Thursday, December 20, 2007

Visit to Coptic Cairo and Islamic Cairo

My good pal Chin Chia paid me a short visit in Cairo in mid-Dec 07. Finally, I found a companion to explore the Old Cairo (also known as Coptic Cairo) and Islamic Cairo. In Old Cairo, we visited the Hanging Church, Monastery and Church of St George as well as the Coptic Museum. The walkabout the tranquil neighbourhood was a nice departure from the noisy downtown. Through the various artifacts, we also gained a deeper understanding of the spread of Christianity in Egypt. I will definitely revisit this part of the city regularly during my stay here.

Islamic Cairo is quite the opposite of Old Cairo. The noise level was much higher and very crowded indeed. Seeing our foreign faces, touts kept tugging at us trying to lure us into sales traps. We refrained from buying anything to save us the trouble. We started off with coffee and local breakfast staple (fuul & taamiyya) at the famous Fishawi's Coffeehouse at the Khan Al-Khalili bazaar. We trailed off the beaten track into the heartland mingling in the local thoroughfare.

Click here to see the photo album.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Level 1.5 - Modern Standard Arabic

Continued from Level 1 (Part B)


MSA Level 1.5 began with revision of the key concepts taught in Level 1 such as adjectives, prepositions, nominal sentences (plus negation), idafa constructions, demonstratives and interrogative (making questions). My vocab was rather weak at this point in time and my tutor prompted me to quickly devise a systematic way to commit new words to memory. I tried different approach like making pictorial cards with words on the back and drilling with the MSA Vocab Clinic software I bought. The process was painful but I made some progress. Recalling my experience in learning Chinese, I believe that the most effective way to build vocab is to read widely. However, this could only be done after I have attained a minimum standard of the language.


Using the Hans Wehr Arabic-English Dictionary

The first new concept/skill taught in Level 1.5 was the use of the Hans Wehr Arabic-English Dictionary. This was my first insight of the foundation of the Arabic language and suddenly I sensed hope of grasping the language. Arabic words can be basically categorised according to their root and words of similar nature are derived or morphed from the same root. For example, the following words relating to the basic concept of writing with the root ﺐ ﺖ ﻚ:

كتب to write
كتابة writing
كاتب writer
كتيب booklet
كتاب book
مكتبة bookshelf/library
مكتب desk

So, the key to using the dictionary is to identify the root of an Arabic word in order to know which page to turn. Well, things are not always straightforward as there are always exceptions and for beginners like me, some of the conjugations are not immediately clear. Under the root, which is normally the verb in perfect tense, there are up to 10 common forms of verbs that can be derived from the root. There are more detail classification guidelines for each verb type but beginners like me will not need to master all the verb types at this level of study. The verbs are followed by nouns and adjectives relating to the root. As in the above example, the root is presented in كتب (kataba) which means "he wrote". The conjugation rules to derive the present and future tenses would only be taught at Level 2. Nevertheless, armed with the newly acquired skills, I went on to read more text with new words requiring me to look up the dictionary. The search process also helped improve my memorisation of the new words.

For English-Arabic translation, I use the online dictionary at http://www.ectaco.co.uk/English-Arabic-Dictionary/, which is user-friendly and comprehensive.


Duals

The rest of Level 1.5 dealt with the major topic of duals and plurals. The importance of gender and the type of cases is manifested through the way plurals are created. In Arabic, there are special grammar rules governing duals. To create masculine duals, such as two pens, the suffix "ﻦﺎ" will have to be attached to nominative words. For genitive and accusative words, the suffix "ﻦﻴ" will have to be attached. For feminine words, the ta marbuta "ﺔ or ﺓ" will be changed to "ﺖ" before the suffixes are added. The following table provides the summary:






There are three more rules to note for the duals. Firstly, the "ﻦ" at the end of the dual word will be dropped if the noun forms the idafa construction. Secondly, the adjectives and demonstratives describing the duals will also have to take the same suffixes. Thirdly, all duals take the kasra as the case ending.


Sound Plurals

The grammar of plurals in Arabic is much more complicated than duals. There are basically three classes of plurals: sound masculine plurals, sound feminine plurals and the broken plurals.

Sound masculine plurals apply only to nouns related to the words describing male human beings and majority of occupations such as male doctors, male engineers, male teachers etc. Similar to the duals, a suffix is attached to these nouns to make them plurals. "ﻦﻮ" is attached for nominative words while "ﻦﻴ" is attached for genitive and accusative words. All sound masculine plurals take the fatha as the case ending. Hence, it is possible to know if a word refers to a plural noun by its pronunciation. That's why this class of plurals are called "sound masculine plurals".

Sound feminine plurals apply to most words describing the female human beings, all occupations undertaken by females and also certain non-human nouns. Again, suffixes are attached but unlike the feminine duals, the ta marbuta is dropped entirely before attaching the suffixes. "ﺖﺎ" is attached for all words but with different case endings. Nominative sound feminine plurals take the damma while the genitive and accusative take the kasra. Similar to the masculine duals, the "ﻦ" at the end of the sound masculine plurals will be dropped if the noun forms the idafa construction. The following table provides the summary:






Based on the above rules on duals and sound plurals, I was drilled on converting nouns to sound plurals and vice versa. I was also tasked to spot the duals and plurals with a cut-out from the recruitment page in the newspaper.


Broken Plurals

If you find sound plurals difficult, the broken plurals are a worse lot. A good majority of Arabic plurals are broken ones and they are formed by modifying the structure of the noun by basically adding or removing vowels at different positions in a word while retaining the root. There are purportedly over 15 patterns that broken plurals can be formed. However, applying the patterns is not a straightforward exercise like the duals or sound plurals. For example, there are at least three patterns that can changed words formed by three consonants into broken plurals:

قلم > pen(s) > ﺃﻘﻠﺍﻢ
ﺐﻠﻛ > dog(s) > ﺐﺍﻠﻛ
ﻲﻨﻏ > rich(es) > ﺀﺎﻴﻨﻏﺃ

The word "pen" is changed to plural "pens" by adding " ﺃ " before the first consonant and " ﺍ " is added before the last consonant. However, for a similar 3-consonant word like "dog", the plural "dogs" is created by simply adding " ﺍ " before the last consonant. In the third case, which is a adjective, the " ﺃ " is added before the first consonant and " ﺀﺎ " after the last consonant to create the plural.

Given the complexity of broken plurals, I decided to learn these plurals by treating them as new words. As I progress and build up my vocab, I hope I will be able to internalise these patterns and apply them instinctively like the native speakers.


Plurals and Adjectives Agreement

Unlike the duals where the adjectives will take the same suffixes in order to agree with the nouns, adjectives do not agree with plurals all the time. For non-human plurals nouns like objects or concepts or ideas etc., the adjectives will always take the feminine singular regardless the gender of the nouns. For human plurals, the noun and adjective have to agree in all aspects.

Most of the broken plurals also take the usual nominative, genitive and accusative case endings and indefinite nouns take the "tanwin". The three case endings are called "trip totes". However, there are some broken plurals that do not take the tanwin and the genitive case for the indefinite words. These broken plurals are called "dip totes". There is no definite way to identify these words except that they are formed by at least 3 syllables where one of which is a long vowel. These words are marked with "2" superscript in the Hans Wehr Dictionary.


