29 April 2009

CV Blues – Putting myself together

There is nothing more tedious than re-compiling a complete chronological CV and translating your overseas work experiences from English to German. Thankfully, there are such things as procastrination by blogging, back up files (somewhere) that survived Fujitsu's warranty repair service stunt and an over-meticulous former Me.

Just about when after two years of trial and error and dubiously listening to the Careers Office's advice to throw any chronology over board and instead stick the relevant experiences in descending order of relevance with a paragraph of detailed description, I have finally managed to change my German-speaking (and especially Catholic) country habit of giving testimony on everything you have done (handing out burgers) or should have done in your life (finish school earlier) and learned the skill to piece together tailored Cvs for particular groups of jobs, dump the linear mindset and embrace my lateral one. I still have that feeling though every time I send off an English CV that someone is gonna come with a bat and an overdimensional index finger to demand answers from my scattered past.

It is somehow ironic that for a country like the UK where every person is CCTV-ed and their international movements registered and the government holds God knows what for information on you, employers don't care so much about you declaring everything whereas in Austria, where privacy and civil liberties are in high regard, you are supposed to write down your complete life story.

How the hell do you adequately convey the significance of your university clubs&societies in German? How do you translate “press monitoring”? Do photo shops nowadays offer passport pictures in digital format? What did YOU do between 03/2005 and 05/2005? And then the English system is so drilled into my head now that I now actually second-guess whether this or that experience is really relevant to include after all, even if it is a German CV! *sigh*

While before, I used to strongly define and associate myself with my linear evolutionary achievement list (all enshrined in a Master CV believed to be lost in the Fujitsu-incident), I now have adopted a more wholesome image of myself and my development. Also, I currently suffer from CV blindness from all the puzzling together of individual Cvs. This finally explains why they say, “Know your CV by heart on the interview day!”.

“Where do you see yourself in the next five years?”
“Jeez, I can't even recall where I was in the last five years...”

Copy-pasting Cvs from five simultaneously opened word processing documents, makes the mind wander after a while and it gets inventive stretching and flexing the conventional CV into post-modern solutions. My life for example, would be much easier with a spreadsheet table made of two axes: On the vertical one all the employers and on the horizontal one all the skills. That way, I would just have to fill in the boxes with dots or leave them blank; enter a few dots whenever I start a new job and the best part is: It all neatly fits into one page. Would be an interesting experiment to send it out and see how many original HR people out there with sense of humour find it refreshing. Hm, maybe I would even land a job in a think tank!

Also, if there are any techie-savvy software engineers among you, an (ideally reliable) international CV converter (language and format) is probably going to be the next best thing what with growing international labour movements. Programme it, patent it, put it on a disk or even better, the internet and make applications less time-consuming (and life more competitive) for everyone!

Also, we, the serial applicants, all love online application forms. I once registered on a job database website (you guessed right, I can't remember for which one), where you could either enter all the fields manually or – and there goes the hit – you could choose the option to SCAN YOUR CV. In practice, you upload the CV file as usual but instead of saving the file, it automatically scans your CV and fills out the blanks in the online form in realtime! It's so creepy when one moment you browse your PC and click “Upload” and ten seconds later your whole life is in all the correct blanks! Suddenly “SOAS” is in the field “Second University” and “University of Vienna” automatically in “First University” in the education section, even if they were on the last page of my own CV and listed in reverse order!

And last but not least, my ingenious idea of “speed-interviewing”, perhaps at a ratio of 1:20. That is, for example 100 applicants spread on five recruiters from the same company. Every applicant gets three minutes and after one hour everybody can go home. This would probably still won't eradicate the unwritten irrational laws in the world of human resources:

First Applicant: “I am so delighted in getting this opportunity! I have always wanted to work for X because of Y and I have Z experiences! I was particularly impressed with how the company reacted to A, B and C”
Recruiter: “Sounds great! We'll get back to you.”

Twentieth Applicant: “This whole speed-interviewing idea sucks.”
Recruiter: “I agree, you're hired!”

