Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sizzling Singapore Summer - Part 1

I will never be able to forget the way she looked up at me lying down in bed. The look will shall forever remain in my memories. The moment I saw her, only a few days ago, it was lust at first sight. Yes, LUST, and not love nor like, and we both knew it was never going to last the moment our eyes met.

The days we spent together went fast. Two days was long enough for a fire to engulf the both of us, but too short for it to ever mean anything. We spent every second of my short time here in Singapore together, in the confinement of the cheap hotel room we found on such short notice. Our belongings dumped in the hotel's locker room, there was nothing to disturb us upstairs.

It was a rainy day, the day we met. I was feeling gloomy myself, just coming out of the Kwan Yin Temple at Bugis. Against all my non-adherence to the principles of astrology and soothsaying, I went in to pray. I had not set foot in this temple for almost 5 years, when I used to frequent it back in my Singapore days. The familiar scent of incense of the joss sticks, the cluttered shoes surrounding the central carpet, sound of clicking bamboo of the Cham Si... it all brought back fond long ago memories of rituals i've done over the 6-7 years around my education in Singapore. I was happy and free then. And after 9 years, I find myself drawn towards finding out my fortune, written on a flimsy piece of pink paper.

I asked how my life would be for the new year. Prediction BAD. All I remembered was, my crops/silk worms would fail, I will lose a court case, I should think about moving house, pregnancy will be dangerous, business will fail, my investments will drop. I specifically asked about my love life, but i guess I really should be worrying about other things. It did end by saying I will persevere. But it didn't really sound like I will.

I struggled with the umbrella I brought. Perhaps it was old and rusty, or perhaps I didn't know how to use it, but with a hundred things going through my mind at that time. My clothes soaked up the falling rain, my shoes soaking up whichever raindrop that missed. Already, I was not happy with what I have achieved over the last year. The girl that I liked rejected me. I did not get into any program to further my studies. I lost a great deal of money on poor investments. Knowing the dark future ahead, I was ready to break down and create my own puddle of tears.

Then, she appeared out of nowhere. She was holding up an umbrella over me, and she was smiling at me. At first I was stunned. Why would anyone stop and help this crazy guy sitting in the rain trying to open a rolled up newspaper, shouting vulgarities? But she was pretty. I wouldn't say she's the model I-want-to-have-sex-with-her type of hot. But there was just something about her that made my heart flutter. All I could think of was how she must be a really kind soul that helps anyone in need, and she probably will save the next guy who has a nervous breakdown in the middle of the street in the rain as well. To her, I was probably one of the damsels in distress who can't even take care of himself. I looked down at my wet shoes.

"Let's go get you dry."

I was stunned. She held my hand and pulled me to the sheltered walkway. Her hand was both cold and warm at the same time. I could tell that she was in the cold rain for a while, but yet her hands stayed relatively warm. It was like magnetic or magical touch, as I felt a jolt of electricity that made my heart pump even faster. She let my hand go and closed her umbrella. Without thinking, I started walking. I can't remember whether I was following her or she was following me, but we walked on for a while.

"Where do you live?" she asked me.

"I'm not from around here," I finally managed to say. "I'm here on holidays."

She smiled and told me that she lived on the other side of the island. Then she suggested something that I would never have thought she would, "Let's check in at the next hotel we see and get you dry."

I just nodded. And soon found ourselves in a small room in the SEA hotel.

I then sat down at the bed and stared into nothing. So much had to happen to me, and now this; A beautiful young lady who came to my rescue, looking so alluring and compassionate. I don't know what was written on my face, but she sensed that my mind was cluttered with worries and burdens. She told me that everything happens for a reason. I didn't pay much attention to what she was saying then. It was something along the lines of salt, and hope and believing, and smiling.

"I like it when you smiled back at the temple."

"You were watching me?"

"I have a confession to make. I am strangely attracted to you since I saw you at the temple. I cannot explain it. And when I saw you sitting in the rain, I knew I had to meet you."

I tried hard to digest what I have just heard. "You're really pretty, too," was all I could muster.

Then she laughed. Her laugh was even more alluring. As if I needed another reason to fall for her more. I smiled.

After a short pause, she came up to me and started undoing the top button of my shirt. I was again stunned, but I stood up in surprise. She held her spot and I found myself standing right in front of her, the lumps of her breasts just touching my chest. She still smiled and continued unbuttoning my shirt. Her eyes, after undoing the second button looked at my lips, and I knew that she wanted to kiss them. I let her finish the buttons and I slowly leaned forward to kiss her. I did not encounter any rejection and she leaned forward to meet mine.

I licked her lips, encouraging her to open them. She reciprocated and we were engaged in an intensifying french kiss. She pulled off my shirt and slowly run her warm magnetic touch down my chest. I put my hands around her waist and back, and pulled her closer. I rubbed her back as sensually as I remembered how. I didn't know how far she wanted to go, but she lifted up her blouse a little and directed my hand to the back of her bra. I stalled, but continued caressing her back. She quickly undid her blouse and threw it to the side. Her hands dug into my back, and I took it as a signal that she wanted the bra off NOW. I complied and unclasped her bra with a quick pinch.

