Posted by: facetothewind | August 25, 2014

Capturing a Place

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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.

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

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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.

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

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 Decay transforms into abstract art…

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 Ugliness becomes a reflection of my mood…

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

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

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

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I embrace the new and the old…

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…the East and the West…

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 I let myself get lost in the crowd…

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 I am unique, like everyone else.

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

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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

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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

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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…

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Or one is out for lunch…

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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.”

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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…

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A R O U N D   T O W N

I discovered the wonderful KLPAC…

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

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

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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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

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 O N W A R D   T O   I P O H 

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

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

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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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?

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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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…

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

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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…

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

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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.

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

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

Posted by: facetothewind | July 21, 2014

Pounding the Pavement in KL

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Here’s a little update since I left Venice. So the first good omen about moving to KL was that on the flight from Doha, I was bumped up to business class. This was my first time ever on anything more than the flying bus with screaming babies. So I really had no idea what those people behind the curtain were experiencing.

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Frittata with salmon, potatoes and greens. Delicious!

Not sure why they continue to call it Business Class – it was more like Indulgence Class. And it was class for me because I didn’t know the drill — I had to ask the flight attendant if I get to keep the pajamas. I was presented with a menu book of all these famous chefs’ fantastic creations and unlimited glasses of brut and caviar, an overnight kit full of goodies and noise cancellation earphones. Holy cow!

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Not one piece of plastic was laid out on the table. And all so nicely prepared. The best part was the reclining seat, oh and no waiting for the toilet. I arrived fresh and relaxed and ready to start my new life in KL.

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Breakfast of mixed fruit.

The second good omen was that upon arrival I hopped on the wonderfully efficient and fast train from the airport to Sentral, KL, and by pure happenstance sat next to a rather age divergent gay couple. One from Australia and the other Malaysian. I’m sure you can guess which one is which…

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They were sweet and kind and unafraid to admit they’re a couple. They’ve been together for years, they told me and met in KL. They divide their time between the 2 countries. I think this was a good sign for me that even upon entering a Muslim country, gay people are quite visible. And they’re not hanging from trees or being stoned to death.

Diving in…

First things first: shelter. This is the view from the apartment I rented for a week. It’s not a bad view if one could see through the smoke. No matter, I’ve been busy apartment hunting.

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I immediately met Desmond, someone I’ve been chatting on line with for many months. It was very sweet and a bit strange to finally be in the company of someone I’ve only seen on a small screen. But strangely also, I feel like I know him. So I wouldn’t say that virtual relationships aren’t real, just a different real. We did cover quite a bit of ground getting to know each other for months before meeting.

He was enormously helpful in the search for housing. It’s not an easy process apartment hunting anywhere, no less in a foreign country. Everyone I have met or even chatted with on line has been wonderfully helpful offering me connections to agents and friends with apartments to rent. I can’t imagine complete strangers in the States being so helpful. My new friend Gabriel has been great offering to rent me a room which I may take him up on. I’m still looking though, as ideally I would like to live alone and have space to entertain my own guests and visitors from overseas. A nice apartment is looking like it will cost me close to $1,000 a month…about twice as much as I had imagined. Almost all apartments come with a rooftop pool and gym which does make domestic life more palatable.

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Gabriel and me. Sorry for all the selfies.

I arrived with some lingering European lung thing…coughing my brains out. The stress and smokey air blowing in from Indonesia is not helping at all. But this salbutamol inhaler (below) that I bought over the counter is helping and reminds me one of the reasons I do like Asia — you can buy most medicines over the counter with just a pharmacist’s consult. In the US, I would have to book an appointment with a doc if they had any available appointments, or go to urgent care and pay $125 and then get a prescription and go fill it for another $15 (with insurance). The whole process would take half a day and a lot of money. Here in a shopping mall pharmacy, within minutes I was breathing freely for $7…

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Another thing that is, well, interesting, is the Muslim customs of Malaysia. I have arrived in the middle of Ramadan (that’s not an American budget motel) and so the Muslims are all fasting. They’re dehydrated and cranky all day and then at 7:30pm all throughout the city you hear the exotic drone of men singing from the mosques to end the fast. The masses come pouring into the restaurants to pig out. As Desmond said, “It’s just not realistic.” Well, it’s someone’s reality. Another thing: here on the train they have coaches for women only. But the trains are overcrowded and there are women in other parts of the train. I thought, “Hey go to your own coach, girls and free up some space.” But they don’t. So I jumped into the women’s coach because there was no room in the men’s. Why? Because women were in the men’s coaches.

