Monday, March 21, 2011

Three ASEAN Women

(First Saturday November 2010)

The unexpected email

I woke up early in the morning. It is an unusual Saturday for me to wake up early. I have made a promise with Par to attend a football tailgate party with other international students at ICC. My university American football team, the Tigers will play Alabama University. All Tigers fans including Red Alabama fans will gather and tailgate around my university compound. The Tailgate party is a social event before going into the stadium. Fans will set up their camps or tailgate vehicles. They will consume alcoholic beverages or mixed drinks, grill of various meat products, dance, interact with other fans and play tailgate games during the tailgating session. It is like a large BBQ gathering for all Tigers fans. Thinking of BBQ, my stomach starts making noises. I open my bedroom door, and I see Par is in the living room. Her hair is still wet from her bath.

“Dency, aren’t you going to take your bath?” She asks in her low-deep Thai accent.

“Nope, it’s cold this morning. I want to go to the kitchen to get a drink. What’s time now?”

“Ah, almost 10 am. We must be faster. We will be late.” I smile at her and assure her not to be in rush as there will be plenty of food at the ICC Tailgating gathering.

Par or her real name is Apaporn, has been my housemate for almost a month. She found me through the ICC website. I still remember the day I received an unexpected email from her.

Hi friend,

I am a female ELOP student from Thailand. Now, I am staying in my cousin's house, and I want to move out as soon as possible. If you still wanted to have a roommate, please let me know via email.

Thank you in advance.


I almost forgot that I did advertise my empty bedroom in ICC. I did not expect that a female international student would search for a room in the middle of the semester. I wondered who she was. Without further ado, I replied her email and asked her to call me back. Less than five hours, I received her phone call.

“Hi my name is Apaporn. I am happy to know that you are still looking for a room-mate.” She slowly talked to me.

“Yes, I’m still looking for a room-mate.” I replied her back.

“Are you free this afternoon? I want to see the room. I would like to come at 3 pm.” She was so interested to see the room.

“Ah, I’m not free as I have a class this evening from 1 to 5 pm. You do not mind to come tomorrow at the same time.” I was hoping she could make it.

“Yea, I will come. I finish my class after 2.30 pm. Dency, may I ask you, where are come from?”

“I’m from Malaysia. Your country neighbor.”

“Isn’t? Wah, I’m so glad to hear that. Dency, I cannot talk longer to you as I need to save my phone credit. I see you tomorrow. Thank you so much. You have brightened my day today.” I could imagine that she was smiling after knowing that I am from Malaysia.

“You are welcome.” Once I ended my sentence, I heard a long beep, meaning she already pushed the stop-calling button.

The next day, I went back to my apartment before 2.30 pm. Almost 3 pm, I heard someone knocked on my door. It must be her. I opened my apartment door, and I saw a woman wearing a pair of spectacles and carrying a small blue backpack. Immediately, I knew she must be Apaporn, the student from Thailand.

“Are you Dency?” Apaporn wanted to confirm with me, and I said yes to her.

I mentioned about my empty bedroom and showed the way to her future room. Besides that, I showed the bathroom and kitchen. Once she looked around, she said she would move in by next week. I was terrified to hear the news. She did ask about the spare key of my apartment, and I explained to her that she must first register herself as my housemate at the Resident Apartment Office. I brought her to the office. There we met the person in charge. After filling certain forms, Apaporn managed to get her apartment key on that day also. Everything was so fast. I could not believe that I had a housemate on that day. God was so good to me. I thanked for Him for the thing He had done for me.

Outside of the office, we briefly introduced ourselves. I found out that, she enrolled in an English preparation class. She is trying her luck to get a place for her to do PhD in the United States of America. She had been in the States for almost two weeks. Before she found me, she had met an African female student that also looking for a housemate. However, she was not comfortable with the male friend of the African student, hence prompted her to try to find another housemate. I asked her age, and finding out that she is two years older than I am. I asked her whether she could be my big sister, and she did not mind me to be her friend and her little sister.

Another ASEAN female student

“Are you ready, Dency?” Par pats me from behind.

“Ah Par, sorry I want to make my drink, but I was dreaming. Never mind, I can have a cup of coffee in ICC.” I apologize to Par.

“I called my friend. She is coming with us. She is waiting for us now. I want to see her first in her apartment. When you are done, call me, and we meet outside of the first gate.” Par tells her plan.

