10 Things I Should Do During Ramadan

 

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(Photo by boston.com)

We’re almost there. Another Ramadan beckons. The arrival of the holy month always fills me with anticipation – childish but this is the point where I begin to ask myself if I’ll even make it through the first day, lol.

 

The funny thing is when you get to Day 20, you begin to miss Ramadan already and you wish this old friend would stick around a little longer. Anyway, here’s a short list of things that I’m telling myself I’ll do. You too, maybe? This way maybe we’ll arrive in Syawal a better Muslim and a better person than we were the month before.

1.Visit your parents

You know how we often feel that we don’t see them enough? Busy with work, busy with the kids or whatever. Well, the holy month is a good time to get busy with Mom and Dad. If they’re no longer around, say a prayer or three for them.

 

2.Solat suboh

Which is the solat that we most often miss? Yes, I know, me too. Let’s resolve to not miss any suboh prayers this month. Hopefully this behaviour will then be extended till after Ramadan.

 

3.Solat at the masjid

We have more time in the day during this coming month because we won’t be spending too much time eating and drinking. So, let’s try to make our visits to the masjid more often for our daily prayers.

 

4.Tarawih

Yup, we all know we should do this. Let’s try to do it every night. And by the way, mind how you park the car – not haphazardly please. Remember The Almighty sees everything that you do and you are accountable for every single little thing that you do in this life, my friend.

 

5.Read Quran

Don’t we all tell ourselves that we’ll read the Quran every day? This is the month to stop thinking about it and just start doing it, every day. And try not to just read – understand the meaning, make sense of what you’re reading, internalise and juxtapose what you read onto your day-to-day life.

 

6.Give to charity

I know you’ve been doing this. Do more this month. The money that you give will not make you poorer. In fact, the monetary value of what you give is multiplied up to 600 times over in pahala, InsyaAllah.

 

7.Outstanding zakat?

Got some outstanding? And we’re not just talking about fitrah, which is a small amount. Your other zakats – on your income, on your profits, property etc. Do it before it’s too late or before it gets too big. And this is an excellent time to do it. Don’t over-think, just do it.

 

8.Wear hijab

For our sisters who are not hijabbed yet, Ramadan is a very good time to start covering up. It is wajib after all. Don’t be afraid about what your friends might think – are you afraid of your God or what your friends think? And here’s another good reason for you to don the hijab – it instantly makes you years younger, honest!

 

9.Exercise

Some of us see the fasting month as a good excuse to take a break from exercise. Bad excuse. I don’t think Allah approves. Slow down the pace, intensity or time yes, but don’t stop. Working out late afternoon about 2 hours before iftar is good. The break of fast will also feel that much sweeter after. And you sleep better too. What’s there not to like about Ramadan exercise?

 

10.Be nice

Just generally be nice to everybody. Say assalamualaikum more often. And smile a bit more. Every little smile is rewarded. Isn’t this religion such a beautiful thing?

 

Ramadan kareem my sisters and brothers. May we all be rewarded for all our good deeds this month.

 

Assalamualaikum.

 

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Vanishing Families

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I was at two funerals this past week – one was the mother of a previously close friend. The other was that of a previously-close relative. The demise of an elderly uncle or aunt is expected and honestly, not so sad. What is sad are the whispers afterwards. Muted voices discussing the drifting or sometimes sudden vanishing of this cousin or that nephew or niece.

Sometimes the reason for their disappearance is obvious – a big quarrel or something someone said or did or wrote on social media or worse, a change of faith (yes, taboo but it happens). Other times, the reason for the vanishing act is a puzzle. The said person either slowly removes himself from the family circle or just disappear. But you know, it’s one of the nice things about deaths – when people die, these hidden people suddenly re-appear. But, here’s the thing, you won’t see them again until the next important funeral.

Do you have a relative like this? I do. Truth be told, I have a handful of them, and it bugs me. Surely these people know that they upset their families, their parents particularly. But why do they behave this way? Is it a psychiatric condition? Or are they just nuts? I hope and pray that none of my children will do this disappearing magic thing on me.

