Sunday, December 14, 2008

Korea 6th Dec 2008

After husband's 2nd day of conference, we decided to go and visit the Korean National Mosque. A study of the local map showed that we needed to get to Itaewon, where the mosque was located. And with our good friend Dr Chew (our subway guru) on board, we were quite certain we'd have no problems getting to the place.

I'd say, it was a good hour later (with us changing lines 3 times I think) before we finally arrived at Itaewon. Upon stepping out of Itaewon station, we found ourselves standing in front of a building which had the word Hamilton on it ( I can't remember if it was a hotel / shop or restaurant). We immediately turned left and started walking amongst the crowd... but weren't sure how far we had to walk before getting to the mosque. Luckily, husband spotted the minarets of the mosque in the distance... probably some 50m away. We quickly zigzagged in between rows of shops and soon found ourselves in the vicinity of the mosque.

By the time we reached the mosque, which was beautifully perched on top of a hill overlooking Seoul city, it was slightly after Isya'. The majestic entrance leading to the mosque was beautiful with turquoise geometric tiles set according to Islamic architecture... and right at the centre were some Korean wordings which I assumed meant the Korean National Mosque.

The front facade of the mosque

It was interesting to learn that Malaysia had a role in setting up of the mosque. In fact, if I'm not mistaken the late Tunku Abdul Rahman had helped by purchasing the hill top land at the price of US 33,000 back in 1962. However, the plan was derailed due to inflation and the mosque was only built in Seoul's Itaewon neighborhood in 1976. The president of the Korea Islam Institute estimated that there are about 40,000 listed Muslims in South Korea, and about 10,000 are estimated to be highly active practitioners.

We met a few muslims at the mosque and wished them Happy Eid Mubarak as Raya Haji was just 2 days away. From them we found out the location of halal restaurants in the area and soon found ourselves at a Turkish restaurant called "Salam Restaurant". Hubby, Dr Chew and I were more than happy to escape the cold and have a quick bite and pit-stop at this very cosy place. Feeling rather famished, we happily ordered dinner which comprised of lamb kofte, chicken kebabs with salads, pitta bread and turkish coffee ( the last one for the heck of it).

Salam Restaurant


Yummy... no more!

With a full belly and an empty bladder, we left for Myeong-dong for our last shopping spree in Korea. We were leaving for home the next day and I was feeling very apprehensive as I hadn't bought anything for the kids. I was told by Dr Chew that this was the best place to get cheap cheap toys for children.

Ready for riot?? Normal scene in Korea

Myeong-dong.... shop till you drop

Had it not been sooo cold, we might have stayed longer and explored the area better. But it was freezing cold... -10 Celsius, and I felt as if my nose was going to fall off soon. So with shopping bags in hand, we ran into a cab and headed for our hotel. While husband had a short meeting with a colleague back at the hotel, I had the task of packing for our trip home the next day. We managed to get loads of stuff for our girls at Myeong-dong, but none suitable for our boys. Hubby later said that we'll just do what he normally does on his overseas trips when it comes to getting gifts for the kids...that is shop at KLIA toy shop before getting into the taxi home. Yup! That's what we did... and a big Kamsa Hamnida to the cashier for snipping off the price tags before stuffing the things into our shopping bags.

Korea 5th Dec 2008

The weather forecast warned us that the temperature was going to drop down even further today... and it did. It went all the way down to sub zero during the day!

As we left the hotel for a tour of the factory, we noticed the small pool of water outside the hotel had turned into ice. It was rock solid. I'm pretty sure, if there were little elves around in the neighbourhood ... they would have been able to ice-skate on it.

Anyway the factory tour ended in the afternoon and we were back at our hotel by 4pm. Two Korean friends of hubby later came to the hotel and took us out for dinner. We took a taxi and hubby and I were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves at the doorstep of a Japanese Restaurant. My last and only experience of Japanese cuisine prior to this was many many years ago at Hilton Hotel in P.Jaya. What an experience that had been. I vividly remember my clumsy attempts at trying to get sushis into my mouth using chopsticks... and how they often ended falling onto my plate instead... which of course explained why I was still feeling hungry after dinner!