28 April 2009

A white woman's burden

Never before have I been disgusted at my physical features and had the urge to look different. Living in Chinatown which is actually usurped by the Indians living nearby in the quarter of Brickfields (what is it with Indians and bricks?) though, and following a series of other encounters elsewhere of a sexually molesting nature, my fair skin has become my curse.

Going the five minutes to 7/11 is like walking on a catwalk surrounded by leery spectators who make all kinds of weird sounds with their pursed lips or chat me up directly right away. Lately, I put on a sour face (not very hard) in an attempt to deter attention, dress as local as possible (women's shoes instead of trekkers, casual wear ideally wide, ugly and/or long-sleeved, casual shoulder bag instead of the backpack I left in London anyway). I am so on edge when I pass them that I literally flex my fingers (it's like the twitch Volleyballers have before they smash), ready to strike if anyone should have the guts to even brush me. For every single time these sexist bastards open their mouths, they deserve to have their dicks and tongues chopped into little pieces with a boning knife and stuffed back into their foul mouths. These people are a disgrace to their mothers and wives. The police should patrol undercover through their stalls instead of just having a stationary walk-in van at the entrance of the pedestrian zone. I decided that as long as I can somehow afford it, I'd rather live somewhere expensive with only Malays, Chinese, Westerners and yes, even British people than to have to endure this level of harassment every day when I leave the house and come back. I have already taken to the habit of trying to be back before nightfall and not leaving the house before sunrise (a circumcision of my freedom, it's like being on house arrest for the duration of the night) but how long will I be able to live like that?

I should probably try to get hold of some express high SPF tanning cream, Malaysian attire and learn how Malay women tie their hijab. What the deal is with fair skin, some people among you with less familiarity of Asiana might ask me. The grass is always greener on the other side, and just like in the West it is more fashionable to have a tan, in Asia there are all kinds of whitening products that promise you beauty and success. A tan is sometimes associated with spending too much time in the sun, as you do when you are a farmer. My Southeast Asian face and my voluptuous figure heighten the attention. Therefore, if I dress Malaysian, I might get away as local (at least according to the Rough Guide, Malay and even scantily clad Chinese women receive relatively less attention, claiming there was an agreement between the races how the others behave or dress and as foreigner, you fall outside that frame plus the belief of Western women to be “loose”).

I decided to finally blog about this less glorious part of my reality here in Malaysia after sprinting to the Malay food stall five minutes away last night (I swear I would have lashed back violently had anyone touched me or suggested anything obscene) and today's new heap of sexist experiences.

Wishing to socialise with other students and to use the library of the University of Malaya for some Southeast Asia related personal research and perhaps even learn some Malay, I thought popping onto campus and trying to find some room-mate announcements there and perhaps even get the help of the International Students Office. The UM is a campus university and as such, offers a bus service to get you from A to B. The whole place has a typical KL feel to it (bleak but functional and not very inspiring concrete blocks that remind me of my secondary school times among palm trees and other tropical greenery). Even the bus service reflects KL traffic: While it takes only eight minutes by bus to get to the main library building, it takes 20 back because of a one-way loop that takes you to suburban residential areas nearby that if I am not mistaken, are even already in Selangor, the state that surrounds KL and on whose border the university is located.

