Wednesday, December 29, 2004

And then came a giant Tsunami

News about the earthquake and the Tsunami has hit the news for a few days now. The number of some deaths have been published, while others still being being searched.

Just the sight of the rows and rows and rows of bodies in Acheh brought tears to my eyes. And the destruction in Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Maldives, just to name a few, makes me realize how small we humans are in the grand scale of things.

Part of me asked, why God? Why here? Why these people? What did they do to deserve this?

On the other hand I recognize that God Almighty is all knowing and its not my place to ask these things.

These are places where the locals weren't very wealthy. Some are people whose lives dependent on the sea while others on the tourism industry.

And those families on holidays. Perhaps they were just at the wrong place at the wrong time? Or that it was predestined that life will be taken from them like that.

If anything, what is reinforced to me is that life is transient. One should grasp all oppurtunities that is presented to you and relish it while you can.

Because you don't know when your time is up.

You might be taken by a huge tidal wave, a typhoon, an earthquake or perhaps just right at your own front door or even while you're sleeping. Its not to say that one should focus on impending death, but rather recognize it is an eventuality.

Death the Leveller
James Shirley 1506 - 1666

THE glories of our blood and state
Are shadows, not substantial things;
There is no armour against Fate;
Death lays his icy hand on kings:
Sceptre and Crown 5
Must tumble down,
And in the dust be equal made
With the poor crookèd scythe and spade.

Some men with swords may reap the field,
And plant fresh laurels where they kill: 10
But their strong nerves at last must yield;
They tame but one another still:
Early or late
They stoop to fate,
And must give up their murmuring breath 15
When they, pale captives, creep to death.

The garlands wither on your brow,
Then boast no more your mighty deeds!
Upon Death's purple altar now
See where the victor-victim bleeds. 20
Your heads must come
To the cold tomb:
Only the actions of the just
Smell sweet and blossom in their dust.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

What an IDIOT I am!

Guess what! By some fluke accident, I managed to change my template without copying my previous template.
So my blog links and everything else has been erased!

Please leave me your links and your sites if you want me to link my site to your blog.

Will try to correct my silly errors as soon as I can.

:( Talk about itchy fingers!

Part II - A different experience

Back from Bahrain, we headed towards suburban Khobar headed towards the family home of a relative of my travel companion.

Upon arrival at the house, we were pointed to different entrances for men and women. The men entered from the front and the women from the side. At the women's entrance we were greeted by the teenage daughter of the hostess.

As we entered the reception area, we greeted each woman with several pecks on the cheek. With some women it was 3, with some its 4, so I didn't really know how many times it would be considered customary.

We then took off our abayas and sat down. The ladies all kept their shoes on, so obviously this taking-shoes-off in the house thing is a Malay tradition not practiced here.

As I have been warned many times by friends who have been entertained by a S@udi, dinner is a very long drawn affair. I gathered that we were the guests that they have been waiting for as the refreshments were only served after we came.

After about half an hour, we were served with tea or Shay. This was accompanied with mini pizza/sandwiches/pastry type things and assorted nuts.

We ladies did not have to get up to get the goodies. The hostess or her daughter would come round to each and every person, presenting either the tea or the tray in front of each guest.

And so we spent some time with the tea, and the snacks. Talking and chatting, with me mostly listening since most of the conversation was in Arabic.

And then there was the Gahwa (Arabic coffee with lots of cardamom, very bitter as it is not sweetened by sugar but eaten with dates or other sweet pastries). The Gahwa is served in tiny cups (resembles the small Chinese tea cups at wedding ceremonies).

In the meantime the conversation continued. I acquainted myself with some of the Malaysian ladies there, the in laws, whilst the Arab sisters all went out shopping.

I have to mentioned though that I saw a great divide in terms of how the Arab sisters dress and the Malaysian in laws were dressed. The Arab sisters were dressed in their finest, sporting Gucci shoes, LV handbag, French clothes, basically very fashionable. The Malaysian ladies however dressed very simply with their head covered with a scarf, even indoors.

And then there was Keropok and chilli sauce, with sirap Rose merah. (A Malay additional to the ritual I bet.)

In the meantime my cough was getting worse. I tell ya, cough+ nuts + coffee + keropok is a surefire way to lose your voice.

Finally the other sisters came back. It is a transformation indeed as you see them all covered up from top to bottom except for the tiny slit for their eyes, and when all is taken away, they are back in their glamorous selves.

And suddenly there was a flurry of activity. Dinner is ready and we were all invited upstairs where the food is served.

Like a Malay home, dinner was served on the floor. There was a long plastic table-cloth thingy or as the Malays call is Sapra. Everyone rushed to sit down, the very young children sat on a small table and the end while the other women and older children on the floor. Some had plates while others ate directly off the table cloth.

The menu was Kabsah, what we Malays will call Nasi Minyak. Its a cross between Bryani and Nasi minyak as it is not as spicy as the earlier and just as rich as the latter. Lamb kabsah was served with some feta cheese, olives, tomato sambal thingy and some Arab leaves which counts as salad I guess.

As guests we were looked after very well by all. Rice was scooped for us on our plate and the minute it looked like we were finishing, more was scooped onto our plates. Meat was thrown into our plates making sure that we had ample to eat.

After dinner, we washed our hands and headed back downstairs again, where more Shay is served.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Weekend story I - Trip to Bahrain

Over the weekend I was plagued by a horrible cough and I managed to progessively loose my voice.

We were planning a driving to Bahrain, but just the night before the drive I had discovered that we didn't have hubby's passport. It is one of the regulations here that upsets him. His passport is kept by the employer (the company) in exchange for the local identity card called the Iqama. Actually what upset him the most was that he was asked to surrender his passport because he is Asian. He knows that the white-boys in his office wasn't asked to surrender their passports. When he complained to the people involved they said something like this...

"Well we have to collect your passport you see. Because otherwise the Filipinos and the Indians will ask to keep their own passports too!"

Talk about double standards and racism. But they don't even see it as racism anymore. To them its normal, they respect and allow the Westerners to get away with most things and we Asians are considered their slaves, more or less. C'est la vie.

But anyways I was digressing.

So we thought we would drive to the Eastern province and try to find a taxi cab to drive us to Bahrain. This trip was crucial for me because I needed to activate my exit-re-entry visa. They are very obsessed with control here. Should we decide that we want to leave the country at any time, it would be impossible unless we have an exit permit. And to re-enter the country again, one requires a multiple exit-reentry visa. And we would need to use this visa within 2 months of it being issued. Failure to do so will mean a 1,000 riyals fine.

So basically once we applied for one, we need to use it almost immediately.

And so there we were trying to find a way of getting over to Bahrain. Luckily our friend had a contact who could help us. He is a cab driver in Khobar. But we were rather shocked to find out the cost of ferrying us over the border. 250 riyals one way. 500 riyals return. And only to ferry us across the border, not to drive us around town. Hmpphhrrrr.

If I was coughing before crossing the border, somehow my cough stopped bordering me when we arrived across the border. It was such a different atmosphere there. We went to Seef Mall which is one of the bigger Malls in Bahrain. There were lots of people without Abaya both Western and Arabic. And even those wearing Abayas had beautiful coloured ones. People were smiling and there was Music in the Mall. Something that you won't hear in any of the Malls just across the border.

And I know this sounds silly, but I was so taken by the fact that the salespersons at the foodcourt are WOMEN! Smiling women at that! And they were not just the Filipinos/Indian/Bangledeshi but Arabic women as well. Pretty ones too! Such a change for me to see their faces uncovered and serving me with a smile, speaking beautiful English!

Perhaps for the rest of you in the normal world, all these things are normal and common to you. But for me, it is a huge change and a pleasant surprise indeed! At last I feel human again. That as a woman, we are part of the society, not just beings shrouded in black from top to bottom hidden from sight.

But alas, we only had 2.5 hrs there before we would be ferried back across the border. I was really sad when it was time to leave. I bought a box of Leonidas Belgian chocolate to bring back with me. I think I almost cried when I had to put my Abaya on again. Back to the world of blackness.

And my cough came back again!

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

This one cracked me up!

Seen on Harian Metro (Check out the symbolism!):

Karam sebelum belayar (Sunk before leaving port)

SAYA sudah berkahwin sejak setahun lalu. Masalah saya ialah air mani mudah terkeluar walaupun belum memulakan persetubuhan.
Adakah ia disebabkan oleh Am@lan mel@ncap yang kerap saya lakukan ketika remaja dahulu? Bagaimana caranya untuk melambatkan pengeluaran air mani atau klimaks ketika bersetubuh?

If you want to know the expert's answer (jawapan pakar) please click on the link above.

Also, this one also tickles me to no end! Taken from Sorry the link is no longer available.