End of Level 1.5

The subsequent exercises mainly focused on the recognition of broken plurals, converting sentences into plurals and adjusting the agreement of the adjectives. At the same time, more new words were introduced to build up my vocabulary. There were also some exercises on the negation of nominal sentences with plurals as well as making questions involving plurals. At the end of the text, I read a few short passages providing descriptions of various countries like Switzerland and Egypt and I composed a short simple passage on Singapore.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Love is in the Sky


This is an unsually photo of a "heart" formed by clouds in the clear blue sky off the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. The photo was taken during our trip onboard Superstar Virgo in May 2007.
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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Level 1 (Part B) - Modern Standard Arabic

Continued from Level 1 (Part A)


Tanwin and Case Endings

The "tanwin" and case endings were the next new concepts taught in Level 1. The pronunciation of Arabic words involves not just the sounds of the consonants and vowels in them but also the sound of the case endings. Basically, the last letter of an Arabic word carries a specific vowel depending on the nature of the word in a sentence. The damma is added to nominative words, the fatha to the accusative words and the kasra to the genitive words. If the word is not definite, the vowels are "doubled" in the pronunciation with the "tanwin", which causes the word to end with a 'n' sound. These pronunciation rules definitely compounded the difficulty in learning the language. For beginners, we were expected to know these rules but I had to put aside these rules for the time being as they hindered my progress, especially in learning new vocab.

In order to know the case endings to pronouce when reading Arabic text, I have to identify whether a word is nominative, genitive or accusative. Generally, nouns in isolation, the subject of sentences, the predicate of a nominal sentences are all in nominative. Nouns preceded by a preposition are genitive and so are nouns that come after the first noun in an "idafa" construction. Accusative case is much more complicated as they deal with verbs which are taught Level 2. At Level 1, we only learn to form non-verbal sentences, i.e. sentences without verbs like "do", "play", "run" etc.


Idafa Construction

Idafa construction is a basic grammar for identifying possession. For example, the man's dog in Arabic will be "كلب ﺍﻠرجل ". By the way, Arabic text is read from right to left. In this example, كلب is dog while ﺍﻠرجل is the man. Literally, it means dog of the man, the possessive word "of" implied by the construction of an indefinite noun followed by a definite noun. This construction can involve more than two nouns but the final noun must be definite. The whole string of nouns forming the idafa is considered definite. Besides nouns, adjectives can also to added after the last noun to describe the noun, only after the idafa not in between the nouns. This rule poses difficulties for novices like me to link the adjectives to the correct nouns. For example, "the short key of the big door of the small car of the tall man" is clear in English. But in Arabic, the sentence will look like this:

"مفتاح باب سيارة ﺍﻠرجل ﺍﻠقصير ﺍﻠكبيرﺍﻠصغيرة ﺍﻠطويل "

The four adjectives (in red) have to be placed after the last noun "the man" but it is not clear whether "short" describes the key or the door or the man. However, it is clear that "short" does not describe the car because the adjective did not have a feminine ending to agree with the car, which is a feminine noun. The adjectives also have to be attached with the definite article ﺍﻠ otherwise a sentence will be formed instead. To know which adjective is describing which noun in an idafa, one has to read from context or make a guess or split the idafa with "ﻞ ". The last technique allows an adjective to be placed immediately after the noun they described in an idafa construction by first making that noun definite with " ال " and adding "ﻞ " to the next noun in the idafa sequence.


Nominal Sentences

The order of [indefinite noun][definite noun] in idafa is very important because by swapping the positions, it will mean "the man is a dog" i.e. " الرجل كلب ". There is no verb-to-be in Arabic and the "is" is implied by the construction of a definite noun followed by an indefinite noun. This is the simplest form of nominal sentences. In the above example, ifقصير (short) is placed at the end and without the ﺍﻠ the sentence will mean "The key of the big door of the small car of the man is short."

"مفتاح باب سيارة ﺍﻠرجل ﺍﻠكبيرﺍﻠصغيرة ﺍﻠطويل قصير "

Idafa and nominal sentence constructions are the most substantial topics in the second half of Level 1. Through the exercises, I learned new words and formed simple nominal sentences with the words I knew. Besides forming nominal sentences by the two constructions, one can also replace the idafa or definite noun with a proper name (e.g. Egypt or Ahmad) or with pronouns (e.g. he, she or they) or with demonstratives (e.g. this, that, there, here) or by joining nouns or idafas with prepositions (e.g. under or on). At this juncture, we were introduced to the preposition "ﻞ " which can be attached to definite nouns to indicate possession. This preposition is the Arabic version of "to have" of English.

Nevertheless, there are always some exceptions that fall outside these standard constructions. For example, we cannot use any of the above to form the sentence "Ahmad is the President" as both the nouns are definite. In this case, a pronoun must be added in between the two: "Ahmad he is the President." The requirements were to be able to recognise the different constructions, differentiate between phrases and sentences and make simple sentences.


Making Questions

After learning the techniques of sentence making, forming questions was the next topic. The techniques of questioning are not very different from English or Chinese with the standard question words like who what when where why and how. In addition, there are the interrogative particles "ﻞﻫ" and "ﺃ " for yes/no questions. As usual, exercises were given to drill me on the concepts. With a slightly broader vocab base, I was given simple text of short paragraphs containing nominal sentences to read.


Negation of Nominal Sentences

As I was "verbless" at this stage, I could only make nominal sentences which were restricted by the extent of my vocab. The next concept taught naturally was the negation of nominal sentences so as to expand the use of my limited vocab. I was taught how to negate "The girl is beautiful." to become "The girl is not beautiful." This is useful when I need to negate without having to know the word of the opposite meaning or when I need to give negative answers. The "not" of English in Arabic is "ليس ".

However, the use of this word is not as straightforward as "not" in English where it can be placed before a noun or adjective without being grammatically wrong. ليس , if used at the beginning of a sentence negate the predicate and there are a few rules to follow. First, the predicate negated has to be changed from nominative case to the accusative, which means the words in the predicate have to be pronounce with the fatha. Second, if the subject is feminine, ليس becomes ﻟﻴﺴﺖ. If ليس is used in the middle of a sentence, things get complicated as it has to conjugate according to the subject in gender and number - that means 12 different forms of ليس. This is a preview to verbs which conjugate in a similar fashion.

At the end of MSA Level 1, I was able to read Arabic script with vowel markings but given my limited vocab, my level of comprehension of external materials was near zero at this stage. I took 28 hours of private lessons over 3 weeks to cover Level 1.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Level 1 (Part A) - Modern Standard Arabic

This is my seventh week in Cairo and the going is getting tougher in my study of the Arabic language, in particular the Modern Standard Arabic (MSA). After taking 64 hours of lessons, I regret for not keeping a diary of my progress to summarize the heavy textbooks and help in my revision. It's still not too late to take stock and start blogging about my progress.


The Arabic Alphabet

MSA Level 1 started with the introduction of the Arabic alphabet, which comprises of 28 letters. Most of these letters take four different forms depending on the position of the letter in a word, first letter, in the middle or the last letter or standing alone. The basic requirements were to recognise the letters in the various forms, to pronouce each letter and to pronouce simple words formed by the letters with the voweling. Recognising the letters was the easiest task among the three. Pronoucing the sound of each letter proved to be more difficult than in English or Chinese. Unlike the latters, pronoucing Arabic requires the use of the lips all the way to the back of the throat. There is no easy way out as the meaning of each word can change by the sound of a letter. I am still having problems with the "kh - " and the "gh - ".


Vowels of the Arabic Language

There are basically three vowels in Arabic - "a - ", "i - " and "u - ". They are known as the fatha, kasra and dumma respectively. The three are also letters of the alphabet and they normally give a long vowel in words that contain them. Each letter of an Arabic word may take one of the three vowels or a sokon which indicates the pronunciation of the letter without any vowel. The challenge is that most Arabic script are written without the vowel markers. So the "f" in a word can be pronounced as "fa" or "fi" or "fu". But if the next letter is one of the three vowels, the preceding letter will take the same vowel. For beginners like me, I will need to mark the script with the vowels in order to read the words correctly.

Unlike languages like Chinese, which are based on pictorial characters providing no hint at all to the sound they make, the Arabic script can be understood simply by reading the words according to the sound they make plus the vowels. An interesting part of the lesson was the reading of a passage of Arabic script which were essentially English if read.


