Monday, 16 December 2013

How's Your Sight?

It seems to me that quite a number of people are suffering from eye disorders these days.

I personally know 3 people who has only one functioning eye.

One of them, who's about my age, has had a cracked retina in one eye for 20 years already.

A sister-in-law is blind in one eye due to hypertension.

A dear friend who is in her mid-forties woke up one morning and realised she couldn't see anything through her left eye. Specialists couldn't find anything wrong and they think it's a neural issue.

And then there's my nephew who only recently recovered from surgery to treat a partial retinal detachment due to high shortsightedness.

One of my sisters has perfect vision in one eye but myopic in the other. So she wears a contact lens in that eye only... but can survive without it in any case.

I used to have perfect eyesight but now need help for reading... so I am using multi focals for the convenience.

I've come to realise as I approach ripe old age (keyword being APPROACH... ahem) that eyesight cannot be taken for granted... so much so that eye health should be part of our check-up routine.

More time walking in the park and less surfing on our mobiles should do our eyes a world of good.

And I would say Polaroids would be good to use when out in blazing sun.

I am actually in awe of my friends who are now seeing in mono, that they are pretty philosophical about their affliction and are very grateful to Allah for bestowing the rizqi of the good "spare" eye. 


Subhanallah!

T
his verse from the Holy Quran reminds:

"Have they not traveled in the land so that they should have hearts with which to feel and ears with which to hear? For indeed it is not the eyes that grow blind – but it is the hearts, which are within the bosoms, that grow blind. [Sûrah al-Hajj: 46]"

As for my friends... there's no doubt they have sight within their hearts... 



Wednesday, 23 January 2013

A Trip To Kunming, China - Final Part



Southwest of Kunming on a 2000m plateau lies the Dianchi Lake. It is the sixth largest freshwater lake in China covering 300 sq. km in area. Large bodies of water are usually on the tourist's must-see list, and this lake is no exception. 

To enjoy a magnificent view of the lake, on the third day of our trip we travelled 40 mins by road to the Western Hills which is a forested area 40 km long on one bank of the Dianchi. We had to get up to the Dragon Gate following hundreds of steps which had been carved into a cliff-side by Taoist monks of yore.

Along the way we came across a few temples where various deities are housed. It was quite a climb but the designated eco-bus had already taken us about halfway up, and there were many places where we stopped to rest and took pictures.

 
Some people took the easy way up by chair-lift and then walked down. We decided to do the opposite, Riding in one of those contraptions turned out to be very relaxing after the climb and the scenery more breath-taking. We followed this by a cable-car ride down to the opposite side of the lake.


 
Can't help mulling over the fact that when we are holidaying in other lands, we sometimes find ourselves taken to places we never think twice about not visiting when we are at home, especially places of worship belonging to faiths other than our own.

I have found myself in temples in Bali, Japan and China, and cathedrals in Europe looking incredulously at elaborately carved and painted deities, statues and gargoyles and feeling I should not be there and what if an earthquake suddenly happens and I, a Muslim am buried alive amongst them.

I wonder if we can count casinos as places of worship too, knowing some people visit it religiously in the weekends for monetary, if not spiritual, cleansing/enhancement as the outcome might be... Whatever, that is one place I have never stepped into and also would not want to be near in the event of an earthquake.

The last place on the tourist map that we visited in Kunming was the Taoist Golden Temple. It is located on top of a hill, the Singing Phoenix (because it looks like one apparently), and you approach it by climbing up on stone steps and pass through a series of "Heavenly Gates".




We took note of the temple which is tiled with bronze panels, hence giving it its golden sheen and its name. Then proceeded to a bell tower further behind it where is housed a large, 580-year-old copper bell which is 3.5 meters (16.4 feet) high and weighs 14 tons. It is said that "the temple and the bell is a reflection of the excellent metallurgical and casting technology of more than 300 years ago in Yunnan".


Before heading back to the city, we walked through the temple grounds which is a serene park of tall cypress trees dotted with bronze relics and bonsai plants here and there.



