Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Final Meeting at San Francisco

(20-21 April 2011, San Francisco)

Meet again               
I arrived at the underground BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) Civic Center Station. I took out my large, purple bag out from the BART train and straight went to the EXIT area. I was a bit lost to find a way to go to the United Nation Plaza. I was supposed to meet Aparpon there. I stopped a woman, and I asked her the direction to go to the plaza. To my surprise, it is above the underground station. She told me to use the EXIT escalator to go out from the station. I thank you to her, and I dragged my bag to the escalator. On the way to the escalator, I saw two musicians, a White American, and an African-American. Both of them were playing violins. However, each of them had their own styles of playing violin. The white man played with a full of energy, and few people tossed their money into a violin suitcase. The African-American man, he played his violin but without any sounds. His violin was broken. I realized he just a bagger with a wheel-chart, who imitated the white man. Their acts made me smile.  
Above the station, I saw a United Plaza Coffee Shop on the left side. I was at the right place. I made a call telling to Aparpon that I already arrived in the United Plaza area. I asked her to find me near to a fountain. After 15 minutes waiting, I saw her walked into my direction. I was glad that finally I could meet her again, after she moved out from LSU to San Francisco before Christmas, last year. On the day, she flew to San Francisco; I was in Houston with Lina’s family. She did not pass her English exam in LSU, and she decided to try her luck in San Francisco. I could not ask her to postpone her flight until I came back from Houston. We just said goodbye through our mobile phones. Hence, my ultimate aim to fly to San Francisco was to meet her. I would like to spend with her within 24 hours, as our meeting would be the last meeting for both of us in the USA. Within two weeks, she would fly back to her country, Thailand.
I turned my back and saw her. She ran towards me and hugged me. We were happy as we managed to see each other again. We did not want to waste our time and began our walked to her apartment at Polk Street. Par needed to see her aunt in one of the shopping complexes at Powell Street. On the way to her apartment, I saw the City Hall and ASIAN Museum of Art. Aparpon or affectionately known as Par, pointed a small building where she took her English and GRE course. I only saw a small building that located across of another street. Not long after, we reached at a bus station. Our conversation never ended there. We talked about our life and then Par mentioned there was a bomb scare near to her school, a week ago. She described that there was a man standing at the roadside. He shouted to people along the street that he carried a bomb. It was a small bomb attached to his body. The authority managed captured him, and they denote the bomb. Listening to Par’s story, I suddenly remembered the September 11 attack. I could not believe that San Francisco can be another target by suicide bombers or terrorists. I asked Par whether the man had been caught, but she told me that she did not hear any news about that man after the incident.
We saw a bus was coming to the bus stop where we stood. Par asked me to get ready USD2. She told me that I could use the ticket bus for a day. This was the first time I came to know that a bus ticket could be used repeatedly from one station to another station within a day. I could say that the public transportation companies in San Francisco City were exceedingly generous with the San Franciscans. The bus stopped in front of us. We entered in and paid USD2 each to the bus driver. Then we sat at the back and continued with our conversation. Within 10 minutes, we reached at her place.
We went down from the bus, and then crossed the street to Par’s apartment. Par carried my bag to a building that looked like an inn for me. When I was inside, I saw the interior of that building was modest, with red carpets covered the whole floors and the walls were painted in white. Par’s apartment was at the third floor. Both of us climbed the stairs and walked to her apartment. When she opened her apartment door, I saw two beds in the living room, a kitchen on the right and a bedroom on the left. I realized that there were three of them inside the apartment. The living room was a bit untidy, but I did not mind for that. I changed my clothes to dress a little thick. We expected the weather would be cold, rainy and windy.
We went out, across the street and stood waiting for the next bus at the same bus stop. I saw an African-American man in shabby clothes sat down on the bench. Par told me not to look at the man too long, as he might ask money from me. I just could not understand why she warned me, and I asked why.  
“He is a homeless man. They are truly terrible. They like to ask money and food, without looking for jobs. Many of them are lazy. Some of them don’t have any qualifications that would allow them to work here. No job, then no money.”
I was a bit pity on them, but Par was right. There is nothing free in this world. The bus arrived, and we showed our tickets to the driver. Less than 10 minutes, we arrived at our destination. I was astounded looking at the old and new buildings lined along the Powell Street. There was an open stage at the middle of the area. Par became my tour guide, explained that the Powell Street is a heaven for hard shoppers. Par then brought me to the Nordstorm Building, one of the shopping complexes in the street. Inside, I saw many outlets sold branded American and European products. Par and I went to a handbag department at second floor, and met her aunt there, as she wanted her aunt to help her to change the Longchamp handbag to COACH. After exchanging the bag, we went to Calvin Kline outlet. Par wanted to change her two months old handbag to a new one. It was a common practice in the USA, as you could change the branded product that you had bought to a new one within two or three months, as long as you kept the purchasing receipt.
Then, we went out from the Nordstorm and entered into the H & M store. I supposed not to spend my money in the city, but the cheap price displayed for each cloth could not stop my desire to buy one khakis trouser, one black legging, two shirts and one flowery skirt. The total price was USD65. Next, we went to the American Eagle outlet. Again, I spent my money buying two shirts for my brothers, a girl top for my sister, and a jean jacket for myself. The time was 9.30 pm, and both of us decided to try Thai’s food at a Thai restaurant. The restaurant belonged to the same company where Par worked as a part-timer. Par did not work at the restaurant, but as a worker in the same company, she could get 25 % discount. We ordered a large bowl of Tom Nyam soup, a plate of chicken rice and a plate of Piad Thai. Within 15 minutes, the waitress put the ordered foods on our table. We tried to taste the food, and we were a bit disappointed as the foods were not hot, as we wanted to. We did not care so much, as we were hungry. While savouring our foods, we continued talking about her life after moving out from LSU.
“Dency, my life here is a bit hard. Not like in LSU. Everything is so expensive here. That’s why I have to work at the Thai’s restaurant that I had showed while we were on the bus. I work two days in a week. In a day, I could get USD100, but I was tired after doing my part-time job.”
I listened to her story and put myself in her shoes. It was hard for me to imagine her situation then. She continued with her story.
“My housemate, the one that has a boyfriend, she did not come back home for two days already.  They have problems in their relationship. My other housemate, she loves to socialize, but she knows how to make business here. She would buy cheap clothes and shoes here, and then she sold back at fantastic prices in Thailand. In a month, she will make a profit of USD2000. Sometime, I don’t like both of them. They played loud music and disturbed me when I tried to sleep. There was one time I told them to slow down the volume. For four months, I lacked  sleeping. You see I already have dark circles around my eyes.”
I pitied Par. She continued saying that she needed to pay USD400 even though she slept in a living room, where when she was in Baton Rouge, she just paid me UD300 to rent a small room in my apartment. Living in San Francisco is just as if you stay in Kuala Lumpur. Three thousand Ringgit Malaysia would be not enough to accommodate your living expenses in Kuala Lumpur compare to my hometown, Kuching. Par also mentioned that, many University graduate students from Thailand would come to San Francisco looking for jobs and experiences. Most of them will end up become blue workers in restaurants or small shops. Others come here to study English, and try to enroll themselves to study in the USA. We talked for almost one hour. After paying the foods, we went out walking along the street. We smelled tea-leaves were burned after passing a group of men. Par mentioned that men smoked pot or marijuana. The smell was invigorating, and Par mentioned that she loved to smell it. I just laughed at her for being an addicted second smoker.
The bus had already stopped at the bus station, while we reached there. We jumped into the bus. Within 30 minutes, we were in Par’s apartment. I met Par’s shopaholic housemate. Par introduced her to me. I left Par and her housemate gossiped about their other housemate, while I excused myself to take a bath before getting myself to have a slumber sleep with Par.
The final hours
The next day, we went to Par’s favourite coffee shop at Polk Street. After almost 30 minutes enjoyed drinking San Francisco coffee and blueberry donuts, we decided to go to Laguna Street. Along the way to the Street, we saw many beautiful, unique double story terrace houses just like in the old drama series “Full House”. I always thought the “Full Houses” were located only in one street, just like in the drama, but I was wrong. The houses are everywhere and at any streets. I took many pictures of those houses. Then, we walked again. I asked Par about her future, whether she would like to come to LSU to further her study next year.
“Are you planning to come back to LSU? I still want you to be my housemate.”
Par smiled and said.
“I’m not sure Dency. You know my Dean; he likes to change his policy. I managed to get a place in the UK, but the university is not the top ten universities. I want to do my Phd in the USA. If I could not make it, maybe I just go to your country. I’m thinking to enroll in UUM or USM. Next week, I will sit for the last GRE exam. I hope I can pass my GRE. Again, it depends on my employer also, whether they want to send me to the USA.”
I silent for a while, and then encouraged her.
“Take your time. We never know, what is going to happen in our future. Make sure you pass your GRE. You already passed our English TOEFL. Within two years, you can decide which one is the best for you. If you do your Phd in Malaysia, we can meet again in Kuala Lumpur, or I can visit you in Bangkok. It’s not so far from my hometown, Kuching.”
Par smiled.
“Ya, we can meet in Bangkok. I can be your tour guide.”
Both of us smiled, and we continued our conversation about San Francisco and Par’s two housemates. Not long and we reached the Japanese neighborhood in Laguna Street. We explored that area and took many pictures. Time flew so fast. We went back to Par’s apartment. Not long after that, Helena called me that she would be a bit late. Par wanted to this one electrical shop. I followed her and to find out the company closed for lunchtime. We walked back slowly, allowing both of us to cherish the moment we had together. I received a call that Hellen and her husband were almost reaching Polk Street. I told Par that Hellen and her husband would be arrived within 10 minutes. We went to her apartment, carried down my bag and wait at the roadside. We did not see Hellen’s car parked at the opposite of the road until Cynthia who followed them, called me to look at the opposite road. I saw them stood next to a parked blue-grey car. We crossed the road and met them. I hugged all of them and introduced Par to them. For the moment, we did not say anything, and then Par broke the silent.
“Dency, we keep in touch through Facebook. No matter where we are, we still keep in touch.”
I nodded my head agreeing, and we hugged. I tried not to cry in front of her; instead, I put a smile on my face. Par then excused herself. We said goodbye to each other. I saw her crossed the road. At the other side, she waved her left hand goodbye to me for the last time. I waved back to her again, and then I entered into the car. When I looked at the side window car, I did not see Par anymore. I just looked at her apartment, and remembering the moment, we went through together in Baton Rouge, Louisiana to San Francisco, California. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A morning on Eve Valentine's Day

