Sunday, April 29, 2007

Life takes a weird twist

Which is weirder, the fact that:-

1) I found 6 unmatched pairs of socks in my closet after a long overdue spring cleaning (whoever the monster that eat socks for supper, you don't expect me to wear a purple striped one on my right foot and printed Buzz Lightyear on my left, do you?);

2) I'm so in love with my 'Icing Sugar' bath cream (one of my birthday gifts!) I do 2 or 3 rounds of showering every bathroom session;

3) I've got a map of Madagascar on the back of my hip from 'throwing' myself on the floor, which will soon develop into a detailed map of Russia, I'm positive ('cos I've been constantly throwing myself for the past 3 nights, see). The coolest part is, I don't feel any pain whatsoever;

4) I'm (almost) turning my roommate's newfound hobby of making paper stars into mine as well;

or that

5) I currently have 11 mugs in my possession. Haha.

My life's gotten funnier lately. What next...

Today is my brother Muhammad's 20th birthday. We had a long history of love-hate relationship that transcended normal siblinghood boundaries, but he's been quite the good boy recently that I decided not to venture into those juvenile realms. Hehe. May Allah grant you with everything you wished for, the best that you could ever hope. And good luck for the finals =)

30th April- my uncle, Boogey's birthday. Happy birthday!! =D

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Life as we see it

My roomies were feeling bored. Last night roomie A brought the matter to attention by asking me a question: could I live not going back to Malaysia for a few years (as opposed to going back every year)? My answer was- whilst surely I would not want that to be an alternative, but if it ever came to that, I think I could live with it. She then said she had had this conversation with a neighbour and they both had the opinion that, amongst all, I would be the one who could live happily here- because I always had something to do: I had my internet, movies, manga, anime, books, and whatnots. My first constructive feedback was to laugh heartily at what I reckoned as a dreadfully silly excuse for boredom. But I immediately saw that she truly meant what she said.

“What?? But you guys could also have what I had!!”

She said she wasn’t as enthusiastic as I was in ‘these stuff’, she didn’t even care if she had a laptop in the first place. And that though she seemed to sleep a lot, it wasn’t out of hobby, but because at times she just didn’t have anything to do sleeping became the only option left. To further her case, she said sometimes, under the covers, she wasn’t even sleeping- she was playing snake on her handphone.

I interjected that that wasn’t the case, there must be something that she could do, something that she enjoyed doing.

“Back home, what do you do?”

“I go out.”

“Well then, do so!”

“Look, where else can I go here??”

“Hmm… Volga river…??”, with a sheepish look.

Ok, looked like someone had run out of places to visit in this little suburb of a city. Whilst I was wistfully pondering over this tight spot, roomie B, who thus far had been quietly revising for her concluding test the next day, entered the conversation, joining forces with roomie A. I immediately became aware of the fact that I was in the minority.

As expected, they volleyed back to the fact that I was never bored, I always had something to do. Roomie A said that she envied me, for I always seemed happy, especially in front of my laptop. Haha. They said when they went online, it was to check their mails, Friendster, the news, and that was it. I, on the other hand, had my blog, and other people’s blogs, and apparently the whole wide web at my fingertips. I responded that they could also surf around, find something interesting, or start blogging themselves! All these ideas were pooh-poohed, on the grounds that these just were not their ‘thing’. After a few rallies of fierce tennis (this is a metaphor), I came to the point that it was all in the mind, that the word boring was overrated. To them, I was the delusional one. Haha.

I just could not accept their reason for not having anything to do and was desperately searching for groundbreaking solution, when the aforementioned neighbour came in. From that moment, I knew I was facing an uphill battle, and was bound to lose. Hehe. I was saying desperate things, like knitting and cooking. When another friend came in and marveled at the fact that I didn’t get bored and could always find something to do (and face my laptop for hours), I excused myself to pray and get ready for a meeting. Quickly withdraw when you sense defeat, I say.

It must be said that I’m not always happy or preoccupied. I do get my own dose of blues attack every now and then, and I always make myself clear about it. Perhaps the one thing I can do, is not to dwell on negativity for too long and do something to raise my morale instead. Ever the dumb optimist. Yes, I get all worked up (emo, my friends say) easily, but would cool off the second after. I used to wonder if I were doing what people would call as putting up a happy front for other people. In reality, I’m putting up a happy front for myself. When you’re down, find a way to get up. Of course, you are allowed to go bananas once in a while, but only for so much.

