Friday, August 19, 2011

A Year in Malaysia

A year living in Malaysia has come and gone. This is not everything that happened in the last year, but just some of the highlights. I landed Friday, August, 20, 2011 in the evening. I know today is the 19th, but it was Friday evening last year when I arrived. I do not remember the exact time but it was like 7 something in the evening. I went to the home of some people, showered, called my parents on skype to check in, ate Pizza Hut pizza and went to bed about 9:00p.m. I slept soundly until the next morning at 9:00a.m.

The first day I went and had Thosai for the first time. I checked out the place where I was going to be living and did some shopping for essential things that I didn't have room to pack or decided I could get here like cell phone, towels, sheets, etc. The second day I went to Telok Chempadak beach where the McDonald's and KFC are located. I ate at McDonald's. I saw monkeys for the first time that weren't in a zoo.

That next week went to the school, met with everyone and started preparing my first lessons. I came at the end of Ramadan and so I experienced that some what. I had to adjust from living in my own three bedroom, two and a half bathroom house with kitchen, washer and dryer, garage, yard, two cats, and ability to have people over, my car and all my belongings to one room with two tubs and a suitcase of clothes and a few items for school, and no car. It was a change from having my own kitchen to only being able to have cereal, salads, and sandwiches for meals. Having to go to a dobi (they do the laundry for you-so you can't wash it how  you want) or someone else's house to do laundry. Not being able to have people over whenever I want to have a get together.  Learning to live without my books, belongings, teaching materials. Getting used to waking up the the Morning Prayers of Muslims before my alarm would go off. Also, getting used to all the firecrackers that go off at night and cars racing up and down the street.

Learned right away to eat with my right hand instead of utensils. Every restaurant has a sink and soap to wash one's hands, so most people eat with their hands because you can wash them and know where they have been but you don't always know where the silverware has been or if someone has touched it with unclean hands. I have tried lots of different foods. 

I celebrated my 30th birthday by going out to dinner at a restaurant at the Tembeling Resort that over looks South China Sea.

Learned to be hot and sweaty all the time. Gave up working out because it is too hot and humid and it makes me tired instead of energized.  It still feels weird to have no seasons and no snow. Tried to learn to live with rain, rain, rain sometimes for like a week at a time. Tried to get over the weirdness of flooded gutters and roads when it really rains. Learned to be soaking wet all the time when it rains and having to roll up my pants to wade through water in certain places. Learned that they don't really use dryers here since that just makes a house hotter and it is easy to hang clothes out to dry. But during rainy weather it makes it very humid so clothes take a long time to dry, sometimes a couple days. Really like the loud thunder and bright lightning storms. Brought a light jacket I wore once for 5 minutes and decided it was too hot to wear. Took quite a while to build up a wardrobe that was more hot and humid weather appropriate than what I brought with me since I had no time to do shopping and that was not the climate I came from. Learned to live with tons of zits, but people don't think I am 30 with all of them.

I celebrated my first Hari Raya going to a few open houses and trying the majority of the food they have. It was lots and lots of food.

Went to the Public Library here on a school field trip and saw their small selection of books in English that I have already read all of.

Was able to join a book club of ex-pats so that I could have some books to read in English to keep me sane. 

Went on a school field trip to a Malay Kampung and saw a rice field.

Have gotten used to hearing the call to prayer and prayers 5 times a day. Gotten used to not feeling so awkward when I walk in on co-workers praying during the day since we don't have a designate prayer room and they just have to pray in whatever room is available.

Still working on the patience of not having my own car and going wherever I want, whenever I want. It is hard when I need to go somewhere and I can't get a cab. Luckily where I live I am close to a salon to get my hair cut, spa for massages and facials, and grocery store that has some things. Although I don't need much not cooking. Last year I rode the school bus to and from school, but in the spring that got frustrating with the driver being late or oversleeping. This year I have a lady who has a car service and she takes me to and from school. That way I can be to school early.

Made friends with some of the locals and do things with them sometimes. Mostly it is two of my co-workers who take me around to different places to eat, and help me out when I need to figure something out. I enjoy playing with their little girl and hope that someday I have one of my own. They have been a huge help to me. Made friends with some ex-pats and do things with them sometimes. I don't see them as much, but they have also been helpful.

Have gone to the beach several times and swam in the sea. 

Went to an Air Supply concert and really enjoyed it.

Had a Costume party in November for school. It was kind of like a Halloween party. It was postponed because they were not organized. It was weird not to celebrate Halloween or Thanksgiving.

Went to some Kenduri's (wedding receptions) for people I have met here or with friends who know people here who have gotten married.

Did a beach picnic on a one day school holiday in December with my co-workers that could come and their families. It was a nice time. I was going to try to do something every month, but with a small school and all the responsibilities that come with it and everyone being super busy we have done anything since. 

My Mom came at Christmas. We went to Kuala Lumpur for a few days so I could do some shopping and get more things that I needed. Hung out and visited with each other. Went to a batik place and got silk material with batik to make into something. Went to the Tenun factory and took a tour and got some fabric to also make into something. Did go to Christmas Day service at the Methodist church, one of two churches allowed here. The other is the Catholic church. It was ok, but didn't feel like Christmas. It was hard with no real decorations and the weather being hot and humid. Had a Christmas dinner and went to two open houses on New Year's Day. I was very sad when she left and it was hard after that. I had done very well not missing my family until she came. Mom's plane had some trouble on her way back home and I was very anxious for a few days until I knew that she made it home safely.

