MadNoor's Weblog

Living a Malaysian Life


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Secondary School

This week the twins started secondary school. Here, with the UK education system, it’s called Year 7. A lot of work has been put in preparing the children for this jump, with orientations and class visits since the last school year. Apparently, there is quite a big jump from primary to secondary with regards to responsibility level that is expected from the children as they make the move.

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Getting ready for the first day of school. The first lesson is PE so they are required to go to school in their sports kit. Dina wasn’t happy with her short skirt, she being quite a conservative dresser. After a week, she started wearing leggings as well. 

One of the initiatives that the school has introduced is use of tablets, with the newly minted Year 7’s getting their grubby little hands on Windows 10 tablets and stylus. The school is working closely with Microsoft on the move to the realms of paperless classrooms, with Onenote being touted as the main application for schoolwork. 2 days was set aside to set up the devices, and after much consternation from parents (mainly due to cost of the hardware, concerns on security, reliability and practicality of devices), the long term trial is ongoing.

Other than new devices, new shoes and school bags, we also had to get the twins a couple of lunch bags. After looking around for awhile for bags that ticks all the requirements, we finally found some really good ones from Decathlon. It has multiple compartments and comes along with containers that can be used to store different categories of food items. Whilst primary children are required to bring their own lunches, canteen access not available for them, the secondary children have the option of buying their lunches. When you take into account that a slice of Pizza costs 10 Dhs at the canteen, bringing your own food to school is perhaps not only a healthy alternative, but definitely an economical one as well.

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Icad and his classmates before going off to their Year 6 graduation celebration.

I recall my first memories of school quite vividly; they were good ones. I have always enjoyed the first days of a new school year, the process of buying notebooks, utensils and the wonderful smell of new textbooks, crisp and clear, with a promise of all the knowledge that they will impart. Ok, so maybe I was a little bit of a nerd back then🙂

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Dina with her mates at the graduation do.

When I was 8 we were staying at my grandma’s house, and in the cold early mornings, my mother would wake up even earlier to boil water so that we won’t have to shiver ourselves taking our baths before school. Uniforms would have been pressed and laid out nicely over the bed for us to put on, with school shoes, washed over the weekend and covered with a layer of liquid chalk to make them look ‘whiter than white’, as the advertisements promise.

My mum would have lunch packed for us, normally some fried rice and a bottle of cold Ribena in a plastic container. She would also give us some pocket money for the day, to buy some knick knacks and drinks either before or after school at the canteen. The first amount of money that we got was 30 cents I believe. Back then, in 1979, that was a lot of money for a school kid.

On the way to the bus stop, we will pass by this neighbour ‘Makcik’ who had opened a nasi lemak stall, a venture to assist her family in an economically depressed period of the country. Her nasi lemak will be steaming, with the pungent smell of chilli red sambal intermixing with the smell of pandan from the rice and the banana leaf that was covering it all. The first time I bought one, for about half of my daily allowance, I wanted to have a plastic bag to carry it in. Back then, plastic bags were still somewhat of a novelty. My sister, at 10, slightly older, but a lot more mature than the 2 years difference might suggest, admonished me as the bags would mean extra cost for the makcik.

We soon moved house after that, closer to the city and to new schools, among the best ones in the country at that time. My dad had to visit the education ministry many times and write countless letters of request and appeal to secure us a place in the schools that he wanted.

Moving schools is quite a stressful affair for children, and I was not keen on the move. In the little village school that I was placed till we resolved the school matter, I quickly became the best student, the best sportsman and thanks to the two above, the most popular kid in school. When I shared my apprehension with my dad, he said something which I have used many times since when faced with a difficult decision. He said “No matter how good a driver you are, you can only go as fast as the car that you drive. In the new school, you may not be the fastest, but you will definitely go faster than if you just stayed here”.

