Wednesday, 26 November 2008

A Life Well Lived Is A Life Without Regret

I had an eventful day hopping from Hilton to Le Meridien Hotel along the same beach called Jumeirah. The first meeting held at Hilton was about calibration. It was not about instrumental calibration that I did back then in my school's engineering lab. Here we calibrated our judgment on the performance ratings of our associates. As a line manager, I was given 5 minutes to present my rating proposal for each of my subordinate's performance to a senior management team. I was supposed to make them see within the 5 minutes, all the work done and results achieved throughout the year for each of my subordinate. If they don't have anything else to say differently and they agree with my judgment, then we are calibrated. Unlike machinery calibration which requires precision per se, human calibration requires persuasion, good arrangement of words under good ambience with proper timing. It was a day with great weather, great coffee served and terrific traffic conditions. Nobody seem to be edgy, picky and moody to upset the calibration. So I was done there at Hilton by 10AM.

By 10:30AM I was at the Le Meridien, the other end of Jumeirah waterfront to indulge myself in upgrading my knowledge in chocolate history, properties, nutrition and packaging legislation.

The following points are the facts I have learnt today from the seminar.

1. Historically, chocolate was considered as aphrodisiac, exclusively for the ancient Aztecs men and was forbidden to women. Ironically, according to many current studies, chocolate is now the number 1 food craved by women.
2. Swiss people eat more chocolate from any other people in the world, particularly the dark chocolate, made of 70% cacao. They have the lowest BMI and the healthiest hearts.
3. Chocolate has natural components like flavanoids, polyphenols, trace minerals and vitamin E which are anti-oxidants, good for heart health and great for those with active lifestyle to take away free radicals in our system after strenuous physical activities.
4. Chocolate is a great snack in between main meals. Chocolate snacking helps to regulate blood sugar. It prevents us to become too hungry before the next meal. It prevents us to eat too much for the meal. This can prevent spikes of our blood sugar level.
5. Chocolate has been the victim of many myths. Scientific studies have proved with evidence that chocolate has no link with obesity, diabetics, migraines and acne. The real reason for all the problems is basically the modern living inactivity.
6. Here in the Gulf countries, Halal label is not required by the legislation to be part of packaging details and design. Here everything is halal except for those products intended and labelled 'for Non-Muslims'.

It was a good thing to learn more about chocolate, but it was better to enjoy the view of the Jumeirah Palm and the long beach from the 15th floor.

It was even better to taste chocolate samples from all over the world. There was one sample of dark chocolate wrapped with a message on the inside.

It is a good revelation from a piece of wrinkled wrapper that makes a lot of sense to me as the chocolate melts in my mouth.

Friday, 21 November 2008

I'm Not Crazy, I'm Just A Little Unwell

The title is robbed from Rob Thomas, in case it gives a familiar ring to you. Life can bite back unsuspectingly to make an occasional reminder that we are always at God's mercy. Recently, I recommended to a good friend in KL the supplement that I take which had kept my motor running without a break for months, and guess what? Yesterday I was unwell. I got a sore throat with a mild fever and now I am having congested chest and coughing out phlegm every now and then. A friend of mine told me that it is the change of weather which my body hasn't got used to. I called the office to declare 2 days of sick leave. Something I am not so proud of. But it's better than spreading the bugs to others at workplace. In my 2 days of sick leave, I slept most of the time just to kill the time. When I woke up I cooked for myself. I couldn't bring myself to walk out of the door to eat outside. Luckily, a day before I got sick, I had done food stock-up. So I had cereals with fresh milk, mushroom soup with garlic bread, oranges with yoghurt for breakfast. And nasi goreng for lunch. I have taken the advice from a friend, the mat stylo of dubai, that I should not eat nasi goreng that looks like a hospital unhappy meal. So I had fried decapitated anchovies (without the black internal parts) , shrimps, calamari rings, tomatoes, capsicum, cili padi and eggs, all fried together with the cooked rice in one wok, and I ate right from the wok so I could minimize the dish-washing. It is a plain lie if I say, the taste of the nasi goreng was heaven-like. It's just OK since I am sick and I had it when it's very hot, so my senses couldn't be very judgmental about the actual taste. But if I were to redo it tonight, I will add a few more pinches of salt.

