We spent today working on both getting our visas and finding an apartment to live in. We have had some luck with the latter. Currently, we are waiting for a realtor named Rozliza to call us back and show us an apartment in the same complex as the one where we are staying right now. It would be nice if we could find one, because this is a very nice place, relatively close to the subway, and seems to be affordable.
Visas have been less successful. Go figure. We have been instructed by the Malaysian American Commission on Educational Exchange to go to TP’s sponsor institution, the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia–National Malaysian University. Supposedly, we go there, tell the Political Science Department that we have arrived, and then they take us to the International Relations Office, where somehow our visas appear. Not exactly. To begin with, it was impossible to arrange a meeting by telephone with the professor, the dean of the Social Sciences faculty, or anyone who might help us. So we decided to just go down there and find someone. It’s forty minutes by commuter rail south of town, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. And the commuter rail is twenty minutes by subway from where we are. When you get to the UKM stop on the commuter rail, you need to take a taxi or a bus. We didn’t know about the bus, so we took a cab. But we made it.
Upon arriving at the Faculty of Social Sciences, the entire administration seems to have collectively become useless. No one knew what to do, they just knew that they couldn’t do it. To give them credit, they may not be used to seeing Fulbright students. Anyhoo, we finally ascertained that we had to go to the Pusat Pengajian Siswazah, which means Center for Student Something to get some unidentified forms. We asked, where is this building? They said, "oh, very far." We said, how do you get there? They said, "oh, it’s too far and hot to walk. I guess you’ll have to walk." And then they said that they were closed until two (it was 12:45 at the time). So we wasted some time finding grub, and then started on the UKM Death March, which involved taking the "shortcut," which means over the hill instead of around it.
We discovered that this is one of the times that a little piece of the West was transferred into the East wholesale, with little success. What do colleges in the US look like? They are spread out with wide open lawns. When you recreate that on the equator–cutting down all the shade trees and making big sidewalks that meander along big lawns–the results are not pretty. It basically means creating a desert with 90% humidity and no way to get anywhere except for to walk. Suffice it to say, it got pretty hot. There’s a book by a Yale Political Science professor named James Scott, whose research has always focused on Malaysia, called Seeing Like A State, which introduces the subject of how developing countries try to emulate developed countries in big ticket infrastructure projects (like creating universities) and create new disasters. We can see his point.
We actually found the office on the third try, after about a mile walk. Whew, sweaty. It didn’t open until 2:15, but that’s neither here nor there at this point. TP bought his forms (they didn’t want anything to do with JM), sat down, and realized that they were for admission. So essentially TP applied to the university, and will hear back in a couple of weeks. Of course, TP did not have all of his forms–like four copies of my diplomas from Brown and Yale–but we managed to get around that. Only after we hear back from UKM can we start on the visa.
What this means is, screw it, we’re not wasting time at UKM. TP has applied for a non-degree student program, which means he doesn’t have to spend any time there, which means he will not. Even if the visa does not come through, we have a three month visa, and the "Singapore Run" is common and totally cool. MACEE even told us we should do that if UKM gives us any trouble. Plus, the Universiti Malaya is closer (like, within walking distance from where we hope to live), bigger (largest and most complete library in the country), and better (it’s the Harvard of Malaysia). We will check it out tomorrow. If their website is correct in saying that college/university students from anywhere in the world can use the library for free at all times, then we see no reason to fiddle much with UKM much anymore.