Tuesday, August 27, 2019

4 BATTANI 2019

This is a long-overdue appreciation post dedicated to my 4 Battani students.

This year marks the 10th year of my teaching career. And in 2019, I had the good fortune of teaching 5 Ibnu Sina, 5 Razi and 5 Biruni. Though these classes differ in their language abilities, I loved teaching all of them. You need to have chemistry with the students in order to enjoy teaching the class and I was fortunate in this regard.

But 4 Battani was another matter altogether. Although I was their class teacher (on top of being their English teacher), they drove me crazy every single day. To compound my misery, I also taught them Civics, so I had to see them multiple times per week.

The problem was, the class was extremely noisy and I always had the feeling like I was talking to myself because no one was paying any attention. It was incredibly frustrating. No amount of yelling, begging, emotional-blackmailing or other strategies (subtle or otherwise) seemed to work.

Their other subject teachers seemed to be having a tough time as well. Like a support group, we often exchanged horror stories to make ourselves feel better.

Things took a turn for the worse when I said or did something to Iman (one of the chief troublemakers) which started a cold war between us. At first, I ignored him as a means of punishment but realizing how childish that was, I tried to mend the situation. Things gradually improved but still a gulf had opened up between us and I thought it could never be bridged. See, I had taught him when he was in Form 2, so we go a while back. We used to get along fine before this mysterious falling out happened. At the height of the crisis, there were times when I caught him looking at me with unadulterated hate.

 One day, I was explaining some things to another person when Iman called me repeatedly: “Teacher, teacher, teacher.” I shushed him, finished my explanation, before turning to him and said (while shaking his shoulders): “Apa dia Iman? Kenapa? Kenapa?” We both burst out laughing at my exaggerated manner and the last traces of the bad blood between us seemed to evaporate away.

After news of my impending transfer spread, the whole class wrote me messages that made my head spin. What? You guys actually liked me? Why did you make my life so miserable my job so hard then?

For the record, I didn’t leave because of them. It was just time for me to move on after 10 wonderful and bittersweet years at Melawati.

Anyway, after transferring to my current school, I came back a week later in order to celebrate Raya with them. It was the best farewell party ever. The kids brought a cake and lots of food. The boys sang songs and turned the class into a mini concert. Some of them gave speeches that teared me up a bit and we took lots of photos and boomerangs.

Ironically, it took my going away to repair the relationships between me and my students. Since my transfer, we played bowling together, they came over to my house for Raya, and we even went hiking together. They’ve renamed one of the splinter chat groups Syada’s Family and have taken to calling me Mummy.

We’ve come a long way indeed.

I’m writing this story so that, whenever I have other difficult students whom I feel like strangling, I will hang in there and not give up on them.

"I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized."
-Haim Ginott     

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

You're put there for a reason

In Hollywood movies, whenever a character is laid off, he or she will be shown exiting his/her former workplace, carrying a box full of stuff. One box. That's it.
That always strikes me as odd. That's all you have at your workstation?

After working at SMK Taman Melawati for 10 years, I still haven't completely cleared my workstation. I had always teased Kak Intan for being a hoarder. But since moving to another school and having to clear my stuff from the staff room, I realised that I was one as well.

Years of handouts, past-year questions, files, workbooks, stationery & reference books needed to be sorted and packed (or thrown) away. I did several trips back to Melawati to do this and yet it is still a work in progress. I came back so often that a student of mine, Adam Malik (whom I always seemed to bump into), remarked: "Teacher tak nak pindah kan sebenarnya..."
Rauf, a former colleague, said something similar: "Hah, menyesal la tu..." 😂

It has been one month since I first started working at SMK Seri Ampang (or better known as Ampang Road Boys School [ARBS]) and whenever I meet friends or former colleagues or students, I will be asked: "Best tak sekolah baru?" or other iterations of this fundamental question.

