Monday, September 30, 2013

Amazing Hindu Temple in Ipoh!!!

Hi everyone!

Last Saturday, my host mother's parents were being honored at a temple in Ipoh, so my host family and I went to the temple to watch the ceremony. At first, I thought the event would be us listening to a couple of hours of speeches in Tamil. Instead, I got to enter the temple and explore it for myself. Being a Hindu, I've been to several temples in Houston and the U.S. Still, none of them compare to the size and magnificence of this one.

The culture that I could see and experience at this temple was so cool because the temple reminded of other ones in South India. It was so authentic that I felt like I was in a temple in the middle of Chennai! I really understand a lot more about Indian culture and religion in Malaysia now, and I wanted to post some pictures so that you guys could see them! I hope that you guys admire the pictures and that they inspire you to visit Malaysia one day!

The entrance to the temple with the characteristic gopura (pyramid structure) of South Indian temples

The main structure of the temple

An Indian kolam (a type of Hindu design made of chalk and powder). Kolams are usually drawn in temples or at the front of houses during special occasions.

An image of a Hindu goddess

A depiction of Surya, the Hindu sun god

A shrine apart from the main structure of the temple

The artwork and the captions on the wall come from Hindu stories

The interior design of the temple ceiling and walls

Anirudh

Thursday, September 26, 2013

My Bahasa Melayu

Selamat petang!

I've noticed in the past week or so that things have calmed down around here. I feel I've become used to my life here, and I can feel the beginning of my adjustment process coming around. I've also improved my Malay a lot, and I can have a slow conversation with someone about a bunch of things. I'll even try to write out the rest of the post (which is about my day today) in Malay without any help. I'll add an English translation at the bottom too :)

Pagi ini, saya tiba di sekolah saya. Saya adalah sangat letih, tapi saya tak tidur. Selepas tiga jam, saya makan roti kerana saya sangat lapar. Kemudian, kelas saya ada tiga jam lebih sebelum sekolah habis. Selepas sekolah, saya tengok filem di rumah dan tidur untuk satu jam. Petang ini, saya makan mee dan pergi ke Facebook. Sekarang, saya sedang tulis ini!

This morning, I arrived at my school. I was pretty tired, but I didn't go to sleep. After 3 hours, I ate some bread because I was hungry (and it was break time). Then, my class had 3 more hours before school finished. After school, I watched a movie at the house and slept for an hour. This evening, I ate noodles and went on Facebook. Right now, I am writing this post!

Anirudh :)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Hari Malaysia: 50th Anniversary!!!

After the moon cake festival on Sunday night, we were lucky enough the next day to have another festival, this time one that is universal for all Malaysians, on Monday. This is Hari Malaysia, or Malaysia Day, and next to Merdeka/Independence Day, it is the most widely celebrated day in the country. On September 16, 1963, Sabah, Sarawak, and Singapore became part of Malaysia (Singapore became its own nation a few years later). Fast forward 50 years, and we have the Perak Hari Malaysia festival in Tapah Road, where I was coincidentally (and fortunately!) staying the night before. At the event, we watched live dancing and singing performances by secondary and primary school students. A couple of AFS students participated as well! The event also included a row of cool vintage cars and a display of several remote-controlled vehicles.

The view of the field where the event was held

Some of the vintage cars

Me with two other AFS students and the host family I stayed with

I really enjoyed seeing all of the different cultures on display at the event. The celebration's attractions and dances were very similar to the types of ones in America during 4th of July: lots of cultural dances and reenactions mixed with modern attractions. Watching the performances, one could see and hear music and dance elements belonging to Malay, Chinese, Indian, and western cultures. Getting to celebrate this important day in Malaysian history at such an awesome ceremony really gave me a lot of insight into the day’s meaning to all Malaysians regardless of race or religion. Being the 50th anniversary of such an important date, I'm sure the celebrations I attended were especially hyped up, and I am very fortunate to have experienced these special festivities. I had a lot of fun, and I really cannot wait until the next big national festival!

Until next time,

Anirudh

Chinese Mooncake Festival!

This past Sunday was really a blast! That day, I got to experience the Chinese mooncake festival in action. I’ve heard about this festival faintly, but I've never had the chance to see what the festival is like. Mooncakes are circular cakes which represent unity within a group of family members and friends.


Three various types and flavors of mooncakes

I went to Tapah Road, a small town south of Ipoh, to stay with a Chinese host family and celebrate with them. While I was there, I got to try out a variety of cakes (sangat sedap!!) and then light Chinese lanterns to see their amazing visual effect. We celebrated only Sunday night, but I had a great time! I’m really grateful for the family letting me stay in their house (especially since they were already hosting another AFS student) and giving me the chance to see the festival take place.