The next day was our last in Kunming. We spent a few hours before leaving for the airport buying some souvenirs at the Bird and Flower market, doing some city sightseeing and finally dropping by at the Nanying mosque for solat and some noodly lunch. 



It was the perfect way to end our visit, in a place which felt quite familiar, and okay to be should an earthquake happen :)

Sunday, 6 January 2013

A Trip To Kunming, China - Part 2


Most tourists to Yunnan province do not stay very long in Kunming. The three Malaysian ladies whom we met briefly on the plane were not even staying the night. They were going to catch the 10pm sleeper train down to Lijiang City from where they will visit fascinating places like The Tiger Leaping Gorge, the Snow Mountains and Shangri-la over in Tibet.

We did not have the luxury of time so our trip was limited to places within two hours of Kunming by road.

The first day we took in the Stone Forest, 120 km. away.


"Located in the east of Kunming City, Yunnan Province, Stone Forest is an undoubtedly unique natural phenomenon.   In an area of 400m², there are hundreds of differently-styled giant stones scattered in random fashion and giving the appearance of a deep   and serene forest. Stone Forest began to take shape in the Carboniferous Period some 280,000,000 years ago. The forest was formed by successive natural and geological upheavals-firstly due to the erosion of limestone in the sea, resulting in countless stone channels and columns; and later, due to the rising of the Earth’s crust, the area became a land-mass. The stones themselves were fashioned as a result of these processes, as well as millennia of weather exposure and natural upheavals such as earthquakes. All of these factors have made the stones a truly wondrous sight.  When viewed from a distance, the stone columns seem to form an impenetrable black forest-hence the name-”Stone Forest”.  (Taken from http://www.chinatouronline.com/china-travel/kunming/kunming-attractions/stone-forest_382.html)





Actually these Yunnanese, they really have heads for heights. They have carved/engraved/built at their tourist attractions countless steps, mostly steep, winding and narrow to reach the spots that offer the most spectacular scenery.

Alhamdulillah hubby and I still have our climbing legs to take them on, not without some huffing and puffing, which is saying something about our cardio fitness.

If only working-out is as simple as placing one's hand on a rock shaped like a heart-and-lungs combo found in the Stone Forest near Kunming. These folks, they look at a rock formation and they see shapes of various things like an elephant, a soaring eagle, a wife waiting for her husband *roll-eyes*, lotus flowers, a mushroom etc. By just touching them they believe will bring strength, virility, good health, good luck.

Given how they tend to think visually, even their writing are in picture symbols, my guess is the Chinese in general are right-brainers which is said to be associated with higher levels of creativity and language skills.... which is nice to have in a way, but if you start believing things like certain numbers are lucky/unlucky because of how they sound... haiiyah that's really illogical to the max.

Oops...I have meandered far enough... here are some pictures we took at the Stone Forest and see if you can discern a few of the shapes I mentioned.
 





After the tour we stopped for lunch at a Muslim restaurant at the nearby town. The meal was sumptuous, and the calligraphy inspirational.


It means “There is no greater wealth than wisdom, no greater poverty than ignorance; they will not enter Paradise who is isolated".



 We returned from our trip before sunset. After solat and some rest, we went for a stroll at the city park known as the Green Lake Park and simply watched birds and people partaking their leisure.



Although the locals didn't seem to smile that easily, it was good that they didn't really mind their pictures being taken.

to be continued

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

A Trip To Kunming, China



Kunming was a crisp 8 or so degrees centigrade when we landed at 4.40 in the afternoon on 23rd December 2012. It is known as the Spring City because of it's mild climate - not too cold in the winter, neither is it too hot in the summer, most probably due to it's location in the middle of the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau at an altitude of 1,900 m above sea level and at a latitude just north of the Tropic of Cancer.

So I slipped on my decades-old springtime jacket before we went through Chinese immigrations where you had to stand in-front of an online camera which displays your face on a monitor alongside your passport photograph, and then you go into shock seeing how old our Malaysian passport office had made you look in the scanned photo and even the immigration officer was momentarily confused, probably thinking I might be using my mother's passport instead...

We were met at the airport lobby by Henry Yang (suggested to dear hubby to just call him Henry and not Yang so I won't get confused), our guide whom we had engaged via the internet for this trip. Before long we were in a van bound for the city and the Home Inn, our crashpad for the next three nights.
 