Learning to be patient with the time difference. That when I really need to talk to my parents for advice it is hard to wait for the time difference and most of the time I have to wait until the weekend because of the time difference to catch them. Learning to live without being able to go to their house for good cooking when they are trying something new or they are making one of my favorite dishes. Learning to live without Sunday matinee movies with my Mom. Learning to live without their hugs, and kisses when I am having a bad day. At least I can still e-mail them or call them for reassurance. Learning to live without my cats. No petting, feeding, giving them treats, cleaning out potty boxes, listening to them purr, sleeping with them, watching their crazy antics, getting after them. 

Went to Kuala Besut in Terenganu for Chinese New Year. Saw a huge market, got to go to another Kenduri and this one I got to see the behind the scene preparations for. 

Did our annual fundraiser which this year was a Presentation Day where students had songs they sang, we showed the winning movie from the movie competition and the winning animations.

Went to a Cultural exchange day with students and saw Joget dancing, poem recitation, play, Dikir Barat, Walinung Sari dance, Gamelan, and Silat.

Tried really hard for a few months to learn Malay but it was hard since our school is run all in English and so I really don't have much chance to practice Malay. Learned a few phrases but that was it. Eventually kind of gave that up. Plus, even when I spoke Malay people had a hard time with my accent understanding me and said it was easier when I just spoke English. ( I still don't know what they are talking about. I don't have an accent, but they all do. haha)

Didn't celebrate anything related to Easter, which was weird. Also, didn't get to celebrate Maunde Thursday with Sedar Communion, which is my favorite day of the year.  Did find some great podcast sermons around Ash Wednesday so I could at least have sermons to listen to through Easter.

Went to Lanchang Elephant sanctuary on another school field trip. Enjoyed seeing the elephants and watching the students interact with them. Also went to a Deer Park and got to see deer and other animals.

Learned what it is like to work in a small school where there are no subs so we cover for each other if someone is sick or gone. Learned to prepare lessons and grade assignments for more than one subject. Took students to the Autistic center for the volunteer program. Started a school wide sustained silent reading program. Took online classes for a school library media specialist endorsement. Worked on organizing the school library and entering all our books on an online catalog on the website Library Thing. Learned all the work that goes into producing a yearbook. I ended up being in charge of the pictures since I always have my camera. I took 900 and some pictures that they had to choose from for the yearbook. Also, learned all the work it takes for graduation. That it is a challenge to work with students where for almost all of them their first language is not English. I am still learning to teach regular English literature, composition and grammar to students who know very little English. I know now how challenging it can be to try to communicate with parents that do not speak English. I would like to learn all the languages my students speak, but that is not going to happen. Learning how challenging it is for others to rely on me since if the students do not know English very well, then they also struggle in their other classes. So, I am also their to support my other teachers as much as possible to help those students learn English quickly so they can be successful in all classes.

Spent my 5 of my 6 week summer break hanging around town just relaxing. I did lots of reading and sleeping. I did some lunches, mahjong, and book club with ex-pats most of whom left. The fourth of July was just a normal day, but I did try to remember to be thankful for those who fight for the freedoms I enjoyed when I lived in the US. I did go to a Surprise Hen's Night at Club Med Cherating beach. I also went to an Art Exhibition at the local museum with a fashion show by Bernard Chandran, silat, gamelan, and some dancing. I house sat for some people that live out very close to the beach. I walked on the beach quite a bit with their dogs. The last week I went to Kuala Lumpur to get my visa for China. Went sightseeing at the KLCC aquarium, Butterfly park, Bird park, Hibiscus garden, Orchid garden, and National Islamic Art Museum. Did a tiny bit of shopping. Ate much missed American food. Went to a couple movies.

Started school again. Moved the library into a portable building so that the old library could become a classroom. Did professional days. Have been teaching two weeks now. It has been very crazy so far. Moved my school things into the old library/new classroom so I could have my own and a big workspace.

The whole time I have been learning about Chinese, Indian, Malaysia and Muslim religions and cultures. I am trying to learn how to do things properly so as not to offend anyone. I am learning so that I can be an open minded person. I am learning so that I can share what I have learned with others that do not get to do an experience like this. I am learning so that I can grow and change as a person. I do wonder sometimes about the future. I am sure I won't fit in exactly where I was because I have changed. I don't fit in here though. I am a minority of one: single, Caucasian woman, in my 30's, teacher, Christian, not wealthy, from the United States. There are some people that have some similarities, but the differences are enough that I don't fit.

Read 77 books of 30, 946 pages. I am pretty sure the most in my adult life.

Now I have one year under my belt. I came in a month late since I found out about the job only a few days before school started. I missed out on the first meetings and learning about many of the activities that would be happening throughout the year. This year I know how to better help with the yearbook, graduation, our fundraiser, etc. I also know that I can step in after a school year has started with almost no lesson plans or materials with me and be able to still do a great job. I also learned I can teach more than two different classes. Here I do 8 different classes. In the coming year I will be celebrating my 31st birthday, going to Singapore; Shanghai, China for a teacher's conference. Meeting up with my Dad some where for Christmas. Who knows what else.

Well, that is my reflection of some of the major points from this year in Malaysia. 

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