Tomorrow I leave Malaysia. Which is a big kick-in-the-head reminder at how intermittent my blogging has been. Let me try to explain what got in the way of my regular updates.
So, culture shock? It is totally a thing. You could be the most well-adjusted person on the planet, and plopping you down in a foreign culture will still require some getting used to.
If I follow the pattern of my posts, it’s interesting because I can actually chronicle the different phases of my culture shock. I blogged way more when I first got here - when I was still more-or-less in the “honeymoon” phase of culture shock. At that point, I was only absorbing the fun parts of my new environment and was super-energized by the whole experience.
As time wore on, the cultural differences became less energizing and more exhausting. At first, my brain was just so excited about all the new things that it was hyped up trying to process it all, but one can only sustain that level of mental activity for so long. Eventually it starts to become really tiring, and that moment of transition for me happened about one month into my time here - which is basically exactly when my blogging got less and less frequent.
It sort of sucks, because some of the most awesome things I did here, I did in the later months. My trip to Malacca, debating at the Universiti Teknologi Petronas, visiting the Federal Court in Putrajaya - all that good stuff happened in the latter half of my trip, and it was all super-awesome-yet-unchronicled. Well, aside from the tons of pictures I took but have not posted. Sigh.
For a first-time experience of culture shock, I’d like to think I did pretty okay. I made some lovely friends, saw a ton of KL, made a couple of substantial weekend trips, and did it all while working full-time. For me, the most helpful things were, firstly, researching as much as I could in advance, and secondly, being about as easy-going as possible. The research was key because it helped me figure out what the likely challenges were so I’d be prepared to deal with them before they came up; the chilling was so that when things inevitably went wrong, I didn’t freak out.
If I had the chance, I’d do it all over again. This experience has been amazing, and I’ve learned so much that when I think about it, it sort of blows my mind. I’m really hoping the lessons I’ve picked up stick with me back in Canada, and now - time for vacation!*
*Yeah, vacation - as if three months in Malaysia wasn’t enough. I’m hitting Cambodia, Vietnam, and Singapore in the next two weeks. If I have reasonable internet, I’ll try to upload some photos.
How does bilingualism work? The etiquette is a mystery for those of us who come from monolingual places. In Montreal, the approach is actually very pragmatic, and I think the question of service in shops offers a good glimpse of how we muddle through. I’ve been meaning to…
After going to Federal Court in Malaysia and watching both lawyers and judges switch back and forth seamlessly between English and Malay, I would be really interested to have someone analyse exactly how that works.
Caution: The following includes some liberal use of four-letter words. Be aware, read with care.
When I woke up this morning, I planned for this to be a pleasant post about how nice it is to go to a familiar church when living abroad.
Not so much, now.
I don’t go to church when I’m away from home. I usually try to go when I’m back in Calgary, mainly because I’ve known the congregation there since I was five and I like to catch up with everyone when I’m in town. But through the magic of Google, I found that there’s a church of my denomination here in KL, and three weeks ago I decided to see what the service was like.
I had a lovely time, met some nice people, and decided I would try to go back soon.
Cue this morning. I got up, went to church, enjoyed an interesting service with lovely music, and was planning to meet some new people over tea afterwards before heading out to do some souvenir shopping.
No exaggeration - as soon as I walked out of the sanctuary, I had four different guys try to pick me up in the space of ten minutes. One didn’t even bother telling me his name before asking for my number. After dealing with that one, I was so flustered that I gave away my actual email address to two guys because I was too thrown to figure out how to get them to leave me alone.
Particularly noteworthy was this conversation:
Guy: So we should talk again some time.
Me: Oh, um, I guess.
Guy: What’s your number?
Me: I lost my phone when I was out last night. [NB: not true.]
Guy: Okay, what’s your email?
Me: Um. I guess I could write it down for you.
Guy: So did you come here alone?
Me: Uh, I’m living with some friends.
Guy: But did you come to Malaysia alone?
Me: … Yeah, I guess.
Guy: You’re my kind of person.
Trust me, there is a lot of subtext to be read when a strange man asks a young woman, “So did you come to this country alone?” In this circumstance most of that subtext was not pleasant.
Look, this isn’t me complaining about people in Malaysia, or churchgoers, or even this church in particular. I had a really nice time the first time I went; there are clearly lots of nice people at this church. I also happen to love plenty of churchgoers generally, and most of the people I’ve met in Malaysia have been truly wonderful people.
No, this is me complaining about the kind of men who think that it’s a good idea to treat women like pieces of meat after sitting through an hour-and-a-half long sermon about how we’re all heritors of Christ’s goodness because we are all equals as children of God. Are you kidding me? So long as I can walk out of a service and immediately get accosted by a guy whose first words to me are “You’re so beautiful, I really enjoyed sitting beside you,” we are not freaking equals.
