Friday, February 29, 2008

Living in USA - Part 8

In Athens, the children were busy telling their friends the fun and the excitement they had throughout the holidays. The holidays produced an album of photographs for our collection. All in all, it had been a worthwhile holiday for us as a family.

I did not think that we could possibly come back to Florida in the near future. Talking to friends a few days after the holidays, the children knew that they had been lucky to have us as their parents. According to their friends, it was seldom for American parents to bring their children to Florida and see five places in one visit like we just did. It was just too expensive and time consuming.

For me, I did not really mind the time and money spent during the holidays. It had been my philosophy throughout my stay in US to expose my children to all the good things US had to offer and shield them from all the evils that many Americans did. In short, the Florida holidays had been a success.

The end of summer meant that it had been almost a year we lived in US. With the approaching autumn, one more member of the family would be going to school. During a sort of IQ interview with officials from the preschool program, I was flabbergasted on hearing how well Syazwan answered the questions.

“When you’re cold, what will you do?” asked the lady pre-kindergarten coordinator.
“I’ll put on my jacket the whole day long!” he answered calmly.
“When you’re hungry, what will you do?” one of the ladies asked.
“I’ll ask my brother to get me rice!” he answered simply.
“Then what will you do?”
“I’ll eat it of course!” answered Syazwan as-a-matter-of-factly.
“Syazwan, tell me what will you do when you’re tired?” the lady asked her third and last question.
“Then I’ll go to sleep.”

The lady was totally impressed with what she just heard. I was impressed too with the way he answered the questions. Syazwan was selected to join a pre-kindergarten programme at Chase Street Elementary School.

The class was a trailer, complete with air-conditioner, heater, reading and playing corners, and a lot of toys! All together there were eighteen boys and girls in the class. In the beginning I was a bit unsure whether Syazwan would be able to blend in and be accepted as an active member of the class.

This fatherly fear stemmed from the fact that Syazwan had never been out of the house alone for a long stretch of time. Syazwan proved that I was wrong. Within a month, Syazwan, not only was he able to make friends with his classmates, he was speaking English like he was born a Georgian.

He was so popular with his classmates and loved by his teacher, Miss Kimberly and her assistant, Miss Jawanna. According to them, Syazwan was a good, well-behaved boy with a big heart to learn the language. They were really surprised, when compared to the other foreign boys in the class, he outperformed everybody as far as English was concerned. So impressed were they with Syazwan’s English that they all thought that we all spoke English at home.

Besides being good in English, he was also exemplary in manners and like to help in many of the class activities. So good was his behaviour, he was fully trusted by his teachers and he was often asked to escort girls to the rest room!

Some of his classmates that I could still remember were Courtney, Tara, Ben, Shawn, Mariah, and Mario. Courtney Green was especially close to Syazwan. Syazwan would normally blush when teased by Diyana about their friendship.

At the 4th July fireworks we met Courtney and her family among all the crowds. It was our last summer holidays and they had not seen each other for more than a month. She came towards us and said, “ Oh Iwan, I miss you!”. Syazwan was really embarrassed that night. He said nothing. I knew that she really missed him. It was the last time that they met.

From her aunt working at Dunking Donut store, I was told that she had moved to another town and would be joining kindergarten there. I told her to tell Courtney that we were going home to Malaysia and Syazwan would join standard one in Malaysia.

With the coming of autumn too, Diyana and Syafiq were promoted to the higher grades. Diyana joined the fifth grade and Syafiq in the fourth. Diyana, for the first time in her school life, began to show her interest in music. She took part in the school choir and orchestra. In the school orchestra, Diyana chose to play violin.

So I had to go around Athens searching for music shops that had violins for rent. I found many such shops, but I was not eligible to rent one just because I did not have a credit record!

That was the way Americans did business. You had to have a credit record before you were eligible to rent or do business by means of credit. Finally I met a private musician who was willing to rent me a violin and so began Diyana’s debut in a violin.

To our surprise, she really was talented in using the instrument. Soon she was playing her violin whenever she was free and in the orchestra, she was really amazing, playing the violin with style and confidence.

