Saturday, January 30, 2010

Dutch Provisions Dwindling...

Holland Winter Diary Day One....Holland cold. Snowed again last night. Dark early. Too cold to take a shower. I shiver. Slowly I have began to wear only black. The cats have taken to sleeping under heaters. To difficult to go to store for bread and milk. Provisions running low.

Holland Winter Diary Day Two....Holland still cold. Outside birds cold too. Want to feed them but hate opening door to throw the seeds out to cold. Cats seemed depressed. Especially Marvin. Provisions still low but ran to corner Winkel bought cookies. Ate with last of milk. Made me cold. Took shower. Jur happy.

Holland Winter Diary Day Three.... Holland cold and more snow. Dutch say rare weather. I think they lie to me. They are out to break me. They all lie. Possible winter paranoia. Fingers get numb if outside. Even with gloves. Still wear black. Broke down and ate Stove Top stuffing I brought from America for a special occasion. Hoped it make me happy. Sad it is gone. Eyeing my bag of Nestle Chocolate Chips. Must be strong.

Holland Winter Diary Day four....Had to go out. Meet Jur family at restaurant. Walked there. I was scared. Snow and sleet. Hands hurt. Runny nose. Wet. First time in life I EVER saw women wearing Burkas and was jealous. They looked warm.

Holland Winter Diary Day Five....Sun came out. Looked from window. It was pretty. Marvin seems to have winter kitty dementia. He looks like Jack Nicholson from Shinning. Worry he might try to kill us at night. Give him lots of kitty treats. Jur went to store we have peanut butter and bread now.

Holland Winter Diary Day Six....Cold. Power went out for a time. Peanut Butter all gone. Still cold. Jur and I fight over blankets. Feel a draft by front door. Spend much time regretting not having canned goods. Looking at pictures of Tahiti. Hope keep correspondence up.

Holland Winter Diary 7- Cold - only plant in kitchen dead - pretend alive - talk to self often - chocolate chips gone- dreamt I running outside. keep hope correspondence up - SOS

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My new name is Ken Fendi Matsalay Hardy! Part 3 of 3

My Malaysian host Father Aya drove me to my new home for the next few months. I ended up better than poor American Joe who I left in the darkness of night in a hut in some jungle mountain about 45 minutes away. Things appeared better at my home. There was electricity and running water with an indoor bathroom. Sort of. They don’t have toilets (or toilet paper) so the bathroom was a hole that you squat over to do your business and then when you are done there is a bucket of water that you “clean” yourself with and then flush with the leftover water. One of the many splendors of Malaysia. I had other shocking issues to deal with besides the toilet. The house was a three bedroom (small small bedrooms), with a kitchen and one living room home. My host family consisted of Mama, Aya, an Uncle named Semat, and my new little siblings named Jojo, Jiji, Jaja, and Lena (ranging in ages from 2-9). So space was limited. This is a hard thing to deal with when you are a big American who is from Texas and accustomed to lots of space. I was in shock and nervous and felt trapped! Suddenly Joe’s jungle seemed like a lovely place to explore. Everything seemed so stuffy and I had absolutely no privacy. Our house was in a cluster of other “homes”. I hate to say this but it was sort of like what you see those missionaries walking through carrying a child and asking you to sponsor a child for a dollar a day. This was my home village now.

I was given a new name...Fendi...Which took me a while to realize was my new name. My identity was slowly being taken away. Kids were screaming Fendi and everyone would laugh as all the children and their friends would drag me from home to home. They would also call me Matsalay, which of course I was told to expect to hear from my Malaysian instructors and as I was told to do I would always say thank you. For a time I walked around and introduced myself as Ken Fendi Matsalay. The Malays would all laugh and point! I would laugh too because I am sure it sounded crazy but I was desperate to talk and slightly delirious.

I was so hungry and thirsty. Actually I had been hungry since I left LA. I was losing weight fast in Malaysia. This wasn’t hard to do because I came with quite a few extra pounds. The problem was I recognized no food, didn’t know how to ask for food and they just didn’t seem to have any food. There were no pantries filled with food or a big refrigerator filled with goodies like back home. I saw food things for sale on the streets but was not sure what any of it was and how safe it was to eat.

There was also the minnows issue that greatly affected my eating. Now those who know me, know that I DO NOT like fish and I DO NOT like to eat food with bones in it. Well the Malaysians have these dried minnows that they buy by the bag full (and they stink!) and they put them in everything. EVERYTHING! Every meal I was served had minnows in it. Minnows in the curry, minnows in the rice, minnows in the eggs. Vegetables with minnows. Yes, I get it, the minnows provide an important source of protein but they taste like minnows and look horrible. Little eyes and heads and ribs and tails and scales floating in all my food. I hated those minnows! I was vigilant about scooping those minnows out . It would take me about 3 minutes just to form a safe minnow free handful of food. I say handful because they used no silverware. So everyone just scooped out the food on a plate with their right hand. RIGHT HAND ONLY! Know why? Well remember that using water to “clean” yourself bathroom thing? That is what your left hand was reserved for. Anyway by the time I had scooped out the minnow bits in my handful of food and I would be willing to try to get some more the children had destroyed or contaminated it. See we ate on the floor so if you can imagine having 4 young children grabbing at the bowls of food, (some with their LEFT hand)and playing with the food and putting back in the bowl and spitting up and well the point is you had to eat fast to get decent food. There was no time for minnow cleaning. Starvation eventually forced me to just give in and grab the food as quickly as I could... minnows and all!.

