Saturday, August 28, 2010

That Yearly Pilgrim

Last weekend saw me standing in the crowd as Wifey browsed through the Baju Kurung or Malay traditional dress at the Geylang Bazaar.

Getting well dressed-up for visiting during Hari Raya is a must to celebrate the occasion. Of course, well dressed does not necessarily mean expensive clothes, but just new affordable ones that one treats oneself for the successful triumph of fasting during the Ramadhan month.

Like every year, during Ramadhan, Geylang Serai Bazaar is the focal point for the Malays and nowadays, Muslims of all races too shop for all the essentials of Raya celebrations from clothes to home decorations like curtains, sofa covers, bedsheets... the list is endless.

Talking about the Raya list, we have ours too that we have so far done almost all to prepare for the celebrations in the month of Syawal to be 10th September 2010.

But before that, besides soaking in the chaotic and happy atmosphere at the bazaar, for the guys, it is definitely the endless choices of food, Malay kuih or savories and snacks that are not often sold at food stalls on a normal day. The food that always tastes so good during break fast at sunset after a day of abstaining from any food or drink from dawn.

This year, Wifey decided that only Sonny needed new Baju Kurung since she already has her dresses that we bought about the same time last year but never worn. She has been saving it for this year. Sonny and I have ours too which are colour-coordinated with hers but Sonny's had outgrown his when we tried our clothes on...

Sonny is still growing taller as we speak, so his Baju Kurung can only be worn once or twice within that year before he outgrows it. Still pristine and new, his clothes will normally be given away as hand-me-downs to his younger cousins.

Last week was shopping for Sonny's clothes, so this week, it is for our home.

We bought seven types of Malay cookies and two types of crackers for our Raya guests to snack on during their visits to our home. Together with the homemade cookies and Swiss roll cakes she ordered from my sister's friend complete the finger food section of our Raya preparations.

Wifey was able to convince me to purchase a set of curtains for the living room to match with the new sofa covers we bought a year ago for this Raya. Together with the spare curtains we bought last year for all study and all the bedrooms, the home decoration section for Raya is done. Checked!

What is left in the list is only the soda drinks that I will buy a carton or two of 1.5 litres bottles a few days before Hari Raya to check the list.

The mandatory list required by all able Muslims are the Zakat Fitrah and Harta. A form of tax for the Muslims community that is practiced all over the world, monies collected to be distributed out to the poor and unfortunate.

Dad had been given his and Mom's since they were married but since his demise, I have taken the responsibility to pay for Mom's Fitrah, along with the ones for Wifey, Sonny and myself of about S$6.50 per person. A small but important amount collectively amongst the poor and needy in the Muslim society.

Wifey and I will make a trip to the bank to withdraw from both of our savings accounts, 2.5% each from the total amount that was unused or untouched for the period of a year to be donated to the poor and unfortunate through any MUIS' or Islamic Council of Singapore collection centres, normally at all the mosques across the island.

These two Zakats are to be donated before the morning prayer of Aidilfitri or Hari Raya.

This year, I was thinking of giving a portion to the Jamiyah Old Folks Home, while the rest will be donated to the mosque and some poor and friends who are single mothers that Wifey and I know.

Our Hari Raya list is almost done as we advance nearer to Aidilfitri.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Better Late Than...

The adrenaline junkie that I am had made me late for work this morning.

I did my daily morning workout ritual today a little too long than I had hoped because my "adrenaline tank" was not full enough for me to stop and got into the shower, ready for work.

I knew I had a chance to get the last bus before I was truly "later" than late. But I have this method to save me from that, so it was not like the end of the world for me in any morning if I were to miss the bus.

This morning, I got to see my last bus leaving the bus stop before I actually got to be there to board. No problem, with a little more cash as "penalty" for being late, I flagged a cab upon reaching the side of the road along Tampines Avenue 9.

