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Expatriate in Kuala Lumpur – a woman's walkabout – Elizabeth Goodhue

When you leave you must remember to come back for the others. A circle, understand? You will always be Esperanza. You will always be Mango Street. You can’t erase what you know. You can’t forget who you are. – Sandra Cisneros

Month

September 2015

Langkawi, Malaysia


Cable car selfie
Check out the sweat.

Perspective

skybridge

Well, It is not exactly Thailand, but another hour on the plane and I would be there! My first mistake was to think that I should stay away from Cenang Beach when I booked my hotel. Malaysia does tourism well, and it is the “rainy” season, so the beach was not crowded.  I stayed in the G Motel in Kuah. Terrible location, but I am not complaining. I got there in the morning, and before I could frighten myself out of it, I rented a motor scooter. I do not know why that little vehicle scared me so much in the beginning. Perhaps riding left-side in a congested city-port had something to do with it.My scooterMotorscoooter

I located the most remote beach on the map and headed north across the island from Kuah to Tanjung Rhu. There I found paradise. Where does one go from here? The water was turquoise, the sun strong and the boat traffic was minimal.Giant mini-mountains rose from the sea, and women drifted behind their meMY Tanjung Rhu 2n in black burkas. MY Tanjung Rhu burkaThis practice still fascinates and mystifies me.I spent the day lounging about, taking occasional dips in the warm Andaman Sea. IMG_0563By the time I came back, I was so hungry, but I needed a break from the scooter. Kuah is not exactly the eating capital of the world, so I settled for some sketchy local food, which means a corrugated cover, open stove, cooking something unidentifiable, and little to no English spoken — a mom and pop operation. So I just pointed to the best looking picture on the menu and ended up with unshelled prawns with the fuzzy little legs still in swimming position and processed squid, covered with the hottest sauce you can imagine, on a bed of noodles. After the first bite, I was not so sure that I could eat it, but I felt committed and sloshed it down with a rather dirty looking cup of water. I shooed away the ants and the flies and hoped that I hadn’t just ruined my vacation with a gastronomic mistake.

Langkawi worship...
Street Worship

langkawi worship

The next day, feeling more relaxed on my scooter, I motored to Cenang Beach, found some delicious coffee and tamed my queasy stomach with some bread. Cenang Beach was where it was happening — jets skiing, paragliding, food, and five star hotels. I managed to lounge in a five-star chair for most of the day, until they figured out that I was a lowly moocher, and shooed me away. I had signed up for a jet ski that day, but the tide was so low that the boys in charge suggested I come back in the morning, so I satisfied my hamburger craving and scootered home.

The morning of day three looked a bit ominous, so I got on my scooter to beat the rain and go to Cenang beach, because I did not want to be stuck on a rainy day in Kuah.  I made it to the coffee shop before the deluge. I diddled about looking for things to do on a rainy day, and before I knew it, the rain stopped. I hurried to the jet ski guys, and they were good to go. Everyone speaks English here, but the Malay English accent is almost another language in itself, so I just waited to see what was going to happen. I did not know if I was going to drive a jet ski, or if someone would drive me, or where I was going. It is best to wait it out to see what comes. Finally, we were ready to go, and I think they were going to send me off to explore the outlying islands alone, which was fine, until I asked them how to drive the jet ski. So one of the guys let me drive. and we headed out to the islands. Wow! I definitely caught some serious air. Then the guy in the back asked me if I wanted him to drive, so I gave up the wheel. I thought I had been going fast. We flew! He took me from one remote island to the next. I tried snorkeling, but the water was murky, so I just swam around at each stop. Then he took me to a place where there were hundreds of eagles swooping around as tourists fed them. It was an eagle feast.