Kisah Teladan: Dahaga seks di Tanah Suci

APABILA seseorang sudah berada di Tanah Suci, mereka seharusnya mengelak daripada melakukan perkara yang boleh membatalkan ibadat haji. Ini kerana apabila seseorang sudah terbatal ibadat haji, adalah menjadi kewajipannya jika berkemampuan menggantikannya (qada) pada tahun berikutnya.

Itu yang berlaku pada satu pasangan suami isteri, yang tidak tahan godaan hawa nafsu hingga sanggup melakukan hubungan seks walaupun belum melakukan tahalul akhir.

Pasangan itu dengan beberapa kawannya memilih penerbangan awal untuk menunaikan ibadat haji. Mereka tiba di Madinah dan seperti biasa, lelaki dan wanita diasingkan walaupun pasangan suami isteri. Disebabkan ghairah untuk beribadat, masing-masing sibuk dan si isteri asyik dengan rakan wanitanya. Jarang sekali pasangan suami isteri itu dapat ke masjid bersama.

Walaupun berada di Tanah Suci, godaan syaitan tidak ada terhenti. Apabila si suami melihat wanita cantik, rasa ghairah tetap ada. Apa lagi dia sudah hampir sebulan tidak mengadakan hubungan seks dengan isterinya. Maklumlah seminggu dua sebelum berangkat ke Tanah Suci, mereka sibuk mencari barangan keperluan dan melayan tetamu yang datang ke rumah.

Apabila berada di Madinah, si isteri agak dingin dengan soal seks. Sebenarnya sebelum mereka berniat dan memakai ihram, pasangan suami isteri boleh menggunakan ‘bilik berkat’ yang disediakan Tabung Haji untuk hubungan suami isteri. Bagaimanapun, mereka tidak menggunakan bilik yang disediakan kepada pasangan suami isteri.

Selepas lapan hari berada di Madinah, mereka berangkat ke Makkah. Memandangkan mereka sudah berniat ihram, mereka tidak boleh lagi bercumbuan apa lagi melakukan hubungan seks. Seperti jemaah lain, banyak masa dihabiskan di Masjidil Haram.

Selepas berada di Makkah, pasangan itu berangkat ke Arafah. Di Arafah juga lelaki dan wanita diasingkan. Arafah adalah tempat seseorang digalakkan memohon banyak keampunan daripada Allah dan doa yang ikhlas di bumi Arafah akan dimakbulkan Allah.

Dari Arafah, bas yang dinaiki pasangan itu melewati Mudzalifah sebagai salah satu dari wajib haji dan mereka sepatutnya berada di Mina tetapi bas yang membawa mereka terus ke Makkah. Apabila berada di bilik hotel dengan keadaan yang agak sunyi kerana sebahagian jemaah berada di Mina, timbul keinginan suami untuk melakukan hubungan seks dengan isterinya. Si suami begitu dahagakan seks.

Akhirnya pasangan itu melakukan hubungan seks. Ketika sedang berehat, si isteri sempat membelek buku agama yang dibawanya dan alangkah terkejut kerana seseorang jemaah tidak boleh mengadakan hubungan seks sebelum tahlul akhir. Sepatutnya selepas kembali dari Mina, mereka melakukan tahlul akhir, iaitu tawaf, saie dan bergunting. Selepas itu baru dibolehkan melakukan hubungan suami isteri.

Setelah pasangan itu merujuk kepada guru agama maktab, sah ibadat haji mereka terbatal, malah diwajibkan membayar fidyah dengan menyembelih seekor unta. Bukan setakat itu saja, mereka juga jika berkemampuan, perlu qada ibadat haji pada tahun berikutnya.

Bagi haji qada, jika seseorang masih tidak memiliki kewangan yang cukup, mereka perlu menjual sedikit harta benda untuk melaksanakan ibadat itu. Begitulah beratnya haji qada berbanding haji biasa.

Iktibar dari cerita ini, walaupun seseorang berada di Tanah Suci, godaan syaitan tidak terhenti malah semakin mencabar. Ketahanan iman amat penting.

Dalam hal ini, isteri juga jangan bersikap negatif dalam soal seks. Jika suami mengajak berasmara ketika belum berihram hendaklah ditunaikan permintaan suami kerana itu salah satu hikmah daripada berumahtangga.

[Moral of the story if your husband tells you he wants to do it with you, just do it! *LOL*}

Monday, December 20, 2004

Christmas is *almost* here

And I still don't know what Christmas presents to get for my friends. I don't know if they will be giving any to me and if so what should I give them in return. I am horrible at picking Christmas presents!

Last year it was fairly easy, I would just go to my favourite store (namely Marks & Spencers and Crabtree and Evelyn) and buy some gifts for my neighbours. Some cookies perhaps or toileteries. But this time round I haven't given Christmas much thought!


How many more shopping days to Christmas?

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Ban on camera phone lifted


For those of you out there, camera phones were banned here until 2 days ago!

Finally they realize that this is an advancement in technology which they cannot fight against.

Perhaps they realize that it would be impossible to police the Haj pilgrims coming in with their camera phones!


Monday, December 13, 2004

Watering plants

Perhaps those of you reading this is wandering, how hard is it to water plants?

Well obviously I didn't think it was very difficult myself when I accepted the responsibility of watering a neighbour's plants when they were away. Until I was called to her place, and given an orientation of her plant family members!

She obviously love plants very, very much because she has lots of them in her home. Will count them the next time I am there.

But anyways, she keeps a special pail, several bottles and watering cans of water to water her plants. She informed me that she does not water her plants using water that just came from the tap, but rather keeps water overnight in those special containers I mentioned earlier and uses the water from there to water her plants. She also requested that her plants are watered when there is still sunlight and that they are watered every other day.


So yesterday I went again to water these beloved plants. You see, I am one of those people who have this huge fear of responsibility. I made sure that I didn't miss the every other day bit and also made the effort to go in the afternoon before the sun set.

I really don't know how she would react towards me if she found the plants dying when she comes back!!

After all she had fired 2 maids while I was gone. She can't fire me as a friend can she? Or would she?

She told me that she fired the first maid because the maid was unable to clean. She fired the second because the latter broke some of her beloved tiny crystal animals.

Yes, she is a very particular and exacting person.

So there I was at her place, watering her plants. 15 mins tops I thought. Dumm dee dumm dee dum. OK OK I do have to confess! I used the tap water to water her plants! Well what do you expect!! Its hard work lifting pails and bottles! I just wanted to zip through!

And I over watered the plants!!!! (Or perhaps the plants KNEW and REJECTED the tap water I fed them with!!)

Just as I was about to lock up and leave, I noticed trails of water everywhere on the countertop and on the floor near the plants. YIKES!! I quickly picked up a sponge and tried to sponge off the water from the counter top. OOPpsss too late! Her hand made box is a little wet! Oh dear!

And in the meantime, the water from the potted plants behind the couch is threatening to soak up the couch! The very same couch that they brought with them from Austria!!

So there I was, on my hand and my knees trying deperately to soak up the water before any damage could be done to their couch. So much for my 15 minutes job! I don't even get on my hands and knees to clean my own place! (We have carpets so I'd just vaccuum it.)

And so I thought I am now ready to leave. NOT!

As I was walking down the stairs I noticed more water dripping, slowly creeping down the stairs! Almost taunting me, telling me "Yahahahaha you used tap water! And too much too! And we'll tell the plants' owner you did that!"

Grrrrrrrr. So I took off my slippers, grabbed the sponge and the small watering can to hold the water I soaked up and started soaking up the water on the stairs.

I have just recovered from flu and just small tasks like these was wearing me up!

And I went to bed with a huge headache and my knees click everytime I do up and down the stairs! I don't know if its really related or perhaps its just my own guilt!

Will promise to water the plants only with the designated water next time!
Yes I am an addict.

What am I addicted to? The series 24! Thats right! And worst still I have the tendency to watch the whole series back to back. And yes it takes more than 24 hours to watch it back to back because sometimes one have to have a toilet break, stop to make coffee and have a refreshment.

I was introduced to 24 by a dear friend of ours who had the complete series 2 DVD. We didn't have a DVD player then, but we actually went out to get one so we could watch it. And we didn't regret it one bit.

And how do I watch it back to back here? By downloading the whole series online of course!

So now I am free. Jack Bauer saved the day.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

The helicopters are still at it

I can still hear them everyday now. Apparently its for our own security. Especially after the Jeddah attack. Some residents have been told by their companies not to leave the premises after dark. Are we barricading ourselves in?

I haven't gone out since the weekend. Not that I am afraid of terrorist or the attacks but rather I have been down with flu.

Had some guests over on Wednesday night. One couple was two nurses and they told us of interesting stories of the people they encountered with in their ward.

The other was another couple with whom we often hung out with.

Could it be because we have similar mindsets, enjoyed the same jokes that we enjoyed each others' company so much? Or that we are couples without children that we are children ourselves, that we get to enjoy a simple weekend dinner without worrying if the kids are OK at home or if it was past their bedtime or if the food suited the kids.