I got the cab in record time fortunately and my plan to save myself was under way. I only needed the cab to trail the bus route and overtake it a few stops ahead before I alight and ultimately catch that last bus.

All was good and I was kind of relieved for a while until my cab turned the corner into Tampines Avenue 10. My seat was not even warm yet when I was caught in a traffic jam... my seat was going to get hot!

My bus to work plies through this road everyday and I have never experienced being caught in a traffic jam there. This morning saw a serious traffic jam that had set me back frustrated and just inching my way along the stretch of road for the next 15 minutes.

It would take about that same time for the whole cab journey from my home to work!
Inch by inch the cab moved forward and by then the cab had overtaken the bus that I was trying to catch, still making its way along Tampines Avenue 10... which by then, served no purpose anymore.

I could see two of the familiar faces I usually see taking the same bus in the morning, all frumpy looking, knowing they were stuck in the bus and were definitely going to be late for work.

Signs of an accident rather than a broken down vehicle or roadworks were evident when I heard the siren from the ambulance. I could see flashes of white and red lights farther up the road. I was hoping that whomever was involved in that was alright. Nobody wants to be caught in an accident and the nobody wants to inconvenience anyone as a result from it... but unfortunately, terrible things do happen.

After much endurance and anxiety just sitting in the cab and watching the fare meter flipping its numbers fast like a jackpot for the cab driver... by the way, I thought I saw the driver smiled a little when I happened to glance through his rear view mirror... the cause of the traffic jam revealed itself.

A garbage truck had skipped and mounted onto the curb and crashed into a tree, just before the junction between Tampines Avenue 10 and Old Tampines Road. Most probably, the driver lost focus and pumped the accelerator instead of the breaks.

I had an inkling that the cause of the traffic jam was an accident when I heard the siren from the ambulance. I just did not expect it to be serious enough to render a SDCF to come to the scene too to pry and cut open the doors off the truck.

The front of the truck at the driver's side was badly damaged. So too was the passenger's side.

By the time my cab passed the truck, the SDCF guys have already extricated both driver and his coworker out and into the ambulance.

I took the cab all the way to work instead. I reached work about the same time as I would if I had taken the bus on a normal day, which was not bad at all. The normal cab fare for the whole journey was about S$12.00 but it ballooned up to $18.50 because of the accident... a larger penalty sum to pay than the norm of $4.50 if my "catch that bus" plan were to work.

Nonetheless, I would rather be later than late, than never.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Breakfast At Syed's

Dates with grapes and slices of apples and pairs

Today is the first weekend since the holy month of Ramadhan started four days ago.

Weekends are Wifey's rest days, so we decided that our first break-fast outside this year was at Syed Restaurant in Simpang Bedok. It is our usual weekend haunt for a good, sit-down meal.

The food served has always been delicious. The set meal for four has always been worth it for this family of three... with some leftovers to pack home too as the portions served are big.

It consists of our first and the reason why we choose the place; Tom Yam Seafood Soup, thick and moist omelet, stir fried kailan in oyster sauce and chicken in sambal or chili sauce. Eaten with white rice and with a popodum cracker on the side.

Two glasses of Tea Tarik & Ice Milo

Wifey and I had Tea Tarik for drinks while Sonny had his favourite tall glass of Ice Milo. Sonny's choice of drinks is as predictable as our order for Tom Yam Soup whenever the place has it in its menu.

During the Ramadhan month, most if not all eating places will serve an additional side dish which is dates from Arabia or California to break our fast first, followed by our food. Syed Restaurant goes a little extra mile by serving dates with assorted of other fruits as well, like slices of apples, pares and grapes.

Knowingly, the food tasted extra wonderful today than our other weekend days simply because of the fasting. Like always, there would be much food left after we had our fill. This time, only the omelet was left which we had it packed to eat later during sahur or our meal before dawn.

We bought Seafood Fried Rice for sahur to be eaten with the leftover omelet.

