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Monday, November 01, 2010

Labbaik

In several hours time, my wife and I will be leaving, insya-Allah, for our hajj pilgrimage.

I pray that our journey and everything pertaining to our hajj will go smoothly and safely. I also pray that our hajj will be accepted by Allah SWT as mabrur.

Frankly it is difficult for me to describe my feelings at the moment. This is a spiritual journey that requires one to be physically healthy, mentally prepared and emotionally stable. I am really looking forward to this journey.

I would like to express my sincerest thanks to all who have bade me well for this journey. Your prayers for the both of us are very valuable to us. Insya-Allah I look forward to seeing everyone again in a month's time.

Until then, I will be away from blogging. I hope that I will be able to share my experience when I return insya-Allah.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A very meaningful week

Last week was the National Organ Donation Awareness Week 2010. It was a week to remember, at least for me. I attended five of the many events held in conjunction of this inaugural remembrance of those who have donated their organs in saving other people's lives.

I have been involved with organ donation campaigns from 1999 when I was working at the Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (IKIM). My involvement started off as a work assignment, and hence I approached organ donation in a very academic way. However, over the years, my conviction on the importance of organ donation has increased, more so when I met Muhammad Fikri Norazmi in 2005. His story is well-known, just Google up his name and you will get more information on him.

Since then, even after leaving IKIM, I am still involved with organ donation programmes out of sheer interest. It is no longer a work-related assignment for me, rather it is now a cause that I am voluntarily involved in.

During the launch of the National Organ Donation Awareness Week at Taman Tasik Titiwangsa by the Hon. Minister of Health, I was caught by surprise when I was presented with a certificate of appreciation conferred by the ministry. I was informed initially that I was to receive the certificate on behalf of the organisation that I am currently attached to, but when I got there, I realised that I was one of three individuals being acknowledged by the ministry for our involvement in organ donation programmes. It goes without saying that I am humbled by this acknowledgement and would like to record my sincerest gratitude to the National Transplant Resource Centre and the Ministry of Health.

On a personal basis, my involvement has been nothing more than just to provide information on the permissibility of organ donation in particular from the Islamic perspective. This is nothing compared to the sacrifice made by donor families in allowing for their loved ones' organs to be harvested in order to save the lives of total strangers who are in need. I am fortunate to be able to partake in "Bicara Hati" which is the climax to the National Organ Donation Awareness Week held at the National Heart Institute (IJN) last Saturday. The programme gathered nearly 50 donor families from all over the country as well some of the organ recipients who have benefited from organ donation.

"Bicara Hati" was, to say the least, an emotional tribute to the donor families. At the lobby of IJN, whilst rain was pouring heavily outside, donor family members shared stories of their loved ones, while recipients expressed their appreciation to the organ donors. It was difficult not to shed a tear that very meaningful afternoon. The programme ended with a tribute to the late Winnie Chen, who herself was waiting for a heart, but instead lost her life waiting. Instead, she became a donor herself.

I would like to go on record in applauding the Ministry of Health and the National Transplant Resource Centre for organising this awareness week. It has been announced that the week will be an annual event. I hope that in the coming years, the week will be filled with meaningful programmes that can touch people's hearts in creating awareness and understanding on the importance of organ donation.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Small gestures make the difference

I was feeling somewhat down today. The burden on my shoulders is still there, weighing itself on me. When I arrived at the university for my last lecture of the semester, I was still very much feeling under the weather.

As I was walking on the faculty's grounds, I came across a couple of my ex-students. When they saw me, they smiled from afar while nodding their heads. Their smiles, which to me came from their hearts, somehow succeeded in bringing a tinge of happiness.

Not long after that, upon performing the Asar prayer at the surau, I crossed paths with another ex-student as I was leaving the surau. He stopped to shake my hands and asked me how I was doing. We chatted for a while, which is quite strange at first because we never actually chatted before. But the chat in itself was very sincere that it felt like we were good friends.

I went to my class feeling somewhat better. And I managed to deliver my lecture on an upbeat note. After the class, usually the students would be rushing home, since my class ends at 6:50 p.m. However, today was very different. Seven of them stayed back and came to see me after the lecture. We talked about the subject I was teaching. They mentioned that they were enlightened by the subject. As pure science students, having an understanding and appreciation towards the history of the development of science serve as a motivation for them to pursue their respective courses with greater rigour. Truth be told, I felt a sense of satisfaction with what these students told me. At least, to my mind, they have managed to learn something from the subject, not just taking it for the sake of fulfilling their course requirement.

At the end of the day, these three gestures from my current and former students really lighten up my otherwise depressing day. I went home feeling that I have indeed done something right, that I have contributed something to others.

And that is indeed a great feeling.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Aching shoulders

There is an old saying: Promises are like the full moon, if they are not kept at once, they diminish day by day. How true! If promises given to me can be exchanged with money, I would probably be the richest person in the world right now. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Frankly, only Allah knows how I feel at the moment. My shoulders ache as if I am carrying a huge burden. The burden may not be physical, but it is there nonetheless. I feel very tired and stressed, truth be told. Tired of waiting for promises to be realised. Stressed to be kept in the dark..

My only solace is by turning myself closer to Allah. I find myself in peace each time I answer the call for the daily prayers. And I am indeed looking forward to finding peace for my mind and soul in Makkah. To all who have prayed for my safe journey to Makkah, please accept my sincerest gratitude. Insya-Allah I will also pray for my true friends when I am there.

I am grateful to Allah for this opportunity to perform my haj at this age. At the same time, I am also grateful for the many signs that He has shown me this past few weeks. There are blessings behind everything that has happened. While we may not necessarily see these blessings immediately, I believe that we should always be thankful for them.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

'Abdurrahman Bin 'Auf

Out of the many companions of the Prophet Muhammad SAW, perhaps the one most well-known for his business acumen was 'Abdurrahman Bin 'Auf. He was known to be wealthy, even when he had to start from scratch after the hijrah to Madinah al-Munawwarah from Makkah al-Mukarramah.

It was recorded in history that upon his arrival in Madinah, 'Abdurrahman Bin 'Auf was assisted by an Ansar who provided him a loan for him to start his business. In just a short period of time, he became very successful and he paid up his debt almost immediately. He was not one who liked to have debts.

He was known to sell, among other things, camels. Interestingly he sold camels at their cost price. And yet he was able to make profit from trading camels. When people asked him his secret, he told them that he did not gain anything from selling camels. His profit, in actual effect, came from selling camels' leashes. Everyone who bought camels would require leashes, lest the camels escaped.

Such ingenuity is indeed something that we can learn if we want to take up business. 'Abdurrahman Bin 'Auf to my mind is an examplary businessman. Today's Muslims can learn a lot from him. He was honest, hardworking and had high integrity. He did not resort to cheating or bribing people. He was also very prudent.

