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!


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!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Malaysian Moments

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.

Moment #1: It shouldn't be news to anyone that we've moved into our new apartment! It's going GREAT! I love having a place to call my own, having all of my clothes neatly folded or hanging in place, a kitchen I can cook in, and everything else that goes with having your own place. Part of setting up a new home is spending lots of money! We've bought pots and pans, a wardrobe, bathmats, sheets, a mop, toilet paper, and the list goes on and on. One thing that took a while to buy was dishes. Now, my roommate is pretty easygoing and said she didn't have a preference on dishes, so I could pick them out. I thought this was awesome, not that I'm particularly particular about my dishes, but I I had an idea of what I was or wasn't looking for and wasn't sure I could articulate it.

Well, after a lot of patience, I got my dishes! I found one set I LOVED. Like, seriously. As soon as I saw them I wanted them, which doesn't happen often considering how indecisive I am. It was actually 2 sets, one in purple, one in gray. They were simple, yet classy. 20 piece sets (mugs, saucers, salad plates, dinner plates, and bowls for 4) which is exactly what I wanted. For whatever reason, here they sell all random sorts of sets, ex: 10 pieces - table setting for two people, 7 pieces - just enough for one person to have a feast, 12 pieces - two plates and a mug for 4 people, etc... weird. So, I was extremely excited to find these.

Malaysian style includes lots of floral... I wasn't feeling it. Lesson learned, sometimes it's good to be different. :)
I went to get them and there were no more boxed sets on the aisle, so I went to find someone for help. Here is our conversation:
Me: I want to buy these dishes.
Employee: Ok. (Looks around, sees that they're sold out.) No more.
Me: I know. Can I buy the display pieces?
Employee: No. No box.
Me: Can I put them in a bag?
Employee: (Stares at me smiling, points to other dishes). These are also 20 pieces. Take these.
Me: No, I don't like those. I want these two sets.
Employee: No barcode.
Me: Can you find a manager I can talk to?
10 minutes later comes back.
Employee: Nobody is here.
Me: Ok. Thank you. Bye.

I wasn't going to give up that easily. I went back the next night and everyone was busy stocking shelves so I didn't bother asking for help. I went back the NEXT day and asked for help. Pretty much the EXACT same conversation, so I gave up hope. My question for them, are the dishes just going to remain sitting there forever because you don't have a box or barcode?? SELL THEM TO ME, gosh darn it!
Yes, that's dust. CLEARLY these had been sitting here awhile waiting to be sold!
The following night, my roommate, 2 co-workers and I were in the store to buy a DVD player. I had told them the story about the dishes, and decided to show them the ones I was talking about. They urged me to give it one more try, with them there for moral support. The guy who we got to help us just happened to be the same one who had sold them their dishes and the guy I had talked to the previous night. He looked a little shocked/scared to see me and after lots of pleading by all of us, he said we could have them. He went to the back and got two big boxes and loaded them up. Then he grabbed a random barcode from another set of dishes and walked to the checkout with us. I was pretty ecstatic and ever so thankful!
These are actually dishes, not gas cartridges. Try explaining that one to a taxi driver!

Still love them every time I look at them!
Moment #2: A very popular thing in Malaysia is inclined or declined moving walkways in lieu of escalators. It's pretty nifty and helps me stay lazy. I'm assuming the main reason for them is so that people can easily take their carts from one level to another. It's great! Part of their design is even a specially patterned conveyor that holds carts in place to prevent them from sliding down the declined walkway. This is especially fantastic so the cart doesn't get away from you. Well, let me rephrase. It's fantastic when the sidewalk IS MOVING so that the cart doesn't get away from you. Last night, I was at the store (trying to buy dishes... argh) and wanted to grab some groceries on my way out. Groceries are downstairs. I was upstairs with a cart full of new house stuff (but no dishes). I pull up and see the downward walkway not moving and figure I'll just have to be extra careful not to let my cart get away from me. That was NOT a problem. I push it on and it stops abruptly. I try pushing it a little and it doesn't budge. I put my full force into it and it moves about a foot. I then continue to manually overpower the safety measures to get my cart downstairs. I was taking huge, lunging steps, pushing with my hips/arms/shoulders. I looked like a complete fool. Normally, not a big deal, I'm kind of used to it. In this case, though, there just happened to be a security guard standing directly at the bottom of the walkway on his walkie-talkie trying to get someone to fix it. He unashamedly stared at me man-handling my cart the entire way down without a word, smile, or offer to help. Thankfully, about halfway down, I heard an angelic voice behind me say, "Do you need help?" I turned around not really sure what to say, and managed to stammer out, "Yes, please." A random teenage girl and her boyfriend move around to the front of the cart and the three of us lift it off the ground and carry it to the bottom floor. I thank them once and then sped-walked away. Semi-embarrassing, but such is life. I'm always happy to provide some laughter to the lives of others.