Could it be if we chose our friends by the simple fact that they are very similar with us, in this case people with no children?

I found that it is true for me in the compound as well. There aren't that many single young people here in the first place. Not ladies anyways. The ladies would have been housed at ladies only compounds. But I found that most of the people I hung out with most often are those coupled without children.

Perhaps it because those with children would be too busy feeding and putting their children to bed anyways. And they would be exhausted at the end of the day themselves. And we wouldn't understand have of their problems or jokes. Or wouldn't we? Or won't we?

Monday, December 06, 2004

Another Day another attack

This time at the US consulate in Jeddah. For awhile now the US consulate in Saudi Arabia has been on high alert. Even the ACS (American Community Services) have been closed permanently until further notice in Riyadh. And this an attack in Jeddah. So far Jeddah has been very much sheltered from the spat of attacks from terrorists. Aside from the shooting of a French man a few months ago, it has been fairly quiet in terms of the terrorist front in Jeddah.

Something brewing

Judging from the show of force form the National guards outside the compound, I did guess that something has been brewing. The tanks that have been covered up all summer, is back on show. And the number of police cars manning road blocks did increase for the past few days. We could also hear helicopters circling in the air for the past two days. They knew that the terrorists are poised for another attack.

I guess its a clear sign that Eid is over and the terrorist have had all the kabsahs and the Eid goodies and are all ready for a fight.

Aren't they suppose to be preparing for Haj?

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Another weekend flew by

And this time round I actually managed to do something nice. Invited a friend over for dinner but alas! What was I thinking serving English food to an Englishman? It just so happened that I bought a roast joint the day before and thought that it was rather large for just two people. And since I owe him a dinner and a cheesecake anyways, I thought why not have him over for roast. Hehehe Thursday dinner roast rather than the Sunday variety ;)

After extending the invitation I of course decided that I needed to drop by at this chinaware shop which was having a 50% off sale. That in turn over left me with 1 hour to cook roast. Errkk!

Thank God for Gary Rhodes! Luckily while perusing my newly acquired Rhodes recipe book I found a recipe for a roast that required a much shorter cooking time (20 mins per 600g) rather than the normal 2-3 hrs roasting time. The main difference? To panfry all sides of the roast with butter first until brown and roast the meat at 400 oF.

It was also my first time at making gravy from scratch! Normally I would have just used Bisto! But I didn't see any being sold here. My last attempt yielded a goey mixture. I found out that the secret is in the whisking.

And then there was the matter of the carrots and the cabbage. I seldom have my roast with cabbage so I didn't exactly know what to do with it. Again found the instructions for glazed carrots and cabbage in the Rhodes book. What can I say, £10 well spent!

And its Saturday today. For lunch it will be mushroom and leek fritata with cheesecake as dessert of course!

Am I making you hungry yet?

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Excuse me, do you work for the Embassy?

"Could you show us your cordless phones please?"

The salesmen proceeded to usher us into the innermost isle and showed us a selection of phone. These phone are cheap and tacky. I am not interested in those.

"But we want cordless phones, don't you have any cordless phones?"

He showed us some handsets which were large and unattractive.

"Don't you have the Siemens ones?" I asked.

"Oh Siemens. They are a lot of money," he replied.

"Well show them to us anyways," we replied. Did we say that money was a problem? Did we even mention to him what our budget was?

"Where are you from," he asked.

Aha the inevitable question. He probably thought that we were either Indonesian or Filipino labor workers.

"From Malaysia."

"Ah Malaysia, a lot of money! Mahathir is very good! Do you work for the embassy?"

We didn't want to break the man's heart to tell him that we are professionals working for a reputable financial institution. He might find it very hard to swallow, that people from the South East Asia are capable of being anything else than maids, drivers, salesmen and laborers.

"Yes we work for the Embassy."

What I find most distasteful is that these people don't bother to hide their ignorance and their racism. The minute they see my face they decide that I am probably a maid and my other half is perhaps a driver. Because it was unimaginable to them that the 4x4 could be ours.

But even the Asians themselves think the same way here which is rather sad.

At the Ferragamo boutique, I was served by a Filipino man.

"Where are you from Madam?" he asked.

"Malaysia," I answered.

"Do they have Ferragamo boutique in Malaysia?"

"Yes they do."

Should I have told him that I already have a considerable collection of Ferragamo shoes? (Even if I bought most of them from Bicester!) But that might confused him too much you see. Because it was hard for him to believe that I could even afford a pair.

And of course the one million dollar question, "Do you work for the embassy Madam?"

And its not just him.

At a household shop, we bought some Arabic tea and coffee sets. Thankfully for us there was an Indonesian salesperson working for the shop. So I could ask him questions and prices without having to refer to the calculator.

But I noticed everytime I asked the price of something dear and nice, he sounded very apologetic and continued to mention that the prices are rather high because the items came from Europe and he was more than willing to offer me alternative items from China which he says were much cheaper.

After selecting a set of Italian Murano tea and coffee cups, he had to ask us once again.

"Bapak dan ibu dari mana? Brunei?" ("Where are you from? Brunei?)


"Ooo dari Malaysia, kerja di kedutaan?" (Oh from Malaysia, do you work at the Embassy.)

Perhaps to them, only the Malaysians with money here are the officials from the Embassy. But we are at fault because we let them reinforce those prejudice. But we are private people who don't necessarily like telling people unknown to us where we live, what we do and who we are. By saying yes, we are just saying MYOB.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Still on London time

I woke up at noon this morning. So much for "life as normal." I missed yesterday's kick boxing class and today's potluck morning. Hey it would only be 9 am in London! My normal wake up time.

I am slowly bringing back my heart and soul here.

Have been holed up in the villa for the past two days. Did take a 5 mins walk to the minimart to get milk. Of course I was almost immediately reminded where I was when a fellow resident stared at my navel as I walked out of the shop.

Not many navels here to stare at you see. Unlike London when you can see 3 navels a minute.

Note to self, back to more conservative clothes. Even the ladies will stare here.


What makes one group of men decide that some things are OK for the society while some other things are not? And how is it that these men who decide have access to those materials and have the power to prevent others from getting access to those materials?

The censorship here in my opinion is somewhat excessive. Just walk around some shops and you see women being blackened out of box packaging. I remember going to Marks and Spencer here to find that the boxes here have been pasted with large white stickers, the picture of the model wearing the bra has been blocked out.

But what baffles me is that (like my magazine) these bra boxes are meant for the use of ladies. Why is there a need to censor them? Could it be that perhaps they were worried that the salesmen who handled these boxes upon seeing the scantily clad box cover decides that he needs to relieve himself right there? Or worse still, walk around with a hard on while working simply because they saw these images? Are the men here so weak?


My social diary has started. Will be going to another embassy do today. What irks me a little bit is that I would have to be on my very best behavior amongst the dignitaries. Its such an adult function, everyone so formal, so polite, so smiley.

I think I aged by 5 years just as I landed here.

From Arab News:

Bride Punches Guest for Taking Pictures

TAIF, 22 November 2004 — A bride jumped from her chair when she spotted one of the guests taking a photo of her using her cell phone camera, Al-Jazirah newspaper reported. The bride was sitting quietly next to the groom on the stage when she spotted one of the guests taking a photo of her. She jumped at the guest and pulled her hair and punched her in the face. The guests were cheering the fight as the bride took the cell phone and smashed it in front of the crowd.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Descent into darkness

As the plane descends, readying itself for landing, I caught a glimpse of the terrain below. It feels like we are descending into darkness. Into an unfriendly, dark place.

It is time. Time for me to shed all my colourful clothes and engulf myself into the darkness as well. Black is the only colour we women are allowed to be seen in public. If the women came into the plane wearing colourful clothes, they arrived in black from top to bottom.

We are all alike. If they would have it, we would all be faceless, voiceless and mindless.

Immigration was much faster this time because I was not a woman traveling alone.

But they saw my magazines through the X-ray. My magazine that show that woman could be any colour and in any clothes they want to be. Of course its the scantily clad ones that caught their eyes. Two were taken away from me!

We were walking ourselves into the net.

It was very difficult coming back this time round. I would have thought that it would be easier because I had more friends here, and I am more settled in.

But it isn't. Not after London. Not after all the freedom I had, roaming the streets alone, going to any place I liked without being harassed, stared at, discriminated against. Not after the movies and the West End shows. Not after the endless numbers of bookstores with all sorts of books in the world, all uncensored, all banned books available.

Till next time London. I look forward to the next time.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Counting the days

Its a weird feeling really, I still have a few days to go yet before we go back but just the realisation that the flight back draws closer makes me feel a little blue.

But why go back if it makes me so unhappy? Will ponder more about that question later.

