Friday, November 23, 2012

Living In China

Due to limited access in China, I created a new blog.  If you would like to read about my adventures in Chengdu, China and the stories behind them, you can refer to the link below:

Thank you to all of my supportive readers, I wish you all 'Happy Holidays'!

                                                           (some of my students)
                                                          (Chengdu University)                                          

                                                       (Halloween in China)

Monday, August 27, 2012

In Preparation for China

As I mentally prepare myself for China, I can relate to this prayer below.

“O God of beginnings,
As your spirit moved over the face of the deep, on the first day of creation,
Move with me now in my time of beginnings,
When the air is rain-washed, the bloom is on the bush, and the world seems fresh and full of possibilities, and I feel ready and full.
I tremble on the edge of a maybe,
A first time, a new thing, a tentative start,
And a wonder of it lays its finger on my lips.
In silence, Lord, I share now my eagerness and my uneasiness about this something different I would be or do;
And I listen for your leading, to help me separate the light from the darkness,
In the change I seek to shape, and which is shaping me. Amen."

In a couple of days I head off to a new beginning.  I hope to keep you updated with my new adventures and my new experiences.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

As A Chapter Ends, A New One Begins...

Saying “Good-Bye” is never easy, but lately it’s become more of a familiar phrase for me.  In August 2011, I said my ‘goodbyes’ to my family and friends and headed off to Malaysia.  In September 2011, I said my ‘goodbyes’ to the rest of the YAGMs as I headed to Sandakan.  Then in June 2012, my mother and aunt came to visit me in Southeast Asia and I gave them another farewell ‘goodbye’.  Now, it’s time for me give my final ‘goodbyes’ to all my friends here in Sabah and the rest of YAGM group, as they head back to States, and I travel onward to China.
I look back at my year here and reflect on the different things that have taken me by surprise. 
When I first arrived, I hardly knew any Malay and the words I did know came out wrong, so I became the laughing stock at work.  It was frustrating and intimidating.   Eating noodles and seafood for breakfast was completely foreign.   I thought I would never be clean again because within 5 minutes after you showered you were sweating.  The awkward stares, the multiple questions and the picture taking made me feel like I had my own paparazzi.   I was asked to help out with big projects that I had never done before, like opening a new business or organizing a charity event for a few hundred people.  Or random projects, like a recycle runway show or an underwater photo shoot. 
There were also the warnings… “Make sure you open up the rooms every now and then in your house so the spirits don’t take over”.  “Don’t take the bus system it’s not safe”.  “Make sure you wash your hair after it gets wet from the rain, otherwise you will get sick”. “Don’t eat too much of that it’s a ‘heating food’ ”. 
Of course there was the food… There are many different kinds of vegetables and fruits that you can only find in this part of the world, like durian and rambutan.  When I first arrived, people kept asking me, ‘what do you call this in English’…I said, ‘I never seen that fruit before, so we probably do not have a name for it’.  I never thought putting salt on pineapple would be good or thought I would be able to mix my food together (yes, that’s right family back home…you can get rid of the divider plates).  The seafood, the fruit, the curry dishes and the traditional dishes, like hanvia will definitely be something I will miss.
And then there were the stories…
I have a friend who is separated from her husband, has been sick with a heart condition and cannot afford to pay for rent, healthcare bills, plus childcare and schooling.  So her mother takes care of her little girl at her family village (which is a few hours away from Sandakan).  Her boy has finished school and lives with his father.  She only gets to see her children about 3 times a year, when she can afford to take time off work and travel back to her village.
I have another friend, who has been trying to have a baby for years; she has gone through more than one miscarriage.   She says the stress from work and the traveling she has to do to get to and from work is hard on her body.  She feels left out and sad at times as she watches her friends around her build families.  But in order to make the payments she can’t leave her job.
Another friend, who is happily married with four children, told me she only gets to see her husband on the weekends and holidays as his job is out-stationed from the Sandakan area.  When I first heard this I was shocked. I thought there was a language barrier or a miss-communication as her personality and her love for her family and husband are more than words can describe.   It amazed me that this was considered normal.  I asked her if it was hard and she said ‘ya’, but in a non-emotional way, it was more of ‘what to do, that’s life’.  Just the other day, her face was filled with joy and I asked her why she is so happy, it was a Friday and her husband had sent her a message saying he was on his way home.  When she came back from her lunch break, I asked her where her car was, she said ‘my husband take it to town, he is picking me up later and taking me to dinner’.   At that moment, I thought to myself, I hope I can find love like that.  After 10 years of marriage, four kids and only getting to see each on the weekends, they still are so happily in love.

The random projects, the superstitions, food and the stories have now become known as my normal life, verses a surprise.  So not only will I have to say goodbye to my friends here but I will also have to say goodbye to my new adapted lifestyle.
Then there was saying goodbye to the YAGMs, the other volunteers that came to Malaysia with me.  In Chicago, many of us were strangers to each other, we were nervous, excited and some even scared about the next journey we were getting ready to approach.  After we arrived in Malaysia, we were what you could say forced to get to know each other, build relationships and use each other for a support system.  I would have not of been able to get through many of my struggles this year without the other seven.  But like many chapters in our lives, I had to say goodbye to them as well. 

