Under the sea, the beautiful, beautiful sea.

During my three years in Malaysia, most of my money went on trips to different islands. There was something exhilarating about packing up my bags and setting off to beautiful beaches, without so much as a second thought or worry. There was always someone to go with, and they were the best way to unwind from a particularly difficult week of coursework and general university miserableness. However, even though these trips saw many of my friends getting their PADI diving licenses, I never really considered getting one myself. Mainly because my very first time snorkeling had led to a panic attack, and it took me some time to get better at snorkeling without fear (or life jackets). I figured that if snorkeling had scared me so much the first time, diving at depths of 18 meters or more would terrify me. I was perfectly happy just chilling on the beach.

However, as my love for snorkeling kept increasing I couldn’t help but think about how much better it could be to dive. Everyone I knew kept gushing about life underneath the sea, and as my third (and final!) year approached I decided I’d get my diving license this year for sure. Somehow ending up as the secretary of the Nottingham Divers (and Islanders) club only served to strengthen my resolve. As it turned out though, third year was a lot more hectic than expected and whenever I did manage to go away to an island I never had enough time to do the course. Before I knew it, my third and final year was over and so it happened that I got my open water diving license on my very last island trip- in the diving heaven,Tioman Islands!

It was without doubt, the perfect place to get introduced to the world of diving. With a visibility of over 12 meters on most days and a thriving aquatic life including Sharks, Turtles, beautiful corals and many different fish, the experience was absolutely exhilarating. Rather than increase my fear of the open water like I had feared, diving helped me assuage it! The whole experience was unbelievably calming and I came out of it with a new found love for the open sea. The picture below of us working on our skills can attest to how beautiful it all was.  

We went as a crew of four: Mai and I did our open water together, Akila did her advanced and Shahbaaz did the rescue diver course, under the B&J diving center. However this was an island trip unlike any other, because the course kept us busy all day from 9 am, which meant that I was passed out early every night leaving us no time to do anything else. The course included four confined water dives, four classes of theory and two open water dives. This encompassed a LOT of information into the three days ranging from the basics such as what each piece of equipment does and how to set up your own kit, to safety procedures such as how to deal with all sorts of emergency situations and exits. It also includes how to be a responsible diver underwater, and the different things you could as a diver to better the fragile ecosystem underwater. Diving doesn’t include a lot of swimming like many assume but rather is about how well you can control your buoyancy underwater, to be able to sink and rise as needed, which I had a little difficulty with in the beginning but as with everything practise helped me get better at it. I was also worried about diving with contact lenses since our set of skills to work on underwater included things like how to replace your goggles underwater when necessary, but it went pretty smooth since they recommend closing your eyes when doing it anyways. However, I may try to get ahold of powered goggles the next time around, just to avoid any potential horror stories.

  
 Nevertheless it was all worth it, because in 3 days time I had officially passed the course and was a PADI open water diver (diving license above for proof!). Within minutes of getting it, we decided to do our first official dive at Reggis Island which was, at the risk of exaggerating, the BEST 45 mins of my entire existence. We saw Pufferfish, Trevally, Moray eels, HUGE turtles (that Shahbaaz nearly sat on), a black tip shark just 3 feet away from me that frustratingly enough no one else saw and another that thankfully everyone did, countless clown fish (a.k.a nemo), BEAUTIFUL corals, way too many sea urchins (that still terrify me) and so many more. There was also a treadmill underwater which made for some sick photos that Shahbaaz doesn’t look like he’ll ever give me! Instead I have this one, very unflattering photo of me underwater.

  
My only regret would be that I didn’t do this earlier, which could have meant 3 years of diving all around Malaysia. BUT I have snorkelled all around Malaysia and this just means that I’m going all out to compensate, including finishing my advanced license in Kuwait which as it turns out has a pretty legit diving scene! Woo for the diver life!

Surviving Jalan Petaling a.k.a china town

If you’re ever in Malaysia, going to Chinatown is a must. If not for all the amazing shopping you can do for SO CHEAP, then at least for the experience alone. It’s an incredibly vibrant atmosphere there; with all the beautiful stalls, the vendors shouting out everything they have in the 10 seconds it takes to go past them, the beautifully lit chinese lantern’s all above. It truly is a sight. However you’re going to need help to ensure that you have an amazing time there, and that’s where yours truly comes in.

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  1. This is how you get there.
    Obviously you can always take a taxi and just ask the driver to take you to Jalan Petaling or China Town. However, if you want to make the best of the public transport that’s available in KL, you can either take the monorail or the LRT to Masjed Jamek station. From here, it’s only a five-minute walk there with the occasional signs pointing out the way to Jalan Petaling, but if you do get lost just ask around. Malay people are incredibly friendly and always willing to help you out.
  2. Look after your belongings.
    Like I said, Chinatown get’s very busy and people end up becoming very immersed in their shopping, making them easy targets for pickpockets. So keep your bags very, very close to stay on the safe side.
  3. Haggle, haggle, haggle!

