Visiting China

(Visited in 2008)

Part 1

China: A Childhood Dream

Beautiful China

 (NOTE: Click on Photos to Enlarge)

Decades back when I was a child, my uncle used to buy a glossy Urdu magazine “China ba Tasveer” (China Pictorial) published by the government of China. I wouldn’t understand much in it but its vividly coloured pictures are still alive in my memory. Lush green scenery, bright faced, healthy & smartly dressed Chinese people; it was all too fascinating for me. Then as I grew and joined college, I came across a book “Chaltey ho to Cheen ko Chaliyae” (Wish to travel? Visit China!) by the oldest and one of the most famous Urdu travel writers Ibne Insha. It was very inspiring and became the basis for my desire to read more travel books and travel myself; though travelling to China still didn’t occur to me. Later I met a young man from my town that had travelled to China via Silk Route using road transport. He shared some of his memories giving me dreams, though no resources & no chance yet!

Modern China

The year is 2008, I receive a job offer from a Chinese Telecom company. Job is very attractive and so is salary but the company?? I am a little hesitant; I had worked for many international companies in the past but never with a Chinese one. With some caution I accept, consequently getting an opportunity to with Chinese people & explore their culture. Ultimately I visit China in 2008. Believe me it was an invaluable experience; looking back I have no regrets, rather a pleasure! Chinese are just unique in every aspect, be it appearance, food, habits, language or culture. On the whole they are very hospitable, patient, wise and hardworking nation. Having said that, like any other nation, Chinese too carry some traits that can be improved.  I would like to share my thoughts & experiences with you.

So Who are Chinese?

Simply put, Chinese are the Oldest, Biggest & Richest nation on earth:

–      The Biggest Nation with 1.32 Billion citizens; 20% of the world’s population is Chinese

–      93% of Chinese people are Hans Chinese; the biggest ethnic group on the planet

–      China has 3rd largest land area after Russia and Canada

–      Chinese claim to be the oldest civilization on earth

Traditional Chinese Buildings

–      Chinese currency is Renminbi (abbreviated as RMB) and one unit is Yuan.

–      China holds 3 Trillion US dollars, the biggest reserve US $ reserve in the world, even more than USA. After seeing the economic crisis, China has started buying gold and other currencies to diversify its reserves.

–      There is one party political system based on Communism, though it has turned into Capitalism since 1970s practically speaking. Communist party is in ruling since 1949 when China was declared as People’s Republic.

–      Even though the Communist government encourages atheism, there are five recognized religions in China today: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestant Christianity.  Ancestor worship is a daily practice for many.

–      Confucianism, not a religion though, remains a major element of the Chinese value system. 

Fake Eating at a Chinese Museum

All the team is going to China for a month, we were informed! The team consisted of few Chinese, Swedish, an Italian and me humble Pakistani. I applied for visa and was granted a 6 month multiple entry. Soon I was preparing my bags excitedly!

To be continued..Read Part 2 Here

Two Parveens Two Paths but One Town & One Objective

Help the Needy with Honour & Dignity

There is a town “Khuda Ki Basti” in outskirts of Karachi. It is home to very poor families who are merely surviving. I came across the story of two Parveens here, one providing food for the body and the other one for the mind. Which is more important, you decide!

 

Parveen Saeed: Khana Ghar, Food for Rs3 (3 Pakistani Rupees)

“Mother killed her own children because she could not feed them”. We read such news often and then move on but years ago one such news changed Parveen Saeed’s life, forever. She decided to help and started cooking extra food at her home for hungry. We can’t manage like this, family advised. So she moved from a middle class to a poor people’s town Khuda ki Basti and established first Khana Ghar (Food Home). This place provides food for Rs3, though it costs Rs20. Where does Rs17 come from?

Parveen Saeed serving at Khana Ghar

Parveen explains, I started from home, family got involved, friends followed. Then we got known and support started pouring in. Some charities are providing food for free, why do you charge Rs3? There are two reasons, Parveen illustrates. One, people tend to care less for free food so there will be wastage, and two, charging encourages the person to work and earn few Rs to get food for the family.

.

Parveen is getting busier despite food cost sky rocketing. There are two Khana Ghars and four pickup points (mobile food homes) functioning at present. Current political and economic situation is ever increasing the number of hungry. Some people can’t even pay a single Rs. We don’t bar anyone from eating. If one can pay, fine, otherwise he is welcome for free.

People Eating at Khana Ghar

Parveen understands that her scheme cannot eradicate the hunger. To eliminate it we need to change our thoughts. We need to understand that country needs to develop an infrastructure that provides and promotes economic opportunities for people to earn respectably.

 

Parveen Rao: Amle Danish School, Fees Rs1

Parveen started this educational project of establishing “Amal e Danish School” in “Khuda ki Basti” some 17 years ago. She explains, I had the ambition of educating 100 children in my life. But when I started, another 100 children came and then another 100, it just kept going. More supporters joined as well.

