Saturday, July 31, 2004

The road to Makkah I……
[Professional 100 Riyals panhandlers]

The road to Makkah is about 789 km from Riyadh and the drive took about 7 hours, give and take.

I had been planning for this trip for while, but was side stepped by a trip to London instead. Perhaps Allah knows me too well and he let me return to London to reassess my position in my life before inviting me again to visit Makkah. Well I feel privileged that I have been invited, because not everyone gets the opportunity to visit the Ka’abah and the Masjidil Haram.

The trip came about my chance, we were invited to the trip by two friends and was glad to have companions to go with. We wanted to set off early but did stop for dinner at a local Thai restaurant. One cannot travel on an empty stomach surely. And off we go.

The drive was pretty smooth except for the weekend traffic. Along the way we stopped at a rest area. We drove in, went past the petrol station and approached the local Eatery. As we looked for parking, we saw a car full of people watching us and then driving away. Two of our travel companions got off to use the washroom while I waited in the car with another friend. The car that drove away as we pulled in came back and parked right next to our car. The man sitting on the passenger seat next to the driver indicated to our travel companion on the back that he wanted to ask something. Perhaps he wanted directions, so he opened the door.

The man of Asian (read Indian or Pakistani) heritage asked if he understood English and he nodded yes. And thus the passenger began his story;

I am from Dubai and I am here with my family. We went to Riyadh to do some shopping and our handbag got stolen. We are now on our way to Makkah and if you can help me we will pray for you.

What does he want? My travel companion asked. Money of course I answered. So I reached for my purse and pulled out 3 Riyals. I told him to hand the money to them. He said 3 Riyals? That won’t be enough, so I handed another 10 Riyals. And so he got out of the car to give them the money.

They engaged in a few more minutes of conversation before my travel companion got back into the car.

What did they want, I asked him? And to my indignation, the occupants in the car apparently asked for more. He said the amount was not enough and that he wanted 100 Riyals at least.

Now, perhaps it is that I am stingy but it is not that I am not inclined to sedekah (give alms), but I felt that somehow there is something not quite right when one gives some money out of the generosity of one's heart (of the amount one sees fit) that you would ask for more. Plus I feel that where sedekah is concerned one should look after one's families first before looking after strangers. Granted if I see that they are strangers in need, I might have been moved, but I thought the car they were sitting in was pretty nice and they look like they have 5 meals a day on all counts. And they did say that they went shopping in Riyadh. Shouldn't they go to Makkah first before going shopping? I had to ask.

My companion told them that he was broke that month and could not really give them any more and that the car was not his and thus could not help him further.

The Husband came back from the toilet, and was wandering what was up. The guy in the passenger seat in the car signalled to him that they wanted to speak to him and I signalled to The Husband to quickly get into the car. And I promptly told him that the people in the other car wanted 100 Riyals and I retold him the story.

Although we did sympathize with those people in the car if their story was true, but somehow something tells us that these people were not asking for money because they were really in a fix but rather perhaps it is something they do, to prey on unsuspecting pilgrims to be.

We were rather worried for awhile that they will perhaps make our journey difficult for us for they parked their car right behind our, thus preventing us from driving away.

And then came a large water tank from the back. The water tank was on its way back to the main road and the other car was blocking the water tank’s way. And thus the big water tank drove the other car away. Perhaps it is a sign?

Our seasoned travel companion came back from the toilet and we re-told him the story once again. And he told us not to give money to those people as they are probably professional beggars. He said he was stopped and asked for money before along the same road probably near the same location and that these people were there to ask unsuspecting travellers for money.

And we drove on.

Were those people there sent by god to test us on our generosity? Or were they just opportunists who prey on unsuspecting would-be pilgrims? Well my conscience is clear, I gave them some money which I gave sincerely but when they asked for more, then its no longer a test of my sincerity but rather a test of my patience. I hope that if it was true they were victims of a crime (they said their wallet was stolen from them) then Allah would help them find their way home. And if not, well may Allah give them conscience.