    If you look even a little touristy, you’re going to have to haggle anything and everything you buy because you’re going to get charged the foreigner’s tax. So anything you were going to buy, yeah you can haggle it down for much less. And if they give you a final price, you can haggle it down more. A great tip when bargaining, give them a price and pretend like you’re not going to pay anymore, and if they continue to say no just walk away. That’s when they call you back and offer you a much better price! Attention all women, I would never advertise using your body as means of getting bargains but yeah, flirting really helps. At least that’s what I’ve heard.
  4. Women, get used to being sexually harassed.
    I kid you not. A lot of the vendors in Chinatown seems to think that calling out to “sexy ladies”, asking them if they are “single and looking to mingle” or telling them they have a “beautiful ass” will attract customers to their stalls. I truly do not understand why they think this would work, but there you go. Of course, these cats callings magically disappear if you’re with a guy (helps if the guy looks like he can kick some ass) so it might be nice to have one of those around.
  5. Chinatown has great chinese food.

    Who would have guessed eh? But really, this is one of the best places in Malaysia to get authentic chinese food and even if the place looks small the food is usually amazing. As in every authentic chinese restaurant, pork is a staple ingredient in the meals so if you are looking for halal restaurants this might not be where you want to go.
  6. Reggae bar is a must visit.
    Reggae bar is a small pub towards the end of Chinatown and it’s always a great place to visit. It’s usually filled with travellers and backpackers and you always end up meeting some really interesting people with amazing stories. Another reason to go? Their happy hour drinks go as cheap as RM 8 and ladies night means any spirit for as cheap as RM 7. It’s a perfect end for a day out in Jalan Petaling.

I do hope I didn’t put you off of visiting Chinatown, it really is an amazing experience and you can buy such amazing stuff there. I can guarantee you, it’s definitely worth a visit.

Kuwait’s a country

Whenever I tell anyone outside of the Middle East, that I have lived in Kuwait my whole life their first look is usually that of confusion, followed by an array of questions starting with “umm, where’s that?” (Or in Ben’s case, “umm,what’s that?”). This coupled with the fact that most Kuwaitis are proud people, who fiercely love their country, I am surprised there hasn’t been many fights/bombings related to this.

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Aaaaaaaanyways, my usual retort to this question is “it’s a tiny but rich country with really hot summers, famous for being invaded by Iraq and having fuel that is cheaper water”. However, that answer does not justify Kuwait, in all it’s glory, and so I thought that it might be time for a more detailed response. Kuwait, officially called the ‘state of Kuwait’ is situated at the north-eastern edge of the Arabian peninsula and shares a border with Iraq to the North and Saudi Arabia to the South. When I say that this country is tiny, I might have exaggerated a little but it’s still one of the smallest countries in the world with an area of 17,820 sq km and a population of 2.7 million people. Kuwait’s however the eleventh richest country per capita boasting the fifth largest oil reserves in the world so I was definitely not exaggerating about the richness or the cheap fuel prices.

Something that many of my friends find astonishing is that Kuwait’s a dry country which means that alcohol is illegal in the country and there are no clubs or pubs in the area, except for the ones in the different embassies. This doesn’t mean that Kuwait, is as strict an Islamic country as Saudi Arabia, but it’s definitely no Dubai. Non Muslims are allowed to wear whatever they want in Kuwait, although a respect to the Islamic culture is appreciated, and there are quite a few churches here as well. Also if people really want alcohol there are ways to get around it as there always is, except that it does get ridiculously expensive that way. A couple of people have also asked me where guys go to pull, since there are no clubs around, and the truth is that the lack of clubs just makes the whole of Kuwait a big club. Guys flirt with girls in malls, in shisha cafe’s, in restaurants, everywhere. And girls dress up to go to malls, shisha cafe’s, restaurants, everywhere.There’s actually been a couple of incidents when my friends and I were driving and we’ve had phone numbers thrown at us, in empty cigarette packets, on the road. I kid you not.

Art and culture within Kuwait is prevalent, but only to those who go seeking it. It’s really sad, but for how proud Kuwaitis are of their country, they do not realize how their efforts to globalize it is ruining all the culture it initially had. Kuwait has almost every famous international brands of clothing and restaurants you can think of, and it seems like another new one is opening up every day. However I don’t really know many restaurants that serve authentic Kuwaiti food. This is almost shameful for a country where eating is one of the major activities! As an art enthusiast, another area that touches me personally is the art scene in Kuwait and quite honestly, I am always surprised by how talented a lot of the Kuwaiti artists are. It’s just not something I expected Kuwait to be good at, and if I hadn’t been forced to go looking for local artists in my IG art class, I would never have known!

