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Across Australia in 4 days, Part 4: Face to face with the Indian Pacific

With the repacked High Sierra backpack heavy on my back, the Acer netbook computer snugly in its bag and the luggage bag in tow, I stepped into the elevator down to ticketing level of Sydney Airport’s International Terminal train station.

After purchasing an AirportLink train ticket costing AUD 15.20, I made my way to Platform 1, down one level from the ticketing area, using an escalator.

AirportLink train ticket at Sydney International Terminal

Date, fare and other details on the other side of the ticket

The platform was dimly lit, but there was enough light for me to take reasonably sharp ambient-light pictures using ISO 1,600 setting on my digital SLR camera. I needed to hold the camera really steady though, because the shutter speeds were quite slow at 1/16 and 1/10 seconds, to compensate for the dim lighting.

The station name "International Terminal" on a signboard across the tracks at Platform 2

Platform 2, seen from Platform 1. The escalator from the ticketing level one floor above is to the right of the picture

Sydney Central Station, the place where the Indian Pacific was waiting, was the fourth stop towards Town Hall station from the International Terminal. While waiting for the correct train, a train came and gone in the other direction.

End section of one of the double-deck carriages

The train consisted of peculiar double-deck carriages. I thought up to that time only buses came as double-deckers. The double-deck carriages were the first that I had came across in my limited encounters with trains.

My train came. I found that the CityRail carriage was actually split into three compartments. The first was the compartment that I had stepped into from the platform floor. The ceiling was high, running up to the roof of the carriage. This compartment was quite small, with only a couple of seats and room to stand. A few steps away were stairs to the the lower-level and upper-level passenger compartments.

Middle section of the carriage

I chose to remain in the first compartment, occupying one of the seats, so that I could easily get off the train later without much hassle dragging my luggage bag up or down the carriage’s stairs. The compartment was full. Two stops away from Central Station I stood up and offered my seat to one of the standing co-passengers.

20 minutes into the short journey, I disembarked at Central Station. The platform was on ground level in the open. It was quite cold, the chill biting through my light jacket. I walked hurriedly to the end of the platform where there was an elevator which went underground. I took it. At the bottom I followed the signboards to the main station terminal. The walk ended at an escalator which went up to ground level. There I could see the main terminal. And I could also see the platform that I had just came from. I realized then that the walk after the elevator was actually underneath the ground level platforms, a sort of underground bridge from the platforms to the main station building.

Main hall of Sydney Central Station

In the main building of the station I paused to take some pictures. The Sydney Central station building was a classic Victorian-style train station building, with high roofs supported by massive dark-colored steel girders, with substantial parts of the roof made of translucent materials, which allowed natural lighting to illuminate the station.

The station reminded me of

Overhead direction panels in the station

London’s Liverpool Street Station, which had seen me many times in 1993-1994, when I used the InterCity trains between London and Colchester, the town where I stayed with my wife and two small children during my 10-month study leave at the University of Essex working on my MSc degree in Telecommunication and Information Systems.

The Indian Pacific locomotive on Platform 2

I then wandered around the station looking for the Indian Pacific. I saw it at the other end of the building, the unmistakable dark blue-liveried locomotive on Platform 2. I also saw many people standing and sitting on the station’s benches, with luggage bags at their feet. My would-be co-travelers on the Indian Pacific!

Not finding any signboard pointing to the Indian Pacific’s luggage check-in, I asked one of the gentlemen standing in the vicinity of Platform 2. He directed me towards the CountryLink office on the platform to the right of Platform 2.

This way to check-in your luggage..My luggage and Acer netbook computer side-by-side with the Indian Pacific signboard

I found the office, or rather I found on one side of the corridor of the platform a portable metal signboard with a picture of very long train meandering in crimson light of a late afternoon across a bushy plains, saying “Indian Pacific Luggage check-in area”.

I went in to the check-in counter, pulled out my internet-booked Indian Pacific ticket and told the counter staff that I was going to Perth. He smiled broadly and called out to his partner,  “Hey Sheila, this guy wants to go to Perth!”.

My Indian Pacific luggage claim tag

The way he said it sounded like he thought I was really adventurous (read crazy guy :)) going on the very long 4,000 over kilometers’ journey, alone, from Sydney to Perth.

“He wants to go to Perth, he gets to go to Perth!” answered Sheila from somewhere inside the office.

The guy then took my luggage, tied an orange-colored tag on the bag’s handle and gave back my ticket with a copy of the orange tag stapled on.

Freed from the heavy bag, I walked back into the station to do some exploration and to find some tucker (Australian, for food) for my growling stomach.

Indian Pacific, by Peter Attenborough. Published September 2009

At 1.00 pm I bought an Indian Pacific book from the Rail History shop, costing me AUD 20.00. The book was full of images and hot off the printers, having been published just one month before, in September 2009 . It chronicled the history of Indian Pacific and showed the different locomotives that were used over the years to haul the train across Australia from Sydney to Perth and return.

At 1.14 pm I finished my lunch outside the station’s Hungry Jacks (equivalent to Burger King) outlet. My lunch consisted of two pieces of Bakehouse Egg & Lettuce Sandwich and a bottle of Mount Franklin Spring Water. The sandwich was about the only thing that I could find that satisfied my halal criteria.

The growling stomach pacified, I wandered around the station looking for a chapel or a quiet place where I could do my Zohor and Asar prayers. I found no suitable place. So I decided to wait and do my prayers on board the Indian Pacific.

Across the station at Platform 2, the Indian Pacific was still there, waiting silently for the boarding to start sometime after 2.00 pm.

Next to an Indian Pacific carriage

Each Indian Pacific carriage had this emblem

Cool mountain waters & not so cool a model

On November 10, 2009 I received a shocker – I was to head the committee organizing our group’s outing to a camping site somewhere in the wilderness of  Batang Kali, Selangor.

The place, I was told, was remote – we would have to cross a river on foot, then trek over a hill then cross another river before we arrive at the campsite.

Apparently the decision to organize the outing was made back on October 27 during the group’s discussion at my home. I could not recall it, most probably because I simply did not hear it when I was busy in the kitchen getting refreshment prepared by my wife, CTZ, for the group.

I felt out of my depths. But the trust and responsibility placed upon me needed to be honored and fulfilled.

With some kick-start help from the colleague who initiated the idea, I proceeded to plan the outing. My assistant from the group and I organized 4 discussions with sub-committee leaders – the first on November 16, and the fourth on December 9.

