Friday, July 29, 2011

Malaysia vs. USA

I have decided that in this post I am going to talk about the key points in the Malaysians life style, and how they compare to life in the USA, to give you a general feel for how life is here in Malaysia :)  But please keep in mind that I have only been here for two weeks, so some of this information might change as I learn more!

Almost all meals in Malaysia include rice.  Rice, rice, rice.  Generally, two or three dishes are served that
include shrimp, chicken, fish, or vegetables.  Then, you take some of the dish and put it on top of the rice, and using your RIGHT (very important) hand you mix the food together and enjoy.  Usually the dishes are extremely flavorful and spicy, so not much is needed to give he rice a lot of flavor.  Generally, all foods are mixed together and are never meant to be separated.  No matter what foods are served, the first step is to mix them all together.  Eating out is extremely cheap compared to the US; a family of four can eat for about $7.  Average restaurants appear to have no menus, so for me it is always a mystery as to what my parents order for me.  Another difference from the US is that there are no recipes whatsoever.  Usually whatever is in the fridge that will make an interesting combo is what is for dinner.  There are no temperature settings on the stoves, no timers, and no measuring devices.  The instructions my mom gave me to cook rice were "fill a cup with rice, and then add a little bit more, fill the water up to about the middle of your finger, and turn it on until it looks like the rice is done."  Regardless, the food turns out delicious, almost always.  The food is of course very spicy, but is not as difficult as a thought it would be.  I have actually found that I can eat more spicy food than my host parents!  I brought them hot tamales because I had heard the food in Malaysia was spicy, and half way through one piece they boy exclaimed "I can't take it!" and had to get up to throw it away.  I thought it was hilarious, and continued to finish the whole box.  My family was amazed.  I have also learned to never ask, or make assumptions, about what something is made out of.  My family was eating a lot of this type of cracker that was light brown, and I assumed it was a dessert, made of cinnamon or something like that.  However, after I took one for myself, my parents told me it was made from grounded up dried fish.  Definitely not at all what I was expecting. 

Religion is a very, very large part of life here in Malaysia.  Regardless of what religion a family is (Islam,
Buddhist, or Hindu) it is very very important.  Because I live with an Muslim family, I am currently learning the most about Islam.  The families pray five times a day during azan (a prayer is read over a loud speaker across the town) and before all meals.  Also, during school prayers are made before and after each period.  All events, outcomes, and tasks are done for or because of Allah.  Also, Ramadan is coming up shortly, and during the month no one will eat, drink, smoke, or chew gum from sun up to sun down.  Also, over the month each Muslim is required to read the entire Quran and ask forgiveness for their sins.  As of right not, I am planning on fasting alone with my family but my only concern is that I will get dehydrated without the water because I am still adjusting to the weather.  We will see how it goes!

There is no rules on the road.  At all.  To get a perfect summary on Malaysian driving please read the following article:

Families are extremely tight knit in Malaysia.  Kids spend almost no time with their friends because the families do  essentially everything together.  In the USA it is normal for the entire family to be in the house and everyone is doing different things, such as TV, video games, reading, or computer.  That is generally not the case in Malaysia, and it is rude to spend a lot of time alone in one's room.  Also, whenever a member of the family has to leave the house such as an appointment, or going to the grocery store, the whole family goes along as well.  They are also extremely close to their extended family and it is common for grandparents to be living in the house as well.  My host father has 9 siblings, so family gatherings are always massive, and a lot of fun.

Because Malaysia is a conservative countries, the rules are very different from the US.  Especially for teenage girls, like myself.  All girls must be home by six if they go out with their friends, and are not allowed to go out by themselves.  Because I am a foreigner, I must always be accompanied by a family member when I leave the house.  It is not customary for one to spend a lot of time at a friend's home because you are considered rude for using up their electricity or food.  Also, girls are not allowed to spend time alone with men, and are definitely not supposed to have boyfriends.  (However, many teens enjoy breaking this rule).  PDA is illegal, and a couple can get fined for kissing in public.  All children live in the house until their get married.  Generally, teenagers do not get jobs until they are married, and the parents are financially responsible for them until they leave, which is usually around the age of 25.  After a daughter leaves, the husband is now responsible for her finances.  In all homes, the father is the head of the home, all all decisions mus be approved by him.  Respecting the father is extremely important.

Homes are relatively similar to those of the USA, with a few exceptions.  Every house has a gate and a cement wall surrounding it, and you can easily reach over the wall and touch the house next to yours.  Shoes are never worn in the home, ad must be removed before going inside.  Most homes do not have washing machines, clothes dryers or hot water heaters, which is okay because it is so hot all the time.  The main differences are the bathrooms, which are WET all the time.  There is typically not a separate area for showering, so by the end of your shower every inch of the walls and floor are soaking wet. 
I would gladly post pictures of my home but it is currently being remodeled so everything is piled on top of the furniture and in the hallway.  However I am extremely excited for the remodel because I get to design my new room, and will somehow end up with a queen sized bed and the biggest bedroom in the house.  No idea how that managed to work out!

