The One on Finding a Place Called Home

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Photographed by Noor Iskandar

The past ten months has been nothing short of freedom and independence to me. I enjoy the ability to pack up and leave for another country in an instant. I enjoy the flexibility of working on my own. And most of all, I enjoy the fact that I am alone responsible for my own happiness.

Recently, Singapore has been crowned Lonely Planet’s top travel destination for 2015. I stopped in my tracks to read the article on my phone to be sure that my eyes were not deceiving me. Yes, I sure do love my country, but what have I missed about my homeland that makes it a top destination for travelers from around the world?

I thought about what makes Singapore so attractive to foreigners. Some said it was the efficiency that impressed them, others loved how safe this country is and the rest just enjoyed Singapore’s little quirks. There was a New Yorker I met in Morocco who got so excited when I told him I am from Singapore, “Dude! Your subways are like fifty years into the future!”

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Man sleeping on the job, Chefchaouen, Morocco, 2013

When I travel, I look for experiences that I cannot find in Singapore. I seek adventure. I seek the wilderness. I seek ruggedness. And most of all, I seek the country life. Perhaps I have always been the kampung girl at heart, preferring the outdoors to city skyscrapers and air-conditioned malls, and my idea of retirement is having a home with enough land for me to grow vegetables organically with love and a butcher who knows me by my name and choice of cut.

I love traveling in ruggedness, not having plans for the day and just sitting down somewhere with a drink and a book to read. I have been approached by fellow travelers asking me about my religion and why I chose to cover my head with the hijab. I make friends with people from all over the world and make it a point to keep in touch just in case I drop by their hometown in my future travels. I thrive on spontaneity and randomness – it makes me feel less guarded and wary, of which I usually am.

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Angkor Wat, Siam Reap, Cambodia, 2014 

Last year, I left Singapore for Europe without a job waiting for me back home. I wanted to do something crazy and bold. I wanted to know what it feels like to be invisible and not know what to expect. I left Singapore for a trip to open my heart and mind. I left Singapore without attaching my heart to anything, or anyone for that matter. I left Singapore knowing that there was a possibility I would not come back.

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Brighton Beach, Victoria, Australia, 2014

In my pursuit to find myself, I realize I enjoyed being anonymous and not having any worry for the uncertainty that lies ahead of me. A friend once told me that this lack of worry is because of a heightened faith in God – like what they say, do not pray for God to make things easier for you, but pray for the strength so you can go through challenges better. When we travel, we learn to let fate take its course while we take a back seat. In essence, we accept whatever happens to us because God has already willed for it happen in our lives, anyways.

Halfway through my month-long trip, I broke down. I was missing my family. I missed my mother, my three cats, my sisters and brother. Most of all, I was missing my nieces and nephews a lot. When I got home after 28 days away, my room was filled with about a hundred balloons. My brother would probably kill me for telling the world about this but he blew each and every one of the balloons. I went over to my sister’s place with presents for my nieces and nephews only to be greeted with hugs, kisses, and fights as to who gets to sit on Aunty Ida’s lap.

My then four-year-old nephew Yan Yan looked me in the eye and asked me, “Where did you go for so long, Aunty Ida? Don’t you love me anymore?”

There are a million reasons for you to go away, but find one that keeps you coming back – I found mine.

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Mia Familia, 2013

This article first appeared on The Shawl Label’s Sisterhood Project on http://www.theshawllabel.com.

2014 in Pictures

Somehow, I cannot believe that a year has flew by yet again. Apart from some failed New Year’s resolutions made at the end of last year, I think I pretty much nailed 2014. I started the year with only one thing in mind – do whatever I want. I thought to myself, while I still had no form of whatever commitments, I should adopt 2014 as my gap year to be responsible for my own happiness. Life is, after all, too short for disappointments. This past year, I chose my battles and made it a point for myself to choose gratitude over anything else.

In January, I loved and lost. I also got hired by Mini Monsters Ltd teaching little kids Malay speech and drama.

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In February, I turned 24. I also worked on The 24 Hour Selfie which was released on my birthday itself. Never did I realise it impacted so many people when in actual fact I just needed to distract myself from heartbreak but at the same time learn to use my new lens.

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In March, I officially launched my photography website where I dump all of my work for your viewing pleasure.

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In April, I headed for my first overseas assignment Down Under, in Perth, with ISHQ by Nora Zee. I cannot stop thanking the bride, Sadiyah, as well as Nora for the wonderful opportunity. The amount of faith they had in me when I was still pretty much a noob. A short crash course by a new mentor certainly helped a lot with this assignment.

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In May, I headed to Krabi with my mother. It was the first trip out of the country that I brought my mother to all on my own.

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In June, I had assistants shooting with me and for me during wedding assignments. Kinda felt good to be a bit of a boss, I suppose?

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In July, it was pretty much Ramadhan and Eid. And I had my darling Ikea and Harry Potter buddy Maisarah back in Singapore with me.

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In August, I wrote this article on The Shawl Label.

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In September, I went to KL for a food fiesta with my darling Shireen.

