And So It Begins
The vacation began when Ivan came a-visiting from Petaling Jaya via the ERL. I picked him up at the Arau station and he gave me an early birthday present: the Rogue One Ultimate Visual Guide, which will eventually be its own blog post.
Because of work, I had to spend the first day of vacation grading papers. But we did take Ivan out by the sea where we had some grilled lok chin and laksa.
With me on call for the grading work, we managed to take a trip to Gua Kelam. It was a work day so there were not many people at the park. Here are Ain and Irfan at the mouth into the dark tunnel of the shadowy realm.
Once we got to the park grounds on the far side of the cave, Ain identified the spot where Irfan, Ayah Cik, Cikma and Ciksu once had a cranial massage thanks to the fast-flowing stream.
Ain also sat and swung on the thick, ropy stalk of a beluru tree (also known as a sintok tree). Mouseover the photo above for its scientific name.
...Sitiawan! We drove from Pasir Mas to where I grew up and where nothing now looks familiar, except for the old house.
Because I was not able to go to Kuala Lumpur for vacation earlier, I figured we should visit Atok and Opah in Sitiawan during Maulud Nabi. Of course Irfan was glued to his grandparents desktop computer for hours, even late into the night.
So he was pretty tired in the mornings.
It was a chore to wake him up in my old bedroom.
We mostly chilled out and relaxed in Sitiawan. We wanted to visit my cousin, but they were not in town. Irfan's Atok and Opah also took us to dinner, before I went to GM a Star Wars RPG session. Wait what?
The pasembor and rojak place under the rubber trees had quite the tasty food, even if there was quite a swarm of flies in the area. I wished Vin, Sila, Yaya and Rafiq were there with us.
Soon it was time to go. We bade my parents and Sitiawan farewell as we headed back to where class revisions and final exams of my students awaited me.
For the first time ever, Tok Bah and Tok Ma in Pasir Mas got the opportunity to go on an Umrah pilgrimage in Mecca. We drove to Kelantan to see them off. En route, we got to see a herd of elephants, pale and monolithic, at about three a.m. along the Grik-Jeli highway over the mountains. They must have just crossed the road as their butts were to us. No, we did not stop the car to take photos.
Tok Bah and Tok Ma would join a group of pilgrims from Terengganu and be escorted by Ain's cousin and her husband in their journey. Many came from Pondok Lubuk Tapah and other places to see them off at the Kota Bharu airport.
Yes, Ain shed tears at the airport.
Irfan should get to know his cousins a bit more. Though I think his extraordinary height (and his somewhat introverted demeanour around unfamiliar people) might make them nervous around him.
All of us before they left.
All of us plus Irfan before they left.
After they departed, we headed back to Pondok Lubuk Tapah to get our gear and then begin our drive to...
It came to pass that Ain and Irfan went for vacation back in KL but I was not able to join them because of work. A side effect of given a new position at work after one has planned one's year end vacation and bought travel tickets.
So while I held the fort during exam season, the anak beranak spent their time with Ayah Cik, Cikma, Ciksu and Little Rania. Here are some of the photos of what happened during their away mission. Mouseover the images to read the captions.
They had a fun time there, visiting some folks including Zara and Aiman, and Irfan's former uztazah, our old neighbour back at the tenth floor. Hopefully I would be better at planning vacations next year after I have acclimatised better to my work schedule as a teacher.
Tonight is our sixteenth year together as husband and wife, so we took it upon ourselves to go celebrate with a dinner at a eaterie known as MaiCafe. As far as anniversaries were concerned it quite an enjoyable dinner and our second here in Perlis.
I have said it once and I will say it again: I am blessed to have Ain beside me as a partner for 16 years. Though we began four years earlier, so this is acutally our 20th anniversary together as a couple.
Also, where would we all be without the presence of one Irfan Shafiq who is old enough to earn the Legion Flight Ring.
In the past I have posted an blog article of us having an early dinner along the road by the sea at dusk in Kuala Perlis before. Again, it was raining but this time there was a spectacular sunset on display for us to view.
Click on the image above to view the full image. The sun was about to set, although at first thick clouds over Langkawi Island blocked our view of it. Meanwhile the rain fell sporadically in fine droplets that we easily ignored.
Ain ordered the laksa, which was delicious but apparently not as delicious and rich as Mak Nyang's laksa, a story for another time.
Irfan and I ordered the lok ching, which is various seafood and sausages on a stick, roasted over an open fire and dipped in various sauces.
Irfan's fourteenth birthday came and went. So did Irfan's grandparents from Perak.
