Sunday, July 17, 2011

Updates, Orientations, Family, Love

Hey there, I rather like the introduction to have these themes in the title. Should I continue? Should I explain? Should I ask more questions of my limited audience?
Well, let's begin with Updates, as the title indicates. I'm here with my host family in my new home in Bangi, Malaysia. I'm very excited to be here, and I've been welcomed with open arms and big smiles. Let's go back- how did I get here? You can look up what happened before a few days ago in previous entries, but I'm starting on the 13th.
These are things I wrote at the noted times;

1:20 AM, 13 July 2011
After about 30 seconds of silent contemplation at these wee hours of the morning for me, I realize that silent contemplation isn’t what I need. Let’s call this my first entry of the blog that I’ll post this too later. Well, the first entry as an exchange student for real. This morning at about 6, Mom woke me up all gently and lovingly and told me that I needed to get up and greet some big adventure.
Going downstairs, I popped out my retainer and had some blueberry pancakes, which were very very yummy and made by Dad. Usually, I don’t take syrup on pancakes with anything on them, but the blueberries weren’t quite sweet enough. Too early in the season, I suppose. Then, after getting the bags into the car and making the boys presentable, Aunt Jeni picked up the boys and took them to her house, wishing me a last good luck. She also took some pictures, which I assume will make me look terrible because it was early and I don’t put on makeup when I fly.
Driving to the Airport was a bore. I felt like the whole thing was anticlimactic. Every little thing said would be remembered. Every review of the things I’d packed seemed so insignificant. Arriving at the airport, we parked in the little lot and shuffled inside. Getting up to the counter, there was a line forming. Fortunately, we were 3 hours early. It took about 2 of those hours to make it though the line because of intermittent power outages that stopped everything in its tracks, annoying everyone but us, because we kept making jokes about it. We checked in the bag to a fee of $25, something we had not anticipated. They changed the flight information on my boarding pass so it looked like my flight was boarding at 9:15 instead of 9:50, when it was supposed to. And I still needed to go through security. Rushing to the front of the line, Mom and Dad stopped me because they couldn’t get the passes to see me to the gate. This was goodbye for a very long time, and this was the time to say it. We hugged and kissed, then, and kept waving all through the winding security line that was mostly empty. From the other side of the tinted glass they watched me blot my face on my shirt. I waved once more, and then I was distracted just long enough by the security guard for tem to slip away. It might’ve been my perspective, because when I looked back, the tints in the window were darker. Perhaps they could see me looking hopefully for them, and then turning away. I hope so.
From the security section to the gate was a blur. I stopped tearing, never actually crying, and filled the giant water bottle. My gate was the second in the terminal, and sitting there was making me antsy. So I took out the things from my personal bag and reorganized them from the shuffle I put it through on the ride to the airport. I put in my headphones to the Gorilaz tracks that were on. First ‘Dare’, then ‘Fire Coming Out Of the Monkey’s Head’, the ballad about the invasion of a town of Happy Folk that always gave me the picture of a small Vietnamese settlement, invaded by US Soldiers. That’s probably not what it was written about, but that doesn’t matter. My flight was switched to the manual boarding because of the power outages. We climbed down two sets of stairs, and then walked out on the tarmac towards the smallest commercial jet I’ve ever seen. I offered my second carry-on to the man with the carriage of them. I stepped up the stairs to the little plane and at the top I paused, almost poetically, and looked out on the grey-blue sky, then took my last breath of Rhode Island air for 11 and ½ months.
On the plane, I had my first ‘first’ experience; having both the window and the aisle seat at the same time! There was one side with two seats and one side with a single seat, and mine was the singleton. I wedged the personal bag under the seat in front of me and proceeded to put on a sweatshirt. I spent that flight sleeping. Then, pulling into Cleveland, some mild turbulence woke me, and I prepared to leave. The luggage we checked in for the short flight was available pretty soon after we got off the plane, this time into a functioning tube-thing. Cleveland airport would’ve been nice if I didn’t have to find my gate, buy some lunch, and return to the gate in 45 minutes, which was just enough time. I ate at a place called Cheeseburger Cheeseburger. Three guesses as to what I bought. There were some pretty cool oversized guitars symbolizing the various artists in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, and I would’ve taken pictures, but it would’ve delayed me in my travels back to the gate. Getting on the plane to LA, I wasn’t sleepy enough to just conk out again, but I didn’t want to stay awake.
So I remained in a meditative limbo for about 4 hours. Half asleep, half awake, I denied myself the temptation to think. It can’t be healthy, keeping these feeling inside like this. Maybe writing will help- I’ve already spent about half an hour at it. Getting to LA was pretty anti-climactic; I was expecting a much better looking airport, but they were under some serious remodeling. There were some cute signs about it, though. I picked up my luggage, no problem, and called for the shuttle. It picked me up and I met a nice lady who used to work in the airports. She has two kids, both grown now, and she told me about living as a flight attendant. It sucks, apparently. It’s not a 9-to-5, and the pay isn’t good enough to compensate for the missed birthday parties and such. She gave me M&Ms for the flight to KL, which she says is the most beautiful place she’s been. That was very encouraging.
Checked into the hotel, met Polly and Floyd, out orientation people, and saw Megan again, she’s our flight chaperone. Polly is significantly old, but she’s knitting on circular needles for a flat-needle piece, so she’s experienced in something. Floyd is a nice guy, considering he’s a retired teacher and the national-level guy for the orientations. We get ours from the best, apparently. Megan is such a card, she’s so funny! We went over our schedule and everything, and went to dinner. I had Chicken on a Brick, a very nice serving of Mashed Potatoes, and some vegetables that hadn’t been cooked enough. The Grapefruit juice was great, though. We talked about the Women’s soccer cup, and reflected on our anxieties. My roommate’s Marlena, and she’s back inside now, so I think I’ll wait for the Weezer song to end, and then I’ll log it off for tonight. It’s 2:05 am at home. It’s 11:05 here. It’s 2:05 pm in Malaysia.