Building Vocabulary

Building vocabulary is the key to attaining proficiency in any language. Knowing the grammar rules is as important but without the vocab, it's impossible to make significant progress. Besides picking up new words from the lessons, I also bought the Modern Standard Arabic Vocab Clinic® from http://www.egyptianarabic.com/ to help build up this key foundation. I also bought the clinics for Egyptian Colloquial Arabic® as well as the MSA Verb Clinic®. These software were really useful for my self-study at home as I could listen to the pronunciation of words by authentic Arabic speakers and record my own pronunciation. The software enabled me to compare the waveforms of the two pronunciations and help identify my errors. But memorising new words quickly and internalising them proved to be challenging.

Nisba Adjectives and Gender

At Level 1, I was only learning to make sentences without any verbs. So the words were limited to nouns and adjectives. One special form of adjectives is the Nisba adjectives. There is grammar for converting certain nouns into adjectives, for example, industry صناعة > industrial صناعي, Egypt مصر > Egyptian مصري. That was the time when one of the most critical aspect of the Arabic language was revealed - gender. Every noun is either masculine or feminine. Feminine words normally end with a "ta marbuta" (or ) but there are exceptions. Gender is important because adjectives have to agree with the nouns in gender and number. If the noun is feminine, the adjective will have to take its feminine form. The issue of plurals will come later.


Demonstratives and the Definite Article

Demonstratives "this" or "that" were next and they too come in two different forms, feminine and masculine. Demonstratives helped me make simple sentences like "this is a chair". In Arabic, there is only one definite article "ﻞﺍ" or in transliteration "al" or "il" or "el" depending on the map you are holding. This article can be attached to any noun to make it definite. This is just one of the many ways we can make definite nouns. Prepositions like behind, in front, on, under etc. was next and by using them to connect two nouns, I could make more sentences like "the cat is under the table".

The above basically summarized first half of the 138-page text of MSA Level 1. Tomorrow I will continue with the other half.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

City Stars in Heliopolis

I spent almost my whole Saturday exploring the City Stars in Heliopolis. City Stars is a mixed development comprising of a huge shopping mall, the biggest of its kind in Egypt, two international hotels (Intercon and Holiday Inn), residential apartments and offices.

I went in the morning about 10am by taxi which cost 30 EGP. There were not many shoppers around but the crowd began to trickle in after 1pm and the place was swarmed with people by the time I headed out around 5pm.

The mall is huge and there are plenty to shop and eat. There are seven floors filled with boutiques, cafes, restaurants, bowling alley, children arcades and large anchor stores. The variety is wide with many familiar brand names like Benetton, Timberland, Levis, Guess, Mango, Mothercare, Springfield, Samsonite, Nike, Puma etc. etc. The prices are generally higher than Singapore by about 20-30% so I do not think I really want to buy apparels here. Surprisingly, I did not come across any of the luxury brands like Chanel, Gucci and Armani which are standard features in the shopping malls back home.

Electronics like computers, LCD TVs, printers, cameras etc. are also more expensive compared to Singapore. The anchor hypermart is Spinneys which is located on the 1st floor. It's as big as any Carrefours I had visited and one can practically find anything they need in there, all under one roof. Virgin is the only bookstore I came across and it also has sections selling DVDs, games, music CDs, computer accessories and electronics like TVs and cameras.

Well, I can go on and on about City Stars but in essence, it is not very different from Vivo City in Singapore or the Taipei 101. I guess City Stars will be a regular shopping destination when we start our stay in Cairo next year.

Like most guys, I don't really enjoy window shopping and the four hours there is now causing severe aches in my limbs. At the end of the day, my trip to the City Stars was rather uneventful. However, my return taxi trip made the day. I got into a taxi off the street after some haggling. The guy asked for 40 EGP but I insisted on 30. I got my way and off we go. The taxi driver, Ayman, was quite a nice guy and we chatted along the way, giving me a chance to practice my patchy Arabic.

As we were going through a long tunnel, the left rear tyre of the taxi was punctured and Ayman had to replaced it. I got out to help direct the oncoming traffic to the remaining lane on the left so as to prevent any car from hitting Ayman. Fortunately, Ayman changed the tyre in 10 minutes flat and we were off the road again. In the end, I paid Ayman 50 LE to help him offset the cost of the flat tyre. I thought it would be a good gesture to help out the poor man trying to make a decent living. Ayman was appreciative and he readily gave me his mobile number and told me to call anytime I need a taxi. He made my day.

Friday, December 07, 2007

My First Haircut at an Egyptian Barber

I have been in Cairo for over six weeks now and I finally got myself a badly needed haircut at an egyptian barber a stone throw away from my apartment. While I don't really find the outcome desirable, I quite enjoyed the service provided. The barber gave me a quick wash first and brought me to my seat and offering to serve me a cup of hot coffee or tea.

They took a while to get the much needed hot tea to me, I appreciated the warmth the tea provided in the cold evening. Like all barbers I have been to, he wrapped a small towel on the back of my neck before pulling the cover over me. I was prepared to head straight home to bathe after the haircut as I expected bits of hair all over my body. Surprisely, that did not happened and I did not find a strand of hair slipping through my neck during the haircut. This was mainly due to the piece of disposable elastic band the barber used to secure the cover around my neck. Unlike the barbers in Singapore who use clips to secure the cover, the elastic tape works wonders without subjecting me to suffocating clips.

The barber only used scissors on me, no cranky electric shavers at all. I am not sure if he just wanted to impress or it could be due to the texture of my hair which is quite different from the natural curly hairs of Egyptian men. He did however used the shaving knife not very skilfully though. This is my main complaint as the process and the immediate after effect were slightly painful. No shaving cream was used and the barber basically scrubbed off the edges without really understanding my discomfort.

Well, I quickly forgave him after experiencing the quick facial he rendered before the whole visit ended. He sprayed a cooling liquid cleanser over my face and followed by a nice facial massage. Then, a hot towel was pulled over my face for minute followed by a cold one. I was completely refreshed and I paid the 30 LE (S$8.00) for the haircut happily. Surely I will not wait long before going for my second haircut but I will probably try out another barber further down the street.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Visit to the Great Pyramids of Egypt

Yesterday, 1 Dec 07, I visited the Great Pyramids of Egypt sitting on the plateau of Giza in Cairo. The trip was organised by my language school Kalimat. This is the second of the old Seven Wonders of the World I have seen so far. The first being the Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

The architecture is simply amazing and I really wonder how those huge stones, each weighing 2.5 tonnes, were stacked up to hundred over metres above ground. No wonder many people still hold the belief that they were the creation of extra-terrestial beings.

After the tour around the pyramids and the Sphinx, we went to a nearby stable where we rode horses into the setting sun. It was my first horse ride and I managed to keep my balance on the steed. Take a look at my photo album in my Facebook.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Trip to Bahariya Oasis, Black Desert and White Desert

I spent the last weekend exploring the vast desert land of Egypt around the Bahariya Oasis, southwest of the capital Cairo. The trip was organised by my language school Kalimat and there were 12 in our group made of 8 students and 4 other expatriates working in Cairo. Instead of putting words with selected photos of the trip like I used to blog, I will share my experience through my online album.

There are simply too much to share about this trip and it is better done through photoblogs. For those without the luxury of time to browse the albums, you can get a glimpse of my eye-opening trip through the two short video clips (Part 1 and Part 2) I have uploaded on my YouTube channel.

Before this trip, I only have an abstract idea about the vast barren lands that were said to be the seabeds of huge oceans probably tens of thousand of years ago. The fossil sea shells found in the White Desert evidenced the geographical phenomenon. We spent hours on the road traveling through the realm of nothingness but sand and rocks. The desert imposes a deafening silence and its stillness easily causes one to lose the sense of time unconsciously. The two nights camping in the open desert under the bright moonlight and blanket of stars was a unprecedented experience for me. I wondered what would I do if I woke up stranded alone with nothing but my sleeping bag. My blood froze in my veins at the thought of it.

