Thursday, September 30, 2010

National Mosque of Malaysia

Malaysia's population is 60% Muslim. All ethnic Malays are Muslim. In Kuala Lumpur we saw a few small mosques and then there was Masjid Negara, the national mosque of Malaysia.

This beautiful Masjid has the capacity to hold 15,000 people! I have never seen such a clear and clean place in all my life. I was blown away to see a space that serves to many to be so immaculate. When you first enter the masjid grounds, you have to take off your shoes, this includes the bathrooms! No where on the premises are shoes allowed. The actual prayer area is beautiful. I started to take pictures but then a man ran up to me and informed me I wasn't allowed. here are the few I got.

The columns of the Masjid had this impressive work

Every window was this stained glass that said "Mohamed" or "Allah"

Thursday, September 23, 2010

KL offerings

Kuala Lumpur is a bustling city. People come from all over to vacation, especially from the UAE. While in the hotel lobby I saw so many Emiratis I thought I hadn't left Dubai. KL is a cosmopolitan Asian city that is very modern.  I was a bit disappointed because it's authenticity, or local culture, has been seemingly diluted with the influx of globalization: shopping malls with Gucci, Chanel, and Zara, McDonald's on every corner, and an influx of migration from all over the world. The sidewalks, unemcumbered by on and off ramps for any unfortunate travelers requiring wheelchair assistance or parents with strollers, are nearly nonexistent due to nonexistent urban planning, spilling over with residents and tourists.

McDonalds in Kuala Lumpur is 24 hrs!

In terms of things to do, there wasn't a lot. Our group was also very large so our options were limited. The top two things to do in KL are eating and open air reflexology parlors (ancient Chinese massage technique involving the correlation of pressure points on feet, hands and back, to the health of your internal organs and overall health) I indulged in both, especially in the latter - amazing after a long day pounding the uneven pavement. What KL does have is a nice night atmosphere. You can dine al fresco at one of the hundreds of restaurants (almost all halal!), have a cup of coffee under the illuminated Patronas towers, drop a coin in a fountain  (ever notice how much Arabs LOVE fountains?), or see one of the many street acts performing 'Look how odd I am in full body glitter...take a picture with me for a dollar acts.  There were also sword swallowers, fire jugglers, and the third-world sad practice of displaying extreme physical deformity for handouts. 

John Wall at Patronas Towers!

I guess I had expected a more "Asian" feel when I ventured to Malaysia. I'm not even sure what that means but what I had done was underestimate its development and commerical attraction.

Thank you and Don't Forget!

I just wanted to take a minute to thank everyone who visits and reads my blog. I have been getting lots of positive feedback about it! I can't say enough how flattered I am and how encouraged I am to continue to write. I really appreciate all the readers and followers. I love being able to share with you all of the amazing experiences I've had on my trip.With that being said, I still would like this blog to be more interactive. I don't want to be the only one talking. I'd love to read comments or questions from my readers. If you have any questions about my travels, something I did, or anything at all, please comment and let me know!

Lord willing I will continue to blog, I still have lots to share!

Thanks Again!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Funny Signs Around Malaysia

Non-Halal bar... go figure.

Apparently this is a really big problem in Kuala Lumpur. You have to especially look out for the "Cowboy" theif. They ride on Moped and snap your purse and drive off!


Malaysian Cuisine

 Malaysian cuisine reflects the multicultural aspects of Malaysia. The influences from India, China, and Indonesia mesh to create the Malay ethnicity. The various ethnic groups in Malaysia have their own dishes, but many dishes in Malaysia are derived from those multi-ethnic influences. So while I love the flavors, taste, and spices used in Indian, Chinese, and Indonesian food, when together they are not pallet pleasing. The problem is, the flavors used in those cuisines are so distinct and strong, when used in unison your tongue is confused because it can't capture and enjoy a particular flavor. I  have concluded that I don't care for the combination of texture and consistency of Malaysian food.
    When I was a kid, my mom always got angry with me if I said food was gross or nasty. She would tell me that it was "Na3mat Allah" or the blessings of God and we should be thankful. So, out of respect to my mother and the blessings of God, I won't use either term to describe Malaysian food. Rather, I will say it is "not my favorite".  
This looks more like dinner than breakfast!

