Sunday, March 08, 2015

Conquering Mount Kinabalu


When I had my first glimpse of Mount Kinabalu, I panicked: "Tingginya" I said stating the obvious. Nisha laughed, "Memang la tinggi! What did you expect?"

I didn't reply. The reality of what I had signed up for finally sunk in. I thought to myself: "There's no way I'm able to climb up that thing".

This ALWAYS happens to me. I will just happily sign up or register for things without really knowing what I'm getting myself into. Ignorance is bliss they say hahahaha. A perfect example is the upcoming Viper Challenge. I registered first (because my friends did) and then I watched the video below. Wrong move.

 

The night before the climb, the sore throat that I had had for some time, flared up. I lost my voice and experience a bout of violent vomiting. My weakened state convinced me further that I wasn't able to scale Mount Kinabalu.

I berated myself then, "Tu la. You should have practised more and been better prepared!". Prior to this climb, the only practice I did was scaling Gunung Datuk in Negeri Sembilan. That's it. No running up and down stairs, no climbing other mountains, no working out in the gym...

But alhamdulillah, I recovered my voice the next morning and after a hearty breakfast, I was feeling much better. The distance between Timpohon Gate and Laban Rata (our final pit stop for the day) is just 6 kilometres. Six kilometres sounds do-able right? I mean I've participated in 7-kilometre runs before. Six is lesser than seven. Thus, this should be a piece of cake manageable.

How wrong I was. It took me 6 hours to reach Laban Rata, thus I was only averaging a measly 1 kilometre per hour. Traipsing a kilometre on a flat surface is vastly different from ascending a kilometre of continuous incline. The last kilometre before reaching Laban Rata was the most torturous. I think I stopped every few steps and my guide, Arnold, had to gently pushed me forward, coaxing me to continue.

When we finally reached the resthouse in Laban Rata, I was so exhausted that I could barely push the door open. It took me awhile to realise that the door wouldn't budge because I needed to pull instead of push hahahaha.

But the view. Oh the view. To be having your dinner above the clouds. To witness the sunset from 3272.7 metres above sea level. I can't even begin to describe the feeling...


The next morning, we began our climb to the summit at 3 a.m. We all suited up (thermal wear + fleece + windbreaker), put on our headlamps and marched on. The path became steeper and steeper and it seemed never-ending. Whenever I stopped to take a breather, I would switch off my headlamp and gaze at the sky. The milky way looked so pretty. It just soothes the soul, much like a sunrise and a sunset does.

After what seemed like forever, my friends and I reached the summit. And we have a picture (with our banner) to prove it! Mission accomplished! Alhamdulillah :)


It was such an unforgettable experience and I've grown close to the people that I shared the experience with (they were friends of a friend). We were basically strangers before the trip but now we're planning further adventures together. Up next are whitewater rafting and the said Viper Challenge. Then, maybe Mulu Pinnacles and Mount Rinjani perhaps?

My close colleague is bewildered by my sudden interest in all these things. My sister as well. I don't know what has gotten into me; I blame my KK group for it. They're a bad influence on me hahahaha

For more pictures, click here.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

2015 Reading Challenge



I came across the above poster on facebook and immediately shared it with my close friend and fellow bibliophile, Ainur.

At first, I didn't think I would actually attempt the challenge; I just shared it because some of the descriptions sound quite fun! But then Ainur and I started to brainstorm the books that we could read and I grew more and more excited.

Ainur remarked that discussing the book list was probably more fun than the actual reading part. She might be right. But we decided to do the challenge together nonetheless.

However, I'm going to cheat here as I don't think I can read 50 books in a year to fulfil the requirements (I'm a slow reader). So if a book manages to combine two or more descriptions, I'm going to kill two birds with one stone, and consider both descriptions fulfilled ;)

Ok, here are my book list so far:

1) A book that became a movie / A book by a female author:

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Rumour has it Reese Witherspoon might scoop an Oscar for her portrayal of Cheryl. The trailer does look promising. I choose this book because I'm a sucker for books with female protagonists on a journey of self-discovery.

