Saturday, 22 April 2017

Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

When we come across the name Philadelphia, we are most likely to identify it as a city in the United States of America. It therefore surprised me a bit to find out that another city had this same name and at a time when the the US was not yet in existence.

Philadelphia was once the name of Amman, the present-day capital of Jordan. That name was in use when the area was under the Ptolemaic Kingdom (ancient Greeks based in Egypt) in the BCE period. I discovered this fact during my visit to Jordan in 2013. It was quite a delightful trip and the one week duration I allocated for the visit was not enough. If you are a history buff, then Jordan would be more of interest to you than the other middle-east countries. I'd say even more interesting than Egypt.

When I got back from the trip, I had planned to write about it in this blog. I only managed to put up an introductory post (here) but then failed keep to my plan. This entry is therefore a much-delayed effort at sharing some of the fascinating aspects of this beautiful country.

So what made me move my butt and decide to post on this subject? A friend of mine is presently enjoying a holiday in Jordan and uploaded some lovely photos on her Facebook page. It made me recall my own time there and caused me to peek again at the hundreds of photographs I took. I guess it is time to share a small selection here. I'll arrange the pictures based on the locations visited. In order not to flood a single post with too many photos, I'll spread them out over a few parts (I'll try my best to keep the promise, this time).


Within the capital itself are quite a number of attractions worth seeing. No doubt the most famous tourist site in Jordan is Petra but it is located some distance away from Amman, around 3 to 4 hours drive to the south. You'll need a full day to really explore the wonders of that Nabatean ruins. We decided to start with a tour of Amman and the following are the few places we manage to visit within a day.

1. Roman Amphitheatre

The old Amman city was built on seven hills. In downtown Amman, carved into the side of one of those hills, the ancient Romans had constructed an amphitheatre that could seat an audience of 6,000 people. Being the engineer that I am, the beautiful geometrical proportions of this theatre impressed me. The Romans surely had very skilled surveyors and craftsmen during their day.

The overall structure is still in reasonable shape. Credit to the Jordanian authorities for keeping it so.

I climbed the steep stairs to the highest level, walked to the centre section and sat down on the stone seating. As I viewed the stage far below, I imagined an ancient play being performed. Enchanting.

View of theatre from street level. The new plaza in front is modern-day construction

Three tiers of seating in semi-circular layout

The middle section of the lowest tier has wider seating area, presumably for VIPs

View from the topmost tier. The stage seems a long way down from here

2. The Citadel

Not far from the amphitheatre at the top of a neighbouring hill is Amman Citadel. The citadel is a fort that was occupied and inhabited by various peoples and cultures in its illustrious history. The structures and buildings that can be seen today come from the Roman, Byzantine and Umayyad periods. It is quite amazing to see the different cultural and religious influences, spanning thousands of years within the same site.

The Roman Amphitheatre and downtown Amman as seen from the Citadel

At the entrance to the Citadel site are plaques displaying the names of the city at different periods of its history

Temple of Hercules, built by Romans in 162 - 166 CE

Temple of Hercules

Temple of Hercules

Temple of Hercules

Ruins of Umayyad dwellings

Domed gateway to Umayyad Palace

Local boys happy to have their picture taken by a tourist

Ruins of a Byzantine church in the foreground

3. Cave of The Seven Sleepers

The story of seven young men and their loyal dog who sought refuge in a cave and fell asleep for hundreds of years, is mentioned in the holy Al-Quran (Surah 18 : Al-kahf, The Cave). The exact location of the cave however, is not stated. Jordanians claim that the cave is in their country, on the outskirts of the capital. They base this claim on the geographical references deduced from the said surah. Whether the miracle event actually happened here or not isn't the main issue for me. The visit made me explore the story further and learn an underlying lesson contained in the surah. This tale has a parallel in Christian tradition.

My earlier post on this topic can be read here -> Cave of 7 Sleepers.

