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


kuala lumpur


Acclimatizing in Dingboche

(October 5, 2016)

We hiked through thin air and dense fog. Intermittently, the sun pushed the clouds away to reveal a majestic mountain peak for a fleeting moment. Everything inside of me was breathing — my stomach, my eyes, the blood in my head. We climbed to 5,100 meters, taking baby steps up the mountain with little oxygen.

When we returned to the teahouse, I just lay back in the sun and let it burn my headache away to a dull, functional throb. The cure for an altitude headache is to lie in the sun and wind until it dissipates. It may take 2 cups of masala tea, two pieces of buttered toast as well. Tomorrow 5,100 meters.

Feeling the Altitude in Second-person

(October 6, 2016)

As you approach your destination, your head starts to throb, and you place one foot in front of the other with every effort you can—baby stepping it but slower. Then you go inside and you’re not sure what to do, so you take ibuprofen and sit outside to will away the headache. Then you can stumble back inside and sit still, still, still, and close your eyes, willing the oxygen back into your blood.

You go to take a piss in a hole in the ground that smells like an everyone-who-has-passed-through-here piss, and you can’t squat because your knees are too stiff. Your piss hits everything but the hole, mostly your shoes and socks. Since your ass is so high in the air, your piss trickles down your thermal underwear. You decide that today will be the day that you throw away the underwear that you have been wearing since Namche Bazar, where you had your last shower and changed your first pair.

You get your sleeping bag and wrap your damp, sweaty and piss-laden body in it as if it might actually help get you warm. You force yourself to order potato soup because if you have another cup of garlic soup, you will die. You realize that the grey liquid floating in the bowl in front of you is garlic broth with some uncooked potatoes in the bottom, and you cannot eat it because as the oxygen tries to creep back into your bloodstream, it makes you want to vomit everything else out of your system.

You lean your head back against the window and fold into a semiconscious state. You open one eye and it doesn’t seem so bad, and by the time you open the other you start to hear someone talking about horses, so you join in realizing that you can talk now and it makes you feel better.

You realize that the sky is blue, and if you go outside, you might glimpse a towering mountain peak. But that would mean putting on your shoes, which are all the way on the floor near your feet. You remind yourself that you should drink water by the liter-full, but you pack is over there and you cannot ask anyone to bring it to you because they cannot move either. So you do it, you drag your soggy backpack toward you and perch it on the bench closest to the light and take a sip, then rest.

While doing this you hear some American-sounding English on your left and you just have to invite in that sweet sound with more conversation even if it is about sports. Four pm is the magic hour for the yak dung fire to be lit. You get that delicious Mad River Glen after-ski glow when your itchy wool hat can come off and you actually consider peeling your socks off your puckered white feet.

This is the time of the day, when people sit around, talk, play cards, which vary internationally with clubs called crosses and the queen of spades, the black bitch.

October 9, 2016 (Sunday) Lobuche to Everest Base Camp

After we sent two of our team off in a helicopter with AMS, I took our team leader aside and told him I could not make it to base camp. I could walk a little way, but then I needed a day before we moved on to the base camp. He seemed fine with that, and I knew it relieved Danya, who was more sick than I was. When we reached Gorak Shep (5,140 meters/16,863), I was clear about not making the now two-hour trek to base camp. I was so sick at this point I did not care. Since there was no sun, my sun treatment was no longer a remedy. It was easy for our team leader to convince me to make the two-hour trek to base camp. After all, I had come that far…

Making it to Everest Base Camp

The highlight of the Everest Base Camp was a little pink bird that did not want to fly. He was more beautiful and peaceful than the gigantic cairn where people took turns taking selfies and group photos for Facebook. I felt little pride or sense of accomplishment. The realization that I had to make a two-hour trek back to Gorak Shep heightened my anti-climax. I do not know why I thought there would be a teahouse waiting for us at base camp. We slogged our way back for two hours.

That night when I drew a thick blanket over my sleeping bag and tried to keep the blood pulsing in my temples at bay, I prayed, which is not what I do. I took the only prayer I know (the serenity prayer) and I repeated it to the rhythm of my pounding head.


By the time we reached the town below Gorak Shep, I looked at Danya and said, let’s ask for a helicopter. At this point, I was vomiting and walking at a snail’s pace. I wanted the relief of lying in the hospital, breathing thick air and pumping IV fluids into my veins until I felt better again.

