Should have

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I have words in me
All that I should have said
But now I cannot say

I have feelings strong
All that I should have showed
But now I must suppress

I have cries gathering at the throat
That you should have heard
But now I keep secret

I have tears swelling in eyes
That I should have shared
But now I have to hide

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Kranji Marshes

I took the opportunity provided by the Chinese New Year holidays in Singapore to visit our newest natural attraction.

Most of the marshes are closed off to the public as they are designated as “core conservation sites”. This is actually a good thing. I have always noticed that whenever there are less people there is always more nature. Of course, this is not necessarily always the case. People can always learn to respect nature, learn to behave and react appropriately to it.

Hopefully with the opening of these new nature sites people in Singapore can learn to appreciate nature especially when there is so little of it left in Singapore. However, this can only happen if people take their time to look and observe and feel. People need to be fascinated and enchanted by nature to reconnect to their inner natural selves. Only with this can we, perhaps, start to realise the value of what is around us.

If not, these nature parks will just be another place for the weekends. Where people walk heedlessly not noticing.

Cikgu Muhammad

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Together with Cikgu Muhammad

“Ada tak pelarian Melayu di Malaysia ini?” (Are there Malay refugees in Malaysia?) Cikgu Muhammad quizzed us. Of course he knew the answer but that was not the point. He had a story to tell and he wanted us to hear it. You could hear the eagerness in his frail slurred voice as he stood in front of his home,  a neat two storey dwelling that stood proudly despite its age just as Cikgu Muhammad stood in his sarong and songkok in front of us.

“Tak,” (No) we answered sheepishly, still clueless as to what exactly he wanted us to say or what did he even mean. Refugees? There are Malay refugees in Malaysia? It seemed highly unlikely to us. He did, however, catch our attention. So we stood there waiting for his response like wide-eyed school children.

Cikgu Muhammad, as we found out, was a primary school teacher and has been for all his life ever since he graduated from Penang Free School. He taught English and Literature which explains his perfect grammar school English and random quotes from Shakespeare.

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”.

Again, that was not what he wanted to tell us. If there was anything sweet in his story it was long gone.

“Pelarian Melayu dari Penang! Orang Melayu semua dah terpaksa tinggal seberang perai sudah tidak ada lagi disini.” (Malay refugees from Penang! They now have to stay across the bridge)There was truth in his words. We walked around all day in George Town and we hardly saw any Malay homes or businesses. Cikgu Muhammad’s was the first one that we saw. His house was in the compound of Achech Street Mosque that was part of the old Malay settlement in the area.

Cikgu Muhammad pointed out to us the house of the first Mufti of Penang, the founders of some of Penang’s madrasah both of which were a shadow of their former selves. Decayed and falling apart, they remained a shadow of their former selves standing forgotten. Cikgu Muhammad explained that many of Islamic scholars from the Middle East who visited Penang would come and stay in these houses as often the owners who were also Islamic scholars in their own right would often be their hosts.

Cikgu Muhammad then pointed over to some newer shop houses, lamenting that there used to be Malay houses on those plots but they were forced to live on the mainland now as they cannot afford to repurchase their homes after they were rebuilt or restored. These were the ‘pelarian’, not refuges from war or famine but refugees of progress and modernity. The very same people who gave a place its flavour and character are now too poor to stay in that place. Chased out be developers or local officials looking to make a quick buck.

At the back of the mosque stood another house that better withstood the test of time, Cikgu Muhammad explained that the particular house had been with the family for seven generations. This was to me as it should be expected. A mosque in Nusantara does not exist in isolation. Often it is the centre of the community. If there is a village there will be a mosque and if there is a mosque there would be a village. The mosque serves as a meeting point to do daily and Friday congressional prayers and also a place to study and learn Islam. However at Achech Street Mosque, the community that the mosque supported for a hundred years is almost gone and Cikgu Muhammad tells his story so at least it would continue to live in our minds.