A Chinese lantern

Setting candles with the family there

A "candle campfire"

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Day of Remembrance, A Day of Resilience

So many of us Americans have heard descriptions of the morning of December 7, 1941 that quickly turned into one of the most terrible days in American history. The attack on Pearl Harbor nearly 72 years ago has shaped the world in more ways than we can imagine and cost millions of people around the world their lives. As Franklin Roosevelt befittingly stated, December 7 has become "a date which will live in infamy."

12 years ago today, another one of the most infamous events in American history took place. That day, September 11, 2001, has certainly affected each and every American in some way, shape, or form.

That day, 2 hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York. One other plane crashed into the Pentagon in Washington D.C., and a fourth plane crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Thousands of individuals lost their lives that day and in the days after 9/11. Even more lost family members and friends. Several cases of discrimination against Muslims, Middle Easterners, and South Asians took place in the week following 9/11. Airports shut down. American and global markets took significant hits. The very stability of America came into question.

However, in the coming weeks, months, and years, the United States of America took on its namesake: it became a truly united nation. Relief funds, blood drives, donations, and volunteer aid helped bring together our country and glue the broken pieces back together in the midst of a national tragedy. Stories of heroism and miracles made headlines. We picked ourselves up from the wreckage and went on with our lives. We were one nation, together mourning the losses of 9/11, together trying to get back on our feet, together trying to figure out how to fix whatever had just happened to our America.

Still, we had lots of work to do in the following years. The rubble at the sites of the World Trade Center and Pentagon had to be cleared, and the buildings had to be rebuilt. Thousands of families needed financial, emotional, and psychological aid after the loss of loved ones. Discrimination against people thought to be Muslims occurred in the years following 9/11: general discrimination against innocent Muslims, or against those who "apparently resembled Muslims"; stories of job discrimination and unfair airport searches due to people's appearances regardless of what faith they belonged to; protests against the building of mosques on Ground Zero and other areas. Considering that our nation is known for freedom and tolerance of all religions, it is a bit surprising and dismaying that people were discriminated against due to their association with a faith that the instigators of the tragedy claimed to represent; although a religion or set of beliefs may characterize an individual, he/she should certainly not be a representation of the entire religion or its followers. Moreover, although these types of discrimination occurred in isolated situations and have decreased in frequency in the past few years, many people in other parts of the world still view America as a country that dislikes Muslims. This perspective is a largely false stereotype that portrays America in a negative spotlight globally.

The new One World Trade Center is a sign of the physical and emotional rebuilding that America has accomplished in the last 12 years

That's where I come in. This April, I was awarded a scholarship by the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Abroad Program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State to study in Malaysia for one academic year. After researching Malaysia and talking to several people who know about the country, I began to become fascinated with Malaysia! I loved that while the majority of the country was Muslim, significant populations adhering to other religions existed and thrived within Malaysia. The variety of colorful festivals and languages interested me and made me want to learn more about them. After about a week of discussing my plans with my family, school, and friends, I decided to make Malaysia my home for a year. And so far, the journey has been an amazing and culturally enlightening one that has kept me learning while enjoying my life here.

YES Abroad began during the 2009-10 school year and sent high school American students to countries with significant Muslim populations. YES Abroad's goals mirror those of our sister program, YES (which brings students from 39 different countries with significant Muslim populations to the U.S.). YES was created in the aftermath of 9/11 in order to educate students about American culture, society, and values and give students a chance to educate Americans about their own countries and cultures. YES Abroad was created in order to give a similar opportunity for American students. YES Abroad students act as youth ambassadors of the U.S. and help create understanding and cooperation by forming lasting bonds in their host families and host communities. Both of these programs encourage building bonds in the host community and positively representing one's home country while learning more about the host country and host cultures.

This year, YES Abroad sent 65 students to 10 different countries around the world: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Turkey, Morocco, South Africa, Oman, and Malaysia. When thinking about exchange, most American students would not consider any of the countries listed above. Most students would choose England, France, or some other apparently "comfortable" nation. However, our program does student exchange for reasons that are not always typical of study abroad programs. All 65 of us are on this journey because we understand the importance of our program and its goals; we realize that a world that shares mutual cultural awareness and understanding is important, and we know that sharing our culture with others while learning about their country and cultures is an important step towards that type of world. As youth ambassadors, we are leaving everyone and everything we have known to travel to countries, in some cases continents, that we have never traveled to before. Many of us are missing school, graduation, college, family events and festivals, proms and cotillions, etc. that have been long-awaited occasions. We have decided to leave all of this behind for one year in order to make a difference in how people in countries abroad view the U.S. and how we ourselves view the world. But as we all have heard so many times and have quickly realized, this exchange has its innumerable and amazing benefits. We have already come to see that one year of our life is worth the amazing moments, knowledge, and experiences that we will give and receive from this exchange. As the saying goes, "exchange is not a year in a life; it's a life in a year."