She drew back and smiled at me. Her eyes seemed to sparkle, making it the second most memorable moment. She was so beautiful.

(( insert detailed erotic description here ))

to be continued?

~~~ this writing is purely fictional ~~~

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Epic Egyptian Experience - 21 January 2011

I have to say, last night was the best night on this journey so far. I guess that the 5-star conditions finally set in for me. Or maybe it was because I lack sleep from the long journeys, interrupted hours, and uncomfortable seats. I was dead tired, so much so that I could not hear my brother snoring at all. I didn’t even hear him get up, or his alarm ringing. I had a very comfortable bed with nice cooling blankets, and air conditioning, and I really wanted to just continue sleeping there. It wasn’t that I wanted to continue dreaming. Strangely, I was dreaming about hospital and work.

Anyway, my brother finally woke me up, as we were to head to our first stop of the day, the Temple of Edfu. The temple is also known as the Temple of Horus, where it was fabled that Horus resides.

Our guide also explained the basic layout of the Egyptian temples. The first thing you will see is the great wall entrance, or pylons. These walls were huge, with 4-6 flagpoles in front and murals carved into them, usually signifying the person who made it and who the temple was for. The pylons then opened into the open court, where commoners are able to congregate to pray or give offerings to the gods and priests. This court also would have a row of pillars just inside the walls of the temple. Another set of pillars is found in the Hypostyle Hall, which is a roofed portion of the temple, open only to priests and royalty. Then at the end of the temple, there will be a sanctuary, where the idol of the God would sit. In this case, there would be a statue of Horus sitting in an altar in the sanctuary. Variations of this layout would incorporate the side rooms for making perfumes, incense, surgical tools etc.

Every year, the priests would organise for Horus’ wife, Harthor, to be brought from her temple to meet up with Horus in his temple. During that time, there would be a large feast that would last a week, celebrating their reunion. Both of the statues of Horus and Harthor would be placed together in the sacred chamber and they would supposedly do what married couples do.

It is such an interesting concept that is polytheism. Just like the Greek and Romans, the Egyptians worshipped many Gods, in the forms of human like behaviour; Gods having wars with one another, killing each other, consummating and producing offspring. What was different was that the Egyptian Gods also had heads of animals, like Horus, Sobek, Bastet, Anubis. Each God had different rituals to them, which had to be done to the letter, as not to anger them.

The culture of the ancient Egyptians was so strong, such that the Greek and Romans who came to conquer Egypt were captivated by the culture and kept it going, despite them having their own believes and rituals to follow.

Then, suddenly about 2 thousand years ago, it all changed, polytheism was looked down on. The so-called Gods were too human like in nature, fallible. Perhaps their beliefs were shattered when they found another civilization that flourished under different Gods. So the idea of monotheism, where there was only one true God and this God is all encompassing, omniscient, omnipresent, Omni-whatever. And before you know it, Islam spread across the nation and stuck.

I find it surprising that Christianity did not stay long. Even though the Holy Crusade extended its reign and left their mark in the temples, Islam still prevailed. Perhaps by the time they reached Egypt, the Crusaders were corrupted and conquered with tyranny and corruption, instead of the noble idea that it was originally from. The temples were defaced, graffitied with their crucifies, and even the sacred temples were defiled by common folk entering them, pillaging and looting. The ceiling, as our guide pointed out, still bore the soot that came from the fires that were made by the Crusaders.

Even now, new graffiti can be seen added to the walls, despite all the signs as to not touch the wall placed everywhere. I would very much like my name to be on such a historical site, but don’t they ever think that if everyone does it, there won’t be a historical site any more?

Fortunately, most of the structure still remained intact. The magnificent front wall of the temple still stood strong, almost complete. The murals still retained most of their carvings and some even still have their paint intact.

I just hope that the amount that we pay to visit all these sites will be used for the restoration or protection of these ruins. Interestingly, the Arabic/Islamic countries only need to pay 2LE, or 1LE if they are a student. I cannot think of the logic behind that, but it does attract tourists from Africa and the Middle East, including Egyptians themselves. We joked about picking up Arabic, just so that we can pull off being from an Arabic country and only pay 2LE and avoid tips.

We learnt an interesting phrase from 4 local post-grads on holiday. “Ana Mesri” meaning, “I’m Egyptian.” They were in the same tour group as us, sharing the same guides. They were a friendly bunch, and we became friends. Being Egyptians, they were a source of useful information, like where to go, where to eat. My father would be sharing his frightful experience with the traffic in Cairo, and complain about giving tips everywhere, and listened to their explanation of their life in Cairo. Their presence definitely added to the experience.

It made me think about what I would be able to say about my own country. Honestly speaking, I have nothing nice to say about Malaysia, nothing good to share. Perhaps I could talk about the beautiful jungles and scenery, or wonderful food, which can all be found all over the world. To cut things short, I am not patriotic at all towards Malaysia and I am glad that I am not living there.

I guess one thing that I appreciated from Malaysia is that I learnt how to respect other religions, races, traditions and cultures, something even Malaysians don’t ever learn. When in Rome, do as Romans do… or in this case, ~Walk like an Egyptian~

