Sunday, October 30, 2011


Just recently (Oct. 26th to be exact) was Deepavali!  For those of you that don't know, Deepavali is basically the Hindu version of Christmas.  It is a time to come together with family to celebrate life and love, and of course, an excuse to EAT EAT EAT :)  Because I am currently staying with a Chinese family (more on that later), I was put in an Indian family for a week so I could experience the culture first hand.  It just so happens that I got to stay with my liaison's family, and my recent temporary family.  Because I had stayed with them for a month and I had only left two weeks ago, I immediately fit right in.

The first thing we did was set up decorations around the house.  The decorations are very simple, but definitely create the festive feel.  They include colorful paper mobiles, bright flashing lights and metallic banners that read 'Happy Deepavali!' in both English and Tamil (shown above).  In public places and a few houses they will to intricate designs in colored rice.  (Below)

The second step in preparing for Deepavali is shopping!!  It is the tradition that everyone must wear something new on Deepavali day.  Most men will buy a simple shirt, or maybe a jippa.  But the women take it to the next level and buy new EVERYTHING.  This includes a new sari (a long piece of fabric tied around the body), bangles, necklaces, earring, henna, and bindi (worn on the forehead).  They will also sometimes buy a new penjabi (what I wore) to wear later on in the day.  The night before deepavali the clothes are left in front of the alter so they can be blessed.

Jippa - for men
Sari, with bangles and bindi
Me in penjabi

The last step in preparing for deepavali is cooking!  It is tradition that the first meal of the day should always be eaten at home, so the mothers and daughter usually spend the day before preparing the meal.  They also prepare lots of little snacks, such as ghee balls, coconut candy and murukku.  Coconut candy is my personal favorite and I have included the recipe below :)

On deepavali day everyone in the family wakes up early to greet the sun (even though the younger generations are less keen on this), put on their new clothes and go to the temple.  After the temple they go home and have the first meal together.  After that the day is spent being visited or visiting friends and family.  Some people have open houses and have people stop by, or some simply have a few relatives over for the day.  Overall it is a very relaxing day, and my family even had nap time.

Similarly to Christmas, I feel the best part of Deepavali is the preparation beforehand.  The shopping, the decorating, the cooking, etc.  I had a lot of fun during the week and I am glad I got to experience it :)

My host family at the temple on Deepavali morning

Deepavali decorations

At the temple
Deepavali sweets


WARNING: This candy is EXTREMELY unhealthy, but EXTREMELY delicious :)

2 3/4 cup sugar
3 cups shredded coconut (the fresher, the better)
1 can condensed milk
60 grams butter
2 pieces lemon grass
food coloring (optional)
buttered 8x8 pan

1. Mix the sugar and condensed milk in a round bottomed pan. Tie the two pieces of lemon grass into a knot and add them into the mix.  Put on burner at low/medium heat and stir until sugar is dissolved.  Stir constantly to avoid burning.  If it burns, turn down the heat on the stove.
2. Add the three cups of coconut to the milk and sugar.  Make sure when you measure the coconut you compact it down, like you do when measuring brown sugar.  Again, the more fresh the coconut is, the better.
3. Stir until the mix begins to stick together, when the coconut begins to absorb the sugar/milk.  Constant stirring is essential because it will burn to the bottom of the plan very quickly.  Before the mix hardens, food coloring may be added.
4. The test to make sure the mix is ready is when you can make a marble sized ball, drop it in a glass of water, and have it keep its ball shape.  When the mix is to this point, add the butter (stir thoroughly) and take out the lemon grass.
5.  Take off the burner and pour the mix into the pan.  Spread the mix evenly over the pan.
6.  Wait to cool and slice into small pieces. 
7. Enjoy :)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Satu Malaysia?

First:  I don't mean to pick sides or show favoritism towards any particular race in Malaysia, I am only trying to state the facts.

This is a picture that is extremely common in Malaysia, and it means 'Satu Malaysia' (One Malaysia).  It is meant to represent and encourage the union of all the three races (Malay, Chinese, and Indian) in Malaysia.  However I have learned from experience, and by hearing from several different Malaysians, that it is not as effective (or truthful) as they would like.

In general, Malaysia is still very segregated.  The Malays are with the Malays, Chinese with Chinese, and Indians with Indians.  Mingling together is almost never seen, and if it is, it is usually because of school obligations or other planned events.  They have separate restaurants, schools, and living communities for each of the different races.  Although it is not entirely uncommon for an Indian family to eat at a 'Malay' restaurant, it is also not uncommon to hear 'you must be careful what you wear outside because this is a Malay community'.  Usually you can tell immediately which race holds the majority in a certain area not only by the people seen, but by the language on signs, the type of food served at restaurants, or the types of house decor.

A lot of this separation is due to religious differences.  Some examples are that Muslims aren't allowed to eat pork, so they can not eat at Indian/Chinese restaurants where pork is served.  Muslims also aren't allowed to touch dogs, so they are unlikely to move to a Chinese/Indian neighborhood that has lots of dogs.  The three cultures wear drastically different types of clothing so they are unlikely to be seen at the same shops.  And of course Muslims cannot drink alcohol, which can be common in Indian/Chinese cultures.  I have heard some racist comments made about one race by another, and (in my opinion), the dislike from race to race is far to obvious.  Some families don't like their children to hang out with kids from other races due to fear of 'bad influences'.

