Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Creative Corner: A Day in the Life of Naim Daniels (Autobiographical Writing)

Hi guys! This is today's post as part of my Creative Corner section to present my best pieces of writing. This is an autobiographical text about a character I have created for my English class. He is based somewhat on myself and I hope you like it! Please comment below; I'd like to know what you think of it. Thanks!

A Day in the Life of Naim Daniels

Naim Daniels, 24, is a renowned British-Malaysian television journalist working with Aljazeera English news channel. He is engaged and is living in Moscow, Russia where he works as an international correspondent for the region.


My alarm blare its noise throughout the room at 6 o’clock in the morning, waking my cat Nikolai from his basket. I wake up hearing the faint sound of the adhan sounding from the city’s principal mosque. I hastily put on my winter jacket and boots and walked briskly over there for a congregational morning prayer. After returning from the mosque, I take a shower, get dressed and cook a light breakfast. I usually have a toast with a fried egg and a cup of black coffee to start the day. I love sipping my coffee while watching the morning news bulletin on Aljazeera or Russia 24. It gets me updated on what is going on around the world. I look at the clock on the wall of my apartment: quarter to 8, time to go to work. Every day I take the metro from my neighbourhood to my workplace on the other side of Moscow. I rarely drive here because of the horrendous traffic in this city, and also because I don’t own a car.

I usually arrive early at the bureau at half past 8. When working in Russia, punctuality is extremely important. Here, I am surrounded with colleagues with a very serious work ethic. I work as one of Aljazeera’s international correspondents in Russia. My job is to cover stories that are happening throughout the region and present them through TV and online platforms. Today is one of my less hectic work days; I have to finish a detailed analysis of the inner workings of the Kremlin. Not very interesting maybe, but on busier days I would be sent to travel to places far and wide to capture and report breaking news and events to be broadcasted on live television.

"...I have to finish a detailed analysis of the inner workings of the Kremlin."

Being a journalist was something I dreamed of for a very long time. Ever since I was seven, I regularly turned on the telly to watch BBC or Aljazeera. I have this huge fascination with being in the frontline of the ever-changing world of current events. I knew from that time, I wanted to be the person telling the whole world the news. I was determined to reach this goal. During my primary school years, I was living away from my ancestral homeland, Malaysia. I was used to living overseas as an expatriate, and at that time, I was living in Oman. I spent a huge chunk of my childhood there; it lasted until after I finished two years of secondary school.

"...I enrolled in the International Islamic School."

When I entered Year 9, I had to return to Malaysia. Over there I enrolled in the International Islamic School. Here I had my first experience living independently in hostel, and the precious experiences there have shaped who I am. I worked very hard in my studies. I knew that to achieve my dream, I had to struggle and strive in the right direction. I focused most of my tasks on studying but I also spent a lot of free time socialising with my friends. One of my closest buddies, Dr. Muhammad Zaahid is actually a friend of mine from the same hostel and school. He is the world-famous aeronautical engineer who designed the world’s first triple-decker aircraft!

My efforts in my studies paid off, but it would be impossible if it were not for the never-ending support of my parents and grandparents, who supported my plans to become an international journalist. The results came out for my IGCSE exams and I achieved A-star grades for all nine subjects! My greatest achievement then was also being awarded first in the world for English as a First Language! I could not believe at first that I accomplished such a prestigious award. Immediately after that I was awarded a full scholarship by the University of Central Lancashire where I furthered my studies for Foundations and degrees. I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Broadcast Journalism and the Russian Language and a Masters degree in International Law and Political Science. I was eager to start my career and the first news company which received me was Aljazeera English. They accepted my job application and I have been working there ever since.

At lunchtime I leave the bureau to have lunch in a small Uzbek restaurant a few blocks away. I occasionally eat there because it is the only halal eatery within the locality. If I eat in the Soviet-themed canteen in the bureau, I can only eat breads and salads. I tuck into a steaming plate of plov, a hearty rice-and-mutton dish perfect for a cold winter’s day. While sipping my freshly-brewed tea, my fiancé calls me on the phone. Her name is Natalya and we have been engaged for two months now. She likes telling me telling me about how her day went and is always asking me about mine, and we then would tell how much we love each other and send kisses through the phone. We are planning to marry in two months if I don’t have any big news stories to report on by then.