After a short but not very enlightening trip to the library (I have to contact the librarians for my areas of interest as the collection is spread among different buildings across campus), I popped into the International Student Office conveniently located a short walk around the corner. In it is a large table on which a Chinese lady discusses an application by a Malay woman who came with her teenage son. I decide to get myself immersed in the huge notice board two metres away and give them some privacy, as the Chinese lady had already taken note of me. Ten minutes later, two boys come barging in, one with unruly locks and the dominant body language of a spoilt son who is used to getting his way and the other darker and more timid one looking slightly miserable. The dominant guy goes straight to the chair next to the woman's son, not so much as looking at me and impatiently makes the Chinese staff lady nervous by moving the queue onto her heels. While she tries to bring the case in front of her to a close, my eyes meet with Locks and we stare at each other for a moment, me daring him to jump the queue so boldly. The silent battle is interrupted by a Somali guy coming in, ignoring me too and running to the seat straight next to them and collapsing onto it into a male slouch. After another five minutes, a Chinese-Malay guy appears, glances me over and before I can ask my question, turns his attention instantly around to the boys with the big brown envelopes who turn out to be two Saudi friends who want to get into the internationally very competitive engineering programme. The quieter one is miserable because he didn't get the min. 80% in Maths recommended. I am furious but before I can interrupt them, I get the chance to talk to the Chinese lady. A short while later, she goes some place to find sth out for me. A black US American or British guy appears in a suit (note for the future: suits in hot places like Malaysia are shirt and trousers only), waits for the Chinese lady too, introduces himself as having just finished his PhD. I throw him a poisonous look and don't want to get involved in a conversation. The Malay/Chinese man follows the exchange on the side and gives me a look. But I am aware of the beauty ideal many men of African origin share: The bigger, the beautiful. He's friendly, reserved and is obviously highly educated but another chat up even if not of a degrading nature is really not what I need after this frustrating week. Chinese lady comes back, he quickly asks her sth, then runs off in a hurry, politely saying bye in passing. My personal comfort comes first now, even if he did his PhD in Public Health (another development perspective I'm highly interested in). The Chinese lady, before disappearing into the back office, suggests I ask her more senior colleague, who is finishing up with the Saudis - and goes straight to the Somali!!! I seethe. Once finished, he was about to disappear too, then suddenly turns around and asks me if I need anything. I tell him the truth with an edge to my voice, he apologises curtly and then starts answering my question as competently as the others'. The whole time I've been wondering if it is really sexism or me being too accustomed to queuing already or at least acknowledging some kind of order. I wonder if it is my heightened sense of sexist behaviour projecting onto every awkward situation with men or if I'm right and there really is sth going on. While I later came to the conclusion that the officer's apology was sincere and that he had thought I was already being served or not quick enough for Malaysian standards, I believe that the two Saudi students and the Somali guy both had an agenda. However, I decide to forget about queuing as quickly as possible and go back to “service to the fittest”.

Still fresh, the situation in that office and the encounters in Chinatown are boiling into a bitter stew in my head and so I decide to go relax through window shopping in the elegant surroundings of Suria. I stroll on the five different levels, treat myself to some cucur (Malaysian desserts, usually different combinations of steamed sticky rice, grated coconut, fruits and egg-white, some wrapped in banana leaf for flavour) and Teh Tarikh (hot tea with condensed milk – so soothing!). I go back to and browse at Kinukuniya, instantly unwinding at the sight of all these books. I can't resist the temptation and of course don't come out without buying a book! – A collection of short stories (I love short stories!) by new and passionate Malay writers! I sip camomile tea in the in-house cafe and gaze out at the mesmerising choreographed fountain play in the park with the skyscrapers of the CBD in the background. The sun is setting, I feel ready to go home.

While I wait for the LRT on the underground platform, staring into the tunnel, I hear a male voice behind me, “Hello”, it coaxes. Then shortly later, a “Miss” and after another couple of seconds where I continue like a statue to stare into the direction the train would come from, “Hello Miss”. I am surprised to find it here, as this is supposed to be an upscale area but I don't have to turn around to know what the guy looks like. I eventually enter the train with a hand behind me, to snatch and turn his wrist should he touch my arse “on accident” with all the people getting in. I spot a single free seat already near the next door. I sprint for it and sit down, noticing at the corner of my eye a searching movement with his head, probably contemplating the tolerance of the audience if he was to continue to harass me. I still refuse to even glance at him but when the train starts moving and he leans against the far glass with his back to me, I flash a look at his reflection in the window just to confirm my what I already know: Apparently, sexual harassment doesn't stop with a higher income bracket. He's in a good suit and wears an expensive watch – and he's Indian.

First Week's Feedback from KL

You guys been probably wondering what I've been up to lately and eager to escape into the exotic world of Malaysia. As many of you know, I'm staying in Chinatown, one of the popular backpacker areas, as it is conveniently located near KL Sentral, Puduraya coach station (with its regional, national and international links) and a direct short LRT link to the Towers.

