Thursday, May 28, 2009

The 1000 Islands

Guess where I was in the past week?
Let me give you some hint…



Yezza, I was in Indonesia - tanah tumpah darah cowok-cowok ganteng ku!


The journey was, officially, a scientific trip (hehehe) to study modern and ancient carbonate depositions and, personally for me, a shopaholic trip to study the limit of my credit card. Hello… visiting Jakarta and Bandung without stopping over, no matter how brief, at their famous factory outlets, Tanah Abang and Pasar Baru is like going to Paris without visiting the iconic Eiffel Tower ye, kawan-kawan. Thus as a responsible citizen of the world, it is my duty to ensure that my journey covers all the important spots in any city I visited... ahem.





Ancient carbonates are limestone and the likes, such as Batu Caves, Gua Tempurung and Gua Niah. These are the ancient rocks now exposed on the surface. As geologists though, we are hunting for the ones still buried underneath because this rock is one of the ‘containers’ of oil and gas underground - if the setting is right. In my profession, we observe the outcrops on surface to derive the properties and structure of their counterparts in the subsurface. This is what a field trip is all about – tengok batu… :p



Modern carbonate is living reef, and it is equally important to study how it all started – the beginning of the carbonate rock. So how do you study modern carbonates? By snorkeling of course! We went to Pulau Seribu, about 45 minutes by speedboat from Ancol, Jakarta. It is a chain of many, many small islands (hence, the name). A few of the bigger islands were inhabited; the smaller ones are humanless paradise waiting to be explored.



It is a cliché to say how crystal clear the water is, but it really is. Or how beautiful the corals and fishes are, but they really are breathtaking. Even where the water is as shallow as our knee, gorgeous, colorful creatures are swimming happily – unlike in Malaysia’s beaches, where you usually have to go quite far off the beach before you can see anything worthwhile.


One of the highlight - a beautiful starfish. Patrick!!!!

Species terancam - badak air masin. Hanya ada seekor sahaja di dunia ini. Hahahah..

We had to be extra careful though, because there are some sinister creatures like bulu babi (or sea urchin) and jelly fish abound. Perghh, bergetar perut everytime I saw the urchins. Just imagine that you are floating heavenly, tengah syok-syok memerhatikan ikan-ikan bermain dicelah batu karang, lalalalala, you went over the coral and suddenly on the other side, loomed a black creature with monstrous spikes. You can always know when a snorkeling friend suddenly stumbled into an urchin – a quiet float…. then suddenly, frantic flapping of the arms and muffled sound of an underwater scream... hahahaha, memang lawak!


The bulu babi, or sea urchins.

Awesome friends!

Credit to Aiman & Amie for some of the pictures.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

From Shah Alam to Putrajaya: A Girl Stuck in Amsterdam

Three weeks ago I went to Norway for a business trip. I intended to write about my trip there.. but that will have to wait, for this story, about going home to Malaysia at the end of the trip, was the most interesting part :p

Day One

8 am: arrived in Schipol Airport, Amsterdam from Trondheim, Norway
10 am: off to the boarding gate for the Amsterdam-KL flight. Squealed happily at the sight of MAS airplane at the tarmac. Ever since I studied in the United States, the sight of a MAS plane at a foreign airport will bring a tremendous amount of happiness, because it reminds me of home (MH is Malaysian Hospitality ye, kawan-kawan) and because I can finally eat rice and meat..!!
11 am: on the plane, waiting for take off at noon. Enjoying a glass of orange juice, while lazying around on the super-comfy business class seat, doing my Sudoku.
1 am: The plane still had not moved. Was on my fourth drink when the pilot announced that fuel leakage was detected and a few hours were needed to fix the problem. All passengers were asked to leave the plane. What, what…? Lunch vouchers were given out. More rounds in-and-out of the duty free shop.
4 pm: Reassembled at the boarding gate, only to be told, ‘Sorry folks, it is impossible that the plane will fly tonight’
6 pm: Claimed our luggage bag, received hotel assignment (lodging courtesy of MAS – chet, kalau suruh bayar sendiri, memang laa), checked into Sheraton Hotel (thank god it was only 300 m away from the airport).
9 pm: After dinner, went out to the city center via train and ‘window shopping’ at the red Light District.. muahahaa, pengalaman yang mendewasakan! We stumbled upon a fun fair, and decided to take a ride on the Ferris wheel, and were treated with a sweeping night view of the city. Plus, in the next car was a group of seriously cute guys ~ whom we flirted with, while hanging a few hundreds feet above the ground. And by ‘we’ I mean my friends – I was too busy praying that I won’t drop to my death (yes, I am afraid of height).

