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This blogspot is a medium to share my thoughts and adventures apart from promoting my books. Below are the books which have been written or authored and published by myself.


"Berpetualang ke Aceh: Mencari Diri dan Erti".

ISBN 983-42031-0-1, Jun 2006


"Berpetualang ke Aceh: Membela Syiar yang Asal"

ISBN 983-42031-1-x, May 2007


"Berpetualang ke Aceh: Sirih Pulang ke Gagang?"

ISBN 978-983-42031-2-2, November 2007


It is interesting to note that while these books were written in Malay it has gained enough attention to merit being part of the collections of the American Library of Congress and National Library of Australia. Look here and here.


While the first three books were published by my own company, the fourth titled "Rumah Azan" was published in April 2009 by a company called Karnadya with the help of the Malaysian national literary body Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka. It features beautiful pictures along with stories behind selected mosques which could be related to the history of Islam and the Malays alongside the formation of the Malaysian nation. Look at the article A collaboration of old collegemates - the book "Rumah Azan".


My fifth book "Ahlul Bait (Family) of Rasulullah SAW and Malay Sultanates", an English translation and adaptation of the Malay book "Ahlul Bait (Keluarga) Rasulullah SAW dan Kesultanan Melayu" authored by Hj Muzaffar Mohamad and Tun Suzana Othman was published early 2010. Look here... My 5th book is out! Ahlul Bait (Family) of Rasulullah SAW and the Malay Sultanates... . For more information check out my Malay blogspot CATATAN SI MERAH SILU.



Like my fourth book "Rumah Azan", the sixth book "Kereta Api Menuju Destinasi" is also a coffee-table book which is published by the company Karnadya with the cooperation of Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (the main Malay literary body in Malaysia). Coming out January 2011 it features pictures and stories on the adventure travelling by train to all of Peninsular Malaysia along with the interesting places which could be reached this way.


My seventh book "Jejak keluarga Yakin : Satu sketsa sejarah" in turn is a coffee-table book which is written, editted, designed and has pictures taken by me. Coming out of the factory October 2011, this book which combines family history with history of places such as Singapura, Johor, Batu Pahat, Muar and in fact the history of the island of Java and England has been reviewed with me interviewed live in the program Selamat Pagi Malaysia at RTM1. Look at the article Siaran langsung ulasan buku "Jejak keluarga Yakin : Satu sketsa sejarah" dan temu ramah di Selamat Pagi Malaysia. Some selected contents have been featured in Sneak peek "Jejak keluarga Yakin : Satu sketsa sejarah".


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The "Berpetualang ke Aceh" series of novels could be obtained in e-book form. Enter http://www.e-sentral.com/, click general novel and go to page 4. You can also type the word "Aceh" at the search box. Or click straight Book 1, Book 2 and Book 3.


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Trip to Europe 1995... Playing the fool in Bratislava...

Me posing in Bratislava, Republic of Slovakia. If memory serves me right the picture is of the president's residence! So there...

And to end tonight's session of story-telling... Without much further ado, part 5... This also happens to be the 111th posting in this blogspot. As I like the number so much, this means that I won't make any new posting here for a while. So enjoy deeply what's already been served ya. Take care! :]

