Thursday, January 29, 2009

Top 10 Reasons Why I’m Living in the Ghetto

As a preface, I've just moved into a small three bedroom, two bath house in Kerteh, Kemaman which is located in Terengganu, Malaysia. I'm supposedly going to live in the house for the next 7-10 months. I moved in on Tuesday and theoretically some of these issues will be taken care of at some point (A big "inshallah")...

10. There is no air-conditioning.
9. There is no separation between the toilet and the shower. And my sink doesn’t have a drain pipe so the water just drains onto the floor.
8. There are no windows that can be shut and I have no curtains (i.e. no privacy).
7. When there are only ants crawling on the walls, it’s a good day.
6. Random cats decide to jump in through my broken windows.
5. All fans must be run on high to reduce the number of mosquitoes in my house.
4. Insects bite me all day.
3. Insects bite me all night.
2. The upstairs water system overflows and leaves the house all wet and leaves me without water.
1. The house I’m living in was abandoned for a year before I moved in.

Man's place in the Cosmos

The universe is between 13-15 billion years old, there are an estimated 125 billion galaxies in the universe, and there are over 200 billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy. Our planet revolves around the Sun, which is only one star in this Milky Way galaxy.

The earth is 4.5 Billion years old, mankind--homo sapiens--have been around for about 200,000 years. Neanderthals--also from the Homo genus--began to originate around 350,000 years ago and their proper characteristics appeared by about 130,000 years ago although they eventually went extinct 30,000 years ago. Homo sapiens survived and began to dominate the world beginning in 10,000BCE, and 12,000 years later have evolved and developed extensively on this planet.

We have changed and modified this world more than any other species. We have starved, killed, and brutalized everything we've come across. We've voraciously consumed the world's resources and are just beginning to feel the blowback. Mankind has infinite potential, but seems doomed to go the way of the dinosaurs. The major difference, of course, being that the dinosaurs lived for close to 165 million years and were wiped out by a meteor. Relatively civilized society has barely survived 12,000 years on this planet and we seem hell bent on finally pushing ourselves over the cliff. That which we reap, so shall we sow...

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Whirlwind Week in Kuala Lumpur

My week in Kuala Lumpur (1-2-09 through 1-9-09) was chalked full of activities and things to do. On top the limited official meetings with MACEE, I was able to explore the city, tried out variegated delicacies, checked out the night life, and just had a great time. KL is quite the city and I will definitely be returning to it in the future.

The reason why I was in KL last week was to go through an orientation session with MACEE. Officials from MACEE, namely Jim and Meena, introduced us to the Fulbright program in Malaysia, what we should expect during our stay here, and put us in touch with the US Embassy. Although we had meetings every day of the week, we didn’t achieve too much. At least we were able to get an orientation to the country and take care of some of the more tedious bureaucratic issues that had to get done.

KL itself is quite an impressive city. There is fantastic architecture, all types of eateries, and people from all over the world. The buildings are well-designed and built to last. There is a wide-range of architectural styles, from Western styled skyscrapers to ornate Ottoman-esque mosques. The Petronas Twin Towers are the paragon of the fusion of East and West, with the distinctive Islamic touch.

Walking through the city you can find almost any type of food that you’re heart desires. Food is incredibly cheap in comparison to America and you can get an excellent meal for $5US. The native Malay cuisine is actually not that great. The biggest problem with Malay food is the overreliance on fish and fried goods. I figure that this diet coupled with a general tendency that most Malays have of not doing exercise contributes greatly to the v, but there is a wonderful collection of Indian, Middle Eastern, Asian, and Western food places.

The demographic breakdown of the city seemed to be predominantly Chinese although there was a healthy mix of native Malays, Indians, and foreigners. KL is a truly cosmopolitan city and the epitome of what Malaysia is striving to be. Now whether or not massive development and a vibrant economy on the one hand makes up for the (the typical belief among conservative Malay’s) loss of identity and morality is an issue that is debatable. On the negative side, KL is pretty poorly designed in terms of a street layout and it seems that there was no central planning to the city as it evolved over time. The weather is crap—it’s ridiculously humid—but most people hang out in all of the building, which are fairly cold. Overall the city is quite nice and I could definitely see myself staying here for an extended period of time at some point.

