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
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!