Saturday, August 27, 2011

Disorder, Paleness, and BUGS

It is currently school vacation due to the end of Ramadan, so I have a lot more time to write.  Especially about the little things, which after all, are the interesting things that make the country unique!  (Quick note: We are currently redoing our house and we are ALMOST done, so when we finish in a couple days I will put up a video tour of my house!)

1. Malaysia's disorder
I have mentioned this before, but I think it is time to talk about it in more detail, I believe there is no pattern or consistency to anything in Malaysia, what-so-ever.  This makes it extremely difficult to adjust to the rules or Malaysians life style.  Here are some examples:
1. School.  Sometime school starts on time, sometime it doesn't.  Sometimes it ends at 12.10, sometimes at 2.40.  The class schedule is constantly changing, and the classes almost never start or end on time, and there are times when the class on the schedule isn't actually the one we are going to attend.
2. House decor.  A house is almost never painted the same color all the way around.  For example, the front of my house is tan and the back is lime green.  This pattern continues on the inside of the house, carpet/tiles will randomly stop in the middle of the room and a completely different carpet/tile will start.  Or there will be a blue wall, and a random red blotch in the middle.  My theory is that when a family has to remodel or fix a part of the house, they don't make an effort to make the new addition the same as the original.  It gives most houses and very interesting look.
3. Telephone numbers.  There does not appear to be a constant number of digits in both cell phone and land line numbers.  Nor are there specific area codes.
4. Plans.  This one is the hardest ad most confusing to me.  If someone tells you they are going to do something, there is about a 15% chance that it is actually what you are going to do.  For example, my mom will tell me on Thursday that we are going to KL on Sunday to eat dinner.  Then on Friday my sister will ask me if I am excited to go to shopping in KL tomorrow.  Then on Saturday morning I will ask when we are leaving and my sister will say 4.  Then at 1.30 my mom comes rushing in telling us that we are leaving in ten minutes.  Then I find out, after we get there, that we are actually going to another city where my mom's family lives to help with a wedding.  And we never end up going anywhere on Sunday.  This is typical in Malaysia, and so I stopped trying to keep up long ago.  It is also extremely common for big plans to be made at the last minute, and we have 20 minutes to prepare for an all day shopping in KL, or an overnight trip.
5. Rules.  This is also a hard one, because following family rules is very important in Malaysia.  My family will say that it is my host sister's turn to do the dishes, but then will approach me a few hours later and ask me why I didn't do the dishes.  Or they will tell me I must wash my laundry every 2 days, but they only wash their clothes once a week.  So I never know what it is that I am supposed to be doing.

The disorder can frustrating at times, but it always keeps things interesting.

2. Paleness....or lack of.
In Malaysia a lot of teenage girls do all that they can to become whiter.  They use all these facial creams and special soaps to make themselves appear more pale.  I even know a couple girls that put baby powder on their face when they leave the house.  And I have to admit it works-they do look whiter.  Well, their faces anyway.  This concept always makes me laugh because I think back to how hard the girls in the US work to become tanner.  From tanning beds to spray on tan to make-up.  It seems to me that no matter where you go, people always think the grass in greener on the other side.  I wish girls would stop using dangerous chemicals and giving themselves cancer in tanning beds and learn to accept what they have and feel beautiful in their own skin. :)

3. BUGS.  I HATE the bugs in Malaysia.
I knew that Malaysia was a tropical country and that there were going to be a lot of big bugs, but I didn't prepare myself for the amount of little bugs.  There are ants, little tiny ants (only about 2mm) everywhere, all the time.  If you leave food on the table, you only have two minutes until it is crawling with bugs.  I walked in my room the other day and there was a trail from one end to the other of hundreds of ants. HUNDREDS.  Even on the wall you can see a trail of ants.  Laying in bed reading you will find them all over the sheets, on your arms, hands, on the book, everywhere.  To top it off, the ants can bite you and leave itchy blotches all over you.  In addition to the ants there are of course big bugs, but they are much less common.  There are (2 inch) cockroaches in the house sometimes, and I am grateful for the cats that like to catch them.  There are also really big flying bugs that come out at night, and when you see them in the street lights you can't tell if they are the birds on insects.  Lastly, there are huge moths that come out at night, at reach from 3 to 6 inches long.  I don't mind these, but I know some people that would hate them. (mom) :)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Fun in KL

As I have said before, my host family is very tightly knit, so when I get to hang out with my friends it is a treat!  Last weekend all of the YES (aka American) exchange students got to hang out KL (Kuala Lumpur) with YES returnees (Malaysians who have stayed in the USA).  It was a lot of fun, we got to hang out for awhile and compare our experiences, go to a traditional Malaysian restaurant, go shopping at KLCC and see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt 2 in theatres!  It was so much fun to be crazy and loud around my friends, share hugs, and be sarcastic.  The reason this is so refreshing is because in general Malays are very quite, serious, don't hug, and hate sarcasm.  It is very hard for us (well me, at least) to act like this for very long, so when we can be ourselves it is a huge relief.  I am used to a very active and 'loud' life style, so being trapped at home without activity for weeks at a time makes me go insane! 

