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 💗

Friday, October 06, 2017

ASEAN Para Games Kuala Lumpur 2017

I was thirteen when Malaysia hosted the 1998 Commonwealth Games. It was such a big deal then and I was swept away by the excitement. I so wanted to be one of the volunteers but was underage then.

When Malaysia hosted the 29th SEA Games, I thought that it was the perfect opportunity to finally realise my childhood dream. Unfortunately, I didn't receive a callback but for the 9th ASEAN Para Games ―held two weeks after the SEA Games― the stars finally aligned. I was accepted to be one of the liaison officers, in charged of assisting one of the chief classifiers.

What's a chief classifier?

Since Para Games encompass multiple categories that denote different disabilities, classifiers are technical officers tasked with assessing and assigning the athletes to the correct categories (i.e. visual / intellectual / physical impairment). 

My principal (the person I was assigned to) was the chief classifier (CC) for Para Archery. The classification process was conducted prior to the Games, so I was granted two weeks of unrecorded leave. (For more info on the classification process, read this.)

What does a Liaison Officer (LO) do?

Unlike the Wau volunteers with their orange shirts, the LO team wore white. We were supposed to shadow our principals and assist them in any way we can. This assistance can vary from arranging their transport, to clarifying matters with the secretariat, to suggesting good places to get local food, and to becoming impromptu tour guides.

It goes without saying that having good communication skills and a competent command of English is very important. And when certain requests cannot be fulfilled, LOs must know how to say so diplomatically. Most importantly, LOs must be unfailingly polite, even though they're tired or sleepy or  hungry or bored or a combination of these things. (Thus I highly recommend my students to try this in the future, as to develop their soft skills and broaden their experiences.)

Jalan-jalan cari makan

An essential element of showcasing Malaysian Hospitality is feeding your guests with delectable local cuisine. Thus, throughout the Games, we ate out everyday and feasted on Nasi Beryani, Ikan Bakar, Cempedak Goreng, Satay Kajang, Cendol, Nasi Ayam, Naan Cheese, Ayam Tandoori, Ais Krim Durian, etc.

We also went sightseeing to Genting Highlands, Putrajaya and The Royal Museum and did the usual touristy stuff like riding the cable car, shopping, and taking lots of photos. 

What did I make of the experience?

By the end of the first week, I had missed school already *gasp*. I was lucky to have had very nice people to work for and with but I missed my students. I missed driving my car while listening to podcasts. I missed driving, period. It was tiring to ride the LRT/MRT during peak hours when the coaches were packed to the brim.  

We were driven around in this sweet ride, but I missed driving my own car.

But most of all, I missed school because this job, interesting as it was due to its novelty, lacked meaning. In 'Outliers', Malcolm Gladwell had this to say about meaningful work:

"...three things―autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward―are the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying. It is not how much money we make that ultimately make us happy... It's whether our work fulfills us. If I offered you a choice between being an architect for $75,000 a year and working in a tollbooth every day for the rest of your life for $100,000 a year, which one would you take? I'm guessing the former because there is complexity, autonomy and a relationship between effort and reward in doing creative work, and that's worth more to us than money."

Would I ever do it again? Maybe. When I signed up I wanted to: 1. broaden my experiences, 2. make new acquaintances, and 3. be of service to my country. I think I've achieved all three and repeating them doesn't sound so bad. However, I've scratched that 1998 itch so even if I don't get to do something similar in the future, I'm okay with that too.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

3D2N Trip to Sungai Lembing

“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

Kak Safrina & I have been colleagues since 2009. But she's more than my favourite co-worker; She's practically my surrogate sister. So, it's quite surprising that it took us nearly 9 years to go on a trip together.

Work has been challenging unrelentingly stressful this year. So much so that our (hitherto effective) coping mechanism of having lunch together every Friday no longer does the trick. So we started planning a short getaway to get our mojo back. 

Kak Saf came across The Time Capsule Retreat in one of those listecles that name top glamping spots in Malaysia. Besides the attractive pictures of the hobbit hole-like capsules, we were also sold on going when we looked at the activities suggested on the website. 

So off we went to Sungai Lembing!

Day 1 (Aug 29, 2017) 

We checked into our rooms after a 3-hour drive. We decided to go for the white cottage rooms, instead of the made-to-be-instagrammed but rather impractical capsules. For one, the white cottage rooms have en suite bathrooms while the capsules rely on a communal one. Secondly, the capsules are really tiny which makes moving about a challenge. So yeah, in the end, we chose function over form. 

