Ramadhan Reflections

The month of Ramadhan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. For many people, it is synonymous with fasting from dawn to dusk. Without a doubt, that is a major part of this blessed month. But for me personallyand this is especially so in the last few yearsRamadhan has also been a time for prayer, for contemplation, and most importantly, for peace.

Last year, my family and I spent Ramadhan in a lockdown in Malaysia. I wrote a couple of blog posts about it, one describing my nightly ‘tadarus‘ sessions with my MCKK batchmates, and another describing some key takeaway points I wished to take from the blessed month.

This year, once again my family and I are spending Ramadhan together in an unfamiliar setting. Partly this is because of the pandemic and its associated restrictions, although in the United Kingdom at least, the situation seems to be improving alhamdulillah. But the setting is also unfamiliar because of the lengthening days as we move further into spring. At present, we start fasting at around 4am and break our fast around 8.30pm. This is longer than a typical day of fasting in Malaysia, where people normally would fast from around 5.30am to 7.30pm.

Nevertheless I am very grateful for the experience.

I’ve learnt not to take my time in this world for granted. A few days ago I shared this quote with my kids:

Yesterday is history

Tomorrow is a mystery

But today is a gift

That is why it is called the present

I didn’t recall it at the time, but apparently that quote was in Kung Fu Panda 2!

Anyway, you should’ve seen the looks on my kids’ faces when they heard it. A multi-step journey from initial bewilderment (what is Dad talking about now?), to the moment of understanding, before finally breaking into smiles at the ingenuity of the words.

Is the quote corny though? Sure. Naive? Maybe. But that’s what I love about kids. They’re not cynical about the world. They’re curious and excited to learn new things. I wish more people would learn to be like this again.

Stepping Away From Social Media

At the beginning of Ramadhan I decided to take a break from Facebook by deactivating my account temporarily. Sure, social media (not just Facebook) can be useful, but increasingly I just find it to be a cacophony of bruised egos. I don’t want to be overzealous about it or anything, but after the initial withdrawal period I must admit that it’s been really nice not to have to bother with social media at all. John Gruber over at Daring Fireball posted something about Twitter yesterday that hit the nail right on the head:

Twitter is a machine for directing self-righteous anger, and it fires all day, every day, whether the targets are deserving or not.

What is true for Twitter, is also very true for Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, <insert your favourite social media platform here>.

I know I’ll be back on Facebook soon because I don’t want to lose touch with my friends completely. But my brief experiment away from it has taught me to value it even less than I did before. If only there was a better way to see everyone’s family pictures this Hari Raya!

That’s all folks. I hope you too will learn something meaningful during this blessed month of Ramadhan. Until then, take care…

Blue Plaques

From Wikipedia:

blue plaque is a permanent sign installed in a public place in the United Kingdom and elsewhere to commemorate a link between that location and a famous person, event, or former building on the site, serving as a historical marker.

This is one such Blue Plaque, commemorating the first use of Penicillin as an antibiotic to treat infections at the Radcliffe Infirmary.

I see these while cycling every now and then but seldom have the opportunity to slow down and read them. I really should make an effort to do so, they are fascinating!

Orcs!

DANGER: Orcs on bicycles ahead!

I knew Saruman was treacherous, but this takes it to a whole new level.

Frodo Baggins

The Boat Race

The 2021 Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge, held last Sunday in Ely because of the pandemic, has concluded with Cambridge winning both the men’s and women’s races.

But this post is not about THE boat race. It is a story about MY boat race.

Years ago, in a moment of madness, I joined the Jesus College Boat Club and began my life as a rower. It was the winter of 2005/2006. In hindsight, it was probably the worst time to pick up rowing, considering the fact that you had to start so damn early in the morning when it was awfully cold. Did I mention it was winter back then?

So yes, the first time I dipped my fingers in the River Cam, it felt like liquid nitrogen! Clearly I was not destined to be a rower. I did, however, stick it out until the end of term, ‘competing’ in a couple of events namely the Queens’ Ergs and the Fairbairn Cup. I say ‘competing’ because, let’s face it, I wasn’t exactly Speedy Gonzales when it came to rowing.

By my own reckoning, I was the second ranked novice that term. Second ranked, from the bottom that is! Every training session I pushed myself hard, knowing there was a very thin line separating myself from the title of ‘Worst Novice Ever’ for the Jesus College Boat Club. Ha!

My kids laughed at me when I told them I used to be a rower, until I showed them this picture:

I am both horrified and proud that I even signed up to be a rower that term. Horrified, because if you know anything about me, you’ll know that sports isn’t exactly my forte. In the picture above I look moments away from being ejected out of the boat and into the River Cam for an unplanned swimming session. But still, I am proud that I volunteered for something so out of my league.

My only regret is that I didn’t do more to capture those moments. How could I when I was playing World of Warcraft all the time busy being a medical student?

The past year has taught all of us the priceless value of the outdoors. I’ve written about it numerous times on this blog, but I’ll say it again: I’m incredibly glad that I can just walk out of my door and, just a minute later, find myself in a beautiful park looking at trees and empty fields under an expansive blue sky.

Going back to rowing, I honestly wish I had stuck with it for a bit longer. I gave it up after the 2005 Michaelmas Term but even now, I still remember the exhilarating feeling of gliding across the surface of the River Cam when all 8 rowers were in synchrony with each other.

Incidentally, I went jogging last Sunday (the morning of the 2021 Boat Race) wearing the very same rowing T-shirt as the one in the picture. I must’ve kept it all these years because of its sentimental value, as proof that I too, was once a rower.

Hot Air Balloon

My family and I saw a hot air balloon yesterday while playing in the park. Turns out ballooning has a long history in Oxford, based on this BBC article about James Sadler:

James Sadler: The Oxford balloon man history forgot

From the article:

Balloon fever had struck England 30 years before in 1784 when Sadler had become the first ever Englishman to fly.

Back then, his hot air balloon drifted off from the vast fields by Merton College, Oxford, early on 4 October and rose about 3,600 ft (1097m) in the air. 

Further on in the article it mentions:

And such was the lack of information about our skies that some people thought you could use a paddle to row in the sky.

Sadler had been warned he might collide with Heaven, and that sky dragons might come and attack him.

He was so famous that he once went to Cheltenham in 1785 to conduct a balloon flight and the entire town closed.

Unfortunately we couldn’t really see who it was flying the balloon yesterday. To the anonymous pilot (is that what you call someone who flies a balloon?), thank you for brightening up our day. I hope you made it past the sky dragons safely.