It would be easy to say "I can't believe how tall and how far he'd come" but the truth is that I am not surprised. With the opportunities and facilities available to him here - as opposed to the Klang Valley where he would have to fight with the sheer number of students in school for available teaching and learning resources - Irfan is surely and gradually turning into a young man with the powers and abilities of a teenager.
What would be best for us to celebrate a fourteenth birthday? I have no idea, so we decided on going our for pizza!
When the pizza arrived it looked appealing and it was quite delicious. My personal criteria for "delicious" was fulfilled thanks to onions.
The second Eid of the year has come and gone. For Hari Raya Haji, we took the bus back to Pasir Mas. But for this Aidiladha post, we focus on games played by Irfan, Aiman and Zara when the cousins rendezvous at their grandparents house in Pondok Lubok Tapah.
Irfan could not wait to meet up with Aiman once again...
...although Irfan had some trouble getting the sand out of his eye at mornings.
The first game they played was one Aiman brought: Monopoly. However I don't think they found any monopole ores.
On the day of our arrival in Sitiawan, we played some Coup.
By the end of the session, we were quite evenly matched. It's Tyrion. The ambassador is Tyrion.
The morning of Aidilfitri, Ain had her galaxy-famous nasi dagang prepared for eating and stuff.
Yada, yada, yada... Maaf Zahir Batin.
Atok and Opah pose for a photograph with their plants.
As usual, photographs such as this need more Adik, Yaya, Sila and Vin to make it complete.
Early Saturday morning we got into the car and headed out into the darkness towards Kelantan to avoid the festive season interstate traffic jam.
As usual when even when the sun began to rise we were thick in the middle of mountain mist.
The roads after Baling had pockets of very thick water particles which we had to dive into.
Meanwhile, Rania and her parents got in front of us and reached Pasir Mas first. For two days, we played with her. She liked to hold conversations with us. I even babysat a couple of times her parents had to go downtown.
Early Monday morning, we headed for Sitiawan. After sahur at Ayer Lanas, we stopped for Subuh at the last village after Jeli before the road went up the mountains again. The surau and its adjoining public restrooms seemed to be uninhabited and no other travellers stopped while we were there...
...except for some kitties.
At the top of the mountains, we took a photo of the surroundings. Although there was a gigantic prehistoric tree fern there, we failed to spot any spinosaurid theropods in the vicinity. Neither were there any squadrons of flying elephants.
All too soon, we had arrived in Sitiawan two days before Aidilfitri.
After eighteen months of sitting on the floor watching television, we finally got enough cash this month to purchase a sofa set! Atok and Opah were visiting, so we thought it was great that they could have something soft to sit on in the living room.
There's also a bookshelf.
As you can see the Star Wars RPG books have made themselves comfortable on the new bookshelf.
To celebrate, we headed for Changlun where there was an excellent coconut icecream stall.
It was made of vanilla ice cream scoops in a coconut husk with coconut flesh, nuts, crouton, pulut and some other stuff.
During our bus trip over the mountains the other week, Ain made friends with a fellow traveller, a Kelantanese who lived in Perlis. She had a nasi kerabu restaurant in Kangar.
That only meant one thing: we had to check it out.
They only open in the mornings.
When we were in Kelantan we were disappointed were unable to visit our favourite nasi kerabu restaurant there. It was a stroke of luck that we discovered one here in Perlis that sells delicious nasi kerabu comparable to the restaurant in Kelantan!
We foresee many weekend breakfasts at this place.
I haven't met Baby Rania since she was born, so after that bus trip over the spine of Malaysia we finally arrived in Pasir Mas for her aqiqah ceremony where I finally got to meet her.
She is quite a photogenic lady, she is.
We had an inaugural journey from here to Pasir Mas by bus. This meant I did not have to focus on driving over a long distance for the first time in a thousand years.
This also meant I was free to take photos out the window as we trundled along the roads. It was a great experience. I have never taken an interstate bus since the nineties, in the days when I travelled from Terengganu to Sitiawan (or Kuala Lumpur) by bus every five or six days.
As the vehicle barreled southward from the bus station, I was amazed by the ameneties available in the double decked transport vehicle. The seats were much more comfortable compared to the bus seats of old. Leg room were aplenty. And even better, we could recharge our phones at the power sockets.
But enough about the bus, on to the pictures.
There were numerous signposts along the way. Presumably they help drivers find their way around the country without driving over a canyon and into a swift-running river.
Sometimes, airplanes fail to heed warning and attempt to drive on roads, perhaps because land travel appear exciting to them because grass on the other side and all that.
I try to spy on cars that appear to drive backwards in relation to my window. This old couple appear to be quiet the attentive drivers. I can determine no way to jump onto this vehicle to attempt to infiltrate it.