Monday, July 19, 2004

What do I want for my future?
Its funny how my mind goes into overload when I have things do. More packing...
But I had some time to reflect and I had to ask myself, what do I want for my future. I caught up with a friend in London recently. Funny enough you get to meet all sorts of people in London, new friends and old friends. This friend is not my friend really, he went to school with my beloved and had known him since he was seven. And so we talked about KL, the friends and the life we had (and they have) in KL. This friend has just gotten a new addition to his family, sold his old apartment which we rented when we lived in KL and is extending his nice bungalow in PJ. Another friend bought a new BMW, moving into a new seven bedroom house. Another friend also drives a BMW, bought a nice car for his wife and have a one year old son which I haven't seen. Everyone is getting on with life. What about us?
Apparently people do talk about us. Some wandered if we will ever go back to KL and my answer to that is, yes one fine day, we will ultimately retire in KL. But the time is not now because I want to see the world first.
I don't want to burden my life with who did what to whom, who said what to offend so and so. Or what X said about Y etc. I do like gossip myself, don't get me wrong, but I don't want my life to be ruled by all this back talking. I am a loner, I like my space and I will do things the way I like them.
We choose to live life on the path less travelled. We move from country to country, travel whenever we can. I don't like to compare myself with other people and their achievements but I do often ask myself, what do I want to do with my life next?
I decided that I want to become a better Muslim and learn more about my religion. You'd think its an easy task being in Saudi and all not but its not.
I also want to see Africa and South America. And perhaps revisit North America. Thats not to say that I will neglect Asia.
My hope for the future, is to catch a glimpse of every part of the world. As I am about to embark back to the Middle East, I hope to be able to see the pyramids and see a different face of the Middle East rather than just Saudi Arabia. I want to learn some Arabic so I'd be able to communicate and listen to what people are saying.  And perhaps the prayers that I utter would mean more to me than those verses which I have memorized since I was young.
I want to go for my pilgrimage, with an open heart, ready and willing.
As for Africa, its been a continent I have been shying away from. Well I want to see some of it as well. The same with South America.
I hope I will.
What does a woman do when she knows her days are numbered in London?
Shop of course!
That I did! After 3 days looking at the same Loewe bag deciding to buy or not to buy, I decided that I will buy it afterall on the 4th day. Especially since my dearest has found out for me that Loewe is not available in Riyadh. And off I went to Harrods. Upon arriving in Harrods (after fighting my way through the tube and all) I was disappointed to find that they did not have the bag I wanted. They have the new range out though but Urgh! I have this thing about paying retail price for anything. I have a preferance for buying discounted items. I don't see any point in paying sticker price for something when I know six months down the road, the item will be sold at 50% off.
Anyhow a Loewe coin pouch caught my eye and I bought it on the spot. Asked the salesgirl to call the counter in Selfridges to see if my bag is still available but alas the call was not answered.
And so I was off, a woman shopper on a mission. Down I went to the Knightsbridge tube station, hopped in a train and off at Green Park, up on the Jubilee line and off at Bond Street.
I had to prepare myself mentally, "If the bag you want is no longer there, then you would have to accept it as fate that you can't get it." Its like going to battle almost!
My heart first dropped to the floor when I arrived at the Loewe counter, my bag is no longer there on the bottom shelf near the door. Urggh!!! They sold it all?? And then my eyes travelled up and I saw the bags on the topmost self. A sigh of relief and a wide smile on my face. Yes! They still have it!
I waited patiently to be served. I prefer not to rush service because I know once they know I am buying I will be given my time.
When the lady says the magical words, "Yes can I help you Madam?" (Actually those same words could be annoying if you're not buying anything.) I said, "Yes please, I would like that shopper bag way up there please." I don't know how to explain this but I was filled with a heady rush when I say those words! Never mind I was wearing this Benetton T shirt that had black mascara stains on it! Never mind that  I think I look fat! Never mind that I can no longer eat for the rest of the month due to this handbag! Its no wonder some women become real shopaholics! it is addictive!
On the strength of my new high, I decided that perhaps I should take a peek at some wallets as well! Afterall they are 50% off. Never mind that I still have 3 unused wallets at home, will figure it out later! Ah £70 for a large wallet. Not bad at all! £25 for a coin purse and £50 for a card holder. Temptation temptation.
As I was looking at the wallets and wandering if I want to get any at all, at the corner of my eye I saw the sales lady taking out some new stock. There was this bag very similar to the one I had chosen but bigger. So I asked the lady, "Is that the bag I chose or is that a different one?"
"No Madam, this is a different one. This one is bigger."
And my heart stopped. I tell ya I got a higher high!
Worse still there was another woman shopper touching the bag! Oh no! I have to have it before she decides that she wants it!
And I told the sales lady, "I think I want that bag instead please."
I don't remember asking her how much it was. Or perhaps I did. But my mind has ceased to operate. I can no longer convert. What is £175 times 7? Never mind! I said to myself. I almost spent another £50 on another wallet anyways so now I will forgo the wallet and get that bag instead.
And so I told the sales girl, "I will pay for that bag please before I change my mind."
It only daunted on me about 45 minutes later (this after I looked at the Ferragamo shoes I had always wanted which never goes on sale priced at £139) that:
a) My bag is actually very expensive for something I want to use everyday
b) When converted, the amount is quivalent to 1/5 of that watch I don't mind, or 1/10 of that other watch I really want.
c)It could be one month's salary for some people.
d)I could have so easily bought THE Ferragamo shoes I wanted. (But its not on SALE!)
And I quickly banished the thoughts and continued shopping ;)
I went on to buy not just one but TWO LK Bennet dresses! I mean how can a girl not buy a dress that was £129 reduced to £59 (black) and £39 (teal) respectively! I need nice dresses now to go with the nice handbags and the shoes! I can't just be wearing jeans and T shirts anymore could I?
"I have to stop shopping now." I declared as the girl rung up the till for my second dress. She said, well you can return it should you change your mind. And her colleague remarked, "Yes shopping can be addictive isn't it? I overspent in the sale myself."
Yes we women have that in common, the tendency to love shopping and overspending.
I have had enough and I walked off my high all the way from Selfridges to a cafe on Regent street.
In the meantime, my beloved received a phonecall from the call center, "Sir, there has been some unusual activities on your card. It was used 4 times in various departmental stores, once in harrods and 3 times in Selfridges. Would you like me to block the card?"
Thank god he didn't!
And Yes I was using Mastercard :)

