Monday, November 26, 2012

Wants and Needs

We just read The Berenstein Bears and Too Much Junk Food to start our Social Studies unit of Wants vs. Needs. The kids got the concept down really well, so then we moved down the hall to do Centers. A few of the students went to the Play-Doh center to play a new favorite game called Chopped. It's kind of like Iron Chef, in that everyone makes a "food" and the judge chooses one person who gets "chopped" (doesn't go to the next round). They were on their first round and they told me they wanted me to help judge. Being that it was the end of the day and I was exhausted and recovering from our recent Thanksgiving Break, I quickly tried to think of an excuse to get out of it. Trying to pull our day together, I said, "I can't eat any more junk food. It will make me chubby like Papa Bear."
Student #1: MS. WACEKKKK. It's just pretend food!
Student #2: Well, you're already a little chubby, so, it's ok.

Ugh. Thank you, brutally honest children.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Fall Fest Success!

As you saw in my Pumpkins post, it's been a little bit of a welcome challenge to bring Fall to Malaysia. We talk about it at school, we pretend that 75 degree weather and a thunderstorm constitutes wearing a sweatshirt, and we bake pumpkin cookies. To make it even more official, we decided to hold a Fall Fest! Since Halloween marked the last day of the 1st quarter and we have to be off-site on Thursdays, we decided that November 1st would be a perfect day for the event.

And it was! We started decorating the multi-purpose hall of my condo building at 8 am. Families started arriving at 8:45 and we got started with the games at 9:15! First activity was a family photo scavenger hunt. Teams had 30 minutes to find and take a picture of everything on the list. They took off running and had a great time being creative with their finds!
After the hunt, we played a school-wide game of Capture the Pumpkin (a festive-version of Capture the Flag). It was a BLAST! Parents and students were getting into it: dodging, sliding, tagging, falling, guarding, and capturing!
This picture perfectly expresses the intensity of the game!

After 3 rounds of the game, everyone was ready to eat, so we went inside for a huge, scrumptious cookie cake, made by one of the moms. It also happened to be our director's birthday, so we sang to him and gave him some gifts, too!

Then it was time for some good ol' fashioned carnival games! We had apple bobbing, bowling, ping pong toss, knock down the cans, cornhole, face-painting, frog hop, and football toss. We had found American candies for prizes and the kids had fun running around, playing games, and filling up their prize bags!


When the pizza arrived, we rounded everyone up to eat and then said our farewells and started cleaning up. It was only a 3 hour party, but it was exhausting! We had originally scheduled pumpkin carving into the plans, but ran out of time with everything else. So we sent them with families to do
at home. A few of the parents said they'd have to google directions because they'd never carved a pumpkin before and didn't know how!

Great cultural experience for our non-American students! A good memories and stand-in Fall Fest for our American teachers!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Still Tourists!


We have a grand total of six people on our school staff. Thus, when visitors from the home office come to see KL, there's not a lot of opportunity for 'pawning them off' on someone else. :) As a result, Jalah, Clay, and I have become the go-to 'tour guides' of the city for visitors. I love this job! It's so easy for us to become consumed by schoolwork and our daily lives that we forget to take time to appreciate that we live in a foreign, semi-popular city!

Since we had just done a tour last month with other visitors, we decided we'd hit the hot spots, but also try to throw in some new sites. We started with the Petronas Towers, which never disappoint. They're so beautiful and one of these days we'll actually pay the money to go across the bridge near the top!


From there, we headed over toward Independence Square. The stop we had to get off at was Masjid Jamek (Jamek Mosque), which is one of the oldest Mosques in KL. Built in 1909 (thank you, Wikipedia!). At first we weren't sure if we would be allowed to go in because we were not dressed for the occasion, but we quickly saw a sign saying they loaned out free robes to visitors. Had they mentioned that said robes were made out of a leather/polyester mix, we may have decided it wasn't worth sweating to death just to see the place, but we had to learn our lesson the hard way. It was a really pretty piece of architecture!

After a quick trip around, we handed in our sweatsuits and continued on to Independence Square. After a quick look at the clock tower, the world's largest gong and almost seeing a man get hit by oncoming traffic, we decided to walk to Chinatown. I had walked there once before, from a completely different location, so felt very confident that I could lead get us there once again. Thankfully, I was able to get us there, but not before we saw an interesting looking structure. We decided to investigate and happened upon one of our new favorite tour stops! For whatever reason, no one had told us about Central Market, which is like Chinatown, but better. First of all, it's air conditioned. Secondly, there are restaurants there. Thirdly, the products being sold are not knock-off American brands, but handmade Asian crafts and goods. Fourthly, there is a fish "foot massage" booth here.


