Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Finally moved to PJ!

I've finally moved to PJ in SS2 and today is the first day that I came towork from the PJ house. Wah I'm so relieved! See the problem with me is that I procrastinate. There were not that many things to move but I kept delaying and delaying. My brother had already moved there when I was in Makkah so by the time I got back, I told myself I must make this quick.

This brother is the one who's not married. His name is Aiman. He's studying automotive in one of the private colleges.

Generally we already have most things in the house although not everything is perfect. We have TV, computer, Internet access, Astro, dinner table so I can eat and draw my cartoons, kitchen with fridge (altho not much content to speak of), a place to sleep. I was ready to sleep on the couch if there were no mattress in the house. Luckily there is. These all courtesy of my other brother Dudin who spends most of his time in Johor but comes back toPJ some weekends with his wife and daughter.

Understand that this is the first time I'm living on my own. I spent a good portion of my life in boarding schools and in hostel. Between the age of 13-19, I was in four different boarding schools. Then when I entered university, I stayed at the hostel for one semester but moved out after that becos my house is just nearby and it was cheaper to stay at home.

Then right after uni, I. Got. Married. And soon bought a house. Actually, it was all her idea. I just contributed my share of the money. Not long after, there was one short person running around the house. And then another. And yet another one is on the way. I must admit children are quite fun to have (and make) but now I have to learn to live without them around.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Traveler's mental notes: Makkah and Madinah

So I went to Makkah and Madinah the other day and came back on Tuesday. Yesterday was rest day. Today's my first day at work after the trip.

1. Funny hotel name. In Makkah, we stayed at a small hotel called Rehab Al-Firdaus, which I thought was an interesting name. Rehab is an Arabic word. Not sure exactly what it means but Arabs and Malays would pronounce it"rihab" or "ray-hub". Westerners, on the other hand, may pronounce it rehab. As in rehabilitation. Which is not entirely wrong, btw. People do come to Makkah to rehabilitate themselves.

The hotel staff are mostly Indonesians and Bangladeshis and they all speak some Bahasa Melayu. As a rule, it's easier to get your message across if you speak your national language rather than English. I know it sounds funny but it's the truth. We'd take the public transport together with hajis and hajjahs (in Makkah, everyone is called a Haji or Hajjah) from Iran, Turkey,Indonesia, Thailand and God-knows-where, and everyone will be arguing with the driver in their own languages. And the thing is, the driver will understand and argue back in Arabic.

Same goes when out shopping or eating. It's always easier to speak BM.

When out shopping for food, my all-time favourite is Date Bars. It's a kind of biscuit with date fillings. Very sweet. They say if you eat this, you'll get lots of dates.

Date Bars is also the name of a prison where young people caught dating are sent to. I am making this up.

2. Internet access. By my fifth day in Makkah, I was itching to check my email and to find out what was going on back home, particularly about Malaysia's Thomas Cup campaign in Japan (eventually learnt that we lost in the semis to Denmark). But Internet access is hard to come by in the city, which I thought was surprising. Somebody could make a lot of money here opening a chain of well-advertised cyber cafes. Just becos you're in the Holy City doesn't mean that you cut ties with the outside world. People do want to get in touch with friends and family, as evident in the many international phone call cabins around the mosque area.

So I asked some of the younger hotel staff and was told that the only place to find cyber cafes is in the Aziziah township, some 3km away from the HolyMosque. Taxi fare is 10 riyal (roughly RM10) to Aziziah and another 10 back. Internet charge is between 10-15 riyal which by Malaysian standard is expensive. You also need to bring your passport with you. And women need to be accompanied by their husbands or male relatives (or they will be sent to one of those Date Bars).

Under normal circumcission, this would have sounded too bothersome but sinceI thought it would make an interesting little story for Life and Times, I decided to make that trip to Aziziah.

I went with my wife. The first taxi driver that we asked did not know appear to know what Internet is. Luckily, the second one, a younger man, knew. He brought us straight to a place called Classic Cafe Net which was situated next to a McDonald's.

It was great too that the guy manning the cafe spoke reasonable English. His name is Sarwar Ahmed from Bangladesh.

Broadband in Makkah! Now that's something to write home about. For 10 riyal per hour, we got to enjoy Internet access at 512kbps which is fairly fast. Pages practically popped up in our faces.

According to Sarwar, chatting is allowed along with the usual surfing. But games and the other usual suspects are banned. He said it's enforced by the government. No idea how they do it. Never bothered to test. :P

Probably the only complaint we had was it was all in Arabic. The Windows Start button was on the right side of the screen and so was IE's Backbutton. Even more awkward was the arrow keys; when I pressed the Left arrow key, the cursor went right.

And we all know how fond Windows is of dialog boxes. If you think the usual English dialog boxes are a nuisance, try Arabic. Everytime one popped up, our tendency was to simply click na'am (yes) because we couldn't understandwhat was said. I think I must've answered na'am to one that went "Do youwant Windows to advertise your email address to spammers?" becos by the time I got back to Malaysia, I got a lot of junk mails.

Later we found out that you could actually log out of the Arabic account and log in to one with an English setting. Doh!

3. Arabs and their attitude towards cars. The Arabs appear to be fans of large American cars like the Chevrolet Caprice Classic. Taxis are mostly Toyota Camries. Nice cars. But their owners don't seem to be very good drivers or maintainers. Almost all the cars have dents and scratches on them.

A fun game you can play in the city is called "Find A Dent On That Nice Car". I managed to find a Mercedes S600 which was in an immaculate condition except for one serious scratch.

Perhaps there is a market there for pre-scratched, pre-dented cars.

How serious is this tak apa attitude of the Arabs towards their cars? Well, once we witnessed a car losing one of its wheels while moving! I am not making this up! It was one of those huge American cars. This car was moving in the opposite direction when all of a sudden, we heard a loud bang and saw the car screeching to a halt. Then the wheel came rolling behind. Everyone was laughing except the sheikh who was driving the car.

Well I discovered just about half an hour ago that I have caught conjunctivitis, so I'll be on leave again tomorrow. :(