Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Meeting up with a fellow Fulbrighter

Here I (a 2008 Fulbright in Malaysia) am with Colleen (a 2010-2011 Fulbright) in a KL coffee shop. We last met in NYC after she had heard that she had received a Fulbright. An important story to tell is how different generations of Fulbright alumni to Malaysia help each other - often contacts are initiated with a cold call. When I was applying I contacted an alumnus in Illinois and another in Florida. The man in Illinois called me and encouraged me to apply. His call provided just the push I needed to tackle the application. The woman from Florida provided helpful teaching tips.

I first heard from Colleen when she sent me an e-mail asking if I would read and comment on her proposal. Later I put her in touch with an alumnus who could address family issues. In turn I recently passed on to Colleen an inquiry about opportunities for psychologists. The message to prospective Fulbright applicants - if you have a question or concern ask an alumnus!

Colleen and I had different experiences and research interests. She is a psychologist who was accompanied by her husband and three young children. She taught at a private university and lived in a KL high rise. Read her blog at http://oneal-freemansinmalaysia.blogspot.com/ to learn how much Malaysia and Asia can offer a family.  On the other hand I came alone, lived in a campus guest house in Penang, and taught at a public university. To learn more you can visit my blog at fulbrightmalaysia.blogspot.com. (As I recall it was a diary of meals, pretty typical of anyone visiting Malaysia.) Kiddos to Colleen who won the Fulbright Young Leaders award which will give her $$$ to continue her research on refugee children in Malaysia. A well deserved recognition of the effort she put into accessing refugee schools and teachers, implementing an intervention, developing the research skills of her students, and producing quality research from Malaysia.

My research was on collaborations among Malaysian NGOs. I tested a scale to capture the dimensions of collaboration. I hope to pick up the work and conduct a qualitative study. In the meantime my 2008 Malalysian contacts have made our transition to Malaysia easy.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Ending Bahasa I

What is it like to take language lessons during retirement? Amazing! Since late May we have been taking Malaysian (Bahasa Malayu or simply Behasa) at the YMCA. Our teacher, Noorita, has a gift for drumming the language into us - making it fun and bringing people together. Each class starts with the same conversation - "good evening," "everyone well?" "any questions?? "Have you eaten?" "What have you eaten?" By now we respond without thinking.  Last class we had a contest, asking and answering questions, in Bahasa. The teams were Wanita Kuasa (Girl Power) and Kampong YMCA (kampong is a village).

Noorita, teacher basu, on the right
 "Sudah makan" (Have you eaten) seems to be the Malaysian equivalent of "How are you?" But in this case we report our dinners - so everyone knows that Doug cooks and who are the adventurous local eaters.

Our classmates are from France (an owner of a B&B in the Bordeaux, so contact us if you want a recommendation), Japan, Slovakia, Turkey,  and India. Of course, everyone's English is excellent. One retiree from Australia seems to have dropped out, and a woman from India commutes between our class and another. We had to drop out early, b/c of our trip to Italy. But we look forward to reuniting with everyone in Bahasa II.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Keeping my brain cells jumping

I was flattered when a former student asked me to design and teach a course at the UN Staff College in Italy. How could I turn down a chance to go to Italy? A trip to Italy is small compensation for all I have learned (I am receiving $$$ as well as a trip).

To receive UN authorization to travel I had to complete a job application, pass an on-line security course, and get a medical authorization to travel. The application asked for educational history from age 14 (not too hard) and a complete work history. I know where I worked in the 1960's but naming  supervisors, listing responsibilities, recalling salaries, and explaining why I left! A lot of blanks and generic answers.

The security course was interesting. It was eye-opening to recognize the dangers inherent in some assignments. I now know what to do if I encounter a child soldier (don't say "so cute" and pose with him for a picture), find myself in a landmine field (don't move), or get caught in the midst of random gunfire (get down, look for cover, and cover your head). The personal advice was familiar. Still I learned something new - at a hotel stay on floors 2-7; 2 isn't accessible from the ground and fire ladders may not reach beyond 7.

The need for a medical clearance had me debating going to the "doc-in-the-box" clinic downstairs or looking for doc that we had some confidence in. I chose the latter; hard to imagine what would disqualify me to a two week trip in Italy.