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In October, I became a bridesmaid for the second time this year. This time it was my good friend Aisyah Manab aka Manab who got hitched to the love of her life. Photo credits to Abang Rizal from Tru My Lens.

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In November, I travelled to Siam Reap, Cambodia with Nani. Turns out she’s an awesome travel partner. Now to find one for life. Haha.

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In December, I’m packed for back to back weddings. So here’s a sneak from one of the weddings I shot.

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I’m excited for 2015. Here’s to new adventures and exciting times ahead! Happy New Year everyone!!

Beef Stew with Focaccia

It’s day 9 of Ramadhan and somehow I’ve taken over my mum’s kitchen for good. I’m enjoying this gap year very much – taking photos, cooking, experimenting with new recipes, traveling – basically doing a lot of what I love. I’ve lasted seven months of freelancing thus far and life seems great right now. Alhamdulillah, the doors of rizq (wealth/earnings – there doesn’t seem to be an apt English word for it) are always open. I cannot thank Him enough for His bountiful blessings on me and my family.

I have been cooking a lot this Ramadhan, except for the days I am forced to iftar outside, I’m practically in the kitchen. It helps that HalalFoodHunt lets me hone my photography skills and develop recipes from the comforts of my home. If you’re wondering what this HalalFoodHunt is, click on it and check it out. You won’t regret it, well, unless you’re still fasting at this time of the day ’cause all you’ll see are food, food and more food.

This is my first time making this stew, and I’m pretty stoked by the results. I read up on a few recipes, mainly Jamie Oliver’s, Nigella as well as At Home with Magnolia Bakery. Since I’ve been under-utilizing my cookbooks, I forced myself to use the one from Magnolia Bakery. I altered the recipe here and there in terms of method but the ingredients are pretty much the same. The recipe calls for red wine but for obvious reasons, I switched it with chicken stock instead. I served the stew with some homemade focaccia bread and they were a hit with my mum and brother. Speaking of which, I think I’ll put up the recipe for the focaccia up soon.

Beef Stew (Adapted from At Home with Magnolia)

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Ingredients:

4 tablespoons olive oil

One large red onion, diced

Three shallots, finely sliced

Half a knob of garlic, chopped

300g premium beef, cubed

2 heap tablespoons of plain flour

1 tablespoon of paprika

Salt and pepper to taste

One carrot, diced

One celery stick, diced

One can of chopped pomodoro tomatoes

One tablespoon tomato paste

One cube of chicken stock

Three medium sized russet potatoes, cut into chunks

 

Method:

  1. In a deep pot, heat up oil on a medium heat.
  2. Sautee onion and shallots till fragrant. Add in garlic.
  3. In a bowl, rub in flour, paprika, salt and pepper with the meat. Ensure all of the meat is coated.
  4. Add in the meat with all of the remaining flour mixture into the pot. Fry all sides of the meat.
  5. After the meat has browned, add in carrots and celery, and mix well.
  6. Add in tomatoes, tomato paste, chicken stock, and 2 cups of water into the pot.
  7. Simmer on low heat for 2 hours, remember to stir constantly.
  8. Add in potatoes and continue to cook for another half and hour, stirring every now and then.
  9. Serve with bread or on a bed of rice.

 

 

Being the Shams

The past three months has been nothing but exciting and adventurous. I ended 2013 with a crazy trip to Europe and the possibility of a new start in life – a new job, a new love and a new Shams.

But 2014 began and it was just a new Shams.

I ditched the idea of getting full-time employment and got ditched by the almost new love. But there I was, standing alone as the new Shams. A Shams who embraces change and the fluidity of life. A Shams who understands whatever she plans is only subject to the plans of her Creator. A Shams who has only faith and faith alone to live her life. A Shams who is patient when she is being tested. And a Shams who tries her best to see the good in people – even those who had hurt her.

And everyday, I am learning more about this new Shams inside of me.

In life, you are either Rumi waiting for Shams to make an appearance in your life, or you are the Shams to someone else’s life.

That was what I learnt during the book club reading of Forty Rules of Love. I guess it’s just timely that I embody the true meaning of my name – Sun in the House. I’ll be the sun to someone else’s life even though at times I really wish I could seek shelter for myself.

Cafe Hopping: Wheeler’s Yard

Wheeler’s Yard is the new kid on the block with regards to Singapore’s new hipster cafe scene. I’m not too sure when this cafe opened but when I first stepped afoot there last month, I was blown away by its size, location and comfort. It’s actually a huge warehouse and the cafe functions as a bicycle shop as well. There’s plenty of space, so you don’t have to worry about not getting a seat or having to be on a waiting list. Parking lots, however, is limited so you might have to park your cars at the HDB parking nearby.

The first time I was at Wheeler’s Yard, I had the espresso shot. They didn’t have Americano (beats me why they didn’t have it on the menu), so I couldn’t judge the quality of the coffee fairly. When I cafe hop, I use the Americano as quality control. I do have to admit, the espresso was strong enough to keep me up a bit later than my usual bed time.