(13 February 2011 at LSU, Baton Rouge)

Strolling along the lake

It is 6.30 am. I put on my shoes and wear my winter jacket. Then, I carry my backpack and put Richard’s binocular around my neck. Today, I am going to do bird watching at the LSU Lake. It is a cold early morning with the temperature of – 2 °C. I see fog engulfs a small field near to my apartment area. When I look down at small leaves along the side road to the lake, I notice the leaves covered with ice. It is a marvelous thing that I never see in my life before. I take few pictures of the ice-covered leaves. After taking few pictures, I continue on walking until I reach an area of oak trees. I cross the area, and I feel like walking in a mystic forest with fog surrounds the oak trees. I stand for a while, allowing myself to appreciate the nature beauty in the morning. Then, I continue on my journey until I reach the lake.
At the lake, I see a boy is watching a group of Egrets opposite of the lake using his binocular. I recognize the boy as one of students who takes the same bird course as me. I sit down on a bench, while waiting for him to finish his work. I open my backpack and take out the book of Field Guide Birds on Eastern of South America. I browse the book from one page to another, looking for the birds that I will observe at the lake area. I expect to see, Great and Snowy Egrets, Great Cormorants, Brown Pelican, Green Heron and many migrated birds. February is a perfect time to see migrated birds that are migrated from South America to North America. Louisiana is one of the stopping or transit area for these birds. I jot down few bird names that may be found at the lake, on a piece of white paper. It will make my observation easier without me struggling to open the Field Guide book again. After the boy has left that area, I start my observation. I adjust the lens focus of Richard’s binocular, and then put the lens parallel to my eye level.
I can see three Great Cormorants sit on a large trunk in the middle of the lake. I put down my binocular, and I reach my pen to write the number three next to the Great Cormorant that I had written on the piece of white paper. Then I put up the binocular, and suddenly I see a flock of Egrets on two large trees that grew along the lake. They are more than ten birds, but I cannot differentiate between the Snowy and Great Egrets from afar. I make a decision walking around the lake, and expecting that I can find more birds. While walking, suddenly I see a large brown bird, standing with one leg near to a sandy area. I suddenly know it must be the Great Blue Heron. It is a giant bird. I never see that bird in Sarawak. I slowly walk to see the bird closely. I stop at 50 meters away from it. Then, I straight take my camera out of my jacket pocket to shot a picture of that bird. I manage to get a clear shot. The bird feels my present, and it flips its wings to fly across the other side of the lake.
It is 7.30 am. The temperature steadily increases to 13 °C. Many joggers are already at the lake. I continue with my activity. I do not realize that the white paper contains the bird list dropped from my pocket.
“Excuse me, ma’am. You dropped your paper.”