At last, I finish my pages of typed analysis and hand it in to my editor. My work officially ends at 5 but sometimes I even stay until 7 o’clock in the evening. I feel exhausted by after a long day in my office but my friend Dr. Zaahid wants me to meet him the juice bar tonight. I always go with him to drink and chat about how the day went and also about the good old times we had in hostel during our teenage years.  I come home at around 8 or 9 o’clock every day. I pick up Nikolai from my neighbour’s house (he takes care of him while I’m away) and feed him some of his favourite caviar-flavoured cat food before going to sleep. I myself then change my clothes, brush my teeth and fall asleep in seconds after going through another day of my life.


Thursday, 9 January 2014

Languages I Love and Admire Part 1 - بهاس ملايو / Bahasa Melayu / Баҳаса Мәлаю

BASIC INFO

Official name: Bahasa Melayu (or Bahasa Malaysia)
English name: Malay language
Spoken in: Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Indonesia and Southern Thailand
Written in: Arabic Jawi script and Latin Rumi script

BACKGROUND


I was born in Malaysia in an ethnic Malay family and all of the members of my extended family are primarily Malay-speaking. My father is from Malacca, while my mother is from Selangor, and both speak the same dialect of Malay: the West Coast dialect, which is virtually the same dialect used in media of the country.

MY STORY - LIFE IN MALAYSIA

Malay was obviously the first language I spoke when I learnt how to talk from a young age. I was conversational in 'baby-talk' Malay at age of 2 and can talk in the comprehensible form at four years old. Of course, I was not speaking with a high level of language. I was living in Terengganu State in the East Coast for most of my years before I moved abroad. I learnt to speak the state's regional dialect, Terengganu Malay (Bahasa Terengganu) but today I have almost forgotten it all. I only spoke it with my friends though, at home, I did not speak it since my parents were not from Terengganu.

There were many shows on TV which I enjoyed watching in Malay. I think the most memorable series was the Japanese anime Doraemon (ドラえもん), which was dubbed into Malay. The show aired often on the free-to-air channels and my parents also bought VCDs of it. I enjoyed watching so much that sometimes I pretended to be the characters in the show with my sister! The language used in the show was more formal than the colloquialisms of the dialects, which helped to strengthen my grasp of the language at a young age.


Asuh, a popular monthly periodical for children which I used to read quite often

I also loved reading children's magazines and listening to nasheed, or Islamic-themed songs, which were all in Malay. Occasionally I read newspapers but never really understood much as a young boy due to their strong political overtones.

My schooling started with kindergarten, and I was taught to read and write in Malay, English and Arabic. I was taught to read and write both the Rumi Latin script and the Jawi Arabic script and because of this, I had a pretty solid foundation in my first year of primary school when I turned 7. Subjects such as Malay Language, Islamic Studies, Physical Education and Arabic language were taught in Malay while Mathematics and Science at the time was taught in English. This was a blessing for me, because I had a strong basic in Malay unlike the rest of my siblings; none of them went to Malaysian public school. I could read Malay in both scripts with ease and although my vocabulary wasn't very wide, I was able to use a good range for that level. I achieved high grades for all subjects, including Malay.



The Jawi-Arabic alphabet. Note the addition of extra letters which are not found in the Arabic language.

LIFE IN OMAN - 6 YEARS

Oman was the first place I encountered where I could not use Malay in public. Everywhere around me were signage in Arabic and English, not an ounce of Malay could be seen. Aside the minor culture shock, I adapted quite well with life there despite the linguistic difference. 

I enrolled in PDO School in Muscat, Oman, and being an international Shell school, English was the prime language of instruction. Everyone spoke English there, even the  Malaysian students I befriended from my class. It felt peculiar at first, I expected them to speak Malay between themselves but having lived overseas longer than I have, they conversed in English only. I continued speaking Malay at home and with my siblings as I would in Malaysia. This is probably the only way I kept my mother tongue alive.

As I got used to life there, I was fluently bilingual in both languages by my second year. I devised a rigid but useful system for myself when I was in Oman: English should be used anywhere else such as school but as soon as I step into my front door, Malay rules supreme. I could not talk in English at home without feeling awkward, so its use was only limited to substituting words which cannot be expressed in Malay properly. Talking Malay outside of home is limited to conversations between my siblings, parents and parents' friends. I rarely talked to my Malay friends in Oman in Malay, but occasionally I do this to pass on a secret message so that nobody else could understand.

