Have a fabulous 2012


Gaga: Rest in Peace (b.2002 - d.2010)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Famous Spots to Spend New Year's Eve in Seoul??

Seoul in particular and South Korea in general is a nice place to spend a New Year's Eve because the government of South Korea takes special measures to make it a wonderful and memorable day for all. Hundreds of free events, concerts, special dinner tables at Top Hotels and firework displays are all around the city and one such Fire Work Display is at Han River - the same spot as before here.

Traditionally Koreans go to small islands such as Khoje-do or Ganghwa-do etc. (check this list of 30 plus islands where you can see the sunrise and enjoy breathtaking scenes) to witness the sunset and spend night there and then witness the first sunrise. They have a breakfast of Ttoekkuk (Rice cake noodles) and they believe that doing so will bring good-luck to them!

If you don't want all that hassle then you can simply go to Jongnu where we have Jogya Temple and very close to it is Insa-dong (definitely visit Jongno's official page)and see the display of Bosingak or Ringing of the Bell Ceremony at midnight sharp, in attendance are the headmonk of Won- Buddhism and the President of South Korea and thousands of people. Special subways run late in the hours. This is also a venue for open concerts and many other events. It is worth spending a very cold but otherwise warm and exciting evening.

Ritz Carlton has a very fantastic concert every year so check that out too. DJs from around the world heads to Seoul so one call Seoul Global Center for more information. Seoul Global Village Help Centers also organize many events.

A concert is also organized at Samcheonggak- with a beautiful venue to look at Seoul's dusk and dawn on Dec.31st, 2011.

If you are at the Namsan Tower, you can enjoy several firework shows all over the city at the same time such as at Han Bridges, Seoul Plaza and also at the Yongsan Base etc.

You can take a Night ride of the Seoul Tour Bus and see how the city is decorated.
A lot of people like to cover, Hongik, Itaewon, Apgujeon and Gangnam - the same night so that they do NOT miss a thing anywhere. Try to use public transport to avoid traffic jams.

2012 is the year of the Dragon and some in my family will welcome this year more than others because they were born in the year of Dragon which is going to be back 12 years later, it signifies enlightenment, happiness, self-sufficiency and success.
I hope that this year brings the good things of life & particularly health, prosperity and peace of mind!

새해 복 많이 받으세요! 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

25th December's Importance!

When we were growing up in Pakistan, we learned from home about respecting all different religions and hence, I witnessed cooking special food and praying "special prayers (nawafil)" on this day at home. I am utterly thankful to my parents that they provided us an atmosphere where we learned to love and respect people without ever thinking what ideological or religious affiliations they have had or what social strata they belonged to and it stayed with us until today...

Those days are gone and its  not just being nostalgic about 'my times' as a kid but really the differences are unfortunately alarming. I was shocked yesterday when a 5 or 6 year old girl asked me what my sect is??
I told her that I am a muslim only without a sect which puzzled her and she stared at me like a monkey rapidly blinking her eyes! I found out that she is the daughter of a moazzan of our neighborhood mosque .This girl must have heard these discussions at home and so my concern is shall we NOT cleanse our clergy and  'educate the moazzans and the khateebs first' and not to indulge in sectarianism??? I was given a reply that the girl was: "just a kid and I must ignore" and my reply was: reaaaaaaaally, if so, Pakistan ka Allah He Hafiz!!!!!

Today, I wish people a very Merry Christmas (which is an annual commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ (Esa (peace be on him) also Isiah in Islam) whom many have no clue that people of the Islamic faith also considers as one of the most important prophets.

25th December is also the birth anniversary of the founder of Pakistan: Quaid e Azam.

Today is also the birthday of my mom!

One more thing that happened today is Imran Khan's rally and I only wanted one thing - a rally without chairs but again, there were chairs (60,000 for families which means that we will never learn from our mistakes) and I will never understand why in Pakistan there is a culture of chairs in political rallies because I have seen that in the US, France, Japan and South Korea - no political rally has chairs!!!! Why do we????

I am very unhappy with the performance of Salman Ahmad of Junoon at Imran Khan's rally- it was very lame as he lip-synced on Ali Azmat's song NOT even lip-synced his own song - shamless guy who is here to fool Pakistan - like many others & got away with it. Crowds should have booed him but we are such a naive nation which never protested on what should be strongly protested upon. We in Pakistan are also living in a culture of live performances and Salman Ahmad proudly calls himself an American Pakistani - at least he should have learned the ethics of musical live performances from his country of residence! He left a bad taste in my mouth!