2) A funny book:

Childhood Stories 2 & 3 by Boey

I love the first book in the series and I'm looking forward to read the rest.

3) A book from an author you love that you haven't read yet: 

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

I love 'The Interpreter of Maladies' and anything by Jhumpa Lahiri should be a winner.

4) A trilogy / A book a friend recommended:

The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson

Ainur recommended this one. For her sake, I'll read it :)

5) A book with a colour in the title / A book set in a different country:

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I love Purple Hibiscus by Adichie. I've been meaning to read her other books even before this challenge. That her book has a colour in the title is a bonus.

6) A book by an author you've never read before / A book based on a true story:

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

Heard great things about this book. Loved the movie.



7) A book that takes place in your hometown / A book of short stories:


I choose KL Noir: Yellow instead of the other three colours (White, Red, Blue) because a student of mine, Alyssa, proofread this anthology! Her name is listed under consultant. To say that I'm very proud would be an understatement.

8) A memoir:

Why I Still Carry a Guitar by Yusuf Islam

Another type of book that I like is one's journey to becoming a better Muslim. Everyone's spiritual journey is different and I find the stories inspiring. Rumi said something beautiful: "There are as many paths to God as there are souls on earth."

9) A book you started but never finished / A non-fiction book:

Hegemony or Survival by Noam Chomsky

I've had this book for years. It's highly time to finish it and gain the bragging rights to have read Chomsky hahahaha.

X X X

As for the other descriptions, I have yet to decide on suitable titles. But it's going to be great fun searching for:
-A book with antonyms in the title
-A book that came out the year you were born
-A book with a love triangle
-A book written by an author with the same initials as yours
-A banned book
-A book with bad reviews

Any suggestions? Let's do this challenge together!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Traveller

Last Ramadan, I saw this amazing mini-series produced by Lokalab: Always a Traveller.

 In it, Ustadha Yasmin Mogahed explains the famous hadith: "Be in this world as if you were a stranger or a traveller along a path." (Sahih Bukhari)

Another relevant hadith is: "What relationship do I have with this world? My worldly life is no more than the halting of a traveller, taking rest under the shade of a tree for a moment and then moving on." (Ahmad, Tirmidhi)

Ustadha Yasmin Mogahed said this:
"There is a mindset that comes along with being a traveller; It's an automatic state of mind. This is the mindset that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is trying to instil in us. In this entire world, in this entire journey through dunya, a person who sees this life as their permanent abode becomes like the one who is starting to complain a lot, or who now wants more things, demand more things and then gets more attached."

X X X

Travelling teaches you to detach from the familiar and from the comforts of home. This detachment is very important, especially in the materialistic world that we live in now. I love the above hadiths because of this lesson and  many others.

Travelling is a lot like Life in the following ways:

1) You have to have a purpose and a plan

Just like travelling, you need to figure out your purpose and have plans to achieve it. I guess you can go through life without any plans nor purpose but you'll just end up getting lost.

2) You expect difficulties

“A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.” (John Steinbeck)

Travelling is never smooth sailing. You experience air turbulence, motion sickness, lost luggage, theft, food poisoning, accidents, delayed flights, etc. But, again, you have that traveller mindset; you know that difficulties are inevitable. So you are less likely to whine and complain a lot.

Funnily, we don't have the same mindset with regards to our everyday life. In our day-to-day affair, we want everything to be in order. No troubles, no heartaches, no sadness. We want things to be perfect, which is both unrealistic and naive.

3) You just have to have Faith

Whenever you encounter the travel-related problems listed above, or other more dire situations, you automatically turn to Allah for help. Especially when you're travelling alone and you're somewhat cut off from your support system. When you're stranded at an airport, in the middle of the night, in a foreign land, how do you suppose your family and friends can help you?


Fear of the unknown, of potential pitfalls, will likely prevent many people from venturing out on their own. But Faith/Tawakkul is a powerful thing. If you put your trust in Allah, He enables you to do wonderful, miraculous things.

