Posted by: facetothewind | September 9, 2014

Going with the Flow

When it rains it pours. And when it flows, it goes. It’s been a bit of annus horribilis for me in the home ownership department. First it was the dead AC and the leaking roof and broken irrigation and resulting listing tree in Tucson. Then a few days ago I got word from Hawaii that my house in Seaview is in some danger of a new eruption of lava from Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes in the world. Yeah, call me stupid for building on a volcano. When I started construction, the lava was happily bubbling up out of the ground and flowing to the sea about 11 miles away. It provided nice evening entertainment looking off to the red glow reflected in the clouds. Then just this summer as the property values started creeping up enough that I could once again consider unloading my house without a big loss, the volcano decided to unload on the area first. But not before a hurricane struck the house knocking out the power and phones and buckling my floors. So in the middle of the first decent offer from a buyer in 8 years, this has all set it back and now the buyer is expected to back out with cold feet. I think those cold tootsies could use a nice little walk on some red hot lava!

Currently it’s not flowing toward the house but is about 3 miles away. The big fear for most people is that it will take out the highway, cutting the area off from easy access. And that could spell disaster for the area.

Here’s a map. I circled the lava flow and my house so you can see how close it’s getting…

USGS map of lava flow from September 8. Click to enlarge.

USGS map of lava flow from September 8. Click to enlarge.

You can click here for the whole story:

So while I’m wandering around Kuala Lumpur chewing my nails down to the bone about this, I saw this stenciled under a bridge. I needed the laugh. Maybe I need that massage, too. Maybe the volcano needs that massage. I invite you all to make a phone call to that number and ask them what exactly IS a volcano massage…like we don’t know.


Anyway, I’m really praying for a happy ending to this Hawaiian nightmare dream house saga.

And if you’ve not read my book on this subject, treat yourself to a copy of it by clicking the cover below. It’s hilarious and tragic. It gets great reviews on Amazon and will make wonderful end of summer reading for you. You’ll learn some Pidgin, get some building tips, and you’ll get to live out your dream of running away to a tropical island paradise while remaining safely free of bugs and crazy people in the comfort and safety of your living room. Click it now…

HI cover




Posted by: facetothewind | September 3, 2014

My Month in Malaysia

Here’s a rough cut video of my first month in Malaysia including a trip to Ipoh with Desmond, some adventures in KL and Penang with Chuan…

Posted by: facetothewind | September 2, 2014

Escape to Penang

Penang David Gilmore photography

Chuan and I took a few days off from hectic KL and took the fancy bus to Penang, about 5 hours north of KL.

Penang David Gilmore 1

George Town, Penang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its beautiful British colonial era buildings. Here are some photos…

Posted by: facetothewind | September 2, 2014

Cave Day

Batu Caves David Gilmore photography

Some very sweet and goofy monks from Sri Lanka. I shared the bench with them and chatted with them. One had just been to New York and was excited to meet an American. I’d have to say the same thing about Sri Lanka…a place I want to visit someday soon.

Last week my friend Mark from Pai, Thailand came to KL and we took a little day trip to the Batu Caves at the edge of KL.

Batu caves David Gilmore photogrpahy 2

Click on panorama to enlarge. This is the interior of one of the caves with Hindu dioramas carved into and painted on stone. It’s a bit tacky but also quite beautiful and whimsical. Grotesque and colorful and light hearted. In Malaysia, I feel that Islam lays a heavy hand on the people with regulations and punishments, depravations, concealments and the fear of the religious authority. But Hinduism seems (on the surface at least) lighter, more human, more sensual. Men in the temples run around with their shirts off. Cartoony figurines are carved in bright colors. The body seems to be the temple rather than what must be hidden and feared.

Below is a small gallery of photos:

Posted by: facetothewind | August 25, 2014

Capturing a Place


Went for a walk today in Masjid Jamek, the neighborhood surrounding the oldest mosque in Kuala Lumpur. It’s a bit too much embracing of Islam to actually go inside the mosque. My feet can’t walk without shoes and I had shorts and a t-shirt on so am forbidden. So I just walked around the neighborhood feeling my enthusiasm for KL slipping as it just seems to be traffic and stinky buses.

Bus and KL

Pedestrians are squished in a sea of cars. I found myself getting really disillusioned with this place.