If today's Muslim businessmen can be half the man 'Abdurrahman Bin 'Auf was, I would imagine the impact would be tremendous. But I guess that is not how things are. It is unfortunate that those who go into business have no good sense when it comes to running their businesses. Some set their eyes on big projects without an inkling as to how to deliver. Some get big projects, and the first thing that they do is to buy luxury cars. Some become so spendthrift that they ignore basic things in business like planning and budgeting.

Of course, I can just write on this. I am no businessman. I am just an observer who jots down what I see, and nothing more than that. I can only pray that those who do go into businesses have a good sense to be like 'Abdurrahman Bin 'Auf.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

River of denial

A few weeks back, I was talking to a friend. He relayed to me a piece of information. I find the information somewhat difficult to believe. As such, I asked him how reliable that piece of information is. He said, it is reliable because it came from the source.

Some time later, I found out that the information relayed to me was untrue, or more accurately, did not materialise into reality. When I next met my friend, I asked him again about the information he relayed to me.

To my surprise, he denied ever relaying me said information. He said I could have probably obtained the information from the source first hand.

I was taken aback, to say the least.

Firstly, I don't think I am THAT forgetful. As far as I know, my memory still functions well. I seriously doubt that I am losing my mind.

Secondly, I highly doubt that I got the information from the main source because my contact with the main source is very limited. I don't think I can get two different people mixed up easily.

Thirdly, there is absolutely no way anyone else could have relayed to me the said information.

This incident got me questioning myself for a few days. Did I really forget and got people mixed up? After a few days of soul-searching and thinking, I am very sure I did not. I am very certain of what happened and what was said.

I only wonder why my friend was quick to deny what he said to me several weeks earlier.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Peace of mind

In this modern life, everyone seems to be living in a ratrace society, always seemingly rushing. No wonder people seem stressed out.

I must admit that of late, I am feeling somewhat stressed. Anxiety, frustration, unhappiness and disappointment are probably the main contributors to my stress these days. From my past experience, one way to eliminate stress is to eliminate the factors contributing to it in the first place. I have identified the source of my stress. And I will find a way to eliminate the source so that I can have a peace of mind.

I will do so, insya-Allah, upon returning from Makkah. I will pray for guidance from Allah SWT when in the Holy Land. Hopefully, I can make the right decision come December.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Raise me up

Earlier this evening, my two boys sat on my lap. I was playing the song "Raise Me Up" on my laptop. As I watched them listening to the song, tear drops began to gather in my eyes. I can only pray to Allah that I be given the strength and health to raise my sons to the very best of my capability providing them what they need.

And most of all, I pray to Allah that I can be a good father to them.

Inform and being informed

When I did my MBA way back in 1996, one of the things that I learned was the importance of information availability in an organisation. Accurate information provided timely, effectively and efficiently to staff members would help in avoiding speculations and uncertainties. Information flow from the management to the staff also increases transparency in the organisation. At the same time, members in the organisation will also be able to give feedback and input. Not all things that come from the top is the best option. Unfortunately, many at the top tend to forget or ignore this fact.

Information in an organisation can be disseminated and discussed with ease in regularly scheduled meetings. When meetings are rarely done, people do not know what is being planned and implemented. Again this can lead to speculations and uncertainties. One of the most cherished experience I have is when I was serving the Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (IKIM). I joined in 1998, and with my promotion in 2000, I began attending the Management Meeting which was scheduled monthly. Despite his very busy schedule, the then-Chairman, Tan Sri (now Tun) Ahmad Sarji Abdul Hamid never failed to chair these management meetings. The meetings would start promptly at 9:00 a.m. and will take about three hours or so. Many things are discussed and threshed out efficiently. As an experienced person in administration, he managed the meetings according to the agenda and minutes, never straying away into non-related matters. He was always punctual. (As a side note, I believe punctuality is a sign of quality of a person's leadership skill).

Some people regard meetings as a waste of time. In my humble opinion, meetings are a waste of time only when the person chairing them do not manage the meetings well. Also, it will not help if a decision made in a meeting can be overturned outside the meeting. If this happens, then there is no point having a meeting. Nevertheless, meetings are important to organisations. Failure to have them at regular intervals would result in the breakdown of information flow.

Another way to disseminate information is to send e-mails to members in the organisation. As a student and part-time lecturer at Universiti Malaya, I notice that the current Vice Chancellor is very good at this. He would send e-mails to notify on new measures or policies, as well as to congratulate members of the university who have done well in research (to take an example). His messages can also be found on his Facebook page as well as the university's Facebook page.

So, really there is no reason for breakdown of information in this day and age. The avenue for dissemination is there, whether the more traditional form of having meetings, or the more modern form of utilising information and communication technology. It is unfortunate if, even with all these means, information breakdown still takes place. To me, there is no such thing as privileged information in this era of the open sky, in particular when it comes to running an organisation.

The success of an organisation hinges on informed decisions being made transparently, and the success of disseminating information to staff members. As an analogy, if an organisation is likened to the human body, just imagine what happens when the brain fails to communicate with the rest of the body. No matter how powerful or good the brain is, if the rest of the body does not function as a result of failure in communication, then the body itself will eventually fail.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Broken vase

I was surfing the Internet when I came across the following quote:
Trust is like a vase. Once it's broken, though you can fix it, the vase will never be the same again.
I find the quote very apt. Any idea who said or wrote that?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Paying what is due

One of my personal aims in life is to rid myself of debts. To date, I have only three "major investments" namely my two houses and my car.

The first house that I bought is a bad investment. The developer ran away, and the buyers have to finish the project themselves. I bought this house shortly after getting married and I have more or less given up on moving into the house. I recently completed the construction of the house, and I plan to sell it upon returning from Makkah. (Advanced notice: If anyone is interested in buying a bungalow house located at Batu 14 Hulu Langat, leave a message here).

The other house that I bought is the one I am staying in now. This is the place I call home. And I consider this a very good investment.

The car that I own is bought because of its functionality, more than anything else. With two young boys and with my parents staying with me, an 8-seater comes in handy especially when travelling back to our hometown up north.

I hope with the sale of the house in Hulu Langat, I will be able to lighten one of my major financial commitments. The loan for the car will be settled in the next few years, so I am not too concerned about that. So, that leaves me only with the loan for my current home, which I have no qualms about.

I do not know about other people but I am one person who fret when I have debts. As much as possible, I would like to settle my debts as quickly as possible. As long as I know I owe someone money, I feel that there is a huge burden on my shoulder. And the satisfaction comes when that burden is lifted by paying back what I owe.

I have a friend who does not give out loans. To him, money is a very sensitive issue. He would rather people call him stingy, then quarrelling with his friends about money they owe him. That is why he never loans money to anyone.

