Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Compass Concept, Pictures, and Titles

Firstly, I rather like these titles I make up for the blog posts. They make me feel like I'm not just writing this- that I'm actually thinking about it. I had a dream the other night that I turned this into a book and got it published by a place called Blogs to Books. It was fun. Also in that dream was me getting old, marrying, and having 4 European babies. Talk about dreaming... At least I got a book!

Let me disperse the photos throughout this entry. Randomly! I hope this doesn't annoy anyone.

Look How Pretty! This is a scene from AnywhereInMalaysia, because it's all in a Tropical Climate!

After years of training in the woods and in the towns, in houses and in the city, I feel safe saying that I’ve got a moderate to very good sense of direction. This might be some inner peace I have with surroundings, it might be genetic or even a biological sense that I’ve honed over the 16 years I’ve had on this planet.
Look! Another Wedding! Almost every weekend, now that Ramadan is Over!

This kind of skill helps out very often. In the city, I remember the ways I take and the look and feel of certain train stations and marketplaces, and often I can figure out how to get where I was before. Trains are easy, though, they usually run logically and according to some kind of pattern, and different lines are implemented to compliment that pattern. Perhaps the entire idea of having a good sense of direction boils down to that, just an eye for patterns. For music majors, that’s what’s often found in their brain chemistry. They just like patterns! I think that is why musicians are so often fantastic in advanced classes where patterns are implemented at a higher level- a level where musicians recognize their favorite past time; making up music. I could be going too far into this; pattern recognition as a psychology and sociology concept is an idea I’ve been toying with for quite some time.
Walking around Times Square Mall in KL, stumbled upon this Boutique and Couldn't Help Myself!

Whatever the reason, I’ve been good at finding my way around and I do not disorient easily unless I am under a great deal of pressure, like at school. I didn’t know my way around the Coventry Middle School until about halfway through 8th grade, my final year attending. I also didn’t know my way around the High School for the first half of freshman year. Now that I’ve had time to explore the High School, I could easily place myself in most hallways and classrooms because of the pattern it follows. Once I got to look at the school’s architecture and study it logically, I figured out the patterns.
Mullet Boy!!! Apparently, it's a style here. This is a little boy. WITH A MULLET! 

Now, after 1/6 of my year here is finished, I know my way around the school, the neighborhood within a few kilometers, and how to get to the other schools in the area, as well as the closest gas station (there’s an ATM) and the pharmacy that’s on the way. I can see that the place I live in here was set up logically as a suburban area catering to the needs of a middle class population. There are schools, mosques, and various corner stores that break up the houses in a nice, easy pattern, and with all the driving around and trips I get to experience here, while often terrifying, are giving me exposure to the commonly traveled paths.
At an Open House where the hosts were exceptionally well-off, this was the desert plate they forced into my hands. Clockwise from 12, that's Fruit in an Orange Sponge Cake, A Small Tart with Kiwi and Strawberry, Bread Pudding with Cream, Corn Pudding, and Moist Chocolate Cake. Mmmmmmmmm

 I’ve developed somewhat of an inner compass about this place that is further aided and oriented by the position of the sun, which is regular and reliable because I am a single longitude degree from the equator. The sun doesn’t sway from North to South like it does in the higher reaches of the Northern Hemisphere, or the lower parts of the Southern Hemisphere. I may have had to change how I look at the night sky, but the daytime orientations are a piece of cake when you’ve done orienteering for years.
At Another Open House, this was the set up. Again, very Sedap (Delicious)

I said I’ve developed a compass- let’s go into that a little more. In addition to a directional compass, I think my moral compass has improved, and my personal compass has been altered. I haven’t lost sight of my original intentions upon coming here, but I’ve had to prioritize and look at my real goals, as well as the validity of the idea of goals as an accurate marker of success. Also, I’ve looked at success in a new perspective. In this process, I’ve had to have my foundations shaken a little. I now know that those values that are supposed to unite all humanity are shallow values, the ones that we seek but never expect to find. True honesty and absolute justice are things we can only rely on from deities, because these perfect values are setting a bar that we as humans cannot achieve. This is my sociological perspective. Once man (speaking in the masculine generalization, not indicating masculinity represents all of humanity) is separated from his peers and accessible authorities, he seems to make far more moral choices, decisions that represent what he is as an individual, in often stark contrast to the decisions he would make in a group. This is true for America and Malaysia, as I have seen from knowing people like my family by their outer, or group, behavior and then their isolated or singular behavior.
An Open House put on by the primary school one of my siblings attends. The little girls in the Baju Kurungs are ADORABLE!!! And the food was especially good here, in this class. I hope they win the class contest!