There are lots of different things to do in KL. While most activities revolve around eating, there are actually a lot of sightseeing places. There is the Batu Caves which is a series of caves and cave temples near the city. For those more inclined towards the outdoors, there is a great jungle hiking trail through FRIM. I actually went on a nice excursion through FRIM and was able to climb through the thick bush in a nice long trek through the jungle. There are also many gorgeous mosques worth visiting, especially the awe-inspiring National Mosque. For those more inclined towards the night-life, there are plenty of bars and clubs to check out. If you are into meeting women, there are plenty of attractive Chinese and Indian women (the native Malay girls aren’t that great-looking).

KL is a city that holds many attractions and was a great city to visit. I’m sure I will be making my way back to KL as I spend more time in Malaysia.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The Adventure Begins with a Hiccup

As my friends know, I will be spending the next year in Malaysia doing a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship grant. I will be expanding what I post up on my blog from my random political thoughts, reviews, and other things to also talk about my experiences in Malaysia this upcoming year.

January 2-4, 2008
So today was the beginning of my adventure to Malaysia. I went to bed really late last night (6am)—or late, I suppose—because I was busy packing and wrapping up some final things that I needed to get done. So I finally got out of bed around 11:30am and got ready to go to Jummah prayers at the Sligh Mosque. I got ready, made sure that all of my things were packed, and headed off to the mosque with my entire family (Pops, Mom, Naumaan, and Irfaan) except for Zeeshan (who is currently visiting Pakistan).

So we ended up getting to the mosque a bit late, listened to the tail end of the khutbha, prayed, and then did namaz jinaza for some brother who had passed away. Following the prayers, I talked with some friends and then headed over to Philly Steak for some lunch.

At Philly Steak, I got to hang out with some of my friends—Ali, Yousaf, Toyin—and gorge on some halal American food. I was pretty hungry and wolfed down some of a philly steak and a spicy gyro. It was a nice meal and I was glad to hang out with some friends and family before heading off on my trip.

By 4pm, it was time to begin the long-awaited epic journey to Malaysia. We drove from Temple Terrace (where the restaurant was located) out to Tampa International Airport. We got there around 4:30 and I attempted to do an e-check in at the Delta counter. Unfortunately, the machine couldn’t find my reservations so I had to go to the agonizingly slow Delta check-in line. It took the better part of an hour before I finally got to check in my bags and got my boarding pass for the first leg of my journey. This relatively minor inconvenience was just a harbinger to much larger problems that were to come. But at that moment, I was just happy to have my ticket to LAX and said my final good-byes to my family and went over to my terminal.

My flight left Tampa on time at 7pm. From the beginning of the flight I knew it was going to be an quite the trip. After I had just sat down in my aisle seat a tall, blond bombshell walked up to me and said she needed to get into her window seat. One look at her fur-like sweater, curvaceous body, and gaudy jewelry lit up my material goldigging-dar. I could tell this girl was high maintenance and it seemed fitting that she would be on a flight to LA. Almost immediately I could tell that she was in a highly agitated mood. I did my best to ignore her and attempted to keep my head down and read from the book I had brought along (I’ve been reading the rather dense The Brothers Karmazov by Fyodr Dostoyevsky). But then she asked me if I would change seats with her. The immediate thought that ran through my mind was, “Damn, all these attractive girls will ask for—and get—anything they wamt.” And I, being no different, said “sure, you can have my seat.” She seemed really relieved that she was sitting in the aisle and then went on to explain to me that she had difficulty flying. She said that she always felt queasy and that she usually just took some medicine to help her before she flew. I introduced myself and she told me her name was Cynthia and that she had gone to undergrad at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg. One thing led to another and we ended up talking about a wide-range of issues. The biggest shock came to me when she told me that she was in the fifth year of PhD program in Social Psychology at the University of California-Santa Barbara. She was refreshingly intelligent and really killed the stereotype that I had assigned to her. In fact she was a bright liberal who made sure to clarify to me—unasked—that her sweater was not fur but just imitation. I had a generally pleasant conversation with her, took a short nap, and finally arrived at LAX around 12pm (EST).

Once I got off the plane, I saw that it was about 9:20pm (WST) and felt confident that I would be able to get to my 11:10pm flight to Taipei with no difficulty. However, this would definitely not be the case. I first had to make the long walk from the domestic terminal to the international terminal. Once there, I went to the China Airlines representative and asked to have my boarding card printed. The sweet little Chinese girl responded that there was no record of my reservation in their computer. I explained to her that my flight was confirmed and even showed her my confirmation print-out. She searched her computers but finally said that I would have to go back to Delta and have them fix the problem with my ticket.