Then the big day came.

On Saturday morning of December 12, our group assembled at USJ 12, Subang Jaya’s musolla and made a convoy to Batang Kali. The weather was beautiful – clear blue sky and sunny. A very welcome change from the gloomy wet rainy days that we had hitherto been enduring.

Slightly less than 2 hours later we arrived at the first river. We parked our cars on the bank of the river, took out our backpacks, camping gears and provisions, and waded the knee-high water to the other side.

Crossing the first river

Crossing the first river. The water flowed from right to left

The first river from the other side. Our cars were on top left side of this picture

The first river from the other side. Our cars were on top left side of this picture

Then with the heavy loads, we started trekking on a dirt road for 10 minutes.

With the heavy loads, the second river seemed so far away

With the heavy loads, the second river seemed so far away

The end of the trek, the banks of the second river. Here the water flowed from left to right

The end of the trek, the banks of the second river. Here the water flowed from left to right

We then came to the second river. Here the water was also knee-high. On the other side was the campsite, which was part of Pahlawan Eco Resort.

Signboard welcoming us to Pahlawan Eco Resort, Hulu Tamu, Batang Kali, Selangor

Signboard welcoming us to Pahlawan Eco Resort, Hulu Tamu, Batang Kali, Selangor

The resort, seen from 865m altitude, in year 2003

The resort, seen in Google Earth from 865m altitude. The image was outdated, from year 2003

The place beautiful. The waters were pristine and crystal clear. The sand, gravel and stones in the water were highly visible. If city people knew about the place, they would have flocked here in droves.

After registration and handing out of the program’s info pack, I counted 20 participants. We then set up camp and did our afternoon program.

Putting up the tents

Putting up the tents

The third tent completed

The third tent completed

Four tents up and ready

Four tents up. Another two were on the other side of the clearing

Apart from these four, another two tents were put up

Another view of the four tents. Mine was the tall blue one

Then we went to soak ourselves in the cool waters. The water was really cool and fresh that I felt like I was soaking in a stream of mineral water 🙂

Immersing ourselves in the cool crystal clear water

Immersing ourselves in the cool crystal clear water

The endlessly flowing mountain water

The endlessly flowing mountain water

On the morning of the next day, we split into two teams and went jungle trekking. I went with the first group, supposedly as the outing’s unofficial photographer.

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The trail in places was quite challenging

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Negotiating another obstacle - a caved in trail

Lots of beautiful floras here.

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Natural back lighting brought out the best of this tree

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A rare personal find - a shrub with hairy-edged leaves

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Don't know what flower was this

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Bamboo trees

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A palm tree on the side of the ledge that we were trekking on

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Another palm tree. Stunning jungle vistas that can only be experienced by physically being here

Then we got lost. The track went up and up the mountain and did not seem to be what my team’s facilitator and leader had expected based on their earlier reconnaissance.

When you were lost, back track. That’s what my team did. And we arrived safely at camp – 30 minutes after the second team, who by rule had started their trek 10 minutes behind us.

Anyway, time quickly passed and it was midday on the second day. We went to the river at our favorite spot to enjoy the waters and clean ourselves after the morning’s jungle trek.

But we were stopped in our tracks – at our favorite spot there were three men with D-SLR cameras and a bikini-clad girl, their model (?), making various poses while standing and sitting precariously on a boulder in the middle of the stream. To us, that was not cool at all. We did not want to cause a ruckus, so we quietly went upstream to find another spot.

In spite of that, our outing was a big success. During the talk back session prior to the program’s closing, virtually all participants expressed their wish that the program did not become a one-time wonder. They wanted similar events be arranged in the future.

(Sigh) More work for me, my assistant and the organizing committee. But we’ll take it in stride, make improvements and give our best.

Berkhatan

Every Malaysian Muslim boy has to undergo this. Berkhatan is Malaysian term for circumcision. Scary stories from our seniors, i.e. those who had undergone it before us, abound. Scary or not, there was no escaping it. Not that one would want to give it a miss, after realizing that it marked the transition from a mere boy to a man. I consider it a rite of passage into adulthood.

During my time, back in 1972, it was quite an event, approaching fanfare level ! My paternal grandparents, who raised me up from birth and with whom I lived until it was time for me to leave for secondary school, made the customary kenduri (feast) preceding it. And I was the only “celebrity” at the kenduri. As a result, the whole village and my schoolmates knew about it, including the girls 🙂

Nowadays, it was just a quiet visit to a GP at a nearby clinic. Or, as in the case of my son Adib, a not-so-quiet event at the neighborhood mosque. But still, it did not quite match the level that his father had undergone a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

Anyway, technological progress has its advantages. The procedure now was simple, brief, and most important of all, less stressful on the father who had to be in the operations room comforting the son. But berkhatan being what it was, at Adib’s event yesterday, I observed several dads and mums more restless and apprehensive than their sons who were awaiting their turns…

Adib and Ege, his next door buddy

Adib and Ege, his next door buddy

Participants and parents, listening attentively to briefing by Dr Khazali, chair of Masjid Al-Falah USJ 9 2009's berkhatan's organizing committee

Participants and parents listening attentively to briefing by Dr Khazali, chair of Masjid Al-Falah USJ9 2009's berkhatan's organizing committee

Dr Khazali giving the briefing, with a staff from Klinik Rumah Khitan who sent two doctors for the event

Dr Khazali giving the briefing, with a staff from Klinik Rumah Khitan who sent two doctors for the event

Parents with their sons who were participating in Masjid Al-Falah USJ9 2009 berkhatan event

Parents with their sons who were participating in Masjid Al-Falah USJ9 2009 berkhatan event

Cikgu Tipah, a member of the organizing committee, giving clarification to Ege's grandpa

Cikgu Tipah, a member of the organizing committee, giving clarification to Ege's grandpa

On the operations table - a brave boy who did not need his dad to comfort him during his moments of trials

On the operations table - a brave boy who did not need his dad to comfort him during his moments of trials

Lokman, Adib's friend was number 4 to came out of the operations room. Here he was proudly held by his smiling mum and Cikgu Tipah, with his smiling big brother and sister looking on

Lokman, Adib's friend was number 4 to come out of the operations room. Here he was proudly held by his beaming mum and Cikgu Tipah, and his big brother and sister smiling, giving moral support

Adib and his friends, awaiting their turn to go into the operations room. Adib was number 25 in line. There were 36 boys in total

Adib and his friends, awaiting their turn to go into the operations room. Adib was number 25 in line. Altogether 36 boys particapated in yesterday's 6th December 2009 event at Masjid Al-Falah USJ9

Adib and his friend Amirul, who was number 31 in line, both seemingly unconcerned that their turns were creeping nearer

Adib and his friend Amirul, who was number 31 in line, both seemingly unconcerned that their turns were creeping nearer. They were playing in the corridor of the mosque next to the ops room

Finally, the long wait had ended. Adib in his sarong, just out of the operations room, with Ege besides him

Finally, the long wait had ended. Adib in his sarong, just out of the operations room, with Ege who was number 6, besides him. Congratulations for being so brave!

