15 January 2006

Say What?!?

My college contracts a cleaning company for both the academic and hostel blocks. Every morning, hordes of lowly-paid cleaners (mostly foreign) arrive in vans and split up into their respective groups. For each hostel block, they will wash the toilets and sweep the floor everyday. Occasionally they will mop the floor and wipe the windows as well.

As the cleaners rarely change shifts, I see almost the same face everyday. Most of them are foreigners but I do not know their actual nationality as it is hard for me to differentiate between a Burmese and a Vietnamese. But this rarely poses a problem as we rarely communicate with them anyway. A rare exception is the locals. Some of the Malay aunties are quite friendly and they try to make some small talk when they pass you in the hallway.

Recently, a Muslim lady has been assigned to my hostel block. She is pretty cordial and we smile at each other, but I don't know if she's a local or perhaps an Indonesian. Because everytime she speaks it sounds Malay-ish but I could never understand a single word! Just this morning, I wanted to greet her but held back as I didn't want a repeat of our last conversation:
Me: [smiles at her]
Her: Xkljawunndu, oauwjm! kjauen lakiwufhw. [laughs]
Me: [smiles sheepishly and nods my head while quickly walking away]

She really does seem nice and in need of some company, because I often see her walking up and down the corridor doing nothing. But I can't bring myself to have a proper conversation with her in the fear that I might create misunderstanding. Yes, I could just smile and nod my head when she speaks but there are certain questions I should not smile and nod my head to, like:
  • Do I look fat?

  • Would you like to come home with me?

  • Can I clean your underwear?

So I think I'll maintain my smile-and-run routine, thank you. But I do wonder - does she think of me as a mute foreign student who doesn't understand Malay? Who feels weirder?

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