Amle Danish School

Amle Danish was the first school to start in the area back in 2000. It runs two shifts now and educates about 675 students who learn Urdu, English, Maths and Drawing; all the subjects you would expect in a good middle class school.

The tuition fee is only Rs1. Why Rs1? Parveen clarifies, so that children don’t feel they are studying for free, for charity. Children don’t know the difference between Rs1 or 1000. For them, they are paying fees for their education. They take the receipt home with honour and dignity.

Parveen Rao with School Children

The creation of school is not only based on the idea of charity, rather the concept revolves around four dimensional model:

1- Education at very low fees; no one misses school due to lack of money

2- Education for Adults, especially mothers so they could read & manage basics of life at home, hospital & market such as names, places, bus numbers, ingredients, prices, etc.

3- Fast Track Education; for those who have passed school age. They are fast tracked to catch up.

4- Oblige: Learn Self and Teach One.

4 Dimensional Model

Teachers are also local who understand the psychology of the people of the area. They earn income and can take educational loan and study more, consequently benefiting the area!

Buildings and chairs matter less, rather you should educate & train the teachers well and have the best books available to improve the level of education, Parveen stresses. She didn’t stop here. Another four schools are established in Karachi, Sargodha, Kashmir and Lahore (to be functional soon) for very low income families!

Long Live Parveen, Long Live Education! Ideally this should be done by the government. This is their responsibility.

And this is a lesson for us all; what are we doing around us? Are we making any difference? No matter how small!

Reactive vs ProActive

Our daily interactions within a society present us with a myriad of choices as how to respond to people and events happening around us. Some of us simply allow life to happen while others choose to actively shape their lives. Some merely dance to the tune, others create their own tune. We may refer to the former as “Reactive or Reactionary” and latter ones as “ProActive”.

When we react passively to external forces of society (they act and we react), we are surrendering the one thing that truly belongs to all of us; the power to control our lives. Take for example; you do not open the bonnet of your car for ages, and then ‘Suddenly’ it fails to start one morning!

The ‘reactors’, if you will, are often at the mercy of any given person or a situation. Because they only react to what life throws at them, they are often dodging bullets, fire-fighting and treading water desperately just to stay afloat. They do not live their lives with passionate intent. They are merely getting by each day. They do not anticipate outcomes, fail to plan, don’t learn from their mistakes, and are so destined to lead mediocre, often unhappy lives.

A reactionary person typically lives his life with a listless attitude — he has a habit of postponing and then scrambling to meet the deadline at the eleventh hour. He puts in minimal effort at work, seeing it as ‘just a job’, doesn’t like learning new things, and doesn’t care what’s happening around him and in the world. He doesn’t plan his schedule, forgets important tasks, and is usually sick at the thought of helping others at his own inconvenience. He is haunted by worry, because he feels that he has no control over what happens to him. He often finds himself in uncomfortable or compromising situations because he never learns from his mistakes, choosing instead to blame others or external events. His favourite motto is “That’s life… these things happen… I can’t help it…”, and so conveniently frees himself of any responsibility in improving his life.

However, when we choose to respond actively to life, we accept responsibility for what happens to us. We are intensely keen on learning whatever we can, in whatever situation. We analyse circumstances, learn from our mistakes and plan how we can do better next time. We anticipate outcomes and make necessary preparations. We’re always on the lookout for ways to improve our work, our lives and the lives of all around us.

This shift in attitude towards active response empowers us with choice and purpose. Because we take charge of our lives, we know how we can make things better. No time is spent brooding, lamenting and regretting. We can always see a better future on the horizon.

I would like to quote an example of prophet Muhammad (SAW). He (SAW) was a great ProActive personality. After preaching in Makkah for years, He (SAW) did not see much support from Qureish. Did He (SAW) just sit back, prayed to Allah Ta’ala and waited? No, Muhammad (SAW) actively sought new ventures. He (SAW) planned & visited many other tribes; visiting Taaif is one such example. Eventually people of Madina accepted Him (SAW). He (SAW) negotiated two treaties (Bait-e-Aqaba I & II) with them in 2 years and then migrated to Madina in the 3rd year to establish an Islamic State. This is just an excellent example of being Proactive and changing circumstances in one’s favor.

Every day you are presented with choices; react passively or actively will determine whether you live life of greater fear and mediocrity or life of great joy and success. The choice is yours!

 

Malaysia – Truly Asia

I visited Malaysia in 2009, mainly staying in Kuala Lumpur (commonly referred to as KL). This was my 2nd visit, first one being in 1998. Malaysia is a gorgeous green tropical country. It is hot and humid all year around. Temperature remains between 32c & 22c throughout. It rains almost every day, though weather is getting drier recently. KL is located very near to equator line so day and night are almost always of same duration. Sun rises around 7 am and sets around 7 pm, with few minutes’ difference in summer & winter. One day it rained a lot and there was some wind too. Temperature dropped just below 20c. The locals started crying, ooh it is too cold, can’t go out tonight! I was wondering what’s going on here, temperature rarely goes above 20c in UK.

