Selamat ulang tahun, Malaysia

Diana from the office the other day asked me if I knew how to speak Bahasa Melayu yet, since I’ve been here almost a year. I grinned and replied, “Makan… Minum… Terima kasih!” which made her laugh and tsk at me at the same time.

But I also know specifically what to makan and minum, and whether to have it there or to go. Practical stuff. I also know how to give directions to my house in Malay (kanan, kiri) and Shin Hui was giving me a lift on the same day and, asking me to navigate for her, she said I was better than her at knowing where to go in KL and PJ. Yes, I know how to get around by myself. It took a while, but I’m such a badass commuter, which Bilqis had warned me can be super challenging. That counts for something right? An accomplishment for my first year in Malaysia?

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So early in the morning…

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Jason, giving me a lift on a separate occasion (bless my Malaysian friends giving me lifts here and there), asked me how long I’ve been here and told him it would be a year on Saturday. He said this surprised him, he thought I had been living here for at least three years. Yes, I can’t speak Malay yet, but I guess I do give the impression I’ve been here for quite some time. And anyway, I understand context. Some context. Both in Malay and Chinese. Dui.

When I visited Singapore, Mayo asked me how was my English, because he said his was deteriorating. I said mine was still perfect, because I had Bilqis to talk to. If anything, I was starting to develop a British accent.

I have Bilqis.

I have Bilqis. Feeding the monkeys in Kuala Selangor.

Okay, so yeah, I was kidding about Chinese, I don’t understand it at all, except for this one time Silver and Jack were arguing “Yo..” (sp?) and “Meiyou…” on a loop in the car. But I’ve learned to enjoy listening to the chatter, and don’t demand a translation because I don’t have to join the conversation to enjoy it. One of the first times I hung out with a bunch of Chinese Malaysians at once, Chan was constantly trying to translate for me, bless his heart (may you all have that one friend who is just as sweet and thoughtful). I remember telling him, “It’s okay, Chan. I like listening even if I don’t understand.” Which is also why I’m not going to learn Chinese anytime soon, though I’ve recently learned how to fake participating in a Chinese conversation. Dui. Zhen ta. Shi. I can do that all year.

In the solo he choreographed for me for Dancing in Place, Jack wanted me to speak in Tagalog to replicate his own lost in translation experience when he was “wandering in Berlin.” Maybe better if I spoke in German, but it had to come out naturally and so we settled on Tagalog. However, I found that some of my text, especially in the second segment where I’m tying my hair, saying the words felt so unnatural for me. And when I watched the video back, I was like, you sound so fake, girl!

Chattering in Tagalog in Jack Kek's Strasse, Stadt Photo by Marvin Kho

Chattering in Tagalog in Jack Kek’s Strasse, Stadt
Photo by Marvin Kho

Jack’s lost in translation experience is actually exactly my experience. His city is Berlin. My city is KL. And what his dance is about, is exactly my dance. Why does my heart feel so much for a city it has only just met? It just does. And it has multiplied greatly, one year after.

On the monorail today, a girl asked me, “Hang Tuah sini?” I said yes. If she was going the wrong way, I would have said, “Tak,” and pointed at the other platform. She smiled and said, TQ. I replied, “Sama sama.”

Yes, I’m quite proud of myself. Happy anniversary to you and me, Malaysia, in a couple of days. Thank you for having me.

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Good evening, city of mine. #iloveKL

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Happy Monthsary

Welcome to Kuala Lumpur!

Welcome to Kuala Lumpur!

So, today marks my one month that I’ve been in Malaysia (I’m counting from my arrival on February 14, not the number of weeks I’ve been here, because yesterday would have marked my four weeks in Malaysia, but not exactly 30 days, because hello, February). It’s been a pretty interesting 4 weeks. I moved from hotel to university-sponsored housing to guesthouse to finally my own rented house all within that time, so it doesn’t feel like I’ve been here for an entire month. There was that constant feeling of temporariness, of getting used to routes to and from school, always on the lookout for a grocery or an ATM, the challenge of laundry, and living out of my suitcase(s). Now that I’m in a house I’ve promised to rent for a couple of years, my luggage are unpacked and I’m sleeping easier. And then it dawned on me, hey, you’ve been here for a whole month.