I was not only hungry but I was thirsty. So thirsty. The thirst was worse than hunger. Way worse. Malaysia was hot. So HOT! And you can’t drink water unless it is boiled. Can you imagine? You have no idea how difficult it is to wait for hot water to cool when you’re thirsty and it is so hot outside that you are diripping in sweat. Even when you sleep. I was thirsty and I wanted water NOW! And not HOT water dammit! I am a fat spoiled American. I need water! I NEED IT! I admit a few times I did lose it and sobbed/yelled “silla air!” (please water). That was my first Malaysian sentence by they way. Please water. My second sentence was “more, more, please water”. My third sentence was “we need boil many please water” (or something like that). I was thirsty all the time. I considered offering them money to buy a barrel so we could fill it with boiled water but I could not figure out how to say this.

I spent the first few weeks walking around that village with everyone calling me Matsalay, Matsalay, and I as I was told to do I would still smile (even with sore dehydrated cracked lips) and say “thank you...silla air bottle where buy?” and hand mimic drinking. They would just laugh.

Several weeks later I finally sat down and attempted to ask my host mother a few questions (My Malaysian was getting better. The need to survive is a powerful motivator.) One of the questions I asked was what exactly Matsalay means. She laughed and then finally explained to me that Matsalay wasn’t exactly a compliment but more of a Malaysian joke that meant white fat duck. Malaysians call overweight white people a White...Fat...Duck...OH MY GOD! I was livid. If I had had the strength I would have run out of there. I would have cried but was too dehydrated. Can you believe that?!? All these Malaysians had been watching me wonder around this village desperately trying to find food and water, suffering and they were mocking me calling me...a WHITE FAT DUCK! And I THANKED every last damn one of them when they did it! I was trying to be a good American and they made a fool of me! I am in hell!!!!!!! My host mother could see this upset me and she tried to tell me “Fendi (Ken) no Matsalay (white fate duck). Fendi (Ken) no lemak (fat) Fendi (Ken) kering (skinny).” I wanted to scream at her “That’s because I AM STARVING!!!!!!!!!!!!!” But she would not have understood and probably would have just laughed. They were always laughing at me and my suffering.

All these difficulties were poured into my first series of letters to my family in Texas. It took a few weeks to get a response but eventually I started getting letters from my family and friends and they were ALL written on toilet paper. I cried when I got it, then immediately hid it. I was not going to share my letters or my toilet paper with these people who were torturing me. Besides the thought of trying to explain to them how to use it was not something I wanted to do. Every time I got a letter I would wait to open it until I had to go to the bathroom. It was my private time. A treat. I would squat, read, cry and wipe! I loved those letters.

I never found bottled water in my village so several times a day you could find me squatting in the kitchen boiling a pot of water, then blowing on it for about fifteen minutes to make it drinkable. One time I was so thirsty that I was blowing so hard and fast that I passed out. (In my defense I was sweaty, squatting, mal nourished and weak.) Usually I would drink the first pot as I was boiling another. I used the second pot to fill a plastic coke bottle I had bought in a nearby city. You would think that finding coke bottles would be easy, right? But not in Malaysia. If you can even find someone selling coke in bottles (either glass or plastic) they won’t give them to you! They want to recycle them. No, the Malaysian are not green…they were doing it for the cash. I wanted that damn bottle but they just would NOT give it to me. C-mom give a Matsalay a break! Instead when you buy a coke they pour it into a plastic sandwich bag and give you a straw (btw straws make good minnow scooping out devices if you have them time to scoop them out.) Eventually I paid a guy double the price for a coke so I could keep the bottle and used it as a canteen. It was my prized procession. Making sure I had drinkable water was a never ending process.

There were a couple other factors that contributed to my Malaysian Weight loss. Walking and squatting. I walked everywhere and was doing about 10,000 squats a day. I would walk in search of food, walk to find bottles, walk to school (which is a whole other blog), walk to entertain myself and see things since there was no T.V. I would walk daily to the post office. All I did was walk! And the squatting….squat for bathroom, squat to eat, squat to boil water, squat to wash clothes, and sometimes just squat outside the front door and watch the alley. I do not know why we did this but that was what they did. Malaysians squat a lot. When I frist arrived I could not squat. It was embarrassing being the Matsalay that would fall over when squatting and gross when it would happen in a bathroom. After a while I became a master squatter. I was developing buns and legs of steel!

Now that I look back on it Malaysia was the best diet I had ever been on and I have been on a lot. A few times I wondered if my parents planned this and it was all a trick. Maybe AFS was not American Field Service but American Fat Students program or something...But that couldn’t be because Joe and the others I arrived with were not fat. Maybe they were teenage juvenial delinquents or they had drug problems and needed to be isolated. Malaysia was the AFS country to send the gluttonous out of control teens of America.

Squatting everyday for hours outside the front door I had a lot of time to ponder my how or why I ended up here in Malaysia.

I thought about Joe. I had not forgotten about him. I finally figured out how to ask if I could go visit Joe. They gave me directions on how to take a bus to see him and my host Grandparents. It was a frightening bus journey. The bus was filled to capacity with people and fruits and chickens. I was the only Matsalay as usual and got lots of looks and giggles as I sat there nervous, sweating and clasping my beat up water filled coke bottle. The bus was very loud and old and seemed as though one wrong move and the thing would just crumble to pieces. This is not a good thing to be thinking as your driving up the sides of hills in the jungle. I panicked a few times but I made it to what appeared to be the base of the mountain trail that leads to Joe’s house. Actually my host mother wrote it on a paper for me to hand to the driver. He yelled out “Matsalay…you go!” I jumped up and pushed my way through as several Malaysians giggled. I just kept telling myself that my Malaysian Mom told me I am not Matsalay anymore so they can just shut up. Ignore them Ken. And DO NOT drop your coke bottle. DO NOT drop your bottle!