 Each morning at our hotel, they had this HUGE breakfast buffet. It had the western foods of cereal, waffles, fresh fruit, pastries and yogurt. But it also had authentic Malay breakfast of 4-6 different curries and rice. It may just be me, and I may not be familiar, but I consider curry and rice to be a lunch/dinner food. The first morning we went down to eat, I was so overwhelmed by all the choices. I was feeling only mildly adventurous so I tried some curry.
    There was a silver lining however. If you don't want to eat rice with your curry, Malays sop it up with Roti Canai, a thin bread cooked on a hot iron skillet, it is EXACTLY like Libyan ftat! If you don't know Libyan ftat is a thin bread prepared the same way that is eaten with honey. I was so excited to see something I was familiar with and longing. While I ate it the Libyan way instead of the Malay way, it was still delicious. I especially appreciated it on Eid. It is always a tradition in my family to eat Ftat on Eid morning, this Eid I was as far away from my home as imaginable, but I still got my ftat!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Selamat Datang ke Malaysia!

When we departed Dubai it was Mughraib. When we landed it was Fajir, it almost felt like I never stopped fasting that day. It was still dark when we arrived, so I couldn't see an aerial view of Kuala Lumpur (KL). But by the time we went through customs, got our bags, grabbed a taxi, it was light out and I saw the stark difference between Dubai and KL.

Malaysia is so lush and tropical, its really amazing. I have never seen a place so green. The variety of flora is incredible, its so dense its almost jungle like. I didn't realize how much I had missed seeing plant life after being in Dubai only three weeks! It rained the entire first day.  And when I heard the sound of thunder and rain falling, I was so happy. You don't realize there are sounds that you are use to hearing and bring comfort to you. The familiarity of a rain shower was so nice after being in the desert.

We stayed at the Royale Chulan in downtown KL. It was a fabulous hotel. Maybe its my inner child, but I LOVE staying in hotels. Its just my thing. This place was great. Clean rooms, great amenities, and this crazy Malaysian breakfast buffet, which I'll blog about by itself. It deserves its own post.

The view from outside my window was amazing. I could see the Patronas Towers, which were the worlds tallest buildings from 1998-2004.

 After we checked in  and I was able to settle down, I slept like a log till Mughraib. For Iftar we went ate at the authentic Malaysian dinner buffet set up by the Hotel, it was crazy. I can't wait to tell you about it....

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Malaysian Airlines....FAIL

We flew Malaysian Airlines to Kuala Lumpur direct from Dubai. The flight was 7.5 hours and I was not looking forward to it. Apart from being a poor flier, I was just starting to get over the jet lag and flight to Dubai and then found myself off again.  Still, I was really excited to fly on what i had read online was a 5 star quality airline that I had never flown before and probably wont ever use again.

Post-trip conclusion? Malaysian Airlines = FAIL. Their slogan is "This is Malaysian Hospitality" and after that first flight and their hospitality, I was afraid of what I would find in the country. Thankfully it was just a single bad flight and the country was great. My complaints of the flight:

1. The entertainment system was blurry. While everyone got their own TV, most didn't work and only 2 movies played - The Last Airbender and Prince of Persia (MORE FAILS), and they were played on a loop. Also there was nothing for the kids to watch like cartoons. Since we had many kids with us, this was major Parenting Requirement FAIL.

Even Aya said The Last Airbender sucked.
2. The food was too spicy. While I  like some bite to a dish, not everyone does. MA is catering to a large and diverse group of passengers, not just Malays, who may not be use to eating Spicy Chicken Biryani with a Tangy Mango Chutney Salad. And let's be honest, one's digestive system isn't exactly operating harmoniously 38,000 miles in the air, and adding that extra hurdle to your traveling experience isn't necessary. Ever heard of beef stroganoff MA?

Got Tums?

3. They only served Pepsi and 7up, thats it! And tough luck for diabetics, there were no sugar free options (other than water). The flight attendant told me this was because they served what Dubai Catering services gave them. I later found this to be true.
4. While not really a complaint, the chairs were all these funky colors. It was like they bought the fabric for their fleet from a Joanna's Fabrics remnants sale. Not eye pleasing.

Something very cool was when we departed it was nearly Mughraib, and still being Ramadan, they announced the Iftar time, and distributed individually wrapped dates!

