Saturday, August 31, 2013

Independence Day-Hari Merdeka!!!

Selamat Hari Kemerdekaan!

Patriotism is an intriguing characteristic that people of Malaysia cherish. I have seen people here of all races and religions fondly supporting their country through thick and thin. I especially got to see some of this patriotism during the Merdeka parade today. There, I saw tons of people of all backgrounds celebrating their nation's independence day.

This day marks this country's 56th anniversary of independence. From 1511 until 1957, Malaysia has passed through the hands of several countries. First, Portugal ruled over Malacca, after which the Dutch took over the colony. In 1786, the British entered Malaysia, and they grew increasingly powerful until World War II, when the Japanese gained control of Malaysia. My school here was actually a headquarters of the Japanese in Ipoh. It was known as Perak Shu Seicho and was used as the headquarters between 1942 and 1945. Japan ruled over the country for three years, and when the war ended, the British took back control of Malaysia. Until independence in 1957, British and Malaysians tried to come up with a plan for Malaysian independence.

Clearly, Malaysia has had a rich history and has been influenced by several European and Asian groups. To this day, you can see Dutch and Portuguese influences in Malacca, which is pretty amazing given the time and amount of conquerors this country has seen since Dutch or Portuguese rule.

Anyways, today, I had a chance to celebrate the amazing history and independence of this country. This morning, my host family took me to the Little India area in Ipoh. There was a nice parade and a lot of festivities there. We arrived kinda late, so I didn't get to see most of the parade, but I did get to take a couple nice pictures. I also got to see people of completely different heritages coming together to celebrate satu Malaysia ("one Malaysia") on Independence Day. I really enjoyed seeing this interaction on one of the biggest days in Malaysian culture and history.

Considering that the U.S. celebrated its 237th anniversary of independence this year, Malaysia is extremely young compared to the U.S. However, the culture that has been after independence has become so established in this country. To the point where you cannot believe that this country is only a few years older than a half-century. And yet, Malaysians have been able to incorporate international culture in their pop culture, entertainment, dress, and food. The mix of not only ethnic Malaysian cultures but also of international influences is pretty amazing here. While you do see this in the U.S., there are somethings you will not see in America. Unlike Malaysia, you will not see people of different races wearing their cultural clothing to a large extent in the U.S. Here, you will see Malay people in baju melayus and baju kurungs, Chinese people in cheongsams and samfoos, Indians in sarees and salwars, and people of all races in typical modern/Western clothing. You will not see Chinese alters and Buddhist and Hindu deities on the side of the street. Here, you can see alters and idols of deities of many different religions near Chinese and Indian stores and stalls.

To the point, however, I want to wish everyone, "Selamat Hari Kemerdekaan!" I hope you all Malaysians are able to celebrate this amazing day with your family and friends!

Here are some pictures from the parade earlier today:

The streets were fenced off, and so, you wouldn't be able to see any cars there.

A crowd of people watching a military tank from the parade pass by.

Me in front of the Little India Gate in Ipoh

In front of a Malaysian flag

The procession of famous people leaving the area

Me with two members of the armed forces

The military band playing

Selamat Hari Kemerdekaan!


Friday, August 30, 2013

An "MTV Cribs" look into my school

Helo kawan-kawan!

On Wednesday, I got the awesome opportunity to take my camera into my school to take some pictures and videos of school life! First, however, I've made a list of 10 apparent need-to-know facts one needs to know in order to survive in a Malaysian school:

1. DON'T bring your phone, laptop, or camera to school. Or at least don't use it during school hours. All Malaysian schools ban bringing electronic devices to school (I got special permission from a teacher to bring my camera to school).

2. When a teacher enters or leaves a classroom, stand up and greet the teacher in unison with your classmates.

To tell you the truth, I thought my classmates were pranking me during my first day at school, but after a couple of periods that day, I realized they weren't kidding about the greeting.

3. The students of a class stay in one classroom throughout the duration of the school day. Teachers for different subjects come to the classroom to teach a certain class. A class might go to the lab for long Science classes.

4. IT GETS EXTREMELY WARM IN THE CLASSROOMS. There is no air conditioning in the classrooms, but there are about 4 fans in the entire room. I've been able to adjust relatively well to the heat of the country (due to my 15 years of intense training in the sweltering Houston, Texas heat), but I still sweat sometimes, and my classmates here describe it as "unbearable." When there are power outages (5 in the last 3 days for me), you will definitely feel unbearably hot.

One of the 4 fans in the room. The fans actually make the classroom really breezy.