Signboard of the cave location

Entrance to the cave structure, thought to be built in the Byzantine era

We managed to squeeze in this stop just before closing time. As such, I was not able to take as much photos as I would have liked. Okay then... that's it for this post. The next post on this theme shall be about other interesting places outside of Amman, insyaAllah...

Monday, 10 April 2017

Sembilan bulan

I recently saw a quote which I thought was something that hits directly to the heart.

"Home is where mom is."

So very true. For someone who carried you in her belly for nine months, went through the pain of childbirth and raised you to the become a decent human being, no other person in this world deserve more respect and affection than your mother. As a French novelist once wrote, the heart of a mother is a deep abyss at the bottom of which you will always find forgiveness.

My own mother celebrated her 76th birthday last month. She is coping as well as can be, considering her recovery from heart complications two years ago. I visit her as often as I can, which for me, is never enough.

Anyway, I'm putting up this post specifically to share some trivia about the numeral 9 :

a) In a normal non-leap year, the 9th of September is the 252nd day of the year. If we total up those numerals 2 + 5 + 2, we will get 9.

b) Any whole number multiplied by 9, would give an answer whose individual digits when added up result in 9. Example ~ 2 x 9 = 18, 1 + 8 = 9.  Or 32 x 9 = 288, 2 + 8 + 8 = 18, 1 + 8 = 9.   Or 126 x 9 = 1,134, 1 + 1 + 3 + 4 = 9.

c) The sum total of the ten digits in our arabic numerical system,
     0+1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8+9=45. 4 + 5 = 9.
    Works equally well in subtraction (change all the plus to minus), where we'll get -9.

d) Okay, let's try multiplication. Obviously we can't use zero in the equation, so it becomes,
     1x2x3x4x5x6x7x8x9 = 362,880. Therefore 3 + 6 + 2 + 8 + 8 + 0 = 27. And further on, 2 + 7 = 9.
     And does it work with division as well? I'll let you try that one out yourself.

So why this sudden interest in the number nine. It's just to let you know that this week marks the 9th year that this humble non-money-making blog is in circulation. Since writing the first post on 8 April 2008, I have now published a total of 468* entries. A mixed bag of personal stories, ramblings and sometimes worthless snippets.

Of course, the regularity of posting has somewhat declined over the years, as has the number of comments from readers. But I am not concerned about the figures. I just hope to have the interest and drive to continue writing and hopefully make the 10th anniversary target next year. Let's take it one year at a time.

Thank you to all readers and commenters for the company.

(* Coincidentally, 4 + 6 + 8 = 18, 1 + 8 = 9. I'm dreaming of nines this week :-)

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

One local destination a month - Part 3 : Lumut, Perak

Of all the states in Malaysia, I believe Perak is the one with the most peculiar place-names. By peculiar, I do not mean that they are strange or odd-sounding, but rather the names of normal everyday objects or nouns that somehow evolved to become the name of a place. This in itself is not abnormal (many places are named after the physical characteristics of the location, e.g. Kuala Lumpur, the muddy river mouth) but when you see the examples I'm about to give, you would perhaps understand what I mean.

The following examples and their literal translation :

1. Parit - drain or canal
2. Papan - wooden plank or board
3. Pusing - turn or rotate
4. Lumut - moss
5. Larut - multiple meanings i. dissolve in water, ii. late or extended
6. Matang - mature or ripe
7. Dinding - wall
8. Tambun - fat (a person) or pile (of earth, for example)
9. Mambang Di Awan - ghostly spirit in the clouds

There are of course, a number of other examples but I guess you get my point. Even the name of the state itself means silver, an error of description from ancient days for another mineral that is abundant in the state, i.e. tin. For its sheer freakishness and with no other comparable equivalent elsewhere in Malaysia, I'll give my vote to last place-name in the above list.

