Ramadan is a month in which Muslims around the world begin fasting from sunrise to sunset for a month. A typical Muslim would wake up for suhoor, a meal before fasting begins. This meal is recommended, even if it is just dates and water. Later, the Muslim would go about their typical day, work, school etc until it is time to break fast. Some would break fast at home, some would break fast, or iftar, at the mosque. Later, optional additional prayers are made after the compulsory night prayer, Isyak. These prayers are optional and is said to increase a Muslim’s reward in the afterlife.

However, abstaining from food and drinks are not the only things that are avoided during the fast. Muslims abstain from smoking and having sex. Other things such as intentionally vomiting also break the fast.

Ramadan marks the month that Allah, or God, gave the first chapters of the Quran which is the holy book in Islam. It is a month in which Muslims observe self-reflection and get closer to God. Fasting is not only a means to empathize with the poor, but is a form of commitment to God. Since this month is said to multiply any rewards associated with good deeds, Muslims are encouraged to do extra prayers, donate money for noble causes and help the poor.

Some people are exempted from observing the fast, such as those who are pregnant, menstruating, ill, traveling and frail.

Typically during Ramadan, I especially look forward to the community iftars and collective prayers. However, seeing that the stay-at-home orders continue, all mosques are closed and we have to stay inside and observe Ramadan indoors. All prayers and iftars will be observed with my roommate, who thankfully is here with me so I am not completely alone.

This Ramadan will certainly be a different one for me.


Some things to wish to your Muslim friends this Ramadan:

Ramadan Mubarak – Have a blessed Ramadan

Ramadan Kareem – May you have a generous Ramadan

(Image credits: Google Images)


Near but so far

As a result of staying at home all day, going out has felt rather strange. Walking to the post office to mail postcards home feels like uncharted territory… it feels almost illegal to be breathing outside air. Why is there no one everywhere?

Recently my watercolor class worked on landscape pictures around Ann Arbor. As I sifted through pictures of Ann Arbor I captured during spring break, I realized how different these places feel now that I haven’t seen them in so long. They almost feel unreal, like some other worldly place yet they are less than a mile away from my apartment.

Physically distancing ourselves can create another form of distance, emotional distance. Even though I live close to the Orion sculpture, I feel far from it. I look at it nostalgically, recalling the many moments I pass by going to the Union for lunch. Other memories flood into my mind, running for buses, braving the flurries during a storm, watching the Orion disappear for a few months as it was taken apart. And seeing it return.

I miss Ann Arbor and the people who bring it to life.

Below are a few pictures I took of Ann Arbor on film during spring break (Pentax K1000, KodakColorPlus200)

RM 1 for a doctor’s visit

I daydream of going home, where healthcare is universal.

Where I pay RM1 (USD 0.25) for a visit to the primary care doctor and RM5 for a referral to a specialist. A place where I don’t have to worry whether I should Uber to the ER or instead pay $500 for an ambulance. Health care is guaranteed and more importantly, shouldered by the government for each citizen. 

Last November, I ate with Mak Ngah (aunt in Malay) and her colleagues in New Jersey. She works for the Ministry of Health in Malaysia and is actively involved in the current pandemic. As I sat next to her eating microwaved briyani, she explained to me that her work is like the “FBI and CSI of outbreaks” in Malaysia. Then, her colleagues begin discuss about the epidemiology conference that they just attended. Things were normal. This was in 2019.

A month later, the outbreak in China begins.

Come March and April 202o.

14,000+ cases in Michigan. Malaysia on the other hand, a country twice the size of Michigan has 3,400+ cases. I’m not sure I have the words to express my shock that a developed nation, the self-proclaimed “greatest country in the world” has a sub-par healthcare system to Malaysia. I simply don’t. 

A few months ago I came to the ER department in Michigan Medicine. Though I was pleased by the service and excellent care, I balked at the cost of co-pay after insurance covered the ER visit. It was $75.