5. BRUNCH-this is definitely one of the hardest transitions for me. Here in Malaysia, school ends between 1:05 and 1:45 depending on the day. So, we don't have a lunch break; instead, we have a "brunch break" around 10:00 that lasts 20 minutes. We can go down to the canteen and get something to eat and drink during this time.

A nice view of the very crowded canteen

A fresh fruit juice shop inside the canteen

A shot of two food stalls in the canteen

6. During one class period, you could potentially hear English, Malay, Arabic, Tamil, Telugu, Punjabi, Mandarin, Cantonese, and other Chinese dialects. For sure. In my class alone, English, Malay, Tamil, Punjabi, Mandarin, Cantonese, and a couple other Chinese dialects are spoken. As of the last few weeks, I have been in the process of teaching my classmates some Spanish.

A look into my classroom

7. We DO have Saturday school. Whenever there is a week of school off due to holidays, we have a school day on a Saturday to "replace" the lost week. It's kinda rough getting up on a Saturday, but I'm slowly getting adjusted to it. Also, in Kelantan, Terengganu, and Kedah (three states in northern Malaysia), school runs between Sunday and Thursday, and the weekend is on Friday and Saturday.

8. There are two school timings: morning and afternoon. The morning group usually consists of Forms 3-6 and has school from 7:20 to about 1:00. The afternoon group usually consists of Forms 1 and 2 and has school from about 1:00 or 1:30 to 6:30 or so. During the month of Ramadan, school is shorter for both groups.

9. The usual uniform is the national uniform: for guys, a white button-down shirt, white/green pants, white belt, white socks, and white shoes, along with a school tie, nametag, and school patch; for girls, either a white and blue baju kurung or a pinafore over a white shirt. On Fridays, there are Muslim prayers, so boys are allowed to wear a white and blue baju melayu. fon't be out of uniform. Missing your white socks, school tie, or even your nametag can earn you academic and/or extracurricular demerits. Unlike in the U.S., you don't get a warning or a detention for being out of uniform. It goes straight to points dropped.

Typical Malaysian Uniform

10. School is REALLY FUN. I don't always understand what is going on in class, but getting to meet and talk with some of the students in my school has been really awesome. I've been able to learn more about Malaysia and Bahasa Melayu, teach others about the U.S. eliminate false or exaggerated stereotypes, and make really good friends over the past month. Without them, I would not have had the same experience I'm having now. I'm so grateful that I have so many great friends at school, and they have made my experience so amazing so far.

Here are some pictures for everyone to see. I hope they give you a glimpse into my school.

A view of the garden and the path leading to the bathrooms

Satu Malaysia! Quote by Mahatma Gandhi.

The front of the school

A statue inside a school pavilion area

The badminton courts are literally right in the middle of my school building!

Jumpa lagi!


Friday, August 23, 2013

Avani Avittam and Lots of Famous People!

Helo ke semua!-Hello to everyone!

I haven't posted in a while, but stuff has been happening. Lots of really cool stuff!

On Tuesday, I went through a Hindu ceremony called Avani Avittam. Here's what the ceremony is about: some Hindu boys wear this type of threadlike material called a poonal for their entire lives starting from the time a boy starts his 9th year (after he turns 8) to when the boy starts his 15th year or so (after he turns 14). One is only supposed to get the poonal on an odd year (after a even numbered birthday). Anyways, I got my poonal in the summer of 2010. Every year, sometime in August, Hindus wearing poonals are supposed to get them changed. So, this year, I went to a nearby Hindu temple and went through the ceremony. The ceremony was relatively short, lasting about 30-45 minutes, and the next day, I had to do extra prayers in the morning. I added a picture of my poonal below, so check it out! (I won't tell you how many times I've had to explain to friends and classmates in the locker room what that "string thing" actually was, so here it is!). The poonal is kind of a type of coming-of-age marker and is a very spiritual and religious object for those who wear it. It's somewhat similar to a religious necklace or bangle, except for the fact that you are supposed to wear this for the rest of your life.

Me after Avani Avittam and prayers in the morning

Moving on. Yesterday, I was invited by one of the teachers in my school to a huge Hari Raya event at her house. She is married to the state secretary of Perak, and she was kind enough to let me see a part of Malaysian culture and meet some famous people at this event! At the event, I got to listen to watch live dance performances and eat banyak makanan sedap-lots of delicious food!

Near the end of the event, I started meeting some famous people. I got a picture with two national hockey players from Myanmar who were in Malaysia to watch other international games. For those who haven't heard of Myanmar, it's also known as Burma and is a country located in southeast Asia and a bit north of Malaysia. What surprised me was that after I requested to take a picture with the two players, one of them asked my host mother to take a picture with his camera! I was pretty stunned, but of course I took the picture with him. It's not every day somebody famous asks you to take a photo with them!