Now I had to hike my way up to see Joe. I had no idea where Joes shack was. I only had my visions of the one night I was here. I saw many other shacks that I thought were Joes and I would ask people “Joe, American Joe, Nene, and Kaklela?” And they kept pointing up. This better not be a damn joke! A few people called me Matsalay as they would point me to keep going uphill to my destination. After a while I noticed I had a small crowd of Malaysians following me on my pilgrimage up the mountain. I guess they were wondering if I would make it. People would all come out of there huts as I would make my way up. It was as if they could tell something was happening. A freak was here! The Circus has come to town. Come out and look at the suffering, sweaty, lost, white fat duck, talking to himself, looking for his friend (who was probably dead) Joe. I was talking to myself. I admit it. I was panting, possibly lost, in the jungles of Malaysia and all I had to comfort me were the voices in my head. The jungle heat will do that to you. I finally found the shack that was Joe’s home. I recognized the one light bulb they had by the door. There were of course lots of goats and chickens about, but I saw no one. I peaked in the front hole of the dwelling and all I saw was darkness. As my eyes began to adjust I began to make out a figure, off in the distance, on the floor in the corner. It was Joe and he was sitting on some sort of straw mat. With a few pictures, a pen and some paper scattered around him. He must have been trying to write a letter. Could he even mail it form here I wondered? He was wearing a very dirty I-zod shirt and a sarong (Malaysian sheet dress) (I had one too but only wore it to sleep in.) He had a bamboo leaf type fan in his hand. I could see beads of sweat dripping down his forehead. His glasses were all smeared and dusty. I am not sure he even heard me peek in. “Joe” I said softly, “Joe?” He slowly turned to me. I saw a fly on his chin. I was concerned he might be incoherent, “Joe it’s me Ken” (I was going to say Fendi, my new Malaysian name, but I thought that might be too much for him right now.) “Are you okay Joe?” I crossed over to him and swatted the fly away. It came right back. Malaysian flies are quick, fearless and aggressive. “You okay Joe? How are things here for you? Are you having fun?” Joe’s eyes finally met mine; I noticed his lips were so cracked. He wasn’t boiling enough water. I thought about giving him some of mine but I needed it to get home.

“Ken” he said “I wanted to go to Italy.”

I spent the next hour listening to him talk about Italian food and Italian art. How he loved art. How Italy was where he dreamed of going. I made him a glass of hot water (and filled my bottle) and revived him.

We spent the next month and a half going back and forth seeing each other and meeting up in places. The stories of these adventures would have to be in a book or something. Like when we ran away for a week to Singapore. (We got in a lot of trouble for that one.) The weekend Joe came to sell curried BBQ chicken with my family at some festival and we found bottled water. Or the day we were allowed to eat beef (Muslims don’t eat beef except on Holidays). We got so sick. Our toilet paper runs to a McDonalds a few cities away. My attempt to go to a dentist etc etc.

Now that it is all said and done though I have to tell you that I loved, loved, loved my summer in Malaysia. I cried when I left. I came back to the states thin and in shape. My parents seemed curiously proud and satisfied about this. Hmmmmm....

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Malaysia Part 2 of 3 Survival

My first stop was in Los Angeles for a two day orientation before leaving for Malaysia.  AFS kids were arriving from all over the country.  When we arrived at the hotel we were told to go to the banquet hall. We were grouped according to our host country. There were about two hundred people going to Australia and Japan. About one hundred students going to New Zealand and off in the far dark corner by the trash cans were the thirteen of us headed to Malaysia.  Future Australians and New Zealanders would walk toward us with their trash saying things like Malaysia? What is a Malaysia? I know I saw students from every group pointing at us and giggling. I am sure they were saying things like "the trash is over in Malaysia."  We Malaysians just huddled together with our heads down. We were a sad group. The AFS little lepers. All the other country groups seemed so excited and happy talking about Sushi and Kangaroos and shouting things like: “I love Crocodile Dundee! Oh my god you live near me?....we are going to be best friends forever!"  Our Malaysian cluster whispered things like: "Did you choose Malaysia? Or which shots did you get?"

In those two days we learned about the different aspects of Malaysia.  We were taught more of the specifics of where we were going to be staying and our families. Apparently two of the thirteen of us were staying with some "well off" families in the capital of Kuala Lumpur. The picture of their house looked so nice and their families had shoes and one had a TV.  Some of us learned that we were in smaller towns and then some of us got the news that we were in very "rural" areas. I apparently, of course, was in this third group. I knew this because every time I would tell one of our Malaysian instructors my "village is Termerloh" their eyes would widen and they would say things like "oh...that is very....unique.” One Malaysian said something in broken English about "Oooooh ....Termerloh.... ooooh long drive, many miles...special bus for mountains and, river.... need canoe to take for village."  Of course this was shocking but I just blocked this out. What else could I do? It was not like there was some AFS Concierge to pull aside and say "I would like to talk about my accomdations. I don't like my family, can I get a new one?"  I was stuck and had no return ticket for several months.  After they told me all they could about my "village" they asked if I had any questions.  I was so numb and confused the only thing I could even semi think of asking was if Termerloh had Coca Cola, shoes and a Doctor?

I also learned some basic language necessities and things that apparently I should become accustomed to, like, being called a Matsalay which I was told by my instructor was what Malaysians call rich white Americans.  They told me many people will call me Matsalay. Okay so I need to get used to being a Matsalay.