My running training is affected with my health condition. Having to take a few days off from running, I decided it is a perfect time to wash my running shoes. Despite the modern technology we are enjoying today, the method of washing shoes now has not changed much from the way I washed my school shoes when I was seven years old, when velcro and viagra were unheard of . First, I removed the shoe strings, soaked the shoes and the strings in a pail of bubbly soapy water, left them for a few hours and came back to do the scrubbing. The differences, this time, I scrubbed it gently, not to scratch the fabric that characterised Reebok and I got the job done without messing up the bathroom with the white chalked diluted paste or what it was called back then, 'kapor kasut'. Back in the early 80s, I scrubbed my cheap Bata shoes (well, not so cheap back then, but having a pair Bata shoes was better than the Fung Keong's pair) with all the might that a boy could possibly muster, in order to make them spotless and then for the soothing and whitening effect, I applied the white 'kapor kasut' on the fabric and yes, the shoe strings got the same treatment or else the white tone wouldn't match and my mother would nag even on that. So today I have a newly washed pair of shoes that could make any mother proud.

Since I just mentioned my mother, I got a call from my wife, telling me that my younger brother is warded in the hospital for dengue and my mother as expected, is worried sick. Some eight years ago, I had my encounter with the blood-sucker Aedes and consequently, down with dengue, but there was nothing to worry about. I got a jab. Blood was taken everyday to monitor the platelets level. After less than a week, I was fine. But nowadays, dengue has a new twist and the twist can now be deadly. But what can I do here, other that praying for God's mercy, again.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Add Life To Life

"Add Life To Life" is the tag line for Du, one of the telecommunications service provider in the UAE, which I subscribe the cable TV and internet. Unlike Astro, the cable TV services are better since they are not bothered by the rain that may cause interruption. The charge is pricey but it is compensated with newness and varieties in the subscribed channels. One thing that is worth mentioning here, Du is very stringent and efficient in its internet censorship. If you google for any words that linked to pornography, instead of finding images that make you go ga-ga, you got a blue & white screen with the advice, "Add Life To Life". It means porn sites are blocked here for they are seen as non-value adding to life. Some of the blogs and web-sites that condemn the government are also blocked. Some social networking sites like the escort services are blocked as well. However, sometimes we can get the access to the newly launched porn sites with the less suggestive names for their addresses; but after a couple of days, they are blocked eventually. It means, there are eyes out there screening the online traffic coming to the emirates and making immediate report for anything that is not consistent with the moral, cultural and social values of the UAE.

This Du tag line can also be found in its commercial posters. The one I like the most is the image of an old Arab man holding up his hands in a gesture of appreciation to the Almighty in the showering rain. It is an inspiring image. The kind of rain I was anticipating a few days back.

Every time I pay my bills at its outlet in Ibn Battuta Mall, I would look at the poster and relate it to the same euphoric feeling when I watched the the ending of Shawshank Redemption, one of my most memorable movie based on Stephen King's novella. The rain and the free man create the iconic image of adding life to life.
I was troubled today when I saw Orked in her sorry state. Her two white flowers had withered and faded away. I was imagining her like the skin-head Amani trying to prove something; but it is not something that I like. I decided that she is not suitable to be kept indoor. So I took her to the balcony. When I placed her at the centre of the coffee table, it occurred to me that one is such a lonely number. She needs another life to add hers. Something had to be done about it.
I went to Dubai Garden Center to get some friends for Orked. It is a happening place with so many healthy and beautiful plants and trendy gardening gadgets. This place is well kept and managed by the people who take pride in their business. As I entered the building I felt it was like a mirage in the desert.
I bought 2 pots of orchid plants, one with the yellow flowers and the other purple. I name them Ning and Violet, respectively. Recently a celebrated blogger had commented that a plant needs to be sung to, so I figure Ning can do the singing for Orked. While Violet the biggest among the three can be Orked's guardian against naughty bugs (that might sneer at Orked's flowerlessness) and the wild wind that comes with the uninvited sand. The three sisters are placed on the coffee table at the balcony. I can see them from my bed when I wake up in the morning. Outside, their purpose is to display their beauty, to promote their deceptive pollination, and not to add pollution since the don't have pollens to spread. Hereunder is an excerpt from an interesting article about orchid's sexual deception which escapes Du censorship. It explains orchid plants being kinky and naughty by nature.
"The great majority of animal pollinated plants secure the services of their animal pollinators by providing food rewards such as nectar or pollen. However, orchids are exceptional in that perhaps as many as one third of the 30,000 or so species achieve pollination by deception. That is, they lure animal pollinators to the flower by false promises of food, but do not provide any. Most of these species are ‘food deceptive’ falsely advertising the presence of food by bright colors and sweet scents"

I have also adopted the green brothers to become the pioneering members of my little nursery at the corner of the balcony. When these brothers are bigger and stronger they will be kept indoor to supply the oxygen that I need in the bright daylight of Dubai winter.