Our first activity there was to visit Lombong Bijih Timah Bawah Tanah Sg. Lembing. The disused tin mine had underground tunnels that diverged into myriad directions. The combined length of the network of tunnels is a mind-boggling 322km (which is more than the distance between KL and Kuantan)!

It was fun riding the old train into the mining shaft and exploring the tunnels while reading interesting nuggets of information displayed intermittently on the side of the tunnels. One particularly interesting story is titled The Legend of the Million Dollar Chamber. I won't spoil the surprise for you. Do visit the so-called El Dorado of the East to find out more. 

We spent that night in front of the TV, cheering the Harimau Muda in their gold-medal match against Thailand.

Day 2 (Aug 30, 2017)

The Rainbow Waterfall tour operator picked us up from our hotel at 6.00 a.m. We had breakfast at Kedai Kopi Salmah before starting our journey proper. We rode the 4x4 for nearly 45 minutes before reaching the trailhead. There's a public toilet there (RM0.30 per entry) as well as Adidas Kampung hiking shoes and walking sticks for rent (RM3.00 and RM0.50 respectively).

Once geared up and ready, we finally began hiking. It took us around 40 minutes to reach the waterfall. The trail is really easy with hardly any steep incline. Once we arrived, we looked for a spot to settle down. There's a big group from Johor that day so it was quite a tight squeeze. But we managed to find a suitable spot to place our belongings before diving into the waters.

At around 9.00 a.m. the rainbow finally made an appearance. It was beautiful. The waterfall certainly lived up to its name. The tour we signed up for cost RM60/pax. It includes a guide, transport & permit. Plus a cup of instant noodles and hot milo served at the waterfall which were devoured ravenously by famished picknickers. Genius.

For all its nascent tourism industry, Sg. Lembing is still a sleepy little town. So by 5.00 p.m., we had nowhere to go and nothing to do. So we drove 40km to Kuantan to have dinner at the famous Ana Ikan Bakar Petai. The food was good and was definitely worth the 45-minute drive. 

Day 3 (Aug 31, 2017)

Our last day was reserved for hiking the nearby Panorama Hill. It's quite a punishing 40-minute trek. But the view (as befits the hill's name) didn't disappoint. After the trek, we rewarded ourselves with ice cream and proceeded to Kedai Kopi Salmah again for breakfast.

Before packing our stuff and checking out of Time Capsule, we made a stop to one of the hanging bridges found in the vicinity. The bridges are used by the locals for everyday purposes and they seem perplexed when tourists get excited and start striking poses and taking pictures.

We left Sg. Lembing at 12.00 p.m. and reached KL 2.5 hours later. Traffic was clear on our side but it was a very slow crawl for kilometres for those heading to the East Coast for the Raya Haji holidays. 

Now that Kak Saf and I are rejuvenated & refreshed by our short getaway, we are ready to face school again excitedly planning our next escapade! 

For a more detailed account, read this.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Hiking the Gosaikunda, Part 4

Day 8 (Dec 19, 2016): Ghopte to Kutumsang (2470 m)

 Today was perhaps the climax of the trip. We were feted with the most epic views. At this one place, the clouds unfurled like a wavy carpet, stretching towards the horizon, with the setting sun providing the most magical golden hour I had ever witnessed. We were busy clicking away when I saw Rafiah, lying contentedly whilst savouring the view. "Enjoy the moment before you capture it," she said wisely. So I did. I put away my camera, lay next to her and soaked in the indescribable beauty in front of me.

When the sun had set, we were brought back to earth. We still had to trek for another two hours in the dark. It had been days since we had last showered 🙈 Our skin was dry like sand paper, our lips chapped, our hair coarse, and our toes were black and blue. Truly, we weren't fit to be seen by people. We all longed for a nice, long, hot shower and was hoping that tonight's guest house would provide just that (and WiFi!). The primitive toilets and near-freezing water we had had so far meant that we could only brave brushing our teeth. Even then, gargling the water would cause our teeth to chatter uncontrollably.

When we arrived at Kutumsang, our hopes were dashed cruelly: No hot shower, no WiFi and we learnt that, tomorrow, we would have another 8-10 hours of hiking. Everyone was stunned as we all thought today was the last day we would be hiking in the dark. We asked one of our porters for confirmation, just in case our guides were pulling our legs. When he confirmed it, everyone fell silent, contemplating about our bleak future 😭

Day 9 (Dec 20, 2016): Kutumsang to Chisapani (2115 m)

It was a very cold, foggy morning in Kutumsang. If you looked out the window, you could see nothing but white. Ghatta Raj, our guide, predicted that snow would fall in four days' time. We started the trek cheerfully but halfway towards our lunch place, the PAIN grew harder and harder to ignore. Madihah and Shu had knee troubles and the rest of the girls weren't doing too great either.