All 65 of us, during our Pre-Departure Orientation in Washington D.C.

Applying for this program got me really excited about exploring Muslim culture in a different country. Learning about my semi-finalist and finalist status for the program got me even more enthusiastic about coming here. But actually being in the country and learning about the culture has been amazing. I've been able to share my American culture and values with so many of my host family members, friends, teachers, acquaintances, and everyone else I meet. And I've also been able to learn so much about Malay and Indian culture here! My host family has taught me so much about Malaysian Indian culture, and I've really realized that there are a lot of differences between Malaysian Indians, Indian Americans, and Indians in India. And I've been able to experience life in a Muslim household, as I spent 5 days in a Malay family's house and fasted for 4 days during Ramadan. Celebrating Hari Raya was truly an amazing experience, and I feel that I have gotten the chance to learn about a festival that I might have never been able to learn about otherwise.

My stay with the Malay host family also included some important questions and answers. Possibly being the first and only American some of the family members have and will ever meet, they asked me very delicate questions. Particularly, questions like: "Are there many Muslims in America? Do Americans dislike Muslims? How are Muslims treated in America?" Answering such questions was definitely the first time I've had to give responses that might stick with a person for the rest of his or her life. Taking it calmly and trying to be truthful is definitely the best idea. So I told them that while there were isolated cases of discrimination against Muslims in the past, in general, Americans do not dislike Muslims. Muslims are not treated badly; rather, they are endowed the same rights as every other ethnic and religious group in the U.S. A few cases of discrimination come up here and there every once in a while, but for the most part, the amount of discrimination against Muslims is relatively small compared to in previous times. And where I come from, we not only tolerate and respect other religions such as Islam; we also celebrate the diversity of beliefs that we as Americans are fortunate enough to live around every day.

The ability to get to explain my culture to these people was so enlightening for me, as it truly showed me the importance of spreading truth and getting rid of inaccurate stereotypes. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, "we must be the change we wish to see in the world." In order to eliminate these stereotypes and create a more peaceful, more understanding world, we ourselves need to be understanding and truthful. I've really started to realize that it's up to us as Americans to eliminate others' false stereotypes of our people and our country. Because if we don't eliminate those prejudices and biases, then who will?

Remembering the events of this day 12 years ago is a key part to building upon the legacy of reforming cultural bonds our country has embarked upon post-9/11. Today is a day to remember, a day to mourn, but it's also a day of resilience to rebuild on, to bounce back on. 9/11 has made its impact felt upon the world and its people so far; now, we are the generation with the future in our hands, so it's up to us how the world comes together and feels the influence of 9/11 in the years to come.

The Tribute in Light Memorial at the site of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2011, 10 years after 9/11

Monday, September 9, 2013

A day as an English teacher

On Saturday, I got to visit a school in Tapah Road to volunteer as a teaching assistant. The school was hosting its annual English Day event. 16 stations were set up, each with a different game/way for the kids to practice and improve their Bahasa Inggeris (English). I was posted in Station 1, where multiple collections of coins, bags, cards, stamps, and other materials were complied. I explained some of the collections to children and answered any questions they had about the U.S.

In addition, 4 other AFS Perak students and 7 AFS Selangor students came to the school. Although we were all posted in different stations, we got to see each other quite often during the day. We all were able to speak fluent English despite coming from a large variety of countries (the U.S., Germany, Austria, Costa Rica, France, Czech Republic, Italy, and Belgium). Everyone at the event was very happy to meet us, and we were treated very well by students and teachers alike.

The 12 AFS students and 4 local students

It was very fun to interact with the kids, teach them English, and practice our Malay with them. All of us had a great time, and I really felt great being able to help the kids practice their English. I'm also happy that they were so welcoming and grateful to the foreigners in their school. In addition, I really enjoyed getting to see my friends from the Perak and Selangor chapters. I loved this volunteering event, and I'd love to participate in something like this again!

Anirudh

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Embassy Visit 1!!!

This past Wednesday, I got a chance to visit the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur. I was really excited to get to KL because this visit would be my second (first was the orientation in KL directly after arrival). After my delayed orientation in Pangkor, I took a bus from a nearby station to KL. Although the drive was 5 hours long, I was able to talk to a nice person headed to KL and gain back dearly needed sleep during the trip. When I finally arrived in the KL Sentral station, my new friend helped me get a train ticket and head on to my destination station.