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On the way to Bratislava, I had a close shave with a group of boxers.
It started at a petrol station on the outskirts of Prague. I waited patiently for the last six hours trying several times to get lifts from the car and lorry drivers stopping at the station to no avail.
I was about to find a sleeping spot when an old rundown bus stopped for petrol. Several guys were onboard. Two came down to get some tidbits from the petrol station shop. This could well be my next lift.
Approaching them, I asked to be allowed on the bus. They said yes.
About thirty men were onboard. They claimed to be Czech national boxers on their way to Bulgaria for a friendly match. Bratislava was on the route, lucky for me.
We immediately got acquainted with each other. Mode of language were signs and gestures including caveman sounds. It was sufficient for us to share some light moments (or did they laughed for the wrong reasons?). To the untrained eye, we looked like spastic kids on an campfire outing.
As the hours ticked away, things began to turn ugly.
At first they asked for my money and camera jokingly. As I refused their request again and again, the tone of voice got more serious.
There were some sort of hints as they showed their boxing skills and once in a while slap my back in an exagerated manner. I understood what was going on, This was a veiled threat.
The boxing show means "give us what we want or you’ll get a punch in the kisser."
Uh… Uh… There’s no way I can take out these guys, so better play it cool.
I kept myslef calm hiding my shaking interior. Taking out some coins, I told them to have it. But they want US Dollars, not some Pounds (Hah! So much for Great Britain…). They opted strongly for the camera instead. That I can’t comply with. This was what I told them : "No… Camera can not… I need camera… Mama, papa see picture…" complete with the appropriate body language.
At last I managed to convince them not to take the camera. But I had to play a game of bluff. I had to keep cool, subtlely let them think I had Kung Fu or Black Magic. They can’t really figure me out, so the bluff worked.
However I was not allowed to be onboard anymore. They dropped me at Brno another 150 kilometres to Bratislava.
I wonder what would happen if I’d said the wrong thing… "Malaysian got bashed in Czech…." Huh, simpang malaikat empat puluh empat!
At Brno, I decided to take a train to Bratislava. I was surprised to find out a trip to Bratislava cost 74 Kroners (equivalent to RM8, by England’s standard chicken feed). Should have done that earlier instead of risking a fat lip.
Bratislava, capital of Slovakia had the cutest museums in Europe, literally midgets compared to London’s British Museum or Paris’ Louvre. Lacking the credibility of Prague, there were attempts to associate the city with greatness.
The tourist authorities traced Bratislava’s history to a thousand years ago pointing it out as a capital of the once powerful Austro-Hungarian Empire (was it in the 16th Century? Did anybody knew?). It was a good attempt but still the city can’t match the history of London, Paris or Prague.
There were grumbles about how the Slovakian region were treated like backwater parts while its inhabitants were considered country bumpkin by their relatively well-off Czech cousins.
That night, I came across a bunch of people under a tree in front of the French Embassy. Some of them were cosily tucked in their sleeping bags while others were chatting the hours away. There were banners with slogans reading "Stop nuclear testing Chirac" or something like that. Apparently they were protesters againts the Muruora nuclear testing in the South Pacific.
I had a closer look. There was a guy with a long blonde hair, three shaggy men and a girl with her face peering out of a sleeping bag. They asked me to sign a book. It was a petition aimed at France’s Jaqcue Chirac to stop nuclear testing. I don’t remember which organisation they belonged to but the blonde guy claimed they had quite an extensive network (no, they’re not Greenpeace).
We got acquainted and the tree became my shelter for the night. Jeez… It was bloody freezing.
Anyway my three-day stay in Bratislava was a Bohemian affair, carefree as I went around clubs and restaurants sampling free jazz sessions and traditional melodies. What it lacks in term of history and prestige, it made up with its warmth, cosiness and affordability.
On my final day in Bratislava, I had a conflict of plan… Head for the High Tatras in the middle of Slovakia, Sofia in Bulgaria, Budapest in Hungary or Vienna in Austria.
The plan still unsettled, I decided to stay another day. But I was out of Slovakian currency (Kroners). The money exchanger at the station didn’t accept my 50-Pound bill (They put a limit allowing only up to 15 Pounds for exchange).
On the way to town to change money, another problem came. I was caught without a ticket on the tram!
Two inspectors came asking for tickets. Feigning ignorance, I told them I didn’t have any.
They asked me to show my passport. Big mistake! I was forced to pay a 400 Kroners fine…
The next few hours were spent looking for a money-changer that will accept my 50-Pound bill escorted by the two burly six-footers with the passport in their hands. At a bus-stop, I lost my patience. I tried to grab the passport from them. A kind of Judo and wrestling match ensured as the two pushed and tried to hold me back, one trying to twist my fingers, the other trying to push me up against a wall.
We were about to trade punches when logic took over me… Consider these; the guys were bigger than me, they were the inspectors, I was in their country against… I could escape but without my passport or try to punch the lights out of them escaping with my passport. I might end up being crumpled like a crumpet or turned up being a fugitive and a international criminal… Fuh!
Suffice to say that we made peace and became friends later. But I still had to pay the fine (Hmm… Wonder what happened to the money).
The rest of the day was spent drifting around town aimlessly. After lunch-time, at last I decided where to go… Vienna. With only 20 Pounds left, it was the natural choice.
That afternoon, I walked all the way from Bratislava to Austria. I did really… Honest… To the borders anyway seven kilometres away.
I was greeted with puzzled looks by both motorists queuing for the immigration check-up and the Australian borde guards. Did the thorned-jeans, leather jacket, rucksack and worn-out clothes reminded them of someone else?
Well, Hasta La Vista Brtislava. Kalau ada umur kita jumpa lagi!

