Tuesday, July 31, 2012

London 2012 Olympics

The Olympics is here!  And I am so near this historical event!  Well, Bristol is 2-hours away from London, so... dekatlah tu :P.  Tempted by sporting events on TV, my family and I seriously contemplated joining the spectators at Stratford. Surfing for tickets online, however, we found out that they were either too expensive or "unavailable at the moment".  There was a furore a few days ago on National TV:  the public could not get tickets to some events as they were supposedly sold-out, but there appeared to be many empty seats in venues?  Sapa nak jawab tu... :P.  Well, as I'm writing this post, there have been some positive developments.  We'll see how it goes :)

The London 2012 Olympic opening on Friday was pretty interesting.  It's different from previous Olympics openings which were normally artistic and symbolic.  Yeah, Beijing 2008 was a tough act to follow, so it was clever of the London 2012 organizers to go a different way.

The opening has been described as "very English".  It started with a rural Britain setting, complete with real grass and livestock! :)

Next was the dramatization of the industrial era.  One look at Kenneth Branagh's top hat, my kids and I  instantly knew that he was playing the part of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the great British engineer/designer.   Brunel is BIG in Bristol, having left his legacies in the form of Clifton Suspension Bridge, SS Great Britain and Temple Meads Railway Station.  "Brunel" then aptly recited a line from Shakespeare's (world renown English playwright) "The Tempest".

Smokestacks that appeared from nowhere :)

Kenneth Branagh as Brunel

By this time, I could already guess what was coming.  J.K. Rowling's appearance was expected, but James Bond and Mr. Bean were pleasant surprises.  Yeah, besides the Queen, they ARE British icons.  Mr. Bean was hilarious as usual, but it was the Queen in her first acting role (as herself, naturally :)), who stole the show.

Mr. Bean making faces :)

A serious-looking Bond accompanying a smiling Queen

As they say, less is more.  When that lengthy technology-themed performance ended and the creator of the WWW was introduced, I was getting a tad bored.  I GET IT.  British (music) ICONS: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Queen (the group, not the monarch), Sex Pistol, etc..  Who's next? I wondered.  Bad question, as out came Sir Paul McCartney belting out "Hey Jude".  Hey, dude!  Its becoming more like a tribute concert now :P.

It was quite late when the procession of athletes commenced.  I have always liked watching this segment, when athletes from different countries marched in their costumes - some traditional, others, modern.  This year, some of them were in designer togs!  The Americans were in Ralph Lauren and the Italians, Giorgio Armani.  Wow!  Lucky lot!  When the Malaysian team came out, there was a cross-over to team GB.  Apa daa BBC!!  Anyway, I managed to catch the Malaysian team's colourful costume.  Hmm... looks like those tiger stripes have not gone out of fashion all these years :P.  There were lots of negative comments on Yahoo Sports but come to think of it, Malay traditional attire has always been LOUD and the athletes were wearing traditional kebayas and baju Melayu.  Try going to a wedding feast or cultural show in Malaysia and see for yourself...

the culturally-correct costume 

Anyway, my favourite has got to be Czech Republic.  They wore wellies and held umbrellas to humour the English weather?! Wakaka!  Bak kata pepatah Melayu yang telah diubahsuai:  masuk kandang lembu menguak, masuk Britain pakai wellies!!  Sediakan payung sebelum hujan!!  Good one Czechs! :D
It's just not the Czechs humoring the Brits on their English weather.  One segment of the opening ceremony had performers ritualistically carrying 'clouds' around the stadium.  Well, that has somewhat succeeded in warding-off  rain thus far! :).

See that cloud? :)

The lighting of the Olympic cauldron was fine.  Yeah, they still have to tout another British icon - David Beckham - who looked like a posh mannequin in the boat (remember that advertisement?).   And if that's not enough, they had another sports icon, the legendary Mohammed Ali.  Don't see why they had to have that poor fella, though.  That aside, the Olympic cauldron was indeed one of a kind.

