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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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Hiking in Kuala Lumpur

Turn Around Girl


Heading Northwest

Bukit Tabur approach 2On Saturday I found myself in a car with two other women heading northwest. As usual, I had no idea where we were going until we were well on our way to Bukit Tabur. I have been there before. It’s a stunning ridge only 45 minutes from the Kuala Lumpur.

I had been there before. Before Everest Base Camp, before my steady hikes with the Happy Hikers, before India once and India twice. I had been there in and around trips that I have made to Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Istanbul, Sri Lanka, Langkawi, the Perhentians, Cameron Highlands, Kuantan, Penang, Melaka, and numerous other hiking forays which I cannot pronounce.Bukit Tabur Far East

But Bukit Tabur? Why?

The other side

The other side of Bukit Tabur, which I had climbed before, had closed within a month of my visit there because someone fell to his death. Bukit Tabur is a climb where I had to ignore the possibility that I could drop off a sheer rock face at any moment — one of those climbs with thick frayed ropes that provided dubious support –thick frayed ropes tied to saplings, as sturdy, inexperienced hikers trusted them not to break.

And these people climbing had probably signed up for the hike without any expectation just as I had this day. Their friend had told them it was beautiful, or they saw a picture, or, if they were like me, they had to meet their weekly social quota (I spend an inordinate amount of time alone – almost hermit status). Whatever the reason, I was on my way to Bukit Tabur a second time with a woman who spoke Malaysian English of which I understood one in five words and a Korean woman who had hiked once before in her lifetime.

Most of the time. . . but sometimes

Bukit Tabur Far East
Following the leader up Bukit Tabur

The gist is that I love beautiful places like this. I love adventure. I love not knowing where I am going – most of the time. But sometimes the not knowing about my future is a constant test — a situation that I put myself in because I want to rewire my brain.

Bukit Tabur, Malaysia
SJ is one of the many people on my walkabout I will never forget. She has hiked twice in her life. Fearless and Full of Joy.

At some point in my life, a story formed inside me telling me I had to be brave. I was the one who would slay dragons, leap tall buildings at a single bound, and conquer the world. I was the one who would do it all, and I only had a short lifetime to accomplish all of this.

A proclamation

Bukit Tabur Far East
Climbing the crag at Bukit Tabur

The fact of the matter is that I don’t want to scale craggy cliffs with only frayed ropes dangling from strained saplings growing out of rock. This proclamation goes beyond the fear that this kind of climbing invokes. It surpasses the view that I see when I get to the top. It exceeds the missing exhilaration that I should feel because I accomplished something great and dangerous. It terrifies me at the same time that is pushes me to face my fears.

This Saturday, after we had scaled and descended a craggy, frayed-rope, sapling-anchored rock, I followed our leader as she continued down the trail. I was pretty sure that the rest of the day was going to be a continuation of stomach wrenching climbs.

Bukit Tabur - Far East
So I said no. . .

So, I said no. No rocks, just woods, and jungle.

Turning back

Our leader started to take us back to the car. Since we were only an hour into our climb, I think that her plan was to take us somewhere else. Then it dawned on her that we could just continue through the jungle until we came to the next challenge and then turn around and come back. So that is what we did.

It was the most beautiful jungle hike, with such lovely company, flora and fauna lit by streaming paths of light, snack breaks along the way, and joyful conversation. When we got to the next rock face, which really wasn’t so bad, my friend SJ, whose legs were quaking with fatigue, said no this time. And we turned around.

Bukit Tabur -- Far East
The rest of the hike was beautiful.
Turning forward

When you journey as much as I have, you learn that you can always turn around, and when you do, the return route never looks the same. You may have even had a chance to leap a tall cliff at a single bound or slay a fear dragon. When I turned around that day, it was so simple, smooth and accepting.

Soon I will turn around as I always do when I hop on a plane and return “home” for a period. But I am not necessarily turning back. I am turning forward. Forward with new eyes.

Bukit Tabur
Turning Forward

Hiking in Kuala Lumpur: I have found my people


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

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

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

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

2016-06-25 16.25.062016-06-25 16.32.21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mom and baby beggar monkeys
Mom and baby beggar monkeys

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

2016-07-02 09.09.15

 

 

 

IMG_3349

Happy Hikers Meetup in Kuala Lumpur

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

IMG_3364IMG_3366IMG_3365IMG_3350

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