I tend to do this sort of analysis without realizing it, but often I’ll alter my behaviors in an attempt to conduct small experiments on society. I’ll face ‘backwards’ on a train and people will glare at me because I’m doing something, well, wrong. But unexplainably wrong, something to do with strange customs that nobody’s noticed and nobody’s questioned, like the pattern of standing facing the front of the train when riding, as if that will improve the ride or something, when it is often both more comfortable and more convenient to stand facing the rear. Sometimes I’ll stand a little closer when I speak to friends, or adopt a random accent and watch the collective reactions or people. I’ve even made this blog into a sort of experiment. I’ve tricked you all into reading something vaguely enjoyable but; and here’s the catch- you’re learning! MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAAA!!!!

A Cultural Performance put on by the school where the boys dance around and beat drums in their best traditional clothes. I met the nicest little girl, here. The first thing she said to me was that she could speak English because her father was Chinese. She actually told me she was "Mixed" because her mom was Malay. Talk about racially conscious, this girl wasn't older than 10! I didn't know there was racism until I was that age!

Also, I’ve conveniently positioned some nice pictures in between the paragraphs of this entry. I would like your feedback, those of you who have read to this, the end of the entry. If you wouldn’t mind, could you comment and tell me how I’m doing with this? If you don’t, I’ll still get an accurate count of the people who stopped by this page and I’ll compare that to the people who commented because they read it through and felt obliged to comment. If you don’t feel like giving a brief review, could you give a blank comment or one with a jumble of letters and numbers, just let me know you’ve read until the end? Thanks. Here’s one more picture to keep the attention of some people who might be otherwise too distracted to continue to read.
One more thing, although this is partially educational, I’d like to make it clear I write this for nobody’s benefit but my own. Even if it seems like I’m doing this explaining for you, it’s really just a selfish effort on my part. Admitting that is important to me. If you’d like to delude yourself into thinking that I care about my audience as individual members of a society, that’s fine by me. Honestly, you’re just data, sometimes lab rats, and usually a way for me to bounce ideas off a blank, white wall and watch the ideas come back to me organized and properly recorded. Sorry. You, the readers, do mean a lot to me, and of course I love all of you at home, but while you read the blog, you’re fulfilling my human need for companionship and reflection, orderly and as regularly as I please, as well as fulfilling my intellectual need for both expression and feedback. I think I went over this a few months ago when this was just beginning, but it’s important enough to say it again.

Again, please take the time to comment. Although this is an experiment, it’s an experiment I’ve invested a lot of emotion and sentimentality into. Sorry this post didn’t include much in the way of news. That’s later.

Love, Peggy

Thursday, September 22, 2011

SMS-ing on My Handphone with My Spectacles On (And Other British Things)

Malaysia was, at one point, a British Colony. They, too, faced the exploitations at the hands of Mother England and reaped the benefits of her temporary leadership. As a result of this occupation, Malaysian culture incorporates British culture in a few ways.
Firstly, Malay is a written language because of the British. That's why we've got the same alphabet and it's easy enough for Americans to learn Bahasa Melayu (There aren't any British exchange students that I know of, there's no AFS UK; I'll go into that later). If not for the British exploration, Malay might have been written in Thai characters or in its own, special alphabet, or it may have remained a spoken language until mass communication was developed. Never underestimate the power of language, especially the written word- without it, you wouldn't be reading all my fabulous rants. Haha, like anyone is reading this...
Anyway, along with helping Malaysia record her language, the British made a few impacts on it- filling in holes where there were no words, in the process introducing ideas like Western Civilization and the fork and knife and punctuality. Many words like taxi and card have been Malaysified into "teksi" and "kad" to follow the rest of the language's phonetic pronunciation. Some English words are completely phonetic, but some are not- weather due to French influence or the dialects of the spoken language, or sheer convenience. It's just easier to say (phonetically) "d'j'eet j'et?" in Rhode Island, than saying "Dear Friend, have you yet taken your meal?". That's one of my favorites to make fun of. Love you, Rhode Island!
New terms like "SMS" (texting in American English), "Handphone" (cell phone in American English), and "Spectacles" (glasses in American English) confuse me, but the Europeans get it. I still giggle when people call my glasses "Specs", it's just hilarious to actually hear that.

