Thursday, 30 October 2008

Up And Running

There is this dreamer from North America, who has just spread his wings like a sparrow in his flyway, sending messages across the globe reminding that the winter is coming. I thought the upcoming winter is not really a big deal for me, residing at the eastern edge of a desert called Rub'al Khali, literally means the empty quarter. Someone joked about the 3 seasons in Dubai, being, hot, hotter and hottest, nothing else.

After I googled on the subject of "dubai+weather", I know better now. Winter makes a difference here, though not as much as elsewhere in the north hemisphere at this time of the year. Now it makes sense to me why this Mat Stylo of Dubai blogged about adding his winter wear, and why the clothing outlets display lines of designs with long sleeves, high collar, which are made of thicker materials.

Today's weather figures in metric units are as follow:
Temperature : 33 ºC
Cloud Cover : 0%
Humidity : 45%
Visibility : 16 km
Wind Conditions: 14 km/h

Apart from the figures, the weatherman had posted the following friendly report about the temperature drop, pleasant weather in Dubai and also the possibility of snow in the highlands.

"Visitors from more temperate climates are often surprised just how hot it can be in Dubai. In the peak of summer, temperatures in Dubai reach the mid-40’s and can soar higher the further inland you go. Typically though, the peak tourist season from Europe to Dubai is between November and March when the weather is fantastic. The humidity has gone, there are a good number of sunshine hours and the evenings are pleasant enough to enjoy a spot of outside dining. It should be observed however, that Dubai has experienced a couple of cold winters in recent years. Some late evenings and early morning temperatures have dropped to as low as 10 – 12 degrees Celsius and in the neighbouring Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, they’ve even experienced snow in the mountains - but it’s not the norm!"

The weatherman also added on the possibility of rain.

"there is the odd smattering of rain in the months of January, February and March. During these months the rain typically limits itself to the odd day or two, although in 2006 and 2007 there were several days in each of these months that had some extended downpours"

This weatherman also advised on how to dress in accordance to the climate and culture here.

"Don't think the heat gives you an excuse to walk around in a state of undress. Dubai may be a liberal place compared to the rest of the UAE, but you should still dress fairly modestly. This is even more true if you are planning to travel around and visit nearby Emirates such as Sharjah, Ajman or the city of Al Ain".

I decided to have my regular run around the neighbourhood this morning. This time I took with me my Nokia N95, to run and observe the surrounding that might signify the weather change and to snap shots along the way. As I started my run, I snapped the garden weeds, again. Today they swayed in one direction beautifully, choreographed by the wind as reported having the condition of 14km/h.

It must have been very windy lately that the dust from the desert has come along and settled in our neighbourhood, particularly visible on the long-parked cars. In Dubai, to clean a car is simply done by driving them, or else, it would collect the dust. The owner of the dust-coated cars might have gone for a long vacation in Beirut, or might have had left Dubai and never return.

My favourite tree in the neighbourhood, the weeping willow is also a good indicator of the wind condition and direction. As I ran along passing it, the wind stopped blowing. So the weeping willow could not show off its swaying moments.

As my one-hour run got into the second half, the sun was glaring brightly. It got hotter, but my run was blessed with the intermittent shade in the avenue.

I looked up at the canopy of the avenue. I heard the birds chippings, merrier than usual. Are they the migratory species from the north?, I wonder. They were up on the high branches, behind the foliage, too shy to make the visible appearance but loud enough to signal their presence. They flew away as I ran approaching their perching spots.

The cloud cover reported was 0%. As I ran along, I occasionally looked up at the sky. There are clouds in Dubai, after all! But not the cumulus, thick and heavy clouds. They are thin, elevated, so called high-level clouds. Just like many commercial flights which only stop in Dubai airport and its new, state-of-the art Terminal 3, for a few hours before heading elsewhere, these thin clouds were probably made their short appearance on our sky, and they seemed to be in a hurry to bring their mass to places where people pray for the rain.

