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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Life is like spaghetti

An old friend of mine, Shamsul Anuar spontaneously coined that phrase when he came down to Paddington to meet up with me yesterday evening. "Life is like a spaghetti," he said referring to the different points in our lives that we have crossed paths with each other.

I first met Shamsul way back in 1982 when my family moved from Alor Setar to Johor Bahru. He was my classmate in Sekolah Rendah Seri Tebrau. His family moved away from Johor Bahru in 1984, while I left the city to move to Kulim in late 1985.

I entered Sekolah Menengah Sultan Badlishah for my secondary school, and was there up until I finished Form 5 in 1991. Amazingly, Shamsul entered MRSM Kulim during Form 4. While we were in the same town literally, we have never met each other.

In late 1991 after our SPM examination, both of us attended an interview for scholarship offered by Petronas. We were interviewed on the same day (as I remember it, it was a Friday). Shamsul, whom I had not seen in 7 years noticed me, and said hi. It was a very brief chance meeting so to speak.

I left for the UK in January of 1992 under the Petronas scholarship initially to do geology. Interestingly, Shamsul was offered to do geology as well, but he turned it down. Had he accepted, we would have been coursemates at the University of Glasgow.

In September of 1992, I went down to London. Whilst walking back to Malaysia Hall (then located at Bryanston Square), I passed by Shamsul. I didn't realise it at first, but seconds later, it hit me that the person was Shamsul. I turned my head, around the same time he did. It was one of those "one in a million" chance encounters, and of all places, we met in London. He had just arrived in London then under MARA scholarship. Later that afternoon, I went up to the place he was staying before going to Concorde College in Shropshire, and we chatted for quite a bit.

For the next couple of months, we got in touch with each other using snail mail. This was a time when e-mail was not common yet. Naturally, we got busy with our studies, and we just lost contact over the years.

When Shamsul got married, he sent me an invitation. I was already working at IKIM at that time. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend his wedding, but I did give him a call to congratulate him. That was the last time I was in touch with him...

...until 2008. Thanks to Facebook, he was able to trace me. Since then, we have been in touch using Facebook albeit virtually.
Yesterday, alhamdulillah, for the first time since 1992, I met my old friend, Shamsul Anuar again. It was a nice warm feeling despite the rather cold winter temperature. We talked and reminisced about old times and old friends. While we have not seen each other for nearly 17 years, it never felt that way. I guess that is the uniqueness of childhood friends. No matter how long you have been apart from each other, the shared "childhood years" is actually a strong bond that is difficult to sever.

With our somewhat "unique" history, I figured that was why Shamsul said, "Life is like spaghetti." Imagine each of us is a strand of spaghetti in a bowl or a plate. And that strand of spaghetti is the path that we take in life. There are times our paths will cross with one another. There are times when they are completely apart from each other. And yet, there are also times when the strands (paths) are so near and yet are apart.

While I have part ways with Shamsul for the time being, I pray that our paths will cross yet again, insya-Allah.

That perfect feeling

As I write this, I am in London. I arrived on Christmas day, and will be flying back to Malaysia on the 2nd of January. Apart from London, I managed to go up to Scotland revisiting Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Much can indeed be written about this nostalgic trip. I was a student in Glasgow between January 1992 and June 1996. While I have been back to London a couple of times (mainly on transit between flights), this was my first time to have really gone back to the place I studied once. And what a memorable return it has been.

As I walked on the snowy hilly grounds of the University of Glasgow, every little bit of memories past passed me by. The snow that has fallen days before made the visit all the more special. When I walked into the compound of the main building, a bagpiper played some bagpipe tunes. Apparently there was a wedding at the chapel, but the tunes of the bagpipe music was played as I walked in giving rise to a very special feeling.

The sky was clear. The ground was white with snow. The air was fresh. Bagpipe music was playing in the background. The temperature was just above freezing point. But I could certainly feel the warmth of memories of yesteryears.

Everything was just... perfect.

And truth be told, it really felt like I have come home.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

You never know

I was at the money changer earlier this afternoon to buy some Pound Sterling for my UK trip. I had to wait a while as the money changer had to get the Pound Sterling from one of his nearby branches. While his assistant was sent to the other branch, I sat patiently while chatting with the owner.

He asked, "Your voice sounds familiar."

I replied somewhat surprised, "Really? Where have you heard my voice before?"

He said, "I am quite sure I have heard your voice in the radio. Have you been on air on Radio IKIM?"

I froze for a second. All this while, I never thought that it is possible for a person to actually recognise a voice he hears on radio. Hesitantly I answered, "Yes, I do have a programme on Radio IKIM".

He later went on to say how much he loves the programmes on Radio IKIM. He gave very positive comments on the radio, which I think is a very good indication for the Islamic radio.

While waiting, we talked about a host of other things. Around this time, I glanced at a notice on the wall that says, "Exchange rates are negotiable."

I am not a person who likes to bargain for things. Most times I buy things according to the price indicated. Similarly when it comes to this, I was not really in the mood of bargaining. The exchange rate for Pound Sterling for today was RM5.60 to a Pound. Without asking, he suddenly said to me, "Tell you what, sir. I can give you the best rate for exchange. For you, I will give RM5.50 for a Pound Sterling."