At the end of the spectrum, I have another friend who is ever too kind. He never hesitates to lend money to friends who come to him. His generosity, more often than not, leaves him in a predicament. People go to him when they need his help. When it's time for people to pay up, he often feels that he has to beg for the money they owe him. He once said to me, "I know how a beggar feels. The only difference is, a beggar gets what he begs for, while in my case, I don't get what is mine in the first place."

Whatever it is, we have to remember that whatever that we owe others (whether financial institutions or friends or relatives), we have the responsibility to pay them back. Personally I do not believe in living a lavish life if I still owe others money. A few years back, when things were difficult for me, a few friends came to my aid. I will never forget their kindness. As soon as things got better, the first order of business for me was to settle whatever debt I have with them. And to this very day, our friendship has been strong and getting stronger with the passing months.

I believe that true friends would help one another when one is in need. At the same time, the true test of friendship also lies in the ability and willingness of the friend in need to pay back his friend's kindness when the time comes. Don't go looking for the friend only when we are in need. We should also look up for the friend when we are doing well. And worse still, don't make the friend feels like a beggar.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Taken for granted


More often than not, we tend to take things for granted. We also take other people for granted. And most of all, we don't realise that we take Allah for granted.

Just food for thought in this very short entry.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Preparing for a spiritual journey

I believe that a human being has three components which are interlinked with one another. The components are the physical, the mental (incorporating the intellectual and the emotional), and finally the spiritual. As a Muslim, I am of the opinion that each of these components has to be looked after and taken care of.

Most people will probably find looking after the physical well-being as the most obvious. This is because we can sense the physical component of ourselves using the five senses. That is why when we get hungry, we eat. We drink when we are thirsty. And if we are unwell, we will go for medical treatment.

The mental well-being is perhaps slightly more difficult to look after. The intellectual aspect of the mental well-being can be looked after by enriching ourselves with knowledge. The emotional aspect of the emotional well-being must be taken care of as well so that we would be mentally healthy, and not mentally disturbed.

The spiritual component is without doubt the most difficult to tend to. Some deny the existence of this component because it could not be scientifically observed. Nonetheless, as a Muslim, I hold that this component does exist even though we could not quantify it scientifically.

This spiritual component has to be continuously strengthened, and this is done through the many acts of worship prescribed in Islam. On a daily basis, the spiritual component is strengthened five times a day through the compulsory daily prayer. On an annual basis, this spiritual component goes through a month of fasting in Ramadhan where one faces many tests which, when overcome successfully, would increase the level of piety.

Another act of worship that strengthens the spiritual component comes in the form of the pilgrimage to Makkah. This is made compulsory on all Muslims who can afford to do so once in their lives. Many Muslims look forward to this pilgrimage. It is an experience that many cherish. And many who have gone to Makkah longed to return again and again.

Alhamdulillah, I have received my calling to go to Makkah this year. This is something I have been looking forward to for the past year. I pray that this spiritual journey will help in rejuvenating and strengthening my faith, insha-Allah.

Friday, September 17, 2010

National Organ Donation Awareness Week 2010

This is an advanced notification on an event that will be held for the first time in Malaysia. Beginning 16th of October 2010, the National Transplant Resource Centre (NTRC) will spearhead a week-long event commemorating organ donors and their family members. The inaugural event - the National Organ Donation Awareness Week 2010 - will see the participation of various government departments and agencies, NGOs, media players, individuals and others in promoting organ donation.

Many events will be held, and I will provide this information once the details have been finalised. So, stay tuned for the information. And make a date with the National Organ Donation Awareness Week 2010.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Shying away from blogging

A writer with few words. That is perhaps a paradox.

I know I have not been writing as much in the blogosphere for the past few months. It's not that I don't have things to write about, rather I just chose not to blog. Oft-times I believe it is best to keep your thoughts to yourself, rather than airing it in public. Blogs, and now social networking channels like Facebook and Twitter, allow one to be expressive. Just how expressive should one be depends on the person.

There are those who just love attention, who would blog every day or every other day, and who would update his/her Facebook status, and who would Tweet, if he/she sneezes or coughs or sees a cat running across the street. Not that I am saying that is bad or wrong, but I don't think we have to be overexposed in that sense. People don't really want to know every second or minute of your life. I believe there are things that we should just keep to ourselves.

There are those who can be narcissistic in the cyberworld. It's all about I, me and myself, as if he/she is the only one who matters in the cyber-community. Ironically, these are people who use the social networking channels to highlight their own selves.

Of course, there are many genuine users of blogs, Facebook and Twitter. I enjoy visiting and reading blogs with sincere entries, and not ego-polishing stories of one's self. I cherish people who uses Facebook status updates to wish his/her friends well on their birthdays, anniversaries, festivities and important occasions.

I think at the end of the day, it goes back to one's intention when using these Internet tools. These tools are useful, hence we should utilise it wisely. Perhaps, that is why I have been shying away from blogging. I will share my thoughts when and if they are worth sharing. Otherwise, I'll just keep them to myself.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Gathering the strength

This past couple of months, I have been focusing a lot on my thesis writing. As I am not a full time doctorate student, the challenge is indeed big. Most people who do their doctorates would do it full time. The idea is to minimise distraction from the study itself.

I chose not to be a full time student because I am not on any scholarship whatsoever. It was the same case when I did my master of science some years back. I decided to pursue my postgraduate studies because I wanted to and to prove myself that I can indeed do it. It's not for some monetary gains in the form of promotion or position. In fact, where I work, there is no clause to say that one will get a raise upon completion of studies at a higher level.

The greatest challenge for me is not really the research part nor the writing part. I am thankful for the years of exposure at the Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia that helped me a great deal on these aspects. My greatest challenge is to balance my time with the various chores that I have to do.

My day job requires me to focus on the work at Yayasan Ilmuwan which involves organisational management, research and academic writing. On top of this, I am also a part time lecturer at Universiti Malaya. I also sit on the research ethics committee of Universiti Teknologi MARA that vets the ethical aspect of research proposals undertaken at the university. Aside from this, I am also a budding science fiction writer who is trying hard to complete the second part of my Transgenesis, dare I say it, "saga". Dewan Bahasa and Pustaka who recently found out about my novels (which were published by other publishers) has asked me for a couple of short stories for their magazines. And of course, as a husband, father and son, I have my family obligations that I cannot neglect.

With all these, I try to find time on weeknights to write my thesis. I am quite pleased with the progress thus far. Considering the fact that I am not a full time student and I have just started my sixth semester, the progress I have made in terms of thesis-writing is quite significant. Truth be told, most of the times I wonder where I get the strength from. It is tiring and exhausting, especially mentally, but the drive to get things done is always there to keep me going.

I am actually putting myself to task to ensure that the thesis is completed in this semester itself. Tall order? I hope not.

