Monday, July 21, 2014

The pre-exchange II

The past few days have been a whirlwind of bittersweet feelings, feelings I never thought I'd experience, especially since I've always wanted to go on an exchange but there's definitely something about saying goodbye to the life that you've lived for all those years in routine and comfort. 

On Thursday I attended my last Chinese ink painting and watercolor class at the MIA extra mural studies center, it's a beautiful old bungalow occupied by the some very passionate teachers and hobby artists and it's located right smack in the hustle and bustle of KL which proved to be very soul satisfying since I could spend my lunch breaks getting lost in freshly printed books in Kinokunia as it was a mere five minute walk away. I enrolled myself in their courses only because I had time to kill as I was just a few months away from departing for my exchange and I couldn't work on any long term projects, so the courses that they offered seemed like the perfect way to spend the remaining months I had. 

Over the last four months I had grown to love being in a classroom like environment again, what made me love it even more was the fact that the students were of all ages, each class conceived of less than ten people on most days and the teachers would tutor every student personally, which meant that there were advance students that have been attending their courses for years and were working on massive projects and there would always be a new face around but everyone in the classroom bonded on one common ground, art, and those two hours were sometimes the most uplifting of my week. Ideas would be thrown around, thoughts on the latest artists or exhibitions would fill the air, intense discussions on where to get the most affordable art supplies were initiated. 

There truly isn't anything like being in an environment where you truly belong, where the way you look, the clothes on your back and the place that you're from doesn't matter. All that matters is your love for art, how spiffy you happen to be with your art medium or maybe you just know where to get a high quality horse hair paintbrush for RM2. It's a place where you indeed, feel beautiful as is. 

And I'm going to miss walking through those doors every Thursday but to me, being an exchange student means possessing the ability to once again discover places in which you belong, just halfway around the world. 

Now that I've got a whole lot more free time on my hands I've gone full throttle on catching up with craft, reading and more or less everything that I haven't had the time to immerse myself in with my prioritized activities but since they've been called off, well, it's time to indulge.


The most recent obsession (My obsessions have got a very high turnover.) of mine has been t-shirt painting, it's something I had dabbled in before but unfortunately didn't take much interest in since I found it tiresome because it took too long to paint a simple outline and it was just plain frustrating not being able to achieve a clean cut line, my strokes always turned out a little fuzzy. 

I only decided to work it out since I've really been into bands and obviously craved for their merchandise, only to discover that I couldn't afford it, so I resolved to painting the merchandise myself. Since then I've painted every single one of my plain tops in my wardrobe and I'm not entirely sure if I should be proud of myself for improving the overall state of my clothing or disappointed because I haven't been able to control my urge to splash paint over everything.

It's funny how everything I get into always does fall back to art, it's almost like I revolve around it.

On the final note, I can't help feeling a little ill prepared about my departure or maybe this is just the slightly overwhelmed bit of my mind speaking as it usually does when what used to be far from reach nears to the point where you suddenly snap back into reality and realize that it's no longer a far fetched dream.

31 DAYS.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The pre-exchange

Just a few days back I never would have thought that I would revert back to blogging since I had my mind set on starting up the long procrastinated youtube channel, I had been meaning to start vlogging for years but once I had the courage to actually start filming the first video I realized that there's a lot more to it than having an interesting video that's filmed in a decently lit setup, there was editing, background music (Yes, I'm a perfectionist like that) and having to wait hours for it to upload.

Long story short, after having gone through the entire process I've decided that it probably wasn't worth all that effort and I wouldn't want to spend hours facing a screen during my exchange year in Ecuador because I'm not going to want to regret not soaking up enough South American vibes and living in the present. Yes, this is me telling myself that it is okay to not document my exchange too much and as much as I now despise blogging, as I've witnessed just how much more intense and personal stories seem to sound through a video format, how it captures emotions perfectly, I'll endure this slightly backward path.