The canal at night


That's J-Lo at Madame Tussauds

Day Two

7 am: checked in, for the second time. Went through immigration, for the second time.
10 am: boarded the plane, for the second time. Everyone was laughing about yesterday. The person sitting on my left did not appear today – perhaps he managed to get on another flight to KL yesterday.
12 pm: ETD was supposedly at 11 am. The plane was still… not… moving. Apparently an old man fall sick and the EMT came by and declared he was not fit to fly. The pilot announced that we had to wait for the ground staff to off-load his checked-in luggage.
12.30 pm: The pilot was on the speaker again. Apparently the landing tire was not retracting. What.. what? Disbelieved, all passengers were asked to deplane – again. My poor friend - she bought a bouquet of fresh tulip for her mother. Looks like it just wasted two days of freshness, not leaving Amsterdam at all.
3 pm: Reassembled at the boarding gate after lunch (again, courtesy of MAS) and after a quick stop at the small art exhibition the Rijksmuseum was showcasing at the airport.
5 pm: Hahahaha, guess what! I was on a shuttle bus going to another hotel (this time on the far side of the airport) because they can’t fix the problem – again! After dinner, everyone was so tired that we did not have an excursion to the city tonight.

Muka ala-ala penat dan tension

Day Three

6.30 am: checked in, for the third time (notice that the check-in time gets earlier day by day. As if they haven’t torture us enough!)
9 am: Boarded the plane. Today, the person sitting on my right did not appear – Awesome! Now my roomy seat is becoming even more spacious!
9.45 am: ETD at 10 am. Oh, will we fly? Will we fly?
10 am: We are flyingggggggggggggggggggggg!!!! I could hear a wave of applause rolling in from the economy class behind me (we the business class people are way too posh to do so, excusez-moi)

I am fortunate that at least I am stuck at Amsterdam airport, which is a good place to be stuck in, because it is big and there are a lot of stuff to do. If we were stuck in other god-forsaken airport, I probably died of boringness.
I am also thankful for my fun and cool traveling companions who I can now be assured are the people I don’t mind getting deserted in an island with, and the strangers who become friends (lots of business card were exchanged) and the interesting personalities who shared their stories with me (a Datuk who had such a worldly traveling experience, a German gentleman who is an important figure in gas industry, a Malaysian lawyer residing in UK, and a biotech person who shared very interesting stories on biotech development in Malaysia).
I am also thankful that I traveling as a single – I pity the families with small children, and families on the way to their vacation (I hope they get some sort of refund for the days they lost). This must be a worse ordeal for them compared to me (but the kids seemed to enjoy it. By the second day they were all playing and running around together).

Oh yes.. what’s the relevance of the title – From Shah Alam to Putrajaya – to this entry? Well, the plane that was supposed to bring us home and the one that they can’t fix is named Shah Alam. But it was another plane called Putrajaya, which was flown in to Amsterdam on the third day that eventually brought us back to Kuala Lumpur. Shah Alam stayed behind to fly the 12 o’clock passengers (my batch flew out around 10 am). Heh, I wonder if they managed to take off?


BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY, is this a sign that abang Anuar Zain (a Shah Alam resident) and I was not meant to be together? Or that if we do, are we going to have a problematic, tiring life together? Adakah……….?


Friday, May 1, 2009

Mak Datuk, Gunung Datuk!


This is a long overdue post :) Been meaning to post it, like, forever, but could not find the time. Last 4th of April 2009, I decided to formally join a KOMA (Kumpulan Orang Minyak Adventure - a suka-suka club some friends decided to form for everything adventurous - kayaking, climbing, running etc.) activity. I have been a member for quite sometime, but have yet been able to join any of the activities due to other commitments. This group, my brothers and sisters, will be featured a lot in this space in the future since I am hanging out with them too often to count now (heh), so remember the name... KOMA!

A group of us signed up to join the race up Gunung Datuk. This 870m mountain is situated in Negeri Sembilan, and this race is part of the Sirkit Mendaki Gunung Negeri Sembilan (the other two mountains in the series are Gunung Tampin and Gunung Angsi - the overall winner for the circuit is the person who collects the highest points after the three climbs). In an average climb - the recreational, suka-suka climb - a person can hike up and down the mountain in 2.5 to three hours. Last year record for the same race was 50 minutes (for male category)... hahaha. Go figure.


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I am drenched, hot and sweaty. My shoes are muddy, and I am only one-third way up.

The female runners (we hypothesized the number is the year each of us is destined to win. So, cheers for 2010!)

The female runners at the starting line, waiting for flag off.


The first 500 meters. Still can smile for the camera maaa.....

I am contemplating to walk back down. Seeing how others were struggling and complaining, which are exactly my feeling as well, I keep looking back. The hard core runners were way at the front, leaving behind in the dust this group that I am belong to – people who joined the race because they thought they could do it or their friends convinced them to join. People who are obviously not fit to do such a physical thing. People who in other times may prefer to lounge in front of the TV, hang out with friends and go shopping. People who are now learning the meaning of ‘Ala, kita lari saja-saja je, for fun…”. For fun, my ass…..

I keep looking back downhill, but my steps continue forward…


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I am a virgin to this racing thing. I’ve never even try the normal, flat-surface, 10km run, and suddenly I am registered for a race up a mountain?

So if I quit halfway, my friends will understand right?
They won’t be mad right?

