MadNoor's Weblog

Living a Malaysian Life

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Cameron Highlands

William Cameron a surveyor entrusted to map the hitherto unknown inner parts of the latest acquisition of the Great British Empire known as Malaya, found himself crossing some highlands as he made his way eastward from coastal peninsular sometime mid 19th century. Similar to Amerigo Vespucci and many other western explorers, name credit is given to them as founders of these lands, disregarding the fact that it has been populated by local natives centuries before. Alas, history favours the winners and conquerors always. The local name is long forgotten and thus the highlands that make up part of the Malaysian peninsular mountain range bears a ‘Mat Salleh’ name till today.

At some point, one of the British rulers in Kuala Lumpur decided that he had enough of his khaki shirt sticking to his back and admonishment from the Mrs that the damp, not exactly fragrant stain around his armpits should go. What he required was a short break to where the weather was more similar to the old country, colder and less humid. One of his assistants, no doubt imagining a couple of weeks of office time without the boss around possibly suggested a nice holiday trip to the Highlands ‘that chap Cameron’ found. If he was smart, the assistant would have omitted the fact that it was in the middle of nowhere and the wildlife was not only wild but they have had a tendency to consume some human lives as well.

The British holiday contingent trekked their way up, found some rather flat lands to build some decent structures and sat around their fireplaces enjoying the cold and drizzly rain (just like the old country!). After some days, the cold got to their now tropicalized bodies and someone suggested that a nice hot cup of chai would be perfect. So, the order was sent out for a bunch of Indian labourers along with some tea plants to fill out the slopes. It was perfect…until someone piped up that, while the chai was great and warms up the body, cucumber sandwiches like mother used to make will help the hot liquid flow in easier. Oh, let’s not forget the scones and strawberry jam, yum, yum. More orders were drawn up, this time for Chinese farmers and some vegetable plants, and of course strawberries!

And that is why, till today, Cameron Highlands is filled with tea, vegetable and fruit farms, and English coffee houses that serve Tea and Scones while you sit by the fireplace.

Kuala Lumpur was warm…and humid. So, we decided that the best way to get away from the heat for a couple of days is to visit one of the highland resorts near here. Genting, we have been a couple of times already, Fraser’s, not really sure of hotel options there, so that left us with only one obvious choice.

The drive up took us around 3.5 hours, a slow drive, mostly highway and on a weekday with light traffic, it was quite pleasant. We stopped at the Tapah R&R for brunch and buy some fruits. Sometime back, the company that ran the highway toll concessionaire having had enough of the complaints about the poor state of their rest and stops areas, picked a couple of main interchanges for upgrades. Food options and stalls were upgraded as well as the toilet facilities.

The R&R areas that have undergone upgrades are now a joy to visit. Fast food restaurants, various food and fruits stalls give the tired traveller clean and relatively cheap options. The toilets are actually clean and airy, well designed with water features and landscaping. Shower facilities are available, as well as Surau for prayers.


One of the food vendors at the Rest and Relax area in Tapah. The rojak pasembor was just alright, but the mee rebus and mee soup were quite acceptable for a Highway rest area food outlet.

The map application showed that we still had 2 hours after the rest stop. The road after the exit toll up to Tanah Rata (the first big town on the hills) wasn’t really in the best of condition with potholes and narrow bridges. From there, the condition improved remarkably. I wonder if it’s due to the jurisdiction difference between the two states. While the initial road belongs to Perak, the highlands itself is in Pahang.



We stopped at a tea house about 3/4 up the way to Brinchang where the hotel was located. This is the view that we got from up there.


When we were packing for the trip the night before, I mentioned to my mum that she should pack a light jacket at least. She grudgingly obliged but muttered that Cameron is no longer what it was, no thanks to Global Warming and the indiscriminate land clearing that we all read about in the papers. After we checked in the hotel, she walked around the apartment looking for the air con controller as the place was a little too cold for her liking. She did look amazed when I mentioned there was no air conditioning, and the cold was actually naturally generated! The hotel was a little disappointing, so the less said the better; I was, however, thankful that they had good blankets!


