plus ça change, plus c’est la différents chose

     I’m going to go ahead and apologize for the last post (but don’t be surprised if this one is poorly written as well…), I’ve been getting a maximum of five hours of sleep a night for the last two weeks (and 3 and 1/2 or 4 hours hasn’t been uncommon). Therefore, after a day full of maths, chemistry, physics, and biology (in the same freaking day) I can’t think in any manner conducive to halfway decent writing. 

     At any rate, I promised that I would post about school, so here goes. I am currently attending SMK St. John, one of the oldest schools in Kuala Lumpur, a British catholic school founded with the intent to educate (read convert) the children of KL. Now the school is mostly government funded so the whole catholic thing has faded away like the flavor in a piece of gum (although the teachers are still entirely free to talk about religion).  

     As per the title, the differences between school in Malaysia and the US are manifold (for those of you ill versed in famous quotes, the title is a play on “plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose” meaning “the more that things change the more they stay the same”. The modified version in the title says “The more things change, the more they are different”). First of all, the teachers change classes instead of the students. While it is nice that one gets to be with the same people for all of one’s classes, this system tends to waste time and isn’t very well regimented. Secondly, teachers are given an almost undue amount of reverence. Upon a teacher’s arrival or departure from the class, all the students must stand up and say in unison “good morning teacher” or “thank you teacher” respectively. Furthermore, a specially designated student must at any given time go to the white board and clean it off while the teacher is standing not two feet from the eraser. Given that the teachers also cane students for misbehavior (on the bright side, no ISS) I can’t help but think of Deleuze and Guattari’s evisceration of family as “the first unit of fascism” because it “causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us”. Thirdly, there is a prefect system (yeah, I thought the same thing, “cool! Just like Harry Potter!”), but this has perhaps been the most intriguing aspect of school. Prefects are essentially trained tattletales who get to wear a special uniform and be the principal’s proxy in the classroom (I would however like to say that the prefects in my class are really laid back and tend to egregiously break the sillier rules themselves). Having students who swear their loyalty to the principal (there was a “swearing-in” a couple of days ago) watching you at every possible moment is a little unsettling. 

     The best difference is that the social dynamic is much more accepting and kind. In the States it has occurred to me that most often, the “popular kid” is the most arrogant jerk in the school. However, congruent with my experiences with Malaysians being some of the most hospitable and kind people I have ever met, students act in much the same way. As such, not only do the kinder souls tend to be more popular, most of the students seem to be operating on a similar social strata (although I have observed some slight indications of social classism when it comes to students behave in a rather strange or awkward manner). I have reveled in my discovery of an oasis of social inclusion in a society where extreme socio-economic stratification is the standard. 

     On a much lighter note, I have henceforth observed the duplication of a female psychological phenomenon which I had initially assumed was unique to the US (or at least Lydia Berns). This phenomenon can be summed up thusly, “OMG FOREIGN BOY, HAWT”. For those readers familiar with my physical appearance it should come as no shock that I’m not exactly a “hot item” back home. Therefore, I’m not entirely sure how to deal with my new found chick-magnetism. Putting myself in a Malaysian boy’s shoes, I think I would be quite jealous that a 16 year old American came into a class full of 18 and 19 year olds and instantly attracted the undivided attention of all the females. 

     On a different topic, I stopped fasting on September 2nd. The students in my class invited me for lunch (none of the students in my class are Muslims since the government sponsors the Malays, who make up 98% of the muslim population, to go to university a grade early so all the ethnic chinese and indians are stuck in Form 6) and I didn’t feel like refusing (and on top of it, I was hungry darnit!), so now eating lunch at school or out afterwords has become the norm.

Published in: on September 13, 2009 at 9:01 AM  Comments (6)  
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Realizing Real Realism

     Let me begin by apologizing for the space between my blog posts recently. Last week after I posted “On the third day of Ramadan…” my family and I shipped off to a Kampong for three days. If I had to take an aimless guess at a direct translation of “Kampong” it would be “Kam” = without and “pong” = internet. I jest, of course; a Kampong is a rural Malay village. Only one day back from the Kampong (Tuesday) I finally went to school and the last two days I have been trying to settle in. Therefore, I have not given much thought to my blog. Anyways, I’m going to post about school separately in hopes that it will make it onto the AFS blog (apparently they want stories about the exchange itself and don’t have much taste for in-depth musings about International Relations, globalization, etc. Of course I don’t blame them, they are getting government funding and if a socialist (god forbid! Freedom of speech only applies in the conservative book if you’re a god loving capitalist!) is posting on their blog I’m sure they’d have hell to pay).


     Had you asked me a month ago what my foreign policy paradigm was I would have told you that I was a realist who believed in offensive realism as a descriptive framework but not a functional model. However, over the past few weeks I realized that I was more of an idealist than I would have admitted. Up until this point I had on naively assumed that on some level every man, woman, and child on earth yearned for political freedom of the democratic flavor. I think this stems from the psychological construction of the average American which is simply explained as independent to a fault. What I failed to understand in some situations is that based on one’s cultural background, one does not always balk at big-brother governmental policies (i.e. Internet censorship). In fact, it seems that some Malaysians feel that democracy is an indulgence best exercised in moderation. This was summed up y a quote that appeared on AlJazeera English; a Malaysian minister was talking about the government’s plan to filter the internet and he said, “We cannot have a full-fledged democracy like the United States”. 


     This previously-held assumption of mine led me to hold an idealistic view on global political institutions such that I believed in the United States’ role in securing more democratic institutions across the globe (although I have always soundly rejected the Neoconservative militaristic interpretation of Wilson’s statement “The world must be made safe for Democracy”). Now I realize that from an Offensive Realism standpoint that the accentuation of United States international hegemony can only be achieved by accepting that certain institutions are beyond our power to comprehensively change. While it is all fine-and-dandy to support democratization in countries where the populace clearly shows support for a greater degree of political freedom (i.e. Burma), I have now realized that the cause of democracy in Afghanistan, China, et. al is a fruitless endeavor that only endangers our prospects for continued hegemony. Malaysia has taught me that entire populations can be psychologically comfortable with restrictive political mechanisms.


     Therefore, I have realized what realism means in terms of democratization; Not good or bad, just different. 

Published in: on September 2, 2009 at 2:26 PM  Comments (3)  
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