White Rice with lightly salty Popodum Craker

Always a nice experience to see so many other Muslim families all seated and waiting for the breakfast time that was at 7:15 PM today. All happy faces chatting away waiting for the prayer call to be heard over the radio blasting from the rows of shophouse restaurants they turned on for their diners.

You will notice the children's eyes looking at all that food spread on their tables, warm and ready to be eaten but they will just have to practice patience, refraining from eating until the it was breakfast time... even though they have not reached the age of fasting yet. Instead, they want to emulate their parents and older siblings to break-fast together.

Not to worry, the food spread looks a lot and definitely delicious but my goal to lose weight, to be more around my ideal again, will be achieved because fasting more than 13 hours during the day when more activity is done will definitely help.

Clockwise: Tom Yam Soup, Omelet, Sambal Chiken & Kailan in Oyster Sauce

After a while, maybe into the second and towards the third and fourth week, we would be conditioned to eating less than our normal portion, thus somewhat accelerating the weight loss usually.

During this month, I do lighter than usual daily exercises on my home gym, the same time before I shower and head to the office. The usual hour duration is reduced to half, just to be sure I get to tone up and also get a tiny dose of the adrenaline rush brought about from the exercise.

So instead of going for lunch at work, I get to take a nap to recharge for the next half of the day throughout Ramadhan.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Weighing On Health

Ramadhan brings so many benefits spiritually, mentally and physically. They are just countless.

Beside the real objective from the religious point of view, like cleansing one's soul with fasting during this month, another obvious benefit is the weight loss that I silently celebrate each year.

I think the fasting year after year has kept my weight in check. Hovering around my ideal of about 65 kilogram or 143 pounds for a 1.7 metres or 5 foot 6 inches Asian frame, Ramadhan is like a biological barometer being reset back for me.

With age catching up on me, keeping those extra kilos off has become harder each year. Largely due to the slowing down of my metabolic rate and mostly due to the lesser physical activity I get to do on my free time. It is also harder to make time for sports.

On the first day of Ramadhan, I tip the scale of 70 kilograms or 150 pounds... way above the ideal. So with the help of fasting, I hope to get it down again to feel light and agile again. Like every year, whatever six pack I had on me faded away as the months after Ramadhan came.

Like groundhog day, I am excited to see it again, hopefully, this year too when Ramadhan leaves us.

I know it sounds vain but being healthy by keeping the weight down has so many benefits and is like a precursor to a healthier mind and habits... like the first robin in spring time, it makes one happy looking at it and the thought of many beautiful and cheerful things to come.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Blessed Ramadhan

Wishing All Muslims
A Blessed Ramadhan
May Our Spirits Be Cleansed
Our Souls Enlightened
As We Offer Our Prayers
Seeking Forgiveness From The Almighty

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Little Sound Blasters

Wifey tagged along with me when I told her that I was shopping for some techno gadgets at the Harvey Norman Expo Sale on Sunday morning.

Since I gotten a company issued Lenovo T410 notebook for my work, I needed a mouse as I could not get use to using the touch pad after using it for a whole week. I was totally handicapped by the touch pad and it has affected my work to an irritatingly slow pace.

I also needed a portable speaker system... loud enough for the whole classroom to hear other than the soft and muffled notebook speakers.

And yes, I needed a new shaver. The one Wifey gifted me had its protective grid shield broken at some spot and would cut my skin.

Wifey wanted a new pair of earphones for her music listening on the iPhone. She also wanted to gift Sonny with a new set of PC speaker system and replace his wireless keyboard and mouse he had been complaining were intermittent even after changing to new batteries.

So off we went to Singapore Expo in search of our techno needs with good bargains.

I was quite surprised that the sole company was offering good bargained prices. Everything were selling cheap enough that if I was not with Wifey, would have bought other "non-essential" stuff just because they were dirt cheap.

My best find was the TravelPac Mushroom Speakers sold for S$26.90. Surprisingly, the small package packed a punch. A resounding delight to listen to its sound clarity and loudness without breaking up when I fixed it to my iPhone and notebook.