Becks on boat :)

Bird's eye-view of the Olympic flame

Side view of the Olympic cauldron

magnificent view of the cauldron

All in all, a memorable Olympics opening.  Kudos to Danny Boyle and his team! :)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Ramadhan Terakhir... @ Bristol

Tajuk post kali ni, bunyi macam drama Melayu jer, kan?? :P

I could still recall that 15-episode drama which was screened during Ramadhan in Malaysia, last year.  At that time, I was back home, collecting data for my research.  I remembered fervently watching every single Malay drama that was screened on national TV!  Kah! Kah! Kah!  Anyway, this post is not about that drama, but rather, fasting in Bristol; this being my last year :).

This is my second year fasting in Bristol.  My first was in 2010.  I remembered being worried because the fasting period was longer in this part of the world, but many Muslim friends assured me that it's not as hard as it seemed.  True enough, even my youngest son (then 8), managed to fast throughout Ramadhan :).  The hours were longer but we didn't tire much because of the cool climate.  On the other hand, fasting in Malaysia can be rather challenging due to the hot humid weather.

Jon on his first day of fasting
Ramadhan 2010
Ramadhan is just another day here.  Brits do know about it.  TESCO has some Ramadhan deals tapi takdelah Pasar Ramadhan bagai :).  Yeah, berbuka is a quiet family affair.  Instead of all-u-can-eat, it's more of all-I-can-cook.  OK je masak, so much so, that when I fasted in Malaysia last year, I cooked my buka puasa meals rather than buy at the PARAMs.  Tak sedap mana pun beli kat PARAM... :P

During weekends we usually have a Malaysian community gathering to break fast and taraweeh.  Masa ni boleh rasa pelbagai juadah potluck.  Don't know what 'luck' we have this year as the community has dwindled in size.  Many families have gone back and no signs of new ones coming.  It seems Malaysian postgraduates are now re-routed to the new world - Oz and NZ :).  Not so 'great' now, eh Britain?? :P

So far, puasa has been rather 'hot'.  It's really funny.  The weather which has always been gloomy and rainy is suddenly transformed with Ramadhan.  It's been 4 searing days.  26 degrees today ("macam lah panas sangat!" kata orang Malaysia).  Thankfully, still bearable because of the cool breeze.  Still... 18 hours without food and water is no mean feat :)

Pengalaman yang pasti dikenang bila kembali ke tanahair nanti :)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Den Haag @ The Hague 2012

On our way to Amsterdam, we detoured to Den Haag @ The Hague.  Being a lawyer, it was only natural that Abg Sabri, who's touring with us, would want to stop at this city to visit the renown  International Court of Justice and  International Criminal Court.

After going in rounds, we finally parked our cars along a quiet street, and decided to take a walk around the place.

Mana mau pergi? :)

When I was there, I didn't know in which part of the city I was?   But I managed to snap two landmarks as shown below: an equestrian statue and a royal abode (based on the royal coat of arms on the gate).  It was only months later, (after googling) that I discovered that we had been on Noordeinde Street; and the landmarks were Gulielmo Primo Monument and  Noordeinde Palace, respectively.  

Statue of William The Silent,  in front of Noordeinde Palace, Den Haag.
He famously uttered "Je Maintiendrai"  (I will maintain), in the midst of the Dutch revolt against Spain. 

William The Silent was the founder of the House of Orange-Nassau whose descendants rule the Netherlands (then, Holland) till today.  The Noordeinde Palace is the "working palace" of the current monarch.   That figures why the street was strangely quiet and lined with posh boutiques! :).

Walking along the streets of Den Haag, I can't help noticing the assortment of beautiful buildings

Equally eye-catching were pram cables zig-zagging over the road.  Semak mata memandang!
Little did I know that this was common sight in Europe :)

Dendang sayang Den Haag :)

We took pictures of  Binnenhof at Hofvijver.  The building complex was where the Dutch parliament convene.  At the entrance was the statue of King William II.  The inner court consisted of a public square, surrounded by monumental buildings, the Ridderzaal, and a neogothic fountain.

