Rays of Splendour


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Autumn and summer in three weeks (Part 1)

Here’s something for the record: November 2015 is the first time ever in my life that I got to experience two different seasons within a span of a few days apart.

Allah swt has made the world to be so beautiful and intricate. Every time I thought I had seen the most beautiful thing there is to see on Earth, there will always be yet another scene that by His grace, He allows me to experience.

And so, my November started off with Him allowing me to experience autumn. This is the second time ever that I get to experience autumn and masyaAllah, the scenes are as beautiful as ever. Autumn puts a new spin to the idea that there is beauty in death. Afterall, the reason why the trees are having red or yellow leaves is an indication of the leaves dying.

Hill slopes at Gwanak.Hill slopes of Gwanak in fall colours

With the paths at Gwanak being filled with pretty leaves like these, I couldn't stop looking down as I walked. The paths of Gwanak were littered with these small reddish maple leaves.
I couldn’t stop looking down at the ground as I walked.

Leaves that had fallen and covered many paths in Seoul after a downpour.The scene after a downpour along the streets outside Seoul Station.

One of the fall foliage that lined the streets of Myeong Dong, with the litted Namsan Tower in the distance.Fall foliage along the streets of Myeong Dong with the Namsan Tower in the distance

Since the parents came along for this trip, ensuring access to halal food was pretty important. Alhamdulillah, access to halal food in Seoul in 2015 is much better than when I first went there in 2009. In 2009, the choice of halal food was limited only to Indian or Turkish food. However I guess with more Muslims travelling to Korea as well the increasing numbers of Korean Muslim converts, there are now shops that sell halal Korean food. Hence the few days we were there, we managed to eat at some of these food outlets located in Itaewon where resources for the Muslim community are centralized.

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The streets of Seoul also had much to offer in terms of food though we had to be a bit more discerning when it comes to buying from these stalls. One of the things that we enjoyed eating while we’re there were roasted chestnuts! Pomegranate juice comes in a close second but we were too engrossed in drinking it that we didn’t take any photos.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA roasted chestnut push cart stall in Myeong Dong.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe chestnuts were being roasted in small wired-baskets like the above.
This caught our attention for a while as in Singapore, chestnuts are roasted in huge woks.

I had plans to take the family to visit the Gyeongbokgung Palace, the Nam San Tower as well as perhaps a day trip outside Seoul. However as this was a short trip with the main agenda being to introduce the parents to Seoul, we did not manage to cover much. Besides the Namdaemun Market which got my mom pretty excited due to the gazillion pretty brooches and dried anchovies, the other highlight of the trip was when we stumbled upon the Line Friends Store in Itaewon.

The youngest brother is into cutesy stuff and Line has managed to market itself in a way that appeals to those, like him, who are into this concept. We spent almost an hour just going around the store and taking photos. I’m glad we managed to stumble upon this place as prior to this he was feeling down however, this place managed to cheer him up tremendously!

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI can’t believe my brother owns three of this bunny thingy in different sizes!

Like any other cities in the world, Seoul presents itself in a different way to different people. While we enjoyed our time together as a family going around Seoul, I also know that the family did not take an immediate liking to the city like they did for Tokyo. Tokyo (and Japan in general) still ranks as one of the top places in the world that we love.

Regardless, I believe that He is placing me here for a reason whose wisdom I’ve yet to grasp for now but insyaAllah, it will be for the best for all of us.


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Not a walk through the park

Walking in a park has never been an activity I considered whenever I make plans for recreation. I perceive it to be one of the most disengaging activity ever. In Singapore, parks are a common feature in almost every residential area however I always deemed that there is really not much for one to see save for trees, more trees, trees and even more trees which I felt look almost the same. Further unless there is an intended destination for which a walk through the park is required, I find the act of strolling through one rather meaningless.

Hence for the longest time ever, the only reason why anyone would ever see me ambling through one would be if I were:

  1. To gather data for research back when I was in school
  2. To dispense a work responsibility should the activity be held in a park
  3. To accompany a friend/friends. In this instance, it would really take a lot out of me to socialise in an environment and an activity I find to be right up the list of the least comfortable things to do in life

And yet when I was in Osaka some time back, I did the exact opposite of what I’ve never liked doing –  to take a walk through the park outside Osaka Castle. And what surprised me was that I actually enjoyed the jaunt I had at Osaka Castle Park.

