Sunday, June 29, 2008

Woody And Buzz

Today was a whole lot of fun and laughter. More Saturdays should be spent like this...

All my family came to Chalet No.9 at Aloha Loyang Resort a little after Downtown East in Pasir Ris to celebrate my Niece's two Marthin Boys Birthday Bash.

Celebrating their 4th and 3rd birthdays - Sam Woody and Hiz Buzz was all game. They sure had enjoyed themselves with their cousins and friends. The parents had a blast too.

The Toy Story themed-party was probably the biggest birthday party I had ever attended.

It started off at 4:30PM with a big bang of confetti and loud music that psyched all the children to high-energy fun... magic shows, live pets to touch and pat, games after games, prizes and Toy Story goodies kept the children all smiles.

Toddler guests had their time filled sitting cute while their caricature portraits were being drawn.

Cakes, cookies and candies were the soul-food of the party that would make any dentist gleam with pride for their purpose in life. Blame in on the two Woody and Buzz pinatas that blew-up candies when the birthday boys each had their turn striking at them.

At one point, Woody refused to burst with candies after numerous strikes even with the help of their Daddy, so their Daddy had to "knifed" him secretly to weaken his paper mache body. It was a cruel sight!

On a quieter note, I had some time spent with Dad and Brother-in-law at the beach, watching and chatting while they fish.

The guest left by 8:00PM while the family members congregated to the barbecue pit for some outdoor cooking. Stingray in chili sauce, prawns and cuttlefish, chicken and beef Satay were the hot favorites.

There were tons of food for a perfect excuse to pig-out. Gluttony had the best of me too. So I will have to burn out the ultra-access food intake these next few days with more intense exercises... but it was so worth it.

The best time was definitely spending time with the family and just chat. Lots of fun and funny stories, while ghost stories told by Dad and my Brother-in-law got everyone's full attention. It beats the best of Ghost Hunters series by a mile.

As the night progressed into early morning, slowly, one by one fell asleep as each snuggled-up on the sofas. Wifey and I left the chalet about 3:00AM while Sonny stayed-on.

We would have stayed overnight there too if not for Wifey forgetting to bring along her asthma medications that she had to skip the night's dose. Sigh.

Well, anyway, today was an day awesome spent with family and friends. The chalet was ideal for such a large family like us, so we set a date to be together there again this December.

Happy Birthday Sam and Hiz... Precious Little Ones.

I'll be back!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Jakarta To Cirebon

Waking up on the first morning in Jakarta, Indonesia was nostalgic.

It was like waking up young... like a child still living in my Lorong Ternak village when the still of the predawn hours broke by the call for morning prayer from the nearby mosque.

It was 4:30AM Indonesian time in Hotel Grand Cempaka.

Mom and Dad already awoke with the sound of water running in their toilet in the adjoining room. We went for breakfast at 7:00AM.

It was the first time I could see an aerial view of Jakarta from our 5th storey hotel room. Only then I realized how dense and well, disorderly cramped the city was. It was no wonder that traffic jams were the order of the day, everyday.

One heartening observation was that there were mosques almost every 100 metres apart, interspersed within the city with varied sizes buildings... distinctive, with its 3-tiered roof and a pointed dome right on the very top.

Although Indonesia is not a Muslim country, with over 300 native languages, the population is about 90% Muslims, thus finding Halal food was not at all a problem.

While the city outside woke-up to its usual bustling day, we had plenty of time enjoying our breakfast and each other's company. Mom was exceptionally chatty this morning.

Knowingly so, everyone was excited since it was our first day to embark on a 6-day journey of Central Java.

We checked-out before 8:00AM and was on the coach with our tour guide Pak Rizal waiting with a smile as everyone boarded. All smiling with zest to begin our Java Overland Tour.

As we headed further away east from the capital, the chaotic concrete and makeshift houses gave its landscape to the vast, unobstructed view of padi fields... as far as the eye could see. All serene with beautifully shades of green.

First Stop.

Lunch was at Pesona Laut Restaurant in Pantai Utara or north sea coastline. A seafood restaurant overlooking the ocean.