I baby-stepped it to the next stop, repeating the serenity prayer the entire way. I do not think that I was accepting the things that I could not change, and at that point, courage was not a part of my vocabulary, and I had left my wisdom with the pink bird at Base Camp or somewhere before.


The great irony—you knew it was coming, didn’t you—was that we did the trek so quickly that we finished three days early. Our leader had followed a typical regimen for acclimatization, one that would fit most hikers. For some reason, it did not fit Danya and me. For the first time in my life, I was asking someone to slow down. For the first time in my life, I was the last one in line because I couldn’t move any faster.

This irony was lesson for me. Should we have gone slower? Maybe, maybe not. Altitude sickness is not something anyone can control or predict, it just happens. Two out of the six of us who started the trek showed no signs of it at all. They could have gone faster or slower and gotten altitude sickness, but they didn’t.

In the midst of feeling so horrible I wrote, adventures should be fun, not so ridiculously challenging that they make you sick. Trekking to Everest Base Camp challenged me beyond my capacity. It taught me how tiny I am in this universe of glaciers and rivers that start as tiny rivulets from a leaking glacier and turn into raging rivers to be crossed by swaying suspension bridges.


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Last Day of the Everest Base Camp Trail Trek

I lost my group. As we left the double suspension bridge, double suspension.jpgwe took a different path simply because it went down. The idea of going up was not something any of us was willing to do if we had a choice. Peri had gone ahead at his steadfast pace. Ganesan and I were staying with Danya who was sick with fever, vomiting, and delirium. I went ahead to relieve myself after a yak team passed by us, and that was the last I saw of my group for most of that day.

yaks-on-suspension-bridgeThe trail was empty, which is unheard of, especially this far down when the faint-of-heart have not yet given up. I ran into one more yak team and their driver, which did not surprise me because I was walking in a mire of Yak shit. I ran into an Australian coming from Lukla, so I knew I would eventually end up in the right place.

2016-10-10 10.44.51.jpg

The trail was beautiful and woodsy, interrupted by waterfalls flowing through it. At the next suspension bridge, I looked down at the way I should have come–a bright, flat trail that ran along the river. This was not the first time that I had opted for the more challenging path in my life. Perry was not there, so I assumed I must have fallen quite far behind because of my detour, which seemed much longer than the pleasant river stroll, which I could have opted for. I waited at the bridge for about 20 minutes to confirm my conclusion.


I happened upon a town five minutes from the bridge and peered into every tea house and café along the way to find my compadres. Then I stopped to take some tea on a wall outside of a little hovel where a woman and her daughter said they would deliver some tea. It was so warm and sunny there that I forgot to think of the yaks.

yaks-drinking-teaYaks have the right of way—always. When a team of them approached me while I sat on the wall drinking milk tea, I dodged into the doorway so as not to be pushed off of my perch. The head yak stopped to take a lick out of the sugar bowl next to my tea. I threw an almond at it to get it to move on with little effect. With a whistle from his master, the yak moved on without getting a sweet taste of my tea.


I still had a residual fear that my group would be angry with me for dashing ahead if I was ahead, so I started telling people if they saw an Indian man and a woman in green coats walking along, they should tell them the American was ahead of them.

High-end toilet

The more I thought about it, I realized that there was no way that Danya could have gotten that far ahead of me in her condition, so I took a pit stop, ordered some potatoes and two cups of tea and waited. I noted where I was: Solukhumba – Riverview Lodge. And waited. And waited for two hours before I saw Perry’s green jacket and Ganesan’s orange pants bobbing down the trail.


We put Danya on a horse to Lukla and continued well behind her on foot.

Bouncing from Namche Bazar to Lukla

2016-10-07-09-18-53It felt good to breathe more easily with each meter that I descended. I danced across suspension bridges without trepidation, managed to piss without hitting my shoes or socks, made way for yaks and porters. I experienced my journey in reverse.


My favorite parts of the trek were below the tree line in the Rhododendron Forest where I could peek through the trees and the clouds to see Everest once on the way up and once on the way down.

