So, my internet use has been narrowed, so these entries will probably less frequent, but I will try to write every day or every other day if I'm busy. Which I am.
Anyway, here are some things from earlier this week:
4 August 2011 14:25
The internet is currently unavailable, but I’ll post this one later. Let’s title it This American Life in Malaysia and Other Comforts of Home.
Today was an excellent day, despite the lack of sleep. It was difficult to get to sleep after my host parents arrived home because of some serious indigestion and the heaviness in one’s stomach that accompanies bouts of nausea. Luckily, my host mother is psychic and told me how good Papayas are for digestive issues, completely out of the blue. Unluckily, I was already full from the Breaking-fast of Ramadan. Today was the fourth day- and so far I’ve made it ¾ days fasting entirely. The first day I took one water bottle to school instead of two. So, at school, I slept a little. That’s an understatement- I slept more than I’d like to admit. My eyes would just not stay open because 3 hours of sleep and an empty tummy were things that my conscious mind couldn’t take. Well, that coupled with the lack of power in the classroom, rendering the open air quiet, calm, warm and stagnant. This is the recipe for sleepyness. Fortuitously, my kind classmate realized the trouble I was having and told me to go to sleep. I did, and missed all of Civics. I spent Islam in a semi-conscious state, then retuned to on-and-off dozing in Malay. I’ve finished the first segment of my Malay self-education in the form of writing every relevant term from the Bilingual Dictionary into a set of two small notebooks. So many cognates, so little time!
After I was rested enough to carry on a decent conversation, it was time for English, or Bahasa Ingeriss. Literally, that’s how they call it. Bahasa means language, by the way. In English Class, we’re taking phrases and putting them where they should logically fit in paragraphs. I remember doing something very similar in first grade, and I was finishing people’s sentences and correcting their grammar at age 5. Ah, well. At least I can help my classmates. I finished the assignment quickly so I could go onto the next phase of my Malay and transfer the terms from alphabetical order to categories. The first is Food: Subcategory Utensils and Times, then Food: Subcategory Ingredients, then Food: Subcategory Dishes and Celebratory Foods. This will be a long week. I was called on in class (maybe I should say ‘called out’) about the notes I put on my English test last Thursday. I had written all over it, making notes about the incorrectness of the correct answers and analyzing the Paragraphs we had to translate information from onto an Organizer. There was a bit about languages, and the origins of written language, and I had a ball with my little margin-paragraphs and assemblies of arrows directing the notes. There was also a bit about the Sumerian impact on things like written language and currency. This was my gem, as the research paper I did on The Fertile Crescent was easily the best bit of work from my middle school years. I love Ancient Civilization History. My teacher read all these notes, and said that I must be well-read. I’ve only heard my (natural) mother use that term, probably because it’s old. I savored this moment as both a praise and a warning, I must remember to not get carried away next time.
Something I can get carried away with, though, is English Lessons, where I’m in charge of what I’m teaching. I’ve got my Conversational English Lesson Plan worked out, and it’s been approved by the nice teacher who acts as the head of the English department. It was a rough sketch, but it was really directed at me as a teacher. Since it’s conversational, I’m starting with introducing myself and giving some background on my English Education and level of Literacy, then I’ll move into everyone’s favorite subject; themselves. The kids will introduce themselves to me, and I think I might act out different characters with which they begin conversations, just to look at the cultural differences and mess with them. I credit and blame my most dramatic French teacher for this- she taught me how, in a classroom, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. I’ll be a nice old lady, a cranky landlord around 30, a 10 year old girl, a 15 year old boy, you know, the usual people these kids will be meeting. There’s a fine line between eccentric and schizophrenic, though, and I won’t push my limits. I did push my limits today, though, with my French Class. I tried to explain to them how we’re starting simply and right now, My Name Is… is very complicated. They want to know what m’appelle means, and their English is just outside the range of understanding the term ‘reflexive verb’. It was fun, and I met some nice people, but I’m going to tone it down next week. Less “Bonjour”, more “Une, Deux, Trois”.
I feel as though my English is being saved from this country by these blog entries, which I’m writing at a low-level for me. It’s relaxing, and I can blather on using words like, well, blather. Also keeping my sanity and English Skills is my updating with CNN, BBC, and The Comedy Central News Team. I’m keeping my vocabulary in order with This American Life, which is ironic but comforting.
