Month: May 2017

5 things I learnt from living in our flat

We officially moved into our new place on Saturday – how exciting! We haven’t quite left the flat yet, there are still bits and pieces lingering around that we need to transfer over, but its no longer our main residence (I sound like the Queen!)

It’s been a super happy and fun 11 years in that little place, and I’ve loved every minute.

5 things I learnt from living in our flat

I’ve also learnt a few things too!

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You can fit a lot more stuff in a 2 bedroom flat than initially thought

As evidenced by the fact that we still haven’t 100% moved, and that we have boxes everywhere, and that I don’t remember our move 11 years ago being anywhere near this messy, it’s fair to say we’ve accumulated a lot of stuff. Neither of us are good at living a minimal lifestyle – me with clothes and shoes and the husband with music and guitars, so it was inevitable that we’re going to have to buy more storage for the new place!

I love one level living

The idea of living in a flat didn’t come naturally to me at first but within days (more likely minutes) I loved having everything on one level! Not having to go upstairs for the loo in the middle of a TV program, or go downstairs for a drink in the middle of the night – it just really worked! So much so, in fact, that when we started to earnestly talk about moving, I insisted I would only move to a bungalow! And now I have a whole 13 stairs – I’m just hoping they help me lose weight!!

How much I like trees and squirrels

The flat was built in the 1960s, and most of the trees on the estate are from that era, so you can imagine their height and magnitude after growing for 50 years! The surrounding is so very green and lush, with thick trunks and dense leaves perfect for squirrels to climb, jump about and hide in. I love to sit watching them playing or chasing each other. We were worried that the move would mean giving up all the greenery as we live in an urban location, but we’ve been incredibly lucky to find a place that, if possible, is even more green and quiet than what we’ve left behind. Standing in the garden, all you can here is leaves rustling and birdsong, it’s beautiful. And I spotted a cheeky squirrel at the weekend too.

How much I dislike ceramic hobs!

I bought our kitchen hob for appearance rather than functionality and it drives me mad! It’s so unresponsive when you change the temperature, and it’s a sod to keep clean too. Definitely not repeating that when we get our new kitchen!

Fairy lights aren’t just for Christmas

Ah, tiny twinkly lights, how I love thee! From multi-coloured pretties on the balcony, to star shaped ones in the lounge and a Moroccan inspired set in the dining area, I think everything is improved with the soft subtle glow of fairy lights. I’ll be having lots of them in the new place, and even more in the garden!

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With all those lessons learnt and experiences…experienced, it feels nice to be starting in a new place with the basics all ticked but the rest as a blank canvas for us to make our own mark. It’s going to be a long, slow and expensive process, but it’s going to be fab!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

Teachings of Islam at Masjid Kapitan Keling in Penang

I had planned this post as a standalone to my other Malaysia trip posts as soon as I left the Kapitan Keling mosque in Penang and, in view of the bombing in Manchester, which has now been claimed by Muslim terrorists, today seems the right time to write it.

I love religious architecture; the grand scale, the intricate detail, the commitment to beauty. As I mentioned in my previous Malaysia post, the temples were one of the things I couldn’t wait to visit on our trip. I’m fascinated with churches, despite being a firm atheist, and will always seek out grand religious buildings whenever we’re on a trip.

Yet I’ve never been in a mosque.

On one of our visits to George Town, capital of Penang Island, we walked past the Kapitan Keling mosque – a stark, white building in the middle of the city, with it’s strong arches, rounded domes, and towering minaret.

Masjid Kapitan Keling outside

We took some pictures from the outside and were spotted by a volunteer in the foyer, who invited me in. I was given a scarf to cover my head (I was already dressed conservatively, with my legs and shoulders covered because of the possibility of visiting religious sites, but people who were dressed in strappy tops and shorts were cordially invited in and given clothes to cover themselves) and the young female volunteer began to tell me about the history of the mosque, and more about the Muslim faith.

I was struck by the simplicity of the inside of the mosque. In contrast to churches, and the Buddhist and Thai temples we had visited earlier in our trip, there were no physical depictions of Allah, no decorations or ostentatious shrines.

