellowstone. Over the years, the project was closely monitored. More than 20 years has passed since the project started and the researchers have found that wolves bring a positive impact to the ecosystem at the park. Apart from keeping the population of deer and elk in check, the subsequent effect of less grazing resulted in more growth for certain types of trees and bushes. This in turn brought in more birds and beavers. The dam-building habit of beavers caused change to waterway courses which resulted in the increase in population of fish and other small mammals. Overall, the wolves are now seen as the good guys.

(For a short video about the wolves at Yellowstone, click this link -> How Wolves Change Rivers)

Yesterday 26 May 2017, I went to meet a good wolf, although the wolf himself claims to be bad.

The Big Bad Wolf Book Sale at Mines International Exhibition & Convention Centre in Serdang began yesterday. For this sale, the organizers have opted for the box concept first introduced in 2014. Customers buy a box for a fixed price, then fill the box with as many books as he wishes as long as the box flaps can be properly taped down without bulging.

This time around, BBW offer two box sizes, a large one priced at RM100 and a small one priced at RM80. There is an additional option of buying both boxes (named as the Family Tapau Pack) at only RM160. This was the option I chose. I gave the small box to my son while I of course, took the large box.

We spent about two hours browsing and selecting books we liked. In the end, we came back with a haul of 42 books of various size and thickness. Therefore the average cost works out to a mere RM3.81 per book! Now tell me if that isn't a good deal.

Hard covers, fiction and reference books. Should last until the next book fair.

My own selection of books consisted mainly of paperbacks in the general fiction category. A large number from my favourite authors such as Jeffrey Archer, Stephen King and Bill Bryson. Quite a number too are from writers I have not read before.

Of all the books, my most interesting pick would be one that is titled 'The Indispensable Book Of Useless Information' written by Don Voorhees. To use the publicity blurb on the back cover, nothing you'll ever need to know is in this book. I had a quick flip of the contents and immediately decided that I wanted it. You see, I'm a sucker for trivial bits of seemingly useless information. Have a look at the sidebar of this blog page and you'll see a category marked as `merapu'. Go ahead and read some of the posts in that category and you'll understand what I mean. Hehehe...

Apparently this is part of a series of already 8 books

As a teaser of what's in the book, I'll share the following :

The ATMs in Vatican City are in Latin.

Maybe I'll include more of such useless facts later when I've read the whole book. Okay that's it for this post. Good day folks. Wishing Muslim readers a blessed and fruitful holy month of Ramadhan.

Footnote : BBW Book Fair at MIECC is on until Sunday 4 June 2017.

Friday, 19 May 2017

One local destination a month - Part 4 : Taiping, Perak

I had not planned that the 4th instalment of this series to be again about Perak. My original intention was to spend some time to explore Jugra in Banting, Selangor but my wife told me that an old friend of hers from university days had invited us to attend the wedding of her son at her hometown in Trong, Perak. So I said, yes... why not. I have been to Trong once before and even blogged about it (A town called Aubergine).

Trong is not very far from Taiping and it was at the latter that we stayed for the night. Taiping is an interesting town with quite a bit of history. It used to be the capital of Perak before Ipoh took over the role in 1937. It has a number of tourist attractions within its vicinity, the most famous of which is perhaps the picturesque Lake Gardens. But I'm not going to write about the gardens, or the zoo, or Bukit Larut (Maxwell Hill) or even the savoury delights of mee udang Kuala Sepetang. Instead, I'll write about two lesser-known places.

1. Taiping War Cemetery

On the road leading to the foothill of Bukit Larut, you will pass by a serene and well-kept graveyard that is the final resting place of Allied servicemen killed during World War II. When the war ended, the British military authorities headed by Major JH Ingram, decided to move the remains of their fallen personnel, spread over various villages and temporary burial grounds, to a common cemetery where the men would be honoured and remembered.

There are more than 850 graves at the cemetery, including more than 500 who remain unidentified. The cemetery is divided into two parts on either side of the road to Bukit Larut. One side holds the Christian graves while the other hold the Muslim and other denominations. If you observe carefully, the headstones on the Muslim graves are at an angle to the central dividing road whereas the Christian headstones are perpendicular. This is because the Muslims are buried facing the qibla in accordance to religious requirement.

