How I Used to Spend My Free Time

My mom used to tell me how she used to play in sawah (rice fields) when she was a little kid and she always told me how during those times there were no such things as dolls or Barbie’s. Whenever I see small children playing with their parents’ phone or iPad, I smile. I see the same thing as what my mom saw. Oh how the world has dramatically changed! People of my generation didn’t have those gadgets or even computers to play with. We didn’t have internet or mobile phones. But still, we were happy. Probably even happier than today :P. This post is just to reminisce about the good old days before the social media- and gadget-era 🙂

How did I spend my free time?

Teddy Bear

My most favorite toy was definitely my teddy bear! He’s the only one I used to sleep with — I actually couldn’t sleep without him! LOL. I used to bring him everywhere I went. My parents told me I lost my teddy bear during 1990 Hajj. I fell ill because of it! (!!!) We still lived in Mekkah at that time and my dad had to go all the way to Jeddah to find a similar version of it. You couldn’t find any dolls in Mekkah at that time. He found a similar one and this was the one I still remember til this very day. I started to abandon my teddy bear as soon as my little brother, Aiman, was born. Not sure why! I think my mom threw away my teddy bear during the time we moved to a different house.

The brown teddy bear was my teddy bear! :)


Like any girls, I loved playing with Barbie. I didn’t have the original Barbie though. We couldn’t afford the original one, which was quite expensive, because I would buy more than one Barbie dolls. But still, I was happy enough to have those Barbie-looking dolls. My mom used to make some clothes for these dolls. I would play with them for hours! My childhood friend, Anne, would come to play with me (or I would come to her house to play with her original Barbie’s… hehehe).

Some parents refuse to buy Barbie for their children, because they’re afraid that their children will attempt to emulate her. As far as I remember, I didn’t have a slight attempt to imitate her. It never occurred to me that I would ever see her as a role model. I just loved playing with her. That’s all. Perhaps this was because I was not influenced by the image portrayed on TV. The only thing I watched on TV was Tom & Jerry and other animal or hero cartoons (which got nothing to do with beauty or anything like that). I rarely watched Disney princess-like movies (I watched them at my friend’s house. We didn’t have them at ours). I got a feeling that my parents discouraged having these Disney cartoons in our house. Looking back, I think it was one of the best decisions that my parents ever made.

I have to say, Saudi government also did a great job of selecting which cartoons were worth to be watched by children!!! (Note that we didn’t have satellite TV back then. So the only thing we watched was the two Saudi channels)


I used to build a big tent out of sheets of blankets inside my room (which was also my sister’s room too). I tied them by the door, on the chairs, desk, and on any strong objects I could find. My whole room was covered with these blankets — or tents — and I would pretend as if I was camping in a forest. I would bring my teddy bear, Barbie’s, and other dolls inside these tents. Sometimes my sister (who used to follow whatever I did) joined me. I loved playing the camping game! 😀 After the game, I had to tidy my room up and fold those blankets again, otherwise I would get into trouble 😛

Crystal Maze

The Crystal Maze was a popular British game show aired on Saudi Channel 2. It was one of my favorite TV shows at that time! It was very fun to watch each team playing various games in different settings (or so-called zones). The final challenge of the game was entering the Crystal Dome,  as shown in this picture:

The teams had to enter this big Crystal Dome to collect as many “gold tokens”. The tokens were made of foil and were blown around from the fan below the dome — and the team had to catch these tokens and collect a minimum number of tokens in order to win. Here’s the video if you want to have a look on how it actually works:

Inspired by this game, I recreated the “Crystal Dome”. Well, I didn’t create the Dome itself, of course. But I liked the idea of blowing the tokens and catching them as many as I could. So, when my friends came over, we used to play this game. We cut out papers to make them as big as a paper money. Then one of us would take turn of climbing on top of my wardrobe (which was quite high). The person who was on the top had to “blow” or throw these papers down. We also put a big fan so that they were blown. The rest of us had to collect them. The one who could collect the most was of course the winner! Hahahaha. Creative enough? 🙂

Riding a Bike

I used to ride my bike around the neighborhood where we used to live. I used to do that almost every afternoon after school. This was the time when I also played with other Arab neighbors. The thing I remember about them was that they always wanted to decide everything. They wanted to control everything. Other children had to follow their lead. It annoyed the hell out of me haha. Anyway, I stopped riding my bike right after a religious police screamed at me for not wearing an abaya. I think I was around 13-15 years old. Riding a bike with an abaya on is too troublesome. So I decided not to play outside the house anymore.