The Epic Egyptian Experience - 20 January 2011

The next ruins we visited were in Abu Simbel, 3 hours away by bus. This meant that we had to wake up at the ungodly hour of 2 am, to be able to make it at sunrise. Of course, we missed the sunrise again, being in the bus. I was on the West side, so I had lots of shots of the fading moon instead.

The bus was much more pack than usual. I should clarify that this microbus, what we termed it, was a larger than normal van that had a 5 rows of 2-1 seats, and the passageway was made such that it could hold one more seat per row, which was what they did. If that wasn’t bad enough, I had to choose the seat where the wheel was, so I had no legroom at all. Fortunately I could not sleep, so I could constantly move as to not let my leg fall asleep, or cramps, or clots.

And it being a 3-hour ride, with no stops in between, we had to put our bladders to the test. All I could think of was that the human bladder can hold 600mls and the kidney produces 60mls an hour of urine. Technically we would be able to hold for 10 hours. Of course, statistics never do us justice.

Abu Simbel ruins were worth it though. Again the ruins were reconstructed from another site a few meters below, now submerged underwater by Lake Nasser. To think that we drove 3 hours and we were still at the lake made by the dam at Aswan.

One of the 2 temples had the 4 large statues of the Egyptian Pharaoh, Ramesses II, that were 3 stories tall. It was not as big as Mt Rushmore, but putting into consideration that these were built in ancient times without the use of modernized tools of today, it really is a marvel. Not only was it a temple dedicated to Ra-Horakhty, Ptah and Amun, and to Ramesses himself, but the temple was made as a symbol of supremacy over the surrounding area, to make the population feel puny and insignificant standing beside them. I dare say that they achieved their goal.

The second temple a few hundred meters away had 6 smaller statues; this time was of Ramesses II’s wife, Nefertari, portrayed as Harthor. You were still dwarfed by the size of the statues. Like the other statues, these also were entrances to a temple inside. Photographs were strictly forbidden inside the temple, but they had similar layouts. The temple had different chambers with pillars and walls full of engraving and hieroglyphics. They probably told glorious tales of the kings and gods.

The perimeter of the ruins had a fence, patrolled by guards both on land and in the lake. The Tourism Police was what they were called. Taking bribes was their job, after looking after the place from actual thieves. They would offer to take your pictures, for a small price. They will offer to take you to forbidden areas for a price.

After an hour, we started our way back to the microbus and it was another 3-hour journey back to Aswan. We arrived back at the hotel just in time for lunch. We said goodbye to our fellow companions from the microbus and quickly finished what was left on the buffet table. Shortly after, the cruise set sail.

Did I mention that our hotel was on a cruise ship?

The “Aton” was the name of our cruise ship, one of over 400 such ships going up and down the Nile. Our ship was not as lavish as some others, but it was still deemed as a 5-star hotel. The ship was not as big as ocean liners, but would probably fit 5 stacks of 9 average size busses. The top deck was carpeted in synthetic grass with a small swimming pool at the front. There were also many chairs for sunbathing under the Egyptian sun and watching the scenery passing by. Despite cruising slowly along the Nile, it was so stable. If you kept still for long enough, you could feel the engine churning, but otherwise, indoors, you would not know that we were actually moving.

Our next destination was the town of Kom Ombo, housing another set of ruins, a temple for both Horus and Sobek. Much to my dismay, we did not wait for the guide to explain what was going on. So we ended up exploring aimlessly around the ruins without knowing what the temple is for. We eaves drop on the other tour groups, their guides explaining various bits of information here and there. Eventually, I managed get an accelerated explanation from our original guide. He described the Egyptian calendar, which was engraved onto one of the walls. It turns out that the Egyptians also had 365-day calendars, also divided into 12 months. However, they had 10 days in a week, and 3 weeks in a month, with the extra days for God celebrations. Their calendar also corresponded with the seasons, such as for harvesting.

It is interesting to know that an ancient civilization like this followed a solar cycle, rather than the lunar one that we see in almost all the other civilizations. The lunar calendar was probably easier to follow on a daily basis and the moon phases are easily predictable. However when you worship a sun god, like Amun-Ra, I guess you should follow a solar calendar instead.

Ra soon set on us, and it grew dark, so we had to make our way back to the cruise ship, and before we knew it, we set sail again down the Nile.

The Epic Egyptian Experience - 19 January 2011

The next leg of our journey was a 15-hour train ride from Cairo to Aswan. We started at 2200hrs yesterday and the train slowly made it’s way down alongside the River Nile. Unfortunately, the so-called First Class cabin’s windows were hazy with mildew. We could just make out silhouettes of date trees under the moonlight. We were at first disappointed, but we will eventually be cruising down the Nile soon.

The cabin had space for 6 people, but for the first 30 minutes we enjoyed the extra 2 seats. Eventually, a group of French people boarded the train at Giza, taking up the last 2 spots. They weren’t a friendly bunch, I guess mainly because they don’t speak English. But it was late at night anyway, so we just minded out own business and tried to get as much sleep as we could.

I did not get a good night’s rest. The seat did not incline enough to get a good backrest, there was no pillow or support for my head, and the constant droning of the train tracks was more than an annoyance than anything. I decided to keep my iPhone’s player on for as long as the battery would last. Surprisingly, it lasted me the night and still had 50% left.