Mum kept her routine of packing lunch for school, either fried rice or noodles, with some vegetable, eggs and some meat. While the rest of the school had their meals at the canteen, I would often sit by myself at the large school steps eating my meal. A few guys (it was an all boys school), would smell my lunch and remark how lucky I was to have such a nice meal prepared for everyday.

I did not feel lucky…the opposite in fact. I kept asking mum if instead of a meal I could have the money to eat at the canteen with the rest of my friends. My mum kept saying how the meal that she was providing me was so much for nutritious, clean and economical as compared to what I could get at the school.

Now, after 35 years, I see how foolish I was and how right my friends were. I was really lucky to have a mum who cared enough to wake up early every morning to prepare her children lunch packs that was delicious, warm and individually prepared for. It would have been so much simpler to have just given us the pocket money instead.

I hope my children don’t need that much time to realise how fortunate they are. Thank you Mum, thank you Wife.

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Check out the hair and the white specs!


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Diabetes Mellitus

I awoke a couple of mornings back,and the first thought that came to mind was that father’s birthday is in 2 weeks time. I never have an issue trying to figure out his age as it is an easy addition of 30 to mine. This year he would be 75.  A milestone which we would have celebrated with family and friends. A highlight for the year.

My father passed 16 years ago and not a day goes by that I don’t think about him. Like many others,ours was a relationship that was marked by high and lows, of changing levels of parenting and independence, of the trials of growing older and that of letting go.

As a father myself, I see the evolution of the child that you bring to earth become an individual with their own unique personalities and traits. My son, who already reaches up to my chin, reminds me of myself when I was his age. His personality and interests might be different, but the way he gets lost in his books, his love of certain fruits and sports, unmistakably me in a different guise. There are times though, like when he is busy preening his hair in the mirror, the face that I see reflected back is that of my father’s. I can’t help thinking that are all lifes  just the same? Subtle manifestations of previous generations, repeating itself again and again?

My fathers’s last couple of years was marked by the disease that had been gnarling at his body since he was in his thirties.The medical term for it is Diabetes Mellitus, or simply diabetes.

Though his blood sugar levels was controlled by medication, the disease had eroded his vision. After years of living with dark spots on his retina, he lost his vision. Not being able to read or watch television, he spent his days keeping my mother company in our house kitchen,the radio providing background music to their punctuated conversation.

After the eyes, it was the kidneys that came under attack. Diabetes is a disease that attacks the organs, creating havoc to the smaller blood vessels in them. He was put on  what seemed a complicated process of dialysis to keep him alive. He took upon this task diligently, his punctilious trait coming to fore. Even then, I could see that he was growing weaker, at times needing my support when we made our monthly visits to the hospital. His food intake was curtailed and even his water consumption was closely monitored. With all the medication and dialysis, the disease still had the upper hand. He couldn’t partake his favourite foods and a change of diet to bland sustenance was another blow to his spirits. Was is the meaning of living, if the process of living itself has to be adjusted beyond the norm, I oft thought to myself.

One morning, over breakfast, he turned to mum and said,  “Our story is done, it’s now their turn to write theirs”, looking at me and my new bride.They say that we will know when our time has come, perhaps this was what he had sensed that day. His last month with us was one which is typical of today’s dying process. A sudden emergency, a hurried rush to hospital, anxious wait for the assessment, and then a miraculous recovery, a reprieve.

The time in between hospital visits became shorter. For no matter what, in reality,  the baseline for what is considered “Good Enough” for a hospital discharge gets lower and lower after each visit.

A massive stroke prompted our last trip to the hospital, and though they knew the chances were slim,the doctor’s did everything they could and more to keep his body alive. Wires and tubes, mask and machines, holes and bags. A modern hospital is a wonderful mix of software and hardware. Doctors with immaculate bedside manners trying their best to keep a patient alive with the latest technological advancement in equipment and medication. Humans however are biological creatures with a finite life span, though they understand that, Doctors do their best to prolong the inevitable. More for the family members benefit than the patients perhaps.

