Sunday, May 3, 2009

Malaysia Day 9

I’m up early, wondering if I have enough material for three hours with high school kids and their parents. With prayer and more work, I think I have the outline I need. Two staff members drop in and out all morning, and I putter, pack, and eat a green mango that didn’t ripen this week. Clearing out the remaining food from the fridge and washing up the last few dishes, getting a few video clips from Tab (youth staff), and making sure everything we need is printed out… then it’s noon and time for lunch.

We head out with a group of six youth leaders – and what a feast they order. The claypot restaurant specializes in minced pork, thick noodles that end in a tip (called “rat’s tail”), topped with an egg. Someone stirs in the egg. Indescribably tasty! Then the rest of the dishes start to arrive. An omelet with minced ham. Chili veg (like Chinese spinach). Roast pork on noodles. Breaded squid in a sweet cream curry. Sounds awful. Tastes fabulous. I wash it down with some kind of herbal tea.

We barely make it to the youth service on time, but the band isn’t ready for 25 minutes anyway. Kids mill around, find their seats, and chat with friends while the musicians get together. I thought I had three hours. It dwindles down to less two by the time all is said and done: two breaks (one extended for refreshments in the outdoor lounge). We do a few breakout exercises, show some videos, but in general, I’m not sure it is effective or what they were hoping for. I wasn’t permitted to hand out my college material so not to seem as though we were promoting one school. When I agreed to come, that was actually the point. I tell the kids that the material will be available if they are interested.

Several parents stop by, and that may have been the most lasting thing from the whole trip. The children of Malaysia are under extreme duress to get straight A grades. The competition for seats at the university is fierce. Few will get in – and whether they do or not determines their future job potential.

One mom, herself an academic whiz who easily was among the best of her class, mentions that only top grades will do for her children, and they are not working hard enough or able to get them. What should she do? I tell her to ask only what my parents did: “Did you do your best?” That would have to be enough.

Another mom asks about her daughter dating boys who are not in the circle of faith. I say, be friends in groups. Non-Christian boyfriend? When dating is to find a life mate? I don’t think that missionary dating is wise…

I am very disappointed in the last session, and have to let it go as the letdown of the trip. I had too much material, and the kids were young and not used to moving around the room for interaction. They did talk a lot to each other during breakouts. I am utterly exhausted from the long day yesterday, particularly since I got no rest after class (straight to supper, straight to youth leaders’ meeting, home late.) Having interruptions in the morning didn’t help because my thought were scattered. Since I did my best, that has to be enough. Can’t get As on everything.

Tab and two guys from the youth group take me to the airport. But first we eat. One last time. One of the Chinese guys knows food. We stop in a neighborhood on the way to the airplane for a particular vendor’s Black Chinese noodles from the Hokien tradition: Bee Hoon (thin) and thick noodles, a duck soy sauce, crispy-fried pig fat chunks, prawns, cabbage, and thinly sliced pork. We dip them into peanut sauce flavored with dried shrimp paste. We’ve snagged a table in the middle of vendor stands and pushcarts. Tab bounces off (she really does walk off the tops of her toes) to get some deep-fried chicken wings (“special only to this stand”) and another plateful heaped with steamed clams with chili sauce.

The airport is 45 minutes from the city. The guys haul the luggage. To the counter. To the next counter. Oops, it was actually the first counter… it takes us 15 minutes to find out where we are supposed to be. And then they don’t have a boarding pass for me. My ticket was cancelled because it ends in the United States, so it has to be reissued. I hand over my flight information and my passport. It takes a half hour, but the young people wait without complaint. It is nice to get my Canadian passport back!

Malaysia was a Commonwealth country, which meant that until the Americans put pressure on Canada, Malaysians could travel quite freely to Vancouver and Toronto to visit relatives. The kids tell me that it’s a pain to get a visa now, and a real hassle to get permission to go anywhere in North America, even though they are Christian and not Muslim.