I am praying hard that I be given the strength, health and perseverance to see this through.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A writer's pain - Part Deux

Above: Comparison of the swollen right index finger and the non-swollen left index finger

After 12 days, my right index finger is still swollen, although the swelling has decreased a bit and the pain has somewhat lessened. I went to another doctor last Thursday, and I was given another round of antibiotics and painkiller. So far, this round of medication seems to be working.

On Thursday, I was at the Grand Dorsett Hotel in Subang Jaya to present a paper at an international conference organised by the Malaysian Society for Transplantation (MST). The conference was basically attended by the medical fraternity. A couple of doctors I know who noticed my swelling advised me to get an X-ray done if this round of antibiotics does not work.

We'll see how it goes, as the last antibiotic is due tomorrow morning.

Monday, July 05, 2010

A writer's pain

Last Thursday afternoon, my right index finger started to swell. At first, I dismissed it as something temporary. Later that evening, the swelling got bigger, and the pain got worse.

On Friday, the swelling seemed to stop but my right index finger, in comparison to my left index finger, was almost twice the size. My wife pestered me to go to the doctor, but I refused, again dismissing the swelling by saying that it would go away on its own.
[Important tip: The next time the wife gives an advice, just heed the advice].

By this time, I realised it was difficult for me to type (although I could still do so at a slower rate by replacing the index finger with the middle finger). It was even more difficult for me to operate the mouse.

On Saturday, I drove back to Kulim which is almost a five-hour drive from Kuala Lumpur. Fortunately, I was able to hold the steering without pain. And on Sunday, I drove back to Kuala Lumpur, again without much pain. But when I got back to Kuala Lumpur, the swelling got bigger and a lot more painful. By 6 o'clock, I finally gave in to my wife's insistance that I should see a doctor. I went, and the doctor gave me antibiotics and something for the swelling.

Today, I went to work with the swelling on my finger. The pain seems to be getting worse despite the medication I am taking. I found it hard to write using a pen. It was also difficult to eat using cutlery. In fact, anything that involves gripping is painful and difficult.

I will wait till tomorrow with the hope that things will improve. Otherwise, I'll go see the doctor again.

On a side note, this incident is "enlightening". It is a wonder that a finger, which we often take for granted, is really important in life. Only when we have difficulty in using it that we realise its importance.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Cog in the wheel



Cog in the wheel. And a rusty one at that.

That's how I have been feeling for the past two months.

Go figure...

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Those letters P, H and D

Knowledge is an asset to anyone. A person with knowledge is a person who is respected and looked up in a society.

Having knowledge is one thing. To brag to have knowledge is another thing altogether. It is very unfortunate to have people who claim to be knowledgeable, and yet these very same people have quite an arrogance and ego to match. To them, they are the only ones who are correct and that everyone else is wrong, or worse still everyone else is an "idiot". Over the years, I have had the misfortune of meeting such people.

To me, the more knowledge one has, the more humble he/she should be.

Another "species" of "knowledgeable people" I have met are those who are so into titles and awards. I have met those who insist that all the letters they get from their various degrees be written at the end of their names. I have also met those who, with their professorships and PhDs, would be willing to go all out lobbying for datukships and honorifics. And when they do get their datukships, we would then have to be very careful in ensuring which comes first, the professorship or the datukship.

Again, at the end of the day, for me, the titles are immaterial. It is what they can contribute to the betterment of the society that is more important. And that is what really counts.

Then, there is this other unfortunate type who claims to have PhD, and yet in reality they don't. A doctorate, to these people, is like an accessory one wears in society. One can buy or one can claim to have one even when one has not finished the process of obtaining the doctorate. These are very pathetic people, in my eyes.

A few years back, when I was still working at IKIM, I met a rather well-known motivator with a penchant for bright-coloured jacket and tie. Everyone calls him "doctor" referring of course to his PhD. During tea break, we sat on the same table, and had the opportunity to chat. I asked him where he got his PhD from. He answered, "UK." Of course, that got me excited because I was there before, and I queried further, "From which university?" He threw me a university's name that I have never heard of before. Innocently, I said, "I was in the UK for five years, and I have never heard of this university. Is it new? Is it in England or Scotland or Wales?" This motivator suddenly became pale-faced. He looked very uncomfortable with my questions. He just said, "Oh, it's one of the universities in one of those smaller islands under UK." I was like, "Yeah, right." His answer was far from convincing, and lucky for him, he was "rescued" by another person at the table who changed the topic of conversation. A couple of years back, there was an uproar in the media when it was revealed that this motivator was one of those who "bought" their PhDs online.

There are also those who actually did study for their PhD, but for one reason or another, did not complete their studies. Yet, they have the cheekiness to use the title "Dr" before their names.

In my line of work, I am fortunate to have met many true knowledgeable people. These are people who have tremendous knowledge in their field, and yet they are very humble and approachable. They do not show off their academic achievements, and they definitely do not go after honorifics and titles. Fine, if people give them honorifics and titles, that's another issue, but they would never buy or lobby for such worldly things.

To me, all these serve as a reminder so that I will not forget who I am. I am currently doing my PhD, but I am doing it out of sheer interest, and also as a challenge to myself. I will not gain anything materially after obtaining my PhD. It is just for self-satisfaction, and hopefully I can contribute something back to society after this. That is my aim and prayer. I hope the process of writing my thesis, although far from easy, will go smoothly, insya-Allah.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

This is what I do when I am stressed

A few friends asked me why I don't look stressed when I have so many things to do.

The way I look at it is that I do feel stressed. Most of the times, I don't show it to others. Those who are close to me know when I am stressed (or angry or upset).

I guess my secret - if one can call it that - is that whenever I feel stressed (or angry or upset), I would seek refuge in my own world. That world is a world that I "created" where I can seek refuge from the real world. That world is the wonderful world of books.

Books - academic or fictional - to me, offer me escapism. There, I would retreat and unwind. I would interact with words, and characters, and thoughts, and ideas. More often than not, these books offer me one form of solution or another, to the things that stress me out in the first place.

I don't know, it may sound weird to some, but in essence that is what I do when I am stressed. So, now you know.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A rock and a hard place

I know, I know.

I haven't been blogging of late. And this blog seems more like a travel blog than anything else. It's not that I don't want to blog and pour my thoughts out. Instead, I don't feel like blogging. When I blog, I tend to write things matter-of-factly. And my thoughts these past few weeks have been so cynical and downright blunt, that I felt that I have to refrain from sharing my thoughts. I don't want to cross the line between professional opinion and personal opinion. I wanted to let things cool down a bit.

Well, things are quiet lately. But that doesn't mean that I am happy with some things. There are certain days that I feel like I am trapped between a rock and a hard place.

I will soldier on nonetheless. And given the opportunity, I will blog.

