Weather didn’t provide warm welcome
The holiday season is officially over with the commencement of college classes, including Kansas University, this week. This brought back memories of my first day of school in the United States on the University of Missouri campus.
I arrived Jan. 8, 1984, on a cold winter day. I had no comprehension of cold, because the coolest temperature I had ever experienced was about 65 degrees. In fact that's downright freezing when you spend most of your life in 85 to 95 degree weather.
I arrived in St. Louis two weeks before school started. Upon arrival, I took a bus to Columbia, Mo. I remember the gray, cold day as I looked out the window. It was a sight that looked so miserable.
When the bus was within Columbia city limits, I was hoping to see sky-rise buildings, bustling traffic and crowds of people everywhere as I had seen on the TV show "Dallas." I was petrified when the bus pulled into town and there weren't many people around and the houses looked so small and old. It was a part of the town where the students lived in small rental apartments. For the first time I wondered if I had made a mistake in coming to America.
Because I knew the weather was going to be cold, I brought along a jacket that I thought would keep me warm. It was a light spring jacket that barely provided any warmth, but the pockets kept my hands from freezing. That's right, I didn't have any gloves either. When I first felt the cold, which was around 20 degrees, my body felt numb. It couldn't process that feeling as it was so new and my body had never been exposed to anything that cold.
I was met at the airport by a couple of guys from the Malaysian Students Association, whom I managed to contact from the information provided to me from the university's welcome (to misery) package. Naturally my first purchase was a winter coat I got at Sears for $10.
Before classes started, I had to go the Hearnes Center to register and pay for the classes. Back then, you had to walk all over this huge building, looking for the table that had the sign up for classes picked. Also, I never had a checking account or written checks before but needed to get one to pay for the classes. My friends from the church told me that a young lady by the name of Kim would take me and help me get that done.
I remember vividly following her aimlessly, gazing at all the people around me and following her every instruction, including writing checks at her beckoning. To this day I had no idea what I wrote or how much. I trusted this "young lady" and she didn't lead me astray.
She must have had fun spending my money because she still does that. Six years later, Kim and I got married.
I was excited to begin my life as a college student in the United States. My friends helped me move into the dorm with ease, as the heaviest item I had was probably the winter coat. I was surprised to learn that it was a coed dorm.
Coming from a very conservative country, I knew that was going to take a bit of adjusting. As students came to their respective rooms, I quickly learned that geography was not one of their strong traits. I had to explain to everyone I met where Malaysia was and answered questions like if they had roads or electricity. That line of questioning got old quick.
The first day I moved in, my roommate introduced me to his friends in the dorm from the fall semester. One of his friends suggested that we have a party that night to welcome me. I was flattered and ready for a party.
Unfortunately, when I got to the party, I was a bit -- no wait -- a lot, disappointed. When we say party in Malaysia, that typically refers to an event with food, decorations, games and lots of people. At this party, there were about five people, and everyone had a beer in their hand and sat around the small dorm room and talked. It took me a while to figure out that when someone says party here, especially at the college level, it usually means drinking.
Parties in Malaysia, especially birthday parties, can become an overwhelming and expensive endeavor. When someone has a birthday they are expected to treat their friends and family to lunch or a meal if a party is not thrown. The person celebrating the birthday is responsible for picking up the tab for the meals or food provided.
Birthday parties for young children are big in my family. When we went home during our second daughter's first birthday, my parents wanted to have a party for her (remember, food, decorations and lots of people). We had about 150 people at the party for my 1 year old. Most of them were adults. Guests included my relatives, my dad's business acquaintance, friends and neighbors.
My daughter had what probably would be her biggest party ever, but she will never have memory of that. Nor for that matter, would most of the guests.
Speaking of birthdays, I want to wish my wife and son happy birthday as both have birthdays this week. And no, we are not throwing a Malaysian-style party.