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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

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Batu Caves

Vignettes of India


The Lotus Flower

 

 

I sat cupped in the lotus temple in Delhi and sank into India. I could have sat there for days, listening to the silence, respecting the peace that it held, and feeling the people around me do the same. It was the first time a flower held me and I did not want it to let me go. As with so many things in my life, I could not get enough of it, I wanted it to saturate me, but there was not enough time to let it.

People on the side of the road.IMG_1166 (2)

The way that people get around in India is creative. The men sit astride their motorbikes and the women in their saris sit side-saddle. Sometimes they squish a few children between them, or a bundle of food. Workers carry jugs of milk, stacks of wood, boxes, container behind them, which teeter precariously behind them. Then there are the donkey or horse-drawn wagons full of hay and families of ten to twelve.

 

The Ganges

On our way to Nianital, we got to see the Ganges. It was a holiday specifically for worshipping. This meant that everyone was headed to cleanse in the river. I felt honored to be caught up in the excitement of this celebration. I never imagined that I would visit India. In fifth grade, I never thought that the stories I read in the little brown text book would materialize in front of my eyes. The people we saw on our way to the Ganges were mesmerizing. Everyone seemed to have a special way of peering at us through the windows of our taxi with curiosity, eyes sparkling and gleaming smiles. We passed a wagon-load of an extended family, we passed fathers lifting their little boys off of trucks full of people to pee in a giant arch across the road before catching up to the truck in the slow moving traffic. Water buffalo wove their way aimlessly through the maze of cars, trucks, taxis, carts and bicycles. Imagine a super highway full of people sitting open to the world, to each other, to nature and the animals.  Occasionally, a monkey would poke its head out of a tree. When we met the Ganges, it was everything that I wanted it to be. People bathing, slipping, sliding on its murky banks. And it was vast, and calm, as it carried its significance and grace through India.

NianitalIMG_1388IMG_1252IMG_1283IMG_1395 (3)IMG_1322

We started our ascent into the hill town of Nianital just as the sun started to set. The mountains grew as we ascended into the red clouds. Nianital is a resort town, about 2,000 meters (6,500 feet) high. Our driver dropped us off in the parking lot while Nitin and Bonzai settled things with the hotel. Starving Dolores and I gobbled god-candy before entering the Sikh temple tucked in at the end of the lake. We retired in our hotel after Nitin treated us to a few games of Snakes and Ladders.

Masala Tea

I am a coffee drinker and India doesn’t do coffee, unless you are like Dolores and you like more milk than coffee. So I discovered masala tea. Masala tastes like India – black tea with ginger and milk, no sugar.

Double-dipping the Himalayas.

Like the Ganges, I never expected to see the Himalayas, so when I did, I practically fell prostrate. The Himalayas had always seemed too magnificent to be real, and they were. I got to see them again on our horseback ride later that day.

Marriage.

The main reason I went to India was the wedding as if I need an excuse to go there. Hopefully, without stirring up any disrespect, I can broach the concept of arranged marriages in India from my rather warped western perspective. It is not that it bothers me that parents match their sons or daughters, or that they may go on a dating site to do so. It is the desperation that seems to go with the importance of being married. As a non-believer in marriage, it is hard for me to wrap my head around this in any culture including my own. People in their twenties and thirties are still marrying in India by arrangement. When we asked them why, it was mostly because the parents wanted it that way. Parents are highly revered there from what I can see. Also, if you are an elder in your family and you do not marry, then you hold up the line for the younger siblings. This is by no means a put down; it is simply me trying to understand why people in the 21st century still follow this tradition.

I wonder if India grew up so fast that its history could not keep up with it.

The Wedding

We arrived at the wedding late due to traffic and getting lost. We checked in with the bride who was so stunning that she could not move. She wore red and glistened with gold, sequins, and joy. We left her standing in a small room downstairs, and drifted upstairs to an open-roofed room. We were greeted with milkshakes (now that is my kind of party). Then we ate hors d’oeuvres while trying to save room for the banquet waiting for us in the next room. We feasted on luscious food. Four hours later, the groom appeared with all of his male friends. The ceremony was frolicsome, traditional and sacred. The ceremonial part was left to the groom and his compadres. The eldest brother stuck to the groom as it was his role to give away his sister and entrust her to the groom. Once the groom finished his antics and ceremony, the bride and her women came in delicately, and the traditional teasing and ceremony continued. The rest of the wedding was a photo shoot, so we left.

 

India takes a long time to absorb. What did I take from it? Beauty and peace and magnificence. Magnificence because that word evokes power and magnitude. Indians wear their culture; they share it with those who are fortunate enough to visit. India is the lotus that held me in its palm.

 

IMG_1411

 

Ramayana and New Friends


I finally made it to the Batu Caves. More importantly, I met two delightful women last weekend who accompanied me. Tammy, who works for the US embassy, and I met on a pedestrian bridge in Ampang magnetically, as I searched for true north on my way to an expatriate breakfast. Linda, a project manager from Great Britain, and I met at the breakfast function once I got my bearings, wandered around a sketchy neighborhood and arrived sopped in sweat, but on time.

This is my third encounter with Internations and two out of three have been pretty cool. So I called Linda, and Tammy (and two others) to join me on an excursion to the Batu Caves, which is north of KL. Despite its tourist overtones, it was terrific because I LOVE the Ramayana and one cave held a retelling — through a series of giant dioramas.  If you have not read the story, find an abridged version to read, or read the whole thing.

It was typical Malaysia. Limestone caves, hidden in what used to be jungle, now littered with trash, grimy sidewalks and ticky tack souvenir booths.

Souvenir Stall
Souvenir Stall

Batu Caves so malaysia

Of course, I was the only one inappropriately dressed — selectively, I should add, at the cost of 5 ringets for a deposit on a piece of cloth to cover my legs.

Leg Cover
Leg Cover

We climbed the 300 steps to the top with the monkeys, barefoot women in brilliant saris, and a

Batu Caves 50                   Batu Caves 51Batu Caves 31 (2)

Batu Caves monkey worship        Batu Caves 24

a pilgrimage of monkeys and tourists.

I accept, embrace and understand the need to be barefoot in sacred places. However, there is a limit to my understanding. In Masjid Jamik and the Hindu temple I visited in KL, I would have eaten off of the floors.The Batu Caves were accumulating guano as we toured it, and there were puddles that I hesitated to go through with my shoes on. Batu Caves shoes

I have mentioned my princess status in jest. And even though I am now a proud owner of a “Princess” brand leather bag, I am by no means a neatnick. In KL I can move from impeccable to filth within minutes. By the time I get from where I work and live, to the LRT, I have walked through shiny places that would put OZ to shame, waded through plastic waste and putrid smells mixed with a medley of Malaysian food stalls, back to the LRT platform and train, which is smooth, and shiny, and cool.

There is not much more to say about the caves. They are spectacular and colorful. I gained two friendships and I got to revisit the Ramayana. Not a bad way to spend a day!

Batu Caves Ramayana3 Batu Caves Ramayana2 Batu Caves Ramayana 4 Batu Caves Ramayana 3Batu Caves Ramayana 1 Batu Caves Hanuman's heart Batu Caves Hanuman Batu Caves 58 Batu Caves 57 Batu Caves 56                 Batu Caves 43  Batu Caves 35                   Batu Caves 33 Batu Caves 28                 Batu Caves 19 Batu Caves 15                 Batu Caves 7 Batu Caves 9                                Batu Caves 11 (2)Batu Caves 21 (2)

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