Truth be told, I miss Melawati terribly. During my first week at ARBS, I couldn't help but compare everything against Melawati (e.g. the school buildings, the landscaping, the canteen, the students' proficiency levels, etc.). I also miss my colleagues, especially my close friends, Kak Safrina, Kak Fidzah & Saiza.

I was struggling to adapt but I never regretted my decision.
I've always believed that Allah desires every facility for me and that He plans in my favour.
So, though the adjustment period has been rough, I'm constantly being given reminders that this is the best path for me.

Once, the reminder came in the form of a colleague saying, "Takde yang sempurna". She said this after she had asked me to compare and contrast my former & current school.
Another time, it was an Instagram post with the caption: "It is time to let go of the past. Make way for the good that Allah has in store for you and be thankful to Allah for it."

Whenever these moments arrived, I was stunned momentarily and grew more convinced that leaving was the right thing to do.

It happened again today. One of my current students, FA, has been absent from school for a long, long time and is about to be served the third warning letter. When I asked him about it, he opened up about his complicated family & financial problems. Reading his messages nearly made cry in the middle of attending a course. Sometimes, you really cannot fathom what these kids are going through.

Later, I met Kak Fidzah & Kak Saf for our weekly coffee session. I told them that I wanted to help this kid but I didn't know how. I find it unfair how certain kids have the odds stacked against them while others have all the advantages & privileges at their disposal.

Then Kak Fidzah repeated what was said to her when she first started teaching in Melawati:
"Syada, you're put there for a reason. Maybe you're exactly the kind of teacher those kids need."

I don't know whether that's true or whether I'm up for the job but I'll try 😢

Saturday, September 08, 2018

4D3N Trip to Siem Reap

I had actually wanted to go somewhere else for the Mid-Semester 2 Break (Aug 18-26, 2018) which also coincided with the Eid Al-Adha celebration. But going there would have meant missing out on the Raya celebrations at home. I felt bad about choosing to go on a holiday over celebrating Raya with my family so I shelved my original plan. Thus, Kak Safrina & I decided to go to Siem Reap, Cambodia instead. The flight there is a day after Raya so it's a win-win situation.

Further, some of my friends (Maizura, Nisha & Nisa) had been there and they gave me many useful recommendations with regards to places to visit and how to get around there.

Day 1 (Aug 23, 2018)

Despite the long holiday, we managed to check-in, drop our baggage and pass immigration in good time. Air Asia has really embraced automation. Besides printing our own boarding passes and luggage tags, travellers are now required to check-in their baggage themselves. There are no longer Air Asia staff manning the baggage-drop counters, instead there are machines with which you have to scan your bags yourselves. The bags will then be carried along automatically on the conveyor belt.

The two-hour flight was uneventful except for the rather rough landing. When we arrived, the weather in Siem Reap was sunny and warm. The airport is charming, clean and well-run. Immigration went smoothly. Malaysians do not require a visa to enter Cambodia (for visits less than 30 days). So we did not even need to queue for visas-on-arrival, we just got our passports stamped and collected our bags from the baggage carousel.

Our tuk-tuk driver, Nasri, was already waiting for us outside the arrival hall. Nasri was recommended by my friend, Nisa, who used his service when she went to SR in 2016. Truthfully, I had reservations when I first saw his tuk-tuk. Is the motorcycle strong enough to carry the attached  remorque and its passengers? Turned out my fears were unfounded as tuk-tuks rule the streets in SR. It is, by far, the most popular choice of transportation for locals and tourists alike.

Before we checked into our accommodation, we stopped to have a quick lunch at Muslim Family Kitchen. The waitress proudly told us that they were once featured in an episode of Jalan-Jalan Cari Makan.

After our lunch (around USD4 per person), we checked into our Air BnB accommodation, the Melody Villa. The townhouse can comfortably fit 4 people and it only cost RM132 per night. Besides the various amenities (a kitchen, an iron, a microwave, air-conditioning, WiFi, a washer, etc.), I also loved the books the host had provided for the guests' perusal. Besides the two copies of Lonely Planet Cambodia, there are also books that explain in great lengths about the temples in Angkor. There is also the bestselling book, First They Killed My Father, which has been made into a movie, directed by Angeline Jolie.