In the morning, the French group left, and the two seats were then filled up again by newly weds from Jordan. Fortunately, they were much friendlier and kept us entertained in this long train journey. And at last we reached Aswan, home to the famous Aswan Dam and Upper Dam, an hour late. We got down from the train, said goodbye to the couple and to 2 other Chinese girls from the next cabin, wishing them a wonderful holiday…

Only to meet them again on our way to see the Dams and Philae ruins. Although we were in different hotels, our itinerary were organised by the same guides it turns out. The Dams were huge, one built after the other, one bigger than the other. It was not as big as the Hoover Dam, it was not even really unique. Why we paid 20LE for it, I still do not understand.

After the 10 minutes allocated to take photographs, we had to leave for the Philae ruins. The ruins were relocated after the dams were built, when the lake behind the dam was formed. The ruins were more majestic than the ones that were in display at the Museum, and having a guide to tell us a bit more about the history of the place was really better. He told us of the story of the Gods, Isis and Osiris, and Seth, of how Seth killed Osiris and scattered his remains all across Egypt and how Iris had to grow wings to scavenge for his remains. Eventually, Osiris was reformed and Isis gave birth to Horus. Horus then waged war against Seth, and lost his eye in the process. Horus was gifted an eye, which was as powerful as a falcon’s eye. That is why Horus is always depicted as having a falcon’s head.

Our guide also told us the history of the ruins, having 3 different influences incorporated into the ruins; the Greek, Roman, and the Holy Crusade. All of which left their markings on the Egyptian architecture. In modern times, it was called vandalism. The pillars that once bore the hieroglyphics of the tales of Isis and Orisis, now had random Greek writing and crucifixes carved into them. Almost all the faces of the carvings were scratched out, particularly the face of Isis, as it had more male features, so says the guide. Also, the Christians shunned polytheism.

The ruins were as tall as a 3-story building, and to think that they had to cut it up, transport it to higher ground, and reassembled piece by piece. Just like a 3D jigsaw puzzle, only actual size. It was one of many such ruins along the Nile that had been relocated because of the dam.

The ruins were located on an island in the reservoir lake, Lake Nasser. We had to ferry across in a motor-powered boat. The boat ride allowed us to, for the first time of our lives, touch the waters if the River Nile. Maybe it was just my imagination, but touching the water felt different than touching any other water. It was sort of thicker, as though mixed with algae from being stagnant behind the dam for so long. It also looked darker than normal fresh water, supporting my theory. I was so tempted to drink from it as well, but the thought of having gastroenteritis at this point in our vacation stopped me.

We got back an hour before dinner, so we decided to visit the Aswan bazaar. The Al-Khalil bazaar that we went to yesterday was more crowded than this one. Yesterday, we had to traverse the slum areas inside the walled section of Islamic Cairo, through alleys, through mud and dirt. When we finally got there, it was a real busy market place. There were vendors everywhere, even approaching you announcing, “1 Dollar, 1 Dollar!” “Everything 5 Pound!” It was easy to get lost in the bazaar, lost in the crowd and lost in the price wars. Luckily the taxi driver warned us, “Look yes, No buy.” Which was what we did.

The bazaar in Aswan, although less crowded, felt much bigger. The streets themselves were wider and we had more room to navigate through. The vendors were just as aggressive, approaching us, spewing out all their greetings in the Asian languages. Being friendly, they ask where we are from, welcoming us into their stores. When you have nothing to buy, it was easy to just smile and politely say no.

Unfortunately, when I am in a manic mood, there was so much I want to buy. And once I get reeled in, I find it hard to turn them away. So I left with two souvenirs, much to my family’s disapproval. There was a big silence on our way back to the hotel.

I guess I would never be able to survive in Egypt. I don’t like bargaining because I am never good at it, and I am always the one who gives in first. In my defence, the peddlers are still trying to earn a living; I’m giving them charity. My mother told me not to be so soft hearted.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Epic Egyptian Experience - 18 January 2011

One of the places in Cairo that was mention worthy was the Egyptian Museum of Cairo, where most of the artefacts recovered from the various pyramids are displayed. These ranged from huge stone gateways, or what was left of them, to tiny figurines made as jewellery. All of them tagged and numbered, for ease of cataloguing by the curators. Evidently, there was a joint venture between the Egyptians and the Japanese going on and the artefacts were presumably going somewhere…

What disappointed me about the museum was it was all for show, and nothing much to describe the culture. There were small cards with a short description of the artefact in display, but that was it. There was no family tree, no epic tales, and no folklore. It was really, to me, a display of rocks and really old stuff.

Perhaps if we did pay extra for a guide to take us around and describe what was going on, it would have been a better experience. They would be telling us interesting things like the paint on this statue was of its original state, or those hieroglyphics depict the tale of someone doing something epic, or these sarcophagus contained the body of so and so’s niece and her viscera were contained over the other side of the museum.

I was also disappointed because my favourite part of Egyptian history, the animal gods, was not clearly defined. After spending 3 hours in the museum, I only could name a few of them; Osiris, Horus (raptor), Sakhmet (Lion, goddess of war), Anubis (jackal), Bastet (cat), Isis (winged).