On the way down, the sky was the most brilliant and clear it had been on the entire trip. When we got to Tengboche, the sky blew open and free of clouds. I could see the monastery where we had attended a prayer and tea drinking ceremony in a thick fog on our way up. I could see the bakery where we had eaten some of the best apple pie that I have ever tasted. AND I could see Everest in all of its majesty. Everest is almighty because it is Everest, but I found its sister and brother mountains to be just as spectacular. The unpredictable cloud cover made the mountains grander because I never knew if, or when, they would reveal themselves. When they did, they were awe-inspiring.

While I danced down the mountain as people trudged up, I understood the lightness I had seen in people coming down as I had trudged toward base camp. Now I weaved among the yaks knowingly. I plunged through their dung and felt charged by my ever-increasing supply of oxygen.

The end

Have I changed? Of course. Would I ever do it again? NEVER—well, probably never.


The third world continues to overwhelm me, but it is easier to digest in the mountains where beautiful people move in sync with the earth using every resource they can find — the river to wash their clothes, grass to cover the fertile soil, yak dung for warmth, tourists for profit.


Men work as porters bearing burdens exceeding their body weight. Women run tea houses. They also take the time to plant colorful gardens with marigolds and bright red flowers that peer over the stone walls that line the trail. The poverty is clean and quiet, unseemly and home grown. It is a subsistence lifestyle.


In Kathmandu, women and children buzz recklessly in dusty clouds on motorbikes, tooting their horns at nothing, cows amble through the city not knowing which trash heap to lick. At the temple beggars with amputated everything lie twitching in the sun, and I wonder who placed them there so strategically. The beauty of a temple turns into a scam. I didn’t notice any prayer flags flapping in Kathmandu. Is there nothing to pray for in this wretched contrast to where I have been?img_3808

I wonder what the great Buddha thinks. The same Buddha whose eyes scan the peaks of the Himalayas from pale stone shrines along the Everest Base Camp trail watching people from all over the world make their pilgrimage to the great mother mountain.



Reggae, Yaks, and a Japanese Hotel

2016 Meters

Why am I listening to Pink Floyd’s The Wall at 2016 meters in Phakding, Nepal? I am five baby hands away from Mount Everest on the map. People with souls burrowed deep in their black brown eyes flow by to the tune of Pink Floyd and Bob Marley. My companions chatter in and out of Malay and English. I sit nestled in the Himalayas, a baby cries in the silence between the next 60’s hit song. Children with smooth dark skin covered with bright red patches of weathered skin hold hands and skitter along the cobbled path. I can imagine growing up here where there are no cars and the silence is as deep as the river carved under mountains 5,000 meters high smeared with snow – towering nodules amongst swirling clouds.img_3922
This morning I spotted the Himalayas through the spinning propellers of our tiny plane as we rose to 3,600 meters.  Antoine de Saint-Exupery in Wind, Sand, and Stars writes about how when you fly you see a part of the world that no one else gets a chance to see – the land that can only be seen from a birds’ eye view.

3,440 meters

We threaded our way through town in a light rain, four fluorescent figures cloaked in Gortex. We crisscrossed the Milky River twice on wire suspension bridges, marching across canyons on air. The sweet smell of balsam and other evergreens clinging to the cliffs at 3,440 meters reminded me of home. The path is a well-worn stream of yaks, tourists, and porters stretching in front of me for as far as I can see, which would be the next destination, Panboche. On this day, it pleased me to know that I would be able to tread this path again on the way back to gain a new perspective on the majesty of the world.

The next suspension bridge that we came to hung over another one about 30 feet below. Another 100 feet below that the river merged with the Khumbu Glacier. Frayed prayer flags flew perpendicular in the wind as my steps floated with the bounce of everyone else’s step. Suspended, I wanted to capture everything around me in one breath.


Porters, permanently stooped by loads twice their weight, sidled their way through German and Chinese tourists. They carry smooth wooden stools to prop under their butts when they need a quick rest without having to release their carefully balanced load. There is a code on the trail that those who make it all the way learn quickly: always make way for the porters out of sheer respect; move to the inside of the trail when a yak train approaches you for they too have heavy burdens to bear and little sense of doing anything else than moving forward. Young porters take on the stooped posture of their grandfathers, but you can still see the younger boys looking on with respect as their older brothers and fathers bear extreme weight for 20 dollars a day.img_3852

These heavy loads propel beasts and men forward. The yak’s feet flex with each careful step they take. Porters take sure-footed steps in flip flops, crocks, knock off hiking boots or sneakers.