A quaint feature of the restaurant was a nostalgic ambin or seating platform where people had their meals on it while seated cross-legged. A true old kampong style.

The food served there was probably one of the best meals in the entire tour, simply because seafood is my favorite.

Second Stop.

A visit to Sunan Gunung Jati Tomb. Our tour guide enlightened us on 1 of the 9 men they called Wali or the holiest men in Java. He united the Indonesian people in Jakarta that soon spread wide the neighboring provinces to embrace Islam from their centuries-old practice of Hinduism.

Before his death, he requested that his grave be cordoned-off in anticipation to avoid skewing of faith by worshiping him at his grave instead of The Almighty.

His grave was not open to public... not even dignitaries. It was believed that one had to pass through 6 more sealed doors excluding the outer thick timbre door that was padlocked to reach the inner sanctum where his grave was. The reason for the 7 doors was unknown.

Out of respect, no photos were taken within the tomb grounds.

It was just too crowded with local visitors pouring in to the courtyard to offer prayer to him, while the Chinese visitors visit Wali Jati's Chinese Wife's grave to offer her their prayers.

So, we cut short our visit there.

The highlight of palce was not so much about the tomb, but the ever persistent and aggressive nature of the children there begging for money. We were already warned by Pak Rizal of such a situation well before we reached alighted from our coach.

Each of us had children surrounding us; even Sonny was not spared... tagging along and tugging on our shirts asking for money. There were lots of shops there, but we could only get a reprieve once we were back on the coach. So, no opportunity for shopping there.

The visit conjured-up a very sad sight to many of us, but an embarrassing one for Pak Rizal. He was disgusted believing that the children were taught by their beggar-parents to lead such a life too, instead of an honest living, working in the fields.

Third Stop.

A visit to Gua Sunyaragi. It was built as a rest house for royalty. Sunan Gunung Jati built it in the 15th century for his Chinese bride who died 3 years after coming to Java.

The isolated place was used for meditation to seek inner knowledge and strength for spiritual discipline within the many chambers. Outsidewas a landscaped garden where once small lakes meandered through the garden.

It must had been a beautiful place, but with the numerous transformations with its grotesque red brick building and concrete grotto, I could not help to feel that it had become more like a theme park than anything historic, unfortunately.

Last Stop.

The journey to our hotel called Hotel Prima in Cirebon took us late into the afternoon.

Enough time to freshen-up after checking in and had our dinner at the hotel restaurant.

We did our own night tour of the city while my parents stayed back in their room.

Did some shopping for some unbelievably dirt-cheap T-shirts and jackets before we called it a night.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Rugged And Beautiful

It has been a few weeks since I last rode on my bike. I missed the outdoors even though we have just returned from our vacation last week.

This afternoon was a perfect day to venture out. I chose to cycle at Tampines Mountain Biking Trail situated along Tampines Avenue 9, which is so near to my home.

Since Wifey is still "suspended" from cycling until the go-ahead sign is given, hopefully at her upcoming follow-up appointment this Monday, 23 June 2008 because of her asthma attacks a few months back.

So she stayed home alone doing her favorite past time... watching Korean love dramas on TV.

It would have been great if Sonny were to go biking with me, but he was out having a last ditch effort of carefree fun, hanging out with his cousins before school reopens next week.

So it was me alone again. Nope, no complaints here. I actually got to take my time to stop wherever I fancied along the tracks and all the time I needed to practice taking perfect shots of my subjects.

This time, I ventured farther to the ever-winding tracks I had not taken before and further inward into the jungle trails too.

Once inside the darker shades of the jungle. I realized that I had been urbanized so much that I was quite out of my element while in the wilderness... if one can call it that in modern Singapore!

I remember the last time I was in a true, primary jungle was when I hiked and climbed Mount Ophir in Segamat with my army friends. It was in Johor, Malaysia during my hay day while still serving my 2-year compulsory military stint... oh, some 20 years ago.

It was quite spooky at first, being in the Jungle Trail alone, but as long as I have my cellphone, water and insect repellent in that order with me, I forged-on confidently.

Though the sounds of leaves rattling in the wind and the beautiful sounds of singing birds served as a therapeutic background music to me while I snapped photos there, I could not help feeling a little freaked with the strange cracking noise the tree trunks made when they rubbed against each other whenever a gust of wind blew.

