Friday, December 31, 2010

Goodbye Pain. Hello Gain!!

Wow! 2010 has been a very trying year indeed for me and for many as well. As I revisit all the entries I have made all along this year, I am indeed amazed at how I had managed to survive it all and live to tell about everything I have experienced. Do I want to go back in time and go through all that again? No! But if I am ever given a chance to redo some of the things I had done, I would definitely grab that opportunity to make different choices than the ones I had made. I am well aware in doing that, I would have to expect a different today than what is presently. Yes. I would wish to do certain things differently.

Its pretty obvious that no one is immune to making mistakes and taking wrong turns in this journey of life. Not even a grown adult of 45 years and 11 months. As much as I grimace at the idea of making yet another mistake, I prefer that than live a life of cowardice. I am truly a student who learns from making mistakes. No teacher is better than a life full of experience.

Somewhere within this year, I decided to adopt a different mental stance in looking at life. Only focus on the good and beautiful. Forget the bad and walk away from the ugly. There were some sacrificial lambs necessary in my learning process. But in the end, I walk away feeling glad I learned something good out of the bad and ugly.

In 2010, I lost some loved ones through death and circumstances in life. I also found my true character and saw my weaknesses and shortcomings as they truly are. I also saw people in their real colors. They shone through my blind denial and showed me who I can and cannot trust. As painful as these lessons are, these are the pearls of wisdom I wish had come earlier in my life. However, I am thankful all the same for all these lessons despite its delay, for I believe that for as long as I have learnt well, I can armor myself from future pains and disappointments. All is NOT lost.

Recently, I confided in my soul sister, Wa, about my bout of forgetfulness. I told her how I had gone to a mall to purchase a pair of new jeans for my Europe trip and had asked for a size 32. When I found that size 32 was too loose for me, I had asked for size 31 and still couldn't get it to fit me well. I had thought to myself that maybe I have lost some weight and was quietly pleased with myself when I went home with a size 30 pair of jeans. I even shared my delight with darling hubby and he was equally happy for me. However, upon reaching home, when I found my old pair of jeans, I discovered that my actual size is 30 and not 32 as I had thought! Oh my God! I had not any weight but had lost my memory! How hilarious is that?!

And then the wisdom came to me like a divine revelation. Sometimes, when we forget something, its God's way of keeping us happy by letting us forget the less pleasant things about life. Consider it like a form of mental house keeping for emotional health! So, when you can't remember something terrible that may have happened in the past, don't dredge it up. Its not worth it. Let sleeping dogs lie. Let bygones be bygones. It is true that its easier to forgive than to forget. So when you forget, is it as good as forgiven? I don't know the answer to that question. I promise to share the answer if and when I get it. Will I be darting around looking for the answer to that question? No. It will come to me. And if it never does, I guess forgotten means forgiven. Forgotten also means it doesn't matter anymore.

Good riddance to bad rubbish. I open my mind, heart and soul to the bountiful blessings waiting for me in the new horizon. Yes. I walked away from the bad and ugly. I'm so far gone that I've finally found peace of mind and security.

Ya, Allah. Be gentle on me...

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Paris - La ville de l'amour.

After two grueling days of making our way from London to Paris, we arrived in the city of love via the TGV express train and disembarked at Gare du Nord train station. We were very glad to see that the heavy snow did not follow us to that city, despite the freezing temperature. After checking into a hotel opposite the train station, we made our way to a nearby restaurant to have our first Parisian dinner. It was hard to keep the excitement in the air when travel fatigue threatened to make us just wanna climb into bed and sleep like a bear. Poor Lissa was so sick from all the train rides that she threw up almost all of the French onion soup she ordered for dinner. It didn't help that she saw a man pick his nose and put his pickings into his mouth! Uber yucks! Finishing dinner was such an effort for us all and we spent the remainder of our energy just falling into bed... dead to the world!

Since we only had 1 solid day to tour Paris, we decided to stick to the few top 'must-see' spots in the city. Thankfully, after learning from me in London, JC took to navigating us through Paris Metro like a duck to water. She expertly guided us to our first stop - The Eiffel Tower.

Lissa let out a squeal of excitement when she spotted the tip of the tower as we climbed the steps up from the Metro station. Despite the chilly wind, we braved through the crowd and traffic and made our way to the foot of the tower. Along the way, many souvenir vendors paved the path leading up to the site, selling miniature Eiffel Towers in all sorts of colors.