Click on the Photos to Enjoy the Stunning Beauty

Stunning KL Skyline; Menara KL on left and Twin Towers on right (Click on Photo to Enlarge)

Missing Monkeys

A lot of trees have been chopped to accommodate new developments. Some of my relatives live here permanently. There was jungle at the back of their house when I visited them last time. I used to watch monkeys running around on trees and roof tops. My auntie would advise me to close the back door properly because monkeys would wreak havoc in the kitchen the moment they find a slightest opportunity to sneak in; sadly there are no monkeys anymore, just humans all around.

Mix Malaysia – Truly Asia

Malaysia has about 60% Malays; all Muslims, 23% Chinese, 10% Indigenous and 07% Indians (mostly south Indians, Tamils, and some Pakees, Banglas, etc etc). Politics, Government and related jobs are dominated by Malays, business by Chinese and labour market by us poor Indians! Malay is their national language and English is spoken commonly, followed by Chinese and Indian (Tamil & Hindi).

 

KL Street; Durrian Fruit on Sale (right corner)

 

Kuala Lumpur

KL is a relatively new city. It was established in 1857 by 87 Chinese miners who were extracting tin in the area; 61 died out of malaria & other tropical diseases within one month of their arrival. KL thrived though, soon becoming a prosperous village thanks to British who were quite active in this area at the time. 1957 saw British leaving the country after 151 years long rule giving independence to Malaysia. KL became the capital of country. You can easily see British influence on the culture, law and old buildings.

KL High Court Building

Malays are good Muslims in general. They are polite and humble people. Many Malay haajees are young; loads of newly married couples perform hajj straight after marriage. Men usually wear colorful shirts and trousers or Malay dress and slippers. Most Malay girls wear Hijab (head scarf), shirt and jeans. Chinese girls wear mostly shorts and shirts. The dressing was more modest back in 1998 but isn’t the case this time.

Different communities have their own areas; the most famous one is China Town. Muslim, Hindu and Chinese festivals are celebrated rigorously. It was Deevali (DeepaVali) time when I was there so all the shopping malls were decorated accordingly.

 

Food

Food Preparation at Open House Eid Party

Malaysian cuisine is a true mixture of Chinese, Malay and Indian food. There are so many varieties that Malaysia is really a heaven for food lovers. Typical Malay food consists of rice and many types of curries. Coconut and palm oil is used a lot. Food hygiene standards are good in food shops and prices are reasonable. There is a tradition that people arrange open house parties for friends after Eid. I was invited to one such event. The host’s house was decorated and a variety of foods were being prepared by an army of chefs outside.

Malay Tropical Fruits – Great Creations for Great Creator

Funny Fruits

Malay fruits are really strange-looking; I bet you haven’t even seen them before but all are very tasty, except the devil Durrian. This local favorite fruit called Durrian is so smelly that it is officially banned from hotels, shops, offices etc. Locals love it; but won’t take it home, rather consume it at the shop. One day feeling brave I tried a tiny bit but could not swallow it. It was really…. pasand apni apni (choice belongs to the chooser!)

Teh Tarek – Pulled Tea

Teh Tarek

Oh by the way, don’t forget to try Teh Tarek, which literally means Pulled Tea. This tea is made by running hot water through tea leaves packed in a sock, followed by mixing sugar and condensed milk, and then pulling it to full length couple of times; really tasty treat. Look at the photoabove to see how much it is pulled (see the Bollywood hero-style smile on the tea maker’s face)! Chai pee-yein ga Sohnia? We visited his canteen everyday around 11 for the morning tea break; Cup of tea and a samosa – a perfect treat to energise till lunch.

Malay Food Stall; A true blend of Indian, Chinese and Malay – A Huge Selection of 28 Dishes on Display

Sightseeing

I climbed up the Menara KL (KL Tower) 421 meter high, the 2nd tallest free-standing tower, and 7th tallest Communications Tower in the world.  I also climbed up (used lift more precisely) the KL Twin Towers which are 451.9 meters high. Its official name is Petronas Towers. These are the tallest twin towers and the 7th tallest building in the world. The towers are connected in the middle via a tunnel. There was almost no security when I visited the Towers back in 1998. But this time it was quite high, similar to airports; X-Ray machines, bag searches, IDs. Anyway, do visit Petronas Towers if you happen to be in KL. There is nice shopping area, many restaurants and a beautiful park near the towers. I was staying in a hotel very near to it. The whole area including towers appears stunning in the night lights.

Historical Jamek Mosque (Built 1907)

Other famous buildings worth visiting are KL Train Station, High Court and Jamek Mosque. Otherwise there are numerous building, parks, old streets, open air markets and natural beauty areas to visit. Just forgot to mention, KL has metro (underground) driver-less train system; I have only seen it in Dubai other than here.

 

Petronas – Twin Towers

 

Bye Malaysia – Truly Asia.. See You Again…