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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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Travel

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.

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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

Plum Blossom
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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Beyond the Lotus Flower


I am learning to be home again. To return to the familiarity of Kuala Lumpur, the walk up the hill from the LRT with its mixtures of smells and rocky sidewalk tiles, and the modern simplicity of this city. I realize how insignificant my life is in a world so full of wonder. The world that I have always known, the tiny chunk of New England, is a wonder in its own beauty.

Asia has opened me. Starting with the Lotus flower and so far ending with the temples and fishing villages of Siem Reap, which houses Angkor Wat, the Elephant Palace, the palace of the Leper King and dry shallow moats. Somehow these places have survived with their people. A place where the effect of dormant land mines is everywhere. A place that survived the Khmer Rouge, and that still survives poverty within a calm of Hinduism, motorbike riders wearing facemasks, and tuk-tuks carrying tourists from temple to temple at dawn. The smell is of Mexico, the food an imitation of India, China, and Malaysia. The thing one takes away from this place is a sense of peace carving its way back after years of strife.

I ask myself where I have been while I grew up listening to the black and white news on TV about this region of the world. What do I know? How can I begin to imagine what the people who are now my age survived when they were six years old? When I asked our guide about the effect that the Khmer Rouge had on him, he told me he was sent to the rice paddies at six years old, split from his family, and that he lost his father and brother. We agreed that there was no way to for him to describe to me his experience or any way that I could begin to understand it. What can I possibly begin to know of that?

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“one dolla”

How can I know anything of the little girl and boy who clean out the garbage can after I throw away my morning egg and toast? I reach into the trash for the little girl and open my wasted breakfast. She rejects the toast and takes the egg to feed to her brother.

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I find him later befriending tourists and picking at their breakfasts while hundreds of tourists from all over the world wait with the cameras for the sun to rise over Angkor Wat. And it never really does. The light leaks into the sky, fading the silhouettes of the towers built miraculously of tons of limestone carted from 25 kilometers away.

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Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is magic. Despite its tourist attraction, and multiple children selling postcards and cooing 1 dollar, one dollar, I was still awed by it. The irony of people absorbed in their selfies surrounded by such spirituality and wonder struck me. The vanity of the human race overwhelms me, and I still have that serene desire to curl into a cocoon and be alone with the universe as I continue my journey.

The world continues to be a treasure hunt. The pile of gold that I have accumulated continues to heap up bringing me closer to myself and that mysterious place called home for which I continue to search. I saw what must have been a mile-long carved mural of the Ramayana, and like so many other spiritual guides, he too was searching to rid the world of evil, to increase its goodness, and to try to understand what it is to be human.IMG_3405

Like India, there are few words for my short weekend in Cambodia. It was a whirlwind tour for me who believes that less is more. When I visit a place that is grand, I want to go to one place and absorb it, rest with it and let it wash the soul. I will go back to Cambodia because it only takes two hours to get there. My hope is to start doing some trekking to get away from the tourism and closer to the people of Asia. There are many things that everyone should experience in a lifetime: the Special Olympics, rowing a wooden Kaschper in perfect synchrony, raising children, India, New England, giant thunderstorms over the Pacific Ocean, body surfing the perfect gigantic wave, skating on black ice, swimming many miles. My list is infinite, how fortunate I am that it is.

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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.

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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.

 

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Pictures of India

With Apologies to E.M Forster


The monsoon rains thrum on the street, and Christmas carol medleys thrum in the background, as I sit in my favorite café to write this. One week has passed since I returned from India, my stomach has almost recovered, and I feel different. I waited a week to write thinking that words would come, but I am not so sure they will because I cannot find the words to express an experience that was taste, smell, touch, sound, and sight. India is as rich as its food, which is beyond description. IMG_2603 I am not sure that the candy we gobbled before we went into the Buddhist temple counts. It only dawned us after the Sikhs told us not to take pictures there that we had gobbled up food meant for the gods. But I am way ahead of myself.

