Posted by: facetothewind | November 11, 2014

Changing my view of KL

DSC03029 I believe one’s life has a limited repertoire of experience from which to draw. No matter how hard you try, you end up repeating things. You’re older now than you were the last time you did this, hopefully the characters have changed and maybe the scenery has changed as well. But in the course of one’s life, there’s very likely going to be a handful of scenarios that get replayed over and over. Never mind that I dealt myself a wild card by moving someplace so random as Kuala Lumpur, my life has indeed come full circle once again. In a way, it’s a return to my life in San Francisco in 1994 when I lived high on Castro Street in a modern apartment. It was the happiest apartment I can remember. I sat in the living room for 2 years just watching the fog flow over Twin Peaks and down into the toy village below. I hosted fantastic piano parties, I had a nice group of friends and lots of social engagements. Days came and went I never left the place. For groceries I would walk down to Noe Valley and then make the hike back up the windy hill. There on that hill, I had everything I wanted. DSC03098 Welcome to my life redux…twenty years later. Here, like in San Francisco, I sit perched in my little aerie of an apartment overlooking KL from the 30th floor and am happy as a clam. (Just out of curiosity, what does an unhappy clam look like?) DSC03033 My last apartment in KL was really getting on my nerves. It was a tiny shoebox studio with crappy furniture and surrounded by nonstop traffic which was jammed up all the time. All day and night it was the sound of cars, buses, trucks, and motorcycles. To get in and out of the apartment I had to brave 4 lanes of Ampang traffic. I feared for my life just crossing the road. In addition, M Suites, where I was renting, was just one of those buildings where they got everything wrong from the get go…the hallway floods when it rains, the view is of the other building, your knees hit the microwave when you sit at the counter, the floor was high gloss white which meant my part time job was picking up my boyfriend’s black hairs off the floor, my phone and broadband didn’t work there – an Internet dead spot. On top of that it was ridiculously overpriced.

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The muddy river I walk along to get to the elevated train.

So I searched KL high and low for a place that didn’t face a highway choked with traffic and that was near public transit. I kept coming back to this one building called Regalia in the Chow Kit/Putra World Trade Center area. It’s a 2-year old, 1,100 something unit building that is located a short walk from 3 different modes of transit: monorail, elevated train and commuter train. And most remarkable of all, it doesn’t face a highway. It faces a river and the elevated train (LRT).

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The LRT train that lumbers along 30 floors below.

There is definitely some noise from the train but to me, public transportation is a happy noise. It’s the sound of infrastructure. And they don’t honk or belch out diesel smoke. And miracle of miracles, I have one room that isn’t standard issue glossy white floor. My boyfriends hairs just gather in the corner in a cute little dust bunny to be collected in a pinch. DSC03101 The reality of KL is that it’s a big, noisy, dirty, traffic-choked city. The way to survive it is to have your home be sanctuary. In my last place, the street noises were inescapable. Here at my new place, there’s a beautiful terraced fern garden, little cascades and a footpath that leads to the sky pool. Now doesn’t everyone need a fern garden footpath to the sky pool? IMG_0479 So a little bit about the sky pool on the 37th floor. A picture says a thousand words…

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Click to enlarge panorama.

