Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Day to be Thankful

Today is Thanksgiving, one of the most important American holidays. This holiday commemorates the time the Pilgrims, who arrived to modern-day Massachusetts from Britain around 1620. After a successful harvest in 1621, the Pilgrims celebrated and gave thanks (hence the name "Thanks-giving") to their God. Their good harvest prompted them to stay in the area and continue colonizing it. Fast-forward to today, and the last Thursday of every November is honored as a national holiday in the U.S.

In honor of this important American holiday and gathering, all of the American AFS students in Malaysia were invited to a Thanksgiving lunch at the U.S. Embassy in KL on Tuesday. We were all very excited to be able to celebrate this significant day in our country's history with each other and with other Americans. This Thanksgiving also happened to be my first, as my family does not usually have a feast on the holiday back in the U.S.

When I arrived in KL on Sunday, one of my host cousins was kind enough to host me for a few days before the embassy lunch. He is an AFS alumni, as he went to the American state of Alaska last year. I really loved spending time with his family and him, as they were extremely kind and considerate. It was also interesting to get a slightly different look at Malaysian Indian culture.

Me and my host cousin

After taking a Sunday afternoon train to KL, I was exhausted, so I just relaxed on Sunday. On Monday, I met up with one of my friends named Ayinde. He lives in Shah Alam, which is a city close to KL, so he knows the commuter and monorail routes of KL really well. So, we took a train to KLCC (a.k.a. the Petronas Towers and the Suriya shopping complex attached to the towers). There, we went window shopping (and occasionally, actual shopping!) around the mall. We also ate lunch at a popular American restaurant named Chili's and watched the movie of the month, Catching Fire!

Batmobile ride

Harley-Davidson in KL

Catching Fire!!

KLCC Towers

Entering one of the towers

The next day was Tuesday, the day of the embassy visit. After meeting up with most of our friends for a few hours at KLCC, we left for the U.S. Embassy. The visit was extremely fun, and I really enjoyed both the food and the event. Celebrating my first Thanksgiving was very memorable, because even though all of us were thousands of miles away from the U.S., I felt like we were all in a "little America" during that lunch. The hospitality and kindness that the people from the embassy showed us was amazing and very thoughtful.

After the embassy visit, my friends and I decided to spend our last few hours together for the day at Berjaya Times Square Mall. I actually visited this mall on my first day in Malaysia back in July, so if you're interested about how cool this mall (the 14th biggest mall in the world), check out this blog post: http://fromtexastomalaysia.blogspot.com/2013/07/my-time-in-kl-and-my-host-family.html

At Times Square, we visited a few shops, took pictures in front of the giant Christmas tree, and said our goodbyes. I'm glad I got to spend at least a few hours with my friends, and I cannot wait until I see them again!

The GIANT Christmas tree in Times Square

This Thanksgiving was one of the best American holidays I've ever celebrated. It gave me a chance to see my friends, enjoy good American food, and appreciate my home and country. In honor of Thanksgiving, I have many things to be thankful for this year and in my life.

I am thankful for my family, both here and in the U.S. Without either, I would not have the love and guidance that is in my life.

I am thankful for my friends, both here and in the U.S. I enjoy their company and can trust them.

I am thankful for all those who have given me guidance through the years. I have learned a lot from all those people, and I truly appreciate them.

I am thankful for my program, as it has given me the opportunity to travel to Malaysia and live here for a year. I've been able to utilize my time here wisely and learn a lot from my surroundings and other people.

I am thankful for both my country and Malaysia. I've loved learning about the intriguing culture, languages, and religions of Malaysia and meeting the kind and interesting people of Malaysia, and being here has helped me appreciate several aspects of the U.S.

Finally, I am thankful for the diversity we have in the world. I've seen that although this diversity includes many differences, those difference are what make the world so beautiful. A painting doesn't look great with just one color or technique. It needs a variety of vibrant shades and creative styles to look magnificent. Being in Malaysia has really allowed me to appreciate the diversity in Malaysia, as well as the diversity back in the U.S.

To all of my family and friends back in the U.S., Happy Thanksgiving! I hope everyone everywhere has something to be thankful for this year!

Happy Thanksgiving from Malaysia!

Anirudh

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Cameron Highlands Trip!

Hi everyone!