An Asian man gives the bird list to me. I shock for a while, and realize that I have dropped the bird list. Luckily, he found it, and then gave it to me. I thank you to him, and he continues on jogging. After ten minutes walking, I see two male and one female Mallard ducks, swim happily. I jot down the number of the Mallards that I have seen on the bird list. I walk for another 50 meters, and I see a pair of Wood-Ducks on the branch of a tree. I just amaze to see both of the ducks perches on a tree. I cannot let the moment go, and I straight snap a photo of the male duck. As usual, I add more numbers for the duck species. I continue on walking, and meet two old women.
“Good morning.”
I reply the same words back to both of them. It is a common practice here, when there is a stranger greets you. They may say ‘Good morning’, ‘Good afternoon’ or ‘How are you?’ I seldom start greeting to them, as I know they will greet me, first. In Malaysia, it will be weird if there is a stranger politely greets you. It will be the same if we greet any strangers; they will look at us suspiciously. My first week I was in the USA, I felt weird, but eventually I used to the ‘friendly’ culture. I meet an old man with his dog, and I greet him. He smiles and greets me back. 
I walk and pass many grand houses that circling around the lake. There is one house with a small door covered with bushes. The door makes me remember a classic story, The Secret Garden, written by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I keep on walking until I stop at a big tree. I still remember three months after settling down in the Land of Freedom; I sat down crying alone to pacify my broken heart under of that tree. I do not want to think that, and I quickly opened my pace. I try to control myself, but I cannot contain my tears from straining down on my cheeks. I wipe my tears from my cheeks, and tell to my heart to be strong. I walk faster and faster, until I feel I need to stop. I look up in the sky to see a group of Least-Terns fly circling the lake. I walk while looking at the terns. I do not realize that I already reached the end of the lake. I look around, and suddenly I see a Green Heron, standing under a bridge. The bird becomes the last bird that I have seen on that morning. The time is 10.30 am. Three hours bird-watching shall be enough for me. I manage to list 11 species. I hope this assignment can help me to score 10 points bonus after failing to score full 10 points for my first quiz.
A poem for an Angel
I walk back to my apartment using the other route. At the junction to my apartment, I meet an old man with a shabby look. He carries a brown cardboard. There are words written on the cardboard, but I cannot see the words from afar. The more I approach the old man, the more clearly the words written on the cardboard. The old man wrote:
“I’m looking for a job so that I can buy food.”
I am speechless after knowing what was written on the cardboard. He wants people to hire him and pay him so that he can buy food. I have never seen anything like that in Malaysia. Beggars in Malaysia will ask money without putting much effort on how to find a job so that they can get money. When I close to that old man, he stops me.
“Hi, I’m John. Do you speak English? I’m cannot speak in Spanish.”
He thinks I am a Latin woman.
“You can speak English with me. I’m an Asian. I also cannot speak in Spanish.”
He smiles and then takes out a small white paper from his left pocket of his trouser.
“I want to read a poem for you. The title is ‘An Angel’. I want you to listen. You don’t mind spend five minutes listening to my poem?”
I ask him to read.
“There is an Angel. An Angel sent by God. She…..”
His poem is beautiful. I am carried away by his beautiful words. Once he finishes reading, he asks whether I like it. I just smile and nod my head. Then, he asks whether I have a job for him, so that he can get money for him to buy food. I feel guilty to tell him the truth that I also need money. Being a poor student, I need to be rigid with my spending.
“I’m sorry, I can’t help you. Maybe you will meet someone else that can give a job for you. I’m just a poor student. If I have extra money, I can give some for you to buy food. I wish I can. God can help you. Just pray to Him.”
He says.
“Every day, I pray to God so that He can help me. I know God will help me, but until when I need to suffer like this.”
I am stunned to hear his words. I motivate him that God is gracious and will not make him suffer too long.
“God always listens to our pleas. It just that, He will give His helps when the time is right. Since Adam and Eve disobeyed Him, we will always suffer in this world. But, God is gracious. He sent His only son, Jesus to save us. God does send His Angles to look after all of us. Perhaps, there is another Angel for you. You just need to be patient. Patient is LOVE. John, God do LOVE you.”
He smiles listening to my words.
“Dear Girl. You know what; you are already an Angel for me. You are right. I need to be patient. I will wait until there is someone willing to hire me. Thanks for your advice.”
I smile, and I give my hug to him. I do not know why I suddenly want to hug him. I see tears streaming down on his cheeks. After hugging, we say goodbye to each other. I continue on walking, and when I turn my back, John shouts at me.
“Happy Valentine’s Day. I love you my dear Angel.”
I receive the three magical words from a stranger on the Eve of Valentine’s Day. I wave at him, and he does the same. I know that I cannot hold my tears. I turn myself from looking at him, and then I walk as quickly as possible. I just let my tears flowing down for the second time. In my heart, I ask God to make myself be loved by those who love me.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Winter stories in Texas

(December 16 to 27, 2010 in Houston, Texas)

Stories from the Aggie

I stayed together with Roslinda for two days in College Station. On the second day there, we went to visit George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, the Gigantic Graduate Ring, the Aggie Bonfire Memorial and other campuses within the Texas A and M University. Roslinda told many stories about her University. There were two stories that touched my heart: the bonfire tragedy and the number twelve American football player. In the first story, she told about the twelve students (known as Aggies) who died while constructed a bonfire on the campus. The tragedy happened around Thanksgiving in 1999. From that on, the Aggies are not allowed to construct any bonfires within the university compound. The latter story, it is about a fan who volunteered himself as a substitute player during a big match between A and M University and Texas University. During the battle between the two teams, the Aggies lost one player due to the injury. However, they needed few points to win the game. One of the fans jumped out from his seat and ran to join with all the players. Eventually, the Aggies team won the game, and the story became a widely known throughout Texas.

