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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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finding home

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.

Shedding the pastIMG_1180

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.

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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