Another long-lost friend found

It was a quiet Monday. I was at home, suppossedly on leave, but was nevertheless at work – online, using the company’s VPN to connect to a corporate application.

I was a quarter of the way through the voluminous materials assigned to me when my mobile phone vibrated. An unregistered Malaysian mobile number blinked on the display panel. I pressed the green handset button on the BlackBerry.

“Hello ?”.

“Assalamualaikum, is this Nordin ?”.

“Waalaikumussalam. Yes, this is Nordin.”

“This is Nordin from SESMA ?”

“SESMA ? I suppose so, a long time ago. It was SMS Terengganu then. May I know who’s calling ?”

“This is Suhaimi, from Kemaman”.

“Suhaimi ? Sorry, the name does not click yet.”

After a few exchanges within the next several seconds it became clear as daylight that the caller was Mohd Suhaimi, my school friend when I was at Kuala Terengganu’s Sekolah Menengah Sultan Sulaiman and Sekolah Menengah Sains Terengganu in the 1970’s.

We were not just friends, we were brothers and sparring partners in Silat Gayung, a Malaysian martial arts movement, when we were at Sultan Sulaiman.

Suhaimi informed me that he had been trying to connect to me for quite some time. Apparently I was one of the few of our school group who was still missing. Maybe I was very adept at flying below the radar :). But apparently not too adept, because he had managed to obtain my mobile phone number ..

I felt very good able to talk to another long-lost friend. We spent the next 30 minutes talking.

Suhaimi, thanks for making the effort to track me down. I appreciate that. I also appreciate your persistence and patience. I knew now that it was you who had phoned me 3 times with no answer from me on the afternoon of last Tuesday Nov 24th. I was in Changsha, China at that time, and out of personal habit, did not normally answer calls from unregistered numbers while I was on international roaming.

Anyway, we have ample opportunity to meet in the near future, insyaAllah.

In the meanwhile, here are some images from our past which are still preserved in my photo album.

SMSS

Me and Suhaimi in our Silat Gayung uniforms, at Sekolah Menengah Sultan Sulaiman's (SMSS) Annual Sports 1976 held at Stadium Kuala Terengganu.

SMSS K.Trg

Oct 1976 Group photo of morning session of Persatuan Silat Seni Gayung Malaysia, SMSS Kuala Terengganu.

Biology-3rd

Suhaimi and his Biology team - Ailani, Wan Zakariah, Jamilah, Mahtab; from our SMS Terengganu, who won 3rd place in 1978's Terengganu EPMI Science Exhibition.

Physics-2nd

Our friend Mahadi and his SMS Terengganu's Physics team, who won 2nd place at the same exhibition.

Chemistry-1st

Nordin (that's me), Fauzi Omar and Zubaidah Wahab at our SMS Terengganu's Chemistry booth, who won 1st place in 1978's Terengganu EPMI Science Exhibition.

Aidil Adha greetings from Changsha

From: Mohamad Izani

Sent: Thursday, 26 November 2009 23:43

To: <<list truncated>>

Cc: Marina; Hasrulnizam; Nordin Ibrahim

Subject: Salam Aidiladha dari Changsha, China

Assalamualaikum WRB dan salam sejahtera, Kami, para pelajar tahun ke lapan jurusan APG di Changsha, ingin mengucapkan Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Adha kepada ahli keluarga di kampung, khususnya Mak dan Ayah, Abang Long, Kakak, Acik, Adik, Pak Ngah sekeluarga, Tok Wan, Mak Usu, serta Ketua Kampung kami di Kuching, Terengganu, Teluk Intan dan Melaka.

Tidak ketinggalan rakan-rakan sepejabat yang pada masa ini tengah seronok main bunga api cap harimau kat kampung halaman sambil sibuk mengasah pisau untuk upacara qurban dan ada yang sibuk menyediakan juadah untuk menyambut pagi Aidil Adha yang mulia..

Kami di sini tidak kurang meriahnya dan telah selamat menyembelih Fillet-o-fish McDonald selain menjamu juadah fries cicah sos tomato. Ucapan Hari Raya dari kami: “Maafkan kami kerana tidak dapat balik ke kampung pada tahun ini dan Ingatkan daku, dalam doa mu”

Dari kiri ke kanan : Hasrul, Nordin, Marina

Dari kiri ke kanan : Hasrul, Nordin, Marina

Dari kiri ke kanan: Hasrul, Izani, Marina

Dari kiri ke kanan: Hasrul, Izani, Marina

We landed in Changsha in Hunan Province, China just after sundown 4 days before Aidil Adha, on Monday November 23, 2009. Our ride, a China Southern’s Airbus A321 had at 4.21 pm earlier been pushed off gate 89 of Guangzhou’s sprawling new airport and took off inland towards Changsha, 1 hour 15 minutes to the north.

On our 4th night there, on the eve of Aidil Adha, we ventured out to a nearby shopping area that had a long pedestrian mall. As mentioned in the above email greetings, we went to a McD outlet and had for dinner the only choice on the menu we could decipher to be halal – fish fillet burger. You see, the menu was 100% written in Mandarin, and we were practically flying blind with our zero knowledge of Mandarin.

Afterward, we went for a long walk on the pedestrian mall, and here are two interesting pictures I took with my EOS D-SLR camera.

Clio Coddle, eerily similar-sounding to Crocodile, a well known brand

Clio Coddle, a close relative to Crocodile ?

CalvimKevin, a long-lost twin of CalvinKlein ?

CalvimKevin, a long-lost twin of CalvinKlein ?