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And this is the view of the “women’s coach:” a bunch of men. Hah! Des is right. It’s just not realistic to have women’s coaches when there’s insufficient space to do so. But none of us got arrested…it’s not the law, it’s just a courtesy thing provided by the private train company.

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In essence I think this is Malaysia: It’s Muslim light. It is predominantly Muslim here but it’s moderate. I find it quite gay-friendly but I wouldn’t make out with a man on the street, though the Bangladeshi men hold hands. They can do it because they’re not gay. But if I do it with a man, I would get hassled by the police or attacked. It’s just doesn’t make sense to me. But does America make sense — being taxed on your social security payment? Does the American medical or penal system make any sense?

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Above is Bunny (his nickname). He’s Muslim and a head nurse at a teaching hospital here and super charming and bright. He speaks perfect British English and is tender and kindhearted. He told me his parents recently found out he was gay by accident and they promptly disowned him. They won’t talk to him anymore. He misses his dad terribly which is perhaps his interest in me — a little aid and comfort from someone fatherly. Isn’t that pathetic? I told him about PFLAG. And it gave me an idea about where I might volunteer my services.

So that’s the sting of Islam here…more insidious than say, Iran. They may not be stoning people but it’s like going 40 years back in time for me. Strangely, I didn’t find people staring at Des and me and we clearly look like a couple of queens. I don’t feel particularly unsafe here though people warn me of purse snatching. Hell, that’s nuthin! I’ve been shot at on my bicycle in America so why should petty crime frighten me away?

What does frighten me away is the air quality. When I was here in January, the air was clear. No one seems to know quite how long to expect the smokey skies. All they have to do is light up a fire in the rice fields and KL is hazy. It changes throughout the day.

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So I’m beginning to get a sense of what life will be like here if I stay. Plenty of open air markets and steamy dining and people watching. Malls to cool off. Rooftop pools with views of the Petronas Towers. The usual urban Asian chaos and smells. The company of smart, charming, cute, educated, gay men who are eager to connect (I can’t keep up with all the requests to meet me from Scruff). But life in KL also means a lot of time spent indoors avoiding heat, humidity and pollution…not to mention the general traffic and construction noises. I’ll never be able to ride a bicycle here. Or I go back to Tucson where the air is clean and crisp and stay in my lovely house avoiding the outdoors because it’s too hot and dry. Add to that the abject loneliness of my life in America where I’m too old to be desirable. The scales at the moment seem tipped in favor of Malaysia. I guess I’d rather be stuck indoors with company. I figure I’ll give this a chance and a miracle might happen. I’ll get a great apartment in a lovely neighborhood with some greenery. The skies will clear up. And a special man or two will arrive in my life.

Perhaps one or two already have.

And now a few snapshots from the first week. Sorry, been too busy to be spending any time doing great photography. Most of this is from my iPhone…

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His wife seems fairly elegant. She obviously isn’t dressing HIM.

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Jalan Alor near where I’m staying. Great Chinese, Thai, and Malaysian food.

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Mini lobsters or giant prawns — not sure which. And then skinned frogs. Awww.

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Well, it’s Asia — they eat anything that moves.

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Steamy food stalls of Jalon Alor. This is indeed what I like about SE Asia.

Posted by: facetothewind | July 17, 2014

I made it to KL

Hey all – just before I went to bed last night the emails starting coming in about MH17. What a terrible disaster and another blow to Malaysia Airlines which seems to have a curse on it. I feel sick about it. Obviously I wasn’t on it. But just so you know, I always research my airlines in advance of booking a flight. It’s not to say things won’t unexpectedly happen in even the most well laid plans, but Malaysia Airlines has had a terrible crash record even before MH370. Even though they often have the cheapest flight on a route, I’ve avoided them. I chose to fly here on Qatar Air through Doha which was fantastic and was bumped up to business class so I arrived fresh and pampered. I couldn’t believe the food and service. But I don’t want to gloat about it at this moment.

Thanks for your concern, those of you who wrote. It’s sobering.