My Malay slowly deteriorated over time, as it was not replenished with an education system which offered the Malay subject for me to improve. The form of Malay spoken at home was mostly colloquial without much proper grammar use.  I was still very much conversational, but I had gradually lost many words from my vocabulary and often replaced with English words. Arabic words even entered everyday usage in our Malay, usually only to refer to Arabic cuisine, such as shawarma. Even my accent was changing; once my mother's friends jokingly referred to my Malay accent as Indonesian. Since I rarely wrote Malay (there was no need for it: all of the schoolwork was in English), I even forgotten how to spell some words using Jawi script and improvised with my own system based on how it was written in Rumi. With my increased use of the Internet with its mostly English content, English eventually overtook Malay as my strongest language in terms of fluency and skill.

At first, this did not really bother me. I continued with whatever I was doing in school and did not give much thought about it. As time progressed, I began to realise the importance of preserving this language in myself. It is a symbol of my unique identity as a Malay and Malaysian. What is a Malay person if he does not speak the language of his people? I became more aware of the need to improve my fluency in this language. I knew Malay friends from Oman who lived overseas for so long that they began forgetting their own language. Some could still understand and communicate in Malay but some spoke very little of it. This even happened to those who actually did go to Malaysian public school before moving abroad. Some expat kids no longer spoke Malay at home and preferred speaking English to their family members.



Translation: Prioritise the Malay language (Sign in Brunei)

I did not want myself or my siblings to suffer the same fate as those who abandoned their language. There would be huge disadvantages, for instance, expatriate children who return to Malaysia, Brunei or any Malay-speaking country but hardly knows the language will have a hard time adjusting to the local environment or the public schooling system. Communication with extended family members such as grandparents or cousins would be compromised. Everyone in the home country would expect a Malay knowing how to speak Malay, and the society will regard it as 'strange' if a Malay did not know the language of his forefathers.

Action was needed to preserve the language in my home. Every year, our family returned to Malaysia for a 2-month-long vacation during the summer. In 2008, my parents enrolled me in the local state-run Islamic school in my village, Sekolah Rendah Agama Kanchong Darat. Here I made friends with some locals and although I did not learn Malay directly as a subject, it was the language of instruction. Jawi writing is dominant in Islamic schools like these, unlike the public schooling system which used Rumi except for Islamic-related subjects. I went to school again in 2010, this time in an Islamic integrated school located in the nearby village of Sungai Kelambu. This school blended the public schooling system and the state curriculum of Islamic school into one, which meant that Malay was taught as a subject. In addition to these, in 2011, I took private tutoring to improve my Malay at home. 

When I returned to Oman, I did not have the privilege of formal Malay education. I did all I could at home to maintain the level I had improved when I went back to Malaysia. I discouraged my siblings speaking English with each other. In fact, I often corrected them when they use English words in Malay sentences by telling them to use the proper Malay word instead. Unfortunately even though my aim was to help, I was only rebuked by my parents for 'bothering' my brothers and sisters. When I needed to write Malay, I only wrote in the Jawi script because I felt that it deserved more attention than Rumi. Jawi script is dying and almost no-one uses it everyday in Malaysia. As a self-proclaimed traditionalist, I refused to use the Rumi script and uses Jawi whenever possible.

Despite all of these measures, my Malay never regained the same status as the best language in terms of fluency, even until today. English was dominating my school, outdoor and social life while Malay had very little chance to be enhanced as long as I lived outside my home country.

RETURN TO MALAYSIA AND LIFE IN IIS

Late 2012 marked the end of my expatriate life in Oman and spelled a new beginning for my return to Malaysia. My parents and siblings moved to Sakhalin, Russia while I had to live in Malaysia with my younger sister without them. I enrolled in the International Islamic School in Grade 9, and I will save the story of my first days in school for later. English is again the medium of instruction in school, but a significant portion of students in IIS are Malays who, unlike those living abroad, still spoke Malay among each other.

In this school I was able to select among two foreign languages: Malay and French (Arabic was made compulsory for all). The choice was easy to make: I chose Malay over French. There were two categories of Malay taught for students in my grade which were native and non-native levels. In spite of my previous lack of Malay education, I was able to catch up with the rest of the class. The standard taught at the class was for Malaysian secondary school level (Tingkatan/Form 3) and the teacher herself used Malay as the language of instruction.