On 25 March last week, we were in Lumut to attend a wedding reception. After the reception, we booked into a budget hotel in Seri Manjung, the Ritz Garden Hotel. I have never stayed at this hotel before. I chose it after reading some guest reviews in Google Maps and I'm pleased to say that most of the reviews are accurate. I am satisfied with my stay there and I rate the place as value for money.

Later in the evening, we went to the small town of Lumut and took a leisurely walk along the jetty waterfront. This is where you board the ferry if you wish to visit the nearby Pangkor Island. It was a bright and lively place. There are a few roadside stalls selling snacks, drinks and souvenirs. Many people are taking a stroll or simply sitting on benches to admire the view of a glorious sunset. I guess we were there on a lucky day because the weather was nice and the orange-yellow sky was stunning. I lost count of how many shots I took on my phone-camera.

After the last light of the day finally disappeared, we went for dinner at the Horizon Garden Restaurant. Apparently this place is affiliated to another restaurant in Kuantan with the same name. I've patronised the Kuantan outlet a few times and I liked it. I therefore decided to give this branch a try and again I'm pleased to say that the food they serve are quite delicious. While the price may be on the upper range for some, I consider it reasonable because of the comfortable seating and satisfactory service.

The next morning, after a hearty breakfast at the hotel, we made another visit to Lumut town before making the long drive back to Johor Bahru. I had discovered on Google Maps that there is an old de-commissioned navy frigate which has been converted into a museum. This ship was not there when I last dropped by Lumut about ten years ago. I was very eager to take a step on this old vessel.

Alas, when we reached there that morning, Rahmat Maritime Museum is closed. The ship is moored there alright, but the gate at the front of the jetty walkway was locked. I had a look at the opening hours stated on the signboard. We were not early. So how come?

A stall-owner at the waterfront then told us that the place has been closed for nearly a year. Closed for what? It couldn't be for maintenance works because I see no activity on board. To me, the proper thing to do was to put up a `closure' sign of some sort at the front gate so that long distance travellers like me would at least know something. As it turned out, this was the only disappointment I had in our trip to Perak.

With this part of the itinerary cancelled, we made a short stop at Hasil Laut Jamilah, a store selling dried seafood products from Pangkor, namely anchovies (ikan bilis) and salted fish. I know that there are a few grades of anchovies but before that day, I didn't know that one of the highest grade is called ikan bilis mata biru. Really? I thought `blue eyes' is exclusive to Frank Sinatra... but what do I know about fish..

Fishing in the sunset at Lumut Waterfront. Visited 24 March 2017

No wind, just glorious evening sky

Nice view to end the day

KD Rahmat. A ship museum. Good idea but poor implementation

Good range of products at reasonable prices and very friendly owners

Mata biru, the best bilis that money can buy

Friday, 31 March 2017

A debt of gratitude (Part 1)

The old man was dressed in a simple light blue short-sleeved shirt and dark grey trousers. The white kopiah on his head seemed a bit frayed along the edges. On his right hand he carried a small packet of fish crackers while his left held a large red plastic bag, presumably containing more packets of the same.

He walked with a slight stoop as he approached our table where I was having a late supper with two friends at our favourite 24-hours mamak restaurant.

“Assalamualaikum encik,” he greeted me. “Sudi beli keropok ikang? Hok ni paling baik. Dari Kemamang.” His thick east coast accent indicated that he had come far just to peddle some produce. I was about to decline the sale when my friend Simon spoke.

“Berapa ringgit ni pakcik?”

Eight ringgit a packet was the reply.

“Pakcik ada berapa peket semuanya?” Simon continued, motioning to the large bag in the pedlar’s left hand.

The old man placed the bag on the floor and began counting its contents. He had a total of ten packs, including the one he first held in his right hand.

“Okay pakcik, saya beli semua,” Simon said.

The initial expression of surprise on the old man’s face was quickly replaced by a smile.