The big question that many of us ponder on is how do we describe our lives here.   Some people will of course refer to this as ‘a trip’ and ask ‘how was your trip?’; which I would then precede with telling you about ‘Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand and Bali’ as those were my trips here.  But Malaysia was my home, this is where I buried my tears in the ground and spread smiles around.  There are so many stories, so many feelings, so many tastes, that it’s almost impossible to try and sum up my life here.  But for those of you who are only looking for the short version, here is what I would say; “My year here was challenging, yet rewarding.  There were times of joy and times of tears.  I was able to learn about new cultures, new religions and new traditions.  I built relationships with complete strangers for survival, for knowledge, for hope and for love.  After only a few months these strangers became my family.  I would love to sit down and tell you stories about of either fear, hope or happiness; because the stories are easy, it’s the relationships that changed me that will be the most difficult to describe”.

And so from here, I start the next chapter of my life….China!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

'WalkWheelAthon' with Sabah Cheshire Home

My final event here at Sabah Cheshire Home, Sandakan is called the “WalkWheelAthon”.  This event is to help raise funds for the ‘Home’ and create awareness to the Sandakan community about people with disabilities, especially those who use wheelchairs. 

The event takes place on the 15th of July at the local Sports Complex.  We plan to have people team off into groups of 10 persons and each group will have one wheelchair.  There will be several different exchange stops, so that each person within the group has a chance to utilize the wheelchair.  The distance from the start to the finish is about 700 meters.  We decided to not make this a competition, but something fun and educational. 

I look forward to yet another great event, benefiting a great cause!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Adventures in Bali

Two weeks ago my mother and aunt came to Southeast Asia to visit me.

The first adventure was trying to get my mom on the same path as my aunt. My mom had many delays and new routes, but finally made it to Bali.

The resort we stayed at was in Candidasa which on the southeast coast of the island. The town was quiet and the place was a nice place to relax and play catch with my family.

I became friends with our taxi driver who drove us from our resort in Candidasa to Kuta (about a 2 hour drive). We compared my Malay words verses the local Indonesian language. We found we had many similarities, so if we wanted to we could talk about my mom or aunt haha...but of course we didn't. I was able to learn about his family, his lifestyle and the Hindu religion. Before he became a taxi driver he was working on a US cruise ship, handling luggage and cleaning the restrooms. He said the pay was very nice, but it was starting to get too hard to be away from his family. That was another similarity we had in common. He was surprised that I hadn't seen my mom in ten months, but understood how it felt to be away from family.

Most locals in Bali follow the Hindu religion and there are many temples throughout the area. I learned that there different kinds of temples, family temples, village temples and bigger spiritual temples. According to the Balinese tradition, the temples are the point of meeting amongst the humans and the gods. The temples are specially considered during some festival days or in the “odalan” (temple anniversaries). In these dates the temples are decorated to praise the gods. The word in Sanskrit for temple is “Pura”, which means “space surrounded by walls”. Many families build there homes are their family temples and for the family. Village temples are usually more open for tourist.  The bigger spiritual Hindu temples are normally only used for special occasions.  Most temples of Bali can be classified into these categories: Pura Puseh (origin temples), which are the most important and are reserved to the founders of villages (Balinese are worshipers of their ancestors). Pura Desa dedicated to protector spirits that guard the villagers. Pura Dalem (dead temple), where is venerate Durga the Shiva’s wife and deity of the dark and destruction. Besides, there are several temples dedicated to the spirits that protect the agriculture, these temples are known as Pura Subak.  As well as learning about the Hindu religion and the different temples, we also got to see some traditional Balinese dances.

 We also spend a full day in the city of Kuta where we swam in the ocean and bargain at the outdoor markets AND let me tell you that was an exciting yet overwhelming experience.

I am again so thankful for all the experiences and the new people I was able to meet, but more thankful that I was able to share that with my mother and aunt.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Discovering Thailand

On May 12th, my group headed up to Chiang Mai, Thailand.   Most Thai people use the phrase “land of the free” to express pride in the fact that Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia never colonized by a European power.   But today Thailand has become a European and Western travel zone.  Thailand has become a popular place to visit and is becoming a place for Europeans to retire.  Since the people in Thailand were use to the common tourist, it was nice not to be looked at as the center of attention or get the common the stare.  There were many times I felt accepted and at peace during my stay. 
Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand, with Bangkok being the first.  During our time in Chiang Mai we were able to explore the local outdoor markets, visit one of the popular Buddhist Temples, learn about the culture, food and some struggling issues. 