I lead JC, our official photographer, to the very center of the tower base to take an upward snapshot. The reason for this is simply because this was not something normal people would wanna do. So, here it is!

The girls took some more photographs of themselves with the tower as their backdrop while Jasmene and I explore the souvenir shops. I bought some postcards to post from the tower so that it will bear the Eiffel Tower stamp. I sent them to Mom, Eri (my brother) and my soul sister, Wa. Pretty soon, the chilly wind got even colder until some of the souvenir vendors on the site began packing their wares and heading home. We, on the other hand, had a few more stops to make before we can consider that option. Paris in a day? Crazy!!

Our next destination was Notre Dame Cathedral. This time, it was JC who let out a girlish squeal as she saw the famous landmark. We walked through the thickening crowd and busy traffic to the front entrance of the cathedral. Mind you, I have been to all these places when I was 18 years old, and yet it never fails to take my breath away to see the magnificent architecture of that building. The inside is another awesome sight. Every details of the building was still as how I remember it. Simply awesome.

After completing our little tour inside the cathedral, we found ourselves in a restaurant nearby to silence our grumbling tummies. A plate of pasta and a cup of cafe au lait gave us the energy we needed to venture further to our next destination. Looking at the remaining hours of daylight that we had left, we decided that The Louvre Museum would be the best place to head for.

I was impressed at the many improvements made to The Louvre. Namely, the direct access to the Museum from Metro station that made it possible for us to avoid the rain that had begun to pour down Paris. After a quick visit to the most fragrant loo I've ever been in, we were ready to begin our artistic tour inside the museum. I can't recall how long we were in there but I can still feel the pain from so much walking in my tired old legs! Ouch! Ouch!

The girls were driven by their enthusiasm to see Mona Lisa with their own eyes. JC had a jolly time snapping photos like a professional papparazzi! Meanwhile, Jasmene and I were contented to just sit on the comfy seats provided. It took all of my will power not to just curl up and sleep! Mon dieu! Old age creeping up on me! JC jokingly chided me for my lack of energy, saying, "Mama! How could you sit down?! I never stopped walking, you know?" To which I replied, albeit snappishly,"When I was your age, I did it all! Even more than what you're doing now!" And then she asked,"What happened?" I simply replied,"I'm not 18 anymore."

By the time we were done with the Louvre Museum, I was ready to collapse! But we had one more stop to make and after negotiating the time of day as well as the weather, we decided to give Champs Elysees a miss and opted for the nearest Chanel boutique for JC to purchase a Chanel product in its country of origin. Rue Cambon is where the original Chanel store is located. However, given the fact that I wasn't sure how far that road is from the Champs Elysees, I suggested the next best option: Galarie Lafayette. I was well aware how close this shopping mall is to Champs Elysees. But the rain just made it a lot easier for us to go for the easiest choice. Plus, we were already running on empty. We were tired, cold and hungry...again!

I really hate shopping malls. Especially crowded ones! And Galarie Lafayette was crowded to the ceiling! It wasn't long before we managed to locate the Chanel boutique in the X'mas shopping madness. Sheesh! But, seeing my girls smiling from ear to ear was enough for me to feel happy for them and forget how bone tired I was.

Lissa really wanted to skate at the ice rink she saw near the Tower of London but we negotiated with her that ice skating in Paris would be more fun for her. But unfortunately for her, the rain made that possibility an impossible one. So, after Galarie Lafayette, we made our way back to Gare du Nord and plonked our aching bodies on the dining chairs in one of the corner restaurants near our hotel. We chose to sit outside to savor our last night in Paris while enjoying some pasta, french onion soup and escargot. Yup! Those delicious gastropods surprised even Jasmene and the girls! They were delighted to discover how tasty these snails are! Yes! I'm just pleased I managed to coax them to give it a try. The girls even considered second helpings but decided otherwise after they have had their fill of pastas and soups with buttered baguettes.