Across Australia in 4 days, Part 3: Sydney Landing

It was 4.51 am Malaysian Standard Time. The aircraft had been in the air for nearly 5 hours. The flight information display on my armrest LCD screen showed that the flight would be in the air for another 2 hours before we land in Sydney.

MH123 Kuala Lumpur to Sydney, right in the middle of Australia

MH123 Kuala Lumpur to Sydney, right in the middle of Australia

We were cruising at 1,093 km per hour at an altitude of 36,974 feet, which was equivalent to slightly over 11 km up in the air. Kuala Lumpur was 4,624 km behind, and Sydney 2,111 km ahead. The air show map on the LCD screen showed that we were right in the middle of Australia. Outside air was cold -14 Celsius, but it was nowhere near as cold as -64 Celsius that I had observed above Norway in a flight from US to Sweden in January 2007.

-14 Celcius at 11,000 meters above middle of Australia

-14 Celsius at 11,000 meters above middle of Australia

Beyond freezing -64 Celcius, at 11,000 meters above Norway in January 2007

Beyond freezing -64 Celsius, at 11,000 meters above Norway in January 2007

At 5.10 am the cabin’s color LED lighting, what was known as “mood lighting”, came on. The changing color hues were very soothing and pretty and were designed to help weary travelers adjust more easily to a different time zone.

MH123 upper deck cabin, with wake-up mood lighting scheme

MH123 upper deck cabin, with wake-up mood lighting scheme

Another view of the wake-up mood lighting on board Malaysia Airlines B747-400

Another view of the wake-up mood lighting on board Malaysia Airlines B747-400

And its turning on also doubled as a wake up signal. Five minutes later we were served fruit juice followed by breakfast. The time was 7.15 am Sydney time, +2 hours ahead of Malaysia.

Croissant and fruits for breakfast. About 2 hours before landing in Sydney

Croissant and fruits for breakfast. About 2 hours before landing in Sydney

Yoghurt drink, black tea and mineral water to go with breakfast

Yoghurt drink, black tea and mineral water to go with breakfast

Slightly more than 90 minutes later, at 8.59 am the aircraft’s mid-body landing gears’ tires touched down smoothly at Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport.

Smooth touch down

Smooth touch down

Touch down at Sydney with cowlings of the four engines slide opened to reverse the thrust, to rapidly decelerate the aircraft

Touch down at Sydney with cowlings of the four engines slide opened to reverse the thrust, to rapidly decelerate the aircraft

Thrust reversers in action

Thrust reversers in action

The quiet landing was immediately followed by the roar of thrust reversers being engaged to direct hot exhaust gases from the four engines to the front, to quickly stop the heavy aircraft. 10 seconds later the aircraft slowed to a crawl and taxied off the landing runway.

I activated the radio on my mobile phone, which had been hibernating in flight mode since the boarding in Kuala Lumpur. It connected immediately to Telstra Mobile and soon after that a text message came in from my brother-in-law in Kuala Lumpur acknowledging my text to him informing of my trip the night before.

We were approaching a gate. Through the cabin window I could see many Qantas planes with their vertical stabilizers in distinctive white kangaroo on red background.

Kangaroo on vertical stabilizer - Qantas' signature

Kangaroo on vertical stabilizer - Qantas' signature

We were definitely at an Australian airport

We were definitely at an Australian airport

That was to be expected – we were after all at an Australian airport, and a major one at that as well.

Delta Air Lines' Boeing 777 at Sydney

Delta Air Lines' Boeing 777 at Sydney

7 minutes later at 9.06 am, the aircraft docked and connected to a jetway next to a US Delta Air Lines Boeing 777 which had flown at its maximum range across the Pacific from Los Angeles to Sydney.

At 9.21 am I breezed through immigration and then waited at Carousel number 2 for my baggage.

I was a bit apprehensive. There was this distant inner fear that my luggage would not be there on the carousel. The fear of history repeating itself.

In January 2007 I landed at Newark airport near New York after a short 90-minute flight from Washington D.C. My luggage was nowhere to be seen even after everyone on the flight had collected theirs, and the carousel had stopped moving!

I lodged a missing luggage report and took a courtesy van to my transit hotel. I had planned to explore New York city while waiting for my flight home, but the missing luggage with my warm clothing in it had forced me to stay indoors. It was way too cold for me to venture out.

My backpack and laptop computer at a Newark hotel in January 2007

My backpack and laptop computer at a Newark hotel in January 2007

The bag never appeared, and two days later I checked in at the airport for the 21-hour MH91 flight to Kuala Lumpur via Stockholm with only my trusty backpack and laptop computer. No checked luggage, only the carry-ons.

I came out of the reverie back to the present, when the luggage carousel at Sydney airport started to move at 9.35 am. With a great relief I saw my bag. But I had to wait a while for the bag to take a long tour around the hall before it came to me – I was standing at the wrong side of the carousel.

I then went to the queue that was waiting to have their luggage cleared by customs inspectors. In my bag I had packs of granola bars – bars of ready-to-eat compressed oats and cereals, enough to last the four-day journey on the Indian Pacific train from Sydney to Perth.

Australia’s authorities were very strict on the importation of foods, grains, pollen, seeds, fruits, honey, soils, medications and other similar materials. Thus on the landing form distributed during the flight, I had dutifully declared that I was bringing food materials.

The lady customs officer attending to me asked that I show her the food that I had declared on the form. I did. She did not say anything, but turned her attention to my first aid bag, pointing to two blister packs of paracetamol tablets that I always included in my travel bag.

I told her what they were. After rummaging through the first aid bag, she advised me to declare them on the landing form next time, even though they might be normal paracetamol tablets. Yes officer.. Then she let me go. Thank you officer..

The whole episode was swift. It was over within 10 minutes of the luggage carousel started moving.

I had psyched myself for the worst and was quite ready to be held up until the last passenger had gone, as what had happen to me in 2006 at Perth Airport. But it did not happen.

Here in Sydney I was not grilled with the barrage of questions I had endured in Perth – where I was going to visit, why I was going there, who I was going to meet, what was my itinerary, did I have credit cards, why I brought the GPS receiver, why I brought the magnetic compass, why I brought several flash drives, why that particular video clip was in my laptop computer (it was a lecture video), was I there to give lectures, etc, etc.

I had felt like a fugitive seeking to overstay my visa and work illegally in the country, whereas on the contrary I was a qualified engineer with a degree from a top Australian university, a specialist with master’s degree from a respectable top ten U.K. university and a dignified professional working at a premier telecommunications company in Malaysia.