So as you know, Deepavali weekend was extremely tiring. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were filled with festivals, travel, socializing, etc. In short, Deepavali weekend was really fun, but by the end of it, we were all ready to catch up on our sleep (Read the previous post if you don't understand why).

So it seems perfect that as soon as we got back from Teluk Intan on Sunday night, we had to pack for a trip to Cameron Highlands the next day! In all seriousness, however, I was pretty excited because I'd been hoping to visit the Cameron Highlands for the past three months. Another American exchange student friend of mine, Jenny, came to our house on Sunday night so that she could get ready for the trip.

We woke up pretty late Monday morning thanks to our busy schedule the previous weekend, but fortunately, we were able to board the bus. After about an hour or so on the bus, we got off at a town called Tanah Rata in the state of Pahang. We ate breakfast at a restaurant in town and dropped our bags off at the hotel before going out for the day.

DAY 1-Monday, November 4

We started off by visiting a strawberry farm. It was basically a tourist location because the Cameron Highlands are famous for the strawberries they produce. We got to see different types of plants that are harvested in the Cameron Highlands and taste a few strawberries (which were sedap, delicious!).



The other AFSers on the trip

After the strawberry farm was the flower garden. Actually, the name is a little deceptive; it was more than a flower garden. At the top of the place, you could get an amazing view of the region, which was definitely more than we expected walking into the place. It was a 15 minute walk up the stairs and a little tiring, but it was more than worth it.

I wonder where they got this idea from...

Spongebob looks a little different, right?


Finally made it to the peak!

A cool statue near the top of the hill

After the flower garden, we went to a touristy tea plantation. Although we didn't see any of the actual plantations up close, we got to try authentic Cameron Highlands tea and learn a little about how the tea leaves are processed.


Beautiful view behind me

After leaving the tea plantation, we were off to the highest point in the Cameron Highlands. We climbed a tall tower and got a few pictures of the great view.

The highest elevation in the region


Next, we went to the Mossy Forest, where we were at an elevation of about 2000 meters, or almost 6,600 feet! There, we climbed up stairs to get amazing views of the region around us.



Finally, we visited a butterfly house; once again, however, the name is deceptive. The house had lizards, insects, and many other interesting creatures. some of these animals were really strange and exotic! For example, look at this picture:


That's an insect. You might not believe it at first, but look closely at the edges of the "leaf"; those are legs! This animal is called a leaf insect. Now watch this video:


This animal is a stick insect. Both these creatures look like structures of a plant as part of their camouflage; predators find it hard to distinguish them from the surroundings when the animals are on top of a plant.

Between all of the visits to the different places, we got several amazing pictures of the view. Here are a few of those pictures:

Taken from the tea plantation area

Taken just off of the main road

Taken from the highest elevation point

Taken off of the main road

Same place as last picture

DAY 2-Tuesday, November 5

On Tuesday, our group went jungle trekking to find the largest flower in the world, the Rafflesia flower. The Rafflesia is indigenous to the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, but one can find the flower in the Cameron Highlands. The trek up the mountain was long and intense, but in the end, it was worth it. Getting to see the largest flower in the world is another really cool thing that I've done while in Malaysia and that I wouldn't be able to do back in the U.S.


The inside of the flower (the Rafflesia flower is pretty smelly. Unless you're burning with curiosity, don't smell it.)

The largest Rafflesia flowers can be one meter in diameter!

After we descended the mountain, we got to see a few natives to the region show us how to use a blowpipe weapon. Basically, it's one of those wooden pipes that one blows into in order to shoot a dart. The natives are extremely accurate with this weapon and can hit a target from over 50 meters back! I tried to use one relatively close to the target, and although I think I did well for a first-timer, my accuracy was nowhere close to that of the natives.

My shot

After returning from the mountain, we got ready for our bus ride back home. After Ayinde, Jenny, and I reached home, I got a nice sleep to recover from a slight headache I had been having. The next morning, Jenny and Ayinde left for their respective states of Terengganu and Selangor. Having them here for the past few days was awesome, as we got so much fun together, exchange stories of our experiences, and get to know each other better. I also enjoyed going on the Cameron Highlands trip, as I got to meet new exchange students and bond with them while seeing and experiencing new, exciting places. Overall, the last ten days or so have been both fun and eventful, and I'm happy that I had such a great time!

Anirudh

Deepavali!