Fortunately, we had a great team of local guides who would do nothing like leaving people behind. We were led by the general manager of Golden Valley Hotel, Mr Ahmed El Shimy, from Bahariya Oasis. He has a really nice establishment in the oasis and I will definitely be revisiting the lovely neighbourhood after I assume post next year. For those who are interested, here are Ahmed's contact details:

Golden Valley Hotel, Bahariya Oasis, Bawiti
Tel: +20 (2) 38473031 Mobile: +20 (12) 4972143
Email: a_elshemi@hotmail.com or info@craweentours.com
Website: http://www.craweentours.com/

This was my first trip out of Cairo since my arrival in Egypt one month ago. I cannot wait to embark on my next trip to the Giza Pyramids on 1 Dec 07 and I have also started planning to visit the Siwa Oasis in the far-flung of the Western Desert when Irene visits over the New Year.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

离乡四度,心境异呼!

离乡四度,心境异呼!我正在埃及开罗的租屋中回想我近十年来离乡背井的心境之差异。

第一次离乡是在我二十岁服役时外派到台北。那时的我只想着国外多姿多彩的生活。当时,我的心在飞机起飞前早已飞往台北了。我一去就是一年又九个月。

第二次离乡是我加入外交部后一年半后被派到柬埔寨金边实习兼顶职。那时总部虽然只给我不到两个礼拜的通知,我义无反顾欣然接受任命。毕竟,外派是我加入外交部最大的目的。和第一次一样,我的心也是提前起飞的。我在那儿住了短短的四个月。

第三次离乡是故地从游回到了台北。和前两次不同的是我的心并没有提前起飞。因为在上任前不到两个月前,我邂逅了弈云并在短短一个多月内死缠烂打后成功虏获每人心。结果,我准备提前起飞的心被这旋风般的恋情缠住了。可能我们的感情还嫩,我的心还是随着我的人飞往了台北。不过,它还是时不时的偷偷溜回了新加坡。这次驻台三年又九个月。不过,弈云在结婚后随我住在台北半年左右。

第四次离乡带我来到了神秘国度埃及的古城开罗。我独自到这儿已将近两个星期了。我的阿拉伯语的课程为期四个月到明年二月中旬。之后,我会回国一个月然后带着妻儿在都会来开罗正式展开三年的任期。这次和以往大不相同。结婚了,生了个超可爱的男娃儿,我的心到今天还是停留新加坡妻儿的身边。这两天因为天气燥热我生病了,加剧了我思乡,思念妻儿之苦。我希望尽快完成课程回到家人的身边。

Friday, November 02, 2007

Outing to Carrefour at Maadi City Centre

Today is Friday, the first day of the weekend in Egypt, and a quiet day on the roads. I got up early today, made myself a simple breakfast and set off to Carrefour at Maadi City Centre, rearing to try out my taxi vocabulary. I hailed a taxi easily, shout out the name of the Metro station and got on the taxi.

By the way, Metro is the name of the mass rapid transit in Cairo. Although it is essentially an MRT system, it is more like a rail system. For those in Singapore, think the 3rd class train on Malayan Railway from Tanjong Pagar, if they still exist. For those in Taiwan, it like the 平快 or 电车. The stations and trains are not air-conditioned but with the windows opened, it's actually not too hot inside. The ticket is cheap, just 1 EGP (or about 30cents) to travel from Dokki to Maadi, about 10 stations away. The meagre price tag explains the pathetic condition of the stations and trains. Appearance aside, it's actually quite easy to commute in the Metro with the English transliterations of the station names. There are two lines running east/west and north south. The east/west line runs from El Mounib in the west through Giza (where the Great Pyramids are) to Dokki, where are got on, all the way to El-Marg in the north east. The north/south line runs from Shobra in the north through Sadat, the interchange where I changed train, to Helwan in the south, going through Maadi where I got off.

The Metro ride is pretty fast, about 20 minutes, but the problem started after I reached Maadi. Mistakenly thinking that the Carrefour is at the Grand Mall, I started walking towards it. In fact, Carrefour is at the far flung corner of Maadi that will take me hours to reach by foot. To make the matter worse, I took the wrong turn and ended up walking in the opposite direction until I reached the Nile! I asked someone along the way for directions and I was told to take a taxi instead. The first taxi driver wanted 20 EGP from me which I though was a rip-off. So I continued walking until I saw a yellow City Cab which normally charges by meter. I got on and arrived at Maadi City Centre in 15 minutes. Guess what, the meter was 20 EGP.

The Carrefour here in Maadi City Centre is comparable to the Carrefours I have been in Singapore and Taiwan. It is big, clean and well-stocked. Here's a video clip I took at Carrefour.



I have practically made up my mind to find an apartment in Maadi next year when I bring my family along. The Maadi City Centre is a new modern shopping centre with Carrefour as the anchor store and it also features many international brands like Levis, Esprit, Starbucks and even Mothercare. I think the shopping mall should be fully opened by March next year.

After buying a few items at Carrefour, I got out and started looking for a taxi to bring me back home to Mohandiseen. A nice chap waved at me and asked for 50 EGP for the trip up north. I bargained for 30 but settled for 40. It turned out that this guy is no ordinary taxi driver with a crap taxi like the ones abound. He is a part-time taxi driver with a nice clean comfortable sedan and so the 40 EGP is definitely worth it. His name is Nasser and he speaks quite good English for an Egyptian taxi driver. Nasser gave his card to me and told me that he is normally available on the afternoons from Saturday to Thursday and the whole day for Fridays. He can also ferry me around if I wish to tour the city and even the pyramids at Giza. This contact will come in handy when Irene visits in January next year. Here's a video I took on the taxi ride with Nasser.



PS: Check out my Facebook photo album of Cairo for new photos. If you are reading this blog on Facebook, you can view the videos on my YouTube channel.

Into the Second Week of Stay in Cairo

Today is the 1st of November 2007, the start of the second week of my stay in Cairo. I am now blogging away in the comfort of my temporary home watching Harry Potter and the Chambers of Secrets on satellite TV. My nice landlady, Mrs Nadia, helped applied the ADSL connection for me and it comes along with a wireless router providing a 512kps download speed. From now on, I will not need to take the long march to my office everyday to video call my wife. Hoo haa!

This morning, I took my sixth lesson in Arabic and I am half way through the level 1 text. The going is tough and learning Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) and Egyptian Colloquial Arabic (ECA) concurrently can really be quite confusing. While both are Arabic, the description and pronunciation of many things are different in MSA vis-a-vis ECA. My strategy now is basically to focus on reading and writing for MSA and speaking for ECA. It's very much like learning Chinese for reading and writing and Hokkien for speaking.

So far, my progress has been quite good according to my tutors and Mr Raafat, the Managing Director of Kalimat. The plan now is for me to sit for the Intermediate Level test in early Feb 08 at the end of my language programme. For MSA (also known as Fursa), I am now able to recognise the alphabet in words quite accurately and I am working on the voweling, which can be quite complicated. I need lots of practice in writing and reading as well as building up my vocabulary quickly to enable me to move on to more meaningful Arabic reading.

Of the two, ECA (or Amaya) lessons are relatively more lively and fun with many exercises and conversations. To date, I've learnt basic greetings, some vocab, days of the week, months of the year, time, money, directions, prepositionsl, numbers and sequence, just to name the key ones. Yesterday, I managed to apply the 'taxi language' I learnt at class by directing a taxi from office to home. Tomorrow, I will do the same when I make my way to the Metro station nearby enroute to the Carrefour in Maadi. I will also try to call the laundry shop and get the man to come over to my place to collect clothes for laundry. I blog about my experiences along the way to share with everyone. Check out my Facebook photo album of Cairo for new photos.