He slipped into a deep coma, breathing laboured, and all of us family members, exhausted and drained, slept on the hospital room floor, a couple of feet away. At around 2 am that morning, my mother woke us up.She had an uncanny feeling that he was ready to leave, so she gathered us around him to say our final goodbyes and watch him breath his last.

As I blew the candles on my last birthday cake, I looked at my wife and remarked that I am now the age her oldest brother had passed, also due to diabetic. And as I write, there is an uncle in hospital, shot full of antibiotics by doctor’s desperate to save his leg, ravaged by the same disease that has also taken 2 grandparents and numerous other close relatives.

With my family medical history, I have been told that diabetic is a train that is heading to my station. I can’t stop it, only to try my very best to slow it as much as possible. I see it as a responsibility of mine to delay the disease for as long as possible, not just for me, but for my children as well.

We have changed our diet as a family, made effort to include exercise as a daily routine and made mandatory full blood check ups to catch the disease as early as possible. The fight though is uphill. The food that we consume is full of hidden sugars and carbohydrates. Though I am accustomed to reading between the ingredient lines, more can be done to highlight the dangers of  diabetic and how the food and drinks that we consume effect it.

The statistics are out there on the number of people who will suffer from this disease, and yet, when I see the amount of processed carbohydrate and sugar that we consume, it appears that we have not done anything to change what is ahead of us. Everyday, the power of marketing and the billion dollar industries deploying them are pushing us towards a direction that cannot end well.

We often think that we can beat the odds and be the exception. Hope, we call it.  As humans it’s one of those things, plus resilience and perseverance that we consider as a positive trait for survival. There is a downside to hope however. We can underestimate our chances of getting the disease or overestimate our ability in handling it. And when that happens, it might be too late.

I pray I don’t become one of those.

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Thrilling Ride in Mumbai!

I wear a smartwatch that not only keeps time, but it also works as a health monitor, telling me the steps that I have taken, the length of time that I had not stood up and also a sampling of my pulse rate as the day wears on. As a commercial pilot who spends a lot of his time seated down on long haul flights across continents, the information from the watch, helps me to keep track of my health

Normally the peak heart rate for the day will be achieved during the latter stages of a flight. The heart beat will crescendo during approach to land and then slowly inch towards the realm of normalcy as we taxi in to the airport terminal.

Today however, that was not the case. My peak heart rate was not during the minutes when I was hurtling towards earth at 300km/h in a 245t steel tube. Nope- today was an exception. When I checked back on the handy app that accompanies my watch to see the data, I was not surprised that it peaked while I was on the Mumbai roads, in a auto rickshaw, riding behind a madcap, grinning daredevil of a driver.

It was a routine 24 hours layover in Mumbai after an all night flight. The sun high in the sky cancelled the plans I had for a nap. Instead, I decided to head out to town and asked the hotel for the closest mall to head for lunch, and perhaps a bit of shopping after. Instead of a taxi, the helpful hotel reception had suggested that I take the Mumbai Metro. Due to the traffic, he figured that the train will be a much quicker, pleasant option. The station is located behind the hotel, and when I get to the other side, I should grab an auto- as the maniacal, bastardized mix of a motorcycle and car is commonly called in India. Not being a big fan of the Indian traffic and less so their style of using the horn at any given opportunity, I agreed to his idea and got the names of the relevant stations that I would need.

The Metro in Mumbai is very much like the metro anywhere else on the world. Efficient, sterile, and filled with throngs of humanity with their heads stuck to the front of a mobile device. Getting off the Metro, I headed towards the exit and hailed the first empty auto that I saw. Surprisingly, two other people got on just after I did. A guy, still talking on his mobile in one hand, giving hand signals to the driver with the other and a young woman with thick textbooks in her hands.

Apparently this was the mall auto stand and anyone who wants to go to the mall will take their auto here and share a ride. Sort of the original ‘ride share’ without the app as I see it.

I should have suspected something was not right by the looks of the auto, but by then it was too late. I was boxed in the back seat, three abreast with no way out on my side. In lieu of a door, the auto is open on the left side and barred with metal rods on the right.