Are they sharks or fish?
 I'm not sure if any of you have done this whole "fish eat the dead skin off-your-feet thing, but I was a little nervous. Beside the fact that the fish were HUGE, the whole concept just kind of weirded me out, and I knew it would tickle. The boys did it first and based on their reactions, we knew it just too unique of an adventure to pass up. My preconceived notions were pretty spot on. It was the WEIRDEST feeling ever. Imagine a fish the length of your hand with a suctiony mouth nibbling at your big toe... or heel... or calf... or any piece of you that had skin. About halfway through our "exfoliation" we discovered that there was another tank next door, with the smaller fish that most people would imagine for this experience. Oh well, live and learn! Jalah and I couldn't keep our feet under the water for longer than it took to take a picture, so we just let them nibble on our heels. Even that was almost too much. When we got out, though, and our heels were sparkling clean and so fresh, we decided that next time we'd go all in, no matter what. :)


Above the massage or exfoliation, I think our favorite part of this stop was watching other people's reactions! There was one British guy who made the CRAZIEST sounds and facial expressions and even accidentally kicked a fish onto Jalah when he started flailing his legs!

Another KL tour success! We keep getting better at them! By the time YOU come and visit, we'll know ALL the hot spots! So, when's it going to be??

Monday, November 5, 2012

Rainy Season!

I LOVE IT! Malaysian rainy season is quite amazing. It's not what you're probably imagining  (and what I thought I remembered from Indonesia) of just non-stop rain for 6 months. We don't have 'drizzle' (or 'dribble' as one of my kindergarteners likes to say!) here. We have all or nothing.

Every morning, the skies are a beautiful bright blue, with maybe a cloud or two. By around 2, the clouds roll in out of nowhere and the sky gets DARK. From 2:30-3 we have the BRIGHTEST lightning and the LOUDEST thunder I've ever seen and heard. We live on the 19th floor. It sounds and feels like it's going to split the apartment right in half. I LOVE IT! Sometimes it's a looooong rumbling thunder. Other times it's an eardrum-shattering splitting thunder. It's so remarkable.

About 10 minutes after the lightning and thunder start, the rain rolls in. Huge drops, often moving sideways. It may actually be raining cats and dogs. You get soaked in an instant if you're caught in it. But then, after about 15 minutes, just as quickly as it came, it's gone. The skies go back to a beautiful, cloudless blue and the wet ground is all there is to show for it.

The storms do keep the temperatures cooler and usually brings a nice breeze... we like to claim it as our own little version of Fall. I tried go get one on video, but it just doesn't do it justice. You still have a few more months to come check it out for yourself! ;) 

video
The "static" sound is the rainfall. The foggy-ness is the rainfall. The thunder is one of the 'rumbling ones', but not nearly as loud as a lot of them. I'll try to get a better example over the next few days.

The other teachers and I have made a goal to play in one of these rainstorms over the next few weeks... without getting electrocuted, of course. :)

Monday, October 29, 2012

Pumpkins!

Although the leaves aren't changing and the weather hasn't gotten much cooler, we're still trying to maintain a sense of Autumn in our lives. The other teachers and I spend lots of time reminiscing about our favorite parts of the Fall season. We figure if we talk about it enough, maybe it'll happen here. Haha. We are planning a "Fall Day" one of these weekends where we're going to turn the AC on real cold, wear sweatshirts, drink hot cider, and eat everything peach and pumpkin that we can think of! I'll be sure to document and share the occasion when it happens!

Since we use an American curriculum, part of my students' required learning is to know the four seasons. So, every morning for the past month, we've had a discussion about what season it is in America. They've got the basics down pretty well (leaves fall off the trees, weather gets colder), but still don't really have a concept of it.

To bring some Autumn to Malaysia, I decided to so some Pumpkin Math with my students this week. Today, they had to weigh the pumpkin before and after carving out the innards, measure the height of the pumpkin, estimate and measure the circumference of the pumpkin, and tomorrow they'll estimate and count the seeds! It was so fun and exciting to see their faces during the whole process. A few of them didn't even know it was a pumpkin. (In their defense, the only one I could find in my price range was still green... the big orange ones are $30 US each! No thanks!). Then, when I started to cut it open they were on the edges of their seats to see what it would look like inside. When they got to scoop out the 'guts' they were making the expected "it's so mushy" and "it feels like brains" comments! It was adorable, like a lot of things they do!

 

When I got home, I decided to try my hand at using fresh pumpkin for baking! After lots of Google research, I just ate my first oatmeal pumpkin cookie. Scrumptious! Hellllllo, Autumn!