I left my travel plans in Dolores’ hands. She left it in her roommate Ranjana’s hands because Ranjana is from India. Lesson one: never let someone else plan your trip. Although we were grateful when we landed in Delhi that there was a driver in a clean van waiting for us, about a mile into the maze of Delhi traffic, we realized that he only knew five words of English: “no problem and in a minute.” In a minute, I had seen just about all of India that I wanted to. I was glad that I had booked a flight for Tuesday — only six days to go.IMG_2131

One billion people live in India, and I could tell. I have never seen such a large concentration of people, and they were never-ending. There was no place that was not crowded. For those of you who have read my blog http://tampicoandlisa.travellerspoint.com/ ), driving in Mexico is tame compared to India. The roads in the cities are better maintained, perhaps because the potholes are filled with trash, but the traffic rules are governed by the horn. (Picture of blow the horn truck). Pedestrians do not have the right of way (I have yet to see this rule observed in my walkabout so far.), but water buffalos, cows, dogs, monkeys, camels and elephants do.

I had no idea where we were headed until Dolores informed me that we would be in the car for 200 kilometers (124 miles). In India, that is about a six-hour drive. We were on our way to Jaipur. This trip involved a lot of driving, so I kicked back and watched the movie of India pass us by. The colors, the pollution, the trash, the animals, plodded by us and dodged in front of us as we blasted and wove among trucks, carts, bicycles, motorbikes stacked with entire extended families, rickshaws, tuk-tuks and pedestrian traffic.

We made it in one piece to Jaipur, but our arrival in Jaipur was not so smooth. We had no idea where the hotel was. The sim card on our phone did not work, and it was “no problem” for our driver, as we would get there “in a minute.” At one point, Dolores saw the hotel, but Mr. No Problem did not stop. Dolores was pissed. I was perfectly content to drive around in circles. Finally, we landed in a little hotel called The Mansions, chatted with the concierge, who now writes to us converse in English, and crashed in our tiny room.IMG_1012IMG_1027

The next morning we were up early to see forts, palaces, and mosques. Sometimes I found myself more fascinated by the people around me than the sights I was seeing. In one fortress, I found an exhibit on clothing. It was dark, and I was swept up in a school group, so I had to ground myself in order to stop and appreciate the exhibit. As I started to feel enveloped in India’s history and its present, I felt soft fingertips and palms brush along my arms as a flurry of women and girls streamed past me. It felt like a silk massage, and before I knew it they were gone as if nothing had ever happened. All that was left were their dark brown eyes, thick braided hair, and maroon uniforms. Breathless, I breathed in India.

That day in Jaipur, after my brush-by experience, I was laughed at by school children, scorned at by crinkled old women in saris and chased by young men with cameras. Muslims do not like flesh, but in KL, this is not much of an issue, because the Chinese Malaysians wear western clothes, and so do the cigarette girls who frequent the bars at night. I wear sleeveless shirts and bare legs because the heat is unbearable. One of the first things that Dolores ever said to me in the office was HR is going to come after you for dressing that way, so I promptly went to H and M and got two cotton long-sleeved shirts to cover my shoulders. I wore them for a day or two. I have learned a lot about clothing since then. I assumed that there would not be an issue with my outfits in India since it is not predominately Muslim. (I only have four dresses that I rotate throughout the week.) Who cares! By the end of the trip, I had bought three pairs of leggings and two scarves, but I admit, I did miss the celebrity status and attention! When I returned to work I told this story, and it gave everyone the opportunity to say something about my dress at work. The main problem is exposing the armpit, which is considered a dirty, and private part of the body. When the Minister of Education came to launch the first i-textbook in Malaysia, by Learning Port (where I work), I was the only one in bare legs. Even though I covered my shoulders, and wore my one dress with sleeves, I admit that my bare legs were too offensive.