It’s more of a photo opportunity than a swimming pool. IMG_0474 To swim laps, you have to photo bomb the tourists’ photos and swim through a gauntlet of cameras. (A third of this building has been turned into a hotel, so there are lots of tourists on the roof.) By nightfall, it’s even more spectacular. And in a monsoon, it’s a religious experience with lightning striking around the building tops. DSC03089 So Chuan and I actually prefer to go to the 5th floor pool… DSC03092 There it is way down there. Usually no photographers or drunk parties going on down there… IMG_0508 This building would not be ideal for anyone with vertigo, by the way. On the 4th floor, there’s a nice big gym and a grocery story that carries essentials and some non-essentials. They even have some organic foods to cater to the expat clientele. Currently the building is at 68% occupancy which is great. Usually I’m the only one at the gym. IMG_0505 Now, a little bit about the neighborhood. Regalia sits right in the middle of an older Chinese neighborhood called Chow Kit where there is a fantastic market every day of the week… IMG_0518 That’s my building in the background and some seriously good potatoes in the foreground. I’ve actually never had such moist and delicious potatoes as the locally grown ones… IMG_0523 This basket of veggies cost me 7.40 Malaysian Ringgit, so that’s about $2.50 US… IMG_0488 Okra, which they call lady’s fingers here, is a favorite. Chuan pan fries them with garlic slices and some chili flakes and then serves them with crispy onion bits sprinkled on top. Ginger and limes are cheap and plentiful. Tropical tomatoes are tasteless. Dry climates are necessary to make for a tasty tomato. Avocados are completely absent from the market for some mysterious reason. IMG_0254 Pineapple is typically about 80 cents and my all time favorite. Dragon fruit is a close second for my affection. They’re usually more like $1.75 each. Have you ever seen the inside of a dragon fruit? It’s a fantasy in fuchsia. IMG_0522 I was thinking about bringing home a cow’s head but thought it might not fit in my tiny fridge. The “wet market” as they call it is not for the weak constitution. It smells of everything from fresh chicken blood, to dried fish, to burning cow’s fur. I often hear the sounds of screaming chickens as their necks are bent back and slit before being thrown flapping into a bucket to bleed out. It’s a grisly process but if you want fresh chicken, that’s about as fresh as it can get. Buckets contain muddy things slithering and crawling on each other. I’ve become even more of a vegetarian as a result of seeing (and smelling and hearing) all this. I can buy a nice big packet of fresh tempeh for 30 cents and a bag of tofu for about 75 cents.

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Click to enlarge panorama of Chow Kit wet market.

Though the wet market can be an assault on one’s senses, I am drawn to it. It is fascinating and reveals a glimpse of the old Asia that I’m always on the lookout for. It’s not in a mall. It’s not air conditioned or sanitized. After a morning at the market, I head home and try to cook in my pitiful kitchen. It’s barely functional and a bit like cooking in an RV. But elaborate gourmet kitchens are more of an American thing and so I’ve just adjusted my culinary endeavors to making simpler meals, stocking up on less and eating more fresh foods — which isn’t an entirely bad thing. What’s missing in most Malaysian kitchens: hot running water, an oven, a garbage disposal, and a dishwasher. DSC03103 Watching TV here is pretty much a lost cause (outdated, censored, or sophomoric programs dominate the channels) so after dinner entertainment is usually reading, playing the clarinet, or a visit to the sky pool with some ice cream from the 4th floor store. DSC03099 Or just staring out the window — something I do a LOT of… DSC03067 Then each morning after a night of sleep undisturbed by midnight Malay motorcycle racing, I throw open the curtains to find some marvelous meteorological sunrise surprise… DSC03081 Each day is a little different. And each day is just as enchanting. DSC03005 My perspective on Kuala Lumpur has changed dramatically for the better now that I am somewhat removed from the traffic that chokes this city, and that I can find shops and markets when I walk out the door instead of honking cars and barbed-wire embassy walls. I got the boyfriend I always wanted. I got the apartment I wanted. I can afford the medical care here. DSC03042 I’ve returned to where I started, high in the air, with simple routines, but this time in a new and exotic place. Things are looking pretty good from this lofty perspective. As the slogan for the World Trade Center in New York used to say, “It’s hard to be down when you’re up.”

This, at last, feels like home.

Posted by: facetothewind | October 23, 2014

Trusting Your Instincts

When your instincts tell you you’ve had enough. Listen to them. 