Friday, October 26, 2012

How Bizzare-o Is That?

(For all you Miss Congeniality fans who read the title in the correct tone, thank you.)

I like to think I've lived a pretty eventful, atypical life. I've witnessed tribal warfare, climbed mountains in my backyard unaccompanied when I was 7 with my then 9-year-old brother, been to the farthest corners of the Earth, and too much more to count. With this track record, it somewhat amazes me when things happen that I find "bizarre". After the events of September 29th, though, I think I need to find a word stronger than bizarre.

My sister Stacy was visiting from Jakarta. I wanted to show her a good Malaysian time, so naturally I suggested we go to the local Board Game cafe. All my nerdy friends, be jealous. :) I had never been, but it sounded neat and had a legit website, so we went to check it out. Had we known that we'd walk through the Twilight Zone and back during that time, we may have thought twice.

It started with the elevator. I live on the 19th floor, so stairs aren't an option. We rode the elevator down to the ground floor, but then I remembered that I needed to stop by the management office on the 3rd floor. We got back in and as the doors were closing, we heard a loud knock come from behind the inner wall. It was not just a creaky old elevator sound, it was a definite "someone's behind the wall and wants to get out" knock! (Our building is <10 years old anyways, so the elevators are pretty new!) Naturally, we stared at each other, stared at the wall, held our breath, stared at each other some more and bolted out off the elevator when the doors opened. We were only on the first floor and there was a lady waiting to get on. We stared at her, not sure whether to warn her of the impending dangers or not. We didn't, but decided to skip the office and walk down the stairs to get out of the haunted building. As we're walking up the road to the game cafe, laughing and wondering about what we just survived, we heard the sound of gunshots in the distance. I lived in Newport News for 8 years, so I can't say this is necessarily a new sound to me, but it's NOT something I want to hear while I'm walking down the streets of Malaysia! But, naturally, we just laughed it off.. and started walking faster.

At least, I THINK it was a cat...
The shortcut to the game cafe involves cutting through a neighborhood park. Not a big deal. I've seen kids play here before, it's well-kept, the basketball court is often used for pick-up games, and the streetlights provide enough light to keep it safe. Note: never take a Malaysian shortcut. We weren't even 10 yards in when we noticed some bones on the ground. Not chicken bones leftover from a cook-out. Not bones that had been fed to a dog and forgotten about. Cat bones. In fact, a FULL cat skeleton, lying complete and untouched in the middle of the grass. How long must it have been there?!

We snapped a few pictures and kept walking. We noticed to our right a group of Asians having a party (or work-out session, hard to tell the difference some times!) in the clubhouse. Not a big deal, except that within 15 seconds of listening to the music they were blasting, we heard the lyrics "Mary's boy child, Jesus Christ, was born on Christmas Day". That's right. They were having an Asian work-out/hang-out session jamming to some Christmas Classics. WHAT? It was at this point or slightly before that we decided instead of asking "WHAT IS GOING ON?!" We'd simply look at each other and ask, "Where are we again?" Seeing as living in Malaysia was the only explanation for any of this chaos!

As the finale to our adventure (before we got to the game cafe, which actually turned out be AWESOME!), we were at the edge of the park, when I noticed a man sitting on the ground, leaning against a park bench with a walker nearby. I watched for a few seconds before it became clear that he was handicapped and he was struggling.We walked over and motioned/asked if we could help. He muttered something along the lines of "Yes. Lift." We each took a side, were blown away by the alcohol on his breath, and lifted him onto the park bench. He muttered something else, but we couldn't make it out, so we smiled, waved, and quickly walked away. Simply shaking our heads and reaffirming that "bizarre" takes on a whole new meaning in a foreign land.

We also stopped for frozen yogurt on the way, and their toppings of lychees, corn flakes, and red beans didn't even phase us after all we'd just been through!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Where My Sheeps At?

I've had quite a few changes in my job between this year and the past three. I went from 4th grade to K-2nd, I went from 26 students to 4, I went from 5 teachers on my grade level to 5 teachers at my whole school, I went from wearing shoes while teaching to teaching barefoot, and the list goes on. Obviously, though, one of the most major differences is that I'm now teaching at a Christian school. Meaning, we pray in class, we have a Bible lesson each day, we sing worship songs, and we learn memory verses. It's pretty cool.
Last week, the story was about John the Baptist and our accompanying memory verse was John 1:29. "Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!" So that the students didn't simply memorize some words, but actually understood what they were saying, we spent some time discussing what it meant. We talked about who said it (John), who he was talking about (Jesus), and what he was doing (preparing the way for Christ). Then, I tried to take it one step further and wasn't met with quite as much success. I asked them why John called Jesus the Lamb of God. They were stumped. So, we spent the next few minutes discussing how people used to offer lambs as sacrifices for their sins. Then, trying to get them to bring it all together, I asked them, "How come we don't sacrifice sheep anymore?"
They looked at me for a little while thinking. Then, one of my sweet, innocent little 5-year-olds raised her hands and ever so earnestly said, "Because there are no more sheep?"