Later that night, we went to see Phare, The Cambodian Circus. The highly-energetic performance is rated as one of the top things to do in SR by TripAdvisor. I definitely concur with that assessment. Besides being entertained, buying tickets to see the show will also help the school rescue children out of poverty.

Day 2 (Aug 24, 2018)

The highlight of the trip was definitely a visit to the Angkor Archaeological Park. The 400km2 complex boasts innumerable temples but we only managed to check out ten. The revised rate for a one-day pass is USD37 (since February 2017). We only saw a fraction of the sights available because after seven hours of walking & exploring (for roughly 16km), we were so tired and temple-fatigued.

The sights that we covered during those 7 hours were:
1) Angkor Wat - The best-preserved and most impressive of the monuments. It is unsurprising that it has become a symbol of Cambodia, most notably featuring on its national flag.

Source: Wikipedia

2) Bayon - Bayon's most notable feature is the smiling faces on the many towers (a guide book puts the number at 216).

3) Baphuon - Much of the temple had collapsed but restoration work has been carried out for years. It has been called "the largest 3D jigsaw puzzle in the world".

4) Phimeanakas - Literally means 'Celestial Palace'. Previously, you could climb the three-tiered pyramid but the staircase is now closed.

5) Preah Palilay - The ruin looks magnificent because of the silk-cotton trees growing in its midst.

6) Terrace of the Leper King - Truthfully, aside from its awesome name, I have no idea what this temple is all about 😂

7) Terrace of the Elephants - The 350-metre long terrace, with carvings of elephants on its walls, was used as a platform from the King would view public ceremonies.

8) Prasat Suor Prat - A series of 12 rugged-looking towers, symmetrically-arranged, whose function remains unknown.

9) Chau Say Tevoda - Not far from the Victory Gate, lie Chau Say Tevoda and its twin Thommanon. But because our legs were already aching by that time, we just had a look at Chau Say Tevoda.

The Victory Gate

10) Ta Prohm - We saved the best for last. Ta Prohm looks mystical because of the trees that seem to sprout out of the ruins. It is best-known for the movie Tomb Raider which was shot at the temple in 2000.

After a lunch, we rested for a while before hitting the road again to catch the sunset at Tonle Sap Lake. The ticket for the boat ride cost USD15. Before reaching the wide expanse of Tonle Sap, we passed through Kampong Phluk, a very scenic floating village. Every building there is built on high stilts, from the houses, to the school, to the police station.

Nearing sunset, our boat was moored to this unfinished structure in the middle of the lake. We sat there awaiting sunset while the 15-year-old boys who steered our boat jumped off the platform and swam in the lake with his friends. We left after the sky got darker and it was starting to rain.

Day 3 (Aug 25, 2018)

After yesterday's packed itinerary, we took it easy today. In the morning, we went to Wat Thmey, also known as Siem Reap's Killing Fields. It was here that we learnt more about Cambodia's sad history. Around two million people died (that's a quarter of the population) due to executions, forced labour and starvation during the Khmer Rouge regime. The Khmer Rouge only controlled the country for 3 years (April 1975 until Jan 1979) but it left a trail of destruction that still festers until today.

After Wat Thmey, we went to Senteurs d'Angkor to check out the local handicraft. Later that afternoon, we went on a quad-bike adventure. It was exhilarating riding our bikes alongside paddy fields. Again, we didn't get that intense sunset we were hoping for due to the cloudy sky but it was so much fun!

Our quad-bike instructor was hilarious. In his safety briefing, he told us to avoid cow dung along the way.
"You know cow?" he asked as though we had never seen one before.
We nodded to show that, yes, we do know what a cow looks like. In fact, we have plenty of them in Malaysia.
"You know the smell?
Again, we nodded.
"It's not Chanel," he said, deadpan.