The restaurant was cosy but more importantly it provided us the much needed warmth and refuge from the -12 Celsius freezing weather outside. I really liked the place and was most taken by its wooden decor which was complete with typical Japanese sliding doors and low dining tables. It reminded me of the Japanese drama series Oshin that mom and I used to watch when I was a child.

Our Korean hosts understood our need for halal food, hence ordered an array of dishes which comprised of fish, crab, shrimps and the likes of them. It was a true Japanese gastronomic fare. I was almost hesitant initially to sample the dishes, lest I ruin the obvious meticulous work of the chef who had carefully and delicately placed and arranged every item of food on the big serving plates. Suffice to say, we were in awe at the amount of detail placed on the presentation of each dish to ensure it was aesthetically pleasing to the eyes of the customers.

The highlight of the night was a dish our Korean friends described as "toxic fish"... which I assume was akin to the "fugu" or Japanese puffer fish. In the hands of the inexperienced, whereby the fish is not carefully prepared, it becomes lethal. Our server came in and carefully rolled the thinly sliced fish together with strands of cucumber ( I think). As we popped the mini delights into our mouths (not without many many Bismillahs before that), we couldn't help but recall the fatal incident in Johor a few months back in June when two customers died after eating the puffer fish or ikan buntal. Naudzubillah!

Surviving that... we then proceeded to another amazing dish which had specks of edible gold lightly scattered on the fish. Having worn gold all my life, it felt very very odd indeed having it for dinner! But to my surprise, the gold was hardly noticeable once in the mouth. I'm quite sure these two dishes must have cost a bomb and both hubby and I felt most lucky to be treated to such sumptuous dinner by our Korean friends.

The chef meeting our party for a short chat during dinner

Leaving the restaurant was hard as we knew we'd be reluctantly thrown back into the freezing cold. As cold as it was that night, not a drop of snow was to be seen anywhere in Seoul city. But later that night, we discovered from the local TV that snow had actually blanketed some areas down south. Alas! No winter sonata for me this time around...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Korea 4th Dec 2008

Anyong Haseo!!

Husband's 4 day trip to Korea was great. Great because unlike many of his trips abroad, this time around I got to go too. Ain't that great!

The one and a half hour journey into the city from the airport took longer than usual. Upon crossing Han River, we found ourselves stuck in a traffic jam... crawling slowly into Seoul city. As we gazed out from the MPV, hubby and I were struck by the level of patriotism amongst the Koreans when it came to owning cars. Daewoos, Hyundais and Ssangyongs lined the streets with hardly any foreign cars to be seen anywhere. Sooooo unlike home.

Anyway, once checked into our hotel... our party of 7 took a taxi and headed for the silk shops. A few days earlier, hubby had read in the internet about a certain area which is known to be a good place to purchase silk. Just in case anyone is thinking of going there in the future, perhaps this address may be of use to you as it has to us.


Tel : 22660167, 22760169 HP : 011-2760169

It's a good idea to call the shop in advance as someone from the shop might be able to wait for you at the entrance. Honestly, I don't think we'd have been able to find our way to the shop as the area was a huge labryinth of little textile shops which looked pretty much identical.

At the shop, we were greeted by a young and pleasant shop assistant who surprised us by speaking English. Not only was she pretty, she had vocabulary to boot using the word "shabby" to describe the food stalls in the area. My F5 students at school can surely learn a thing or two from this girl. Her motivation and drive to learn English can easily put my students to shame.

Our helpful Korean "silk" girl assisting our group in search for lunch

Through our newly found interpreter, we were able to get a discount from the owner of the shop. He called it the "Malaysian Embassy Price" (Wallahualam). Now this had me thinking immediately about the number of Malaysian customers that must have walked through the doors of his modest shop over the years. It must have been somewhere in between his use of the word "baju kurung" and "cantik" that I was bought over and hubby soon found himself having to depart from his many many Korean wons. Don't we just lurve our husbands!!

Yes. Two of the five pieces that ended in my shopping bag. Husband finally redeemed after his A Tale of the Korean Silk fiasco last year.