I could pay that. I’ll just have to take up an extra shift or two at work. Oh wait… the Uber was $19. Sigh.

Imagined if that happened this year when I automatically became unemployed. Gasp

What happens to the ones who can’t afford? Who lives and who dies? Who tells their story? I’m not going to claim that the healthcare system is perfect in Malaysia but the fact that I take it for granted  means that I am truly privileged to be doing so. It is an afterthought. I would have never in a million years guessed that my right to heal is a luxury.

Two years ago, I returned to Malaysia for an internship and upon knowing I needed to go to the doctor, I fretted about paying another $75 until my friend simply reassured me saying “Sarah, going to the doctor is RM1 here lah”. 

It’s just one ringgit.

(Credits: Mak Ngah, Hamilton Musical lyrics.// Image credits: Google Images)


Batik is an Indonesian technique of applying wax-resist dying on cloth. This technique is originally from Java, Indonesia although it has many roots elsewhere. It is usually drawn using the spouted tool on the left which is filled with wax. This method is called canting (pronounced as chanting). The other method is by printing using a copper stamp called cap (pronounced as chup).

Although Malaysia also has batik, the art form is most developed in Indonesia. Batik cloths or kain batik is used to make outfits such as shirts, skirts, matching top and bottoms and are even used in loose form such as table covers and as sarungs (now you know that is a Malay word) which is a loose wraparound tied to the waist. Other interesting uses include using the cloth as a bed sheet protector to prevent leaks during menstruation, as slings to carry babies, present wrappers and even occasionally made as a hat. When I was at school, almost every girl I knew owned at least one kain batik to use as a sarung or for menstruation purposes.

In Malaysia, batik motifs rarely depict animals or humans because Islam forbids animal images as decoration. Butterflies are an exception however. Malaysian batik is also more vibrant and uses different methods to draw its designs.

Interestingly, batik is also produced in Africa. This is because batik can be traced back to when the Egyptians embalmed mummies and the linen was dipped in wax and scratched with a stylus. Nelson Mandela was noted to wear African batiks frequently to his business and political meetings. Because of this, he became a fashion icon and was considered brave for wearing batiks everywhere whereas other leaders opt for the traditional Western attire.

Other batik influences include Japanese, Chinese, Sri Lankan and Indian motifs.

If you are interested in batik, you can purchase them over Etsy in loose form as sarungs. 

Chinese batik art works

(Credits: Wikipedia, Image source: Google Images)

Fun Facts About Van Gogh

1. His most famous painting, the Starry Night was completed when he was residing in an asylum. He admitted himself in there and was recuperating from a nervous breakdown. He never thought the painting was any good.

2. He completed about 21,000 paintings in his lifetime.

3. He cut his ear lobe off when he was arguing with a fellow painter, Gaugin. It was rumored that he took the dismembered earlobe to a local brothel and offered it as a gift to a prostitute.

4. He was inspired by the East, particularly a Japanese woodblock prints. He even made a replica of one of these woodblock prints.

5. His first painting was when he was 27, a relatively late age. He is largely self-taught.

6. His life is docume=nted through the many letters he wrote. He wrote to his brother, his friend, Paul Gaugin. Some interesting quotes from his letters are ” if one were to say but few words, though ones with meanings, one would do better than to say many that were only empty sounds, and just as easy to utter as they were of little use” and “Well, then, what can I say; does what goes on inside show on the outside? Someone has a great fire in his soul and nobody ever comes to warm themselves at it, and passer-by see nothing but a little smoke at the top of the chimney and then go on their way. So now what are we to do, keep this fire alive inside, have salt in ourselves, wait patiently, but with how much patience, await the hour, I say, when whoever wants to, will come and sit down there, will stay there, for all I know?” . 

6. He committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest. His mental health had deteriorated badly. After he shot himself, he managed to walk back to his residence where he was treated by 2 doctors. He died of infection two days later. His last words were “the sadness will last forever”. 

After he cut off his ear lobe

(Image credits: Google Images)