Unlike KL, which is a continuous thrum of traffic, Jaipur squeaked and screamed, stopped and started; people darted, rickshaws strained, colored saris sailed among turbans and the dark thick hair of girls and bustling women. IMG_2372Jaipur was frenetic. We fell into bed with movies of castles and moats with deadly amphibians, inner walls with rolling rocks and burning tar, and soldiers with sabers at the ready.

We decided to squeeze in one more fort before we moved on to Agra. We could see the fort in the distance, so we knew we would not get lost. Then our driver turned off the road, away from the fort. I tried to inform the driver that he was going the wrong way, that we did not need to go on the dirty bumpy roads, but he just said elephant. What the hell is elephant I thought sure that I was not hearing him right. No problem… in a minute….We turned down a street, and he asked us to get out of the van. Before us stood an elephant. Dolores had told me earlier that day that she would pay anything to ride an elephant, and here we were!!! The other word our taxi driver knew was sister. (Everyone, including us, was his sister.) This sister knew someone who had elephants. Way back in the day of sultans, the sultan had elephants. He and the royalty used to watch the elephants fight. When the day of fighting elephants for the sultan’s entertainment ended, the elephants went to the circuses. I am not sure what the elephant caretakers did, but they lost their place in society for a while. The circus elephants were abused, and finally all elephants were banned from circus fare. So the government gave the next generation of elephants back to the next generation of elephant caretakers. All of them lived in a village, with pasture to roam. They supplemented the cost of elephant care with elephant rides. I mounted my elephant by stepping on his trunk and swinging up and over his head. Dolores chose to have the elephant lie down for her. We paraded silently through town picking up children, dogs goats, and donkeys along the way. The elephants were regal, and for the rest of the trip I kept comparing the peace and beauty of India to the swing and sway of that ride.IMG_2267IMG_2272

We missed the fort destination, but we gained an elephant ride.

The next leg of our triangular journey was to Agra. It was late, but we had a hotel reservation in Agra. It was dark when a few hours later, the driver drove off the main road again. This time, Dolores told me later, she was clutching her mace gun. Here we were in the dark, driving on a dirt path/trail/field into an unknown situation. According to the driver, he was stopping off to see his sisters. Finally, we stopped outside of a cement block house. We entered the house to be greeted by two women and three children. I do not know who was staring harder at whom. They were utterly baffled by my lack of shawl cover, and we were utterly baffled by their beauty and their living conditions. The little girl, who must have been eight, spoke English. She had little brothers. IMG_2275We never figured out the dynamics of the family – who was Auntie, and where was Dad? Three others straggled in, a grandmother, a teenage girl, and a little boy. We drank ginger tea and smiled a lot, and visited their shrine, before climbing in the van again.IMG_2276IMG_2278

Now it was late, and though we were grateful for the opportunity to meet our driver’s sisters, we were not looking forward to another hour of driving with possible side trips, but we were at his mercy. We honked our way south to Delhi and stopped for dinner.

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This is where we ate dinner.

Then we continued to stop every 15 minutes—no problem, just a minute. When we stopped for gas, he asked for five thousand ringgits.  He dropped one, which I picked up and gave to him, but he claimed that I had not given it to him. The gas meter read 1,500 ringgits, so I asked for the rest of the money back, which he gave me with a reluctant smile. He insisted that he needed tax money (I think), but we held onto the money, and he was pissed.  We learned later in the trip that he actually did need tax money. He stopped one more time on the side of the road, at a concrete structure with a man sleeping outside, in a bed, five feet from the road, in front of an open barred window outside. This man never moved. The man inside the bare lightbulb lit room was in bed. Our driver talked to him for a while and off we went. Now he was angry and we still had no sim card and no idea how we were going to find our hotel. We started driving around the city  while the driver yelled at me to ask directions to anyone who passed by. Finally, we saw a hotel, ordered him to stop the van, grabbed our backs and left him there. We never saw him again.

