Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Visiting Vietnam


The border control will be closed at 5.30 pm. We rushed through for about 2 hours. It was pity to such in a hurry as the countryside was stunningly unique. This place is where they paddy grows; the paddy fields are everywhere and laid before us as long as the eyes can see. We went through so many villages and towns as I wondered the magnitude of human calamity must be so huge during the last war some 40 years ago. The border town was very busy and as we pushed through the traffics I was gradually ( in a complete subtlety) brought back to civilizations. The day was getting dark when we arrived at the immigration office. For one USD we stamped our passport out of Cambodia and said farewell to our nice  host Ustaz Loh and his family. We lug our bags over to the other side as we entered Vietnam. For one USD we stamped the passport and entered the country. The tour guide was there to take us to the hotel. The  bus ride to the city of Saigon took about two hours and during the time we were so engrossed with the tour guide telling us about the history of this place and what has brought him there.

The first thing that I noticed about this place is how everything has been more organized and in order. No doubt it is more modern and advanced compared to Cambodia. The highway is bigger and they have special lanes for motorbikes. Noticeably big portion of the highway is dedicated to motorbike users. Very nice. The red flags are everywhere to remind everyone that this is still a communist country with socialist government. But we were told not to worry that the war was over and Vietnam is so eager to bring its people to taste modernity and prosperity. The business is booming, the  tourists are coming and life seems so normal. Although I have reservations regarding all these, I really wanted to know the culture and people of this “new” Vietnam. It is very interesting to finally be here, to the place where we used to know some time ago the origin of all evils. The Vietnam War in the 70s. I was still in my primary school when the war broke out—must be about 10 or 11 years old. The waves of desperate people landing on our beaches to escape the atrocity of the war. They were finally housed at an island called Pulau Bidong. The pictures came back little by little as we approached the city center of Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City. It was late when we finally arrived at the hotel and the rain started to pour heavily but the night life of Ho Chi Minh City was definitely inviting.

The morning revealed the more exciting life of the city. The buildings were colonial from the French era I think and the famous market of Ban Than was just in walking distance. People seemed nice but since I don’t speak the language not much I could say about their hospitality. Surprisingly many can speak my language—Bahasa Malaysia in my kelantanese dialect. Very interesting indeed. We dropped by the National Library and tried to find some books on culture and history of Vietnam. Although not many books were in English, due to some government policy, the library assistants there were very helpful to locate the books that we requested. Spent the whole morning there and we discovered the long history of Champa Empire, Khmer Empire and dynasties in Vietnam dated all the way in the 12th/13th century. There was even a PhD viva in the year 1200s  during the height of Champa Empire. But the empires collapsed and disintegrated. The people scattered in the region and trickled down to the ethnic groups where they live in the remote villages. But it was an exciting experience to see how their villages are and the state of life they are living. The life in the afternoon seemed busy as we crossed  the city to search for an art museum.
 I don’t understand art very much but I think the artworks were fabulous and unique. And of course, a visit to this city would not be complete without a day out in the marketplace Ban Than. I could never imagine a marketplace can be so attractive to a tourist like me. I think we should learn a thing or two from these people. The market was  not  a pish posh shopping center; it was a regular market where you go every morning to get your house needs. It was acceptably clean where you can go in and do not feel irky or anything. No smelly fish or dead rats. It was okay and quite comfortable. It was like our pasar but cleaner. By 6.30 pm it will be closed for the day. I ordered a suit for less than 200 ringgit, delivered on time at 11 am the next morning—it suits me perfectly.



Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Getting into The Boom Boom Craze


….the boom boom here…the boom boom there…you senamrobik guys would know exactly  what I am talking about…that sexy  boom boom dance.
Anyway, here we are, early in the morning, in the middle of a stadium under the heavy black cloud waiting for the music to kick away the morning  blues. We are attending UiTM 1000 langkah…walking for a thousand steps. It’s not far maybe within 20 minutes we can finish those steps. But that’s not what this program is all about; it is about taking care of your body through regular exercise. As the age is catching  up, the exercise would be less of priority. Time in the office and with family seem to take all the hours of the day. At the end of it, all is left is a tired bum and a couple of squeaky legs.
We just don’t have time to work out the heart, the muscles and the bulging tummy. I registered 50 of my students and staff to join this program. I wish to sign up at least 500 of the faculty members and students but the time is not right as today is the middle of the week. Many have classes and work to do so 50 is good enough. My concern is the faculty members who really push their time to write and teach but do not spare some time to jog or do some sort of exercise. They are getting bigger tummy and bigger bum. Hopefully someday will realize my true intention to encourage their participation is for them to see the important of exercise and live a healthy life.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Journey To Meet The Forgotten Children of Cambodia---The Malay Champas