On a final note for the day: I hope that in Pakistan we learn to respect humanity and tolerance which is also the main message of Islam. Humanity and tolerance is the rule of sanity which of course does NOT  exist in Pakistan. We have lost all moral and ethical values at a rapid pace in a little over a decade and have become extremely violent, disrespectful, corrupt, dishonest nation of the world. I feel sorry about Jinnah's Pakistan but hopelessness is a sin and so I expect a better Pakistan some day!

Here is a Reply to ALIVE 's COMMENT' below !
(my comments section of this post has an error, could NOT fix it, sorry about it)!

@ Alive: Thank you for your very comprehensive reply, I really appreciate that!

You wrote that Muslims have lived without any major violent clashes amongst themselves however, in the pre-modern and modern history of the Muslim countries, it otherwise. Millions of Muslims have been slaughtered within the Muslim countries for the mere fact of having had different sects or ideologies by the ruling elites. If we say that, conditions were NOT violent then we are belittling the sacrifice of all those who lost their lives.
As far as Pakistan’s sectarian violence is concerned, I agree with you for the most part.
You said that “… A common man will seldom talk about sects unless you urge him to …”  in today’s Pakistan, a common man is more than concerned about sects than ever before BUT the counter measures you mentioned are an efficient method to deal with it, no doubt!
Last but not the least, I am with you and pray that Pakistan, despite all odds, will become a progressive and vibrant country. It has a potential to stand with nations such as Singapore, Malaysia or South Korea but to get there, sacrifices have to be made, probably by indulging in “Jihad bin Nafs” ( Jihad against your self). After all, WE ( the people) have to pull ourself  out insead of watching ourself going down passively.

Dated: 13th Jan. 2012

Monday, December 19, 2011

Year in Review: 2

Port of Spain is a beautiful city and has really beautiful morning skies. During my visit, the worst that can happen was losing photos of the entire stay including that of a Carnival. Before my flight, I picked up my camera in really earning morning hours and started shooting whatever time left before heading for the airport. All these pictures were taken between 5:00 a.m to 7:00 a.m. It was really dark until I reached Piarco Intl. Airport and took a few final shots in proper light. It is my desire to visit Port of Spain once more to highlight its energetic and very friendly people alongside beautiful landscape.

At the Piarco Intl. Airport, Trinidad, West Indies. Almost all flights were 3 or 4 hours late and that was my first time ever to experience a flight delay. It sucks because if I had known that, I would never had made it on time and would have taken a few more shots of the city (all I needed was 2 hours whereas our flight was 3 hours late). The attendants for the elderly and the disabled people were "extremely rude" and need to behave otherwise, they should be fired right away! Trinidad and Tobago has a high rate of joblessness and they can find excellent replacements to work at the airport. On the other hand, attendants and all the staff at Hilton was excellent which shows that there is no dearth of good and professional people around!

The photos above were taken at Hilton in Port of Spain. The beds were veeery uncomfortable and were too high. Not every guest is 180cm or 6 feet tall, moreover, have they ever thought of the guests who are old and frail??? I really doubt it. In addition, there are only 2 rooms reserved for the disabled and senior people- why?? Hilton TT, please look into these issues!

I loved the idea that all the light posts have nice maxims hanging all over the city. Nobody can escape reading them and it is fun.

The newly built Performing Arts Center.

Mosque of Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago and right across from it is a Synaegog

These were the pictures I took in the morning hours when the light was quite bad however, they are my only recorded memories of Trinidad and Tobago - unfortunately.

I loved the traditional architecture of the houses in Port of Spain - a lot of fine woodwork, arches and colors used make them one of the most unique features of the city. Newer homes are more regular with loads of concrete, no character and definitely nothing esthetic except that a lot of money has been spent of them...such as the house that belongs to Brian Lara, the star cricketer, its a huge but a usual house that one can see almost in every other country. I loved the real, original arcitecture and the techniques used in houses in Port of Spain.

The interior of Carribean Airways is one of the brightest and the best a plane can have.....I loved green and blue that they use as seat covers...airhostesses were so really nice!!!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Year in Review: 1

This Bundang area is an all-time favourite for mountain biking and long- distance cycling. Weekends kicks off with all sorts of bikers in this area, which is indeed one of the best scenic places in greater-Seoul area.

This place has natural lakes, fields, mountains and hills, very less traffic and alot of wildlife.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Islamabad: A Capital for Refugees!