There were many hieroglyphics on various walls and papyrus, of which I could only imagine told tales of glory or adventure. I found small scarab shaped talismans with hieroglyphics, described to contain the story of a wedding, and another about a hunting party. As I do not know how to read them, I could only joke and infer that these hieroglyphics were probably some kid’s picture book, or the stories are actually newspapers comics. But I guess the experts have deciphered it and they ARE what they say they are.

I was also intrigued when we got the section of practical artefacts. Not the figurines but proper everyday items. Items that are essentially unchanged over the millenniums that we still use today. A wooden device with long teeth arranged neatly in a row, A COMB! A hand held device with a metal paddle, beautifully decorated, A MIRROR! A straight, long device with markings on them, A RULER! A hollow tube with small holes at strategic points, A FLUTE! An upside down V with a piece of string tied from the angle to a weight, A THINGAMAGIC THAT FINDS STRAIGHT ANGLES!

The other section that intrigued me was the jewellery. Not so much of how shiny and colourful they are, but some of them were se elaborate, and made up from tiny pieces of material. I could not fathom how they made such tiny little beads, smaller than the ones I were using, and weaving them so tightly together. There were also shaped components, smaller than your fingernail, with intricate detail, like the eyes, or feathers.

I won’t say that the museum was a total waste, but it would have really been better if there were more information about their life and culture of the world oldest civilization. It would have also been better if they actually let us take photos in there.

Jumping forward in time to the last few centuries, we visited the Citadel, housing Islamic Egypt. Inside the walls, were a few mosques and the military museum. The mosques were magnificent, both on the inside and the outside. The first one had 2 rows of pillars on the inside circumference, each pillar had a tale to tell. The decorations around the top were different from each other. One of them even had a cross, signifying that the “Holy Crusade wuz here”. Others, we’ve been told, were from Greek, Roman origin, some from Luxor, Persia and others I did not catch.

The second mosque was more majestic that the first. The inside was lit with a thousand lights and chandeliers made from crystals. The dome was beautifully decorated with murals, as though it was made from stained glass. The carpet subtly had decorated rectangles, arranged for worshippers for tier prayers. There was also a beautiful golden door situated just off the centre of the room, leading to a flight of golden staircase.

Jumping ahead in time to the last few decades, the military museum showcased the latest wars that Egypt was involved in, particularly World War 2 and their independence. Again, the museum did not capture my attention. The writings on the wall were in broken English and did not seem to follow any particular order. I could not clearly see Egypt’s involvement in the war. At the end of the museum, there was a Hall of Martyrs, with hundreds of photos of war heroes, and a miniature of the commemorative structure of these martyrs, but again, no caption.

The citadel was also situated on a hill overlooking the whole of Cairo.

A snapshot of Cairo does no justice to the city. A photo would only tell you that Cairo was perpetually in a mystical fog or haze or mist, which doesn’t seem to lift at any time of the day. The pyramids were barely visible in the far distance. You can clearly see the scattered bricks, of never finished buildings or ones that have crumbled, Almost all the of them were coloured with dust and dull colours, like the city have not been looked after for a long time. Visually, you knew that the city was alive though, because of the fresh colourful litter that were scattered in the streets. The other thing that ensured you that the city was alive is the sounds of cars beeping and their engines roaring. Then every now and then, you would hear whole city in prayer, the mosques booming in unison. You could even feel the ground reverberating beneath you. The city of Cairo was very much alive.

That was our trip through the history of Egypt in 1 day.

The Epic Egyptian Experience - 17 January 2011

Night Life
I’ve been to camps before – staying out in the middle of the jungle, staying in classrooms of our haunted school and in our own backyard. Camping in the desert was different. It was how the nomads of African deserts lived for centuries, and we are keeping that tradition alive. Of course, we had our trusty 4WD, but we got down into the sand to make the experience as real as possible.

Like every other camp, there was a campfire. I did not see how it was lighted up, but the fire got going almost immediately. It was necessary as the wintery white cold sand was beginning to chill us to the bone. We all gathered around the fire to warm ourselves up, while the cook went to prepare the food. Dinner was simple; roast chicken, rice and vegetable stew. After dinner, we gathered around the fire again to have a bit of minted Egyptian tea.

They also taught us a board game, of which I cannot find the name. It was played traditionally in the desert sand, using a 3x3 grid. Each of the 2 players has 3 pieces arranged in a row in front of them. Taking turns, each player shifts one piece at a time to the remaining empty spots. The objective of the game, is to form another line of 3 pieces other than the original one, either in a row, column or diagonally. It may sound simple, but can prove to be challenging.

Our other entertainment for the night, as with every camp, was song and music and dance. Despite being in a desert, in the middle of nowhere, no signs of civilization as far as the eye can see, spirits were high. Instead of sharing ghost stories, they were singing songs were about love and beautiful girls.