The whole morning we spent time venturing the A and M University. In the afternoon, we went to the College Station Town. It is a small town, and I saw a railroad along the town. The shop buildings resemble the studio sets in the Cowboy movies. It was not a surprise for me as I was in the Cowboy state. We went back before 3 pm, as Roslinda would attend a meeting. We had our late lunch together. She went out by 3 pm, and I started baking a Honeycrumb cake for her. I just put the cake into the oven, when she arrived. That night we had our dinner eating the cake, roti canai and the leftover fruits that she brought from the meeting.

Apai Renduan’s Stories

On the third day, I took a ride with Roslinda’s friend to Houston City. She dropped me at the Macy Shopping Complex, as Lina and her family would meet me there. I know Lina from her relative in Sibu that coincidently has a family connection to my cousin’s wife. Her family is among the Dayak families from Sarawak that have made America as their second home. At Macy, I decided to wait for them at the Jessica Simpson’s booth that was located near the department exit door, and I sent a text message to let them know where I was about. After 20 minutes standing alone with my purple bag, I saw Lina and her husband approaching me. I was filled with joy knowing that I finally met Lina after a year chatting in Facebook. We hugged, and her husband carried my bag to their car that parked at the other side Macy. After putting my bag in their car, then three of us went to meet their children at a bookstore. There, Lina introduced her children, Renduan, Nanang and Ringau. I talked with Renduan, and found out she could speak in Iban. I was proud of her as she still can speak her parents’ mother tongue language.

We all have a coffee break in the bookstore. Then we went to the ice ring to see people skating around the ring. I was not interested with the skaters, but I was thrilled to see the gigantic Christmas tree. It was a living tree decorated with colourful lamps and ornaments. Lina took her husband’s camera, and asked me to become her model. I love people taking my photos. I did with many poses, and both of us enjoying what we were doing. We stopped when Apai (Father in Iban) Renduan called Lina to go to this eatery area. All of them were waiting us there. We all met there and decided to order Chinese food. When we all sat down and feasted ourselves with the food, Apai Renduan started to talk with me. He began to ask about my family and my study in LSU. He was so proud to know that his wife is making friend with a Dayung who is continuing her education in America. Then, he started to tell a story when he was an engineer with SHELL Miri, before he transferred to SHELL Texas. 

“I still remember when I was in Miri. My Dayak colleagues who worked in SHELL and I decided to set up a group dedicating to help Dayak students in Sarawak. Our main aim was to help Dayak students in education. We wanted to see many Dayak students have opportunities to go to universities. We visited many places to teach villagers about the importance of education. Even, many schools in Miri and other divisions, invited us to give a talk to students. While doing roadshows, we would try to find smart Dayak students and encourage them to apply for SHELL scholarships and other scholarships that were offered at that time. Dayak students from rural areas are not so lucky like the urban students. They were not aware any news about scholarships or any college openings. Hence, we would inform any college or scholarship openings to them. We even helped them to fill in the forms. Even though we sacrificed a lot of time to be together with family, we were happy and glad to have supportive wives who understand our volunteer and charity work”. He looked up and smiled after telling me about what his friend and he did.

“Wow, that is awesome. It’s not an easy job to do. You are so lucky to have Indai Renduan that understands your work and your ambition to help our people in Sarawak.” I gave a salute sign to him.

“Dency, this story might interest you. This story was 7 years ago. We visited a long house in Baram. We met this one old woman. She mentioned to us all that she has a nephew. His name is Satu. She wanted her nephew to further his tertiary education, since he scored well in his Form Six examination. However, the problem was he did not have a birth certificate and IC (Identity Card) to let him to apply to further his study. One thing, they are poor. The boy has to look after his brother and sister. Their parents divorced, and their auntie adopted them. When we visited them, Satu was not there. His auntie said he was working in a Shell pump station, in Baram. We all did not want to waste our time; we started to look for him. We forgot to ask the location of the pump station where the boy was working.” Apai Renduan stopped to drink, and then he continued his story.

“We decided to stop at any pump stations and asked the station managers whether they hired the boy. Before that, we prayed to God to help us search for that boy. I drove my car, and let my instinct told me. Then I saw a pump station, and I felt that I must stop there for a while. I parked my car, and I asked the young pump attendant whether he knew Satu. To our surprise, the pump attendant said his name is Satu. We were so glad to find Satu. We told him about his auntie and her intention to see him to have a success in his life. He told to us that he wanted to further his study, but he did not have those two important documents. We assured him that we would help him. Within a month, we managed to get those two documents for him and even for his other siblings. Then, we tried to apply a place in UNIMAS for him. UNIMAS accepted his application, and he must register within two weeks. We called his auntie to ask him to come to Kuching to register himself at UNIMAS. We were shocked to hear that the boy was out in the sea, working as an assistant trawler. We have to call the ship manager to ask him to come back to the shore. It took us for almost a week to wait for him. Once he arrived at the port we brought him straight to UNIMAS.” Apai Renduan sipped his drink again.

“Owh, you all amazed me. God was good to you all and to the boy. I’m glad Satu managed to further his study in UNIMAS. Did you all see him again?” I asked Apai Renduan whether they met Satu again.

“Yes, we did after almost a year we sent him there. We went to UNIMAS for a roadshow, as well as to meet Satu. When we walked near the football field, we saw a young man ran into our direction. We all shocked to know that man was Satu. He saw us walking and abandoned his friends just to meet us. He was so happy and told his life in UNIMAS. That was 7 years ago. I am sure he got his degree and now working. I missed all those time. When my friends and I transferred to any parts of the world, the charity and volunteer club dissolved. We were sad, but what we could do. We are hoping there will be other Dayak clubs that could help all Dayak students. You are an educated young woman; for sure you can help our people.” Apai Renduan expressed his hope that other educated Dayaks in Sarawak will continue their work.