I nodded in agreement. For me, it is better than the actual rate that was initially offered. Deep in my heart, I find this episode rather amusing in a good way. The money changer recognised my voice from radio. He said that he likes and benefits from the programme that I have been doing all these years. It is indeed a motivation for me to hear this from a listener in person. But what surprised me was that he was willing to offer me a rather good rate for currency exchange without my actually doing any bargaining.

I guess you never can tell how we influence or impact other people. I never imagined that the programme that I contributed to on radio has such an impact on people. It is indeed a compliment, but you never know what people are willing to do to assist you once you know that you're the person they hear on radio.

Aside from the good rate, the money changer even offered to come to the office should I ever need his services again. Talk about personalised service. I guess there are some perks to appearing on air.

You never know.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

You can never go home again

There is a saying. It goes something like this. "You can never go home again, but the truth is you can never leave home."

My one and true home is Malaysia. This is where I was born. This is the place that I grew up as a child. This is also the place where I went through my early teenage years. And this is also the place that I am earning a living and building a family. There is no substitute for Malaysia in my eyes.

Yet, there was a place that I spent nearly half a decade towards the end of my teenage years and my early youth. That place welcomed me to its chilly and cold weather, yet its people were pleasantly warm and friendly. I regarded that place as my second home. This was the place where I studied. This was also the place where I learnt to be independent. And perhaps, it is not wrong to say that this was the place that taught me the meaning of life.

That place was Glasgow in Scotland.

I was last in Glasgow in 1996. That was more than 13 years ago. Now, it seems that I will be setting foot to my second home again very soon. I will be leaving for the United Kingdom in less than 12 hours. Upon arrival in London, I will be going straight up north to Edinburgh where I will spend two nights. And from there I will be heading for Glasgow.

The feelings that I have now is somewhat difficult to explain. The best that I can think of is that the feelings are similar to the time I was leaving Glasgow for good. This time around, I am returning to Glasgow for a brief visit.

I have a fondness towards this city. It has a special place in my heart. Indeed while I may have left the city, the memories of the city never left me.

It will be good to be back "home".

Monday, December 21, 2009

New things in the horizon

The Hijrah new year just started last Friday. The year 2010 will commence in ten days time. It is somewhat of a coincidence that there are a couple of new things looming in the horizon for my life with the beginning of the new year. These new things are very much like a hijrah for myself and my family, as well as for some of my colleagues.

My two boys are growing up. They are very active, and they require space to run around and play. Our current abode is an apartment. Living in an apartment with two young boys can be stressful to the boys. I don't actually allow them to play outside the apartment because of the cars zooming by on the road. There is no compound for them to play.

After giving it a long thought, I decided to search for a landed property some time around August. After viewing a number of houses, I decided to buy a double-storey link house which is also an end lot. The house is also located in Taman Setiawangsa and is quite near Masjid Muadz Bin Jabal. After a bit of a wait, I finally got the keys to the house yesterday evening.

I took my family to see the house earlier this afternoon. My two sons were ecstatic. They were running around the empty house in joy. My eldest son especially seems eager to move into the new house.
The house has been tastefully renovated and extended by the previous owner. I will be doing some repainting job and minor repairing in the next few weeks. Hopefully, if everything goes as planned, we will be moving into the new home in mid-January insya-Allah.

Meanwhile at work, renovation work has also commenced for the office unit situated on the third floor (just across where I am now). It is expected that the work will take a month to complete. I have been given the indication that I will be one of those affected with relocation once the new office space is completed. Should the original planning remain the same, aside from myself, seven other people will be shifting to this new office space. If everything goes as scheduled, barring unforeseen circumstances, I may be moving into the new office by the end of January.

It looks like 2010 C.E. and 1431 Hijriyyah are off to a promising start. I pray that the rest of the year will be good as well. And I believe that is indeed everyone's hope.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Shared concerns unite people

I was at Institut Jantung Negara (IJN) yesterday morning, specifically at the blood laboratory. I was there to give my blood sample for my upcoming appointment with my cardiologist next Tuesday. Before anyone starts messaging me to inquire about my health, let me assure everyone that everything is well. I was at IJN in late August for a screening programme to ensure that I have a clean bill of health. Alhamdulillah, my heart is fine and dandy. The only thing that was somewhat worrying was my cholesterol level, which my cardiologist referred to as "alarmingly high". Essentially this coming visit is to check if there is any improvement from my last visit.

In any case, that is not really what I wanted to blog about. Rather, I would like to share my observation which I have seen many times before, but have never put in writing.

When I arrived at IJN, there were already many people of different races waiting at the laboratory for their turns. The seats were full. Most of the people waiting were elderly people. I opted to wait outside the laboratory while keeping my eyes peeled for my number to be called.

While waiting, I saw an elderly Malay pak cik exchanging his by-pass experience with an elderly Chinese uncle.

There was also a Chinese lady who was probably in her sixties giving encouragement to a Malay woman slightly younger than herself. The Malay woman looked somewhat worried, but the Chinese lady managed to calm her down.