On a walkabout
Our walk around Dongdaemun area saw us passing by many specialised shops. There were rows that specialised in sewing machines, another that sold plastics and rubber bands of all shapes and sizes, another had books stacked from floor to ceiling (my fav), some sticker shops...and the amazing thing is, these shops were sooo tiny. In most instances there would probably be enough standing room for 3 people!

Orthodontic rubber bands for giants available here

Customized stickers service

Namdaemun Night Market
For cheap souveniers to take home, this is the place to go. Little Korean trinkets like paper fans, book markers, keychains, placemats, small dessert spoons and forks, brooches and hair accesories abound everywhere you turn. Communication may be a problem...a BIG problem sometimes...but don't despair. On your part resort to sign language (as I did many many times) and on the seller's part he/she will be punching the numbers on his/her calculator for you to see. Definetely no communication barrier there!

Market comes alive at night from 7pm till midnight

Flying thousands of miles away, to end up buying
Vietnamese silk handbags in Korea!

If this interests you the place is

#18, 1F, Co Co B/D.

52-1 Namchang-Dong, Choong-Gu, Seoul, Korea

In Kimchi-land, halal food is scarce. Unless you know where to look, finding halal food is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Luckilly I had mom's sambal ikan bilis in my emergency kit. This was of course eaten together with maggi mee brought from home. Once awhile, when sick of maggi, the sambal was eaten with bread. Extradiondinary times call for extradordinary measures..

Simply delish!

Anyway, it was during one of our walkabouts on the first day that we stumbled upon a small halal kebab shop which if I'm not mistaken is located near Hoehyeon Station. It was manned by an Iraqi who had been in the country for the past 6 months. We were of course ecstatic to see him. Whilst he was happy to see fellow Muslims in Korea, we were of course happy to see him for reasons more related to our tummy! Needless to say the kebabs were savoured and devoured in a matter of seconds by the hungry travellers..

For truly satisfying kebabs at 3000 won (roughly rm7.50) call 776 6904

Getting around in taxis would be ideal. It's faster (when there's no traffic jams of course) and less tiring on the feet. The only thing is, one must be willing to part with the thousands of wons in the wallet. Perhaps, it's only right that when in Korea, one needs to at least try the subway system.... no matter how complicated it may seem. Used to the less complicated London underground, I have to admit being slightly intimidated by the whole Korean subway thing. Lucky for us, we had hubby's good fren (Dr Chew) to take us on a train hopping experience. Looking at the way how he managed to get us from one place to another, one could mistake him for a local. Perhaps Korea is indeed his second home and his real name is Dr Kim Chew!

Care to decipher the map???

So over the 3 days, we got around using the subway... and life would definetely be incomplete if we didn't get lost along the way ;> We had actually got down at the wrong station on our way back to the hotel and ended up unsure as how to proceed from there. Instead of exiting at Seolleung Station, we had somehow rather exited at Samseong Station. The tall modern buildings surrounding the area gave little hints as to where we were. It didn't help either that by that time, the temperature had dropped to just slightly above 0 celcius and we were freezing our @*%%$ off. But thank god for 2 Korean men who helped us by getting us a taxi back to the hotel. I was more than happy to jump into the cab as I felt we were slowly but surely turning into popsicles!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Deep in the night, last night

I'm amazed how some people can easily fall asleep the moment their heads hit the pillow. Take hubby as an example... he can immediately doze off anytime...anywhere...if he wants to that is.
Never a fuss... just instant sleep the moment he closes his eyes. He can even do this whilst I'm yakking away beside him about the day's events...much to my dismay, of course!.

I on the other hand, happen to be one of those that take hours to fall asleep. Well maybe not really hours as in hours... but surely many many minutes before I reach the very first phase of sleep. The tossing and turning and countless fluffing of pillows are just part of the usual exhausting rigmarole that I go through before finally falling asleep. It's quite exasperating actually, especially if you turn and see your sleeping partner sprinting himself away towards a good surf on his delta waves!!

Hubby says he enjoys his power naps which is a somewhat effective way of increasing productivity in the afternoon at work. He believes that a quick shut-eye can help to give a much needed recharge in the afternoon... in his case before rushing off to do his night shift at work. After a quick nap ( usually just a couple of minutes ) one will wake up feeling most refreshed and energized. So he says. I wouldn't know, since I need at least 30 minutes to an hour before finally falling asleep. There's definitely no such thing as a quick forty winks for moi.

