Friday, November 25, 2011

Help! I've stopped Blogging and I can't start again!

Truly, though, I do have a few good excuses as to my cyber absence. The easy answer is, it's just been a really busy few weeks. The harder answer is, I've been incredibly preoccupied with things that I do to preoccupy myself getting out of hand.
For those of you who know me, you are familiar with the plastic-bag to plastic-bag thing I do. Well, my host mother has her heart set on selling these little things off, and who am I to discourage Ibu? I am the student who insisted that we not cheat people with the price and not use the "I'm a student and I don't get a monthly allowance from my parents" story I use at open markets. Honestly, I say (translated) "Older brother/sister, expensive! Not cheap! I student, have no money!" Then, I do a little head math and offer half the price of what he/she has told me the item costs. That's usually about what it's worth to them and to me. So I've been convinced into making these bags, and now they're being taken to the AFS Volunteer Congress meeting for all the Chapter Presidents and Volunteers and people-who-they-like. There, Ibu will attempt to sell them to poor, innocent volunteers. Haha, I kid.
In an attempt to get myself talking again, I have started singing. In an attempt to get myself singing again, I have started playing my ukulele fairly often. I'm getting much better at the Ukulele, now mastering things like "American Pie" (which I sang to myself on Thanksgiving, more on that later), and all the Cat Stevens songs I can get my hands on. Also,  I bought myself a book of sheet music to various songs by Fleetwood Mac, which I am both proud and ashamed of. My range has really gone down since coming to Malaysia because I didn't see it as appropriate to belt out in song when washing dishes or in the shower like I would in the States. It was just uncomfortable. But now, in controlled amounts, I am venting emotions and distracting myself from homesickness with music, made by me :)

So, a combination of learning the language (which takes up a lot of time and frustration), making "art" and "music", and eating my way through the wheat bread I just discovered they actually have (but nobody born in Malaysia eats), there has been little time to blog. Which I am discontent about. Let me promise something, as much to myself as to anyone who vaguely follows this, even if just for the pictures. Once I move into the new house in January, I will being blogging on a regular basis. Whew. Now that it's out for the internet to see, I am forced to actually do it. This will be further enabled my the fact that I'm receiving a small netbook, courtesy of my favourite father. Thank you, Dad.

So, now that I feel I have sufficiently apologised for the absence of blog, let's address the problem directly.

Last week I attended a wedding that was different than the ones I have seen so far. This featured the joining of two older hands in marriage- one widower and one divorcee. I helped to pass out the little gifts and took some of the really delicious meal and yummy tarts. I also attended a wedding themed in green, which looked really beautiful even as the weather changed to hurricane-grade rain as it does every other day. Don't worry though, laundry still gets dry because it's about 90 farenheight for the hours between 8 and 2, when the clouds come out and it gets very wet very fast.

I went with my host mother to visit her sister, who would also like me to make as many plastic bags as my heart desires, and swam in her condo's pool, which was really fun! It was about 9 at night and we stayed in the water, myself and a Japanese student (who is ADORABLE) until around 10:30. Very enjoyable, and we slept on really comfortable beds. But I suppose beds seem really comfortable when you've just swam laps for an hour and a half. Being at Umi's house (translates to rumah Umi, say that and feel how nice it is to say) reminds me that although many people live in poverty in this developing country, there are also many who live in condos with pools and water you can drink from the tap. Not very many, but enough to make the roads seem funny, with the juxtaposition of BMWs and filthy 20-year-old motor scooters with an entire family sitting on them. The average family here has around 4 kids and a grandmother.

This brings me to Thanksgiving! I began the day by wishing the surrounding people a pleasant Thanksgiving Day and telling them that I am thankful for them. The sentiment was lost in simplification. Coming home, I would have liked to do as I had originally planned and make a nice dinner, but with a large Volunteer meeting the next day so students arriving intermittently threw it off. I had a bowl of Easy Mac instead and thanked God (formally, in prayer) for things like fake cheese sauce and foreign friends and microwaves. The loving support of my family and friends was implied. I got a little emotional, and played it out with all of the verses of American Pie (it's Pumpkin, dig in!) in my room, only messing up twice through all the 10 choruses. I did not, however, do the solo, because that is difficult to transcribe to the Ukulele.

So, I've been doing a dangerous amount of thinking lately. That's all I have to say about that.

Perhaps pictures to come later, but don't count on it- the thunderstorms mean that we can't use unessential electrical devices like laptops, and there are an abundance of thunderstorms. More later? For sure.