The national religion is Theravada Buddhism.  Thai Buddhism ranks one of the highest in the world (according to the census 2000, of 94% of the total population are Buddhist of the Theravada tradition).  Muslims are the second largest religious group in Thailand at about 4.6%.
The Thai culture has been shaped and influenced over the years by the Indian, Lao, Burmese, Cambodian and Chinese cultures.  Bhumibol Adulyadej is the King of Thailand.  He has been serving as king since 1946; he is the world’s longest-serving current head of state and the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history.  He is very well respected by his people and just recently celebrated his 84th birthday.  Elephants are looked at a symbol for Thailand, when I asked ‘why’ I was told that during the war, Thai people used Elephants for transportation and during battle.  When I looked it up on ‘Google’, I found this: “Elephants have been revered in Thailand for many centuries. Famous as the strongest beasts of burden, in Thailand they were important in battle, with kings mounted on Elephants fighting the Burmese to defend Thailand on many occasions. They have also been noted for their intelligence, memory and pleasant nature. A Thai legend has it that a marriage is like an elephant-- the husband is the front legs, that choose the direction, the wife the back legs, providing the power!”   I will have to say, I do enjoy legends :).    We also learned that the white elephants (which are not white, but have pale spots on them) are looked at as the highest honors and are only bestowed for the King.   We were able to visit an Elephant Nature Park while in Chiang Mai and I will say their intelligence and artistic abilities did surprise me.

We were also introduced to Thai food, which I loved.  Thai food is a blend of five fundamental tastes: sweet, spicy, sour, bitter and salty. Some common ingredients used in Thai cuisine include garlic, chillies, lime juice, lemon grass, and fish sauce.  Another popular dish that was usually served with your cuisine was sticky rice.  A popular sweet dish was sticky rice with mango and coconut milk.  I enjoyed the spicy and sour soups as well as the famous ‘Pad Thai’.  For fun I also tried cooked grasshopper and cockroach...surprisingly it wasn't that bad :)

We were able to visit a ‘Life Center’ that helps provide education, a safe living environment and citizenship advocacy for ‘human trafficking and exploitative labor’ in Southeast Asia. This struggle brought anger, frustration and sadness.  At times many of us forget the challenges and issues that still take place in this world.  I think there are times that I forget to tell the story as to why I am here.  My pictures bring joy and peace and let's face it some of you keep asking me when I will get back from my vacation and stop goofying around.  One of the main reasons I am here is to learn, not just about the culture and the food, but the challenges. These challenges help me open up my eyes to reality because as much as I wish the world was about good food and artistic elephants, it’s not.  There are challenges all around the world, and we can’t say that one struggle is worse than the next, but I do want to share a struggle I learned in Thailand and how it relates to my time here in Malaysia.   
This information is wrote directly from the brochure of the ‘Life Center’ we visited, it says: “There are approximately two million tribal people living in Thailand.  Ethnic minorities are not guaranteed legal Thai citizenship.  This lack of status, coupled with a growing decline in their ability to sustain their traditionally nomadic lifestyle, has left tribal people highly exploitation.  Each year, a number of tribal girls leave their homes under false pretenses and end up in exploitative labor situations”.  We learned that there are millions of tribal ethnic groups located in and near Thailand that have no status, it’s like these people do not exist, no country will claim them.  This unknown identification is happening here in Malaysia as well.  Many children struggle with the fact that they were born into this world and they have no birth certification, no…nothing.  With that comes poverty, lack of education and exploitative labor.   These children are working at a young age to save their families from poverty, these children are working at a young age because the schools will not take them, the communities around them will not acknowledge them.  This world still exists today and this is why I am here.  I know I can’t change the world, but I can educate the world, I can tell my stories and try to motivate others to tell theirs.  I might be looked at as just one person, with one small voice, but we all have to start from the beginning and hope for the best and that is what I plan to do.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Color of FIRE

As I start to adapt more and more here in Malaysia, I decided it was time to give my hair a good treatment.  Many guys might not understand, but for a girl sometimes it is nice to have a 'spa day'.  Plus it has been about a year since my hair was cut and I feel lately that I'm losing about a handful of hair a week here.

I brought my co-worker along, just to make sure there was no miss-communication.  So after discussing how damaged my hair was and the exact colors I would like, the preparation started.  I thought it would be nice to go back to my original color, a light brown with a few golden highlights, especially since my mom and aunt were planning on visiting next month.  I was told I needed a trim, which ended up being a chop, but I couldn't argue as my hair was pretty damaged.  

It is a known fact that our hair is a little different than Asian hair.  Besides the color, we tend to have softer and thinner hair...though mine is extra thin, but no complaints as I can keep my hair up all day with just one bobby-pin!  So needless to say the color process didn't really turn out as what we ALL expected.

After 5 long hours in the salon chair, 4 washes and 3 colors....the best description I can come up with is FIRE.  Yes, my hair is like the color of fire...a little red, a little purple, a little yellow and a little orange.  Which is kind of ironic considering I just recently finished the book 'The Hunger Games'.  I would like to think that it brings me the power to climb trees and shoot arrows, but that would just be the chemicals talking.

So I spent the afternoon thinking about either crying, finding a wig or hiding (yes...boys, maybe not all but to most of us girls, hair can be that important).  I knew that crying wasn't going to change anything and hiding was for the weak.  So I have been trying to embrace the new look, though it hasn't been easy.  But at least now I can look in the mirror and shake my head and just laugh!