Monday, July 22, 2013

Thank God for the boys

July will always be special for me. After all, July is the month the two boys were born. And even though they were born in the same month, they did not share the same zodiac sign; as such they have very different personalities and traits too. But luckily, they got a long just fine. Complementary traits, I guess.

I could not ask for better kids. I am not saying it for the sake of saying it. I am really glad they have not been too challenging for me. They have their strength, and shortcomings, definitely.

No doubt they were not straight A's materials academically - neither was I during my days. Perhaps they will not accumulate enough A's at SPM level, even if their lives were to depend on it. But I'd like to believe that life does not depend on the no of A's you have on your certificates.

I should know. I have seen enough straight A's students 20-30 years later. They became normal. In fact many a times, I don't have to wait that long. They became normal again at the university level.

University of life is a great leveler, so to speak.

Work hard by all means, try your best - be it in school or at work. But in the end, in the end, you must enjoy what one does, and you will prosper with His grace. Getting a string of A's would look great on paper, but if you did it by memorizing, and not understanding your subjects, it will be useless.

I don't believe in straight A's anymore, so my excuse would be that I did not push them hard enough for them to get straight A's. On purpose. Hahaha, whatever, you would say.

I digress again. Both of them have one trait that I like - diligent and hardworking. It will take you to anywhere.

Oh is that two traits? Whatever lah!
Arif was born on July 16, twenty two years ago.
I had to wait for sometimes for Arif's arrival. Obviously, we weren't expecting one too early or during the first year, but after te subsequent two year, we were kind of anxiously waiting, so we were relieved when he eventually arrived. Born in Kuantan Pahang, since it was the nearest biggest town to Kerteh/Dungun. We could have made him a 'wang ihsan' child if we were to choose a hospital in K Terengganu, but I guess back then facilities were a tad better in Kuantan than in Kuala Terengganu.

So I guess he shared the same birth state as his mother, despite the two town being the furthest apart in the state of Pahang (Kuantan and Cameron Highland).

He did spent sometimes in Dungun before moving to KL, so I guess he must have gotten his liking for leko by virtue in the land of keropoks.
Akmal on the other hand was born on July 25, nineteen years ago
Akmal, on the other hand, was born 3 years after his brother, this time in Melaka. I was then working at an oil installation in Melaka, but he did not live there long as soon after he was born, we moved to Johor Bahru as I got myself a job in Singapore.

So the two of them spent some time in Johor Bahru, growing up at Jalan Petri.

I would always associate their arrival with the expansion of my career. Immediately after Arif's arrival, I moved to KL, and started my jet-setting days to Tokyo, and London. Glamourest, right? London Ontario lah!

Immediately after Akmal's arrival, I moved to Singapore, a place many of us Malays would dread going to.

Rezeki anak-anak, I guess. Alhamdulillah.

After about two years in Singapore, we moved back to KL, bringing the office with us to set up the KL office, and a few years later, we moved to Houston. Which was something I'd been looking forward to, just to give the boys a taste of life overseas like what I had experienced when I was 18.

Life was moving too fast then for me. And them.

The boys in front of our apartment in League City, 10 mins from NASA Space Center Houston. They were about 7 and 4 by this time respectively.
Obviously, they cherished their lives in Houston. Great apartment, great food, and great schools. The apartment we had was only 10 mins from NASA Space Center, as my office then was at 1110 NASA Road 1.

I chose the apartment facing a canal, so it was a tranquil setting. I then had a high taste of living. Why not? The office was paying for my rent and it did not cost them a bomb anyway. Properties was reasonably cheap then (gasoline was priced at US$0.75 a gallon during that time). Occasionally you will get the boat docked at the jetty, and we can go fishing with the kids, though a permit would be required. We managed to catch a crab which was released back.
Waiting for their yellow buses. They had to go two different schools.
School was something they have enjoyed, while living in Texas. Everything about school there was free. Free bus ride to and from school, free meals and free books. Well everything is about play learning I guess, so books was not really needed. Akmal attended pre-K (pre-Kindergarten) as he was only four years old, and while Arif could have attended Year 2, we decided to put him in Year 1.