Later that evening, after we had freshened up, we spent our last night in Siem Reap, exploring Pub Street. The street is overflowing with massage parlours, pubs, cafes, restaurants, souvenir shops and other retail stores. We chose a cafe to indulge in some coffee and people-watching.

Day 4 (Aug 26, 2018)

Our flight was at 3.00 p.m., so we had a few hours that morning to cover a few sites. First, we went to Angkor Silk Farm, where we were given a free tour of the silk-weaving process. Then we stopped for a while at West Baray. A baray is a water reservoir and this particular baray is a popular spot for swimming and boat rides among the locals. Lastly, before heading to the airport, we stopped at the War Museum.


Cambodia is a beautiful country but I was saddened by its poverty and myriad other problems:
One in five of its population live below the poverty line (less than $1 a day),
It doesn't have free-and-fair elections,
The government cracks down on dissent,
The people lack access to education and health care,
There is rampant corruption, and
There are limited job opportunities and upward social mobility.

Despite these entrenched problems, the beautiful country is filled with beautiful people. Travelling makes you realise that most people just want to lead a life of dignity and self-determination for themselves and their families. Some of us are lucky that we live in a peaceful country that affords us a lot of opportunities. Many people around the world are not so lucky 😢


1) If you need a transport to get around, I highly recommend our tuk-tuk driver, Nasri. Since he once worked in Malaysia for two years, he is fluent in Bahasa Melayu. So it's very easy for us to discuss changes to our itinerary and to communicate the time and place for us to be picked up after we were dropped off at various places of attraction. He is also very patient and punctual. Two thumbs up!

2) However, if you want to visit places that are further away like Phnom Kulen Waterfall or Beng Mealea Temple, you will need to charter another vehicle. There are many operators offering day-tours to these locations.

3) Though the food and accommodation are cheap, the entrance fees and activities at the places of interest are not. Thus, the bulk of your spending will be paying for these. I think for a 4D3N trip, USD250 will do. Most transactions accept USD so you need not change your money into the Cambodian Riel (KHR).

Siem Reap is just a 2-hour direct-flight away from Kuala Lumpur. You may go there for the temples but the country will leave an indelible mark on you for many other reasons 💓
My advice? Just book your tickets already 😉

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Columbia Expedition 100 - Annapurna Base Camp (Part 3)

"In the mountains, worldly attachments are left behind, and in the absence of material distractions, we are opened up to spiritual thought. We should be attempting to carry the spiritual experience of the mountains with us everywhere."
— Jamling Tenzing Norgay
I agree whole-heartedly with the above sentiment. But, just what are some of these spiritual thoughts that we should apply in our everyday lives? Here's my take on it: 

1) Be open to getting to know new people and discovering new experiences

The best part of the trip for me was making new friends; People from various age groups, professions and life experiences. I love talking to Rahul about his previous stint as a UNHCR worker who was tasked with processing asylum seekers, or to Alif, about his experience doing relief work in Sudan, or to Kak Sarah, who seems to have travelled to all four corners of the world, or to Kak Maznah, the solo-adventurer extraordinaire, who has reached K2 Base Camp and has travelled the famed Silk Road via rail.

In the absence of internet connection, our phones were tucked away (except when taking pictures) and deep conversations happened. In a short span of time, strangers became friends; People who wouldn't have otherwise met, if not for this expedition.

I love this words penned by @pakatanbejalan:
Digunung kehidupan mudah
Kita sandarkan kepercayaan kita
Kepada teman sependakian
Kita satukan frekuensi kita
Agar segalanya sempurna
Aku kau dan kalian, menjadi kita
Apa yang aku tidak tahu, kau ajari
Apa yang kau tidak tahu, aku kongsi
Kau dan aku sama, ianya kita
Tiada yang hadapan, tiada yang belakang
Kita bersama bermula dan pulang
Dan hari ini,
Hari terakhir kita menjadi kita
Pulangnya nanti, kau kau dan aku aku
Kita itu akan hilang perlahan-lahan
Kerna kita itu kini hanya tinggal kenangan
Ya, kita pulang dan kita itu akan hilang
Semoga rasa kita itu, kekal selamanya.
It's so true, isn't it? In the mountains, you rely on your teammates (i.e. teman sependakian) and become firm friends with them. But once the trip is over, you go your separate ways: "kau kau dan aku aku, kita itu akan hilang perlahan-lahan". We may promise to keep in touch but our respective lives and responsibilities will eventually take over. Despite this inevitability,  I do fervently hope that: "Semoga rasa kita itu, kekal selamanya".