When we reached Chipling, lunch was a sombre affair. Achan asked how everyone was doing and judging from the unenthusiastic response, he made arrangements for us to hitch a ride with a lorry to get to our next destination. The decision was met with cheers and applause.

The mood was considerably lighten and for the first time in days, we had hours to talk, joke and socialise (for the past few nights, we usually slept right after dinner). In Chipling, we saw humbling sights: a 15-year-old girl bent double carrying a 50-kg load, a grandmother carrying firewood and kids who looked older than they actually are. Life in this remote, mountainous area is tough and beyond my comprehension. I've realised that travelling is not only an eye-opening experience; it's a humbling one too.

At last, our lorry arrived and we all hopped onto it. There's just one small thing: we had to leave Chiko behind. Remember the stray dogs that had followed us in Dhunche? Well at first they were four, then they dwindled to two, until Chiko was the only one left. He followed us for six days across the most challenging terrains! But we had to say goodbye now. Our guides assured us that Chiko would be just fine; he would soon follow other hikers that came across his path; that's the nature of his nomadic life.

With heavy hearts, we said goodbye to Chiko and the lorry sped off. But Chiko chased after the lorry for a good half an hour! It was heart-rending and Aishah even started to cry. We lost him in one of the villages we passed by. Hopefully, he is now cared for by other hikers or the kind villagers there 😢


The lorry ride was bumpy, exciting and scary, all rolled into one. Each time the lorry made a sharp turn, we cried in alarm and excitement. It was oh-so fun! I asked Suraya: "Is this moment worth not showering for days? Is it worth having dry skin and suffering pain for?" Suraya answered YES emphatically.

That night's dinner was a festive affair. At long last, we had WiFi and could catch up on what's going on at home. Plus, Hairi cooked Ayam Masak Lemak Cili Padi and all of us devoured it heartily. That night was to be our last with our porters, so all of us delivered farewell and thank-you speeches. Afterwards, the porters started to dance to their folk songs and urged us to join them. Having not a single dancing bone in my body, I pray that the videos from that night will never see the light of day.

Day 10 (Dec 21, 2016): Chisapani to Kathmandu

Before we could board the bus to Kathmandu, we had to hike for another 14 km! Everyone was excited to go back. The past 10 days (and 100 km!) had satiated our thirst for adventure (for now at least). It's now time to hit the hot shower 😄

It was the most fun adventure I've ever had. I will miss the breath-taking scenery, the deep conversations we had about family, work and love life (or the lack thereof) and the jokes we shared. Until next time, guys 💜

Oh, I'll end with some practical tips on what to bring if you were to hike during the off season:

What you should bring:

  • travel insurance (that includes a helicopter evacuation if the need arises)
  • a 60L bag (to be shared with another person. This will be the bag your porter will carry, if you choose to hire one)
  • a daypack
  • thermal wear
  • a down jacket
  • gloves
  • hiking poles (2)
  • headlamp
  • -10 degree Celsius sleeping bag
  • high-energy food
  • water-purification tablets (alternatively, you can always buy mineral water from the guest houses but it gets pricier in proportion to gains in elevation)
  • medication: painkillers, motion-sickness pills, analgesic cream, etc.
  • spray (for ablution)
  • maggi-in-a-cup
  • 3-in-1 Teh Tarik / Nescafe / Hot Chocolate sachets 
  • Alat Bantuan Makanan (e.g. sambal, serunding, chilli tuna, etc.)
  • enough Nepalese Rupee to cover your food and shopping expenses. And do remember to tip generously!
  • And most essentially: crazy friends to ensure that your trip will be enjoyable & unforgettable 😉

This trip was made successful by:
Pakatan Bejalan, and

Monday, December 26, 2016

Hiking the Gosaikunda, Part 3

Day 6 (Dec 17, 2016): Chandanbari to Gosaikunda (4380 m)

The never-ending journey towards lunch

Today was the first out of four consecutive days of hard trekking. I actually cried when I reached our lunch place at Langtang Lirung. I was physically spent and emotionally drained. And when some of our porters came to help us with our bags, I gladly gave my pack without any protest. I kept my head down throughout lunch but a few caught me wiping my tears away. When I saw the look of pity on their faces, the tears flowed more freely.

