LIFE: FOURTH MONTH

Choral Speaking practice, April 18th

Infamous for being a tough month, I came into April with low expectation.  But the chaos from March settled down and for lack of a better phrase, I’m starting to feel apart of the community.  Within a half-mile radius Wes and I have a chicken wing guy, a karaoke lady and even a few lethargic, yet endearing police buddies.  In a place where knowing ‘the system’ is the only way of getting something accomplished, having a sizeable network helps.  But of course, there were hiccups.

One broad obstacle is the astounding inefficiency.  Whether I’m driving to the grocery store or trying to get expense reimbursements from my school, nothing happens quickly or correctly.  Inefficiency is everywhere.  Our car fiasco could not embody this better.  Like a failed a Viagra experiment, the 1992 Malaysian make broke down at least once a week and always within a few miles of our home.  Even after services and repairs the once virile, Kembara continued breaking down.  Our renter, the soft-souled gentle man that he is, was in disbelief.  “No, no, no.  You step on the acceleration TOO hard” he exclaimed as he held back tears when we brought up the issue.  Taking constructive criticism, let alone admitting a mistake, is not a Malaysian specialty.  So, we traded the car for our security deposit and bid farewell to the mirage of a stable transport.  Now, we are car-less.

Choral speaking is officially over.  The team was initially unorganized and uninspired to say the least, but after a few pep talks from the administration the team pulled together 7am – 4pm practices for 7 days straight before the competition.   We did not place, but the heartbreak of losing, after actually trying, suggests better work ethic next year.

My classes have been shockingly smooth.  My mid, to higher-level classes are, knock on wood, finally engaged in almost every lesson I conduct.  I had three of my classes write socially conscious letters to the government on how to improve Malaysia.  They were awe-struck at the idea of writing something the PM might read.  My lower-level classes remain defiant.  In Malaysia classes are graded; my form 1s (freshmen) range from A – D.  These are the classes with students who work the hawker stalls on the weekends or whose parents are working in Singapore till 2 am.  For them, school is not work time it’s playtime.  Having a break-through with my 1D or 4D would be a tremendous ego boost.

Like I said before, Wes and I are slowly breaking into ‘the system’ here.  The dobis (laundry-mats), teashops, mechanics and karaoke spots are beginning to recognize us by name.  We stood out like unapproachable sore thumbs before, but the more people see our faces the more we’re invited to Chinese family dinners and Punjabi festivals.

Traveling less frequently in April made me realize how important it is to be a physical presence around town.  My sense of ‘productivity’ is being warped; productivity is not how much you can get accomplished within a fixed period of time.  Productivity is sitting at a stall and talking to my noodle soup guy about the upcoming election or seeing a student at a bike shop and getting him to help me change my motorbike tires.  Maybe, while living abroad, that is the most important kind of productivity.

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