Wow, reflecting time. That was so very long ago...


2:41 AM 14 July 2011
So late, but so early. I really needed a break from talking and listening because it’s sleepy-time on my clock. Please excuse the poor grammar and use of unsophisticated language in this entry. We’re all talking about how we’re going to use this experience, and one girl has a lot of options. These YES Abroad-ers are the greatest people! They’re not like most teenagers- they’ve got these big ideas and aspirations and plans for the amazing futures they’ll have. Makes me think about my options and just how many doors this program has opened for me. The opportunity that is YES is just incredible, and everyone’s just seem such an improvement in their lives because of this program. I, for one, know that I’ll get into college- something that was never assured to me before because of the cost. I knew that I could get some sort of scholarship and I’m really good at playing government beurocracy to my benefit and I fill out forms like a boss, so all the federal plans applicable will be put into play. Whatever I can get, I’ll take- which is one of the attitudes they were looking for at the IPSE. By the way, IPSE stands for In-Person Selection Event, and it took place in Denver, Colorado. IPSE is initialism, not an anagram. You should not be able to pronounce it, just say the letters I, P, S, and E in quick succession. It’s not ippsea.
Anyway, I’m here at the airport listening to some Rush to clear my head (A Farewell to Kings), and watching my groups’ bags. They’ve gone on an adventure to find food in this barren little airport that’s technically part of the LAX system, but is about 5 minutes away by highway. We were shuttled here, away from the hotel about 4 hours before our actual flight. It’s about half an hour before we need to be at the gate to be there an hour before they board which is half an hour to an hour before we actually take off. I’m practically counting minutes.
The butterflies in my stomach have died from the acid, and their remnants are twitching in the sludge that is my digestion. You can tell I’m tired when I begin to write things like that. Mwahahahahahahaa.
Checking my bags in on this flight was pretty fun to be honest, and really gave me some insight to the random people you meet when you wear an AFS nametag. Our check-in lady, Meggie, was an AFS-er for 2002-2003 from Hong Kong to Holland. They all spoke Dutch, and she only knew English! The nice security man who checks your papers before you go through actual security saw that we were a group and talked about the awesomeness of the experience of studying abroad. We all smiled and nodded, and he was pretty happy for someone who deals with travelers.
On a darker, deeper note, I’d like to rant about emotionally dealing with this stuff. Everyone I’ve talked to seems to be handling this like an automaton. We’re just going through these motions, sometimes tearing up when something about our families is mentioned, and hoping to whatever god we can that we’ll deal with this later. This sadness and an enveloping nervousness that we can’t deal with right now I feel will tear us apart later.
Plane now, write later. Bye!