I had a cooking/kitchen set (as shown in the picture above) and I also loved playing with it. I wonder why cooking is not my favorite activities these days :P. Well, eating is!


Every weekend, my family and I used to go to Obhur (which is part of the Red Sea) to swim. Some of my childhood friends joined us too. We would stay there until the afternoon and had lunch together afterwards. When I got a little older, my dad became so busy that we didn’t have time to do it every weekend. So we would do it every year instead. We would rent a cottage for a night and stayed there. When I was in Junior High School, I used to also go to a women-only sport club nearby to swim with some friends. I did that every weekend and I loved it! I remember swimming was the only sport I enjoyed doing. Ever since I put on hijab, I became too lazy to swim despite the fact that I had a swimming pool in my apartment in Brisbane.


By the time I reached the age of 13, I no longer played the same game I used to play when I was much younger. So I tried to find something else to make myself entertained. I began doing a correspondence. The idea came from one of teen magazines (I think it was Anita magazine). I sent my profile to them and they published it on the correspondence section. I began receiving letters from people in Indonesia.

After some time, one of the penpals introduced me to a “worldwide” correspondence. The idea was that, she sent me a so-called penpal book. This small book was filled with names and addresses of people who had received it. The last person who got the book (who could fill it on the last page) had to return it back to the book’s owner. Those who filled the book were also allowed to send letters to some people in that book to make some friends. It was just a great idea :).

I had hundreds of penpals around the world by the time I was in Junior High School. It was really fun and it was really great to practice and improve my English. Every month I got at least 100 letters to be replied. I remember the person who worked at the post office looked always pissed off every time I went there. Because he knew I would cheat. I would put a 50 halalah (cents) stamp on each envelope, instead of a 100 halalah (or 1 Saudi Riyal). That’s one of the ways to reduce the expenses my dad had to endure for my correspondence activities. Sometimes I would ask some penpals to return my stamps, so that I could wash and reuse them again.

I stopped corresponding by the time I went to High School in Indonesia. I didn’t have much time to write anymore (as we had a 9am-to-10pm activity every day). I remember I still received some letters (delivered to my Saudi address) when I was in Australia!


My first exposure with a computer was when my dad first bought a PC with a DOS in it. I think it was around 1993. There were some games in it, but I didn’t remember playing them (or maybe I didn’t like them). I remember there was a Qur’an software which I used it to play some short Surahs. I memorized Surah Abasa from this software.

We got an Internet when I was in Junior High School (around 1997). I think I was one of the first few people in class who had an access to the Internet at that time. The first thing I did when I had an Internet access was to create a Yahoo! email (which I still use until today) and check out Leonardo DiCaprio’s and Mariah Carey’s websites!! LOL. I was a huge fan of them. I used to have their posters all over my room.

But Internet at that time was not too huge. I couldn’t do much with it anyway (slow dial-up connection, anyone?). All I could do was chatting or browsing. But it definitely didn’t take more than an hour. After few years of knowing the Internet, I had the opportunity to create my own personal website using Geocities. Creating a website has become my favorite thing ever since! I’ve been learning everything from scratch. From building it using Geocities’ web builder, Microsoft FrontPage editor, to manually writing HTML and CSS codes. From a static website to a dynamic one. Everything was self-taught!

Video Games

I didn’t have video games during my childhood. My parents never allowed my sister and I to have one (but somehow this rule was relaxed with my brother…). The only way I could play video games was in my friend Anne’s house. I used to play Nintendo’s Mario Bros and Sega’s Sonic. That only happened few times a month. Hehehe.

Oh the good old days!!! 🙂