Yeah, we found lots of places of interest but failed to locate the International Court of Justice!:P  Hahaha!  Takde rezeki lah tu...  So, we continued our journey to the next destination:  Keukenhof.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Easter Hols 2012: Bristol - Dover - Calais - Brugge

It's summer time.
According to reliable sources, summer in the Northern Atmosphere started in June. Yet, looking back at past weeks, there's more rain than sunshine.  Looking back at the last six months, you don't even know whether it was winter, spring or summer :P.

This is the English weather.
Cold, wet and unpredictable,  you rarely see the sun, let alone feel the warmth.  So, it's small wonder that people tend to seek greener pastures over the English channel :).

We went to Europe during Easter.  Not a good time, really, as Easter is considered peak season.  Room rates tend to be more expensive and places of attraction can be overly-crowded.  However, as we were pressed for time and hubs didn't want the kids to miss school, easter hols was it.  Everyone was excited, especially hubs who had been meticulously planning every detail of the trip.

Oh, yes... before some tongues start wagging about where the MONEY came from, I can happily tell you straight TO YOUR FACES that we used our own savings.  Unlike government-sponsored undergraduates,  the scholarship that we received as postgraduate students sekadar cukup untuk menampung sara hidup sekeluarga.  House rent in London, Bristol  dan kawasan yang sewaktu dengannya, is pretty high compared to other places in the UK.  Many Malaysians from other parts of the country terlopong bila dengar sewa rumah kami...    Tapi... tetap bersyukur dengan rezeki yang Allah bagi ni.   Yang buat PhD  dalam negeri apa kurangnya...   Dapat tukar kereta baru dan renovate dapur lagi ... kan? kan? kan?  Rezeki masing-masing.... :)

From Bristol, we set out to Dover around midnight to catch the ferry to Calais, France. It took us about 3 hours to reach Dover.  Passports check  was a breeze, but we had to wait a little for the ferry to arrive.  We took the first ferry out because it was the cheapest.  Cheap pun, comes with a price - the drivers had to sacrifice their sleep for this trip.  Luckily they were seasoned, nocturnal drivers! :)

Dover, UK.    2 April 2012

When the ferry arrived,  the cars were directed into the ferry.  After parking our cars at the ground floor, we proceeded to the passengers' lounge, upstairs.  While waiting for the ferry to reach its destination,  you can get some snacks, buy tax-free items, watch TV, sleep or just relax on the seats provided.  Ala... macam naik feri kat Penang tu, tapi yang ini selesa sikit lah... :)

The journey from Dover to Calais took another 90 minutes.  Once in French territory, the drivers had to quickly get accustomed to driving on the right lane.  At roundabouts, have to turn right, instead of left.  Speed pun, control gitu, sebab takut kena bayar saman on-the-spot.  Kelam-kabut jugak masa keluar dari Calais because all signboards were in French and the satnav went bonkers for awhile.  However, once the drivers got their acts together, it was smooth-sailing from then onwards.

Since we had a co-driver (Amer), I managed to sit back and snap some photos of the Belgium landscape.  These were snapped on our way to Den Haag (also known as 'The Hague'), in the Netherlands...

Turbines at dawn 

Frosty April morning 

Trees planted in a straight line.

What I found unique and peculiar was the trees in Belgium seemed to be planted in a straight line?  To mark boundaries, maybe?  Well, one website claimed that the trees were planted that way so that the fields would not appear to be thickly-wooded as compared to those in the British Isle.

More turbines

... dan lagi :)

I can see that the Belgians put great effort in harvesting energy from their natural source - the wind.   We Malaysians should also emulate them.  Forget turbines, the wind in our region is not as strong; but we do get an abundance of sunshine, don't we?  It's about time we seriously consider harvesting solar energy...  Boleh ka?? :)