Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Malacca and the Journey

It's been quite a while since I've sat down with a laptop and just written. I've been encouraged by all those around me, students and volunteers and teachers and peers, to write, write, write! There has been either all the resources in the world or all the time, but never together at the same time. I've stayed away from Cyber Cafes unintentionally, and if this blog post brings me (and you) enough enjoyment, I'll stray into those less-than-legal places of business more often.
Let's have some background. Right now I'm on my program's short-term exchange having a fantastic time. I was a little disappointed that I didn't get to go to Sabah, Sarawak, or the Orang Asli settlement (On Borneo and the Aboriginal people) but I think Melaka suits me so perfectly! It's historically and culturally rich, it's essentially where Malaysia began. Malacca, as it's known internationally, is located in the south of the Malay Peninsula, on the Straits of Malacca. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site for a reason- it's the port of the peninsula so perfectly located between India and China. First colonized by the Portuguese, second by the Dutch, third by the British, and then conquered by the Japanese, Malacca bears the history of the entire region. The architecture around the town betrays some old European influences, and the fusion with the (even older) Asian shapes makes for a really interesting walk around the city. Oh, and the MUSEUMS! This preserved history and educational landmark exploration is what I love about my region of the United States and this region of Malaysia. Finally, I've found my Coventry, here!
It certainly helps that my short-term exchange family is so fantastic! They're very westernized, but they are just as cautiously appreciative of the Asian culture as the next natives. I've got 4 sisters, two younger and two older, one in college and one that went to the US on my program's compliment. She was even in New England! We got to share our stories, and besides the immediate click my relationship with the family is strong. We've got a love for excellent (old) music, great (new) music, cultural adventures, educational exploration, and so much more! In the few short days since arrival, I managed to get a little sick and realized the benefits of having a doctor as a host father. My host mother is an investment banker with a big heart. Another interesting fun-fact, my family is what's commonly (and affectionately) referred to as "Chindian", or Chinese/Indian ethnic heritage. My father's the Indian, my mother's the Chinese one, lah.
And I'm only halfway (ONLY halfway?!?!) through these two weeks! We were talking for a while about the difference between only being somewhere for so long, being there for ONLY so long, and being there for only SO long (and, of course, being there for only so LONG). If you can tell the difference, you probably know me :)
As my ONLY eight-month mentality develops, my only EIGHT MONTHs washes over my like waves. I'm looking back at this experience even now, and I'm still here. I've gone through my fair share of challenging times and now all of the beautiful rewarding, truly what-I'm-here-for times are rolling in. I've been given more and more opportunities to travel and see this amazing country, and I've been given the background to truly understand and appreciate it. I've come into my own at school, getting involved in class with a new enthusiasm for language, and becoming a part of the student body with such activities as basketball and the sports day. I'm getting to church almost every week, and that is just the very very beginning of my recent headfirst dive into philosophy.
That whole mentality was rekindled right before Chinese New Year, and that experience of getting close to the Towerist and Buddhist practice was refreshing from the mainline Islam that's been so immersive. With a background in the YES program that's so Islam-focused I have come to appreciate this, the most intense of the Abrahamic religions, and it's been really encompassing. Since I was young I've been fascinated by philosophy in a dorky/hippy way, spending hours in the library just reading and outside just breathing. Being on my own has somewhat forcibly opened me up to the practice of all these approaches to enlightenment and "god". I wandered through the complex simplicity of the eastern philosophy, I crawled into the comforting solidity of western religion, and I've rolled around in my own understanding of the universe, actively seeking to pen it all down. But you won't be seeing that journal anytime soon :)
Journaling for growth is probably the most helpful thing I've done, here. Communication with others will always be flawed because relationships depend so much on how much and what kind of communication you have, and the communication depends on the relationship- so it's this big confusing loop! Blogging is healthy and I'm getting what I'm thinking and feeling and experiencing OUT THERE, but I never know just who's reading me. Writing a journal for myself is really good, I'm learning a lot from my abstract scribblings. Strange dreams, concrete events, odd dramas, honest interactions and gorgeous environments- they all go down in my new-ish book. Perhaps losing my journal of the first three months was a cosmic force for good in my experience so I could forget all those sad difficulties and move on to the fierce challenges. Whew.
Speaking of moving on to fierce challenges, I'm almost done with the Lord Of The Rings series. I took up Eat, Pray, Love since coming to this short-term family, and it is an excellent reflection of a personal journey happening within a physical journey. I would recommend it to anyone who's NOT travelling, because those who are in the middle (or at the last four months) of their journey, mostly because you begin to pick yourself apart in contrast to your fellow journier.
It's important to sometimes look at others as a point of reference so you know how you can improve (without putting others down), but continuously comparing yourself to others is unhealthy, and it's something I've almost completely disregarded. We are all so individual that it seems almost a crime against all that beautiful uniqueness to compare one to another in a cynical, judgmental way. That's one of my reasons for coming here, so I'm not in that environment of constantly placing one person against another like what happens in high school. Being foreign, you can usually escape that kind of true you-are-similar-but-she's-better deal, because any comparison people make is to, you guessed it, other foreigners. Sometimes, my hair "looks like the hair of Taylor Swift". People, I'm not even BLONDE. We're just both white, and therefore grouped together in people's minds, here. that road goes both ways, my friend, I'll admit that most Asians look exactly alike to me. It doesn't help that all my peers wear the same outfit to school every day. That's a joke because we have uniforms that, if you're Muslim, cover your entire body minus your face and hands. So I get to scamper on out of that comparison loop, because I, at least, know that I am very very very different from Taylor Swift, Kristen Stewart, and that German girl who used to be hosted in the same school I attend. I go to bed knowing that I may have seriously impacted some people's lives that day, hopefully in a positive way, most hopefully to let them realize we're not all Taylor Swift, Kristen Sutton and That German Girl. Thankfully, and I mean this in the most sincere way possible, I AM PEGGY. Sometimes Fatimah, sometimes Batmah, sometimes Ginger, sometimes Spork for Pete's Sake, but I am always, most certainly Peggy.
Much Love,
Peggy (the one and only)