Chinese hawker stalls line up the quarter that from above, is an area of 3x4 largely pedestrian alleys made up of run-down concrete blocks at the ground floors of which you find all kinds of small Chinese shops selling everything from gems and beads, through hair accessories, to lampions and love letters (popular crunchy rolls with a dough similar to the fortune cookies), phones, and the omnipresent kedai kasut (shoe shop) and kedai beg (bag shop), haunts of every local woman.

Every day from late afternoon to midnight, the night market comes alive, Indian stalls appear selling all kinds of fashion stuff, usually all fake, that you don't need. Interestingly, these stalls are predominantly run by South Asian men. Browsing or not browsing, you are everyone's "friend", "young lady", "beautiful lady" - or simply a sound from pursed lips. It is so annoying. I usually ignore them or pretend not to notice, after all, my name does have syllables but since I haven't had that much sexual harassment in the last seven years combined than in the last seven days alone, I sometimes feel like ramming my heels where it hurts. The desire for revenge is my constant companion; I can now imagine what drives Filipino domestic servants who are abused in foreign countries to snap and charge against their aggressors. Malay and Chinese women get less (or even no attention at all) than foreign ones. In my case, it's probably my fair skin that shines like a mosquito light. Many Malaysians (men and women) distrust South Asians too, so I have heard. Even the locally hired South Asian security guard at the gate of the British High Commission offered to take me around KL - with the cunning grin of a hyaena, being utterly useless in my request. You may call me racist but a) you should know me better than that and b) AI's South Asia team doesn't have a big campaign on VAW (Violence against Women) for no reason. So, in a nutshell, I am eager to move into a place of my own out of here asap.

The area I'm eyeing is Kerinchi which is near the University of Malaya where I hope to use the library for some research. Also, it is on the Putra (its old name, Star, is still being used) LRT line that like the Picadilly Line, ties all the (at the moment to me) most interesting locations in town together. It's also right South of Bangsar, an upscale vibrant area favoured by expats that don't live in Ampang, the posh CBD where the Petronas Towers are, as well as the French and British embassies = fortresses. Bangsar, from what I have heard so far, I imagine to be the Malay/KL version of Kentish Town: Neat and near an entertainment quarter.

Being on the right LRT is not to be underestimated while in London or Vienna it is (relatively) simple to transfer between train lines. Here, it often requires a 10min walk either across overhead walkways or across heavy traffic or may even require a short taxi ride (maybe RM 5; I think a lot of people really do that). In addition, if you change from LRT (on two tracks) to Monorail, you have to queue up again for a separate ticket. This can be avoided with a touch'n'go card like the Oyster that, as I read recently, integrated both systems. Also, it is so much more comfortable to stay in an A/C-ed environment even if I don't mind the heat much. The A/C - after the wheel and its later evoluted model, the fan - is probably the best invention of human race ever, especially as it's hotter inside the concrete buildings (like my hostel) than outside. Even Malays get sweaty these days in the hot season that lasts until about September. I actually sleep on the side, topless all four limbs spread out like the Peugeot animal to avoid heat building up as much as possible, especially if the fan's cable is not as long as I'd love it to be.

While I was hugging the kettle in London, I now sometimes find myself hugging the fan in desperate attempts to chill down where the concept of "cold" is virtually non-existent and is instead substituted by "several degrees of hotness".

Language-wise, lazy English monoglotts will get by easily in most situations. Most newspapers, magazines and books (fiction, academic and reference) are published in English. I, hunting for young readers Malay novels (esp. illustrated) and comics to improve my understanding of the language, actually have difficultires finding them, as most bookshops are 65% English, 22% Chinese and 3% Malay. The other day, I discovered the world of Kinokuniya, a Japanese export bookshop chain, a bit like Amadeus incl. stationery and cafe. I feel like a child in a toy shop!

Else, I may keep repeating myself but Malay cuisine is simply amazing!

27 April 2009

Girl walks into a 7/11 in Kuala Lumpur, bumps into a development economist...

That's how all good stories start, right?