Designing the class was described as an interactive, flexible process. Nothing could be truer. Before I came to Malaysia I had prepared power points for each day. More recently I wrote an agenda (a required product) describing and giving  objectives for each hour.  Last week I spoke to two staff members at the College who had more suggestions. They pointed out that I had to schedule longer (25 minute) breaks, but on the other hand the class didn't have to end at 5. (My biggest dread - teaching from 9 to 5 or a bit later. I have a co-teacher, but I don't think that it will provide a lot of down time). In the meantime I have received pre-course assignments from the participants. I have redesigned the exercises to align them more with their interests. I have changed some exercises in mini-cases studies where they can review and  critique existing documents. A lot of googling to uncover materials that will engage the participants and meet my objectives.

On Saturday I went to a seminar on Women & Christianity (part of a series sponsored by the Women's Action Society). The ice breaker/introduction exercise may be exportable. I also closely observed how they conducted exercises and debriefing. Nothing gets wasted.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Updating Microsoft and other stuff

Today is the first Thursday after the monthly updates of the Microsoft operating system. I am diligent about this every month, and what a pain. I really sympathize with my former co-worker at the NCGA who is responsible for maintaining over 800 computers.

So this process started yesterday with my ASUS N10J. Now this is a netbook class computer with a lot of frills attached using Vista Home Premium (cannot be upgraded because ASUS does not provide the necessary drivers and bios fixes). I started at about 3PM and the update process was completed by 6:50, just in time to leave for Bahasa Malaysia classes at the YMCA. Only 21 fixes to be applied since last month. Hey Microsoft, please build some secure software to begin with. And I only have Windows, and Office products from Microsoft. I also have Open Office installed, but still need the Office products.

This was followed by installation of a newer version of Kaspersky Internet Security. I have enjoyed this product since Trend Micro turned toxic on me...identifying the entire operating system as a virus on another computer. It took weeks to get the Trend Micro removed and replaced by Kaspersky. So I downloaded the update file (110 MB) and followed the procedure for update. Delete the old software (they have a feature that allows you to keep a bunch of stuff, like the license code, databases, etc.). This took about 45 minutes. Perform the install, from the downloaded file. This took about 30 minutes. Then nearly 1 hour to update the databases. I finished by 11:15PM after returning from the YMCA language classes at 10:10PM.

Total time spent: 5 hours with Liz wandering around fuming. If she is a typical end user, no wonder Microsoft products remain so vulnerable. Who has the time to do this, especially when you are connected by WiFi or WiMax services.

Now I thought I would breeze through this with my other computer, a Toshiba Satellite A505, a modern desktop replacement laptop with 6GB memory, an Intel I7 chip and plenty of hard drive space. It runs Windows 7 64bit OS. It also is kept upto date with all patches applied monthly. Well the speed did help some, and I helped it out by saving the Kaspersky Internet Security download file from the other computer on a thumb drive.

The process. Begin the security update process from Microsoft. Only 18 to download. After a relatively short period (I was happy) the installation process began. Then the bad news...4 of the updates failed. So reboot, download again, and several additional updates showed up. So I downloaded 6 and installed the updates again. Success.

Then it told me...install IE 9. I had been holding back on this since my experience with IE8 in the fall of 2008. A long story shortened was the pop-up control caused my AMEX card to be suspended (while in Malaysia). AMEX did its job, notified me on my US phone, Vonage sent me an e-mail with the text of the message, and I called AMEX from my Malaysian cell phone, spoke to their security folks and had the problem sorted out in 15 minutes. Total cost USD $2 for the cell phone call (really cheap rates to the US on Digi). Why cannot T-mobile, ATT, Verizon, or Sprint do this? But that is another rant.

Well after 4 reboots, I finally had the Toshiba up to date with Microsoft security upgrades. Then began the Kaspersky Internet Security. From my pre downloaded installation file, I ran the update. I updated the activation code with a new license (RM 99 (about USD 33) for a 3 computer 1 year license). Check out the price on Amazon or at Costco, and you will be amazed. Then the databases needed to be updated. All in all, I was done by 11:15 AM. A total of only 2 hours 15 minutes. Not bad, but how many of the 100's of millions of Microsoft users go through this. Think of the loss of productivity world wide. Maybe this is an economic plot against the world :)

So the monthly problems are solved, until next month after we return from Italy. Oh well, why not, I will be suffering from jet lag.