Things I'm Thankful For: The List in My Journal
My Family and Friends (like I said, implied)
Microwaves, Refrigerators, Washers and Washing Machines (all of which are scarce and scetchy, here)
Ketchup, not Catsup or Kicap
Cream Crackers- don't worry, I'll send a box back :)
Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader (they play it here and it makes our kids look smart so I can say, look, see how we are improving our education and look at how intelligent our youngsters are)
Fans
Public Transportation
Tourists (everybody needs somebody to scoff at)
The similarity of the relationships between Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia and The US, Canada and Mexico. It's eerily similar, and comfortingly similar, all in the same nutshell.
Puns and other Word Humor (because I feel like such a hipster when nobody else understands)
Belts (Peggy's pants are falling down, falling down, falling down...)
Cats (including street cats)
Curtains

That's all for now, have a Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Come For the Picures, Stay for the Captions: October Road

Little India in Ipoh! That's the capitol of Perak, the state we were sent to for Deepavali!The lights, the magic, the culture, THE SWEETS!!!

Some of us students got Henna tattoos (that washed off in 3 days) but were amazing nonetheless! True art doesn't come with a big price tag, it comes with sitting under a tent in the rain,  carefullt but effortlessly painting someone's hand with the beautiful shapes of your anscestors.

Little India has a sign. It's nto a very big sign, but it's a very nice sign. LOOKIT THE TAMIL! So pretty...
The handing-over ceremony- very touching even though we didn't understand a word...

Visited the school my Deepavvali host mom teaches at! So, of course, I take pictures of the library. (And other things, but you wouldn't be interested in my perfect shot of the stairs against the trees. Really, the light was perfect)

Charity activities with a Dato (he was pretty cool, but the people we were helping were more fun and they were impovershed).

Me in a Sari the first night (when host mommy insisted I blow-dry my hair. Didn't make that mistake again)!

The table set up for prayer, on Deepavali Eve where the pictures of the departed are lined up and offered food. There is a prayer that I took photos of, but I have a better consience than to post them.

One of the glorious, beautiful temples, decorated for Deepavali. More pictures upon request. Just breathtaking.
Fabulous Buddhist temple on a mountain, dedicated to the Godess of Mercy (she's the one in the gazebo).

Woo! Year of the Pig! That's my Chinese Horoscope, and it means that I'm well liked and social through my own means and I tend not to care what others think of me.

Learning to play some awesome drums. Alas, but it is not the same without the Sitar. Also, nice shot of the little temple house in the background ;)
A most beautiful waterfall, it looks like I took a picture of a painting, it's so spectacular. The way the sunlight makes the water gleam, oh it was amazing.

So, it takes be approx. ten minutes to upload a single photograph, and the time I spend online is limited, so I will leave the pictures here and start into the actual Bloggin' with my noggin' part.

