Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Izani's Itsy Bitsy Spider

At last...
Somehow this video couldnt be uploaded into Yootoob. I kept getting "Uploading failed". I almost gave up totally. Then today I visited salt&vinegar, and discovered vimeo.
Thanx PB!

Enjoy :)

izani spider song from elisa taufik on Vimeo.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Shawls for School

As some of you may or may not know, our friend Nonah is trying to finance her way to school.
She needs to raise at least the registration and first semester fees by November.
You can go read "help me raise my fees" to find out how much she needs and how she's planning to save up for it.

To help her along, I am launching SHAWLS FOR SCHOOL on my Barang-barang Bonda online store.

For each shawl you buy, Nonah's College Fund will get 75% of the profits.

These shawls are divine! They are 100% wool, and are lovingly hand embroidered by kashmiri hands.
They are perfect for the coming fall/winter months, or even worn off the shoulder with your sleeveless spring/summer dress. Exquisite and elegant enough even for a dinner party. It would look stunning against a black dress!
Buy it for yourself, or as a gift.

If you see something else you like on the Barang-barang Bonda store, you could also buy them, because 50% of the store's profits go to Nonah's College Fund as well :)

The store's profit is not much, but I hope it'll be enough to help her along.

Thankyou in advance for your support!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Muscat, Oman

Ops Jalan Sakan (Mission: Travelots) - UAE and Oman, Spring 2009
Part 7

April 6th, 2009.

As early as 9am we were already out of our hotel in Muscat and was heading towards Muttrah Souq. While searching for parking we decided to drive along the corniche and check out the view. We finally found a parking spot (note: get your coins ready, you need to buy parking coupons at a machine) and walked towards one of the few restaurants that was already opened for business. The restaurants along the corniche serve typical fare that would attract arabs and westerners alike : Fast food like burgers, hot dogs and pizzas, much to the delight of my children :)
After a quick breakfast, we entered the souq.

The souq was a bustling place, but I was relieved to find that the shops were quite well arranged, not arranged in a maze like Khan El Khalili (Cairo). Shops in the souq sold all sorts of souviner items, from wooden frames (for pictures, mirrors or windows), to statuettes (camels, elephants, cats, etc), to urns made from all sorts of material (clay, brass or silver, painted or embellished with glass beads or precious stones), to perfumes, to embroidered skull caps, to t-shirts, to shawls, to textiles, to khanjars (the curved daggers), to all sorts of boxes and containers from metal or wood with mother of pearl inlays, and there were also the ocassional knick-knack store that sells cheap made-in-china items.

Coming from Saudi, I have seen most of the souviners sold in the souq, but I suppose if this were your first visit to the middle east, you would be spoilt for choice.
I would suggest:

Khanjars - the curved dagger usually made from silver, either on it's own, or readily framed. This might cost you a tidy sum of money (prices are usually more than OR100, depending on it's size and decorations), but if there's one thing that is a symbol of 'middle east', the khanjar would be it. If you are not ready to invest in the real thing, you could always buy khanjars in other forms, i.e. smaller replicas and as key chains.

Silver items - be it jewellery, coins, incense containers or pill boxes. Oman is renowned for its silversmiths. Silver is sold by weight though, and prices fluctuate, and they are not cheap. A small pill box about the size of your thumb could cost about OR2.5(SR25). Bracelets with semi-precious stones would be about OR10-OR25.

Camel figurines - comes in all sizes and adornments. Some even have small camel bags with mock treasures tucked in , on them. Price vary, depending on material (wooden ones cost less) and of course size.

Middle Eastern teapots - my husband's favourite. You can get them in either brass or silver, but the brass ones looks more traditional. Try to find one with the distinct pointed spout and a pear shaped body. You get bonus points if the bottom of your teapot has a stamp in arabic (this means it wasn't made in china or india or indonesia).

Embroidered Skullcap - the trademark of an Omani man. These skullcaps are distinctly Omani. They come in different colors and different patterns. The handmade ones are more expensive and can cost from OR8 up to tens of Omani Riyals, but you can get machine made ones that costs as cheap at OR2 riyals. One size doesn't fit all, so measure the person's head before you come to Oman if you're planning to buy it for someone else.