That night, I arrived at the KL chapter leader's house and stayed there. I got to meet up with two of my friends from the U.S., Stuart and Jackie (both of whom live in Johor Bahru). We went to dinner, watched some TV, and got some sleep before the embassy visit the next day.

The next day, we got to visit the embassy. We had a couple speakers come talk to us about different topics and answer any questions we had. Although the visit was only for a couple of hours, I did get to meet up with all of my American friends and spend a couple of hours with them after the visit. I'm happy we all got to meet up that day, and I cannot wait until the next embassy visit!

Me with three of my friends (two in Johor Bahru, one in Kuantan)

YES Abroad & BP 2013-14! (except for Stuart, who was sick that day)

A view of the Petronas Towers from my train back home

Trip to Pulau Pangkor

Selamat petang!

This past Monday and Tuesday (September 2 & 3), I was able to visit Pulau Pangkor ("Pangkor Island") for my delayed orientation. Four other AFS students in Perak also attended the orientation. We visited interesting places on the island and spent time at the beach and hotel pool.

First, we took a ferry in order to get from the mainland to the island. Pangkor is located off the western coast of Perak and has a population of about 25,000. After getting onto the island, we rented one of those eleven seat SUV's. The driver took us to a couple interesting places before dropping us off in the hotel. First, we went to a former Dutch fort on the island. The fort is known as "Kota Belanda" and has a main fortress as well as interesting designs on the grass.

 The ferry

Satu Malaysia!

The Dutch fort "Kota Belanda"

Cool designs on the grass in the fort

The five AFS Perak 2013-14 students! From Germany, Austria, Costa Rica, and the U.S.

Afterwards, we visited a famous Chinese temple called "Fu Lin Kong Temple." The temple is enormous, and the architecture and colors are startling! There's no better way for me to share how amazing the temple was without posting some pictures:





Absolutely stunning temple!

After getting to the hotel, we explored the beach and the hotel pool. We had actual orientation work later that Monday night, but after our work, we were able to go to the beach for a few minutes.

Finally, on Tuesday, all of the students and volunteers got to go snorkeling for a couple of hours. This part of the trip was the highlight of the visit for me! After our boating and snorkeling, however, the orientation ended, and we had to return home. I enjoyed this orientation so much, and I'd really love to visit Pangkor again!

Me with snorkeling gear on

Beautiful view of the ocean and neighboring islands

An island resort with amazing rooms right above the water!

A slime jelly!

Group photo

Me with some islands in the background

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Asia Hockey Cup in Ipoh

Selamat datang ke semua!

Last Sunday, September 1, I got to visit the Sultan Azlan Shah Stadium to watch a men's hockey game in the Asia Cup. I got to watch the third place game between Pakistan and Malaysia at the stadium and the finals game between India and South Korea on TV.

In America, men don't really play field hockey, but most other countries involve men in field hockey. The game is really fast-paced, and there are points where one team will score a goal within 30 seconds of the last goal. To give you an insight into how India and South Korea destroyed their competition on the way to the Finals, I'm showing you guys the scores of the qualifying matches:

India

Group Stage:

India beat Oman 8-0

India beat South Korea 2-0

India beat Bangladesh 9-1

Semifinal:

India beat Malaysia 2-0


South Korea

Group Stage:

South Korea beat Bangladesh 9-0

South Korea lost to India 0-2

South Korea beat Oman 10-0

Semifinal:

South Korea beat Pakistan 2-1


As you can see, these two teams were pretty good.

Anyways, Pakistan defeated Malaysia 3-1 in a stunning and "to the last minute" type of game. Malaysia actually led 1-0 at one point, but Pakistan scored 3 goals straight through the rest of the match to put it away.

South Korea went up 2-0 against India in the first half, but India came back in the second half to tie up the score. In response, South Korea scored another goal, and India countered with another equalizer. Finally, with about 2 minutes left in the game, South Korea scored its last goal and held on to win the nail-biter.

I think that hockey is a hard game to master, as evidenced by the amazing footwork and ball handling skills of the players. While men do not play hockey in the U.S., I really loved seeing the sport, and I have become a fan of the game. I definitely got to enjoy something I usually wouldn't see back home, and that truly is awesome!

Here are a few pictures of the stadium and videos of goals or excellent saves from the game. I hope you can see how great the sport is if you have never seen it played. If you do know about the game, I hope you enjoy these  pictures and videos:


Pictures of the Sultan Azlan Shah Stadium in Ipoh

Pakistan players in a huddle during a timeout

A corner shot goal by Pakistan

A save by the Pakistan goalie against a Malaysian corner shot

Halftime Music