Tuesday, July 19, 2011

From Sea to Shining Sea

Last week Owl attended Fulbright Pre-Orientation which was hosted at the kind of hotel where the foyer is glass and marble, the beds are floofy like exploded marshmallows, and people walk around in power-suits. While everyone got acquainted/slept, Owl ran around the entire hotel eeeeping. She found:

  •  Massage chairs in the fitness room (the receptionist stared at Owl and said, "You're here to explore aren't you?")
  • A secret entrance to the metro
  • A piano floating in a fountain
  • A lot of Buddhist monks. Seriously. They were everywhere.
When morning came Owl somehow managed not to explode over her pastries but she couldn't help squealing about the monks. Owl has a soft spot for Buddhist monks. She took a Buddhism class in college that left her with a lingering desire to spend a year or two living in a Buddhist monastery.

The young gentleman next to her mentioned that the monks were around because the Dalai Lama was staying at the same hotel.

Owl leapt out of her chair and pocketed a few pastries. She had some idea of oh, finding the Dalai Lama and presenting him with stolen pastries/asking for his blessing. Then she remembered she had orientation and sat back down.

To cheer her up, the young gentlemen mentioned when he studied abroad in Vietnam a few years ago he ran into a few Buddhist monks who invited him back to their hotel room. They all ended up cross legged on the floor eating dinner. Then the monks started criticizing the American government for the Vietnam War.

Young Gentleman: It was awkward. Obviously I had to speak up even though I don't agree with the Vietnam War. But I didn't know the protocol for arguing with monks.
Owl: What do you mean?
Y. Gentleman: Yeah…I get um, shall we say, aggressive when I'm angry? Loud? I start yelling.

Owl was flabbergasted. Perhaps the monks were out of line criticizing their guest's patria, but Owl can not imagine that the young gentleman improved their perception of Americans or managed to justify the Vietnam War by defending a war he didn't believe in. If he did manage to convince the monks, he ought to be sitting in Congress. They could seriously use him right now.

Owl had a lovely time at the Pre-Orientation. She met a staggering amount of people who had made it their business to live each day as if it were a wild and crazy adventure, who traveled far and wide, and read broadly. But at times she was surprised by how people spoke about how excited they were to teach their students about America and American culture rather than how excited they were to go to Malaysia and learn about Malaysian culture.

From whatever Owl has heard, classes will be anywhere from twenty to forty students each and meet once a week. Unless she acquires some serious stand-up comedy skills, for most of these students English class is well going to be English class. An hour a week that will maybe be memorable because there's a crazy American teaching it, but maybe get drowned out by six other hours of school, not to mention homework, family life,  religious life, extra curricular, friends and crushes (what teenagers don't have crushes?) and time to eat guavas. Never forget the guavas.

Owl will be happy if her students remember who she is.

If anyone is going to be learning, it's Owl, the person dumped in the middle of a new country she couldn't locate on a map a few months ago, Owl who still doesn't know much about Malaysia except that it's conservative, most of the females wear a headscarf, and if she wants to assimilate, Owl should consider wearing the baju kurung, a tunic over a long skirt, also dubbed the potato sack.

Baju Kurung, courtesy of Google

To be honest, Owl's pretty nervous about some of the gender dynamics. There was a lot in the orientation about wearing conservative clothing and dealing with sexual harassment. She talked to some fellow teachers who mentioned how this was an excellent opportunity to empower Muslim girls in Malaysia, which Owl got really excited about.

"We can tell them all about what it's like here, how we don't have to wear headscarves or super conservative clothing and what it's like to be liberated," someone added.

Owl thought deeply about what she'd be giving up by going to Malaysia. The night before Owl consumed enough salad to feed an adolescent cow. When she put on her business skirt in the morning there was an unfortunate stomach bulge. The she discovered she'd forgotten to pack a hair brush. Her hair stuck up at odd angles despite vigorous finger combing. Owl stared at herself in the mirror and wilted.

Owl was very sad. Owl wanted to hide under her comforter but instead she had to be social. She went downstairs to mingle with a crowd of well kempt females sleek in their skirts with hair as shiny as knobs of wood. Owl was wretchedly ashamed.

It is difficult to be social when you are worrying about your flub and the tangled Medusa creature that is your hair. When deserts came around at lunch Owl miserably passed them up and vowed she really would get back to the gym, shin splints or no shin splints, so she could eat again.

Owl calculated the number of hours she's spent at the gym—not because she's vested in her health, but because she really is that vain—the number of injuries she's picked up gyming and the number of hours she's wasted doing impossible calculations about calories and pounds and clothing sizes and the endless guilt. Guilt over eating too much, not exercising enough, worrying too much about her appearance when she should focus on more intellectual thoughts…

Headscarf? Potato sack?