Me with the two national hockey players from Myanmar

After that, I got to shortly greet the son of the Sultan of Perak! He's the next-in-line to the throne, so meeting him was definitely really cool. I even got to salaam (a type of Muslim greeting) the prince, and my host mother was able to take a picture! I didn't really get to talk to him, but he did have to shake hands with about 50 other people waiting in line to meet or greet him. He did greet me, however, so that more than makes up for it!

Me about to salaam the Sultan of Perak's son, Raja Dr Nazrin Watek Shah ibni Sultan Azlan Muhibbuddin Shah

Finally, I got to meet the Menteri Besar of Perak. He's basically the governor of Perak, so meeting him would be similar to meeting Rick Perry in Texas. Anyways, I walked up to him and asked him for a gambar ("photo") with him. He was okay with it, so I got a nice picture with him. I told him I was from the U.S., and when he asked me where in the U.S. I was from, I told him I was from Texas. He then gave his best cowboy imitation, we both shared a laugh, and he walked to his car. As his car was pulling out, though, he opened the window and asked me if I were living in Texas now. When he learned that I was an exchange student, he seemed pretty impressed!

Me with the Menteri Besar of Perak, Datuk Seri Diraja Dr. Zambry Abdul Kadir

Me in front of the house of the state secretary in my baju melayu and songkok

Durian and Dragonfruit on a platter in the enormous tent set outside the state secretary's house

More fruit!

 The banner of the sultan of Perak's son and daughter-in-law, who were present at the event

The entrance to the enormous and lavishly decorated tent

A cool police motorcycle

Being an exchange student has its benefits, so don't be afraid to go out and explore! Don't sit at home all the time staring at your laptop screen. Exchange provides you with once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, so don't waste them. Be brave, and don't always be hesitant to try new things! Your exchange year may be the only time you get to encounter a new culture in such an awesome way! My biggest advice for people interested or involved in exchange is to be active! Don't think of the long, grueling months ahead of you. Rather, think of the short 10 months that you get in this country. Because after these 10 months, you may never get an opportunity like this again. Times will get hard, but that's normal! This is supposed to be one of the hardest experiences in your life! Just keep your head up, and things will get better! By the way, if anyone interested in applying to student exchange programs next year or in the future, contact me through comments or through email. I'd love to chat with you guys!


Saturday, August 17, 2013

1 Month in Malaysia!!!

I've been in Malaysia for one month-31 days-so far! So I've decided to make a list of 31 things I already love about Malaysia! Here they are, and let's hope that this list expands in the coming months!

1. KL Skyline
2. School and my friends
3. Chinese Cave Temples
4. Nasi Goreng is my favorite food here!!!
5. How often people shower you with Duit Raya during Hari Raya
6. How I can see people in baju melayu and baju kurung, in saris and punjabi suits, and in normal day-to-day clothing in the same place
7. Fireworks at Hari Raya
8. The sight of the mountains from my house and the breeze from that direction make looking outside so amazing!
9. Humongous shopping malls in KL and Ipoh
10. Baju Melayu!!!
11. Orientations (Great for meeting other exchange students)
12. AFS/YES Alumni-I am really glad I have so many alumni friends that I can talk to whenever I have a question
13. Watching hours of badminton-seriously, it's fun to watch
14. Watching hours of sepak takraw-even more fun to watch
15. Learning Malay from my host siblings and host mother
16. Street-side stalls (they sell the best food)
17. Bazaar Ramadan
18. Hari Raya Songs (they can be pretty catchy!)
19. The fact that I've been able to get somewhat over the smell of durian
20. Malaysian TV has movies and shows in Malay, Chinese, Tamil, and English, although a lot of the Chinese shows are soap operas
21. Kampung houses (village houses)
22. Performing Salaam to people and receiving it back from little kids
23. National Anthem and State Song of Perak
24. How little I think of the heat even while outside
25. Being able to see a mosque, a church, and a Hindu temple on the same street
26. Rows of palm trees everywhere
27. How some shopping complexes have touristy stores outside and grocery stores inside
28. The fact that there are less mosquitoes now than at the same time back in Houston
29. How I've gotten used to the British system in most cases (using the metric system and getting into the left side of the car)
30. Fasting during Ramadan
31. The fact that I don't feel as homesick as I thought I would at this point

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

From Raya to Ratham to Ramen: A Tale of Three Cultures

Selamat petang!

I'm amazed to tell you that within a span of two days, I went from Malay culture to Indian to Chinese. From Sunday to yesterday, I managed to take part in all three cultures and in observing Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism.

