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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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Happy Hikers Meetup

My Second Passage to India


peacock-in-indiaAsk me

People like to compare places. Would you say that India is like Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Mexico, the U.S.? How does one compare India to anything? India is India. Ask me a question that lets me pour some of India into your soul. Ask me about the contrasts of color, people, nature, plastic and poverty, but don’t ask me to compare. boys-on-the-road

Ask me about the woman on her way to Sri Lanka who would “never go to India; where men grab at the women and rob them blind. Where danger lurks behind every corner.” How do people get through life thinking that way? I forget that some people think I am a brave and gallant traveler who hopped on a plane to Mexico three years ago to find “home” but has yet to return to the comforts of New England. I am not brave, spirited yes, but I associate bravery with gallantry, valor, and nerve, not with the hapless delving into other worlds that I do.

A different approach

Delving was not my approach to this trip to India. The man with whom I went to the Everest Base Camp (not to be confused with summiting Mt. Everest) encouraged me several times to join the Happy Hiker India trip. At first, I was reluctant, I am not a group person, as Ganesan would be the first to point out. It turns me inside out to be in a group. conoor-traffic-monkey-2After three or four pushes from Ganesan, I relented and joined the 27-member tour of Southern India. Since it was with the Happy Hikers, I trusted it would be something that it didn’t turn out to be, but that doesn’t mean that it was not a splendid experience. Despite the fact that the cluster of women on the trip whose priority was shopping drove the trip, I managed, as usual, to hop off the bus and explore the nooks and crannies of India, while others pursued their interests.

Mudumalai National Park

We bounced about in a government jeep early one morning. The forest shared the blue hue so familiar to me from new England hikes in the winter minus the cold. The shopping women in the back were so loud that the driver had to remind them that we were scaring the animals away.

As we inched through the forest sanctuary, part of me yearned to be walking in this emptiness, but I appreciated that I could be there at all. Although I get down on India’s lack of infrastructure when it comes to hiding the trash as well as we Americans do, India’s efforts to preserve the wildlife there touched me. My thoughts were rewarded when we saw an elephant taking its morning drink in a shallow pond at the base of a ravine.Elephant Seeing an elephant in the wild is an honor, and on this trip, I was granted that honor several times. This elephant was undisturbed, peaceful, and graceful. The scene was so still, and I could imagine this animal’s solitary life as he swayed out of the pond and into the manicured landscape, which reminded me of the woods I used to tromp through growing up in New York.

Elephants in India

20170128_180504All of the elephants that I have seen up until now have been captive. Hindus revere Ganesh, the elephant god who removes obstacles and carries the attributes of strength, honor, stability and tenacity. Most of the captive elephants that I have seen lumber through India’s crazy streets carrying barefoot men or stay chained by one leg to a post at the bottom of a temple’s 700 steps eating bananas or wads of rice shoved into their mouths by their owners. elelisa cropped

On my trip to Northern India last year, Dolores and I rode two elephants who had been rescued from the circus. The story went something like this. Years ago, royalty owned a herd of elephants. A caste cared for the elephants from generation to generation. But when the dynasty dissolved, the elephants were sold into labor and circus acts where their keepers brutally abused them until someone called a halt to elephants in the circus. When the elephants were released, there was no question that they return to the next generation of royal elephant keepers.

A Cultural Safari

After the morning safari, three of us we took off from our place on the edge of the reserve to walk into the town of Masinagudi. We passed by washerwomen and fishermen at the riverbank and never-ending piles of plastic that continue to swallow India. 20170129_10260820170129_102705

Hope your road is a long one.

May there be many summer mornings when,

with what pleasure, what joy,

you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;

may you stop at Phoenician trading stations

to buy fine things,

mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,

sensual perfume of every kind—

as many sensual perfumes as you can;

and may you visit many Egyptian cities

to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

20170129_112307Masinagudi’s small main street had its version of “pearls, corals, ebony and sensual perfumes” with its goat’s heads at the butcher shop gazing beyond the long line of chicken butchers on the other side of the street. 20170129_114803Women in bright saris women waited in line while the butcher pulled one live chicken after the other from its cage and de-limbed it on a runny red slab of wood. Men carried away livers and legs, but the women stuffed the live chickens in their bags for later execution.

