A Banner Week
It has now been exactly one week since I have arrived in Maran (I wrote this nearly two weeks ago) and it has been one to remember. I have now “Crossed Over” to the realm of a Malaysian teacher, visited my school, given an convocation speech, taught more than a full week of classes, been to three traditional Malaya weddings, one baby shower, and bought my first ever motorized vehicle. It’s been a banner week.
Most of this week seems to be a blur as things have happened so fast and I already feel like I have met so many and done so much in this quite little town. When we arrived, I was talking to my mentor about the local wildlife of the region. I thought of the times when I was younger watching Animal Planet all day and fantasizing of going to a place that ancient jungles and the wildest of animals abound. It was hardly believable that I would be living in a place that I had so often dreamt of but never could quite conceive going to. But somehow, by the constant series of unlikely events I arrived here in Maran, Malaysia, or as it is often affectionately referred to as, Kampong Ayam Maran, which quite literally means “chicken village”. Here in the belly of peninsular Malaysia and in the heart of the jungle life is unhurried, easygoing, and for the most part very pleasant—a place where the people work hard to maintain what they have against the heat and rain, but also in large part depend on the forests and plantations for much, and generally stay very upbeat. A smile can be found by everyone, everywhere.
The town is rather rural. How rural? Just to give you a sense, my mentor said that he nearly hit a Tiger and it’s cubs on the way to work last year, and just last week someone told me a story of a family driving home at night and hitting an elephant; the family didn’t make it, the elephant walked away…..THAT RURAL. The town does have a brand new and very fine highway nearby though, but Maran is largely surrounded by Forest Reserve and a few palm oil and rubber plantations on its periphery. That being said, the town of Maran itself is pretty sizable, and actually sometimes reminds me of a small town in the U.S. It has just about everything we could need: a small hardware store where I am now friends with its owner, a bike shop, a motor bike shop, and number of restaurants and food stalls— including one Chinese place, a general grocery store called Tunis Manja, a gas station, two schools, a rather beautiful Mosque, and lo and behold, even a 24 hour Seven Eleven (7/11’s are surprisingly in basically every town in Malaysia).
Basically every person I have met in Maran is exceedingly helpful and overwhelmingly welcoming. The hospitality has been unparalleled in my life, and it’s hard to imagine it ever being topped. I have received more free food this week than I can imagine; complete strangers on the street offer to buy me meals. Subsequently, just about every person that I see on the street is excited to see me, if not completely and utterly surprised to see me as well. To say that I stop traffic as I walk around town would be untrue, but I have never run across someone who hasn’t done at least a double, triple or quadruple-take when they see me, often followed by some giggling, whispering and murmurs of “orang Puti”—meaning “white man”. I haven’t seen another white person in the area and I don’t expect to. That’s why I suppose most people think I am lost or looking to find my way to a resort in Kuantan. Eventually however, most people will know who I am and why I am here—I think I have already met a near majority of the town as it is.
I have already made some considerable allies in the community and I feel extremely safe here. I live in the teacher’s quarters where members of the district administration as well as teachers from my school live. Also, these quarters are conveniently located directly behind the district Police Station, which is always comforting. Our balcony which overlooks the jungle actually overlooks the station as well, so we can watch them practicing for different events or doing PT for entertainment on rainy days.
Our lodgings are very nice, surprisingly so. When I chose to fulfill my application to Malaysia I fully expected to be living in a longhouse in the jungle, but we have nothing like that. We have a pretty spacious apartment with ceiling fans (pivotal), a small kitchen with two burners, a sink and a refrigerator, two separate bedrooms, and two bathrooms equipped with western toilets (also clutch). Despite a few cockroaches and some gecko friends that help us keep the bugs out, everything is just like home. I could really get used to living here in a few months’ time even with the heat and the very frequent rain. It’s a great shelter from the outside world.
School is also going very well. On my first day I was asked to speak at the weekly Monday morning assembly. Usually this is a pretty normal routine for the students, but on this day, unknown to me, they deliberately picked me up late for school so I would arrive in a car well after all the students and staff had assembled. Then, I literally pulled right up and exiting into a tunnel of students leading me in a procession to the front of the stage. There I sat next to the principal in front of the entire school and also observed that I was a sitting next to a MASSIVE banner of my own name and face (which might have been one of the more embarrassing things of my life). After a couple of introductions in Bahasa Malaysia (which I didn’t understand) I was asked to deliver a speech to the students. Luckily, I had been tipped off about the speech and prepared a few words for everyone. I sent the mass of students into a uproar as I delivered a salutation: Salamat Pagi (meaning good morning), but that’s just about where my listeners trailed off as I spoke in English and I received many blank stares until I ended with a “Terima Kahshi” (thank you) and I received another round of applause. It was probably my longest address to a group that size (over 700 people)….most of which I lost a one point or another however, despite intensive gesturing and body language.
The week of teaching also couldn’t have gone better. The teachers were so helpful the students were, well, beyond excited to see me; almost to the point where they would actually physically run away from me in embarrassment and shock. But all in all, they had a very high energy and could understand most things that I said if I spoke slowly. In my classes for the first week I covered a lot of introductory stuff: who I am, why I am here (which can be actually very confusing to many), and what my rules and expectations are for the rest of the school year. Students followed and understood far better than I expected in my first few activities and I am very excited for the next year knowing that I can do a majority of the things that I had previously planned on.
The make-up of my students really runs the gambit. I have a majority of Form 5 and Form 6 students— meaning that most of them are pre-university and ages 17 to 21. I like these students a lot already, they are very proficient and I know we can make a lot of progress together over the course of the year. I also will be working with younger students once a week as well in Forms 1, 2 and 3. I am excited to have some fun with them and get them interested in developing a passion for English and learning languages. My schedule has still a little to be hammered out as I will soon be coaching some Co-curriculars including a debate and public speaking club, as well as sports like soccer and badminton over the course of the year. All in all, I will have some considerable contact hours with students. In addition to helping teachings and others in the community; I think I will be quite busy all day.
In other news, born onto me on this, the 17th of February, 2013, was a beautiful bouncing baby. At a healthy 270 pounds 4 ounces she came into the world a bright race-car-red and at a top speed of 70 miles per hour. She is my first motorized vehicle that I have ever owned and I am proud beyond belief. Never did I think that I could be so in love with inanimate object, but it just might be my most favorite (and most expensive) possession. I did get her for a great deal, a promise of resale, and a hefty discount if I tutored the salesman’s children though. The bike was just right for me, and it’s just flat-out really fun to drive.
Many more interesting and hilarious things are sure to follow in the coming weeks of navigating teaching English as a second language in a charming little town in the middle of Malaysia. But for now, I apologize for the nearly two week delay and I will try to find my night’s rest in the humid heat, and to a pretty enthusiastic chorus of tree frogs from the mountains outside my window, I will be thinking of all of those I know curling up in their blankets under a dense blanket of snow. I will be a little bit jealous.