Here's how:

On Sunday, I went through the last bit of Raya celebration and then left my Malay host family around noon to return to my usual host family. Then, around 6, we went to see a Hindu parade called Ratham. In this case, Ratham came after a Hindu festival called Adi Puram, which usually takes place in either July or August.

Anyways, at Ratham, I got to see a chariot carrying an image of a deity. Two cows, with their horns beautifully painted were pulling the chariot around. There were so many priests, helpers, and ordinary people coming out to see the festival. It was incredible! Being a Hindu, I was able to notice certain characteristic aspects of Hinduism at the festival, such as garlands, the cows, clothing, music, food, etc. However, I have never had the chance to celebrate this festival back home, and being so close to the parade was a very awesome experience for me! The beautiful images and colors I saw really captivated me, and I really enjoyed learning about this festival.

Then, yesterday, my host family took me sightseeing around Ipoh. First, we went to Iskandar Polo Club, where one could see more than just playing grounds. We saw rivers and rapids, village houses, mountains, durians, and a bunch more. I got a lot of pictures and videos through the car's sunroof wasn't pretty bad, as I got some really sweet media to post.

After the Polo Club, my host family took me to two Chinese Buddhist-Taoist temples. Being a mountainous city, Ipoh hosts a lot of cave temples or shrines. Both of the temples were built into the mountain, and one of them actually was the inside of the mountain. These temples featured a lot of really amazing artwork. At the first temple, I saw sculptures and models of the Eiffel Tower, the Great Pyramid at Giza, and the Great Wall of China. There were countless other sculptures of bridges, mountains, and rivers. After admiring all of the artwork and the golden statues of bodhisattvas and deities, we walked along a cobblestone path with rounded rocks sticking out of the ground (the path was supposed to massage your feet if you walked slow enough, but unfortunately, in Malaysia, the ground is blazing hot outside). Afterwards, we got to see a bunch of huge, colorful fish swimming around in a nearby pond. In the second temple, we got to see painted statues of deities, dragons, and men. There were nice praying places inside the temple with a nice incense smell. There were also a couple monkeys that were trying to finish the leftovers of someone's drink and Ramen noodles (not the brand, the style)... it was pretty hilarious :), and I got a video of it.

My last few days were truly the most culturally enlightening days of my stay so far, as I got to experience the religions of the three main Malaysian cultures. Going from one culture to the next really helped me appreciate how mixed Malaysia is; I've started to realize that it's one of the most diverse countries in Asia. I recall asking an AFS volunteer about a month ago why the saying "Malaysia, Truly Asia" applied. Now, I can see with my own eyes that yes, Malaysia is truly Asia! It brings together cultural, linguistic, and religious aspects from everywhere from the Middle East to the Far East. On one street, you can see a mosque, a Buddhist temple, a Hindu temple, and a church. In the same neighborhood, you can see Chinese alters and Sanskrit symbols in the yards, notice the smell of nasi lemuk and durian, and hear the sounds of the mosque speaker calling Muslims to pray. You can see Malays, Chinese, Indians, and so many foreigners. You will hear Bahasa Melayu, English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Tamil, Telegu, Punjabi, and many other dialects and indigenous languages. You will notice Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Sikhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and other Chinese traditional religions. When I think I about it, this is why I don't feel all the difference: because the diversity here matches that of my own country. I see the different cultures acting both independently and together, and it reminds me of the diversity in the U.S. This is what has caused me to already fall in love with this country. The common tourist attractions and shopping complexes are great, but the diversity is what defines Malaysia. It is what makes Malaysia truly Asia.

Selamat Jalan!


The streets are filled with lights!

The chariot

The musicians, most of which were playing tabla or mridangam (traditional Indian instruments similar to bongos)

A nice video of the music; definitely indicative of a different culture

The deity inside the chariot

A man leading a cow to the chariot

One of the cows heavily decorated pulling the bright chariot

My host family with some relatives

A nice lake at the Polo Club

A Chinese alter in the middle of nowhere, just barred off by a gate

Me in front of the beginning of a small mountain

A nice video of the scenery

My host siblings and cousins at the Buddhist-Taoist cave temple

Nice sculpture of a dragon

Great Pyramid at Giza

Eiffel Tower

Great Wall of China

Me kneeling at the alter

Another dragon sculpture

Me inside a small veranda-like place

Fish in the pond with a statue of Kuan Yin

Hilarious video of my host brother getting scared out of his mind by an angry chicken!!

The Entrance Gate for the first temple

The second temple

Me with a statue of Kuan Yin

Me inside another Chinese veranda-like place

A thirsty monkey drinks what was formerly someone's juice

A sweet painting inside the temple

Me inside the temple

Kneeling pose

Next to an image of Buddha

The temple was built into the wall of the mountain