My guide explained to me that Allah’s physical appearance was never described anywhere in the Koran and so there are no imaginations of what he looks like anywhere – not just in a mosque but in every day life. Also, it is against the religion of Islam for any person or animal be represented in a mosque, part of which is that it can lead to idolatry, and also that there is no distraction during the praying process. Praying is a direct connection between the individual and Allah.

She explained to me about the pre-prayer washing process, which has to be done in a particular order, and that prayer water is inhaled into the nose and mouth for healing and purity reasons. She explained to me about the call to prayer, and prayer times – I incorrectly thought a prayer time had to be adhered to exactly, but she told me that as long as prayer is taken between the first call to prayer time and before the next call to prayer then that’s acceptable. She pointed out the segregated women’s prayer area, showed me the Koran, and read the Islamic prayer which is said to Allah 5 times each day.

It was incredibly enlightening, calming and interesting.

When I left the mosque she gave me some leaflets to take away and, because I’d been gone for a while, the husband joked that I’d been radicalised which is just the kind of sense of humour we have but not quite so funny in view of recent events.

Leaflets about Islam

When we got back to the hotel I sat and read the leaflets (more inappropriate radicalisation jokes!) which are designed to dispel some of the myths, rumours and negative press that Islam gets across the world.

Two quotes stand out to me:

“Have you ever wondered why a nun can be covered from head to toe and she’s respected for devoting herself to God, but when a Muslim woman covers, she’s viewed as “oppressed”? Or why a Jew can grow a beard and he’s just practising his faith, and when a Muslim does that, he’s an “extremist”?”

And this:

“Would you send your car to a butcher for repair, or a sick child to a florist? Of course not. A butcher is not qualified to repair a car, nor a florist qualified to treat the sick. Likewise, people without Islamic knowledge are not qualified to inform others about Islam. So why is it that people are willing to accept information about Islam from those that do not have the required knowledge?”

I’m not here to preach or change people’s minds, or even to share the content of the leaflets, but the way they approach common misconceptions was definitely an interesting read, and something I believe a lot of people could benefit from reading (EDL and Britain First members, I’m looking at you).

Whenever there’s a terror attack, the level of vitriol towards the Muslim community rises, and it’s so often misplaced – aimed at innocent people who simply believe in a religion and a God who is there for them; in the same way as a Christian or Catholic may believe in religion and God. We don’t turn against Christians when a Christian fundamentalist commits a murderous crime. We don’t see the religions of criminals reported in the news – unless they’re Muslim.

Crimes committed by Muslims in the name of Islam are anything but what they profess to be. They are extremist individuals who have a twisted view of “their” religion and the world at large, and try to justify a thirst for blood and an anger against a perceived threat in the name of a God who would deplore such actions.

Apologies if there are any inaccuracies in my writings about the mosque, but that’s the information as I recall it.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

Thinking of Manchester

Like everyone waking up in the UK today, and many people across the world, I’m deeply shocked and saddened by the bomb blast which has killed 22 people so far. Those poor, poor babies, out having fun and enjoying what should have been an amazing night in their young lives. Parents, taking their kids to concerts to keep them safe. Fans, all at the venue for the same purpose – to enjoy the music and performance of someone they admire.

It’s unthinkable.Thoughts with Manchester

It’s too early to jump to conclusions and as yet (as far as I know) no terrorist group has come forward to claim responsibility, so maybe it is just one lone nutter with a grudge to bear. In a way that would be easier to stomach than thinking terrorism has infiltrated the heart of our society and killed innocent people.

Although, if you’ve lost a loved one in such horrible circumstances, the origin of the attack and attacked is probably neither hear nor there.

I’ve been buoyed by acts of kindness I’ve read about in the wake of the attack; like taxi drivers turning off their meters and driving people wherever they needed to go, hotels offering free rooms to people stranded, kids who have been separated from family or friends being taken to safety and the general Manchester population opening up their doors and their homes to provide cups of tea, beds and a safe haven for those affected.

These acts of kindness shouldn’t be necessary, because in an ideal world this would never have happened. But it’s good to know that the majority of the human race not only deplores such behaviour from cowardly bombers, but openly and actively pull together to make the aftermath as easy as possible for everyone to deal with.

Sad times.

