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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

Category

Adventure

Perhentian Island


Honor and privilege

(Check out the slide show at the end)

As the world continues to destroy itself, I had the honor and privilege to see a living coral reef. One thing that my walkabout has taught me is that this planet is going down fast. To find pieces of beauty in nature is a rare and special thing. How many more times will I get to see a living thriving coral reef like this one? This was the first place that I have been in Malaysia that was clean. Clean water and no trash – well… I have lower standards than I used to; there was still some plastic hidden here and there, but nothing as blatant as I have experienced in most of Malaysia.

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Airplanes, vans and boats to paradise

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After spending way too much time in the airport because my father trained me to arrive endless hours before a flight, I shared a cab, which turned out to be a van, with some Australians and headed out for Kota Bahru, where a speed boat would take me to one of the Perhentian Islands. There is a reason why they call them speed boats. We flew over the ocean’s swells for a half an hour and I was the first drop off on Petani Beach. As I stretched from the speed boat to the water taxi that would shuttle me to shore, the Caribbean blue water dazzled me.

The professor and Mary Ann…

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Mira Mira where I ate and socialized

I felt like I had arrived on Gilligan’s Island, in color. Ramshackle bungalows lined Petani Beach, Internet was not existent, water was scarce, and beauty abundant. I settled in for dinner with a cluster of tourists like me who had looked for and found the most remote spot on the island. We sat at a hanging table and compared life experiences from Turkey, Italy, the Netherlands, and Malaysia. Most of us were wanderers, not sure where we would end up in a year, which has become my normal. I love it when people don’t react to me traveling alone to remote places. Most of these people are young enough to be my children. I rarely run into women my age traveling alone, which means I am either incredibly adventurous, or irresponsible, or both.IMG_3426

My three days on the island were spent meeting people who drifted in and out, snorkeling, hiking around the island, and snorkeling some more.

Neon is the new black

I used to think that neon was an artificial color – it is not. The ocean lit up with fluorescent fish that batted against my goggles. Clown fish brushed inside of sea anemone, fish brushed against other fish to suck off whatever nutrients attached to their scales. The baby sharks swooshed about harmlessly, and the barracuda were practically translucent. One day, I met up with Napoleon fish that had huge blue bodies and buck teeth. When I snorkeled toward the shore it was easy to see the stingrays. One thing mystified me. At first, I thought I was seeing bright blue and black snake squiggles. As I swam further, I realized that they were clam lips, which if I looked closely, were opening ever so slightly.

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My bungalow

Every other place that I visited on the island, except for one, was a tourist trap –music, Coca-Cola, lots of booze, bikinis and music. At Petani Beach, we learned that we did not need to go anywhere. We had found paradise.

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The night before the blast


Time journey

 

 

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Flying into dawn from Boston to Istanbul

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every time I turn the time on my Walmart watch from Mexico the winder falls out. Nevertheless, I always adjust the time forward or back the minute I get on the plane. I try to trick my body into thinking that it hasn’t lost a day during the journey from Boston to Kuala Lumpur.

Breaking Fast

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Breaking Fast

When I arrived in Istanbul after the first leg of my 24-hour flight, I was ready to use my 10-hour layover for a small adventure into the city. In cases such as these, my strategy is to latch onto someone who looks like she or he knows where she is going. My first two attempts ran into language barriers and Turkish brusqueness. Then I scored! The woman was German. The man was Turkish, turned German at an early age. They took me to the Blue Mosque on the tram. I arrived an hour before the breaking of fast on the first day of Ramadan. There were miles of people crammed at plastic tables in the square waiting for the sun to sink behind the mosque, and the call to prayer to bellow across the city.

But it is not Monsoon Season.

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Istanbul

The next morning, unbeknownst to all of us on that peaceful sunlit evening, a Kurdish Militant Group bombed an area just a few tram stops away. When I posted my near miss on Facebook, a concerned friend asked if my quest was necessary. Absolutely. I answer that without hesitation. Perhaps I put myself at risk by living in northern Mexico, venturing into Istanbul, traveling the world alone, or living in a country on the other side of the world, but I have managed to skirt the ugliness of the world, the civil unrest, the warring factions, people desperate enough to believe that a suicide bomb will solve their problems. The militant group that bombed Istanbul, explicitly told foreigners to stay away, because they are at war. Does that mean that we stay away? Last night a woman warned me to beware of the monsoon winds when I travelled by boat to Pulau Perhentian Kecil. But it is not monsoon season. Do we let ourselves be governed by fear, or do we govern it?IMG_3188

Belting out Shakespeare

In all of my years as a teacher, the students who succeeded in class were the ones who took risks. They are the ones, who despite their 25 other classmates, belted out a line of Shakespeare; they were the ones who dared to write a letter to a school board member whom they did not know. They dared to do something uncomfortable, to push the envelope. They were not the ones who snarled resentfully at a challenge, or stared idly out the window wishing they were somewhere else. They took a bite knowing that they could fail. And no matter the result, they gained knowledge about themselves and the world. IMG_3159

The voice of fear

My curiosity feeds me; it tells me to go forward. Every once in a while my fear-voice tells me that I am doing this all wrong, that I need to be in my house in Peterborough, making enough money to pay for its leaks and creaks. This voice tells me that I don’t have a plan for when I am too old to take care of myself. This is the voice that tells me to worry about a future I cannot control.