“Apai Reduan, there are Sarawak Dayak Graduate Association or SDGA and Bidayuh Graduate Association or BGA that can help our Dayak students. I’m myself a BGA member, but not an active member. I’m still studying, and after I finish my Phd here, I will come back to serve our people. Of course, I would like to help our people.” I assured him.

“That’s what I want to hear from young people like you. May God guide you always.” He was glad to hear my assurance.

For almost an hour, we sat down eating our dinner while listening to Apai Renduan’s story. After that, we all went back to their house at Katy. At home, Apai Renduan and I continued with our conversation. He talked about his undergraduate life in the UK. Most of his stories were entertaining. We talked until the time was almost 12 am. I yawned and I knew it was sleeping time for me. I excused myself and said good night to all of them, and they back greeted good night to me.

Stories of Malaysian families

I enjoyed doing many family activities during my stay with Lina’s family. On the first day, we went to church together. At church, I met Inna and her three sons. Her eldest son is Miah, followed by the middle Paul and the youngest Wawa. Her husband, Fitz was not with them. I soon found out from Lina that Inna was expecting her husband to arrive in Houston from Kuala Lumpur. Inna and her husband are old friends of my adopted brother, Dr. Sylvester Arnab. After the mass, we all went to the Fung’s Kitchen, one of the Chinese restaurants in Houston. At that restaurant, Inna found out that Dr. Sylvester and I are close friends. It seems my world is quite small, and I know a new friend from someone I close with. We all had a fabulous lunch together. It was my first time I ate real Chinese food in America. Then we went to Asian Market to buy Asian food. In the afternoon, Lina and Apai Renduan, Renduan and me went to La Centera that is located near to their house. It was an evening of glamorous between four of us. Renduan and I became free models, while her parents took photos of both of us. We took few photos in front of the Christmas tree and with Mr. Santa Claus. On the next day, we all family went to the Moody Garden in Galveston. There was a light festival in the Garden. We again had our fun together taking pictures with all decorated lights in the garden. The next day, we all busy prepared food, as we would have a dinner together with Fitz’s family and Tom’s family. I thought Renduan how to bake the Honeycrumb cake, while Lina cooked laksa Sarawak.

About 7 pm, Tom’s family arrived first, and then followed by Fitz’s family. I was glad to meet Mary’s family, and we talked in my father’s language. Mary introduced her children, Al and Amy. Al had just arrived from London. He is doing his undergraduate study in the UK. Inna also introduced Fitz to me, and Fitz was glad to know that I am Sylvester’s adopted sister. The three Dayak families and a Dayung had fun together eating all Sarawakian food. Then all children did their own stuff. The old folks including me just sat down drinking wine, listening to the men’s stories as well as talking about our life in Malaysia and the USA. From their conversation, I found out that SHELL sent Fitz to Kuala Lumpur for a year, and he left his family in Houston as his children are still schooling. For almost a year, Inna became a father and a mother to their three sons. They just communicated through phone and SKYPE. Fitz mentioned how he gave an hour sons-father section every day to Miah and Paul, and another one-hour with Wawa. Inna just smiled listening to Fitz’s story. Then, she talked how Wawa stood outside of their bedroom in the early morning afraid that his father would fly again, and he would miss saying goodbye. Fitz told him that he would never fly away again without him, and he smiled and wanted his father to bring him back to sleep. Everybody was so touch listened to Inna’s story. Fitz and Inna are a truly blessed couple with wonderful children. We were so proud of two of them for making a one-year separation, a blessed year for their family.

On the eve of Christmas Day, I met another family, The Praba’s family. They are from West Malaysia, but Mr. Praba ever worked in SHELL Miri before with Apai Renduan, Samak (Father in Bidayuh) Al and Fitz. The Praba’s family and I went to church together to celebrate Christmas Mass. Then, we all went to Fitz and Inna’s house for a small family-Christmas gathering. Inna prepared the green mug porridge for all of her guests, while others exchanged Christmas gifts to each other. I was chuckled to see Wawa showed his gift, a train that was given by Apai Renduan, to Fitz. Everyone was so happy receiving gifts. Then we continued with our usual activity, exchanging stories, and I just listened to their captivating stories. They talked about their children education. They expressed their willingness to continue their working contract with SHELL Texas for the sake of their children’s future. Mr. Praba mentioned that he accepted a job position in ESSO Texas after a year retired from SHELL, so that both of them can be together with their children in Houston. Their children are undergraduate students in A and M Texas University. Listening to their stories, I suddenly remembered my family back in Kuching. My mother did call me early in the morning, and she said Merry Christmas to me. They celebrated 14 hours ahead of us in the USA. I certainly missed my own family, but the feeling evaporated in the air when I was with all of the Malaysian families. Suddenly the clock chimed at 12 o’clock, and we all tossed our wine glasses and said Merry Christmas to everybody. 

A story of a Bidayuh man

On the second day of Christmas, Apai Renduan’s family, Fitz’s family and I went to Kemah Boardwalk. It is a rides and amusements park, which is located about 30 minutes’ drive from Houston City and near to the Mexico Gulf. We moved first while Fitz’s family stopped somewhere to buy jackets for Fitz and Wawa. It was not a long enough for all of us to meet again at Kemah. We all walked along the Boardwalk and took many pictures. Wawa did play a few rides in that park. He is such an adorable, smart and talkative boy. We then took sunset pictures at the Gulf. Inna and I sat down on a chair looking at sea, and the rest continued on taking more photos. Inna then asked a question.

“Dency, are you closed to Sylvester?” I said yes to Inna, and she continued asked from me again.

“Then, I guess you know one of our old friends. He is a Bidayuh like Sylvester and you. He went to the same college together with Sylvester, Fitz and I.” 

I said to her that Sylvester never mentioned about his other friend except Fitz and her.

Inna told me that their Bidayuh friend was an ex-roommate to Sylvester. He is the son of a prominent leader in Sarawak. She could only recall the first letter of his name. I asked Inna, why she told the story of her old friend. She just smiled and said she just wanted me to know about him. Then, Fitz called Inna to join with all of them taking family pictures. She ran to meet her husband, and I left alone standing near to the chair. I looked towards the sea, and I started talking to myself.

“Who is that dari (man in Bidayuh)?” my heart said.