 

IMG_2296.JPGWe went to the Taj Mahal the next day. For some reason, we hired a guide, which was a big mistake. Men in India, worry about women, and neither Dolores nor I are women that fall into the worry-about-me category. I like being treated like a princess, but there are limits. This man sounded like a tape recorder. It was as if he was scared that if he stopped, he would forget his three-hour speech. Dolores was evasive, and I was tolerant. I kept hearing, where is Dolores? Come Dolores? Finally, I used our ex- driver’s words when the guide called me, “in a minute,” and that seemed to make things easier. He was particularly irritated when I posed with all of the boys and girls who wanted photos of me. I was also stopped by parents who wanted to photograph their toddlers and infants with me. I had not donned my leggings and scarf yet. I could write a dissertation of dress in Asia. When we went into the temple, we were required to wear booties, or we could take off our shoes. Dolores refused to pollute the world with one more pair of synthetic booties, so she chose bare feet. In India, everyone spits; it’s vile and abundant, to put it mildly. I could not get used to it. If you talk to anyone who has visited India, spit is bound to come up. It came up with Dolores when she realized that people spit in temples too.IMG_2353

We decided to take a train to Delhi. It would be faster than a car, safer and cheaper too. The pictures tell the story of our journey. We felt as if we were in a movie, with crowded platforms, people spilling off the side of the train, men jostling through the train with boiling hot tea on their heads, people piled on top of people. We also discovered where the homeless sleep, although my friend swears that all of those families sleeping on the train platform were waiting for trains.

We made it to Delhi late that night. We thought our hotel was just 500 meters from the station, which is was, but we could not find it, so we got a tuk tuk at a fixed price to drive us there. My Trip Advisor review for this hotel is not exactly positive. I was tired, but not tired enough to drag the duvet with blood stains on it down to the front desk to exchange it for a new one.

(Stay tuned for part two.)

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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

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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!

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Cameron Highlands — I would be lying


I would be lying… 10/3/2015

Elizabeth

I would be lying if I told you that my adventure to the Cameron Highlands was not disappointing. I loved the adventure of winding my way through Chinatown as it was just beginning to wake; getting to the bus station too early; my heart beating when the person checking my tickets didn’t open her booth until 10 minutes before the bus left; trying to cajole a smile from  the grouchy woman at the at the other booth who shooed me away. The bus station was dingy, the bathrooms (stoop and piss) were so dirty that I did not even consider washing my hands. (I have been spoiled living in my first-world oasis, where, when people drop their trash, a mopper or a sweeper are right behind them to pick  it up. I get excited on my five minute walk to work when I see trash so that the sweepers will have something to pick up.) cameron highlands busThe bus was tacky-cool, with curtains and plush seats. I got to speak Spanish with some Spaniards. All was well as we drove to the highlands.

The Malaysian countryside is jungle. This peninsula used to be all jungle, and now it is a tangle of roads, cities, and tourist traps. Not to mention the haze, which has descended upon the whole country because the plantations in Indonesia slash and burn their crops during this time of year. The haze is so bad, that in the morning, I can see the building in front of me, but that’s it. I haven’t seen blue sky in a month. This must be what people out west in the states are experiencing from the forest fires. However, this haze is man-made. We humans put money and profit first, so if slash and burn is the most profitable way to farm then forget the rest of the world. It’s the same with with oil companies I suppose, but most people drive cars every day (except me: mine is sitting in a jungle in northern Mexico), so we are all guilty.

I arrived in Tanah Rata at around 3:00 pm. Tanah Rata Is a small town, that may have been beautiful at one time when the British built this oasis in the jungle to grow tea and drink it from their verandas. Now it is a strip of honky tonk tourism and Starbucks, with some excellent Indian, Malaysian, and Chinese restaurants intertwined. In a word, it was the last place I would want to be.  Cameron highlands townMy plan had been to hike the jungle on my own, but according to everyone I met, that was not going to happen. Most people in town said it wasn’t a good idea. Later my airbnb host advised against it as well. I wasn’t convinced until I found the jungle path (tunnel) myself.