Friday, July 16, 2004

Another summer's day in London
The summer in London is cold and rainy. Central London is full of tourists and English language learners. For someone who is an ocassional Londonder myself, who am I to complain about the tourists clogging up the shops and the public transport system.
But I am just grateful to be able to walk freely minus my abaya on Oxford Street. To meet up with my male friends without making it into a clandestine meeting in case the muttawa finds out.
But freedom comes at a price. I have to watch my belongings like a hawk lest the resident or summer pickpockets comes round. I think I was somewhat molested in a crowded tube the other day but I just wasn't sure because the train was really jammed packed to the brim. A gentleman who was holding the railing conveniently found his arms stuck between another passanger and me and suddenly his arm was resting on my bosom. ERKK! But its not like I can move away!! Luckily some people got off at the next stop and I changed my strategy. This time round I had my back facing him.
But if he really did molest me then he got his retribution pretty quickly!  A vertically-challenged Italian nun got on the train with such vigour and gusto.  When she turned round her backpacked attacked his groin. And the nun turned to me, smiled and said "Full up." Referring to the train of course :)
Just another day in London underground

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Another year and another birthday...

I don't know why, the day before my birthday was filled with feelings of dread and unhappiness. Perhaps its just that I realised that another year of my life has passed and I still can't make the big decisions.

Quite a few things have changed in the past year. I managed to do most of the things I said I wanted to do and it is time for me to make a decision soon.

I should consider myself lucky really but it is just the nature of (wo)man that the grass is always greener on the other side.

