Archives for category: Imperfect America

Ni hao. Jin nian, wo kai shi xue pu tong hua.

No, this does not mean I will be blogging now in Chinese but one day, hopefully, I will be able to do so without referencing three dictionaries at once.

Today, my online classes have started and assignments are due in two days. What the hell have I gotten myself into? Tomorrow, my evening Math class commences as well. This is going to be interesting.

Where did the hols go??

Anyway, my sister and her boyfriend, the fabulous George, visited from Australia. Here’s a picture:

The sisters and Sky

Isn’t she beautiful?

And that’s Sky, taking her billionth picture for the week.

I miss my sis already. Hopefully it won’t be another three years before we see each other. The girls love her so much, especially Rae. I could tell when she was saying goodbye. She avoided looking at her or George, and distracted herself with the TV and her books, the sweet girl.

I’ve also submitted another story to another of MPH’s short story collections, this time entitled Urban Odyssey. They’ve extended submission deadlines to Jan 31st. Here’s the prompt that Janet Tay sent me a few months ago (yea I was keeping it all to myself!):

MPH GROUP PUBLISHING is pleased to announce an open call for submissions of short fiction and creative non-fiction for an anthology tentatively entitled Urban Odysseys: KL Stories. We aim to publish the anthology in 2008, depending on the number of submissions that we receive.

The theme of the anthology will focus on life in the city, specifically Kuala Lumpur, with writings that show images of the new juxtaposed against the old, urban living with contrasting bright lights and shadowy realities and other short fiction or creative non-fiction which best encapsulate the spirit of the national capital. This is not a travel book but an anthology of literary writings about the city.

Stories must be original, between 3,000 and 5,000 words, and must not have been previously published. We invite submissions from both emerging and established writers. Stories for children are not eligible for this compilation. Manuscripts must be edited, typed double-spaced with 12pt font and e-mailed to mphpublishing@mph.com.my. Please include your name, address, telephone number and e-mail address. You may submit as many stories as you wish. Faxed or handwritten submissions will not be entertained and manuscripts will not be returned. We will contact you only if your piece has been selected for inclusion in the compilation. Writers whose submissions are selected will be expected to work with the editors to fine tune their stories.

Deadline: 31 January 2008
Payment: A small flat fee and two copies of the anthology

Sorry Janet, I tend to be a tad dense sometimes.

Well, off to class again. Did I say I was doing English 101 as well? The instructor already sounds very promising (as far as one can tell from emails, discussion boards and online chatting). I can’t wait to see what she thinks of my written expression.

I leave you with a Raevenism, already two days old and retold several times around the block:

"Why is Daddy the Lord of the World? Why is he the Ruler of the Universe?" 
Rae’s sullen response to my remark that the decision to watch fireworks at midnight on New Year’s Eve was her daddy’s to make.

Ah, the naivete of five-year-olds. As long as Daddy knows who the REAL ruler of the universe is, I’m down with it.

Which is worse: Going to a party underdressed or overdressed?

I think it must be a Malaysian thing, to walk into what one is guessing is a formal do in jeans and a jacket because you don’t want to look like you’ve been waiting all year to get all dressed up and use all that make-up you’ve been saving the last five years.

When Lokes and I got married, we’d put ‘Black Tie Only’ on our invites. About 1/3rd of the guests arrived in jeans and jackets, which was pretty good, considering that only one in five Malaysian households own a cocktail dress/fancy dress shirt.

At tonight’s Christmas party thrown by Lokes’ company sub-division, I’d thrown on around four a half different outfits, to arrive at – you guessed it – a modest jeans-and-red-jacket-tank-top combo because I had no idea what "Christmas attire" meant.

"Does it mean red and green clothes only?" I’d asked Lokes. He, of course, has less of an idea than me, and has neither green nor red whatever and thus, donned a black Italian silk shirt and jeans. We thought we’d looked a pretty pair and were off.