I am so happy that I will recommend it to my friends! A delight to have it when travelling as it is ultra compact and delivers more than expected from its small size.

Wifey is more than happy to get her Sphere Sound Earphones from the same Singapore brand. I got my Honovo Wireless Mouse finally, though a bluetooth one would be even better but too pricey. The nano USB adapter that is paired with the mouse is practical and true to its slogan "plug it & forget it."

Once plugged into my notebook, I am all set and my hands are once again liberated from the touch pad like they have turned into a pair of wings and fly as I do my work on it. I begin to love my notebook, thanks to this plastic roden of an invention!

Got my S$15 Philips Shaver and I can put my fears to rest. No more painful cuts in the morning when I shave!

Wifey bought a set of Microsoft Wifeless Keyboard and Mouse for S$25 from the usual S$79! I would have bought a spare set if I had my way.

Her priced possession is when she bought the Altec Lansing PC Sound System for S$39 down from S$99! We were fortunate that we were among the 50 customers the sets were on sale at the price for.

Overall, we consider ourselves very lucky to get all the gadgets we needed at bargain prices.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Happy Birthday Singapore

Festive feeling everywhere you turn.

An enlightening feel for everyone, especially after a hard day at work.

Happy 45th, Singapore!

Though I do not feel as enthusiastic about our National Day celebrations as I had for many, many years before, the efforts put in by each and every grassroot constituency is nevertheless commendable.

National flags fly at every home in Cheng San neighbourhood

We used to display the national flag out our window a whole month before 9th August. We did that religiously for many years from the time we moved in. But it stopped when the flag was torn, weathered through the years. We did not get a new one...

We used to brave the crowds to catch a glimpse of the many practice-runs of fireworks on weekends leading to the actual day. Always among the thousands, my camera and camcorder all set hours before the sun went down and the fireworks glittered the sky.

Little national flag flying along Tampines Avenue 9 pathways

To date, I have never gotten any luck with getting tickets to watch the National Day Parade live at the then national stadium and at the new location nowadays, Marina Bay floating platform.

So I have resigned to watching the parade on TV every year.

I know nothing beats watching it live. We did watch it as close to the venue as possible and watched the brilliant fireworks lighting up the night sky accompanied by the sonic booms. It was exhilarating each time.

National & Youth Olympic flags fly high along Rivervale Road

The combination of all that and together with the wide-eyed, wide-smiling crowd gave a very happy vibe and a silent pride in my heart whenever the national anthem was sung toward the end of the parade.

Nowadays, always a year younger than the nation, I have lost much of the excitement to celebrate. I am just happy that it is a holiday. The brilliant fireworks inside of me has somewhat been reduced to a few sparks as I age.

Festive & with national pride over at Cheng San neighbourhood

Hopefully this young nation will always be as energetic as always. Maybe it is Sonny's time to feel that vigor and even more during this festive occasion. I am just happy to witness it quietly from the background.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Phases Of Life

Today, Mom called me at work as usual to chat.

But today, our usual chats had become a little more than casual. It was heavier. It was more like a last plea to me than anything else.

Yes, a plea.

She has always been adamant to stay put in her home, even after Dad's passing in early January this year. Mom and our late Dad had lived in their house for more than seven years. It was their third home after living for over twenty years in their four-room flat in Tampines Street 22.

Their first home together was in the village. That was the place many of her children, including me, were born at. I do not recall ever seen or heard her being sad leaving the village home after the government took over for redevelopment.

I do however, have been constantly reminded by her that she misses both her Tampines and the current one in Woodlands.

If she had her way, she would not have moved from her Tampines home. But after their last child, my youngest brother, left the house after he got married, the house was just too big to maintain and after more than twenty years there, it was in need of a refurbishment than anything else.