All these talk about sleep inevitably leads me to what happend deep in the dark, last night. For the hundredth time... when the house was still and everyone's asleep.. yours trully was lying awake in bed, blinking her eyeballs out. She lay there feeling most envious of everybody who were obviously in deep slumber whilst she struggled trying to put herself to sleep. When counting sheep and everything else she could think of didn't seem to work... the insomniac walked out of her room to her children's ... and sat at the edge of their beds and kissed each one of her five children tenderly on the forehead. A calming effect was surely felt. She then returned to bed and recited a series of random zikir. How many she did not know... for sometime at 2.30am she finally fell asleep. Zzzzzzzz

Friday, October 24, 2008

DVD weekend

Yeay! The loonnggg weekend is here... Monday and Tuesday off with the Deepavali celebrations just around the corner. Since this is the last weekend before the end of Syawal, the weekend is pretty much packed (again!) with back-to-back open houses invites. Hubby and I tried to do a marathon of 6 houses last Saturday...but only managed to cover 4. By the time we got home just slightly before 7pm... we were so knackered and parents and kids unanimously agreed to forgo dinner...(there was just no room left after the satay, rendang, laksa penang etc etc).

I'm hoping for a slightly less manic weekend this time around. Do our rounds of open-houses during the day and perhaps watch a few DVDs at night. I used to do that quite a lot... a couple of years DVDs with hubby when the kids are all curled up in bed. No interruptions. Bliss...

Well, our library of DVDs have somewhat grown over the years. Must confess there are many, many, many movies that we have not seen yet. They're just lying there mostly... still in plastics.. waiting to be taken out of the DVD basket. Sometimes, hubby the official DVD hunter/seeker forgets he has made an earlier purchase of a movie... ends up buying the same movie again at the DVD shop. This of course explains why we sometimes have 2 copies of the same movie in our collection...

I finally watched Atonement the other day... just to see what the hype was all about... and happy to announce was not the least bit disappointed. The movie was great!! Immediately requested for Atonement II from hubby, if it should ever come out..haha! Wished the ending could have been somewhat different.. but then again.. it wouldn't have garnered all the awards had the ending been the way I wanted it to be.

Official verdict : Atonement - a must see and a must have!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Raya 2008

Just when you think that a week's holiday is more than enough to celebrate Eid, attending open-houses and uploading the hundreds of pictures taken over the week... think again. I found myself rushing from one open-house to another... hosting one myself...while assisting another at my in-law's a few days later... and before you know it... the holiday is over and I'm back at work...albeit unwillingly.

Happy Eid Mubarak everyone!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

On My Anniversary

What did I do on my wedding anniversary?? Well... a drive to Concorde Shah Alam for a much deserved high-tea (minus the kids of course).

Bread pudding. Yummy!

...and what did hubby do on the eve of our anniversary??

1. Went for his 2-5am night patrol of our housing area

2. Came back after his rounds with stories of how a suspicious looking car (possibly robbers') rammed into the palang placed at one of the exit points at our housing area after being in hot pursuit by a radio car on patrol. In an attempt to escape, robbers rammed pole at full speed causing windscreen to be broken to smithereens... hopefully sustaining serious facial/brain damage along the way.

Though robbers were seen leaving the housing area with what's-left-of-the-car... they did leave however their road tax lying on the be picked up by our night patrol on duty...which was of course handed to the police. Hurrah!

El Stupidos getaway route which backfired BIG time!!!

A big chunk of the windscreen left by the roadside

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Keeping A Promise - Stories from the Holy Land Part 2

I promised I'd do this. At a family gathering about a month ago, my uncle Famy who had read my earlier entry on Stories From The Holy Land, pointed out that I had missed out two important scenes/incidents that happened during our umrah trip in May. Both were equal in hilarity and will forever be etched in our minds.

A Fetish For Chicken Mandi
When we were in Mecca, most of our meals were taken at the hotel. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were simple meals eaten within the confines of our small dining area, in the company of other umrah performers.

