A few days ago I went to market with a Korean mom (or “mum” as is said here, having been a British protectorate). That probably doesn’t sound like a big deal, but for me it was. It marked a shift that came from us celebrating our 6-month anniversary of living in Malaysia, and it was a shift in my way of thinking.
During our first month here I was getting to know so many people – it was hard to connect with anyone, really, both because of how busy we were and how overwhelmed we were. Month one was all about absorbing as much information as we could, and trying to find habits and rituals that could ground us.
In month two we started language training for real. My husband is going to be teaching in BM (bahasa Malaysia – “bahasa” means language). I love learning languages and want to be fluent in BM, partly out of respect for the people and culture here. I had learned basic Mandarin Chinese in college, and so could speak with many of the Chinese people here, and I was trying to connect with BM speakers as well. The seminary focuses on having all courses offered in BM, Mandarin, and English – so these are the langauges I want to be conversant in.
At the boys’ international school, most everyone speaks English, but there are strong Korean and French communities. Most of these wonderful people have very strong accents, so at some point I made a mental decision to not aim for friendships with people who didn’t claim English or BM as a native tongue. Part of me felt like that was stereotyping or discrimination; part of me felt like it was a boundary that protected my reserves of energy, concentration, etc.
But two weeks ago, I needed to work with a Korean mum on a PTA project. Within minutes, I could see that she was a really warm, good-hearted person. Like, really a gem. As we talked, she asked how I’m doing, and she invited me to go with her to a market that I hadn’t yet explored. To my surprise, I said yes, and further, I felt excited not just to see the market, but to spend time with this lovely soul.
As we went to the market, I realized that I am ready to grow out of the boundary I had set. It seems like she, as a non-native speaker of BM or English, has probably not had it easy living here. Yet she bravely goes exploring – she told me about many places that I can’t wait to see – and she talks to local people, listens so carefully, and shares what she knows.
Next week I go to her home to learn to make japchae, a Korean noodle dish. I am energized at the thought of this – something that before I had thought I needed to avoid. Whether this is a learning from being here long enough, or whether my prior decision was a little cold-hearted, I don’t know. But I think that the world has a way of opening us up, little by little, perhaps as we are ready to receive. I wonder what the next months and years, the next phases and events, will bring. I hope that I will be ready to receive. With the help of others, I think so.