Then, there are also vanishing families – whole family tree branches that apparently decide that they would rather not be associated with the rest of the clan. Sad but that happens too. You have relatives like this?

Yes, I know I’m just complaining about this and you’re wondering WTF am I doing to make things right. Right? Here’s what I think we should do. Make it a real effort to re-connect with those long-lost aunts, uncles, cousins and dare I say it, brothers and sisters. Those things that they should not have said or done – it’s time to forgive and forget. Eat some humble pie, say sorry. It doesn’t matter whose fault it was, it was so long ago anyhow.

You would be surprised how magical that s-word can be. And you know what, if the reason YOU are avoiding seeing them all these years is because you owe them RM200, it’s time you faced up to it. And if I may remind you, you are answerable for your bad debts when you die.

Deal with it, solve the problem. Say bro, I’m sorry man, here’s the money IOU plus interest. Then go on give the guy a big hug. If it is your relative who has been avoiding you because of money, forget about the money – he probably needed it more than you (which was why he borrowed from you) – in economics parlance, forgive the debt. It’s not important. Family is a lot more valuable than that.

And here’s an easy way to re-establish connections with your kin – go to the funerals, the weddings, the doa selamats and the silly birthday parties. It’s your duty. Picture this – what if nobody attends your funeral? How sad is that? I don’t know about you but I want all my relatives to see me off.

And like you, I want to be remembered as a person with a good heart, that’s all.

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Java Jazz 2017 (it ain’t over till we do the drum solo)

This is my third time attending this festival. The last time was last year when the big names included Sting, Hiatus Kaiyote, BadBadNotGood and Maliq & d’Essentials. This time around the stars are somewhat smaller.

On Day 1 of the 3 days, March 3, Nisha and I saw Tulus, Nik West, Zap Mama and Kinga, among others.

Tulus is my latest Indonesian discovery. His latest and third album, Monokrom has shown that he’s still ‘growing’, and what an album it is. He has all the hallmarks of an artist whose best days are yet to come. And we’re talking about someone who has 40 million Youtube views of one of his songs.

Tulus came on stage, barefooted and dressed in a black sarong. He didn’t need much else. His voice and his songs did most of the work. And you just have to love his humility. At the end of a number of tunes, he laughed and asked the crowd “OK tak?”. It was obvious that he was having such a good time and it was infectious. To me, this guy is going to get even bigger, although I do hope he doesn’t put on more kilograms 😀

Then there was Nik West. She’s a black female bassist, i.e. not your stereotypical black, female or bassist. Legend has it that she auditioned to be in Prince’s band, got the gig and as luck would have it, Prince died 😯

She came onstage loudly and in style with Prince’s “FunknRoll”. The crowd was mesmerised by her looks (purple mohawk), her acrobatics and her funky bass talent. Her band was on-point all the time. Nik covered Parliament’s “Give Up The Funk”, Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody” and Prince’s “Let’s Work” and “Kiss” for the encore. She’s on again in 9 minutes at this time of writing on the 2nd day of the Festival, so guess where I’m going now…

Kinga is the other female bassist at JJF 2017. Hailing from Poland, she is all of 19 years young. She is joined by her brother on drums and a keys man. Trad jazz. Impressive skill.

Java Jazz is a yearly affair and 2017 marks its 13th year. In terms of star-power, this year’s do is not that impressive, relatively speaking. For me though I had to go or run the risk of not seeing any concert this year, given the dearth of worthwhile gigs in Malaysia the last few years. Still, for around RM600 for 3 days worth of gigs, its value-for-money is hard to beat.

Chick Corea’s Electric Band came on about 12.30am on the 2nd night. There was Nathan East on bass, Dave Weckl on drums, Eric Marienthal on sax and a guitarman I didn’t recognise. The crowd was huge, which I didn’t expect. And 90% were people who ‘got it’. The 10% left after 15 minutes. They were tight and technically super-proficient. Like many others, I was disappointed that they didn’t play “Spain” or anything from Return To Forever’s “Romantic Warrior”. Still we left satiated. I hope to catch them again on the third day.