Here we are talking about a non-Muslim country if I may term USA in that manner, but they treated their children, including mine, much better than we would treat our own chlildren in Malaysia, and yet we pride ourselves as being an Islamic country, whatever that means.

Akmal with his teacher Mrs Whitworth in their classroom
Obviously, none of them knew much English since their mom would only speak BM to them. But I have checked with Arif's teachers. She told me that he has friends at school and that he has no problem communicating with his friends. I am sure he has had a good time.

I think schools in the States are fun. They do a lot of creative work, something I would not be able to think of myself, and they brought home all kind of handy works from school. They would bring all kind of things that they made at school.
Arif with his teacher at Ferguson Elementary, League City
Akmal with his fellow Pre-K colleagues in 1999; he is on the left
They weren't too keen to return and found school a chore here in Malaysia. School was airconditioned in Houston, while here it was the fan blowing hot air around. The teachers were so supportive, and loving there, while here teachers had their hands full and would not hesitate to shout or use the cane. Too readily.

Arif upon our returning to KL, at home after a few months struggling to find his footing, asked, "Abah, why schools in Houston are so nice, but in Malaysia, they are terrible while KLIA is so nice but the Houston Airport is terrible?"

I guess we got the priority wrong.

And one day Akmal, out of the blue, asked me if he could learn the piano. I had no clue as to why he would asked me that. I did not pester him. And his brother Arif wanted to learn the violin.

So I told the two of them to learn the piano first.

That's how I got two pianists at home. For years, they would pound on the cheap keyboard and then an old piano; and for years, they did not complain.

Arif took piano like duck to water, and at the age of 14, he was already performing on stage of the Sedaya University in Cheras, and for FELDA HQ in KL. He was later on selected as Best (Music) Student in 2005 for his school.

Akmal was the slower of the two, which I believe lessen the pressure on him. Since Arif was the more proficient of the two, I seldom if ever would ask him to play a song for me. He would play the keyboard in his room or play the piano only when I was not around.

I guess with less pressure, he absorbed everything before him and eventually became better than his own brother at piano. He writes songs, composed, arranging and do all kind of wonderful stuff with them. I am really amazed with his talent, to be honest.

Something I had wanted to learn when I was a teen myself. But as I had written before, we had too many Simon Cowell in our midst in the 70s. You can read about him here.

Arif with Azie playing Careless Whisper. He was 14 at this time.

Music was not the only thing in their lives. They did enjoy the outdoor in the early years in their lives. Cycling was our favourite thing that we did together. I believe the pictures above and below were taken in 2002 when both of them were bothin primary school.

Otherwise it was the badminton in the small space we have on the side of our home. Enough for child play, I guess. And of course, ping pong in the porch.
Otherwise, indoor, they would be playing the monopoly together. We are a small family, I must admit. They have no one else but each other.

They do have cousins of course. Lots of them I guess. But not the yellow slimy and slithery thing, it is not! Hahaha.

The piano player playing the guitar?
Of course it would be blasphemous for him to play the guitar when he was so good with the piano, but well, his brother Arif plays two instruments, so he took up guitar. I guess, they can be competitive too, but in a good way.

Last day of practicing before his big day at ABRSM

He excelled while taking up classical guitar, so much so he was invited to play at the ABRSM High Scorers Concert in PJ hosted by ABRSM, as the only Malay student there. Never mind that I did get not straight A's SPM sons, but in them I got musically acclaimed ones.
The two brothers composing on their digital piano.
They certainly work well together. Akmal has a bit of an edge as he is not only a piano player, he writes his own songs too, including arranging the orchestra. Arif, on the other hand, is purely a player. Give him notes and he will perform for you.