Suffice to say, Americans are pretty serious about their Christmas attire. I should’ve suspected from the racks and racks of fancy velvet (or velour, as the locals like to call it), satin, suede, cashmere tops, bottoms, full-body-affairs (and sometimes, not-so-full) at Target. I thought these were clothes people bought to wear at home on Christmas day or when visiting friends, like the Chinese New Year bajus we buy to wear during the New Year. Or when taking family pictures to be made into holiday letters or Christmas cards. Or when they got invited to a REAL Christmas party.

Note to self: Next year, dress to kill. Or at least, aim to maim.

ps. We have a picture. Will scan and put it up tomorrow.

Lokes and Jenn @ MCB Party 2007

Malaysian Christmas attire.

For the first time since we’d arrived in the States (Jan 15 will be two years), I encountered pure nastiness.

I was at the post office picking up my shipment of *Dark City 2 (thanks Xeus!) and had parked next to a Nissan something, which had occupied its space rather tightly to my side. I could not open my door wide enough to exit without touching it. And so I did. I’d thought nothing of it if not for the sharp horn that followed.

I looked at the lady in the passenger seat and she was throwing her hands up, saying something I couldn’t hear since her windows were still up. Her face was scrunched up, her mouth twisted in an ugly gnarl. She was clearly not happy.

Wait. Is this about me? Did I do something?

Is this about the small thud my door elicited as it touched her crappy old Nissan?

As I moved to the other side to get my bag and Sky out, I could hear the car rev angrily, before moving out of its bay and stopping right behind me. By this time, I was busy trying to negotiate a three-year old who informed me in not so many words that she’d prefer to stay in the car (in retrospect, an idiotic move considering I was alone in a car park with persons of questionable emotional stability – or perhaps not, for I could’ve easily sicced my snarling demonspawn on them). However, from the corner of my eye through the rear window, I caught the rapid movement of said lady exiting her car, and then making a dramatic show of checking it for the offending dent I’d purportedly put in her jalopy. My heart was beating wildly as her eyes scanned the area critically – an area already covered with deep dark scratches and probably the blood of sacrificial deer and school-aged children – hands on hips, head shaking, mouth huffing audibly.

Should I apologise, I asked myself as I spoke in coaxing tones to a screaming demon child refusing to budge from her car seat. I probably should’ve the moment my door connected with hers, but she had her windows up and all. And there was that rude horn before I even had the chance to say anything.

Before I could decide, the witch turned to me and gave me a look that could curdle tofu (having found no evidence of alleged car-door rape), before getting into her piece of junk, slamming the door with a wham that could’ve easily dislodged paint. Clearly, she cared not a smidge about the car. It was about a total stranger invading vehicular personal space. Evidently I should be locked away and the key melted in the fires of Mount Doom.

As I carried my crying child in my arms into the post office, tires ground gravel angrily, and as Bonnie and Clyde sped away, I continued to ponder, futilely, if I should’ve apologised.

"Just say sorry next time."

Sage advice from Lokes when I called him five minutes later to report the incident, the purpose of which escapes me.

"Kinda hard when the other person looks like she wants to tear your throat out for trying to get out of your car. I was more afraid that she’d pin some other scratch on me, the state that car was in. It’s worse than our car."

"Some people just love their cars in a crazy way."

Or have their stick shifts up their collective behinds.

Of course, Lokes is right. About saying sorry and about crazy people and their cars. All I can do now is hope that perhaps, I’ll see them around town. Perhaps then I’ll be able to apologise.

And then sic my snarling three-year old on them.

*I have two short stories in here. Ta-da!

Published

Xeus sent me more copies than I can actually give away (without begging).

Ping me if you want a Christmas present that’s authentically Malaysian.

Been busy but here’s a list of updates:

Vancouver – land of loonies, toonies, blinking go lights (what on God’s sweet earth is up with that?) and the best Chinese cuisine you’ll ever find in the Pacific Northwest. 

Facebook is becoming more addictive than I’ve initially allowed it to be.

My friend Susan makes the best turkey eva!

I make a mean spinach lasagna.