The upkeep and maintenance of this war memorial is under the responsibility of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which explains why the place looks very tidy. A slight drawback is the absence of a proper parking space. To stop and visit, I had to park my car by the roadside where the narrow side-table meant that half of the car's width still sat on the roadway. Luckily, the road to Bukit Larut is not that busy, otherwise the obstruction would surely inconvenience other road users.

A low wall marks the perimeter of Taiping War Cemetery. Visited 30 April 2017

The Muslim section of the graveyard

2. Kota Ngah Ibrahim

Ngah Ibrahim was a Malay statesman from Perak and administrator of the Larut district in the 1870s. The `kota' was his private residence. Although not quite a fort in the strictest translation of the word, the two-storey house sits within a large compound that is enclosed by a high brick wall. For its size at that period of time, it is quite obvious that the owner was a very rich man.

Kota Ngah Ibrahim is now officially known as the Matang Museum. It is located about 8km from Taiping on the Kuala Sepetang road. The building has an illustrious history. Apart from being the home of a local headman, the British used it as a court to hear the case of the murder of JWW Birch, the first Resident of Perak. On 2 November 1875, Birch was killed by a group of Malay men led by Dato Maharajalela while taking a bath by a river in Pasir Salak.

The trial was held from 14 to 22 December 1876. At the end of the proceedings, three men including Dato Maharajalela were sentenced to death by hanging. The other two were Dato Sagor and Pandak Endut. The hanging was carried out in Taiping on 20 January 1877. Dato Maharajalela's real name was Lela Pandak Limo, son of a Bugis king from Sulawesi. The 'maharajalela' title was awarded by the sultan to one his ministers with the specific authority to decapitate anyone who oppose the king. Nowadays, the Malay word maharajalela carries the meaning of someone who acts or does things as he pleases or out of control. The word is almost always used in the negative sense.

Sultan Abdullah and Ngah Ibrahim were also found guilty of collaborating in the assassination of the British Resident. Both were exiled to the islands of Seychelles in the Indian Ocean. Ngah Ibrahim was later allowed to return to Singapore where he died in 1887. He was initially buried within the Aljunied Mosque compounds in Singapore but in September 2006, his remains was brought back to Perak and re-buried near his house.

The artifacts on display at the present-day museum are really nothing fancy or impressive. The main exhibit on the upper floor of the house is a mock-up of the courtroom where the trial of the Birch killers was held. Although the displays were static and simple, I thought that it was 45 minutes of my time well-spent. I learned a bit more of Perak's history in that short visit compared to the actual classes in school. Admission is free.

In the neighbouring compound beyond the walls of Ngah Ibrahim's fort is another old building which used to be the dwelling of the first Assistant Resident of Perak, Captain Speedy. The house seems well-preserved but was not open to the public.

Home of a Perak statesman

Part of exhibits on the ground floor

Present-day grave of Ngah Ibrahim that was relocated from Singapore

Historical personalities of Perak during those turbulent times

Courtroom mock-up of the Birch murder trial

House of the Assistant Resident of Perak

The Matang Museum as viewed from one corner of the boundary walls

Monday, 8 May 2017

A debt of gratitude (Part 2 of 2)

Headnote : The preceding part to this story can be read here -> Part 1

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

Simon began his father’s story.

“It was late 1942. The time of the Japanese occupation of Malaya during World War II. My parents are originally from Kluang. According to my father, he was about 5 or 6 years old at the time. My grandfather had a small provision shop near Kluang town which he operated from a rented lot owned by a respectable Malay man named Pak Haji Rashid. The landlord’s own house was located behind the shop lot, meaning that my grandfather and Pak Haji Rashid were in fact neighbours.

