Sunday, January 16, 2011

George Town, Malaysia

I didn't really have an opportunity to familiarize myself with Malaysian culture or history before coming, and while that may have been somewhat irresponsible of me as a tourist, it has been enjoyable getting to know the place starting from a completely blank slate.

Kek Lok Si - The largest Buddhist temple in SE Asia

The first thing that took me by surprise was seeing the headscarves worn by most Malay women. Who knew Malaysia was predominantly Muslim? Not me. I've never even been to a country that was predominantly Muslim. There are mosques in every neighborhood, calling the worshipers to prayer from their minarets. While some of the headscarves were absolutely stunning, I didn't really know what to think about the burqas. I feel like Western society views burqas rather unfavorably, and I almost instinctively pullback after seeing it, but I don't know enough about Islam or Malaysian society to really be comfortable enough to criticize the practice.

Buddhism and Hinduism are the second and third largest religions in Malaysia, respectively. The few Buddhist temples I visited actually appeared to function as spaces for worship. The paint on the temples' walls are refreshingly settled and soft, their rooms filled with the smell of incense and the whispers of prayers nearby. This is in stark contrast to temples in China, where I often get the feeling that the walls were just painted and instead of prayers, loudspeakers blaring from the hips of tour guides.

Food. Surprisingly, it is very difficult to find Malay food in Malaysia. Some may even argue there isn't such a thing. In its place, Indian, Thai, and Chinese cuisines abound. Even when I go to a "Malay" restaurant, the dishes seem oddly familiar. For most meals, I find my way to my favorite discovery thus far in Malaysia: hawker centers, outdoor food courts where countless food-carts set up to serve the masses. The options are plenty, cheap, and most important of all, delicious.

Yesterday, I rented a motorcycle to explore Penang Island a little more extensively. Besides the Kek Lok Si Temple, I discovered many other gems--gorgeous dams, paths where the lush green forest spilled over, and hidden scenic views. See below!

A panoramic view of George Town

Air Itam Dam

Friday, January 14, 2011

Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

Spent a few days in the Cameron Highlands, a town four hours away from the capital. A very wndy ride, straight through the heart of the Malaysian jungles. The town itself is comfortably nestled in the valleys of these striking mountains.

After the hustle and bustle of Kuala Lumpur, the oasis of serenity was a welcomed change. We struggled (or at least, I did) through a couple of the jungle trails, hitchhiked our ways to various tea and strawberry farms, and enjoyed epically-long dinners.

Click to enlarge (you'll be able to see the rows and rows of tea bushes)!

Unfortunately, nothing good can last forever. We had to move on, and now we're in Penang, an island on the Straits of Melacca. More pictures and stories to come!

[Update: January 15, 2011] I had to include these pictures!

Kelsey and Chris, more than ready to hike Jungle Walk No. 1, or "Gunung Brinchang"

After conquering Gurung Brinchang. 1, we went to the nearest strawberry farm and
treated ourselves to the most delicious strawberry cheesecake.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Christmas and New Year, in pictures

I decided the most enjoyable way for both me and you is to skip the words and just show you the pictures.

"White Elephant" with my students

Gingerbread House with the Librarians
(using supplies available in China)

Christmas in Beijing

(with Eli and Craiggers!)

Yali's New Year's Student Celebration

New Year's Eve Sparkler Art!

Travel in SE Asia

The semester is over, and I am boarding a plane to Malaysia in T minus 8 hours.

Tentative itinerary:
1.8 arrive in KL
1.9 hang out in KL
1.10 bus to cameron highlands
1.11 cameron highlands, maybe this tea place:
1.12 bus to penang
1.13 penang--fruit farm
1.14 penang
1.15 ferry to langkawi from penang from georgetown
1.16 langkawi
1.17 ferry back to penang
1.18 melaka
1.19 melaka
1.20 bus to singapore
1.21 singapore
1.22 singapore
1.23 fly out of singapore to Hong Kong

If you've ever been to Malaysia or Singapore, I would very much appreciate any suggestions!

White Sands Elementary School (and a Christmas Tree)

Apologies in advance, because December was so incredibly busy, I am more than a bit late on my blogging... So, the next few posts will be from a backlog of everything that has happened up until today--the end of my first semester here.

First up--my first visit to a rural school!

Just under a month ago, the fellows at Yali took a trip to see a colleague who had been working at a countryside school for the past semester. She managed to arrange time for us to interact with the students at her school, most of whom have never seen a foreigner.

"Looking in"

Since we only had about 40 minutes with each batch of students, rather than bore them with simple English lessons, we taught them a Christmas song ("Santa Claus is Comin' to Town!") with hand motions and played a couple of games. The kids loved it, we loved, and a merry time was had by all.

Dancing? Singing? No one really knows...

Teaching the kids a fun game!

On our way back from this trip, I joked about pulling over and cutting down a tree for Christmas. Soon enough, we drove past a few tree loggers. We backed up and asked if they would be willing to cut us a tree. They happily obliged, and we got a real tree for Christmas. Yayy. Just in time, too.

Our tree!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Great Wall of Yali

It was just a plain, white wall separating innocent Yali students from the hundred-ton construction monsters. A rare display of common sense and care by the higher powers of this institution for the students.

The wall was getting dirtier and uglier by the day, so I suggested to the Party official in charge of student affairs that they should let the students do a mural. Surprisingly, she loved the idea, and even came up with a tasteful theme--environmental protection. So, each class got a section of the wall to paint.

Here are some of my favorites:

Only in China...

1) will you see a man come into the gym wearing a dress shirt and argyle sweater, work out for ten minutes, and proceed to the computers nearby, where he stays for an hour before leaving.

And yes, there are computers right by the weights.

2) will there be fireworks at 8am and 10am and 12pm and 2pm. No hour is safe.

3) will there be construction at 3 in the morning. Loud, thunderous construction. In a residential neighborhood.

4) will you see a man carry two large buckets onto the plane, one filled with chicken eggs and the other with red chili peppers.

5) will an audience absolutely love a performance that was completely chaotic in every way. AKA the foreign teachers’ Christmas program.

6) will the student ushers of the said Christmas program wear bunny ears and kimonos. I guess that’s what they think of when they think of Christmas…

7) will the flight attendant completely ignore the captain’s instructions to stop service due to turbulence.

8) will the door-prizes at the annual New Year’s banquet be laundry detergent, toilet paper, and blow-dryers.

Yes, this has all happened to or around me... haha. As we like to say in our household, "China always wins."

**Apologies for the lack of posting in the past month, life has been (more) hectic than usual. Will be posting a more-extensive update later this week!**