PS: Please note that my transliterations are not the conventional ones commonly used.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

I Have Found A Nice Apartment to Stay

Today is my sixth day in Cairo and I have found myself a nice apartment to stay for the next four months. Over the weekend, which is the Friday and Saturday in Egypt, I moved my stuff from the Nabila Hotel over to the apartment with the help of my property agent Tarit. Although the apartment is quite well furnished and equipped with crockery and utensils, I still need to get my daily essentials such as shampoo, soap, dish cleanser, bottled water and sustenance like bread, biscuits and jam. So I was running to and fro the Metro Supermarket nearby to get things ready.

I must say that I am quite lucky to find this apartment. It’s located at the junction of Mahruqi St and Gol Gamal away from the busy roads jammed with honking cars and yet it is only about 10 minutes walk from the places I will need to frequent – the language centre, supermarket, laundry shop, computer mart etc. While it is quite a walk from my office, about 30 minutes walk away, I can easily commute by taxi. Yesterday, I finally took a taxi by myself and I managed to get home simply muttering out “Gol Gamal” and “Muhruqi”. I don’t think I will have a problem flagging taxis along the roads as long as I can name the place I wish to go.

Besides the convenient location, I also have a pair of really nice old couple as my landlord. The landlady, Nadia, speaks some English and we were able to make some interesting small talk. I believe that in choosing a place to rent, the friendliness of the landlord is also an important factor to consider. If you get a good landlord like Nadia, or my landlady for almost four years in Taipei, you will have a blissful stay. Nadia helped me called up the laundry man to pick up my clothes, got her driver to show me to the laundry shop, asked her son-in-law to subscribe a broadband line that will be ready in two weeks time, referred a part-time domestic help to come in once a week to clean up the place for EGP40 (about S$12) and even buy me brand new frying pans. Here are some photos of this nice apartment to share. I will find an opportunity to take a photo with my landlady and post it on as well.





Now, my one and only goal is to learn Arabic as quickly as I can so that I can converse with Nadia in her mother tongue and perhaps have a few exchanges with the taxi drivers during my rides around the city. The second day of my lessons will start in about two hour time. I have a lot to memorise and practice so I will end here for today.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Settling Down in Cairo

Today is Friday, the start of the weekend in Cairo, and my fourth day in Cairo. Over the past few days, I have been walking quite a bit, from the hotel to the language centre to the office and back to the hotel. That's about 1 hour and 20 minutes of walking per day along the dusty roads of Cairo. I have read about the infamous taxi rides in Cairo. Since I landed, I was not brave enough to hail one down. Fortunately, I experienced my first ride with an Egyptian real estate agent and I think I will be game to take one on my own soon. Here is a video clip taken during the bumpy ride.





The taxi ride was taken on my way to see an apartment that I will be renting for my four months of stay in Cairo during my language training. Compared to the four apartments shown to my back another agent the day before, this apartment is a godsend. It's clean and bright with three big bedrooms and a nice kitchen topped with three balconies. Seriously, I don't need such a big place but this building is just five minutes walk from the language school. The others I saw were a good 30-40 minutes walk away. While this apartment will cost more but the premium is very much worth it considering the savings in walking time. I will be signing the lease later this afternoon. I will post some photos after I moved in and settled down.

I started lessons yesterday at the Kalimat Language & Cultural Centre. Two hours of Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) and two hours of Egyptian Colloquial Arabic (ECA). MSA is for the read and write while ECA is for speaking. They are quite different but yet similar. If you know Chinese, MSA is like the Chinese writing while ECA is a local dialect such as Mandarin or Cantonese. But unlike Chinese, Arabic words are formed by alphabets which is similar to English. I basically need to memorised the alphabet and the pronunciation and script of each alphabet. It's quite a difficult language for me as there are sounds that I have not been using like "Rrrrrr" and "Kh". I find the lessons very interesting and challenging. For a moment, I felt like a kid learning ABCs, very refreshing indeed.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Kee Chor is in Cairo Egypt

I've safely arrived in Cairo, Egypt on 23 Oct 07 10PM Eygptian time. Cairo is six hours behind Singapore and this moment is 24 Oct 07 8:10AM. I just had my breakfast at the hotel (Al Nabila) before taking a walk to a nearby supermarket called the Metro. I'm quite glad to see such a well-stocked supermarket so I don't think we will have a problem getting all our daily necessities.

But I must say that the air pullution in the city is quite bad as mentioned by the few guidebooks I've read before I came. You can literally smell the pollutants in the air. My lungs are adjusting and I can feel phlegm collecting at the back of my throat. This may be a problem for my young boy who will be joining me next year. I will need to take some precautionary measures, find an apartment with good air filters and limit our outdoor activities.

I'm now blogging using the one and only Internet terminal in this hotel. The hotel's breakfast is pretty good with a mix variety of continental and local food. The room is clean and the service has been commendable. While the hotel is okay for me, I will probably put up my family at a better hotel next year.

My colleague will be bringing me to the language centre later in the morning and probably show me the way to our office. All in all, I'm having a good start so far and I hope to keep it that way. Do check out my photo album on Cairo in Facebook from time to time.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

飞往埃及首都开罗

今天我又展开我生命中另一次长远的行程。我现在正在飞机上孤身前往埃及的首都开罗。我将在开罗学习阿拉伯语,为期四个月。明年二月中旬,我会返回新加坡一个月进行外派前的简报和假期。三月中旬,我会带着妻儿前往开罗正式走马上任。

这次驻外和以往达不相同。我不再是单身王老五能一切从简。带着刚满一岁大的宝宝到一个陌生的国度,一切都简单不起来了,问题接二连三的来。在开罗能买到宝宝的生活所需吗?哪儿的医药设施是否完善?听说开罗的污染问题瞒严重的,这对宝宝的影响有多大呢?还好我有四个月的时间好好的勘察地形,充分地做好准备面对未来的挑战。

回顾这过去的十年,自从我98年首次乘坐飞机前往台北,我似乎总是过着飘浮不定得生活。2000年加入外交部后,我到过金边,又回台北将近四年,现在我又要开始飘泊了。让我遗憾的是这些年来我所失去的友谊。我希望尽管我身在异地,我还是可以和朋友们保持联系。我最近加入了Facebook,一个相当先进的社交网站。朋友们可以去看看,加入Facebook,让我们可以轻松的保持联系。

Heading to Cairo

I’m writing this blog while watching Surf’s Up on SQ 492 bound for Cairo Egypt. This is the first time in my life I am flying to the west of Singapore. I’m heading to Cairo alone for four months of language training in Arabic. I will be returning to Singapore in mid Feb 08 for a two weeks of pre-posting briefings followed by two weeks of leave before I head back to Cairo again to begin my three-year posting in the land of the Pharoahs in mid Mar 08.

Naturally, my wife and son will move to Cairo with me. This time, I’m no longer a lone nomad on the move. With a family with me, there will be more things for me to think about that I don’t need to when I was still a bachelor. Do they have paper diapers, baby formula and other necessities that our one year old boy needs? Are there well-trained doctors there with good medical facilities and well-stocked pharmacies? Are there playgroups for our boy to join? How is the living condition? Is the pollution really bad? Fortunately, I have four months in Cairo to recce the ground and check up all the things we need.

It has been almost ten years now since I first board an aircraft to Taipei in Feb 98. I have been on the move quite a bit. After returning from Taipei in Nov 99, I joined MFA and was posted to Phnom Penh for four months in Sep 01. Next, I was back in Taipei in Jun 02 where I stay for almost four years. During that period, I courted a girl, married the girl and bought a flat. Just after I returned from Taipei in Mar 06, we had our first baby in Oct 06. And now, barely two years in Singapore, I am moving off again.

For my friends, I know it is hard for us to stay in touch. I will try to blog as often as possible but I really think a good way for us to stay connected is through Facebook. If you are not acquainted to this online social utility, do pay a visit and seriously consider signing up. Hope to see you friends in Facebook soon.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Facebook

I was inducted into Facebook a few days ago and I'm feeling a little addicted to this powerful networking portal. Calling all friends to come join me in Facebook now!