As the weather gets hot (and trust me, it does!), people go inside… shopping malls. Besides eating, another major activity in Kuwait is shopping and that can be seen by the forever busy shopping centers of Kuwait. ‘Avenues’ is one of the largest and most commonly visited one with over 800 stores and restaurants, and it’s not even completely done constructing yet. I’m not complaining at all though. There is nothing more satisfying than walking into a shopping centre in Kuwait when the red ‘sale’ banner goes up everywhere.

Having lived in Kuwait for around nineteen years, a lot of the reasons why I love Kuwait is to do with how familiar I am with it. Even with the cracking down of laws against expats, and the incredibly hot summers that’s just getting hotter, it’s hard not to love a country you were born and brought up in. It’s a different lifestyle here, a lifestyle that may seem strange from the outside but one that you could get used to quite easily. Kuwait may not seem like the ideal place to live in, but truth is I’m used to how it is and I love it the way it is, as do everyone I know.

PS: Kuwait also holds the Guinness world record for the biggest fireworks show in the world with 77,282 fireworks. This was set off to mark 50 years of Kuwait’s constitution. How can you not love a country that is willing to spend 15 million dollars to earn a record in history for the biggest fireworks display? Yeah, that’s what I thought!

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Favourite quote of the day

How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d.

Alexander Pope (Also quoted in ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind’)

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“Class of Chairs” at the Contemporary Art Platform

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Last thursday was the opening night of the “Class of Chairs” exhibition at the Contemporary Art Platform in Shuwaikh. This was a collaborative design exhibition by three architects, Aseel AlYaqoub, Jassim AlSaddah & Yousef Al-Mehdari, described as “a satirical commentary on the stereotypical characters found within school life”. The highlight of the exhibition however was that this stereotypical characters were represented by…chairs. Naturally, I was curious to see how this would be portrayed and so thursday night found me at the Contemporary Art Platform waiting for the exhibition to begin.

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‘Pleasantly surprised’ would be the phrase I’d use to state my initial reaction. As I walked in, I was led to a table with postcards of all the different chairs telling us which order to go in and what each chair depicted. I was invited to take any that I particularly liked and so after carefully going through them all I selected “The Vandal” and “The Nerd”, simply for the taglines they both had.

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The chairs themselves were laid across the room in parallel vertical lines with space to go between them, making it seem like we were a part of it. People were allowed to touch it, take photos with those that they related to and it all made the experience highly memorable. The description said that they wanted to “evoke nostalgic scenes of past high school memories to create a relatable experience for the viewer” and I definitely think they managed to do that. My only complaint would be that they could have used the space a little better. There was a whole room towards the back that looked pretty much empty and made me almost disregard it. It was only towards the end I saw that the room had the two last chairs, ‘the hippy’ and ‘the perv’, which I would have missed otherwise.

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It would definitely have been a pity if I had missed ‘the perv’ simply because it was my favourite one there. NOT because I am a perv at heart, only because it was amazingly well done. At first glance, you just saw a chair with a keyhole and my thought immediately went to “peeping Tom” which made sense. However, they had designed it in a way that when you looked into the keyhole you saw into a changing room with bras hanging, giving it an incredibly realistic feel and actually making you feel like a perv. Another favourite was ‘the vandal’. The reason for this was because the chair was vandalised not by the designers but by us, turning it also into a guestbook for the exhibition. We were even giving an array of “weapons” such as gum, a tipex, pens etc and we were invited to go crazy!

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The last section of the exhibition was a screening of the process involved in creating the chairs, which was informative and really quite interesting. The template of each chair was carefully chosen to emulate that of the classic 1950’s European school chair and it’s details like this that made the exhibition worth the visit.

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Tomorrow is the last day for the exhibition from 9.30 pm- 11.30 pm and if you have the time, I would definitely suggest a visit. Congratulations Jassem, Aseel & Yousef on a great project!

(For more details on Contemporary Art Platform, you can visit their website here)

The human race

“Look at us, running around. Always rushed, always late. I guess that’s why they call it the human race.”

That is a line from the movie ‘The Switch’. A line I think is really applicable in this world we live in today. At least it is for me. Going away to university meant saying goodbye to people who you’ve known for pretty much your whole life. I still remember my last day in highschool, a little more than a year back, and it was emotional to say the least. With promises of we’ll-meet-again and will-definitely-keep-in-touch and a whole lot of mostly genuine I’ll-miss-you’s going around, this was a day I would not forget for a while. The only consolation was the occasional rendez-vous we promised each other.

But with the new country, the new friends, the deadlines, forget the occasional rendez-vous, even an occasional Facebook message seems impossible. I can count on one hand the amount of people I have kept in touch with over the past year and this is just unacceptable really. There seems to be no time for nothing and nobody. Even my family has had to call me a couple of times after not hearing from me for days on end.