Both Mom and Dad made a decision to get a smaller flat but within Tampines neighbourhood. Yet the property prices in the east was just too hot. It made no sense to downgrade to a smaller flat but have virtually make no money from it.

The flat in Woodlands estate was a good find and definitely a good bargain. Having a balance money of more than fifty thousand after subtracting the full price of the flat, renovations and new furniture, both of them were living debt free with money to spare in their golden age.

After living in Woodlands for just over seven years, with many new memories both of them had made there, we can totally understand Mom's reluctance to move anywhere else. Much less living under somebody's roof, even though it is one of her children.

Our parents had always been very close. They spend their time together and never had spent time apart for long. The only memories of them being apart were during Dad's hospitalization days when he had his scooter accident, his heart attack and the times he was admitted to treat complications when he was suffering from cancer.

We were fortunate that our eldest Niece was able to live with her together at our parents' home. All was well until she had to change jobs. With her new job, she has to work on three rotating shifts that will leave Mom home alone most nights.

We thought of hiring a maid to live with Mom, but with all the scary stories of what had gone wrong with so many people with maids from relations and friends, and even in newspapers, we just could not take that chance with Mom.

As a last resort, just so if Mom really could not adjust herself to her new environment, we had quietly discussed with our Niece if she could stay with her grandmother again but this time with a maid as well.

Our Niece could keep an eye on the maid while the maid takes care of our Mom and the house.

My siblings have agreed to pool our money together to pay for the maid's monthly salary if it had to come to that. Though it may be a little taxing on some of our family members to fork out extra money for this, each and everyone was willing to commit.

Tonight, Youngest Brother will drive Mom to 3rd Sis' place in Sengkang.

From our chats, Mom had finished packing her stuff into the luggage bag we bought earlier for her. All her medicines were already packed too and all the perishables in the fridge were thrown out.

4th Sis and our nieces were there during at Mom's home during the weekdays to help her pack and clean the house before leaving. So too were the many potted plants at the corridor that were of Dad's.

Many of the plants have been adopted by my siblings. I too have taken four pots... a pots of China Jasmine and local Jasmine each, a large Pandan and the always flowering, always cheerful purple periwinkle to add to my own corridor garden.

Dad's sweet smelling Jasmine plants were what got me started to have eight of them in my own garden we bought from a nursery at Simpang Bedok a few months back.

Unfortunately, the few plants that are left will have to be dumped at the dumpster as there is no one to be there daily to water them. The corridor will be bare just as Mom described it when Dad was no longer around.

"I can't bear to leave this house." Mom sobbed over the phone.

She said it is the closest thing to Dad. The house, the pots and pans, especially the kitchen where Dad keeps himself aways busy if he was not tending to his garden.

"Come sit with me. Let's have our afternoon tea." Was Dad's usual call to Mom, she said, after hard at work at his garden every morning, taken his bath and their lunch, ready for a sit down at the sofa and admiring the blooms from the living room.

"Please find a way that I could stay here." Was Mom's plea to me that was so heartbreaking to hear. It was hard to get back to work mode after such conversation.

My only answer to Mom was that she try to spend at least a week at 3rd Sis' home to give it a chance. Sis and her whole family are so thrilled to have Mom living with them because they had lived in Mom's place for many years before when they had to sell their home and finally could afford another one.

"Just think of it as spending time with your daughter at her home." I told Mom gently.

"You will not be lonely at all. Sis is always at home and your grandchildren will be there with you everyday." I painted a picture to her. "You'll be cared for and always around the people you love unlike being alone and spending too much time thinking of our loss."

"Give it a try with an open heart, Mom." I pleaded to her instead, "If you honestly cannot adjust to it, then we will have to find you a solution. I promise."

Mom stopped sobering and started talking about the money she should have in her hand and other stuff she might need while she is there, a good turn around even if it was only for a while. Our conversation was cut short when she received an incoming call. It was probably one of my siblings calling to check on her.

"I call you from her home when I'm settled." Mom said before we both said goodbye.