Perhaps it’s the beauty of the place; perhaps it’s also the weather – temperatures were cool and nice at that time (basically, it’s heaven to my body). Regardless, for the first time ever in my life, I enjoyed it and actually derived a sense of calmness from it.

So tonight as I sit here trying to fight off the exhaustion from work and thoughts of flying back to Japan entered my mind, I suddenly recalled the time when I was at Osaka Castle Park and started missing it terribly. If only the place was accessible within a short bus or train ride away!

IMAG0400View of the Osaka Castle

IMAG0398From one of the bridges that separates the Osaka Castle and the Osaka Castle Park

 

IMAG0392Along one of the park trails


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Occupational hazard

As a Geographer and a Geography educator, one of the areas that I work closely with is the knowledge of Plate Tectonics. To be specific, a lot of the knowledge I deal with pertains to case studies on the impacts of tectonic hazards on a nation and society.

For instance in the years proceeding the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake, a lot of the case studies and discussions we have would center around the tectonic processes that led up to the underwater earthquake and thereafter, the aftermath of the ensuing tsunami that resulted from it. The plethora of photos, videos and articles available in the world wide web have been useful for people like me as we sought to better understand the disaster and yet it can’t be denied that these same sources portray grim scenes of the disaster itself which does affect us more deeply than we wanted.

I never knew that this part of my work had affected me until last year when I visited places which are vulnerable to earthquakes and tsunamis. The two places I visited – Yogyakarta and Bali – lie in a region that is at the boundary of destructive plate movements commonly associated to phenomenon like the formation of mountains and volcanoes, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis.

I still remembered that increasing feeling of fear emerging inside me as my feet gradually took me closer to the coastline of Tanah Lot, Bali, and my senses picked up the deep sounds of waves rushing to the shore and thereafter breaking on the coast with an energy you knew would engulf you in an instant should it morph into a tsunami.

A glimpse of the waves as I approached the coast.

A glimpse of the waves as I approached the coast. One could even make out the wave height even from this distance which shows that those waves are not small!

Then as my eyes chanced upon the countless signboards detailing warnings that the area is a high risk zone in the event of a tsunami, I started to grow more worried. Things I’ve been studying, researching and teaching about seem to get too real. It’s not that they were not real before this it is just that there is a difference between reading about them in depth from the comforts of your home or office and to actually be physically there yourself right in the midst the hotspot. Experiential learning can really be such a powerful experience!

Thus on the one hand, I’m blown away by the natural landscape and features of the area and would like to spend more time exploring that place and taking in the sights. On the other, my mind kept on flashing images of the photos, videos and information about the effects of earthquakes and tsunamis and all I wanted to do was to get out of the place as soon as possible.

Part of the beauty that is Tanah Lot, Bali.

Part of the beauty that is Tanah Lot, Bali.

A signage indicating the route to take in times of evacuation. It is essentially redirecting people towards a place further inland and on higher grounds.

A signage indicating the route to take in times of evacuation. It is essentially redirecting people towards a place further inland and on higher grounds.

A map showing the areas most vulnerable to tsunamis. The zones that are most at risk are those shaded red and pink.

A map showing the areas most vulnerable to tsunamis. The zones that are most at risk are those shaded red and pink.

In fact in retrospect, I also realized that the knowledge regarding tectonic hazards had played a big role in the decision I made on where to stay while in Bali! Avid travellers to the place would usually recommend staying in one of the many villas or a location near to the beach. However I realized that the accommodation I finally chose was one that was many kilometers inland! Even then, I still worried every night right before I go to sleep whether I could wake up on time to escape in case an earthquake were to strike in the middle of the night. I mean, I have also worked with a lot of case studies in which an earthquake hits a place in the middle of the night and how those can be more disastrous as the people were unprepared….

And so, as that time of year for me to review those materials I have on Plate Tectonics arrives yet again, I’m reminded of the occupational hazards it brings. I used to disregard this term as I had immaturely presumed it would be something that would never happen to me. Alas, I guess I spoke too soon. Like they say, never say never.


