Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Island Run - PBIM 2010

The past weekend was spent in Penang, for me to strike out the last of my running events this year from my 2010 to-do list.

I could not help but pose like this :P Kit collection was a breeze as I went there early.

Getting my chip activated after collection.

I don't have any pictures during the actual run as I decided to leave my camera behind rather than risking getting it wet. It's not waterproof ;P unlike some people's camera. So hopefully I'll get some 'water-proofed' pictures sent my way soon.

It rained and rained. Anyway more story later hopefully with the pics.

And, what's a visit to Penang without indulgences right? Didn't eat as much though, my appetite was quite restrained, rather strange I thought - half the time was spent resting and napping.

I was determined to try out Nasi Kandar Line Clear after missing it on the last two trips.

The queue spilled out to the street. Patience is a virtue. Oh, and it was very hot. As in steaming-dripping-sweat hot day. An it's-so-hot-I-wanna-jump-into-the-river day. Typically, I wilted and melted. Thank God for interesting people-watching.

All for this plate of 'mess'? Serious food here. Memang sedap. Ended up eating it again on Sunday :) Sadly, my limited appetite wasted half the plate. Proof that I can be such a glutton sometimes. Dessert was at Penang Road Famous Cendul later, I needed that sugar boost!

Late dinner at Sup Hameed at Penang Road. I don't eat sup ekor, but this was also serious stuff. Had it with two slices of bread.

Indulgences eventually require Eno to the rescue. Thanks to the 7-11 cashier who gave me a free Pepsi World plastic cup. Stayed in Tune Hotel, no such thing as a glass provided. Oh if you look closely on the cup on left background, that's a topless Torres painted in WC colours. Delicious?

The rain and getting wet was worth it? No sleep?
Finisher's medals - yeay! One was mine and the other was my Hobbes' :)

My weekend was most enjoyable; and I am so happy I've completed my 4 runs as planned this year.

Next, planning for 2011 :) Come join me!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Syria : The Whirling Dervish in Damascus

During a dinner at a restaurant in the Christian Quarter in Damascus, we had the privilege of being entertained with a whirling dervish dance.

I have seen this dance many times on TV's travel channel; this is the first time live, and it was a lone dervish. He performed a few sets of the dance, and spun so fast it was amazing that he didn't lose his balance or trip or feel giddy.

Each dance was to the tune of (Sufi?) music - which I find haunting- and ended abruptly with a loud stomp on the floor. The skirt swirled and billowed perfectly it seemed like it was either made of a stiff material or starched to perfection.

Although it was understood that the dervish dance was put up for the tourists, I thought the dancer was in an actual trance as his expressions and his eyes appeared so. He has to be, right? I don't think they can just perform the dance 'for show' only.

The information for the captions below are sourced from here; and there is a whole load of further information on dervishes and Sufism out there in the great big world of Google.

"The whirling dervish dance originated in Konya, Turkey, inspired by the songs and teachings of the poet Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi, who lived from 1207-1273. Rumi was a Sufi, a branch of Islam that started in the 8th century. Sufis assert that through their religion they are brought closer to the heart of all modes of belief. Rumi himself was moved to begin dancing in dervish fashion after meeting a holy man known as Shems of Tabriz. The dance, in which he spun incessantly, was done in devotion to Allah and the organic powers of the universe. While he whirled, he repeated the name of god until he fell into a trance state of deep worship".

"The whirling dervish is known as a Semazen. Dervish itself means doorway to god or enlightenment. Sufism is derived from the word for a rough, woollen cloak, its material designed to diminish the superficial pleasures of worldly existence. Mevlevis are the order of Sufis that perform the whirling dervish dance, refered to as the Sema. The leader of the group is called the Sheikh; he often stands in the middle of the room, representing the sun, while the other members dance around him in imitation of the cycles of the planets. The repetition of god's name is the Zikr".

"Whirling dervishes sport a conical hat and a white shirt and skirt. The skirt is made of billowing material that flows out and around the dancer as they spin. The headgear symbolizes the need to seal off one's ego in order to connect to god and the universe. The skirt represents a shroud but also the sky, which is revealed as the dancer removes their black cloak and begins the journey towards spiritual enlightenment".

"As they whirl, always from right to left, thus in the motions of the blood circulating around the heart, the Dervishes hold their hands in a unique position. The right hand is lifted, palm-out, towards god and his gifts. The left is palm down towards the earth, to both draw forth its sustenance and to deliver god's gifts of the spirit to humanity. The dancers usually spin to the sounds of a reed flute. The flute symbolizes how human pain (the holes in the flute) can be transformed into beautiful music and a source of celebration".

At the end of his performance, the dancer - hot and sweaty - changed out of his attire and into his daily clothes. Maybe after this restaurant he's off to another place for his next show.