Thanks, as always, for reading. xx

What we got up to in Penang

We arrived in Penang at 11am on a Monday morning after approximately 16 hours of travelling, 2 flights and very little sleep. Initially I feared I would crash and burn and have to hit the sack for a couple of hours but both of us were invigorated by finally being there, and the beachy view, so we checked into our (upgraded) room, unpacked, and set off to explore.

Batu Ferringhi beach

Although the majority of attractions in Penang are in the capital, George Town, we wanted to base ourselves by the coast for that all important paddle in the sea, so opted for Batu Ferringhi which is on the North of the island. Batu is little more than one long main street, with a number of hotels to suit all budgets, lots and lots of food establishments, mini markets and tailors shops (tailoring is big in Malaysia, the husband had a fabulous shirt made during our stay).

Batu comes alive early evening when the hawker food centres and nightly market open for business, both of which are a marvel to behold! The market stalls run for approximately 2km along the main street and sell everything from watches to sunglasses to bags, t-shirts, trinkets and trainers (mostly designer copies) and each stall is meticulously set up each and every night and packed away at the end (around midnight). We watched some stall holders wheeling their metal stall around 200 metres down the street, into the path of oncoming traffic, like it was the most normal thing in the world!

There’s not an awful lot to do in Batu Ferringhi, which suited us fine. It’s mainly focussed around eating (yay!) and sightseeing outside of the town. Because Malaysia is a Muslim country alcohol is heavily taxed, and therefore expensive, and there isn’t much of a drinking culture. Many restaurants don’t serve alcohol or, if they do, it will be purely beer. Booze prices are similar to at home, in some cases slightly more expensive, with a small glass of wine at around £5. We bought some drinks from a licensed liquor store and had a couple of nightcaps on our balcony and also spent a couple of evenings in the Hard Rock Café drinking delicious but overpriced cocktails! Hard Rock had a house band who played from 10.30pm each evening and were very good.

One of the things we were really looking forward to was the food, and it didn’t disappoint. There is a proliferation of both Indian and Chinese food in Malaysia, with Malay cuisine being something of a combination of the two, with lots of rice, noodles, fresh seafood and spices. You wouldn’t touch many of the streetfood stalls with a barge pole back at home but somehow, over there, eating from a hut constructed from metal poles with a corrugated iron roof, plastic patio chairs and a bucket at the side of the road for washing up seems perfectly normal! We had no stomach problems at all and ate some absolutely amazing dishes. A personal highlight was an amazing Mee Goreng (noodles cooked with meat and spices) for a ridiculous 80 pence. The husband pushed the boat out that night, his dinner was £1.20! The taste and flavours and freshness were just incredible. Also in Penang are a couple of large hawker centres, where lots of foodstalls are under one roof – all serving different cuisine. Our favourite was Long Island which we went to twice. The process is simple – get a table number and then go to whichever stalls you want, order your food, they will cook it fresh and bring it to your table where you then pay.

Dishes were no more than around £3 each at most, and the husband made the mistake of sending me off to do the ordering with a fistful of ringgits (Malaysian currency). We ended up with easily enough food for 4 people from about 7 different stalls! Examples included 10 sticks of chicken satay for less than £2, national favourite Char Kway Teow, Tom Yum soup, onion roti and chicken samosas. Amazing.

As well as spending time in Batu, we ventured into the capital Georgetown for two full days to soak up the sights and sounds. There’s a lot of building going on in Georgetown, lots of high rise condos and apartments (they have to build upwards due to lack of space on the ground) which sit along heavily adorned temples of such beauty and acres of green forest hills. It’s a really complex landscape with a different view at every turn, architecture influenced by British colonial days and a view across the Malacca Straits to the mainland. It also doesn’t seem to have a centre as such, and isn’t particularly easy to navigate, so a map is a must.

Penang Hill

Technically outside of Georgetown, in the nearby Air Itam neighbourhood, Penang Hill rises 833 metres above the city and is a green and luscious area. Accessed by funicular railway which, at it’s steepest, rises at 50+ percentage, it’s definitely worth a visit. You could spend as little as 10 minutes for the views, up to most of a day exploring the summit of the hill and it’s attractions. We had a wander round, marvelled at the views, had some lunch, had a look round the Hindu temple, and took lots of photos. The funicular is a highlight in itself, and a feat of engineering, imagine building a railway on a hill that steep!