Thankfully, none of that happened in Sydney. They did not even care to look at my e-ticket which would verify that I had a confirmed return flight back to Malaysia in a week’s time.

I concluded that the raw treatment I received in Perth over 3 years ago was not representative of the country’s border security system, rather it was a treatment I had received from an overzealous young lady officer.

At Sydney airport's arrival hall

At Sydney airport's arrival hall

By 9.50 am I was in the public area of the airport’s arrival hall. I found a row of vacant seats and sat there  observing the surroundings and planning my move. My next destination was Sydney Central Station where the Indian Pacific was scheduled to depart in 5 hours’ time at 2.55 pm.

At the arrival hall’s information desk, I gathered that the central station was only a short distance from the airport, costing AUD15.00 by coach or AUD15.20 by train. The information desk’s staff recommended that I take the train.

My luggage at Sydney Airport's arrival hall

My luggage at Sydney Airport's arrival hall

After several minutes’ rest, I opened my suitcase and transferred to my backpack the granola bars, first aid kit, and a toiletries bag. I needed to put into the backpack everything I required for the 4-day journey because once checked in, I would not have access to the big bag again. I also transferred a light blanket into the backpack. The Indian Pacific website had recommended that Red Daynighter Seat guests such as me bring along a blanket and pillow for added comfort. Well, I had a blanket, but for pillow I would have to improvise.

That done, I made my way down the hall towards the elevator that went down to the airport train terminal.

The journey had turned out great up to then. I had safely arrived in Sydney with ample time to comfortably catch the Indian Pacific for the long trek across the Australian continent.

Across Australia in 4 Days, Part 2: Kuala Lumpur International Airport

The taxi ride to the airport only took 30 minutes. At 9:00 p.m. I had completed checking-in and was given a boarding pass which indicated that the MH123 flight would depart at 23:40 (11:40 p.m.) from gate C01 and the boarding time was 21:40 (9:40 p.m.). Still ample time.

I walked across the concourse to the Pusrawi pharmacy to get a 9 volt battery for my homemade headphone amplifier. Halfway there, out of habit, I looked at the boarding pass more closely. Something didn’t seem right. The seat number.

Malaysia Airlines Seat Plan on my Palm TX's Memos

Malaysia Airlines Seat Plan on my Palm TX's Memos

I pulled out my trusty Palm TX PDA, and checked Malaysia Airlines’ Boeing 747-400 aircraft seating arrangement. True enough; the seat number printed on the boarding pass was for a seat on the lower deck, not on upper deck as I had requested two weeks before.

I doubled back to the check-in counter, gave the Malaysia Airlines staff my boarding pass and quietly informed her the that the seat she gave me was not in the upper deck that I had requested when I booked the flight.

She consulted her computer, and I saw a concerned look. She stepped over to her colleague at the next counter, and told her that the upper deck looked to be full.

The colleague tapped her computer keyboard, and then the staff attending to me returned to her seat and printed another boarding pass. She tore into two the earlier boarding pass and handed me the new one, with an upper deck window seat.

After getting the battery at the pharmacy and completing Isha’ solat (prayer) at the nearby surau (mini mosque) next to the airport post office, I made my way to the departure gate, then immigration, then airport security.

In a side pocket of my backpack was my empty water bottle. It passed through the security scanner without raising an alarm or question from the officer.

Seasoned travellers

Seasoned travelers

The bottle had been traveling with me on quite a number of flights, and the backpack on many more.

Even with the international ban on water being taken on board flights, the bottle did not attract any question at any of the foreign airports I had been, but I was once questioned about it here at Kuala Lumpur International Airport when I was on my way to Los Angeles via Taipei.

The security procedure done, a few minutes later I was in the train going to Terminal C where my boarding gate was situated.

At the terminal, I rode a transparent-wall elevator up one floor to Malaysia Airline’s lounge.

Malaysia Airlines Lounge at Terminal C, KLIA. Image from http://loungeguide.net

Malaysia Airlines Lounge at Terminal C, KLIA. Image from http://loungeguide.net

There were many boring business types there, yours truly here excluded from that category 🙂

There, while helping myself to some cut fruits and a couple of glasses of mango juice, I turned on my netbook computer, connected to the lounge’s free wifi, and booked a Toyota Corolla at Australia’s Bayswater Hire Cars website.

Bayswater Car Rental website

Bayswater Car Rental website

At home a few days earlier I had looked at the website of several car rental companies in Perth, and concluded that Bayswater offered the best deal. I did not book then because of lingering doubts as to whether a Malaysian driving license was sufficient or needed to be supplanted by an International Driving Permit.

However, reading the Government of Western Australia Department of Transport’s website, I gathered that a visitor to the state was allowed to drive using a valid overseas license, and that if the license was not in English then it was advisable to carry along an International Driving Permit or an approved English translation of the license.

At the airport lounge I persuaded myself that my Malaysian driving license would be OK because it was in Roman alphabets and there were words at the front in English indicating that the document was a Malaysian Driving License. The validity dates of the license, the holder’s address and the classes of vehicle the holder was licensed to drive were self explanatory. And if needed be, as a last resort,I could always inform whoever concerned that I earned my license when I was  a student in Perth, and had it converted to a Malaysian license upon my return to Malaysia in 1985.

With that I decided to take the plunge and at 10.44 p.m. confirmed online my booking with Bayswater Hire Cars. Within a minute my mobile phone vibrated with the arrival of an acknowledgment email from Bayswater, confirming my booking.

That was really assuring. I would have a car, with GPS and comprehensive insurance cover, waiting for me in Perth when I arrive there on the Indian Pacific from Sydney on Tuesday 6th October.

At 11.00 p.m. I heard a boarding announcement for my flight. With my backpack, netbook in its bag and a bulky digital SLR camera, I walked briskly out of the airline lounge to the elevator.

I was in and the door had started to close when two airline pilots managed to reopen the door and came in. The door then re-closed, and at that instance I saw through the transparent wall another two pilots tried to enter but were unable to because the elevator had started to move down.

One of the pilots was peering intently down in my direction. Only then I realized that he must be Capt. Abdul Manaf, a Malaysia Airlines pilot who was my neighbor and friend at the neighborhood’s surau.