Having only one young female in the camp, she was the target of many flirting from the locals. She, as with her husband, is a doctor back in Malta, where they were from. Malta, as it turns out, is a country island half the size of Singapore. The couple explained that it was one of the last countries to gain its independence from the British rule and is now part of the European Union. That gave us an idea of where it was, but no one knew where this country sharing the initials MAL with us was. Malta, is situated south of Sicily.

The night grew colder and my parents and brother retired into the warmth of the 4WD while I continued to play around with my camera. The skies were not as clear as I would like but I had some good shots. As I explored further, I spotted a desert fox, one of our unexpected guests for the night.

This was my first encounter with wild animals in the desert and you can only imagine how excited I was. I quickly alerted my parents, and grabbed my telescopic lens and flashgun. I took as many shots as I could, before the bright light of the camera flash eventually chased it away. I could not wipe the smile off my face.

Our other unexpected guests were from the other camp, 4 young, pretty Asian girls and their guide. They were probably lured by the lively music of our camp. They joined in the song and danced around the fire. Being the shy guy as I am, all I did was took photographs. Before I could muster any courage to approach the group, they decided that it was time for bed and left for their own campsite.

Our guides erected the tents, as fast as you could tell the joke:
“I’m a tepee! I’m a wigwam! I’m a tepee! I’m a wigwam!”
“Relax man. You’re two tents (too tensed)”

The night was cold. We had to use thick heavy carpets to wrap ourselves up. For me, all was well until at about 4 am, when I woke up as usual. It was raining. I had to use a second layer of carpet, and even that was not enough. That was how cold it was. From then on, it was a restless cold night. Even the guides were saying, it was the first drop of rain for over 10 years in the desert. I lay in the tent curled up, with 4 layers of clothes, and 2 inches of blankets around me, wishing that the rain would stop by the time the sun rises.

Alas, the rain didn’t stop and the sun did not rise. The cloud cover was thick and dark. The rain was icy cold. The sand was as damp as the sand in the shoreline. The wind was freezing. There wasn’t much we could do, apart from taking photos of the cold scenery. We could not have any breakfast, and all we could do was pack up and head for Bahariya.

It was such a disappointment that it had to rain the day that we were in the desert. The trip back was just a reverse of what we saw on the way to the campsite, finally ending up on the bus back to Cairo, catching up on sleep that we’ve lost in the desert cold. Before we knew it, we were back in Cairo, just in time to see the sunset and the brief nightlife in downtown Cairo.

We walked across the Nile, to a little park. Annoyingly, it had an entrance fee of 1LE but since it was so cheap, we paid and went in anyway. The lights from across the river was no Clarke Quay, but it was still quite colourful. After walking by the other occupants of the park, I realised that this is a supposedly romantic and secluded spot for young couples. It wasn’t particularly romantic, I thought, and it was definitely not secluded. But the park was full of benches and couples engaged in their own little world, enjoying each other’s company without any care or concern of things around them.

We left them to their own, and headed back to the hostel, passing through the busy streets of Downtown Cairo. Downtown Cairo is like Sungei Wang – Bukit Bintang, but extended to whole district. The streets were brightly lit with the various neon lights, advertising the numerous products the shops had to offer. The streets were filled with peddlers and pedestrians, each going about their business, very much like Pudu Raya on a daily basis. The only thing missing was pirated DVDs.

That was the two extreme ends, I would say, of how nights can be in Egypt; the one of nomadic campfires, and the other with colourful neon lights of a busy city.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Epic Egyptian Experience

16 January 2011

It was evident how jet lagged I was when I woke up snugly and warm in bed… at 2 in the morning. I did manage to catch a few more hours of sleep, but I knew they were just restless naps. Doesn’t matter, today’s trip gave me the opportunity to catch up on some more sleep. Today, we head deep into the desert.

It was a 5-hour bus ride to Bahariya, an oasis city that houses 40,000 people, it’s conditions very similar to the generic Arabian towns seen in all those movies. Instead of sand coloured walls, it was mostly white chalky bricks. The city was alive, with everyone going about their normal daily activities. The main road was paved but covered with litter found in every other country and caked mud. The smaller streets and alleys were the basic gravel/sand, with fewer potholes than the paved one.

The bus ride was long, going alongside the train tracks. The scenery was rather plain and repetitive; sand, sand, rock, sand, ooo nice rocky formation, sand, rock covered with sand… you get the picture. If you don’t I took a few dozen for your viewing pleasure.

After alighting from the bus, we were hurried off in a 4WD truck and departed from Bahariya. We first passed through a desert with many little hills scattered across it, both were covered with black granite, which gives it the name, Black Desert. Our first stop was one of those granite-covered hills. It looked majestic from the foot, and the scenery was promised to be just as great.

For a person who is scared of heights like me, it was a daunting trip up. My feet grew cold, my hands shivered, as all blood seemed to have drained from them. My heart pounded with fear, screaming at me to stop climbing and think about the even scarier trip down. I could not look up and dare not look down. I stared into the ground and slowly made my way up, with the promise of a magnificent panoramic view in mind. I will say, the trip was worth the effort.

The trip down… was just as nerve wrecking.

Next stop was lunch, which was what I think is a typical meal, of the bread, yogurt salad, normal salad, dhal… and potato chips fresh out of a Pringle’s bag. The only thing that I can say is that the meal just makes me crave meat.