And when I’m cranky I try to pull myself out by being creative, capturing the essence of a place. I try to capture the good, the bad, the pretty, the ugly. I document it in imagery.


And then somehow ugly transforms. It starts to become pretty in some way — or at least more meaningful.


 Decay transforms into abstract art…


 Ugliness becomes a reflection of my mood…


As I try to release the gates that keep my mind locked in judgment…


…and feast instead on what’s laid before me..


I pig out on the global branding that made the world fat…


I embrace the new and the old…


…the East and the West…


 I let myself get lost in the crowd…


 I am unique, like everyone else.


And then a bit of sparkle can come back to a previously drab place…


And at the end of the day, whether I’ve liked or disliked, at least I observed and captured my view of this life we’ve created. I’ve noticed and witnessed and sometimes that’s all I can do.

Posted by: facetothewind | August 24, 2014

Taking the Hell out of KL


So yeah, I’ve been bitching about the traffic in KL and hating on my walk from the Jelatek train station (the subway) that’s about a quarter mile from my apartment. It is my portal to downtown Kuala Lumpur and I really hate the walk to the station because it’s a long a traffic choked street and my cough is still with me and inhaling those fumes is not helping it. That trafficky walk makes me want to leave KL. I have a little over 2 more months in my lease here and I’ve got to make it work. I tried earplugs…made me unaware of my surroundings. I tried the gas mask…too hot and goofy looking like the apocalypse has arrived.


So today I was having a lovely brunch with my boys at the VCR café in Bukit Bintang and had to take the train home which means walking that last 15 minutes alongside a traffic jam. But on the elevated train I noticed that if I got off a stop earlier, I could actually walk home a different route and here’s what I found instead…


A terrific cornucopic Malay market where the prices are a fraction of what they are at the expat grocery store next to my house frequented by the diplomatic corp of embassy row where my apartment is. The prices at the store are fit for their excellencies, the distinguished ambassadors of various nations who inhabit the ‘hood,’ not for me on my budget. And so I bought a bunch of bananas and some basil for $1 total. Yes, 1 USD. I’m of course the ONLY white person in this market and I get a lot of stares and an occasional, “Hello, how are you?” I used my Google translate to look up the Malay word for basil: selasih. The Muslim women’s faces lit up and they laughed and dug out a bunch for me from a pile of fresh greens…30 cents.

Then I set out to get home which was not easy. I could see the towers above the little kampung (village) but couldn’t find a way over the concrete river bed…hmmm. Then I found it — a makeshift walkway over an aqueduct complete with boards to step over the puddles. And then into the forest between the kampung and my apartment.


Everyone has warned me about the petty crime that occurs in Malaysia — the muggings and purse snatchings. Well, I’ve determined that nobody gonna snatch my purse bitch, so I just found a nice big stick, stood up straight, chest out and marched through the forest swinging my stick. When I lived in New York City in the 80’s (when it was dangerous on the streets and subways) I had a friend who was a NYPD officer and he told me to carry a stick and learn how to use it. He trained me how to go for the knees because no one can reach down and block a knee shot. And it will disable them and you just leave the scene with your belongings. Well, somehow I doubt I’m going to need that police training here, but just having the stick made me feel more confidant to go into the forest alone.


And when I emerged from the forest leaving my stick at the exit for my return trip another time, I’m at the Russian embassy. I pay my appropriate respects to their homophobic grand pubah. I learned the sticking-out-of-tongue from my mother when she was berated for lifting the sugar packets from the condiments section of a bar where she hadn’t purchased a drink. Some things you never forget. Thanks, Ma.


So out of the forest, past the embassies, and back into the concrete jungle where I find my building. Never had to stand alongside the traffic and inhale an acre of volatile organic compounds. I got a walk in the woods, learned a new word and found some cheap produce. Maybe it’s doing little things like this each day to improve your life (and possibly the lives of others) that make this place, or any place, more tolerable. It’s just a small thing, but I arrived home in smiles, triumphant for finding the greener path.

