Sunday, September 24, 2017

Japan: A Land Steep with Reminders - Part II

Assalamualaikum and greetings dear Bits and Pieces readers,

It is a joy of its own to recount back the days I had in Japan. I love being able to write during the shinkansen (bullet train) and train rides in between gazing through the window. Hence this post is a continuation of Japan: A Land Steep with Reminders - Part I which has long overdue. I really need to stop promising you readers regarding the date of my next post. I am absolutely ashamed of myself.

Day 4 - The Illusion of Death
We were at the grounds of the Kyoto Imperial Palace, sparring some time for rest and prayers. There were a number of crows which reminded us of Uchiha Itachi. We wondered why the crows are there. It's not like the place was dirty. Given that Uchiha Itachi liked to disguise himself as a crow, I bet that crows are closely related to Japanese culture.

My brother praying at the grounds of the Kyoto Imperial Palace. That white plastic bag is not litter but his.

After praying, we took a stroll on the grounds and came upon a tree on top of which the Sakura flower was blooming in magnificent pink. From what we gathered from our stroll, this is one of the few Sakura blooms on the castle grounds. The rest were still dead or appear dead. Kindly note that we went to Japan during early spring.

Sakura blooming on the castle grounds

The Sakura flowers that appear dead, or basically any forms of fauna, are similar to us humans and our lives. With our limited knowledge and foresight, we reached to a conclusion that certain people and situation will forever remain gloom; that their hearts are dead and there is not even a glimmer of hope. We simply couldn't see that a drug addict could be clean one day, that a dyslexia child will fulfill his or her dreams, or that a country will eventually see peace. Even worse, we might view ourselves as a hopeless case.

But we always take for granted the fact that the appearance of Sakura obeys the seasons in accordance to ALLAH's will. The same goes with humans and situations that we view as dark and hopeless; they will change according to ALLAH's will. We always assume that the key reason for people to change is advice from us. Wrong! The key reason is because ALLAH wills it. Our efforts and that person's (the one who should change) effort are secondary reasons.

Surah Al-Anfal [8] verse 24

In the case of hopelessness within ourselves, we should always be reminded how the flower although dead in winter, was able to reborn during spring. People all over the world would flood to Japan just to admire the beauty of Sakura when it blooms. Japanese even hold picnics to admire them. These teach us that mistakes we made and the hardships we go through make us a better and mature person; a more beautiful person up to the point where we will touch people's lives. Thus we should make tawbah (repentance) every time we commit sin and shake of the slithering whispers that say we couldn't be better. On top of that, we should also hold on, be patient, and persevere when the world seems dark.

Surah Ash-Sharh [94] verses 5 - 6

Surah Al-Baqarah [2] verse 257

Day 5 - Tawakkul (trust in ALLAH's plan) and the Fleeting Life
We were at the brink of panic. We need to reach the airport by 9.30am but according to Google Maps, the earliest JR Haruko shinkasen is at 8.48am. That is too late for us! Ditching Google Maps, I remembered that I read earlier before our Japan trip that we can also catch a JR Haruko train at Kyoto Station. Being a central hub and the fact that Japanese take their public transport and time seriously, there must be one train that should give us enough time to reach the airport by 9.30am. I trusted my intention (which was inspired by ALLAH) and put my complete trust in ALLAH. It turns out that I was correct.

In the shinkansen, I didn't write much. Instead, I soaked in the views, cherishing the last moments of my stay in Japan. 5 days went by so fast. But we knew that we had made the most out of the five days. It makes one wonder whether one have made the most of one's time here in this world? Did I actually do something with my life? Will my Maker be happy with me when my time is up?

Surah Al-Mu'minun [23] verse 115

Monday, May 8, 2017

Japan: A Land Steep with Reminders - Part I

Assalamualaikum and greetings dear Bits and Pieces readers,

I went to Japan on March 10th to March 14th. For years I've been longing to travel to Japan so it was a do'a (prayer) came true. My brother and I visited Kobe, Tokyo, Hikone, Konan, and Kyoto in those five days.

However, I'm not narrating my journey in this post, at least not a physical one. This blog as you know, is not travel themed. But it was built to inspire others through my writing, and to that I stay true. This post is filled with advises and reminders. 

Day 1 - The Art of Alhamdulillah, Striving, and Patience
I was blown away on day 1, I couldn't quite believed that I'm in Japan! After acquiring our Japan Railway Pass at the airport, we find our way to Kobe Mosque, the oldest and most historic mosque in Japan. It had survived two major catastrophes; the World War II bombing and the 1995 earthquake, reportedly to be one of the worst earthquake in Japan.

Me in front of Kobe Mosque

I stepped out of Motomachi station confidently. With the pocket wifi, power bank, and my phone's GPS, we were confident that we won't get lost. It's only a 10 minute walk from Motomachi Station. What can possibly go wrong?

Well the GPS on my phone went wrong. It couldn't lock our location so it couldn't guide us to Kobe Mosque. We tried to find any nearby streets or buildings that were near to us and erected along the route to Kobe Mosque but to no avail. We then switched to my brother's brand new iPhone but he wasn't able to find the GPS function! It was really frustrating that our journey began in such a state of well, frustration!