Dish-Dash - the traditional Omani male robe. In Saudi, it's called a "thaub". This comes in different colors and materials and you can even find one that matches the color of your skullcap, but white is traditional. I don't know exactly how much this will cost, but I am assuming that it's almost the same as in Saudi, so a comfortable cotton dish-dash would cost around OR3-5, depending on the material and tailoring.

When I got bored (and confused) of looking at souviners, I enjoyed the souq's architecture. It is quite a stunning building, with exposed rafters decorated with carvings, middle eastern chandeliers with colorful glass panels and 2 'courtyards' covered with stunning stained glassed domes. The colorful domes are decorated with pictures of traditional middle eastern items like the khanjars, teapots and jewellery. The courtyard provided me a much needed respite from the calls of the shop owners to step inside and check-out their wares.

We left Muttrah Souq to meet up with Taufik's Omani friend for lunch. Mohammad lives in Barka (an hour from Muscat, and he drove all the way to meet us!), and he doesn't know any good Omani restaurant in Muscat, so he brought us to a Turkish seafood restaurant instead. Seafood is really fresh in Muscat, and the fish are exported even to Saudi. We were treated to fish that were grilled and also fried, and they were all so yummy. The fish was served with a starter of lentil soup (my first time trying this, and I loved it!), and the usual side dishes: arabic flat bread, rocket salad in balsamic dressing, hommous (chikpea and tahini dip), spicy dip (i dont know the name) and rice. Suffice to say, we were stuffed!

After lunch, we followed Mohammad's car to Al-Bustan Palace Hotel, which boasts a really grand architecture, but we couldn't go in to look because there was a ministers' function going on. So, we drove on to Qantab instead, a small fishing village nestled between mountains. It was quite amazing to drive up and down along the mountain road, to first see nothing but rocks, go around a turn to suddenly see this little village with its stark white houses against the blue of the sea and sky. We spent a few minutes here because Taufik wanted to see if he could find a vantage point where he could take a picture of the Al-Bustan Palace Hotel. We picked a few interesting pebbles and Izani managed to get himself wet before Taufik came back, dissapointed.

We followed the signs to Shangri-La's Bar Al-Jissah Resort and Spa (picture above), which is a beautiful beautiful hotel that I'm sure I could never afford to stay in.
By that time, it was already a bit after 4pm, and Mohammad needed to go home to pick up his wife from school (she's a teacher), so we said our thankyous and goodbyes, and parted ways.

We headed to the other side of town, to the famous Sultan Qaboos Mosque, for solat.
Sultan Qaboos Mosque is huge (the biggest in Oman) and grand, you could see it from the highway. It is a relatively new mosque, built in the 1990s.
It is reputed to have the biggest chandelier in the world, standing at 14 meters tall. It also has the biggest single-piece handmade carpet in the world, which took artisans 4 years to make over a million knots, using 28 different colors of vegetable dyed wool. The intricate detailing on the main dome alone is mind boggling.

The toilets were modern and very clean and well maintained, and the best part is the ladies prayer hall is actually a huge hall, in it's own building, so unlike most mosques I've visited in the middle east. We had to walk a bit to get to it from the ablution rooms, but we walked under grand arches and crossed a marbled courtyard lined with shady green trees that added to the already peaceful atmosphere, so we didn't mind.

After solat, we did a little grocery shopping for the next morning's breakfast. We were still quite full from lunch, so we decided to have a light dinner, and the kids were screaming for 'civilized' food after days of eating traditional fare, so we stopped at a McDonald's :P
Thus ended our trip to Muscat, for the next morning we left early for Dubai, with a short detour at Rustaq and Nakhl.

Useful Information:
The accomodation we stayed in was nothing to shout about, but it was one of the cheapest accomodation we found in Muscat. We rented a two-bedroom apartment in Darsayt, a very convenient location for it was just a 15 minute's drive to Muttrah Souq, and has a hypermarket close by. Rooms were okay, but the water pressure was a little bit low, and I discovered too late that the oven doesn't work. The electric stove worked, but they did not provide pots/pans (nor plates & cutleries), so I had to use a baking pan (came with the oven) to 'fry' nuggets for breakfast.