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Because I miss seeing the world through the lenses

I’m no expert when it comes to photography, have never had lessons on capturing good shots and neither do I own any fancy camera gadgets to capture these moments.

However, I do enjoy the process of letting my eyes and heart do the capturing. Moments like these when I just let go and let my senses take over and thereafter, pore over the photos while wondering what propelled me to take those photos are rare these days. Nevertheless, I still look forward to the next time I can do it all over again everytime I look through my collection of photos!

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Lantau Island, Hong Kong

I’m amazed by the excellent views in Lantau Island. The undulating hills, rivers that cut through the slopes, the sea flanking the island, etc. This is my first visit there (let’s not take the visit to the Chek Lap Kok Airport which is located on Lantau Island into account) and it didn’t disappoint!

Lantau Island covers a huge area. The Hong Kong Disneyland, Citygate Outlets and Ngong Ping 360 amongst others are one of the popular tourist destinations in this part of Hong Kong. Additionally if the Hong Kong dramas which I’ve watched had portrayed the area accurately, there are also fishing villages and towns which form getaway destinations for locals whenever they want to have a reprieve from city life.

My intention when I went to Lantau Island was only one: to ride the crystal cable car to Ngong Ping and back. Thankfully, it wasn’t as scary as some of the Running Man casts made it out to be when they filmed an episode in Hong Kong! Although the winds were strong and caused the cable car to sway as it moved down the line, I still felt that the ride was a generally safe one.

IMAG0045Above: The forest canopy beneath my feet.

The Geographer in me couldn’t keep my excitement down when I see scenes like the following:

IMAG0064Above: A young river cutting deeply into the land

IMAG0096Above: Fine sediments deposited and building up at the point where the river enters a larger water body

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Above: Presence of an overhanging cloud cover atop the highlands – signs of evaporated water from the sea being pushed up the adjacent slopes and eventually forming relief rain?

The cable car ride spans a distance of 5.7km and will take us to Ngong Ping. There’s really nothing much to do here unless you’re a Buddhist. Regardless, I did enjoy the short walk I had through the street (not very long; a few metres only) and thereafter a meal of fish and chips there.

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Above: Ngong Ping

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Above: The gates leading to the ‘Po Lin Monastery’ and the ‘Wisdom Path’

IMAG0079 Above: Hong Kong has increasingly more halal certified outlets endorsed by its Islamic Council like the above


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Behind the scenes of a soon-to-be female solo traveller

Solo-traveling has been on my mind for a while now. The reasons why I’ve decided to embark on solo traveling are:

  • At this age, I realize that my friends have their own social life and responsibilities and hence having them as a travel companion is not a guaranteed thing
  • I’m curious to discover how it feels like to travel alone: Can I be independent? Would I be able to sleep alone in the hotel room?
  • The perceived freedom solo-traveling would bring – seriously, the idea that the itinerary will unfold according to you alone? How does that pan out?

However as a soon-to-be solo traveler, I find that I face two issues:

  • The question of an appropriate destination to go to
  • Assuring the parents that I will be allright

Both issues are inextricably linked to each other. At present, if the destination is deemed to be ‘dangerous’ by the parents, it will definitely make it more difficult to assure them that I’ll be allright. The parents’ definition of ‘dangerous’ is pretty diverse and can be applied to multifarious situations.

So over the past few months, the choice of destinations have been fluid. The following is the rough order of how the choice of destinations have evolved since March 2013 starting from the initial idea to to the most recent decision – Osaka, Auckland, Guangzhou, Ho Chi Minh City and lastly, Kuala Lumpur. Notice how the distance between Singapore and the target destination shrinks with each change of itinerary? This may or may not be the appropriate reaction but I always burst out laughing whenever there is a change in destinations!

Regardless, I know I can’t blame the parents for being too overly protective of me, their only daughter. I’ll always be their little girl no matter how grown up I am. As a teenager, I’d assumed that the freedom to travel anywhere I please with my own money will come with age and once I started earning my own keep but I’ve yet to taste that even though I’m now a fully grown working adult. Right after I started working fresh out of university back in 2007, it certainly didn’t take me long to grasp the understanding that my prior assumptions were wrong – it’s not the issue of age and money that I needed to overcome.