The ink in my pen has yet to dry. There are still plenty left to write about.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Day 17: Trip to Japan (20 April 2010)

It rained again today. The only item on my agenda for today was the dinner reception with the Prime Minister at the New Otani Hotel organised by Yayasan Pelajaran MARA. The Prime Minister had been in Tokyo for an official two-day visit to Japan.

The rest of the day was spent in the hotel room. Truth be told, I had been exhausted from this working trip. So, I took the opportunity on this relatively quiet day to rest.

During the dinner later that evening, I had the opportunity to meet again with a number of students whom I had met before from all over Japan. It was great to be able to see most of them again in person, and to be able to extend my gratitude for their co-operation and assistance throughout my stay in Japan.

I am personally very happy to have met their acquaintance. I believe that they will lead a successful life in the years to come.

It has indeed been a unique journey for me. These past 17 days have been special, educational and an eye-opener. As I often like to say whenever I go to other parts of the world: I listen, I watch, I think, I speak, I write...

Now I would like to add two more items to that list: I experience, I learn.

I will be leaving in the morning of the 21 April 2010. I can't wait to get home to the people I love. But most definitely, at the same time, I leave with fond memories of Japan.

Sayonara, Japan.

Day 16: Trip to Japan (19 April 2010)

The weather was beautiful today. The sun was out. The temperature was mild. This was perhaps the best condition I have had throughout my trip to Japan thus far.

Two university visits were on the cards for today. Yayasan Ilmuwan's executive chairman, Dr Khairul 'Azmi Mohamad led a five-man delegation to Saitama University and Takushoku University. The others in the delegation were Encik Mazilan Musa (executive director and project director of the Japanese project), Encik Zahari Mohamad (head of the education development unit), Encik Ahmad Zaki Udah (head of the research and development unit), and myself.

To get to Saitama University, we opted to take the shinkansen from Tokyo to Omiya with a brief stop at Ueno. The shinkansen that we took was the ASAMA Superexpress. The journey was also brief as it took only 25 minutes on the bullet train. After arriving at Omiya eki, we took a taxi to Saitama University where we were met by Dr Tachibana Masahiko who is vice chairman of the Malaysia Project Committee, and Dr Akira Nagasawa, a professor of chemistry at the university. We were taken on a tour to a number of laboratories in the university and were briefed on a number of on-going research projects being carried out there.

After Saitama University, our next destination was Takushoku University. Again we boarded a shinkansen, this time the MAX Toki Express from Omiya and we alighted at Ueno. The journey was only 19 minutes. From Ueno eki, we took a taxi to Takushoku University to pay a courtesy visit to Mr Fukuda Katsuyuki, the managing director of the university.

It was already nearly 2 p.m. when we were done at the university. It was decided that we head for Ginza for lunch. After lunch, I left for the hotel to do some work that needed to be done. The rest of the afternoon was quite free. Later that evening, I went again to Zauo to have dinner. Somehow, I seem to enjoy the atmosphere at this restaurant. Otherwise, I wouldn't have gone there again and again.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Day 15: Trip to Japan (18 April 2010)

The weather on this day was better. It wasn't cold as it was cool. It made for a refreshing change, and suited well for our trip to Nagaoka. Nagaoka is about 270 km to the north-west of Tokyo, and is located in the Niigata Prefecture. This is the furthest north that I would be in this trip to Japan.

Before leaving for Nagaoka, we checked out of the Shinjuku Washington Hotel and checked in at the Imperial Hotel located at Chiyoda-ku. This was because we will be joined by another five from Yayasan Ilmuwan. They would be arriving from Hiroshima later that evening.

After checking in, we took a train from Yurakucho eki to Tokyo eki. There, we boarded the 09:28 MAX (Multi Amenity Express) Toki Express shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagaoka. What is unique about the MAX Toki Express shinkansen is that it is a double-decker shinkansen. The shinkansen journey takes about 1 hour 38 minutes, with brief stops at Ueno, Omiya, Echigo-Yuzawa and Urasa stations.
The view on the way to Nagaoka is picturesque. The mountains are still covered in snow. There are paddy fields along the shinkansen tracks. Perhaps there is something special about the rural life in Japan. It gives a certain degree of calmness as compared to the hectic life of Tokyo or other big cities.
Upon arrival at Nagaoka, we headed by taxi to Yukyuzan Park (picture above) where the Malaysian community there was having their hanami. There was nearly 70 Malaysians who were there. After meeting up with the students, we took the 15:24 Max Toki Express shinkansen back to Tokyo, with brief stops at Echigo-Yuzawa, Takasaki, Omiya and Ueno before arriving at our destination at four past five.

We then took the train to Yurakucho which is the nearest to the hotel. The rest of Yayasan Ilmuwan's delegation arrived at the hotel a couple of hours later. Later, we had dinner at the Aladdin restaurant located at Roppongi at Minato-ku.

Day 14: Trip to Japan (17 April 2010)

The temperature was the coldest yet. I didn't actually have any plans to go anywhere on this day. Initially we planned to meet the students at Nagaoka but the plan was postponed to the next day at the request of the students. Because of this, I opted to just stay at the hotel since the temperature wasn't really conducive for outdoor activities. Zaki meanwhile attended a meeting at the embassy regarding the upcoming visit of the Prime Minister.

Around 2 p.m., I decided to go out for lunch. I did an Internet search and found a halal Indian restaurant called "Taz Mahal". I had rice, mutton curry, chicken tandoori and masala tea for a very reasonable price.

Later that evening, Zaki and I decided to have dinner again at "Zauo". This time we had kani korokke, oebi tenpura, sashimi and salmon shabu-shabu. Not much can be said about this day aside from the fact that it really felt like winter.

Day 13: Trip to Japan (16 April 2010)

We went for Friday prayer at the Tokyo Mosque at Shibuya-ko. The official name for the masjid is Tokyo Camii and Turkish Cultural Center. The masjid was founded by the Turkish community in 1938, hence the distinctive Turkish architecture.

After the prayer, we went to Akihabara to look for some souvenirs before leaving for Ueno. This day had so far been wet and cold, with the heavy rain and winter-like temperature. I was starting to feel slightly unwell, most probably because of exhaustion rather than the cold weather. Zaki suggested that I rested for the day at the hotel while he went to see the students studying at Meiji University.

Later in the evening, we had supper (for Zaki) and dinner (for me) at a Japanese restaurant located in our hotel. The restaurant, which is called "Zauo", has a very interesting theme. In the centre of the restaurant is a structure built to look like a boat, and underneath it is a pond. The boat-like structure is where patrons would sit to dine, while at the same time, patrons can choose to do some fishing. If patrons manage to catch a fish or a lobster, then it will be served at a discounted price.