Worked on the garden yesterday. All my plants were complaining from my lack of care. My rose bush is plagued by rust. Weeds were and are still everywhere. The lawn needs some mowing and dried leaves everywhere. It is Autumn afterall. It was freezing cold two days ago. I guess its the best way to remind me what the winter is like in London. Freezing cold wind but no snow. I do miss the winter. Even the overcrowded streets of London gets a little bit empty with the onset of the cold weather.

Do I really want to go back?

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Eid Mubarak

its Eid today. Wishing everyone Eid mubarak.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

The West End

One of the things that I missed most when not living in London is te ability to watch a West End show. Of course I had to watch one yesterday. At half price of course! I have been a loyal customer of the TKTS. Well who wouldn't be when I got the second row tickets for £22.50 which would otherwise cost £40!

The Solid Gold Cadillac, starring Patricia Routlegde and Roy Hudd, about corporate greed in which fat cats reward themselves with the cream of all the company. The play could be slow at times but it sure was interesting to see Patricia Routledge and Roy Hudd on stage.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Back in the UK

Its amazing to be back to grey old London. I was practically skipping my way out of the plane into the airport. My husband remarked that he didn't realized that I liked London so much. But we have gone through a lot here and there is a Malay saying that goes, "Tempat jatuh lagikan di kenang." (You'll remember the place where you fell.)

Its also comforting to be able to hear my upstairs neighbours again. The flat above my bedroom and living room is occupied by N and her two children. Apparently N has a new boyfriend now. Its been less than a year that her ex hubby left her and she has had 2 boy friends since. But who is counting?

Of course I immediately went to M&S and Waitrose. This is sad really but I did miss the M&S ready to microwave meals! And I also wanted the GU chocolate mousse from Waitrose and of course the Gurnsey and Jersey milk! (The checkout lady once remarked that this is the champagne of milk!)

Its been grey for the past 2 days. And a little bit rainy of course. And cold.

But I love the fact that I can go out and walk to the High Street anytime I want.

And no one was staring at me because I was walking alone.

I was not harassed. No bearded man tried to greet me with "Hello sister."

I tell ya, the first afternoon I arrived I was behaving like a country bumkin! We just sat at a bench in the Mall and looked at people! Girls walking by in groups wearing hipsters and showing off thair navels (yes even in winter). Families walked together, couples, women and men of course.

I almost thought that there are some in the previous city I was in who made it their life mission to remove joy from the city! Everyone has a scowl there! You can't smile really lest it would be misunderstood and will get you in trouble!

But alas, smell of freedom is wet and damp.

I am so glad to be home!

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

My trip to KL

Due to unforseen circumstance, I had to fly to KL on a very short notice. In time to celebrate the beginning of Ramadhan there.

I have to say that I LOVE the pasar Ramadhans! You see, eating places owned by a Muslim are not allowed to open before 3 pm. Thus many chose to open a stall at the Pasar Ramadhan (Fasting month market.) There are others who took the whole month off to operate a stall in one of these markets. Apparently the profit is lucrative.

And I so wanted to eat a lot more things! But I'd have to say I religiously bought fried and wet popiah everyday. Fresh coconut juice. Managed to try amongst other things; tepung pelita, mee rojak, laksa, yong tau foo, ayam perchik, pecal, pucuk paku, kuay teow goreng, sotong bakar, sup tulang, air tebu and Chicken rice from the Chicken Rice Shoppe.

Of course there was more that I wanted to eat but there wasn't time. It was the fasting month after all.

And then I realised how much I missed KL. So much has changed since the past year. And especially Bangi! Bangi has become a booming Malay town. Lots of new housing estates and rows and rows of new shop houses.

I met just a few friends. Friends who were kind enough to show up (Thanks so much Leen!) and friends who we willing to meet up at a short notice.

Did some shopping although not enough. Found buying myself new Baju Kurungs and batik kaftans, things which I was not too thrilled about before. Perhaps its the sign of my age? Or just the environment I am thrusted in since I moved here.

Met up with Danny Bong of course and spent a day or so in KLCC. Had my usual facial and my eye brows trimmed. Hubby remarked that I am leading such a Datinesqued lifestyle. But hey to my defence I only get to do all this once a year!

Did managed to squeeze in Reflexology session while waiting for my hair to be done.

On the whole the trip back was a bitter sweet experience. Made me realize that I should appreciate those that matter. C'est la vie.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Jailed for visiting a friend

The treatment of women in this country has continued to baffle me. We (women travelling alone) were side stepped time after time because we were travelling alone (and because I am Asian as well.) They probably thought that I was a maid coming to work as unfortunately for me, my flight coincided with a batch of Sri Lankan and Indonesian maids.

Just after having my passport checked, I had to go through another check point before collecting my passport. The man asked where I worked which I found very amusing indeed as only a small fraction of local women work. So why is it so unexpected that I don't work?

Anyways, I named my Sponsor and told them that my husband works with them. And the officer asked if my husband is waiting outside. I replied yes. To which he replied, "Are you sure?"

Am I sure? Why does he think I come? To enjoy the exorbitant social life? The endless parties?

So I replied with, "Do you want me to call him?" He then proceeded to check with another uniformed officer who told him that I could be waived in.

To be a single woman travelling alone in this country, one is either harassed or side stepped. So much for morality and the preservation of virtue.

Below is an excerpt from the Arab News. Again this is an illustration of how a woman is treated in this country, how she has absolutely no rights and how she is regarded as a man's property.

Female Prisoners: Victims of Abuse by Husbands, Housewives

Halah Al-Nasser of Sayidaty, a sister publication of Arab News, recently met with women being held at the Riyadh jail and filed this report.

Years ago we paid a visit to the women’s jail, but this time it seemed different. During this visit, things seemed more organized with improvements evident throughout the facility. When we entered the prison, the women inmates were waiting in groups outside the warden’s room after news spread about who had been pardoned. Anxiety and nervousness dominated the atmosphere.

We visited warden Amal Abu Uraj in her office to share the much anticipated release of the list and get her impressions about pardons in general and the procedures involved in selecting those who would be pardoned.

“This is an annual chance for women inmates to change their paths and their lives and revive their psychological and social balance,” Uraj said. “Especially during such times as Ramadan so that they can fast the month with their families.”

This year, royal pardons were granted to 12 inmates — one Saudi woman, and 11 of other nationalities. As Uraj was talking, the names of those pardoned arrived. The chief immediately announced the names, and those pardoned lived a few moments of utter elation. As for the rest, the absence of their names on the list of pardons took different forms. Some cried and some stood composed while some went to comfort themselves by calling their families.

After the noise had calmed down the prison chief took us to meet Inmate C — the only Saudi woman who received a royal pardon. Uraj told us that Inmate C was in jail for the first time. The chief congratulated her on being pardoned and then asked her about her son, who is in the men’s prison and did not receive a pardon.

When we asked her about her feelings in being pardoned she said that she felt joy, but it was clouded by confusion. “The social worker came to me while I was taking my Qur’an lesson and told me the news,” Inmate C said. “I was happy at the beginning; however, I cried and was anxious the whole night. I was afraid that they’d leave me in prison because my ex-husband has the original family card, and he may refuse to give it to my son-in-law. He hates me and that is the reason I’m here in the first place,” she said. “He ruined my reputation.”

Then she explained how she wound up in prison. “I’m 30, and I have eight daughters and three sons,” she said. “I was put in jail for an accusation of immorality and was sentenced to 10 months and 400 lashes. For her, an innocent visit turned out to be the start of a devastating experience.

“One afternoon, a friend of mine and I went to visit another friend to congratulate her on the birth of her new baby. We arrived about 5 p.m., and her husband opened the door for us. He said his wife was at another neighbor’s house and asked us to wait while he went to get her. He was gone a long time, and I started feeling uncomfortable. “Although he was a relative of my friend, I suggested that we leave as it was our first visit to their house, and we really didn’t know them very well. As Maghreb neared we were still waiting. Then the man returned with the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, and we were arrested for immoral conduct. My friend was released after 20 days, but my husband refused to receive me and accused me of being a no-good, disobedient wife, so I was sentenced,” she said.

“He divorced me while I was in prison, but that wasn’t strange or surprising to me. He was never a good husband, but I never expected him to marry my elder sister. I was glad to be rid of him because of the way he abused the children and me. He was never a good provider and stayed away from home a lot and was married to another woman,” she said. “I was struck, though, that he’d married my sister. I never imagined that she would marry him, but I know now why she would always advise me to leave him.”

The consequences of the failed marriage still baffle her. “I honestly don’t know what to say. The harsh circumstances under which we lived drove my older son, Muhammad, to steal,” she said. “For we were living on charity.”

With her parents living outside the Kingdom, and a husband content with his new choice, the time in prison was lonely as her children even had difficulty in seeing their mother. “My older daughter and some of her sisters came to visit me after they stole the family card from their father,” she said. “He refused to give it to them because one of the visitation conditions was that they must have the original family card. When he found out, he beat them.”