We were off to Malaysia. When we arrived we went through a few more days of orientation. It was at this time I learned that due to a family illness my host family had canceled. I was sad and worried about this. What if my parents were going to send me a care package? How would I get? Those Villagers would get my package and pillage it! Oh... and of course I was worried about my host family’s sick parent.  Actually, I can't lie, I was kind of relieved too. The whole car, bus, canoe, no shoes and unrecognizable animal thing was freaking me out.  I was sure this was Gods intervention and he was going to provide me with one of those rich Kuala Lumpur people! But, alas, no. I was placed with a new family that was the son of a family that was hosting Joe from Georgia (another from our group). Joe was a blonde haired blue eyed southern future Frat Boy type.  We joked with each other that Joe was now my Uncle. Apparently we were not in the same village but we were going to be near each other which we were kind of excited about.  Although my new home still sounded remote, Joes family pic was not that great either and  had unrecognizable animals and, of course, no shoes.

I know I keep bringing up shoes but I need shoes. I am accustomed to shoes. I like shoes. I am certain I have tenderfoot.  My condition has not been diagnosed but my feet are sensitive.  And I also like socks. I packed fifteen pair.  I do not want to be walking through jungles with spiders and snakes barefoot. What if I got a splinter?

The day came for our family to pick us up. We were so nervous.  Joe and I were handed over to an elderly woman, named Nene, a woman named Kaklayla, and a man named Aya.  We had no idea who they were (they looked nothing like the photos) but we were told to go with them. They had a little kind of car thingy that I had never seen before and seemed as though it were made up of several pieces of other cars.  We drove into the night and drove and drove and drove.  No one really talked. They spoke no English and we didn’t speak Bahasa Malaysia. Plus the car was loud so we would have had to yell.  So we all just smiled at each other.

This was a good time for me to check out their teeth. I have a teeth thing. Good teeth, like shoes, are important. Before I left for my jungle journey I had my teeth cleaned and a filling replaced. I wanted no teeth drama whilst in Malaysia.  Well, a half hour after our take off from LA to Malaysia (with stops in Hawaii and Tokyo) I was eating a Jolly Rancher. One of the many candies I brought with me to get me through the Malaysian months and to give (MAYBE) to the village children, which is what I told my Mom in order to get her to buy them for me.  I ended up eating ninety percent of the candy before the plane even landed. Clearly I was stress eating. Anyway, I prematurely bit into the Jolly Rancher and my new filling popped right out! Great! And to make matters worse I swallowed it! I almost rang for the Flight Attendant to have them turn the plane around.  I was having a medical emergency! My fellow Malaysian AFS'ers calmed me down and offered me more candy to sooth me.  Lovely. Just LOVELY! Add visiting the Village Voodoo Dentist to the list of upcoming frightening experiences.  I pictured myself lying in some hut with villagers chanting around me as they yanked out my tooth. I decided I was just going to ignore it. Besides it only throbbed when I ate or drank on my right side. I could handle that.  Anyway while I was at the dentist in the States I came up with the brilliant idea to bring a bunch of tooth brushes to all the villagers! I would be an American Missionary in Malaysia saving teeth. I thought it was a brilliant idea. As it turns out Malaysian teeth are fine. They all seemed to have tooth brushes and, ironically, I was the only with a tooth problem which I never told anyone about.  Because of this there are a bunch of Malaysians that think Americans only chew on their left side.

Joe, Nene, Kaklayla, Aya and I seemed to be driving through very remote jungle like terrain, with occasional torrential rain storms that dripped through the cracks of the "car" roof.  The car seemed to be welded together pretty well although it would make different rattles and noises every time we went over a bump or what I think were streams.  It was scary.  I remember Joe and I holding hands a few times just to reassure each other when we thought the car was stalling. The car would make an odd loud noise, and the lights on the dashboard would began to flicker and Aya would start grabbing wires under the dashboard and old Nene would reach over to hold the wheel.  They would all start yelling things in Malaysian and Joe and I would hold hands. I was glad he was there.

Eventually we arrived at what appeared to be a village hut up on a hill. It was very dark and it was clear this shack was some sort of home. There were several Malaysians gathered and there were children and animals.   Joe and I slid out of the car openings of the transportation device and we just tried to go with the flow.  I am sure we were both thinking (well I know I was) where in the hell are we? Is this a home that one of us will be living in? Oh God please DO NOT let me be the one who lives here?  Please do not let this be my house! Give me a break. I have a bad tooth, I won't be getting care packages, I do not have any more candy! Please show me some mercy!

I was overwhelmed meeting all these people. Datu, Semat, Leele. All kinds of names that sounded like, well, like nothing I had ever heard before. Nothing!  Slowly things started to catch my eye. I don’t see any electrical lighting.  Wait there is one light bulb hanging from a wood plank by what I think is a front door entrance. Oh and Sweet Mother of Lord Jesus it was HOT.  Like a blanket of heat and humidity I had never experienced. And I am from Texas!  I did manage to do a big fake smile while Joe and played with Malaysian children and without moving my lips said to him "Damn it is hot. Joe who lives here?" He smiled just as fake back and said "You. It better be you” I shot him daggers back with my eyes. For the first time Joe looked evil to me. This was not the Joe I knew. Malaysia had changed him.