... And our next lesson will be a review of which animals are extinct and which ones simply don't live in Malaysia. :) Gotta love 'em.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Malaysian Moments: Post Office Edition

Those times when there is no explanation for what is happening other than the fact that I'm a foreigner living in a different land. (In case you missed them, you can find other examples in my post from August here!)

Today I went to the post office to mail a letter to my sister. The task was simple..... until I remembered that I live in Asia where there is no such thing. I wrote the card, addressed the envelope, and went to seal it when I realized that there was no adhesive on the envelope for sealing. No big deal, I thought to myself, I'll just ask them if I can have some tape when I get to the desk. Since 5:00pm on a Monday is obviously everyone's favorite time to go to the post office, I got my ticket and waited for about 10 minutes before my number was called. I gave the card to the lady, she weighed it, calculated the postage, and gave me what I needed. I asked for tape and she said, "Don't have. Glue can?" while motioning that I could put a tiny dot of glue on the lip of the envelope to seal it. Easy enough, that'll be perfect, I thought as I nodded in agreement. She opened the glue, appeared to test it out and handed it to me. I tried to squeeze a tiny drop (as she had indicated) onto the envelope. Nothing. Tried again. Nothing. Clearly the top is dried up, so I need to unclog it. Messed with it for a little while until I thought I had created a small hole and tried again. Since I figured a little pressure would help the glue burst through the tiny hole I'd created, I squeezed.
Now, I'm not a rocket scientist, I'm a school teacher... and an American. I use Elmer's glue and when it gets clogged, a little peeling and a little extra pressure makes the glue come out. This was not the case. Before I could blink, the entire top of the glue had shot 3 feet away and glue was pouring all over the counter, floor, and envelope.
Remember when I said the Post Office was hopping? Yeah, that hadn't changed. So, there I stand, at the counter, trying to seal shut a letter to my sister with glue all over everything and 15+ Asians STARING at me. I panicked and had no idea what to do, so I started wiping up the glue on the counter with my hand and wiping it onto a plastic grocery bag I had (thankfully!). After about 30 seconds (felt like 3 hours) of doing this, a fellow patron saw my despair and casually grabbed a roll of toilet paper that was sitting on the counter 20 feet away, set it on the counter beside me, smiled compassionately, and walked away. At this point the employee at the counter finally looked up, realized that her "tiny dot of glue" trick hadn't worked out so well and started helping me wipe up the remaining mess... with TOILET PAPER. Have you ever tried to clean up a spill with Asian toilet paper (known by some in America as tissue paper)? How about a GLUE spill? While the worker finished wiping off my letter (good luck opening that one, Molly!), I started wiping up the two huge glue puddles on the ground. I came across the evil top of the glue and handed it back to her, she stared at it in bewilderment.
So much for getting points on presentation. Consider these toilet paper shreds your Malaysian souvenir?
 After about a minute of my best efforts (while I continued to be on display for all the ever-so-discreet and helpful Asians watching), the lady said "Ok" and motioned for me to leave. I profusely apologized, grabbed my backpack and high-tailed it out of there. I spent about a minute peeling dried glue and toilet paper bits off my hand before dropping the card in the mailbox and walking promptly to the $0.30 ice cream cone shop to help soothe the pain.
I think the saddest part of this story is that as I was leaving school today, I contemplated bringing tape in case the envelopes didn't seal. A) I've been in Asia too long for that thought even cross my mind. B) Why didn't I listen to my instincts?!

On an unrelated note, Malaysia has beautiful, but unnecessarily large stamps!
The two inch long stamp cost 50 Malaysian cents, the star fruit one costs 2 ringgit. Go figure!?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

Last weekend, we had some staff from the home office (in Mississippi!) visit us here in KL. Dennis is the VP of the organization and Susan works in the recruitment and hiring office. Since our school is brand new, we're expecting it to grow exponentially. As such, Susan wanted some information and a feel for KL to be able to pass on to future recruits. We (the Coopers and I) decided the best way to see the city was on the Hop On, Hop Off tour. You pay 38 Ringgit (US $13) and get a ticket for 24-hour access to the buses. They take you around the city to 23 different stops and if it looks like something that interests you, you can Hop Off. Whenever you're done exploring, you just Hop On the next bus that comes by! It provides a very cumulative view of the capital city and provides some history and information along the way. It's not for the faint of heart, though, because the bus ride itself (without getting off at any stops) is 2.5 hours! With only taking about 1/2 of the stops, it took us a solid six or so hours!

