I live in teachers’ quarters at SMK Pak Badol, the secondary school where one of my roommates teaches. It’s an apartment inside the all-girls hostel where many of the students live.
When I come home everyday, I drive through an iron gate and wave to the guard. I wind my way between the school buildings and wave to students waiting to be picked up after class. I wave to the hostel girls in track pants and tudong playing volleyball with the smiley ex-soldier security guards. I have my own parking spot in front of the hostel next to the guard’s ‘90s taxi.
A rusty chain-link fence separates the hostel from the surrounding neighborhood. The house across from the hostel sells homemade milkshakes for RM1 ($0.25). Sometimes I walk across the brown grass to the fence to get one. The daughter of the house comes to the fence, I ask for one chocolate-mocha milkshake, and a few minutes later she hands me the milkshake over the fence and I pass through the one ringgit. The milkshakes are different each time. Sometimes they have short green noodles in them made from glutinous rice. There are usually little chunks of Jell-O that are firm and red, green, yellow, or white. Malaysia is largely Halal, so the Jell-O here is made from seaweed instead of pig bones.
Milkshake in hand, I walk into the hostel. On the ground floor I walk past empty classrooms and a small courtyard.
The cement steps lead me up to the first floor where the students live and where my apartment is.
The hostel cats leave chickens bones as offerings on our little red doormat most days. I open the front door to a large living room and turn left into the dining room.
We spend several hours each day around our dining room table. We crouch in our chairs and eat peanut butter out of the jar with our fingers and talk about American politics.
Our dining room connects to our kitchen through a drive-thru style window. Note the newspaper on the kitchen window. We keep it there to discourage students in the hostel from peering in.
We are proud that we assembled our desks without any directions.
My closet and the closet of each female ETA in Malaysia is filled with assorted baju kurung.
I open my front door and walk out onto the chicken bone mat to see the school rooftops.
Many evenings I run or walk around the empty school. It is all brightly painted buildings and funny murals and stray cats.
The school hallways are outside and each classroom is open-air. I walk and run down the long corridors.
Perfect for a horror movie, there are dry fountains and empty tables and unused bridges. Stray cats hide in the 3-foot deep rain ditches and hiss when I go by. But it has a surprising charm, and is always filled with late-afternoon beauty.
There are some scenic spots. In the distance you can see the rolling hills that surround the whole area. This particular hill is a rock quarry. Somedays we can hear the dynamite.
Murals are popular here. This one speaks for itself.
It gets dark at around 7:30 here in April. I walk back from my evening wanderings around the school. It is cooler outside now and the mountains are blue in the distance.