The Yaks are the only traffic in town. They take the stairs like retired ballet dancers with heavy bells clanking beneath the necks. We walked up the stone path out of town at seven in the morning over-dressed in thermal underwear, which I promptly removed. A woman was sending her naks (female yaks) out to pasture. When she left them alone to make the rest of the trek up the hill, they took to nibbling the plant life on their own with little encouragement from a swinging rope and an occasional pebble missile aimed at their back end.

Waiting for the Mountain above Namche Bazar

To acclimatize, we walked up to 3,860 meters to catch a glimpse of Everest. These tall mountains are finicky about when they want to peek out from the clouds. The more you wait, the less likely they are to pop out for a moment. I feared that if I went to the toilet, I would lose the chance to see the mountain.

blue-bellsThe trees got low and sparse leaving room for bluebells and fire red leaf flowers to grown. The snow-capped mountains seemed to get bigger and higher with every step that we took. Occasionally, a gust of wind revealed a rock-faced mountain so high that it was hard to tell whether or not is was a part of the sky itself. The sky was true azure and the quiet was as soft as the air was fresh. I felt the steady nature essence that never ceases to center me — so close to the mountains and sky that I could touch them if I stretched my soul far enough. My lungs burst wide open to let the hollow space inside of me leak out slowly while the clouds brushed up the mountainside.

We headed to 3,800 meters to a Japanese hotel with a view of Everest if it felt like revealing itself. Everyone waited for a peek at the infamous mountain. Some people got impatient and left, others just left. I propped my feet on the rocks, and drank in the sun. What was out there behind the clouds was so vast and beyond me that I did not really care if I saw the mountain or not. There is something intriguing about the idea of these magic monsters hiding behind the clouds as you tromp along. Sometimes the snow on the mountain and the clouds merge and you have to look hard to confirm whether or not you really saw that mountain. I was grateful that the mountains revealed themselves to me as slowly as they did.

Flying to Lukla

The shopping tripimg_3809

When we were in Katmandu there was no way to avoid buying our supplies for the trip. All I needed was a sleeping bag, thermal underwear, gloves, a hat, a warm coat, and wind pants to complete my inventory. Aside from some socks, underwear, two t-shirts and a toothbrush, that is all anyone needs to trek the full length of the Everest Base Camp trail.

Shopping should never last over two hours. You go into one or two stores, buy what you need and leave. I don’t squabble and bargain, I just take what I get with whatever reasonable price I can. For camping equipment, I know what I need, and I made my purchases for about 100 USD in about a half an hour. Some people look at shopping as a hobby or a passion. They love it and do it whenever they can. Some people love to shop—I like it about as much as a serving of lima beans that my mother used to force me to eat.

Bull by the river

The group I was with had a different definition of shopping. Since I was trying to hone my team player skills, I stuck with them as they spent four hours going from shop to shop to get the best price for all the items they could have bought in the first store.

I like efficiency. Going to five or six shops and bantering over the price of the same items when you can do that in one shop makes little sense to me. I was proud of my patience as I stumbled from one small shop to the next in a torrential rainstorm.


The Kathmandu and Lukla Airports

I like third world cities about as much as I like shopping and lima beans, so it was a relief to find myself at the airport early the next morning. From what I could decipher, we were going to be waiting for a while. I held twin babies, conversed with people from all over the world, and soaked in the scene. I chatted with two bright Nepalese boys on their way home from boarding school for the holidays.


Hiking gear clogged the crowded floor and provided people with backrests, people who shared the same anticipation as I did. Finally, we got the signal to go. Everything we owned, including our bodies, was weighed. Then we stepped over the baggage scale, grabbed our stuff, and made our way to waiting room two—a holding tank of eager trekkers and people journeying home.

A man sat next to me and proceeded to yell into his cell phone so loudly that I wanted to burst out laughing. I looked across the way at an Israeli man who was raising his eyebrows and grinning at the whole affair. His name was Elbenar, and I quickly joined him and his girlfriend Noah. I would continue to bump into them over the course of the trek.

img_3915Then 16 of us were loaded onto a tin bus and driven out to the runway where several two prop planes waited. “Twenty minutes,” the lady in charge told us, “stay on the bus.” It wasn’t Malaysian heat, but it was pretty close. Soon we leaked off the bus like fried eggs, eager to hop into the frying pan. I quickly found a place to pee amidst some broken down airplanes, and this would probably be my most luxurious toilet experience over the course of my journey.