And this is when my smile fades. Arriving back at my building, it’s all salutes…


Yeah, salutes. It bothers me but what can I do? I don’t salute back. I just say, “Hello, how are you?” Nepalese Guards surround my building. They’re positioned at all corners and all doors and at the pool. And they have this annoying habit of jumping to their feet to salute saying, “Good morning sir,” or, “Hello boss.” Boss is a common term here for white men when approaching a service person who, guess what, isn’t white. Hate it. I’m not the boss. I’m not President-effing-Obama and when I’m in my swim trunks arriving at the pool in flip flops, you don’t have to jump to your feet, click your heels and salute for crying out loud. But they do. I’m sure they’re told to do so by the Chinese building management company. When I’m driving into the building, we have to skirt round the whole building, passing a guard who salutes at every corner and at the entrance to the garage and then again once inside. Oy vey.


Though they salute me, they must think I’m weird because I sometimes stop to look at things like this roach being trounced by a bunch of ants. The ants waved the antennas of the dead roach gracefully in a serpentine way and then they spun the body of the giant bug slowly around and around. It was fascinating to me that they couldn’t decide which way to take it. They went round and round until the guards called in the maintenance lady who swept it up depriving the ants of a meal the relative size of a jumbo jet. Well, if they had made up their collective ant minds and zipped it off to the anthill sooner, they would have feasted. 

It’s the little things that make my day.

Posted by: facetothewind | August 17, 2014

Around town: KL and Ipoh


If I have any doubts about living in Malaysia, let this photo remind me. I met these guys in a park, just hanging out on their motorcycles. They’re all Indian-Malaysian and spoke perfect English. They warned me about some shifty looking dude walking around who they know to be a mugger. Apparently they’ve witnessed him snatching purses and bags. Nonetheless, when he walked by, they shared their giant bottle of Coke with him. I asked them why they would share their drink with a criminal. One guy replied, “Well, he might have been thirsty.” Wow. I was fascinated by that statement. Is it generosity of spirit on the part of the boys or just acceptance of all things: that guy’s a mugger but we don’t hate him…it might very well be his karma that in this life he’s suffering from something he did in a past life. But he’s still human and he’s thirsty. I noticed that when the mugger drank from their bottle, he didn’t touch his lips to the bottle out of respect for the boys’ hygiene. Something about this exchange was a key to understanding Asia. Mugger man went back to his bench waiting for some unsuspecting passerby — almost like his visit with the boys was an aside in a play and now he’s back to assume his role as criminal. But there was no police intervention to interrupt the play. You’re the town mugger. And we’re the town’s Indian students.

This is the sort of thinking that can make you love Asia. It’s an acceptance of one’s position and fate in life. It’s also what can drive Westerners mad. Everything just is. It’s not a culture of efficiency and getting to the bottom of things or getting shit done.

One is out for prayers…


Or one is out for lunch…


In fact sometimes there’s no IN at all. And you must just accept this…or go crazy pounding desks and complaining. In the words of Lao Tzu: “Nothing is done and nothing is left undone.”

* * * *

Meanwhile, if I am ever disillusioned with all things Asian, all I have to do is watch some American TV over here…


This cooking show from America where the point was to try and stump the pig.


He stuffs his face full of disgusting food until he either vomits or can’t finish in the time allotted. This would be the Gluttony part of my 4G reasons for leaving the States. This clearly seems like a dispatch from a declining civilization and the Asians watch it for sport and I’m sure in horror of the excess.


Meanwhile back in Kuala Lumpur, I’ve discovered that a lot of Malay folks eat with their hands. This of course would be considered extremely bad manners in the West, but not here. It’s perfectly acceptable to see adults digging around in their food with their whole hands and mushing it into their mouths. I sit spellbound by my own propriety.


And speaking of eating, a friend of mine and I went to Brickfields for some fantastic north Indian food served up by an adorable Indian man in bow tie…


A R O U N D   T O W N

I discovered the wonderful KLPAC…


Caught a great dance performance there and enjoyed the first time I’ve experienced peace and quiet.


Seems like Europe and Portland. Delightful! Alas, not really accessible by public transportation. And that’s KL.


This is inside Barlai, my favorite bar/speakeasy in Bukit Bintang inside an old British colonial house.


Des and I went to the National Gallery which is a great space but disappointing exhibits of fairly amateurish artwork. Perhaps it might be better with a different exhibit. Will try it again.