Been reading up a squall. Finished Khaled Housseini’s The Kiterunner, Carolyn Parkhurst’s The Dogs of Babel and re-read F. Scott’s Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Starting Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone. Am catching up on lost education through the Intellectual Devotional – must buy BOTH of them, y’all.

Remember my initial excitement at going back to school for my degree in linguistics? Registration of classes now hangs by a thread because of my newly minted resident status. Apparently, ‘residency’ in the college application sense means having a green card, and not the actual wikipedia definition, i.e. “the act of establishing or maintaining a residence in a given place”.

Who can you trust if you can’t trust wikipedia?

If they end up charging me non-resident fees (which means I’ll end up paying almost twice the amount I would pay as a resident), I will be forced to forego all delusions of becoming Professor Higgins, before I even begin.

The appropriate, linguistically-themed reaction to this would be ‘diu-niasing‘.

On the other hand, I will have more time to work up my Spectre or become the next Rock Star.

The appropriate, game-themed reaction to this would be ‘w00t!’.

See? I was made for this.

Seriously, why would an English or Linguistics major need to know college-level trig?

Or is American college-level trig the same as Malaysian Form Five trig?

I have no frigging idea since I can do neither.

Today, I went for my Math and English assessment at the college where I’ll be starting classes this January. Walking onto the almost deserted college grounds on what was a rather frosty Tuesday morning in my old-new coat (bought it a couple of years ago – never been worn), I felt my heart swell with the crisp morning air and my feet doing a kind of moon-walk (the actual bouncy ‘moon’ walk – not the MJ variety) because today, I open a new chapter in my life. And as that new chapter smell hit my nose and flooded my gut, I said to myself, "Bring it on. I am ready for anything!"

Anything but college-level trig, of course.

As the lad sitting in front of what was presumably the Math and English Assessment SUPER MASTER COMPUTER briefed me on how the test would go and how opting for "Most Difficult Level Math" worked better on the system because for some reason, the software was not able to adjust up from "Easier Level Math" should you be, you know, a SUPER MASTER MATHEMATICIAN, I nodded at the right places and "mm-hmm"ed away, confident that at 34, I was at the very least an AVERAGE MATHEMATICIAN. Besides, I am going to do English or Linguistics, right?

Apparently, even future literati or linguists still need to be able to compute algebra and work out mathematical models, understand quantitative and symbolic reasoning, that sort of thing.

Long story short, after about 18 grueling minutes of "If X is all, then x(2x -6) (3x + x2) =" Answer E: Who the fack knows or cares?, I got a 32, which, according to Mr SUPER MASTER MATH COMPUTER, would place me at Introductory Algebra II aka Math 098. That would be where I’d need to start this Jan to make my Math proficiency.

Gr…eat.

Anyway, the good news is that UW has a Department of Linguistics and I will be going there (spot on, Irene!) and I would need to make about 45, 50 credits to get in so that’s just a year at the CC before I can apply (instead of two years). The bad news is that the sooner I get into UW, the sooner I need to pay the big bucks, versus a BA in English which would allow me to do two years at the CC to save the money.

Well, one step at a time. I might not even survive Introductory Algebra II.

I know, I know, it’s about damn time.

Firstly, my hard disk died. My dear, dear husband managed to recover most of the data (because I was too damned pissed and lazy to do it myself) so I’m now back on track. The one thing I love about a hard disk dying is that you get to see just how fast your machine is without all the crap you’ve managed to pile in the last five years. Of course, if you have a husband like mine who actually loves reinstalling an operating system AND then some, what you get really is one of those nifty TV fast-forward makeover scenes where you don’t really notice the tremendous amount of work put into, say, the torturous healing after a 20-hour surgery of fat-sucking, cheekbone-building, skin-grafting, denture-designing fun.

Secondly, work at the preschool has just been…what’s the word…oh yea, a bitch (in more ways than one). Long story short, it’s not just a thankless job I’m doing trying not to freak the fuck out with all the problems we’ve been having, but people – gotta love generalizing – just have the most unreasonable expectations out of what they keep forgetting are VOLUNTEERs. I find it a real marvel that the biggest whiners are the ones who don’t do a lick of work. Solve one problem and they will find something else to bitch about. Seriously, some days, I don’t really know who the real kids are.