As I continued running, I was cheered by this skinny Indian gardener in his shabby blue uniform. He was having his break by the roadside. I imagine he was my true supporter who made me feel like a celebrated runner. I tried to snap his photo, but all I got was a blank white image. He must be a daylight angel. But he can be spotted crossing the street in front of the mosque in the photo above. He was nowhere to be seen in my 5th and last round. I guess he had gone back to work. I guess I'll never see him again.

As I ran along, I was contemplating whether to hit the pavement or the soft grass. Running on the grassy ground has this cushioning effect that can save my joints over this long run. Running on the pavement can save the grass, which is struggling to survive on this cultivated desert. I tried to save both, by running along the borderline, as much as I could.

As I ran towards the end, I have made up my mind that I will pay 370 dirham to register in the Dubai Marathon which will be held on 16th January 2009. It's a 41km run. I had only done the 21km PJ Half Marathon twice, so far. I had googled for "Dubai Marathon" for information. I have made a spreadsheet to track my training program. I have hooked up with the blogs of these 2 down-to-earth runners, one with injured limb and the other slightly out of shape. They prove that with determination, anything is possible.

The organiser of this marathon is so organised that they have good archive that one can access to the results of the previous 2008 Dubai Marathon. There are 616 runners' results listed. I am honouring the Malaysian runners and my big boss Alessandro, and also the last English finisher who made it to the finishing mat with their names sandwiched with their respective rankings and finishing times, as follow.

219, Ng, Ah Tzuh (MAS), 03:49:57
273, Kumar, Vijaya (MAS) , 03:56:56
391, Bussi, Alessandro (ITA), 04:22:54
471, Chan, Mew Foon (MAS), 04:42:37
480, Fong, Choon Ming (MAS), 04:44:15
529, Abdullah, Syahrir (MAS), 05:00:28
594, Yunos, Muliadi Bin (MAS), 05:50:06

Lastly, 616, Temple, Anthony (ENG), 07:31:00

I'm dreaming to land my feet on the finishing mat in the next Dubai Marathon. I have no specific target to beat as this would be my maiden marathon. But I'm aiming to do minutes better than the time clocked by the English finisher. So I dare to dream and make it happen.

Monday, 27 October 2008

A Muted Monday And The Day After

Part I : A Muted Monday

The chocolate factory was having its 4-day maintenance shutdown, unwinding after a seasonal peak period. I was off duty on this day. The day after, I was scheduled to have a meeting that required brainstorming and regurgitating. Generally speaking, I'm not really comfortable attending board meetings, brainstorming sessions and the likes. These are the times and events when the extroverts have their upper hands whipping us, the introverts, like whipped potatoes. The Indians colleagues are all talented tellers of long tales, powered by their tilting heads and 'wordiness'. The Kenyan colleague is well-endowed with a stormy vocal cord to deliver his rich collection of analogies from his gospel and English-African literature. The Egyptians talk with pride as much as they are proud of their pyramids. Well, I have the discomfort being a player in this assorted loud orchestra. I have air locks in my verbal pipelines. Words don't come easily from my end. I have pauses that I miss my turn. In the last meeting episode, the extroverts snuffed my little light and stole my show when I should be riding the waves.

So what I was doing today, was shutting the valve, building up pressure and sorting of my thoughts in a logical order for the day after. Hopefully the air locks accumulated and broke off in a big belch before the meeting, leaving me with strong and sensible words in a good flow. I was hoping to leave the room, feeling good and contributing well. On this muted Monday, when I was consumed with own thoughts, I did house-keeping. My biggest achievement today was opening my door for the departure of piles of old newspapers out of my apartment.

Here in this part of Dubai, we have a man dropping the newspapers at my door every day. I met him only twice, but I hear him blasting the newspapers on the floor, in front of my door at around 6AM almost everyday. I have paid 400 dirhams for him to do this every day until October next year. This man contributes well in my life here. We mostly communicate in a muted way. He scrawled messages on pamphlets. Instead of calling him as he had requested in his scrawling, I last sms-ed a reply to him that read, "Away, 29/9 - 9/10, no need newspapers. No422, Bld 3, Discovery".