Unlike other auto rickshaws, this one was different. It was clean, well looked after and as far as I can tell, fairly new. All these should indicate that either the owner cum driver is someone who takes pride in his source of income, or he is of that species of drivers who pimp their car up to the max, just to then thrash it at the next ‘Far and Furious’ fan club meet.

It was a short ride, perhaps less than 5 minutes, but when it came to the adrenaline rush, it was better than an all day ticket at any theme park! The driver weaved in and out of traffic, skilfully manoeuvring the auto into places that I wouldn’t have imagined possible. It was like he had the ability to travel in time as he instinctively knew when a space would open up and made his move when nothing was apparent.

Meanwhile, the three of us held on to dear life behind him. I realised then, looking at the effort that the he was expanding, the driver wasn’t just trusting his luck. He was actually utilising skills, well practiced, to make his way up the crowded roads. He was aggressive, but he wasn’t reckless. He constantly looked left and right, and to the back as well at times, to make sure there was no unknown traffic coming up to us. I couldn’t help thinking, in another world, this driver would be behind the wheels of a F 1 car, instead of small 2 stroke machine. Not matter that, this chap has found his calling, and the pride and joy that he showed for his profession is something that I envied.

The other passenger, still busy with his phone, signalled his intention to stop halfway to the mall, leaving me with the girl, scowling now, obviously not enjoying the close shaves that we are having. I however had on my dusty face, a grin ear to ear, enjoying the thrilling ride, my senses heightened by being on the cusp of ‘fight or flight’ sensation.

At the entrance to the mall, the girl jumped out, literally threw the fare at the driver and walked off. The crumpled note on the road indicated to me how much I need to pay, 10 rupees, well worth the fee for an amazing ride! I paid the guy my share of the fare, told him to be careful and waved him away as he set off into the Mumbai traffic!



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A short Seattle Break, without Coffee!

This was a morning shot from the hotel room. Its autumn now and the morning sun making a tentative peak is really beautiful. As luck would have had it, I was looking out of the window right when the morning Emirates flight, EK 227 was making an approach to land at Seattle-Tacoma airport.

This was a morning shot from the hotel room. Its autumn now and the morning sun making a tentative peak is really beautiful. As luck would have had it, I was looking out of the window right when the morning Emirates flight, EK 227 was making an approach to land at Seattle-Tacoma airport

I couldn’t get any leave for Eid this year😦

The thought of being away while the kids are at home wasn’t a nice one. Thus, the next best thing, I thought, was to bring the kids with me. If the mountain won’t come to ….and all that. Thus, what I did, in a stroke of genius if I must say, was to request for a flight that will allow me to take them for a short break. Looking at the options available, we settled on Seattle. It is one of the longest layovers for us. Plus Linda has some friends here as well that will allow them to stay an extra day to maximise the school holidays and make the tickets cost worthwhile.

Not too many pictures this time as unfortunately, while the weather was wonderful and the place beautiful, it was too short of a break to really travel away from town. I rented a small car for us to get around the place and do a little shopping.

We did however spend quite a bit of time at Pike Market, finding a nice small diner/cafeteria (Jake’s) that you can sit on bar stools and have open oysters, fresh as fresh can be. That is one place that I will visit again for sure!

The last couple of times that I had been in Seattle, I had brought the family back fresh crabs, oysters and mussels for the family to eat back in Dubai. While the food was fresh and sweet, the 24 hour packing that was required for the 15 hours plane trip back, did somewhat have an impact. This time around, since we were here, the first thing that we did after we settled downed at the hotel was to visit a seafood restaurant. They all agreed that the impact was certainly discernible on the taste of the food.

The one we went to is the tourist friendly Crab Pot by the Alaskan Way, a brief 10 minutes walk from the hotel. We ordered crabs for a late lunch, even though our bodies were probably wondering why we are having seafood for a really early breakfast!