In was not until the third day in Mecca, that we ventured out to the more modern, swanky and upscale area of... Hilton Hotel. We had completed our second umrah just slightly after noon and instead of returning to our hotel we decided to stay close to the vicinity of Masjidil Haram and wait for Asr. Since we had not eaten lunch yet, we walked across to Hilton in search of some grub and soon found ourselves at Al Tazaj - a takeaway restaurant that specialised in Arab cuisine.

Hubby and uncle soon placed our order, guided by the colourful menu displayed behind the counter. Feeling slightly adventurous, they bought an array of delectable dishes which included pitta bread , salads and savoury rice. Since it was a takeaway restaurant, we discovered there were no tables and chairs to be seen anywhere at the establishment. What we did notice though, were several small Arab families sitting on the floor enjoying their own Al Tazaj takeaway meals...and they looked quite comfortable doing it too!

So throwing caution to the wind, we too found ourselves sitting cross-legged on the floor. Me and an aunt still garbed in our telekung whilst hubby and uncles in their ihram- oblivious to our surrounding as we dug into the delicious Chicken Mandi and Chicken Kabsa. None of the Arabs gave us a second look. But we did see some eyebrows raised from fellow Malaysians, who must have thought we were bonkers for doing so. Very unMalaysian we were I'm sure, but as the saying goes "When in Rome, Do as the Romans Do".
Chicken Mandi - my favourite!

The Golden Lounge
Another memorable incident was at Jeddah just hours before we flew home. We were at the airport and discovered that there weren't that many seats available for us while we waited for our flight. The only place vacant was the curb which eventually became the parking area for several families. Hence dubbed our Golden Lounge. And like many other Golden Lounges, it would be incomplete if it didn't have the prerequisite beverages and snacks for weary travellers like us. And ours came in the form of a very friendly Indian man who pushed a trolley laden with the necessary cold fizzy drinks, hot coffee/tea and confectionary galore. Though we didn't get our teh-tarik... there was still enough supply of drinks and tidbits to kick-off Uncle Famy's 4?th birthday at midnite.

A novel way of getting the tea to be frothy minus the "tarik"

So we may have not had the luxury of Hilton, nor received the Golden Lounge treatment, but in the company of those we love and enjoy, the experience and moments shared (even if they involved sitting on hard floors) are without a doubt priceless and meaningful to us in more ways than one. This simply justifies the old adage that It is not where you are that's important, but who you're with.... or something like that ;)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Our Petrosains Outing

Here's what we did over the celebrate the joint birthdays of hubby and no 4 - Safia

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Saturday Gone Awry

I can think of better ways to spend my Saturday mornings. Like sleeping-in, something I've not done for years since having children. Or taking the kids out to the mall as soon as the doors to the entrance open at 10.30a.m (am allergic to crowds...and usually avoid them by going early and leaving just as the midday visitors start trailing in).

Anyway, just as I thought I'd finally have a Saturday off, after having to work every Saturday for the past 2 months...word has it that me and colleagues have all got to come in...urgh!!..for an in-house training.

So there I was, yesterday... physically there but mentally and spiritually at home..all curled up in bed. I sat in the room with pen and paper (handout) and soon found myself doodling away, as I often do when bored. The talk was on ... something like..ways to make teaching and learning effective. Pretty impressive topic...very useful for the likes of me...those invloved in education. But unfortunately though, the man in my personal opinion, failed to deliver in an effective way. We (yes the victims - colleagues and I) spent endless hours listening to him go over nearly every line in the handout and oh...did I mention he had us read out the passages loudly.... only to come up with this in the end "OK...what's her/his problem?" "Yes, pronunciation, modulation, pitch" bla bla bla. Hey! we already know some of us have problems with our pronunciation, modulation, intonation you've clearly pointed out earlier at the beginning of the session. So why is there the need to tell us over and over again?

It didn't help that some of his remarks toward us were quite condenscending at times. Something like we can be at a better place than this, bla bla bla. Look Mr Consultant-Anglophile-Know-It-All...I'm proud of what I do...and my being here and not in some institution or college or university, does not make me any less of a person or educator for that matter. If there are a few things that I'm proud of... it'd be my family and the work that I do. And my being here is a conscious decision and not some last choice I can't get any other job thing.