My father was posted to Islamabad in early 1960s when all the ministries were shifted in this newly built administrative capital  of Pakistan from its original capital Karachi. We have witnessed it evolving into one of the fastest growing cities here which was once an abode of people who used to work either for the federal government or for the foreign missions in Pakistan. Almost everybody knew everybody else and this is a proof of how small this place actually was.

In late 1970s and early 1980, with Ziaul Haq in power, we saw hoards of Afghan refugees in Islamabad. The theme was generosity and hospitality of the Pakistan government towards the people in war torn Afghanistan. Refugees in Islamabad were those with money and power back home. They simply changed the landscape of Islamabad. Sectors such as G-8 and G-9 were pested with Afghan refugees and G-9/4 can be rightly called the "Little Kabul" in Islamabad. They had their schools, clinics, businesses and community centers there and 70% of the residents were Afghans. They were among the most prosperous business owners of Islamabad and had their businesses in 'the most expensive' commercial areas. These people have NOT been repatriated back and Pakistan has failed miserably on its policy related to refugees which has taken a toll on Pakistani masses.

With its own out-of-control population - Pakistan never have had enough of refugees at the expense of the welfare of its own people. A logic hard to understand. We had a fair share of more than 3.5 million Afghans refugees according to the UN estimates but there is likelihood that the numbers were much higher because Pak-Afghan border which is 2,430 km long was always porous. Only in Islamabad at a certain point their numbers reached 300,000. In Islamabad-Rawalpindi region alone, there numbers reached more than half a million. There were more Afghans than Pakistanies at one point in certain sectors in Islamabad like the infamous "Peshawar Moor" (G-9/4) - the Afghan Hub. Many of the apartments whether government or private were rented out to Afghans because they were willing to pay whatever prices and were ready to live in really small /cramped "one-room setups" while sharing kitchen and toilet. A family usually comprised of of 8 or 9 people. It has been reported that one person used to hire a place and then sublet it to a number of families - room by room and the trick was and still is: they call themselves joint family. The Afghans and the local populace have never had good relations. Afghans are extremely disrespectful of Pakistanies - most of the time. It has been 32 years when the first batch came to Pakistan and now their second and at times third generations have grown up here. According to the UNCHR, NWFP has about 2 million Afghans, Baluchistan about 800,000 and Islamabad 50,000 ( which is a misleading number) and details can be seen here.

In mid 1990s and by 2000, these people have moved to the sectors F-10 and F-11 but honestly, their presence is felt everywhere. I have heard that huge communities of Afghans are living in an area called "Sadiqabad" of Rawalpindi - a twin city of Islamabad. Even within Afghan people we have those who are ethnically Pashtuns (they are usually poor and are found in the refugee camps) and then Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks (the wealthier Afghans).

The story of these refugees does NOT seem to end - government of Pakistan has failed to come up with "any" policies in collaboration with UNHCR and the Afghan government to repatriate these millions and millions back to their country - which need them more. Landlocked Afghanistan is equally a major player in what ails Pakistan today. Smuggling of both food and weapons as well as drug trafficking routes and channels criss-cross Pakistan from Northern and Western borders.

Pakistan is one of the leading countries involved in all sorts of human trafficking of not just Pakistanies but it serves as a transit country for illegal foreigners as well. The destinations are diverse. They have an easy access to 'good-to-go' forged papers such as fake Pakistani National Identity Cards and passports - thanks to the corruption in Pakistan and particularly at the Passport and Immigration offices of Pakistan under the auspices of Ministry of Interior.

The story doesn't end with Afghan refugees because in 1990s, we also saw a huge numbers of Arabs, Somalis and Sundanese in Islamabad. In mid 1990s, Pakistan brought refugees from Bosnia Herzegovina and one could see them in government hospitals (PIMS) frequently. I have to stress that the fault lies in the policies of Pakistan with respect to the number of refugees flowing in the country and one of the catalyst is the thriving corruption to the core of Pakistani society as well. I will NOT hold any of these communities responsible because they have succeeded due to the loopholes in our system.

Right from the beginning, Pakistan was unable to confine them in specific areas as the rule goes in all other countries. We have Iran as an example but in Pakistan they were free to move any where and these Afghans are everywhere - WHY???

WE NEVER FORESEE the effects of these people on our fragile economy and became silent observers to how jobs shifted to these refugees from our people.

We never cared as to how their presence affected the natural resources as well as the environment in general.

Provincial governments of Baluchistan and NWFP have given various warning on how likely is the possibility of outbreak of various diseases such as Congo Hemorrhage Fever and malaria over and over again.

How Pakistan has put in jeopardy the the well-being of its local people and that of the ecosystem?