Amanjaya Mall looks nice. But I have never been inside it. Upon request, the WELCOME TO SUNGAI PETANI signpost sidled up to us to pose for a photo. It did not even ask for money.
We then turned from our southbound course and headed east towards the mountains. But there were still many, many miles to go before we come close to the mountains. One of our waypoints en route, is Kuala Ketil - a town which is a nexus for the road network of the area.
The evening after the Spell-It-Right competition, we travelled to Alor Setar where Ain and Cik Su who came visiting would be heading to Kuala Lumpur to reunite with Tok Bah and Tok Ma, and also to see little Rania.
It was sad when Irfan and I were the only two occupants in the car heading home. Perhaps I thought we would continue the adventures of Jax Hunt when Ain was away.
But in the meantime there were places to go. For example the Perlis Book Carnival was taking place at the Kangar Public Library. Irfan and I just had to go visit despite the abnormal midday heat. There were food stalls and even an inflatable pool for children. Irfan was much too big for it.
We bought a couple of books. Irfan bought Darkmouth, a YA fantasy novel by Shane Hegarty which he digested quickly over the coming days. I bought a trio of Buku Fixi titles namely Kampung, Pakar and Hikayat Raja Babi. Before we left the book fair, I thought I heard the distant roll of thunder.
It has been more than a month since it last rained. The skies have been blue all day for weeks. I would gladly enjoy the view of the blue sky if it were not for the soaring heat.
And it came to pass Irfan was selected to attend another Spell-It-Right competition in Kangar. He was apprehensive in joining company of English spellers for his school, but in the end he decided to jump in feet first.
We braved the searing solar radiation to drive toward the hotel where the event was being held. And sear us it did. We thought we could take refuge in the hotel lobby, but for some reason it was still stifling hot within. Either the air conditioning was unable to overcome the heat radiating from hundreds of schoolchildren or the air conditioning was borked.
There were three sessions: one for the primary students and the secondary schoolkids were split into two separate session. Naturally, Irfan's school was assigned to the third session. So we waited in the heat. It was sweltering within.
So for a time most of the students hung out at the steps leading up to the hotel's main entrance, scaring away potential hotel customers with their constant staring into their phones. Soon, but not soon enough, Irfan's team was called into the ballroom where the written spelling competition was held.
Irfan exited the ballroom about an hour later and we all shared a banana split at the hotel restaurant.
It was back in early October after Raya Haji vacation when I began to fall ill with fever, coughs and sniffles. I blew my nose at work and sprayed the toilet at the office with a bowl full of blood. That never happened before. I thought that such amount of blood should not be outside of any human body.
The pain was strong and constant. It speared up into the right eye and down into the right side of the mouth. The smell of blood from my nose and mouth was incessant. (My review of Andy Weir's novel The Martian might have been written when I was right in the middle of it as evident from the last paragraph.)
One quick visit to a clinic near home, and a doctor diagnosed just a nosebleed perhaps because of my vigorous nose blowing over the days. A second visit later in the week, and I was referred to the ENT Specialist Clinic at Hospital Tuanku Fauziah.
Endoscopy turned up one nasal polyps. A scheduled CT scan a week later discovered a second polyps. This was escalation. But by this time, I had expectorated a mass of blood and mucus (see end of entry) which had suddenly neutralised whatever that triggered the pain. A steroid spray was bestowed unto me to keep the polyps from flaring up again.
The removal of the polyps one way or another was then scheduled for early March.
It was now early March, and after 43 years of avoiding it, I finally had to be hospitalised for a major surgery.
I was to undergo a functional endoscopic sinus surgery, followed by a septoplasty - apparently I have a deviated septum and no one noticed over the years.
Atok and Opah visited from Sitiawan to ensure Irfan would be okay at home and ready for school while Ain took care of me overnight in the hospital ward. So on the first day, I registered and I was assigned to a bed. It was a nice bed, but it had no inlaid diagnostic scanners, no automatic expert systems to inject me the right drugs at the right time, no wireless connection so I could access and read whatever medical data it has on me.
Apparently I was expected to just lie on the bed.
I had neighbours in nearby beds and later than afternoon Irfan visited me after school along with Ain, Opah and Atok. In the meantime, I spent my time reading the last half of Abbadon's Gate. That evening, after Atok, Opah and Irfan had returned home, it was just Ain and I.
Hospital food here was not too bad. I would say I found it somewhat tasty. Who said hospital food was unpalatable? I hope that they had minimised exposure to the Phoebe protomolecules in the food, or my next x-ray scan will be quite mutagenically interesting.
We cannot afford a lot. Most of our resources are currently being used to our debts collected while living in Kuala Lumpur below the poverty line. I even think twice refueling the car.