The first evening, we explored the area around the hotel which is in a bustling commercial district, and if not for the temperature which had plummeted somewhat after sunset, you can be forgiven for thinking you're in Bukit Bintang or Petaling Street.
 
 
 

We spotted a Muslim eatery with halal endorsement certificates on the wall, and there we had our first Chinese meal of a small roast duck (tasted so much better than the one we had here in the Chinese Muslim restaurant in USJ near the Al-Falah mosque), plus a broth made with free-range chicken, and my must-have stir-fried greens, and delicious stir-fried juliened brinjals.

 
 
 
 
Muslim food is easy to find especially in the old Muslim quarter. We had our second dinner at a well-known chain which served up especially hot and spicy fare more to our taste, and the third night more of the same at another place. If I can only read Chinese I would be able to note their names... and I can tell you the chillies were really fiery at these places.




Actually there's a sizeable Muslim population in Kunming City. There used to be a Muslim quarter in downtown Kunming but the area had to make way for the development of new infrastructure etc, thus many of the residents were relocated elsewhere. Nevertheless two mosque complexes within walking distance of one another are still there and in active use. We stopped for solat at one of them, the Yunning mosque, and after had delicious hawker-style noodles soup at their food-court.


 
The other mosque is the Nancheng mosque, the main mosque of Kunming.
It's so heartening to see Islam alive even after much trials and tribulations in China since it first arrived during the Tang Dynasty circa (600-900AD)
 
 
 
 
(to be continued)


Friday, 21 December 2012

Uncommon Ways of Using Common Salt

Salt is one of the most essential condiments in the kitchen ever since time itself. It preserves food, also makes them tastier.

Salt has many other uses eg. a salt soak relieves tired feet, and can also be used in body and facial scrub lotions.

It is said that local medicine-men use coarse salt  among other things, to drive away evil spirits but I myself have never seen this being practised.

And  it seems that to keep rain at bay when holding wedding feasts or gatherings outside, some people swear by  placing a bowl containing some salt and onions in a corner of the house somewhere high like on the roof. You'll see clouds gathering but no rain falls until the event is over.

Maybe faith has a lot to do with that.

On the practical side, here are some uncommon ways you might make better use of our common salt other than the standard pinch or two in your cooking.
  1. If you drop a whole egg on the floor, pour salt all over the egg, let it sit for awhile, then use dustpan, the egg will come right up, without all that mess.
  2.  Sprinkle salt on your shelves to keep ants away.
  3. Add a little salt to your boiling water when cooking eggs; a cracked egg will stay in its shell this way.
  4. Soak wrinkled apples in a mildly salted water solution to perk them up.
  5. Use salt to clean your discolored coffee pot.
  6. Mix salt with turpentine to whiten you bathtub and toilet bowl.
  7. Clean brass, copper and pewter with paste made of salt and vinegar, thickened with flour
  8. Add a little salt to the water your cut flowers will stand in for a longer life.
  9. Use a mixture of salt and lemon juice to clean piano keys.
  10. To fill plaster holes in your walls, use equal parts of salt and starch, with just enough water to make stiff putty.
  11. Dry salt sprinkled on your toothbrush makes a good tooth polisher.
  12. A dash of salt in warm milk makes a more relaxing beverage.
  13. A dash of salt enhances the taste of tea.
  14. Freshen sponges by soaking them in salt water.
  15. Clean your greens in salt water for easier removal of dirt.
  16. A dash of salt improves the taste of coffee.
  17. Salt and soda will sweeten the odor of your refrigerator.
  18. A pinch of salt improves the flavor of cocoa.
Hmmm... I have not tried drinking  tea, coffee or cocoa with a dash of salt before and am not sure if I dare try but right now I do  feel like whipping up some steamy hot creamy sumptuous oatmeal.  I cook it with milk and add a tiny  pinch of salt while it's gently boiling. Squirt some honey over before eating. I can attest the salt gives body to the taste and takes plain oatmeal up to the next level.

