A Malaysian Journal: The Beginning, 4 June 98

Selamat malam (good evening).

It seems a bit strange to start this series of notes about living in Malaysia while I'm sitting in Amsterdam, but I've finally made contact with with Jackie, who IS in Malaysia, and wanted to report that she has arrived safely, is ensconced in a very nice apartment on campus, has a telephone at work and is teaching her first class tonight.

To take care of the mundane, first: Jackie's work number is: +60 3 948 5649. It is shared telephone, but there is an alternate number that goes to her desk: +60 3 948 6101 x4602. However she's been told that 6101 is often busy. Until the phone in the apartment is turned on, these will have to do. It means that the phone will be answered even when she's not there, so the telephone charges could get frustrating. Jackie doesn't have email or fax access, yet, but that's being worked on. Faxes to our 'home' number (+1 408 273 6464) go to my email, as does voicemail to +1 408 246 8253. At worst, I can forward things to her.

My having to get to Malaysia by way of 3 weeks in Washington, Amsterdam and Geneva meant that I could not help Jackie with the last minute details of leaving home nor, more importantly, help her with the details of getting started in Kuala Lumpur (KL). On the other hand, we're talking about Jackie. It's more usual that I'm the one being helped by her and this project was no exception. She even noted that any time the two of us is traveling at the same time but in different directions, we should enforce the rule that I leave first. My version of last minute details is rather messier than hers. On the other hand, we didn't stay up all night just before I left, but it seems that she did for her own day of departure. Sounded like that had more to do with nervous energy, though.

Jackie is well into writing a note that she is planning to send, so you should think of what follows only as a 'starter', with the main course from her to follow shortly. Jackie sounds fine and happy and says that everyone is being quite helpful. Having an apartment on campus is great luck, because of its convenience. Due to our global friend, El Nino, there is a very serious water shortage problem, with some areas of KL suffering worse than others. She says that she has not yet had any problems at the apartment or school, and is keeping her fingers crossed.

The best I could do to try to share her early time in KL, without being there, was to have Indonesian food my first two nights in Amsterdam. Given that the 'rice table' dinners had European green beans and cabbage as major ingredients for some of the dishes, I assume the dinners were not strictly authentic. With so much intermixing of people and cultures, I wonder how "pure" anyone's cuisine is, anywhere.

Oh, yes. There is one other thing that has been slightly helpful in allowing me to imagine things 6 time zones to the east of Amsterdam: it's been raining a fair amount and sometimes quite hard. Apparently Malaysians use the word 'monsoon' as a verb, implying something rather more than 'rain', so the training is useful. I have a compact, fold-up umbrella that I carry and was amused at how poorly it performed in the heavy Amsterdam rain; probably useless in monsoon. Might need to take up golf, just to get the right kind of umbrella.

Jackie's primary task during her fellowship is to work with the team at Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) that is developing ways to generate revenue from university research. Since the place of intellectual property legal protections is rather different in Southeast Asia than in the U.S., simply licensing to Malaysian companies is not necessarily the best choice. So her project work will definitely prove interesting.

What was not clear was whether she would be doing regular teaching. The fellowship forms did cite it as an activity, but her discussions with the UPM folks had not provided much detail, so it looked like she might just do guest lectures or possibly teach a course during the second half of her stay. She probed further, and rather close to the time of her departure she was notified that she would be teaching a graduate course in Marketing Research. This is one of her regular courses at San Jose State, although she's expecting to be using a different book. So she arrived on Tuesday and is teaching her first class tonight, Thursday. She sounded remarkably calm about it.

Earlier in my life, moving every few years was not all that unusual, and at one point I had 6 addresses in 3 years, across 3 cities and 2 countries. But that was a long time ago; I've lived 13 years in the same house and travel away for 2 weeks is a big deal. Jackie has had more mobility in her life than I, but she managed to get pretty comfortable in our home for the last 6 years. Consequently the effort to move our home 10 timezones to the west, for 10 months, has been quite an effort. We're not moving anything major, like furniture, but there are still all of the logistics for living in another place. We had a pretty reasonable division of labor. I found someone to rent our house, bought two pieces of luggage, and bought my airline ticket. Jackie did everything else. Oh, I also packed my own bags.

Getting someone to stay in our house was a huge relief. It also helps that we like Doug and his fiance, Kim. Since they are on this mailing list, of course I have only good things to say about them, but it helps that I mean it. Another reason that it helps that I mean it is that we'll be co-habiting periodically. Officially, Doug is renting only part of the house so that I can have a couple of rooms when I'm in the States.

The Internet proved its utility a couple of times during our preparations, in addition to the obvious benefit of being able to email people in Malaysia. The rental listing with Stanford, for our house, produced a phone call less than one hour after it was created. Also we sold a futon bed through a bay area newsgroup. I conducted an informal auction, initially listing it at $150, then $125, but got no phone calls. As soon as I dropped it to $100 a heavy stream of queries started and we had it sold within a day.

Arriving in Amsterdam, I found myself thinking of New Orleans and wondering whether there is something about living below sea level that encourages a permissive society...

Over the months leading up to our departure, we read a number of books that might help our living and learning in Malaysia. One curious item was that different phrase and language books gave different terms for the same thing. That led to our trying to guess the reasons for the differences. As with all languages, there are subtleties which are lost in producing a constrained list of phrases. The choices in that loss can be interesting. Different books gave different words for "please". Our best guess is that one is used when you mean "please me" and another is used when you mean "please yourself".

The book that we found particularly facinating was "A Malaysian Journey", and the name of this series of notes (AMJ) was chosen as an indirect expression of appreciation. Alas, the book appears not to be available in the U.S., since it is shown as out of print. It was written by a bumi putra (child of the soil, i.e., native) Malaysian who has a very mixed background. He's a reporter who writes wonderfully and frankly. The 'journey' is physical, historical and spiritual. He was born shortly before Malaysian independence and so the book primarily gives a recent chronology of Malaysian politics and social change, intermixed with what is really a separate story about his traveling through the country, from north to south, after some years of exile.