The Bishop and the Butterfly: Murder, Politics, and the End of the Jazz Age
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    Southeast Asia Travel Journal: The New Car Smell is Gone

    Hello friends. It’s been a while. I’m still plugging away in Malaysia, approaching the end of my second year here, which seems hardly possible. It seems even less possible that it’s been four years since I was walking all over my town knocking on strangers’ doors to talk about why I supported Barak Obama for president. Still do, but that’s not why I stopped by Dag. I thought I’d give you fine people a little break from the relentless political season and tell you why I do not support living in Malaysia.

    I work on a nationwide government project to help Malaysian primary school English teachers get better at using a student-centered method in the classroom. Essentially, what that means is letting the kids use the language through play and other activities, rather than the brain-numbing, call and response style. Believe it or not, it’s not always easy. Some teachers like the call and response style. Personally, I want to shoot myself in the head after watching a class of eight year olds spell yellow over and over again for twenty minutes, but as a teacher, you don’t have to do a lot of planning and you don’t have to spend time making teaching aids. Of course, after years of instruction, the kids can’t use the language, but some teachers don’t seem too concerned about that. Most of the teachers that I work with, however, are happy to have the support and willing to try new ideas. They’re seeing results with very young learners (1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade) and I get to spend my days playing with kids. So, the job is pretty good.

    It’s the country that is starting to get on my nerves. There are the little annoyances that come with living as an expat—wishing daily life was run more like it is at home because then I would understand how to accomplish daily tasks without having to put a lot of thought into them. For example, I never know which store sells stuff I want to buy until I go on a citywide scavenger hunt. Once, I wanted yarn because I was going to have the kids make animal masks and pretend to be animals in the story “The Lion and the Mouse.” I ended up using rubber bands, because after two hours of driving around, I gave up on the yarn. Why don’t they just open a JoAnne Fabrics, for Christ’s sake?

    But those small inconveniences are just a part of living in a place that is not home. On balance, I’ll put it up with it to experience travel and culture and language and food that is all new to me. Even after two years, I am still learning things every day. That’s what concerns me.

    Yesterday, for example, I learned that teachers will stand by and watch while a father beats the crap out of his eight-year-old son, who is acting out for some reason. After the father drags the son home, they will tut-tut about how he is such a problem child. Last year, I learned that female circumcision is common here. Last week, I learned that the opposition party, which is a far more conservative religious party than the religious party that currently controls the government, is pushing a proposal to start cutting off the hands of people who steal. I don’t steal, so my hands are safe. Still, I find it alarming.  

    I am so totally and completely over religion. When I left for Asia, I was an atheist trying my best to respect other people’s religious beliefs. Now, I’m an atheist trying not to roll my eyes during the morning brainwashing sessions at school. Respect has left the building. In Malaysia, the peer pressure to be a good Muslim is enormous. The cultures who are not Muslim are exempted (Indians, Chinese, indigenous, foreigners), but if you are ethnically Malay, you are Muslim. If you do not want to be Muslim, your choice is to live in another country. You cannot marry a non-Muslim. You cannot, after the age of 12, touch a member of the opposite sex who is not your spouse, parent, or sibling. No kidding—no touching. No handshakes, no pats on the back, and absolutely no hugging.

    I guess I don’t care that much about the things that Muslims here choose to do or not do, because I am not bound by their rules. What bothers me is that these things are government mandated, because the religion controls the government. They have removed all choice and the sad part is that most people I talk to don’t seem to notice. Like some Christians in the United States, they have been trained since birth not to question and so it doesn’t occur to them. This phenomenon spills over into non-religious life as well. It is incredibly difficult to change inefficient or unorganized procedures or policies here. If you ask why something is the way it is, the answer is generally, “That’s just the way it is.”

    In my experience, Indonesia was much less heavy-handed, due to the fact that their government is secular. I’ve got one more long year left in my contract here. You shouldn’t feel too sorry for me, however. I live in a resort where I enjoy a sunrise view of the South China Sea from my balcony. I regularly spend weekends in Kuala Lumpur or on some island or another, exploring under water with my snorkel. A few weeks ago, I saw my first shark and it was amazing! I get 12 to 13 weeks of official holiday a year and I’ve been racking up the stamps in my passport. I just know that when this contract ends, I am leaving for greener-and less religious pastures. I’ve been taught my whole life that religion has no place in government. I suppose I didn’t question it either, until now when I live in a place where the experience is so different. I’m happy to report that the Founding Fathers got it right.

    **The picture at the top is my monkey friend who stops by for treats. We're not supposed to feed them, but I can't help myself. He's very well-behaved, and I try to keep healthy snacks like fruits and vegetables so he doesn't get all hyper on junk food. 



    No hugs? What kind of life has no hugs in it? One with suppressed joy, I say.


    They have removed all choice...

    ...hmmm, where have I heard this before? Something to do with a woman's right to govern her own body or some such thing. There's a political party involved, I believe. Reeps, Reeps, Re-Pelicans...I can't remember, 'zackly.

    There is nothing like a first hand account to reinforce the genius behind separation of church and state.


    Very interesting Orlando. I am glad you write anonymously.  But if you get closer to Manila, let me know, I'll be there in February as usual!

    Good to hear from you, Orlando!

    Thank you for sharing this.

    What it brings to mind for me is what we are moving toward with  more organized efforts to shift our politics to support the religious values of a segment of the population here in America.  These past two years have been very disturbing as we've witnessed countless laws offered and numerous laws passed restricting women's rights as well as civil rights and laws that restrict voter participation.

    I influenced my daughter to help get out the vote in Colorado where she is a college student after reminding her often to update and check her registration and to vote early.  She found a registration drive that does concerts so she is helping or already did at the Jason Maraz concert.

    The best thing I feel I can do from here in WA is talk to everyone I know(everywhere) about what is going on in our country since most people don't have the time to follow politics and have no idea  what has been happening.

    But I feel very disturbed listening to your story of Malaysia sensing that there are many people that would like to have similar control here in America.  Particularly so with Romney's Mormon background and his common expression that things should be discussed in 'private rooms'.  Gives me the chills.


    Cute monkey:)

    What a nice treat.  I wish you would post more often, it's always interesting and  enlightening -  very nice to have the ability to learn more about that part of our world. 

    Your experiences there give us a good reminder about how we need to embrace and nurture our democracy. 

    I hope sometime you do a blog on the foods there, I'd like to know about their nutrition, most popular foods and what is grown there locally.

    We're, as you know, less than two months out from election day and seems almost impossible it's been four years since the '08 wild and crazy times.  Wow, there were some hot blogs at the cafe back then.  Do any of the locals there ask you about our elections and/or government?

    Please post more pictures too.  I so envy your weekends snorkeling.  I wish - but here in Alaska, alas, not much opportunity.

    Take good care and come 'back here' real soon.  smiley  You are missed.  crying



    Two years without a hug would sour me on any religion or culture. Stay strong, Orlando.

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