Trip to Europe 1995... The ugly side of Prague...

A picture of me somewhere in Vienna. As I've lost many old pictures including those captured in Prague, let me offer this one to grace this story ya...

OK... While I'm still up and running, the saga continues with part 4...

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In Prague, the beautiful fairy-tale-like capital of the Czech Republic, the city’s ugly side reared its head. Lying outside a pizza store one midnight, I tried to sleep when to Czechans came and stopped in front. Noticing the sleeping bag, they told me it’s trouble if the police caught me sleeping on the streets. They offered me a place to stay. The doubt was there but I decided to check the Czech hospitality.
I was led into a maze of rundown apartments to a one-bedroom flat. Two beds were inside, one occupied by a burly guy and a girl, the other vacant. They offered to take care of my rucksack and let me use the other bed. They were kind, much too kind, I smelled a rat.
As I tried to sleep, there were sounds of zippers being opened. I tried to ignore it, closing my eyes tightly while breathing slowly and deeply. But I was constantly woken by nightmares of my pocket getting picked. So I just laid down vigil, ears opened, eyes-half closed alert for any monkey business.
When the first light of dawn showed, I rose from the bed and looked for the rucksack. The guys shaken by the sudden action tried to lure me away to no avail. The girl was missing, so that leaves only the three of them in the room. I checked my rucksack. The walkman, camera and loaf of bread was missing (God, they must have been really starved).
I questioned them. They shrugged their shoulders feigning ignorance. One of them threatened me. He said he had a Colt .45 handgun. I went for double bluff. "Where’s the gun?" I asked.
At last they pointed the finger to the girl. After some insistence, one of them offered to lead me to the girl.
We went to a train station. He told me to wait since the girl was in a club. "You stranger no enter club bouncer don’t like" he told me. He gaved me two currency notes, one Romanian the other Yugoslavian (useless since the country broke up years ago) and a small glass bottle he claimed containing liquid drug worth 1,000 Kroners. Then he left me waiting.
As he walked away, it occurred to me, my stuff was gone for good and the gifts were his way of compensating. I remembered the guy’s face when we stopped at a shoe store on the way to the train station. There was longing in his eyes as he stared at the Adidas, Nike and other branded shoes inside. Maybe he needs the money to buy a coveted pair of sneakers? Oh well… I guess those guys needed my things more than I did.
Prague was astounding with its old baroque buildings, cobblestone walkways and bridges crossing river Elbe. A thick smell of history and character emanated from the building which survived the ravages of two world wars. It’s like every stone including the pebbles on the street have a story to tell.
At night it was even more breathtaking especially around the Old Market Square with its surrounding buildings illuminated by spotlights and antique street lamps, one looking exactly like a Hans Christian Anderson fairy-tale castle. Somehow I can feel the glow of the city, pleasing and dream-like, conjuring memories of old fairy-tales, of castles and palaces, of Camelot and Avalon as I used to read it when I was a kid.
Again amidst the beauty I found ugliness. I remembered joining some Londoners, a mish-mash of Pakistani, Chinese and Italian Englishmen checking the Prague night-scene. All they ever want was girls. And they kept asking me for girls. What am I? The pimp?
These Londoners in chic expensive suits went around thinking Prague, in fact the whole Czech Republic was a cheap sex heaven. To my knowledge, they didn’t get a single girl. Sad gits…
But there was a grain of truth to their expectations. There was this girl who stripped naked at a club we went to in the Old Market Square to the cheers of the crowd, mostly Western Europeans. And it’s not a tiger show parlour for God’s sake!
She had an excellent figure but I was disgusted, not at her but at the naughty eyes and hands surrounding her, mostly of Western Europeans. Why did she do it?
I later found out this was a quite common occurrence. And this kind of behaviour was not confined to Prague.
There was Dobi, a small Czech town near the German border. The girls were dressed to kill as they walked to and fro along the only main road there. Apparently, they were selling their "services" to the Germans who craved for cheap pleasure.
Some of these girls were naturally knock-down dead gorgeus. Why do they have to do this?
It’s like at the Thai border towns where its lasses depended on the relatively richer Malaysians for patronage. I cringe at the thought of long-distance taxi drivers relating their adventures there. "They let me do things my wife wouldn’t let me!" one said once.
I remembered the news reports read in London concerning the spiralling crime rates, theft, murders and prostitution in the capitalist economies, the former Communist bloc countries including the Czech Republic. Was it because of the Communism to Capitalism transition?
The streets of Prague, now invaded by Western market forces with its designer jeans, Mc Donalds and Coca-cola must be a far cry from the days before the Soviet Union went down. But the casualties are the wannabes staring wide-eyed into the shop-windows looking at branded jeans and sneakers that would probably take them half-a-year’s pay to afford.
It’s the same thing in Malaysia. Check it out if you ever walk the back-streets of Chow Kit and its surrounding areas. If you come across muggers and drug-pedallers, gangsters and prostitutes, observe. Most do what they did to support their bright-lights big-city style of living.
And this was probably what’s happening to these Czechs except on a bigger scale. They were suddenly exposed to the blinding light of Western salemanship after several years living like moles in the Communist era.
I can’t shake the thought of such unfairness. The price for a pair of Levi’s jeans was about forty times the price of a meal consisting of a piece of roast chicken, a portion of mash potatoes and a glass of juice.
The thieves who stole my loaf of bread, the girls in Dobi waiting for German customers and their cash, the spontaneous stripper… They were all victims of a standard that prizes buying power. In the light of the Communism to Capitalism transiton at that time, it was a sad situation.
Prague or Praha as the locals call it, somehow you moved me to tears. How I felt at the time despise for the Western world with its material abundance and arrogance with the Westerners walking cockily drunk on the streets amidst the timid locals as if they own the bloody place.
I left the city after spending only one night there. Prague, I will come here again, hopefully under better circumstances.