And I did catch them on the third day. They were all wizards in their art and craft, no mistaking that. And the repertoire was completely different from the previous day. Sadly though, no Spain, no RTF. Still, it was magic.

Ne-yo was the act with probably the biggest star-power on the third day (or any of the 3 days), if the size of the crowd was any indication. Entertained he did and the crowd lapped it all up. I was only looking forward to Sexy Love only, which he delivered.

Stanley Jordan plus an elderly Japanese bassist and an elderly Japanese drummer played at Outdoor Stage 1. This is a different modus operandi from when I saw him last in KL. That time it was just him alone with his guitars. And he also played the keyboards last night and he sang! Different, interesting and blows your mind that he can multi-task with 2 guitars or in last night’s case, guitar AND keys. Most, if not all the songs were covers, reinterpreted. The tunes included Eleanor Rigby, Fragile, Stairway to Heaven and a Bartok piece. Oh and, it struck me only last night that he could easily pass off as Prince reincarnate, especially with his hair done like that. And he looked younger than when I saw him, what 15 years ago?

Harvey Mason, Kirk Whallum and a keysman and a guitarist were under-appreciated despite their fame (in the jazz world at least). There were less than 50 people in the hall. They performed mainly jazz standards that they stretched to dizzying dimensions.

Besides Chick Corea, Eric Marienthal also did sax duties with Special EFX, an American guitar-bass-drums-keys outfit. Not too shabby. They were the last act we saw and also the final one of JJF2017.

All in all, it’s time and money pretty well-spent and yeah, I’d come back again if the musicians are up to par. See you next year perhaps?

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#Badbadnotgood in KL – not bad

 

badbadnotgood-sam-herringI saw Badbadnotgood at a small outdoor club in KL last night, with 2 of my kids who are huge fans. We first saw them earlier in March at Java Jazz, so I had some idea on what to expect. Some of my comments here are negative. So, if you are a die-hard fan, you might want to skip this review and head to my other blog postings.

These white boys, from Canada I think, play  a mix of jazz, hip-hop and electronica. That’s according to the bio on the organiser’s website. In the days of old, we would’ve described their music as jazz-rock or jazz-fusion. Then, we had Return To Forever, Brand X, Bruford etc. There are 4 of them – on drums, keys, bass and sax. They don’t do vocals, except on their side projects where they collaborate with mainly black artists, including Frank Ocean (impressive!). The drummer guy looks like the bandleader and did most of the talking in between songs.

These guys are technically proficient – accomplished musicians all. But, just like the first time I saw them, I felt there was something missing. It’s a little like you’re having this great meal at a restaurant, but feel like there’s something missing in the recipe – not enough spice. In the case of BBNG, to me, the one big thing that was missing was ‘soul’. Their music is all clever, speedy and pitch-perfect, but it lacks feeling. It’s the difference between Joe Cocker singing “With A Little Help From My Friends” versus The Beatles’ original.

I realize I’m treading on sensitive territory here, but discussions about music are touchy anyway, just like politics, or even football! Anyway, back to the ‘soul’ element, they could fix this by adding/substituting with 1 or 2 black musicians, particularly in the rhythm section – the bass and drums. Take a look at Return To Forever – they had Stanley Clarke on bass and Lenny White on drums playing with white guys Chick Corea on keys and Al DiMeola on guitar. That combination worked like magic. Check out RTF’s “Romantic Warrior”, which is probably the best jazz-fusion album ever.

I also feel that they could use a little help in their compositions. I know they could do an outstanding job executing any song thrown to them, but you still have to have a great song in the first place. Apart from all the tunes in the RTF’s album above, check out Bruford’s “Beelzebub” and you might see where I’m coming from. See the other thing that’s missing from many of BBNG’s tunes are that their typical song lack a climax, or a resolution that addresses the starting premise of the song – see RTF’s “Spain” to understand what I mean by this. One quick way for these boys to solve this problem would be to do cover tunes of great jazz standards – I’d venture “Take Five” or Weather Report’s “Birdland”. Better still, if you’re a band playing in foreign places, you should attempt a local tune to win over the crowd. I hear Bruce Springsteen does this often. I woulda done P. Ramlee’s “Getaran Jiwa” last night.

