A Malaysian Journal:

Beginnings

(24 June 98)

 

There are those who believe it is a woman's proper role to clean up after the man and to make the home ready for the man's arrival. I would never consider such a view tolerable, of course. Still... Jackie's departing California after me and arriving in Kuala Lumpur before has certainly made my life nicer. Oddly enough, SHE seems quite happy, too. I'm inclined to suspect that it has less to do with hassling the logistics, and more to do with just being here, getting treated well, meeting nice people and, no doubt, eating wonderful food.

I arrived last Thursday afternoon to find Jackie, with her much touted driver (Supayah) and BMW car. I once read that the ultimate pleasure of wealth is to have someone do all your driving for you. But then, Supayah is worth a separate note and he shall get one. It's clear Jackie is receiving special treatment from her hosts and it does make a difference. I have always thought she deserves such royal handling, but it's nice to see others come to the same conclusion.

Jackie does have interesting ways of getting even with me. In this case it involved going directly from the airport, to our language class in Bahasa Malayu. Much to her delight and mine, the work sheet for that day's class included a range of "When" questions, including "When did you arrive in Malaysia?" The teacher had pairs of students do the question/answer exchange out loud, so Jackie insisted she feed me the question. When our turn came, she asked, and I answered: "hari ini" (today). This caused the expected confusion on everyone's face, including the teacher's, with the requisite clarification and animated reactions of surprise and amusement. Jackie and I don't do high five's.

A simple handshake sufficed.

Jackie's noted that she is already walking more slowly and I'm trying to imagine how anyone could be a Type A personality in this weather. The apartment is on campus. In a temperate climate, it would be a 10 minute walk to her office. Here is it 15. Living in Delaware and Washington D.C. are good training for the Malaysian heat and humidity.

However my primary salvation comes from remembering my brother's college experience, living in Boston. He would complain about the cold constantly. Then the complaints stopped. I later asked him why and he said that he finally adjusted. He finally realized that he would never truly be warm again. I am quite sure I will never stop sweating, so it isn't worth worrying about.

The apartment is two bedrooms on the top (4th) floor, with a large living room. There are ceiling fans in every room, but air conditioning is only in the bedrooms. So my office is the second one. It's also where the TV was put. I'm happy.

Some of the living situation is a bit like camping, since the facilities are not as plush as we have at home. Still, one does learn to make do without a microwave. And some things are made nicely simple. In this climate, it would be silly to turn on the water heater -- they are small units, one for each room with a hot water spigot, so you take a shower by turning on the cold water. The camping tone is enhanced by the variability of the "cold" water temperature. Depending on the day's weather, it goes from tepid to chilly.

Jackie waited a few days before telling me the real condition of the apartment when she found upon arrival. She originally thought it was in pretty good shape but, then, she's got lousy eyesight. Eventually she saw the layer of fuzz on the kitchen cabinets, and other assorted indications of living in an open-air hothouse environment that gets erratic maintenance. The apartment includes a daily sweeping and simple cleanup, but Jackie worked out an official, unofficial arrangement for two times per week of serious cleaning. She then set about assigning major tasks to Kamala, the cleaner. This can be a challenging management task. Which is higher priority, a thorough job on the overall grundge of the once-white tile in the bathroom, or removing the considerable detritus of local, tiny fauna from the bedroom closets and cabinets?

Over the weekend and for the first two days this week, we continued doing logistical tasks, getting a water filter, towels, and the like, as well an apartment telephone, a "hand" (cell) phone and a used car. We vastly overpaid for the last of those, but Bob Hinden, will be delighted to know that local Malaysian opinion is that the best phone is a Nokia, so that's what I got. No doubt his stock value has increased as a result.

The weekend also included meals and discussion with two of Jackie's fellow (pun?) Fullbrighters, both delightful. One, Stephanie, is quite an accomplished traveller and offered an interesting perspective on the dangers. In discussing eating food from road-side hawkers in India, she insisted that it really was quite good. We were surprised she risked eating it and asked whether she had any bad reaction. She waved her hand and said oh sure she was sick for a couple of days but it was worth it. But then, she came back from an extended trip in Asia, to have several months of a tenacious illness and she thought THAT was ok, too.

Buying the car, yesterday, carried with it a particularly daunting requirement: we had to drive it back to the apartment. Jackie has been studying maps like crazy, for her dual role as navigator and front-left fender watcher -- an essential job when I'm driving on British-convention roads. She did get us back with only one small, missed turn.

I was duly impressed.

That evening, however, we went to pick up some pictures and eat Indian nan bread -- the place rolls out front a huge, pumpkin colored/shaped oven and bakes the bread, etc. in it. The bread was fabulous and the lentil dal and some sort of red curry sauce for dipping were quite interesting. However, these activities involved finding the Malaysian equivalent of a shopping center. These are between one and four blocks large, with the ground floor havng stall-sized businesses and the remaining 1- to 3- floors usually being apartments. At any rate, having navigated us to the place, Jackie had trouble getting us out. We kept taking wrong turns and winding up back in the center. I finally took the initiative and dived onto a major street so that we could eventually see a street sign. It worked and Jackie quickly located us on the map, getting us back on campus, perhaps a half-mile away, in short order. Whew.

It appears that there is no reasonable way to get mail to the apartment -- no mailboxes -- so Jackie's office will have to be my point of contact for physical mail, until I locate a post office box. Also, the hand-phone isn't supposed to be fully operational until tonight (Wednesday, KL time) and I've already had one report of a problem calling the apartment phone, although I'm not having any trouble using it to dial out .

Still, here are the details. (Language lesson: rumah = house, tetamu = guest, and yes, the 'c' is supposed to be missing.)

Apartment:

Rumah Tetamu, Blok 1, No. D

University Putra Malaysia

Serdang, Selangor 43400

MALAYSIA

Phone: +60 3 945 7293

Hand phone: 019 329 9445 (haven't figured out the international in-dial code for this)

d/