Well, being someone with incredibly low self-esteem, I am relieved that I wouldn't have to experience anxious fits when I upload a video but I can't help feeling overwhelming guilty about not being able to bring myself to hop over such a small yet terrifying hurdle. The overly circulated quote "What if I fall? oh, but my darling, what if you fly?" seems oddly relevant just about now.

The past few months have been a blur of scurrying around in a decapidated chicken like manner to prepare the necessities that are required for me to bring over and since Rotary has never sent a Malaysian exchange student over to Ecuador there was a lot of uncertainty and none of those in change of the youth exchange sector really understood what procedures to take. 

So there was a lot of assumptions and frustration being scattered around mainly due to the legal matters like apply for the certification of good conduct for the incoming exchange student's host families and the extremely tedious process of applying for my one year visa, not to mention that we weren't told prior to confirming that I had to have an "open return date" flight ticket which happens to cost an exorbitant sum of dosh, needless to say, my Dad wasn't the happiest of fellows. 

Then there was purchasing gifts for my host families, frantically shopping for warm clothing since the average temperature in Quito is ten degrees Celsius and my wardrobe conceives mainly of loose fitting tank tops and shorts, hunting for a durable suitcase that didn't have zips since becoming an accidental drug trafficker was a major concern and this isn't even a quarter of the "to get" list.

Not wanting to step into the exchange program without any knowledge about what may happen, I've been doing a fair share if research and by research I really do mean going borderline insane trying to locate as many blogs of rotex (Ex-rotary youth exchange students) that had Ecuador as their host country. At least I'm now the slightest bit more content and in a less fidgety state having known what I may experience especially during the first few months to an estimated average on how many pins I would need to exchange with the other exchange students when I meet them at conferences or events. Yes, the picture above are of the 220 pins that I painstakingly made over a few quiet nights and who knew it was quite this difficult to source for tiny Malaysian flags.

10 Things that may most likely to happen/be true if you're ever going on a Rotary exchange to Ecuador, *according to rotex blogs:

1. Sometimes your host family's house doesn't have an address and getting yourself home can be tricky.

2. You wouldn't understand a single word uttered in class no matter how many years you've              been studying the Spanish language. 

3. There's going to be a language camp in a 5 star resort in Mompiche, where you're apparently going to speak more English than Spanish. Also Germans make up half of the population of exchange students and the Taiwanese are the only Asian exchange students, not that it matters.

4. Concerts are realllly affordable. 

5. Ecuadoreans throw parties every weekend.

6. You're probably going to be a Latin dance expert by the end of your exchange. 

7. Football is a thing. Duh.

8. Anything that isn't manufactured or grown locally is priced sky high. (Side note: I may return  draped in llama wool, topped a woven straw hat and requesting for cuy.)

9. Don't expect high speed wifi and the connection has got some major mood swings.

10. Sometimes there's no hot water to shower with.

*I can't wait to do a more in depth post on this once I've actually experienced or myth busted everything on the list.

What I've been enjoying most throughout the entire preparation stage has been taking up the language of my host country, Spanish. It was advised that I take formal Spanish lessons but I had come across a free app called Duolingo a few months back when I was interested in picking up German and I found it a lot easier to follow and grasp as compared to expensive language learning software like Rosetta Stone. 

It actually made language learning addictive, I would be going through a few lessons whenever I had free time and one of my favorite concepts about it is being able to "duel" other Duolingo users that are at your level, basically it's revision but a whole lot more fun since there's a challenge given. I don't usually rave about things, let alone apps this way but you could say that this is my latest obsession and having completed the entire Spanish course was just plain devastating, it was almost like Augustus Waters at the end of the Imperial affliction and not believing that it had ended. 

Also you never realize how much of the world around you is in a certain language until you learn it, it feels as though a dark veil has uncovered over the way I see the world, okay that may be a little exaggerated but at least I now understand the subtitles in that movie I not so legally downloaded, the occasional Spanish quote on weheartit and being able to properly understand the countless Spanish art and cake decorating blogs makes you feel nothing less than triumphant.