Despite the pardon, her ex-husband can prevent her from getting her freedom. Her only hope lies with her children. “My son-in-law is a very kind man,” she said. “He’s been married to my daughter for six months, but even he won’t be able to get me out of prison without the original family card. My daughter has told me that her father doesn’t want me to leave the prison, and he says that my sentence wasn’t long enough. He’s trying to create some problem — find some new way to keep me in prison.

“My son was sentenced three years ago for theft when he was 15. My poor son,” she said. “I pity him for the state he’s in. He’s like me — in need of affection and compassion.”

She points an accusing finger at her ex-husband for her son’s plight. “I was surprised when I heard that he’d stolen. He was so good in school and earned high grades, and his teachers favored him. He was in 8th Grade when he was arrested. His father was the reason he went astray,” she said. “He would always beat him and degrade him.”

When she gets out of prison it will be only the first step toward getting her life back together. “God-willing, these are my last moments in this place,” she said. “After I get out, I will get my children together and find a job. That’s the most important thing for me to do so that I can provide them with stable lives. When I was married to their father, I had found a job at one of the schools, but he would refuse to let me work. He’d threaten to torture me in different ways if I didn’t agree to his wishes.”

Her ex-husband and his new wife (her older sister) are looking after the children. It is possible that had Inmate C gone to the police to report her then-husband’s negligence and violent treatment of his family, her story might have been different. But he was secure in the knowledge of the power he held over them. “I was afraid of him,” Inmate C said, as she wondered how many more nights she would spend in prison before the royal pardon was honored.

We met with four Asian women who also were pardoned and had been sentenced for immoral conduct. Each one had been sentenced to two years in prison. Due to the fact that the warden was busy finalizing the procedures for their departure to their country, we were unable to meet with them.

Another inmate who had been pardoned sat with us. She was telling us of the joy of being pardoned and went around hugging everyone and anyone and kissing them. It was hard communicating with her because she could not speak Arabic. Through sign language, we learned that she was a 26-year-old widow with two sons. She worked at one of the residential compounds until she was arrested at one of the commercial markets and sentenced to a year and 400 lashes. She’s been in prison for five months. She complained to us about her bad financial situation and that she had paid so much to buy a visa and to come to the Kingdom.

Another 25-year-old Asian inmate told us with tears of joy that she has a daughter in the care of her mother. She said she’d come to the Kingdom to work as a maid, but the abuse of her sponsor’s wife got her into prison. “I was a maid in a Saudi family of 10,” the young woman said. “They all treated me well except for the woman. She was harsh, and she didn’t allow me to eat or even supply me with soap for myself or my clothes.”

In a way, the woman was a prisoner before ever seeing the Riyadh jail. “She wouldn’t mail my letters to my family or let me send money to them,” the former maid said. “I would work from the early morning hours until the very late hours of the night — up until 3 a.m.” The safeguards put in place to protect foreign workers didn’t seem able to protect her. “I asked them to take me to my embassy, and they refused,” she said. “So I ran away and went to the embassy only to find it locked.”

Ironically, she found release — and peace — in a prison cell. “I stood in the street and took a ride with a stranger,” the former maid said. “He took me home where I was arrested. I spent six months in prison. I converted to Islam in prison when I saw my fellow inmates praying, which intrigued me. I’m so happy that I’ve converted.”

Perhaps her final thought is shared by all the women who watch the days and months go by at Riyadh jail, disgraced and shunned and haunted by loneliness. “Now, all I hope to do is to go home safely,” she said.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Back online

It has been a roller coaster 2 weeks. I have been offline and even back to KL and back here again. I am somewhat exhausted but just glad to be home.

Its funny to call this place home. It very difficult for me to describe this feeling, its a mixture of disdain and fondness for this place, but I am glad to be back to "normal" life as I know it again. Of course "normal" is relative really. When I am here, the difficulty of getting round as a woman in this country bothers me. But I like the space that I have with my loved one.

I now realize that home for me is where my Love is. And so this is Home for now and I am glad to be home.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

For some reason unknown to me, I am suddenly short of time. I am getting all sorts of invites to everything, so much so my schedule is jammed pack that I have to turn down some invitations. Lunch here, lunch there, dinner here and dinner there. I guess Ramadhan is coming and thus everybody is trying to meet up before this country comes to a standstill due to Ramadhan.

I have to say that this is very rare for me. I am very much a hermit who likes spending time alone. I don't converse very well and very often don't have witty or funny things to say. Thus when people request for my presence I am really surprised that they want my company at all.

I woke up at 7:30 to rush to the gym thinking that there was yoga class at 8:30. But nobody was there. Luckily I had the foresight to talk to the program coordinator in her office who told me that they have shifted yoga class to a different day and time. Instead, there was going to be a kick boxing class at 9.

So today was my first attempt at kick boxing. Boy! it is very demanding! I was sweating profusely within the firs 10 mins! But I have to say that I enjoyed it very much. But for how long I will persist to kick boxing class is something else all together.

Almost immediately after the class we had a ladies potluck. One of the ladies was leaving. *Sigh* The hard thing about being an expat wife is that your friends come and go all the time, and you would need to make new friends all the time.

I have to remind myself, the only constant in life is change.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Sorry guys I have been away in Dubai for a week. I tried to post something from the hotel but there were some server problems and I didn't have the foresight to save what I wrote and everything disappeared. Will try to get round to writing some of my impressions of my Dubai trip in the next few weeks.

I was reading this blog about a friend's experience and somehow it all came back to, that agonizing time.

And it has come again, a dear family member has been placed in the ICU and here we are thousands of miles away. (I was abroad when my friend was in a coma then.) What do we do? Rush home or just pray from afar?

Anyways, this is something I wrote on 5th October 2000, upon learning that my dear friend was in coma and was told by her doctors that her chance for survival was slim. (She is alive and well with us now!! I am so glad!)

Perhaps its all got to do with Allah's will, but I also believe that the prayers and love that we shower on the people around us is important.

Say a little prayer

It is amazing how the Internet has altered my world. Especially so with IRC(Internet Relay Chat). Gone were the days when we had to use a Unix based chat program. Black screen, lots of words. Sometimes the screen scrolls so fast that people have to write programs and commands to freeze the frame so that we could actually read what was being said. Now we have MIRC and PIRCH. Then came ICQ.

Being a student so far away from home, the Internet became the most ideal and least expensive method of connecting with friends. Through IRC I met people from as far away as UK, US and even people back home in South East Asia. Being mostly students, far away from home we shared the common solidarity of sharing our joys and pains. Before scanners were affordable, snail mail became the way by which photographs were exchanged. That was a long time ago.

I met some of these people in real life. Some refuse to give face to the voice, for whatever private reasons they may have. It is amazing to find sometimes that the most obnoxious voice on the net, belonged to the most meek and shy person in real life or vice versa. The impersonality of being in front of the computer in the privacy of our own room and yet with the ability to interact with people across the other side of the world was astounding.

That was how I met Adzleen. A student from Hull when I was in Calgary. She was doing law, and I, Literature. She used to tell us about the times she went to a rock consert, wearing her "tudung" and was greeted by the other Malaysian students there, "Oit! Pakai tudung pun datang rock konset ke?" All she did was smile back and tell the story to us. That was Adzleen.

When I came back to Singapore, I kept in touch of some of my friends from my student IRC days. Not as much as before unfortunately, as we were bogged down by things as mundane as work. A lot of times we do still keep in touch online though. Sneaked to chat from the office sometimes, or at late hours at night. Some has since retired, got married, moved on, but others still do log in, keep touch.

Just recently, I went to KL on an all girls trip. Girls of whom I originally got to know through IRC. Unfortunately our bus was due to arrive at 4 am and the hotel would only let us check in at noon. Without me asking, Adzleen asked if we had anyone fetching us from the bus station or someplace to hangout before we checked in. Of course we jumped at her offer. That is Adzleen. Caring, warm-hearted, with a splendid sense of humour (she uses the nick ldygodiva in irc) and generous. I must admit that I have never been able to meet her till that day, but she was very kind to me all the same. She was in the midst of changing jobs then, her road tax had since expired cause she hasn’t been able to renew it. Yet she was generous enough to fetch us and consequently bring us around. She took the wrong route once, and there was a policeman at the junction. Instinctively, she shielded her face from the policeman, hoping that he didn’t notice the expired road tax. We laughed at her so hard then!!! We told her that the policeman won’t really go after her because of her face but rather her road tax. She smiled sheepishly.

That was Adzleen.

Because we were all girls, we spent a lot of time in front of the mirror. One of the other girls offered to pluck her eyebrows to make them more shapely. At first she refused but finally caved in after we cajoled her. Sportingly she said, "Please do not give me the `surprised' look." We laughed really hard at her.