We both agreed it was hot.  For those of you reading this that may have future plans to visit Malaysia…..Malaysia is hot.  I was so thirsty but I didn‘t recognize any of the strange fruit stuff they were drinking and was more scared (maybe cautious) than thirsty.  I was pretty sure they had no running water. I also noticed quite quickly that there were lots of mosquitoes. Malaysian Mosquitoes are big, aggressive, abundant and hungry. I was being sucked dry. Thank God my Mom made me get my Malaria shot.  Joe and I both knew ONE of us lived here.  But who? We were both wishing the worst for each other.  The solidarity created from our hand holding was clearly gone! We were so willing to sell the other one out.  Eventually we got the answer.  We saw Joe's suitcases being pulled out from what appeared to be the trunk of the car.

Now I am not going to lie.  I was thrilled. Ecstatic! Finally something went my way!  I got all happy and I even drank a foreign juice beverage to celebrate.  Listen, in Malaysia, clearly, it was dog eat dog. Survival of the fittest! I was dealing with heat, possible dehydration and a plague of insects so Joe’s torture was not my problem. I had to take care of myself. He would have done the same to me. I know it! Joe was dead weight now. Fate dictated that this was the end of the road for him.... but NOT for ME!. GOD there was still hope!  I still had a chance..... Then I looked over at Joe and I saw it.... fear.... and what was either a tear or sweat. He was devastated. He knew this was it for him.  He just stared at me. I stopped gloating (as much) and I let him know, with a genuine look, that I really did feel bad for him. I wanted to help him but what could I do?  I did slap a mosquito off him; I felt like we were in a scene from the Deer Hunter or Platoon. We were both helpless and prisioners. What does one say at a time like this?  The truth is I still had no idea what I was going off to face. I had no idea how far I would be from Joe.  I could only hope that we would see each other sometime and I if I could I would try to send him help.  He just stood there surrounded by a few old people and lots of sheep looking animals.  I saw some people in the background going through his suitcase. I had to go.  I untied my car door, slid in and lifted my canvas window to look at him one last time.  He still stood there.  I mouthed, very softly: "I’m so sorry Joe.  I’m so sorry."

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Malaysia Part 1 of 3 I am an American Ambassador

Something different than my other writings......

In 1988 I decided wanted to be a foreign exchange student. I begged my parents. I made all kinds of crazy deals that I would get straight A’s (never happened) (not even close). I would pay them back (never happened) (Sorry Mom and Dad.) But eventually my persistence paid off and I was allowed to apply to be a Foreign Exchange Student. There were beautiful places out there with different people and maybe, somewhere out there, maybe...I would find me. I wanted to see the world. Maybe I would go and love wherever I was and never come back. Find a job and a group of friends and become an international sensation. My Foreign Exchange student plan was filled with exciting and endless possibilities.

I received the application for AFS, which stands for American Field Service. The application was a packet of questions I had to answer. My acceptance, my dreams and hopes all depended on this packet. I channeled all my creativity in my mind through my pen and on to those forms to make the “judges” (AFS application readers) adore me!

I am sure my parents wished I had cared this much about my homework just once. Well if my algebra homework had something like a trip to Milan, Sydney or London as a grade I would have studied my ass off.

Anyway, on these forms I painted myself out to be a smart, dedicated, adventurous, creative, open, and pretty much a perfect seventeen year old. I read each question and answer over and over and felt that my self descriptions were brilliant, maybe not true but brilliant.

Then I got to question #50: What three countries would you most like to visit? Now this was important. AFS supplies you with a list of countries that they send students to. Okay well, let’s see.

Japan is all over the news (this was the early eighties) (today I guess it would be China), they are all high tech and it is very foreign. I will look completely different there. I will stand out and feel special, right? Like a movie star! Then I can learn Japanese and become like a translator for the President or something if Japan becomes a Super Power. Or a Texas-Japanese Movie Star. Okay Japan is one!

My Dad was not so pleased about this. He has never admitted it but he was not over the Japanese and WWII. He just sort of avoids all things Japanese. We never ate Sushi once. And whenever any appliance breaks or gives my Dad trouble when he is fixing it and he gets angry you can hear him eventually curse that it was the God Damn Japanese and their cheap ass exports! So he just mumbled something and rolled his eyes when I mentioned Japan as my first choice.

Choice number two....Australia! Mainly because I loved the TV show Animal Kingdom and because according to the globe on my desk it is pretty damn far away. The way I see it is that if the fee for AFS is the same no matter where I go I might as well go as far away as possible! Although I won’t learn another language I will see Kangaroos and Koala Bears and be far far away. Definitely Australia.

Number three....well I imagined going to Europe most of all and here I had picked Japan and Australia on the other side of the world so I had better choose a European country. France! I love croissants and chocolate. They have good chocolate there right? I love chocolate. Plus I want to sound all snobby and speak French. France it is! Besides if they didn’t give me France maybe I would get Belgium or Switzerland or something. They have good chocolate too. Or England is close and maybe I will end up there. Maybe my host family will live in a castle. They will know all the royals of Europe and I will meet some royal person and become part of some royal family! I could become the first Mexican American Prince of England from Texas! (Sadly, I still fantasize about this. I blame it on Walt Disney.)