So, this Ms No-I-Will-Not-Let-People-Talk-Down-To-Me just had to stand up and defend her vocation which she feels passionately about. And she did. Annnddd Mr Consultant-Anglophile-Know-It-All went on a tirade about him being a busy man globe-trekking and all and having to come down to our(?) level.. hah?.. gosh I can't even remember what he said and all...only that at the end he said I should go to Oxford University like him. Hah??? Go to Oxford University and turn out like him?? No thank you!! Well Ms No-I-Will-Not-Let-People-Talk-Down-To-Me could have continued with the repartee and lashed out at Mr Consultant-Anglophile-Know-It-All, but she is reminded to hold her tongue and not stoop to the level of the pompous #$#%@!*. Since earlier that morning at 4 plus she had woken up early to perform her Tahajjud prayer... and had among other things asked God for the virtue of patience, something which she feels she clearly lacks. And in that room at that time, Ms No-I-Will-Not-Let-People-Talk-Down-To-Me told herself that God wanted to test her patience. Therefore He sent her Mr Consultant-Anglophile-Know-It-All.

Yes, that's my Saturday gone awry.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Stories from the Holy Land

Slightly more than a month ago, both hubby and I left the country for the holy land to perform our first umrah. Neither of us had actually planned to perform it this year. In fact to be honest, we never expected it to happen anytime soon. There were always routines that bogged us down and prevented us from leaving home, things which needed to be attended to, work issues... so on and so forth. But mainly we were worried about who's going to take care of the kids during our absence and can we get people to man the clinics while we're away? Me more so for the former, hubby for the latter.

So how did this trip came about? Well back in Dec 07 I was informed by mom that my uncle was planning to go for umrah with his family in 2008. My response was ...a big Ohhhhhh!!!! How wonderful...and fullstop. She then had this idea that me and hubby should tag along and even offered to look after my kiddies. Of course when I heard this I was over the moon. The only snag was I didn't have a helper then, and didn't know when she would arrive. I couldn't imagine leaving my 5 kids..yes 5 kids with my mom and no help.

So over the next couple of months I remember constantly praying that help would arrive by the time I leave for the holy land. And syukur alhamdulillah, 3 weeks before I was to fly off, my maid arrived. In between this of course, I had other lil obstacles (mostly work related stuff)which thankfully sorted themselves out (praise to Allah). What I realised prior to my departure was the need to constantly pray for the things I want in life, and trust in Him that he will make everything ok for me and the family. If we believe and trust in God, insyallah everything will fall into place, as it did in my case. And as a result of that, I soon found myself on the plane on 24th May... destination Madinah.

Nabawi Mosque, Madinah

We arrived at our hotel just slightly before 4am I think, and saw streams of people making their way for the mosque to perform the Subuh prayer. It was pretty awesome, looking at the hundreds of people walking slowly towards the mosque and listening to the melancholic call of the azan in the background. My first sight of the mosque early that morning left me speechless. Masjid Nabawi was just soooo beautiful. The size, the magnificent architecture and its sheer beauty and everything else about it was perfect.

That morning after breakfast, my aunties and I went to queue for Raudhah. It was open to public (the ladies) at 7-11am and I thought that since we were there before 7am, we'd have no problems getting in. foolish could I be. There were hundreds of others already ahead of us and I was beginning to doubt whether we could actually get the chance to enter. I noticed that the crowd was divided into groups..from the the Indians/Pakistanis us from Msia/Spore/Indon/Brunei. It wasn't hard to tell the groups apart as we were all shrouded differently. So while sitting and waiting for our turn, which of course felt like forever, we did our individual zikir and privately prayed that God would give us easy access to Raudhah. Insyallah.

