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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Back When I Was Fearless


I have a young girlfriend who has just gone to Alaska alone on an internship in the wilds. She has never traveled before and was very excited. Of course, by Day 2, she is just now realizing the cultural shock of no TV, heat (she's living in a shack), and everyone owning their own farm animals. Life is going to be a bit different for a while :).

I've no doubt she'll survive and have a grand adventure and this experience will be one of many ahead for her because she's an outdoor type, with a ton of energy. Youth + energy = lots of creative fun!

Her going off like that, with so little care about what life will be like without mom and dad doing all the heavy lifting, sure brings back memories of a very young Jenn taking off on the big plane for the USA. I was 17, six years younger than my friend, and totally, totally unprepared about life overseas and alone. But that didn't stop me from lugging 3 large suitcase, two small bags and my favorite pillow to Los Angeles and then trying to figure out how to get from there to a very, very tiny town in Ohio.

It took me three weeks to reach the small university town and yeah, the culture shock began when my mode of transportation, which started with a grand aeroplane, ended with a Greyhound bus to a town with no taxicabs unless you called. LA was great because it kind of reminded me of home with more traffic and tall buildings. I visited Disneyland all by myself and was able to learn the bus system. But, now, I'm in the middle of nowhere, and the October weather was no longer warm and sunny.

Remember, during my time, there were no cell phones or wifi or such a thing a cable TV (I know! Ancient, right?!) so the feeling of being totally cut-off was very acute. There was no googling for directions. No quick GPS button for help. And of course, a phone call to mom cost $400 or something like that. No YouTubing about my adventures so my buddies could laugh along with me. So I've to basically adapt alone.

Some of things I learned that first month in another "world:"

1) Nobody wore high heels in school. I was stupid enough to try doing that and almost killed myself when the heel got caught in between the cobblestones on the hilly streets. Everyone was amused :).

2) Men got very uncomfortable because I kept calling them "sir" or "uncle." It's a Malaysian British thing to call older men or women "uncle" or "auntie" once we're familiar with them.

3) American breakfast was SCARY BIG. Sausage and ham and eggs and potatoes and grits and bread and...wow!  And everything had too much butter (for me). And I remember puzzling over why the girl asked me whether I wanted to "pop" with my food ("Would you like pop with that?"). And watching my American friends eat a whole Chinese dish all by themselves (not sharing like we do at home, with several dishes in the middle of the table) made me think Americans didn't like to share :).

4) Nobody said "my dear." Huh. Those old movies were so wrong!

5) Trying to figure out how to use the washing machine for my clothes (we didn't have any back home). Or the microwave oven, which was this humongous heavy thing that looked like it leaked radiation.

6) Nobody cared where Malaysia was (in those days, there was no such thing as "Made in Malaysia." So everyone just assumed I was either Chinese or Japanese. It was kind of bewildering that I knew all the small countries in the world and my friends didn't.

7) Learning silly West Virginia jokes. That took a while to figure out, LOL, why the Ohio side was saying the WV was more backwards. I mean, could there be a more backwards (to me, then) place than Appalachia Ohio? And even then, my cluelessness was funny since I could tell the joke with straight Steven Wright deadpanness.

8) Learning to speak in proper English because in Malaysia, we mix all our languages up. Back home, I would speak an English sentence with a smattering of Malay, Indian, and Chinese words and my friends would reply the same way. So, it took effort to remember I couldn't do that any more and I came out sounding very British.

I learned to love Ohio and grew to love small town life. I live in a small city now and truly appreciate life away from the endless traffic. So that first experience away from home has shaped me. I wonder how my girlfriend's new life will shape her?

When did you move away from home? And were you ever, truly alone? Strange, isn't it, how, in our old age, we don't want to move around as much :)?



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2 comments:

Deborah Blake Dempsey said...

I must have missed this one. This is a great post and I agree with you. Today, most people want to stay put - live and die in the town/city they were born. Personally, I could never imagine living my life that way. My parents are Jamaican and have lived in England and the US. I still have family in Jamaica, but most of them are scattered around the world.

I left for my adventure when I was 24. I moved to NY, but I ended up a month later living and working in CT. THAT was a culture shock. I come for sunny, friendly FL and CT was cold and many of the people were the same. Unless they knew you from conception or if they were from someplace else, it was hard to get to know people. I did have family there though, but they moved away 6 months after I arrived so I had no one. I had the internet (when it was nothing like it is today) but that was when dial-up was the rage and cell phones were only a dream. I learned to be self-sufficient and independent. If I had a problem, I handled it myself because I chose to leave everything familiar and learn to take care of myself. It was one of the best things I ever did. I think I am stronger for it and I am happy that I am the kind of person who doesn't mind change and can roll with the unexpected things that pop up in life.

Gennita said...

Ah, dial-up, Debbie. Wasn't that a hoot? And they had a special--30 hours for $9.99 and I thought, oh that would be enough, an hour a day on the Net! HEEHEEHEE.

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