Ann Arbor

My first few months in Ann Arbor have been perspective changing. 

I think I adapt well.

At least I thought I did. I’ve probably changed institutions almost 10 times before I got here. I’ve been with people of  other races, other nationalities, other religions and placed with people who converse in different languages. I thought I could fit in immediately; just slide through and be American in no time. *HAHAHA, I’m laughing as I type this, and thinking how ridiculous that sounds* I soon realized that the curve is steeper than I thought it was, and that my shoes weren’t as grippy as I thought they were. But slowly and surely I found my place within the community. With hardship came smaller struggles and with these struggles came friendship: friendship that I hope will outlast my stay here. 

Only away from home do you realize the importance of community, at least I did. I haven’t been “out of place” in a very long time. It was different for once. I had to be different, I had to change. This isn’t to lament my incompatibilities with my community, but rather to remind that with every hardship comes ease, and lessons that tag along.

It’s funny if you think about it. While we speak the same language the context is totally different. We joke differently, we speak differently, we articulate and discuss differently. It’s something I’ve never picked up but I’ve learnt so much about. It’s something so deep-rooted within myself that I’ve only realized when taken out of my comfort zone, a thought that has eased myself for the upcoming years (more about this soon). 

Since getting here, I’ve done a bunch (that tag a long with a bunch of good friends). *Warning: If you’re not a picture person, then you shouldn’t be on a blog on somebody who does photography for a living hahah, just kidding. Scroll to the bottom, and continue reading past the double dashes (--).

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Baking buds. 

I would probably fit in better without my pants.  (MCN '17)
Wen Hoong, the star of Cultural Night '17, taking pictures with his fans with their signed posters.
As a car aficionado, this guy explaining the Model T engine was music to my ears.  During the week my dad visited me. 
Having a late night cappuccino with dad and an fellow Ann Arbor Malaysian. 
Drove over to East Lansing for Michigan State University's Cultural Night.
Just another late-winter day. It's much colder than it looks. 
I have a thing for couples. Love is a very pervasive emotion, even from afar. 
Oh man I missed the slopes. Pretty happy I still had some skills after leaving it for a couple years!
Some of the very American sights here in Ann Arbor
We (the Muslim Student Association) had a field day - sports day against the Muslim Student Association from Wayne State University. This is Alaa my boy. 
Abstract art, hipster-esc as people would call it -- correct me if you have an opinion about this. 
Sheikh Ishtiaq is our Chaplin, all the way from Bradford (coincidentally where my parents studied!) 
No Muslim activity runs away form prayers. 
And food. You can't run away from the American weiner (sausages lol)
I've fallen in love with fish because 1) When you go out with American friends and you wanna watch your Halal diet. 2) It's cheap! 3) Gotta love it
Edda staring at Wei Hon hittin' a ball. As literal as it gets. During one of our weekly sports nights!
Brilliant musicians. I still can't fathom how people synthesis music on the go, it a skill I have never understood till today, but have a deep respect for.  Go Will!
Two of my favorites. I will be back because of these two, I will miss them dearly. 
I think W is for Will? Huh either that or this is meant to be viewed upside down (pretty sure it's Will)
Secret Hitler (If you have no idea what that is, don't worry were on the same boat until the night of the game!)

A forum organized by the Malaysian Committee detailing Malaysian Politics and Interests by wonderful Professors (Had dinner with them later that day. Political scientists are humans too apparently!)
I have this horrible habit of taking pictures only when the food is finished! Lapar sangat agaknya. Visits from friends from Illinois!
Semangat sembang dia (ada content jgn risau teh tarik Michigan tak kosong jangan risau) Jeevs ftw!
More food!
Dashing Edda fillin' up with a hard earned dinner. 
This was at one of the most interesting events I've experienced here in Michigan. Titled Halfway Hijabi, it aimed to educate the American Public, more specifically the Michigan community about the struggles behind wearing a Hijab in an era of xenophobia and racism. Prejudice has been prevalent here in America since President Donald Trump's election, but many here stand in solidarity with muslims. It's a taste of activism, a taste of true democracy. A taste of respect, understanding and love. A moment where my heart reverberated seeing overwhelming support from those from different communities for a community foreign and alien to them (until people had to be declined to be let in due to a fire hazard from the over population of people in the hall) This week's Friday prayers will be on the Diag (an open space on Central Campus) in support of the Muslim community.