It's the only way I will eat oatmeal now. Try it, you'll not regret it.

Just don't take this post with a pinch of salt.

Friday, 14 December 2012

My Poor Co-op.

It almost got dragged under during the economic fallout of the late nineties  Ever since then it is struggling to keep it's head above water.

When I was still working, I had continued with my monthly contributions in good faith.

When I retired seven years ago, I thought I'd submit my notice of resignation as a member and withdraw all my contributions.

But I was told that I could only resign my membership at 55 years of age. At that time I was 3 years shy of being eligible.

However they said I could apply to withdraw 50% of my savings, which I did.

My poor co-op.

It was only after 3 YEARS that they managed to pay me the first instalment.

And then 15 months later a second one, followed closely by a final payment.

Yesterday, after hearing that they now have their own building, I decided to make them settle once and for all the balance in my account.

My poor co-op.

It turns out that to resign, you do not simply give them a notice (as what I had expected).

To resign, you have to apply to it's Board.

The Board will then make a consideration at one of their monthly board meetings.

Trick is, your application will not make it to the meeting this month and probably not the next nor the next as they only consider 30 requests a month, and there is quite a queue.

And once approved, you will only get your money maybe months later, also in instalments.

Oh dear, poor me.

Well at least that lady who explained everything did not say it might take YEARS.

Then she says I have to write an official letter to request resignation.

Got me wondering, if there's really that many of us resigning, wouldn't it be simpler for them to have us each fill a standard form, rather than deciphering our letters later for details.

But, I scribbled a letter anyhow.... right in front of the lady.

Haven't written an official letter in seven long years.

My poor co-op.

I hope you'll approve my resignation and pay me my money.

I'd hate to write another letter...  to appeal.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

A Lot of Hot Air

Physics say when you blast air with some heat, it rises.

Even as you gently cook your sunnyside eggs in the pan, the heated air over it rises bringing along the wondrous aroma of breakfast into the bedrooms of their sleeping occupants... provided the doors are open, that is.

If not, then you get reminded of NATO: No action, tidor only

Hello there veterans, it's a bright and sunny Sunday and  the air is already warming up outside (well, it was when I wrote that this morning).

These thoughts of hot air conjures up similarly warm and happy memories of an action-filled time we (the hubby and our two young ladies) had in Turkey last July, not least riding in a hot air balloon.

After that experience I can say now I know how a feather feels floating haplessly in the sky.

Because somehow it felt just like that, no wind in your face, no undertow currents tugging at you... just a nice dreamy floating feeling as we took in the scenery a thousand feet below us, from a basket filled with I think 18 others.

It took place in Goreme in the Cappadocia region of Central Turkey, an area of very interesting albeit arid terrain.


Early morning was when we lifted off before the cold desert air gets warm because balloons depend on the difference in temperature of the air inside it vs. outside for buoyancy.

First the preparations to inflate the balloon.





And then all aboard! Lightweights on one end and the one heavyweight at the other.




Some blastings of propane gas and we have lift-off... 




followed by a feast for the eyes...

Cappadocia is settled on a high, dry plateau in the middle of Turkey. The region is one of hot, dry summers and cold, sometimes snowy, winters. Ancient volcanic eruptions blanketed this region with thick ash, which solidified into a soft rock—called tuff—tens of meters thick. Wind and water went to work on this plateau, leaving only its harder elements behind to form a fairy tale landscape of cones, pillars, pinnacles, mushrooms, and chimneys, which stretch as far as 130 feet  into the sky. 
(From National Geographic)










These are volcanic rock formations called fairy chimneys and typically consist of relatively soft rock topped by harder, less easily eroded stone that protects each column from the elements.
(From Wikipedia)




Hokay... after an hour thereabouts, our skilful pilot took us back to solid ground


 The shadow of our descending balloon




Deflating
                     
We landed right smack on a farm trailer. Thank God the heavyweight was still flexible enough to lift herself onto the basket's  edge to get off.


Feathers no more

Our fellow passengers



I do like hot air come to think of it, both that we fly with and that we generate in the kitchen.

And quick look at the clock tells me it's time to produce more of the latter.

Up, up and awaaaay....