Honestly when we were sitting right infront of the entrance, I was overwhelmed with a lot of mixed emotions. Running from excitement to suspense and even fear. When we were finally allowed entry everybody scrambled in. Me being a first time umrah performer was stunned by the crowd's sudden rush forward. People were scrambling in and I could only describe its likeness to the mad rush you'd see on J Card day! I'm not kidding in saying that it did feel like a stampede at times. I remember once being told that when you're in Raudhah don't be surprised by the amount of pushing and shoving. That's to be expected I guess, after all it is The Garden of Raudhah. People were just trying to find whatever spot they could, to do their prayers. And Alhamdulillah with a lot of patience and after taking in a lot of pushing from the back and front and left and right..I managed to perform my prayers. In that very short space of time permitted to us, we quickly read our duas; personal duas for ourselves, our family members, relatives and friends. Duas that were either read from small books brought from Malaysia or scraps of papers which were hastily handed to us by relatives who sent us off at the airport. And not forgetting the duas which were not written down in any form but remembered by heart and read on behalf of people who have not had the chance to come to the holy land just yet.

Salam to Rasulullah and his sahabat was conveyed from the inner area of Raudhah. I recall distinctly how difficult it was to even do that. There were just soooo many people wanting to do the same. Again, people were pushing and shoving and a couple of times I was swept away back and forth. It's hard to describe the feelings felt as we stood huddled closely facing the wall which separated us from the area which housed Rasulullah's makam. Suffice to say it was pretty overwhelming. Not only because of the huge crowd factor but more of the realisation that Rasulullah's makam was just behind the walls.

Infront of entrance for ladies at Nabawi Mosque

The inner area of Nabawi Mosque

The several days spent in Madinah saw us visiting some of the historical sites which were either learned through personal readings or stories related by my ustazahs back in school yonks ago. It was quite amazing to be at the very places mentioned in my textbooks. Our visit of the Quba mosque was most significant since it was after all the first Islamic mosque ever built by the late prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and is the oldest mosque in Saudi Arabia. We were reminded earlier by our guide to take our ablutions at the hotel and upon arrival to pray at the mosque as "Whoever purifies himself (take wudhu') in his house then comes to Masjid Quba' and prays in it has the reward like that of Umrah. (an-Nasa'i and Ibn Majah)". Masyallah.

With uncle, aunties and cousins at Quba mosque

It is believed that a black spot at the dome area (pic above) marks the

exact position where the late prophet used to pray in the mosque

Getting By in Madinah
When in Madinah, our hotel was a mere 50m away from the mosque and near the entrance for the ladies. It was the Saidina Usman entrance I think. This was sooo convenient. Just outside the hotel were many shops and vendors selling this and that...and I had a wonderful time absorbing the view everytime I walked to and fro the mosque. There's always something interesting to see... from the exquisite local wares peddled by enterprising businessmen/women/kid to wonderful and terribly cheap items brought in from neighbouring countries.

Initially I was worried about buying things from the locals since I couldn't speak the language. I must confess I remember failing every single Arabic paper back in my agama school heydays in JB. My kids actually tried to give me a crash course before I left for my umrah, but mama was such a slow learner... they gave up!

But lo and behold I needn't have worried coz the locals could speak enough BM for me to understand them. Haggling was a norm ...which was great. It was quite amusing infact to discover during a shopping outing that some of the locals called us ladies from Msia as ...SITI RAHMAH. So they'd go "Siti Rahmah..Siti Rahmah..mari mari murah murah". Well better Siti Rahmah...than Siti Nurhaliza!

I'd have to say in Madinah foodwise my faves have got to be the mango juice and kebab which were sold infront of our hotel. Many times on our way back from the mosque, our party of 10 would make a quick stop at one of the small shops to obtain our snacks. Not only did they taste good...they were also very cheap. Imagine savouring fresh mango juice and super delicious kebabs at only 5 riyal...roughly about RM4 plus! That's something you can't get back home.

It's a different kind of feeling when you're in Madinah. I'm reminded of what a friend once wrote about her experience performing her umrah. About not remembering to call home until 3 days later after arrival. I can understand that now. My worries about my kids seemed to disappear altogether....and I'm such a worry-wart! When I was there, there's this feeling of calmness and happiness and contentment which is hard to explain but is surely felt.