Besides language, Great Britain managed to impress their education system on the poor, unwitting Malaysians. Fortunately, the idea that teachers were the absolute authority and had the power to physically harm students and embarrass them as part of a cruel teaching scheme fit right in with the way Islam had integrated itself into the curriculum. Think Pink Floyd's The Wall, as I've mentioned briefly before, to get a good picture of the emotional havoc a system like this can wreak on students that become adults. Regardless of the potential for evil this system has, it seems to work for Malaysia, or, at least, they are unwilling to accept anything different so they'll have to be okay with it.

Honestly, I expected there to be a few differences because the students learn British English, but I was not anticipating the unique combination of British and Malaysian culture offered by this individual experience.

Let's go back to my speculations about why there's no AFS UK. Think about the multitudes of countries that were 'conquered' by the Mistress of the Sea. Although the sun never sets on the British Empire, you can imagine the deep-seeded distrust harbored by nations all over the world. Take the US, for example. We're taught in school about the British oppression that led us to our fantastic little Revolution, and about the socio-political wrongs that were committed against us pre-1776. In Malaysia, they're still bitter because this is also the subject of many a Sejara (History) class. It's one of the only times I don't hear the constant references to Islam. Think of India, Africa as a continent, and the countless other British exploits. Now think of having that picture of pre-modern image of the British in your head and meeting a student who has come to your country, almost mocking you- perhaps you feel that the students presence says "you may have declared your independence, but you can't keep me from studying here,". Maybe the image of the British is effected by more than actual history, though. Maybe it's also polluted with the stereotypes we've all come to know and love. These ideas of Mr. Bean and Harry Potter, the vision of poor dental hygiene and the most recent royal wedding are really not doing them much good.

If these are the reasons there's no AFS UK yet, I want to extend a personal invitation to Britain, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, saying, quite simply, "suck it up". You've had this coming for a while. Get over it. If you think pop culture has ruined your image, take a peek at American culture and it's terrible influence, making people believe that the entirety of the United States is an orgy of wealthy, fat, beautiful people getting together to gossip and shop and play Baseball and American Football and being ignorant of the rest of the world. Think of those brave Americans who venture to places where all the locals know about us are reruns of Friends. Consider, for a moment, those Americans that went to Vietnam this year. Yeah, you Brits could not have screwed anything up like we did for the Vietnamese. So please, enlighten us with your adorable accents, help out the American and European exchange students and be a bridge of knowledge for the rest of the world. UK, get yourself an AFS Office.

Speaking of Programs...
YES Abroad is starting it's applications for next year's batch! Come along, have an Adventure! Blog about it!
Here's what I posted on Facebook to advertise my favorite little Government-sponsored Exchange Student Agency;

Are you ready to begin the most incredible journey of your life? Maybe not? Just want to have something to put on your college resume that says, "Look at me, I'm amazing" ? Okay, whatever your situation, I'm through asking these silly questions claiming to simplify the complexity of your life to a few words. But honestly, don't you think the complexity that is your life needs something else? I wanted something else, too. Perhaps a year abroad would be an excellent choice. So whatever your motivations, I strongly urge you to check out this amazing program. Link in the Doobly-Doo

Speaking of things Nerdfighters say, I would like to thank John Green for doing his Book Club on the Great Gatsby- it's making it far easier to teach the book to two of the English Classes. They said they wanted challenging vocabulary and a bridge between British English and American English. Also, it's just a good book.

That's all for now, Check out YES Abroad!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Kampung Catch-Up, School, and FOOD!