20170129_112612We wandered up a hill off of the main drag of the town to find India in its vibrant pink, purple, turquoise, and striking white houses, amidst white-toothed children as curious about us as we were of them.  We bought a bunch of bananas and discovered that cows, dogs, monkeys, and birds eat them skin and all20170129_11215020170129_113550

Seeing women in their brilliant saris, the men in their lungi and the openness of the poverty that surrounds them baffles me. Living this way, and smells that curl my nostril hairs is understandable on a certain level. This is their normal. It is the contrast that astounds me: the brilliance of the people, their clothing, and their smiles. I am the anomaly for them, wandering through their village with my Samsung while the men, women, and children stare at my long, white, uncovered limbs and titter behind polite hands.20170129_110935

Hiding Poverty in America 20170128_072214

20170129_111023 20170129_111555 20170129_111804India doesn’t hide its poverty and its pollution the way that Americans do. I know we have the same amount of plastic, maybe less poverty, but it’s still there hiding behind the dumpsters, or in those secret landfills where They take our non-recyclables and nuclear waste. We Americans just take better care to filter it, which has its merits. Our infrastructure provides our country with a means to deposit its waste, finish its roads, and clean its public toilets, but that is not to say that it doesn’t exist. woman-and-daughter1

The rawness and honesty in India give me a realistic sense of the state of the world. India opens my eyes wide open to humanity, which is glorious and colorful, wretched and raw. India is loud and chaotic, soft and spiritual, ancient and wise.india-fish-man-and-motorcycle

The Tea Nest

We non-shoppers left the Tea Nest in Conoor reluctantly after a peaceful night on a tea plantation. We had spent the short evening before meandering through the tea plantation as the sun set. We twisted our way through the paths that the tea pickers make as they pluck one ripe tea leaf after the next and deposit them into their white burlap bags. We came upon a group of pickers – all women – weighing their day’s labor. Then they broke camp and left where they would start again in the morning.20170130_165544 20170130_165556 20170130_165622 20170130_165635

We continued upward until we reached the top of the endless rows of tea, and bought tea and eucalyptus oil at a tea stand on the roadside. Meanwhile, I had to spend this time finding discrete places to take care of my India belly. Indian food is rich and eating it night after night takes its toll. I learned that sticking to veggie fried rice has its merits.

Despite my stomach, wandering back through the tea plantation we came upon several bisons on our path. tea-bison 20170130_175149We were not quite sure how they would feel about us, so we dodged them by taking a narrow path to the road where we met up with another bison. These animals are giants with threatening horns, but they seem more concerned with the grass on the roadside than they did with us. Two schoolboys returning home seemed relaxed enough about the bison, so we let it lumber past without consequence. bison

All the places I will go

As I strongly consider leaving Asia this June, I can’t believe how unaware I was of how other people live, how ignorant and shallow my perspective of the world was before I came here. Raised in an isolated and privileged world of country clubs and private schools, the closest I got to India was through Burnett, Kipling, and later, E.M. Forester. I, like these British authors, was captivated by India. Now their influence is buried behind the mask of what India truly is. Shrouded in the myths of religion and the past, poverty, food and color, India is a sensory experience that hopefully will stay with me if I return to New England. 20170130_174809

Since I left Mexico, my adventures have taken on a different flavor and mood. I am not charging forth as much. Instead, I am absorbing the world in a way that I never have before. India has left me full of wonder for a second time.

mudhumalai-sanctuary9I think of all of the places that I have not been – the Middle East, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South America, Africa, and the bits and pieces that I have missed on my travels—knowing that I have only scratched the surface of the world.

 

20170129_111916coconut-woman

bird-of-paradise

The Winnowing Fan dilemma


Being an expatriate is my normal.

I have a feeling that I have always been one, even in my own country. It is my normal to feel like a foreigner. Being an American in Asia or Mexico makes my foreignness more obvious, because of the language and the color of my skin. Living in New England makes it easy to hide the foreigner in me.

How small is America?

Living and traveling in Southeast Asia, makes me realize how small America is. While you, we, are grappling with the election of our new president (He Who Shall Not Be Named), he is a passing fancy here. Here in Malaysia, America is no big deal. When locals ask me where I live, I usually say on the New York side or the opposite side from California. Sometimes, I just say I live near Canada. Most of the time people just cannot imagine where that might be.