At ground level I waited for the elevator to go up and came down with the two pilots. Sure enough, it was Abdul Manaf. He looked really smart in his black pilot’s uniform.

He asked me where I was heading to. I told him Sydney. He said he thought I was going to Frankfurt on his flight. Too bad, if he was going to Sydney that night instead of Frankfurt then I would have had a great time taking ambient-light photos of the aircraft’s cockpit in flight. My DSLR camera would be in its elements. Maybe next time. Abdul Manaf then looked at his watch and reminded me that I was late and needed to move quickly.

The walk to the departure gate was a long one. The gate was at the far end of the terminal, and when I arrived there, I found a long queue in front of me waiting to go through a second security check. I was relieved – I was not too late or else everyone would have already gone on board the aircraft.

In seat 11K on MH123 KUL-SYD flight

In seat 11K on MH123 KUL-SYD flight

At 11:30 p.m. I was settled in seat 11K on the upper deck of the Boeing 747-400 aircraft. At 11.49 the aircraft was pushed back off the gate and four minutes later we began to move forward.

At 12.01 a.m. the aircraft was at the end of the runway and one minute later started to roar forward. At 12.03 a.m. I could feel the heavy aircraft rotating and then airborne.

Three minutes later at 12.06 a.m. my armrest LCD display showed that the aircraft had climbed to 1,054 meters above sea level, was traveling at 428 km per hour, less than half its crusing speed, and the distance to Sydney of 6,697 km.

I was truly on my way to Sydney, for the appointment with the Indian Pacific…

Across Australia in 4 Days, Part 1: Before the Journey

In the scheme of things that I was accustomed to, the journey was hastily planned. I had the opportunity to fly from Kuala Lumpur to anywhere in Australia and return, for the same airfare. I could even fly into one Australian city and depart from a different one, thousands of kilometers apart, and still pay the same price.

The timing of the journey, October, even though hurriedly planned, could not have been better.

October was a slack period at my workplace. The big transoceanic project I was involved in was in extended initial stages and there were big time gaps in between activities. And better still, in October, Australia would be in pleasant spring weather. Not much of the blistering summer heat, and the ever present pesky flies. Add to that, images of colorful and beautiful flowers blooming in meadows all over the countryside filled my mind. So, October it was.

Flowers at Perth's Kings Park, from my September 2006 trip

Flowers at Perth's Kings Park, from my September 2006 trip

Another bed of flowers at Kings Park, September 2006

Another bed of flowers at Kings Park, September 2006

That left the other question – where in Australia to go?

I had always wanted another return to Perth, the city where I spent 6 years of my life in the early 1980’s. It was one of the most meaningful and defining times of my life. I went there a teenager. I returned an adult. I went there a hesitant kampung (village) boy. I returned a confident young man.

The first time I returned to Perth was in 2006, some 21 years after I left in 1985. It was a straight forward flight from Kuala Lumpur to Perth and back. So this time around I wanted to be a little bit different. And a little bit more adventurous.

Sydney seemed a good choice. I had been to Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide before, but never to Sydney. And it was one of the furthest Australian city on the Malaysia Airlines network. The further the better.

OK, Sydney it was. But then how do I go from there to Perth?

Taking a domestic flight would be plain boring. That left only land transport. I searched the internet for public transport, especially long-distance buses that go from from Sydney to Perth. No joy. Maybe the distance of over 4,300 kilometers was too great for an express bus service. And too taxing for the bus passengers.

Then I remembered the Indian Pacific, a train service that connects Western Australia with the eastern Australian states. I searched the internet and got more details. The train service departs two times a week in both directions – on Saturday and Wednesday out of Sydney, and on Sunday and Wednesday out of Perth.  All trips go via Adelaide.

An Indian Pacific train journey from Australia’s Pacific Ocean city of Sydney to the Indian Ocean city of Perth sounded fascinating. And thoughts of crossing the Nullarbor Plain, the hundreds of kilometers of no-tree desert, for a second time in my life, added more spice to the idea.

I chose Saturday 3rd October,  noted the date down, then opened up Malaysia Airlines website.

To arrive in Sydney in good time to board Saturday’s 2.55 p.m. Indian Pacific, I decided to take Malaysia Airlines’ Friday 2nd October flight, which departed Kuala Lumpur at 9.00 a.m. and arrived in Sydney at 6.50 p.m. I would then spend the night in Sydney and in the morning of the next day would explore the city before making my way to the train station.

But that was not meant to be. The day’s flight was full, and so I was left with only the night’s flight which left Kuala Lumpur at 10.10 p.m. and arrived Sydney at 8.00 a.m. on Saturday, the same day as the Indian Pacific’s departure to Perth.

A little tight timing, with barely 6 hours’ gap between landing at the airport and getting on board the train. But I believed the risk was manageable – in my experience all these years, Malaysia Airlines were good at keeping to their flight schedules.

I booked the flights via phone. Kuala Lumpur to Sydney on 2nd October, Perth to Kuala Lumpur on 9th October. That done, I reopened the web page of Great Southern Railway, the operator of Indian Pacific.

There were 3 types of Indian Pacific service. The premier one was called the Gold Service where one could choose a single sleeper cabin or a twin-sharing one, with all meals included. This, to my mind, was no good. Apart from the premium price, the meals would be of no use to me because there was no mention of their halal or kosher status.

Next was the Red Sleeper Service, with a twin-sharing sleeper cabin, and meals not included. That was better, but I read something elsewhere on the internet that made me chose the remaining service, the Red Daynighter Seat Service.

As the name implied, the service offered a seat, for day and night, for the whole duration of the journey. The price fit my budget, but the thought of spending 4 days and 3 nights in the train seat admittedly sounded rather challenging and back-breaking.

But then I thought – the service might not be that bad, it might even be in demand, otherwise Indian Pacific would have done away with the service long time ago. Another thought, or wishful thinking – the carriage might not be full that I could sleep flat on two seats, even though I might have to curl myself into a semi-fetal position.

After many hours’ contemplations, I finally decided. Via the internet on my laptop, I chose the Red Daynighter Seat Service. I was pleasantly surprised that the price was only one-third of what I had been expecting based on openly published prices.

ticket

Indian Pacific e-ticket

In the week preceding my flight to Sydney, my life took a tumble. Not an earth-shattering one, but a tumble nonetheless. It seemed mundane, but to me it was quite a big deal. On Monday, I sent my 535 c.c. bike to my usual bike shop where I told Ah Hoi, the proprietor, that the bike sounded very noisy and the twin-cylinder V engine tended to suddenly sputter and die every time I braked.