It’s 15:00, and I need to bring in some Laundry. This has been Peggy Desjarlais for My Life as a Teenage Exchange Student. Join us when I’ve got the time to discuss whatever I feel like.
4 August 2011 15:50
I’m Ba-ack! Mostly because there isn’t any laundry to bring in- I’ve done my school uniform and I need to record some things or study Malay. I’m too tired to study Malay right now. I’ll tell you- not eating is exhausting, and not drinking leaves this girl parched for anything. I know that I’ll drink a lot of water with dinner tonight, because the sugar in the tea might have set my up for the energy crash this morning. I should really stop typing about not eating or drinking. It’s making me hungry.
So, I’ll move on to what I’ve been thinking of in the back of my mind. Perhaps getting it out will straiten things. I’ve been considering my immediate position of popularity at this school and how reluctant I was to take it. In my very limited experience, having everyone know your name and your situation hasn’t worked out well. People assume they know you and want to involve you in things that you can’t get out of because you now belong to the student body or the press if you’re a celebrity. If you slip up, everyone knows about it because it’s not Peggy that did it, it was the interesting idea of Peggy.
Peggy hasn’t ever really been pretty. The idea of Peggy at this school has random boys asking her to dinner and asking id she thinks they are hot. Peggy’s not so smart, she just works really hard for the things she wants and can plan in advance when she feels the matter is urgent. The idea of Peggy is a genius for getting 64% on her last Science (Sines) test, and then being confused because the teacher gave her 5 ringgit for getting above 50%. The idea of Peggy handled it with finesse, while Peggy really struggled under the moral implications of taking what amounts to be a bribe to do well. The idea of Peggy will assume it’s an incentive. Peggy has never been socially adept, but the idea of Peggy remembers names, faces, and remembers you told her that your auntie lives in Canada- which is just like the US, right?
Most of all, Peggy has never been popular. She’s never ad to deal with the gossip that people seem to thrive on here. It’s really too bad, coming from America and not being well-versed in gossip. The idea of Peggy is also clueless about that, because Peggy and her idea have no experience with popularity. The idea of Peggy will remain at the school, here in Malaysia, just like the idea of Jessica and the idea of Thelma will linger long after they’ve gone. It’s a lot easier to associate yourself with a simple idea instead of a system as complex as an entire person, complete with experiences and ideas of her own. This is true for many things, and leads to unfortunate associations. Let me explain-
Humans and other animals can only hold so much information. It’s essential to the evolution of a species through its continuation to simplify the information so the being can make the split-second decisions that say the rustling in the bushes is a tiger, not a puppy. It’s a great deal easier to say Tiger or Puppy, Foe or Friend, and Fight of Flight, then to accept that the situation is more complicated. It’s a vegetarian Tiger, or a Puppy with rabies, perhaps. We draw on the simplified information to make judgments about people, very much so. That’s why the criminal’s face is blurred out- if you see it accompanied by the word ‘guilty’, it doesn’t matter what you hear in court; your simple information is the word ‘guilty’. If you only know the very simplified facts of something of significant gravity like the Attacks at the World Trade Center on 9/11, then you probably only know so much; keywords like Terrorist, Death, Muslim, and Destruction. You don’t notice that in context (which is, essentially, complicated), it’s the Extremist Muslims that are Terrorist, and they stand for a sect of an otherwise acceptable Religion. So let’s try to complicate ourselves, have many facets, so we can understand this many faceted planet and these little bits of culture that, if we remained simple, we would never comprehend on a level beyond the keywords; “Different” and “Scary”. When I head Malaysia, I noticed that my knowledge of this place was incredibly simple. It was dangerously simple, so I did some complicating in the form of in-depth research. I found that Malaysia has about as man facets as the average 12-year old. There’s this naivety among the people…
But that’s a whole other topic that I’m sure I’ll go into when I next feel only strong enough to type and think. Until then, complexity is the essence of true understanding, and only the wise can simplify accurately.
