Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ramadan must-haves


Ramadan, which begins tomorrow in Malaysia, won't be the same without dates (see picture above).  The fruit is part of the ritual of breaking the fast, as was the tradition of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.A.W).  He was reported to have said: "If anyone of you is fasting, let him break his fast with dates. In case he does not have them, then with water. Verily water is a purifier." 

Until the late 80s good quality dates were a rarity in Malaysia. People had to make do with inferior quality ones and only the well heeled could afford the best. Today it is difficult to choose from the vast array of varieties on offer.  This was my dilemma yesterday when I had to pick between dates from Tunisia and those from Saudi Arabia at a supermarket near my apartment. 

Indeed, the types available in Malaysia range from cheap to expensive. In between is the fresh and gourmet selection. Customers usually receive gifts of dates from companies they do business with during Ramadan. The quality of the sweet sticky brown fruit that grows on a tree called a date palm, common in North Africa and West Asia depends on the worth of the customers to these concerns.



Azizah Dahlan's chutney (see picture above) is another must-have on my dinner table during Ramadan. It is especially good with piping hot rice and grilled fish as well as various types of noodle meals. Add to this fresh garden salad and you get a complete meal. Simple, refreshing and delicious!


There's yogurt (see picture above) left if you are still hungry. This is home-made yogurt from Sungai Petani, Kedah and it's the best that I have ever tasted. But Sungai Petani is five hours' drive away from Kuala Lumpur where I live so I have to look for the kind produced locally.

For related posts, click here. Life's Too Short wishes its Muslim readers Selamat Berpuasa.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

What will Shunya Susuki think of next?


I learned recently that my friend Shunya Susuki had bought a “cheap” violin on Net auction. He plans to teach himself to play the musical instrument “although they say it will be difficult to do so”.

The purchase is a fulfilment of a dream that dates back to his days at Kyushu University when he wanted to be a violinist, among other aspirations.

But a cello player, his senior at the university, had told him that a violin was “too expensive to buy” and Susuki gave up his musical ambition until recently.

Some may think that Susuki, at 57, is being very ambitious but they don’t know the multi-talented Japanese architect, urban planner, inventor and educator. He sees life as a voyage of discovery: creating a robot, designing green cars and sculpting are among his many artistic pursuits.

So learning to play the violin is one more path to personal gratification and development. According to wikiHow, “the road to learning the violin is a long one” and it takes lots of discipline to “practice difficult technique every day”. Yet I believe that the father of two would be able to make beautiful music with his violin and bow as a result of hours of study and practice. It takes time and patience to do one thing well, a concept Susuki understands perfectly.

 
I met Susuki in 2007 at the Asian Cities Journalists' Conference in Fukuoka City, Japan but I only became aware of his diverse and wide-ranging interests the following year when he told me about his website.
 
Here was a man worth writing about, I thought. The journalist in me could not resist a good story and the collaboration produced several articles.
 

I count Susuki among those who inspire me. Individuals like him encourage me to think that anything is possible. 


His dedication to his projects is extraordinary. I believe when he is in the zone, creating is the most satisfying thing in the world. Obstacles are only temporary setbacks; the challenge is in overcoming them and that gives him great pleasure. Susuki is a man of few words but he is ever willing to talk about his passion for innovation and invention. What will he think of next?

Susuki with his creation: the Jang Geum Robot. Picture by Maki Inoue. 


For more on Shunya Susuki and his creations especially the Jang Geum Robot, click here: The Creative Impulse (Cover, H2 and H3).

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

J-Lo and Marc Anthony: 'a reminder that all things must pass'

Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony. Their impending divorce is the subject of much speculation. The sad truth is that we will never know the true version of events. That is why I like this commentary by Josh Max. It provides plenty of food for thought!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Soothing words from a good friend


Dr Koh Soo Ling has a gift for putting feelings into words. See below for her latest offering.



Thursday, July 14, 2011

Don't make promises you can't keep


A gift for every guest.
American celebrity Samuel Ward McAllister reputedly said the following:
“A dinner invitation, once accepted, is a sacred obligation. If you die before the dinner takes place, your executor must attend.”

The Arabic term InsyaAllah which means “God willing” or “If is God’s will” essentially conveys the same message.