Anyway, just one more negative comment – their interaction with the crowd coulda been better. Here’s a tip – look at the people in the crowd in the eyes, play with them, cajole, flirt with them, show them that you are having fun – that should be in every band member’s job description.

Having said all this, dear Badbadnotgood, we all had a great time last night. Thank you. And rest assured, if you happen to be in our neighbourhood again, I’d gladly pay good money to see you guys. Cheers!

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Be Happy. Now

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Some of us think that we’ll be happy when we get rich. You might think that you’ll be happy when you lose a few more kilos or when you’re more toned. Or you’ll be happy when the kids leave the house and you have the spouse all to yourself. If you’re still in school, you would be happy once you get your degree, right? If you’re single, you will most certainly be happy once you have a partner. And when you’re married you will be happy once you have kids. You might be beginning to see a pattern here…

Now, what if you never get rich? What if you never lose those damn kilos? What if you don’t get that degree? What if you never have kids, no matter how hard you try?

My point is this – Don’t postpone your happiness. Be happy and be happy now. This very moment. Happiness is merely a state of mind. It’s all up there – you choose to be happy or sad, it’s entirely up to you. Entirely.

OK, you might ask why should you WANT to be happy. It’s because in the end, it’s what this life here on earth is about. It’s about being happy. No matter what state of health or prosperity or beauty or whatever you’re in, you owe it to yourself and those around you to be happy. Because happiness is contagious. And so is grumpiness. You choose,

So how do you get happy? Turn both ends of your lips upwards. Go on, look in the mirror. It’s called a smile. Smiling actually makes you happy, just as being happy makes you smile. It works both ways.

Here’s another way to be happy – do good for others. That could mean something as simple as putting some money in the charity box or helping an old lady cross the road or helping a stranger change his tyres. I guess you could call it any act of selflessness, i.e. doing something for someone else without expecting anything in return.

So, let’s be happy. Now. It’s your choice.

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US Visa Interview

My daughter’s US Visa application process..

Here’s an update – We received the Visa today, by courier, 2 days after the visit to the Embassy. Nice. I am impressed 🙂

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I’ve been so anxious about my US visa interview for weeks and it turned out to be okay! It was much simpler than I thought.

First, I had to queue up outside the embassy which is at Jalan Tun Razak, KL. I queued up a good 15 minutes, I think, wasn’t long. My appointment letter said 10am, so the sun wasn’t scorching hot above my head while waiting.

At the first stop they’ll ask for you passport and IC. They’ll keep your IC here. Then you’ll have to queue for the second stop, which is a small room at the entrance of the embassy.

At the second stop, some nice abang polis will ask you to empty your pockets and leave behind all your electronics. I told them I had no pockets and they laughed lolll and when they asked for my phone they said “phone pun takde??” then they…

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Merdeka lah

flag kidsMalaysia

This country is not perfect

Our politicians are not

Our planes sometimes fall off the sky

The weather’s humid, and now the haze is coming back

Groceries are getting expensive

And we could go on and on, complaining, bitching

But hey, we’re 59 today.

 

If you are 59 today, you could choose to say that you’re life’s not perfect

That your parents had never been

And your car breaks down too often.

 

Or you could say that you’re thankful for all that life has given you

And that you look forward to a fulfilling old age.

 

This country and this life is really yours for the taking

The choice is yours

Make it matter

Come on, get up, do something.

 

Stop bitching on Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter

Unless you’re in a position of power, you are not changing anything

You’re just stressing yourself and your ‘friends’

That’s not being apathetic, that’s being realistic

Stop complaining, start living.

 

The change starts with you. Yes you, that person in the mirror

Don’t stress about things that you can’t change

Make the most of this bumi yang dipijak

And langit yang dijunjung.

 

It is your duty to make the most of this life

You have only one life on this earth

And make the most of this country, it is your duty

In the end, there is only one Malaysia.

 

Selamat Hari Merdeka!

Merdeka lah

 

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