Here’s Des having a gadget break from the bad art…



Outside the gallery was a Muslim man doing free calligraphy for passersby and selling his works.


I thought he had the most amazing hands. He wrote out my name on a piece of paper in purple ink and gave it to me. Purple is my favorite color.


Clearly, the best part of my life in KL so far is that I actually have a social life for the first time in years.


Above is Brian who brought me a colossal Asian pear and other gifts for the house from Korea. How sweet of him!

And below is the staff of Pink Triangle, the HIV prevention NGO where I am volunteering. We’re out for a little Indian buffet lunch. Great folks running a heroic organization in this religious climate. Frederick from Iran (left) Raymond from Malaysia (center) and Supreet from America (right). Suepreet is training me to be a safe sex outreach worker at the sex clubs. So I get to interview gay men and hand out safe sex packages and give them advice — but no demonstrations!


And here’s a dinner outing with Gabriel and some of his friends, Australian and Malaysian…


 O N W A R D   T O   I P O H 


Des and I took the wonderfully fast and efficient KTM train to Ipoh — a small city about 2 1/2 hours north of KL.


The train achieves a top speed of 135 km/hr = 84 mph. Impressive for Southeast Asia. The roundtrip ticket was $23 USD.


Ipoh is an old British colonial town that is all about eating and lounging in cafés. My kinda town.


Here’s a little gallery of photos from Ipoh. Click on a photo and then advance by hitting the arrow.


Posted by: facetothewind | August 4, 2014

An Inverted Life


The view from my balcony. The Turkish embassy is in the round building. I’m surrounded by embassies.

It’s kind of striking how opposite my life in Malaysia is versus my life in America. In America, the air is mostly clean. Here the air is foul. (It wasn’t when I came to visit in January.) I have heard of the burning season in Thailand which comes in March and April. But here we have other countries’ burning seasons to contend with. The nice thing about being in Kuala Lumpur is that it is central and a travel hub for all of Southeast Asia. But the downside is that it’s surrounded by all of these countries that practice slash and burn agriculture. So right now we’re getting the Sumatra smoke. One hour it will be so smoky (they delicately call it “haze” here) you can’t see a mile away and then the wind shifts or a rain comes and in an hour it’s clear. But mostly it has been smoky since I arrived. My cough is still with me, though abating a tiny bit each day.


In America I ride my bicycle. Here I ride the bus because no one in his right mind rides a bicycle. (Dangerous and no bike lanes.) The bus along Jalan Ampang rumbles like an earthquake and the horn blasts like an elephant and that’s before it has even moved. Then it belches out a thick cloud of black smoke and you are thrust against your seat as it lurches forward about 5 feet before getting stuck in traffic. And you get to enjoy the body odor of the passengers at no extra charge. I find it quite a bargain adventure ride for only 30 cents. And when you’ve have enough, you can get out and walk, inhale some fumes, have a drink, and get back on the same bus still stuck in traffic.


In America, we go go to the grocery store…a sanitized big box with a parking lot, a greeter, and fat aisles full of neatly organized foodstuff. The chicken in America is all neatly packaged, labeled and priced. Here they do have supermarkets, but they’re pricey and just as lacking in personality as America. The real fun and good prices are at the open air market like this one at Chowkit…


Here you can meet some hunky guy with a bunch of chickens he’s proud of. He’s happy to hold them up, toss them around, smile, and shake your hand after you snap a few pictures. (Bring your towelettes and wear covered shoes!) Someone next to him is hacking the heads off and bits of chicken parts are flying in the air so you have to watch where you walk.


Everywhere birds and beasts are being hacked up. Fish are flopping and the smells are intense. I love it. This is the Asia I adore — gritty and raw.


And here you get to pick out some exotic fruits like rambutan, durian, and mangosteen. Some look better than they taste. Some taste better than they smell. Most are heavenly and tickle your fingers, your nose, and tongue in ways it has never known. And all the prices are negotiable. Buy more, pay less and get a little extra thrown in for good measure. Dark skin, low price. White skin, high price unless you smile and haggle. I went with Desmond and Brian and when I wandered off on my own to make a purchase, I would be given one price. But as soon as my Asian buddies would show up, the price was magically reduced. Asian friends are sort of like ambulatory Safeway club cards. When Des and I look for a taxi, I hide behind a bush and then emerge once he has agreed on a price with the driver. My mere presence drives the price up considerably. So, in spite of their self-deprecation, being Asian does has its advantages — if only monetary.


