Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Collection of Illustrated Anecdotes

I have all sorts of excuses for not writing for so long, but it all boils down to that feeling that you get when you see the dirty dishes in the sink.

And you think, "Not now.  I want to eat some more ice cream now.  I'll wash the dishes when I'm done eating."  And then after that, there's just too many dishes to be bothered with until after your next meal.  And by then, the pile is even bigger, and you have more interesting or pressing things to do, and you just don't want to deal with it. 

And then you finally start doing them, and you realize again that it's not that hard or unpleasant a job, and you were an idiot for putting it off this long.

Anyway, my last few months have been crazy busy.  Things I have not written about include:

- two English camps, one an overnight camp
- silat (martial arts) and horse riding club
- the Sarawak World Music Festival
- visits to the beautiful Perhentian and Redang Islands
- the Muslim Women Fashion Show at ETA Lynn's school
- Ramadan and fasting
- my mom visiting
- a solo couchsurfing vacation to Indonesia
- Eid/Hari Raya celebrations in Indonesia and at my school
- mentoring my senior students' science fair project
- Form 5 Prom
- beach cleanup with The Body Shop
- and huge freaking spiders in my bathroom:

I'm going to work my way through this list in a totally random fashion.  But if I don't get to all the dishes today, well, I'm only human.  You'll just have to check back again in six months.
*          *          *

So, holding English camps was something I heard about ETAs doing before I even got to Malaysia.  I basically pictured a group of scout-uniformed students in the jungle, hiking through the mud and wrangling for canned beans and tent space in broken English.  I felt terribly unqualified to plan or lead such a trip.

But as it turns out, "camp" just means any special workshop targeted at a specific, large-ish group of students.  It can last a couple of hours or several days; it can be held at the school, or at a resource center, or even at a resort.  English camps with ETAs tend to be collaborations between two or three schools, but there are also school "camps" for test-taking strategies, religion, and clubs like                                                                                               marching band or taekwondo.

Way back in April, I started a penpal program with my 16-year-old students, between my school and ETA Kelley's school (the one with the champion speech choir).  We hooked almost 50 students from each school into writing letters to each other, and managed to extract and exchange these letters three whole times before July.  Malaysian students are creative - some of them made legitimate works of art:

Then, on July 4, we celebrated American Independence Day by gathering all these students together at Kelley's school and having them throw raw eggs at each other and run around screaming in circles. 

We gave these activities names, like "Three Legged Egg Race" and "Where the West Wind Blows" and "Red Light Green Light," but what it amounted to was day-long English-themed hilarity.  I think our first camp was quite a success.

In fact, Kelley and I liked doing camps together so much that we had another one in September, this time with ETA Rebecca's primary school.  We rounded up 90 students from ages 11 to 14, bussed them all out to a beach resort, and spent the weekend observing the migration patterns of young teenagers in relation to food sources and screaming.

Well, okay, it was a little more organized than that.  We actually worked our butts off planning for this camp - we put the students in mixed-age, mixed-gender groups of 10, then kept them running around playing games like "Telephone" and "Friendship Bingo" and "Puzzle Hunt."  We had them making up chants about how great their group was, designing and painting their own camp t-shirts, and putting on comedy skits. 

We even had a campfire on the beach! 

My favorite part was when, on the bus ride home, my students spontaneously started singing the camp songs we had taught them the night before.  It brought a tear to my eye.

I really enjoy hanging out with my students in general; they are hilarious and often amazingly talented.  Over the course of this year, I've joined in with them in lots of activities and trips, and even some co-curricular classes like silat and horse-riding.  These have been beyond valuable - where else would I get a chance at free riding and martial-arts lessons? - as well as so much fun.  Here's me practicing take-downs with one of the student silat experts:

One of the other ETAs, Lynn Elharake, has the odd experience of being a Muslim American in a conservative Muslim state.  She is also teaching at a religious all-girls' school (her blog is From Lebanon To Malaysia, if you want to know what that's like).  So, as a way to help expose her students to different forms of Islam around the world, she created the Muslim Women Fashion Club and put on a charity runway show.  I got to take ten students along to watch - and it was fabulous!  Here are some highlights:

ETAs Billy and Dakari announcing raffle winners

Models on the runway

Models posing on stage

Speaking of Islam, August was Ramadan, the month during which all Muslims fast from sunrise till sunset every single day.  This means neither food nor water for at least 14 hours, every day of the week!  Of course I had to try it.   