Sorry I haven’t been blogging regularly; things are very busy with Hari Raya well under way. This month is the time of year where Malays (Islamic) get together for open houses, ongoing parties that are hosted by a family or group of families where food is served buffet-style, continuously, or new dishes are brought out to the guests periodically. It’s a time to catch up, a time for family, and similar to the Christian Christmas, gifts are given, although only in the form of envelopes of small amounts of money given to children and young-looking teenagers. Hari Raya is also traditionally a time to ask for forgiveness from friends and family.
                My host family let me follow them to ‘Kampung’, or the village of origin for my host father. This took about 14 hours by car because the massive traffic jam. I was in the car with my host-cousin driving, his friend in the passenger seat, and my eldest host sister and eldest host brother and myself in the back seat. It was only a little crowded, it was a two-door car. I slept for about 7 hours, and the other 7 hours were taken up by Recorded Arabic lessons and the Clive Cussler I finished. Inca Gold was fantastic! Also, instead of stopping at gas stations for bathroom breaks and to streach our legs, we stopped at mosques because they were everywhere on the way. I thought that was fun :D We arrived at the house just after breaking fast (buka puasa), so we stopped to buy some food at the bazaar Ramadan. We didn’t buy much food because we knew we’d have a huge feast when we got to the house, only a few more hours away. We arrived at night, and everyone was so excited and happy to see the family and so curious as to my presence. After a few explanations, we had a buffet of food that lasted until around 1 in the morning, then we made our way to the small cabin-like house we would sleep in for the next few days.
I was very happy at the cozy appearance of the little house, it reminded me of the cabins at Knoll at Camp Hoffman, the Girl Scout Camp I volunteer at during the summers. Except this one had showers and two levels! Luxury! In that little house and the larger family house we spent most of the week, often just being with the family, watching football (American soccer) and catching up. The family is so very nice, everyone was immediately loving of everyone and the kids were recklessly affectionate. I got my fair share of hugs (Yay! Hugs from kids!) and around the second day I felt I should check up on the situation in the US wit the hurricane, so I used the WiFi on my phone and found that you were all flooding and stuff over there! Sheesh, I leave for a month and you delay school for a week. We spent the rest of the week at countless houses, eating far too much and laughing far too loud. At these family gatherings, there’s no telling how long the visit will last. Some places we lingered for hours, others were very brief. I posted some pictures of the food, and the little omnipotent sweets in jars. That’s traditional.
We got to visit the very famous open market in Kelantan, five levels of food, fabric, and fun! I posted some pictures, but there’s no feeling like being there, and no way to understand until you’ve lived it. I love how I speak in clichés now, but I also hate it. It’s a love/hate relationship, and that, in itself, is a cliché.
After the fantastic time and many sappy goodbyes, we embarked on the journey home, which only took seven hours. We stopped at a restaurant at about midnight, and a few mosques on the way for bathroom breaks. When we all arrived home, we collapsed into bed, thankful for a cot off the floor. Only I stayed up a little later to do some laundry and stretch because my hip had come out on the ride back. I’m so old! All in all, it was an incredible cultural experience and a very pleasurable time. J
Catching up, now, school has resumed its regular schedule and an Icelandic exchange student who’s already been here seven months has joined me in the arts stream temporarily. Tomorrow, we will sort it out with the teachers so we go to the arts class together, but are otherwise in different classes. I will most likely go to the Arabic/Science stream of classes, which I hope to involve more learning on my part. I’m picking up Malay rather slowly compared to my goal- probably because of my strange way of going about the language. It’s a little unnatural because I took words from a dictionary (all the ones I thought significant) and I’m now categorizing them into various groups. If I were to absorb the language through natural osmosis, I’m sure I would be more skilled with conversation instead of recognizing the words for random nouns. I’m listening to television in Bahasa Melayu, but I’m still only speaking siket-siket (a little). Saya faham (I understand) more than I can speak, though. I sometimes catch whole phrases and them I do a little happy dance. I also aspire to learn Arabic in my year here, even if it’s just the spoken tourist Arabic that I learn from the recorded lessons.
The classes I’m teaching are going phenomenally for me, I always return home so happy and refreshed by people who are actually interested in learning! Apparently, that’s rare here because of the culture and how school runs (the British System of the 1950s, the kind of thing Pink Floyd made a concept album out of, comparing it to the Nazi rise to power and Holocaust). The English classes I’m teaching to Form 2 (age 13) are going very well, and I’m using a combination of reading aloud from a Malay Folklore book and discussion, conversational topics, a simplified English version of Shakespeare plays, and the book The Great Gatsby for vocabulary enhancement to teach. For the French classes, I’m teaching the basics- the verbs ‘to be’ and ‘to have’ and the appropriate adjectives and nouns to use with these, making simple phrases. I might be tutoring French to a girl at school, but I don’t know yet. My University English classes are more focused, less fun. We’re working on simple past and present tense, conversational topics, and later we’ll move on into some common mistakes. In that class, I’m trying to get the students (adults) to come up in front of the class and speak, but that’s failed so far. Teaching to the Malaysians I know is giving me a huge insight to the culture through education, how teaching to the test has shaped the expectations and abilities of students in a classroom setting, and how the absolute authority of the teachers has caused a temporary-learning in most students. Coming from someone who has been teaching these groups for a month, I think I can say that many students are just taking the education like a vessel takes water, to give it up later. I think education should be more like a sponge taking water- the sponge retains the water and uses it for productive things to better the world around it (in the sponge’s case, that means cleaning).
Well, that’s all for now! I’ll tell you about the weekend outing and KLCC Shopping next time, as well as the plan for the delayed orientation camp! (Don’t worry, it’s fun!)

