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.


  1. Interested????? I can't wait for more! Wonderful.

  2. hahaha, yeah same here, it reminds me of when my parents dropped me off at teh airport and then moved to holland all alone :(

    cant wait to hear the next "chapter" of ur life book :p

  3. Nice post..I enjoyed your reasons of choosing Japan :-) quite interesting..looking forward to part 2

  4. cant wait!!
    I went off to france when i was 14 with the school, we had made pen pals before hand and we were all told we would meet up with our penpal familes for their house. mine was a fat french girl called sylvi, i was shit at french but we were only allowed to speak frnech for the whole visit at their house. I was so nervous that every question they asked me i replied " je ne pa de tomat" (spelling obviously forgeiven, please !) which mean i dont like tomatoes!!! anyway, they all started arguing,(i think) and i just carried on smiling and telling everyone i didnt like tomatoes but with a slightly different tone of voice , as to imply i REALLY was answering their questions. I had never been so pleased to leave anyones house. And just for the record, i have always loved tomatoes...;)

  5. Very interested. Marc and I are thinking of taking a trip to Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand later this year. I plan on returning to the states 10lbs heavier. : )

  6. Can't wait to read more!

  7. As a parent this story inspires me.