This is my Facebook profile.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Shanle's 1st Birthday

Time flies and our boy Shanle turns one today. One of the two reasons why I did not make any blog entry yet this month is because much time was spent preparing Shanle's birthday party which was held on 13 Oct 07. Here is a video clip with the highlights.



One year ago on 18 October 2006, we welcomed the arrival of our first baby boy. Shanle has been the main force behind this blog of mine and his growth provided rich fodder for sharing. Today, we brought him to the Singapore Science Centre before going on a shopping spree at IMM pampering our birthday boy with new clothes and toys. Here are some photos to share.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Dancing and Shaking

An interesting video to share. Our boy Shanle dancing and shaking away, having a whole lot of fun. This video is taken just hours after his fever has subsided. What a speedy recovery!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

I Bought a Sony Ericsson P1i


After having a Nokia user for over five years, I finally switched my loyalty and bought a Sony Ericsson P1i today.

I have been thinking about getting a PDA or a smartphone for many years. My last PDA was a Handspring, bought in 2001. There are many reasons why I chose a smartphone over PDA. The obvious is the size. I wanted a phone more than a PDA.
Before I bought P1i, I have looked at smartphone/PDA of almost every major brand you can name - Nokia N90, Samsung i600, Dopod 838 Pro, HPs, HTC Touch and many more. In the end, I find P1i the best fit for my needs.

First, I wanted a good camera and P1i offered 3.2 megapixels with auto focus, which also double up as a business card scanner. The scan-convert to contact info is not perfect but it's really quite smart.

Second, I wanted a smartphone with apps to read and edit office documents. P1i comes with Quick Office and PDF+.

Third, as I am unable to decide my most preferred input method, P1i offered both stylus and QWERTY with the phone keypad intact. The QWERTY keys may be a bit difficult for heavy typing but I guess I can adapt with time. Anyway, I am not expecting to do a lot of typing using my phone.

All in all, P1i satisfy my needs well. It looks good and does not feel too bulky like PDAs. It may not be as stylish as its closet rival in my heart - Samsung i600, but it certainly beats the latter's pathetic 1.3 megapixels hands down.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Learning to Walk The Hard Way

Our boy Shanle is now learning to walk on his own with the support of a sofa. But his over zealous steps gave him a painful lesson in the end.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Four-Legged Crawl

Shanle finally realised that his leopard crawl is not the right learning path towards toddlerhood. Now he no longer crawls on his belly but with his four limbs. Enjoy!


Saturday, August 18, 2007

Singapore National Day Celebrations - Fireworks 2007

Our whole family went for the Fireworks 2007 on 18 Aug 07 at the Marina Bay. The fireworks musical display was put together by a team from China as part of the Singapore National Day Celebrations. Thanks to Irene who got the tickets through her company, our extended family of 14 have a rare get together. We brought Shanle along and some cotton wools as well to muff the loud bangs. Shanle seemed alright and stayed cool throughout the show. He's probably too young to understand fear. His two cousin sisters were both scared by the noise, cried and fell asleep nearing the end of the show. Here is a short video clip to share.


Sunday, August 12, 2007

Stand Up for Singapore

Stand up for Singapore, do the best we can... so the classic National Day song goes. Three days after our 42th National Day, our boy took his first stab at toddlerhood by standing up on his own with the help of a sofa... and Shanle's strong urge to get his hands on my bunch of keys... It's a short video clip to share but I hope you will enjoy it.


Thursday, August 09, 2007

Birthday Present for our Singapore

Today is Singapore's 42nd National Day. This is our lovely present for our country... He's growing up well and fast... Visit my album for more photos!






Saturday, August 04, 2007

Shanle Sitting Up

Shanle's is learning fast and his mobility has greatly enhanced. Watch how he is experimenting and learning to get himself into a sitting position.... I can't wait to see his attempts to stand and walk.... I will definitely get those fun moments on video and share with everyone....


Monday, July 23, 2007

Training for the SOC

Shanle is only 9 months old but he is already getting ready for his NS - training hard for the Standard Obstacle Course. Look at how much he has improved since his first attempt. Looking at his rapid leopard crawl, he should have no problem getting under the barb wires in record time!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Movie: Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix

Thanks for my sister, I caught the latest Potter movie, The Order of the Pheonix, FOC at the Grand Cathay. This Potter movie is definitely getting darker than the previous ones. The sky is mostly gray and everything seems to be veiled by a cloak of darkness. Not the best among the four Potter movies but the ending brings about a great sense of impatience. When is the next movie coming up? I hope the wait will not be too long.

The fear in Potter of turning evil reminds me of Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars and the imminent war between the Order and the Dark Lord has shades of the Lord of the Rings entwined in its story. That's my personal view. The fight between Good and Evil is a classic storyline no doubt.

I have not read any of the Rowling's books on Potter yet. I think I will get my hands and eyes on them when I am going for my next posting, which may be coming soon. The final edition - The Deadly Hallows - is out today officially. The ending is out in the open. But I will rather shun the revelations until the movies are made or after I find time for the books.

I hate spoilers.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Movie: The Transformers

Today, I took half day leave to catch The Transformers with my lovely wife, Irene, at Orchard Cineleisure. "My friend told me to watch the "digital" version of the movie" said my wife over the phone while I was on my way to Orchard. The next "digital" screening was at 3:50pm, a good two hours away. Not a problem to shop our time away as we are in Orchard.

The Transformers are my childhood idols and seeing them non-cartoon is a mind-blowing experience. The CGI animation is simply fantastic! The storyline is quite good and the romantic ending, though predictable, is nicely done too. Well, I am already looking forward for a sequel. The sight of Star Scream blusting away to space at the ending seems to point in that direction. The 2.5 hours movie is too short for any Transformers fan.

The thing about the Transformers that is puzzling me since young is the wide disparity in firepower and capabilities of the two camps. Why does the good guys have to crawling while the evil Decepticons can blaze and transform mid-air? Why does Autimus Prime, King of the Autobots, have to cushion his fall from the skyscrapers in his fight with Megatron? Not to mention about the primary weapons of the two leaders. Megatron wields a cannon while Prime can only strike in close range with his sword.

Nevermind!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Are You Not Entertained?

A video clip of our baby boy being entertained in his walker.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

New Sleeping Position - Buttocks Up!

Shanle is no longer happy sleeping face up in his cradle. Nowadays, he is starting to turn his back and buttocks on us :)

Friday, June 22, 2007

Nice Strawberry, Nice Sister

This is one of the precious moments that we managed to capture down on video. The girl in the video is the daughter of my brother-in-law.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Teething and Sitting Up

Two new developments to share. Our boy has flashed his two lower front teeth and he is able to sit up straight to play. Well, he cannot turn himself yet while sitting and any attempt will inevitably ended up in tumble. Shanle's growth over the past few weeks have been evident. He now weighs 8.8kg, almost tripled his birth weight. According to Irene's gynae, a baby normally tripled his birth weight at around one year's old. Our boy is only 8 months old. Not a problem though. It's better to be well-fed than under nourished. We will still keep a watch on his weight lest he become 'obese' :)













Friday, June 08, 2007

Shanle's Crawling!!!

In another few days time, our Shanle will be 8 months old. Well, before he can sit upright by himself, our little boy picked up the leopard crawl over the past two days. He's fast! See it for yourself!


Friday, May 04, 2007

Holiday on Superstar Virgo - 3D/2N Redang

We just came back today from a 3D/2N cruise to Redang onboard Superstar Virgo. I'm dead beat but I wanted to blog while my memory is still fresh and to share some of the photographs taken on our son's first overseas trip. To view the complete album, visit my MSN Space.