Suddenly, I saw a white seabird flying across the Gulf. I smiled looking at the bird. I believed, the bird was just like a messanger from God, asking me to know and make friend with that Bidayuh man. Only Sylvester could help me to connect me with that man. I came back to reality, when Inna shouted my name to join with all of them. I ran towards them, and stood next to Miah before Apai Renduan clicked his camera. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Apa Khabar? in Houston, Texas

(A day after checking my semester result, December 2010)

A stop at a pump station

We almost reached at Houston City, after almost 4 hours driving from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Suddenly, my Blackberry rang. I checked on my hand phone screen. The caller was my Facebook friend, Roslinda Rosli. She is a PhD student in A and M University, Texas. She has been in the United States for almost three years. I got to know her from my colleague, Faisal. He asked me to join this Malaysian Graduates Facebook Group, and introduced many of his friends. I did not add anybody of them, hoping one of them would do first. I was right when Roslinda Rosli added me in as her new Facebook friend. We clicked, and become good Facebook friends.

“Hi Dency, mana kamu sekarang?” She asked my where about.

“I tak tau lah, tapi memang dah kat Houston ni. Jap I tanya dengan kawan I dulu.” I told her that I would ask from my friend.

I asked Jesus the exact location of where we were. He mentioned that we were somewhere near 771 Exit. I was not familiar with that road term. I continued with my conversation with Roslinda, assuming that Roslinda would know about the 771 Exit.

“Akak, kawan I cakap 771 Exit. Saya bukan nya tau sangat area ni Kak. Macam mana kita ndak bertemu? Akak ada idea ke?” I asked whether she knew any areas along the road to Houston City, where I could stop and wait for her to pick me up.

“Adik kat 771 Exit kan. Apa kata Adik stop aja mana-mana pump station kat 774 Exit. Akak akan ambik Adik kat sana. Senang lagi.” She asked me to tell to my friend to drop me at any pump stations near the 774 Exit.

I told to Jesus about Roslinda’s plan. He agreed with my idea. Within 20 minutes, we saw a pump station almost near to the 774 Exit. Then, he turned his car into the left side of the highway and entered into a junction next to the pump station. Jesus stopped his car, and helped me to carry out my big, purple bag to the pump station. He talked with the pump station manager that I was expecting my friend to pick me up and to let me stay in for a while in his station. The manager just agreed with him. Jesus said goodbye and then hugged me. I saw him entered to his car, and he drove out and continued his journey to Mexico together with his girlfriend.

A surprise greeting

I felt a bit awkward inside the station. There were two of us, the manager and me. He smiled at me, and I smiled back at him. Then, I put up my courage to ask a favour from the manager to give his station address, so that I could send a text message to let Kakak Roslinda to know where she supposed to pick me up. He gave a receipt with the station address, and I thanked him. He just smiled at me. Then, I walked around the station while looking for some tidbits that nicely arranged on shelves. After 10 minutes searching around, I ended up picking a packet of raisins. I went to the counter and paid it. While the manager waiting for my debit card to make the transaction for the payment, he asked me where my friend was.

“Not sure. She is on the way now.” I told to him while he gave my debit card back to me.

“What is your friend doing there?” He asked again.

“She is doing her Phd at A and M Unversity, Texas. I also do my Phd, but in LSU Louisiana.” After answering him, he got so curious to know me better.

“How many years already have you become a Phd student? May I ask also, I think you are not originally from here?  Is that correct?“ He asked so many questions in one go.

“Ah, one year and four months already and I’m from Malaysia.” I answered his questions.

“Oh my! Apa khabar? ” He said ‘how are you?’ to me in Malay language, the national language of my country.

“Khabar baik (I’m fine). You know the Malay greeting. Did you ever visit Malaysia before?” I still surprised after knowing the manager could say few Malaysian words.

“I ever stayed in Malaysia for five years. My father worked as a diplomat officer at the Pakistan Consulate in Kuala Lumpur. I was 10 years old, when my father transferred to Kuala Lumpur. We stayed somewhere near to my father’s office. Do you know nasi lemak? That was my favourite food when I was in Malaysia. I always went to this street just to buy the nasi lemak. Did you ever go to that street? ” He opened his experience staying in Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia.

“Nasi lemak, yes one of the delicious food in Malaysia. That street I don’t have any idea as I’m not from Kuala Lumpur. I am from Sarawak, the East Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur is in West Malaysia.” I explained to him that I came from the other state of Malaysia.

“Sarawak, I never know it’s another state in Malaysia. Where is your state located?” He wanted to know where Sarawak is.

“It’s located opposite of the West Malaysia. You need to fly crossing over the Southeast China Sea.” My right hand made a flying gesture.

“I see. I would like to go to your state and to Kuala Lumpur. It’s been more than 30 years since my family moved back to Pakistan. Maybe I need another two to three years, and then I can take a long vacation to travel to any places that I like together with my mother.” He mentioned his desire to come back to Malaysia.
“I hope your wish will come true. I just wonder, are you Pakistani or American?” I was curious about his citizenship as he could get a license to operate his business in Texas.

Before he could answer my questions, two American customers came in to buy cigarettes and some chips. When the two customers walked out from the station, the manager continued our conversation. From his story, he has been in America for 25 years. He applied to be an American ten years ago but still maintaining his Pakistani citizenship. It means that he has dual citizenships. Pakistanis is permitted to take dual citizenships from 16 countries, including the United States. He did asked me whether I would like to stay in America and applied as a resident. I told to him my intention was, to go back to Malaysia and serve for my people after finishing my study. He was glad to hear my explanation, and he wished that his country should be like Malaysia, where there are many jobs available for Malaysians. He left Pakistan to America, because it was hard to get any jobs with decent salaries when he was in twenty. I asked whether he was happy with his decision to stay forever in America. It was not surprise to hear his reply that he was happy, and he expressed his wishes to take his other family members in Pakistan to work and stay here.

Suddenly, I received a text message from Kakak Roslinda. Her message stated that she already arrived at the station. I was happy and told to the manager that my friend had arrived. I opened the station door, and I waved my hands to Kakak Roslinda. She was in her car when she saw I was waving at her. She waved me back. I entered to the station again and took my big, purple bag. I said thank you to the manager for letting me in for a while. He wished me good luck in my study, and he said his last words to me.