At this point in the trip, I didn't have much to rave about.

How Refreshing!

It was so refreshing, so enchanting to fly out of Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, and Ho Chi Minh City International Airports. The reason why? I wasn't made to feel like a criminal. I can't explain how nice it was to go to an airport and not have everyone staring at you nervously. People from every country, religious background, and subsequently, wearing a different headress/ethnic garb, sat next to each other at food court tables, or stood in security checkpoint lines, oblivious to their differences. 

Immediately I noticed the calm in the airport. There wasn't that nervous and scary feeling that hangs in the air at U.S. airports. An ominous voice didn't get on the PA system and repeatedly remind us what color the security level was. We didn't need prompting to be alert of suspicious behavior. All of these airports are just as safe as any American airport but they don't have the atmosphere of alarm.

I always thought the fear mongering at airports in the U.S was ridiculous. Now I know it is. You don't have to scare people to be safe. I shouldn't have to act extra secular, modern, and western so people don't think I work for Bin Laden. People don't have to be ostracized to insure security.

While flying out of airports in the non-western world, I have never felt more relaxed, secure, and at ease while traveling.

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

I just got back from the most amazing 10 day vacation in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. It was an experience of a life time. Asia is such a vibrant place that seems like a world all on its own. I never thought I would venture out to the part of the globe and I couldn't be more thankful that I did. I saw so many things, tasted new foods, picked up new lingo.

 I will try my best to share it all with you guys in the best way possible. There is just so much I want to tell you about I dont know where to start. Every part of this trip was a new experience for me, from food to the language, and even the airlines! I'll start from the beginning and hopefully wont leave anything out. If you have questions, feel free to leave me a comment.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Assia in Assia!

The title of this blog is the joke that I have been making in my head on behalf of all corny Libyans. For those who don't get it, which really ruins the joke,  Assia is arabic for Asia. I have not blogged in awhile for good reasons. I have been away from a computer and exploring Asia for the last week! By the grace of God I have been able to travel about my namesake. I was in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia for the last 5 days and now I am in another Asian location. I only have 2 more minutes on my internet cafe card so I can't elaborate. I wanted to assure you that I didn't forget about the blog, rather I'm finding great things to show you guys. I have AMAZING pictures and stories and I can't wait to share. Insha'Allah I will be back in Dubai in a few days and I can tell all about it. Tell then, Salamat Hari Raya!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Can I get yo numba?

In Dubai they have a system with their car license plates. The plates begin with the number 1 and continue upwards based on how many cars there are in Dubai. For example Makhtoom's car is number 1 and to give you perspective, Hend is number 45,837. So the lower the number is on the plate the more affluent you are. Usually double digits are royalty. Around town I've seen some really low numbers and have been taking pictures. Today at the gas station one of Makhtooms kid pulled up in #5. I should have introduced myself, maybe next time.

This affluent Emirati even had his own tricked out recreational semi! I know this isn't a service vehicle because it has regular plates and not industrial ones.
License Plates, just one more way to show your wealth in Dubai.

Beep Beep Yo Bus is Here!

Ramadan is nearly over. For some this just means that they can now eat during the day and will have a less exact time of when mughraib comes in. For children in the Middle East, it means back to school. Today my sister took me to my nieces school to pick up the uniform and show me around. In Libya I visited an elementary school that was the doppelganger of a prison. Rooms were bare, concrete caves with a small window and chalk boards. So, I was interested to see how the school and classrooms looked here.

 In Dubai, there is no public school system. All schools are private and you pay to send your kid, and at this particular Dubai school, Dubai Wataniya (Dubai National) it was a bit of a disappointment. The building was nondescript, classrooms were big and white washed. Honestly you know what. no one does a classroom up like Americans. It was missing the bean bags, the reading corner. Where were the colorful bulletin boards? Albeit it wasn't as bad as a Libyan school, they were still pretty empty and boring. I think when it comes to education, Arabs only know one style, strict.

I'm sure my niece gets a quality education and the teachers aren't monsters, but still it would be nice to see more color about the place. I wonder if they can hit kids here.