I declined to post this publicly on Instagram as they requested that this not be spread on social media to protect the identity of their student speakers. I allowed myself to post this as no student speakers are featured in it. 

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I’ve helped host the Malaysian Cultural Night (MCN) 2017, was elected director for the next one, picked up fencing, joined the Photography Club and found my sense of community amongst the Muslim Association, Malaysians and a group of Americans here and there in different classes and communities. I’ve found niches of people I can speak my heart and mind to, I’ve found a place of belonging. 

Education, be it formal or informal, is a funny thing. You will appreciate it in times you least expect. The nights I used to cry (yes I was a eye-water donator) over being away from home in boarding school, kept me well and healthy being away from home here. Times I was made fun of my rather odd accent helped me get along with kids here (man first impression mean a little too much?)

I remember driving home once listening to Steve Job’s ’05 Stanford Commencement. He described moments in life like "dots". 

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well worn path; and that will make all the difference.” SJ '05 

My time here, like much of my time anywhere, has been one of these dots. But like many of them, they’re part of the line that will hopefully form. My experiences, first thought to be introductory, are now expository. But like much of my life thus far, every experience has added value in itself. 

Till my next adventure begins. 

Thank you for reading,

Imran. 

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Japan


My trip (not so) recent trip to Japan was reflective, inspiring and heartwarming. It reflected many cultural differences that I hold with the world around me, and sprouted many novel ideas that will substantiate in time to come. Here’s a fair share of my time in Japan:

The Kids & Teaching
Our first flight was directly to Osaka. After we landed, we had some lunch and took a domestic flight to Nagasaki. Naoe Sensei (one of the bosses that sponsored our trip to Japan) was kind enough to pick us up from the airport, with his trusty driver. We then took a short (if you consider an hour+ ride short) car drive to and up the mountain to a community recreation center. 

The building seemed slightly aged (not too old) and had traditional motifs. 


Beautiful sunset.


We got acquainted with the place. We had dinner as the sun set. While eating, I sparked a conversation with Naoe Sensei’s driver about cameras (since my camera was Japanese, and most cameras are manufactured in Japan anyways). Using my graceful mannered sign language and limited knowledge of Japanese (none actually) I could get by quite alot. To add depth to the conversation, beyond numbers and boring fact sheets, I asked Stephanie to help translate a few sentences. We headed for the showers and did our last prep for the camp that was to start the next day.

The following day, we greeted the kids as they arrived. The kids were unbelievably motivated to learn. I’ve always been prepared to get kids motivated by providing incentives, but they were always open to learn! Just imagine curios kids asking all sorts of questions, involving science, philosophy and and pregnancy! (I was that kid) Turn them Japanese and add a little sign language, google translate and help from a translator, lots of activities, pictures and laughing along the way & bam! There we go. 



That was my face when I almost, almost lost. (I DIND'T!)

The first day was filled with ice breakers to get to know everybody. We then had to attend a formal meeting/briefing on safety and regulations at the community center. A talent time of Malaysian culture followed shortly after lunch. We figured the kids would enjoy something interactive, thus with the wonderful help of Stephanie and Naoe Sensei we managed to secure a couple bamboo sticks for our Tarian buluh which we hope and we believe they enjoyed. We carried on with a couple more activities before wrapping the day up with dinner and babysitting (because it was a community recreation center, I had to teman the kids in the bathroom. 

A cute bunch aren't they?