“Selamat jalan, jumpa lagi di Kuala Lumpur (Goodbye, till we meet in Kuala Lumpur).”

I replied to him.

“Semoga kita bertemu lagi (Till we meet again).” I waved goodbye to him, and he did the same thing. 

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Dead Weeks

(The third day after the end of Fall Semester, 2010)

Unexpected news

I pack few clothes and put inside my big, purple luggage bag. I cannot wait to go to Houston, meeting my Facebook friends there. Suddenly, I hear knocking on my apartment door. Who is might be? I open my door, and I see Qing. She smiles at me, and I let her in. Then, she says to me that she is going to move into my apartment next week and stay temporarily until she can move to her own apartment next month. I am so surprised to hear that news, as she will move out from her current apartment by the end of December. I know that she has a problem with her landlord. She tells me that her landlord already found someone to take over her room. I am pity with her, and I make a decision let her move in next week. She is so happy and hugs me for helping her. She mentions that the second fantastic news she received today. I wonder what is the first news, and I ask her to tell me.

“Dency, I got all As for this semester. How about you? Did you check your result?” Qing wants to know my exam results.

“No, not yet. I’m not ready to see my results.”

I am afraid to know my results. I choose to check my results, after my trip to Houston. However, Qing persuades me as she wants to know my results. I open my student account and click the link where I can check my result. I am speechless for a moment. I see As for all my courses. I shouted happily and jumping around in my bedroom. Qing smiles at me. Both of us cannot believe we manage to survive the population genetic course. Many students in Department of Biological Science know that the course is the hardest course to get an A. We express our happiness, we chat for almost an hour. Then, she excuses herself, as she needs to call her boyfriend in Nebraska. I send her to the door and then continue with my packing. While sorting my winter clothes, I refresh back my mind remembering the three weeks of suffer finishing all my assignments and studying for two exams.

Weeks of suffer

I started my assignments for the population genetic course beginning of the semester. Qing’s friend, Josh did advise both of us earlier to try to finish our assignments before the end of the semester. He was right as I managed to cover all assignments and finish by early of November. It was not the ending of my torture. I needed to finish two genetic projects that would be presented on the first week of December. I used several programs that I have learned from the course for the two projects. I worked day and night nonstop in order to finish everything before the December 2. I finished all on the last day before the presentation. A bit tired, but I must go on. On the presentation day, I presented my first project for the population genetic course. Everything went well, and I was happy. I did not receive so many questions from my Prof and students. There was certain part I needed to adjust. After the class, I continued with my last presentation for the systematic class. My second presentation I did not present exceptionally well. I had to talk fast as each student was allotted with 10 minutes presentation. I just went ahead and finished all. By 6 pm, the last student finished presenting her project. I was a bit relief, but it was not the end of my struggles. I needed to work on with software demo presentation that would be presented on the next day. Preparing the presentation was quite easy, and again I knew how to use the program before. On the afternoon of the next day, I geared up all my efforts to demo to all students in the population genetic class. Even thought there was a technical problem while demonstrating the software, I was happy to execute my work well.

God help me

The sufferings were not over yet. I needed to study for my two exams. My first exam would be the final exam for the population genetic class and the other exam for the curatorship course. Both exams were held on two consecutive days; on Tuesday and Wednesday. Which subject did I want to study first? I chose to study and read one inch-notes of population genetic course, and after the first exam I would start studying the notes for the curatorship course. I non-stop studied all my notes until morning on the exam day. I sat for the population genetic exam and finished answering all four essay questions within two hours. It was a hard exam for me. After the first exam, I continued on revising notes for my second exam. The problem arose at midnight. After reading the whole notes, I tried to recall all the things that I have memorized. However, I could not make it. I did not want to admit that I had a panic attack, and I tried to read the whole notes repeatedly until 3 am. However, none of my efforts worked well. I started to burst out. Suddenly, I imagined that I failed, and my sponsor pulled my scholarship away from me. I remembered what my mom said to me. There was a person that I could ask for help. He was my God. I started to pray, and talked asking help from Him.

While praying, my instinct kept telling me to ask my Prof who taught curatorship course to let me sit the exam on another day, but I was afraid to do that. Twenty minutes thinking, I decided to try asking an exemption for not taking the final exam in the morning, but to do it on Friday instead. I opened my email and started writing an email to him.

Dear Prof.,

I am so tired pushing myself to finish all my assignments and study hard for my first exam that held yesterday evening. I studied all notes for your exam till late night. However, I could not recall what I already read. I am afraid I got a panic attack. I don’t want to take your exam when I am not ready mentally and physically. I don’t want to jeopardize my scholarship. I hope you can consider me to let me sit the exam on another day, probably this Friday. Help me, please.



After sending the email, I prayed to God that I would receive a satisfactory answer from my Prof. The time was 4 am. I brought myself to my bed and set my hand phone timer to 7.30 am. The exam would start at 8.30 am. I just got ready for anything. At 7.30 am, I woke up and took a bath. I reached at my office by 8.05 am, and I opened my email. My Prof replied my email, and I read his email to me.

Dear Dency,

Don’t stress yourself. I understand your condition. You can take the exam on another day with the other student. He is away in London now. Once he comes back here, both of you can take the exam. Take a rest OK.



Suddenly there was a teardrop flowing on my check. I happily cried. Without further ado, I packed my bag and went back to my apartment. I slept the whole morning and woke up in the afternoon to attend the skin preparation exam. On Monday, I sat for the curatorial exam together with my colleague, Cabel. I answered all the questions except the last question, which asked me to name the founder of the LSU museum. It did not matter to me as I confidently answered the other questions. I sent my exam sheet to Prof. JV, and said sorry for not answering the last question. He said not to worry so much for the last question.

Looking back at that time and the fantastic news I received just now, have made me realize that I shall let my Professors or my close friends know and help to lessen my problems. I love my University and the people in the museum. It is not an easy to be a student in a foreign country, but I am quite happy that many people help me to achieve my aim to get a scroll of PhD and bring all new knowledge to my back beloved country.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

I did not know! (The Dayak's Taboo)

(Last Day of November 2010)

The Dream

I had a dream that I was standing at the edge of a swampy lake. I saw three Mississippi alligators swan towards to where I stood. I tried to run away, but I could not lift up my legs. When all the three alligators surrounded me, the next thing I knew, they opened their mouths. I closed my eyes and waited for them to attack me. After 10 minutes waiting, they did not attack me. One of the alligators stood up.