Girls askin' me for Dates like its Ramadan

Another new experience I've had the luxury to experience in Dubai is tasting the variety of dates they have here. The stores carry 20-30 different varieties of dates from different countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Morocco. After various iftars and azzumas, I have tried most kinds of dates and it is in my humble opinion that there is nothing, let me emphasis NOTHING, better than the California Medjool dates. Sweet Georgia brown, aint nothing better.

So while California may produce a better date than anywhere in the Middle East, its still fun to drive down the road and see the palm trees that line the highway full with fruit. You can be walking down a sidewalk and  a date will fall on your head or they are scattered on the floor. Some trees have nets around the dates so that they may be collected.

I made Hend pull over one evening so I could get a closer look. Only from fear of being arrested did I resist climbing up and grabbing me some free dates. I'd love to try it fresh off the tree. Who knows maybe I'll muster the nerve to do it one day.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A humble gift

We had an Azzuma, dinner guests, at Hend's house last night where two Emirati families were invited. As is customary for most, and almost mandatory for Arabs, you bring a small gift for the host family. Never come empty handed. Growing up in Lexington, it was almost standard to give and get a box of Ferrero Rocher; this is simply not done in Dubai. Emirati people are truly generous. They want to give their host the best. Pictured below are the humble gifts they brought.

Hend wont let me open the basket, but I'm just waiting for her to fall asleep. Also, here are a few pictures of the table and what she served.

Fresh figs with goat cheese (This was better in theory)
Cucumber Yogurt and Salad
Leg of Lamb!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Park51 comes to Dubai

Last night the Dubai School of Government, DSG, in partnership with the United States Consulate held a forum and Iftar where Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf spoke about “the very definition of the American existential viewpoint [being] consistent with the very thinking of Muslim scholars.” I know all of us have heard and read about the debacle/debate surrounding the Park 51 proposal in Manhattan. When I was told we were going to meet him at the Iftar, I was very interested to hear from the man at the center of it all.

Hend and I arrived early to help the staff handle the crowds and swarms of media. CNN, Gulf News, ABC news, The Associated Press, and Huffington Post, as well as many local journalist, stormed the lobby of DSG in an attempt to get pictures, videos, and statements from the Imam. All this was to no avail because the strict policy that no video was allowed of the Imam and only 5 minutes of photography before he began his remarks. Of course they call them media dogs for a reason.  They got their pictures during Iftar and during the beginning of his talk. Media is not a pretty business, they do what they want  to get the story and shot they need. It was all a bit overwhelming. The snaps and shutters of camera lenses seemed endless. It really made me feel, if only a bit, for celebrities. How tiresome to constantly be followed by a pack of determined photographers. The plus side is, if you stood close enough to the Imam you may be pictured too!
Compliments of The National
On to the discussion and words of Imam Feisal. In summary, I can only say I wish you guys had been there. In a calm and most eloquent matter he spoke about the compatibility and parallels between the fundamental American viewpoint and Islam. I had geared up to hear a series of bullet points and sound bites created by the State Department, but his words were genuine and logical. There were three particular things he said that really resonated with me:

1. America helped us "find" our deen. By this he meant that when growing up in a Muslim society when it came to religion “you practise your faith because it is a social norm,”  But in America the choice to practice is yours. Society doesn't force you to practice. You make the decision and take the steps needed to strengthen your faith. “The more something is a choice, the more it is yours. The less something is a choice, the less it is yours. There is no responsibility without choice”

 This struck me because it made me think of all the people I know, my parents included, who became better Muslims once leaving a Muslim country.

2. Muslims today have become consumed with protecting and promoting Islam as a noun. In reality Islam is a verb, it is something you do. We have forgotten to practice and fulfill our obligations within Islam. We are worried with what people say about Islam and give less mind to what is required of us as Muslims.

3.We bring people understanding of our faith through actions. Lead by example. If everyone was suppose to be Muslim, Allah (swt) could have made it that way. Compelling or forcing people to Islam is not the way. Even in the Quran it says:  لَكُمْ دِينُكُمْ وَلِيَ دِينِ  Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion.

Masha'Allah I think Imam Feisal to be very wise and educated.  He is very level headed and moderate. No one in the media can accuse this guy of being extreme or radical; his wife, Daisy,  (interestingly enough doesn't wear Hijab) is very active in the community promoting Islam and gender equality . His voice is a moderate and logical one. We need more Imam Feisals in America.