Owl’s kind of excited.

Owl prepares for some skirt-bustin' 


  1. LOOOOVED this post. You must keep blogging...you must!

    I particularly loved your commentary -- or your not commentary? one of the best parts of your writing is what you manage to say without saying much -- on modest clothing. I suppose it can be liberating in its own right. I am not very modest so I don't know. but the idea of going to Malaysia and "teaching" the girls there about how "liberated" we are here without our long skirts and headscarfs is pretty sad. Still, even for people who go abroad with no intention of learning, after a year, there isn't much of a choice. So there's hope. :)

    Re: shin splints, I know this completely goes against the whole point of your post but you've mentioned them in a few things lately and I just thought I'd share in case you ever go back to the gym again. be sure that after you run you're always stretching properly, particularly your calves and lower legs. I usually do 20 seconds in a lunging stretch against the wall with the leg straight out behind me, and 10 seconds with the leg straight and the foot pointing in, and 10 more seconds with the foot pointing out. Then I repeat all 3 but with the back knee bent to target the lower calf muscle. Then I stand with my toes on a stair and let my heels dangle off for a really good stretch. If you're interested in strengthening the fronts of your shins, some things you can do are 1) toe taps - just stand against the wall and tap your right foot like you are waiting for the bus, until it gets tired. repeat with left. 2) put a towel under your feet and move it back and forth using only your toes. 3) put small objects like stones (or pet rocks hahaha...small ones!) on the left side of your left foot, and use your right foot toes to move them to the right side, holding the rest of your right leg as still as possible. then switch. but don't do those exercises until the shin splints are healed, and definitely don't run on your legs until they are healed!!

    lurve you. send me an email soon ok!

  2. "but the idea of going to Malaysia and "teaching" the girls there about how "liberated" we are here without our long skirts and headscarfs is pretty sad." <-- IAWTC. The Malaysian girls across the hall were super happy to shop for silk headscarves in the markets, both for themselves and for their sisters at home. They positively squealed over a leopard-print one. Also, they were crazy about shoes. Girly girls, Muslim-flavored.

    Also, they were pretty conservative. Like, disapproving of Lady Gaga, plugging their ears and shrieking (well, not quite, but almost) when Tom joked about "ladyboys" i.e. transvestites... it's just the way their culture is, I guess, and "liberating" them may not be the universal blessing that Americentric people might think. By all means, stand up against sexual harassment (oh yeah, make sure to make connections with, or at least know what authorities you can complain to for that), but don't harass the locals unnecessarily (IMHO).

    You'd look adorable in a potato sack. :D And monks are totally fun to look at (I admit to staring at these two monks in the animal hospital yesterday, one was sitting and reading a newspaper with his dog on a gurney with an IV in it, the other was talking on his cellphone and I was trying to figure out how the cloth sarong thingie worked/draped/stayed put on him). I dunno how I'd like living in a monastery, though, I think it'd involve a lot of vegetarianism (and begging for your food with a food bowl) and chanting.

  3. @Kate

    Thank you! I’m…actually really really paranoid about posting these kinds of things because in my experience my perspective tends to be different/I’ve gotten yelled down. I also have a fair amount of cultural rage which doesn't help matters. I actually wrote, and rewrote and rewrote this piece. To start with it had this lengthy exploration of my cultural background and why it’s harder for me to be all like “whee American values are always good right and true” and then I chucked that out because it sounded too judgmental.

    It was a pretty awesome gathering of people and I think this feeling was mostly exacerbated by a godawful instructor. I mean so bad that a group of us started plotting about punching him in the face. But yeah...I was a little surprised by how AmericaAmerica it was for a gathering of people headed towards SE Asia. It'll be interesting to see how we all change.

    Shin splits.

    Ah, thanks for the advice! Post aside, I haven’t been able to run regularly since mid-June and it feels awful. I’m going to try stretching. I keep reading different literature on stretching, some people say it’s better not to stretch because stretching your muscles leads to tears…on the other hand starting like March this year I’ve had some really bad running luck, shin splints, hip issues, I’m wondering if there’s something screwy about the way I run.

    So my shin splints are mostly better (I think it was a shoe issue, I’d had mine for a year and a half), but I have this really weird hip thing going on. If I don’t do anything, it throbs mildly. If I run it aches a little bit, and then the for the next few days it aches. At first I tried to run through it but ended up messing up my gait to the point where I couldn’t walk. Any ideas/any chance you know the name of a good doctor/sports doc back at home?

    And, and, will you be around in the Aug. 12th timeframe? Couple days past? Still not sure when I leave, but at the very least I'll be homewards 12th-17th.

  4. @Shiny

    I blame blogger more, cause it def. made it through to my gmail.