4) You need a trusted companion

“I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” (Mark Twain)

Travelling with someone, being with them for almost 24/7,  is an eye-opening experience. You discover sides to your friend / sister / colleague that you were unaware of before. They will drive you crazy with their untidy habits and likewise, you'll annoy them with your extremely long showers. People's warts and all will be revealed and your patience will be greatly tested.

Thus, to make your journey enjoyable, it is paramount that you have a trusted companion by your side, someone whose idiosyncrasies you can live with :)

5) You learn to do away with stuff

Packing for trips is tricky. Packing too little will not do since you'll be doing away with essential items. But packing too much will hamper your journey. Lugging heavy bags around is never any fun. You'll get tired easily and move much more slowly. So you learn to only bring enough; No more than you can carry. You learn to redefine the word 'essentials' and realise you can do away with a lot of stuff.

6) You become reflective

On the road, you encounter so many new things that you cannot help but reflect on all of them to make sense of your experiences. Travelling is so much more than photo opportunities. Mark Jenkins said:

“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.”

7) You celebrate diversity

Maya Angelou puts it beautifully:

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”

X X X

Can you think of any other ways in which travelling is akin to Life? Do comment below! :)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

I touched a dog

There, I've said it.

Does that make me a bad person? Did attending the now infamous 'I want to touch a dog event' make me a bad Muslim? Does it indicate that I "menghina Islam" (as claimed on the front page of a daily)?

I haven't logged into my facebook account for a few days, so I was blissfully ignorant of the strong backlash against the event in social media. But I somehow sensed that things were not quite right when a family member whatsapp-ed a screenshot of the event and asked "apa perlu kempen ni?", not knowing that I had attended the event myself.

So I explained to her why I attended. And now, after reading the facebook posts of several close friends who also disapprove of the event, I think it's incumbent on me to explain myself again.

So readers, if you consider me your friend, please, hear me out. Put your preconceptions aside and weigh in my side of the story:

I first got to know of the event via fb (where else?) when somebody posted this link (http://bit.ly/1tEN58b). I then watched the video mentioned and was left feeling ashamed and outraged as well. How could we treat the most vulnerable people in our society with such disregard? That runs contrary to the teachings of Islam; We are supposed to be compassionate towards one another, especially those most in need of assistance in our society. However, our actions, as depicted in the video showed otherwise.



Though I was upset by what was shown in the video (see from 7:30 onwards), I wondered: What would I have done if I were in their place? I'm scared of dogs too, due to life-long conditioning. Most likely, I would have reacted in the same way: I would have jumped aside and avoided the blind man and his guide dog like a plague, instead of helping him. That scenario got me upset and ashamed of myself.

Thus I clicked 'Going' on the event page. The event was conceived to help people who are fearful of dogs, overcome their fear so that perhaps, in the future, they can do the right thing when they encounter situations similar to the ones in the video.

To me, that was the whole purpose of attending.
It WASN'T to showcase how "liberal-minded" I am.
It WASN'T an act of provocation.
I WASN'T willfully menajiskan myself.
I WASN'T about to keep dogs as pets, and most importantly,
I DIDN'T go with the intention of "menghina Islam".

God knows that I'm not a good Muslim, but I do try to be.

For those who disapprove of the event and have made their feelings known, please don't be too quick in passing judgments. Don't jump to conclusions by the sensationalised headlines that you read. Do not immediately assume that the organiser and the attendees have bad intentions and hidden agendas. You don't know what are in people's hearts so don't. Just don't.

One of the things that I read on my newsfeed was this: "Lepas ni kempen pegang babi pula?". I don't know whether to laugh or cry at reading that. Seriously?

Dear readers, even after reading this explanation, and watching the video that started it all, you still disagree with the event, fine. Let's agree to disagree. Just don't label and accuse people indiscriminately with hurtful words. That's not a very Muslim-thing to do.

The whole episode reminded me of this beautiful quote from the movie Chocolate:
"Listen, here's what I think. I think that we can't go around measuring our goodness by what we don't do. By what we deny ourselves, what we resist, and who we exclude. I think we've got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create and who we include."