What made us stuck with short term unrealistic goals and poor policies?

What were the effects on our culture and society per se. because of these refugees?

Are they NEVER gonna leave???

We are becoming another Afghanistan -  we are compared with them more often than not which is  very alarming. We should bring our own house in order rather than worrying about the entire world. We should worry about our own people, people of Pakistan - rather than inviting the world's entire refugees here. We are NOT doing any service in any way. I think we have to rethink that Persian proverb: "Kerdan  Sud Aib, Na Kerdan yuk Aib". We should learn to say "NO"!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Pakistan's National Anthem: Qaumi Tarana

After watching a video here, I though I should do a post on Pakistan's National Anthem.

Pakistan's National Anthem (Qaumi Tarana) is almost entirely in Persian except the connecting word "ka" and hence, it is extremely difficult for the general public to memorize it and even if people do memorize it they forget it easily because they don't know what it means, word for word. It has been a common experience that most of the Pakistanies  mix-up the versus of our Tarana. I have to admit that no matter what, we can NOT justify - not knowing the country's National Anthem.

The lyrics of Pakistan's national anthem are from Hafeez Jallundhri and the compostion was done by Ahmed Ghulamali Chagala (whose sons' website is a good source of information and can be visited here).

In another news report, even members of parliament - both national and  provincial assembly - were unable to do the task of reciting it (which should be made mandatory for them to learn by heart before taking oath) - which is shocking and sad!

One day, a group of friends hailing from different countries sat together and we shared the national anthems of each other and also shared our opinions, to my surprise, majority of students thought that Pakistani National Anthem's tune sounds "sad". I never looked at our anthem in this way. Many of the anthems compostions are not always music to the ears but still,  they have reasons to recognize it as the anthem's compostion. So it was a good learning process to hear what others had to say. I personally believe that anthems be such: that they facilitate people, they are easy to sing and to understand by the whole country despite of illiteracy or without having a beautiful voice besides the basic criteria of being motivational and that its poetry highlights the past, present and future of the people of the land etc.

Like all other issues, we are unable to have a decent discussion on any topic because we are now in a habit of regarding everything as: either against Islam or against Pakistan. People who tried to talk about issues were either punished by being shot dead, blown up or just had to leave Pakistan from time to time. This trend is quite alarming because we are turning into a stale, stagnant and a sick nation.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Picture of the Day: Gangwon-do

Pakistanies 2nd and Koreans Ranked 7th in TOEFL

A leading newspaper, Chosun Ilbo reported that Korea ranked seventh in Asia with 81 points after Singapore (98), the Philippines (88), Pakistan (88), Malaysia (88), Bangladesh (83) and Bhutan (82). It had the same average score as Hong Kong and did better than North Korea (78), Indonesia (78), China (77) and Japan (70).

Educational Testing Service, the company that administers the test, warns against generalizing from the average national scores as they can be deceptive.the privately administered English proficiency test is still widely used to evaluate applicants for American universities. It has four parts worth 30 points each.


After two years of hard work, the project was finalized and exhibited in Tel Aviv. The fabric used for this collection, the central motifs, are borrowed from Muslim and Jewish symbols. Artists who participated  also had a very mixed and interesting baggage to their backgrounds. Their main notion was: that Judaism and Islam can live side by side.

credits@ The New York Times.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Goddess of English

BBC is banned in Pakistan ( I'm not their fan) and for this mere fact I visited their website to see what's going on?

On their front page was a report: "An 'English goddess' for India's down-trodden", this was an interesting article about Dalits (formerly untouchables-are a 200 million strong - same as the population of entire Pakistan) who have made a temple to worship the Goddess of the English Language (Angrezi Devi Maiyaa Ki) , which they believe will help them climb up the social and economic ladder. They are concerned that in 20 years, no job would go to anyone who doesn't know English.

The Indian Sub-continent was colonized by the British and therefore, English language was considered as a symbol of empowerment and modernity. Though these colonizers left us but English stayed on and played a key role in the lives of its populace until today. Status of English Language Education within our educational system created a class-divide. Over the years, this class-divide has created a very charged and polarized society to whom democracy, social justice or development means entirely different things.

While reading this article, I was equally concerned about the education for masses ( in government schools) in Pakistan that is anything but a joke and has deteriorated in the last decade or two. It is not that parents in Pakistan are not interested in educating their children or all teachers are insincere to their profession but the reality is that they have even risked their lives or have sold their internal organs like kidneys to pay for their children's educations.

