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



Between Utopia and Dystopia

KL 15 hour flight
15 more hours to go!
KL Pantai Hilltop
My first home for 8 days

I am somewhere between a Utopian and a Dystopian novel depending on who you are and how you see the world. First off, I work in Tower 7, in the Horizon, near the Sphere. When I put down a deposit on my apartment, the man could not deal with having cents attached to the records. I live on the 20th floor, which the lady voice in the elevator reminds me of every time I get into it. To get into work or my apartment I need to swipe a card. I am also working for an e-learning company (Learning Port).

KL Learning Port Tower 7
This is Learning Port where I work.

KL Bangsar SouthEach day I discover a little more about where I live. Apparently, Bangsar South was built on a shanty town. This section did not exist until a few years ago. I live and work in one year-old buildings, and sky scrapers rise up before my eyes every day. I can find little niches of what lay beneath this shiny new establishment when I walk just a bit too far, or from my 20th  floor vista. From there I can see rusty corrugated tin roofs amid construction sites. And where did those displaced people go? They were supplied with new tall apartments across the way, which do not look like mine. The only sign of homelessness that I have seen is a family that lives in its rice stall. It took me a while to figure out what they sold in these stalls, which have metal tables holding small wood fires. Along the sides are racks lined with foot-long and inch-wide tubes of bamboo. Inside of the bamboo are plantain leaves stuffed with rice. The fires keep the rice warm.

KL Capri home 1
My apartment building.
KL construction
Endless construction.

KL building KL Capri home   KL girls on Pedestrian bridge

I live in a country of Malaysians, Chinese, and Indians. This can mean a few things as far as language is concerned. Most people are Malaysian, and many only speak Malaysian English. For instance, one colleague who is Malaysian Chinese teaches ESL to native Chinese speakers. He says it is difficult because he does not speak fluent Chinese. Then why, I wondered, does he have such a thick accent? Today, I found out that he speaks Malaysian English. People speak with friends and family in their respective languages; however, in all other instances English is the common language.

KL lobby of home
Apartment Lobby. People open the door for me!

KL Home

Navigating the LRT.
KL Petronas tower
One of the Petronas Towers

My world is within a ¼ mile radius in Bangsar South. Horizon, where I work, Nexus, where my gym is, and Capri, a hotel under which I live, in a place called Camilla. I have ventured to Kuala Lumpur (KLCC), which is a series of the biggest malls I have ever scene, but it got me on the public transit (LRT). I swore I would never return to the center, but I did when I found a writing group that met there (even though no one showed up). I have been the other way on the LRT to play tennis with someone I met at the gym. I went food shopping in Bangsar, a quaint hipster, trendy part of town with everything European. This walkabout of mine has made it more than clear that I do not belong in a city. I forget that a large portion of the world finds happiness in malls, cars, big hotels, malls and fine dining. Other than that, it has been work, gym, and home.  Actually, I only started coming home two days ago. Until then I was living at Pansai Hilltop: Phase One (see what I mean about dys or utopia?), in a moldy apartment next to the mosque. I only mention that because that became my six am wake-up call—or the call to prayer, which goes on for about fifteen minutes.

I do not have the language to describe this world. That may be because I design e-learning curriculum for ESL at the 0 level, or it may mean that it is all so new to me that I do not have the vocabulary to express what I see, hear, smell, taste and feel. The food is superb. I eat lunch every day with a group of colleagues (from Iran, Pakistan, India, Italy, Malaysia) to go to a different restaurant each day for lunch. So far I have eaten Malay, Indian, Korean, Japanese, or a combination of all three. In Mexico, I controlled the amount of spice. Here, if it is a spicy dish that is what you get. This is real hot, not Mexico hot. This is spend-the-rest-of-the-day-trying-to-feel-your-mouth-again hot!

The smells are remarkably similar to Tampico at times. I suppose that has to do with the climate. However, in my small world it is spotless and new – no heaps of concrete, or dead cats lying about the way they did in Mexico. When I was living in the company apartment on Pansai Hilltop, the buildings were older, by about 20 years and it was moldier, and dirtier, but not trashy.

KL Pedestrian bridge 2Pedestrian BridgeKL Traffic

As my second expat experience, I have come to realize that perhaps the US is one of few countries that gives pedestrians the right of way. This and the fact that people drive on the left, are still things that I need to get used to. I still need to stop and look in all directions before I step off of the curb. There are no cross walks or little beeping green and red lights for the lowly pedestrian, and I cannot wait until they finish the building that adjoins the pedestrian walkway above the busy street I cross on the way to work. This is a driving city. Families on motor scooters, fancy cars, and traffic moving night and day. It is only a whirring sound though. No honking, just one continuous hum mixed with the sounds of steel against steel at construction sites. A new kind of silence.