This is the truly magnificent and disturbing story of how life likes to deal us always the same hand – in different colours. This is how I met L.

So I go into 7/11 for some water and while I am in the queue, a loud guy with a slightly mad look in his eyes and an obvious US-American accent, tells the slightly annoyed but bemused lady at the till how he wants to send his wife/girlfriend some phone credit he just bought. “SHE IS FILIPINO”, he shouts. “SHE'S FROM MINDANAO. SHE'S MUSLIM!”, he adds enthusiastically. The Muslim lady behind he till looks at him, bewildered and takes a defensive step back. L. doesn't notice, his attention was already back to his phone. I look him up and down. Yes, exactly the type to marry a Filipina: Mid-50s to 60s, travel wear, US-American, the aura of a guy who is used to get what he wants. I smirk. The other guy in the shop opens the second till for me. A glance at the newspapers nearby makes me ask him if he can tell me what day the real estate supplement gets published. He doesn't know. I try my broken Malay. It must sound horrible to the poor guy. He still doesn't understand what it is I want from him. The woman tries to help. That catches the American dude's attention. Turns out he's looking for a place too. And quite suddenly, we're in the middle of a conversation and such is his story: He's from Italy but he grew up in California because his father, who had studied at Oxford, wanted him to study in the States so he wouldn't acquire a British accent. So he studied there and did his PhD in Development Economics (and no, at this time I hadn't mentioned anything about myself yet). “Oh my God! That's exactly what I'm doing!”, I exclaim and two second later I have a faint Special Paranoia And Self-defense Mechanism (S.P.A.S.M.) sending shingles up the back of my neck. He says he's an English teacher and fair enough, at first sight he seems like the aged hippie generation expat. He elaborates how he might end up teaching for this school close to the Thai border where he has an offer to teach for RM 8000 (!) a week (probably a month). Wow. WTF? What kind of school is that? He says, he doesn't know, it's a branch of where he teaches at the moment (after seeing an ad today on the LRT, it might be a branch of a University which has branches all over Malaysia, including the city he mentioned).

Suddenly, he looks around suspiciously and in a surprising lower voice confides that he's actually also in the business of importing crude oil for the Saudis. I can't help but gape at him and look at him for the first time. Another S.P.A.S.M. goes off somewhere. So he's one calibre of development economist and one of THOSE kind too, I note with some animosity. He continues that he's exporting the oil to Indonesia. Two female Muslim Indonesian entrepreneurs (he likes to spice his subject clauses with the “Muslim” adjective a lot) ring him up because they own 100 petrol stations each and “BOTH ARE OUT OF PETROL!”. I ask him why he would export to Indonesia of all places, as they actually have oil themselves. (Note: Their sources are more towards the East, actually more towards East Timor... And people living on that end of the archipelago are quite pissed off because they also have some of the poorest provinces while most oil revenue is invested in the centres at the relative expense of the periphery). He has an answer for that: It is Diesel they want and they don't have that in Indonesia.

He rounds off his story by telling me how his family has a vineyard in the Toscana, handed down from the grandfather and big-eyed throws a couple of exorbitant figures at me, the revenue from the wine, trying to impress me with his wealth.

He doesn't ask me a thing about Austria to relate (S.P.A.S.M.) but on that day, I actually welcomed the lack of interest in myself. God knows, I get at least three leery comments/looks by South Asians (Tamil/Bangla etc.) every day (or more after the sun goes down). However, there is sth about him I can't quite put my finger on, that resonates uncomfortably.

Finally, I tell him I gotta go to some embassies before they close. He gives me his number, I give him my email as I would arrange my Malay phone later that day. He says he's on this website called penpals.com “It's not for sex, it's to meet people from all over the world, really” (S.P.A.S.M!!! Another tick on the "Marry a Filipino"-list!) We walk to the station together, he limping behind. An accident while heli-skiing in New Zealand, he explains. He's quite into extreme sports (I tore a tendon too one day playing Volleyball and thank God am still walking straight, how come he with his surely upper class US insurance is limping?! It's an injury a lot of athletes recover from easily). He also did bungee jumping and other stuff. I think of Aike's grandmother. (He once fooled me into believing he nearly died one day while bungee jumping in South America. When he told me another time his grandmother once lived in Indonesia - which is actually true -, I thought that was a joke too and chided, “Oh, was she into bungee jumping too, then?”).