The tour itself is fun, but since we like to go above and beyond in the fun department, the Coopers had the grand idea to make a movie about our day. Clay has the iMovie app on his iPad and learned that trailers are quite fun and easy to make. Since we were going to be hopping all over the hot spots of the city, we decided to go with a Carmen Sandiego theme. For those of you not fortunate to understand what that means, I mourn your lack of childhood. For the rest of you, you can understand how torturous my day was with a single line of  the "Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?" theme song on repeat in my head for over six hours. :)

I'm not sure I'll get hired back for the actual movie that is supposed to follow this trailer. It's very hard to keep from laughing when you're dodging in and out of short Asian tourists.

Enjoy!

http://youtu.be/Pk-yBTNR_5Y

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Let's Go to the Movies!

Malaysia does have some downfalls, but overall it's a pretty spectacular place to live. It has many attributes and advances of a modern culture, but people aren't consumed in it and life isn't solely focused on being bigger and better. As a result, the cost of living is pretty low, which works out nicely given my profession. :)

A perfect example of what I'm getting at can be found in the cinemas. Let me explain...

*We're advanced enough to have theaters. The theaters are on par with the ones in the states. They have big cushy chairs, big screens, surround sound, IMAX, 3D, air conditioning, etc... In fact, in the two months that I've been here, the movie theater is the only place I've found so far where it's cold enough for a sweatshirt!

*We're advanced enough to show the big Hollywood releases at the same time (or 12 hours before due to time zones!!) as the USA. Since I've been here I've seen The Amazing Spiderman 3D and The Bourne Legacy in theaters. There were others that I've wanted to see, but time got away from me and they were out of theaters before I got around to it!

*We're advanced enough to serve popcorn, nachos, hot dogs and regular movie theater snacks. This is a major plus. There are not a lot of places where you can find "American" snacks. And not only do they make them, but they make them GOOD! Instead of selling popcorn that instantly clogs your arteries and is so drenched in butter you almost have to drink it, they make a caramel-y popcorn with a hint of salty. It's SO yummy!

*It doesn't cost you your first born child to see a movie and get snacks. I got a movie ticket (with assigned seats so you don't have to elbow your way through the crowds or show up 45 minutes early), a large drink, and a large popcorn for $7 US total. Which, if my memory serves me correctly, is approximately the price of one small popcorn in the states. Also, I got a cool Thor popcorn bucket to add to my collection. Double bonus? :)



*Malaysians care more about function than fashion. We saw Spiderman 3D. It was an enjoyable movie. It was made more enjoyable by the fact that we were laughing through the entire thing because the 3D glasses reminded us more of snorkel masks than glasses. Haha! They were huge! But they worked!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Start of Something New

 September 3, 2012 marked the opening day of Northstar Learning Center in Malaysia! It was a day full of joy and happiness. Many of the families with students attending our school have been waiting and praying for this school to open for around 3 years! It was such a privilege to be able to be a part of it and feel the support and love from everyone.

Our director was kind enough to make the first day a half day and it was such a blessing. First days of school are always quite awkward since the students are still half-asleep, shy, nervous, and uncertain of how this year is going to go. Although we ended our day at noon, I was still EXHAUSTED by the end because I wasn't been able to sleep well the night before due to nerves and excitement, and 5- and 6-year-olds suck the energy right out of you!
1st Day of School Class Picture!
It was quite a drastic change going from twenty-six 4th graders to five K-2nd graders. I could tell from day one that I was going to have a fantastic, but challenging year. Most of the students at our school have been home-schooled for their whole educational career, so we're starting at square one with school etiquette. Also, even though I only have 5 students, they range from very beginning Kindergarten reading to advanced 2nd grade! Similar ranges in Math. That's a lot of planning!

When we brought the kids down to the cafeteria for dismissal, we were greeted by balloons, posters, snacks, gift bags, and all of the parents. It was quite incredible... and quite different from any of my past teaching years where parent involvement was not the greatest. Two weeks in and we still see and hear from the parents often and it's wonderful!
Rice Krispy Treats and Muffins? They tasted even better than usual since baked goods are so few and far between here!

