An Epic Sandcastle

We used to live within very close walking distance of the beach. Our house was maybe 50-100 meters from the shore, although the trees and the fishermen's cabins lining the shore meant that we couldn't actually see the ocean from our house. One day, just a few months before I was headed off to college in the USA, I took some of my little sisters and their friends down to play at the beach--something that, surprisingly, we didn't do all that often. Our beach was a working beach, where many families lived, and many fishermen moored their boats during the daytime, so it wasn't what you might think of as a pristine tourist beach meant for lounging on. The dogs that wandered and the dead jellyfish that washed up on shore didn't make for an especially safe playground.

We set about making a sandcastle. It turned out that we'd arrived at the beach just at the time in the late morning when the fishermen were cleaning out their nets--emptying them of water creatures that had been swept up along with all the rest of the fish that were destined for market.

The fishermen took great interest in our little sandcastle project, and began to come over, one by one, bearing "gifts" of live sea creatures, and placing them in our sand castle as the inhabitants/fearsome guards.

Rebekah and I 

 See the 3 horseshoe crabs, plus another big crab in the moat?

The fishermen clearly enjoyed the excitement and squeals they got out of the kids as they brought over crabs and starfish and other critters to inhabit our sandcastle. I still clearly remember one of the men putting a huge mantis prawn down in the middle of our castle and warning the girls: "This one, better not touch. It can hurt."

They taught my sisters how to pick up a horseshoe crab, and showed off all manner of different, and to me, unidentifiable, bits of sea life that had been left behind in their buckets and nets. Most of the 'leftovers' from the morning's catch were dumped back into the ocean after show-and-tell, and the crabs that had dwelt in our castle for a short time scurried away. I guess they didn't find the castle as luxurious as we thought it was.

For me, it was a surreal experience, hanging out on the beach with a couple little girls and a bunch of fishermen who were having fun giving us a glimpse at creatures that seemed so strange to us--creatures that ought to be found in a science textbook or ocean documentary--but for them were just a part of the job.

"Can I Have Your Number?"

The first house that my family lived in here had an electric meter located just inside the front door, which meant that every month, we had to let the electric meter reader in so that he could check our electricity usage.

The regular meter reader was an older uncle, but one day, I opened the door to a new meter reader--young, short and slim, with close-cropped black hair. He appeared slightly startled when I opened the door, after all, this was his first visit to our house and he apparently hadn't heard that an American family was living here.

The metal gate on our front a baby. Sarah, when she was tiny.

He chatted with me while he wrote down the numbers off of the meter. I'm afraid I probably wasn't very chatty in return. I was in my early teens and just a little awkward around strangers in the first place. Before he headed out the door, he asked, "Can I have your telephone number? Can I text you?"

My eyes got wide, and I looked around for parents or siblings to save me from the situation. Where's an overprotective dad when you need him? At work. Mom? Upstairs, teaching the kids. Kids? Doing their schoolwork, at the most inconvenient time possible. "Umm, sorry, I don't have a phone," I mumbled.

"Please?" He said, "I just want to practice my English with you."

By this point I was ushering him out the door and closing the metal gate behind him.

"Can we just be friends?" he asked, through the gate.

I smiled what I hoped was a polite smile and not a terrified grimace as I clicked the padlock closed.

"Sorry, I don't think so, thank you, bye!"

And I shut the wooden door. From then on, when the meter reader rang the doorbell, I hid from answering the door...just to be on the safe side.

And that's the tale of the first time I ever got hit on, when I was 14 years old, by probably a perfectly nice young meter reader who terrified me.  TCKs are not necessarily any more comfortable with awkward social interactions than teens in their own culture, I guess.

{This is Day 13 of my 31 Days Series: 31 Days of Growing Up in Malaysia}

Breaking and Entering

We arrived home from night market one evening to discover that we'd locked all of the padlocks on our gate and doors...and had forgotten to bring a set of house keys with us.

The entire family, minus Dad, had gone to night market that evening. Dad was out of the country for a few days. There was no secret hiding spot for spare keys, all keys were stored safely inside the house. It was quickly getting dark--if we couldn't find a way to break into our own home, we would have to start calling friends to see if there was anyone who could pick us up and let us crash at their home until Dad came back with his set of keys (when there's 7 of you, finding a friend with enough floor space for everyone is no small matter).

We really wanted to get back into our house, so we went into ultra stealth mode. First, we all climbed the wall in front of our house. That was easy, it was only a 4-foot high cement wall--more for keeping stray dogs out than actual people. My sisters were in the habit of climbing the wall for the fun of it at any and all times of day.

So...we were in the front yard. Getting into the backyard was slightly harder, because there was an 8-food high fence made out of pointed wooden boards. This was back in the day when I was the tallest of the kids (my current standing: 2nd shortest, only taller than the 8 year old), so we rolled the trashcan over to the 2nd fence, and I stood on top of it in order to boost myself over. I dropped down on the other side, and from there, was able to slide the lock on the wooden fence and let the rest of my family into the backyard.

As luck would have it, we stored our ladder (an 8-foot high step ladder) in the backyard. We knew that our one hope was if the girls had left their balcony door unlocked--or, if it was locked, if they'd left the slats of their window unlocked. I had to get up to the balcony to find out--a risky endeavor, because if door and windows turned out to be locked, getting down from the balcony would be much harder than getting up was!