I guess I will get a guide,
I guess I will get a guide,

Cameron highlands people

Cameron Highlands tea tourist

So my hike would have to be with a group, which turned out to be a great thing. People who visit the Cameron Highlands usually do not explore the jungle. They don’t even shop, which is a miracle based on my Mexican and Malaysian experiences. They visit the tea plantations and the strawberry farms.

The first jungle trek started in Tanah Rata. It did not take us long to get to the jungle from town with our guide and brilliant ecologist, Jason.

We hiked the mountain to the left.
We hiked the mountain to the left
Tiny Orchids
Tiny Orchids

I am grateful that he was with us; he pointed out things that I would have never seen, especially tiny, tiny orchids, and the monkeys.

Jungle trek day one polluted waterfall
Polluted Waterfall. There is no way to support the trash generated by the booming tourist industry.
Jungle trek day one penis plant (carnivore)
Penis plant. This is a carnivorous plant that eats bugs.

  Jason told us about the disappearing rain forest and everything ecological. The hike was rigorous, with roots and steep climbs. Since I love the woods, I was not disappointed when there was no view — one, because the jungle was too thick to see much, and two because of the haze.  

I hiked with a great group of people (mostly 20-somethings). One woman was from Brewster, New York, the town next Katonah (where I grew up).  Others were from the Netherlands, Hungary, and Germany.cameron highlands group 2

The second day of jungle trekking was with Jason again, with another group of people, two of whom had been with me the previous day. This hike was less rigorous, and our destination was the tea plantation. It was gorgeous, Cameron Highlands tea 2until we reached the tourist mecca.

I returned to my airbnb, where I had met some cool people. I was not sad to say goodbye to the Cameron Highlands. The one hour of switchbacks back down to the super highway seemed to last forever. The driver smoked and he was of the ilk who thinks air fresheners smell good when they really smell like outhouses. Plus, the little boy next to me did not fare well with the switchbacks. I was relieved to be dropped off at KL Central, a bit closer to home. It was a long trip. One I don’t regret, because I gave regret up when I stepped on the plane in Hartford, Connecticut, two months ago.

I will continue to travel around Malaysia, but I think I am done with the jungle. Monsoon season has hit, so I cannot travel to the east coast, but there are some northeastern places I want to see., and Thailand and Vietnam are waiting for me. I will stay away from the south until someone decides to stop burning the rain forest. Maybe they should just burn it all now and get it over with. Living in New Hampshire, is deceiving. There are few reminders there that people really are burning down the world, dumping plastic into rivers, wearing masks to protect themselves from the air. Drinking water out of the tap is a a dying art.

This part of my walkabout is about finding work that I can do on my own so that I can live where I choose to live, which will not be a city. I still think that New Hampshire is one of the most beautiful places that I have ever lived. I want to continue being an SME (subject matter expert, who writes lessons for e-learners among other things). I want to do this remotely. I came to Malaysia for this job. I plan to learn how to do this well at Learning Port, to complete my one- year contract, return to the states, see how much money I have or can have, and then explore the possibility of the PCT. For now, there are still many places to explore. Kate, Claire and David are visiting in December, and I continue to meet people, even though I still love my loner status. Soon the haze will clear.

Camerion highlands Jungle trek day 2 tea plantaion Camerion highlands Jungle trek day 2 2 10 Camerion highlands Jungle trek day 2 5 Camerion highlands Jungle trek day 2 9 Camerion highlands Jungle trek day 2 indigenous Camerion highlands Jungle trek day 2 tea 1 Camerion highlands Jungle trek day 2 tea Camerion highlands Jungle trek day one 3 Camerion highlands Jungle trek day one 4 Camerion highlands Jungle trek day one 8 Camerion highlands Jungle trek day one blue Camerion highlands Jungle trek day one descent Camerion highlands Jungle trek day one haze view Camerion highlands Jungle trek day one waterfall 2 cameron highlands temple 6 cameron highlands temple 9

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