Ah Hoi told me that I needed to leave the bike overnight. OK, no big deal. I could take the Toyota Innova to work. The only sacrifice I needed to make was to skip my daily morning jog around the neighborhood playground, so that I could race to the office to chase after one of the 500 free first-come-first-served parking lots at my office building.

Tuesday came and gone. Then Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. No news from Ah Hoi. That gave me the creeps. What was he doing to the bike – completely overhauling it?

Then mid-morning on Friday, Ah Kian, Ah Hoi’s brother, phoned me that the bike was ready, it was perfect he said, the noise that I was complaining about was gone. The engine sputtering and dying was caused by an electrical short circuit, which had since been fixed.

He went on telling me items on the bike that had been replaced – the twin timing chains, the magnet coil (alternator) immersed in engine oil that generated electricity for the engine and battery, the rectifier that converted the alternating current from the magnet coil into direct current, engine oil, gasket, and spark plugs. And the price? Quite substantial  – about the same price as the premium Gold Service on Sydney to Perth Indian Pacific!

At home on the Friday afternoon I phoned for a Comfort taxi , went to Ah Hoi’s place at Bandar Sunway and collected my bike.

P1020063en_virago

My bike after a major service at Ah Hoi's bike shop in Bandar Sunway, newly washed and raring to go.

In the taxi I struck a conversation with Mahadi the driver, decided that he was a dependable guy, and booked his taxi for the night’s ride to Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Then I rocketed the bike at warp speed all the way down the NPE Highway to the center of Kuala Lumpur to my favorite money changer, and exchanged my Ringgits for A$500.00 in small notes.

That done, I rushed back home, still on warp speed, to settle my credit card payments, as well as stopping by the neighborhood hardware store to get a couple of Australian electricity adapters.

2 new Malaysia/UK - Australia power adapters, with an Australian power splitter vintage 1984

2 new Malaysia/UK - Australia power adapters, with an Australian power splitter vintage 1984

I also went into the Guardian pharmacy to stock up on some paracetamol tablets and other emergency medicine for the Australian trip.

Ah Kian was true to his words – the bike, after spending 4 days at the shop and after costing me a bundle, was really in top form for its age. It could still do warp speed in a very smooth manner, worthy of its status as a classic Yamaha cruiser of its time …

I was prepared and ready for the journey. I was calm. Everything was in place. Earlier in the morning, Malaysia Airlines texted me on the mobile phone that the night’s flight to Sydney would be delayed by 1 hour due to some operational reasons. That gave me an additional hour to tidy everything up before Mahadi showed up on the dot at 8.15 p.m. to take me to the airport….

Across Australia on the Indian Pacific

I’ve made it.

Here are some pictures of the first day and morning of second day of the  journey. Other pictures and stories soon. Not enough time at the moment.

I’m uploading these images from the reception office of Mountway Holiday Apartments, Perth, while waiting to hop on a taxi for the airport, for my flight back to Malaysia.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH123 from Kuala Lumpur to Sydney transiting Indonesian airspace off Palembang

Malaysia Airlines flight MH123 from Kuala Lumpur to Sydney transiting Indonesian airspace off Palembang

MH123 from Kuala Lumpur to Sydney approaches the Australian coast off Western Australia

MH123 from Kuala Lumpur to Sydney approaches the Australian coast off Western Australia

MH123 Kuala Lumpur to Sydney, right in the middle of Australia

MH123 Kuala Lumpur to Sydney, right in the middle of Australia

Malaysia Airlines B747-400 MH123 upper deck cabin

Malaysia Airlines B747-400 MH123 upper deck cabin

That's me on the MH123 KUL-SYD flight

That's me on the MH123 KUL-SYD flight

Croissant and fruits for breakfast. About 2 hours before landing in Sydney

Croissant and fruits for breakfast. About 2 hours before landing in Sydney

Yoghurt drink, black tea and mineral water to go with breakfast

Yoghurt drink, black tea and mineral water to go with breakfast

MH123 approaching Sydney

MH123 approaching Sydney

MH123 upper deck cabin, with wake-up lighting scheme

MH123 upper deck cabin, with mood lighting just starting up, to gently wake-up the passangers

Another view of the wake-up lighting on board Malaysia Airlines B747-400

Another view of the mood lighting starting up on board Malaysia Airlines B747-400

Outside right-hand side view of clear blue morning sky

Outside right-hand side view of clear blue morning sky

One of the first images in Sydney airport arrival - a Guardian pharmacy

One of the first sights in Sydney airport arrival - a Guardian pharmacy

My luggage at Sydney Airport's arrival hall

My luggage at Sydney Airport's arrival hall

A view of Sydney airport's arrival terminal

A view inside Sydney airport's arrival terminal

Yet another view of Sydney airport's arrival terminal

Yet another view inside Sydney airport's arrival terminal

Train ticket from Sydney International Airport to Central Station

Train ticket from Sydney International Airport to Central Station

Details on the train ticket

Details on the train ticket

A double decker train at the International Airport station

A double decker train at the International Airport station

Another view of the double-decker train

Another view of the double-decker train

My luggage at Sydney Central (Train) Station

My luggage at Sydney Central (Train) Station

Sydney Central Station main concourse

Sydney Central Station main concourse

Overhead direction panels at Sydney Central Station

Overhead direction panels at Sydney Central Station

Checking-in my luggage bag

Checking-in my luggage bag

Indian Pacific Sydney-Adelaide-Perth boarding information display

Indian Pacific Sydney-Adelaide-Perth boarding information display

Central signboard on Platform 3

Central signboard on Platform 3

Entrance to Sydney Central Station

Entrance to Sydney Central Station

Passageway into Sydney Central Station

Passageway into Sydney Central Station

Red flag marking place where to board Indian Pacific Red Service

Red flag marking place where to board Indian Pacific Red Service

Me beside one of the Red Service carriages at Sydney Central Station

Me beside one of the Red Service carriages at Sydney Central Station

Indian Pacific crew being introduced to guests on the platform

Indian Pacific crew being introduced to guests on the platform

Indian Pacific crew in Australia's national colors of green and gold

Indian Pacific crew in Australia's national colors of green and gold

Briefing by the train manager to Indian Pacific guests

Briefing by the train manager to Indian Pacific guests

Indian Pacific Red DayNighter (Seat) Service

Indian Pacific Red DayNighter (Seat) Service

Mid-carriage view inside Indian Pacific Red DayNighter Service

Mid-carriage view inside Indian Pacific Red DayNighter Service

My backpack with empty water bottle for toilet calls, netbook PC and light blanket on Indian Pacific Red Service carriage R's overhead luggage racks