In Malaysia there are only 11 grades, so most are 17 when they graduate.  In high school the teachers switch
classrooms instead of the students, and you stay with the same class after form (grade) 9.  Each students gets
assigned to the science or art stream.  In the art stream you take classes such as history, civics, and economics.  In the science stream you take physics, biology, chemistry, and mathematics.  The science stream has much harder classes and most homework.  The classes are arranged within the grade alphabetically, and the higher the letter, the harder the work.  Of course my school decided to place me in the A class and science stream because I have already taken all the science classes and assumed I could help the students.  But to my advantage, I am not given any text books, expected to do homework, or take the tests :)  All students are required to wear uniforms, and each uniform is symbolic to how much power one has, or what clubs they are involved in.

A lot of languages are spoken daily in Malaysia, and everyone is at least bilingual.  Everyone knows both Malay and English, and the Chinese population speaks Chinese (either Mandarin or Cantonese), and the Indian population speaks Tamil.  The Islamic religious ceremonies are performed in Arabic, and the Hindu religious ceremonies are performed in Sanskrit.

The weather is Malaysia is by far my least favorite part, as that it is hot and humid 89% of the time.  You can
hardly run outside to the trash can without sweating.  The other 11% of the time it is pouring down rain and
thundering and lightning.  However I am not alone, because I have yet to meet a local that does not hate the
weather as well.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The First Week

As of today I arrived in Malaysia a week ago, and so much has happened!  Before we left we had an orientation in DC, to try to get us more prepared by talking about the culture and expectations.  Once we arrived in Malaysia we were picked up in the airport and taken to a hotel along with the other 47 kids from all over the world that were going to be living in Malaysia for the year.  There were kids from Germany, Argentina, Venezuela, Belgium, Spain, Italy, France, Portugal, and a couple more.  They took us around KL (Kuala Lumpur) for awhile, and then taught us a song that we would have to perform the next day after we got our host families.  My family is a mom (Diana), a dad (Baharuddin), and a 19 year old sister (Amelia).  They are very kind, and doing their best to make me feel at home :)  After they picked me up we went shopping at the Petronas Towers, and headed home.  I got settled in my room, although it will change quickly because my family is currently remodeling their home.

The first couple days I didn't do much.  I only left the house once or twice, to go to the market and buy my school uniform.  I was still very tired from the long flight, and my stomach was adjusting to the food.  Also, to the heat!  It is exremelyyy hot here!  You can't hardly go outside, or any room inside without AC for that matter, without sweating.  Whenever we open the fridge, the cats try to jump inside!

After a couple days of tiredness and sickness, I had my first day of school.   My school is only a five minute walk from my house, and has grades 5 through 11.  Because their school year runs with the calendar year, I am starting in grade 10 and will begin in grade 11 in 2012.  Only three minutes after I walked onto the school property I was asked to introduce myself in front of the whole student body.  Thankfully, they let me do it in English.  After the assembly, I went to the counseling center where I was given my class schedule and introduced to Alya, my 'tour guide'.  Instantly everyone at the school was very friendly and made me feel welcomed.  Besides from the weather and uncomfortable uniforms, it was a very good first day!
Aside from school, I have visited the neighbors, done some shopping, and a lot of cooking!  Everyone here is very nice in Malaysia!  When we went to lunch, we started talking to a couple for a few minutes, and then they ended up paying for our lunch!  Shortly after we returned home, our neighbors dropped in and gave us two cakes, a chocolate and a rainbow (I will be sure to post pictures later, because they are quite impressive).  The food is all very good, and very spicy!  I am going to be taking a cooking class in my school so I can learn how to cook the traditional Malaysian foods.  I am also considering a baking class, or a martial arts class.  I think I need the exercise, especially with all the food!

This weekend we are going to see the new Harry Potter movie, visit my host grandparents in the village, and attend a wedding in KL.  I can't wait!  Overall everything is a lot of fun, and I am being kept very busy!  I will be sure to write more later!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Ready to Go!

Well, I've pack all my bags and I am ready to get on the plane for LA tomorrow!  The travel plans are to fly down to LA tomorrow at noon, stay there overnight for some orientations, fly to Hong Kong, and end up in Kuala Lumpur.  Once I am in KL, I will have another day or so of orientations, and then my host family will pick me up on the 16th of July.  I am so excited to arrive in Malaysia and meet my family!

Two weeks ago I went to Washington D.C. for the National Pre-Departure Orientation.  This orientation was unique because it incorporated both sides of YES; both the international students that had stayed here for a year (over 600!) and the 50 American students that are going abroad.  It was a very cool to get to meet the hundreds of students from all over the world, and get to here stories about their year here in the USA.  I also got to meet several Malaysians during the orientation, and I learned A LOT about Malaysia!  They were all extremely nice,and so much fun to be around.

During our time in DC we got to participate in lots of activities that promote the YES program.  First we got into group by which state we were from/were hosted in, and met with our senators to talk about our experiences.  Secondly, we went to the Malaysia Embassy to promote student exchange, and have a delicious lunch (that yes, we ate with out bare hands).  Next, we headed over to the State Department to talk to an Ameican Ambassador, and then headed to the American Councils for dinner.

We ended the evening with an extremely large talent show.  Each country group had to preform a song and a dance native to their host country.  The USA group performed 'This Land is Your Land' and square danced.  I loved getting to see all the amazing cultural dances and it made me even more excited for my year abroad.

Overall, the PDO was an absolute blast, and I loved getting to meet so many amazing people from all over the country, and all over the world.  I miss my new friends already!