 

Dharmikarama Burmese temple

I was very excited to visit temples in Malaysia, not because I identify with any religion (I don’t) but because the architecture and attention to detail is so stunning. This temple and the Wat Chaiyamangkalaram Thai temple (below) are opposite each other, incongruously positioned on opposite sides of the street in the middle of George Town. At first glance it seems to be a competition between who can bring the most bling, there’s a A LOT of gold leaf, everywhere! The temple itself is very serene and picturesque, with dedicated areas for praying, although non praying people can also enter as long as shoes are removed.

 

 

Wat Chaiyamangkalaram Thai temple

This temple is famous for the reclining Buddha – 33 metres long and the 3rd biggest in the world, but it was closing as we arrived so we only got to peek inside. Again there are multiple buildings, gold leaf and mosaics everywhere. The architecture is incredible – everywhere you look is a stunning building or intricate piece of work. Amazing.

 

Little India

I’m going to be slightly controversial here and say that Little India was a disappointment. Firstly it wasn’t as busy and bustling as we’d hoped, which I think is because we were there in the afternoon and the main food sellers don’t open until early evening, but secondly it wasn’t that Indian, to us! Let me elaborate – I live in Birmingham which has a large Indian and Pakistani community, and there are areas of Birmingham where these communities live closely together and therefore develop their own “Little India” with sari shops, indian restaurants, mosques, and food stalls filling the air with pungent fragrance. So this place wasn’t really any different to anything I’ve experienced at home. If you live in an area or country that doesn’t have an Indian community that you’ve experienced, then you may feel very differently. Whilst there we did have an incredible thali style lunch at a restaurant which came with chicken curry, mutton curry, tandoori fish, basmati rice, pickles and poppadum, and it was spectacular, and I also snapped some pics of the Sri Mahamariamman Hindu temple but only from the outside as it was closed.

 

Street art in Armenia Street

We struggled to find Armenia Street initially, walking round in a big circle, trying to get in the map (a Friends reference!!) and starting to get ever so slightly narky with each other in the crazy heat of the day. When we did find it we were only there for 15 minutes or so, but it was good to see some of the fun street art which is a renowned tourist attraction in the city. Getting a photo without someone else in it who’s trying to do the same is something of a struggle, but a bit of patience goes a long way.

We also visitied Masjid Kapitan Keling and Kek Lok Si Temple, but I’ll be doing a separate post on both of those.

Would I recommend Penang? Absolutely. The people are incredibly friendly, generous and selfless, keen to tell you about their homeland (as we found with a couple of very chatty taxi drivers), the food is absolutely incredible and very cheap, there’s a good balance of city and beach to suit all interests and the mix of architecture is fascinating.

Feelgood Friday [7] – Rufus the rescue dog

I haven’t seen anything good in the press to share with you this week – it all seems to be doom and gloom and misery and politics – so here’s a Feelgood Friday story from my personal life.

This is Rufus. He’s a scruffy little terrier with a sad background.

He was abandoned by his previous family and ended up in a rescue home. No-one knows for sure how he was treated by his old family, but based on how subdued and quiet he was in the home there’s a good chance he wasn’t showered with the love a little dog deserves.

Then along came my Mom, who fell in love with him, and took him to his new home, where he lives happily to this day.

Rufus used to be called Bradley. Who calls a dog Bradley? And when he first came to his new home, at my Mom’s, it was like he had no personality. He used to lie under the coffee table and not make a sound. You could fuss and cuddle him and he’d just sit there, with no reaction. It was heartbreaking. When my Mom had to take him back to the rescue home for his injections he cried, as though he recognised where he was going and thought he was going to be left again.

Now he’s a happy little chap who loves to play with his “big brother” Oscar the boxer dog, loves to lie in the sunshine, and loves to play with plastic bottles!

Rufus sunbathing

I bribed him with crisps for these Christmas pics!

He loved having a Mohican, little hipster!

Rufus mohican

He needs no persuading to pose in glasses – this is the “chews” at 10!

Rufus reading glasses

And he loves the doggy spa in the sunny garden!

Rufus doggy spa

Have you ever taken in a rescue dog?

Thanks, as always, for reading! x