As far as life here – well, I just spent my first day apartment hunting and I have to say it was disheartening. No one wants to rent an apartment short term. If they do, they jack the prices up by 3 times. In addition it’s customary here to pay 3.5 times the rent for security + the first month’s rent. So to find a place that is suitable for me it would cost me $4,500 for move in costs.

So I’m having to scramble to find something possibly as a shared space, in addition to all the other issues of arrival in a new country: jetlag, cultural shock, disorientation in all things from why my phone service doesn’t seem to work downtown to sugar content in yogurt. It’s a complete start over of one’s life. I know I signed on for it and I’ll probably pull it together and just need some time to adjust. But I’m at the moment overwhelmed by the task.

For now I’ve been spared the fate of MH17 and for that I’m grateful.

Posted by: facetothewind | July 14, 2014

Parting Glances: Venice

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In the end, I’d say everyone should see Venice. I don’t know that I need to see it again, though. Venice is so over-the-top in its novel architecture that it really has become a Gritty Disneyland. It’s overrun with tourists and ridiculously expensive. But it does deliver the charm in spades. Two or three full days is enough. If I do ever come back, I’d like to come with a lover or a close friend. And I’d stay in the city. On this trip I was in the suburbs and so I never got to see Venice at night because I just needed some down time and couldn’t repair to my hotel…it was a 90-minute venture home.

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And if I do come back, I’d come in off-season. The locals here are just mobbed to the point of indolence. They’re not that interested in talking to you or helping you, if you can find a local! And I can’t blame them. How many times a day can you give someone directions before you just want to tell them to fongul off and read a map! So I hardly spoke to any Italians at all out of respect for their feelings of being overwhelmed. I cannot imagine having millions of tourists crawling all over my doorstep and blocking the bridges that they need to run their own errands. And I think their unwillingness to learn and speak the global tourist language (English) is probably their way of saying, to hell with you all. Give us your money, take your pictures and scram, I have some centuries old plaster to repair and you’re in my way. Or they leave for the summer which also might explain why it was hard to identify anyone as a local.

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I don’t think the cruise ship scene has gone over well with Venetians. I saw a lot of graffiti trashing the cruise ships. Apparently they dump tourists by the thousands on the little city and they don’t patronize the local restaurants and bars for obvious reason that food’s free back on the ship.

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But honestly, who can afford to live well in Venice but the truly wealthy, anyway? A small meal is about $30 per person without salad, beverages or dessert. A scone and a cup of tea is $22. I ate sandwiches for about $7 each and drank tap water. And it was the same sandwiches everywhere. Pizza was ubiquitous and actually cheaper than in the States. A whole pizza for one person was about $11. But it’s tourist pizza…not lovingly prepared with multiple punchdowns by Mama in the kitchen. The kitchen staff here is from somewhere else and I’m not sure where. Turkey maybe? This is Italy since joining the European Union. My experience with Italy was before the EU and then Italian cooking was tops in the world. But in Venice they don’t have the space or time to finesse a sauce to perfection and hand make their pasta. So you’ll find better cooking in land-based cities or in the countryside.

Wow orange hounds tooth with paisley, stripes AND dots. Now that's daring. And it works!

Wow orange hounds tooth with paisley, stripes, AND dots. Now that’s daring. And it works!

As far as fashion, I was impressed. In this town that pretty much gives tourists what they want: pizza and gondolas, the fashion seems to have a mind all its own. See my gallery below for pictures shot in retailer windows. Especially check out the one of a kind eyewear. But mostly I didn’t see anyone wearing those styles. On the streets it was t-shirts and shorts for the most part with the occasional Chinese wild card played with extraordinary boldness…

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Here are some of my photos. Not my best work, I know. I was busy trying to avoid people and not get lost.

Here’s the video companion of my trip…

 

And now for something completely different: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. My attempt at expatia begins on Wednesday. Wish me luck.

