Giveaway signs that you're back in Malaysia:
#14. As you're trying to enjoy your dinner outside, you're mobbed by i) a pirated DVD seller, ii) a donation collector, iii) a lottery ticket seller, or iv) all of the above, at once.
# 39. The books in the bookstores are fully wrapped in a clear plastic wrapper to prevent people from reading them for free.
# 52. It never rains. It floods.
# 68. You pay up to 50 sen just to have the pleasure of peeing in a public toilet. (Rumours are that you can pay up to ten ringgit in KLCC. There, the toilets flush their urinals with champagne. Or the tears of poor people. Either one.)
Random Memories: Your Whole School Life
The exercise book was one of the prevailing memories of my entire school life. There was something wonderful about the feel of the covers of these books - the rough hemp-like exterior, bearing your school logo on the front, with the standard underlying:
Nama (Name) :_______________
Kelas (Class) :_______________
And then on the back cover, you had a variety of things, like the multiplication tables, the Rukun Negara (the Malaysian National Principles) or your school song.
There were two main types of exercise books - the ones with the ruled lines (Perkara: Karangan, Bahasa Melayu, English Literature etc.) and the ones with the boxes (Perkara: Matematik, Matematik Tambahan etc.).
The younger you are, the bigger the space in your exercise books. Big ruled lines and boxes for Standard 1 which progressively got smaller and smaller as you aged, culminating in graph paper in Form 6 (the ultimate in small boxes!). No wonder your glasses got thicker through the years as well!
I remember some friends, in an effort to save money, used to write in the smallest writing possible to save from buying too many exercise books. They often got scolded for this, and I felt bad for them, because this miserliness was out of necessity. Write small, or miss a meal. I choose to write small.
Exercise books, of course, were meant to be for schoolwork only. But schoolwork was strictly for those with a lack of imagination.
Every student with a bit of creativity could turn his normal exercise book into one of many art forms:
1) An endless source of origami paper. [Look, a giraffe! Look, a rhinoceros! Look, a piece of crumpled paper! (my modern-art origami often divided the critics.)]
2) An endless source of paper planes. (see 1, above. Look, a flying piece of crumpled paper!)
3) An RPG game book. All this required were two lines drawn in the middle of the exercise books from the first page all the way to the last. Your friend had to choose between the two paths, one which lead to their deaths (represented by a drawn tombstone reading R.I.P., or a bomb, or skulls and crossbones, or a loveless marriage) or to safety.
Given that there were a standard 52 pages to every exercise book, the mathematical chance of you reaching the end safely was 1/2 to the power of 50, which meant that by the time you finished, you and your friend would have repeated Standard Two four times.
4) Empire. This was all the craze in our later years in school, when we finally got the tiny boxed mathematical books. Two opponents would pit their wits against each other, one would be naughts and the other would be crosses.
The main objective of the game was to trap as many of your opponents naughts (or crosses) in a trap formed by four of your own naughts or crosses. It was a game only the very intelligent mastered.
(I, on the other hand, drew my naughts and crosses into pretty little rainbows.)
5) The pencil race. You took a pen or pencil of differing colours and you and another student pushed your upright pen against the exercise book in a manner that would make a scrawl, literally.
The idea was to push your pens to make the scrawl lines as long as possible, to reach the finish line, where the winner was rewarded with the grand prize of - a dirty exercise book.
6) Graffiti along the margins of the book. Brilliant! All the exercise books have margins, wasting about 1.5 cm of precious writing space for unneccesary things like putting in numbers.
I hated to see the space go to waste so I would doodle incessantly on the margins. Each individual doodle was a work of art, and for years I hoped that teachers would spot my genius along the margins rather than on the pages themselves.
My Standard Five teacher had a keen eye for talent, and finally called me up one day for my due recognition. I take it a full facial slap means "Well done! Your drawings will one day grace the halls of rich men with too much money and not much taste."
Only time will tell, although I'm sure that my doodles will sell better once I'm dead.
Such is art.