Strawberry picking! You pay money and get yourself some fresh berries right off the tree! They were nice, fat, juicy and of redess red colour.


Loaded up with strawberries, we set up to the Boh Tea Plantation house in Sungai Palas. We parked at the bottom of the hill and made our way up the wooden/concrete walkway, not realising that the road did go all the up to the tea house. Quite a bit of trek up but a good exercise to burn all the Eid built fat.


And this was the destination we had in mind all the way up the walkway. They had some funky cheesecake on offer (nasi lemak cheese anyone?), but being a purist, I did not indulge! Plus, all the effort up, I wasn’t going to waste all the calories burnt by adding more!


The water was cold, but the twins did manage to dip their legs in.

We did not have too much time, so after 2 nights of enjoying the nice cold weather of Camerons, we set back to Kuala Lumpur. On the way down, we stopped by the Lata Iskandar Falls, right next to the road. There are some fruits stalls by the side of the road, and toilet/changing rooms that are not exactly in a great condition, but usable. The Falls itself was beautiful, with small dip pools near the entrance. There is a concrete step going up for those looking for better spots.





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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.


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.


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 🙂


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.


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.


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 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.


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.



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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Summer Games


It’s two weeks till summer break. The temperature shows 42c but with  the high humidity it feels more like 50c! During summer there is nary a cloud in the sky,  allowing the sun rays to beat down directly to the occupants of this desert.

Life however does not come to a stand still,  well not after the mandatory “stop outside work between noon to 3 pm” that is.  An afternoon siasta is well deserved for those who work in construction and cleaning.

How do you play football in these conditions?  With lots of drink breaks,  that’s how!


And the poor souls who have to watch from the sidelines keep themselves occupied with games from the ipad.



Lucky this year the pitch is covered by the shadows from the housing area nearby.  Otherwise the sun would have been merciless. Even under the shade,  in this temperature it feels like being in an oven and the sweat starts to drip down slowly. After the 45 min of football, the boy looks like he just got out of a shower!



Only one more session of football to go before the summer break!








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Karate Kids

As a parent you go through many different emotions and experiences as you watch your babies grow up. The memory of what was once a growing miracle in your partners womb, now a tiny life in your hands is one which will never leave you. Warm and vulnerable, smelling like nothing you have ever smelt before, at once intoxicating and exhilarating  full of life itself. As you look into the little young/old face, a father sees familiar characteristics of parents, grandparents and myriad of other genetic tie ins making itself apparent.

But the nature of life is that of change. The little vulnerable bundle which needed to be fed, changed and carried everywhere soon starts to make little steps on the process of growing up. For me the first “WOW” moment was when tiny little fingers could hold the feeding bottle all by itself, a sense of happiness mixed with a tinge of sadness, foretelling what was going to be repeated over and over again through out the years. What was once unintelligible  “goo goo ga ga”  soon becomes a very discernible ma ma and da da. From what appeared to be an olympian worthy effort of crawling soon became easy running.

What followed then was a quick succession of play school, kindergarten and grade school. It is at times difficult to think that the running, walking…and thinking human being is the same precious bundle that you brought back from the hospital. In my minds eye, my children are still the same little sweet babies with plum red cheeks begging to be pinched and kissed!

While all parents are lucky, I cannot but think that we are truly blessed having a twin set of girl and boy. I always joke that we are running a social experience as first time parents we have treated them the same since day one. And yet, even with that equality, I could discern very noticeable difference in the twins characteristics when they were still weeks old. When I approached the obstetrician with what I thought was a strange peculiarity, the old chap laughed and asked “Why do you expect them to be the same? Just because they came out at the same time, does not necessarily mean that they should be the same. They are individuals and what you are seeing is their individual idiosyncrasies. Get used to it. You will see more of it as they get older”.