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Ramadan 1435

Only a few hours left before Eid-ul-Fitr but the mood is sombre. No one (except for kids) feel like celebrating when there are so many recent and ongoing tragedies around the world. The front page of today's Utusan Malaysia sums it up for me. Its headline reads: Tiada Aidilfitri di Gaza.


This year's Ramadan has gone by so fast and what a challenging month it has been. Abstaining from food and drink has been the easiest part. The hardest is grappling with the rising Palestinian death toll every single day. Truly, we're being severely tested as an ummah.

And while it is heartwarming to see the worldwide rallies in solidarity with the Palestinians, the slaughter continues. Israel seems to be immune to the international community's outrage. It still claims to have the moral high ground and tries so desperately to silence criticism.


But Israel has discovered that it's no longer possible to get away with murder in the age of social media. This article highlights the fact that "Israelis had and have nothing with which to balance those images of bloodied, mangled little corpses in Gaza".

At first, it was hard for me to cope with the news. The sense of helplessness and despair was overwhelming to the point of being paralysing. But the social-media posts below have helped me to somehow make sense of things and get my act together.



 

So, final words: Eid Mubarak! Taqabbal Allahu Minna Wa Minkum (May Allah accept it from you and us). May Allah accept our prayers, du'as, charity, fasting, Quran recitation, qiyam, etc.
Let's celebrate Eid in moderation and constantly remember our suffering brothers and sisters in our prayers.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan Trip, Part 1


Kyrgyzstan blew me away. The snow-capped mountains framing Issy-kul Lake are just so beautiful & picturesque. I thank Allah for allowing me to be here & behold the magnificent sights on this journey, despite the many unfortunate things that have happened.

When I had the surgery, many doubt that I would recover in time to make the trip. I had doubts myself. Further, Kakak & I agreed to forgo Kyrgyzstan, fearing that the journey from Almaty to Bishkek would be too strenous for me. But somehow, her colleague persuaded her not to cancel Kyrgyzstan out. Otherwise, we would be missing out on "the most beautiful place in the region". Since the colleague is a Kyrgyzstan native, we thought he was just naturally biased. I don't think so now :)

On the eve of the trip, I began to get increasingly unwell. A runny nose and a sore throat preceded a mild fever. Then the violent sneezing. Then the horrible coughing. If I hadn't already paid a small fortune for the flight tickets, I wouldn't have gone on the trip at all. All I wanted to do was lie in bed and get better. I didn't think I was up for an 8-hour flight to Central Asia and other hardships that travelling inevitably brings.

But alhamdulillah, I got on that flight. Difficult roads lead to beautiful places. And difficult journeys are so rewarding in the end.

This is my second day in Kyrgyzstan, after spending 4 days touring Almaty, Kazakhstan. And so far, I've seen a wooden cathedral, canyons, steppes, alpine mountains, a lake that's turqoise in colour, beautiful unpolluted rivers & of course the majestic snow-capped mountains.

Further, my sisters & I are (continuously) fed delicious, traditional food from the region by our gracious hosts. Our hosts have been most kind & generous. We don't know how we will ever repay their kindness.

So that's all my updates for now. Will try to write more later.

Btw, I'm feeling better now but unfortunately, Kakak is now sick. Sigh. 

InshaAllah, we'll be fine. As Paul Theroux once said, Travel is glamorous only in retrospect! Do pray for our safe travels.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Teachers' Day 2014

Writing a Teachers' Day post has been a yearly ritual for me. I just have to write one in order to reflect on how another year of teaching has changed me.