My baggage goes off down the conveyer. “Did you lock your suitcases?” they ask. No, we never lock our luggage because Security will destroy the locks in the States. I always have my luggage opened by security, and careless Ami baggage handlers have smashed antique glass, china, and almost every other fragile thing I’ve ever carefully wrapped. I get the notices in my luggage. And just wonder what they’ve broken this time around. Pam gifted me with a beautiful pewter plate etched with the architecture I fell in love with in KL. I hope that makes it through – it is a wonderful souvenir.

I have two masks with me, purchased by Helen read last night. They look like hardware dust masks, but I have a strong feeling to put them on, one for each long flight. Whatever good they do or don’t do. The hotels are full at 11pm when I arrive in Singapore, so I book two, three-hour naps in the ‘Napping Lounge.” “It’s 45 minutes to the other concourse, and the train doesn’t run at night,” says the clerk as she sets my alarm for 4am so I don’t miss my 6am flight to Tokyo. (Wrong. It take 15 minutes.)

A hard single bed, night table, alarm clock, and lamp, separated from five similar units by a wood lattice costs me about $40. I sleep soundly and wake only to a doze, surrounded by the snores of several men. I can hear them through my earplugs and feel the light coming and going through the night even with an eye mask.

I stand in line at the transfer counter. Only one agent is working. I wait for a boarding pass behind a Japanese man with a complicated transaction that takes a half hour. I don’t mind getting up early, if it’s going to get me on board in time! God knew.

On the uneventful flight to Tokyo, I have time to browse the catalog from Helen’s store. The styles are great – the models are her customers, all plus-size Malaysians. They’d be normal or medium sizes in the States. The company is altruistic, worker-oriented, and values driven in a country where that often doesn’t matter outside the Church. I watch The Duchess, The Accidental Tourist. We land before the end of the movie.

The airport reflects its people: clean, efficient, and lovers of ice-cream and origami. Both are everywhere, including many vending machines with treats and a shop of landscapes made of paper. Japan must have as many fashion magazines as Britain. But Japanese are better dressed! I head for the public lounge downstairs and lie down flat on a lounger with the alarm on my phone set. It’s a relief to stretch out, even with the symphony of snores on either side. It’s like listening to my male canaries: warbles, chirps, starts and stops high and low. Who knew sleeping men could make so much racket?

I’m in the exit row beside a woman with 200K air miles because she travels to the Philippines as a call center trainer every three months. She is agitated and frustrated because there are first class seats empty on Northwest Airlines, but she has bought the wrong ticket to be upgraded: the check-in counter did not even allow her to buy an upgrade. She makes herself as comfortable as possible, propping her feet on the slide box at the door before passing out in a dead sleep, even before the seat position can be tilted back. (Sleeping pill) When she repeatedly jerks forward I take pity and wake her enough to move the seat back and let her sleep a solid seven hours.

After several hours of sleep, I catch up on writing and decide to watch the end of the Accidental Tourist. My video monitor isn’t working. The attendant reseats me to a working video. He feels so badly about not being able to reseat us to first class after my seatmate’s protests that he hands us each an uncut deck of cards and makes sure we have extra water and juice throughout the flight. “Anything I can do for you ladies?” We already have extra blankets for the cold exit row. They didn’t have extra pillows on the flight, but brought an extra blanket “to use as a pillow if you like.” (So we actually have a few blankets each.) My vegetarian meals are uninspiring, but I’ve just had a week of fabulous Malaysian food so am not hungry anyhow.

I am first through immigration, and early through customs after both bags slide onto the carousel. Then it’s grab the bags, put them on another conveyer, take the train to the international luggage carousel in the arrivals area. The metal strips are the most cluttered thing I’ve seen on my travels. There are stickers, torn papers, and bits of trash rotate with our suitcases. Kind of disgusting after the meticulous airport maintenance of KL, Singapore, and Tokyo.

But I snatch my bags and head for the door where Jonathan (good young son!) drives up to take me home. How cool the air is, how bright the sun. Safely home. Thanks be to God.

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