On Monday I talked to her online. She told me that she may not have the opportunity to visit South Africa because she is in the midst of changing jobs. I congratulated her and wished her the best. Just a few hours ago, I found out that Adzleen collapsed on Tuesday morning. They suspected it to be an asthma attack. Luckily she managed to call her house mate to take her to the hospital before she lost consciousness. Her house mate called 999, but there was no answer. Only after 45 minutes after her call for help that they managed to get an ambulance to bring her to the hospital. She is now on a life support system, in the ICU of the University Hospital. Word has it that the Doctors said that the infection has spread to her kidney and lungs. She still has a fever and she is still unconscious. I really wish her well. This is one of those instances I regret being so far away, not able to visit her myself. Sorry Adzleen. Maybe next time I will visit you!

Adzleen I do hope that you would be able to read this yourself soon. No matter what we wait in anticipation of your company. You said you were gonna bring me to Fatty Crabs. We miss you very much Adzleen, please, please, please get well soon.

Adzleen we love you.

NB TO you guys whose company I enjoy and dearly miss. (you know who you are!) I dont want to lose the oppurtunity to say that I miss you guys too and that I love you. The good days often come to mind even if I am lousy at keeping touch :)

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Garbage in, garbage out

Have you watched the film "The Net" starring Sandra Bullock? Some of us has since learnt that the computer is not always right, but obviously some people in this country don't think so.

We went to our favourite bookstore this evening. Yes books are really expensive here but at least a lot of the titles are available and its the books that keep me sane. We went there often enough to merit a 10% discount card and the manager there knows us by sight. How did I know that? One of our trips there he greeted us with, "You are always here aren't you?" Its a good sign.

However, the service can be appallingly poor especially when dealing with the locals.

We picked up a 3 copies of The Atkins Diet Revolution which had the priced marked as 35 dollars in local currency. However when the books were scanned at the cashier it come up the title "Die in plain sight" at 38 dollars in local currency. My husband pointed out to the cashier that both the title and the cost is not congruent to the book we bought.

I nudge at him and whispered, there is no use making a fuss dear, the computer is always right and winked at him.

But the Husband insisted that the cashier put it right.

Of course the cashier came up with the answer as I expected, the computer says its 38 dollars and it has to be 38 dollars. (The computer is always right.)

The Husband being the precise man that he is insisted that the cashier recheck the price.

The cashier told him to go to the second floor to check the price.

Being the meek woman that I am, I would have just conceded defeat and accept that the price is 38 (there is no point in arguing here if you are a woman, they ignore you anyways.)

But my husband stuck to his ground and told the guy to call the relevant section and ask the person in charge to check the price. So he called this guy on the second floor and tried to explain the problem to him. This guy came downstairs to the cashier to examine closely what the problem was. Realizing the title that came up on the computer is not the same as the title of the book he went to another terminal to check.

And then there was a huge deliberation.

It was obvious that the bar code has been wrongly programmed as reflected by the title.

But you see, the computer is ALWAYS right and there is no way that the intelligent humans in the store could do anything. They discussed how the problem could be rectified and decided that the best way was to give us a 10% on the title.

Of course the cashier didn't know how to input the discount in the computer. He had to call to the manager to help him ring it up in the computer.

Was it a good ending? Not really. We got a 10% discount from the books because we had the discount card. Instead of getting the book for 32.50 (10% off 35), we still paid 34.20 (10% off 38.)

Because you see, the computer is ALWAYS right. Despite the intelligence of humans, the computer ALWAYS determines the end result here, apparently.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Have you ever heard a man being slapped?

Well it was my first experience really. There were seven of us, walking towards the market. My companion was talking to me when she suddenly fell back. I turned round and suddenly heard a loud SMMAAACCKKK!

"You touched me! How dare you touch me!"

"No no I don't know."

Suddenly the street fell silent. The men all came out to look.

My companion picked up her sunglasses and walked towards us.

What happened? We asked. He touched my thighs! He tried to pretend it was an accident but one doesn't just accidentally touch a woman's thighs!

I think he was following us since we got down the bus, remarked one of the ladies.

Well good one! He deserved that slap! Just because she has her hair uncovered she is considered a whore?

Well ladies lets stick together more closely now! Don't go into any shop alone.

I was reeling. I really admired her for her quick reflexes and her strength! I bet the man chose her because she was petite, the smallest in the group. So I asked her what happened. When she felt the hands touching her thighs, she turned round and saw the man walking away. She quickly approached him, turned him round and slapped him as hard she she could on his face. She said that it was all her anger that gave her strength.

To be a woman in this country! Even a trip to the market is full of perils and perverts!

Tales about the religious policeman

If you don't already know, there are religious policemen here, their motto being "The prevention of vice and the preservation of virtue."

Perhaps you wonder what the religious policemen do. Amongst other things is to check out the Malls and public places making sure that women are covered appropriately. The foreign women have now learnt not to argue, to just cover their head and walk away. I did hear of accounts of how a woman's exposed ankle was spray painted with pink paint. Apparently it was a punishment as her as her abaya was not long enough to sweep the streets and thus did not cover her ankles. And the pink paint was the sign of shame like the scarlett letter.

Another woman told us about how the religious policeman insisted that she took off her spectacles. The crime? She had some diamond like studs on her frame of her glasses (which we wore between the face veil in the ninja like manner.) She tried to explain to the policeman that hers were prescription lenses and she will be needing them to see. He dismissed her reasoning and stressed that women's accessories must not be seen. Meekly she took them off, stumbled a few steps into a shop and put her glasses on again.

And the men get it too. A woman told us about her good looking brother who was hauled by the religious policeman to stay overnight in jail. His crime? He sat outside a supermarket while waiting for his family to finish their shopping. Then came the religious policeman who started harassing him, asking him what he was doing there. He told them that he was waiting for his family to finish shopping. But no! The religious policeman refused to believe him. They claimed that he was there to look at the women as they came in and out of the supermarket. When they saw him trying to call his family inside, they took the mobile phone away and accused him of distributing his phone number to the ladies that pass by. And he broke own cardinal rule, by not being meek and walking away, he answered back to them, saying that their charges were ridiculous. They hauled him in the police van and put him in a cell for overnight observation.

Does this make the society more virtuous?

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Excerpt from Little Girls Wearing Abayas
By Raid Qusti,

There are those who defend women wearing black abayas in our country and there are those who do not. The fact of the matter is that whatever the two parties may argue, girls who have not reached puberty should not be deprived of their childhood, their moment of joy and happiness.

If the purpose of a woman wearing an abaya in our country is to conceal the shape of her body from preying eyes and to appear modest in public, then a girl who is seven years has nothing to do with either “body shape” or “modesty.” Her age and innocence have nothing to do with the adult world and its problems in Saudi Arabia.

When I see how families dress up little girls in black abayas I get both disturbed and offended at the same time. I get disturbed because I realize that that poor child has nothing to do with society or its problems. The child is at an age where she should be having fun and growing up in a normal way without any hang-ups. I feel offended because I feel that her parents who dress her up in a black abaya at such an early age think most of their fellow Saudi men are sexual freaks who would actually look at a girl her age in a sexual manner and make it necessary for her to be covered up in black.


"Mummy I want to wear an abaya," said little Mariam as she watched her mother and I struggled into our abayas before stepping into the car.

"Well Mariam, you may say that now. I'll give you ten years and we'll see what you think about having to wear abayas." I replied.

"You know you should encourage children good things when they are still young. For me I would always encourage her if she wants to do good things."

I bit my toungue.

You see little Mariam's mum is a Singaporean. And the main basis of our friendship is that we were born in the same country. Other than that, we have very little in common. We have very different views on a lot of things and we do most things very differently.

But what was most depressing to me was why she thinks her small child wanting to wear an abaya is a good thing? Perhaps its true, it does protects a woman's modesty but surely wearing an abaya is not a solution to that! If it was perhaps it would be stated in the Quran or Hadith that all women are only allowed to wear shapeless black robes ,that she may trip and fall on, in public and must keep her face covered in public.

But from the last time I searched, there was no such thing. This was a man made rule for a society whose "virtue" they want to preserve.

Thus it was hard for to accept that this was a "good thing." How can it be good when it perpetuates the belief in society that women must not be seen and herd in public. She must be inconspicuous, almost invisible even and treated like a property to be owned either by her father, her husband or her brother.

Perhaps they start the indoctrination young. I understand the need for the men to indoctrinate the wives and the daughters at such a young age.

But for the women to continue perpetuating it?

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Excerpt from the

Women Won’t Be Allowed to Run in Civic Poll
Abeer Mishkhas & Somayya Jabarti, Arab News

Representing the views that women should not run for office, an anonymous Shoura Council member said: “What do women want with voting and municipality elections? Why would they want to trouble themselves with things that are new and unfamiliar? These issues are against their nature so why ask for trouble?”


Another day, another struggle as a woman in this country.

What is it that the men here fear so much from a woman's independence? Castration anxiety?

Will all the lost if women get any rights at all?

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Another weekend and another shooting

British father-of-six shot dead

A British man shot dead in the Saudi capital Riyadh leaves behind a wife and six children, it has emerged.