And being white has its advantages. I may pay more for a taxi or a bottle of shampoo, but witness the above interaction. Asian gay men here are extremely gentlemanly and respectful toward white people. I don’t know how they treat each other, but here it’s so touching how helpful and sweet the men are. In America I find gay men to be utterly self absorbed, narcissistic, and ageist. Here it’s like I’ve gone to different planet. Yesterday, two young gay guys pulled up alongside the car and rolled down the window to flirt with me. It was hilarious! All they could do was smile, point, and say, “Zoo!” (I think they were going to the zoo and wanted me to join them. Or maybe they thought I belonged in the zoo?) KL is amazingly gay considering that it’s all being done under the nose of a scornful Mohammed.


Desmond, Tim (British expat) and his partner Ajay and I are having breakfast in Bangsar. The carrot cake was phenomenal, btw. Ajay is a microbiology professor, in case you were wondering.

In America I have almost no social life. Here I can’t keep up with it all. I don’t have enough hours in the day or days in the week to see everyone who expresses interest in meeting me. So I have to choose who has the best English skills and the most interesting online profiles. I’m not meaning to boast about this bounty, but rather am trying to express how grateful I am considering how desperately lonely I was in America. I simply could not find interesting gay men with manners and a spirit of generosity in Arizona. Here I meet them in spades: pharmacists, nurses, accountants, IT specialists, language professors.

Other things of great contrast: Here wine and spirits are about 4-5 times the cost of America. I’ve switched to cheap local gin. Here health care is about 1/5 the cost and equivalent in the competency of the providers. Internet here is unreliable unless you get fiber optic wired into your home with a 2 year contract. I’m barely surviving on broadband wifi. It’s slow and half the time it doesn’t work for no apparent reason. So I’m slowly becoming out of touch unable to watch or listen to news on the Internet. (Maybe that’s a good thing!) Weather here is pretty consistently hot…not oppressively hot in my opinion. In Tucson the weather is either too hot or too cold. Here it remains mostly just under 90F and is moderately humid all year long. I keep the doors open and the fan on about half the day, if the smoke isn’t bad.


Now a little bit about one of my big Asian passions: the fabric markets. First of all on the street level, it’s a lot less hectic and chaotic than Thailand. But I have to say, a lot less of an exotic adventure into tropicana fabricana. Here you don’t have to climb through dusty piles of fabric bolts and shimmy through aisles, slipping on remnants on the floor. The stores are very neat, have escalators, air conditioning and are staffed with well-dressed attendants who speak English and will help you select your textiles.


But, you have to contend with the Muslim influence on fashion which is, in my not-so-humble opinion, dreadful. It’s not much better in Thailand, frankly. Outside of Tokyo, Asian fashion design is, to be kind, not my taste.


And the fabric stores are just full of punchy colored amalgamations of reds, pinks and purples. Horrid.


It’s like a bad psychedelic trip in 100% polyester.

And why, in the name of Allah would you subject women to completely covering themselves in full-length polyester in this climate?


Anything resembling subdued or appropriate to a hot climate would perhaps be worn by a man.


To find something tasteful, what you have to do is go into one of these stores and go to the 3rd floor. There, secreted in the back, you can find a beautiful array of imported linens and cottons. Here’s what I bought, a loose weave powder blue Italian linen for a shirt and a nice thick linen piece with matching double pinstripes for some shorts. The cost here is about $22 per meter or 65 Malaysian ringgit. Again, it’s negotiable. Bring your Asian friend and you’ll get a better price.


The fabric prices are slightly more than Thailand, but the selection here in Malaysia is FAR better and so much more organized. If you like a good hunt and like to dig like a dog and then ride home on a rickshaw, Thailand is your place. But if you’re getting too old for that and fear being buried in an avalanche of fabric, then KL is a good place to locate some sweet material in a sane way. As far as tailoring, I’m sticking with the tailors I know and love in Chiang Mai. The price of tailoring here is 2-3 times the cost of Thailand. Here you get better English for sure but considering Thailand is a cheap and quick flight, I’ll save up my fabric and head over the border and return with a suitcase of hand tailored clothes suited to the climate.