We got to go shopping at KLCC, which is a real treat.  KLCC is actually located in the Petronas towers (one of the 5 tallest buildings in the world), and has a HUGE shopping mall.  The shopping is unlike anything I have ever experienced before, and I can easily see why people come from all over the world to go shopping here.  Each mall has at least 5 floors, a several book stores, hundreds of  clothing stores, a theatre (or two), a bowling alley, multiple music and gaming stores, cooking stores, dozens of restaurants and sometimes even an ice skating rink.  One could easily spend ALL day in one of the malls and still only cover a few of the floors. 

The Petronas towers with the KLCC mall

Skating rink in the mall
 Outside of the YES students, I am getting along really well with the other exchange student in out state, Facundino.  He is from Argentina and has been in Malaysia since January.  It is extremely interesting to hear about his experiences so far, and I can practice my Spanish with him.  His host family owns a restaurant, and my parents are good friends with his parents, so we go to his restaurant a couple of times a week.  That way we get good company and delicious food.

Dinner including blue rice and fish chips

Red chili chicken with rice, delicious but SPICY

First Month in a Nutshell

Wow, I can't believe I have already been in Malaysia a month!  I know I haven't been putting pictures in my posts, so I promise a lot this time!

First off from one of my previous posts I wrote about an article on Malaysian driving that didn't go through, so here is that article:
I would like to say that this article is completely accurate, and that driving (along with almost everything else in Malaysia) seems to have no structure whatsoever.  I am not sure why the government even pays for road signs, or bothers to paint lines on the road.  No one seems to feel any obligation to abide by them.

Even after a month, I am still waiting to see what the 'normal' Malaysian life style is like.  Because we have been celebrating Ramadan for the last three weeks, I have been living out of the norm.  Like I said in my last post, the month of Ramadan mostly consists of sleeping and lounging around.  I have fallen into a pattern, just like how I had a pattern in the US, but I know it is going to change once again. 

My current pattern consists of waking up for school, going to school, coming home from school, taking a nap, watching tv, eating dinner, more tv, and then going to sleep.  I may get to go to the grocery store, or something similar, during one of the watching tv sessions however.  While this may sound extremely boring/lazy, I have found that this is normal for Malaysia!  I think that this is because it is too hot to do anything outside (sports, going to the park, etc) unless it is dark outside, and then it is too dangerous to do anything outside, especially if you are a girl.

The school system is drastically different from the US school system.  I have always heard that school was very challenging and serious in Asian countries, but that does not seem to be the case for Malaysians schools.  It is not uncommon for teachers or students to not show up to class, and there may be long periods of up to 40 minutes where the students are just sitting in the class.  Homework is extremely rare, and I find it is even more rare for students to do the homework if they do get any.  Furthermore, the grading system is a lot different from ours, and I think that an 85% is an A, compared to the 93% in US schools.  When students get a test back with a 40% or 50%, they are happy with their score.  I can't even imagine when my mom would do if I came home with a 40% on a test, haha!  Because of the unstructured school system it is common for exchange students (especially those who have already graduated) to not take the school too seriously.  My school, for instance, does not give me any books, assignments, nor expects me to pay attention during lectures (most of them are taught it Malay).  I am currently using the days that I do go to school to re-read the Harry Potter series.  (I highly recommend the books to anyone who has not read them, or read them several years ago, because they are incredible).  I found that a lot of the other change students are having similar-ish school experiences.  Another exchange student in my area tells me he only goes to school once a month! 

Honestly it has been harder for me to adapt here than I originally anticipated.  I think this is due to the fact that Malaysia is opposite from the USA in almost every way possible, and there are a lot of unforeseen obstacles.  Of course, this is what teaches us, but it is also what makes it challenging.  One of these challenges include the racial segregation I have noticed between the different races in Malaysia.  I have noticed that in general, people only hang out with people of their same race (i.e. Indians with Indians, Malays with Malays, and Chinese with Chinese), and I have even heard some racist comments about other racial groups.  This is upsetting for me because one of the reasons I came to Malaysia was for the common union of all the different races.  A second unforeseen challenge was the amount of gossip and lack of personal privacy.  More common than not the first question I get asked is what my religion is, then followed by the amount of money my family makes, their jobs, types of cars, etc.  (I find it best not to answer any of these questions).  Also if I receive a note from a fellow classmate, all of the other girls in my class make sure that they read it before I do, and determine if it is okay for me to read.  The gossip has also caused a great deal of problems for me and my family, usually among adults.  Somehow, before I even arrived, all my teachers and my host mom's co-workers knew about my religious affiliation (or lack there of) and weren't too happy about it.  My host mom's co-workers have been giving her a really hard time for letter a 'free thinker' in her house, and you can tell from the unfriendly facial expressions that they give me that I am not very popular.  I don't let it get to me too much however, because that is the reason that programs like these exist.