At one instance, as I was engrossed with my picture taking, I received a heart-jumping shock when a passing biker suddenly broke the natural sounds with rushing noise of broken twigs and dried leaves.

"Did I scare you?" he asked while zipping by and left as suddenly as he came before I could answer in embarrassment. Phew!

What came through my mind was a wild boar or... a big foot!

Well, maybe not big foot. It was more of my wild imagination than anything else.

Who could blame me? I watched big foot documentary the night before called "Destination: Truth" about big foot investigations in the primary Endau jungles of Malaysia.

Anyway... coming back to the trail.

There was a recently held Singapore Bike Asia 100 competition there which trail I followed. There were many challenging terrains requiring the use of protective gears and bike skills for such attempts.

I followed only up to a distance and stopped when the terrain started to become challenging and muddy. Being alone, old and clumsy... without a helmet on and my Lumix FZ10 dangling around my neck, I took the easy trail instead.

The easy Jungle Trail was not a let-down as far as I am concern. Once I was out from it, there were so many wild flowers blooming along the open tracks.

I guess being alone and making the least noise when I am off my bike taking photos, I got to spot many of the birds species I last saw when young, living in my village then. One or two were probably the first time I ever saw... but most probably I was mistaken because I was without my glasses.

I got to snap a few fauna subjects apart from the flora ones that were easy and accessible. The birds were the toughest as they were fast moving. Only to see and admire their beauty from this blurred vision of mine. If only I brought my binoculars along... next time for sure.

Flowers were perfect for this guy because those were still subjects to get close and creative with macro shots. It would be even better if I had brought my tripod stand along to get stable shots which should yield sharper images.

So, with so many things to see and so many equipment to bring along next time, mountain bikers would huff while plunging through the tracks of thick growth and rugged terrain, as for me, I will be packed with gadgets on my back taking my time to rediscover and savior the beautiful wilderness as it exposes itself to me.

An afternoon beautifully spent. Hope Wifey gets the green light to go green with me soon.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Singapore To Jakarta

Leaving Singapore Changi Airport on Friday was not an opportune a timing for us Muslims.

We had to skip the afternoon Friday mass prayers since the Qatar QR638 flight was at 2:35PM on a weekday.

The normal big group of family members who finds any reason to gather together for a big send-off was non-existent this time. Only my youngest brother and his family came to drive our parents from their home to the airport.

Touch-down, Jakarta

That short flight to Jakarta was not an ideal one if given a choice.

Being a transit flight from Dubai, each of our seats were scattered around. Fortunately our parents got their seats together.

The flight was a 200-odd Indonesian maids-strong who were heading home after finishing their stints in Riyadh and Dubai.

The first day of the trip was nothing memorable at all. I could sense the rush for our meals to be served and for the passengers to eat before it was time for the plane to start descending.

Oh yes, I will always remember this one. I was aghast to witness for the first time in my traveler-life, a passenger seated beside me spitting on the carpeted floor of the plane while seated!

Sonny was not so lucky either. Seated behind me, he was very trying to swallow his meal while both ladies seated on both sides of him puking for the most of the flight into the air-sick bags.

It was a relief to get our of the plane. Jakarta, however greeted us with a massive traffic jam. A daily, twice-a-day peak-hour workweek event. As the tour guide mentioned, a 20 minutes journey would take about a hour during peak hours.

We took 3 hours to reach our hotel, but before that, dinner... Padang style was waiting for us. Notice the numerous dishes served stacked-up on the table. Tea was normally served at meal times.

After dinner, we get to "renew" our wedding vows and posed on the Minangkabau Wedding Dias specially for the Salero Jumbo Padang Restaurant customers.

We got to sleep the night at a beautiful and modern Hotel Cempaka... excited but also bracing for the long journeys ahead.

The mini-coach was to be our home for the whole of the Java Overland Tour, while each of the hotels became just a nightly affair to rest our tired bones in.

To be continued...

Sumatra's Minangkabau Wedding Dias

Mom & Dad reliving their wedding days

Wifey & I feeling nostalgic