Again, that's so weird how I said these things. I should keep a journal more often. Here's the latest entry from this morning. I'd like you to notice how most of these seem unfinished.

18 July 2011
I haven’t written in a while, and I’ve only got a limited time now. It’s 6:30 in the morning, and I woke up to a bright light in my younger sister’s room. I’m on the trundle bed, and the maid, Bibi (I think is how it’s spelled) has turned on the light and turned off the Air Conditioning. My sarong has been impossibly tangled in my legs, but when I get up it rights itself. I drank so much water, I feel that my bladder now consumes my gut. I reflected on how I got here, and when this became okay at all. Let’s start with the plane from LA to Hong Kong.
I thought checking in my first carry-on would be a good idea, but I neglected to remember this is where my medication, Malay flashcards, lotion, and other things were. To bad, I realized about 3 hours into the 15 hour flight. I still had my laptop, but I just didn’t feel like writing or playing. I felt like sleeping. I found the music channel on the airplane video screen, and knocked out after the second song in Adele’s new album. I woke up about 3 hours later to food, which was rice, undercooked vegetables, chicken parts in sauce, water, bread and a yoghurt cup. The rice was what I ate because the bread was heavy and old smelling. I fell back asleep immediately following the collection of garbage. I spent the rest of the flight sleeping, watching Despicable Me, a poor choice on my part because it was about families sticking together, and eating another tin package of airplane food. This time, rice, chicken parts and mushrooms, and some sort of onion, although I’m not positive. The bread then tasted fresher and healthier, and the yoghurt cup less foreboding. I ate most of it. I noticed soon after the meal that my legs had swollen tremendously despite my walking around every 2 hours and being so waterlogged that I had to remember to get up. This is kind of gross, so skip it unless you can handle it. I was travelling on my period, so I was crampy, cranky, and kind of icky smelling to be perfectly frank. I would like to take this time to apologize to those who thought they had to read that.
We arrived in Hong Kong after breaking the smog/cloud cover that hovers over the city and airport. I forgot my water bottle on the plane, but that was okay because I could buy a new one. I bought a 770mL bottle and I looked for more pants because I’d spilled apple juice on my crotch during the flight. I wasn’t worried about the stain; it was the stickiness that I didn’t like. Sorry, that was also pretty gross. I got change for the water bottle and a postcard in HK$; their currency is so cute! I also took pictures of the mini-museum in the airport.
I rushed back to the gate because we had just started boarding, and joined my group. We boarded without hassle and I was seated behind two of my group and next to a woman who was studying Pacific Native Studies in Canada and was coming home for her brother’s wedding. She was a devout Christian, though of what denomination I didn’t feel I ad the right to ask. She prayed before takeoff, after takeoff, before eating, before landing and after landing. I was in the middle again, and seized my opportunity for a stroll when the man in the aisle seat got up to complain about something. He was ancient; without a doubt the oldest man I have ever seen. We flew over some plantations which looked like meticulously planned forests, and over a few towns that reminded me of flying over Rhode Island, right before you reach the clouds. We got off the plane and filed to immigration where our chaperone mercilessly stared down two families and a single man who tried to cut the line. Nobody cuts the line. J
We got through immigration and met our bags. I forgot to take my smaller, checked in bag at the carousel because we were rushed off so fast. Everything was happening at once and I began to feel dizzy, which is a poor excuse for leaving my bags. Because it took so long to go through immigration, we had very little time to find our AFS representative. We found Ishmael (I think that’s how it’s spelled) and he took us to the van. We were about 15 minutes in when I realized the missing bag. I let Izzy know at the hotel, and he responded with a very American, “Are you shitting me?”.
I was not shitting him, unfortunately. I saw a few people who directed me to another few people, eventually finding someone who would take my information and help me. He tried to claim my bag at the airport after I told him that probably wouldn’t work, and apologized profusely. I told him it was okay, that I would get it later. Bangi was a short 45 minute drive from KL airport, and an even shorter half hour by train. We had a few orientations at the hotel, but not as many as the Europeans, who had already been there for 2 days. We saw the outdoor markets- two of them, and a Hindi temple. The temple was amazing, the architecture and sculpture blew my mind. The idols were done in such a fashion; they looked like the gods they represented. We saw a ceremony, but were hustled out of there because it began to rain and we had to walk and take public transportation back. One of the trains was Air Conditioned, but the other was very warm. I have yet to mention- it’s very warm in Malaysia. I mean, New England Summer warm. So, very close to hot. This is fine for everyone under 150 lbs, but anyone larger than me has not stopped sweating.