My forms were complete and I mailed off my masterpiece application and then waited. The next step in the application process was a home interview. My parents and I were to meet with a panel of AFS representatives, or, as I considered them, the panel of Judges. Somehow this process had turned into a mini Pageant for me. I need to be dazzling! This was my interview! What do I wear? What will my Dad wear? Should Mom wear a formal? Should we have appetizers, drinks, soft music? We need to clean. And I thought we needed to have rehearsals. My parents refused. I was a bit over the top but I needed this! My whole future as an international superstar or a Royal depended on it. These three Judges were coming to see if I would be a good representative of America! I even considered having all of us dress in red white and blue and making a centerpiece composed of small American (and of course Texan) flags with red and white carnations (how Texan right?) but my Mom put her foot down and said this was over the top. I was able to get my Dad to hang our giant American flag by the front door. I was so nervous when they arrived even though I came to find out that they didn’t fly in from New York or LA to interview me. I knew this because I recognized one of the ladies. She shopped at the same grocery store as us and was always double dipping in the free cheese samples. They had all either hosted a foreign student or been abroad themselves. I did not let the fact that they were "locals" deter me from wanting to dazzle them. I spent the next hour knocking their socks off. A few times I glanced at my parents. My Dad seemed nervous. I think he was trying too hard to remember the script I had given him and my Mom just looked at me perplexed, as if I were already a foreign exchange student in her house.

Two weeks later I got a letter saying I was accepted. They even offered me a three hundred dollar scholarship! God I am good. I went around telling people I was selected to go abroad to represent America and I was a Scholarship recipient! (Although later I found out they gave this to everyone as sort of a promotional rebate.) It ended up being the only scholarship I ever received in my life.

Now all I have to do I is wait to see where I am going. This is so exciting! Where will I become a royal? Where will I become a star? Where will I find my joy? Finally I got a package in the mail! This was it! My home. My future. My dreams are all in this package. My heart beat so fast as I walked with composure, (as a royal should do) to my bedroom to open the package. Then I ripped it open.


Malaysia? Malaysia!?! I think I blinked a few times and then re-read it. Malaysia. Malaysia. Uhm, what is Malaysia? I immediately ran to my desk to find the AFS information packet. Was a thing called Malaysia even on the list of countries? I scanned quickly down the list and right there between Luxembourg and Monaco was Malaysia. Malaysia. Malaysia. Where in the hell is Malaysia? I began spinning my globe over and over which was difficult to do because I had begun to tremble. I don’t see it! It has “sia” in it. Is it in Asia? I don’t see it!

“Dad” I said. I was certain my family was all huddled by the door to witness the opening of my life’s dream in an envelope. I turned around and no one was there. No one cared. I had to walk all the way to the garage to find him. I am sure he was caught off guard as I barged in shaking, teary eyed clutching my globe and my AFS papers.

“Dad, oh Dad there is a major problem... Where is Malaysia? Have you ever heard of Malaysia?”

I could barely keep it together even saying the word Malaysia. Tears were welling up and on the verge of uncontrollably flowing. (I wanted to say "It doesn’t matter. I don’t want to go to Malaysia. That is not part of the dream.") but I just stood there sniffling as my Dad wiped his hands and tilted his head down spinning the globe, squinting over the tip of his glasses and saying:

“Malaysia…..Malaysia……I think…,ah here it is!”

He took a Phillips head screw driver out to carefully point to this little lavender colored blob in some part of the globe I had never even looked at.

“So you're going to Malaysia?” My Dad asked a bit cautiously but I swear I saw a small smirk on his face.

“THIS IS NO JOKE DAD!” I screamed as a I grabbed my globe and ran out of the garage.

I know he was not deriving humor from my suffering but at that time I was convinced the whole world was against me and this was all some cruel joke at my expense. Plus it has been said that I SOMETIMES over react and have often been accused of being a bit dramatic. THIS however was a crisis of major proportions!

I stared at tha little blob on the globe. Malaysia... Malaysia. I said it over and over. It sounds like a sickness. I bet they don’t even have a Royal Family there? What do they speak? I made it back to my room and slammed the door and plopped myself on my bean bag in shock. A few minutes later I decided to look through the rest of the package to see if I can ask to switch countries or something, which is when I came across some sort of picture of some sort of family. Who are these people? Oh no no no no this is not my FAMILY! Is it? No! Let me tell you they are a far FAR different version of the royal rich family that I thought I would have. Is this what Malaysians look like? How old is the picture? It is blurry. It looks ancient. Wait, are they Indian? Like Gandhi. They don’t look at all like Ben Kingsley. They look more like whatever that guy was from the movie Annie. Just not dressed as beautiful! Punjab was his name right? Wait he was from England, right? I would totally live with him in England! What the hell is going on? It says they live in Termerloh. Where is Termerloh (pronounced tear-ma-low)? Is that some sort of city? Is that where these people live? Where in the hell does one even get a map of Malaysia? (This was before the internet.) Are there even maps of Malaysia?

I examined that picture for an hour. My God there are so many of them. Is this one family? I tried to figure out if that animal in the picture with them was a dog or was it a goat? Are those turbans? They are wearing turbans. Wait!....are they wearing shoes? Sweet Jesus they don't wear shoes (not even to take a photo).... THIS is my host family?

I sat in my room, alone, depressed and scared. I could hear my parents discussing my news. I heard my Mom call our family doctor and ask what shots he recommended I get before I go to Malaysia. I felt dizzy. I checked one last desperate time on the list of AFS countries, yep there it is... Malaysia.

A few weeks later and after several fearful, tearful,(a sometimes screaming) tantrums of me declaring I AM NOT GOING..... I gave in to my fate. My parents stood their ground and said a commitment is a commitment. After several of my tantrums I remember sulking in my room saying they don’t care about me! They just want me gone! They will probably go on trips and redecorate my room. Even though I might die or be held hostage or catch a disease. My Dad knew I would be fine. As a boy he lived all over the world did. Oh and did I mention my trip to Malaysia was for only two months? WELL it seemed like a life time to me. (Again I over react sometimes.)