We arrived around 7 am in the morning. The airport was small just like the one in KB maybe less glamorous than that. It’s simple and quiet. The immigration and custom checks were brief and we were out  and ready to go less than half an hour from the time of our landing. Outside the airport saw the chaotic morning rush just like ours; the only difference is the presence of police and the army personnel. They’re everywhere and made the trip more stressful. We went straight to the Malaysia Embassy  for a 9 o’clock meeting. It was a huge compound and majestic building; made you so proud for being a Malaysian citizen. The briefing was short but very useful in terms of security issues and emergency cases. I mean this country has gone through years of war and tribulation; we do not know whether they are ready to accept us as a foreigner on their land. I know a lot of Cambodians back in Kelantan or Shah Alam but the locals here are a bit different. They are mainly Buddhist and very religious at that. Next we went for lunch at a halal restaurant and solat at the nearby mosque. Later in the afternoon we went on a slow boat down the river and watched the sunset. Then off to our hotel somewhere in the city to get a lot of rest as for tomorrow we will have to endure a 3-hour ride to Kg Cham.


The road to Kg Cham ran through a lot of kampongs. I mean really kampong; like our kampong in the 70s. The roads were dusty and many parts left unfinished. It was early morning and people were rushing not to work or offices but to the market place. We passed through many market places just like the ones we still have in some of our kampongs.  People sitting around having breakfast, talking , chatting and negotiating. A scenery I used to be part of during my childhood. Not many schoolchildren running around; they maybe already in the class or haven’t yet leave their houses. But every where you look you will see people living a hard life, struggling to make the ends meet. We drove on to our destination; the traffic was not bad as no vehicle really  on the road. We finally arrived in Kg Cham around 10 am to the cheering of children and the kampong folks. They were waiting for us.

Although these folks have no modern amenities but they have unbelievable hospitality. Maybe we cannot communicate directly but the gestures and body language are good enough to make yourself feel at home. The kids played basketball  cheerfully although they had no real court, or real basket ball or real basket. What they had was a ball, a handful of players, a basket ( I mean laundry basket) and a field full of fun. A quick visit to the compound of the school showed how much they have tried to educate the children and the people around them. This is the effort of a few people to educate their children about Islam and practices in Islam. The innocent eyes of the small children showed us how much have I got to help them out. We could turn a blind eye on them today but the guilt for doing so would come to haunt us tomorrow and the rest of the other days. My students and I just could not do that. We would give whatever we have for them today and hope to come again in the future. When I saw the old folks with beaten faces and a hard smile; my mind went back to my aunties and uncles that died some years ago. They had the same faces and the same smile; the smile of the poor.


Lunch was served late in the afternoon and it was unbelievably superb tastes of delicious kampong cooking. I hadn’t had such a taste for a long time from the yesteryears of my childhood. It was really good. We finished the program there and rushed to the border before it closes for the day. We were heading east to the troubled place of the past , Vietnam.

Monday, October 13, 2014


trains to Brussels

on the train
After two days in Paris (two lovely days!) we headed north to Brussels. A train ride from Gare de Nord in Paris to Brussels will take about an hour. It was a smooth ride  and in no time we arrived in Brussels…and no custom check ? cross border immigration stop? I thought it was easy to move around in Europe. And people speak English more here than in Paris; but they seem not too friendly. Any way our stop will be that atomic building called (I forget the name) the place was so boring I could not even remember the name of that place. It was in the middle of a park and as we were  in  the summer , the weather was fantastic. We enjoyed the sun shades, sitting around watching the little kids playing football in the field. That’s all I did in Belgium( so much of the holiday!). the rest of us went up that atomic building I just could not bother to join them. The souvenirs were lovely only if I could get my credit card through…apparently not, I forgot the password. Well I never use my password with the card anywhere else ,London or Paris,.…but in Belgium they asked for the darn password. I left the shop without my souvenirs as my euro was not enough to cover the payment. Any way by 4 pm we were off again to the airport to catch a flight back to London.
That's the atomic building in the back and you can go up into those 'molecules'
Booringg...I just stayed outside .