I have heard from many people that Malaysia is considered a very hard country to be an exchange student in because of the religion (very conservative) and amount of rules (girls aren't usually allowed to leave the house).  From what I have heard there have already been instances of host family changes and students returning to their home country.  However, I know it is our duty to look at all of these challenges as learning opportunities and remember the cliche, 'its not bad, it's not good, it's just different'.


The Americans going to Malaysia.


The exchange students and staff in my state.

Host Family

Host Grandma cooking delicious coconut rice/bamboo things

Host sister and I on the world's longest rope bridge

Malaysian street/scenery

 Hindu temple in my city.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

RAMADAN - Selamat Berpuasa!

First off I would like to appologize for taking so long to write, after all the emails and facebook I always forget that I have to update my blog as well!

Well ever since August 1st we have been celebrating Ramadan here in Malaysia, the month of fasting.  Each year the time of Ramadan changes because it is based on the Islamic Calendar.  The Islamic calendar is different from ours (according to the Islamic calendar it is the 22nd day of Ramadan , in the year 1432) and it is based off of the lunar calendar.  During the month of Ramadan all Muslims must refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex during daylight hours.  The point of Ramadan is to help Muslims learn about patience, spirituality, humility and submissiveness to Allah.  All Muslims are also required to read the entire Quran during the month.  (However from my experience few do).  In general, they must focus on their religion and being a good Muslim instead of their other desires like hunger and thirst.  You frequently hear short commercial clips on the radio reminding Muslims to celebrate Ramadan the 'right way', and not to gossip and do volunteer work or find new ways to connect to God.  However, from my personal experiences that most Muslims simply use Ramadan as an excuse to be lazy, and pig out after the sun goes down.  It is unfortunate that the original meaning of Ramadan has been lost.  Either way, it is a fun month and I have been learning a lot.

In order to eat before the sun rises, we have to wake up at about 5.00 AM and eat and drink we much as we can to try and get us through the day.  This is not as easy as it may sound, where as you are already upset that you have woken up so early (usually only after four or five hours of sleep), eating left overs from last night is the last thing that you want to do.  After we finish eating at 5.30, we usually go back to sleep until 6.30 when we get ready for work or school.  All school activities (like clubs and sports) are cancelled, and adults usually have shortened work days.  After school, I come home and sleep from about 1.00 to 4.00 or 5.00.  At 5.00 we head to bazaar Ramadan, which is a huge number of stalls of food.  They have every type of food you can imagine, and all of it is extremely cheap by US standards.  At each stall you select the food you want and how much, and they load it into a plastic bag.  After we have enough food for about 10 people we head home.  Immediately we put the food on the table as if ready to eat, and then we proceed to wait for another hour and a half.  My family sometimes likes to sit at the table for thirty minutes or so until we are allowed to break fast, but I choose not to join them.  It always amazes me how much my family is able to eat.  We have been to buffets a couple times for buka puasa (breaking fast) and my family will refill their plates 8-10 times, completely cleaning their plates each time.  I usually only eat one or two plates, and my family spends the last hour at the buffet trying to get me to eat more, and are convinced there is something wrong with me.  This is one of the challenges I have been facing with Ramadan, because most people take it to mean that I don't like the food and consider my behavior rude, so I have lost count the number of times I have had to explain to people that I have a 'small stomach', and not that I don't like the food.

Bazaar Ramadan

Breaking Fast - Dinner for two

The food always includes rice, and lots of meat.  All kinda of meat - fish, squid, chicken, lamb, steak, clams, shrimp, etc.  The food is always bright yellow or red, and either extremely spicy or extremely sweet.  For dessert they like to eat sugar cubes coated in dried coconut.  Where they are delicious, they are also extremely overwhelming and can never eat more then one or two.

I personally don't find fasting that difficult, and sometimes I'm not even hungry when we break fast.  I think this is due mostly to the lack of physical activity.  Where as Malaysia is already considering, in my mind, to have a rather 'lazy' life style, it is even more so during Ramadan.  I also think Ramadan it is a great way to loose weight (as long as you don't pig out at night haha), and almost every single exchange student has lost weight since they arrived in Malaysia.

I am looking forward to the end of Ramadan - Hari Raya.  It s a long festival celebrating the end of Ramadan, when family members and friends often go to each others houses and eat.  Eat, eat, eat!  We take a week off from school and work for celebration.  I can't wait and I will update you guys soon on how it goes!