As a matter of fact, I haven’t been my old self the minute I set foot on this land a year and a half ago. I took up a quieter front and bounded myself by a limited circle of friends. I kept a tight rein on my social activities, and ended up watching everything from the perimeter. Which wasn’t me back in school days, really. But I feel like I needed the change. Human beings are very adaptable, we can get by in the harshest of conditions, the wildest of dimensions.

And as I had observed in one of my latest entries, we will never be left out on the cold, alone. This is Allah's territory we're living on, and He will never abandon us if we seek for His company. Though I kind of jokingly said in between our conversations that, if they asked my father, he would suggest reading Al-Quran, in hindsight I truly meant it. Reading the Arabic text keeps you enthralled with the lyrical flow as the words come out from your mouth, and reading the tafseer keeps both your feet on the ground.

Roomie A, you envy me for my joie de vivre, but I envy the charm you have with people. People listen to you, and they trust you. I do.

Roomie B, your quiet appeal and wholesomeness makes it hard for people not to like you. Everyone who takes the trouble to get to know you will love you.

I still believe this is just a phase they’ll grow out of. And today, is by no means a day to get bored. Because…

It’s roomie B’s birthday! Happy birthday, dear! God knows how much I owe you with everything involving forks and spoons and tea and a sense of tidiness. Haha. May Allah bless you throughout your life.

Roomie A and B (in no particular order ;p)

Ps: Roomie A has a newfound hobby- making paper stars.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Day 3

Turkey, Day 3.

When I first planned my winter trip, I could not help but be tempted to fit in as many places as the stamp pages in my passport could permit (pardon the hyperbole, I just had two cups of tea). Rationality and a bit of advice here and there put my toe back in line, and I believe my decision to explore the lands of Turkey instead of hopping off between huge, glamorous cities as many of my friends did was the best for me (and my companions too, I hope). I came to learn that the world was a huge place, and pieces of valuable experience were everywhere for you to pick up if you looked hard enough for it.

Friday, 26th January 2007.

My father had kindly proposed an ideal itinerary (with original recommendation by veteran Boogey) for the entire ten days, and whilst we intended to follow the provided plan, we decided to be flexible and kept our options open. And so, when Shaynaz told us she had a test that Friday morning and could only accompany us in the afternoon, I thought, fine, we could have a walk around on our own (read: find food). We told Ruki of our plan over breakfast, and she decided to come along, bringing us to the nearby Friday market.

The gentle breeze outside lent character to an otherwise frosty picture of winter. We walked, eyes ogling at every restaurant in sight. Within spitting distance from our flat, the canvas-covered market reminded me of a typical Russian bazaar, selling everything from perfume imitations to gummy bears in plastic containers. The sellers were decidedly more enthusiastic than the buyers, hollering incessantly with animated gestures. I looked around, familiarising myself with the scene. Tearing through the crowd from one aisle to another were men selling Turkish tea in small glasses on a silver platter, expertly gliding through with their balancing act. We bought some stuff and made our way to the shores of the Sea of Marmara, cutting through a branch of Istanbul University campus as we went.

Ruki showing us round the market

I was not sure of the faculties included in the campus but I saw a bunch of students wearing lab coats, so they had to be science-related. It was a nice place, with lots of shades- I wondered why the leaves remained intact on the trees at this time of year. Heh. Walking down the hilly path was pleasant but I knew climbing our way back would not be as such. Saved the worry for later. We crossed a railway track, a road, and a playground before touching the end of our destinations- the sea. Rock-strewn ridges embroidered the coast, and with the sound of the seagulls as our theme song, we were set to go. Down to the rocks we went.

I have a thing for railway tracks

Girls just wanna have fun. Aha.

We sat on the rocks with our dangling legs for a while, taking it all in at a go. The birds, the wind, the many ships ahead, the splashing of the waves. Such beautiful harmony they made. I suddenly recalled slivers of the beautiful poem by Orhan Veli, which Boogey once put up on his blog in his entry about Ortakoy:


I am listening to Istanbul, intent, my eyes closed:
At first there is a gentle breeze
And the leaves on the trees
Softly sway;
Out there, far away,
The bells of water-carriers unceasingly ring;
I am listening to Istanbul, intent, my eyes closed.