I got my shots, was packed and had fully accepted my fate. I had now taken on the role of a Martyr. I was an American sacrificial lamb going off to face the unknown. The night before my departure I sat down with my parents. I was strong but my parents, I feared, were not. I looked at them very seriously and said:

“Okay now I have never been away from you for this long. I know this will be difficult for you. I love you. I do not want to see you suffer or be sad. It is hard for me too so please all I ask is that when we say our goodbye tomorrow at the airport, you be strong and not cry. Please.”

I had rehearsed that speech for days. They said they would try to do their best and quickly went about their business. I sat at the empty table and it was clear to me how hard this was going to be for them.

The next day we pulled up at the airport (I was surprised we did not park which meant they were not getting out to wait at the terminal with me.) Maybe they did this because of my speech yesterday. They jumped out and got my two suitcases and said something like "Okay son..." which is when I broke down in tears (wailing at one point) and said a slew of things like "I don’t want to go to Malaysia! Please help me!" or "If I never make it back tell everyone I love them!" (None of it made sense I am sure.) They gave me hugs and kisses and said: ”Write us. We love you! Have fun! Learn! Bye”, and they drove off. I remember thinking that if I find out they went to Disneyland I would be pissed.

I turned around, took a deep breath, and entered the airport. I was off the Malaysia.
Part two on Monday or Tuesday (if interested) More Dutch still to come.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Update I am here...I think and had my interview

The other day I was laying in bed having an argument with Oprah. She was on my mind cause she was in Denmark trying to learn why the Danish are the happiest people on earth. She and I were arguing about past things she has said and how they apply to me. I am not saying it was her fault but I just did not agree with some of the things she was saying to me. Maybe she is right? Maybe I should have better thread count sheets. Is she aware how rich she is and that I am not. We just kept going back and forth......

and then I saw myself.... I am lying in a bed in Holland having a delusional conversation with Oprah!

Am I losing it?

I also found myself in the kitchen singing Good Morning from Singing in the Rain with Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O'Connor. You know it?

Good morning, good morning, there lot's to see and do, good morning, good morning to you and you and you and you and you.

Except I found myself singing it (over and over) like this

Goed morgen Goed morgen daar is lots to see and do, goed morgen, goed morgen to jou and jou and jou and jou and jou. (at one point I imagined singing in front of the Queen) I am sure my neighbors heard. I was belting it!

Am I losing it?

What is it? Is it the snow and being cooped up? I need a job

Well I got one! Yes they offered me a job. I am very excited. I will be an assistant (although I am sick of having jobs with the word ass in it) Event Coordinator for a really lovely LOVELY historic event location in the Hague. This is really good for me for many reasons. For one, it is close by so I will not have to drive in Holland! Another good thing is that I will have income! I am free. FREE! Free from the clutches on my Dutch Master Jur. I will have my own money to pay my bills and buy what I want when I want. I think Jur is a bit worried that I am going to shake things up! Well hold on to your clogs Jur cause things are gonna change. Waa Haaaa Haaaa Haaaa (scary evil laugh).

The job has another good personal plus for me. I was an Assistant Event Planner in LA before I came here. So being able to do the same thing (or close to it) here in Holland allows me to feel like I have not had to completely change who I am. For the last several months as I was cooped up I feared having to get a job sweeping floors or stocking grocery shelves or washing dishes. Not that those are bad jobs but being as how I have moved to a foreign land, how I miss seeing and talking to friends and family (long distance and time difference make it hard), also that I gave up jobs I loved, that I am always so freaking cold, that I have a Masters Degree and I have recently started having imaginary conversations with Oprah, I was concerned that I may not be emotionally ready to accept the position of a dish washer or a janitor.

The Dutch seem a bit shocked how I got the job. I got it fast. I had scoped this place out for a while. Then when I got my work visa I marched over and found the office to this gorgeous place that looked like it had fabulous parties. Their door was locked. So I walked around looking for another door. Nothing. So I started peaking through windows. I banged on a few and nothing. Then I found this big ancient bell and I started pulling on to make loud bongs. Finally someone came out the old wooden door and looked at me strangely.

I simply said "Hi, my naam is Ken. Ik sprekt niet zo goed Dutch. Do you sprekt English?"

He seemed scared but friendly (the Dutch are always friendly) "Yah" he said

"Well I want to work here. Do you need people to work here? I am good at throwing parties. Can we talk?"

Long story short I talked with him then came back to meet with the Regional Manager and now I start in a week and half! I guess the part that Jur, his family and friends say is "unusual" was ringing bells and banging on windows. But they all admitted getting a job this fast was rare. I was desperate! I was snowed in, becoming delusional, wanting money to buy fun things, singing made up Dutch American Musical songs. Also my increasing obsession on meeting Queen Beatrix was starting to even scare me. I needed to get out, work and meet some people. Plus I was NOT going to be a dish washer.

Oh speaking of the Queen..... I believe she has gone to events where I will be working. So it is possible to meet her. In reality this is not the meeting I want to have with her so I am not too excited about this, however this could allow me the opportunity to slip her my card with my name and this blog address on it. I am not nervous or intimidated by Queen Beatrix. Please. I worked at events where I had to watch over the needs of numerous celebrities (aka American Royalty) like Charlotte Rae (from Facts of life) (now she made me nervous). Queen Beatrix just seems so cool and I have never met a Royal before. I guess I am hoping for more than just her passing by me or me offering her a cheese puff. One can always hope.

So this job has yanked me back into the world of the sane. I think I will be okay. For now.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

I Survived!