Simon then asked me and our other friend Suresh, how many packs of the keropok each of us wanted. Both of us replied that one was enough. Simon also wanted just one packet for himself and so requested the pedlar to place three individual packets into smaller plastic bags. For the remaining seven packets, the old man was instructed to go to the other customers in the restaurant and give them away to whomever he wishes.

The second look of surprise of the evening flashed over the old man’s face.

“Pakcik bagikan setiap meja satu bungkus, sampai habis semua,” Simon clarified. “Cakap yang ada orang sedekah. Boleh?”

Spoken like a true Muslim. Except that my friend Simon is not a Muslim and as far as I know, does not profess to any religion. Simon Yong is a third generation china-man of Hakka descent.

I have known Simon since we were in secondary school. Those days, I simply called him Ah Chye. That’s many, many years ago. We lost touch for a while after the final Form 5 exams when we chose different career paths. Throughout my adult working life, I had been posted to various states in Malaysia. A few years ago, I decided to return and settle down at my hometown of Johor Bahru. In that first few months I was back, my path was reconnected to Simon’s.

On the way home from work one evening, I had stopped by a mini-market to pick up some groceries. The man at the cash register was about my age. After totaling up my purchase, he asked if I’m new to the area because he’s not seen me before. Just moved back a few months ago, I answered. But I’m a local lad, through and through, I quickly added. If so, which school did you go to, he continued to ask. When I mentioned the name of my alma mater, he suddenly paused. He squinted his eyes and stared at my face in deep thought. I didn't feel any unease under the scrutiny. Many people say I have a very recognizable face. When he resumed speaking, the man behind the counter took a guess at my name. He was correct. It turned out that we were classmates from years long gone and have now reunited after a span of nearly thirty years. I asked him if he owned the store. Being the modest man that he is, he replied that he only works there but the store belonged to his father. I later found out that the family operates three convenience stores around town and that my friend Simon effectively owns them all because he holds the majority share. But as long as his father is still alive, Simon would say that the senior Yong is the owner.

After that day, we meet up regularly, usually over dinner or teh tarik at our favourite mamak joint. It so happened that Ah Chye and I support the same football team in the English Premier League. Later on, Simon introduced me to his friend Suresh, who is slightly younger than us but share many common interests. Except that he supports Chelsea. So when it comes to football talk, we trade friendly barbs at each other. You guys are okay, Suresh would say. “It’s the other red team supporters I cannot stand. Those devils think they are the best team ever.” Of course you have to say that, I reminded him, otherwise our good friend here would have to look for another lawyer. Suresh and Simon laughed in agreement. You see, apart from being a good friend, Suresh handles Simon’s legal affairs.

I had once asked Simon how decided upon his new western name. Is Ah Chye not glamorous enough, I joked. You remember the old TV series called The Saint, he questioned me back. The one with that handsome actor?

Yes, I do. Roger Moore.

Well, I think I’m as handsome as that actor, he continued. “So that’s why I took his name.” Now, hold on. I was puzzled. The guy’s first name is Roger. No lah, came the response… Simon Templar, the hero’s name! Oh, okay… now I get it (rolling my eyes).

So why not Roger, I asked again, just for the fun of it. The reply was just as swift. “You remember another TV series called Combat? The one where soldiers talk on the walkie-talkie and say ‘roger this’, or ‘roger that’?”

Sure, I do.

“Well, if I enter the army, I don’t want to be confused by hearing people calling out my name so many times, hahaha.” I could hardly suppress my chuckle on hearing the explanation. Of course, Simon never went to military service.

Simon made payment for the whole of the keropok pedlar's stock with two RM50 notes and told the man to keep the change.

It was our turn to be astonished when the old man responded, “Minta maaf encik. Saya dok boleh terima duit lebih ini. Saya datang nak berniaga bukan minta sedekoh. Harap encik dok kecik ati. Duit lebih tu mungkin rezeki orang laing. Terima kasih.”

He returned the RM20 change to Simon, smiled kindly at us and then left our table to distribute the remaining packets as requested.