I am listening to Istanbul, intent, my eyes closed;
Then suddenly birds fly by,
Flocks of birds, high up, with a hue and cry,
While the nets are drawn in the fishing grounds
And a woman's feet begin to dabble in the water.
I am listening to Istanbul, intent, my eyes closed.

I am listening to Istanbul, intent, my eyes closed.
The Grand Bazaar's serene and cool,
An uproar at the hub of the Market,
Mosque yards are full of pigeons.
While hammers bang and clang at the docks
Spring winds bear the smell of sweat;
I am listening to Istanbul, intent, my eyes closed.

I am listening to Istanbul, intent, my eyes closed;
Still giddy from the revelries of the past,
A seaside mansion with dingy boathouses is fast asleep.
Amid the din and drone of southern winds, reposed,
I am listening to Istanbul, intent, my eyes closed.

I am listening to Istanbul, intent, my eyes closed.
A pretty girl walks by on the sidewalk:
Four-letter words, whistles and songs, rude remarks;
Something falls out of her hand -
It is a rose, I guess.
I am listening to Istanbul, intent, my eyes closed.

I am listening to Istanbul, intent, my eyes closed.
A bird flutters round your skirt;
On your brow, is there sweet? Or not? I know.
Are your lips wet? Or not? I know.
A silver moon rises beyond the pine trees:
I can sense it all in your heart's throbbing.
I am listening to Istanbul, intent, my eyes closed.

Fatin and me

From left: Fatin, me, Kak Nadiyah, Ruki.

More rock action

After the routine photography session, we decided to make our way back so that we would be in time for our afternoon excursion with Shaynaz. But hey, the playground was simply irresistible. The last time I hit a playground was last spring, during a jogging session (which was an interesting story on its own, I kept forgetting to blog about this. Hah). Naturally, all of us raced for the swings, them being our favourite childhood plaything in the field. I guess the pictures would speak enough of our long-lost deprived obsession.

Buai laju-laju, sampai pokok sena...

Sukanya dapat main jongkang-jongket. Hehe.

Gelongsor pun bantai.

On our way back, we passed the market once again, and the urge to grab a cup of tea off the tray was so strong we called for Ruki to stop for a while. But she firmly opposed our idea, saying they were expensive, and we could always drink at home if we were that thirsty, it wasn’t that far away anyway. At 1 YTL per very small cup (the classic shapely one without handles), she had a point. Heh. But really, it wasn’t so much about being thirsty than the traveller’s itch to try everything local, made by the locals, in a downright local atmosphere. And drinking tea off a walking tray in a rowdy crowd of Turkish people doing household business somehow felt like it. Me and my unworldly wisdom.

I didn’t feel tired, but somehow took a nap back home (all of us actually, but I had been known not to take afternoon naps) whilst awaiting for Shaynaz. At last, she came and without ado, we set out to Beyazit area, five stops from Findikzade. The now-familiar sight of an Ottoman mosque greeted us upon arrival. It was the Bayezid Mosque, built during the reign of Sultan Bayezid II in 1501 and completed in 1506, according to the gilded plaque at the doorstep. Beyazit square stood between it and Istanbul University, teeming with raucous bunch of pigeons. Here and there, you could see old ladies or men selling feeds for those ravenous creatures, amidst the hustle and bustle of passers-by who couldn’t care less about such mundane things as feeding pigeons. This was the job of the tourists. Hehe.

Mak cik waiting for customers to buy her bird feeds

Restaurants at Beyazit

Bayezid mosque

Fatin with Istanbul University's gate at the background

The soaring gate of Istanbul University drew us in- two huge Turkish flags provided company to both sides of its fine structure. No sooner could we step into its historical compound than we were stopped by its two guards, on the grounds of wearing headscarves. Shaynaz tried to reason- ok, not reason, it was a stale cause, appeal perhaps- with them, but they would not budge. So we had to content ourselves with some pictures in front of the gate and swiftly made our way down the steps towards the mosque.