It was a very hard life in those days. My father said the Japanese soldiers were extremely cruel. They were especially merciless against people of the Chinese race. They would arrest and torture anyone whom they suspect is opposing them. My grandfather had seen a few of his friends lose their heads at the stroke of the samurai sword. Business premises owned by the Chinese were plundered and taken over at will. Even schools were not spared. When they ran out of firewood, the soldiers took some wooden chairs and desks from the local Chinese school. The chairs and desks from the upper floor classrooms were simply tossed over the balcony so that they crash and splinter to the ground below. Easier to burn, they said.

To avoid capture, many able-bodied men ran into the nearby jungle to hide and fight back. My grandfather was sympathetic to the cause and he secretly helped the fighters by providing basic necessities. Of course, this was a very dangerous thing to do. If the Japanese found out, he would definitely lose his life.

Indeed, this was what happened. Somehow, the information about my grandfather’s activity was leaked to the Japanese and word was out that the soldiers wanted his head. That particular evening, my grandfather was hiding in the shop together with my grandmother and my father. He didn’t know what else to do. He heard a sharp knock at the back door and the voice of his neighbour, Pak Haji Rashid. My grandfather opened the back door and Pak Haji Rashid told the whole family to leave the shop and follow him to his house. The Malay gentleman had offered to hide his neighbours from the search party. Using two large mengkuang mats, he rolled my grandmother and my father in one and my grandfather in the other. He placed the rolled-up mats, squeezed between a clothes cupboard and a sidewall. He told the family of three to be quiet. Be very quiet.

My father remembers this episode quite vividly. It was dark. It was hard to breathe. He wanted to cry. He wanted to pee. He hugged his mother as hard as he could.

The Japanese soldiers came and broke into the shop. They ransacked the place and not finding their intended targets, took away whatever little provisions that the small store had left. Somehow, they did not search the Malay man’s residence at the back.

The following morning, Pak Haji Rashid made arrangements to transport my grandfather and his family out of Kluang. My grandfather had relatives in Johor Bahru. That was where he would hide. Before leaving, my grandfather told Pak Haji Rashid that he and his family owed him their lives. How can he ever repay such debt of gratitude? The landlord had put his own life in danger in helping out his tenant. The Japanese would have surely executed him too had they found out.

My father told me he remembered Haji Rashid’s reply very clearly. You do not owe me anything, the Malay gentleman had said. But if you wish to repay me, then just repay mankind in general. Help out those in need, even if they do not ask for it.”

Simon paused his narration. He was looking at nothing in particular in the distance. After a silent moment, he made a slight shake of his head, picked up his teh tarik mug and took a long sip of the already cold drink.

He then looked at Suresh and me before saying, “And that is why I am here today with you, my friends. My father remains alive and healthy to this day because a kindhearted man made a decision to help someone in need, even though that someone had not asked for it.”

Sunday, 30 April 2017

What's 4-ever for?

Where's the 4th floor?
The above photo of an elevator selector buttons was taken at a newly-opened hotel in Bangi, Selangor. We stayed there yesterday as part of our weekend break to attend two wedding receptions.

When I looked at those buttons, the following possibilities come to mind :

1. The building/hotel owner is a very superstitious Chinese man.
2. The hotel owner/operator does not wish to lose business should potential Chinese clients decline to stay on the 4th floor.
3. The building owner obtained advice from a feng-shui master that the numeral 4 should not appear anywhere in the building.

I understand the Chinese culture of avoiding the number 4 as much as possible because in certain dialects, it sounds close to the Chinese word for `death'. But going to such lengths as to replace 4 with 3A on elevator buttons only serve to manifest the superstition to become a norm. Heck, staying in a room at Floor 3A still technically means that you are on the 4th floor.

To what extent would this practice be adopted? Would there actually be a limit?

Would there be no counter number 4 at banks or government service centres?
Things that cost RM4.50 would now be priced at RM3A.50?
Channel 4 on your TV remote control would now be Channel 3A?
No more meetings or appointments would be held at 4.00pm?

I can go on and on... but I'd rather offer a solution. Can the Chinese consider giving their number four another name? Call it something other than `ser' or `sey'. Something that does not sound like death? It would solve the problem. Serious.

