Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Day of Books, Plates & Moo Cow..

It has been almost a year since I last step foot inside Amcorp Mall in Petaling Jaya (story here). I remember that trip well because it marked my very first venture into BookXcess, that sprawling, totally unpretentious store on the third floor, where books were sold at stunningly low prices. 

Today once again I was Amcorp Mall bound; it was my day out with the eldest, Naj, and the youngest, Awwa. An outing with Naj is a rare occurrence, then and now. A journo's life is a hectic one; having been one myself, I know the score. So when he called to ask if I would like to go book-shopping with him, I jumped at the idea. 

Today's haul was a good one; Peter Carey's Parrot and Olivier In America, Jon Katz's The Dogs of Bedlam Farm, Bill Bryson's In A Sunburned Country and Shakespeare: The World As Stage, Jim Wight's The Real James Herriot - A Memoir of My Father and Asne Seierstad's The Bookseller of Kabul.

Touted as 'a comic masterpiece' by New Yorker and 'fizzing with fictional panache' by Sunday Times, Parrot and Olivier In America details the picaresque travels in the New World of a French aristocrat and his Englishman servant. Going by the blurbs alone, I think I am going to enjoy this one.

Peter Carey is twice winner of The Booker Prize (for Oscar and Lucinda and The True History of The Kelly Gang) and the book Parrot and Olivier was shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize 2010. (Howard Jacobson eventually won it for his The Finkler Question).

Jon Katz's The Dogs of Bedlam Farm can't go wrong with people who love animal stories. Yorkshire vet and master storyteller James Herriot got me started some 40 years ago, and I haven't looked back since. 

There's Vicki Myron's delightful Dewey, about a cat adopted by a small town libraryand John Grogan's Myron & Me, about a dog that changed a man's life, on the shelf at home, not to mention the whole gamut of Herriot's humorous take on his rural practice. Simply said, I'm a sucker for animal tales.

Of Bill Bryson, of course he needs no introduction. I'm a fan through and through and the two books complete my collection of all his work. In A Sunburned Country, his dry take on equally parched Australia continues his travelogue tradition and in Shakespeare: The World As Stage, Bryson, with his trademark wit, wades through the muddles of time to reveal Shakespeare as the poet really was.       

In The Real James Herriot - A Memoir of My Father, son Jim Wight ventures beyond his father's life as a veterinarian to reveal the man behind the stories, the private individual who refused to allow fame and wealth to interfere with his practice or his family.

As for The Bookseller of Kabul, I must confess I had neither read nor heard of Norwegian writer Asne Seierstad before. The book is an international bestseller and "the most intimate description of an Afghan household ever produced by a Western journalist.." (New York Times Book Review) is enough to capture my attention.

With the exception of Bill Bryson's "Shakespeare... at RM19.90, the rest were priced at RM17.90 each, working out to less than RM110 for six brand new books. If that's not a decent enough damage I don't know what is. In ordinary book stores, I'd probably have to fork out more than twice as much for the same number of books.   

It being Sunday, the flea market was in full swing so we joined the teeming crowd... and got ourselves these cake plates at RM10 for six pieces (you can mix and match). Couldn't resist lah, darn cheap, so I settled upon these two patterns. These are brand new plates; the factory is in Puchong.

One Utama was the last stop before going home; I was lamenting about the disappearance of my favourite yoghurt swirl from Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf's menu (the line was discontinued effective 26/9 recently) when Awwa suggested I should give Moo Cow a try...

My verdict: SEDAP!  

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Magnificent, Magnetic Mabul

The sea was rough; the ride, rougher. As the motored boat rode the rolling waves of Sulawesi Sea like a man possessed, strong winds blew my scarf askew, revealing once neatly tied hair in a dishevelled tangle. 

I am no novice to the wiles of the sea, having lived by the South China Sea throughout my childhood. My derrière may be accustomed to the comfort of padded chairs in air-conditioned rooms, but all things considered, I'm still a Dungun girl at heart and the sea, my master. 

If there is anything to be said about this old gal’s seaworthiness, it’s that her stomach content held admirably. I wasn't even queasy, just occasionally nervous at the vast expanse of the undulating deep blue rising and falling around me. 

I was on my way to the island of Mabul, a sea-diving haven off the coast of Samporna, Sabah. It sure was a long way from home; a three-hour flight from Kuala Lumpur to Tawau, followed by an hour-long drive to the coastal town of Samporna and a further one-hour journey by boat to Mabul. 

It was not, by any yardstick, a journey of leisure. The four of us – two young men hanging on tight to a precious, 12-foot solar panel, my lady boss and I – were on a mission to help make life a little easier to the islanders, courtesy of a generous corporate donor. 

The donor was financing a couple of projects under their community service programme; solar-powered water pumps for fresh water supply and electricity supply to the islanders, their mosque, religious school and a school for refugee children, as well as new latrines for the latter. Our role was to facilitate the projects.

I am ashamed to admit I had never been to East Malaysia before the Mabul trip. God knows the plans the family had made over the years insofar as Borneo was concerned; to trek up Mount Kinabalu, visit Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary, walk across the famous 'jambatan' in Tamparuli, traipse around Kuching, explore Niah Caves, spend time in an Iban longhouse and a Bidayuh village, check out all the bazaars and tamus and pasars..