This year's post will be short (I think). Out of all the facebook posts on Teachers' Day last week, my favourite was this, written by a friend, on her timeline:

"May we never lose the flame"

Those simple words meant a lot to me. Some people become jaded after several years of teaching. And it's not hard to see why. Teachers are overworked and under-appreciated and criticisms are constantly hurled our way. But as the saying (attributed to Mother Teresa) goes:

The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

Last year, Ainur shared with me this link: 'Without teachers, the classroom is just a room'. The excerpt that I really like (because it mirrors my own belief) is this:

"[A young teacher from Houston, Texas] said that when he reflected about what it meant to be a good teacher, he realized that he had to live the values he was trying to instill in the students. Then he said that once he reflected on what it meant to live good values, he stopped thinking just about being a better teacher and started thinking about being a better human being."

That's my core teaching philosophy as well. For me, being a better teacher equals being a better human being. Thus, it's a continuous, never-ending process of improving oneself.

Though I fall short of the ideal many, many times, I hope that I'll never stop trying and that the flame will never stop burning.

Happy Teachers' Day to all educators!



Convalescing

Alhamdulillah, I was discharged from the hospital last Sunday (May 18) after a four-day stay.

Let's have a quiz. How much do you think I had to pay for:
1) The surgery (laparoscopic appendicectomy),
2) The lab services (full blood count, etc.), and
3) The 4-day stay in a third-class ward (i.e. 1 room = 4 beds, with en-suite bathrooms)?

The total amount printed on my bill is RM 77. But since I'm a government servant, I didn't have to pay a single cent.
I was taken aback when the lady at the counter said I didn't have to pay. I mumbled a quick "oh, okay, thank you" before leaving the counter, still dumbfounded.

Even if I had to pay, RM 77 is a steal. We often hear of people in other countries not being able to afford health care because of its astronomical charges. In this instance, aren't you glad you're a Malaysian?

Yes, it's easy to lament the many, many things that are wrong with our country: the dismal state of the education system for one. The tolled roads. The water crisis. The GST. The political bickering. The list goes on and on.

They are all legitimate grouses but you have to give credit where credit is due. Malaysia is touted to provide one of the best health care in the world and we should all be thankful for that.  

The only thing that I can complain about is the overcrowding. I had to wait for 4 hours before I got to see the doctor. And when I went back to get my MC and to set an appointment for my follow-up check, I was aghast at the amount of sick people crowding the waiting area. They must have had to wait for hours. Sick people shouldn't have to wait for that long. It's just not right.

My stay at the hospital has made me appreciate nurses and doctors on a whole new level. I was so relieved at being discharged because hospitals are such a depressing place. There's suffering everywhere you look. And after some time, it just became unbearable.

For example, the lady on the bed next to mine is suspected of having breast cancer while the one opposite my bed, broke her leg in a road accident while being eight-months pregnant! Then, on Saturday (May 17), I received the tragic news of Ira's passing. That really put things into perspective. All my "suffering" seemed like small potatoes in comparison.

That's one of the reasons I keep reminding myself not to make a fuss. To smile and just roll with the punches. To make light of the situation. Ala, appendix je pun...

So I wonder how the nurses and doctors do it. How do they cope and still function even after witnessing so much suffering and so many tragedies on a daily basis? Maybe they need to put aside their emotions to get the job done? To distance themselves and be less empathetic? No wonder Abafan can be so unfeeling at times... hahaha

Now that I'm home, I just have a week or so to finish marking, pack for my Kazakhstan trip and settle the miscellaneous school stuff before the mid-year break begins.
And then...


Saturday, May 17, 2014

Hospital Ampang

May 17, 2014: My 3rd day in the hospital and I'm bored out of my minds!

It's good that I get to catch up on my reading but after finishing Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs, the current book that I have on my bedside doesn't interest me as much.

My hand is still tied to the drips (they're alternating between sodium chloride & antibiotics, with periodical injections of painkillers), so my movement is restricted.

Alhamdulillah, the operation went well. The pre-op diagnosis was acute appendicitis but post-op, it was revised to perforated appendix.

[Yes, I'm showing off my newly-acquired medical jargon, after poring over my medical records. Haha]

The painkillers help to dull the pain but it still hurts when I want to shift my position, for example from lying to sitting to standing. 