I just nod my head, agreeing. Then, she goes out and leaves me behind. I walk straight into the bathroom to wash my face and fix my hair. Once I have done, I call Par, and she asks me to meet her outside of the gate. I walk to the front gate and meet her there. I see another woman standing next to Par. I guess she must be Par’s friend. Par introduces her friend to me.

“Dency, this is Lukna. She is from my country. She is an exchange PhD student here. Lukna this is Dency.” I smile at Lukna, and she smiles back at me. Par smiles at both of us knowing three of us can be good friends.

On the way to the ICC, we talk about our life as students in the foreign country. We exchange our views and experiences of being foreign students. We laugh, smile and pour our sadness thinking of our families back home. I am glad that I met Par and Lukna. Even though, both of them are not from the same country as me, but there is a bond between three of us. It could be due that, we are from the ASEAN countries, and we share many similarities in our cultures. The whole day, we enjoy experiencing the American tailgating event, and meeting other international students from other countries.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Dayung's Nest

(A day in September 2010, before the midterm-exam)

Moving in

I lay my back on my big couch. The time is almost 9 pm. I do not have any mood to study. I look around of my living room. The wall painted in white color, and the floor all covered with brown, creamy tiles. My mind drifts away remembering the day I entered into my first rented apartment together with Fred. The two bedrooms apartment looked bleak with only a set of white kitchen bench tops and a white fridge, and the rotten wall splash of the kitchen sink. In the bathroom, there was a small crack on the wall mounted with a bathtub faucet. I checked on the rusted shower cap. It should be changed to a new one. Fred inspected the main bedroom and noted to me that I should change the doorknobs for both bathroom and main bedroom. Overall, both of us were very satisfied with the apartment. One the next day, I moved in bringing all my stuff from Fred’s house. Fred borrowed me his sleeping mat until I have my own mattress and a bed frame.

On the second day, Jesus helped me to bring my small 16-inch old television that I bought for only USD 10 from my ex-senior Santiago as well as other stuff from the museum to my apartment. On that day also, Jesus freely gave his old microwave. After a week moving in, Fred asked me whether I managed to buy a mattress and a bed frame. I just kept silent, and he offered to lend a mattress and a bed frame to me. Since I needed a place to sleep on, I just accepted his offer. That evening, he and his youngest son moved the mattress and the bed frame into my apartment. I was a bit happy as that night I could sleep on a real bed instead on the sleeping mat. My couch was the last furniture to arrive into my apartment. I bought it from Santiago with the cost of USD 90 only. It was a terrific bargain as the real price of the coach was USD 450. Mike helped me to carry my big couch from his house. He brought James, my other senior, to help him to move it into my living room.

I had gathered all my stuff from Fred’s house, museum and Mike’s house into my apartment. However, I was still looking for a study table and a chair. I went to the Craigslist advertisement website to look for a study table. I searched for two days, and I found a right one that only cost USD 20. I emailed to the owner and waited for her reply. Every day, I kept checking my email for a week since the day I emailed to the owner. I almost want to forget about that table, until I received a call from a woman telling me that she wanted to sell her table to me. I was speechless for a while, she asked me again whether I was still interested to buy her table, and without thinking, I said yes to her. I asked her house address in Denham Spring, and I told my plan to pick up the table. I told the good news to Fred, and he was glad to hear that. On the next day morning, we went together to pick up the table. After the table, I waited for the Thursday International Students Market. At the market, I found a black chair that cost only USD 3. Mrs. Suzanna, the volunteer for the market, helped me to carry my chair into my apartment using her 4 X 4 car.

I smile thinking of how I managed to gather basic furniture for my apartment. My advisor and my friends in the museum are so helpful in lending their hands, and I am so grateful with all of them. Looking around my living room, I still need to buy or find other furniture such as a shoes closet, a dinner set, a coffee table, rugs and decorations to beautify my apartment. I just sigh a bit, as I need to put on hold my plan for a while until I have enough money to buy those things.

No Man Please

I turn my head from staring above to side. I look towards the small, empty bedroom next to my bedroom. Last month, I rented it to a male student. I was not supposed to rent it to a male student, as the basic rule is a single female student should rent another room to the same gender. I was so desperate to look for a house-mate and decided to break the rule. However, it did not work out. On the second day of his stay in my apartment, I received a letter from the office asked me to come to see the Apartment Manager. I knew this was something to do with my male house-mate. In the office, the manager asked me about the male student.

“Who’s the guy?”

“Well, he’s an undergrad student here.”