But both are adamant not to make a career out of music. You can only plan so far. I did try to push them; even promising Akmal that I will send him to Berkley, provided that he qualifies, of course. I guess he knew better that their dad has no monies to let him schooled in the States. Obviously they would love to be back in the States.

So Akmal declined.
Akmal at Gua Hira
But they do know about their religious obligation. Akmal has competed his Quranic reading when he was at secondary school. He has done his umrah, and is due for another one soon. Perhaps haj when he completed his uni studies.

Arif went for his umrah on his own immediately after he graduated
The two brothers at our jungle in Ulu Langat
Why only two of them? Then I was hoping I would get a daughter obviously. Which father would not want one? But I guess since I have been awarded the two boys, I decided that they should be enough for me. I can't asked for another. I believe they complement each other and work well with one another. Three would be a crowd, I guess.

Since they are blessed with some musical talent, I have been asked numerous times if I have more at home. Many would try to make me feel guilty for not having more. They were asking if I could have an orchestra at home, I guess (compared to the olden days of wanting to have a football team at home!). Hahaha.

If I was any younger, may be.

Akmal being interviewed by RTM after his performance at Bakat TV in 2011.

The boys at Masjid Ihsaniah at Padang Asam in Kuala Kangsar
Arif at Tasik Bera
Akmal getting ready for his slot
Currently the highlight of Akmal's young life would be his performance at Nasik Lemak Kopi O at TV 9 in November of 2012. He performed four instrumental songs including his own composition which had been well received.

To my untrained mind, I think he can go far, if he wanted to. But only if he wanted to. That will be up to him. He has his own FB Page with over 3,000 fans, and his own Youtube channel, and some of his performances have garnered over 50,000 likes. For an instrumentalist, it is an achievement by itself, and that was recognized by TV9 when they invited him to perform live.

I love his composition, I really do. This comes not from a father's perspective but as someone who love music. You give him any song, and he will beautifully arrange it on the piano. His key selections are amazing and I would say much different from any other pianist.

It is soothing music from him, at times haunting.
The pianist waiting for his turn at TV9 studio
Arif on the other hand, while he is an accomplished pianist in his own way, has his own career in aviation. He now flies the US$70 million flying machine with 180 passengers each time, something his dad had been dreaming of when he was a kid himself.

Before that, he was flying the RM2,000.00 RC at Kota Damansara. He was a natural with the RC.
Arif in an Airbus A-320 simulator
I am happy to see their achievement in their young life. Bapak was not able to see the fruits of his labour, so to speak. He did not live to see any of his children graduating from university and work. So far, I have seen Arif starting his career and earning a living on his own, so I am grateful to Him.
A self portrait in his cockpit

Arif and the crew on his birthday last week.
The both of them are living my dreams, to be honest. I had wanted to learn an instrument, so I pounced on recorder and Yamaha organ (or the guitar when I was in MRSM) when I was younger, but to no avail, and I had wanted to be a pilot when I was a kid. Again, that did not materialize. They are what I had wanted myself to be, though I certainly would like to believe that I had done nothing to push (or pester) them to fulfill my dreams, other than fulfilling their own. I'd like to believe that I had only facilitated them, but not dictated to them on how they should lead their lives. I can't be sure of course that they are doing it for no one but for themselves, but I am pretty sure that that was the case.

Having said that, I think they have to look after each other. They are only the two of them, after all. Akmal is still in college and he needs to complete his degree, so in the event I am no longer around, then Arif would have to take charge, and make sure Akmal is successful in his academic pursuit. Then again, Akmal is a very independent and responsible person, so I would not bet against him taking charge of the family instead.

They still have a long way to go. I know that. But I do hope they will be able to reflect on their lives in the last 20 odd years, and use what they have experienced to their advantage. I may not be around to live or see them through, but I do hope that they will be more successful in life and have a more round life, so to speak.

Not just monetarily, but also spiritually.

Happy birthdays, Arif and Akmal.

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