2) Be clear and steadfast to your goals

Hiking is a simple affair. You need to reach your summit or your destination and then you have to get down. Every day, you're supposed to make it to your pit stop. Your feet or knees may hurt, you may have a slight or severe headache, you may be rendered exhausted by diarrhea or vomiting - whatever it is, you have to follow the plan and make it to the predetermined stops, whether you feel like it or not. This state of mind teaches you that, in life, the important thing is to just keep moving and to put one foot in front of the other.

3) Eschew materialism & be grateful for small things

Because you packed and unpacked your stuff every day, and because you didn't want to be burdened by a heavy load, you carried only the essential items with you. You then realised that you need very little to survive and that having more stuff is actually impractical and cumbersome.

Further, when you witnessed poor standards of living among the locals (frequent blackouts, unpaved roads, disruptions to water supply, general poverty, etc.), you learn to complain less and appreciate the blessings in your life more. 

4) Appreciate nature

"Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better."
—Albert Einstein

I've found that soaking in nature heals the soul. Make time to do this, as often as possible. 


5) Resign control and be prepared to get knocked out of your comfort zone

I thought I had it all figured out. Since I had been to Nepal last year, I knew what to expect this time round. I thought I was well-prepared: I had my sambal ikan bilis to make some of the dishes spicier, I had my spray to facilitate ablution in the sub-zero temperatures, and I knew what to pack more of and what to pack less of.
"A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you can control it."
—John Steinbeck
Steinbeck was right: Though I had packed enough of everything, there were some things that I couldn't have anticipated nor be prepared for.

The ABC wasn't as hard as the Gosaikunda Trek; in fact on some days, we only trekked for 3 to 4 hours. But though the hiking part was manageable, the weather was not. It was so cold that I had trouble sleeping on most nights. And waking up in the middle of the night to use the toilet was a teeth-chattering affair.

I've learnt that the best way to approach future trips, or life for that matter, is to make the best preparations possible but to expect that some things will go awry. What's a good story without interesting conflicts and unexpected plot twists, right? 😉


A shout-out to my amazing Group 2 members: Hadi, Umar, Faizal, Shirley, Afifza, Adrian, Boon, Alex, James, Thaya, Rahul, Aw, Caesar, Hema, Dr. Prathaban, Prasyaanth , and the 9 ASTRO crew members. You guys have made the trip so much fun! I'm privileged to have met all of you and be the recipient of your kindness and generosity 😘

Congrats to the organisers, especially NEX, for pulling off a difficult, if not impossible task of managing 100+ hikers to reach ABC. Thank you Adrian, Adeline, Koya, Sarah, Shariman & Kamal for putting up with our many enquiries and requests.

Lastly, to my travelling companions: Hadi, Umar & Faizal, thank you for helping me in so many ways:
  • For trying to bargain on my behalf when I wanted to buy a dry sack (though I probably sabotaged your efforts when I immediately took out my purse to pay for it when the seller quoted his starting price 🤣).
  • For ascertaining the qiblat whenever it was time to pray and looking up the prayer times
  • For allowing me to share your hotspot
  • Hadi, for taking good pictures of us. Though taking your pictures can sometimes be stressful because of your demanding standards 😝, we are indebted to you and your phone for the instagram-worthy pictures 👍
  • For walking with me even though I told you guys, you didn't have to.
  • For the marble cookies and coffee
  • For the Into Thin Air book
  • And for helping me to adjust my backpack straps when my shoulders hurt

You guys have been awesome (though you annoyed me sometimes with your constant bickering hahaha). So kosong-kosong eh. Sorry if I had been a less-than-ideal travelling buddy.