“I see. We are worried about your safety. He called to the Permit Parking Department asking for the car pass and the magnetic bar. He told to the man in charge with the permit, he’s staying here. But, when the officer asked, who’s his house-mate, he just quiet. He did mention your apartment house number and that's why I wrote a letter to you asking you to explain the real situation.”

“I’m so sorry.”

"I know you want to search for a house-mate, but you must follow the rules and regulation. A single female must stay with a female. You can advertise room renting on ICC website or University circulation newspaper. Am sure you are going to get a female house-mate in future."

“I did advertise on ICC website and even the Craigslist website.”

“You need to be patient. Think about your safety first dear girl. Now, I want you to kick that boy out from your apartment. We are going to change the door and store key locks by this afternoon. You need to pay USD 45 for the changes and give back the keys to us.”

“Ok. I will ask the guy to move out by this evening.”

I gave my keys to her, and she asked me to sign on a declaration letter that I wanted to change my key locks. I did ask whether my action would jeopardize my chance to rent again in the next semester. She smiled at me and asked me not to repeat the same mistake. That evening, the male student, moved out from my apartment. Even though he stayed in the bedroom for two days, I did not ask for payment. He said sorry to me, as because of him, I had an issue with the Manager. I said to him that it was my mistake as I was not supposed to accept him to be my house-mate at first. Before he left, he had wished me good luck in looking for a female house-mate. I thanked him and wished him good luck in his studies.

Hoping and Waiting

My hope to save a lot of money for the fall semester dashed on that day. I gave up looking for a female house-mate who attaches to my University. I decided to pay full for the first four months. Before Spring Semester, I will advertise my small bedroom on ICC website. Qing is willing to help me to advertise the bedroom in the Chinese Students’ Website. I wonder whether I can survive this fall. I have to limit my expenditure, and this means no luxury food or outside food. I will cook simple food, which are cheaper than outside. I do not have any problem to cook, as my mother has taught me not only the basic kitchen skills but also to cook from my heart. I only buy cheap vegetables and meat from Wal-Mart here, which is equivalent to Tesco or Giant in Malaysia. If I do not have time to cook, I just eat salad mix with Raspberry vinegar. With that kind of diet, I lose weight a lot within a month. However, losing weight does not bother me so much, as I am aiming to reduce my weight that I accumulated during my field trip in Sabah Borneo.

I do not realize that, the time is almost 10.30 pm. I wake up from my couch and into my bedroom. I open my laptop and check on my email for almost 30 minutes. Then, I open my study notes. I try to make myself focus studying the notes, but my effort to no avail. I close my notes and jump onto my bed. Before I close my eyes, I ask to God to lessen my financial burden. Nevertheless, I know I will not get the instant answer from Him. He wants me to be patient. When the right time has come, He will fulfill my wish. I just wait and wait for the day to come.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Challenges

(A week after the fall break, 2010)

Three Class Courses and Two Seminars

Being a graduate student in the United States of America is not an easy job. Lack of sleep, always under pressure especially a week before exams, non-stop laboratory works, and skip many social activities with friends are common scenarios a graduate student has had to endure while taking Ms. and Ph.D. courses. Nancylia, my friend in French will say, “c’est la vie” meaning “that’s life” if I start complaining of not getting enough rest or no mood to study. Nevertheless, I managed to pass my first year as a graduate student in the United States. To add more, I manage to adapt to my University’s academic system, as well as almost proficiently speak in American English and get used to listening the Southern drawl.

End of a summer break means the beginning of a Fall School Semester. My advisor asked me to register three main courses two weeks before the first class began. I registered the Population Genetic, Systematic and Museum Curatorial Method course. In addition, I took the Systematic Discussion and Hybridization Seminar. My advisor also wanted me to register a three hours credit for the dissertation and research work. Overall, I registered more than ten credit hours. Knowing that I took more courses than in previous semesters, I asked my advisor whether I could decrease my accumulated credit hours by dropping one seminar.

“Fred, I registered for three courses and two seminars. Could I drop the Systematic Discussion Seminar? I took the seminar last semester, and I’m afraid I can’t cope with all courses.”

“You’re in the second year, now. I’m sure you can cope with all courses. Claire, how many courses did have you registered for this semester?”

Claire, my junior, showed her high five to me. Immediately, I knew that she took the same number courses as me. My advisor encouraged me to take it as a challenge for my second year as a graduate year. I just smiled at him even though I doubted that I could pass all courses with flying colors.