Another interesting thing about this restaurant is that it serves only seafood prepared in many ways. You can have it raw (sushi or sashimi), you can have it grilled, you can have it served as tenpura or korukke, or you can have it steamed, or you can have it boiled (shabu-shabu). The price was not too steep, and I think it is quite reasonable. That night, we had kani or crab korokke and oebi (prawn) tenpura.

The temperature for the night continued to be cold. I received news from the students at Hachioji that snow was falling there. In fact, a few friends from Malaysia also informed me that the news about snow in Japan was featured in the news. Apparently this was the first time in 40 years that snow actually came down in April. There was no snow in Shinjuku though, but frankly I wasn't complaining.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Day 12: Trip to Japan (15 April 2010)

My PhD supervisor have always told me that Tokyo is a good place to buy good second hand books at affordable prices. The well-known place for this purpose is Kanda. However, after doing some searching in the Internet, I found that the shop that has a good collection is located in another area called Ebisu. The shop is called "Good Day Books" and is owned by an American man from California. He gets his supply mainly from the United States, and brings the books to Japan to be sold at his second hand shop.

The bookshop is just a stone's throw away from Ebisu eki. It was at first quite a task to find the kind of books that I was looking for. But when I found what I liked, I felt like I didn't want to leave. If it was up to me, I had wanted to pick up a lot of the books. I had to refrain myself though, limiting myself only to those titles particularly relevant to my doctorate research. In the end, I bought five books: Modern Science & Human Values, The Philosophies of Science, The Ethical Brain, The Turn to Ethics and Science, Faith and Religion.

From Ebisu, we went to Akihabara which is famous for its electrical and electronic goods. Akihabara is also known to many as the "Electric Town". Akihabara is heaven for those who are into electrical and electronic goods, including cameras.
Later, we left Akihabara for Shinjuku, and from Shinjuku we took the Odakyu line which heads to Tokaidaigaku-mae eki to meet up with the students studying at the Shonan campus of Tokai University. It was quite an experience getting on a train during rush hour. The train was packed to the brim, in a manner of speaking.
Without realising it initially, we actually got on the wrong train. We were supposed to take the one heading towards Odawara (the Odakyu Odawara line), instead we boarded the one heading for Fujisawa (the Odakyu Enoshima line). Fortunately, Zaki realised the mistake not long after the intersection at Sagami-Ono eki that separates the Odakyu Enoshima line from the Odakyu Odawara line. We got off the train at Chuo Rinken eki, boarded another train going back to Sagami-Ono eki, alighted there and boarded the right train heading to Tokaidaigaku-mae eki.
We finally arrived at Tokaidaigaku-mae eki around a quarter past eight in the evening. After meeting and having dinner with the students (picture above), we boarded the last train back to Shinjuku which was the 23:29 train. By the time we arrived at Shinjuku eki, it was already half past midnight. What was interesting to me was the number of people still waiting to board the train at this late hour.

Outside the eki, Shinjuku (and I believe, most part of Tokyo) is very much alive. There are a lot of people outside despite the peculiarly cold temperature. It felt very much like winter, and not spring. Zaki and I walked back to the hotel from the station. For me, I was able to see the night life in the vicinity of Shinjuku, and it is colourful and vibrant to say the least.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Day 11: Trip to Japan (14 April 2010)

Another travelling day, this time from Osaka back to Tokyo. We checked out of the hotel and took a taxi to a place called Sakura no Torinuke in the city of Osaka. The place is actually a 560 metre-long pathway lined up wit 324 sakura trees. There are 127 species of sakura here, including rare ones like green-coloured sakura. This happened to be the first day that Sakura no Turinuke is opened for the year. As such, there were a lot of visitors to the place when we got there.
The weather was good and the sky was clear, but it was slightly cold because of the wind. After walking from one end of Sakura no Turinuke to another, we took another taxi to Shin-Osaka eki to board the shinkansen to Tokyo. Distance from Osaka to Tokyo is approximately 550 km, and on the Hikari Superexpress, the journey is just under three hours. There were quite a few stops - seven to be exact - before we reached Tokyo. The stops were at Kyoto, Maibara, Gifu-Hashima, Nagoya, Odawara, Shin-Yokohama and Shinagawa.

I missed the view of Mount Fuji when travelling from Tokyo to Kyoto previously. This time I made sure that I did not miss it. The famous mountain can be seen just as we left Odawara eki. The sight of the mountain is amazing with the tip still covered in snow. I was not able to capture any photos as the shinkansen was moving too fast for me to snap a good photo of the mountain. Nonetheless, having being able to view the mountain from afar in person, albeit briefly, was good enough for me.

We arrived in Tokyo at ten past three in the afternoon. We then took train to Shinjuku eki, before checking in at the Shinjuku Washington Hotel. Later that evening, we met up with a group of students from two Tokyo-based universities, namely Tokyo University of Science and Tokyo Denki University.

Day 10: Trip to Japan (13 April 2010)

The weather was better today. The sky is slightly cloudy, but at least it was not raining. The temperature was just nice, not too hot and not too cold. The tenth day was a relatively quiet day. I did not have any appointments on this day. Zaki, on the other hand, had a dinner engagement with another colleague, Zahari who had just arrived in Osaka from Malaysia a couple of days earlier, and a lecturer from Kinki University.

I was more or less slightly exhausted from the travelling in previous days. So the slight change of pace was a welcome one. The only thing that I did was to walk towards Osaka Castle from the hotel. The walk took some twenty minutes. The relatively nice weather made the walking relaxing.

Hopefully the weather will continue to be good in the coming days.

Day 9: Trip to Japan (12 April 2010)

The phrase "wet, wet, wet" came to mind on this ninth day. It rained from morning till night, almost continuously. In any case, it was time to bid farewell to Okayama. Our next destination was Osaka, which among others is well-known for its castle (above).

We took the shinkansen from Okayama eki to Shin-Osaka eki. The distance is around 175 km and took about 51 minutes on the Hikari Rail Superexpress. The shinkansen made two brief stops at Himeji and Shin-Kobe.

We arrived at Shin-Osaka eki, and then we took a train to Osaka eki before changing to a local line towards Osakajokoen eki. From there, we walked in the rain towards the New Otani Hotel before checking in.

Later that evening, it was still raining heavily. In spite of the weather, we met up with students studying at Kinki University. A lot of my friends actually queried about the name. It can give a different connotation to those not familiar with Japan. The Kansai region, where Osaka Prefecture is located, is also known as the Kinki region. Kyoto and Osaka are both located on the Kinki plain.

Sometimes, a word can sound the same but can give a different meaning in another language.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Nihon-go wakarimasen

At times, I feel like Bill Murray's character, Bob Harris, in the movie "Lost in Translation". English or ae-go is not that widely spoken here in Japan. Although awareness on English has increased, not many Japanese are fluent in the language. With the exception of hotel and airport staff, I have yet to meet others who are confident enough to use the language.