I’ll admit that as an American I always felt privileged, maybe a step above the rest of the world. Living among expatriates in Kuala Lumpur has made me realize that I am not. Nor am I the center of the universe, which may seem obvious to you, but it took me a while to realize that.

Missing

Still, I find myself missing my country. The regularity of starting my car on a cold winter day. Wondering whether I will make it out of the driveway if I get enough traction as I charge our of the garage full bore. I miss going to Twelve Pine for a latte. I miss crashing around the woods with Beth. I miss lunch at Plowshare Farm. I miss clipping on my cross country skis and skiing out of my basement door in a raging snowstorm.

Do I want to come back?

I miss the normalcy of my New England life. The question is can I sustain the personal and emotional growth that I have gained in the past two and a half years, or would I slither back into my old skin again.

Do I want to come back?

Yes. I want to come back and live in a room with a kitchen, a bed, and a bathroom. I want to live in the woods, off the grid and write.

Can I come back?

I certainly have taken risks before. I am capable of doing anything. But I’ll need a car. I’ll need to pay first and last month’s rent. Oh and I’ll need a job. Isn’t it funny how leaving the country was so easy, so dynamic, unpredictable and challenging, but grappling with a possible return stops me dead in my tracks? All of my protectors leap out at me and yell be careful, it’s not the way you think it is, you will fall into a rut again, you can’t teach, you can’t earn a living writing, you will end up right where you started two and a half years ago. But I can keep them at bay. I have taken to propping those voices on my shoulder and telling them to settle down and watch me take care of myself.

Plant the oar

I finally get it when Tiresias gives Odysseus the oar and tells him that after he returns to Ithaka he will have to go somewhere far away and plant the oar in a place where no one has ever seen one before. It’s because Odysseus is not that person anymore. He made it back to Ithaka a different man, and Ithaka was not the same either. Plant the oar, plant your old self somewhere far away and your return will be complete.

So I can go back. I can take my oar with me. And after I have settled into my life there, I can pick up my oar and take it to say, Louisiana or Kansas, and plant it there. Because home is in my heart. I know that it is not in Peterborough, Katonah, or Kuala Lumpur.

It sounds so simple.

Why is it so hard?

 

 

 

In case you were wondering


IMG_0408Getting out of the elevator is still my favorite time of day – stepping into the waft of refrigerator cold air, relishing for the few moments it takes to turn the corner and get a greeting of a hand across the heart from the doorman before the heat sucks me out the door.

On late days, I cut across the street. When I see a flood of motorbikes in the distance, I find my space and dart to the median, switch my purse to the other side of my chest, and dart the final distance to the never-ending construction site on the other side. I walk along with the traffic until I get to the newly completed construction project. Since I have been here they have constructed the buildings that I cut through to get to the five pristine avenues where I work.

On the unusual morning that I have 15 minutes to get to work, I take the skywalk. I walk past the unopened shops while the workers Zamboni the shiny white floors for the first time that day. Leftover wine bottles and cigarettes rest on the tables of bars that closed before the clients left the night before. Baristas bustle behind locked café doors. The faces that I pass all seem the same, but they aren’t. People come and go in this city, nothing stays. Buildings continue to rise, stores close and new ones open. Workers finish their contracts, head home, or move on to another one.

By the time I swipe in at work, I have worked up a sweat. I say good morning to the guard, who is a constant and trudge up the three flights of stairs to my office. Most people take the elevator, but I have to earn the milk and sugar in my tea. On the third floor, I park my shoes with all of the others and check them to see who has arrived before me. After the computer responds to my second card swipe – verified – I complete my trek with another waft of cold air. The office has 10 columns of cubicles. You may think that I would be the last person you would find in a cubicle, but I like it; it fits. I am in the last row by the windows, and I can scan the whole room when I want to give my eyes a break from the computer. I sit with all of the members of the English team, the graphic designers on one side and the subject matter experts on the other. We work well together. Our Instructional Designer, advisor, and the person who knits the loose ends of a module together sits a cubicle-row away within hearing range.IMG_0371

From 8:30 to 10:30 I create modules (lessons) for English language learners. I am learning that e-learning is not a matter of transferring your classroom lessons to a storyboard PowerPoint. I am still learning this detail. . . slowly. I realize how verbose we classroom teachers are. Take away our voices and we tend to flounder. I always claimed that my teaching was not teacher-centered, but the very act of explaining things to students is enough to disengage them. I have had to learn to use graphics, repetition, and other visuals to give direction and to engage the student. It is a challenge that I enjoy.