Well, this is the story from my balcony. It serves to accentuate the original version of "Add Life To Life", nothing else.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Wet Dreams In Dubai

It was in the news that thunderstorm has developed in the offshore areas and moving northwest to southwest across Dubai. In the wee hour, when most of Dubai residents were in the middle of their dreams, probably dreaming about the upcoming big year-end bonus or exotic New Year escapade, the storm clouds reached the space above us. In this early morning, before the sun showed up from the horizon, the clouds shed the rain. For someone who is missing the rain in this desert city, this is big news. For the trees, plants and the grass in Discovery Gardens, the raindrops are the rare treats worth the anticipation. To our disappointment, it didn't rain cats and dogs like we had hoped for. Instead, it rained like wet dreams. Not enough to soak and shiver us, but just enough to leave the stain. As I walked across the parking lot this morning, there were water marks and little puddles on the road. The dust-mixed raindrops left dotted marks on the parked cars. Nevertheless, the little rain left us with the chilly morning breeze and the much needed fresh air to start another day. I took a deep breath. Life goes on.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Love Thy Neighbour For A Lovely Orchid

I thought the phrase 'Love Thy Neighbour' is non-existent in Dubai dwelling community. There is no clue whatsoever who live behind the closed doors of the same floor I live in. Once in long while, I meet some of them in the elevator or at the parking lot. The neigbours are always in a hurry, look either tired or occupied and very few would exchange smiles with me, but our smiles are the faint and the reluctant ones. Here, neighbours talk only in a time of crisis, like two months back when our electricity was cut for a silly reason. We ganged up at the lobby to discuss the action plan. After that, they are lost behind their doors, nowhere to be seen, what more to love and be loved.

Yesterday I found this notice in the elevator. One of my neighbours in the building is leaving the country and offering his personal effects. There was a list of things, but one that captured my attention was the orchid plant. It was 9:40PM on a Thursday night. I figured some folks sleep early or some are sweating and clubbing out there. There is no sense of bugging them at this hour. So I sent an SMS that read, "I'm interested in the orchid. Still available? Can I see? -No 422".

Today, I was in my apartment after my Friday prayer. There was someone at the door ringing my bell. To my disbelief, there was a man holding a pot of white orchid plant. He is the man who posted the notice at the elevator. He is a Canadian who will be back to his home country in a week time. He smiled at me and said the orchid is for me, for free. He asked me to come over to his place if I need anything else. I thanked him and told him I would drop by later. It was not exactly like the prized orchid plants I had seen in the Shah Alam Pesta Anggerik. It is an orchid plant in its simplest form of existence. It has only 2 white flowers, one long stem, one thick green leaf and a cluster of roots.

I call the orchid plant simply "Orked" and I'm her Muhsin admiring her presence in my apartment. I spend some time looking at Orked's details. She has remarkable details despite her simplicity. I make a spot for Orked to reside, next to my family photo frame, my wife's wishing well card, Hadiff's toy bear and Aimi's Mickey pillows . I hope Orked likes her new home.

Later after lunch, I dropped by at the place of my Canadian neighbour. He was a bit surprised to see me with a small bag of assorted chocolates. He accepted the chocolates and he was very excited showing me his other stuffs. I also met his wife, an Indonesian from Surabaya. It was lovely to hear her asking, "Apa khabar?" and I replied "Baik" with a big smile. I told him that I am only interested in small items since I live in a furnished small apartment with little space for new additions. I ended up buying his foldable air mattress with the pump, a Phillip alarm clock that can project the time on the wall in the dark, a box of tools and a Tefal sandwich maker, all for only 100 dirhams. They are very nice couple. Too bad that I only get to know them in the verge of their departure. I wished them "Bon Voyage. Selamat jalan". It is long way to go before Dubai residents from over 200 different nationalities from many corners of earth surface would live the 'Love Thy Neighbour' residential concept. But I have experienced a humble start here, thanks to Orked.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

The Colour Of The Grass

I have seen animals at the zoo at their feeding time. It is supposed to be the second best time for visitors to see the animals in their most jovial moments, next to mating, of course. Today after completing a two-hour run in the neighbourhood, I knelt on the pavement, having my warm down, catching my breath and seeing the feeding time for the grass. It was a bright morning. The grass was absorbing the morning sunlight. It was also the time of the day, the water sprinkler was activated to send droplets of water to wet the grass leaf down to its root.