A Jetski destination

My ride
My ride

Jetski guide

Before I left on the jet ski adventure, I held a girl’s adorable baby girl. As I was talking to the mother and her friend, they asked me what I was doing. I told them about my travels, and they were in awe that I was travelling without a man. Where is your husband? I got that a lot on this trip. The woman said to me, “you are so brave.” When I asked her what she was doing that day, she said paragliding. I am not so sure about her perspective on bravery.CenangIMG_0573

I decided to end my day with a cable car ride. I scootered along the southeastern side of the island and up a winding, steep mountain road. There were families of National Geographic monkeys, with fringe framing their faces and babies hanging onto their bellies, lounging everywhere! monkeyI made it to “Oriental Village”, which is as touristy as it sounds, but it was too late to turn back. I found the cable car and travelled to the top to explore the sky bridge. It was as murky up there as it had been in the ocean, but it was worth it. Langkawi cable car viewI cable car viewcable car or dystopia  skybridge 3cable car waterfallreturned to Cenang and indulged in some delicious Indian food.

I thought my plane was leaving at 10:40 AM the next day, so I returned my scooter and took a taxi to the airport only to find out it was a 10:40 PM flight. What a treat. So I rented another scooter, drove around the entire island looking for Pebble Beach, to no avail. I kept running into exotic hotels and golf resorts, which would not let me in. I spent the rest of the day at Cenang beach, and was blessed with an incredible sunset. At low tide it is possible, if you have water shoes, to walk through ankle deep water to the other island across the way. People just sloshed about finding shells and taking in the sunset.

Langkawi sunset
Good night Langkowi

I still enjoy Malaysia. I work every day from 8:30 to 6:00. I still enjoy the work, and I am learning a lot about language. I love playing and talking about words. I have joined a writing group and I am taking yoga classes daily after I work out in the gym. I am amazed at my progress in yoga. It helps to have the strength and endurance to do it properly. This morning I played tennis with a woman, named Krishna, for the second time . I cannot think of any place that she has not lived. She is in KL while her husband builds a golf course! After a hot, hot, hot set of tennis, we ambled about the local mall and discovered bookstore and a much better grocery store than the one I frequent. I am enjoying taking it easy this weekend. I am still relishing in my serenity and solitude here.

After living in a new country, you come to a point where things are not so surprising and different. I take the KLA (monorail) without wondering why I have to scan my card twice, or laughing at the sign that saves seats for the elderly, pregnant, or child carriers. I am okay with having my coffee with full cream milk instead of half and half, and I know to take an umbrella wherever I go. I can sleep through the 6:00 morning prayer, and I still love having people open the door for me downstairs. Little things do fascinate me. Women in headscarves at the gym, the shoes people wear, and why I still do not have Internet.

Good morning kl
Good morning KL

Headscarves, robes, shoes and shoulders.


Saturday August 21:

work shoesShoes outside the office.

I found a map! An old fashioned one made out of paper!!! So with my map, a colleague’s list of where to go, sneakers, shorts, and my backpack, the doorman at the hotel made sure to tell me to look out for pickpockets.Sometimes I just have to be a target. I am a hiker, and I cannot let go of my hiking uniform. As most of you know dress is not one of my fortes, but here I am conscious of how much of my skin is showing. After living in a tropical climate for a year, ALL of my dresses and shirts are sleeveless. In Mexico, this was not a problem. After a few days at the office, another woman told me that I needed to cover up. I was feeling so good about knowing that I couldn’t wear shoes, but I was blind to the fact that I was the only woman in the office who had her arms showing. That night I bought two button down cotton shirts to cover my arms. I admit, that I am not diligent about wearing them, but tucked in my cubicle corner, I think I am safe from the HR police. I could feel my male cubicle neighbor breathe a sigh of relief that someone had brought this up. He added a few more tips.