Nothing ever came to fruition, however. Too many things got in the way, chief amongst them my work, unfortunately. As a single mother raising 4 kids, I could afford neither time nor money for such frivolity. And then the kids grew up and left home to live their own lives. Family holidays remained a distant dream. It still does.

That trip to Mabul (July 2012) was a break of sort. I was determined to make full use of the opportunity to do a bit of exploring. And I did. I never thought I would find another 'place by the sea' as beautiful as my hometown, Dungun, but in Mabul I did. 

The admiration, whilst grudging, was genuine. Oval-shaped Mabul was simply enchanting. Fine white sand, flat and shallow seabed that seemed to go on forever (you can walk far out to sea when the tide goes out), swaying palms, pleasant inhabitants... 

According to kampung chief and community leader Hj Yusuf, there were some 3000 people living on the island, mostly Bajau Laut and Suluk Muslims, immigrants from nearby islands of the southern Philippines.

Mabul found fame due to its close proximity to Sipadan, one of the world's best dive spots. Because the government disallows construction of any kind on Sipadan, visitors have to stay on Mabul, which boasts of a few resorts of international standard and numerous water-cottage homestays.

A diving haven itself, Mabul is recognised as one of the best muck-diving sites in the world. A couple of diving enthusiasts i know swear by Mabul; they can never get enough of diving and underwater-photographing there.

Our motley  gang of four spent four days in Mabul checking and identifying sites, having discussions with local leaders, making friends and eating fresh seafood, fish hauled up daily just by sitting on the jetty and throwing one's line into the water. I devoured juicy crabs - boiled, fried, curried - like there was no tomorrow.

Leaving Mabul was hard. It felt like leaving good old Dungun all over again. Here I am in KL, but deep inside, Mabul still reigns..  

Monday, October 8, 2012

Qurban For Life (Q4L)

Qurban is one of the most important rituals in the Muslim calendar. Broadly speaking, the word, which is Arabic, means 'sacrifice'. In precise religious terminology however, qurban means the sacrifice of an animal slaughtered for the sake of Allah (swt).

In the Shari'ah of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (saw), qurban commemorates the unparalleled sacrifice offered by the Prophet Abraham (a.s) when he, in pursuance to God's command conveyed to him in a dream, prepared to slaughter his son Ishmael.

In the final moments, Allah (swt) decreed a sheep be slaughtered in Ismael's place. The sacrifice of an animal thus became an obligatory duty to be performed by every Muslim (who fulfils the criteria for this ritual) since.

Qurban is performed annually during the three days of the Eid ul Adha (Hari Raya Haji), specifically on  the 10th, 11th and 12th of the Islamic month of Zulhijjah. The meat is then distributed to the poor and the needy, with a smaller portion reserved for one's family and friends.

In modern times, many Islamic-based charity organisations, of which Muslim Aid Malaysia (Muslim Aid) is one, offer to facilitate the obligatory duty of Qurban as one of  their services for the ummah.

Muslim Aid is under the ambit of London-based Muslim Aid International and the international network has been organising the Qurban campaign, named Qurban For Life (Q4L) for the past two decades. 

Meat is distributed to underprivileged Muslims the world over, from Afghanistan to Somalia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Iraq, Pakistan,  Palestine as well as Kashmir and the southern provinces of Thailand where there is a large Muslim population. 

In the case of the local chapter, Australian cattle is the norm and slaughter is done in Jakim-accredited abbattoirs in Australia. Muslim Aid officers are usually on hand to witness the ritual to ensure it meets all the necessary Islamic criteria.

The meat is then shipped to Malaysia and thereon to a canning factory in Terengganu, where it is canned according to specific requirements before being distributed locally and worldwide. 

The list of receiving countries has since grown longer and this year Myanmar is added to the group, the main beneficiaries being the repressed Rohingyas and Myanmar-Muslims. 

On the local front, the meat is distributed to orphanages, homes and shelters for single mothers/abandoned wives, the elderly, the destitute, the disabled and the poor.  

Muslim Aid is the only Islamic-based organisation in this country that offers qurban meat in cans. Canning is preferred over fresh and/or frozen meat to avoid wastage. The meat is either canned in brine or as corned beef or even as curry, depending on local needs.

For those who would like to participate in Muslim Aid's Q4L, the cost is only RM380 per head of sheep or per portion of cattle (there are seven portions to a cattle). 

The amount is nett of slaughter, shipping and transportation from Australia to Terengganu, processing and canning, and distribution local and worldwide. 

Let's spread the joy of Eid ul Adha with the less fortunate through the ibadah of Qurban. For more details, you can peruse the Q4L website here. May Allah swt bless you for your good deeds. 

Back In Action (I'd Better Be...)

It has been three long months since I last updated Kata Kama. I used to wonder why some of my fellow bloggers had slackened; Too lazy or tired to bother? Hard-pressed for time? Bereft of ideas? That was before I fell into the same trap myself.

Some had abandoned their blogs entirely. A few others had turned to loads of engaging visuals, appropriately captioned, to make up for the lack of words. Commendable act, this.

Me? I'd attribute my tardiness to mental fatigue. There were topics and issues aplenty to delve into but each time I faced the screen, I couldn't even begin a decent line, let alone be creative.

Intermittently, there were calls and text messages from concerned friends and acquaintances asking about this old self and the reason for the prolonged AWOL. I wish I can justify my absence with some plausible excuse, but there is none.

Be that as it may, here I am, back in action. Let this entry be a new beginning and let's hope I will not fall by the wayside once again...