My backpack with empty water bottle for toilet calls, netbook PC and light blanket on Indian Pacific Red Service carriage R's overhead luggage racks

Passageway from the Red Service Diner counter to the Diner dining space

Passageway from the Red Service Diner counter to the Diner dining space

Red Service Diner food service area

Red Service Diner food service area

First of three sunsets on the Sydney-Adelaide-Perth Indian Pacific

First of three sunrises on the 4,352 km Sydney-Adelaide-Perth Indian Pacific

My co-passengers on the R carriage enjoying the Indian Pacific sunset from our seats

My co-passengers on the R carriage enjoying the Indian Pacific sunrise from the comfort of our seats

Me in Wilfred's window seat. I was assigned the aisle seat next to Wilfred, and since he wanted the ability to move around without disturbing me, he offered to swap seat with me

Me in Wilfred's window seat. I was assigned the aisle seat next to Wilfred, and since he wanted the ability to move around without disturbing me, he offered to swap seat with me

At Broken Hill, not far from the border of New South Wales and South Australia, on the morning of second day of the four-day jouney

At Broken Hill, not far from the border of New South Wales and South Australia, on the morning of second day of the four-day journey

At Broken Hill, I can see the two locomotives used to haul the 700m-long Indian Pacific train from Sydney via the Blue Mountains to Adelaide

At Broken Hill, I can see the two locomotives used to haul the 700m-long Indian Pacific train from Sydney via the Blue Mountains to Adelaide

A carriage with full load of 8 cars, an Indian Pacific MotorRail service, to haul cars from Sydney to Adelaide and Perth

A carriage with full load of 8 cars, an Indian Pacific MotorRail service, to haul cars from Sydney to Adelaide and Perth

Full view of the Indian Pacific main locomotive, in signature blue livery with an image of a wedge-tailed eagle, Australia's largest eagle

Full view of the Indian Pacific main locomotive, in signature blue livery with an image of a wedge-tailed eagle, Australia's largest eagle

Good time at the kampung !

It’s the eve of Hari Raya Puasa (Malaysian term for Eid celebrations). In about 2 hours’ time the last day of this year’s 1430 Hijri Ramadan would come to a close, with I and family breaking our fast at my wife’s kampung (village) here in Dong, 15 km north out of Raub, Pahang.

We arrived here at the kampung yesterday September 18th just before midday. All of us, especially the children, just could not wait to get here. The open spaces, the majestic coconut trees, the fruiting, heavily laden rambutan trees, the free-ranging chickens, and of course, the awaiting beloved Atuk (grandpa) and Wan (grandma), were all siren calls beckoning us to return as quickly as we could.

It was a wise suggestion by Ani, my wife, that in contrary to our rotation “balik kampung” (return to village) practice, we return to Dong for this year’s first day of Raya instead of my kampung in Jerteh, Terengganu. We were the only ones to spend the eve of Raya this year with Atuk and Wan. Ani’s brothers and sisters, all married and with children, would be at their in-laws’, following their rotation turns.

I, being the ever understanding life-partner, understood her and her parents’ feelings, and had phoned my mother in Jerteh more than two weeks ago informing her of us returning to her only on the second day of Raya. My mum would be OK, insyaallah, because at least four of my brothers and sisters would be at the kampung on the Raya eve and for the first day of Raya.

The journey from our USJ home to Gombak Toll Plaza, the Selangor entry to the Karak Highway, via New Pantai Expressway and Duke Highway, was surprisingly smooth. It only took 40 minutes to travel the 45 kilometers of the suburban and city roads.

At 9:45 am, after topping up the Innova’s fuel tank with the newly introduced RON95-grade petrol, we entered Karak Highway. Scarcely 25 minutes later, we arrived at the Bentong Toll Plaza. The highway was virtually clear of the normal hordes of East-bound Raya cars that I had apprehensively anticipated, based of previous years’ experience. Normal Raya travel time between the two toll plazas was 1.5 hours, minimum.

Even though the highway was smooth flowing, an LED electronic display board at the entrance of Genting Sempah tunnel, one of the highest peaks of Titiwangsa Mountain Range, warned travellers of severe congestion at the highway’s exit into Bentong town, a few kilometers from the Bentong Toll Plaza.

Knowing the severity of Raya congestion approaching and inside Bentong, I informed the family that we would be taking the longer, but less-travelled and hopefully not congested, rural road from Kampung Cinta Manis to Sertik and Felda Mempaga.

Signboard welcoming us into Kampung Cinta Manis

Signboard welcoming us into Kampung Cinta Manis

Alhamdulillah and true enough, the road from Cinta Manis to Sertik, Mempaga, Sungai Klau, Sungai Ruan and joining the Raub-Lipis trunk road at Pintu Padang, 10 kilometers out of Raub, was smooth flowing as well. We arrived in Dong in good time, just one hour after exiting the highway at Kampung Cinta Manis.

We were happily greeted by the children’s Atuk and Wan.

For the day’s breaking of fast, my wife suggested that we get some treats at the neighborhood Kedai Dong’s “pasar” Ramadan, a collection of stalls selling various dishes and treats, for the whole of the month of Ramadan. The pasar Ramadan phenomenon is a Malaysia-wide annual, eagerly awaited affair.

Adib, Adam & Mum at Pasar Ramadan Kedai Dong

Adib, Adam & Mum at Pasar Ramadan Kedai Dong

And today, the main event of the Raya eve – the grilling of “lemang” on an open fire. Lemang is a traditional Raya dish made up of glutinous rice mixed with freshly squeezed coconut milk, and filled inside specially selected bamboo cuts lined with soft banana leaf sheets.

My four boys – Hanif, Adib, Adam and Alif, had a good time with their Atuk grilling the lemang at a spot at the back of the sprawling kampung house.

Hanif manning the lemang grill

Hanif manning the lemang grill

Adam, Adib and Alif near the lemang grill at the back of the house

Adam, Adib and Alif near the lemang grill at the back of the house

Selamat Hari Raya ….