After our last orientation and meal, we went to a ballroom to rehearse a song we had learned about a lamb that was lost in the rice field, where the narrator didn’t know where their love was. Their love was the one wearing the red shirt. Chan mali chan, chan mali chan, chan mali chan ketipung paying. This means, come back, come back, come back under my umbrella. I know, I don’t understand it either. It’s a folksong, like Jimmy Crack Corn or something. Then came the handing over ceremony, what we were al waiting for. Hotels make me cold, so I was wearing a clashing sweatshirt and making a fool of myself. We presented the song to our new families and we were each called to come to the tiny stage to be handed over by the famous MC. He kept advertising his jobs and telling us how old he was, which was silly. He spoke many languages and was an ASF returnee, but the messages he gave us and what we had learned before didn’t match up. There were many confused students, then. We were tired, hungry and in need of more than a quick shower, which added to our distress. I was handed over first in my batch because my host father “Papa” is the chapter leader. I watched the other Germans, Belgians, Spanish, Venezuelans, Portuguese, Italians, French and Norwegians be handed over, and I clapped extra loud for my American friends, that team I had come to know and love so well.
My family collected me and gave me a sarong to wear over my skirt, further clashing with the sweatshirt I shivered under. We met a few important people in the AFS organization and I talked to my siblings. I did Salam (greetings) with the women I met, all of whom were asking where in America I was from. I tell them East Coast first, then Rhode Island, which many people think is part of New York. Whatever. My host father had already been told of my baggage situation and told me we could get that now, and a great burden was lifted from my shoulders. We drove to the airport while my host mother, “Mommy”, told me many many things about how the house runs. I’m surprised how much of it I remember.  I shared a little about my family when she prompted me, but I was interrupted too much to speak for long, which was fine by me. The parents noticed my sleepiness, and chalked it up to Jet lag, and not the fact that I just had to become nocturnal for this trip. Again, whatever. We jumped through the hoops at the Airport to claim the bag, and I was sent through a series of doors to find the office.  I claimed my bag, and I noticed a Zipper was missing, which sent me through a loop. I told the man in charge and he said that the airport apologizes. His English was broken, but he told me to put my name on the line that said the state of the bag was satisfactory. Today was full of accepting less than I had intended. I met my host mother again and we drove with the whole family minus the baby to the house. Malaysian driving is terrifying, and riding without a seatbelt makes me uncomfortable to the nth degree. We got home after picking up some spicy “Italian” food that was hot and oily, and I unpacked into the few containers I was given for storage. I found my mother’s letter in my suitcase and just seeing the envelope made me cry, so I gave my family the presents and took a shower before my tears got in the way of us getting to know one another. I knew I would break down, and writing this in the confidence of an empty room I’m crying again. I miss my family dearly. I’ve got to stop now because my battery is running low and I need to start my day. It’s 7:30 AM here, but it’s 7:30 PM in my heart.

Okay, that was the updates about the orientations, the family and I'd like to finish with this;

I love my natural and my host family both very very much. Everyone here is so kind, so helpful. Everyone at home is so loving, so supportive. Love is what keeps me going, and it's what keeps this whole idea of international and inter-cultural exchange going. It's what fuels people to try, try, and keep trying, regardless of the many many mistakes they make. It's what reduces a  mature 15 year-old to a toddler when she misses her home, and it's what will build her back up when she realizes how supported she is.


  1. Wow.
    It was great to see you on Skype last night, if a little awkward. It was my second time and your Mom's first time on Skype. But answering machines were very strange at first. Let us know if you need anything that you can't get there.
    Love, Dad

  2. Hey Peggy, love reading your blog. But I need to know more about everything! The food, the sarong, the host family, the city, the house, daily details!! Skype us whenever! Love you,
    Auntie Erin

  3. Hey Kiddo! Great to read your blog. I hope the butterflies in your stomach are all properly digested now and that you're getting in sync with Malay time/culture! Love, Uncle Chuck