And sure enough he was right! We did see a difference between the two as they got older. They are individuals in their own right. The girl has always been the  ‘take charge’ type, one who was happy to do all the talking. The boy, having an external voice box next to him all the time, was quite content to be the strong silent type, staying in the shadows as much as possible. In fact when they started school, a question to the boy will invoke a response from the girl!

What stopped that was an intervention on our part placing them in different classes, allowing each to have their own friends and different experiences. But being a twin is wonderful as you have your own best friend gifted by nature. And as much as they have their own cliques and friends, at the end of the day, they look for each other for comfort and company.

What continues to amaze me though is how at times they do things that I never expected out of them. So out of character…well, or what I think is their character, which of course, is not necessarily the truth. While they are the sweetest kids around (a little biased I might be), they somehow have this natural ferocity when they are in their Karate class. After less than a year, they are currently on their green belt stage, but are sparring with those above their weight class and belt level.

Its not exactly Dina’s cup of tea, and she would come up with excuses why she should not spar for the day, but when it comes to her turn on the mat, she does give her best.

Irsyad however loves his Karate sessions. He takes it seriously and has gotten pretty good. Good enough for me to ban him from practicing with either Dina or myself, as his kicks have gotten powerful lately.

All I can say is that as I continue with them on this journey, I am always thankful for the gift of their company and am looking forward to see what else is in store as the days go by.

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Muscat, Oman

It was the UAE 41st National Day this weekend. The last couple of years we had spent the public holiday in Dubai, enjoying the celebrations with the rest of the inhabitants of this wonderful, cosmopolitan city. The schools tend to hold a multinational sort of parade where the children get a chance to dress up either in the national costume or in their own national dress.

This year, we decided that we should use the long 4 day weekend to travel out of Dubai. After much discussion, the twins who wanted to spend the holidays in a cold climate (preferably with snow involved!) were vetoed by yours truly and we opted instead to embark on a driving holiday to our neighbor down south, Oman. We had been to the northern portion of Oman previously, but this time we went across to the capital Muscat.

Oman (thanks to what must have been a real imaginative map maker) is split into 3 portions. The largest of these 3 is down to the south, straddling the Gulf of Oman, bordering Saudi and Yemen. There is a smaller portion to the north of the UAE, within shouting distance with southern Iran. And in the middle of the the two, a small enclave of Madha village, who decided that they wanted to be a part of the Omani Sultanate instead of being part of the UAE union…I wonder how the current generation feels about that.

OmanA day before the trip, we made the necessary hotel bookings via (our current favorite hotel room booking site), packed the car and changed some currency.

The drive according to google map should take us around 4 hours, but with the border crossing formalities,  I expected it to be slightly longer. We left early to avoid the rush at the passport control, and it was a good call on our part as it started filling up very quickly while we were there.

I have been through countless borders over the years and it never fails to amaze me that no matter where the crossing is situated, all the guards act pretty much the same. I think it must be standard immigration officer school syllabus to have a disinterested, surly look, while making sure to chop the entry/exit  stamp in the middle of an empty passport page, rendering it useless for any other future use!

And…there will surely be a drop out from the above mentioned school somewhere in the office who gives you the best “welcome to _____(fill in the blanks with country name)” smile just as you are wondering if the whole country is going to be filled with these bored looking automatons. Thank goodness!

Taking in brunch, petrol and toilet breaks, we got to Barka, our first stop closer to 5 hours and a bit. Barka was approximately 70 km from Muscat proper and we stayed at a nice resort spa called Al Nahda.

After the sand and stones that was our view for the last couple of hours, the greenery and trees at the resort was a welcoming sight. It was indeed a pleasure to find that the resort looked pretty much like the pictures in the website. For someone who had been in the receiving end of a “bait and hook” hotel picture scam, I was thankful! Furthermore, we arrived a full 3 hours before the official check in time, but was ushered in by a nice Filipina at the registration desk. I made sure to leave a nice review on the booking website about the wonderful time we had at the resort.


Trees lining up the pathway in between the residence blocks. The resort was pretty big and we were driven up to our rooms on a golf buggy.