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Yesterday was Deepavali, the Indian new year and a national holiday in Malaysia. So my Malaysian-Chinese boyfriend and his non-Indian friends invited me on a picnic in the forest. Excellent. How fun! Oh how I love a good picnic. Yummy food by a river, easy chats with good friends on a quilted blanket, maybe someone brought a harp. Well this was a little different…not really a picnic so much as an endurance hike…kind of a last minute surprise for my effete self expecting a basket of baguettes and little cucumber sandwiches by a babbling brook. My first clue was that we had to get up at 5 am to meet the group. Since when does a picnic start at 5 in the morning? Second clue: notice in the picture above how the gay boys (on the left side) are setting off with tote bags of food and beverages. Johnson (red shirt in the middle) even packed a battery operated fan, a grill for barbecuing, dried pasta and raw potatoes, a pot for cooking, and kitchen utensils for cutting up veggies. My kinda guy, right? Well, look at the other half of the trekkers: they’re wearing leach-proof leggings, carrying hiking poles and wearing backpacks filled with water. They knew what the score was…this was meant to be a hardcore dusk-till-dawn hike into the tropical rainforest about an hour from KL. So into the woods we went, gay guys with enough kitchen equipment to host a cooking show and the straight folks properly prepared to conquer the mountain…

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The hike leader brought along a stack of paper squares to drop on the forest floor as trail markers for those of us lagging behind. I was annoyed that he was littering the forest floor with papers from someone’s office correspondence at Exxon-Mobil. Later on, I came to appreciate these little markers that gave me confidence as I trudged along, bringing up the rear…the hike leader long gone from sight. I had a feeling this was not going to be the picnic I had in mind. I began hearing the opening sequence to Gilligan’s Island in my head…”a three hour tour…a three hour tour…”

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As the crowd disappeared ahead into the forest, I lagged behind taking pictures of gorgeous fiddleheads and ferns.

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I’ve never been one to march quickly through nature — so much is missed by doing that. And so few people seem to understand why I walk slowly. It’s not just because I have skinny legs. It’s because so much beauty is missed in a hurry. I find most people have a hard time switching gears from city life to nature. They bring with them the hurried pace of their daily lives wherever they go. They talk loudly in the forest, step on bugs, whack the bushes with sticks. For them nature is to be tamed and dominated. I see nature as a chance to remedy that frenetic pace of urban life. A chance to relax. I like to go on a nice brisk sit in the woods — looking up, looking down, being quiet, listening to the birds, and in this case, the spooky sound of orangutans in the distance.

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And when there’s the pressure of a group urging you to pick up the pace, it takes some courage to just trundle along at your own clip. But I refused to rush and took the time to capture some images of the gorgeous fiddleheads, mushrooms, and flowers along the way. I guess I was the only real tourist in the pack…not having been raised in or near a rainforest. I found the primordial foliage fascinating, and marveled at the size of the inch-long ants and the 8″ centipede.

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After a couple of hours and probably about 4 miles uphill into the forest, I gave up. Chuan had long since gone on and finally I caught sight of him ahead to tell him I refused to go any further. I sat down on a rock and proudly showed my age. “Sorry, my love. My knee hurts and I’m tired. This was supposed to be a picnic and it’s turned into an endurance hike and they say there’s another whole hour ahead. Considering that we have to double back now there’s no way I can add another hour plus the return trip. I’ll just have my snack here and return to the car. You can go on without me if you like.” He stopped and looked at me a bit confused as to what he should do. He is Chinese after all, which means he has built into his genes, a desire to do things in big groups. And here I am forcing him to make a decision: Me or the Group.

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He refused to leave me alone and ran ahead to the group to tell them that WE were breaking off at this point. I was touched by his devotion to me. So selfless. So we divided up the food with the other half and they went on without us. Unfortunately we didn’t make prudent food choices. The big bottle of water and the bulk of the food ended up in someone else’s bag and we ended up with a small bag of nuts, some pineapple chunks and one small bottle of water. Already delirious from exhaustion and tropical heat, I wasn’t thinking clearly and we let them go, taking what we needed the most: water.

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Anyway, we headed down the hill, quite relieved to have time alone with each other and to walk at our own pace, holding hands and stopping for hugs and a rest at the river along the way down. Chu confided that he actually likes to do things one-on-one. Sigh.