The initial order was for 2 crab and seafood meal. But that was soon proofed to be not enough and we had to top it up with another order of crab and prawns. Linda had black coffee while the kids shared a strawberry lemonade and a Root beer between them. Linda kept on ordering her standard drink, a flat white, only to be given blank looks. Apparently the home of Starbucks have no idea what is a plain white coffee with milk.

The initial order was for 2 crab and seafood meal. But that was soon proofed to be not enough and we had to top it up with another order of crab and prawns. Linda had black coffee while the kids shared a strawberry lemonade and a Root beer between them. Linda kept on ordering her standard drink, a flat white, only to be given blank looks. Apparently the home of Starbucks have no idea what is a plain white coffee with milk.

The twins loved the bibs that they  gave to protect our clothes, and they loved the little mallets that they passed on to us even more!

The twins loved the bibs that they  gave to protect our clothes, and they loved the little mallets that they passed on to us even more!

We also went to another famous seafood restaurant for dinner, a place called Salty’s by Alki Beach.We met up with some friends who were in Dubai previously but have returned back to Seattle. It was nice to catch up, they invited us over to their beautiful home the next day. Salty’s was a more proper restaurant per se, but I think the kids enjoyed the Crab Pot a little more. In fact, the next morning, after breakfast, which we had at the Pike Market, they wanted us to have lunch back at the Crab Pot!

Iced posing with a lobster at Salty's. The guy had so much seafood over the 4 days that we were there, that he had a small allergic reaction on his lips!

Iced posing with a lobster at Salty’s. The guy had so much seafood over the 4 days that we were there, that he had a small allergic reaction on his lips!

It was a very short 3 days trip. But it was enough of a teaser of Seattle that the family has ranked it as no 1 destination for them to visit the next time we are planning a State side visit. The weather was beautiful, the people friendly, the sights amazing and the food was glorious. Plus the shopping options was not bad.

After breakfast jaunt. The twins found a Totem Pole by the Pike Market. They had never seen one before and I had to explain what it was.

After breakfast jaunt. The twins found a Totem Pole by the Pike Market. They had never seen one before and I had to explain what it was.





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Istanbul, Turkiye

Mid term break is one of those things which is a bit hard to figure. Its a school holiday for sure, but at times it is just an extra day tagged on to the weekend, lasting a grand total of 3 days, and at other times it is the whole 5 day of the week. The latter resulting in a nice long 9 days hiatus from school.

Well, the twins had their mid term break immediately after the overnight camping trip, and I managed to get some days off to coincide with the occasion. I had actually asked for leave, thinking that a longer break would allow the family to go on a nice planned break. Alas, the best made plans are still that of humans.

Dina and Icad on the hotel rooftop after breakfast. The Marmara Sea on the background.

Dina and Icad on the hotel rooftop after breakfast. The Marmara Sea on the background.

It is said that we should not look a gift horse in the mouth (nope, never been gifted with a horse, not do I plan on looking into a horse’s mouth anytime soon), thus the 4 days that I managed to get away from work while the twins were still away from school was hurriedly turned to a short holiday away from Dubai.

We considered a couple of places, Europe being primarily the target as the lure of playing in snow was still a major attraction. However, there weren’t too many destinations that fit our requirement of being not too long away from Dubai and one which had ample amount of seats/flights since it was pretty much a last minute arrangement.

A quick look at the airline site and that of Booking.com made us decide that perhaps it is time to visit Istanbul. A relatively short 4:30 hours away and with 2 flights per day out of here gave us the flexibility that we required. Linda was in charge of the accommodation and after scouring the review pages of multiple travel websites, choose a nice hotel near the old part of Istanbul called Sultanhamet.

As luck would have had it, the weather forecast for Istanbul during the trip was that of snow and rain! I wasn’t too pleased, thinking about walking in the cold and slush that was bound to be there. Unfortunately…(fortunately??) the family thought otherwise. They were looking forward to the snow and all the joys of a winter holiday.