On the way to the LRT, we pass a Chinese bakery. He, having breakfast there every day, says it's been there for 50 years. “THEY DO GREAT SANDWICHES!” (apart from the usual Asian cakes). I inform him I don't like sandwiches, he counters in (mock?) disbelief (or sheer craziness), “BUT THEY'RE REALLY GOOD!” and adds, in just the same Italo-American volume, drawing attention by drawing a wide arc with his arm, “LOOK AT ALL THE CHINESE QUEING UP!” All the Chinese queuing up look at us. The anthropologist in me cringes! The reason why I... was making acquaintance with this guy is probably relief on my part while looking for a place myself before my search has even begun. My fault. He suggests he could let me one of the rooms in the RM 1500/month flat he's looking at and I wouldn't have to pay more than I could. S.P.A.S.M.!!! The last thing I want is a sugar daddy. I tell him right away that that is no option, privately abandoning the idea of moving into any four walls with this guy.

Next day in the afternoon, bang after I finish my London market research on my PC, he rings me. I'm starving after eight hours of analysing on the screen and we meet up to grab some food. I'm actually furious with him for the last thing I had heard on the phone was a cheery “I love you!”. I wonder if it's one of his eccentricities or just another case of harassment that I've been collecting lately, starting in London a week before I left.

I have some great Nasi Goreng from a road side stall for RM 5.50. It tastes delicious. He wants to eat sth American, claiming upon my snorting that he's eaten Malay for the last few weeks. I sarcastically suggest he should go to a branch of Kenny Rogers over the street. Of course, it turns out he is actually about to export the franchise to Sudan (!), Yemen and two to three other countries. When I tell him annoyed how sad it is that McDo has spread as far as Fiji, he bursts out (missing the point) that Starbucks is really doing great in China, and that in Shanghai they have a Starbucks that can hold 10 000 people. “I don't believe that. Not in any one time.” - YESSS!” Not that it matters to the issue anyway unless all you care about are markets. Hm!
A bit later, he points at the Satay skewers and starts explaining to me (!) what Satay is. I tell him, “Yes, I KNOW.” - “How come you know what Satay is?” - “Because it is a dish famous throughout the world?!” - “So how come you so much about SEA, Third World Girl?”, he asks casually. - “Did you just call me Third World Girl?!?” - “Why, what's wrong with that?” It's so typical for a bloody economist to use the term “Third World” so carelessly, so completely ignorant of its connotations and one-sidedness. He makes me flinch every time he says it! And the patronising arrogance!

On the way back (our hostels are right opposite from each other), I pop into 7/11 again. He gets a call and shouts/speaks agitated into the phone, that he doesn't understand, he doesn't know a girl called M. Out of the shop, I ask him who was on the phone, having a pretty good idea and waiting for it to be confirmed. It was his Filipino wife-to-be-not-anymore who accused him of going out with two other Filipino girls (duh! News travel fast in Filipino networks!). She herself is 23! Now where have I heard that before?!

And suddenly, it all makes click in my head.

After all his exaggerations, I accuse him of being a neo-colonialist when he asks if they have hot water in my hostel because he comes “from a civilised country where they have hot water”. That just did it. I further accuse him of dividing the world into two distinct types: the civilised vs. the “third world”. Then I tell him my opinion on Saudi Arabia. He has nth to say when I confront him about Saudi Arabia having a redistribution problem (money centred around a tiny elite, shockingly low Human Development Index despite economic wealth) and the way they treat their construction workers (frying in the sun with no water). He retorts how the royal family employs some 20 000 people and treat them well. “So what about the other 27m people in the country?!” - He didn't have an answer to that. Instead, he mentions how he employs five people including a driver and how he pays them well, treats them well, even texts his driver from Malaysia a happy birthday. It sounds like a magnomaniac fishing for excuses or maybe fake defeat – or a straight-out lie. When I asked him earlier over dinner what his thesis was on to check him out, he had said he compared three different economies but couldn't tell me why those particular three. Instead, he had said (guess!!!), “Because they're all third world countries!” I WONDER why we didn't go into more detail. Fear of being caught out? And then he defends his black&white dichotomy of the world by bragging how he's negotiating with the Malay president who “wasn't even able to tell me what his economic policy was”. Ergo, Malaysia was a third world country! I'm exasperated at this simplistic, neo-liberalist reasoning!