Do you have a plan?

The 11 people who died in Istanbul had no idea what would hit them the next day after they broke the Ramadan fast. Perhaps I brushed by one of them as I nosed about their beautiful city. Did they have a plan? While I am healthy, while I have the ability to move my body up a mountain, swim to Hancock from the Nelson landing on Lake Nubinuset, and the wherewithal to reach out to someone who will help me in a foreign city, I am going for it.

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Septic systems and Bacon Cheeseburgers.


 

…and so it goes

My house lies hollow and empty now, with a new septic tank that only cost 500 dollars more than they said it would, and, even though I bought the house for 225,000 dollars when I needed a place to go in 2008, it sold for 179,000, not including the 5,000 in closing costs. As Kurt Vonnegut would say, “and so it goes.”

Silver polishing and beating the rugs

I sold all of my belongings, including things from before my past. Things that great grandmothers bought for their houses in Lancaster, Long Island, Chilmark, or Buffalo, so that servants would have something to polish or beat the dust out of with a broom. I left my small pots and pans, blankets, trinkets, blenders and coffee makers on the side of the road for someone else to clutter her house with for free. I threw away my fourth grade Captain John Smith report, and the secret club box with an invented language from second grade. Now my past rests in the Peterborough recycling center — tiny pieces of scrunched handwriting, figure skating badges and songs from camp.

Shedding the pastIMG_1180

By shedding my past, I can start living the next book in my life. A new beginning of bright sunrises, scorching heat, travelling by foot, water or air and adventures in the orient and beyond! All of the people waiting out in the world that I have not met. A new career to carry me along. Writing stories that will shout out to the world. No more having to talk so loud and never be heard. I feel like Belle in her opening song for Beauty and the Beast.

Living

At home things look the same. And the saplings I planted in the back yard 28 years ago are tall enough to block the junkyard neighbors we used to have. The black flies still bite, people go to work and come back again to walk their dogs or mow the lawn. And I am not there dying in my old job, getting tangled up in ownership, landlordship and broken septic systems.

My walkabout continues.

IMG_0818I am ready to fly to the east and back again a million times. All that I love at home — my friends, my children, my father, nature, and bacon cheeseburgers — will always be within reach. My freedom is lighter than it has ever been before.

The View from Here


Morning Meditation

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I start my morning meditation on my 20th-floor balcony overlooking Kuala Lumpur. As the sun starts rising over the mountains, I close my eyes and listen. The city murmurs day and night — large cranes creak from mile-high buildings, hammers clank against metal, a long train slithers among buildings and roadways, an airplane breaks the steady sound of traffic until the tropical a bird’s call is barely a whisper. The sun crawls up the back of the mountain ridge kissing the clouds with every shade of orange it can muster. The sounds rise with my breathing. When I open my eyes, women in white al-amiras float ghost-like past the school bus parked on the roadside to catch up to its schedule. Construction workers begin to leak out of the shantytown across from the site.

The traffic swells until the sun is well beyond setting. Red taillights move beyond simply speckling the streets as they fade with the stars into daybreak. I never thought that I would find peace in a city, but every morning that I breathe it in and out it seems that I have found a place to perch for a while.

The View from Here — In Malaysia 

Mary Oliver wrote a poem called In MalaysiaHer poem reminds me that I do not have to dig deep to find beauty and peace. Whether it is Langkawi, the Cameron Highlands, Kuala Lumpur, or Penang, the contrast is one of reality and beauty spanning a panorama from litter, the putrid smell in back of the food court, cigarette smoke, to the people endlessly mopping or sweeping away the mess that may or not be there, to the plum blossoms, the man holding the door, the waft of street food, or a magnificent Buddhist temple in the distance. Asia opens up another landscape for me to appreciate.

The call to Prayer

Five times a day, the call to prayer fills the sky — a caterwaul, a battle of bands among mosques competing in prayer. Somehow it reminds me of the people in Whoville singing despite the Grinch. Each call to prayer is a reminder to everyone to stop what they are doing to worship their god.

Cranes, Plum Blossoms, and Fireworks

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These fake plum blossoms are stapled onto a real tree trunk

After a swim beneath the stars and the well-lit cranes towering above, I return to my balcony. The dark sky’s coolness makes it bearable. The city is still vibrant, still humming. People nestle into the bars below or stroll among pink plum blossoms marking the Chinese New Year.  The stream of traffic blends into the broad light show below. The sound of construction has stopped, and occasionally a motorcycle shrieking along a straightaway breaks the lull of the traffic  below. Last night, not for the first time, fireworks exploded in pocketed communities all over KL to welcome in the year of the monkey.

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Happy New Year

Camellia Suites

I still miss the screech of the owls behind  my house on a crisp winter night, the silent thump of fresh snow falling from a laden pine, and the trickle of snow running down my sweaty back as I ski through the woods. But from my 20th-floor balcony of the Camellia Suites in Kuala Lumpur, I am not complaining.

How to Mount and Elephant


Shots from India

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