There is nothing jovial about the whole process. Other than the hissing sound of the sprayed water, it is the silent work of nature. As I stabilized my heartbeat after the run, the grass was executing the work of nature as explained in this article, which is condensed as follow.

"To our human eye the grass seems to be all green, but is that true, or is it an illusion. Looking through a microscope the individual plant cells that can be seen are not that green after all. Instead, they are mostly transparent, but each cell contains around 50 to 100 tiny green dots, called chloroplasts. This is where the light sensitive chlorophyll is found and where the process of photosynthesis happens. The chloroplast is like a tiny bay with even smaller bags inside called thylakoids . The green chlorophyll molecules are embedded in the surface of the thylakoids and carefully arranged in two types of photosytems, known as PS1 and PS2. Each taking care of a specific job in the steps of photosynthesis. When the sunlight hits the surface of the thylakoid, PS2 chlorophyll molecules catch it, specifically the red light of a specific wavelength. The thylakoid of the PS1 arrays catch the light from a different longer wavelength. At the same time chlorophyll and other molecules for example carotenoids absorb the violet and blue light. From all the wavelengths that fall on the grass, only one light is useless to them and this colour is simply reflected away, like a mirror. The colour of useless light to the plants is the green light that we see with our eyes."

Seeing is believing, that is what we have been told. It holds truth for many things in life, but not everything. It requires some knowledge to know when we should not trust our eyes. But then again, in a mainstream living, there is no point arguing that the grass is truly a transparent thing with tiny green dots. The grass is simply, either green, greener and dead brown.

Running on the 'green' grass helps me to recuperate faster, after each run. I hardly feel the little sensation on the joint of my left leg after the long run, which I sometimes feel after chasing the pavement. My running pace has gradually improved. I feel guilty though that I may have been seen running and raping the grass. I will continue to do so until one day I see the notice of "Keep Off The Grass", which has yet been on the spotlight of Dubai Municipality list of trendy things to introduce in its urban planning & control.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

The Weeds and Their Wonder

The weed has been an intriguing subject of my recent interest, besides running, recuperating and working in-between. I'm not referring to the dried weeds that make a junkie goes high which, a friend of mine had found the best kind in Amsterdam. Those are not allowed in Dubai. It's about the living weeds that have been filling up the space of my previous blog posts and the little garden in front of my building. In the vacuum of my time and in the episode of nothingness, I had tried to search for their identity but instead, I found a description that made me toying with thoughts and reflecting the reality.

"Weeds, as a class, have much in common with criminals. When not engaged in nefarious activities both may have admirable qualities, a thief may have been an affectionate husband and father outside business hours, an aggressive weed in one environment may be a charming wild flower in another" - The New Naturalist : Weeds and Aliens

In simple terms, a bad guy can be good, an ugly guy can be beautiful and perhaps vice versa. This makes it difficult for a cop to trace a suspect, a judge and his jury to reach a verdict, and ordinary people like us, to make our judgment on somebody, on something. Still, in our daily lives, in the era of Ordinary-Joe-has-something-to-say-and-blog-about, we judge easily, we reason conveniently and we get satisfaction making our opinions heard, loud and clear, though they might be far from the truth. The lesson that I have learnt about the existence of the weeds is, what we see, hear, read and talk about may not be exactly what it really is, we have blind spots, our object has its camouflage and there is political stimulus. Life is a continuous great discovery, for those who don't jump a little too early into conclusion. On the other hand, life is a shameless stage of contagious hate and disgust for those who are already stuck in the fallacy.

Today, the weeds in the Discovery Garden, as if they had served their purpose, ended their showcase. Like primadonas taking off their wigs at the backstage, their glorious growth has been reduced into the shape of alien eggs erected on the sand. It would take some time before I see them again in their best form.

In the meantime, I have 39 days before completing a big deadline at work, 42 days before my wife & kids coming for a visit, 55 days before getting into the new year, 58 days before flying home and 70 days before running in my first marathon.