As I walk home, unable to think about anything else but the annoying discussion, I suddenly remember that Malaysia doesn't have a president but rotating kingship and a PM. Either he projected his American system on the rest of the world or he plainly made up the story. I grin to myself. Gotcha, bastard!

“See you tomorrow” he had said. Whatever.

21 April 2009

Selamat datang kembali! - Welcome back in KL!

"Puan-puan dan tuan-tuan. Selamat datang penerbangan di Air Asia X ke Kuala Lumpur!"
"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome on board the Air Asia X flight to KL!"

You know the feeling when you go someplace in the world and you know you'll be back? That's at least what I felt from the from the very first moment in KL this January. Something clicked!

Three months later, I find myself in Stansted Airport, with a £302 (!) ticket, my platop, my turtle bag from Singapore (made of organic cotton), two suitcases, one of then half-full with books, including (but not limited to!) a 500+ pages strong studypack on Global Forced Migration for some light reading and a copy of Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven", given to me by a special friend about six years ago now (gosh!) in school. Unsurprisingly, my suitcases both weigh 1.6kg more than the 25kg I had bought. I don't have to pay extra and think it's down to the jolly mood of the check-in woman and the "novelty airline" factor. Later, I find out it's likely because the the cabin is by far not fully booked. There's not much to do at night, on an airport. I'm frustrated because I won't get my Economist to read on the flight and relieved to find Boots open (don't we girls love it to have our period when we travel? It's even worse if you have a hole in your jeans with the location and size of Liechtenstein: strategic, small but significant). By the way, did you know about the recent change in legislation regarding the tampon tax in the UK? - Hilarious!

As a piece of advice, should anyone of you want to check out the latest FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) country updates, you can do that free of charge on the otherwise coined internet computer terminals. Anyway, it seems Stansted has expanded ever since I've last been there (lounging with Kat for six or so hours connecting to Edinburgh from Vienna on our "alternative" Matura trip).

Boarding starts late, maybe 15min AFTER the scheduled take-off.

I think of the time I thought I nearly missed that Butterworth-KL sleeper due to the Penang Island-Butterworth Ferry being 45min (!) late (a 10-15min trip). When I arrived panting at the station after running the 7min walk with two backpacks, the train was still there and wouldn't leave for another two hours. I guess that made me over-punctual.

Or the time when my Chumphon (TH)-Butterworth sleeper was stationary in Chumphon for two hours whatever reason.

LESSON: Except for Hong Kong and Singapore, count on transport not leaving at the scheduled time and spend your time more efficiently.

A predominantly Malay mix of Malay Muslims, Chinese and Tamil people around, I take out my phone for some last-minute emails, trying to concentrate despite the repeated loud shutter sound and blinding blitz of the Chinese lady next to me who wonders if maybe the 37 th close-up picture of her boarding pass is going to be the perfect one. Everyone their own way to pass the time. Or, in Einstein's words: Pressing the same button for nearly half an hour was her own way of contracting her relative time. When boarding eventually started, a queue quickly formed - Asian style, as I observe with amusement a young English couple smirking at this. However, there also definitely is an excited buzz in the air - after all, it's still only a month that Air Asia launched the first low-fare long-haul route to London (one view from the Guardian and a quite entertaining video clip on the inaugural flight by Air Asia itself).

The plane, as expected and since it was bought second-hand, is well, a wee old, as I keenly detected by a look through the window to the wing that stretches out in a matted grey. The seats are new but onviously no entertainment system installed. Instead, you can rent an A5 handheld device ("Free earphones included!"). Devoid of an Economist, I decide to sort my blog ideas about some final thoughts on London as I last saw it before embarking on this adventurous journey.

