February 21, 2011

settling in

Life in Kuala Berang isn’t flashy, it isn’t cosmopolitan, and doesn’t really have a “scene” – but it’s home. The nightlife is pretty raging – between 9:15 and 11:30 I can always find a game of chess to join down by the academic building, or relax in the library with a book, or help students with homework and essay corrections either outside at a picnic table, in the library, or in the Rest Room. And if I get hungry, I can hop on down to the night café for a burger, or hold out til 11pm for a steamed dumpling, tomato sandwich, or roti canai in the dining hall.

I know I haven’t posted in a while, so here are some highlights of the past week (2 weeks? Who knows):

English movie night:

After much cajoling by the students (and after quite a few confusing English-to-Bahasa conversations with the office staff regarding projectors and speaker equipment), we had our first English movie night of the year on the eve of Prophet Muhammad’s birthday. After deliberating among a very select group of DVDs (acquired through borrowing from other ETAs – thank you Blair and Andrea!), I decided on Matilda for the first viewing. The students really liked it, thanks to its perfect ratio of overweight villains falling on their faces to kids using magic in everyday life (2 staples of highly successful movies, in my opinion). The speakers I used ended up being pretty lousy, so thank goodness for English subtitles!


Blair (the other ETA in Kuala Berang) and I are attempting to start a softball team here at Imtiaz. Ranjan, last year’s ETA, played informally with some of the Form 1 boys, using a baseball bat and tennis balls in the field behind the school. Luckily (for me!), Blair’s school has actual softball equipment that he is using with his students, but also has graciously offered up for the students at Imtiaz to use as well. SMK Tai has the equipment and Imtiaz has a slightly better field, so the arrangement is ideal for everyone. Plus we found a secret gate linking our two schools, so transporting the equipment or students back and forth won’t be as big of a problem as we had anticipated. Honestly, I couldn’t really dream of softball practice actually happening if it weren’t for Blair, because he actually knows a bit about the sport (although I’m fairly confident I could just make stuff up about the game and everything would be fine… but may as well get it right, I suppose). He’s been able to have a few practices already at his school, and we’re hoping to have the first practice here at Imtiaz next Monday. We talked to my principal last week about the idea, and he seemed pretty supportive. In fact, after confirming that holding weekly practice would be suitable, he suggested that the school might invite the media and newspapers to the softball game between the two schools to show how talented these students are – learning a western sport like softball! I put a signup sheet outside my door to gauge student interest in playing, and by now I have a fairly long list of names, so I’m excited! The only thing that makes me slightly concerned is that right after one of the students signed the Baseball Team Interest Form on my door, they walked up to me and asked, “Miss Mere, what’s baseball?”

Another very exciting development on the sports front is my discovery of the archery club! Every Wednesday after school, an archery instructor comes to Imtiaz to coach the students, and last week was the first meeting. Students learned about the parts of the bow, and about the basic movements, stance, arm position, etc. Some of the older students who participated last year also shot some, and I gave it a try as well. Back in the day during summer camp, I was OBSESSED with archery (I used to sign up for entire days of it… who needs crafts or swimming when you can mercilessly impale straw-stuffed targets?). Needless to say, the proudest accomplishment of my life was winning the Most Outstanding Archer award at Camp Merri-Mac at the tender age of 12. How serendipitous that I’ll be able to relive the summers of my childhood EVERY WEDNESDAY here at Imtiaz?! I can’t wait.

Free time:

This past weekend I went to Cherating, which is a sleepy little beach town about 3 hours south of Kuala Berang. The town is known for surfing – little did we know that our surfer friends from KT would be in Cherating the same weekend! Another beach bonfire commenced, complete with acoustic serenades of Coldplay, Radiohead, and The Cure... does it get any better? Having not had the opportunity to cook (although I have been QUITE experimental with my microwave), my curiosity/culinary withdrawl got the best of me and I attempted to roast several oranges over the open fire, with little success.

I also spent one afternoon in Cherating making my own batik! I LOVE MALAYSIAN BATIK FABRIC! I’ve already bought 6 or 8 cotton batiks here in Malaysia… they are perfect for wall coverings, using as sarongs, or curtains. Obviously, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to make my own. I outlined my design on white fabric with pencil, and then drew over the outline with a thin pen that has a small well for hot wax in the top. The first step is to dip the pen in a bowl of hot wax, and slowly “paint” with the wax pen onto the fabric (you can check out pictures of the whole process on my facebook). After drawing the entire design with wax, you use water-based dyes to paint in your colors. I used my fingertips to blend colors together which ended up creating an amazing watercolor effect. I really, really enjoyed the whole thing. I had forgotten how therapeutic and mind-clearing art can be. This past year I took an abstract oil painting class with a few friends at school which was challenging (I am not an artist by nature or by practice), but also renewing and curative, in a sense. The afternoon spent batik-making in Cherating made me really miss taking a few hours each week to do art. Maybe I’ll pick up a sketchbook in town (do they exist in Malaysia?) and try to draw a few times a week. Who knows, maybe I’ll even get some of the kids to join me. Another project!

The other night, one of my favorite students in Form 2, Zuhdi, brought me a pot of delicious Bubur Lambuk that his mother had made. It was absolutely fantastic. I know rice porridge doesn’t sound particularly enticing, but if this stuff caught on the states, it’d be trendier than macaroons or taco trucks. Later that evening, I helped Zuhdi edit an English essay he wrote about the proper way to make Mee Goreng (fried noodles) – another of his mother’s recipes. Maybe I can somehow get Zuhdi’s mother to be my cooking guru…

Zuhdi also invited me to his uncle’s wedding in March! It actually isn’t particularly uncommon here to be invited to and subsequently attend wedding celebrations of people you barely know, or have never met. All I know is that I’m going to need to go Baju Kurung shopping!

That’s pretty much all that’s been goin’ down ‘round here. Tomorrow I’m going to Kuala Terengganu with some students to participate in “Pony Club”. If I knew at all what this involved, I would tell you, but like so many things in this country, for now it is a mystery. For me, Pony Club will likely involve more watching than riding considering all of the horses I’ve seen in Malaysia so far have been approximately as tall as my belly button. Do you remember that sad moment in life when you realize that crossing the monkey bars on a jungle gym is MORE difficult now that your feet touch the ground than it was when you’re feet didn’t? I’ll keep you posted whether it’s the same when riding a miniature pony…

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