We spent the second day starting off with an activity which reinforced their understanding of directions. It began with a demonstration staring Su Yee and the kids screaming all sort of things (and also her bumping into countless object along the way, not that I would have done any better HAHAHA). 


We proceeded with grocery shopping (a simulation of it) and started with a simple anatomy lesson before heading out for lunch.

Head, shoulders, knees and toes was part of our reinforcement mechanism!


When the kids came back, they were surprised to see a crime scene in which they had to heal the “wounded” based on a list, putting to use the anatomy knowledge that they acquired earlier in the day before lunch. We painted blood all over and had crime scene tape strung all around the room. The kids definitely enjoyed “mending” the sick (sticking needles, adhering plasters and wrapping arms around Joey and Kylar). We had a little bit of extra time in Nagasaki so we ventured out into the hills for a walk with the kids!

(Pretend) dead. 



Stephanie applying the "blood". 

Happy injuries!


These two were holding each other's hands. When I attempted to take a photograph, they quickly pretended nothing was happening. Nevertheless they were always happy with each other's company. Love is ingrained since birth isn't it?

A view of Sasebo city. There is actually an American naval base down there.

A vintage-esc image of the kids.

This was us smiling/me hyperventilating after racing to the top with Joey, and Koshi and Yuto.




This picture seems so familial!


Joey was the cute hugable big brother figure the kids looked up to (okay, maybe it was the girls). They loved him! He was wearing a black and white sweater during one of the days and ended up with the nickname Panda!

The kids would come back after dinner on both days to write a reflection of what they learnt during the day. They also prepared a little performance, either a song, poem or a speech to perform in front of their parents on the last day. In Nagasaki, even a local TV producer dropped by to take a couple shots of their performance!




Sensei Nona happily watching her kids!

That was marry and her lamb!

Performing! (and apparently eating burgers)


This picture really shows the proud parents and sensei(s) out there.

That was Sayuko before saying good bye. Good byes are never easy, and thought I didn't shed any tears externally, I most definitely did internally.

This was the general layout of the camp that happened throughout the second camp in Osaka. Only this time we had the help of Ayaka!





The kids were warm and fuzzy. They were always willing to learn, and like all kids, excited and could never stop talking. We bonded pretty well, and caused some tears to shed when we parted (not mine of course). We keep in touch (cause apparently almost all Japanese kids are well equipped with smartphones), and it quite often we see a message or two from them. I hope they are well, and I hope we’ve helped them in some way or another. Remember that like any language, or any skill, English isn’t learnt in a day, nor in a 3 day camp, rather progressively, over time and consistency, in which we hope we helped perpetuate. 

This photo is among my favorite photos ever taken. 



The Culture
This was probably my first (extended overseas) trip without proper adult supervision (yes Stephanie, I am not classifying you as an adult ). I have to note I was the only Malay and subsequently the only muslim in the group.

Kids have approached me time and time again questioning why I got a different plate of food from them. I began trying to shorten my case to a “I’m allergic to chicken”. But I realized that such a statement was quite far from the truth and eventually led to “I can’t eat land animals that are slaughtered differently”. It may have caused some kids to scratch their heads so they defaulted to the allergy explanation themselves. Nevertheless they respected the differences we had. 

When it came to praying, it was quite often that I had friends reminding me to pray. They knew I had to pray 3 times a day (due to Jamak). They’ve always been supportive. They  stopped and waited when they knew I needed some time. They were also sensitive, aware and cautious about my dietary restrictions when at restaurants as well as when choosing where to eat (alas I turned pure fish eater and vegan at times (Japanese fish is amazing!). Spending time with people of different races, cultures and norms allowed me to realize the values I hold and the reasons behind why such values were upheld. 