At around 10:00 in the morning, the tea girls bring in the milk tea and coffee. The tea is meant to be enjoyed at our desks as we work, and usually, it is unless my friend Dito and I get to talking, but we never cross the 15 minutes marked for tea-time. The tea is delightfully sweet and lukewarm. I try not to drink gallons of it, but it is hard to resist.

When we do return to our desks, we either continue with what we were creating, or review it with Jennifer and, in my case,  do some major revisions. Sometimes I get a call to the sixth floor to do the voiceover for Maths. I am Jesse, the young girl who narrates about square roots, and triangles, pi, and all of the most nightmarish math terms you can think of. Sometimes the English team does VO’s together, which is a bit livelier. Doing the voiceover on the sixth floor also gives me a chance to visit with my programming buddies.

My one o’clock lunch hour varies from day to day. I love to sneak back to the pool at my apartment and read. I am reading everything that I can about what I need to do to become an on-line writer (copywriter, blogger, SME, ghost writer). When I don’t isolate myself, where I go depends on who I am going with. Lim likes the cheapest possible Malaysian food he can find. I have learned to ask him where he is going before we leave. We all love to have our 8 ringett (2 USD) lunch at the outdoor Indian/Malay restaurant, where I always get roti and dahl. Otherwise, I find someone to get a Sizzling Hog burger, or some other attempt at western food.

The rest of the day is the same. A module for an SME can take three days to create, maybe more. In my case, more is usual, but I am improving module by module. Currently, my modules have been for English Language Learners at about 14 years old. I created a short story unit, poetry unit, writing process unit, letters and emails, and an essay unit. Once the GD’s do their magic, the presentation is impressive.

My workday ends at six. I return to the Capri happy that I do not own a car. If I was driving home, it would take an hour. Walking it takes 10 minutes. I am at the gym looking down on the traffic within a half an hour. There, I practice yoga and balance before I return home, read by the pool, and go to bed.

It is a solitary life, which I love. On the weekends I hike with the Happy Hikers, who are as intense about hiking as I am, if not more.  I will have to lay low in Malaysia until I get a new passport, which is too full for me to insert my work visa. Then I will travel to Nepal to travel to base camp with the Happy Hikers.

Hiking in Kuala Lumpur: I have found my people


When we plunged into the jungle without a path to follow, I knew I had found my people. The type of people who say we haven’t hiked enough after four hours. The kind who say just one more hill. But you said that the last time. This is not a big hill. The kind of people who don’t fuss on a hike. My kind.

Since I returned to KL last month after selling my house, I have been restless and determined to find something to capture me. My search has led me to an Indian meditation group called Isha, located in Brickfields, the Indian section of KL. This was my second time there, and I plan on doing a retreat with them in July.

My second venture was with the Internations an expatriate group for a “trip to the countryside.” For some reason, I thought that this meant a hike through some rice paddy fields. It turned out to be closer to a trip to the Twilight Zone. It was one of the many experiences that I have had that confirms my usual disconnect with the world. After an hour and a half drive Northwest of KL, we arrived at a giant Burger King situated in a strip mall, full of garbage, durian, open markets, and wafts of everything from India to a mechanic’s garage. We wallowed there in the air conditioning (which I love more than anything) until the rest of the group arrived one-half an hour later. Then we caravanned off to I did not know where. Even though everyone speaks English in Malaysia, if I do not listen astutely it is easy to miss things like where you are headed, what you are doing and why. I learned that we were going on a tour of a rice processing factory in the middle of a giant rice paddy. 2016-06-25 16.25.37

It was everything that you would expect a rice processing factory tourist trap to be. It started with a video about processing rice that reminded me of a video I might watch in a seventh-grade social studies class (that would be a video made in the late 60’s). From there we saw the rice plant through glass windows, kind of like the Ben and Jerry’s plant without the ice cream. After we passed through the rice processing plant museum, we landed in a giant tourist trap of a room, where people bought fish rice cakes, rice wine, rice noodles, and a concoction of corn, beans, and rice syrup over ice, and rice. We also got to see people make big blocks of rice and nut granola bars held together by something ricey.