After that short break, we were on the road again, to the White Desert. The White Desert was indeed white, made from chalky limestone as far as the eye can see. With the matching temperature, the guide appropriately welcomed us to Alaska. The White Desert is one of the National Parks of Egypt, and hence an entrance fee was imposed on us. Also, there were many checkpoints along the road, which I would not be able to tell you what they were for. Egypt being Egypt, our guide drove off road into the desert to by pass all the checkpoints. Driving on desert sand is scary, listening to the roar of the wheels skidding through, vehicle threateningly swerving and wavering but never loosing its ground. Thank God for the 4WD, but I think I would have preferred a dune buggy.

The two main attractions in the White Desert were the Crystal Mountain and the stone formations scattered across the desert. The Crystal Mountain was named so because of the abundance of quart crystals with their sharp jagged edges and subtle lustre.

Next was the essentially our camping grounds, surrounded by huge rock formations made from limestone. Weathering and erosion over the years carved the rocks, akin to the Pinnacles in Western Australia. There were name shaped and sizes, including mushrooms, a camel, sphinx, and a chicken beside a tree.

Unfortunately, in our excitement, we missed the time and missed the sunset. The whether was not kind as well, and defiantly placed clouds directly over the setting sun. Fortunately, we managed to acquire wonderful pictures of the ‘sunset.’

Shortly after, we arrived at our campsite. A fire was made and we sat around the fire, played games and sang campfire songs. We also shared camp with a doctor couple from Malta, an island country smaller than Singapore. The wife provided endless entertainment, being the only young female around and subjected to the flirting from the locals.

Dinner was simple, roast chicken, rice and vegetable stew. We gulped it down hungrily, and that was the first bit of meat I had in 24 hours. Desert was an orange and we continued our campfire entertainment over a cup of mint Egyptian tea.

It got colder throughout the night and my family retired into the warmth of the truck, I stayed out taking more photos of the night desert scene.

I also got more excited when we were visited by 2 unexpected guests. One of them was a desert fox. It was actually kind of expected as we did have some nice smelling food, and one of our guides is a master as making goat sounds. I managed to get my first shot of wild animals in Egypt.

The other guest was the other camp, which had 4 pretty Asian girls. They were probably lured by the lively music from our entertainers. They joined in song and dance, and all I did was take photos. No wonder I am still single.

Eventually the night had to end, and we headed back into our tents…

The Epic Egyptian Experience

15 January 2011

It was a painstaking 13-hour flight, chasing the sunrise. You would imagine that you would actually gain the number of hours in the day by crossing several time zones, but unfortunately, I gained them in the middle of the night. So, it was a long, long night. A long restless night. And to add insult to injury, they made us taxi from one end of the runway to the other, where the terminal was.

But nevertheless, we were in EGYPT!

Customs was easy, we got through without much problems. We navigated our way to our baggage claim and headed out to meet our driver, Ahmed. We definitely needed a driver, because driving in Egypt is CRAZY.

The Egyptians mastered driving and made it into an art. It made driving in KL and Penang like driving in a n empty parking lot. Traffic lights have no meaning, zebra crossings are just paint on the road, traffic police are just for bribing. Cars weave in and out as and when they like, all they need was a toot of the horn. Jay walking was also rampant, but certain traffic conditions made it almost impossible to squeeze in between the cars. There were no motorcycles, just for that reason.

What surprises me is that there were no accidents. No accidental bumps, no near miss scratches, no road raging (thus far). Most of the cars were scratched and full of bumps, some had broken windows, and all of them caked in dried mud and sand. With that type of driving, you cannot possibly get out of the car, scream and yell at the other driver waving a clobbering stick; you’re equally at fault. Despite all that chaos, everyone is careful.

After a short break at the hostel, Ahmed drove us to see the pyramids. The first set of pyramids was in the Dashur district. It was just a one simple basic pyramid and another a few kilometres away that was the Bent Pyramid, Snofru. That pyramid was out of bounds, protected by the military. The first one, the Red Pyramid is the last and most complete pyramid, we get to enter. It was a steep climb up to the entrance, and then a steep climb down through a tunnel to the centre of the pyramid. All the artefacts have been removed to the museum, so there was nothing much to see. But it was still worth it; I have now been into one of the mysterious pyramid.

Ahmed then took us to the second set of pyramids; in Saqqara one of the oldest one around, and even though it was in the stable shape of a pyramid, it was crumbling into ruins. Next to it was the Step Pyramid, Pyramid of Djoser.

Finally, we then made our way to the Giza Necropolis, housing the most famous pyramids, the Giza pyramids; Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure, and the mystical Sphinx. It was located in a protected zone, and the only way to get to the pyramids was by horse, camel or carriage. We chose the former two.

Horse was typical, saddle and rein, and the controls were straightforward. Pull left to go left, pull right to go right, pull back to stop. Kick the horse to make it run, which I tried a few times but didn’t work. I christened my horse, Horse. Horse was a good horse. I like Horse. Horse avoided puddles of water too. Horse makes me feel like getting a horse in Australia, to ride whenever I want to feel the wind in my hair. Horses were cool.