Japanese people are very proud of their culture and their jobs. Its more than often you see people in general genuinely smiling when doing their jobs. Be it cashiers at 7-11, train conductors or even cleaners, they generally always seem proud and hearty about their profession. It touched me when the flight staff lined up downstairs after we landed and greeted us goodbye as we left the plane and walked down the stairs towards the terminal. The pilot even came out to wave! Such pride was consistently evident within the Japanese people and shed a bright and positive light on their culture. 

After my trip to Japan, I start to appreciate and complain less about the prices of goods in Malaysia. Generally, the price of things in Japan is rather high, or rather, the prices of goods in Malaysia is rather low compared to the world average. Just to put things into perspective, a can of coke is about 5 ringgit. While a 1.5 hour bus ride was about 120 ringgit (from Sasebo to Nagasaki Airport). While the prices of things are rather high in Japan, so are their wages. I’m not so keen on doing the math here (it would bore some people to death), but generally this causes their standard of living, overall and not considering ultra-urban areas such as Tokyo, to be much higher than in other countries. 

I realize we have much to do in terms of how to improving our infrastructure and overall standard of living. Japan was much of a realization of what is possible if we put our minds and heart to it. I understood the “Look East” movement initiated by Tun Mahathir as the majority of us, including myself occasionally capitalize so much on the Western living styles and standards as utopian when there are many other countries that provide a far better example in terms of economy, moral and safety. 


That guy was most probably drunk. Darren wasn't too happy with his arms around him HAHAH. 


The lights along the Dotunburi walk were calming. 


Of course what I saw was a succinct glimpse of Japan, and perhaps in entirety Japan has many flaws that I have may overlooked. But that isn’t of concern to me. What is of concern to me is the rather traditional values the Japanese uphold in their transition from a preconceived backward nation to the cutting edge, redefining country we know and love today (so much so some of them are actually thinking of moving there). 

It’s true when they say the more you learn about another culture, the more you learn about yourself. 

The Fam & Experiences

The biggest part of the journey was of those we spend the most time with. 

Spending 11 days with the same people, day in and day out was wonderful! From flights, to trains, to busses and cars. Long walks, short naps, breakfast, lunch and dinner, we did it all. All that time didn’t include the countless hours of meetings, screaming, drama and dancing prior to take off. The weekends and weekends that we used to spend thinking of games and activities kids would enjoy, filming videos to send to the kids and trying putting ourselves in the shoes of kids trying out the games from A to Z.

By the end of our trip, we probably knew more about each other than we ever did about ourselves (this is highly metaphorical please don’t take me literally). 

From Arreya (& Alyssa)’s booty calls to Kylar’s fatherly sermons; you never get to know people truly inside and out until you’ve lived with them, or gone through a large amount of time with them. We watched each other’s backs, and became family along the way. As pre-20 year old young adults, we were a noisy bunch and were talking day in day out. We recalled our conversations by acronyms like TT and PT, most of which I ACCIDENTALLY dozed off during (not cause they were boring, but because I was sleepy!)

When we got back, we were so used to having each other around that we’d meet up every 2 days or so. We grew accustom to each other, and longed each other’s presence. Sooner or later I guess we came (or I came) to our own consensuses that we’ve all got our own paths to walk and that we can always make an effort to see each other around. From birthdays, to just plain lepak-ing, we try to before everybody makes their own way to their own universities. I’ve yet to have them over, (mainly cause I want to cook but am worried about critic), but I will, In Sha Allah.

Thank you to the ISECE Team, Sensei(s), Stephanie, Ayaka, kids and fam bam for allowing such a wonderful experience to happen. May we all learn and grow from our experiences, together. 

Our final goodbyes to the small town as we head to the train station bounded for the airport!

Restless night huh Kylar. 




Laughs among countless memories.

Big pin big heart. 


They look sweet don't they!

Hi Arreya!

Inseparable. 

Uniqlo got us. And yes, they're matching!


Also enjoy these wonderful videos made by my friends of our educational excursion!





As always, 
thank you for reading, 


Imran Idzqandar.