Nuzha Hotel Apartments
http://www.safeerhotel.net/english/nuzha/nuzha.htm .
Two bedroom apartment OR50/night, room only.

Next: Muscat to Dubai.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

School Searching

We are pretty sure that we'll be moving back home by this December the latest.

So now, we're starting to search for schools for our children.
Ilham will be 12 (Year 6), Ihsan will be 11 (Year 5) and Anis will be 8 (Year 2). Izani will need to go to a Taska.

Personally, I would like my kids to go to an English-medium school.
It's not that I don't want them to speak Malay, but it's because I want them to have an easier first few months of school, without going through class not understanding lessons or instructions, or worse, being teased by their friends for not being able to speak Malay. I want them to be able to feel confident in a new environment. I want them to be able to make new friends.
Furthermore, Ilham would be taking his UPSR (a national level exams, not unlike SATS). I dont know how much of the syllabus he has to catch up with, but I think his pace would be slower if he has to do the catching up in a language he doesn't really grasp. At least if the classes are in English, he only needs to be up to speed with the topics, not the language, right? If I don't have to worry about the other papers, at least I can concentrate on helping him with the Bahasa Malaysia and Agama papers (less work and worry for me. Yay!)

I would also like my kids to go to an Islamic Integrated school, the kind that combines the national curricullum and the religious curricullum.
When Ilham was in Year 1 for the 6 months before we moved to Saudi, he had had to go to the national school in the morning, then on to the religious (KAFA) school in the afternoon. I had to pick him up from school, rush through lunch, then poke and prod him to change into his KAFA uniform and walk to school. Even though the KAFA school was practically at our doorstep (my mom's front gate is right in front of the mosque's gate, where the school is), I still found the schedule pretty tight. I can't imagine what it was like for kids who lives a little further away from us. By the time Ilham came home from KAFA, he's pretty pooped out and just wants to play. He would be too tired or too fed up with anything to do with school for homework.
I think having the religious lessons incorporated into their regular school would be less of a hassle, for the kids and also for me. I don't have to worry about two uniforms, two school bags, two schedules, two exams..
The religious school is not compulsory, but I would like my children to at least have the basic knowledge of the religion they are practising. I am ashamed to say that even though we are living in Saudi,(which is supposedly the epitome of an islamic country), my children have had very little religious education because they go to an international school that is not allowed to have religious classes by the Ministry of Education.
We do our best on our own of course. Apart from the Qur'an lessons three times a week by a Pakistani imam, most of their religious lessons were informal. We've taught them how to properly perform solat and the recitations involved, we've taught them how to properly fast and the rules about it, we've taught them the components of umrah/hajj and its significance, we try to instill Islamic values as much as we can, and point out the greatness and wisdom of God in our every day life and activities but these were all done by example and by doing. There were no notes, no reference books, no lapbooks. If you ask my children to list out the five pillars of islam, the six pillars of faith, Allah's names and attributes, the 25 messengers, the obligatory steps in solat, they wouldn't know. If you ask them to take a test, they would fail. I want their knowledge to be complete, to be at elast at par with other students who have gone through formal religious classes.

So, in conclusion, I am looking for an English-medium Islamic Integrated School.
Preferably within driving distance from our current house in Kelana Jaya (assuming we don't move elsewhere).

Unfortunately, most Islamic Integrated Schools are way over on the other side of the Klang Valley, in Gombak, Bukit Antarabangsa and Ampang.
There are only 3 on this side of the Klang Valley (that I have found):
Integrated School Shah Alam (ISSA - http://issa-primary.com/)
Integrated Islamic School Kota Damansara (IISKD - http://iiskd.org/index.php)
ITQAN Integrated Islamic School (ITQAN - http://www.itqan.com.my/index.htm)

ISSA currently only accepts students up to Year 5.
ITQAN somehow doesn't teach Islamic or Qur'an lessons (?).