I’d also wondered whether this phenomena where it’s difficult for parents to let their daughters travel alone is only typical to Muslim/Asian households. Hence, I googled ‘female solo traveling’. Imagine my surprise when my search threw up websites like ‘Adventurous Kate‘ and ‘Around the World “L”!‘ that focus on females who travel solo. Adventurous Kate even did a post on parental disapproval when it comes to females who want to embark on solo journeys abroad. The ensuing comments that resulted from her post hinted at other females in the American society which also face parental disapproval over this. This means that the reservations parents have about their daughters traveling solo aren’t specific to a certain society – they are universal to all parents the world over.

Overall, this has been an interesting few months. Who knew there can be so going on just from the decision to travel solo!


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Winter in Seoul and Fukuoka

Last month, I went to Seoul and Fukuoka for my winter vacation. Seoul was a trip that was decided at the last minute whereas Fukuoka was a place that I have been wanting to go as I wanted to catch Big Bang’s Special Final at the Yahoo! Dome. I really enjoyed this winter vacation!

For one, I finally managed to go to the DMZ. During my first trip to South Korea back in 2009, I wasn’t able to go to the DMZ hence while preparing for the this trip, I had made careful consideration to set aside part of the itinerary to go there. There were lots of restrictions with regard to photo-taking due to security concerns. Here’s whatever little photos I was able to take with my S2.

20121218_094348Above: One of the few photos which were allowed to be taken as the scene was one which faces the North.

20121218_104015Above: An armistice agreement. I was actually in awe of the signatures. These are signatures of real people who played a role in the conflict!

20121218_095138Above: Apparently, one side of the table resides the North and the other, the South. Talk about being at two places in one time!

The DMZ trip will remain etched in my mind forever. Being that close to a place steeped in history and dogged with conflicts even till today would definitely be an experience that I’d never forget.

Besides that, we also checked out other parts of Seoul like Hongdae and even Sungkyunkwan University. As soon as I stepped foot on these places, I could sense the vibrant youth culture. It’s just amazing. The energy. The vibrancy.

20121220_145949Above: The logo hung on the gates to the entrance of Sungkyunkwan University. This university has been around since 1398! It is a historical relic on its own.

20121220_145355Above: The path from the gate to the different faculties situated inside the university itself.  The students got to walk through such an amazing view everyday as they make their way to school.

In the meantime, Fukuoka provides an entirely different aspect to my winter trip. ‘Serene’ is the word that comes to mind when I think of Fukuoka. Everything there seemed to slow down tremendously as compared to the hustle and bustle of Seoul. In essence, it is such a diametrically polemical city as opposed to Seoul. Two things I truly appreciated when I was in Fukuoka were this – the clean air and the much moderate winter (at that time, temperatures were about 5 to 10 degrees Celsius vs Seoul’s -10 to -13 degrees Celsius).

The highlight of that trip was of course the Big Bang concert which was held at the Yahoo! Dome (though I think the venue itself could somewhat be deemed as a highlight itself). I’ve read about the Yahoo! Dome before and repetitive mentions of its size had piqued my curiosity. I’d always wondered whether the place lived up to its hype in terms of vastness and therefore to finally see and be inside the massive Yahoo! Dome myself was an eye-opener. I’ve never been in an enclosure that could accommodate more than 50000 people!

1356168081162Above: Yahoo! Dome

20121222_150717Above: A small segment of the concert venue. Imagine this number of people times 7 (even 10) and that’s the total number of people gathered in one place.

The concert at Yahoo! Dome was the second Big Bang concert I’d attended and it was definitely as great as the first one. This group really emits talent. Looking at them rally the concert-goers and giving their all, I can’t help wondering what it would feel to be in that position. While my job entails rallying my audience and getting them to be engaged to whatever I’m saying and doing, it’s on an entirely different level from theirs.

I have only thing from this trip which I really regretted not being able to do due to the lack of time: visiting the Kyushu University. Regardless, it was a great trip. Looking forward to being able to see more of this world. Soon!