Overall, our Swansea-London-Paris stays have been a remarkable one. We thoroughly enjoyed every second of it. Was it perfect? No. There were some nasty moments we would rather forget. But then again, what makes our trip so memorable is a combination of the pretty and the ugly.This trip gave us an opportunity to work as a team and spend real quality time together. We were tested to the max! We found both strength and weakness on this trip, the places we visited and of us as a family. C'est la vie. That is life. Life is not perfect. In the imperfection we found character. Mainly, our own.

And today, as I find myself cooking in the comfort of my own tiny kitchen, spooning some sambal ikan bilis into my plate of piping hot nasi lemak, I am grateful I am finally enjoying my own cooking and able to walk around my condo in the skimpiest of clothes. Que sera sera.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Europe - Lonely Planet Style...?

The manic frenzy began a few days ago when our fervent wish for a white winter in the UK had been fulfilled by a scenic snowy sight outside our window during our stay in The Glevdon on Oystermouth Road, Swansea. Apparently, about 15 years had passed since the last time it snowed in this neck of the British Isles. The snow was so thick that it rendered the public transportation to a quiet halt! Even Ann, my dear Welsh mom, couldn’t get her car out and down the Townhill to see me off as we left Swansea yesterday afternoon.

Arriving late afternoon in Paddington Station, we were greeted with more snow and our chances of getting a train to Paris on the next day looked bleak. The weather forecast confirmed our worst fears. All flights and trains had been cancelled. Many travelers were stranded at Heathrow and all train stations. 

After an early breakfast at The London Guards Hotel in Lancaster Gate, we took our chances, packed our bags and headed to Victoria station. Upon reaching there, we found a long snaking queue leading up to the ticket counter. Our hearts fell to our stomachs. However, as from the beginning of our travels, we were fortunate enough to have met some of the nicest and most helpful people in the world who, not only assisted us through with our travel challenges but also did it with warm hearts and sincere smiles. 

The lady at the ticketing counter informed us that all buses from London to Paris were sold out. However, she was quick to point out to us that the best option we have was to take a coach to Dover and try our luck at getting a ferry across the English Channel and catching a train from Lille to Paris.  We decided to go along with her suggestion and bought a coach ticket to Dover. The bus ride was smooth and pleasant. It also gave us an opportunity to nap a while before reaching our destination.

The White Cliffs of Dover greeted us like a warm host, as we neared the ferry port. We quickly fell into the long line of people who were queuing up for ferry tickets. Meanwhile, we befriended some sturdy Bobbies who were on duty at the port. They were sweet enough to make sure we boarded the shuttle bus without having to go the end of the very, very long queue line.

The outside temperature was steadily dropping to a sub zero level. The wind, snow and rain did not help either. We were very grateful and let out a sigh of relief when we boarded the well heated ferry. As we crossed the English Channel, the green coloured decks slowly turned white from the falling snow.

When we arrived in Calais, we were slapped by the horridly cold wind, as we disembarked from the ferry. And then it began to rain. There were no buses. No taxis. Luckily enough, we met some more nice people there who were also on the same ferry and faced the same challenges: a Bulgarian man named Orlin and two French boys from Bordeaux named Vincent and Thiboult. They helped us find a private car owner who could drive us to the nearby hotel before taking them to Lille train station for their next transfer.

By the time we walked in through the hotel door, almost 4 hours had passed since we arrived in Calais. And although our bed looked somewhat broken, by the shape of it, my mind conjured up several sordid explanations as to how that bed could end up looking like it did, I was deeply thankful to be able to climb into a warm bed and fell asleep like a baby.

I awakened at 8am, feeling rested and ready for another day of travelling adventure. Breakfast consists of two cups of café au lait and tons of delicious croissants with salted butter. My ideal morning spread. Fed to the max, we braved the chilling weather and walked most of the way to the train station with our heavy luggage in tow. Thank heavens for casters! And then the free shuttle bus drove us for the remainder of the way.

The Calais train station was relatively quiet, considering yesterday’s fracas. We calmly lined up to buy our train tickets and pretty soon we were set to embark on our French journey. Our first stop was Lille Flanders and we had to walk to Lille Europe train station to catch our connecting train to Paris. Lugging heavy luggage through the traffic and cold weather was not easy. But the moment we arrived in Paris and checked into a hotel near Gare du Nord’s train station, we felt an overwhelming sense of relief that we managed to survive through such an ordeal just to get to our destination despite all the challenges we faced. And having a nice dinner at the Ma Maison around the corner of the hotel was a nice closing to an adventurous day.