We had another fours hours of trekking after lunch so I had to pull myself together and recentre. I reminded myself why I signed up for this and repeated this phrase like a mantra:
“It's supposed to be hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it.” 
Alhamdulillah, I felt much better in the second leg of that day's journey. But many in the group started feeling worse. Due to the gains in elevation, many had started developing mild symptoms of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) such as headaches, nausea, vomiting and lethargy. For the first time, we had to trek in the dark. Though we could see our guest house before the sun had set, it was the typical "dekat-di-mata-jauh-di-kaki" situation.

When we finally arrived at our guest house, we were served garlic soup by our guides. It is said to be a good remedy for AMS. That night's dinner was the quietest meal we had ever had. No one was in the mood for socialising or cracking jokes.

 We had been monitoring our oxygen levels and heart rates since Thulo Syabru. Not surprisingly, that night, everyone's readings were not good. Our oxygen levels had dipped to 80% to 86%. In comparison, just a day earlier, everyone's oxygen levels were 90% and above.

Day 7 (Dec 18, 2016): Gosaikunda to Ghopte (3430 m)

Although we had achieved what we had set out to do, reaching Gosaikunda was not the end of our journey. Today we were going to ascend to the highest point of the trek: The Lauribina Pass at 4610 m. The uphill ascent was slow and laborious. Everyone was in celebratory mood once we reached it. It was all downhill from here, or so we thought.
Imagine our bewilderment when we were still going up and down while supposedly descending to lower altitude. At one point, when I saw another steep hill, I let out out an anguished cry that was meant to convey: "You have got to be kidding me!"

That night, we trekked for two hours in the dark. To prevent anyone from getting lost, we trekked in a single file, with the slowest amongst us in front. Again, our porters came back to help us with our packs. We were so glad to see them because it meant that the guest house wasn't that far away.

The guest house at Ghopte was our simplest and most austere lodging. The area was one of the worst hit in the 2015 earthquake, so most of the dwellings there were still in the midst of reconstruction. The guest house had a dirt floor and plastic sheets for windows. It had no running tap in the toilet; just two buckets with some water which quickly ran out (thank God for wet wipes).

There were not enough rooms for everyone so we had to share. I shared mine with Suraya and Wany, and with two 60L bags, three daypacks, sleeping bags and blankets, we were left with very little room to maneuver.
All the inconveniences taught us 1) to be grateful for all the luxuries we have at home and 2) how very little we need in order to survive and be happy.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Hiking the Gosaikunda Trek, Part 2

Expedition Itinerary

Day 1 (Dec 12, 2016): We flew from KLIA2 to Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu. The flight took roughly 4.5 hours. Our 18-member team consisted of 10 girls and 8 guys, whose ages range from 21 to 33 years old.

Day 2 (Dec 13, 2016): Spent the whole day shopping for hiking gear. I didn't buy anything though as I had everything I needed and partly because my bargaining skills are non-existent 😅

Day 3 (Dec 14, 2016): We took a bus to go to Dhunche, which took about 8 hours. I'm not sure of the actual distance in kilometres but the narrow, winding roads carved from the hill sides made the journey longer which belied its distance.

Spot the tiny lorry!

The width of the unpaved roads could only comfortably fit one vehicle so when another vehicle came from the opposite direction, the gap between both vehicles was mere centimetres. And if you looked out of the window, the space between the tyres and the cliffs was even more terrifying.

Day 4 (Dec 15, 2016): Dhunche (1960 m) to Thulo Syabru (2210 m) 

Finally! Our first day of hiking proper. It was nice to exercise our legs after days of relative inactivity. It was a light trek which had us ohhh-and-ahhhh-ing over the magnificent scenery. We were quickly joined by four stray dogs whose story I'll elaborate later on.

Multiple layers of mountains and terraced-hills for plantations formed most of the backdrop on our first day of trekking. We reached Thulo Syabru at about 5.00 p.m., just half an hour before sunset.  

Day 5 (Dec 16, 2016): Thulo Syabru to Chandanbari (3330 m)

The second day of trekking afforded us even more spectacular views of snow-capped mountains and alpine trees. Our diet had become strictly vegetarian which was palatable for a few days but after a while, we craved spiciness and our local cuisine. So supplies of sambal and serunding were highly coveted and zealously rationed.
We spotted wild yaks on the way to Chandanbari but our main target, the red pandas, remained elusive until the end.
Again, we reached our lodgings just before dark and were rewarded with the most stunning sunset. On a side note: One of Chandanbari's claims to fame is its yak cheese. So be sure to try it out when you're there! 

pink clouds!

Day 6 onwards coming up in Part 3!