38 DAYS.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Close your eyes and hold out your hands

Closing my eyes and holding out my hands, I think that describes just exactly what my approach to life has been over the past few months and yes, it does in a way sound excruciatingly naive but I'm starting to see how it works. 

If I had let fear overcome my desire to delve into any possible opportunity I probably wouldn't even have giving a second thought about trying out for the Cake Challenge Malaysia competition, which was exactly what I did for the past few years when I had heard about the competition since it very clearly stated in the fine print that the finalists had to complete the last tier of their entry live and I just didn't feel as though I possessed adequate experience to compete under a limited time frame but this year I decided to close my eyes and hold out my hands to accept what life brings me. 

After I had got chosen as one of the few finalists I constantly felt as though as my competition entry wasn't good enough and that I would never be able to exceed what I had accomplished at the 2011 ICCA wedding cake competition, by what I had accomplished I really do mean the techniques I was able to invent and the entire composition of the cake. That feeling that settles at the bottom of your heart that puts you into a state where you could never become anything more was unnerving and it was set in concrete throughout the preparation stage as I felt that I was constantly referring back to the techniques I had executed on that piece and then having to force yourself to improve on it because you couldn't bring yourself to copy off a thirteen year old, even if that thirteen year old was yourself. 

Yes, you're probably wondering why would I would actually chose to regress in a way instead of getting inspiration from other artists or objects around me to actually progress. During the first few days of preparation I did the necessary bit of research to keep myself up to date with the latest winning competition cakes, which really only proved to be useful in mentally pointing out where my fellow competitors had extracted their ideas and techniques from as whenever I tried to apply those techniques onto my cake it would have an 80% chance of winding up in the trash because I would step away from my cake, tilt my head to the left and right and come to a conclusion that it really didn't come from me but that celebrity cake artist instead.   

Like everything else, I realized all I needed to remember is to keep a decent balance between the two to avoid any further inner conflict. 

Though it wasn't the first time, I've been receiving telltale signs that I wasn't as passionate about cake decorating as I had been before for instance I honestly did not have a halfway acceptable theme aside from it being royal and dripping in primary colors because it seemed like a slightly challenging color combination to work with or a name for my cake, two things which I found as important as the cake itself and which I would take pride in sharing how I had come up with it and what had inspired me but no, this time it felt as though my thoughts had vacated my mind. 

Oddly as time passed I was slowly filling that vacant space in my mind with a clear picture on what I wanted my finished creation to look like, though I had never done any proper research on those few topics I knew it was going to be a fusion of stained glass and oriental royalty. I shall assume that my creative gears are merely taking a little longer to shift into place and even more time to start whirring.    

I do feel that this cake slightly reflects my current state of mind, from the way the tiers seem almost identical to my scattered thoughts and ideas and the striking colors resemble the way I've been looking at life from a different perspective and it gives the most mundane moments and objects a new, more vivid form. To me the cake competitions I've entered throughout the past four years has never been purely for the golden trophy or the way people spend time admiring your entry or that surge of adrenaline and raw excitement you get when you get interviewed, all along I really do think that during the period of time I spend working on my entry is when I get a true sense of self, getting in touch with my inner most thoughts and basically it's a two week journey of rediscovering who you are all over again which is something I realized I need to go through annually in order to keep myself sane. 

Also the live competition was the direct opposite of the Masterchef scenario I had in mind, with cake being thrown around and contestants running riot. I was never too good with time management or estimating the amount of time I would need to complete a project and I had actually finished my cake an hour before we had to officially lay our piping bags to rest, which was surprising. I should time myself when I work next time. 

I had feared live competitions all along for nothing, now I really am glad I decided to close my eyes and hold out my hands because what gets placed in your hands can be magical. 

On the side note, I do hope that I'd be able to start blogging again for good since Ecuador is a mere three months away and I do want to keep a little travel log on my adventures anyway. And reading through my older posts gives me cringe attacks but they do seem like a brilliant memoir of the past.