We also have examples of  brave parents, brave teachers and brave students -  defying Taliban in some areas and that means challenging death. Despite all odds, nothing could deter the people to stop sending their children to schools in Pakistan. We have precedents such as firing on and hijacking of school buses and vans, grenade attacks, blowing up of schools, bomb explosions outside school gates to name the few tragedies faced by our young students. Their dedication and passion for getting education is examplary. No wonder, they want to be the elements of change for a brighter and progressive Pakistan. Unfortunately, they are robbed in the name of education because Pakistan's Educational Policy (PEP) is more deadly than Taliban's attack on educational institutions. This policy is discriminatory and has always created a clear divide between the rich and the poor and served the one percent against the 99 percent.

In Korea and Japan - all schools have same standarized syllabus, same examination paper to attempt and only one educational system for all under their respective laws. Sons and daughters of the emperors, kings, presidents and prime ministers all have to go to the same public schools.  No private schools are allowed in Korea and Japan. All the nationals (citizens) of Korea and Japan are ineligible to attend Embassy schools or International (Foreign) school for the expat community in their country. Moreover, education is given in Korean and Japanese languages in its entirety except for the subject English language. I also want to share that Japan is the second biggest economy and Korea is the 11 biggest economy of the world with very few people fluent in English so is there NOT a lot to learn from them?? In these countries everybody has to go through one school system - schools are highly competitive and try to maintain high standards despite rural -urban divide. Schools get incentives such as increase in their budget proposals and fundings IF their students TOP at the national level. Schools of any country mirror the future of a country and Korea and Japan have proved that.

It makes me crazy to see that our government is NOT doing enough to give Pakistani children equal opportunities like those for the wealthy. This is unfair, unjust and is a violation of their basic rights. In Pakistan good education, good English language education and Angrezi Medium School menia revolves around have and have-nots. In short, I will call it an educational genocide of the Pakistani children. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

World's HIV/AIDS Day and Pakistan

December 01, bring together people from around the world to create awareness about HIV/AIDS. According to WHO (World Health Organization), the theme from 2011 - 2015 will be: "Getting to Zero: zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS related deaths".
Accroding to the UN reports, Pakistan has 98,000 HIV/AIDS infected patients but the official numbers of Pakistan government states that 4,000 people are infected. I remember that the first HIV/AIDS infected woman's story was covered in 1984 in the widely circulated Jang Group of News. The woman who contracted HIV/AIDS from her husband ( a migrant worker from Pakistan), was thrown in Jail in solitary confinement.

HIV/AIDS in Pakistan goes unreported because of many social taboos associated with the disease. It is widely believed that HIV/AIDS reached Pakistan via migrant workers in overseas countries who contracted HIV/AIDS due to unprotected sexual contact (both homosexual and hetro sexual)* while living overseas. When these men returned to Pakistan (who got married or were already married ), they transmitted AIDS to their wives.  Other important source of spread of HIV/ AIDS in Pakistan include the blood transfusions and inoculation practices, unsafe use of needles in formal and informal healthcare sectors, contaminated sygringes, paid blood donars, engaging in high-risk practices and low levels of public awareness about HIV/AIDS.

In another study high rate of both internal (rural to urban) and external (overseas) migration in Pakistan are exposing men in blue collar jobs to HIV/AIDS (as they have casual sex relations to commercial sex workers). For details read this very comprehensive paper here.

Pakistan’s successive governments have discouraged publicity campaigns to raise awareness about contraception. Hence, the use of barrier methods in sexual intercourse, including condoms, is unfamiliar to the vast majority of the population.

In Pakistan, HIV/AIDS. is a hush hush issue. I have never seen a public campaign on TV about it. Our TV screens are adorned with all sort of usless and messageless programs that either provocate or sensationalize 'non-issues' but they hardly focus of 'real issues' Pakistan is facing today...the MOST POWERFUL meduim that has totally failed to educate people today. On the other hand, I am pretty sure that the HIV/AIDS patients must be humiliated and treated as criminal in this country rather than someone to sympathize with.

There is a common assumption that we Pakistanies will NOT have HIV/AIDS for the mere fact that we belong to an Islamic society or we are muslims at large...but how much have we absorbed from the basic teachings of Islam in any other aspect? Extra marital or pre-marital sex is not allowed in Islam and hence, not enough efforts have been made for the awareness on such a serious issue and accomplices include: political, educational and religious leaders in Pakistan. Today, we are plagued with many evils which we used to associate 'only with the West' or 'non-muslim countries' and if the attitude will NOT change , this continious denial will snowball into an uncontrolable problem.