2016-06-25 16.25.062016-06-25 16.32.21

I assumed that I had signed up for the wrong trip and continued on my way to a tacky new Buddhist temple, where some people tried durian (which is something you do not want to2016-06-25 16.51.31 try unless you enjoy fruit that tastes like shit). Some people bought paper prayers to burn in a miniature incinerator/prayer burner. One woman bought an entire batch of prayer sticks, lit them all on fire, and practically started a fire. How could she have known only to light one?

With that behind us, we piled into respective carpools and drove to a place that smelled like dead fish and sewer. We pulled over and stood by the side of the road. 2016-06-25 17.33.27We milled about looking at fishing boats, and at birds that slept in the palm trees. After milling about some more, I asked if perhaps there was a beach I could walk to. There was a beach, and that was the next stop. 2016-06-25 17.39.54 2016-06-25 17.40.46

As we piled out of the cars one last time, the intensity of the fish and shit smell had increased ten-fold. The beach was a small patch of garbage strewn sand, enclosed by a breakwater on one side and a giant brush fire with flames about 10 feet high on the other. That was the nice part. The rest of the beach area was occupied by Chinese people selling their wares (cheap knock-off stuff), with a woman dressed in a minion suit playing a loud recording in Chinese over and over again for the entire time that we were there. 2016-06-25 17.46.26I stood on the breakwater trying to catch some relief from the intense heat and watched the fishing boats putter toward the fish factory to drop off their daily catch.2016-06-25 17.53.19 I walked over to check out the fire. Some dudes asked to take my picture and I said yes as long as I could take theirs.

I walked over to check out the fire. Some dudes asked to take my picture and I said yes as long as I could take theirs. 2016-06-25 18.01.50Then I sought out some cool looking Australians to help me suss out all of this. Yes, indeed this was happening, and it was, most certainly, bizarre.

Meanwhile, the smell was so intense that I had to hold my nose. Americans are few and far between in this land especially when the ones who dress in hiking gear and hold their noses on excursions to rice processing plants and fishing villages with a minion belting out songs in Chinese. I do not know who made the bigger spectacle, me or the minion. Finally, we went to a fish restaurant to eat fresh fish. I sought out the Australians again to regain my equilibrium and ended up laughing with a lot of others who shared the Twilight Zone experience with me. Regardless, I was happy to get home that nigh2016-06-25 17.57.24t and put that experience behind me.2016-06-25 18.07.28

Not willing to let that experience deter me from my quest for adventure, I signed up for another Internations experience the following weekend, which really was a hike. We met at Bangsar and drove about 30 minutes north of the city with all sorts of people from all over the world. Some people had shared the Twilight Zone experience with me the week before. This hike was a delightful experience, despite the trash, which seems to be a part of nature here. Wherever you find “toilets” and tourist trinket stalls, you will find massive amounts of trash. This is true of every journey I have taken in Asia so far.

Toilets I would not consider giving a rating.
Toilets I would not consider giving a rating.

 

Mom and baby beggar monkeys
Mom and baby beggar monkeys

We climbed along a waterfall until we reached its source. It was a steep climb, and once we reached the top we wallowed in the cool spring mineral water, that almost seemed clean enough to drink, but I abstained. This was a successful trip. One that I would do again with the same people.

2016-07-02 09.09.15

 

 

 

IMG_3349

Happy Hikers Meetup in Kuala Lumpur

This hike inspired me to take another hike the following day with the “Meetup” group. Here I hit the jackpot. From the moment I stepped into the car until the moment I finished a delicious Indian banana leaf meal, I was in heaven. We bushwhacked; we climbed up and down; we talked; we laughed and we shared our love of hiking and adventure. This group hikes every weekend and sometimes at night during the week. In October they are going on a trip to ABC trail in Nepal. Is there any doubt that I will go?

IMG_3364IMG_3366IMG_3365IMG_3350

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