The walkway has never felt so long....

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

3 Weeks and Still Learning...

I've been here 3 weeks today! WOW! Time is flying! We're going full force with meetings, I'm settled into my apartment and love it, have met lots of wonderful people... life is good!

In the short time I've been here, I've come to some conclusions & learned a lot about Malaysia. Take note.

- Sweating is a way of life here. Call it what you like (perspiring, glistening, or taking a natural shower) it's permanent and doesn't ever seem to end. It's nice in that it releases all of my endorphins, but it would be nice to just NOT sweat every once in a while.

- Most Malaysians' favorite pastime is shopping or hanging out at the mall. Not because they have tons of money or need a lot of stuff. Nope, primarily because malls provide free air conditioning to prevent aforementioned sweating. I must say, it does work... a little.
Because they're so frequented, they sure do dress up their malls nicely!
 - "Good hair days" don't happen here. At least not for me. I think I may have had ONE in the past three weeks. Maybe that's why mom gave us all bowl cuts before we moved to Indonesia?
All of the "good" pictures are in storage, but I was able to scrounge this one up off Facebook to give you an idea. I'm thinking of going back to this style (hair and clothes...), thoughts?
  - Jaywalking doesn't exist here. If there's a street that you need to cross and cars are or are not coming, go for it! There are some crosswalks and walk-overs, but those are only for the weak.

- The plugs/outlets in Malaysia are crazy. See for yourself. About 1/2 the time, the center piece is made out of plastic, so I'm pretty sure it's quite pointless. 

One of the MANY adapters I've had to buy since arriving. This one is 'universal' so I'm able to use it anywhere in the world.. or so they say!
One thing they did get right is that you can turn the power source on or off to all outlets. Hopefully it'll help us save some money on our electricity bill!

I've learned/observed/concluded a lot more, but that's all I can think of at the moment. More to come in the days, months, and years ahead!  

What is something that you've experienced or concluded over the past 3 weeks I've been here?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Home Sweet Home!

No more suitcases!! Last Wednesday we got the keys to our new apartment and immediately set to work CLEANING and unpacking! We've been there a week and I LOVE it! We still have a few things on the list to buy before I'll consider myself completely settled and "at home" (mostly decorations and 'extras'), but it's definitely liveable and it's so nice to have our own place. Here are some pictures from move-in day, so you get an idea of the space. As soon as I finish decorating I'll put up pictures of the "after". Hopefully it'll be all done by the end of the week because the focus for next week is getting ready for school!
Dining Room & Entryway. All of that has been cleaned out! It's nice and open!
Living Room & Patio

Guest Bedroom. We already have a double bed set up in there, hint, hint!
Another angle of the guest bedroom.
Susy's bathroom. Shower behind door.
Maids quarters. Aka, storage room because we can't afford a maid. :)
Maids bathroom. Aka, third bathroom because we can't afford a maid.
HUGE kitchen!! Lots of room for cooking and baking. Unfortunately, that 11" toaster oven you see is the extent of our baking resources...
Full-sized refrigerator. Definite bonus.
"Laundry Room"
Another view of the living room/entryway/dining room.
My bedroom with attached bathroom!
The rest of my bedroom. With brand new queen-sized matress!
My bathroom. Please notice the enclosed shower. Hallelujah!
So, there you have it! Lots of changes have already been made and more still to come. Pictures of the pool and other facilities coming soon!