I continue to marvel at the dress rules here.The office is informal. From what I can see, the men can wear whatever they want. The Muslim women in the office wear headscarves and loose fitting clothing. Some Hindu women wear loose-fitting, bright-colored flowing clothing, and some wear western attire (high heels, short sleeves). The only Chinese woman that I met was fired the other day, but she wore Western dress.The man who records the voice overs wears beautiful clothes:a short colorful tunic with a straight collar and white loose pants. Those who wear shoes in the office, have a special inside set. Outside the bathroom, there is a pile of flip flops. I am not sure which is better — wearing flip flops that a lot have people worn in the bathroom, or going in barefoot. I always choose the latter.

kl mosque2

Yesterday, I experienced clothing in a different way. lisa in robeI went to Masjid Jamek, the oldest mosque in Kuala Lumpur. This is where KL’s first settlers began their settlement. The mosque was designed by a  British man in 1909. Here they supply those dressed inappropriately a combination headscarf/robe, and the men get long wraps to cover their legs. The mosque was stunning, shiny and impeccable — bare feet on slippery floors, a convincing argument about why Allah is the only god and that the Koran is the only Book. I got trapped in a conversation about why women, not wear headscarves, so when the man asked me if we wanted to continue the conversation in the shade, I said no, and the conversation ended faster if I had complied. In the museum about Islam, I was intrigued by another conversation, but the rivers of sweat distracted me, so much that all I could think of was tearing of the robe and head scarf that I was required to wear. I wanted to listen, so I inched my way closer to a fan and let it blow through the opening in my robe. This provided a little relief, but not enough to keep me there. I could not get that thing off fast enough. I understand on a certain level why women wear headscarves, protection mainly from other men is the very short version. It is the same reason why the man goes first — to protect the woman. Perhaps Christian women wear their own form of headscarves in a private way that no one can see. I do like the concept that when a woman wears a headscarf and loose clothing, she is not judged initially by her body, but by her soul and what you see in her face. For someone who has grappled with body image since day one, this aspect of dress suits me.

chinatown
Chinatown
little india
Little india

On the way to the mosque, I followed my GPS the wrong way through Little India. Cheap trinkets, interesting looking food, people moving at shopping pace, and an occasional vendor driving his wares to set up his stuff. Suffocating. Where do they find all of those knock offs? When I finally turned around and saw a giant flag, I followed it to my destination relieved to get spit out of the market. What a contrast the mosque was.

mosque reflect1

Once I left the mosque and my robes behind, I wandered on the perimeter of the market and chatted with a man carrying wine to a friend. I looked up and saw the Sri Mahamariamman Temple sticking up over the parking lot.India shrine30 Wow. It seemed that everytime I turned around yesterday, I was in a different country, or religion. This is the oldest Hindu Temple in KL built in 1873 for the Pillai family. It was private until the 20’s. The looming part of the structure includes figures from the Ramayana (I am so glad that I taught mythology for all of those years!). This temple was relaxed about dress, no shoes of course. There were many offerings of food and incense to the gods and goddesses.

India shrine8India shrine28India shrine29India shrine27Since Sri Mahamariamman Temple borders Chinatown, I think the next thing I stumbled upon was the Guan Di Temple– a Taoist temple honoring the great warrior for which it is named. It was foggy with incense, Shoes were acceptable. Again food was set out for the god — oranges mostly.

taoist temple10taoist temple 3taoist temple 2

At that point I decided that to walk to KLCC. As tall as the Petronas towers are, sometimes they are difficult to find, so I walked toward another giant flag and found Merdeka Square where the Malaysian flag was hoisted for the first time on August 31, 1957, when the Malaysians declared their independence.I caught sight of the Petronas Towers and continued my journey to KLCC. I was glad for this walk, because it put the city in perspective for me. Now I have some perspective, but I still get disoriented. I found the KL Forest Eco Park, which I will return to next week to find solace from the city.textile
I felt compelled to do the tourist thing in KL before I decided that the treasures that I want to find are outside of the city away from the people, tourists, pollution, cars, motorbikes. KL is a lovely city, but all I really want to do is settle into my work, gym, home world during the week, and take off to see the country on the weekends. I have 20 vacation days this year, which means 20 long weekends. Travel is cheap, so I hope to take my first trip to somewhere remote on the 31st while everyone is celebrating independence day. Maybe it is time to visit Thailand…       buildings from mosque  Fruit

India shrine Ganesha India shrine4  India shrine13India shrine16

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