Now, its time for me to hit the sack because tomorrow promises a fun filled day of Eiffel Tower, Louvre Museum, Notre Dame Cathedral and Champs Elysees before we head back to Malaysia… our true home.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Swansea Rules OK!

I've always regarded Swansea as my home ever since I was sent there to do my A-Levels back in 1985. That was where I discovered who I am as a person. So, its only natural that I feel compelled to bring my two teenage daughters there and share that part of my development with them. When this rare opportunity came up, I simply jumped at the chance at walking down memory lane with them in tow.

As I'm composing this entry, I am seated on the floor of the nice and cosy Bed & Breakfast on Oystermouth Road, facing the Swansea Bay. I've been back here about 16 years ago and now I'm here again for a conference. Waking up this morning and being greeted with snow covered Swansea was such a wonderful surprise. We never had this heavy snow when I was studying here back then.

Walking down the memory lane with my girls meant walking around Tycoch College and The Quadrant. Ann, my welsh mom, couldn't get to us this morning because her car was snowed in and the roads down hill are far too slippery for her to drive down and take us to the Mumbles.

So much has changed in Swansea. As Ann puts it, Swansea has gone crazy! Although The Quadrant is still there as the main shopping mall in this small town, many other developments and progress are hard to ignore. There never was much drug addict problems in Swansea. Now, there's not only just the druggies but also the homeless. So much for the economic downturn.

I am seriously considering doing my Ph.D here and making this wonderful heaven on earth my home again, at least for 2 or 5 years. Whether this remains a dream or becomes my reality, is yet to be seen. But the main reason why I just love this place is for one reason only, which is this: Swansea makes me feel I'm at home. My troubles seem so far away when I am here. The warmth of the people here radiates through my skin and into my heart, where it glows and grows into love.

I love Swansea!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Fresh New Beginning

Father Time has pulled a fast one on me again. In a blink, I find myself staring at the dawn of a new beginning. Awwal Muharram marks the closing of an old book and the beginning of a new chapter. I'm just utterly grateful for being alive after all that has happened.

After talking to a client tonight, I can't help but realize how important it is for everyone to be given a chance to start anew. No one should be defined by whatever mistakes they may have made in the past. If anything, the best lessons in life are the ones gleaned through the many opportunities found in challenging moments.

I feel blessed to have been given the chance to learn from my past and walk forward with more confidence and maturity. Gone are my naive and idealistic views surrounding love, relationships and life. What's left is more real than anything I've ever known. Some people may not know or understand the reasons behind the things I have said and done. Honestly, their understanding, or lack of it, is irrelevant. The point is, I get it!

In life, we sometimes find ourselves in a spot where we would stop and ask ourselves how the hell did we get into such deep shit holes. At times, we fail to even justify our choices, mentally. Obviously, these are the moments when its pretty overt that our emotions drove us to indulge in rash and irrational behaviors. But the moment logic lands and we are able to think things through, we are presented with the rare chance at stopping ourselves dead in the track and re-evaluate our route. Sometimes, short cuts help us beat the gnarling traffic. But, sometimes the scenic route is the best way to go. After all, life is not about arriving at the destination. Most of the joy stems from the journey. All we need to do is to remember to breathe and not fret the small stuff.

Along the way, unneeded luggage gets shed off and we learn to travel light, bringing with ourselves the bare essentials that we can't live without. With only a pair of hands, we can't afford to cling on to things that will stunt our growth and development.

At the threshold of Awwal Muharram, I feel empowered by this chance Allah has presented to me as a mean to start again. Not only am I excited with this opportunity, but also relieved that I am able to walk away from the ugly and keep the beautiful. I know that my most recent prayer at Masjid Maqbul has been answered by Allah. An orphan boy also prayed for my utter wellbeing with his palms facing skyward as his lips articulately submitted a fervent prayer on my behalf. The prayer of the innocent flies directly to Allah. Ameen!

With my soulmate by my side, I feel stronger than ever, as I walk on to my next stage of life. I don't know how much time I have left. What matters is that I live my life happily, satisfactorily, and usefully. I've got my Ray Ban aviators on as I walk into the bright light of life and love. Yup. I need the shades because my future is blindingly bright and rosy. Que sera, sera.