On the plane, I sat across from two Nepalese girls of about six or seven years of age traveling alone, and delighted to cash in on the sweets that were passed out along with the cotton they gave us to stuff in our ears.

img_3916There were two Germans sporting bow ties. One wore wool-blend stretchy light blue pants held up high above his waist with suspenders and a matching coat. The other sported a wool scarf. I break into a sweat, simply describing them. I pegged them for teachers. I ran into them later on the trail at one of the earlier stops. I am not sure they had any idea what they were getting themselves into.img_3931

img_3922The flight was very Antoine de Saint-Exupery if you have ever read Wind Sand and Stars. The airstrip at Lukla is 450 meters long and 20 meters wide, ending with a large stone wall and a chain-link fence. We landed on the steep uphill runway and halted within two meters of this wall, which probably would not have done much to stop us.

We started hiking immediately from the airport. We wound our way through Lukla, the starting point of the cobblestone base camp trail past Starbucks. Within a few hours, we arrived at our first tea-house where we would spend one night.

Trekking the Mt. Everest Base Camp Trail — the week before

This adventure will be told in three or four installments. Stay tuned.

The week before

img_3916The week before I left on my trek to Everest Base Camp, I was banned from going on the trip; my passport was still at immigration; I did not have my visa for Nepal (which was okay, but I wanted it in my hand when I boarded the plane), and finally, I was sure that I was about to lose my job. I was a wreck, ready to come home, give it all up.

As I licked my wounds, I tried to get my passport back. It is a universal truth that when it comes to dealing with anything government, you are speaking another language. Throw in living in a multi-lingual culture (Tamil, Malay, English with a heavy accent, Mandarin…) and you can only imagine how I felt swimming through the system.

The US embassy processed my new passport in a week. A week before my passport was due to be returned, Malaysian immigration said that they had changed their policy (what policy?) and it would take a month more to process my work visa. When I rejected that idea, they claimed that I had not paid my taxes. When I showed them my receipt of payment, they claimed that a holiday had held up the process.

I got messages like your passport is ready. I would go over to get it, and immigration had no idea who I was. Then the message came on Tuesday before it was time to leave: your passport has not been approved; call us back; come get your passport at 4 pm. Yes, I did proofread that sentence. Since I was communicating through four people who spoke several different languages, I decided to go down to HR to see if they could translate this mysterious message for me. She looked up the status of my case on the computer and saw that my passport was ready.

I took an Uber to immigration. It was much easier this time because I knew where it was. On my previous trip, I discovered that the immigration branch that deals with expats is not on the GPS system. When I got there to pick up my passport, they told me to wait in the lobby for some guy whose name I could never pronounce in a million years. Down to the lobby, I went to ask the dudes at the front desk if they knew who this person was. Either they had absolutely no idea, or they couldn’t understand a word that I said, OR I couldn’t understand a word that said or all of the above. At this point, I confirmed my serious problem with anxiety, which did not help the situation.

I sat in the lobby repeating the serenity prayer and waited for the guy with the unpronounceable name to show up. A guy did show up and made some kind of muddled announcement several times before I heard the words Learning Port mingled in a garbled, possibly English, sentence.

My passport had arrived. From what I gathered, telling me to come get the passport was translated into we will drive the passport to Learning Port. As an English Major, a writer, a woman with her master’s degree and a decent command of the English language, the multiple ways of speaking this English astound me. Malaysia may be a country where “everyone speaks English” but that what kind of English that might be is questionable.

It was Tuesday, so I ran to the Nepalese Embassy (I could write a novel about that experience), but they only processed visas from 10:30 to 12:30. I went the next day, to be at the front of the line at 10:30. There are a lot of people from Nepal who work in Malaysia. People ship them in by the planeload for decent and cheap labor. I had plenty of time to talk to several business owners about this while I waited for the two hours it took for the electricity to turn on before I could get in to get my tourist visa.