Here's what I learned about fasting:

1. When you fast, you want to prepare yourself pretty early in the day.  Wake up at 4:30 am, find the nearest source of heavy food (rice, chicken, veggies), and stuff yourself.  Drink tons of water and electrolytes.  Stop consuming things the minute the sun hits the horizon.

2. For the rest of the day, keep yourself busy.  You will get very, very tired and spacey, so no physical activities.  Try not to put yourself into situations where food or water is easily available to you.  The physical hunger pangs are pretty straightforward, but the mental temptation is killer.  Just remember, someone out there has it way worse than you, and fasting for one day can not actually kill you.

3. Get your food and water ready as the sun is going down.  Dates, apparently, or corn-flavored soy milk, are traditional fast-breaking items.  I personally prefer just a long, cool drink of water the second the sun disappears.  Then while you're eating, savor that wonderful flavor that hunger adds to all food.  And keep yourself well hydrated if you're going to do it again tomorrow!

Oh man, speaking of food, the most delicious thing I have ever done here is mentor a group of senior students in their science fair project!  Form 5 students all need to do a SEM project (some kind of innovation or experiment) in order to graduate, and they have to make a booth about it for the school-wide fair.  My group's regular mentor became unavailable suddenly, so I was recruited in her place.

These guys needed all the help they could get, because they had left their project rather late.  We met twice to brainstorm - they wanted to do something with chocolate, and create a "taste revolution" among their fellow students.  Ideas: could we make chocolate from scratch?  No, it turns out that you need fancy equipment for that.  What about buying chocolate and selling it to the classmates?  No, it needs to be more original than that.  Hey, what about...making fudge?

People in Malaysia don't have any experience with fudge, so we spent an educational half-hour online, exchanged a few emails with various baking friends in America (special thanks to Ellie Hanus!), and followed this with an exciting grocery trip, then a chaotic but constructive evening in the school kitchen.  The result: two delicious trays of rather gooey fudge in two mouth-watering flavors! 
A few market tests and some hasty arts-and-crafts later, and we had a solid booth for the SEM fair, including a live exhibition of fudge-making itself. 

                           Sweet success!

Whew.  Well, those are my stories for today.  Honestly, it's not the writing that's hard work, it's the combing through my pictures and trying to fit the right ones in, without making my post look like an elementary school collage.

Anyway, I have one month left here in Malaysia, so with any luck, I'll write up all the rest of my stories before I go!  Feel free to comment / email / ask questions / request specific stories.  I miss you all!


  1. Thanks for the post! I've missed hearing about you adventures. Our of curiosity, what's in the shell in the first pic? (The one at the beach. I'm guessing it's a shell in your hand.)

  2. Hey Kim! Thanks for still reading! I think most people have lost interest by now lol.

    And that's not a shell, that's ice cream! No fooling - it's ice cream in a hot dog bun, which is their version of an ice cream sandwich. Hmm, I should probably caption that...

    Hey, how are things going in Rochester?

  3. Oh! Now I see the hot dog-ice cream thing. How was it?

    Rochester is going well. Fall has crept in, so I'm in the "oh shoot, I've got outside house projects I need to do, and so little time before winter" mode. School is very busy right now. If I can just get through the next couple weeks, hopefully things will slow down a bit. The Lindy community is growing. Lindy Jam has soooo many more people now adays. A few weeks back I think there were 64 people!!

    I can't believe your time there is almost over. Any idea what your next adventure will be?

  4. Elise,

    No time for a long post now, PATHS is starting in about an hour...

    Fudge and hot dog icecream sandwiches!!?? What is this, America?

    At any rate, nice to read through some of your more recent tales. Fasting..., martial arts..great on ya.

    Perhaps we'll speak soon before you arrive back, otherwise, hopefully then.


  5. Elise!

    Great to hear you have so much going on in Malaysia. Making fudge sounds really fun. Also, it kinda scares me that thanks to your martial arts class you could probably take me down rather easily...

  6. Hey those spiders are REALLY BIG!!! It sounds like you've been really busy and that you've made alot of friends! Camps sound like alot of fun. Neat to feel that Phantom Lake lives on...

  7. Hey! I finally figured out how to post a comment!!!
    Mom :)

  8. Hey guys, thanks for commenting! :-) Mom, glad to see you finally got one to work!

    Kim, the ice cream was good, but nowhere near as good as a real ice cream sandwich. Lindy jam sounds awesome! Hope I'll get to see you there in a few weeks when I swing by Rochester!

    Nick and Adam, thanks lol, silat is indeed awesome and I could totally take on you and any of your friends... especially with my new fake black belt bwahaha.