At this point, it was starting to near 10pm and I knew that I would have to run back to the Domestic terminal to get my ticket issue fixed. So I ran back to the terminal—while lugging along my 25lbs backpack and laptop case—and spoke to a Delta representative. She looked up the information on her computer, said that the whole issue was a misunderstanding, and printed out a confirmation ticket that I would show to China Airlines to clear this issue up.

So I then ran back to the international terminal and saw that the China Airlines people were about to close their ticketing counters. I ran to the same Chinese women—or so I thought—and gave her my new updated ticket from Delta. She went through her computer again and said that there was still no record of my booking. Furthermore, after seeing that I thought she was the same girl I had spoken to earlier, she made a point to say that, “I’m not the same person you talked to earlier, I can go get her if you would like.” So this was my strike two on stereotypes for the day—although I must say that these two Chinese women looked a lot alike. Anyhow, the other Chinese girl came and spoke to me about calling up her manager to fix the ticket issue. A couple of minutes later, her manager came, took my info to Delta, and returned with the same point that there was no record of my flight booking and that I would not be able to board the plane.

So at this point I was starting to feel desperate. I asked the Chinese lady what were options. She basically said that I could either go back to Delta to try and fix the flight issue or I could buy a ticket for the flight. So my options were pretty crappy. I could either: a) go argue with Delta and miss my flight, which would then mean I have to stay in LA for at least a day in a location tbd, or b) pay for a ticket that had already been paid for me. I did not want to stay in LA so I decided to just buy a ticket for the flight. It is only at this point that the Chinese women told me that the flight was fully booked and that I would have to fly on stand-by.

At this point I’m starting to think that it is not in fate to get to KL. I told her I would wait and sometime close to 11pm she said that she would sell me a ticket. I then paid for the flight to KL (with a flight change at Taipei) for the cheap price of $815. This would have been a great price for a flight—that is, of course, if I didn’t have to pay for the same flight twice (technically once, since the Fulbright program bought my original ticket). After having paid for the flight, I ran over to security, surreptitiously skipped a bunch of people and got through security by 11:15pm. I believe I was the last person to board the flight and it finally took off around midnight.

The flight from LAX to Taipei was thankfully uneventful. I sat next to an attractive Hispanic woman who was traveling on to Thailand. The flight was quite long—something like 14 and a half hours—and we ended up arriving in Taipei around 6:30am on the January fourth. I uneventfully switched planes to my flight for KL and we departed around 8:40am.

I arrived in KL after a 4 hour and 45 minute flight (and as a side note, I sat next to a pretty Asian woman on this flight) to a sea of palm trees. Flying into the airport I was amazed at the endless rows of palm trees on the horizon. The KL airport itself was huge and it took a bit of time to travel from our landing zone to the baggage carousel. Once I got through customs and picked up my bag I was supposed to be met by a representative from MACEE (Malaysian-American Commission On Educational Exchange). However, as with everything else on this trip thus far, there was a slight hitch to my plans. The slight hitch, of course, being that no one was there to pick me up. Apparently it seems that it was in my destiny to run into as many difficulties as possible before finally settling into Malaysia.

Anyhow, a car service individual helped me try to connect with the hotel, MACEE, or any of the other Fulbrighter’s who were already in town. After an hour of trying to reach someone, I decided I might as well just get a taxi to the hotel. The car service guy was trying to get me to pay him 150 Ringit ($43) for a cab ride to the hotel. I declined this pretty ridiculous price and found a taxi driver who gave me a better rate (80 Ringit or $23) which was still pretty expensive.

So my taxi driver from the airport, Razali, was a pretty colorful fellow. He was obviously a practicing Muslim and told me some anecdotes about Malaysia and some other small talk. The ride from the airport to the Dorsett Regency Hotel was maybe 45minutes and I finally got checked in around 5pm in the afternoon.

At this point I was utterly exhausted, but I wanted to take a shower and get my things situated. Afterwards, I called up some of the other ETA’s and we decided to head out to find an Indian restaurant at the MidValley mall. We took the metro there and then meandered in search of this elusive restaurant. Allegedly it was supposed to be some of the best Indian food in Malaysia but apparently the shop had just moved to a different location. Instead, we ended up just eating some subpar Malaysian food and took a cab back to the hotel. I finally called it a night a little after 10pm and finally got some much needed rest.