Trip to Europe 1995... East-West contrast in Germany

Albums containing pictures from my old trip in Europe... As you can see, I'm not so good at taking care of my things. Maybe because I couldn't care less. But once in a while, I would feel so nostalgic that I start going through piles of old junk just to feel and evoke back the old mood and experience of yore. So there...


Thank God, tonight I managed to complete some work for my other blogspots. While I still got the mood and energy, might as well continue with the story telling on the Europe trip of 1995 here using the writings made in 1997 lock stock and barrel. Here goes... Part 3...
Oh... This part and the continuing stories didn't make the pages of The New Straits Times. When asked why, the editors said the pages were filled and they had to wait for another time.
I did wait but the stories never made it public. My guess is, after the last story which I republished here as the Trip to Europe 1995... Trouble in Amsterdam... received a public scolding by an upset Dutchman in the editorial pages, my travel stories were forced to go to cold storage. Anyway, we still have the Internet. So go on... Read!

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Ouch! My arms… Ouch! My back… Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!
On a cosy spot besides a highway near the Holland-Germany border, I was attacked… By ants, teeny-weeny German ants.
Woken from my slumber, I jumped out of the sleeping bag frantically frisiking under my sweaters for the insects. A few of them were inside but that was not all.
When I opened my rucksack, there they were, hundreds of the little pesky six-legged creatures marauding on my bottle of chocolate spread. Some tougher ones managed to get inside indulging their little tastebuds with the precious choc spread.
The sun was already up and my stomach was calling for breakfast. Not wanting to waste any food, I took a few pieces of bread and dip it into the choc spread, ants and all. Munch… Munch… No more ants (actually, I shaked some of them off, I didn’t want to spoil the taste).
After that episode I soon rose up to see what Germany had to offer.
The first hike of the day was on a gigantic trailer driven by a Dutchman who dropped me near Koblenz, a tourist town famous for its vicinity to the beautiful sections of the river Reine, one of the two major rivers in Europe stretching from the borders of Switzerland and Austria to its estuary in Holland, 1,392 kilometres away.
But I didn’t see the much-touted scenery, in fact I didn’t pay much attention to any of the scenery in Germany, whether at Wiesbaden, Mainz, Frankfurt or Dresden, the four main cities visited while in Germany. Instead I was more concerned about the contrast between East and West resulting from Hitler losing the World War II.
There’s the Mercedes C300 which brought me from Bingen, a town a few miles off Koblenz to Wiesbaden, a city neighbouring Mainz and Frankfurt. The driver, a guy younger than me managed to make enough money to buy the Mercedes. Not bad… He insisted on me to visit his hometown to see how beautiful it was. So I went there.
Classy Wiesbaden with clean streets and regal buildings reflected its affluent society. It was a typical example of rich Germany with rich-looking well-dressed people filling the well-decorated shops.
Then there’s Mainz, a city about five kilometres from Wiesbaden, across the river Rhine. Compared to Wiesbaden, the city looked like a ghetto. As the German guy with the Mercedes described it, "Mainz is a low-class city". Still it was comparatively affluent compared to some.
Frankfurt’s skyline strewn with tall buildings like in Bukit Nenas and Bukit Bintang was impressive. Apart from a few World War II ruins, most of the city were made up of post-war structures.
All three cities displayed signs of western Germany’s affluence. The character of the western Germans themselves were a testimony to that.
I used to think they were uptight, like those soldiers with the famous oversized helmet in Combat walking rigidly with legs raised up to hip-level as depicted in so many Hollywood World War II movies. I also thought that German girls are burly, sturdy built with the statistics of a mental hospital nurse.