What is missing here is the scene of another man calling out, "Ole newspaper....surat khabar lamaaaaaaaa!". I have yet seen a man doing this in this part of Dubai, who can help me to accept the piles and perhaps pay me a few dirhams in return.

Also on this muted Monday, I washed my clothes. I skipped my last washing session, which was supposed to be last Friday. I still have another load to go but my little ampaian at the balcony, couldn't take more. By sunset things were in pretty good order in my apartment, and I would like to think it was the same in my head.

I broke free from the muted mode by dialling home. The kids were already asleep. My wife was narrating excitedly about their weekend trip to Melaka. They went on this river cruise and the kids were jumping with joy. Thank God, it wasn't a sampan. They spent the night in a hotel and they had great dinner only to be spoilt by my son, Hadiff who puked on the dinner table. I'm not surprised for this anti-climax. She was a great narrator like my Indian colleague and her narration reduced my Etisalat prepaid balance by 55 dirhams on this single long distance call. But it's worth it.

Part II : The Day After

I have the butterflies and moths flapping and rubbing the inside of my stomach. Even though, I was a debater back in high school and I have done public speaking and hundreds of presentations to many people, I still have the jitters attending this meeting. I guess it's because I wanted so much to make a big impact and to be in par with be able to think and talk loud, effortlessly, with confidence.
As I entered Hilton Jumeirah Beach, I saw the list of meetings to be held on that day there. There it was...... our meeting, the third meeting on the list, my meeting with misery.

Our meeting was held in a great room called Fayrouz. It was a whole day event that staged the Operation Manager, Technical Managers, Production Managers and others in one room to outline a new portfolio of technical trainer within our organization.

As expected, the extroverts, the board room meeting champions shined like Donald Trumps' golden hair. They really spoke their minds out. All the good points crossed my mind were shot, snatched and served stylishly by these champions. I was left to raise whatever was missing on the table. I summed up the day having 90% of my time in that room listening to the volley of words and following the motion, and only 10% talking. I guess for now, I have to live with it. I can't change over night. It may take me sometimes to be loud and to be able to think under my feet. Of course, I left the meeting room feeling disappointed, but I had the beautiful sunset at the hotel foyer to tell me that life goes on.

On my way back to my apartment, I had witnessed a neglected beauty. We have clusters of these garden weeds in front of our building. I have been walking up and down the building not noticing them. One night, I took series of full moon photos and these weeds made their appearance on the photos as garnishings. I sent the photos to an old friend of mine. She is now a collector of full moon sightings from all around the world, from Manchester to tepi Sungai Langat. She and the others commented well about the moon, leaving the weeds weeping unnoticed. I stared at their elegance. I watched them waving and dancing with the wind of approaching winter in Dubai. Their colour was dark, brownish with purplish tinge, unlike the plain lalang in Malaysia. They grow in small patches, that they don't seem to look messy or dominant in this ensemble of garden shrubs. They don't required much maintenance. I reckon they need less water compared to other plants, planted with the support of the irrigation lifeline on the surface of this desert. I have no idea what they are really called and where they are originally from. Nevertheless, they are here adding colours in this gloomy blog.

The highlight of the day was the night when I had the garden pool all by myself. One of my favourite band in the 90s, REM, made a song about nightswimming. I was under the water, witnessing the ray of lights passing through the rippling water, hearing the tune ....and imagining being Sammy, the whale shark, captured and confined in the Atlantis...

Nightswimming deserves a quiet night.

The photograph on the dashboard, taken years ago,

Turned around backwards so the windshield shows.

Every streetlight reveals the picture in reverse.

Still, it's so much clearer.I forgot my shirt at the water's edge.

The moon is low tonight.

Nightswimming deserves a quiet night.

I'm not sure all these people understand.

It's not like years ago,

The fear of getting caught, of recklessness and water.

They cannot see me naked.

These things, they go away, replaced by everyday.

Nightswimming, remembering that night.

September's coming soon.

I'm pining for the moon.

And what if there were two side by side in orbit

Around the fairest sun?That bright, tight forever drum

Could not describe nightswimming.