Two weeks ago, two Malaysian friends I’ve known since last year asked me how long I’ve been in KL, and when I replied, “Two weeks,” they each had totally different reactions. One said, “Two weeks already? I had no idea you were even here.” The other said, “Only two weeks? It’s like you’ve been here a long time.” It felt like both. Only two weeks, and two weeks already. So familiar yet still so foreign at the same time.

Now that the month has gone by, I’m startled by the passage of time.

After the discussion on conceptualising, Choreography 2

After the discussion on conceptualising, Choreography 2

What has been constant is going to school and teaching. I have a strange, almost made-for-TV relationship with the one kid enrolled in my Technique 1 class. I absolutely adore my Ballet 1 students. I want to push my Choreography 2 students out of their comfort zones and I’m quite amused that they’re pushing back. I just saw ASWARA (the other school with a tertiary dance programme) perform in a fun week of traditional dance and I’m dying to see my own kids perform these dances. I’m excited to see more dancing from everyone, and wondering if I should pursue my own dancing while I’m here. If there’s a way for me to do that at all.

Tried (and failed) to photograph Joseph Gonzales onstage on Zapin night

Tried (and failed) to photograph Joseph Gonzales onstage on Zapin night

Actually, I’m dancing in the end-of-term showcase of UM, mounting Daddy’s In the Sisterhood on myself and an old friend and recent UM graduate, Shin Hui. This is another constant, and I’m quite challenged to restage my sister’s part on a body that finds the style, the sharp counts, the body impetus so alien that neither of us can explain how we can proceed. And then when she does get the passage of choreography right, I am as giddy as a shaken up can of Sprite.

I’ve also been attending Prof Anis’ Performance Theory graduate
class constantly, and he said something on the first day that stuck with me for the entire month. He said performers want to keep performing forever because their egos won’t let them stop. That made me think about my own ego, which I am always indulging, and whether I should stop. I’m still thinking about that.

When I first arrived, the closest friend I have who lives here, and has been gamely entertaining me and taking me everywhere, asked me why I would decide this late in life to uproot myself and live in another country for a year. I replied, I wouldn’t have been able to do that at all if the opportunity came any earlier. At all, I swear, and there had been opportunities, which I turned down. So, you could say I came at the right time.

I actually like living in KL/ PJ. I like how it’s still bright outside at 7pm, and how all the coffee shops have wifi, even Starbucks. I actually like walking around and taking the trains, though I still have issues with the confusing bus system and taxi drivers who pretend they don’t know how to get somewhere and lose their way suspiciously to charge you a higher fare. People here are convinced I am going to leave Malaysia knowing how to drive, but I don’t know. I’m an old dog, after all.

Walking to school

Walking to school

I’m also becoming quite sympathetic to local current events. I don’t find funny the few jokes on FB about the missing plane, I am angry that they are burning trees in Sarawak. I worry about the drought and the water rationing, and find myself quite excited about the rain. The Chinese-Tamil-Malay dynamic fascinates me no end, and I love how everything else is “Western.” In China, Taiwan and HK, it always baffled me that everyone speaks to me in Chinese. Here, they think I’m Malay and find it curious that I’m not wearing a headscarf or find it rude that I make them speak to me in English. I was taught to say, “Philippine,” to explain why I can’t speak the language. “You/She looks Malay,” they comment in Bahasa Malaysia after this revelation. I know, right.

Of course, my favourite part about Malaysia is the makan, the food, the eating. I think my ass is larger than it was when I arrived, and I am alarmed, but the next minute, I’m thinking about where to get my next meal. I plan to blog about the food more, I have this project involving finding the Best Laksa in Town that I’m super excited about. But alas, my family’s joke about me becoming super fat after a year in KL may come true.

I miss my family, of course, I miss Berry, I miss my dogs, I miss M. My friends, I don’t miss so much because I see them on Facebook. I see my family on Facebook too, but it’s not the same. On the first weekend, I was so overwhelmed with loneliness that I was ready to fly back home. I suppose all OCWs feel that way. Mom said when I become busy, I’ll forget about them. That might be true, though it’s only been a month.

It’s been a good month. I’m ready for the next eleven.

And oh, guess what? It’s raining. Yay.

Buhay OFW: Not so bad after all

Note to other would-be OFWs: I will not answer questions about POEA processing on this blog – I am not an information center. What I write here is from my own experience, and I probably won’t know the answers you need anyway. Keep googling till you find what you need, and best of luck to you.