It's still tough waking up before the sun every morning, but working at such a marvelous place, with such magnificent people definitely makes me one happy girl!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Out of the Mouths of Babes

School is going full swing and it's amazing! It's been ridiculously busy due to some unforeseen circumstances and just the start of a school year in general, but it's great. It's quite the adjustment moving down to Kindergarten/1st Grade from 4th grade. These kids are SO little and need to be constantly entertained! Their assignments take them approximately 5 minutes and then they're moving on to something else! Not a big deal when we've gotten into a centers routine, but for now it's exhausting!!
However, a major perk is that my kids are hilarious. Now, my kids in previous years have been funny also (see all the posts from the past 3 years!), but these kids are so innocently hilarious that I can't help but smile all day.
Case in point, the conversation I got the opportunity to take part in today... We had just come in from recess and we were sitting in a circle on the carpet. One of my boys, I'll call him E, (the tiniest kid in my class, but has the facial expressions/demeanors of a 25-year-old) raised his hand. I called on him and it all began.
E: "Can I tell the whole class something? It's not funny, but they're all going to laugh and that's ok."
Me: "Ok. Go ahead."
E: "I'm really sad because I've just been trying to get a girlfriend for so many years." (Author's note: He's 5.)
Me: "Don't be sad. Girls are trouble."
E: "They're not trouble for me. I just really want a girlfriend."
Classmate #1: "Sometimes girlfriends will be cutting potatoes and scream like she cut her finger. Then the boy rushes in to help her and she was just joking."
Me: "Yeah, girls can be tricky."
E: "That's ok."
Classmate #2: "And sometimes girls want you to buy them clothes and jewelry and they will use all your money.
E: "I don't care. I can empty my bank account on her!" (Again, he's FIVE!)
Classmate #3: "Sometimes girlfriends slap their boyfriends." (Ok??)
E: "I don't care. She can do anything she wants to me and have all of my money. I just really want a girlfriend."

Haha. He kept the most serious, 'feel sorry for me' face the entire time this was happening. If it wasn't so funny and he wasn't 5-years-old, I might have felt sorry for him. Turns out he has a crush on a 3rd grader and when he saw her at recess it brought over him a flood of emotions. This is the same kid who wrote that God was his best friend on the "All About Me" survey I sent home, so I told him to pray about it. Haha. How's that for a teacher solution? (Found out later that he primarily wrote that answer because "We're learning about God in school, so I wrote that down because I thought my teacher would like it." Haha!)

I LOVE them! Situations like this happen all throughout my day and keep me on my toes. It's so refreshing to know that despite all the other crazy drama happening all around, these little guys are still able to worry about girlfriends and best friends.

More to come on school later, hopefully this weekend when I have some time to breathe. Sorry for the scarcity of posts lately!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Happy 55th Birthday, Malaysia!

History lesson for the day:
On August 31, 1957, the Union Jack (British Flag) was lowered in Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square) and the Malaysian flag was raised for the first time.

That was exactly 55 years ago. Today is Independence Day and boy, did we make it a good one!

Before the first glimmer of sunlight, my alarm went off and I forced myself out of bed. (It's going to be a real snap back to reality to wake up that early every day next week!!) Took a quick shower, ate a quick breakfast, and called a cab to head over to the train station. I figured with it being a holiday, they might be sparse, but he was here within 3 minutes and I was out the door! I headed to the train station to meet the Coopers to head into town for the parade.
Did I mention it was still dark when I got to the train station? Ugh. But that didn't stop the party from starting!
The only thing anyone told us about the parade was that it would be crowded. None of the other expatriates (non-Malaysians) we've talked to have ever ventured to it, so we were not really sure what to expect. I mistakenly commented to Jalah that I expected them to come decked out in their Malaysia wear so we would blend in, and they sure did! They had bought matching Malaysia soccer jerseys in Chinatown a few weeks ago, so of course had to wear them. Let me just go ahead and mention that this did NOT help us blend in!!

When we got to our stop, we got off the train and started following the swarms of people. As soon as we were out on the street we heard crazy amounts of air horns blowing, car horns honking, people yelling, and saw hundreds of flags waving. As we neared the parade route, it looked a little like mass chaos. People were everywhere, including all up and down the parade route! There were MULTIPLE times throughout the day where one of us made the comment, "This is the most confusing parade I've ever been to!"
The sights we saw upon arrival: Kids all over the parade route, flags, and Malaysians.