The Holidays, Holland, John "the British are coming" Moore, snow, and winter had knocked me out for a while. Also too much socializing, drinking and eating. Oh the eating! All my favorites back in LA (Fatburger, In and Out Burger) then the BBQ and the Tex Mex in San Antonio (Aye)(lots!)Then of course all the mayonnaise, french fries and "food" back here in Holland! And, of course, for a finale to the Holidays, having John "the Vodka swigging Englishman" turning our home into his personal Fish and Chip Pub Shop. Alcohol and fried food. Lovely. I actually slipped on our kitchen for a moment from his french fry grease!

God challenged the beginning of my New Year with a snow storm. Ironically not here in Holland but in England. How is this a challenge you ask? Well the huge storm came while John was visiting. Extending his already lengthy visit by THREE days! Actually I did better with John this time. I did not hit him with a frying pan. I learned a lot about how to entertain him and the English. I ran to the store often for Vodka. I made sure he always had the remote control and that he was aware we had four BBC channels. Booze and BBC keeps the English happy. I could still hear him commenting or laughing (with his Dudley Moore from Arthur loud laugh) at all hours of the night but my "visualizing the lotus" meditation came in handy at these times.

Actually I saw that THIS trip was taken it's toll on John too. He always looks tired and haggered after a few days here I have thought but this time his body started to give out. We sat in the living room watching BBC. John with his eighth Vodka (with 7-Up NOT Sprite and a splash of Orange Juice) (The British are very proper with their booze), I with my hot tea, when suddenly John stood up (as best he could) and announced slurringly that he was going to the Winkel (Dutch corner store) for some Cigarettes and Chocolate. I knew better then to even try and stop him. Of course he stumbles out without a coat and its freezing outside and it is also snowing. The side walk was covered in snow and ice. I just let him go and visualized the Lotus as I heard the door slam shut.

Now the winkel is just around the corner and after five minutes passed I started to worry. (My Lotus was wilting.) Eventually I went to the front door out of concern and when I opened it there was John. Shivering and freezing, palish purple and looking VERY serious while holding on to two chocolate bars and a pack of some European Cigarettes.

"John get in here! What the hell is wrong with you?" I snapped at him

John looked at me and said with a lisp and a British accent "I lost a front tooth" Then he grinned real big to prove it and there it was a giant hole where his front tooth used to be.

Now I am not sure exactly what happened but....

I think John wandered from the winkel and got a little lost, forgot his lighter so he couldn't smoke and so he decided to bite into his chocolate bar which was now frozen from the cold.

He claims he slipped and fell on the ice (he told me to say that when I was to write about this.)

Later he changed it to "Ken slammed the door in my face when he(Ken) forced me(John) to go out and get him(Ken) chocolate". Oh...okay.

Jur had no statement about what he thought occurred but didn't mind asking if he could eat John's tooth chipping chocolate bar which I think John thought was very insensitive (I ate some too just not in front of John)

However the tooth loss incident happened John's losing a tooth was enough for him to stop drinking and announce "blizzard or no blizzard I need to get back to Mother England." We spent the rest of the night watching BBC. John covering his mouth. I was allowed to make five jokes about the stereotypes of the quality of English teeth.(Five is not enough.) I even went outside and tried to find his tooth in the snow. I wanted to make a necklace out of it. John laughed at this but covered up his smile with his hands. I wanted to take a photo for you but that was NOT going to happen. At one point I got up and excused myself and went to the bathroom and brushed my teeth, flossed and then gargled just out of appreciation for not being John  at this moment.

The next morning I got up to make us coffee and asked John if he would like some. He said "Yesth"

Now he likes lots of cream and about five spoonfuls of sugar. I asked "The usual way?"

"Yesth pleasth" he replied

I simply said (with a smirk) as I whisked away to the kitchen "Sugar is bad for the teeth"

He was so ready to leave. As he left the house I said I was sorry about how things ended and I know he will probably never come back, I know he must be exhausted and sick of us to which he replied "rubbishth, never, oh I'll be back! I loveth it here. Thee you thoon"

So the food, travels, no exercise, booze of all of December and first part of January have left me feeling fat and tired. Jur feels the same. I think. We have had a few "discussions" about how I am not washing our clothes correctly. Apparently I am shrinking Jur's clothes. Okay,that is it, I admit it, I am shrinking Jur's clothes. Enough said.

So now that I am rested I can write and work on my New Years resolutions! Get healthy, write, work more and travel. I have decided to announce to you that I will be adding some stories of my past "Incarnations" on this site (or a link to it) I hope this is okay and you will check them out. Just once a week or so. Stories about New York, Los Angeles, Malaysia, Spain, Texas (of course), my years as Manny Kenbo, the Amish Country, the lengths I have gone to for my devotion to chocolate and perhaps a few private personal "adventures" (someday)(I am still working through these in therapy.)

I will also join a gym AND I applied for a job. Me, a JOB in HOLLAND! This should be fun. I have an interview on Tuesday. I will keep you posted. HINT: It is somewhere that Queen Beatrix has been (or goes) so hopefully I can meet her there and arrange tea time together! I WILL meet her! Jur advised me not to mention any of my Queen Beatrix obsession during my interview. I will try not to.

One final thing, it is snowing here. It has snowed a lot. Not like blizzards or anything just an on again off again light snow for the last couple of weeks. I DISTINCTLY recall Jur and his family saying it does not snow that often in Holland when I was considering my move here. Well it DOES! Jur and his family say this is lovely and special. I cut my forehead on the snow. Don't ask but I did. Dutch snow is dangerous.