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The menu, however, was very limited. You would think that a cafe with such an enormous space would have fancy and unique things on the menu, but not so for Wheeler’s Yard. The coffee menu was limited to espresso shots, latte and cappuccino. They do have umm a $4 milk on the menu, as well as hot chocolate and sodas and teas – oh not forgetting beers. The only food I had was the nachos, and I must say they do a darn good nacho.

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As for the latte, I cannot say much because I have never been a fan of lattes, although latte art is beautiful. I didn’t want the espresso this time round so my friends and I went for the latte.

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Did I mention the place is exceptionally beautiful for a pre-wedding or wedding photo shoot? The space, high ceilings and warehouse vibes certainly did inspire me.

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Overall, I think Wheeler’s Yard is a great place for hanging out with friends, and just let the day pass by. I wouldn’t go back for coffee unless my friends do want to pay the place a visit.

Wheeler’s Yard

28 Lorong Ampas Singapore 328781
Phone: 62549128
Mon: 11:00 am – 8:00 pm
Wed – Sat: 11:00 am – 8:00 pm
Sun: 9:00 am – 8:00 pm
Website: https://www.facebook.com/wheelersyard

Meatless Monday #1: Teriyaki Tofu Noodles

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This is my first meatless Monday. It’s only 2pm and I’m already thinking of chicken wings, rendang and eggs. I’m gonna strive through the day without meat! Yes I will!

A lot of of my Instagram followers have been asking me for the recipe, so here it is! It’s the same as my teriyaki chicken noodles some time back. I really didn’t follow anyone’s recipe. I just campak-campak everything and cook. The taste turned out awesome though. Hehe.

1 serving of buckwheat noodles (got it at the Japanese section of NTUC Fairprice)
1 tau kwa (firm tofu)
1/2 cup broccoli, cut into bite size pieces
1 clove chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon of chopped ginger
2 tbspn teriyaki sauce
1 tspn sesame oil
1/4 cup water
1 tbspn extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Boil noodles in a pot for about 3-5 mins, till al dente. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a non stick pan, sauté garlic and ginger together till aromatic. Add in teriyaki sauce and sesame oil. Add in tofu and cook on both sides well. Add water and let it simmer for a while. Add in broccoli and let the broccoli cook.

Stir in noodles, salt, pepper and then served while hot with toasted sesame seeds and chopped parsley.

Blessed

It’s halfway through Ramadhan and I haven’t had a chance to write anything here. I’ve been rather busy with work, managing the house and other external commitments. It’s my first Ramadhan as a working adult, but I’m thankful for everything that has been bestowed upon me.

Ramadhan started with me finding out a friend of mine began fasting. And I think our friendship is slowly turning into a beautiful relationship. I’m pretty thankful for that.

My travel plans for December is almost concrete. I just need to wait for a few more kaching to be in before I purchase my flight out. I’m rather nervous because I will be traveling alone for pretty much three quarters of my journey. I need my travel game face on when I’m out there alone and make new friends easily. Hopefully, since I’ll be traveling for about 23 days this time round, I’ll make an extra effort to blog and upload photos on the go. My heart aches every time I have to go through the photos after I’ve completed my trip.

Till then, Ramadhan Kareem!

University of Life

Two days ago, on the second day of Ramadhan, I officially graduated from the National University of Singapore. My commencement ceremony is the day I’ve been waiting for since a year ago, because being horrible in Science forced me to take a module during the summer vacation last year, hence not allowing me to celebrate my graduation with my fellow class of 2012. The perks of waiting an entire year for my graduation is that I get to commence with my best friends, Hannah and Izzati.

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With my no 1 fan, Sorfina!

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Family photo!

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I did not force my brother to carry me. Really.

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My sister, my role model 🙂

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Best friends I could ever ask for!

This past year has been trying for me. I struggled with my new job, often argued with myself when it comes to planning for the future, and made and lost some friends along the way. Nevertheless, I strived on and began loving the job I’ve been blessed with, learning new things as I go along, and accepted reality when things didn’t go my way. Verily, Allah is the best of planners.

Inshallah, may the coming years as I enter the university of life be beneficial not just for me, but also for those around me.

Review: The Great Gastby

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I’m sure everyone is raving about the latest summer blockbuster – The Great Gatsby. Truth be told, I never intended to watch this movie until a friend of mine tweeted that it’s worth crying for. I love movies that make me cry. They make me feel human. Yes, I’m not shy of wearing my heart on my sleeve.

Through out the movie, I had questions that needed answering, but I silenced them out and sat till the end. This is one of the lucky movies I’ve watched before reading the book. I really want to read the book now that I’m done reading Dan Brown’s Inferno – of which I will discuss on another day.

As much as I would love to do a detailed analysis of the film just as how I wrote my Son of Babylon paper two years back, I don’t think it’ll be wise to do so now. I hate giving out spoilers so I shall give it a bit more time.

On a serious note, I think Gatsby is my new ideal man (minus his shenanigans). Move over Darcy!