I was the only person getting a travel visa, the only woman, and the only non-Asian, so I did stand out a bit. The two people behind the desk serving about 150 people trying to renew their work visas beckoned me to plow through the mob. When I got there, the clerk pointed out that I needed a photocopy of my passport. I looked at the photocopy machine sitting next to him, gave him the I-have-been-waiting-on-a-spit-filled-sidewalk-for-two-hours look, and asked him politely to make a copy for me. On Wednesday, the day before our departure, I retrieved my passport from the Nepalese embassy; this time, they had electricity.

img_3847Another glitch in the preparation

Four days before the trip to Everest Base Camp began, the group leader had kicked me off the trip and out of the Happy Hikers. I was guilty of not being a team player, and hiking as if I was trying to catch a plane. I am guilty as charged of both of these crimes. I have always moved too fast. For the sake of my credibility, I will not detail my qualities as a team player.

Also, four days before the trip, my supervisor told me that there was no more work for me to do at my company. My passport was still at immigration for my work visa and I needed to get it back to get my visa for Nepal. (I was planning on going alone at this point.) Things were not going well.

Do I work here anymore?

The undercurrent of all of this chaos was that I was beginning to figure out that my days as a Subject Matter Expert were drawing to a close. I had discussed this feeling I had with a supervisor, but we had not come to any conclusion. Rather that describing this Ring-Around-the-Rosie, let me just say that I did the communicating this time in writing, which is my best medium. I wrote a letter to my boss with a proposal of how I wanted to write a blog for Learning Port that would draw potential buyers to his website. What did I have to lose? I want to be a writer. He agreed and on Monday, I will move up a floor to write and to edit. Unless something has happened while I have been trekking in Nepal, I am looking forward to starting again on Monday.

The short version is that I was allowed back into the group. I got my passport. My work visa was renewed, I had my tourist visa for Nepal, the trip leader allowed me back on the trip, and I gained some humility on the way.


This was my e-mail to nobody

Giving up

This morning I was at a giving up stage, so I wrote this email to nobody.

Honestly, I am not a good fit for my job as a Subject Matter Expert. After a year, I still do not know enough about ESL or e-learning experience to do the job well. I asked my supervisor and she concurred. As a result, now I am basically an editor and copy-paster.


The difficult part is coming to work every day feeling a bit worthless, which is one of the reasons I left teaching, to be honest. So in the age of non-transparency (seems to be a buzz-word these days) I am revealing myself at a weak moment, which is not an easy thing to do.

As far as I can see, I have three options:

  1. Stick it out here while I am making money, and work hard to establish myself as a writer. Based on all of the reading I have done about becoming a freelance writer, the advice is to write for content mills or anyone who will hire me, and then establish clients. I actually have found steady work reviewing children’s books for a guy I found on Upwork (a site more refined than Craig’s list as it is geared toward freelancers). I like the work and he likes my reviews. I also have another possible client. I have taken a brief, not very helpful travel writing class so that I can write for a blog called Pink Pangea. I am also trying to establish myself on sites (that don’t pay) to build my resume. Slowly, I am building my writing portfolio on WordPress and have found someone to help me with that.
  1. Run away to a far-off land with my 5,000 dollars and see what happens
  1. Come home, work at DD and regroup there.

I have just answered my question. (this marks the end of my e-mail to nobody)

In the making

While this email was in the making, a friend sent me a link to a TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert.

“I’m not going to quit, I’m going home. And you have to understand that for me, going home did not mean returning to my family’s farm. For me, going home meant returning to the work of writing because writing was my home, because I loved writing more than I hated failing at writing, which is to say that I loved writing more than I loved my own ego, which is ultimately to say that I loved writing more than I loved myself. And that’s how I pushed through it.”

Searching for home

I have been searching for home for a long time, which is probably why the words of Homer and Sandra Cisneros swirl around my head like a broken record. But two writers, C.P. Cavafy and Elizabeth Gilbert have helped me to understand what home is. My search for home has been one of yearning. I thought I was yearning for family, friends, a wood stove, a screech from the owl in the woods, love. But home is a destination. It is where we want to go in our hearts, and when we find it, we feel rich and full, no matter where it is or what state it is in. As you set out for Ithaka, says Cavafy, hope your road is a long one, full of adventure, full of discovery.


As you set out for Ithaka

hope your road is a long one,

full of adventure, full of discovery.

Laistrygonians, Cyclops,

angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:

you’ll never find things like that on your way

as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,

as long as a rare excitement

stirs your spirit and your body.