As Singaporeans we were saddened by Cikgu Muhammad’s story but hardly surprised. A drive down Kembangan and you will see Lorong Melayu, Lorong Sarina, Lorong Mydin, Jalan Yasin, Jalan Daud, Lorong Marzuki remnants of former Malay villages in the area. The area is also home to three mosques, Masjid Kassim, Masjid Mydin and Masjid Abdul Razak. Now there are no villages in the area and hardly any Muslims too but the mosque still remains. Only names are left, clues to a history forgotten by a present generation heedless about its own past.

Perhaps it was indeed quite necessary to remove the villages and replaced them with far more efficient housing units (like the bungalows and terraces) but that is not my point. If we are going to give something up for the name of progress at least know what we are paying for it.

The struggle that Cikgu Muhammad faces today has come and gone in Singapore. While Cikgu Muhammad fights a losing battle to maintain the physical remnants of a community by the mosque, our situation in Singapore further along on the path of being forgotten. We have lost almost all physical remnants of our past but now we fight a losing battle keeping the memories of these places alive. Is there even an interest?

Perhaps that is the way it is for most but it should not be the way for us as Muslim for the simple reason – Syukur.

“He who does not thank people, does not thank Allah” (Ahmad, Tirmidhi).

We cannot be thankful, we do not know them. The people who planted the seeds of the Deen here in Singapore, those who built the institutions we so easily criticise and take for granted.

Cikgu Muhammad and the Acheh Street Mosque community has got a tough road ahead of them and so do we. If we are not concerned of our own history then people are going to tell it for us. Cikgu Muhammad would not let it happen on his watch, I pray we have the same amount of zeal in us.

Two hours of talking and Cikgu Muhmaad was going strong, he stood all the way and did not want to stop. He would have gone on if we had let him but it was time to go.

Talk to the elderly, they have got lots to say and you have got lots to learn.

A Wet Friday

Sometimes I get all emo and I pretend that I can do poetry.

As the heavens open
And blessings descend
Men stand shoulder to shoulder
Silent
Amidst the roar of God’s bounty
Man quietly weave in his piece
Hands in the air
God is great
Quiet and deafening
And when the heads of Men touches the ground
In the worship of his Lord
For just that moment
He knows his place
The devil becomes silent
And the world shudders

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Camera in the Pocket

I have been meaning to put this up for a while. Recently, I have found new found love for my handphone camera. It has allowed me to capture in images things that I see on a daily basis that gives me a sense of wonderment. Nothing too flashy or exciting but beautiful nonetheless, things that we would often overlook and pass by without a second thought. Perhaps, the most exciting thing about having a camera wherever you go is to me not because of the countless selfies but rather the opportunity to capture and store in an image the everyday things that I see – the world through my eyes, as how I see it everyday. No pretense, no fancy locations, just me walking down the streets and then suddenly stopping snapping a picture and walking away with a satisfied smile. Satisfied in knowing that I have seen and noticed something that, while many others found mundane, i found to be interesting and beautiful. The little things that reminds you that life is indeed a blessing. You just got to open your eyes.

Landscapes

I really love pretty views and fluffy clouds. Sometimes the warmest days gives you the most beautiful skies, you’ll just never know. Sunsets are beautiful too even when you can’t actually see the sun. The shadows it creates, the hues in the skies and the rays peeking through Singapore’s high-rise. You just got to look up sometimes.

Looking Down

Once in a while, you got to look down at the ground. Fallen petals, tiles can be the most interesting of things especially in our garden city. They tell us a story of nature around us, deliberate, manicured but at the same time trying to reassert itself pushing the concrete away and littering the ground with petals and leaves.

Cats.

Need I say more?

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My Barber’s Namecard

Somehow my barber found out that I can make pictures on the computer last year, so he commissioned me to make a card. Apparently, he needed new cards this year as he ran out of those he printed last year. As such, I took the opportunity to play around and design a new one. Decided to be a little trendy this time round but then again, I liked the old school look before the hipsters hijacked it.

Barber New

Interesting how it developed from this:

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