We took turns, and I also get to ride on the camels, the stubborn one among the two that we rented. Camel riding was a bit more daunting; the saddle was just a seat that felt like it was going to topple at any moment. There was only a stump at the front in which you can hold on to, but it being attached to the saddle that you were already not certain of, didn’t make me feel any better. Add on the fact that camels are taller with the saddle even higher; it just made my fear of heights kick in. Did I mention that I rode on the more stubborn camel? The one that stands up despite you not being ready? Yeah, scariest ride ever.

Our first day in Egypt.
Types of transportation used:
1 plane
2 horses
2 camels
1 car

Number of pyramids seen:

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Epic Egyptian Experience

14 January 2011

I am not too sure why I suggested Egypt when my parents asked me to suggest an alternative holiday destination. We were planning a trip to New Zealand, but the flights were all fully booked. I really wanted to visit New Zealand: Middle Earth, land of sheep, and southern most landmass before Antarctica.

Perhaps the image of Egypt was stuck on my mind. I remember Dr Woods showing off his photos just 3 months ago. Or could it be the image of Devastator climbing the pyramids in Revenge of the Fallen. Or could it be the adventures of Jack in Matthew Reily’s books I have just read last month. Or is it the references of Egyptian culture and art in the Uldum zone in Cataclysm.

Whatever it was, it is becoming a reality.

After booking the tickets, the preparation started. It was also the end of my internship, which is another emotional rollercoaster for me, which I shall not dwell upon this time. It was a 2-week period of tightening things up at work, cleaning up my house, getting my life organised and packing up. I was also part of the Valete Dinner, which is another story to tell.

Before I knew it, I was already on my way to the Adelaide Airport. It was very strange to find out that the driver was the same driver who picked me up from the airport after my Canberra trip. I was surprised he remembered me and even remembered what I wore at that time. Unfortunately, I have no recollection of him, but I recalled what I wore; my blue UWA jumper. Small world.

I arrived at the airport, checked in, had breakfast, boarded the plane, occupied 2 seats, stretched out thinking that this flight is like the most expensive movie theatre with good service. I browsed through the inflight entertainment catalogue and found movies that I wanted to watch surprisingly. I managed to catch 2 and 2 halves of a movie. Megamind was hilarious, Christmas Carol was scary, and both of them would have been nice in 3D. Megamind was straightforward, nothing much to say about it. Christmas Carol’s dialogue was hard to understand but I caught the gist of it. But it was not as exciting as the story is well known.

The other two movies were Eat, Pray Love and Life As We Know It. Julia Robert’s film was dry and I eventually dozed off, mostly because I was dread tired after the 2 weeks of sleep deprivation. I didn’t know what direction the movie was headed and it wasn’t comedic, so I decided not to continue watching the movie. Life As We Know It was better, AND THE BABY WAS SO CUTE!!! Sadly, I could not watch the ending as by that time, I was fast approaching Singapore.

Received a few messages on my phone, one of them regarding me leaving my car in the parking lot. To think that I have been parking in the streets all this time, subjected to vandals before, in the harsh weather, and they had to make a complaint that I parked inside the compound. Such is life.

I wasn’t going to let that tie me down and headed to my sister’s place. It was a MRT ride of memories, thinking of my time in Singapore. I can’t believe it has been 10 years now since I have left the country. This was where I first learnt my independence, where I started growing a conscience and character and personality. This was where I became the person I am now. It was a long tiring ride from Changi to Clementi.

Then, the moment I have been waiting for, for a year, I finally get to play with my niece. She is as cute as I remembered her, grown bigger and has more personality, defiant little princess, loud piercing lallation. She proudly parades around with her 3 favourite toys, her bolster, doggie and platypus. She had stranger anxiety at first, so she was wary of me. It took her a few hours to warm up, but by that time, we were already heading off to the airport for our next league.

Monday, January 03, 2011

The Greatest

"I knew this boy... who was really wonderful to me. The first time I saw him was in freshman English. He wore a baseball hat on the first day of school, and our teacher made him take it off and his hair was all pasted on top of his head, and he smiled at me while he tried to fix it. We watched each other after that. And I started to feel like I knew him. I looked at his yearbook picture so often I knew his face by heart. Our senior year I took piano, and he had soccer, so we would pass each other every day after school in the exact same spot. And it became something I looked forward to. So much so that I could tell you all the days that he was absent because those were the days I was disappointed. And sometimes he would look at me, sometimes he would turn away, and sometimes it would be so intense that we would start looking at each other from the very beginning of the steps. And then on the last day... he talked to me. And everything he said was exactly how I pictured it would be. And he felt the way he felt in my dreams and I thought everything was happening exactly the way it was supposed to. And I was the happiest I've ever been. Happy and scared all at the same time.And if he had signed my belly he would have written something comforting. I was in love with him. That's why I'm keeping this baby. I was in love with him for four years. I barely knew him, but everything was exactly how I imagined it, everything was just how I pictured it. I had to keep this baby. I think he was the love of my life." -Rose

A beautiful sad tale, about a family dealing with grief after the loss of the son... Made me shed a tear...

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