I am so sick of men (and yes, it is only ever men) acting like they have the right to get in my space, ask for my personal information like it’s on offer, and make me feel unsafe. And believe me, this is not just about Malaysia. Let me tell you about the time in Ottawa that a guy followed me all ten blocks from a friend’s place back to my apartment at 2 am. Or the other time in Ottawa that a drunk guy came up behind me on the sidewalk and just grabbed my ass while I was walking home. (When asked “Did you actually just grab my ass, you fucker?” his response was “Hell yeah!”) Oh, or the time in Edmonton I was crossing the street on my way to a party and some dude in a pick-up truck took it upon himself to lean out the window and yell “FAGS!” loudly and repeatedly at me and my friends. The uncountable number of times men have decided they get to comment on my appearance just because I have the audacity to be a woman out in public.
I will say this as clearly as I can: if you comment on the appearance of women you don’t know in public, you’re a jerk. If you ask women for their phone number before you ask for their name, you’re a jerk. If you make women feel like they have to giggle uncomfortably and keep talking to you while looking around carefully for an exit, you’re a jerk. If you know anyone who does these things and you don’t tell them to stop, you’re a jerk, too.
Seriously. Stop it.
The worst thing about these incidents is that the way they happen leaves you with a vanishingly small amount of space to respond. Sometimes it happens so fast that by the time you’ve processed what’s happened, the guy is gone. Sometimes you feel so scared to do or say anything that you just pull your jacket tighter and keep walking. Sometimes you try to call the fucker on it and his response is “Hell yeah!”. It makes you feel powerless, and it makes you feel weak.
I can’t do much about these incidents, but I can do something so I don’t feel so useless whenever I’m not able to directly respond. From here on out, any time I get harassed on the street, I’m donating $5 for each gross jerk to Hollaback, a non-profit dedicated to ending street harassment. Maybe it will help us end this crap sooner rather than later.
Jalan: Road. I’m not all that directionally savvy to begin with, but for my first couple of days in KL I had real difficulty telling streets apart. This is because the naming structure for streets here is “Jalan XXXXXXXXXX”. There doesn’t appear to be any distinction between types of streets like there is back home (street, avenue, road, way, drive, etc.), and so in addition to every street name being in a foreign language, my brain was subconsciously picking up on “Jalan” as the important part of the address, rather than the actual name of the street. Luckily I got over that quickly.
Selamat datang: Welcome. Knowing this will help you find which door you should use.
Keluar: Exit. If you are lost in an LRT station, follow the signs that say “KELUAR” and eventually you will find the way out. Once outside the LRT station, there is still no guarantee that you will figure out where you are supposed to go.
Lelaki: Man/Perempuan: Woman. Important to identify women-only train cars and which bathroom you’re supposed to use. Fun fact: while some places use the familiar signs of little stick people to note which bathroom is which, other places use a man’s head (with a hat) and a woman’s head (with a head scarf). Also, not all bathrooms will necessarily have toilet paper. Also also, squat toilets are about as difficult to use as you’d think.
Muzium: Museum. Figured this one out when I was looking for the Islamic Arts Museum and I found a sign with an arrow that said “Muzium Kesenian Islam”. Between the “Islam” and the “Museum,” I made an educated guess and found what I was looking for. Speaking of which, I guess “kesenian” means “art.” Look at me go!
Masjid: Mosque. There are a few of these, and before I realized what “masjid” meant I was having the same landmark identification problems with mosques as I was having with roads. It’s sort of like travelling in Europe, in that if someone says “Turn left at the church,” asking “Which church?” is a really important follow-up question.
Negara: National. Helpful in identifying national landmarks, like the Muzium Negara, or the Masjid Negara.
Bersih: Clean. Also the name of a protest movement hoping to improve election fairness and transparency in Malaysia.
Stesen: Station. Helpful for finding public transit.
Teksi: Taxi. Helpful for when you get so lost that there is no hope of you getting where you’re supposed to go by public transit.
Roti canai: Delicious bread.
Roti sardin: Bread with sardines.
Capati: A different kind of bread.
Sambal: Delicious chili sauce that makes nearly anything immediately more tasty.
Teh tarik: Tea that has levelled up in awesome. No, really.
Milo: Chocolate beverage.
Ais: Ice. Important if you are a person unaccustomed to tropical temperatures and after 20 minutes outside you feel like you’re dying of heat stroke.
Restauran: Restaurant. Important to identify places in which to consume all the delicious foods and beverages mentioned above.
Penghakiman: Ruling. Important to know if a senior partner at your firm asks you to look through a file for a ruling, because otherwise, not know that rulings are typically given in Malay, you will spend 20 minutes searching through a 6-inch-thick file, unable to find the ruling, and look a little bit stupid when you realize your mistake. That is - hypothetically speaking.
One thing I have yet to blog about - the actual work that I’ve been doing! You’d think that, given this is an internship and all, I’d have written about that a bit more.
I’m working on intellectual property law. That breaks down into a few different categories, but mostly it means that I’ve been researching and writing in support of clients who come to us when it look like someone else is using their trademark, industrial design, patent, or copyright-protected material. (I’ve also been doing some stuff on domain name dispute resolution, for anyone who is nerdy about that sort of thing, but it’s a little different.)
It’s interesting, and I’m learning a lot about an area of the law that I didn’t get to cover in first year. I really enjoy the problem-solving aspects of it - for instance, how to convince a judge you’re right when the textbook says you’re pretty clearly wrong. Didn’t learn that one in class, did we?