They will console me saying that it’s is okay, there’s always next time… you are a first timer anyway. Half-way is all-the-way for you.


Right?

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I haven’t even reached the half-way point to the peak, but a few runners are already running down. Down!!!! Which means as I am hauling my way up to this point, they already reached the peak, turn around and are now passing by me on their way down.
Are they robots???? Or did a helicopter drop them off at the peak, and they are simply climbing down? No wonder they have such a sexy thigh.
(Runners have the sexiest thighs. Ever. Maybe one far, far away day, I will get those sexy thighs too).

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Oh, how I wish for a cold can of Coke now.
At the flag-off point where we started the race, some vendors are selling delicious smelling burger Ramli, and iced orange cordial. Rose syrup and cane juice. How I would kill for those now…..

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Slightly above the half-way point, I see a vision climbing down.

“Fatma!”, the vision greets me, a bit too friendly to my exhausted mind.

It's Aiman. My saviour from the gruelling Kayak trip we took last year. He is an energizer bunny, a cheerleader, a 'we-can-do-it!' guy... He was not officially running in the race (long story, he wrote about it here) but decided to go up anyway... to take our pictures. He passed by me long, long time ago, so my guess he already reached the peak, started his climb down and now is sweeping (a sweeper is a person who ensure that every single climber is accounted for, that no one is left behind, and usually the last person to reach the peak) all our racers up. Despite that, he looks like he is taking a stroll on a beach - a big smile plastered, not a single trace of tiredness on his face. Naturally, I am the last person he finds, since all KOMA runners are running ahead of me... (oh come on, that fact doesn't really surprise you right?)

Most importantly, he doesn't believe in quitting halfway.


“Jom aku temankan ko ke puncak!” (See?)


Ohhhhhhhhhhhh, Aiman. There goes my chance of turning back.

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The Gunung Datuk race is mentally exhausting. Of course my legs are deadwood, and hauling my body up feels like I am carrying a sack of 10 kg rice (reminder: lose weight to be more agile for the future races). But that could not compare to the crazy thoughts running through my mind. When I am alone, I keep everything to myself, letting out occasionally, "Oh God, this is hard".

But I keep going.


Yes, the thought of turning back crosses my mind so many times, I am surprised that I have not quit already. One thing that I learn from work and all the gruelling journeys I have experienced - the VMY race, the kayak expedition, and now this - is commitment. If I say yes, I'll finish it. I may whine, I may complain, but those are all to let the steam out. It may take me longer to do something, but god forbid that I'll quit.

So I soldier on, and now that Aiman is personally cheering me on, I could not just quit, no?


(But too bad that now he is here, he has to listen to all of my "I am tired!!", "I want to stop...", "Why, whyyyyyyyyy?" etc, all the thoughts that I previously keep to myself when I am hiking alone.... thank you my dear, for being my soundboard... hope you know me well enough that in normal circumstances, I am a cheerful, fun, happy-go-lucky human being..hahaha)


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Everytime runners pass me by on their way down, I ask them how much longer to the top. Despite the fact that I barely move that far from one runner to the other, the answer ranges widely from -

"Sikit je lagi" - from seasoned runners and hikers, who know too well than telling us newbies the real distance, and to encourage us to continue on.
"Jauh la jugak..." - from the young kids in the teenager's category, who are obviously telling the real truth.
I know one is giving the RIGHT answer, and the other is giving the TRUE answer, but who should I trust?

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Yes, every step that I take is one step further from where I started off, and since we have to follow the same trail going down, it is one step further from the finish line. But the truth is, it is indeed one step closer to the peak, as Aiman says. So why the hell do I want to turn back, when I am already halfway there. I am already half-tired, so let's go all the way!!!

Countless stops (more like one stop after every ten steps. Hahahaha, I should not cheat in my daily run at KLCC park anymore!), I arrived at the peak!! Dipping my fingers in the purple ink (the ink stain is the proof that you actually arrive at the top), it feels like I have conquer the world!!


All smiles at the peak


The savior... on the way down (even bigger smile!)

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Seeing my friends' smiles are priceless. It puzzled me that as soon as I see them at the finish line, all my tiredness is gone.

Seriously.
It is as if I have not spend the last two to three hours hiking a 800m++ mountain, along a 10-km trail....

And now I know why so many people dedicated themselves to this sport.
It is that feeling when you pass the finish line. Some needs to be the first to cross the finish line, then it is considered they made it. For others, as long as we cross the finish line, we made it. The degree of achievement is different, but the fulfillment of finishing the race is the same. It is exhilarating, it is fun, it is worth all the pain... especially when there are people waiting for you at the end.


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Thank you, thank you, thank you to all KOMA runners and our dear manager (Datuk Farid, next race kena lari jugak la. Manager kena rasa jugak jadik runner, heh), and other members who although they could not be with us, sent their best wishes. And of course thank you Aiman, my kayak saviour and now my race hero! Thank you for the water bladder and for convincing me not to take the sling bag up the mountain (I would have use it to stranggle myself out of annoyance)... Sling bag is for shopping, not for hiking!