12 March 2013

Culture Shock

When moving from one place to another, culture shock is inevitable. Even different cities within the same state have different cultures, and different states and different countries most certainly do. When you get used to one way of life, it can be really hard to adjust to a completely different way of life.
I don't think I'm all the way there, yet, but I've come a long way from accidentally calling a guy who was working at the grocery store, "Uncle"...then realizing what I said, and running away in embarrassment.

One negative effect that living in Malaysia had on me was that it had somewhat of a limiting effect on my ability to feel compassion towards others. Not my ability to feel compassionate towards others who are experiencing real trials, of course. However, these days, if you complain about the price of gas for your car or how much you spend on air-con in the summer, I will politely encourage you to push through the challenges, but I won't actually feel compassion for you. If you complain to me that you think it's stupid that your college requires you to take 2 years of foreign language courses when the only language you'll ever need to use in real life is "American," I'll smile at you, but nothing you can say will make me respond with anything encouraging towards your cause. When I hear kids squabbling about whose turn it is to load and unload the dishwasher, I won't say anything, but I can't help but roll my eyes, just a little.

I do not think people who complain about the little things in life are bad people. Hey, I have my moments of weakness and will find myself in tears over something that usually matters not one bit in the grand scheme of life. The life experiences that each one of us has influence our perspective greatly, and because I spent a large portion of my life in Malaysia, from my perspective, every day life here in America looks to me to be extremely convenient.

Today, my husband and I live in a two-story farmhouse. The first floor is heated, but not the 2nd story, so we don't use that in winter. We don't have central air, but we have a window air-con unit we install in our bedroom every summer. Between the two of us, we have two cars. Our farmhouse sits on 7 acres of land and has several outbuildings for storage of machines and yard equipment. We don't have a dishwasher, but we have a stove, an oven, a microwave, a refrigerator, washing machine, and a dryer.

And I don't take any of that for granted.

 This was my bedroom the last time I lived with my parents. It's pretty much what you see here, I was standing on the bed to take the picture. The rest  of the room contained the rest of the bed, which was a fold-up cot, and I stood between the bed and the ironing board to do the ironing. My clothes were contained in the two orange suitcases--I was only living with my parents for three months at the time, which explains the lack of clothing. No air-con, but that silver fan was a lifesaver!

 My family's kitchen in their current apartment. We've made family dinners (when we're all together, there's nine of us) on a two burner stove since 2004. At times, we've had an oven as well, but only a small one, large enough to fit one 9x13 pyrex dish.

And oh yeah, the sink you see--only cold water comes out of the faucet. If you're scrubbed some dishes that are really dirty, we'll just heat a pot of water on the stove to help get the gunk off. Same thing with the bathroom sink. If you don't want to take a cold shower, you have to turn on the electric heater that hangs on the wall in the bathroom, and that will warm up water for your shower.

 Malaysia is well-known for it's hot, tropical weather. Food tends to melt quite a bit if left out for any length of time, so when getting ready for a party, such as mine and Angel's engagement party, we turn  Mom and Dad's air-conditioned bedroom, the only cool area of the house, into a walk-in refrigerator.

Malaysian society is very community-oriented. To this day, I don't know all of my next door neighbors where Angel and I live, but when we got engaged in Malaysia, over 100 of our neighbors and friends showed up to our engagement party...which was held under tents in the street. We don't really have a yard. Very few people do, in the area where we live, because space is very expensive. But nobody complains when others host  a party in the street. People on motorbikes just drive past, and probably stop in for a bite, too. Formal invitations aren't necessary. You just start spreading the word and when people hear about a party, they'll come. I've met plenty of people for the first time because they showed up at my house for a party!

These are just a few little bits and pieces of the ways that life in Malaysia is different from life here. And it kind of explains my lack of sympathy for true "First World Problems." You'll probably hear more about this place from time to time--I'm going home later this year. :)

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Leia said...

I can totally relate to this post-- right now I live in the Philippines (and next month my husband and I are going to Malaysia {KL} for a few days!). It irks me to see and/or hear people complain about their first world problems.

Dressing Up For Me said...

I can totally relate to the ¨street party¨ because we used to do that especially when when we´re having big parties like weddings and baptism in my home country. It was quite fun and I like that all the neighbors help each other to make the party a success! :)

Moonofsilver said...

Please don't think I'm ridiculous but I thought everyone lived like Americans until I got married and visited Mexico. I mean, I knew people were poor, but I did not understand how blessed I am. I was shocked to see how people lived in some places and islands near Mexico---and I really want to help people more. I am SHOCKED at how easy life is and how much I take things for granted.

Once, when visiting my friend Elliott's home (he lives on a farm without electricity and running water, even. they have a pump and heat and haul all their water and take sponge baths all by choice because they want to be off the grid) I complained about his toilet paper (he uses like the cheapest toilet paper) and he laughed and called me a "silly American" I am that silly American but now I understand it. I understand now, but I'm not sure what to do about it yet :)

Megan said...

In the last few years, God has really opened my eyes to how blessed I am. I've learned not to take things for granted and to try and be grateful over complaining about those "first world problems." (I'm not saying I never do-I'm far from perfect.)

Why do your parents live in Malaysia?

Unknown said...

Malaysia sounds a lot like living in Cambodia. I totally get what you mean when people complain about modern conviences. It's not like I don't sometimes, but after living in a rural village where we were lucky if our electricity stayed on all day it's hard not to see all of the excess the western world has.

Angi said...

I think everyone needs to visit a 3rd world country/area at least once in their life. I went on a missions trip to Mexico when I was 15, and I will NEVER forget the families who lived in shacks they had built INSIDE the city dump - literally 4-5 people living in shacks the size of a shed, built out of scrap wood and trash - and they would dig through the dump for their food, house supplies, clothes, etc. It's hard to take things too many things for granted when you see true poverty like that!

Anonymous said...

Wow it's so cool to get a peek into your life in Malaysia.

Anonymous said...

Hate to admit it but I am the queen of #firstworldproblems haha but seems like Malaysia would be a really cool place to live if you ask me!