"Backyard"/Outdoor Kitchen

Balcony and Pointy Wooden Fence

Mom and Isaac held the ladder while I climbed up to the very top, and stepped up from there to the edge of the balcony. I climbed over the balcony railing and found myself safely on the 2nd story--but still outside the house. I tried the bedroom door--locked, as it was supposed to be. However, the window slats were not locked closed, so I was able to open them and stick my arm between the bars on the windows, and twist the door handle, which automatically unlocked the push-button lock. I was in!

I rushed downstairs, grabbed the keys, and let the rest of my family into our home. It was very nearly a big misadventure, but instead, we merely learned how easy it was to break into our home (even with no experience or equipment) if you really wanted to. It's safe to tell this story now because my family moved out of that house more than 5 years ago. I think it's sitting vacant now, but no worries, I don't plan on trying to break into any more houses in my life...

{This is Day 12 in my 31 Days series: 31 Days of Growing Up in Malaysia}

Ice Fight

The drinks you can get at markets in Malaysia are amazing. There's a good reason why a big part of this culture involves sitting on plastic stools around a plastic table, eating noodles or roti and sipping on iced drinks--chatting with your friends as the minutes turn into hours.

Teh ais, an iced version of teh tarik (tea with milk that's traditionally mixed by being poured or "pulled" from one cup to another), is very popular, along with Milo ais and a variety of fruit drinks. For my order, I usually alternate between: starfruit juice, orange juice, pineapple juice, and limau ais (iced, sweet water with the juice of a small lime squeezed in). After you've tasted fresh fruit juices like these, I can assure you that it's very hard to go back to anything bottled.

 Wan Tan Mee

Char Koay Teow

Going to market with our friends for evening drinks and a meal was our weekly Tuesday night tradition. Our parents let the three oldest kids go by ourselves--because it was a 10 minute walk, because we were teenagers, and because they never seemed to enjoy the noise and the smells of night market as much as we did. Besides, they knew that even if we left the house, we were never out of sight.

Growing up, we learned pretty quickly that we were always being watched. Malaysia is truly a country that believes "it takes a village to raise a child," and whenever we weren't under our parents' supervision, the uncles and aunties of the community took it upon themselves to keep an eye on us.

Now, when you go to night market for dinner and drink up a delicious iced drink, you're usually left with extra ice in the bottom of that cup. Now, what's any healthy teenager gonna do with that ice other than walk over to their friend's table with a handful of ice in their hand...and stuff the ice down the back of their friend's shirt? I mean, doesn't everybody do that kind of stuff?

Sometimes our ice pranks and wars escalated. I'm not too embarrassed to say that if you were walking past our particular section of the outdoor market, you might see people blowing crushed up ice at each other through straws...or you might spy an ice missile hurtling through the air from one table to the next.

What can I say? I was 15, and the others were roundabout the same age. It was hot in that steamy, smoky outside market, and ice was fun.

By the next morning though, the report had already gotten back to mom about our night market ice-capades. Mom herself was not particularly disturbed by the news, but she did tell us to lay off on the ice-throwing for a couple months because we were disturbing the uncles and aunties. We did. Because we knew, if we didn't, the news would come right straight back to Mom again.

{This is Day 11 in my 31 Days series: 31 Days of Growing Up in Malaysia}

Eating Davy Jones

I've never made it any secret that I'm a Captain Jack Sparrow fan.

What you might not know is that I didn't even know about Captain Jack Sparrow until Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest previews started coming out, and we picked up a copy of the first movie to watch.

I was a little late to the game, but I made up for my lateness by being an excessively passionate fan. After the second movie, I even wrote 3 alternate possible versions of Pirates 3, one of which completely in rhymed couplets. At the time, I didn't even know fan fiction existed, and my family considered this sort of fan-hood very strange.

When Pirates 2 came out, I saw it multiple times in theaters, the first time at a midnight showing with my dad and some of my siblings, and the second time, earlier in the evening with a group of friends.

"Supper," or a late dinner eaten after 9 or 10 p.m., is a popular outing here. After the movie, we went out to a little outdoor market for supper. I ordered fried rice, my stand-by when I'm visiting a market I've never been to before (because some foods are a gamble when you're eating at outdoor markets, but fried rice is almost always tasty).

It's a really great thing to have an awesome group of people to do life with when you're navigating growing up as a TCK.

My friends harangued me about the way I held my chopsticks, as usual. I've never seen a left-handed person use chopsticks, so the way I adopted might not be considered proper form, but then, neither is using my left hand to eat in the first place, so their good-natured teasing never bothered me. The chopsticks brought the fried rice to my mouth just fine, so I was happy.

One of the shop keepers brought a plate of squirming tentacles out to the little plastic table our group was huddled around. Still-moving tentacles are not actually a typical Malaysian dish, so this particular market must have had a shop which specialized in slightly more exotic foods. As my friends darted their expertly (and right-handedly) held chopsticks toward the plate of tentacles, one of them shouted, "Hey, we're eating Davy Jones!"

And so we were. That's okay, though. His character wasn't exactly one that inspired any feeling of loyalty.

{This is Day 10 in my 31 Days series: 31 Days of Growing Up in Malaysia}