To sum up the experience : fascinating. Made me wish that one day I can watch a big group of dervishes perform the dance in perfect unison. Preferably in Turkey.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Jordan : Petra, A Rose Red City Half As Old As Time*, or (alternative title) I Love Indiana Jones

Ever since I watched Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, one of my all-time favourite movies (along with other Indys) ever, Petra has been on my bucket list.

I voted for it to be listed under the New Seven Wonders of The World a few years back - can't imagine any one not doing so.

And just like Angkor Wat, it took a foreigner to rediscover this lost city - in 1812, a Swiss explorer named Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, gained access to this area disguised as an Arab.

Entrance is JD38 for a 2 day pass. From November onwards, all rates will be increased. Yeah, my name was spelled wrongly. Meh. I realised it later at the gate when they scanned the ticket.

We had an official park guide assigned, you can also go on your own if you wish. Going with the guide on the first day was good - you get to ask questions and all that.

We walked and walked and walked under the hot sun. Total distance of the main route was 4 kms. In front on the left are the Bab As Siq Triclinium, which looked like square blocks.

The ticket is inclusive of a horse ride from the gate to the Siq, however we did not take it up as we were told that the handlers practically demanded baksheesh afterwards.

The sun was blindingly hot!

The moment I was anticipating most - entering the Siq!

The Siq is about 1.2 km long, with cliffs soaring up to 80m.

On the sides are rock-carved water channels which serve as irrigation system for this ancient Nabatean city.

On some parts the rocks capture and 'reflect' the afternoon sun giving it a warm red glow. I think, rocks do can glow, right? What I mean is, the sun made the rocks look even redder.

The shaded parts were cooler.

When I got a peek of the Treasury ('Al-Khazneh'), I got really excited. *hippity hop*

Cue the Indiana Jones theme ... * da da da da, da da da *....
(orchestra please)

Closer and closer ....

Ta da! And there it stood in all its glory - the Treasury. Petra's most well-known facade, and its pride and joy. Elaborately carved and decorated, Hellenestic-inspired, built around 1BC.

View of the Siq from the Treasury.

Close-up of the two middle columns - see the left one? The 'patch' in the middle is apparently the only repair that they have done to the ruins. The rest are as it is.

The urn which adorns the Treasury in in bad shape as it got shot at by those who thought it contained treasures.

You can see the bullet marks here and there - like chicken pox scars.

Underground chamber of the Treasury - closed off as they have not fully explored the place.


Here are some pictures of the ruins of other main buildings carved out from the red rocks. The whole city was built by the Nabateans out of individual blocks of rocks. Earthquakes and wind erosion damaged some of them.

Some entrances were buried in sand, indicating how deep the ground level had been thousands of years ago.

The steps symbolises the stairway to heaven - so these were tombs.

The Palace Tomb.

Close-up of The Palace Tomb.

The Urn Tomb.

The Obelisk Tomb - this was not as red.

One of the Triclinium - I think there were three? (Duh).

Qasr Al-Bint - it was closed for restoration works.

We reached the end of the main trail near Qasr Al Bint, the Main Temple, and decided to take the donkey up to the Monastery ('Ad Deir'). I could not possibly imagine an uphill walk/trek (I so did not believe it is 800 steps up) that late in the hot afternoon. After much haggling we managed to get the price down to JD5 per person.

This was taken by Julie - I think after my first fall off the donkey. I was quite shaken since the cliffs on the side looked bloody scary. Did I mention I fell off twice? !@#$% Technically twice. The second time the donkey guy managed to stop me from falling off the sliding saddle; I blame the loose front girth. I wanted to dismount and walk up but the guy said he'll walk beside me and lead the donkey so that made me feel a little better.

This was taken on our way down on foot from the Monastery. On the way up, our donkeys had to go under this rock, with inches to spare.

Me and Julie and Julie's donkey; I can't remember if this was taken before, during or after the ride up. I think it was after.

At the Monastery - just as grand as the Treasury though not so intricate. Afternoon is definitely the best time to come up here as the sun is shining directly onto the building. I don't know why my bandana was poufy like that.

Tired feet and extremely dusty shoes. The long long walk back to the entrance was worth it though, and we still had the next day!

I love Petra, with all its ruins and sand and red rocks.

As I write this, I am listening to the Indiana Jones (*hearts* Indy) theme, and find myself wishing that I can look up to a blue sky like this again one day.

Good night, time for bed.

*taken from John W. Burgon's poem Petra :

"It seems no work of Man's creative hand,

by labour wrought as wavering fancy planned

But from the rock as if by magic grown,

eternal, silent, beautiful, alone!

Not virgin-white like that old Doric shrine,

where erst Athena held her rites divine;

Not saintly-grey, like many a minster fane,

that crowns the hill and consecrates the plain;

But rose-red as if the blush of dawn,

that first beheld them were not yet withdrawn;

The hues of youth upon a brow of woe,

which Man deemed old two thousand years ago,

match me such marvel save in Eastern clime,

a rose-red city half as old as time".