On the other hand, my grasp on the Japanese language (nihon-go) is rudimentary at best. I know only basic words and simple phrases. Sometimes I regret for not having the time to follow the nihon-go classes held at my office some time back.

I am fortunate that a colleague from the office, Ahmad Zaki, is accompanying me on this trip. He was a student in Japan and therefore, pretty comfortable with nihon-go. As such, I leave him to do most of the talking in this country.

In Tokyo at least, major places like hotels, train stations, shops and roads already have English translations. I give the Japanese credit for taking such an effort because it helps for gaikokujin like me. Having said that, I do find some errors made (small though they may be) to be quite amusing.

At a florist shop in a Tokyo hotel, the word "florist" is spelt "frolist".

At the same hotel in Tokyo, at its restaurant the word "water" is spelt "watter".

In a Kyoto hotel meanwhile, at the hotel's restaurant the word "pumpkin" is spelt "pimpkin".

But perhaps the next one takes the cake. I was browsing through the Internet to search for English bookshops around Tokyo. In one of the websites, the phrase "public speaking" is written as "pubic speaking".

Amusing, but the mistakes and mis-spelling are understandable. English language is not part of Japan's history and culture. So, at this infancy stage, such errors are acceptable. Instead, I think they should be lauded for being brave enough to use a totally foreign language to them.

Nevertheless, their English are definitely better than my Japanese.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Interesting observations on Japanese hotels

Since my work in Japan requires me to move all over the country, arrangements had to be made for me to stay in several hotels. I stayed at the Shinjuku Washington Hotel when I was in Tokyo for the first four days. When I was in Kyoto, I stayed at the Granvia Kyoto. During my duration of stay in Okayama, Granvia Okayama became my base. In Osaka, the hotel that I stayed in was the New Otani Osaka. Now that I am back in Tokyo, I am also back at the Shinjuku Washington Hotel. As my boss will be arriving this Sunday, I will be joining him at the Imperial Hotel Tokyo until the end of my stay in Japan.

There are a few interesting observations that I have made with regards to hotels in Japan (at least, the ones that I stayed in).

The first thing that struck me is the availability of baggage transfer from hotel to hotel. This is especially handy if you are in Japan for a long stay, and that you have many pieces of luggage or that your luggage is bulky. Upon check out from one hotel, you can actually use this service to have your luggage sent to your next destination, even if your next destination is in another city or prefecture. For instance, when I checked out from the Shinjuku Washington Hotel, my luggage was sent to Granvia Okayama. I just brought along what I needed for my two-night stay at Gravia Kyoto. By the time, I arrived in Okayama, my luggage was already waiting for me in my room. This helps a lot as I was able to travel light.

Honestly speaking, I am not sure if such a service exist in Malaysia. Even if it does, I wonder how effective and efficient the service is. If this kind could be introduced in Malaysia (with similar efficiency and quality of service), I am sure it will serve as a value-added service to the hotel industry in particular and tourism in general.

The other thing that I find particularly interesting is that the majority of the porters (or bellboys) working in Japanese hotels are actually ladies. I have not seen female porters in Malaysia. In Japan, however, the reverse is actually true. It is difficult to find male porters. And one thing that I must add here is that the porters in Japan are true professionals. Not only do they bring you and your luggage to your room, they even explain all the facilities available in the room. This is especially useful because facilities from one hotel to another can greatly differ. As such, a short briefing by the porters is not only informative but also helpful. I remember that certain porters in Malaysia only expect tips as soon as they bring your luggage into your room.

Of course, not everything in Japanese hotels is perfect. One little complaint that I have is the lack of wireless Internet access in the hotels. None of the hotels that I have been to actually have wifi, which I find pretty odd. If you are sharing a room with another person, and both want to use the Internet, then you would have to take turns. On this aspect, I think the hotels in Malaysia are slightly more advanced. I have been to a three-star hotel in Malaysia that actually provide wireless Internet connection for its guests. Most hotels have wifi connection at their lobbies at the very least. Not here in Japan though.

Just my two cents worth. Or should it be, my two yen?

Day 8: Trip to Japan (11 April 2010)


We have been scheduled to meet students from Yamaguchi University on this eighth day. The university is located in the Yamaguchi Prefecture in Japan's Chugoku region, with the city of Yamaguchi as its capital. This is perhaps the furthest place to the south-west that I would be in throughout this trip to Japan. Yamaguchi is already towards the southern tip of Honshu island. This part of Japan is well-known for fugu or pufferfish. I have been informed that one needs a license to remove the poison from this fish to ensure that the process is done properly.

We left Okayama by shinkansen heading from Okayama eki to Shin-Yamaguchi eki on board the Hikari Superexpress. There are only two stops between these two stations namely at Fukuyama and Hiroshima. The journey took exactly 1 hour 15 minutes covering a distance of 422 km.

When we arrived at Shin-Yamaguchi eki, we had to board a local train on the Ube line, alighting at an eki called Higashi-Shinkawa.
Throughout the local train journey, I got to see the rustic surroundings of rural Japan. The scenery was completely different from the busy metropolitans of Japan such as Tokyo and Osaka. Here, things look calm, serene and relaxing. Our destination, Higashi-Shinkawa eki, is located in - for lack of a better description - a small town. It is not quite a village, and not quite a big town.

We were met on arrival by the Malaysian students studying at Yamaguchi University. The students here have cars because public transportation is not as efficient or reliable as those found in big cities. After lunch, they took us around the towns located around the area. Initially we planned to return to Okayama earlier. But the students were very friendly and offered great hospitality that we decided to stay on for a little longer.
We took the local train to Shin Yamaguchi eki from another small eki, Maruo, before boarding the 18:21 shinkansen heading for Tokuyama eki on the Kodama Express. At this station, we changed to another shinkansen, this time the 18:51 Hikari Superexpress heading for Okayama eki. Again, the shinkansen made two brief stops at Hiroshima and Fukuyama. We arrived at Okayama at three minutes to eight in the evening.

On a personal note, I think that the Yamaguchi Prefecture is one of the most beautiful sites I have seen in Japan. Its rustic environment makes it all the more special. The place has its own charm. If there is one place that I would like to return to in Japan, it would be Yamaguchi.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Baggage handling at Narita

One of the things that impressed me upon arrival at Narita Airport could be seen at the baggage area. I am sure many of us are familiar with carousels that carry luggage or baggage of passengers who had just disembarked. So far, I have been to a number of airports - almost all airports in Malaysia, Padang in Indonesia, Rome in Italy, Cairo in Egypt, Algiers in Algeria, and Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Glasgow, Belfast and Cardiff in the UK. But Narita (and perhaps all airports in Japan) impresses me the most.