There is nothing wrong with the numeral 4. It's all in the mind.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

When we come across the name Philadelphia, we are most likely to identify it as a city in the United States of America. It therefore surprised me a bit to find out that another city had this same name and at a time when the the US was not yet in existence.

Philadelphia was once the name of Amman, the present-day capital of Jordan. That name was in use when the area was under the Ptolemaic Kingdom (ancient Greeks based in Egypt) in the BCE period. I discovered this fact during my visit to Jordan in 2013. It was quite a delightful trip and the one week duration I allocated for the visit was not enough. If you are a history buff, then Jordan would be more of interest to you than the other middle-east countries. I'd say even more interesting than Egypt.

When I got back from the trip, I had planned to write about it in this blog. I only managed to put up an introductory post (here) but then failed keep to my plan. This entry is therefore a much-delayed effort at sharing some of the fascinating aspects of this beautiful country.

So what made me move my butt and decide to post on this subject? A friend of mine is presently enjoying a holiday in Jordan and uploaded some lovely photos on her Facebook page. It made me recall my own time there and caused me to peek again at the hundreds of photographs I took. I guess it is time to share a small selection here. I'll arrange the pictures based on the locations visited. In order not to flood a single post with too many photos, I'll spread them out over a few parts (I'll try my best to keep the promise, this time).

Amman

Within the capital itself are quite a number of attractions worth seeing. No doubt the most famous tourist site in Jordan is Petra but it is located some distance away from Amman, around 3 to 4 hours drive to the south. You'll need a full day to really explore the wonders of that Nabatean ruins. We decided to start with a tour of Amman and the following are the few places we manage to visit within a day.

1. Roman Amphitheatre

The old Amman city was built on seven hills. In downtown Amman, carved into the side of one of those hills, the ancient Romans had constructed an amphitheatre that could seat an audience of 6,000 people. Being the engineer that I am, the beautiful geometrical proportions of this theatre impressed me. The Romans surely had very skilled surveyors and craftsmen during their day.

The overall structure is still in reasonable shape. Credit to the Jordanian authorities for keeping it so.

I climbed the steep stairs to the highest level, walked to the centre section and sat down on the stone seating. As I viewed the stage far below, I imagined an ancient play being performed. Enchanting.

View of theatre from street level. The new plaza in front is modern-day construction

Three tiers of seating in semi-circular layout

The middle section of the lowest tier has wider seating area, presumably for VIPs

View from the topmost tier. The stage seems a long way down from here

2. The Citadel

Not far from the amphitheatre at the top of a neighbouring hill is Amman Citadel. The citadel is a fort that was occupied and inhabited by various peoples and cultures in its illustrious history. The structures and buildings that can be seen today come from the Roman, Byzantine and Umayyad periods. It is quite amazing to see the different cultural and religious influences, spanning thousands of years within the same site.

The Roman Amphitheatre and downtown Amman as seen from the Citadel

At the entrance to the Citadel site are plaques displaying the names of the city at different periods of its history

Temple of Hercules, built by Romans in 162 - 166 CE

Temple of Hercules

Temple of Hercules

Temple of Hercules

Ruins of Umayyad dwellings

Domed gateway to Umayyad Palace

Local boys happy to have their picture taken by a tourist

Ruins of a Byzantine church in the foreground

3. Cave of The Seven Sleepers

The story of seven young men and their loyal dog who sought refuge in a cave and fell asleep for hundreds of years, is mentioned in the holy Al-Quran (Surah 18 : Al-kahf, The Cave). The exact location of the cave however, is not stated. Jordanians claim that the cave is in their country, on the outskirts of the capital. They base this claim on the geographical references deduced from the said surah. Whether the miracle event actually happened here or not isn't the main issue for me. The visit made me explore the story further and learn an underlying lesson contained in the surah. This tale has a parallel in Christian tradition.

My earlier post on this topic can be read here -> Cave of 7 Sleepers.

Signboard of the cave location

Entrance to the cave structure, thought to be built in the Byzantine era

We managed to squeeze in this stop just before closing time. As such, I was not able to take as much photos as I would have liked. Okay then... that's it for this post. The next post on this theme shall be about other interesting places outside of Amman, insyaAllah...