You, I thought I knew you.

You I cannot judge.

You, I thought you knew me,

this one laughing quietly underneath my breath.


The photograph reflects,

Every streetlight a reminder.

Nightswimming deserves a quiet night,

deserves a quiet night.

Friday, 24 October 2008

A Good Friday, As Good As Gold

It's Friday, my off day. Here, Friday is like Sunday, back home. My off day goes on a rotation, like the moon. It meets Friday, once or twice in a month. In their ecliptic alignment, this good day was not to be wasted.

The 1st part of the good Friday was a good breakfast. The menu was nasi goreng kampung, Nescafe Tongkat Ali with Ginseng pre-mixed and the Gulf News. First, I boiled little prawns and squids. I scraped 3 cups of cooked rice from the rice cooker, leftover from last dinner. I squeezed out the Maggi Nasi Goreng Kampung paste. I added 4 tablespoons of sunflower oil. All the above were fried in a hot pan and they became one happy meal. It's not that I got laid last night that I needed the Nescafe with Tongkat Ali to get another good erection. It's just that I love the aroma. The aroma I'm so used to, back home. While enjoying the coffee aroma and the fragrant smell of the fried rice, I read the Gulf News and stopped at the page that I wanted to linger. I spread that page on the table and put on the plate and mug. It was a nice nasi goreng, but kurang pedas. I was enjoying my meal in a kain pelekat at 11:00AM. The article I hooked with while eating, was about an Emirati writer condemning Western journalists who were condemning Dubai Government for blah, blah, blah.


The 2nd part of the good Friday was the Friday prayer at the mosque across the street. The khutbah was in Arabic. Blah, blah, blah. I did my prayers, thanking God for the many blessings and asking for more. I prayed that God will give health, wealth and protection to me, my loved ones, entire family and some friends. I asked God to keep on showing me the straight way ahead, when there are cross-roads of temptations at every milestone. Amin.

The 3rd part of the good Friday was an easy shopping at Geant. I was blessed with a new vocabulary. Cili Padi is called Bird Chilli, really? It was my precious item in my shopping basket today. It would make my next nasi goreng, maggi kari, mushroom soup, tom yam, whatever, hot, I mean, nose-watering hot, the Malaysian way.

The 4th part of the good Friday was the splendid sunset viewing at the Jumeirah Beach. I was blessed with a good spot to view the sunset.

Before it was getting darker, I had good view of Burj Al Arab looming from the distance, along the same coast line. It was the small white sail-like figure at the centre of the photograph.

I had a good view of the Atlantis. It's a new luxurious resort at the tip of the Palm Jumeirah. If you find the lonely lady in the black bikini, backing the camera, in the photograph below, look further at the same direction across the sea, you'll see the a cluster of buildings on a reclaimed artificial island. That's the Atlantis.....

I had a good view of an avid reader who was oblivious of the surrounding and appeared to be very comfortable with her threefold tummy. In between the views above, I had a good swim, good skin salting and good salt tasting, while the threefold tummy owner looked after my belongings. Good beach neighbour.

I had a good view of other beachgoers lying on the beach in a social gathering like the sea lions of Galapagos. I guess there are many other kinds of mammals linked by the beaches of this planet, another possibility of the nouvelle vague, much talkabout, the six degree of separation, I guess.

The 5th part of the good Friday was the evening walk at The Walk, Jumeirah Beach. It was the place to be and to be seen. I enjoyed the sea breeze and longed to live in the posh apartment above.

The 6th part of the good Friday was the night visit at the Gold Souk, Deira. I was inspired to be there after reading the following.

"This is Dubai's best-known souk and must-do for every tourist. Wondering through the Souk is great experience. The meandering lanes are lined with shops selling gold, silver, pearls and precious stones. It is a place to try your bargaining skills. Gold is sold by weight according to the daily international price so prices will be much the same. The price of the workmanship is where you will have a bargaining power. The Gold Souk is always busy....."