5 August 2011 14:14
It’s Friday, Friday, and I’ve got to get down on Friday. In this case, that means getting down to business. I’ve got to revise my French lessons and limit it all to children’s phrases and colors. Maybe I’ll include some food vocabulary. Whatever I end up working out, it will be much simpler. As it turns out, the Peer Group really isn’t interested in learning any languages, and I forgot to ask about the board because the teacher in charge of the peer group was absent. She seems like a nice enough person, but she’s been gone half the time I go to find her. I’ve got my revised English Lessons with me, and I’m constantly making notes and crossing them out trying to decide how to run this show. I hope it won’t just be me in the classroom on the first day- I’d like some sort of translator so I know that the kids are telling me something important, so urgent they can’t use English. Every note I’ve made I’ve crossed out, though. I’m a little anxious. What if the kids don’t like me? What if they can’t understand me at all?
I need to stop worrying about that, because I’ve got more business to take care of. There’s a re-orientation that’s happening this weekend, but only for Bangi and the KL chapters. We’ll be meeting somewhere and listening to a review of the various goals and expectations of AFS, and staying overnight somewhere. I assume it will be a hotel, but I’m open to the idea of a youth hostel. I’m really excited to see those chapter-mates at this get-together and see how their coping with the extreme concentration of Islam and all Malaysia has had to offer them so far. I assume they’ll be feeding us, but I don’t know how that will run because it’s Ramadan and I’m fasting with e family. This is the 5th day, and my 4th without food or water during the daylight hours. It’s easy enough here, mostly because you don’t hear people complain about how hungry they are and you won’t see people eating. Everyone is fasting, weather they are Muslim or not, in this town, and those who are not fasting for real only eat in their homes out of respect for the majority. That’s so considerate!
Sorry I won’t be able to post this entry or the last one until late this evening or tomorrow; our family’s WiFi has been restricted due to a collective overuse. This also means my pictures will be delayed further. Too bad, because I’ve been channeling my mother and taking shots of every nice plant I see. There’s a flowering tree in the neighborhood that is just so photogenic. I walk past it every day and you could swear it was fake the thing is so perfect. The flowers are like sculpted clay, painstakingly painted by the hand of an expert artist with only the colors yellow and white. Ah, for the glories of a tropical climate and the riches of this Earth. That’s got to be a quote somewhere.
I’m thinking of renaming this blog because it has recently dawned on me how full of itself it sounds if you don’t recognize the reference. ‘My life as a Teenage Exchange Student’ is a reference to the show from the early 2000s, ‘My life as a Teenage Robot’ be the same animators as The Fairly Odd Parents. It was so great and it really expressed how ignorant people are coming into a situation at a level they are not prepared for. For the main character, Jenny (the robot), she’s about teenager size and, well, a robot. For me, I’m coming to Malaysia with only baby Malay and very few appropriate social skills. I lean quickly, but not quickly enough that I’m not apologizing throughout the day.
Sorry=Maaf. That’s a glottal stop in between, there. Mah-ahf is the English-ized pronunciation, but you’d really need to hear it to know how to say it. I think Basque is the most hipster language, but for Americans you’ve got to say Malay is hipster in its essence.
That was then, and this is now. Now being 11:00 at night Sunday. I can't go to sleep yet, I've got to record my experiences. I can sleep in T. Islam (Taught exclusively in Malay and the teacher has no English skills), everyone else does, anyway.
Today I returned from a Post-Arrival Orientation, organized my the chapter leaders of Bangi and Kuala Lumpur. The chapter leaders of Bangi are my host parents (so I better not screw up!) and the accommodations were almost comedic. There were 12 of us students and 2 adult-figures in two bedrooms with one mattress each and a few comforters that acted as little mattresses for those who slept in the living-room part. All together, the place was about 3 small rooms and 2 bathrooms. We reestablished the goals and rules of AFS and were re-briefed on things we'd learned a million times, and we got to share experiences and music and finally hug. Nobody hugs here, and it was nice to have another person's arms around you for all of 5 seconds.
Also discovered at the orientation was that I've lost a great deal of weight (I didn't notice except for the way my jeans have been sagging) and the Italians wanted to know how I did it, and that I look like Drew Barrymore, as I was told around 5 times. Haha, I WISH! She's the one genuinely beautiful and talented actress I know of today. Sigh... I hope I can channel some of her talent tomorrow, which is when I make my speech to the school. Wish me luck!