Laistrygonians, Cyclops,

wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them

unless you bring them along inside your soul,

unless your soul sets them up in front of you.


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.


Keep Ithaka always in your mind.

Arriving there is what you’re destined for.

But don’t hurry the journey at all.

Better if it lasts for years,

so you’re old by the time you reach the island,

wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,

not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.


Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.

Without her you wouldn’t have set out.

She has nothing left to give you now.


And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.

Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,

you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.





I Want to Ride My Bicycle

I want to Ride my Bicycle – Queen  bukit-tabor-3

When I was tricycle-riding age, I took to the road. I rode my tricycle to the top of my driveway and let her rip. I sped so fast that I had to lift my feet above the pedals to keep them from getting thwacked. It was a thrill. Perhaps my first one. Then I hit the loose sand at the bottom of the driveway with such a force that I flew off my bike and got the wind knocked right out of me.bukit-tabur-5

When I was 55, I took to the road again. I left my career and home of 24 years and flew to Mexico to teach. One week after my year in Mexico ended, Learning Port offered me a job writing storyboards for e-learning modules. I flew halfway around the world to learn a new trade.

Was flying down the driveway on my tricycle an act of bravery, or an act of impulsivity? Was hopping on the plane to Mexico an act of bravery or an escape?  Was ending my career as a teacher and coming to Kuala Lumpur to try e-learning a good choice? The answers are yes and no. Yes, because I was in a rut, I only have 30 years of living left in me, and it has been quite a ride. Regardless, these acts propelled me to make the conscious decision to become a writer.bukit-tabur1

As I settle into my second year in Malaysia, I have not found my comfort zone. Like the arduous climbing hikes I have been on lately, there have been peaks and valleys, which often leave me depleted. I look at the next year  as a time to focus on learning how to write for a living. It will be a time for me to practice, experiment with different genres and employers, network, and do what I love.

I can see the bottom of the driveway, but like so many years ago when I sat on my tricycle seat at the top of the driveway, I cannot see the loose sand at the bottom Even if I could, I do not know if it will knock the breath out of me. What I do know is that falling off my bike at the end of the road is part of my learning curve. Maybe this time, I will wear a helmet.



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.

Venture Forth

I saw a dead man today. We had just come out of the jungle and there he lay. The EMTs had just arrived, although we learned later that he had been lying there for 25 minutes. They performing CPR, but it was obvious that he was gone. He had beautiful hair and rich bronze skin. His shoes were cast off and his knee was bloodied and bruised from where he fell. He was alone. No one seemed to know him, but everyone wanted to save him. A small group of hikers took turns performing CPR as a woman counted out 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10 up to 30 over and over again.

Why do I start my blog with this (other than to draw you in with a good hook)? Because this is day one of the third year of my two-year walkabout. (Figure that one out.) When I left Peterborough, my plan was to return in two years, but I am not ready yet. The man who died reminded me of that today. One day you’re here and the next day you’re not. A snap of the fingers and life disappears. I am out here in the world because I want to do, see, feel, touch, and hear everything that I possibly can while I can. Nothing can determine my fate, so I want to live my life with abandon. I want to keep all of my doors wide open. By leaving the door open, I ended up in Malaysia a year ago today. By leaving the door open, I am learning a new career, meeting people, exploring. To coin a cliché the world is my classroom. It always has been.

What have I learned from the two years of my walkabout? Here are 10 things, not in any particular order.

  1. Environmentally, we are screwed.
  2. Worrying about the future is a waste of time.
  3. Learning is a challenge, but I don’t need to be defensive as I do it.
  4. Learning takes time.
  5. Language barriers and cultural barriers are married to each other.
  6. As much as I want to be one, I will never be a princess.
  7. When you turn challenges into adventures, they are lots of fun.
  8. I want to be a writer.
  9. Ultimately, I am on my own.
  10. I raised my children well.

In her own way, my mother lived her life with abandon. I think of her often as I tromp through the jungle, board a plane, speak a new language, read a poem, climb the world’s mountains. I think of her scraping her shins, falling down, and getting back up again day after day, mountain after mountain, trail after trail. She was 30 years older than me. Her death reminded me of my mortality. It nudged me to see the world before the great sights vanish, or before I am too old and creaky to venture forth.

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