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Pictures! The Mall, Bazaar Ramadan, Kelantan, Kampung

This time, It's just pictures and descriptions!

At KLCC, the train station in the city, Kuala Lumpur

At a shopping complex called 'The Mines' because it lies right where the mining took place. Inside the mall is a river that you can take boat rides on. It's nearly empty in this picture because it's nearly one in the morning.

AAHHHH! JIGSAW PUZZLES!!! My nerd-dom has been fulfilled

A little Japanese-themed shop in the Mall

A Kuala Lumpur Skyline!

A pretty fountain; that's the national flower and it's painted everywhere!

A dress I saw at a costume place. I wish I'd designed it!

A nice lady selling peacock feathers!

Ramadan Bazaar food piled high! These are some pastries with meat and other fillings

Busy, busy, busy at the bazaar!

The whole place was very smoky and smelled so much of food! Good thing we only had a few more minutes to breaking fast :)

Drinks are sold from large, clear buckets and poured into little baggies which are sold. You probably shouldn't drink from the baggie, but you can pour it into a cup!

Who's awesome? This guy right here. He's cutting up some branches like a boss

This was an animal, but now it's meat. Most are cooked rotissery style, here.
Most of the view from the car on the ride to Kelantan. Not the most exciting 14 hours of my life, but the scenery was nice!

Restaurant meal, white rice, chicken curry, a small salad and some soy bean pastry

An Indonesian restaurant dish, complete with fish, yellow rice, and small salad. All served on a banana leaf on a wooden bowl. Sedap!

Some pretty potted plants at the home in Kelantan

A very nice mosque we stopped at on the way to Kelantan. It's better to make bathroom stops there, especially during Ramadan. If you stopped at a Shell station, you'd have the temptation to buy food.

An equally beautiful mosque. This one had amazing architecture, the pillars and towers and domes made for a magnificent sight, all highlighted in that robins egg blue.

In Kelantan, the National Tourism House

The Entrance Sign to a Marketplace.

Food at the Marketplace. It's a very famous open market in Kelantan that's 5 levels high and REALLY BIG

Vendors sit in the middle of their wares, in this case fruits and veggies. She's on the table, there.

This was a little gruesome. If you can't tell, it's dead chickens complete with feet and head. They are sometimes used in cooking, those appendages.

An overhead view of the wet market

The many levels of the Market!!!

The upper levels sold things like cloth, clothing and toys.

Nice bicycle man took us for a ride courtesy of Pappa Roslan. That was incredibly dangerous :)

Buka Puasa (breaking fast) at the house, everything looks so delicious!!

Me and some illegal fireworks. I'm in the hitam/kuning shirt of Malaysian football players!

The omnipresent sweets of Hari Raya! Selamat Adilfitri Malaysia!

The house's open food, celebrating the option to eat with open houses where everyone eats till they're fat!

The extended family!! I'm the one in the middle, back. Everyone's so nice!

Dinner at another house, the open house feast goes on!

All of us at another open house, we travel in a caravan, a cartel of visitors :)

The process of removing the white from coconuts uses this machine and some skilled hands!

Your favorite American making Roti Jalan, an egg pastry that is wrapped up and eaten with curry and sauce.

The outside of the house, absolutely gorgeous. To the far left is a rambutan tree, to the far right is a durian tree. In the center is a koi pond and a nice little sitting area. 

Well, that's all for now. Bask in the photographs, I'm going to take some dinner. Next blog I'll tell all about Kelantan, Hari Raya, Adilfitri and Merdeka Day!