The hardest course

From all the three main courses, I have the hardest time studying Population Genetics course. The syllabus requires students to attend classes twice and laboratory for two hours per week, sit for two exams, answer two problems sets, including design a mini genetic project as well as work on seven assignments analyzing given genetic data using six genetic programs. What an intensive course. Luckly, I ever used the five genetic programs for my Master study and previous courses from last semesters. However, for the other genetic program, I have Qing to help me, as she knows how to use it. Qing is my good friend, and I have known her since attending the same University as the first year graduate students. Besides Qing and I, there are three American and one Philippine student registered for that course. Instructor for this course is Dr. David, a population genetic expert in my University. He is a big, tall man with curly, white hairs and wearing a small eyeglasses frame. He seldom makes eye contact with his students. He could be a shy person or probably due to his small eyeglasses that make him has difficulty to concentrate his vision.

The course started with an introduction of the population genetics and terminologies that genetics always apply in their writing. Then, the course moved to the statistic and theory parts, which I have problems understanding of the underlying theory. To solve these problems, I would find other reference books and even search any reference materials using GOOGLE SEARCH. Dr. David did help me with the statistic part. My first impression of him, he is shy changed as he was so helpful with me and other students to grasp the course well. He always reminded all of us to start our assignments and genetic project early. Nevertheless, nobody seemed to care for what he said. Everybody was busy with his or her other works. A month was over; still I was lazy to start my first and second assignment. Qing always asked me whether I already started my assignments. She needed my expertise to help her in analyzing the given genetic data. Until one day, Qing called me, and she asked me to come to her lab.

“Qing, what’s up?”

“It’s good news. I want you to come to my lab now. Faster.”

I wondered why she was so eager to ask me to come. I went out from my office in the museum and walked out to the Biological Life Science Building. Once I arrived at Qing’s lab, I saw her was talking with Josh, her lab-mate. Josh’s southern accent greeted me. I asked Qing what was the great news. Josh smiled at me and suggested both of us to have a cup of coffee. Along the way down to the coffee counter, Josh asked me about the population genetic course.

“Hei Dency, how’s your population genetic course?”

“It’s hard for me to understand the course. But, I believe if I start doing my revision, I’m sure I can grasp the population genetic concepts.”

“That’s good. By the way, did you already start doing the first assignment?”

“I will do it next week.”

“Dency, Qing told me that you know how to use most of the programs. You should start earlier. Do not wait until the last minute. I want to tell you, those analyses are freaking hard. Trust me. I could not finish the IMa analysis. I took 2 weeks to try to use the program, but I gave up. I even wrote a note in my file telling Dr. David, that I could not understand how to do it.”

“What did you get for the course?”

“An A. Still, I am not satisfied with the course. It was a nightmare for me for taking that course. There was a girl, sat behind of me. She cried because she could not stand the pressure. I do not want to scare you, but I want you to prepare early. Help Qing. She always complaint to me, that the course is so hard, especially the analysis part.”

“So you want me to start early. Josh you almost scare me with your experiences taking the course.”

“Now you a bit scare. Ok let’s us have some coffee first. What do you want?”

I ordered a cup of mocha coffee while Qing chose a small cup of American coffee. Josh preferred a cup of hard coffee, and he paid all drinks. We went back to Qing’s lab and continued with our discussion there. Josh took his old file containing notes, assignments and test papers for the genetic population course. I checked thoroughly, and I realized that I needed to start to work out my assignments. The earlier, the better. Josh showed me note that he wrote telling Dr. David that he gave up using the program.

“Dency, I wanna you to read my note.”

“You win. What? You told him that he won.”

As I have told you before, I could not understand how to use the IMa program. I want you and Qing to finish all the analyses. Treat it as the biggest challenge for both of you. Do it for me. If both of you manage to get an A, I will be the happiest man in Louisiana.”

I made promised to Josh that I would start my assignments as soon as possible. Qing smiled listening to what I had said to Josh. Since that day, we worked out as a team to finish the genetic assignments.

No shortcut to the top

Two months had passed, and the short three days fall break was over. Qing and I had done with three genetic assignments. Dr. David did give us the first set problem for all to do during the break. We managed to finish it on time. I already started my revision for the next exam for the population genetic course that will be held two weeks after the break. I am hoping I will pass on my next exam. I learn that there is no shortcut to get what I want in this life. If I want to achieve my dream to be a good academician, with hard work and perseverance, it can be achieved in the future.