“You are a very generous man, Simon. Your mother must have taught you well,” Suresh said.

“Actually, not my mother but my father,” Simon remarked. “He was the one who taught me to be kind and helpful to others. Because he was once helped by a very kind man... a long time ago. Have I not told you my father’s story?”

Suresh and I shook our heads.

“Okay… I’ll tell you. But let me finish my mee goreng first.”

As Simon chowed down his fried noodles, I glanced around to see how the old keropok-seller was getting along. He was actually doing something not quite different from what he had set out to do, except that now he is giving away those fish crackers for free rather than selling them. Even so, every person he approached was surprised at the gift and he had to point to our table to indicate the source of the goodwill...

Thursday, 23 March 2017

One local destination a month - Part 2 : Tanjung Kling, Melaka

Without doubt, the most famous warrior in Malay history is Laksamana Hang Tuah, an admiral and royal aide in the court of Melaka's sultan during the 15th century. His bravery, strength and fighting skills are said to be legendary. His adventures and exploits are written in a literary compilation of stories known as Hikayat Hang Tuah, the author or authors of which are unknown. Also mentioned in those stories are his four close companions named Hang Jebat, Hang Kasturi, Hang Lekir and Hang Lekiu, all of whom were also brave and skillful warriors.

Perhaps the most intriguing and controversial of the stories (to me at least), is the one where Hang Tuah was accused of having an affair with one of the sultan's maid. The king, without further investigation or trial, ordered that his admiral be executed for the alleged offense. The bendahara (chief minister), not believing in Hang Tuah's guilt, did not carry out the sentence but chose to hide the accused at an isolated place.

On hearing the unjust punishment on his friend, Hang Jebat vowed to seek revenge. He attacked the palace and killed many of the sultan's guards but the king himself managed to escape. Hang Jebat's rampage was violent and without mercy. There was no one left with equal skills to fight him.

The bendahara finally had to confide to the sultan that Hang Tuah was actually still alive and that only Tuah could persuade his friend Jebat to surrender. On hearing this, the sultan pardoned Tuah and summoned him to surface from his hiding place. Tuah then confronted Jebat and requested the latter to give up his fight. Jebat was surprised that his companion still chose to be loyal to the king despite being unjustly accused and sentenced. A fight ensued between the two close friends and it ended with Tuah killing Jebat.

This episode has been subject of study by Malay historians and scholars for many years. Does blind loyalty to a wicked king take precedence over the life of your closest friend who stood up for you or does avenging a fellow warrior's unjust execution allow you to revolt against your ruler?

This story may just be folklore. Whether it really happened is hard to say. There are some people who think that Hang Tuah and his four friends never actually existed. According to one legend, Hang Tuah was part of the entourage that went up the mountain to seek the hand of Puteri Gunung Ledang on behalf of the sultan. On hearing the pre-conditions set by the princess for the marriage, Tuah realised that they were impossible to fulfill. Feeling that he had failed in his task, Tuah reportedly threw his kris into a river and vowed never to return to Melaka until it floated, which it never did. Another version of the story has it that Tuah did return to Melaka and died of old age. His grave is said to be located at Tanjung Kling, about 10km from present-day Melaka city centre.

On 17 February 2017, we were in Melaka to attend a wedding reception. I took the opportunity to visit Hang Tuah's mausoleum, using Google Maps Navigator to guide me to the location. I had not known of the place until I discovered it while browsing Maps a few weeks earlier.

The cemetery is old but well-maintained. The peculiar thing about the grave is its elongated structure, not corresponding to the average height of a normal person. I doubt the particular deceased had abnormal length. Indeed, it is also not definitive that it is the body of the great warrior that is buried there.

Anyway, whether it is actually the grave of Hang Tuah or not, it makes interesting contemplation nonetheless.

The mausoleum of a great warrior. Visited 17 Feb 2017

The entrance gate to the cemetery