Yes, you can see why I love my IPad2.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Three essential contacts made

The biggest challenge in relocating? Finding a doctor, a dentist, and a hairdresser. This week we found all three.

When we first arrive Doug asked a local pharmacist if she could recommend any doctors or dentists. "No" on the dentist - she was a dental avoider along with 90 percent of Malaysians. She recommended two physicians at Assunta Hospital, which is in the neighborhood. Later I asked an acquaintance at a NGO about what to look for in finding a physician here. I mentioned that a Dr. O. had been recommended. He was a family friend who is now semi-retired.  She called Dr. O's office and we had an appointment the next morning. Not only did we have a physician but we were very happy with our visit. (People in the US inevitably asked about health care in Malaysia. Our appointment eliminated any concerns that we might have had. As good as "home," perhaps better.)

Finding a the dentist involved a different route. Doug's periodontist in Raleigh xeroxed a list of members in a periodontal association. We called the one Malaysian on the list. Doug has an appointment for late August with the only periodontist in the country. He has an earlier appointment for a teeth cleaning. I will let him go first to test out the practice. (We never had the same level of confidence in Malaysian dentists as Malaysian doctors - I was struck when I lived in Penang with the number of people with obvious missing teeth.)

An AWAM, the All Woman Action Society, fund raiser offered a voucher for RM50  for a haircut at La'Mode Coiffure. Pretty spiffy - you get green tea when you arrive. I was happy with the result, more in line with my usual cut than what is pictured on their website. BTW we will take of picture of Doug getting his hair cut at the Y. It was RM15 and he said that it was one of the best haircuts ever.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

A day in the park

Today the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) had its open day at Lembah Kiara Forest. First stop - the taxi stand where many a trip starts with a lively consultation among drivers along with lots of gestures and mention of landmarks along the way (in this case a big IBM sign).

At the bird watching group's table we were given a "garden birds seeking humans" to participate in a bird counting exercise tomorrow. We plan to give it a try. I didn't mention that my one and only foray into bird watching was a failure. While everyone else was discussing the color of a bird's beak I was still trying to find the bird.

Edo & Muni A happy future ahead
Next was stream ecology activity. Edo, an undergraduate student in marine biology, and Muna, a Phd student, were two of the guides. We went into the streams with nets to seek very tiny fish and shrimp. Doug ended up with a donated fish (donated by Muna) - barely visible and too small to photograph. Doug later found out he had actually contributed a second fish. We tested the water for acidity, water clarity, and oxygen. I am not sure that the results in our local park would have been as good; on the other hand no sane person would venture into its lake.

Close to the stream was rope climbing (we passed on this). The woman seemed doomed not to get off the ground. Remember a picture records only a moment in time. Once the woman figured out the strategy she passed the man quickly - to shouts of "girl power" and suggestions that the man been eating too much nasi lemak.

We then at a visited the partners' booths. MYCAT is to conserve Malaysia's tigers. It gets everyone involved by distributing a hot line number where people can report restaurants that serve endangered animals, outlets that sell products made from them or pet shops that sell them. We had a short conversation about shark fins - still legal here but public awareness seems to be growing. The young woman was quite a sales persons for both their fund raising products and their projects.

I bought a small woven purse from Mang Tha, a project for Chin women refugees. Refugees who seek asylum here are not granted legal status, so their life is difficult (to say the least). We will visit the center soon and learn more about the project. Our final stop was at Wild Asia. We only spent a few minutes but their site's comment about why volunteer says a lot: "Learn about the complexities of getting things done in Asia! Gain an insight into conservation issues from people who are passionate about their work."

Our last activity was a nature walk through the jungle. In addition to our guide we had about five scouts, who were really good at helping small children and old ladies along the trail. Another guide filled in details especially on the banyan tree - including mentioning a village in India where the villagers have formed a bridge from its roots.

The park's rubber trees growing in the forest are supposed to be retired, but as the price of rubber has increased they are subject to poaching. No more buckets to collect the latex but plastic bags - the rubber isn't as good, but the work is less and requires less skills.

Next on our list - join MNS. It will expand our world and our appreciation of Malaysia.