Crossing the Bosporus Strait to get to Asia. A bit cliché but I guess it's one of the things that you must do in Istanbul, visit 2 continents in 1 day.

Crossing the Bosporus Strait to get to Asia. A bit cliché but I guess it’s one of the things that you must do in Istanbul, visit 2 continents in 1 day.

We had only 4 days, including 2 days for travel, thus I had planned to visit the historical sites on the 2nd day and take the ferry across to the other part of Istanbul on the 3rd. Again, our best laid plans were thwarted by the weather. It snowed so heavily after we arrived that the whole transportation system in Istanbul was shut down for a couple of hours during the day.

Luckily we were walking distance away from the Blue Mosque and Aya Sophia. While we trudged through the snow to get there, surprisingly, there were quite a lot of other tourist like us, braving the snow to keep to their holiday visit list .

Dina kept her umbrella with her all the time. Helped with the snow quite a bit actually. After awhile, the top of it was all white!

Dina kept her umbrella with her all the time. Helped with the snow quite a bit actually. After awhile, the top of it was all white!

The thing about being cold is also the fact that you get hungry very quickly. Either the body burns a lot more stuff to keep you warm, or just the psychological feeling that you are hungry the bodies way of getting you to a nice cosy place and away from the cold blowing wind and icy slushy snow! For that, Istanbul is near perfect. They eat a lot of meat here and I must say that we enjoyed the food that we had during the stay. What else do you expect from the country that introduced baklava, kebabs and (why am I not surprised), Turkish Delights!

We did managed to get a little historical visit done and used the 3rd that we were there to go across the ferry to other part of Istanbul and across the Golden Horn to the new part of town.

As much as I wanted to spend time in the old buildings and narrate to the twins the historical significance of the Ottoman Empire during the Crusades and World War 1, the twins were not really ready for it  :-(They wanted to spend time in the snow making snow angels and have a snow fight instead of listening about Fatih and Sulaiman and Senin and Kamel…Perhaps in a couple of years time I might get them to ask me about it.

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A good enough reason to visit this wonderful place again.

Taksim Square


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Winter Camp

The school holds a camp for the older primary children once a year. As a year four they had camped at the school ground overnight last year.
This year, as older, more ‘mature’, fifth year students, the camping trip is an overnight at a dedicated campsite near Kalba, somewhere along the eastern coast.
I wish I can say that the camp fees were similar to what I had paid when I went to camp, which was next to nothing. But this is a whole different era after all, and not to forget the little detail that in Dubai there is nothing that costs next to nothing.
The children had been looking forward to the camp date for months. The packing preparation took just as long with extra shoes, T-shirts, sleeping bags and torch lights too be bought. Again, very different from the extra set of flip flops that I required for my camping trip.

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Linda and I did kinda enjoy having the day to ourselves. I wish I could have said that we painted the town red, but we basically spent the whole time in Dubai Mall, with a majority of it at the bookstore!

The children came back an hour earlier than planned, meaning we had to rush our late lunch and head back to the school as soon as we got the message. It seemed that the bus had made good progress, nothing to do with the accompanying teachers wanting to dump the kids and start the mid term break as soon as possible :-p

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No Apology

This is written so well that I wish I had the clarity of thought, skill and patience to write it.

Mehreen Kasana

On my way to class, I take the Q train to Manhattan and sit down next to an old white man who recoils a noticeable bit. I assume it’s because I smell odd to him, which doesn’t make sense because I took a shower in the morning. Maybe I’m sitting too liberally the way men do on public transit with their legs a mile apart, I think to myself. That also doesn’t apply since I have my legs crossed. After a few seconds of inspecting any potential offence caused, I realize that it has nothing to do with an imaginary odor or physical space but with the keffiyeh around my neck that my friend gifted me (the Palestinian scarf – an apparently controversial piece of cloth). It is an increasingly cold October in NYC. Sam Harris may not have told you but we Muslims need our homeostasis at a healthy…

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