Then there were three elderly gentlemen, one Indian and two Malays, talking and commenting about their health and the medication that they have to take.

I smiled when I saw all this. I have noticed this before whenever I am at hospitals and medical centres. When you are there, people don't look at you as a Malay or a Chinese or an Indian. People look at you as a patient who is in need of treatment. And believe me, IJN is one of the places that you can actually see this happening.

As I was observing, the elderly Chinese lady who was earlier giving encouragement to the Malay woman beside her waved at me. She pointed to an empty seat nearby. I smiled back gesturing my thanks, and walked to the empty seat.

Shortly after, it was the Malay lady's turn to give her blood sample. After the procedure was completed, she walked out and promptly shook the Chinese lady's hands saying good-bye.

Then it was the Chinese lady's turn. She went in for about five minutes. And when she got out, she walked pass me and gave a cheerful smile. I smiled back while nodding my head.

Each of the elderly men that I mentioned got in when their turns came. And each time, when they came out, they would shake the hands of their newfound friends wishing them well and saying good-bye.

To see this happening right before my very eyes, where perfect strangers of different races with nothing much in common safe for their illnesses, chatting merrily and shaking hands when bidding farewell, was somehow humbling. The people that I observed were mainly elderly people who were over 50 years of age. I sincerely wonder if the young generation has the same quality as these elderly people.

Over the past many days, I have read that sports can unite people of different background. Aside from sports - and some would argue, music - another uniting catalyst is perhaps the shared concerns on health.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Two targets

The Muslim New Year begins with the beginning of Maghrib (or sunset) early this evening. It has always been reminded that Muslims partake in the hijrah to better themselves in all sense of the word. It is somewhat similar to the new year resolutions that one often makes at the beginning of the Gregorian new year.

For the past few years, I have not made any particular resolutions. Rather than having resolutions, I set myself specific targets to achieve. I admit that I have been pretty ambitious in the past couple of years. But for this year, I have set my eyes on two specific targets that I hope to achieve in the new year (be it 1431H or 2010CE).

The first target is to complete my thesis for my PhD. I will be starting my fifth semester at the end of this month. I hope that the whole writing process will be completed in this semester. I pray that I be given the strength to do this.

The second target is more spiritual in nature. I hope and pray that this will become a reality. I plan to perform my haj in the coming haj season.

Let us all pray for a better year with the beginning of the new year. Salam Hijrah to all.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Condolences to Adyani

On Monday evening, while I was on holiday in my hometown up north, I received a call from one of the research executives attached to Yayasan Ilmuwan. She informed me that her father had just passed away.

The next day, a number of her colleagues from Yayasan Ilmuwan drove to Banting to visit her and her family to offer the organisation's condolences. I was unable to make it since I was still in Kedah.

Nonetheless, I would like to offer my heartfelt condolences to Nor Adyani and her family on the passing of her beloved father. I pray that his soul will be blessed, and that Adyani and her family be given the strength to carry on in spite of this big loss.


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Welcome home

I was at KLIA at 3 a.m. on Monday morning waiting for my parents' return from their pilgrimage to Makkah. Their flight touched down just after 4 a.m. and they finally got to the departure hall around 5:30 a.m.

There was a huge crowd as expected. Family members were waiting anxiously to see their loved ones. It was an emotional wait, as most of the jamaah haji are senior citizens, most of whom like my parents, have never been overseas (or at least as far away as Saudi Arabia). They have been away for about 45 days, and everyone was most definitely eager to see them walk out into the departure hall. One interesting banner caught my eyes. The writing on the banner was: "Welcome home, Haji Abah and Hajjah Mama". Cute wordings, but yet very apt.

Alhamdulillah, my parents arrived safely. While they have some coughs and fever due to the harsh conditions especially in Makkah, Arafah, Muzdalifah and Mina, they are well. As their eldest son, I am happy that I have been able to assist them in sending them to perform their fifth pillar of Islam. I know that it has always been my parents' dream to go to Makkah. And this year, their dream has become a reality.

Welcome home, Haji Abah and Hajjah Mama!

Monday, December 07, 2009

In memoriam: Adawiyah Yassin

Last Monday, I received the sad news of the passing of Puan Adawiyah Yassin. She was affectionately known to many of us as "Kak Ada". As I blogged in October, she suffered a stroke. This happened in the month of Ramadhan. Now, just a few days after Muslims celebrated Aidiladha, Kak Ada has left us forever. She was 56.

Everyone I spoke to remembers her as a kind, hardworking and sincere lady. I knew her way back in 1999 when I started doing programmes for the Voice of Islam which is under the Voice of Malaysia belt of programmes. She was a producer for the English programmes under the Voice of Islam, and later she headed the Voice of Islam unit. Indeed, while she remained behind the scenes in the production of these programmes, her role was significant in ensuring that the programmes are aired successfully.

To her family, I pray that all of you will be strong in facing this loss. On a personal note, I shall miss her kindheartedness. To this day, I can still hear her golden voice. May Allah SWT bless Kak Ada's soul.