Umi   in the letter O

Friday, October 10, 2014


Arrived in Paris early in the morning at Paris de Bercy. It’s an old bus station. We departed from Victoria Station in London in the evening and took the 7-hour  bus ride to Paris. The ride was actually quite smooth with Wifi and all. But I slept all the way.



Bought a croissant and an expresso for 3.20 euros. Delicious croissant and fantastic coffee although I am not a coffee lover. Umi went on a meeting with the Prof so my daughters and I went away for a stroll around the area. Witnessed a nasty traffic jam as people trying to get to  work. One thing about Paris is the language , of course, what else.
Very frustrating instead if you don’t know the language where people have no clue what you’re saying and you likewise. But I managed my way around although not very pleasant; such as, buying breakfast, find your way to the toilet or getting to the place you wanted to be. As we strolled across the River Seine, we reached the top of the national library, Francois Mitterrand Library. A huge place with sophisticated corridors and alleys. The security was tight like going through the airport gate. But a library is a library where ever you go and this one is no difference. I wish to have more time to explore more of this magnificent place.


Musee de Louvre

It’s hot day today in Paris. The summer crowd has definitely arrived; notably, the Americans. The place was huge and filled with people taking pictures to capture their time spent here in Paris. I was one of them. It has been a dream to someday come to this museum and experience the history of France and the French people. I read a lot about their long history of struggles in the French revolution but most  intriguingly their enduring effort to preserve what’s left for us to see and remember. But the whole of Paris is like one big museum; I just could not imagine how much money and effort have been put into the preservation of their culture and heritage.


When Hitler called up his general and asked “Is Paris burning?”, in the WW II, I would imagine the whole place had been  burnt down to ashes. But it seems that the city had survived the trouble times and witnessed the atrocity that came with the war. Many old buildings from the medieval time are still standing strong. One of them is old church of Notre Dame. The walk to the church of Notre dame from the library gave us the glimpses of the past; the time of aristocrats roamed the city of Paris. The luxurious life of the higher class of Parisians could clearly be seen from the buildings and the streets of this magnificent city. It was once used by the rich and famous of the old society. Just could not imagine how advance were the French compared to the rest of the world.
The Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower stood as magnificent as always. I was here a couple of times before but today is different as it is the summer season. The actions were everywhere and people came in busloads from God knows where. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves in every way they please. There was live music with pretty good performance.  A fake guess- where-the-ball-under-the-cup-is pulled the crowd also. The whole thing has been a set up and I watched as they come and go. The weather was excellent and I spent long hours just sitting there experiencing the atmosphere. Notably the police and army personnel were there and when  they came those illegal

The glass floor
view from the top

traders and fake gamblers would scramble away for cover. They sold cheap souvenirs which we bought some for friends back home. As always, the photo session is a must and we have done a lot of that; this time from all angles possible. The festive atmosphere is visible from all corners of the tower, l’est, oust, nord and south ….

As the evening grew, it’s time to move and made our way back. It has been a fabulous short trip to Paris. I gained more experience and understanding of life here in Paris. The city is unique with its own characters, colors and individualism. The place where you can see people enjoy being themselves. They have their own standards and this has made British standards insignificant in every way. If London is a lively morning sunshine; Paris is an awesome endless evening.

The Paris Metro
old but still good and comfortable
Riding the metro is as exciting as the humming sound of the incoming carriages. Although they are old and dirty; they have played important role to keep Paris alive and kicking. The timing is excellent all the time and just could not imagine what would happen if the trains stopped for a moment. Chaos and disaster would be inevitable. Everybody seemed to ride the metro and we could see all type of people on all type of trains. They have a double-decker train which is very exciting for me to see as it snaked in and out of the platform. The engine must be very powerful to pull the carriages forward ; so are all other maintenance and support that come with it.
The system has a very loose control as I saw a lot of people squeezed themselves through the door and we don’t need to insert the ticket to leave the station. I guess the system has paid itself to cover this nonsense from a few irresponsible persons. The most enjoyable prt of riding the metro is that how easy it is for me from outside Paris to use the system; despite the fact that I don’t speak the language – the francais .