Edmund Muirhead-Smith, 55, was killed in a shopping centre car park in an eastern suburb.

Witnesses said two gunmen in a Toyota car shot the victim four times as he walked towards his car on Wednesday.

A statement from the family said: "At this time we are struggling to come to terms with the news. He will be greatly missed by us... our love is with him."

Britain's ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Sherard Cowper-Coles, condemned the killing.
"His murder will only make the British Government more determined to stand with the Saudi government and people in the struggle against senseless terror of this kind," he said.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the family, friends and colleagues."
Mr Muirhead-Smith, from Torquay in Devon, was an employee of communications firm Marconi.

A company spokesman said: "We take security in the region very seriously. It seems that Edmund was a victim of a chance shooting.

"There is no evidence to suggest that he was targeted other than for being a Westerner."
Security sources told Reuters news agency that the shooting was linked to a wave of anti-Western attacks in Saudi Arabia by supporters of al-Qaeda.

Militants linked to al-Qaeda have killed at least 90 police and civilians in a 15-month campaign to destabilise the US-allied Saudi monarchy.

The attacks in the conservative Muslim kingdom, much of whose economy depends on foreign workers, are aimed at driving Westerners out of the country and damaging its oil industry.


I was out going to the Mall that afternoon. The bus was bringing us women to a Mall which I have never been before.

A roadblock was set up on the highway and several white cars were stopped by the policemen. And there was a sharp shooter out pointing his gun, ready for action.

Our bus wasn't stopped and we continued on to the Mall.

2 hours later, a lady who understood Arabic told us that something has happened. They heard that a Westerner has been shot.

We were all uneasy.

I quickly rushed home and checked the net. There it was on the Reuters website, the news of the Western man shot in the Al-Naseem area. He has been shopping at a discount giant super store.

I met some of my friends for dinner that night. Told them about the news I read.

"Do you feel safe in this country?" E asked.

"Well fairly safe I suppose, except for the shootings I almost feel that Ryadh is safer than London."

"At what point would you decide what it is time for you to leave?"

"We don't know really. I guess as soon as we feel that we are threatened directly. After all we are here because we have mortgages to pay and if we choose to move on, we would need to find a new contract first and we don't know how easy that will be."

What is the value of our life? Is it worth this risk?

We thought by coming to Riyadh perhaps we would be closer to Makkah and Madinah. But it is at a cost apparently.

A friend of ours who was in the Al-Hambra bombing last year is still traumatized, although they are still in the country. I guess if they can persevere, so can we.

But is it worth it?

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Women casting stones at each other

I have to confess that I am half amused and half disappointed by my friends recently. Well I call them my friends because I feel a certain affinity to them. We have mostly known each other over ten years now (longer for some), from our University days to the present where we all have our own careers, families and spouses. I do like their company because I thought we had seen each other over the years grown more mature, although some more than others.

We had gone on some trips to KL together. Met various people from the net. Learn about each other's quirky behaviours and temperaments. We were all very different individuals but somehow we learnt to live with each other’s opinions, aspirations, struggles, the ups and downs in life. Sometimes it’s a love and hate relationship, but we managed to forgive and forget.

Somehow the group had a new addition recently. Sometimes the “new” additions brings a new dimension to the friendship. (I myself was a new addition to this circle about seven years ago.) Some of the new additions stay, others move on after a while but the main core stuck to each other.

However the newest addition added a different tension. I have yet to meet this person myself but I got to know her from her various emails to the group. (Not all of us have the luxury of meeting up all the time as some has moved on to live in a different city from time to time. Thus emails became the best method of communication to everyone.) Perhaps being new to the circle of friends, she did not know the temperament of each and every member of the circle of friends and had somehow managed to offend another member of the circle. And suddenly a cold war ensued.

What is it about us women that it is inevitable for us to get bitchy with one another?

I read this article from the New Scientist that Fertile women rate other women as uglier.

Maryanne Fisher, a psychologist at York University in Toronto, Canada, decided to try to find evidence for female competition by presenting heterosexual students with photos of faces. She found that when women were in the most fertile phase of their menstrual cycles, they rated the attractiveness of other women lower than when they were not.
Being more combative during a fertile period backs the idea that women are competing for the best mate. "When you're in a high fertility phase, you have to be more able to judge other women as potential rivals," says Fisher.

The 57 female students tested, along with male controls, were asked to look at colour photos of 35 female and 30 male faces. The models for the photos were asked to display a neutral facial expression, wear a black smock and remove any accessories to help standardise the experiment.
Women with high estrogen levels, in days 12 to 21 of their menstrual cycle, rated other women's attractiveness significantly lower than women in a less fertile, low estrogen period of their cycle.

Fisher does not know exactly how women's heightened sense of competition during ovulation may help them win a mate. "Does putting someone down make you feel better about yourself? Or does saying it to a male make her less attractive to him?" she asks.
She adds that this kind of intrasexual competition could also carry risks - being too bitchy could make a woman look " mean-spirited" to a man. To answer these questions, Fisher is now investigating how men's attitudes are affected by women using such derogatory tactics.

Could it be that my friends were at the most fertile period of the month that they became so competitive?

But for us women apparently it is not so easy to forgive and forget. If any of you found a study why this is so, please forward the study to me.

All I want is for all my friends to be happy and to get along. The world is already filled with such atrocities and hatred that I feel it is so unnecessary to perpetuate more of this feeling of animosity and hostility amongst friends.

Life is too short to be spent on unpleasantness. Is it just too hard for us to get along?

Friday, September 10, 2004

Municipal Elections: Women Only Helpless Spectators?
Maha Al-Hujailan, Arab News

Several commendable efforts have been made to highlight the role of Saudi women as citizens with guaranteed civil rights in building the nation and achieving economic progress. The efforts have included national dialogues that attempt to map out a future with more freedom for women. Women have consequently been offered more employment opportunities and increased participation in nation building. Employment opportunities have undoubtedly been improved with the opening of a women’s section, staffed by women, at the Riyadh Passports office. Further, Labor Minister Dr. Ghazi Al-Gosaibi has issued orders to expedite measures to open separate women’s sections in government offices in the service sector in line with a Cabinet decision.

Despite intense efforts to establish women’s role in overall development, the upcoming municipal election is not clear regarding women. Women fear the possibility of laws banning them from elections. It is ironic that women are present in plans for the future but no importance is given to them when the plans are executed.

There is no justification in excluding women from the upcoming elections because there will be no undesirable consequence if they are allowed to participate. A healthy society is composed of both men and women, working together for the common good. Everyone knows that we have no dearth of hardworking women who are proud to serve their country. Their patriotism is no less than that of men. It would be better if the election regulations had clearly stated women’s rights to contest and vote in the election.
It is unfortunate that questions are being asked about Saudi women’s eligibility to participate in the election compared to women in other parts of the world — as if other women were more intelligent and capable than the women in the Kingdom. The absence of women’s voices in the municipal election will undoubtedly have a negative impact on social development. There is every indication that women’s roles will be marginalized in nation building. The inevitable consequence will be that men will monopolize the process of making plans and regulations. Women will not have the right to change the regulations laid down by men which affect them. Such a situation will undoubtedly reduce the importance of women’s role in society.

The exclusion of women from political activities amounts to legitimizing a dangerous mentality founded on the notion that women have only a marginal, or no, role in nation building. Relegating women to an inferior position will also reinforce the backward view that a woman’s opinion does not deserve to be listened to because she is only a dependent of her father or husband, brother or son. The view is deeply damaging to the position of women in the country. They are too often treated as worthless burdens on the shoulders of men. Women’s inferior status, both politically and socially, will only increase their dependence on others. According to the custom of the land, women are mere appendages of men without an independent identity.

By supporting an ideology based on sexist concepts, the whole society stands to lose an opportunity for a great social transformation with far-reaching consequences.
This article is not an attempt to establish women’s worthiness to enter politics. The point to be emphasized is that citizens should not be discriminated against on the basis of sex. Saudi women have repeatedly proved their worthiness to serve the nation as much as Saudi men.

I believe that there is still time for the election authorities to review the matter so that a person’s sex does not prevent him or her from contesting or voting. I also believe that the authorities should take all necessary steps in advance so that women will fulfill the necessary conditions and cast their votes without let or hindrance.
* * *
(Maha Al-Hujailan is a Saudi writer.)

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

I missed the bus

A friend called me up at 7:51 am asking me if I was going on the shopping bus today. I haven't decided I said. She said, "Please go I need some tape for the cartonage class this afternoon."

How difficult is it to just walk/drive over to the store and buy masking tape you may ask.

In this country it's like a gigantic task! First of all you'll have to have the knowledge of where it might be sold. Now with the knowledge of where it might be sold, you will have to find the means of getting there. And if you found the way to get there, timing is really crucial because the shops don't open all day and if you happen to go at the wrong time, the shops will be close.