Leaving Madinah

On the last day in Madinah we prepared for our 4 hour plus journey to Makkah to perform our first umrah. The nite before, after isyak, hubby and I went to my uncle's room so that hubby could learn how to put on the ihram. It was quite hilarious, seeing grown men (hubby and another uncle) learn the proper way of tying the kain ihram. Tips were thrown in by those who have worn it before on how to minimise the possibilities of the ihram dropping off...(hubby's biggest nightmare!).

Anyway, the next day we left for Bir Ali - the beginning of our umrah journey. I have to admit I was a bit worried about the 13 pantang larangs...during the long journey to Makkah. Not so much worried about the "larangan membunuh binatang"...since I'm no huntsman/woman..but with the likes like.."memotong kuku...rambut" etc...things that I often do unconsciously all the that was worrisome.

The journey to Makkah took about 4 hours plus and we arrived in Makkah nearly 10pm. We then checked into our very old hotel which was about 1km away from Masjidil Haram. After making a pit stop at the bathroom, we began our walk down the hill to the mosque. It was warm and since its nite time I couldn't really see the buildings surrounding us.

As we got closer and closer, we saw lights from the minarets beaming brightly on the mosque and we became more and more awestruck by the sheer size and beauty of Masjidil Haram. I think my heart must have stopped beating when I saw Kaabah for the first time as I descended the steps that led to the dataran. It's a feeling that simply cannot be described. We've seen pictures of the Kaabah in newspapers or magazines or tv. It's even on most of our prayer mats. But to see it right before our eyes and to have it standing right infront of us during solat just sooo surreal...leaving one with a most humbling experience...

We then proceeded wth completing our umrah. The saie was a bit tiring with the distance to be covered but overall everybody was in good spirits and alhamdulillah everything went well.By the time we finished it was about 2am. I was surprised that though it was very late, everybody seemed as fresh as a daisy (including 6 year old cousin - Haziq). It must be the excitement and adrenaline rush pumping on overdrive.

The next day when we walked to the mosque for zohor prayers we were shocked to see that the route taken the nite before looked like Ground Zero. Buildings which I presume were old hotels surrounding the mosque had been demolished and we had actually gone through a construction site...with rubbles and piling rods protruding from the ground everywhere. This infact became our route to and fro the mosque for the next 6 days. It was a quite an adventure for us as we found ourselves having to negotiate in between lorries and tractors several times a day, everyday!

Our daily route to the mosque

Once after Asr prayers I was walking back to the hotel alone (hubby had the case of food-poisoning) and saw all these people ahead looking at me. Suddenly a local construction worker shouted at me "Hajah! HAJAH! Arabic " and pointed for me to move away from the area. I turned to my right and saw that a building abt 20m away was in the process of being demolished. Infact dah senget pun and they were all waiting for it to collapse. To put it in my best BM description..I pun bukak langkah seribu and lintang pukang cabut lari to join the crowd on the other side who were waiting to witness the collapse of yet another building. Honestly, the construction of the area was in full swing, but safety measures for the public forced to use the route...was an absolute zero..zilch..nada. Pandai-pandai lah jaga diri masing-masing.

Bluewonder's great escape

Daily trek across construction site worth be able to see this

Our time in Madinah and Makkah wasn't that long..only 10 days. But the most memorable thing for me about my time there was the time spent at the mosques. For the first time in my life I did nothing but indulge in lots of prayers, zikirs, selawat and reading the Quran. Something that I don't do much in Msia. I feel that my time here in Msia is often spent doing a lot of other stuff..and very very little time is spent on my ibadah or preparations for the hereafter. Ouwchh!

Anyway, both hubby and I have registered with Tabung Haji and hope to be able to perform our haj some day. Though the year given to us is a loooooonnnnnngggg way ahead, we hope to be able to go while still young and healthy. Hopefully sometime soon.

To uncle Famy, thank you, thank you, thank you for inviting us to join your family on this trip and also for being hubby's oral rehydration seeker when he was ill..

To uncle Jaafar, thank you for accompanying me to Hajar Aswad - now that was an experience!..

To aunty Faezah and aunty Liza...when can we do this again?...

To Amar, Imran, Amira and Haziq...thanks for the wonderful company....and... my hubby, thanks a million for sponsoring the trip. May God Bless You Always!..

Hannan's Pahang Adventure