What everyone needs to realize, including me, is that the connections we make in our lifetimes need to be maintained. It’s just not right when our previously proclaimed “bestie” suddenly becomes a stranger to us? Not an actual stranger though. Thanks to social networks such as Facebook and Instagram, we now know where they’ve gone on holiday, what they had for dinner and when their birthday is.  But relying on constant updates like this we forget to find out how they are feeling beyond their Facebook profile. We don’t know about that job they really wanted and didn’t get, the heartbreak that they’re trying to keep quiet about or just any simple thing that they haven’t put up a status about. We forget about the actual person behind the screen.

In a world like the one we live in, where technology runs our lives, there are about a hundred ways we can connect with someone at the click of a touch. However instead of strengthening them, somehow this is just undervaluing the importance of these connections, and soon we have 900 friends on Facebook but we only really talk to around 50 of them. If that. Somehow, the easier it is to keep in touch with people, the more we put it off to another day because “hey, I can just Facebook/Skype/Whatsapp her tomorrow and it’ll be all good!”. But that tomorrow never comes and soon you’re left thinking about that friend you used to have from years ago.

I am not saying this is how everyone is, but this is where we are all leading to.  Lately I have realized this and have been making conscious efforts to keep in touch with people I really cared about, even if it’s just the occasional Skype call once in a blue moon. Otherwise, we are going to turn around one day when we need someone and realize that there’s absolutely no one. And that’s a really scary thought.

This charming man by Marian Keyes

My love of everything Irish is a well known fact to anyone who’s spent a little time with me. Irish humour, their accent, my Irish math teacher, potatoes, I love them all! However, my love for the land of the leprechauns is not the reason this book is on my top 10 all-time-favourite-reads list. It’s because of Marian Keyes and her ingenuity, plain and simple!

Like all her other books, Marian Keyes tackles a very serious social problem faced by many people today: domestic abuse. Introducing Paddy de Courcy, an up and coming politician in Ireland winning hearts with his charming personality and charisma . The news headlines is his impending happy nuptials to the lovely Alicia. However what’s on the surface is never the whole truth and as the book unravels we hear of his darker disposition and his lesser known ways. This is told through the eyes of the four heroines: Grace, Lola, Marnie and Alicia; all of whom have completely different personalities but have been entrapped in the snares of his magnetic personality. However as the book description says ” although Paddy’s winning smiles is fooling irish smiles, the broken hearts he’s left behind offers a far more truthful look into his character”.

Grace is a ruthless journalist living the exciting and dangerous life with her journalist boyfriend. She wants the inside on the impending nuptials  and we come to realize as we read on that not only is she one of Paddy’s former lover, she is also one of Alicia’s oldest friends. With her mind-set on revealing the real Paddy to the entire world she contacts Lola, Paddy’s last known affair. Lola is a stylist, someone who dresses and accessorises rich women for high-profile social events. However being dumped by Paddy and finding out about the upcoming wedding from the papers leaves her in the verge of a breakdown, threatening to destroy her career. So she takes off to her friend’s uncles cottage by the sea for a change of scenery, which is where Grace finds her.

The most well-developed character in this book is Marnie, Grace’s sister. Completely opposite to Grace, she’s a naive, soft-spoken woman, who’s considered fragile and constantly susceptible to ills and aches. Paddy was her first love and someone she never completely got over, and never probably will despite being married to the sweetest man with two beautiful daughters. As the book unravels, we find out that she has a serious alcohol addiction problem which she uses to distance herself from her husband. As the Irish Independent says “She evokes the mindset of the addict with such detachment, sympathy and shockingly truthful observation that the ostensibly central theme of this novel — the multiple toxic layers of a womanising politician of massive ambition and minimal moral core — becomes background noise to the playing out of the personal tragedy and redemption of the character named Marnie.” This however helps us sympathize with her a lot more when we realize how Paddy made her this way.

Then there is Alicia, the perfect wife who was connected to Grace and Marnie’s childhood. She’s delighted to finally bag the coveted Paddy De Courcy, but does she know the real him?

‘This Charming Man’ follows a riveting plot dealing with an important social problem. Paddy de Courcy is the obvious bad guy, however when we read on we realize that a lot of the power he had was that given to him by the women themselves. It’s absolutely infuriating to see how Paddy manages to keep the women believing that they deserve every blow they get, making them try even harder to please him. It’s infuriating because this is true, women all over the world are being fooled every day into believing that the deserve every blow they get and that it’s all their mistake, when they have done absolutely nothing wrong.

‘This Charming Man’ is an amazing read Ladies and Gentlemen, you have my guarantee. Get to the local bookstore and get your hands on a copy as soon as you can!

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