We wandered aimlessly for half an hour. Our stomachs began to rumble and the cold was barely bearable. We haven't had lunch. We had planned to eat at Naan Inn before praying, a halal Indian restaurant just few steps away from the mosque. All in all we were stymied. I remembered that my head had played The Shallows, a movie full of frustration and suspense throughout where Blake Lively tries to reach for the beach just 183 meters away with a giant white shark in between.  

Despite all that, we had to remain calm and composed. I reminded myself of how much I wanted to be here. It's literally a dream come true to travel to Japan. So I kept thanking and praising ALLAH (the attitude of alhamdulillah) for giving me the chance to come here. Finally, after 45 minutes, my brother noticed a place that is near to Kobe Mosque. So we took the street and lo and behold, Naan Inn was at the right of us. Without further ado, we went inside and ate.

The interior of Kobe Mosque. Quite similar to the mosques in Turkey
since Islam came to Japan through the Ottoman Empire

After eating and praying, we walked back to Motomachi Station and head to Tokyo. In the shinkansen (Japan's bullet train), I wrote down my thoughts of this day. I had been reminded that despite any impediments in life, we must always be thankful to ALLAH, and remain patient and positive. This is because ALLAH will never let our effort go to waste. If not here, we will surely gain something in the akhirah (afterlife).   

Surah Hud (chapter 11) verse 115

Day 2 - The Mirage of Absolute Power
Although I live in one, I never quite like a bustling city life. Thus in my notebook, I didn't write down anything at the end of my day in Tokyo. I feel like there's nothing to write. There's only the typical stuff like eating and shopping. But as I walk down my memory lane of Tokyo, one stuck out: the Meiji shrine.

At the Meiji Shrine
The Meiji shrine was significant to me for one reason, the anime Samurai X. Any anime fans, excluding the hentai (basically porn) genre, would agree that Samurai X is one of a kind, definitely on par with Naruto. These two animes had long ignited the interest in Japanese culture and history within me. Samurai X tells the story of an assassin, Himura Kenshin, who had brought the Meiji era and ended the shogunate ruling system. After that, he abandoned his sword in exchange for a sakabato (a blunt sword), a symbol of his resolution to stop killing.

The shogunate ruling system was in place for more than six centuries before its downfall. For a ruling system that can last this long, no one could predict its demise. This piece of history reminds me that absolute power is unreal; it only exist with ALLAH. Humans are only granted limited power for a certain period. Hence we should not fear any corrupted person, whether (s)he is a leader, a bully, a criminal, a hypocrite, and similar others.

Surah Ar-Rum (chapter 30) verse 8

Day 3 - Diam - Diam Ubi Berisi
Diam-diam ubi berisi is a Malay proverb. It mostly refers to a quiet person or thing that hold something of substance inside. This proverb describes the village of Konan in Koka City beautifully. The streets were deserted and only a few people crossed our path. Although the village is a spitting image of a ghost town, in it lies a unique gem.

The street in Konan
Konan possesses the only remaining authentic ninja house in all of Japan, the Koka Ninja House. Once belonged to the Head of Koka ninja clan, the place was full of ninja traps, weapons, and scrolls containing ninja techniques. We even pretended to be ninjas and threw shurikens.

Inside the Koka Ninja House. Be weary that the tour is in Japanese.

On this day, I was reminded to not look down upon others and assume that I'm better than anybody. That person might have a "treasure" that I do not have. That person might be more wise than I am. Thus I should be more humbled, positive, and open minded.

Surah Qalam (chapter 68) verse 7

To be continued...

Saturday, January 28, 2017

My Free Upcoming Novelette: Progress Report

Assalamualaikum and greetings dear Bits and Pieces readers,

It has been quite a while since I update about my free upcoming novelette, Letters to God. I believe I owe my readers an apology too for not publishing it soon enough. Time is flying and I have to focus more on my PhD studies for the time being. I was an expert at juggling various tasks once but not anymore; at least not in these few months.

Photo credit: SerenaWong

But tonight, I feel compelled to write. I really want to share the current status of this novelette of mine.

Novelette edited but not yet send to beta reader
The editor is a good friend of mine and we lost contact for awhile. Thankfully, I managed to track her down and she finished the work. But the novelette transcript is raw; full of corrections that I haven't been able to address yet. This has caused a major delay for the next stage i.e. sending it to a beta reader to read. But I don't think it will be a long process because my cousin has already agreed to be the beta reader. For your information, the task of a beta reader(s) is to identify whether the story line ties in smoothly. Readers definitely hate haphazard stories.  

Method to attach novelette in subscription email
As is my intention, I would like Letters to God be attach to the confirmation email when a person subscribes to my blog. But as of today, I haven't yet find an application (am I using the right term?) that offers this service. I would appreciate it so much if you can comment some suggestions for me. It will make my task easier :) I thank you in advance!

Don't worry, the novelette is definitely free
There are two reasons for this: (1) recognition and, (2) marketing.

I want people to be able to read my writing and judge whether it is good or bad. If it is bad, at least people won't feel disheartened because they got the novelette for free. Hopefully too, readers will be more willing to give feed backs so that I can improve my writing. I aspire to be a writer of substance where my words can reach the heart of readers and hopefully change their lives for the better.

By making the Letters to God free, I can also gain more followers. When I have followers, there is a high possibility that they will buy the books I sell in the future. You see, I have a dream of retiring early and make an income from being a fiction writer whose words touch lives.