Posted by: facetothewind | July 13, 2014

Suspension of Reality: Venice at Last

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Have you ever met a celebrity? If you have you might know the feeling I had today in Venice. You’ve seen that famous person for years on TV or in movies and when you meet them you think to yourself, “Gee he has wrinkles and is shorter than I imagined.” It’s kind of a disillusionment. Like most Americans, I’ve seen Venice in movies and history encyclopedias since I was a child. Today at age 50 I cast my eyes upon it for the very first time and all I could think was, “Who are all these Chinese tourists doing animated posing in front of the basilica? And why is there a Dolce Gabbana store in Piazza San Marco? This is the home of Marco Polo and the birthplace of Vivaldi…Death in Venice, the plague, the Renaissance, and so on. If there is a place more iconic than Venice, I don’t know what it is. And here I am thinking, gee, St. Mark’s Square is smaller than I thought and I want to sit down and there’s no benches and I have to pee and there’s no toilet to use. (Yes, I indeed relieved myself in a canal…and I wasn’t the only one, either. If you hear the sound of a fountain in Venice, it’s probably a drunk German or an American with an enlarged prostate.) Who would have imagined that 45 years after the first time I opened dad’s Encyclopedia Britannica to “V” that I would be standing there, knees together, wondering why it costs nearly $2 to use the urinal?

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ANYWAY. My own michigas is not to say that Venice is not spectacular. It truly is one of the world’s greatest wonders — and it’s all built on petrified wood pilings — apparently 2 million of them — what was once the forests of the now Slovenia. Those were some industrious Venetians building it 500 hundred years ago. The place looks like something out of a fairy tale or a storybook. How could this possibly be real? I had to pinch myself on the vaporetto #1 as it slowly plied up the Grand Canal winding through the city. It’s a trip back in time. No trucks, no cars, no buses, no billboards, no KFC. Other than the sounds of water taxis, mostly the sound of Venice is water lapping at ancient brick, church bells that thump you in the heart (real ones — heavy metal hitting metal — not some recording on a loudspeaker like we get in America), footsteps, and an occasional outburst of song from a gondolier.

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That people lived like this (and 60,000 people still do) is just so beyond the beyond in the novelty department that all one can do is gawk and take pictures and sit on a bridge with your jaw hanging open in disbelief at the unreal cinematic quality of this place. It’s colorful, charming, playful, wildly impractical and just plain insane to build 5-story fanciful brick buildings on wood poles stuck into mud.

And a city so fanciful must have equally whimsical transportation, right? So somehow (and I’m not sure when, but I bet Lisa Simeone will know) Venice invented the gondola and the gondolier. But it’s not just a canoe with some oars or a rowboat which in more practical cultures it might have been. But there’s nothing practical about Venice, a town that is nothing if not dandy. So enter the modern gondola, a souped up canoe with a little Viking front. The whole of it looks like a floating casket complete with bud vase on the front, brocade velvet seats, and gold leafing applied all willy nilly. So you have these marvelously pretty boats and so who’s gonna push the tricked-out canoe around? Why, a pretty oarsman in a striped shirt of course…

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But the modern gondolier is not just an oarsman. He might even sing to you while you’re going for a $100 for a half-hour ride (now that really is being taken for a ride). Gondoliers have the kind of hyper masculine status that surfers in America do. Everyone thinks they’re sexy and sort of the symbol of romance so they take the liberty of shameless flirting with the girls and everyone just giggles — even their boyfriends. I found them quite amusing since they’ve also entered my brain decades ago in pop culture. They make me quiver and giggle, especially when one comes by with a load of Chinese tourists and an accordion player on board. Although I didn’t afford myself a ride on one, I certainly watched them sculling their way through tunnels, ducking, and putting their feet on buildings to keep them from scraping. And in a modern twist I saw them smoking and texting while driving. Tsk tsk, boys.

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So that for me was my first day in Venice: a vivid and lucid dream in 3 dimensions. I spent the whole day walking around trying to reconcile imagery I’ve accumulated on the place for 45 years with the reality of it. Can we call Venice reality? To me it seems like a big watery suspension of all that is real and practical in our modern lives.

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BTW – I saw more Americans today than on the whole month in Europe so far. The place is crawling with the very people who have perpetuated the myths of this place in cinema. I wonder if they’re all having that same experience of feeling like they’re in a movie? From the looks of the two above, I’d say that maybe I was alone in my awe.

It’s incomprehensible how this place was built and even more sobering to think about the half millennia of maintenance to keep it alfoat. But it’s still here centuries later, delighting people from my generation who are the very ones responsible for changing the climate enough to eventually sink it.

Sospiro.

 

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