I have to admit, though, that some days it’s a little bit frustrating. I spent my undergraduate degree studying international development - how to improve people’s lives, how to rebuild from wars, how to (at least in theory) leave a place in better shape than it was when you first arrived. When I start mentally comparing the relative importance of fundraising for a maternal surgery ward in Haiti versus drafting a notice of opposition for a trademark claim, I know it’s going to be a long afternoon. I’m not one to romanticize development work - I like to joke that the most important lesson I pulled from my undergrad was that white people ruin pretty much everything - but the comparison between the jobs I had then and the work I’m doing now is pretty stark.
That said, what I’ve learned so far about intellectual property law has been fascinating. Did you know, for instance, that India has an archive providing communal intellectual property protections for yoga poses? Or that someone tried to patent tumeric? (That application got shot down pretty quick.) Yeah, some of this stuff is pretty neat.
I’m not sure that IP law is what I want to do forever, but it’s definitely a neat way to spend the summer.
Okay, so remember that post where I said I was stuck in a routine?
Yeah, that’s over now.
In the past four days, I’ve sung karaoke in Tamil, ridden through the longest underwater tunnel in Malaysia, stood on top of the tallest twin towers in the world, sat through a service in what I suspect is the only Presbyterian church in KL, attended an Indian wedding, and gone out for seafood with debaters from Singapore, India, and the Philippines. I’d blog about everything in detail right now, but I have to get to bed - see, I’m going swing dancing again tomorrow night, and after the weekend I’ve had I probably need to rest up.
Here, have a purple lobster to tide you over until I’ve got time to write in detail:
I am bad at this whole regular blogging thing! But in my defence, I think I’ve figured out why - I’ve got myself into a routine, and while routines are comfortable, they’re not the most interesting of lifestyle patterns.
At this point, my days go something like this:
I wake up at 7:30 am.
I take a cold shower. There is so little point in taking a hot shower here that there isn’t even a temperature control mechanism. If you’re in Malaysia, your showers are cold. Deal with it.
I pick out my clothes - is the weather going to be unbearably hot, or just unreasonably warm? Then I eat breakfast, grab the necessities, and ride the elevator 28 floors to the bottom before walking two blocks to the LRT station.
I ride for one stop, then walk another two blocks to my office building. At that point, I ride up to the 31st floor, swipe in at 8:55 am, and start my work day.
At 1:00 pm, I go for lunch.
By 2:00 pm, I’m in the office, working away until 6:05 pm, at which point somebody turns the office internet off (!), so I save my work and head home.
On the way back, I might stop off at the mall next door to grab some groceries, including a 3L jug of water to get me through the next few days because the water filter in the apartment is iffy at best. I make myself dinner - something cold, because it is too darn hot to turn on the stove - and then chillax for the rest of the evening.
(Unless it’s a Tuesday, in which case I then head out swing dancing. But that’s for another post.)
The glamorous life of a law intern abroad!
My weekends have involved a little bit more adventure - if you follow me on Twitter, @devonblack, then you might have seen my photos from the Islamic Arts Museum this weekend - but all in all, it’s not that different from home.
To be honest, I’m still a little bit wary of putting my adventure pants on and heading out on my own. It can still be a bit nerve-wracking, heading out into a big city that seems deliberately designed to ensure I get lost.
(Seriously, there are no straight streets in this city. If you think I am kidding, go search Kuala Lumpur on Google Maps. It’s okay, I’ll wait.
Did you see that?! I have gotten lost walking in a straight line before, BUT THERE AREN’T EVEN ANY STRAIGHT LINES IN THIS CITY. It’s a wonder I manage to get myself home every day.)
Anyway, this week I am putting my foot down and forcing myself to go out and explore more.
After all, while there is some novelty to exploring the joys of a dryer-less lifestyle, it’s not enough to keep me entertained for long.
Similarly to Devon, I’ve also been getting a lot of questions about what it’s like in Iqaluit, so here are some of the highlights:
As far as more personal matters go, work is starting to get more interesting. Seeing as the Law Society office consists of 3 people including me, there is an opportunity to get involved in all aspects of its work from discipline files and complaints to Charter questions and policy research. It is busy but I think it will be rewarding, and there is a large contingent of Legal Aid and Crown criminal lawyers in the city who have lots of stories and advice. While aboriginal issues aren’t something I really encounter at work, being up here has definitely brought home many of the things we learned about last year, and it has been inspirational to say the least.
I have just started my first house-sit of many throughout the summer. The house itself is wonderful, but it has confirmed I’m not much of a cat person. The 3 cats are Tristan, Toby, and Othello. Othello needs 2 insulin shots a day (which are surprisingly easy to do) and 1 pill a day (which is about as easy as you’d expect shoving something into the unwilling mouth of a squirmy creature with sharp teeth to be). They are actually pretty cute though until it’s time to sleep. Then it’s waking up at 3am (with the sun already up) to meowing in your ear, and other cat trying to make a nice comfy bed on your belly and purring like a car engine. Hopefully it’s something one can get used to.
The bottom line though – the North is an amazing place and you should see it for yourself.
Pictures will be up soon!