However, I believe that the majority of the problems is because the government involvement with the church.  For example, once someone in Muslim, they are never allowed to leave the church, unless let's say, they leave Malaysia.  If someone is Malay, they must be Muslim.  If someone is born Muslim, they must stay Muslim.  If someone wishes to marry a Muslim, they must convert, and can't cannot un-convert.  Along with converting, you must follow the rules of the church.  These include donating (I think) 2.5% of your income to the church, not drinking alcohol, no gambling, no eating pork, no touching dogs, attending the mosque on Fridays (if you are male), and a few others.  Men are also allowed to have four wives, although Polygamy does seem to be rare (although not nonexistent) in Malaysia.  The government is also allowed to go to hotel rooms and check for marriages licenses to make sure couples are married, if not, they can be fined and sent to Islamic court.  Chinese and Indians also have to pay higher fines of property; if a Malay has to pay $200,000, Indians and Chinese must pay $220,000 for the same land.  Because of these rules, these is unavoidable tension between the races.
Admittedly these differences can be hard to accept at times because one of the things that most appealed to me about Malaysia was the different races under one roof.  Also because where I come from racism is a huge NO-NO, and freedom of religion is extremely important. Luckily for me however, I somehow have managed to have a Malay, Indian, and Chinese family so I have been able to learn all three cultures. :)

Although I find these cultural clashes extremely unfortunate, I must remember two things.  One, Malaysia was not always like this.  When the country first gained independence all the races could easily sit down for a meal together or have a nice talk, and considered themselves Malaysians, rather than Chinese-Malaysians, or Indian-Malaysians.  Secondly, Malaysia is only about 50 years old, and when the USA was 50 years old, women couldn't vote and slavery was legal.  Malaysia is still a developing country and sometimes going through hard times are needed to bring people together.

Traditional Malay Clothing

Traditional Indigenous Clothing

Traditional Chinese Clothing

Traditional Indian Clothing

Monkeys :)  (just for fun)

Sarah the Indian, OKAY, sorry it took me so long to write again!! I can barely remember the last time I wrote!  A lot has happened in the last month and I will try to fill you all in to the best of my ability. 

First off, I left my first host family around a month ago.  Needless to say it was one of the most dramatic and depressing experienced of my life!  I wish it could have worked out but some people just aren't compatible no matter how hard you try to make the pieces fit.  It made me feel better to know that 1/3 of this year's batch have already changed families, and about 80% of students from the last batch changed.  (At least that is what I have heard).  I am not sure why the family changing rate is so high in Malaysia, but my best guess is because the cultures are so different.

After I left my first host family I went to go stay with another temporary family until they could find my a  new permanent family. This time I was to stay with an Indian family.  I was excited when I found out I was going to stay with an Indian family (which was about 5 minutes after I left my first host family) because I have been extremely fascinated with the Indian cultures for quite some time!  Almost everything about my old and new family were completely different.  From the language (the Indians in Malaysia speak Tamil/English), the food, the religion, the customs, everything!!

One thing that I found most interesting was the Hindu religion.  My family were extremely active Hindus and went to the center/temple a couple times a week.  I was lucky enough to get to tag along for these visits and I was able to learn a lot.  The Hindu religion is unlike one I have ever experienced before, it is a lot about symbols and the different aspects of God, the different deities.  Each with different powers/meanings.  During the ceremonies these use symbols/offerings such as flower garlands, saffron, ash, coconuts, gold, yogurt, fruits, plants, fire, and a few others I'm surely forgetting.  All events are extremely complex and even more colourful.  The main way the Hindu's worship is with music, so there is always a lot of singing.  I really like the singing, even though it can be hard to follow a lot at times because the songs are in Tamil/Sanskrit/Hindi.  Each song is led by a different person and everyone is welcome to lead the songs.  I was even asked if I wished to lead one, but I unfortunately had to decline because I had never heard the songs before :P

During my stay with the temporary family I continued to go to the same school even though it was more than 20 minutes away because one of my family's neighbors happened to teach at a school near mine so she was able to give me a ride.

When I stayed with this family I got to experience lots of the Indian culture during special events, such a weddings, my host brother's birthday, singing lessons, and a special nine day prayer called Navratri.  During the nine day prays my family either went to the center or to the temple each day to worship.  The point of the festival is to celebrate the female aspects of God, so the festival is extremely important to, and almost completely organized, by women. 

Another big fesitival is right around the corner.....Deepavali! I will also be celebrating with the same family, I can't wait!  I will be sure to keep you updated with pictures & more blog updates!

At a Hindu Temple

Me and my host mom, in traditional dress

Inside a temple

Indian Temple - architecture

Wedding decoration, the pattern on the floor is made of rice


Bindi, worn by women on the forehead

Sai Baba Center - A place for worship and singing

Homemade Toasi, the best Indian food!

Me, offering flowers at the center during ceremony

Indian wedding

Offerings at a wedding