Spent the morning sleeping in, had my favourite M&S avocado salad with Oakney dressed crab meat for brunch. With my favourite Gurnsey and Jersey milk. Yes I'd have to say I miss M&S and my Gurnsey and Jersey milk. Had a shower and rushed to the airport. Sent Him off.

Somehow it gets harder each time, to be separated. We were living apart for 5 months and back together again for 5 weeks and suddenly separation feels unbearable. Am I getting old and clingy? I thought I wanted to always maintain my independence! Is this the sign of old age in me?

I have never been one to celebrate birthdays with parties and cake. I had always felt that it was a waste of money and I much prefer to spend the day with quiet moments with my loved ones.

And that I did....

When I arrived home, I took a walk in my garden. Cut some lavender and put them in the wheely bins. The lovely scented flowers helped! Made myself some kuay teow soup with scallops and fish balls and vegetables. Watched Cory and then Midsommer Murders.

My life may appear to be boring but I think I am contented. Insyallah.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Back in London

Its so good to be home! My roses have been blooming but unfortunately due to lack of care the quality of roses on the bush wasn't too great so I had to prune them all away and wait for the next batch to grow.

My lavenders are doing very well! Ah all those plans I had, to make my own lavender oil and underpillow sachets!

A little about my flight home...

I have to say I was very surprised at how spartan the airport at Riyadh was! I promised a friend that I would buy him 2 cartons of ciggarettes only to find that there were only 2 shops at the Riyadh airport, one selling jewellery and the other selling "sundries" (namely perfume and small luggage bags). I suppose Saudi being a mostly tax free country, there is no need for tax-free shopping at the airport!

This was my first time flying with Saudi Airlines. I would have to say that it was a bit of a let down! The seats were rather small and uncomfortable and I have to be sexist and say that there is a difference when you are served by men instead of women! Yes this being Saudi Air, the air stewards were mainly guys. I think there were 2 ladies and they were stationed in the first class. And there was no 180o reclining chairs in the first class! I tell ya I think the business class on BA is better than the first class on Saudi! The plane was much older too. The food was passable. We had the choice of Beef straganoff, chicken bryani and grilled hammour with white rice. I asked for the hammour but I think the rice was too dry on top, perhaps left too long in the microwave.

And the in flight entertainment system. Boy I just realised how lucky I am that I get satelitte TV! The movies on the plane were censored! OK to be fair I come from Singapore and I live in KL and I am no stranger to movies being censored, but normally they would censor perhaps sex scenes or provocative scenes. But on the Saudi flight, there is censorship on women's clevage, bare arms, feet, alcohol drinks held my actors, Christian religious symbolism etc etc etc. What they basically did was to have those parts blurred out! I was aghast! In one scene in Laws of attraction, Julian Moore, who was wearing a sleeveless top had her arms blurred out. In Paycheck, Uma Thurman was wearing a singlet top, so all one can see on the screen was her face!

I'd have to say, no wonder they can't have movie theatres in Saudi! Imagine the number of censors they would have to hire to blurr out almost everything!

Monday, July 05, 2004

Off to London

For once I have to thank the terrorist man for threatening to create havoc in Bahrain on the United States Independent Day celebrations.

The husband was supposed to go for a meeting in Bahrain to meet up with some technical counterpart. They are from the Uk actually but refused to fly to Saudi due to the current security concerns. So initially, it was planned that they would fly to Bahrain and we will meet them there. But alas, the US has issued fresh security warning that Bahrain could be the next target and thus the white boys didn't want to fly down to the Middle East.

So here I am today, I thought I woke up in a dream (partly due to lack of sleep really) flying off to Heathrow today. Its definitely a blessing in disguise! I can't wait to see my rose bush and perhaps catch a glimpse of my apples! I had only just found out yesterday that I would be flying off today. Life does bring me surprises!

And best of all THE harrods sale has started!

Thank you mr terrorist man!(Please don't really carry out what you threatened to do. I think they got your message and cancelled all Independence Day celebrations.) Although I wouldn't mind going to watch Harry Potter in Bahrain, its even better than I get to watch it at Leicester Square (If they are still showing there that is!)

Have a good summer everyone!