    Holy crap that’s fascinating. My knowledge of Asian history is disturbingly blank. This is the first I knew that the Dutch were in Taiwan. I thought they just stuck to Indonesia. So, what’s been going on with the Taiwanese aborigines? It sounds like they’ve gotten a pretty rough deal in this bargain.

    What caused your ancestors to come to Taiwan? When did they come over?

    I’m getting all fluttery hearted thinking about backpacking acround SE Asia. Just let me know your plans and we should be able to work something out. Caveat, I’m only allowed to be out of the country for two weeks at a time, and it seems more like there are lots of long weekends or days off, but not so much big chunks of time.

    I love meeting people’s parents! I never know what to say, but I love it, and I’m really sad that in college there’s so little opportunity to meet people’s families—you hear so much about them that you feel like you know them.

    ...do people still call you Shiny?

  5. I'll be home then. Can we please get... you know the one restaurant (don't know how many identifying details you want me to give away heehee). I've been craving it but it doesn't feel right to go there without you! I'll ask my mom if she knows any sports docs. YAY

  6. ... dude, my comment disappeared again. I hope you got it, because I didn't save it. >_<

    Speaking of aborigines, I posted this on FB a while ago, dunno if you saw it at the time:

    "Some dude riding his motorcycle along the coastal highway of Taiwan (I guess this is along the scenic/mountainous/sparsely settled east coast), with a camera strapped to his helmet. Set to Taiwanese aboriginal music."

  7. @Kate

    Ladyface, I’m counting on it. Btw, are you completely vegan now? I’ve been following some of the stuff you’re making and it looks sooo good.


    I did get your comment. It’s like all blogging platforms have gone out of whack. Grrrr.

    Re: aborigines> Man, why does that happen like, everywhere? It’d be interesting to study.

    Re: ancestors> I laughed so hard when I read your summary. I had this image of a long line of Shinys (I know this is terrible of me) plonking their butts down and land and going “Mine.” And then staying there. And then becoming massively wealthy. And it was beautiful. And then I wanted an epic manga about the Jangs and Wangs, and the Jang son who has to adjust to a new house. How do you guys know so much about your genealogy? I tried asking my parents about mine and things get hazy starting with the grandparents. Probably because my dad went to boarding school when he was nine and wasn’t really around to hear the stories and my mom’s parents never really talked about China.

    Re: parents> I know! I do the voice thing too! Whenever I meet parents I’m all, halp halp LOVE ME PLZ. I think a lot of people do it. My mom gets all nervous when she talks to strangers on the phone in English. Since no strangers call our house in any other language I’m not really sure if it’s the language or the person.

    Re: Shiny> I’m touched that I’m in the interesting people group and a little sad at the same time because I can’t imagine you by any other name. Whenever I search for you in my phone/fbook I get confused because the first instinct is to type S. Then D. Were you Shiny in highschool? Actually, how did Shiny come about and who calls you Shiny?

    Actually where did Gilrandir come from?

  8. Re: aborigines> Because they tend to be low-tech, whereas people who have the ability to travel and conquer tend to be from (relatively) high-tech societies, and thus can easily overpower "the other" who are then painted as stupid savages because lol, they couldn't figure out gunpowder, lol lol lol. (I guess, off the top of my head.)

    Re: ancestors> Mom knows the story of her own family, and I think Doris looked up Dad's side in some sort of actual physical genealogy book, plus my grandparents (both sets) know their origin stories. Feel free to run with the manga idea and write something for it :P

    Re: parents> Now I'm tempted to have my mom call your mom and see what happens... XDDDDDDD

    Re: Shiny> It came about freshman year at HopSFA actually XD I went around chirping "shiny!" at everything as a descriptor (marbles? "ooh shiny!" chainmail bikini "shiiiiiiny~" fire "FIRE SHINY WAI WAI") and so that's what the HopSFA people started calling me. So that became the "interesting people" label, because a) HopSFA, JHAC, and the ACM were so damn incestuous, and b) everyone else (people I met in classes, other clubs, etc.) called me my regular name.

    Gilrandir came from high school. Actually probably middle school. My best friend and I were always book-crazy, and then we read LotR just in time for the movies to come out, so we hung around on LotR forums, we even started learning some Quenya (there are excellent online lesson books) and so she chose the name Elentiriel for herself, which means "star watcher" in Quenya, and I chose Gilrandir which means "star wanderer" in Sindarin. Actually we made full names of them - mine is Celebrinya Gilrandir (Silver-Maiden Star-Wanderer, I still use it for my e-mail if you've noticed XD) and I think hers was Elentiriel Morwen (Star-Watcher Dark-Lady).

  9. ... though mind you, nobody calls us that. Those are just our self-chosen usernames for various things. XD