So my best bet right now would be IISKD. It has a primary school *and* secondary school. I don't know how much they'll cost me, since my queries via their website have gone unreplied.. :P
Perhaps I should call them.

If you have any information on any other schools around PJ/Damansara/Taman Tun, please do drop me a line ;)

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Nizwa, Oman

Ops Jalan Sakan (Mission: Travelots) - UAE and Oman, Spring 2009
Part 6

April 5th, 2009.

We left Al-Mintirib, the small town bordering the vast desert of Wahiba Sands, at around 10am and reached the town of Nizwa at around 12pm. By that time, the adzan for Dzuhr prayer had been called, and most of the shops in the souq are closed. In one of the souviner shops that was opened, though, we coincidently met with one of our friends who happened to be holidaying with his family. Zarul and Kak Rosnah had just come from Muscat, and they were spending the day in Nizwa and Al-Hamra. Zarul had hired a local guide and from him we found out that the souq is closed from 12pm to 4pm, just like in Saudi :P Since the souq is closed, we decided to have lunch with Zarul's family in a restaurant on the outskirts of Nizwa.

After lunch we said our goodbyes and safe journeys to Zarul and his family, and we returned to the center of Nizwa. We performed our solat at the nice Nizwa mosque that had a not so nice little shack at the back as an excuse for the ladies' mussollah (prayer room). After solat, we decided to explore the Nizwa fort. Fortunately the fort was open till 4pm. I can't remember how much the entrance fees were, but they were not expensive.

Nizwa fort is bigger than its facade presents. Inside there are several stairs that lead to the different levels of the fort. On the ground level is the courtyard with stables and such. There's a basement level with storage rooms and a prison. The mid-level houses the kitchen, sitting rooms and bedrooms with secret hiding places. Then there's a rooftop where the guards would sit and look out for approaching enemies.

The fort had quite sophisticated defense mechanisms, with secret peepholes to view who's at the door, to hot oil/water/date syrup channels that runs from the roof to the entrance to scald enemies, and trap doors on the stairways that gives way and plunges unsuspecting intruders into deep wells below. Looking out from the fort to the date filled valley surrounded by mountains, I could imagine why someone would guard Nizwa like a precious jewel.

I'm sure Nizwa has a very strategic historic significance, but meh.. I'm not Lollies... you can go read her entry on Nizwa, if you want to know :) All I could think of is what the blueprint of the place must've looked like, how they constructed the place with all the channels and trapdoors and wells and hiding rooms. I imagined what life in the fort must've been like in those days. I wondered what noises and smells must have wafted around when it was bustling with all the different activities, both military and mundane.

The Nizwa fort also has a small museum that displays artifacts on daily Omani life, from how the falaj works (i.e. how water is pulled out from wells or springs and distributed along channels to irrigate the plantation), how metal smiths forge their wares and the different potteries and weaved items. It was interesting to note that much of the traditional way of life is still practiced in Oman today. I also got an idea of what souviners I want to get ;) tee hee.

After exiting the fort, we had a drink while waiting for the souq to open.
The souviner shops sold a lot of pottery ware, and I would've gotten one of those earthen water jugs, but I kept thinking of how it might break on our drive home (we still had 4 days to go), so I decided not to. Taufik got another teapot for his collection and Ihsan bought some stamps and a postcard to mail to his Nenek.

By the time we were done browsing and shopping (more browsing than shopping), it was almost 6. We had promised to drop by a friend's house for dinner in Muscat by 7:30pm, so we decided to make a move.
As with any highway in Oman, the view was breathtaking.

As we reached Muscat, we had our first view of 'modern civilization' after several days of seeing traditional houses and unspoilt nature. We waited for our friend at a McDonald's and encountered a traffic jam on the way to his house. Sutan and Fatimah treated us to a wonderful dinner, and we regtretfully had to say goodbye at 10pm to head to Nuzha Hotel Apartments in Darsayt.

Next: Muttrah Souk, Sultan Qaboos Mosque and around Muscat.