These last two weeks have come and gone so quickly! They've been full of fun, adventure, and learning more about new traditions. First of all, I want to fill everyone in about Deepavali, which is a Hindu holiday celebrated all over the world (including the U.S.). The actual day of Deepavali was November 2, but the preparations for the day started about a month ago. Just like the preparations for Deepavali, the celebrations get very intense here!

Last week, my host family was kind enough to host another exchange student and one of my very good friends named Ayinde. He is another American exchange student (in the U.S., he lives in Houston as well!) in Malaysia, but he stays in Shah Alam. Because he lives with a non-Hindu family, he wanted to experience Deepavali and Indian culture for a week, and so, he came to Ipoh. Having him over for a few days was very fun, and I loved being able to show him some of my host family's culture. At the same time, he was able to give my host family the idea that Americans are very diverse, as he and I come from different cultures and have different religions.

Last Friday, my host family held a small prayer ceremony at the house. The ceremony was in honor of deceased relatives and loved ones. It was very interesting to see how my host family prayed for their relatives and remembered them after their deaths. After the prayers, we went to Little India to purchase some last-minute materials and get henna. While there, we saw fireworks and lights in celebration of Deepavali Eve. Shops were selling vibrant foods, sweets, and henna. The area was filled with people, and we saw Indians, Chinese, Malays, and even a few foreigners wanting to get a glimpse of Deepavali and Indian culture! The colorfulness and beauty of the entire setting was amazing!

A beautiful kolam (Indian design made of white paint) made by my host family's maid

Ayinde in his Indian attire

The ceremony for the deceased relatives

Ayinde with my host grandmother

A video of a type of Hindu ritual

Henna is a type of plant that makes a dye. This dye is used as a type of temporary tattoo in many places. Indians especially love to apply henna to their arms.

The next day was Deepavali day. First, we had prayers at the house for about an hour. After that, we traveled to Batu Gajah, a town on the outskirts of the other side of Ipoh. There, we went to my host mother's parents' house. We got to see a lot of relatives on my host mother's side and talk to them. They were very kind and welcomed Ayinde warmly into their house.

Prayers on the morning of Deepavali day

Then came the kids' favorite part of the celebrations: anpau! Similar to during Hari Raya, during Deepavali, all the adults hand out duit (money) in little packages called angpau to children. An angpau usually has an inscription like "Happy Deepavali" or "Selamat Hari Deepavali" and has a colorful design or image on the front of it. Each angpau contains somewhere between 3 and 10 RM (Ringgit Malaysia) and sometimes contain 20 RM or more. Apparently, there is a game among my host cousins that involves collecting as much money as possible. At the end of the day, I was surprised to see that some of my host cousins ended up with three or four times as much collected money as Ayinde and I had combined!

Deepavali Angpau

After a few more hours of celebration and socializing, we returned to our house to set up preparations for the open house my host family was going to have later that night. We finished the final preparations and got ready for the crowd of people that were going to visit. And sure enough, that night, the house was PACKED. There were about 20 to 30 people (at least) at the house. This was only the second time I had seen so many of my host cousins, uncles, and aunts gathered together, so it was great being able to talk with them all again. Before they all left, we lit fireworks and got to see the beautiful lights in the sky. I haven't seen fireworks in years, and since fireworks aren't allowed in many parts of the city back in the U.S., it was great being able to see them in the sky again!

Fireworks outside!

On Sunday, my host family, Ayinde, and I drove south to visit a few host relatives in honor of Deepavali. First, we went to Kampar, a small town outside of Ipoh, to visit my host grandmother's younger sister's house. We ate lunch there and talked to the family until it was time to go. Then, we visited Teluk Intan, a town in southern Perak, where my host father's sister and her family live. It was a somewhat long journey, but fortunately, sleeping on the way there took care of that problem. After eating dinner and talking to my host cousins, we returned to Ipoh Sunday night, rightfully exhausted after a long weekend of celebrations.

Overall, this Deepavali was great because I got to learn so much about the Malaysian celebration of the festival! Also, I got to teach my friend about the festival and Hinduism in general. I know that this celebration was an enlightening experience for both Ayinde and me, and I know we would both agree that the week was a very exciting and celebratory one!

I know it's kind of late, but Selamat Hari Deepavali!

Ayinde and I in our Indian clothes

At Aeon Mall, they have a pretty awesome kolam!

Alabama... seems familiar... where did they get that from?

Selamat Hari Deepavali!

Anirudh