I did my best to catch up what I had missed for so long. What I found most difficult was learning different names which refer to the various grammar rules. I know them and understand how they are used but we have to remember how it works linguistically. When speaking, I never give much thought about how I phrase my sentences since the grammar rules in the spoken (colloquial) form of Malay is very lax. Many important connectives, prepositions and marker words are used interchangeably carrying a multitude of meanings. Words also get shortened. Tidak becomes tak, meaning 'no' or 'not'. Dekat becomes kat and it not only means 'close' or 'near', but it could also mean 'at', 'almost' and 'intimate'. This simplicity and interchangeability is lost in formal standard Malay, where for example adalah and ialah, although seemingly similar in meaning are used in different contexts.

Although Standard Formal Malay is the standard taught in schools throughout Malaysia, practically nobody speaks it in day-to-day life, myself included. Every Malaysian speaks the dialect of the state he or she originates from, mine being the West Coast Malay dialect, the closest dialect to the formal standard Malay. Although as I said before that I learnt the Terengganu dialect, I rarely speak it at home (since neither of my parents are from there). I made new friends in my new school who tend to speak Malay with each other rather than English. Blending in was not as easy as I thought; although I speak the colloquial Malay at home, I usually used a more polite, hence more formal way of addressing myself and others. This is where a slight problem came up.

In Malay, we have a hierarchical system of respecting others by way of pronouns.  At home I talk to my parents and obviously I need to use the highest level of respectful pronoun for 'I' which is 'saya'. I could also be expressed as 'aku', but this is less respectful, even rude to some people. This should only be used with close friends, not the elderly or strangers. 

The problem with this was that the way I speak became a matter of a joke for the others. Without realising it myself I was making myself more aloof and unapproachable by using the formal language I was used to. This kind of isolated me and made me feel awkward around the people in my school - especially the Malay speakers. Nevertheless, I eventually overcame this problem and by the time I finished my schooling in Malaysia, I felt comfortable using the informal language.


THE CURRENT SITUATION OF MY MALAY LANGUAGE

(will be continued...)

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Creative Corner! - The Treasure Box (Descriptive Writing)

Salam everyone! Today's post will be the first for the "Creative Corner" section of my blog, so I hope you like it! The style of writing for this story is descriptive.


The Treasure Box

By Ahmad Fatih Affendy


I clambered clumsily up the sturdy metal ladder adjoining the door of the lofty, unvisited attic. I came upstairs armed with my weapons: a featherduster and a broomstick in one hand, and a bottle of multipurpose cleaning fluid and a rag in the other. My mission for today: spring-cleaning the whole attic to make it as spotless as possible.


I reached for the wooden trapdoor and creaked it open. I knew exactly what I was going to see. I was greeted with the sight of innumerable cardboard boxes and old furniture leaning against the whitewashed wall silently like mountains and hills. God knows how many items these boxes contain, it could be anything from piles of worn out clothing to dysfunctional electrical appliances that my parents decide to take with us when we moved in. The morning sun splashed buttery, yellow radiance into the dusty attic and the room smelled like decaying cardboard. I eagerly start cleaning, as I always believe that the earlier I get things done, the faster I finish. The floorboards sang and squeaked while I walk above them from box to box, wiping off layers of dirt. After an hour of slaving away like a maid, I decide to rest on an ancient rocking chair which used to belong to my grandmother.

Just then, I caught a glimpse of something in the corner of the room. I noticed a small, wooden box inconspicuously situated on a pinewood tea-table. From a distance, I could tell this was no ordinary box containing useless miscellaneous objects. It seemed quite familiar somehow, so I stood up and strode towards it with curiosity. As I closed on my target, I recognised it as an antique treasure box, and what a beauty it was! The box's lock shone like a star under the beam of sunlight, beckoning me closer, as if it was telepathically communicating to me. The treasure box was an intriguing handcrafted heirloom, caked with dust. One could plainly see that nobody had even touched it for a very long time.

I picked up the box and studied it carefully. Made from varnished tropical lumber, I thought. It was probably around the size of my head. The box felt rather heavy but I dare not to shake it, in case the contents were fragile. It had a lovely dome-like shape at the top, with intricate floral motifs carved upon it. At the sides, a band of gold was painted all around the box and in the centre, the golden lock was waiting for me to open what was inside. I searched around me for a key and found it inside one of the tea-table drawers.

Words could not express how excited I felt. What was I going to discover? Maybe some hidden, valuable treasure, such as jewels and pearls like in pirate movies. I shook my head and laughed at my silly imagination. Slowly, bit by bit, I turned the lock and prised it open.

