As life begins to fall into routines of work, home, and basic daily life, I resort to writing about the “little things”. You know, those tiny differences that slowly become normal despite their oddness. Perspective is funny, something that at first seems so foreign and strange eventually becomes ordinary and you cease to notice it at all. So, before I pass the point of no return, let me talk about a few of these meaningless things that still feel a bit strange.
Driving – I would like to say that by now I have mastered the art of driving on the left hand side of the road. I drive home from work most days, get myself to the mall and grocery store about 15 minutes a way when I need something, and am sure that if duty called, I could get myself anywhere in this city with the help of my trusty phone. However, I often have these odd moments when I can’t seem to recall which side of the road I am actually supposed to be on. Of course, it happens when there are no other cars around to follow, and it feels like I am hallucinating on no-doze pills like that time in Taiwan when I saw the bunnies. I’m sure it’s just one of those ex-pat phases that will pass in time, or at least I hope so.
Haze – For the past few weeks Malaysia has been experiencing what folks call the “HAZE”. Apparently, every year about this time farmers in Indonesia (and apparently in Malaysia, although no one will own up to it) burn their crops. Much like what is happening in Brazil, I imagine. The smoke from these fires drifts north with the wind and blows into Malaysia. The Air Quality Index is watched constantly to figure out if it is safe to go to recess, play sports outside, or to cancel school. The funny thing is, if you look at the numbers between southern Malaysia and Singapore (which is a mere 10 miles away) the numbers are extremely different. This is because Singapore actually counts the small particles, and Malaysia does not. All I know is that one comes to appreciate blue skies and clean air very quickly after a few days of the HAZE. I have been told that it should only last for a few more weeks, but sheesh, it would be so nice to see the sun again.
Public Restrooms – Yes, I know, I have a bit of a secret fascination with public restrooms abroad and over the years have written about them with some frequency. It’s just that no matter how long I am away, I just can’t seem to get used to the subtle differences. Mainly, it’s my inability to remember the toilet paper and it continues to piss me off… no pun intended. In most public restrooms the toilet paper is not located in the stall like we are accustomed to in the U.S. Instead, it is located by the entrance and you are supposed to grab a few sheets before you enter the stall.
In Malaysia you generally have the choice of a western stall or an eastern stall, meaning a sit toilet or a squat toilet, but the lack of toilet paper in the stall itself is what I can’t seem to remember. There is even (as gross as it may seem if you think about it long enough) a water hose located near the toilet for you to clean yourself afterwards. Great idea, sure, but if you forget the paper do you just drip dry??? I know it seems trivial, but it is really the one thing I just can’t seem to overcome. First world problem, I know. Moving right along…
4. Laundry – Doing laundry is something that does not seem to bring most people great joy, and yet having facilities to do one’s laundry is certainly something not to be taken for granted. We learned this in Taiwan when we were schlepping clothes down 12 flights of stairs, across the street, and into the basement of another building… just to schlep it back afterwards to dry them on clotheslines on the roof of our apartment building. And then of course if it was windy, you might find your chones (underwear) in the garden on the ground floor the following day. Having said that, our laundry situation is much better than that here in Malaysia. Our rental house did not have a washing machine when we moved in, so we bought one. Washing machines here are significantly less substantial than those in the U.S., so loads must be smaller. Most people do not own dryers and therefore hang their clothes on foldable racks. We chose (mainly me) to do the same, so every weekend we play the rotating clothes washing game where we fight over hangers and rack space. It takes quite a bit of scientific planning for everyone to make sure his or her clothes are dry before Monday morning. Good times with real world life skills if you ask me!
Water, ice, non-halal, and the phone – A few other oddities have to do with daily comforts. First, water. Each day my students arrive with their water bottles filled with hot water. Not tap water warm, but just-boiled hot water. Many Asians think cold water is unhealthy for you. Most Americans I know love cold water and iced beverages. Convenience stores here do not have a fountain drink section where you can fill up your cup with ice, and the only place to buy a bag of ice is in the small ice cream freezer at the grocery store. Our freezer is too small to make ice, and those bags run out fast. But… iced boba milk tea is huge here, so I am simply confused about it all. I suppose we should just adopt the warm water mentality, but I really don’t see that happening.
As far as the cell phone goes, I have zero complaints… it is added to the odd category because it is so wonderful. All four of us have a pay as you go plan… $8 a month for unlimited data and texts. We don’t really call anyone because everyone here uses WhatsApp with his or her unlimited data. It is magical… my family phone bill is $32 a month. How cool is that??? The only slightly odd thing, which is really quite fantastic, is that I pay our phone bills at 7-11. It is called ‘topping up’. You simply pay the cashier the money and say you want to ‘top up’. She gives you a receipt with a code, you enter it into the phone, and ta-da!… you have another month’s worth of service.
Another interesting thing is getting used to Halal vs. non-Halal. The word ‘Halal’ in Muslim culture is roughly defined as ‘permissible’ and generally is used as a term for what is deemed allowable for a practicing Muslim. It is a lot like kosher laws in the Jewish religion and here in Malaysia grocery stores advertise that they are Halal, but often have a separate non-Halal mini-store inside where alcohol and pork products are sold. You even have to pay separately. When we first moved here I was bummed because I thought I would have to go an entire year without bacon. Then one day, I stumbled into the non-Halal section of my grocery store and it was like walking into Disneyland. There were freezers and refrigerators filled with sausages, bacon, pork chops, wine, beer, bottles of liquor, etc… It was like a small hidden side store where all of the people who make unhealthy choices shop… and it brought me a great bit of guilt-laden joy.
Apart from that, life is good.
The girls are winning soccer games and are apparently quite the popular topic at the nearby snooty British school.
We are taking scuba diving lessons as a family and will be going to an island in a few weeks to finish our diving certification.
We booked our winter trip for Nepal and are super excited to be cold and wear sweaters again for a couple of weeks. Four airline tickets and 10 nights hotel stay in Kathmandu is only costing us US$1500. Wow.
Party Marty is rapidly building up his fan club base by donning lucha libre masks at school and being an accompanying member of the Garcia latin percussion backup band. (There are 3 new male teachers this year all with the last name Garcia. Go figure!)
That about wraps it up.
Until something share-worthy happens… May the force be with you!