They say that the best adventure is always the next one. So let's start planning our 2018 exploits!


To read more about Columbia Expedition 100, check out the following links:
1) Annapurna Base Camp - here we come!
2) Selangor fan takes love of Red Giants to Annapurna
3) Never say it can't be done!
4) Bawa semangat harmoni

Additionally, you can view the two following videos:

Monday, December 11, 2017

Columbia Expedition 100 - Annapurna Base Camp (Part 2)

Day 5 (Dec 2, 2017): ABC (4130m) to Bamboo (2340m)

One of the reasons I love hiking is the chance to recentre and recalibrate my life. Though I hike in groups, I often like to slow/quicken my pace so that I will be alone with my thoughts. After some time, I can feel my troubles unraveling while I gain some clarity.

Throughout this 7-day hike, the moment I felt most at peace was the morning of Day 5. I woke up at 5.30 a.m. for the dawn prayer but didn't get out of bed immediately as I didn't have a spot to pray. I sat on my bed, contemplating for quite some time:

  1. The cramped room didn't have enough space. 
  2. Last night, I prayed at the boys' room but Faizal, Hadi & Umar had since moved to another room and I didn't know where they were that morning. 
  3. At the previous guesthouses, I had prayed in their dining halls but this lodge's dining hall was still dark, indicating that the porters were probably still asleep inside. 

As the sun was about to rise, I had to make a decision quickly. Left with no other options, I unfurled my prayer mat in the open space beside my room and proceeded to pray even though it was very cold and windy. But as I was praying the wind quietened down to a pleasant breeze and I felt a sense of calm wash over me. When I finished praying, I looked up into the sky - the snow on the mountains seemed to glow in the moonlight - and expressed my gratitude. It was a special moment and I was humbled to have experienced it.

After taking the group photo (We did it! We created a new World Record!), we started our descent. Instead of returning to Deurali or Dovan (our previous stops), the plan was to shoot straight for Bamboo. I didn't realise just how far Bamboo was and didn't anticipate that I would end up hiking for 9 hours that day. Thus, the stage was set for: The Most Mental Day on the Trek.

The Most Mental Day on the Trek is a familiar notion to most hikers. It's pretty self-explanatory; The day you reached your physical and mental limits and the day you have a breakdown of sorts.

I was doing fine when I reached Himalaya for lunch. Tired, but fine. I even told Hadi & Faizal to go ahead without me as they had finished eating and praying while I hadn't. Shirley, Afifza & I departed from Himalaya at 3.00PM. By then, I had done the math and realised (rather belatedly) that I would be reaching Bamboo past sunset. I started panicking as: 1) I had lost my headlamp a day earlier, and 2) I had bad experiences hiking in the dark.

I came across a few hikers from Group 1 who were concerned that I was hiking alone. I tried to assure them that I was fine, though internally I was anything but. I guessed they saw through me as they repeated their concerns and lent me a headlamp. Their stop was Dovan but I had to walk another 1.5 hours to Bamboo. At Dovan, I was relieved to find Adrian waiting for me. We waited for Shirley & Afifza while drinking hot chocolate. When they arrived, we swiftly resumed our journey.

When I looked back on the incident, nothing major happened. Crisis was averted because 1) I met the kind souls from Group 1, and 2) Adrian, our group leader was there to make sure all of us arrived safely. But while walking in the woods that was growing darker and was assuming a more sinister vibe, I grew resentful towards my 3 travelling companions. Yes, I had told them that they should walk ahead but shouldn't they have waited for me once they realised I wouldn't make it to Bamboo before sunset?
Why weren't they more concerned?
Why did people, whom I barely knew, care more about me than my friends?

Further, as a person who prides herself on being independent, I was mad at myself  for getting worked up over the perceived desertion. I could take care of myself just fine, couldn't I?