The check-in time was supposed to start a 4pm. Like a typical kiasu Singaporean, we were at the the Cruise Centre at Harbourfront around 3:30pm. Quite a lot of passengers have arrived and many were tourists from China, Indian and other countries.

After spending a thousand over dollars on a Balcony Class cabin, we are able to avoid the crowd in the blue lane. The check-in was fast and we got our "All-in-one" access cards within 10 minutes. Superstar Virgo operates on a cashless system. The access cards are your cabin key, charge card, id card etc.

Our room was great and we brought everything we need down to the liquid cleanser for Shanle's bottles. After unpacking our essentials, we quickly go on a DIY familiarisation tour. One of the first place we went was Charlie's Children World. Unfortunately, Shanle's is too young to enter as they only allow children age one and above into the playground. With a baby in tow, food is the only enjoyment left. The great part is that there are plenty of good food to choose from the wide array restaurants and eateries on board. So besides eating, we spent most of time strolling around, enjoying the sea breeze, taking photographs and video clips. We also went to the observatory in the night and bumped into a group of Indian tourists who adored our boy so much that they took turn to carry him to take photos. All this going on under the watchful eyes of his mother.

We went to the main pool, the Parthenon, for a swim. But the pool was a bit small and crowded so I did not really swim much. While Irene brought her gear too, the crowd around the pool changed her mind to go for the swim. It's a small minus point here. Well, we also took this opportunity to bring Shanle for a dip. While he looked cute in his body suit, he was quite nervous initially. Shanle was so quiet throughout the dip and at times he looked like he's going to burst into tears. As the water was a bit cold, we did not spend too much time there.

We reached the waters of Redang around noon time. The tendering process kicked off and everyone started to stream to the Lido to gather before moving off in batches to Redang by the smaller speed boats. We were quite impressed by the smooth system put in place for a relaxing transition of all passengers. The weather was great for a day by the beach. But with a baby in tow, we headed towards the Laguna resort to find a resting spot. We managed to "chope" a row of sofa seats in the lobby and I quickly bought two fresh coconuts from the nearby bar to quech our thirst and bring down our body temperature.


After resting for a while, we decided to bring little Shanle to the beach to play. Fun it was and Shanle seemed to enjoyed himself quite a bit. There was also entertainment shows put up by the crew nearby to keep the crowd entertained. Shaolin monks performing martial arts, pirates pulling stunts and a little boy juggling balls. Not too bad. We did not stay long on Redang and headed back to the ship around 5:30pm. The end ride was surprisingly the most exciting part of our short holiday. The waters turned choppy and the speedboat banged and wanked through the sea amidst screams and wows. We were actually quite worried that Shanle, who is secured on me with a carrier, would turn green. While he worn a worried look throughout the boat ride, he did fine and cracked into laughter soon after we boarded Virgo, much to the relieve of his parents.

I guessed the bumpy boat ride tired our little one and he fell into sleep soon in the carrier after we boarded Virgo. We headed back to our cabin, which has been nicely tidied up by then, to take our bath and catch a breather. Shanle woke up soon and we proceed to dinner at the Samurai Japanese Restaurant. As usual, our cute little boy attracted smiles from many people along the way and at the restaurant. But having dinner with a baby fully awake is inherently difficult. Luckily his milk time came and he fell deep into sleep after guzzling down the bottle. Finally, we can have a nice meal and chat in peace.

The final day of the short holiday was uneventful honestly speaking. After washing up ourselves and our boy, we laboured through the room to pack everything back into our suitcase before heading off for breakfast. Mealtime was the most satisfying experience I had onboard Virgo. The sausages were good and so was the coffee. The food was not fantastic but I wasn't too difficult to satisfy food-wise. Disembarkation was a breeze and with a stroller, we were given priority channel and we got off in no time.

It was a short but yet relaxing holiday for our young family of three. It was a good experience for us to bring our baby along and we will be more confident if we need to go for a posting. It's great!

Sunday, April 29, 2007

台灣云遊記之一 - 雪霸國家公園 梨山 天池 2002年八月

台湾运游记 - 前言


2002年八月。我来到台北的第三个月分。虽然只是短短的三个月,对于刚刚坠入爱河,两地相隔的恋人来说可真的是度日如年,万分煎熬。奕云首次来台探望使我感到万分的期待和紧张。毕竟,我们才相识不到五个月,对彼此的了解并不深。接下来的远距离恋情会如何演变,我心里没有低。为了巩固我们幼嫩的恋情,奕云可是付出相当大的勇气,独自飘洋过海来到陌生的台湾。除了准备鲜花还有浪漫的晚餐是不足以回报她的。想了想,我因该带奕云出外走走,散散心,享受享受台湾的好风景和台湾人的热情。在朋友的建议下,我终于选择了两天一夜的梨山之旅。

梨山位于台湾台中县景色秀丽的中横公路西段。西接台中,北通宜兰、东沿中横公路至花莲。我们参加了自由旅行配套。早晨六时我们便自行乘坐火车从台北沿着北回铁路来到东岸的宜兰与其他的团员会合。由于周日的关系,我们的团才七八人。我们就是乘坐照片里奕云身后的那辆小巴上山的。
虽然是梨山之旅,行程的第一站确是雪霸国家公园。雪霸国家公园是台湾第五座国家公园,位於台湾中北部,属高山型国家公园。从宜兰车站,取经省道台7线一路往西南方向驶上雪山山脉。我们只是短暂逗留,参观了一会儿公园游客中心。不过,公园四周的翠绿景色,鸟语花香,以让我们顿时间,忘去所有的烦人俗事,也给了我们这次的旅程完美的开幕。这篇文章上头,丛林山川在云间的景色就是在雪霸国家公园捕捉下来的。如果读者想要进一步了解雪霸国家公园,可以参考它的网页参观了雪霸国家公园游客中心后,我们就启程前往我们的目的地-梨山!


我们下榻的饭店是圣心大饭店。我还记得那时饭店正在扩充修建当中。我们的房间在顶楼第三层。饭店的区域除了小茶铺,杂货店还有几家比较小型的民宿。小小旅客区的四周都可以看到浓密的果园。在饭店用完简单的午餐后,我们便前往饭店老板的果园游玩。可惜当天下着绵绵细雨。为了不让照相机受到湿气而损坏,所以我们就没有任何果园里的相片同读者分享。

梨山上的果园大部分都是依着陡峭山坡而形。行走相当不易。雨天时的山坡更为湿滑,穿梭其中会有一定的危险。我们缓缓的潜入浓密的果园内,双手紧握着身边的树干以免不慎跌入坡低。老板则以敏捷的身手快步及熟练的往前开路。毕竟这片广大的果园时他每日辛苦劳动的地方。

老板说了:“在果园内,大家可以任意摘下梨子就地享用,不收钱!”