We found a plastic spoon in the stream (thankful for someone’s littering), cleaned it off and ate all the diced pineapple, leaving one small piece for the stunning yellow and black butterflies to eat. We were down to 2 sips of water in the bottle and still another couple of miles to go. The day’s heat was rising and I was aware that it was monsoon season and so thunderstorms were likely.

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The hike dragged on and my legs turned to jelly. I was tripping on rocks and roots. We were both overheated and getting progressively more dehydrated. Mild hallucinations are early signs of dehydration. Personally I think the entire Christian religion was built around some hallucinations by a few men in a desert a couple thousand years ago. Stop drinking and angels start coming around and your life flashes before your eyes. Bushes burn, snakes speak to you, God hands you some commandments and whamo you have a religion when what you really needed was a Big Gulp and a parasol.

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Well this hike didn’t end in a crucifixion though I did have mild hallucinations and my body was shaking from the final repel down a very steep path, clinging to roots and branches. Chu proved himself to be the younger, stronger man and the one with the clear head in what was turning into a crisis. He asked for water along the way from some foreign workers at a hydro-electric dam but to no avail. So he led the way and we soldiered on down to the car, the road now in full sun and seemingly getting longer like a piece of taffy being stretched out. Finally we made it to a concession stand in the parking lot. Chu immediately bought us 100+ (Malaysia’s equivalent of Gatorade) and guzzled down 3 cans of this marvelous drink with much needed electrolytes. We washed that down with a bottle of water and panted at the concession table while people stared at us on their way to their riverside picnic and swim. What are ya looking at? Ain’t you never seen 2 dehydrated homosexuals? I was wondering why we didn’t just back the car up to the river like these people did and have our little barbecue there. They were all laughing and splashing in the water, and I’m wondering if I need a saline drip.

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We finally made it to the car…about 3 hours after that point where I broke from the group. We figured they were finally reaching the end point of their hike and pulling out the barbecue and boiling up some pasta…running the fan. We left a note on one of their cars that we would be in the nearby town and to call when they were on the way. We stumbled into a restaurant in town and collapsed after eating some curry laksa and drinking several glasses of water. Chuan fell asleep at the table. Poor thing — he carried a huge amount of the food and traveling gourmet kitchen on his shoulder and never got to enjoy the buffet.

We waited for 2 and a half hours and no word from the trail. We were a bit concerned for them but decided to head home to KL since they had enough food and water and cars to survive. We finally heard from them a little after 7 pm (12 hours after the “picnic hike” began) when we were well on our way back to KL in a major monsoon. The text from Chuan’s friend said that we were smart to have gone back because the rest of the hike was long, dangerous, and unpleasant. I felt vindicated. Johnson apparently had to go to the hospital after falling on his face, needing to have his lip stitched. I was concerned that he had maybe gotten his hair caught in the fan or something. I don’t know if they ever got to have the barbecue or cook the pasta and boil the potatoes.

What I learned today: 1. If the picnic caravan starts at 5 am, it isn’t a picnic; 2. Only ever hike half as far as you energy for because DUH, you have to turn around and hike it back; 3. Stash water in your car; 4. Enlist the service of a good walking stick; 5. Having a young, sturdy boyfriend is always an asset; 6. Don’t trust urban gay men to have good sense when it comes to anything related to nature and endurance — they’re better off helping you find a good price for a pair of shoes in a mall. 7. Always listen to your instincts even if it goes against the group mentality; 8. If you have a tailgate party, you can bring the harp.

Here are some other photos from the day. (You can click on each one to enlarge and use the arrow to advance.)

Posted by: facetothewind | October 13, 2014

Cloud Nine in Thailand

Chuan and I took off for a week in Thailand. It felt like a honeymoon for us. I’ve been to Thailand a million times and although I doubt its long term livability, it sure is a fun place to visit. Especially when your head’s in the clouds being in love and all.

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For Chu this was a special trip because he’s never flown with a boyfriend before and he’s never been to Chiang Mai or Pai. And so it was a whirlwind romance through Northern Thailand with my boyfriend by my side.