As we took off our shoes at the entrance, Shaynaz pulled out a headscarf from her bag, as it was obligatory for every female visitor to any mosque to cover their heads as a sign of respect. They even provided a handful of them white-coloured ones for those in need. I smiled sadly at this tasteless mockery of our intelligence, flaunted shamelessly before my eyes. The people here took the lengths to ensure everybody cover their heads appropriately, yet the people next-door were yapping for us to take ‘em off. Talk about irony and respect. And the end of the world.

The inside of Bayezid Mosque

Pak ciks selling all sorts of stuff under the trees beside the mosque

This eccentric pak cik caught my eye. Tak berani tangkap dekat-dekat though. Hehe.

Eccentric pak cik's trade- spot a Russian Rouble there!

Next- Sahaflar Carsisi, a place where you could find antiques and old books, or so I was told by Boogey. Indeed, there were rows and rows of thick books with nice jackets on display, which, by the way, would burn a hole in your wallet to buy ‘em. Or my wallet at least. Pretty handicrafts were plentiful as well, like these elegant painted wooden boxes I saw- they made excellent collector’s items. Further ahead, we sought the entrance to the Grand Covered Bazaar, the heart of old Istanbul’s commerce.

Strolling along the passage of Sahaflar Carsisi

The entrance to the Grand Bazaar

Growling stomachs oughtn’t be ignored though, so we resolved to have lunch first at one of the many restaurants lining the streets. The usual kebab for me- I was so not over being infatuated with meat yet. The sight of Lahmacun (flatbread topped with minced meat and other condiments- dubbed as Turkish pizza) further tempted me but my stomach needed a break after the kebab I decided to save it for another time. Nonetheless, I managed to try Shahnaz’s dessert, a kind of brownish round thingy dipped in chocolate, which I forgot everything about, except that it was delicious. The picture of it was unclear, and I doubt even Boogey could verify its identity. Hehe.

Yummy kebabs

Pak cik making, er, Lahmacun I guess.

The detour to the bazaar turned out to be one of the most amusing moments of my trip, thanks to the clownish antics of many of the shopkeepers. They would do anything to lure you into their shops, to the point of speaking your language. Some would yell, “Murah! Murah!” or “Lelong! Lelong!” whilst others went on to profusely praise your country, even quoting such phrases as, “Malaysia… truly Asia”. What a riot. The only other time I had similar experience was in Makkah several years back, when the pak cik-pak cik Arab started to converse in Malay, accompanied by a thick, peculiar accent. Thought they were really funny.

Performing ablution isn't a problem here

I'm kind of obsessed with these things, aren't I? I mean, they're everywhere! Kudos to majlis perbandaran or whomever, very thoughtful of you.

Anyway, back in the Grand Bazaar, the gatal pakciks weren’t to be spared. Rather a few had the guts to brazenly utter stuff like “You know… I’m still single” over a cup of tea, followed by a wink, and these were fifty-or-sixty-something wrinkly pakciks we were talking about. Queerly, I could find no female shopkeepers in the entire parts of the bazaar that I managed to explore, even in those selling headscarves and pashminas. I wondered why.

Looks like they're lost.

Lantern shop

Carpets mahal gile...

A lady expertly weaving carpets with very deft movements

Taking break from shopping with a sip of coffee

It would take us days to peruse through everything there was in the colossus of a place, so after buying some typical souvenirs that attracted us most, we agreed to move on (and made a silent vow to come back). The exit we took led us to the back gate of Istanbul University, braced by high walls of bricks and stones all around. Having been barred from entering, our impulse to get in only increased (the forbidden was always tempting, yeah?), and, despite already knowing the answer, we tried our luck once again. This guard was more apologetic- though I couldn’t understand a word he jabbered in Turkish, his expression atoned for it. Still no go though. Well. Thanks a lot, Mr. Ataturk.

The high walls of Istanbul University

We walked up and down the hilly street towards our next destination: Suleymaniye Mosque. Apparently, the Historic Peninsula was built on seven hills to model ancient Rome, and a mosque was erected on the crest of each hill, like this majestic one we were paying a visit to. Suleymaniye Mosque was commissioned by Sultan Suleyman The Magnificent, the most famous of Ottoman Sultans whom all of us had learnt about in form 4 world history (still remembered us laughing at such a self-absorbed honorary title back then). His and his wife, Roxelana’s mausoleums were located adjacently, together with some other people.