The Gulf News reported this morning that the price of gold is dropping and the sales jump 400%. The price of gold on this good Friday is 83 dirham per gram for the 22-karat or 91.67% of pure gold. The Indians with their buying power in the approaching Diwali with others, losing faith in their bubble-burst property and their money in the banks, made the gold rush.....It's back to basics.

It was like the ambience in pasar malam, back home. But instead of sotong kering, udang kering and cili kering in the pasar malam, gold jewelleries, mostly yellow and some white, were displayed for sale in this City of Gold. Gold was everywhere.......

Precious gold, on my left....

Glorious, glamourous gold, on my right.......

Glittering, glistening gold, here.

Gold galore, ahead....

I stopped to look at one of the extravagant gold pieces. It's the locket of the great Cleopatra's head.

There were so many people. I was here only to look around. Not to purchase anything. It is speculated the gold price will drop further after Diwali. So I can wait. I have found what I was looking for. The gold shop that I fancy. Perhaps I'll get inside, someday, to buy a little piece of gold for my loved one.

The 7th and the last part of the good Friday was the slow sip of the great hot tea at the roadside, close to midnight. It's sweet and mildly minted. The tea was golden, no milk, rich and cheap. 1 dirham for a small glass. I tried to ask the tea maker something. Ironically, the great tasting tea was made by a cold, unfriendly and suspicious looking old Arab man who kept saying, "Arabic....Arabic....".

Old man, I will come back with the question in Arabic, since you insisted, if we ever meet again. Insyallah. I handed him the 1 dirham with a smile. He didn't look. I hailed a cab and headed home.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

State of Emergency

At work, I have this one hard hat with my name pasted on it.

This one hat is given with a job description which requires me to put it on as a Site Custodian to deliver as a Process Optimiser, Improvement Project Implementor, Staff Planner & Developer, Factory Performance Presenter & Reporter and last but not least the Emergency Manager. It is the last role that gives me bits of a challenge. The reason is, naturally, I have very little sense of urgency. As a fatalist, I believe there are reasons for everything. I can't be bothered to be panicking, shouting, peeing in my pants or shouting to demand attention in the state of emergency. In my introverted appearance, I can be perceived as incapable to handle emergency situations.

We hardly had any emergency situations. But on the night of 22nd October, there were 2 emergency situations within 12 hours. I was there at work and it was my acid test to gauge my emergency management skills.

The first emergency alert was triggered at around 12:30 at night. There was a fight in the factory. It all started with a really petty matter. Too petty that is not worth to be worded here. An Indian contractor after an exchanged of foul language in Hindi with another Nepali contractor, got a real good punch on his left cheekbone, mere milimeters from his eyes. They got separated. We called the ambulance. The medical attendant gave first aid treatment to the victim. The victim was inspected and the swollen part of his face was treated with ice. We called the foreman of these contractors. We answered the inquiries made by Dubai Port Authority (DPA) security representative (they are like the police in the Free Zone). The case was settled without extending it as a police case. We report this incident to our Safety Manager and Operations Manager. Both contractors are not allowed to work in our factory anymore - as adherence to our company's policy. The foreman took both contractors away. The victim was sent for further medical check ups.

I was back at my desk to make the report and to do other things, when the second emergency triggered at 5:00AM. This time an accident happened when a Nepali contractor fell inside a cooling tunnel. To step inside the tunnel he has to wear shoe covers which makes slippery foothold. He was able to get up and get out. He needed assistance to take him to the office for first aid. Again, similar procedures. This time I was quicker. The ambulance came. The victim was set up with a neck support and was placed on a stretcher. I assigned one associate to accompany the victim in the ambulance.

They left to Rashid Hospital. Seeing them leaving, I told myself, we are here to send our premium chocolates out of this factory to make people happy, not to send an injured man out of our gate. There is much to do to make our workplace a safe place.

The DPA guy came again and we gave the details. List of people were informed. Risk assessment was made at the site of accident. I gave instruction to continue production. I came back to my desk to make another report. After 7:00AM, I handed over the shift and went to the hospital to follow up on our man. He was X-rayed thoroughly, there was no fracture. There was a minor muscle ache on his neck and back. He was given medicine and a certificate for light duty for 2 days. To expedite his recovery, he has to wear the neck collar.