I like my job. I play with words all day long. I can spend hours without talking to a soul, and no one is under 25 where I work. Do I miss the adolescent mind? Not yet, I will tell you when I do. This is a cubicle job. KL from my cubicleI am surprised that the inactivity does not bother me. I spend the day creating ESL learning modules. I keep finishing them. I am so far ahead it is almost embarrassing. I have not figure out why I am moving at such a speed, but I have had good feedback, so I will keep marching along. No one seems to know what the big picture is, but I just keep producing modules, and all is well.

I have only met one person outside of work so far (my tennis friend), but it is difficult to get a court, since there are only two that she knows of, and she has to reserve a court through a coach that she knows. I am hoping that through some meet ups I will start to branch out a bit. If not, I will adventure on my own.

Tomorrow, I am going to the FRIM to hike the canopy with two people from work. Don’t worry, I do not know what it is either. FRIM stands for Forest Research something, something.

I feel at peace here. Balanced, safe, and content. The people are lovely, the city is a city, and I have so much more to discover this year.

KL my pool
My Pool.
KL good morning
Morning View
KL bedroom looking down
Birdseye view from apartment 20-21

KL my pool 1 KL Bedroom View at night

Night view

KL bedroom view pm 2 KL Bedroom View PM
KL beware of escalator

From Tampico to Kuala Lumpur

It amazes me that in the course of an hour, I can relieve so much stress. I now have my visa card pin number, so that I can stop paying for everyone’s lunch and gathering cash. I will soon be reimbursed for my plane ticket, and I might be able to move into my apartment sooner than I thought.

And here I am embarking on a new adventure, in a world that I never imagined being in two months ago. When I walked off the curb onto the round about at the American School in Tampico, a voice in my head told me that I would never step off that curb again.The job in Malaysia was hovering, but it was a long interview away from reality. I wasn’t figuring on actually giving up my two and half decade career as an English teacher to embark on a career as an SME (Subject Matter Expert) in ESL.  Malaysia? I never considered it before. So I politely pushed the thought of not returning out of my head and plowed through the heat to start my final bus journey home. I left my car in the parking lot of the school, quite sure that it would never start again after I journeyed to New Hampshire and back.

That night a group of us went out for Sushi, and my dear friends Aliesha and Chip announced that they would not return to Tampico, which was a mind number (pronounced nummer) for me. When I walked home that night, I decided that I would leave too, job or no job. I would hop into my car, which had been patched together by a kind mechanic after I had been advised not to drive it, and go home — wherever that is, since I am renting my house. I trudged home plotting my life, called David, who quickly advised me against giving up a job when I did not have another one set for the future. So, the next day, I left Tampico leaving all of my possessions in a pile in my apartment. I had arranged to have someone move my stuff to a new apartment over the summer.

My first stop was New York City, where I stayed at my cousin’s apartment so that I could visit with Kate and Chelien. My second night I had a Skype interview with Malaysia — just for practice as far as I was concerned. One quarter of the way through the interview, I assumed that I was in way over my head, and when I hung up, I was relieved that I still had a job in Tampico. The next day I found out that I got the job.

It did not take long for me to accept the offer and resign from my post in Tampico. I went into immediate action and called Chip in Mexico. When in doubt, call Chip had been my motto for the year. I asked him if he could get my stuff and mail it to me from the states when he arrived there. Being who he is, he offered to tow my car up as well and use what money he could get from it to pay for the shipping. Now you know what type of friend he is, and that does not even begin to describe it. So the plan was set.

The next day, I received a text from Chip that read like this…..

Chip: Um lisa

Chip: We have or had a problem

Lisa: what is up

Chip: Your car flew off the road

Lisa: Ya…

Chip: Came undone from the trailer and landed in the jungle

Lisa: Ya…

Chip: At 50 mph

We got all of your stuff

But the car is done

Lisa: Now what?

Chip: Give me a minute

No joke i took it to Claidio’s the mechanic he did the work and boom

Came unhitched and flew off

Lucky we didn’t kill anyone

I got your stuff and your paperwork

But left it in the ten foot tall grass

Lisa: okay so it will just die in mx

Chip:Yez sorry

Lisa: it makes things easier i suppose

Are you okay?

Chip: Wr are ok

We just want to get out of here

It would be worse if the cops came…both cars have expired permits i might be in jail

Fuck…crazy…we can call u when we cross the border

Lisa:  so sorry

Chip: Im sorry too…its all smashed. We are in survival mode to just get out of mexico


I am not sure where my car ended up, and I do not want to know.

There goes the call to prayer.  More to come about Malaysia soon.

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