Suleymaniye Mosque

Inner decor of Suleymaniye Mosque

The mosque was even bigger than the Blue Mosque, and just as beautiful. Like the Blue Mosque, it was deemed as the Ottoman’s reply to the legendary Hagia Sophia. Constructed by Mimar Sinan who was regarded as one of the greatest architects of the 16th century, Suleymaniye mosque was the definition of beauty itself, baring the characteristic Ottoman architecture surrounded by a mesmeric garden. Save a few wandering souls, the place was empty, though. We made i’tikaf as usual for a while before proceeding downtown through the Spice Bazaar.

The meeting of Bosphorus and Golden Horn: view from Suleymaniye Mosque

Shops down the pavement

The sun had set, and yellow lanterns flickered to life, adorning the entire street with a pasar malam-like ambiance. True to its name, you could see all kinds of spices imaginable sold everywhere in the vicinity. I would have stopped to pick up some stuff, but our guide seemed to be in a hurry, probably because it was getting late.

Sugar and spice, and everything nice...

At the other end of the bazaar stood the regal Yeni Mosque, or New Mosque- constructed by the order of Safiye Sultan, mother of Sultan Mehmet III in 1598. Its true dimension appeared somewhat obscure due to nighttime and my bad eyesight, but the burnished lighting was simply gorgeous. As it was time for Maghrib prayer, people flocked from nearby. Business went on as usual though, even as the calls for prayer from several neighbouring mosques echoed one another in a most calming blend of sounds. Why these people didn’t go to the mosque and pray when they were just more than a few steps away puzzled me. The chintzy light of worldly materials proving too bright to resist in the end, was my sad conclusion.

The New Mosque

The front entrance of the mosque

New Mosque: the interior

Sarah at the open space in front of the mosque

Afterwards, we wandered down to the quayside to enjoy the night view of the Golden Horn and Bosphorus. Prominent from afar was the Galata Bridge, which spanned the Golden Horn, connecting old and new European Istanbul. The idea to build the first bridge during the reign of Sultan Bayezid II was planned extensively, seeking designs from many great names, including Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo (the latter turned down the request). Leonardo’s design apparently would make the bridge the longest in the world of that time but ultimately it did not gain approval from the Sultan. Thus no bridge was built until the 19th century. I read somewhere that there was a renewed plan to put the original design to life, building yet another bridge across the Horn (there were three at present).

A view of the Galata Bridge

There were several boats cruising around, and nearby, one was leaving the dock. Along the waterfront were scores of stalls selling all kinds of delectable dishes. All of us opted for fish sandwiches. Mentang-mentang kat tepi laut. As we queued to buy food, Fatin suddenly had stomach pain and later could not finish her meal. She first had an attack at Suleymaniye Mosque earlier but it had since subsided, until now. After a while though, she appeared to be better so we went back to the bazaar for a bit of further exploration.

The bazaar was as colourful at night as it was during the day, the pak ciks twice as loud. Hehe. We were curious to see, in many of the shops, trinkets in all manner bearing a round symbol in alternate blue and white colours- the so-called evil eye. I’d heard of the expression before but never thought much about its definition nor major significance in any culture. It seemed that these ornaments were used to ward off the evil eye and many of the locals here really believed in it. A pak cik even gave us a small pin with the sign, as a token of good luck. I kept it deep inside my pocket, contemplating whether I should chuck it when I got back.

Ceramic souvenirs

Colourful cushion covers and bedsheets

Our spree was cut short when Fatin’s condition suddenly took a turn for the worse. As we hurried down the alley, I saw Fatin and Shaynaz stopped dead, abrupt. As the rest of us closed in, we saw that fatin had vomited right in the middle of the walkway. The pak ciks who had been enthusiastically hollering at us to drop by their stores instantly became subdued; one or two were seen clapping their mouths in horror. One guy even shouted at us to clean the mess, to whom I gave a huh? look before we ushered Fatin out of the way, back home.

Our third day was eventful, to say the least. ;) Fatin was fine, though not feeling so well until the next day. We all had a blast anyway, a continuation of a lifetime experience that just got better and better by the day.