He's a fine man now. The photo of him in his neck collar made me think of the long-necked Pa Dong girl in the highland of Chiang Mai........controversially cute.

As I was driven out the hospital, I took the photograph of the fascade of Rashid Hospital Emergency / Trauma Centre. The hospital is said to be the biggest government hospital in Dubai. It is a new building. It started operation one and half year ago. The interior layout and settings are very impressive for a government facility. Looking at it, I was thinking if my wife will ever join me to work here. She has difficulty to let go her privilege as Malaysian Government servant and her pencen scheme. Her reason being healthcare (not health) is wealth. With her as a government servant working in the hospital, her parents, myself and the kids are all covered no matter what the medical issues any of us is having. I argued that we are covered by insurance. She said her parents in their 50s are not. And about the pencen, she didn't say anything. I'm guessing she is counting on it as security if she lives a hundred years like her grandfather.

My Operations Manager sent me an email on the same day, just a few hours later to recognise my team's response on the emergency situations. Her timely appreciation, with words of encouragement has been something I deprived of, in my 11 years of working experience in my home country. I think I would probably still be working in Malaysia if my work there had been recognised like this. Why some (not all) Malaysian managers have not done better in dispensing appreciation sincerely and timely to their supportive subordinates, is a good topic of management study. Yet some of them are talented in picking tiny faults to accentuate their superiority. They are always thinking how they could move up further by stepping on their subordinates. They ignore the need of the people that bring them to where they are.

The words in the captured image above are not so clear. Hereunder, I have cut and paste the lines, not to show off, but to highlight the words of a world-class Operations Manager. She is smart, sharp and swift. I'm grateful to work for her though this Egyptian lady-boss can be demanding sometimes and kelentong-proof, obviously.

"You had a very busy night shift yesterday. Nevertheless, you and the emergency team have done a very good job in handling the incidents and following the right procedures, escalating, informing and taking the right actions in managing the incidents. Well done to you and your team! With the right preventative actions in place I'm confident that some of the highlighted risks can be minimised or eliminated.
Regarding this particular incident, Syam is investigating the issue with the packers / Jams. We suspect the issue might be related to some of them being overworked. "

Hence, an introvert can handle emergency. Though an introvert has no natural capacity to bark like an army sergeant in a battlefield, to mobilise the emergency team, he can control the situation by holding the remote controller and knowing all the buttons on it to make it works. Nevertheless, an introvert needs more strength to iron out the words in his own head like, "Are you sure or not?", "Neccessary, meh?" and other doubting, hesitating self-questionings. You may not understand this complication, if you're a plain extrovert.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Tempeyek, the champ! Welcome Wrigleys

My wife and mom packed me some raya cookies and tit-bits. I decided to take tempeyek, tart nenas and popiah kecik goreng simpul in 3 separate containers of about the same size to my office on my first day of duty after my holiday. So I announced to all of my fellow associates in the office.

"Guys, help me to finish these things I get for you from Malaysia."

"Wow, what are those?"

"They are spiced crackers, pimpled with ground nuts, pretty oily, crunchy and tasty (my description of tempeyek). The other one is pineapple tart, my mother-in-law made it and my wife made me to hand carry it all the way from Malaysia, because it's brittle, but tropically sweet. The last one is this fried tiny twisted crackers with dried prawn paste filled inside".

Later I was told by my wife the dried paste of tiny popiah goreng simpul was made of anchovy, not prawn as I had incorrectly declared.

Tempeyek has been the most favoured and it's gone in less than 4 hours. So tempeyek is the champ! Next, is the tart nenas. Lastly, the popiah simpul.

When I came back the next day, all of them were gone. Even the containers were nowhere to be found. In my search for my containers, I found a box in my pigeon hole. It's a box of Wrigley's chewing gums, complimentary from the company to commemorate the joining of Wrigley's in our business.

So we are mostly seen chewing gums in the office......apart from eating chocolates. We have no excuse to be unhappy.