“Dency, where are the turkeys? We are hungry now. Faster gets the turkeys for us.” The alligator told me to get the turkeys for them.

“Ah, I thought you are going to eat me, because I ate your friends.” I said to the alligator.

“Nah, we know people will eat us. Hence, we just enjoy our life as much as I can. This is America, no body care about taboo. They just eat us. We are hungry now; please get ready the turkeys for us.” I told to them, I did not bring the turkeys for them.

They suddenly pissed off with me, and started to harass me. I screamed helplessly, and suddenly I heard a screeching beeping sound of my Blackberry phone. I woke up from my sleep. I realized that I only had a dream. I recalled the day I ate the alligator meat for the first time.

The first taste

It was the day, we received a visit from a prospective student. Her name is Vivian, and she is from Ipoh, Perak Malaysia, and staying in Las Vegas City. She came to my University as she wanted to see Fred and other graduate students in museum department. It was almost lunchtime, when I met her. She is a petite girl with a dark, long hair. There was a lanky, tall American girl stood next to her. I guessed she must be Vivian’s best friend.

“Apa khabar? So you are Vivian. Nice to meet you.” I greeted her in Bahasa Malaysia and English.

“Ya khabar baik. And you must be Dency from Sarawak. Gembira jumpa kamu.” She greeted me back. I could not believe that she still can speak in perfect Bahasa Malaysia.

“Wow, your still know how to speak in Bahasa Malaysia very well.” I complemented her.

“Yes, I’m still a Malaysian, and I must know how to speak Bahasa Malaysia very well even though I already stayed here since five years ago.” She smiled at me. Then, she introduced her friend, Patricia to me.

While Vivian, Patricia and I talked about my life in my University, Fred interrupted our conversation, and told us that he wanted to bring all of us to have a lunch at the Chime Varsity Restaurant. The restaurant is only eight-minute walk from the museum. Along the way to the restaurant, Vivian and I exchanged opinions about Ph.D programs, the Biological Department, and graduate students in my department. Vivian did mention to me that LSU was her first choice and Kansas University would be the second choice.

Both of us talked until we did not realize that we already reached the restaurant. Inside the restaurant, we have to wait for waiters to bring us to our table. It is a common practice in America, different from what we have in Malaysia, where we just straight sit down and wait for the waiters to come to us. A young waiter showed us our table and took our order. We continued our conversation that was mostly about my life in LSU and Baton Rouge, as well as other attractions in Louisiana. It is usual for any prospective students to ask many questions from their prospective Professor and graduate students. Within 20 minutes, the waiter served all ordered food on the table. Fred explained each Louisianan food to three of us. I did not concentrate on what he said as my eyes focused on the black pepper meat.

“Dency, do you ever try this black pepper alligator meat before?” I directed my focus from the meat to Fred and answered him.

"No, I never try this meat when I'm in Borneo." I shook my head side to side while answering him.

He asked me to try the alligator meat. I took my fork to pierce a small piece of the meat, and directly put it in my mouth. I chewed the meat, and I could say that the alligator meat taste and texture are similar to the chicken meat. I told to Fred that the meat was so delicious and tender. Fred smiled, and he as well as the other girls took a piece of the meat each. My experience of eating the alligator meat did not stop there. A week after that, my colleagues in the museum and I went for the last discussion group at the Chimes Restaurant. I ordered the same black pepper alligator meat. I finished all the six pieces of the meat within 25 minutes, once the waiter put my order on my table.

Dayung felt guilty

The great feeling of devouring my sweet time eating the alligator meat promoted me to take a picture of the meat. I uploaded and shared the picture with my Facebook friends. To my surprise, I received so many comments. Few of my friends were not interested looking at the picture, some were wondering how was the taste and others did mention their experiences eating alligator eggs in Borneo. However, from all the comments, I found out that Dayak Ibans could not eat the alligator meat. It is a taboo for them. My Iban friend mentioned that they already made an agreement with the King of Bornean Alligator that they were not going to eat and kill its members. The same wentto the King Alligator. A deal is a deal , and even until now, the Dayak Ibans restrain themselves for not killing and eating the Bornean alligators. If they did, the alligators could smell those who ate their family members. Blood must pay with blood.

Thinking about that had made me enquire my friends from my own tribe, the Dayak Bidayuh, whether we can eat the alligator. Few said yes, and few said no. It was quite surprising that, few Bidayuh groups from Sadong River or Serian District do eat alligators. As for my mother’s people, the Biatahs that live in Siburan area, they have the same taboo as Ibans. I was not sure why the Biatah could not eat alligators. Perhaps, they also made the same agreement with the King Alligator. I did not satisfy with their comments. Hence, I asked from the oldies in the Bijagoi Facebook group, whether they know anything about the pact or any old story that has a connection with the Dayak Bidayuh and the King Alligator.

I just put up a post ‘Should we kill and eat Alligators?’ The post attracted many Bidayuh oldies to give their comments. Most of them said that Dayak Bidayuh from wherever they are from should not kill and eat alligators. I gasped for a while, and suddenly a panic surged into me. I already ate the alligator meat. What I was supposed to do? Would the alligators of Louisiana put a curse on me? Would they and the Bornean alligators hunt me down? I did not mean to eat their brothers or sisters, because I did not know about the old taboo. I wrote a comment to confess that I did eat the alligator meat. One of the elder wrote a comment after reading my guilt-ridden comment.

“Don’t worry about that. You do not know the old taboo. You all are not exposed knowing this old taboo. We could not blame you for the mistake that you did. It’s our duty to let the young generation to know about this taboo. The King Alligator may forgive you, but please do not eat his people again in the future.”

The elder gave an assurance to me. I was a bit relief after reading his comment. From that on, I stop eating the alligator meat. Every time, my friends invite me to eat the alligator meat in the Chimes Restaurant, I will nicely say no and tell to them why.

“It’s my tribe taboo that we cannot kill and eat alligators. They can smell the alligator killers, and take revenge by chasing and killing them. It’s blood revenge.”

They are speechless after listening to my explanation.