Sunday, April 22, 2012

Skyping with Ohio University


After a couple of false starts during a trial run (including me being a day ahead of schedule), I was finally able to Skype with Dr Habibah Ashari and her students for her “Exploring Malaysia's Diversity through Film and Fiction” course taught at Ohio University.

Me being new to Skyping, I was fascinated by the whole process and how useful it can be for classrooms.  The delayed reaction from speaking and hearing, however, threw me off a bit; it's the same problem when talking long distance, but when Skyping you can see their mouths move or you’re wondering why is it taking them so long to react or respond?  Are they hearing me, understanding me?  Then there’s the exaggerated pause between answering one question and hearing the next, as students took turns asking me questions about two of my short stories from Lovers and Strangers Revisited, “Only in Malaysia” and “Home for Hari Raya”. 

They asked questions about how I arrived at the names of the characters (sometimes you try them on to see how they fit); how much of the story is true or based on fact (see story behind the story for “Only in Malaysia” and also “Home for Hari Raya”); why I revise the stories after publication (I’m still trying to sell them to other markets); and are the characters stereotypes (no, just typical of their respective races, recognizable as your neighbors as pointed out in reviews); and why is it necessary to identify the characters by race (a political hot button issue since race is often synonymous with religion, all Malays are Muslim at birth, which I also had to clarify for the French translation of Lovers and Strangers Revisited ). 

           
For my end, with the call being so early in the morning, (6:30 am my time—for them it was 6:30 the previous evening) and having just woken up, I was no doubt less coherent and maybe more defensive than I would be, say, after breakfast or mid-morning.  Plus I was trying to take in all the details, and with the above-mentioned delayed reaction, at times, it took me awhile to figure out which one was speaking, even though there weren’t that many students on hand.  There was also this minor jerky effect from any movements, so I had to really concentrate to avoid getting distracted by the movements, the newness of Skying, plus seeing my own live-action upper body on the screen in front of me (lower left corner) that was also moving.  When I’m teaching, I’m usually not so self-conscious.  But then there are those days you wish you could be invisible or elsewhere...

Overall it was a great experience.  Just wished a few things I had said off the cuff I could take back or clarify.  I’m sure this happens when I’m teaching too like if I make a joke that no one picks up on, or make a quasi political comment that could easily be taken out of context.  But life is all about learning, and thanks to Ohio University, I just learned a new skill—how to Skype.   I can only get better at it.  In fact, I then called two brothers in two different states that same day and asked them, “Do You Skype?  It’s easy!” I even got both of them Skyping for their first time that very day!

A few days later, I got an email from Frederick Lewis, Associate Professor at School of Media Arts & Studies at Ohio University who confirmed that his proposal for filming “Home for Hari Raya" is nearing final approval, that the screenplay adaptation is in progress, and that the connections with UiTM is being strengthened.  His team of film (and drama?) students from Ohio University will be using UiTM Shah Alam as a logistical base for the filming project in December.  This is what I wanted to hear, that everything is on track.

That’ll be another new experience that I’m looking forward to in 2012!
—Borneo Expat Writer

*Update, the 20th anniversary of Lovers and Strangers Revisited

**Links to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and to the French translation of Lovers and Strangers Revisited, Trois autres Malaisie.  Thanks!

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