Muslims are taught to add InsyaAllah to the end of a declaration of intent. For example, a friend invites you to his son’s wedding party and you graciously accept the invitation: “Thank you very much for inviting me to your son's wedding. I will be there, InsyaAllah (God willing)”.

The phrase InsyaAllah reminds Muslims that they are not privy to God’s plan and they cannot say with any certainty where they will be at a particular point in time. Sickness, death -- whether that of a family member or their own -- and other compelling situations could prevent them from fulfilling all their obligations, social or otherwise.

The above argument allows Muslims to break their commitments when circumstances beyond their control force them to go back on their promises to friends and relatives.

Yet many have chosen to interpret InsyaAllah as a means of avoiding duty and have used the term without paying serious attention to its significance. To them, it is a euphemistic way of saying “I don’t really want to attend your son’s wedding but I don’t want to make you feel bad either.” So they say InsyaAllah and don’t turn up. Somehow, that makes them feel better about their ambivalence towards the invitation, not realising that they have degraded the value of InsyaAllah.

What’s behind this talk about obligation? I am searching for the right words to explain my recent predicament. I had said “yes” to a wedding invitation last weekend but changed my mind later and began hatching a plan to evade it.
Love this elegant kebaya wedding cake. 
Blame it on fatigue. The last few months have been hectic social-wise. I had received invitations to several social gatherings back to back. I had no energy for one more evening of flashing tired smiles and making small talk to friends and strangers.

How do I decline it? Since I could not offer a plausible excuse I reluctantly made my way to the wedding reception last Saturday.

Much to my surprise the evening was better than I had imagined. My friend was very happy to see me -- the genuine look of happiness on her face touched my heart. It was well worth the effort.

McAllister’s publicly quoted utterance and the Arabic expression are useful reminders of keeping one's word.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Muslims gear up for Ramadan

It's best to stick to simple meals during Ramadan.
 Ramadan, the annual month of fasting, will begin on August 1, this year and preparations to welcome the holiest month on the Muslim calendar are already in full swing.

Muslims who observe Ramadan are counting down to the special month by preparing themselves --mentally, spiritually and physically -- for the fast.

They constantly remind themselves that Ramadan is not just about refraining from eating and drinking during the day but also a time to be very close to God by offering more prayers than usual and to practice patience, humility and spirituality.

Some Muslims began fasting in June for a few days a week to ease their bodies into the month-long fast in August. My late father would do the mini fast three months before the start of Ramadan and when it finally came he grew accustomed to the idea of waking up at 4am for the pre-dawn meal (sahur), going without lunch and having a glass of water by his bed at night to hydrate.

My father also worried about food wastage during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. His trips to the Ramadan bazaars, (which will sprout like mushrooms after a rainy day during this period), were carefully planned to factor in the amount that we as a family (father, mother and nine active growing children) could consume.

We could choose our favourite kuih (Malay cakes) but only one type please. We were not allowed to ask for more than we could eat. That lesson has stayed with me and I find myself being very frugal during my jaunts to the bazaars which I enjoy very much.

Ice kacang is a perennial favourite in Malaysia.
Malaysia will be a gourmand's paradise during Ramadan. Dishes from all over Malaysia will be on display at the various dedicated bazaars, major food chains and hotels. It is a ploy to entice the starving Muslim to eat till he or she drops."That is not a good idea," my late father would intone.

Consider this advertisement in the New Straits Times (July 6, 2011): " Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre; Flavours of Ramadhan in the heart of KL; Over 500 dishes from the four corners of the world."

It continues: "Dine in comfort and enjoy the convenience of a dedicated surau, imam and an on-site ablution facility for Maghrib, Isya' and Tarawih prayers."

The cost? RM98++ per person but bookings before July 15 will receive a five per cent discount. No thanks! RM98++ is a lot of money and too much to pay for a meal! Consumers keep complaining that meals are priced too high at all eateries and bazaars during Ramadan but no one is listening.

Halal food outlets (suitable for Muslims) will be packed just before the sun rises and after the sun sets and trying to get a seat at these places is almost impossible. But for many working Muslims who cannot be at home in time for the evening meal the scramble for seats will be a constant struggle.

Most people would rather break the fast at home with family members and close friends and at a fraction of the cost of a meal at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre or other places which serve Ramadan buffets. I refuse to be intimidated by the bloodsucking food operators!