Tiredness (9 hours of hiking remember?) breeds irrationality. I needed to blame My Most Mental Day on the Trek on something and my friends were convenient targets. That night, at dinner, I didn't sit next to them as per usual and when they tried to converse with me, "Kau okay tak Syada?", I gave them a monosyllabic reply, without making eye contact.

The mature and rational thing to do was to communicate how I felt they had let me down. But deep in each woman's psyche is the (illogical) belief that men should just know. So my friends were left scratching their heads while I grew madder that they were so clueless.

The only good thing about that night was the instant noodles we had for dinner. After eating dhalbat, fried rice and pasta for days (they were quite bland for Malaysian taste buds), the instant noodles were heaven-sent. Everyone had a second helping, some even a third. When we ordered a third pot, our guide looked surprised. He must have thought that Malaysians have an unnatural obsession with instant noodles 😆

Day 6 (Dec 3, 2017): Bamboo to Jhinudanda (1760m)

That morning, my friends and I made up. I admitted to myself that I would probably have done the same if I were in their place. They still didn't know what they did wrong but that day, all four of us walked together. They didn't leave me out of their sight and I no longer said, "Korang jalan la dulu".

We walked for 4 hours to Chhomrong. The stairs were merciless on our knees but we pushed on because we were aiming for some decadent chocolate cakes and coffee. The cake is made famous by an article published in the TIME magazine so we had to give it a try. The jury is still out on this one; some of us thought that the cake lived up to its hype, while others did not.

Afterwards, we hike for one more hour to reach our stop for the day, Jhinudanda. The air at Jhinudanda was festive. Now that the hard hiking days were behind us, everyone was in celebratory mood. That night, the porters, guides and hikers danced to the Nepali folk song, Resham Firiri.

Day 7 (Dec 4, 2017): Jhinudanda - Siwai - Pokhara

It only took us 3 hours to reach Siwai where we would board a bus to take us back to Pokhara. Seven days went by in a blur. Trekking the ABC had been an awesome experience but I had had my fill of adventure and was looking forward to enjoying modern conveniences again (e.g. hot shower and WiFi).

Besides, I needed to recuperate from my achy feet, sore muscles, dry skin and sunburnt face. Further, like other major life experiences, I needed to do some introspection, to make sense of what had just transpired.

[Part 3: Reflections on the journey, coming up next]

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Columbia Expedition 100 - Annapurna Base Camp (Part 1)

The Genesis

After trekking the Gosaikunda last year, my friends and I planned to do the Annapurna Circuit next. But as we were making arrangements, we came across this advert looking for participants to break the World Record (the highest number of participants from a single nation to reach Annapurna Base Camp). So we signed up. At first, there were nine of us who wanted to go but due to other commitments, the number dwindled to four: Faizal, Umar, Hadi & me.

Thus, I dubbed the trip as: 3 guys, 1 girl & an adventure of a lifetime.

Day 1 (Nov 28, 2017): Siwai to Chhomrong (2170m) 

The first day of hiking is always the most exciting. But that elation didn't last long. While most of the expedition participants stopped at Jhinudanda, Group 2 (my group) & Group 5 had to trek for two more hours to reach Chhomrong. The ascent was punishingly steep and we just made it before the sun set. The cold weather made me extra miserable and when Umar asked, "Rindu rumah ke?" I replied with, "You have no idea."

This misery is familiar to all hikers; At some point of every hike, we will ask ourselves: "Why on earth did I sign up for this?!?"

To make matters worse, there was no electricity soon after we checked into our rooms. So we had to unpack, have dinner and go to the toilet in the dark, relying on just our headlamps.

Day 2 (Nov 29, 2017): Chhomrong - Sinuwa (2430m) - Dovan (2500m)

Today's hike was manageable (only 4 hours) and I could sense my spirits lifting. The gushing river and nearby waterfalls provided the perfect soundtrack to our hike. But towards the end of our hike, it began to drizzle. I tried to make light of the situation though we were wet and cold: "Semalam blackout, hari ni hujan. Memang adventure betul ni 😅"

Well, we got what we bargained for. What's an adventure without some inconveniences, detours, and curveballs?