But I was wrong, so wrong. The Germans proved to be quite lively people.
Here were also some of the loveliest creatures in Europe. After all Claudia Schiffer is German. And there’s more, even better where that came from. The deep blue eyes, nicely formed nose and the golden blonde hair coupled with the confident gait… Ahh…
However the eastern Germans were a different story. The case study was of inhabitants of Dresden, the largest city in the eastern parts after Berlin.
With my guide Dirk, a guy from Frankfurt (Frankfurter?) I met outside the only McDonald’s in town, the night scene was explored for a closer look at Dresden’s post-Communism life-scene.
The city looked pretty modern with several night-clubs on the northern parts looking set to rival London’s Hippodrome and Equinox or KL’s Modesto’s and Brannigans reflecting the advancement of capitalism seeping in since the Berlin wall broke down. But the sight of the people in the discos were a far cry from the polished exteriors of the buildings.
The teenagers looked quite trendy with their latest-fashion Western-clothings but ackward with a strange vacant look in their eyes as if scared to let themselves go, a bit like shy kids attending a party for the first time. In London or even Frankfurt, they would be totally out of place. In fact the Sri Aman girls and Bukit Bintang boys frequenting Piccadilly’s at Damansara Utama looked far more bolder and livelier than these Germans.
This vacant look was prevalent even during the day as the citizens walk about with serious faces and monotonous expression. The ones with the lively eyes tends to be tourist from Western Europe.
There were times some locals stared at me. Was it because I was not fair enough, my nose was not sharp enough, my eyes not blue or simply because I did not look as timid as they were?
Maybe they were not used to foreigners. There were very few foreigners there. Come to think of it, I was the only one I saw.
There were also a few times when I came acroos rowdy looking guys staring with that "Watcha doin’ in ma bloody country" kind of look. I stared back. They looked at me with an even meaner look.
I smiled at them. Somehow they backed off, not able to look me straight in the eye. Odd… Was it an offence to smile at strangers? Yet a moment ago they looked ready to spill my guts. Could this be the effects of years of Communism?
Although the era was gone, these guys spent their childhood in it. Maybe self-expression was a major offence under Communism with the Gestapo or KGB waiting to spring on those who dare to be different?
Dresden had its fair amount of opulence. The museums, the opera house and a 15th Century building studded with gargoyles on its rooftop with a road lined up by statues and lamp-post painted in gold did hint at some form of affluence.
But the sight of many cheap-looking flats surrounding the city again betrayed the actual affluence of the city much like the vacant eyes of the teenagers in the nightclubs betrayed their lack of self-expression.
The flats not unlike the Pekeliling flats in front of Dewan Bahasa Pustaka were everywhere. Maybe these were the standard citizen’s accomodation during the Communist era in adherance of the Marxist’ principle citing all people are equal.
Of course the leaders, the generals and the Gestapos would live in better houses. Some people are more equal than others…
I left Dresden thaking God the Domino Theory of the advancement of Communism from Communist Vietnam never did materialised. Imagine every apartment in KL looking like the Pekeliling flats, uggh…

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Footnote:
Going back through this story made me realise why the editors at The New Straits Times stopped publishing my travel stories... I was just too opinionated and there were many instances where what was said could offend others... Just take the part about what I said if every apartment in KL looks like Pekeliling flats. Down right snobbish! Then again that's me in 1997. Just take these writings as a journey of discovery of one's own self and leanings which in turn provide the impetus for better changes, God willing! :]