Talking about autumn would not be complete without saying something about the trees. The trees, they surely were something to watch and appreciate during autumn. We did not have to travel far to see this fascinating phenomenon. All around the campus, we could see leaves changing colour from green to either yellow, orange, red, purple or other sorts of mixed colours. They even had announcements over television, radio, and papers predicting and forecasting when the foliage would be at their best for the sake of those who were willing to travel far just to see this great gift of God. For us, our photo albums were full of these beautiful trees.

Sometimes towards late October every year, there was a festival call Halloween night. I did not quite understand the reasons why they celebrated Halloween. All I knew was that Halloween night was celebrated by all, young and old alike, all over US.

That night, young and old would all dress up in all sorts of costumes and make up which normally took the theme of ghosts or scary characters. The olds would wait in their houses for the kids to come calling asking for sweets and goodies and the young would walk from house to house, knocking on the door of each house visited.

I remembered on our first Halloween night. I had to escort my three children, around the whole family housing. Syafiq was dressed up as Count Dracula and Syazwan as a cat, complete with whiskers nicely painted on his cheeks. Diyana was too embarrassed to follow, so instead, she was with her girl friends and a lady chaperone throughout the night.

Those residents interested in taking part in the celebration had to paste the Halloween sign, a picture of a pumpkin, on their doors and had to be prepared with all the cookies that would be enough for the night. The children would only knock on such doors.

When almost all the apartments taking part in the celebration visited, the children came back with three plastic bags full of sweets, candies, and other goodies. They were enjoying themselves despite the night’s sub-zero temperature. All those snacks lasted them for weeks!

Then came Christmas, the second Christmas since we came here. Christmas and New Year were two occasions that were celebrated in a grand fashion by the Americans. Weeks before Christmas, shopping complexes would be crowded with people. Many of them were busy buying gifts for their loved ones. A Christmas would not be a Christmas without all these gifts.

It was during this gifts buying seasons that most shopping complexes would have their cheap sales. Cheap sales in US were really cheap. Imagine, things were sold at 50% discount and an additional 20 - 30% taken off at the counter.

An Arrow shirt would, after all the discounts, cost only seven to eight dollars! So during such a good buying time, we too were busy buying a lot of things. Commerce, a town about forty minutes drive from Athens, was our favourite place to go during cheap sales seasons. Goods such as quality china, silverware, shoes, towels, and shirts were usually sold at very low prices in many of the factory outlets found there.

One or two weeks after Christmas, once again shopping malls would be crowded with people. A first time visitor must be wondering why, after spending lavishly on gifts before Christmas, people still came back for more spending. Actually it was not because they had too much money to spend, but one to two weeks after Christmas was the time to return the unwanted and redundant gifts for either money or other things of equal value.

It was a practice that during Christmas, gifts were usually given together with receipts, just in case the recipients of the gifts needed to exchange them later. During this period, returned gifts, mostly toys were sold cheap. We bought a lot of toys for Syazwan during this time.

Talking about gifts, I was fascinated by their ingenuity in making full use of the culture of giving without letting anything went to waste. The first example was what they called a wedding shower. A few weeks or months before a couple was married, all their close friends would open up a register at one shop. All gifts bought for the couple would be registered. This would of course prevent the couple from receiving the same items from friends.

The baby shower was the second example. Before a baby was born, the couple would be asked what items were needed for the baby’s arrival. They would require a frank answer from the couple. Most of the items pertaining to the arrival of the baby would be bought as gifts. So on most occasions, these two cultures helped the going-to-be-married and expecting couples a lot in term of their budget. I wished this good American culture should be followed and practised widely in Malaysia.

Still on gifts, I also found that the Americans were all out in their celebration of birthdays and wedding anniversaries. For these two occasions, a fitting gift was always expected of. The value of the gift would of course depend on the economic standing of the person concerned. Overlooking or forgetting the birthday or wedding anniversary of one’s lover or spouse, to many people, was an unforgivable mistake. Relationships and marriages had been known to go sour as a result of such a mistake. Luckily, many Americans that I knew only had one wife and one or two children.

To be continued...

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