Day 3 (Nov 30, 2017): Dovan to Deurali (3200m)

The days are becoming colder and colder as we get to higher altitudes. After trekking for 5.5 hours, we reached Deurali. Again, Group 2 had to hike the furthest to reach our guesthouse. That night, the temperature dropped to -7℃.

To combat the cold, all of us gathered in the dining hall hours before dinnertime (due to its proximity to the kitchen, it's the warmest place in the entire guesthouse). We huddled together and linked arms to stay warm. We talked, told stories, joked and chitchatted for hours. I think Deurali was when the ice finally broke (metaphorically speaking) and Group 2 members really bonded.

Day 4 (Dec 1, 2017): Deurali - MBC (3700m) - ABC (4130m)

We left Deurali for Machhapuchhre Base Camp (MBC) in the cold, misty morning. The ground was hard and frosty. The mist enveloping the hills made for a spellbinding atmosphere. One hour before reaching MBC, Umar walked slower than usual and made more frequent stops. When asked what was wrong, he told us that he had a headache and that his right vision had become blurry - classic symptoms of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). Our team leaders advised him to walk even more slowly and take deep breaths. Once we reached MBC, he was told to rest and was given some meds.

After some rest, Umar said that he felt slightly better and was ready to continue the journey. Again, we walked very slowly so as to not aggravate Umar's condition. Halfway into our final stretch, the clouds lifted and we got to witness stunning views of the Annapurna Range. So we stopped to take lots of pictures and marvel at the majestic sights.    

spot the tiny hiker!

After six hours of hiking (Deurali to ABC), we finally arrived at the famed signpost. Mission accomplished. Achievement unlocked. That night, we got to know that many more people from the expedition had succumbed to AMS and hypothermia. That night, Dr. Prathaban was kept busy attending to patients, despite not feeling well himself.

For days earlier, we heard reports that the temperatures at ABC hovered around -12℃ to -15℃. But thankfully, when we were up there, it wasn't that cold. I'm not sure what the exact temperature was but I had no trouble sleeping like I did on previous nights and actually felt snug and warm in my -10℃ sleeping bag.

[Part 2 coming soon; Here comes the descent!]

Friday, November 03, 2017

5 Biruni 2017

After arranging the tables & chairs for SPM, I gathered my 5BR kids in order to return their files and graduation pictures. I took the opportunity to say a few words to them.

Being their class teacher for the past 10 months hasn't been easy.
I reminded them of all the things they did that caused me so much heartache (I even had a list ready hahaha). The list reads:
  1. Masalah ketidakhadiran
  2. Ponteng
  3. Lewat ke sekolah / kelas
  4. Tak nak belajar
  5. Tidur dalam kelas
  6. Main phone dalam kelas
  7. Liat nak bayar yuran PIBG & majalah
  8. Hantar kertas kosong waktu peperiksaan
  9. Palsukan surat dari penjaga
  10. Ditangkap merokok
  11. Tak jaga kebersihan kelas
  12. Meniru waktu peperiksaan

As I rattled off  things from the list, Firdaus tried to apologise, "Teacher, bagi pihak kelas ini, saya nak..."

"Eh jap," I cut him off. "Banyak lagi ni. Biar saya habis luahkan perasan dulu ye" 😆

So the kids listened obediently. I also told them despite all that, I still loved them and want what's best for them.

I told them that there's no shortcut to success. There are no magic pills or magic kismis/raisins. They reap what they sow and they should work hard to realise their dreams. Intelligence is not a fixed trait. If they work hard, they will become smarter.

I know that some of them have complicated family problems but they shouldn't let those problems consume their lives and sabotage their future.

I had also wanted to say: "Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good." (Minor Myers)

To end this post on a lighter note, I scrolled through my facebook and instagram accounts for funny stories about my 5 Biruni kids. Here they are:

Thank you Azahar for making the video below 💗