After a swim and dinner we had an early night as it started to rain really heavy. I found out later that it rained in much of the UAE as well, with parts of Dubai flooding!

Breakfast at the resort was wonderful. Linda and I enjoyed the cool morning breeze over coffee while the twins ran around exploring the huge grounds.


Omellete de fomage…

After breakfast coffee while savoring the cold crisp morning air

After breakfast coffee while savoring the cold crisp morning air

Re charged after breakfast, the twins had some energy to burn.

Re charged after breakfast, the twins had some energy to burn.

Getting friendly with the locals

Getting friendly with the locals

A bit of R&R after all that exploring

A bit of R&R after all that exploring

We left for Muscat after lunch, and I must say that while the city was interesting, it did not really differ from the old part of Dubai too much. The architecture was different, for sure, with some remnants of Portugese verandahs on houses close to the port. What set it aside was the geography of the place. It looked like old Muscat was carved out of the hillside and there were rocky outcrops in between the buildings. The souq that we visited, though had the same sort of goods that you might find in any reputable market in the UAE, was unique in the starfish design that was not apparent from the outside.


The Muscat Corniche

The floor of the Souq was still wet from the previous days rain. By the cleaning up work that was happening, it mush have flooded as well.

The floor of the Souq was still wet from the previous days rain. By the cleaning up work that was happening, it mush have flooded as well.


The souq had a circular star shaped design that was reminiscent of a starfish. As it was covered, there was no real way to see if thats true. This was a portion of the middle ceiling at the center of the souq.

The souq had a circular star shaped design that was reminiscent of a starfish. As it was covered, there was no real way to see if thats true. This was a portion of the middle ceiling at the center of the souq.

Unfortunately, by the time we got there, the sun had set and I did not have a camera good enough to do justice to the wonderful scenery that was before us. Perhaps its not good enough of a reason, but I am using that as an excuse to go back to Muscat one of these days, hopefully soon.


Green Thumbs

A couple of months back we had watermelons in the garden after a BBQ session. After we had finished, Dina decided that she wanted to plant the seeds. They had done a project in school studying plants growth cycle and she wanted to see if she can turn the seeds into melons. Being a good parent that she was, Linda suggested that she should plant it at the empty flower bed. My contribution to the whole exercise was to make sure that she did not plant it near where our the fishes were ‘sleeping’ (we had an unfortunate episode with an experiment of keeping some watery pets…but thats a story for another day).

Dina made quite a deal of planting and watering the little seeds in the sand bed. In fact, she  even planted a couple of sugar cubes along with it to make sure that the melons that come out taste sweet…

Truth be told, I did not think much of it, until we saw some shoots growing where she had planted the seeds. I never knew that watermelons grew well in sand, and over the summer the little things thrived under the hot sun and abundant sunlight. It even started flowering, but the heat made sure that the little yellow flowers did not last till full bloom as it withered away under the harsh conditions and sandstorms that are prevalent during that time of the year.

But somehow nature survived against the odds and we actually had a coupe of little melons peeking out from the tangled mess of crawly plants. Now, after a coupe more weeks, it looked like the largest among the ones that made it through was ready to be plucked. I did the all important ‘tap’ test and announced that the water content was high enough for it to be considered ready and got the twins to pose for pictures with the prize winner.


Icad mentioned that there was a ‘bumpy’ one just beginning to grow and said that it looked really funny. I agreed!

Icad and his bumpy watermelon

According to Linda, we have to wait till the watermelon turns a bit yellow before we can cut it up to see if its  sweet, thus it has been left on the fruit basket awaiting its turn among the other fruits. If it does turn out to be sweet, the thing about planting sugar cubes along with fruit trees might be worth patenting!

Anyways, while we wait, the twins are making sure that the rest of the fruits are protected as much as possible, not really sure from who else as I think they are the most possible culprits if anything were to happen!

The bumpy watermelon with two more of its siblings along the way, hopefully to our dining table!