I was prepared for the worst when I went to the POEA today to have my overseas employment certificate processed, so I was actually quite pleasantly pleased with what went down today. I arrived at around 10:45 and had to xerox a few things (you need photocopies of your passport – just the page with your face and details on it, visa, contract, and medical exam; I forgot to xerox my visa, haha, minor item!). I was done in less than an hour. Well, I was done for Day 1, at least. I thought I’d have to stay there till this afternoon, since I had to pick up my working visa from the embassy first.

While it looks chaotic in there, the reason why people say “Be prepared for a long wait,” is because the processing people really look at everyone’s papers and they really take their time to talk to them and see that you get the protection you’re paying for. The young lady who attended to me was cheerful and gracious (there were others who were more masungit), despite her having to reply the same things to the same inane questions over and over. When she looked at my documents yesterday – I went sans visa to ask if my emailed contract was okay or did I need one airmailed to me – she joked that I was going where Chichay was (I’m guessing Chichay is the telenovela belle du jour and not the TV harpy from back in my childhood) and said that I may need a supporting document that I was qualified as a university lecturer just so that they have something to defend me with if my employers turn on me, however unlikely the possibility. What struck me was how she didn’t need to emphasize that this was for my protection, and yet, it made perfect sense. They weren’t just milking us OFWs for all we were worth (although it still pains me to pay 8 grand just to be allowed out of the country).

Anyway, in the end, it wasn’t really a long wait for me, but I have to come back tomorrow (Day 2: the PDOS seminar) and again when I have a signed document from my employer promising that they will indeed do so and so (pay for my airfare, etc) for Day 3: payments and certificate releasing. I expected I would be coming back several days and this seemed to piss other people off (“Pero galing pa akong Nueva Ecija, ma’m!”), but since I was expecting that and had made arrangements, I’m happy to go back.

Expectations are manageable, after all. I read somewhere that if all your papers are in order, you won’t have nothing to worry about. So, you know, get your papers in order. Best advice ever.

Some spittle to ruin your day, and then some

I’ve heard about this modus operandi where the syndikato attempt to victimize girls in public transport by having one guy spit on their hair and the others confuse them by loudly pointing out that there’s spittle in their hair and clothes, and do you have tissue or hand sanitizer, you should wipe that up, let me help you, and swipe their wallet or phone in the confusion. Knowing about it is totally different from experiencing it yourself.

It happened to me today on the jeep to Alabang. I was attempting to read Will Peterson’s paper on the Pangalay and Philippine politics when this guy seated 2 people away from me started to cough up some phlegm and spit it out the window. Given the direction of the jeep and the wind, there should have been no way that any of that phlegm landed on me, but it did. And then three different guys beside me and in front of me were very concerned about the spit on my jacket and in my hair. 

I removed my jacket and wiped some spit from my hair that the person in front of me pointed out – how the spit ended up all the way there on the other side of my head should have been suspicious, but I’m Ms. Benefit of the Doubt – using the last of my wipes, and got so frazzled by all the “helpful concern” coming from all sides, that I lost it and yelled, “Wala na tayong magagawa. Mamaya ko na problemahin. Masikip, hindi pwedeng ayusin ngayon.” That translates to, “We can’t do anything about this anymore. I will worry about this later. It’s crowded, I can’t fix it now.” I wanted to add, “Leave me the fuck alone,” but was still not sure what was happening and thinking everyone was just being helpful, so that would have been too much.

I have been trying to curb my tendency to blow up, and basically my anger. I realize it’s what saved me from getting robbed. Because as soon as I blew up, the guys started to get down one by one and the driver pointed out that they got on another jeep, probably to victimize someone else. The driver didn’t want to say anything because the guy who sat across me was sitting right behind him and might have had a knife. So, it’s a really good thing that I was completely aware of all my stuff and where they were – my valuables were in a purse slinging on a chain from my shoulder and not in my backpack, which I had to open to get my wipes. There were valuable things in my backpack, but what would thieves do with a pair of pointe shoes? 

I hate that there are people who feel they need to spit on people and then rob them of their money and things, able-bodied people who could easily get an honest living if they were resourceful enough. So, you guys, please don’t lose yourselves in your phone or gadget when you commute, or fall asleep. Be alert, be aware of everything going on, be careful where you put your stuff. And don’t be worried about being ungrateful to “helpful” strangers. 

All that said, maybe it’s time I learned to drive, huh?