The week before last (it's been so long!) I went to the capital of the state of Perak here in Malaysia to spend a week with an Indian family who would be celebrating Deepavali, the Hindi festival of light. I was extremly excited about this because I had not yet had the opportunity of educating myself about Indian culture. We were handed over after a rest, a bite to eat, and a trip to the "Little India" of Ipoh, all making for an exhausting day (we DID spend 3 1/2 hours on a bus, after all). There was a cultural presentation about India at the ceremony, and I caught some crappy pictures of that because most of it was fast, dramatic dancing. Once with our families us students broke apart and went to our respective houses, mine was in the little town of Tapah.
An adorable place, Tapah has about as many people as the village of Hope in RI, and there's one school where my temporary host mother teaches English and Tamil (One of the languages of India). She's a great teacher with an excellent reputation among the students as someone who gets things done but in a fun way. She asked me how I learned things in the states and what I thought was the best way to teach children to learn, and I said Song. I sang a few verses of School House Rock to her about Nouns (a noun is a person place or thinnng), Verbs, (VERB- that's what's happenin'!) and the multiplication of the number 3 (three-six-nine, twelve-fifteen-eighteen, twenty-one twenty-four twenty-seven, THIRTY!). In addition, I managed to explain to her the concept of pneumonic devices and rhymes for spelling (s-c-h-o-o-l, I hear the ocean in my shell) (b-e-c-a-u-s-e, Stop it dad, you're embarrasing me!). We visited the school on the first morning I was there, and I gave a short speach on what it's like to be an exchange student, showing off the little Malay I know. I gave out the name of my program to many teachers, all who seemed vaguely interested and some very enthusiastic.
We went visiting to people's houses and met many active volunteers at a charity event in which the cheif Dato of something-or-other was heavily involved. That was lots more fun than I anticipated! The family was kind enough to include me in everything they did, from visiting the family's restaurant to taking me to temple after temple, all of which were immaculately beautiful. I'm grateful that Roman Catholicism appreciates art in the churches almost to the point of Idoltry, and seeing such Idols so gracefully and colorfully displayed was fantastic. Everythign about Indian culture is so colorful and so appreciative of the planet. The family went to Penang, than Pualu Penang (the island) to visit some relatives, and we stayed overnight at a cozy flat where I met the Malaysian equivalents of 5 of my friends in the assorted teenagers. The family we stayed with was equally marvelous in taking me places they hadn't been in a while, including a Chinese Temple dedicated to the Godess of Mercy and a Malaysian Chocolate Factory. We visited more people, and took more pictures than I can count. Wait, yes I can, I took about 500 pictues of the environment, the people, and the places we went. And many plants. Sometimes I would just take shots of a water lilly, and that would take a few minutes getting it just right.
We got around the island with a serious education about its proud history from an uncle who's english was splendid. Almost everyone spoke fluently and those who couldn't weren't stopped by that, pantamiming such complex ideas as 'blessing from the gods' referring to my hair. Everywhere I went, I tried to go in traditional clothing unless my family were going in jeans. That got a lot of looks from people and since everyone looks fantastic in a sari, I was constantly told how beautiful I was. That week did a number for my self confidence. Many people commented on my white-ness, but it was never unflattering. These people seemed genuinely kind and so generous. I got so many gifts, getting back on the bus was as hard physically as it was emotionally. The last day my host mom took me to a funeral, which was incredibly sticky but fantastically beautiful. It was a time of sorrow, a time of reverence, a time to recognize the fragility of life and the mortality of human beings, but it was all done with flowers and insense, calling to the Gods of death and life to help the dead and the living. There was a kind of closure in the procession of people walking to the deceased, dipping their hand in oil and combing it through the hair, in motion of the oil bath that so many perform to keep their skin free from infection and cool in the sunlight. Although I was foreign, they accepted me into this closure, and I felt as though it were time for me to go, although I must return to this magical place.
And I will- around Christmas time. It will be great to see everyone again, and this time I'm bringing them all gifts like I couldn't pack when I went for Deepavali.
I promise I'll come back!

In later news, I spent the last week at school (!) and had a really good time (!?). Honestly, it was nice being able to start new at the school, this time with no expectations or people over my shoulder. It was just me, Peggy or Fatimah, with no expectations set up for me, although I was not the first or only student in that school. They've had one of two for the past 5 years or so, and everyone was comfortable with "orang putih"s in the classroom. I'm still getting looks of disbelief, and my name is called in crowded places, but the girls crowded together, looking at me at the same time, then turning back and giggling has really subsided. I've found a group of friends that branches off from my class, and there's always somebody to be with unless I take out a book, which peope actually understand means I want to read. I even felt comfortable enough to take my crochetting to class (because exams are over so we don't learn) where I wasn't ridiculed or laughed at, but my art was considered amazing and beautiful. It is the arts class, but they treat my doodles like the Mona Lisa herself.

Great. Fantastic. So what about this weekend? It's an extended 4-day weekend for me, because Friday I went back to the National Serivice Center to pick up my Host mother's daughter who's now back in the house. The rest of the day I sewed and cleaned and visited, then on Saturday there was as BM class and a trip to a wet market.So much fun and so busy! Made plans with some other students to go out tomorrow to KLCC to buy some ingredients and then to a fabric store, where another student will buy fabric for me to make her a costume out of for an upcoming Comicon. I'm going to be Steampunky, Yippee! Then on Tuesday, I'll probably go back to school and return my copy of A Contemporary Jewish Religious Thought that I borrowed from the library. Very insightful, that one. Oh yes, and there was a mass cow-slaughtering today to commemorate the almost-sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham as understood by Muslims and as taught by Islam. That made me nauseus and I'm not big on eating dark meat right now. I shouldn't have made eye contact with the dying animal, that really pushed me over the edge. I weep for the loss of life, but I understand the teachings of Islam withoug having to devote myself spiritually.

In conclusion, too impatient to put more photos, but I will make albums with the thousands of moments I've captured once I retun to the states. I'm considering beginning said album here with the (relatively cheap) printing and planning of picture placement. Truly, though, I don't know weather I'll have time! I'm so active here. I know this activity will decline as I stay in KL, but I'll put off that decline by exploring the city and country around me.

Reflections: I am broken and beautiful. You are broken and beautiful. Malaysia is broken and beautiful. My laptop is just broken, so don't expect frequent blogs.