Getting there

Women are not allowed to drive. Period. Apparently if she is allowed to drive then it will give her the ability to meet up with men and commit adultery, thus destroying the moral fibre of the country.

She must also not travel alone. If there was an unrelated man and a woman in a car, the woman must sit in the back seat and the man in the driver's seat. If they were found sitting together by the muttawa then they can accuse the woman of being all sorts of things.

She must always be accompanied by a male muhrim ie either her husband, son, brother etc lest she will stray if not accompanied by a male relative.

If the muttawa doesn't harass her then perhaps the general male public will.

How about walking then?

First of all crossing the roads here is hazardous. The drivers would purposely speed up when they see pedestrian crossing. Perhaps they think its more fun that way.

Now, if a woman were crossing, then she will be honked at or the cars would purposely slow down (not to let her cross the road mind you) just to leer at her and making it even more impossible to cross the road.

And the heat. Well it is hard enough to walk in this heat, but under the oppressive black abaya, it feels like a walking oven really!

Public bus? No way. Filled with leering men who will suddenly all "accidentally" brush against you? No thank you. And judging by the dents they are probably mobile death traps anyway.

Taxi? Well they charge you according to your nationality (which they ask a lot here) or if they know where you are going and can get you there safely.

So the compound where I live provide a bus to bring us women to different shopping places every morning and afternoon. Except of course, I missed the bus this morning!

To go to the Mall where the bus had gone would cost me 35 Riyals. All just to get a 5 Riyal masking tape? *sigh*


In this country, all shops are required to close during prayer times. No business transactions are allowed. Most places open from 9:30 am - 12 noon. (Or Dzuhur prayers whichever comes first.) They reopen at 4:00 pm then close during Magrib and Isya' for at least 30 minutes during each prayer time.

What if you were shopping halfway and it's time for prayers, they will switch off the lights, chase you away and tell you to come back after prayers.

What do they do from 12 noon to 4 pm? They have their afternoon siesta of course.

I do not know what it is but I just have this feeling that this is a country where a woman's independence is something that scares the men!

I refuse to believe that it has anything to do with religion! During our Prophet Muhammad's time, women do run their own businesses (Khadijah), and even fought in wars (Aishah) but the women now are rendered helpless and dependent upon their men.

Yes I am upset that buying masking tape is such a huge task. I am upset that I have to be so dependent on the male population... just to buy masking tape!!

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Its been awhile

I havent updated my blog for a while as suddenly I am inundated by a flurry of activities. Most of the expatriate families are back from their summer holidays and thus the social life within the compound has picked up.

Being the private person that I am, I did find all this socializing somewhat difficult. Especially when you are invited to someone's house for lunch and you know you are expected to return the favour in the future.

I hosted such a lunch a couple of weeks ago and I am not even sure if I would be interested to host another one! My house was taken over by nine children and a dozen adults. I didn't mind the adults so much but the children!! Argghh!

As a result, I now have a multicoloured sofa which used to be a nice and clean cream coloured, my beige carpet has some polka dots on them, my souvenir from Paris is broken and the corner of my headrest pillow has been chewed off. Upset! Of course I am. But I can't really tell their respective parents what to do with their children can I?

Why did the parents let the children run amok and misbehave themselves? Didn't they teach their children some manners and told them to behave appropriately in other people's houses?

I've been asked by this other lady to invite her and her family to my house. You see its a novelty to them, being invited to a villa in the compound. I guess they just want to gawk and look at my European neighours. But I assure you dear readers, there isn't much to see. Sure there are some who sit by the pool in their bikinis. (There is one man who sits there everyday in his G string trunks bur errkkkk its NOT that interesting.) Perhaps I see them everyday and thus I don't find it interesting at all. Or perhaps I do feel that I would like to protect their privacy as much as I hope that they will protect mine.

I guess I am very much like a hermit who is happy to crawl in my own shell, in my own world, as long as I have internet access and my books.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

From Arab

What Is Wrong With Arabs?
Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi,

An American reader, Gordon Reade, sent me the following question, which is no doubt on the minds of many:
“In America our history books say that while Europe was mired in the dark ages, the Arabs led the world in art, education, science, math, philosophy, military power and you name it. According to our books, a thousand years ago the Arabs were every bit as powerful as America is today.

But what our books don’t tell us is what went wrong. The Arabs of today would be virtually unrecognizable to the Arabs of the past. Clearly you guys suffered some tremendous catastrophe long before 1967 and long before 1948. What went wrong and when did it happen? Do the Arabs have a name for it?”

I answered him: True, we ruled and enlightened the world for some thousand years, reaching China, India, Central Asia, Africa, Spain and northern Europe.

Our contributions to science and culture were immeasurable. They included the invention of the zero, algebra and the astrolabe and the discovery of blood circulation.

We translated Greek, Indian and Persian literary treasures and added our own. Then, we fought each other and the Ottoman Turks took over the Islamic Caliphate and united its disintegrated empire. While the Turks are not Arabs, they are Muslims.

At the time, they used Arabic alphabet and ruled our world in the name of the Prophet (peace be upon him) as his successors “Caliphs”.

The Ottomans were once the most powerful nation on earth. They ruled supreme for many centuries. At the end of 19th century, they began to decline. Their mistake was the one oft repeated by many empires.

They felt so invincible that they had no need to consult with anyone regarding anything they did in the world, no matter how vital or colossal. Arrogance and mistreatment of subject people led to revolts, including some in Arab countries. Still, their rule continued until World War I when they and their allies, the Germans, were defeated.

The Western victors then took over and colonized the Arab world, lasting up to the late sixties. They left behind dictatorial regimes; most still rule today with Western support. America, alone, installed some of the most horrible regimes and leaders like Saddam Hussein and others.

Today, the Arabs suffer from a decline on all fronts. Politically, most of us are prisoners to emergency and revolutionary rules.

Economically, altogether we produce every year less than Spain. Culturally, we print fewer than one percent of the books in the world. We have questionable levels of poverty, quality of education and unemployment rates. That says it all.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Social life picking up

With September coming up within the week, many families have returned to KSA and the compound is now bustling with people and activities. Met more women on the compound bus that shuttles us women to the shopping malls and souks. Yes, as there isn't much that a woman can do here thus shopping and socializing become primary activities.

I had a session with the personal trainer today. I decided that I needed to go the gym and start working out after last Friday. What happened last Friday? I had an open house for some new friends here. Invited families who invited me over to their house previously and some people whom we have spent our time with dining out. One couple had a baby about a year old. I carried that baby for about 45 minutes (perhaps its shorter than that but boy it felt THAT long!) And the whole night after that I could not sleep as the whole of my left side was aching. Yes I was carrying the baby on my left arm all that time. My arms and shoulders were pulsating in pain that night! There was some temporary relief with DeepHeat and panadol but as soon as those wear off, the pain came back again. So I thought I should start working out to improve my stamina and my upper body strength.

My personal trainer is this cute muscular guy from Cairo. He has yummy biceps and flat stomach. I may not understand him all the time but its allright, as long as I get to watch him demonstrate the excercises to me.

I hope to have sessions with him twice a week, with once a week of aerobics and twice a week working on my own on the treadmill and the bicycle. Hopefully I will have a new body if we choose to go back for Eid.

My trainer told me not to eat any carbohydrates and sugar from now on. I think thats a huge challenge. But thank god unlike Atkins he told me I can eat fruits and vegetables as much as I want. No fats as well too (but he didn't specifically mention no chocolates hehehehe I got 3 packs of sugar-free Hersheys dark chocolate today).

SO what should I do with the 5 packs of dried rice noodles and 5 packs of pasta that I have in my larder?

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

School Reunions

Its been 15 years since I left my secondary school and I haven't gone back since. I guess I still carry the school name with me sometimes. When I apply for some jobs in Singapore or related to Singapore.

Anyhow I got an email from an old classmate asking me if I was in town and if I was interested in attending a reunion. On one hand, I was glad that I was not in town, thus I don't really need an excuse for not coming. On the other hand, it would have been interesting to go. Or NOT.

You see I was once this geeky kid in secondary school. Yes I am one of those they made fun of. I had HUGE white framed glasses. My parents were very thrify thus I only go for haircuts once in a year or two years. I only get to wear BATA shoes. And I don't even know how to start being cool.

I did hate those years in that school. I was so out of place there. I had some friends but not real ones. I was the outcast, and I guess I stayed an outcast. So much so I am out of the country now. Now 15 years later, I am in touch with perhaps just 3 people. 2 whom I met up 2 years ago and 1 who I exchange email with ocassionally.

Which is why I thought it would be interesting to go. To see how the other girls have been. I guess most of them have big important jobs now.

But more importantly, I am happy with myself. I am happy with the life I choose to lead and journeys I made. So I guess I may have gone afterall, to see how the rest of my peers have grown. Or not.

Perhaps next time :)