Many thanks to everyone who has been visiting the site and downloading my doctoral thesis and recent article. If you have come to this blog looking for the links, just scroll down the page to the next two blog posts, and you’ll find them there. I’m grateful to the FLUTE list, FluteNet, and the Galway list for assisting me in getting word out about my research, which includes the results of my 2007 survey on injury prevention and management for flute players.
Since the beginning of September, I’ve been working in Malaysia as a Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Music and Performing Arts, Sultan Idris Education University (Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris). The university is in the city of Tanjong Malim (sometimes spelt ‘Tanjung Malim’), a small regional town in the state of Perak. Many students are working towards teaching careers, however, there is also a strong emphasis on performance. Many of the lessons and courses are taught in English, partly because there are a number of international students (especially from mainland China) within the faculty, but also to prepare them for the real world of working in the music industry. While my own students seem a bit shy speaking English, overall they have a fairly good command of the language due to learning it at primary and high school.
There have been so many things going on over the past four months of living in Malaysia, that it’s tricky to know where to go with the blog! Since I’ve left it so long to write, there are more and more stories to tell! So, I think I’ll just write the answers to a few of the questions that people seem to be asking:
1. Do I like Malaysia and am I happy?
Yes! I have a great job combining many of the things I love to do, including researching, performing, lecturing, workshop presenting, and teaching. The students here all address me as “Dr Karen”, as do all of the administration staff, and most colleagues. Some senior colleagues who have lived in English-speaking countries call me by my first name only. The reason the title plus the first name is used in Malaysia is because some people here don’t use their family name, and additionally, the last word in someone’s Muslim Malay name is often their father’s name!
There are obviously huge cultural differences, but everyone has been very patient, helpful and kind, so the transition has in many ways been easier than when I lived in Germany back in the late ’80s/early ’90s. I’m attending Malay language (Bahasa Melayu) classes, and can already hold a basic conversation totally in Malay. At this stage, however, my Malay is broken, but apparently my pronunciation is usually pretty good. Every day I’m learning new words, and understanding more and more of what’s being said!
Tanjong Malim is away from the main tourist route, so there are only a hand full of westerners living here (two females and two males on staff at the uni, plus a few American students). For this reason, I get an enormous amount of attention, from people screaming out “yahooooooo” from cars and trucks, to very little children staring at me like they’ve seen a ghost, to random groups of people wanting photos with me, and so on. It’s a bit like walking on stage every day to be honest!
2. What do I think of the food?
Overall, fantastic! There is a great mix of Malay, Indian and Chinese cuisine, at very inexpensive prices. Kuala Lumpur is about an hour and a half away by train, and the shopping centres there have an even bigger variety of Asian and other meals, though they tend to be much more expensive than here in Tanjong Malim. I love spicy food, but unfortunately also have a very sensitive stomach, so I have to ease off the chilli from time to time! Western food is expensive here, and tends to be fried or typical of take-away meals, but there are a couple of restaurants in town which offer a selection of good quality meals.
3. Have I seen much of Malaysia?
I’ve been to Kuala Lumpur many times now, and am pretty familiar with all the major shopping complexes! Haha!! However, I’ve also visited KL’s wonderful bird park, the Aquaria, Central Markets, Twin Towers, KLCC and surrounding areas, as well as Little India. I did go on a sight-seeing trip to Ipoh just prior to Christmas, however, I was the victim of a bag snatching where my purse, iPhone, passport, bank cards, and a small amount of money were stolen. So, unfortunately my memories of Ipoh aren’t really positive at this point! I’m still in the process of applying for new documentation, which is all very tedious, expensive and annoying. Bag snatching is apparently very common in Malaysia, and in this case, I believe there were two people involved, one man on a motor cycle who distracted me first before another person on a motor cycle (possibly a female) snatched the bag out of my hand from behind me. I’ve never had a problem like this before while travelling, and had I not been feeling so ill that day, I think I would have been more alert. Anyway, I’m safe and have a better understanding of how these criminals work, so will be more vigilant in future.
4. What am I doing?
For this first part of the contract, I lectured in a subject called “Woodwind Techniques” which is designed to prepare pre-service teachers for teaching woodwind instruments in schools. Additionally, I have six wonderful singing students who are learning a range of pop, folk, jazz, musical theatre and light classical songs. Commencing in February, I’ll also be lecturing in Choral Techniques! This will not surprise anyone who knows me fairly well! My second practical study at the Queensland Conservatorium was singing, and I’ve sung professionally for many years, especially with X-Collective (the former cabaret ensemble with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra). Apart from singing in many choirs and other vocal ensembles (for example, Brisbane State High School Choir, Queensland Youth Choir, Brisbane Chorale, Zebra Crossing), I have also conducted choirs for many years, particularly at the USQ McGregor Summer School in Toowoomba. When I grew up I was exposed to a very wide range of singers, because everyone in my family had quite a different taste in music: musical theatre, cabaret, big band, jazz, rock, pop, jazz, soul, and so on. It was at primary and high school that I initially learnt the classical repertoire, and in the meantime, I have played an awful lot of opera both at university and professionally! The advantage of all this, is that there are a lot of songs in my head!! I love choosing songs for my students, but especially introducing them to new repertoire they’ve never heard of (such as some of the more recent musicals like Wicked, Rent and Avenue Q.) It’s fun for me to accompany this music on piano and fall in love with it all over again as well!
At this stage I’m not teaching any flute students, as there is already a teacher on staff and to be honest, I’m enjoying the break for a while.
An additional role for me is as the Co-Supervisor for a very interesting PhD project on the general subject of music competition adjudication. Since that research is still in its early days, I won’t elaborate on that for now!
5. Have I been back to Australia?
Unexpectedly, I received an offer to perform Copland’s incredible work Appalachian Spring with the Camerata of St. John’s in early December. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse, plus the dates happened to be in the same week as the Australian Society for Performing Arts Healthcare conference in Sydney, as well as a concert by Pauline Black and The Selecter (UK), in which a friend of mine was performing. The stars aligned, and I had a wonderful visit back home for about 10 days.
6. Other news?
Over the past four months, I’ve attended a Muslim wedding, edited two PhD dissertations, evaluated a PhD proposal, played a Malaysian premiere of one of Robert Burrell’s flute pieces, and had long conversations in a language I couldn’t speak before September! It has been a busy time, so if you’ve been coming back to the blog to check up on me, sorry to have taken so long to write! I’ll try to update the page more regularly now that I’ve settled here. There’s an awful lot more to tell!