Apparently, the parade started out with a 45 minute presentation of famous people and inspirational speeches. Of which we could understand about 3 words. We stood there for about 30 minutes, then decided to go get a free flag, and two minutes later the parade started. Of course we had had a great, up close spot and by the time we got back we were forced to the back... Figures. Once the actual parade started moving, it was quite entertaining, although we could only see about half of it and got sore calves and strained necks from doing so! It was PACKED... and hot! :)

The parade format was similar to one in America, but the content was quite different. Started with a good old fashioned marching band... (**Note: Sorry for the poor pictures, they were mostly blind shots taken from 2 feet above my head!**)
Old fashioned because they were marching and playing music, new fashioned because they were wearing skirts and pants.
There was a (singular) float...

Not sure what the float was for or who was on it, but it was the only one!
 There was a (singular) giant helium balloon...
That is definitely not Snoopy!
There were LOTS and LOTS of flags...

There was the entire Malaysian Military. We seriously saw more than 15 different groups of soldiers march past us. Each wearing a different uniform. All carrying huge guns. It's a good thing there wasn't a war going on outside of Independence Square because I'm pretty sure EVERY soldier was in the parade!
Yes, there were groups of all women. All with huge guns.
 

Seriously. SWAT Team and everything!
 There were about 15 minutes of taxis. Of course, we were less than impressed because this is just an everyday sighting around town!
There were 2 fly-overs... 
Those might be the only 5 helicopters Malaysia owns? Jury's still out on that one.

And there were horses. Now, if you'll notice, these horses were not wearing blinders. I, myself, am not an equestrian, but I do have common sense enough to know that horses without blinders in confined spaces surrounded by thousands of people and loud noises is not the best idea ever. True to their horsely form they were quite skiddish, some of them were bucking, others were constantly turning around/walking sideways/walking backwards, and all were pooping. This concluded the parade.
Notice, no blinders.

However, the partying had only just begun. After the official parade ends, Malaysians like to create their own sort of parade. Everyone gathered in the street and starting walking towards Independence Square, so we followed. It took us longer than everyone else to get there, though, because of course we had to stop every 3 minutes to take pictures with random strangers. The Coopers WERE matching, so I guess I can see why people thought they were celebrities. :)


We walked around the square for a while soaking in all of the patriotism and culture. There was lots of chanting, lots of people, and even more pictures being taken of us. After our cheeks started hurting, we decided it was time to get some food. (It was only 10:00, but we had already been awake for 4 hours!! Haha. The tough life of teachers on summer vacation!)
People and flags EVERYWHERE! It was impossible not to feel Malaysian.
On the way back to the train station, we saw a man selling Merdeka (Independence) headbands, so of course we bought them. I mean, we weren't going to get any fewer stares without them, so might as well live it up, right?

Jalah: "I feel like Malaysia threw up on me!"
Tonight the skies are sure to be filled with fireworks (they have been about 3/4ths of the nights... and days.. that we've been here, so that's a very fair assumption!). In two weeks we get a day off school to celebrate Malaysia Day which commemorates Malaysia becoming a Federation or something. It's a day off. I'll take it.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

1Month Down, ___ More to Go!

I arrived in Malaysia on July 30th. Exactly 1 month ago today. On one hand it feels like I was JUST in Virginia tubing down the river with my friends. On the other hand, it feels like those days were SO long ago. Since school hasn't started yet, the past month has been all focused on setting up an apartment, getting acclimated to the climate and culture, and (recently) preparing for the new school/class/grade level. Without any real structure to my days, some seem to drag on, while others seem to evaporate! I'm at the stage right now where I'm tired of planning and organizing and sticky-tacking (that's right, no bulletin boards!), anxious and excited to meet my new class of smiling faces (however small the class and students might be!), and yet trying to soak up every last minute of freedom and relaxation I can find! Just one more weekend stands between me and the end of summer 2012. Thankfully, it can go down in history as one of my favorites and most unique!

Here's to many more months of Malaysia!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Baking: Malaysia Edition

I love to bake. If you've known me for any amount of time, that shouldn't be a surprise. Hopefully you've gotten the chance to taste my brownies, cookies, or some other concoction and lived to tell about it!

So, enter new chapter of my life... living as an adult in Asia. I was so excited to move into my new apartment to have the opportunity to make some meals at home. Now, granted, it's just as cheap and a whole lot easier to eat out every meal, but it definitely loses it's appeal quickly. I moved in to our apartment on Wednesday, August15th, my roommate moved in that Friday, and we finally sat down to our first home-cooked dinner on Monday, August 20th. We had a scrumptious Spaghetti dinner. It appeared all was well with the world.

Well, the next day I discovered my bananas had seen better days, so naturally I decided to put them to use in banana bread. And that's when we discovered some of the Asian challenges of baking.