When the plane finally starts, I catch myself impressed that it actually doesn't fly so bad if you ignore the racket of the closing landing gear.

And here I am - On a half-empty plane to Kuala Lumpur, stunned and astonished by the fact that it is indeed possible to do this journey at a third of the mainstream ticket. Sure, the environmental aspect is there and believe me, I am supporting CSR (corporate social responsibilty) initiatives like carbon-offsetting or reforestation on my intra-European flights and am against flying for no good reason etc. In this case though, this Air Asia enterprise is one of the few trends that actually supports my personal development opportunities for a change. I don't know if it's the credit crunch, the season, the destination or Thailand's current crisis but I would have wished to see more people on this flight, not just for environmental reasons. Many people have a seat free next to them to stretch out on. Must have helped make me fall asleep for when I wake up next and open the window, it's bright sunrise out there - beautiful.

A few hours later, I wake up from yet another nap and suddenly find it night again outside which is actually not a surprise as we were racing towards the sunrise - to be greeted by Orion (Orion and I have a special relationship, you know!).

Kuala Lumpur looks amazing at night. The landing gear opens with a loud jolt and locks into place with another bang below my feet that makes me jump in my seat. Old-school plane but as long as it's one of the kind that were built to last, I don't mind. After we touch down, in time to avoid a lightning storm looming in the East of town, I check the magazine pouch one last time and think how cool it must be to collect safety information cards...

I have a cup of coffee at the aiport - my way of rehydrating! ;P
I exit the building. I'm in Kuala Lumpur. I don't feel anything. Actually, it's the most normal thing in the world.

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16 April 2009

Impressions to Illustrate Day 1

From bottom to top - can't be bothered changing the reverse upload order Blogger used: 1) On the sleeper train from KL to SG - I wonder where THAT came from but it must be there for a reason, haha! 2) The setting for the Chinese wedding ceremony with the fate book and mat from the Peranakan Museum 3) CBD (or Central Business District for those of you who slept through their Geography classes!) behind the Parliament building 4) Walking statue in front of the Singapore Arts House with little figures
salto-ing along the stairs 5) Tambang (the bullhorn-shaped thing peasants carry women around on for fertility rituals) from the Asian Civilisations Museum

02 April 2009

Obama in the City!

Only a day back in town and already one instantly notices that there is something going on: Policemen everywhere, covers of newspapers plastering London with Obama's face. Other heads of state who take part in the G20 summit (apart from PM Gordon Brown perhaps) receive less photo coverage, citation and general attention. The Queen, smart as she is, managed to make it to the cover page by historically breaking royal protocol and actually touching Michelle Obama with whom she reportedly hit it off. The news of this was so big that the Times actually put a picture of it of such bad quality on its front page today that one wonders if it had been shot in passing with a first generation camera phone. That's what I call rubbing elbows!

With all these additional business-looking people in town, the reports about anti-globalisation and anti-capitalism and climate change protesters and of course the signifance of the event in mind, I headed for the City this afternoon for some crowdspotting only to find that the I had just about missed the G20 summit buzz. Some good capture of the street-level action on this video:

An acquaintance of mine has already posted on Facebook that she has actually shaken the hands with the US President and the First Lady and that he had looked her in the eye and said how much he appreciated her work! Not quite sure which organisation she's with but I think she might have been somehow involved in the negotiations for the monk's protest in Burma.
Not sure if I should feel excited or wary about this news. I'm not much into personal cults and currently a bit demoralised by the lack of momentum in my own career. Hopefully, I have some relieving news on that in a short while! Insiders already know about my ideas for Kuala Lumpur!

Currently though, my state probably reflects that of investment bankers: I hope things go according to plan, take a huge risk and then some externality throws me into the red numbers.

In the meantime, I will practice my policy skills with my geo-political simulator PC game that I'm totally hooked on at the moment! You pick any country (unfortunately for some, Liechtenstein is not among them...) in the world, take over as head of state and then hope to stay in business!