I haven't eaten for 58 hours now and man, am I hungry! At first, it was because I had to fast before the surgery could be performed. Later (post-op), I was put under clear-fluid-only diet. It was horrible (no Teh Tarik!). Thankfully, my surgeon came round just now and upgraded me to nourishing-fluid diet (whatever that is).

I wrote on facebook how I hated troubling my family and friends and how I couldn't have made it without them. I'm particularly indebted to Mama & Kakak who take turns watching me round the clock. Mama takes the morning shift while Kakak takes the night one. 

Mama made me feel like a small kid all over again when she brushed my hair, clipped my nails and wiped my face with a wet towel. It reminded me of what a friend had said of her parents when they pulled her through a particularly rough time: "Sampai mati pun, I can't possibly repay their kindness & what they've done for me". My thoughts exactly.

Kakak hurt her back from sleeping in the uncomfortable chair by my bed. I tried sharing my bed with her when the nurses weren't around. Sometimes it worked but other times the bed made weird creaking noises, so we abandoned the effort. 

One night, around midnight I suppose, Kakak went to the toilet further down the hall. She had the impression that the toilets in my room were reserved for patients only. She was by the sink when one of the toilet doors shut mysteriously. Needless to say, she quickly bolted from there and in the end, used the one in my room anyway. We had a good laugh about it when she told me the morning after.

What has kept me amused thus far is observing the doctors' daily rounds. Have you ever watched Grey's Anatomy? Well, the scenes are replicated with different characters. A specialist will be surrounded by a crowd of housemen trying to impress him/her and outdo each other. Some of the specialists have the most colourful personalities. One lady took a look at a patient's chart and bellowed; "Who overrode my decision?!?" and stormed out of the room to look for the culprit. Another, brutally cut short one if the housemen's report. "I want summary!! I don't care when she got married, where she works, etc. I want summary!!". The poor guy stopped talking and another housemen quickly took his place by providing the pertinent "summary". Despite similarities to the TV show, unfortunately, there's no McDreamy in sight.

Before I was operated on, the doctors stopped by quiet often. Now that I'm recuperating, I guess I'm less interesting because the visits have both decreased and become shorter. I'm not sure whether I should be relieved or feel slighted. Haha.

What I am thankful for is I'm no longer subjected to embarassing & invasive procedures. Some of them made me feel like digging myself a hole and hiding from humanity forever. 

Before I end this post, I have to thank all the staff here for taking good care of me. The young Dr. Khairiah (she's only 26!) looks after me really well. The nurses are really nice too. And my anaesthesist, Dr. Nirpal, was the first person to wish me Happy Teachers' Day.

Thank you to those who visited me. Even those who couldn't come to the ward because visiting hours had ended. I love you guys! And thank you for the flowers; they brighten the room considerably :)


Please excuse any spelling or grammar errors. I'm writing this on my phone, with my hand still tied to the drip. So yeah.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Teachers matter

I felt compelled to write a Teachers' Day post today and not wait 6 more days after watching the video below:



It nearly brought me to tears. All the things that were said, really resonated with me.

This is my 6th year of teaching and though I'm no longer a rookie, I still need to be reminded that:

  • Everything is going to be okay. Things may seem tough right now and at times you may feel like you want to give up. But please don't. Just know that you'll make a great teacher.
  • [Though] everything feels overwhelming, terrifying even... but you're going to make it through this.
  • Those kids in front of you: They WANT to learn. They NEED to know. Try every crazy thing you can think of. In the end, those are the things that they'll remember.
  • Your students need you there in front of the class and they truly appreciate all that you do for them even if they don't show it all of the time.
  • When a kid says your class is BORING!, don't take it personally. It happens to everyone.
  • Holding your kids accountable is the greatest act of love you can give them.
  • Teaching is never an exact science and it's okay to struggle to find the answers.
  • This is one of the most important lessons to learn as a teacher: You will fail. You will make mistakes and you will embarrass yourself. When you do, accept it with grace and humility.
  • Lives and futures depend on you; It's scary and exhilarating [to know that].
  • So keep up the great work, seek help from those around you and just know that the work of a teacher is of the greatest importance.