By God! It was something I would never expect, all of my best childhood memories stored in this container! Before I left for college, I collected all of my most precious belongings inside it. For some odd reason, as time passed like a bullet train, I had completely forgotten about its existence. A stack of photographs enclosed within a transparent plastic casing was placed in the top-left corner of the box. The first photo was a shot of a smiling boy in his preteen years on top of a dromedary camel in a desert. I practically squealed with delight; it was a long-forgotten of me in Oman, where I used to live for six whole years. How I miss my old home there! Its beautiful sand dunes, majestic mountains and pristine seashores provided a perfect backdrop for my adventurous childhood. I still remember tumbling down a dune in the unexplored vastness of the Wahiba Sands and driving winded roads near jagged cliffs of Musandam peninsula. Oh how I wish I could return there, to relive it once more!


"...the unexplored vastness of the Wahiba Sands..."

I glanced over another set of mementos in the in the bottom corner of the box. I cast my eyes on glimmering, miniature, metallic landmarks which were souvenirs from all of the places I visited throughout the globe as a kid. A tiny rendition of the Eiffel Tower towered proudly above the rest, just like its real version in Paris. Ah, the nostalgia! I simply could not forget my last visit there, when I had a magical dinner in the restaurant at the first floor of the tower, overlooking the charming lawns of Champs de Mars. The view of the city was mesmerising; buildings and lamps below twinkled and sparkled a variety of flamboyant colours as if they were fireworks in the sky. After that wonderful meal, I met a kind French mademoiselle in a gift shop nearby and bought this trinket to always remember that night. It is truly amazing how a small item can have such a significant history behind it.


"The view of the city was mesmerising; buildings and lamps below twinkled and sparkled a variety of flamboyant colours as if they were fireworks in the sky."

My favourites out of everything inside the treasure box was my collection of national flags I accumulated since I was ten. My heart felt an immediate connection when I say twenty-or-so flags standing side-by-side: Japan's Hinomaru fluttered with honour alongside the Union Jack of Britain and the South African flag. Each of them tell their own story, and also my own, the story of my travels.

I felt grateful and thankful that God gave me the chance to experience a childhood that so many in the world will never even taste in their whole lives. I could go on reminiscing my past but I suddenly realised that the room was getting eerily dark. The sun was setting outside and I had been examining the treasure box for a whole day! I looked at it and saw that it was begging me to take it, not to be forgotten ever again. I nodded to no one, closed the lid and carried it to the attic door. I have much more to rediscover, I thought, and today was a day well spent. I only hoped my parents would not notice that  had not finished cleaning the attic at all.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Back after a looooong hiatus!

As-Salaamu 'Alaykum Warahmatullahi Wabarakaatuh

How are you readers? I know I have been gone for a very long time, but hey, I'm back! :) 

So far my life has been so busy now that I am in Grade 11, my last school year before pre-university. Since two weeks ago I had to endure through my semester exams therefore I spent my whole evenings and nights revising all of my nine chosen subjects. Because of this, I had extremely little time for me to continue posting. Even before all this, my studies have been so strenuous and demanding that I could not just sit down and type anything on this blog. I do regret my one-and-a-half-month long absence and I will be making it up to you with regular posts about all the happenings in the past weeks in school and in the coming days!

Watch out for these in this month:

  • LANGUAGES I LEARN / ADMIRE (OR BOTH!)
A series of informative posts about the languages that I speak, study and enjoy listening to. Also featuring a deep insight into my methods of studying each of them and how I adapt each to my everyday use! Highlights coming soon: Malay, English
  • MY TRAVELS IN... (2006-2014)
Have you ever traversed the deserts of the Sharqiya Sands or wandered within the snowy forests of Sakhalin Island? In total, I have visited and lived in more than ten different countries, each with their own different unique characters, and I share with you, with genuine photographs, my magnificent experiences in each destination.
  • AN INSIGHT INTO HOSTEL LIFE
Having been my second home for the past 2 years, many of my friends from my school and elsewhere have been wondering how life is like living away from my family members. Well now I will highlight many of the details of my experiences here, such as studying, roommate relations and facilities present. 
  • CREATIVE CORNER: MY LITERARY MASTERPIECES
I will also be typing up my handwritten pieces of writing from school. Based on the feedback from teachers, the creative posts have been marked and may be used as examples of IGCSE standard for First Language English.