大家听了都十分兴奋,马上摘下垂钓在身边的梨子尝尝鲜。梨子果然多甜美多汁。邻人纳闷的是这些梨子的味道却和我们平常在市区购买的有些不同。它的味道似乎有些许苹果的香味。我们还没来得及发问,老板就为我们揭开了谜底。原来这些梨子是新开发的苹果梨!在市场上还没有大量供应呢。我们真的是三生有幸得以“先尝为快”。

虽然果园内吃的梨子是免费的,别以为我们就可以大带大带的把梨子搬回家。带出果园的梨子是要付钱的。由于在果园内已经享用了不少梨子,我们就没有外带了。老板也没有因为我们“白吃白逛”而不高兴。他也不是靠兜售水果给游客养家糊口的。外代付费的政策是为了防止一些贪得无厌的游客大量的采集梨子。些许的收入虽然不多,却也可以补贴补贴成本吗。我们一整个下午就耗在果园了。一早的长途跋涉,加上果园山坡上的爬动,我们大伙也都累了。这时的天还在下着雨。雨势也有增大的趋势。打包梨子的同路人结了账后,我们就打道回府了。

回到饭店,我们就到餐厅去用晚餐。和台湾大部分的旅游饭店一样,饭店的晚餐是自助餐。菜色也相当普通。不过高山上的蔬果就是比较甜美。尤其是那清烫高丽菜,不用添加任何调味料,就十分爽口甘甜。虽然不是什么山珍海味,我们也吃得十分开心。饭后,我们还走到附近的一家KTV去唱歌。梨山的夜晚也没其他好去处。因此大部分的团员也都在这家KTV。除了唱歌,我们也想用了鲜甜味美的热红豆汤。梨山晚间的气温是在十度左右。热热的甜汤正好下肚去驱寒蝉。

对于热恋中的情侣来说,为对方唱情歌是表达爱意再好不过的途径了。还好我平时有“烧香”,不用临时抱佛脚。机会难得,我就典唱了黄品源的《你怎么舍得我难过》还有五月天的《温柔》给奕云。回想起来,那次深情的歌声应该有打动奕云的心,深化了我们的感情。团员们也很捧场,给与我热烈的掌声和欢呼。台湾人似乎都是K歌之王,团员们个个都唱了他们拿手的歌曲,大家都听出了耳油。为了珍惜我们的二人世界,我们俩就没有在哪儿多作停留。再说,奕云坚持不肯唱歌,我一个人唱多没意思。我们离开了KTV,手牵着手慢步在梨山小镇的街上。

在人烟稀少的山上,也没有什么热闹可看。街边除了蔸买蔬果的小店摊,也没有什么其它的了。还好雨过天晴,天气十分凉爽。虽然有点冷,不过紧握着双手的我们依然保持温暖的心,漫不经心的在星空密布的山中夜晚,到处游走。奕云走累了,我就借机背着她跑了一段山路。一路说说笑笑之间,我们也得以享受片刻的宁静和沉默的拥抱。夜深了,我们为了不再人生地不熟的山区迷路,就快步回饭店休息,准备迎接明天的到来!

山上的空气果真新鲜舒畅让我们一觉到天亮。早晨很快就来临了。我们梳洗了一番后就把行李准备好以免下午耽搁了退房的时间。我们在饭店享用了简单的台湾式早餐-稀饭,咸鸭蛋,高丽菜,豆筋花生,等等。虽然简单,但却十分可口美味。温饱了肚子,我们大家就展开上午的行程前往南投县仁爱乡众多名胜之一的天池游玩。

天池,顾名思义是山上的水池。池内的水终年不枯竭。环绕着池的四周是浓密的森林-是享受森林浴的绝佳地点。天池的好山好水自然是先总统蒋介石所向往的游览之处。所以天池的右侧竖立着总统行馆《达观亭》。令我们最难忘的就是天池所看到的壮丽山景。连绵不绝的山峰群加上波涛似的云层白雾,这景观真的是美不胜收,令人叹为观止!


我们一整个早晨就浸泡在天池还有附近的森林步道,享受繁华城市所无法给于的清新空气和森林浴。很快的,我们也要结束这次梨山之旅,开始长途跋涉,回到我们‘水泥森林’中的家。在饭店用完午餐后,退了房,上了车,我们就依依不舍的道别这片美丽的高原。下山的路程十分顺畅。我们在两点多钟就抵达了宜兰车站。距离我们预定回台北的列车时间还有将近两个钟头。宜兰车站附近也没什么好逛的。除了一些买土产的小店铺,就是小吃店和便利商店了。为了争取时间早点回到台北用晚餐,我们就决定乘搭下一班自强号的列车。碰碰运气看看会不会有空位子。

刚上车的时候我们真找到了空位。本以为运气好,可以舒舒服服的一路到台北。唉!阿亮说得好“千金难买早知道,万般无奈想不到!”过了三四个站后,我们的位子就来了主子。我们只好从坐票变为站票。这一站就站了差不多三个多小时。到台北车站时,我们的双腿都已经发麻了几乎不听使唤。这真的是邻人难忘的体验。得到了这次的教训,我们今后就再也不敢随便提早上车,以免从蹈覆辙。

这是我写的第一片台湾运游记。希望读者会喜欢!如果想看看其他梨山之旅的相片,请按到我的得MSN空间。以下是梨山之旅所拍摄的一小段影片供大家观赏。

下一篇台湾运游记将会记载我和奕云在游玩台北著名景点“陽明山-擎天崗”的点点滴滴。 希望能在五月为呈现给大家!

Friday, April 27, 2007

Shanle Fully Recovered

Shanle has fully recovered swiftly from his bout of fever. The photo on the left taken on 23 Apr 07 shows it all.
We brought him to our favourite hair salon, Hair Mechanics, at Novena Square, to have him shaved clean. Look at him now... isn't he cute! ;)
Shanle is getting stringer as the days past. He is now six months old. Besides flipping around, he is also capable of making 360 degrees roundabout on his belly. He's still unable to sit or crawl but we think he will get there quite soon.
Next week, we will be going on a short break to Redang from 2 - 4 May 07 on the Star Cruise Superstar Virgo.
Below are some recent photos to share. I will upload more photos on my MSN Space and also video clips of our holiday sometime in May 07. Watch this space!












Waiting patiently for his turn at the hair salon














Sinking into a pool of balls






























Shanle's first photo take with a celebrity! This beautiful young lady on the right is our family friend and a YES933 DJ - Siau Jiahui. The two photos were taken at Jiahui's eldest brother's wedding at the Noble House. I was most honoured to partner Jiahui as the emcee for the happy occasion!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Shanle's First High Fever

The past two days and nights have been a torture for Irene and I as Shanle battled his first viral fever. The fever started on Sunday evening with his body temperature hovering slight above 37 deg C. On Monday morning, Shanle began to feel feverish with temperature readings crossing 38 deg C. His mother has to take urgent leave to bring him to see a doctor and tend to him. He was given panadol to be taken thrice a day after food. However, Shanle's temperature continue to rise and on Tuesday morning around 3am, the reading was 39.2 deg C. Red Alert! We quickly wrapped him up and rushed off to Thomson Medical Centre. By the time the doctor saw him, his temperature has hit 40 deg C. The doctor prescribed Nurofen syrup to bring down the fever and asked the nurse to sponge Shanle. Here's a short clip taken with Irene's Nokia 6280.



The nurses at TMC are very experienced and helpful. One of them also imparted some very important tips in managing feverish infants to new parents like us.

  • Tip 1 - Do not feed the medicine immediately before or after milk or water. Otherwise, the baby will throw up the medicine along with everything else.
  • Tip 2 - The fever will go down during the day and up again in the night. For the next two days, we must continue to feed panadol every 4-6hrs in the day and 4 hourly after 5pm, regardless if the fever has subsided or not. Coupled with Nurofen every six hourly at night, the fever should be put under control.
  • Tip 3 - Let the baby wear loose clothing and sleep in an air-conditioned room.
  • Tip 4 - Sponge the baby with room temp water during the day and lukewarm water in the night.

These tips are very useful indeed and Shanle's body temperature has not crossed the 38.5 deg C mark since Tuesday morning. We followed all the tips closely except tip 4 which we replaced with my Mum's traditional remedy using rice wine to rub the forehead, arm pits and other hotspots. Shanle's fever has weaned off but he's still coughing slightly. We brought Shanle to TMC again on Wednesday early morning about 3am when he cried non-stop and was in cold sweat. It's colic pain caused by excessive wind in his stomach and the doctor prescribed another set of medicine for Shanle. Unfortunately for us, our boy hates the taste of medicine, even though they are made to taste sweet. Every feed is a torturing time for him and heartaching time for us. Anyway, we got one more day to go and if the fever does not come back, we can stop the fever medicine. On the whole, I am quite satisfied with the treatment given by TMC so far.

Music Nournishes The Soul & Mind (Chinese Songs)......

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