Thirdly, Rae’s kindy has been keeping me busy as well. I don’t know what the hell is wrong with me that I think I need to volunteer for every damn thing and accept every damn invite. Those of you who call yourselves my American friends, you’re not doing such a great job helping your friend here not be such an idiot. I know, some things can’t be fixed, but I’d appreciate a hint or two once in a while, a gentle warning now and then that I’m standing in a hole, and I’m the one digging it.

Fourthly, more stupidity – okay, MAYBE it’s the least stupid thing I’ve gotten myself into but I’m going back to school come January. That’s right, yours truly is going back to college to take a degree in English at UW, starting with some online courses at a local community college. I’m actually trying to decide between English and Linguistics. The long-term goal is to one day work at perfecting speech recognition technology so…yep. In another six, seven, ten years or so, I’ll be able to rock the world of phonetic technology, replete with elbow-patched tweed coat and pretentious English accent, woohoo!

Now I’ve really got to think about how the hell I’m going to pay for my classes now that it’s come to my attention that my husband isn’t really Bill Gates. I know, it’s confusing.

Lastly, it’s that time of the year. In two days, it’ll be Halloween. Next month, it’s Thanksgiving. Plus we’re planning a trip to Canada soon (Rae has been on our case since we got those shiny new green cards and she’d heard us rejoicing, of course catching only the words "Canada" and "holiday").

I promise I will make it up to y’all with a funny video soon. Just need to get all my crap installed and working again. In the mean time, Happy Hallow’s Eve to all. Lokes and I dressed up for a grown-up party last night and had jello eyeball shots (I didn’t have time to blog but I had time to go for a party – how sad). Was fun. I was showing cleavage and everything. Pics soon.

We got our green cards.

We got our green cards.

WE GOT OUR GREEN CARDS.

Popping the Pinot.

(like we ever needed a real reason to do that but if we did, this would be it.)

Here’s another reason to hate me:

I know awesome people.

Last Friday, when I had my wisdom teeth removed, a group of people I barely know rallied and cooked a weekend of meals for my family.

On Friday, we had light chicken calzones in a zesty marinara dip, grits and cookies and the yummiest chicken rice salad Lokes and I have ever eaten in our lives.

On Saturday, we had mega-huge enchiladas with chicken and beans, generously swathed in sour cream.

On Sunday, it was authentic North Indian vegetarian Indian dhal curry, freshly baked curry puffs and mint chutney.

On Sunday evening, a dessert of cinnamon raisin rice pudding.

As I happily spooned another helping of pudding onto my plate last night, I wondered: Does this sort of stranger kindness happen elsewhere? Certainly not in Malaysia, that’s for sure. Why? For one, we have our families. It’s just too much work to have to go through for people you’re not related to, that’s the basic mentality. Blood-relation seems to be the only valid basis to trust someone even when it comes to sponsoring a meal – (and sometimes not even that). The rule is simple. In times of trouble, take care of your own. Deny your own flesh and blood and you’ll rot in the 18th level of fiery hell.

Out here, it’s nuclear families galore. As such, a different sort of support system exists, that of neighbours and colleagues, of preschool and kindy mom friends – and, very often, even complete strangers. When my friends brought food on Friday, Lokes was a little dazed.

“Who are these people?” he’d asked, as he took in the spread, unable to fathom that people not related to us would go through so much trouble.

“Oh my God, that’s just so…nice!” remarked my sister, who lives in Australia. So apparently, this doesn’t happen very often there as well.

Now I’m not saying that strong family support is not as good. I don’t think I could ever have contemplated starting a family if it weren’t for my mom and in-laws being around. The fact is, I feel blessed to have been exposed to both cultures: People who have such solid family support that they never need to rely on complete strangers, and people who have such solid community support that they don’t have to worry about relying on absent family. Helps reinforce that with everything that’s screwed up in the world, there is still some real good out there.

And some really good cooks!