Challenge #1: Recipe. In the States, I had a whole collection of recipe books and a ton of recipes printed off that I had tried and liked. Here I had nothing... including internet. So, I took a trip to my school, googled some banana bread recipes that looked yummy, and realized there was no printer I could use. Good thing I have such lovely teacher penmanship.
I was proactive in the fact that I had been craving chocolate chip cookies, and went ahead and copied down that recipe while I was at it. Oh, did I mention I had to make sure I copied down everything in Metric AND Customary units because I hadn't bought measuring cups yet and had no idea what I'd find? Right, well, I did.


Challenge #2: Grocery Shopping. From the office, I went out to buy a banana bread pan and the rest of the ingredients. Easier said than done. Did you know that Baking Soda is actually "Soda Bicarbonate"? I didn't until I could only find Soda Bicarbonate at the store and decided to bring it home and try it out! Thankfully, the rest of the stuff was reasonably easy to find and called familiar names.


Challenge #3: Mixing. As expected, I needed to metric measurements... and the customary ones... and the Japanese ones? Wasn't planning on that one! Apparently measuring SPOONS are not a hot commodity here and so the ones I bought just happened to be from Japan. The sizes looked reasonable and the funny writing on them looked Chinese, so I figured my roommate could decipher for me. Well, it wasn't Chinese, but she has studied some Japanese, so was able to decipher. Her translation of the writing: "Big Size." "Small Size." "Smallest Size." Um, not helpful? Thankfully, my mom is a professional 'eyeballer' when it comes to dumping ingredients into a recipe, so I prayed I had inherited that gene and started at it. The measuring CUPS I bought were customary measurements, so those were very familiar. And then, of course, the butter was measured in grams. But, I eventually got it all mixed up and looking/tasting like some banana bread batter, so I greased the pan and dumped it in!



Challenge #4: Baking. Ovens aren't a thing here. People don't bake. It's hot and ovens heat up the house. Most meals are fried. It's super cheap and easy to eat out. Ovens aren't a thing here. But, we have a toaster oven! Thankfully we had one at my house back in Newport News, so I was semi-familiar with them, but had never used one for baking baking. Set the temperature to 175*C, put the pan in, set the timer, and started praying! It started out slow (probably because I didn't preheat!), but 75 minutes later, I had some banana bread!

I hadn't preheated the oven, which is why I think it took a little longer to bake than expected and didn't get quite as brown, but it still tastes yummy!

The next day, I did get around to making my chocolate chip cookies. Same sort of challenges, but they turned out scrumptious! Also, because I can only bake 4 at a time, I decided to refrigerate the dough and so now I can A) have chocolate chip cookie dough whenever I want it and B) have fresh-baked homemade chocolate chip cookies ready in 10 minutes whenever I want them! NOW who wants to visit?


They don't come in a bag and I'm not sure they're actually chocolate. But they're yummy!
 

Perfection?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Birthday #2

My second birthday was actually a surprise. Now, I'm usually not a fan of surprises, but this one I enjoyed. I enjoyed it because it wasn't a surprise party, just a surprise birthday! Let me explain...

Our whole staff (all 6 of us!) were invited over to a fellow co-worker's (Russell - Director of Development) house for a barbeque. His wife had just returned from a month-long trip to America and so he wanted to have everyone over to meet her and hang out. We got there, hung out, and ate some yummy food (watermelon, grilled chicken, chips, pita and hummus... like a real American barbeque! I was so happy!).
Me and two of the kids hanging out!
After a little while, Russell's kids started bringing out gifts and giving some to me and some to Russell's wife, Sharla. Her birthday had happened while she was in the States, so this was a combined surprise birthday for me and her! They had also made two cakes and had lots of ice cream. (They had told Sharla it was a party for me when she asked about the cakes!) It was so sweet and very thoughtful!

My co-workers had also gotten me a gift and it was awesome! They'd only met me two weeks prior, but already knew me so well... see for yourself.

Tie-dye gift bag?! Already a winning present.
Badminton racquets and birdies so that I can 'fit in with the culture', 2 waterbottles because I made the mistake of telling them I have problems staying hydrated, and...
Country Line Dance Work-Out Video! Normally I would be offended and take this as a major hint, but instead I took it as AWESOME! Can't wait to "dance off the inches"!
This was from Russell's kids. While we were out shopping the week before, they showed me a bunch of candles and asked me which one I liked best/they thought their mom would like best. They're sneaky! She also got a matching one, so they didn't even lie about it!
I also got a homemade card and RM 1 in coins from Russell's son! Again, everything about the night was so thoughtful!
Birthday #2 was a success!