But one of my responsibilities is to ensure the family have fun. For many years, even when we were living back at the Tenth Floor, we all take pleasure in a good drive. We tell jokes, chide each other, sing along with the radio, make funny observations and try our best to make each other laugh. And we do. Laugh that is. It seems as if we laugh more here than we did back there.
Weekends are when we take a drive somewhere. Sometimes when we drive somewhere, the time is just right for a meal. So we found ourselves by the sea in Kuala Perlis one dark, cloudy Friday afternoon after work as light began to ebb away not just under the horizon but behind thick clouds.
Storm clouds closed in and it began to rain. The rain turned into a heavy torrent as we ordered our mee goreng.
Water wound its way around pebbles and detritus on the sand below us at our table under the umbrella. Once in a while the wind pushed part of the umbrella to splash the rainwater that was collecting on it onto the ground.
Soon, a grey curtain over the sea had covered our view of Langkawi Island which we have never visited since moving here; not even a day trip from the jetty here.
Then it struck me that this was what I needed. To huddle with the family with the pitter patter of rain above us and the cold winds gusting through us. This reminded me of my childhood, of me growing up and thinking that life is not ever fully comfortable, but for every single moment you just have to be grateful for the people around you. I am grateful that they are there with me.
Then we paid, got wet even more running for the car, drove through even heavier downpour (which required me to stop for a while) and discovered that back at home, surprisingly it had not rained at all.
We all looked at the sky and went, "Huh."
This year we returned to Sitiawan for Chinese New Year because Teik Sing and family are back home from abroad! The last time we met was over two years ago when they visited us at the Tenth Floor, when Ezra was still a baby!
We met at the biggest shopping mall in Sitiawan, which in itself still causes cognitive dissonance with me because Sitiawan had no malls when I lived here and we had to travel far and away for me to reach any mall.
In any case, full complement of our families including Ivy met up in the afternoon. We occupied two tables at Secret Recipe to talk and stuff! Teik Sing and Michelle gave us a really well-sculpted NCC-1701-D USS Enterprise as a gift. I also received a drawing of BB-8 by Ashley, who is turning out to be an excellent artist! We gave Lat's Kampung Boy and Town Boy - as well a Malay language version of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (maybe Teik Sing and Michelle can read and explain the words to them some day) - to the kids.
They had some stories to tell of their Malaysian vacation what with their detour to Krabi and all!
We checked out the cineplex at the mall and planned to watch the new film Ola Bola together later that evening.
Before Ola Bola, Atok and Opah took us out to dinner at a restaurant we have never been to before, which was set up in their house's yard with lots of plants and flowers.
Ola Bola was excellent. It was a quadrilingual movie. They should make more quadrilingual movies. The film was a pastiche of the Malaysian football scene in the late 70s and early 80s, but it was more than just a sports movie. It was about people of different races surmounting their troubles to finally work together in unity, and ultimately rallying the peoples of the entire country together. Something the current sports scene lacks. Sufficed to say that for the first time in forever, I saw a film that was truly a Malaysian film.
I hope Irfan learned something from it.
It was quite a refreshing time catching up with the Tings. We spent another 45 minutes chatting at the 24-hour biriyani restaurant beside the mall until we were tired and we had to go home. I felt some sadness as I had no idea when we might meet again.
On Sunday, Ain and Irfan examined the orchids at Opah's arboretum. I mostly did a number of translation work that was pending which I found in the unit's email account. I was under no obligation to do them, but I thought, why not?
After dinner, we found ourselves staring and chuckling at the antics of over a dozen hamsters through the window of a closed pet shop.
It was Chinese New Year the next day. Another old school mate - Gnana - came to visit with his son. We talked of old things, but mostly we talked of new things. I was gratified that I managed to see a couple of old friends during the long celebratory weekend.
Early the next morning, an hour before daybreak, we bade goodbye to Atok and Opah left for Perlis.
The twenty-ninth of each year brings about both the birthday of Sila and the anniversary of our parents. She has always quipped that she was Atok and Opah's third anniversary present.
Atok and Opah were on site in Perlis on this day, so we thought we would go celebrate at the restaurant where we celebrated Ain's birthday not two weeks earlier.
This time I took a photo of Ain's burger, which was enormous. Atok ordered a burger too while Opah had a chicken chop.
I wish Sila, Vin, Yaya and Rafiq were here to celebrate with us. I really miss them, having last seen them recede into the distance at the airport almost six years ago on a very dark day.
Happy anniversary Atok and Opah and happy birthday to Sila, Adik the Elder! May all of you be blessed with laughter and contentment.