5:45am. My alarm buzzes, I hit snooze. 5:55am and the obnoxious chiming starts again, I hit snooze all over again. At 6:05am, I finally start my day with my terrible habit of scrolling through Instagram, Facebook, and my email inbox, to see what happened on the other side of the world while I slept. Not surprisingly, Trump said something offensive, global warming is still an unaddressed threat, but thankfully, Planned Parenthood is still fighting for access to affordable health care. I throw off my sheet and get off my mattress that sits on the floor with no bed frame and is still wrapped in the plastic I bought it in, results of the horrifying bedbug incident.
My tile floor is cold to the touch. I’ve finally given in and have begun to use air conditioning at nighttime. It turns out that I am a slightly happier person if I don’t wake up multiple times each night dripping in sweat. I wish I had realized this seven and a half months ago when I moved here, but I felt the need to prove something. Prove what? I don’t know, that I am tough enough to sleep through the night in 80-degree weather and 90% humidity? (I’m not, and it shouldn’t matter if I am). And prove it to whom? I don’t know… My LinkedIn connections? My future employers? Oh that’s right, literally no one cares that I slept in a self inflicted torture sauna for nearly eight months. That was dumb.
I put on a bright red baju kurung, a traditional Malaysian outfit which is a baggy floor length skirt topped with a long-sleeved top that goes down to my knees, and I tie my hair up in a bun, the only way I ever wear my hair here because of the heat. It is 6:20am now and I have class at 7:00am, so I’d better grab some food and walk to school. I hope that the neighborhood dogs are not out to harass me, because they are vicious and I despise them and there is a rabies outbreak in my town and I’d love to avoid that.
I go to open my door. My right hand grasps the knob and turns and pulls, the way my muscle memory is trained to open doors, but nothing happens. I am locked inside my own bedroom. I use a credit card and a bobby pin to try to open the door. It doesn’t work; I am still locked in. Maybe the door is only locked from the inside and my roommate can open it from the outside for me? I begin to pound on the wall and call for my roommate. “Josephine! Wake up! I’m locked inside of my room!” It is only 6:30am. If she doesn’t hate me already, she certainly will after this.
Josephine cannot open the door from her side either, and we try a few different ideas to open my door. None of them work, so I call our landlady for help. It is a shameful thing to have to call someone and say you are locked inside your room, even if it is not your fault at all. You can hear it in their voice as they question your intelligence. The landlady is busy but thankfully, she sends over her brother, who arrives in incredible speed on his motorbike, steering with one hand and carrying his toolbox in the other (or so I imagine, I couldn’t actually see since I was locked inside my room).
I also call the person I am supposed to co-teach with, to inform him that I am locked inside my room and probably will be late to class. He asks, “Are you turning your door knob correctly?” Of course I am! I have been opening doors since I was a toddler. If I have suddenly forgotten how to open a door, there is more going on here and I probably shouldn’t come teach your class. Ever again. But I don’t say that, I just say “Yes” because sometimes when you are locked inside your bedroom at 6:45am, you don’t feel like proving your ability to perform a mundane, everyday task.
My landlord’s brother (sadly, I don’t know his name. I will refer to him as “my hero”) begins to remove my doorknob, but he needs my help from the other side of the door. Unfortunately, my hero does not speak English. He only speaks Mandarin. My roommate and I don’t speak Mandarin. Besides English and my Spanish, we only speak sikit-sikit Malay and mimit-mimit Iban. Not so helpful for verbal communication, but by now Josephine and I are damn good at communicating important things to people through the universal language of Charades. So Josephine and my hero, bless their hearts (as my grandma Leber would say), begin miming to one another the things I need to do from the other side of the door to ensure my freedom. Josephine yells instructions through the door, and I follow dutifully.
The whole exchange is hilarious. I can hear them laughing on the other side of the door and I imagine how silly they must look – a tall, middle aged Chinese-Malaysian gentleman and a small, blonde lady who is still in her pajamas doing exaggerated movements and nodding enthusiastically to one another when the communication is successful – and I laugh, too.
Everyone is laughing and banging on the doorknob and miming instructions to try to set me free. Josephine kindly delivers me coffee through my little bedroom window (which has metal bars over it so no, I couldn't have climbed out) and finally, at about 7:54am, my hero swings open the door of my bedroom. I say, “Thank you! Terima kasih! Xie Xie!” and run off to school to attend the last 20 minutes of class, where my students laugh like hyenas at my morning’s misadventure, and my co-teacher rolls his eyes and raises his eyebrows in disbelief.
Malaysia has thrown me some curveballs. Some of them infuriating, some of them heartbreaking, many of them in the form of surprise fish in something that I expected to taste sweet. Luckily, this curveball was just plain hilarious. For once, the curveball was definitely not my fault (turned out to be faulty doorknob mechanics, who knew!), it was easy to fix, and it was super funny example of practicing cross-cultural communication. I have two and a half months to catch more of Malaysia’s inevitable curveballs. If I’m lucky, they will stay easy and funny. Or maybe I’m just getting better at catching them…
This blog, "Uprooted", is not an official Fulbright Program site. The views expressed on this site are entirely those of its author and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State, or any of its partner organizations.