Although I’m certain I have had enough of the United States, the big question for me still remains unanswered: Is this where I want to live? I can’t go for a nice quiet walk in the park without being stuck in traffic (if I could find a quiet park). In fact, every experience in KL is bookended with a big fat traffic jam at — any time of day or night. The outdoors are not peaceful, green, or breathable. Life in KL is a life spent indoors — inside malls, restaurants, air-conditioned cars, and apartments. It is a bit chaotic and uncontrolled, which I sort of like. And it is not a dangerous world and an overly regulated society as I am afraid America has become. It is in my opinion too religious…but so is America. Malaysia is a place where I have a social life and feel hopeful about the prospects of friendship and love. Isn’t that what makes a place a home? It’s a question that churns in the background of my mind all the time. Home. Where is it and what makes it?

Malaysia is on the opposite side of the planet from America, a full 12-15 hour time difference. It is in fact the inverse life of mine in the States. But is it going to be MY life?

Posted by: facetothewind | July 30, 2014

Moving in


I got moved into the apartment yesterday. Looks very pink, doesn’t it? Spent hours getting all the agreements signed, figuring out the systems and appliances. The building was just finished so literally was unwrapping the package, tearing plastic off and using the fridge for the first time.


Shortly after moving in a terrific rainstorm washed the whole city and cleared up the skies! Yay. Am still dealing with the European cough.


This is the view from my balcony. I suppose one could make a dive into the pool. Would be one helluva belly flop and probably the last thing you ever did.


Desmond came over and we spent our evening sharing a piece of really bad carrot cake served on the one plate and one fork the landlord supplied me. I bought some really bad locally-made brandy because wine here is about $15 a bottle for the cheapest wines. The rain cooled the air and so we had the slider door open and enjoyed the cool tropical evening listening to music. Was a very sweet way to start a new life.


And here’s a glimpse of the KLCC Park that is at the base of the Petronas Towers. Hasn’t really got anything to do with my new apartment.

Posted by: facetothewind | July 25, 2014

Signing on for Expatia


There! I did it. I signed the lease. It’s only for 3 months, but it’s a big step toward becoming expatriated. And I can renew and sign on for a year’s lease and the price drops quite a bit.


And this is the place. It’s a studio apartment on the 15th floor of a brand new high rise building in a rather nice part of town surrounded by embassies. Next door is a mall with a grocery store and jazz club wine bar, and it’s walking distance to a very renowned hospital, and an elevated train that takes you right into the heart of town in minutes.


It’s going to cost me twice what I thought I’d pay to live in KL. But my thought is that living in a nice place will provide a little refuge from the grind of KL and will be worth the investment.


Build the palace and my prince will come? We’ll see about that. (Maybe the next tragic book will come instead.) The apartment has a fantastic 50 meter pool, gym, yoga studio, and sauna. It’s likely to be full of expat diplomatic corps.


Meanwhile, I’ve been dealing with the details of a new country like getting reliable Internet which is not that easy.


KL has spotty Internet. When it’s good it’s good. Some place provide it and some don’t. My new place doesn’t and in the hotel it’s woefully slow when the guests get up and start Skyping. So I’m looking to get a broadband “dongle.”  And after hours of shopping the tech mall above, I got one and then came home and it caused my computer to crash repeatedly. So back to the drawing board…


Also checked out the medical system here which is DEFINITELY a plus.


It’s fast and efficient and affordable and most of the doctors are trained in England. Everyone speaks English. I went to the hospital to see an ENT specialist about the lump in my throat and my cough. Within 20 minutes I had a scope down my nose to find out that I just have a nasty post-nasal drip causing the problem. Total cost with some meds: $70. Then I had a complete dermatology exam for $40. Alas, I missed the chance to see Dr. Butt Chin…


Des and I have been having some fun going out for food and just chillaxing when he isn’t work 12 hours a day…


Here we’ve ordered a giant tiger prawn for $3 and some grilled okra, eggplant, and corn. They deep fry them and then grill them.


We stopped by a Hindu temple to watch some sort of fire ritual to Ganesh. Was quite loud with the drums and Indian clarinets.


I move into the new place on Wednesday next week. More to come…

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