Passengers' baggage are all neatly stacked and arranged in a uniformed manner on the carousel. It looks as if all the baggage are lining up neatly to be picked up by passengers. It's a small thing, I know. Nevertheless, I am impressed. The Japanese airport workers took the trouble of arranging the baggage neatly on the carousel, rather than just putting the baggage on the carousel haphazardly.

Not only does this make everything looks neat and proper, it also gives confidence to passengers that their baggage are handled with care, and not being thrown around as if they were not important.

Sometimes, it is these "small" things that give us some peace of mind.

Day 7: Trip to Japan (10 April 2010)

Another relatively quiet day actually. We decided to visit Hiroshima, the capital of Hiroshima Prefecture. I am pretty sure everyone knows about Hiroshima. Thus far, I have only read about the city. A few months back, there was an exhibition held at the Museum of Asian Art of Universiti Malaya on the atrocities of the atomic bomb that was dropped on 6th August 1945. That was as close as I got to Hiroshima, that is until today.

Again we boarded the Hikari Superexpress. This time we were heading from Okayama eki to Hiroshima eki. The distance is some 160 km, and the journey on the shinkansen took only 30 minutes. There was only one stop before Hiroshima, and that is Fukuyama.
Once reaching Hiroshima city, we took the Hiroden streetcar (picture above) towards the famous A-Bomb Dome. The remains of the building is now the a UNESCO World Heritage site. The atomic bomb was detonated some 600 metres above the building. Miraculously, the structure of the building and in particular, the building's dome, remain intact in spite of the huge blast of energy from the atomic bomb detonation.
Frankly, I cannot begin to describe my feelings to be standing near the A-Bomb Dome (above). I tried to imagine what transpired that fateful day on 6th August 1945. Try as I might, I don't think I can possibly visualise the horrors of the incident. However, to my mind, what is more important is the lessons learnt from this incident. I can only hope that our generation will at least try to understand history so as not to repeat it all over again.

A short walk away from the A-Bomb Dome is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. These two are actually part and parcel of an area called the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park Area. There are many monuments here, erected to preserve the memory of the devastation that took place in Hiroshima.

After spending nearly an hour there, we walked towards Hiroshima Castle which is located about 750 metres north of the A-Bomb Dome. The castle was our last stop before boarding a streetcar back to the eki to return to Okayama where we are stationed. All in all, the seventh day serves as a good reminder of history for me. I am fortunate to be able to step on the grounds of Hiroshima. At the very least, my appreciation towards the significance of the event that took place on 6th August 1945 is greater.

Day 6: Trip to Japan (9 April 2010)

Another travelling day. This time from Kyoto, the capital of Kyoto Prefecture to Okayama, the capital of Okayama Prefecture. The distance is approximately 220 km. Journey by road would have taken about three hours, but taking the shinkansen saves a lot of time. We boarded the 09:49 a.m. shinkansen (Hikari Superexpress) from Kyoto eki and we arrived at Okayama eki at 11:17 a.m. The total time taken on this shinkansen journey was 1 hour 18 minutes. The shinkansen stopped at five stations, namely Shin-Osaka, Shin-Kobe, Nishi-Akashi, Himeji and Aioi before reaching Okayama.
By the time we arrived, it was about half an hour before Friday prayer. We were met on arrival at Okayama eki by a PhD student at Okayama University of Science, Arief Mokhtar. He was kind enough to drive us to the Okayama Islamic Centre for Friday prayer with the other Muslim communities in the city.
Later in the afternoon, after lunch, he took us to Handayama Botanical Garden (picture above) where again, we feasted our eyes on the blossoming sakura (as well as other flowers already blossoming with the advent of spring). After that, we checked into our hotel, the Granvia Hotel Okayama.

After resting for a couple of hours, we were again picked up by Arief to meet up with the students from Okayama University of Science. The meeting with the students were cordial, and since I know some of them, it was good to be able to catch up with them.

Another full and productive day came to a close.

Day 5: Trip to Japan (8 April 2010)

We have a bit of free time on this day. Since we were already in Kyoto, we decided to visit the Kiyomizu-dera which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Kiyomizu-dera is located in Higashiyama-ku, one of the 11 wards of the city of Kyoto. For lack of a better comparison, I believe "ward" here is equivalent to "mukim" in Malaysia.
We took a taxi from Granvia Hotel, Kyoto to Kiyomizu-dera. The journey took about 15 minutes, but as we were nearing our destination, the traffic got heavier, partly because of the narrow road leading up to the entrance of Kiyomizu-dera. We spent nearly two hours at this site, walking up the hill, into Kiyomizu-dera, along with other tourists from all parts of the world, enjoying the breathtaking view of the temple's surrounding. The sakura trees that were in full blossom made the view all the more spectacular.
From Kiyomizu-dera, we walked along Ninenzaka and Sannennzaka (above picture) which are lined up with small shops along the slopes. Most of the shops are tea houses and eateries, and there are also others that sell souvenirs. Sakura trees added splendour to the colours of spring as we walked down the slopes.

After walking for about ten minutes, we reached Kodai-ji. We spent a short while here snapping photographs before leaving. Our next destination was the Gion District. It took us another 20 minutes to get there.
Gion District (above picture) is perhaps famous for those who are familiar with the novel (and later movie) called Memoirs of a Geisha. The novel was largely set in the Gion District. This area is made up of narrow laned which are lined up with old wooden buildings. These buildings include machiya townhouses, traditional Geisha houses, restaurants and eateries, as well as souvenir and craft shops.

We spent about half an hour there before heading back to the hotel. This particular day gave a sense of history to a gaikokujin like me. At the very least, I have a rough idea of how things were in Kyoto way back then.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Day 4: Trip to Japan (7 April 2010)

At Tokyo eki waiting to board the shinkansen.

The fourth day in Japan is full of travelling. After checking out from the Washington Hotel in Shinjuku, we took a train to Tokyo eki. From there, we took the shinkansen headed for Kyoto. The bullet train that we took was the Hikari Superexpress. The journey on this superexpress is approximately 2 hours 45 minutes covering a distance of nearly 500 km. I have been told that a normal journey by road will take about 6 hours. The shinkansen only stopped briefly at four stations (Shin-Yokohama, Shizuoka, Hamamatsu and Nagoya) before arriving at Kyoto.

View of Kyoto from the hotel room.

When we arrived at Kyoto, we promptly checked into the Granvia Hotel which is conveniently located inside the eki itself.

Later that evening, we took the train to Minami-Kusatsu eki to meet up with Malaysian students from Ritsumeikan University. The meeting place, a family restaurant called "Syazeria", took 15 minutes to walk to. We managed to meet up with 15 students from the university - a master's student, 9 final year students and 5 third year students.

It was a very full but productive day. By the time, we returned to the hotel, it was already close to 11:00 p.m.

Personally I was exhausted, but I was happy that our objective for the day has been met.