Whirlwind romance.

It was magical from the minute we began our descent into Chiang Mai. A rainbow welcomed us. Chiang Mai seemed wonderfully calm and tranquil compared to Kuala Lumpur. The streets of the Old City were quiet and the restaurants not teeming with tourists as it’s low season now.

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The food in Thailand as always, was excellent and did not disappoint. It was a refreshing change from Malaysia’s cuisine which has yet to thrill me the way Thai food does.

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Our friend Anon at his restaurant Om Garden in Pai…ground zero of culinary delights in Pai…mostly Western but with some Asian influences. He just won the Trip Advisor award for excellence.

Thailand has a wonderful combination of tangy, sweet, spicy, and coconut creamy. And sometimes nutty and crunchy too. In 10 days of dining, I think we had one ordinary meal which was a pizza from my favorite place that was breaking in a new brick oven and hadn’t quite calibrated it yet. Here’s the khao soi salad at Om Garden, a nod to Burmese cuisine with love from northern Thailand…

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In Chiang Mai, we jumped right into tailoring, jumping on our bikes to announce to the tailors we were on our way to the fabric markets and would be back at the end of the day. We returned with linen, cotton, and buttons to be sewn into some elegant tropical wear.

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Chu is a wonderful travel companion, always keeping a watchful eye on me. Here he sits reading off his phone in his right hand while keeping his left hand on my head to protect me from one of life’s many sharp corners. How could I not smile?

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Chu wanted to rent motorbikes in Thailand but I insisted we not. I told him of how many Chinese I have seen wandering around the streets with bandages and crutches because they rented motorcycles and then wrecked them. He didn’t believe me until he saw for himself the limping tourists…

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Pai was magical this time of year. Perfect cool nights, hot but not unbearable days. Not too crowded or noisy and only minimal fireworks. We watched rainbows appear and disappear in the rice paddies beside the bungalow.

view from the bungalow in Pai

We even had a full moon and a lunar eclipse while we were there…and a micro-typhoon (watch the video at the bottom of the posting). Here’s the full moon rising as seen from our bungalow at Ing Doi Guesthouse in Pai…

View of full moon rising at Ing Doi

Thailand never seems to disappoint in the Ingrish Department. This had to be the oddest one ever. “Male Seek Drunks?”

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Any trip to Pai is not complete without a pilgrimage up the hill to the white Buddha…

Oh look: a Buddha!!

Then it was a return to the ethnic mix and urban grind of KL. Funny how Thailand can get under your skin after a while and then sometimes you just can’t get the smell of Tiger Balm and kaffir and coconut out of your nose. You start missing the smiles and the hands clasped in bows and the evenings spent getting foot massages for $6.

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Malaysia with its Mercedes and Bentleys that will mow you down makes Thailand look so poor and humble by comparison. But I’ve come to know that wealth has little bearing on happiness.

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Something far more portable does.

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Here’s a mosaic of moments from the trip…

 

And here’s a video compilation of some of the memorable moments of this trip…

Posted by: facetothewind | September 24, 2014

A Call to Arms

What do you do when you hear the call of love — when you have a really strong feeling that something wonderful is about to happen? Well, honestly, it’s not something I hear very often. But I did hear it one January day earlier this year. It was on a bus to the airport in Kuala Lumpur that the epiphany occurred. Yeah, I know — it wasn’t some mountaintop where the smell or roses suddenly overcame me or the seas suddenly parted and some guy with a trident rose up and spoke to me in a deep voice with lots of studio reverb. No, it was on a greasy yellow bus bound for the dumpy low cost terminal of KL International.

Here’s the backstory…

I was spending the winter in Thailand, thinking seriously of moving from Tucson to Chiang Mai. My life had really come to an end in Tucson. It had actually come to an end when Sebastian left for Germany, never to return, in 2010. He took with him my sense of home. I was left with a quiet house full of memories. In addition, over the years of being in Tucson, I witnessed the departure of nearly all my friends and the slow ebbing away of my graphic design business. I began to feel like Tucson was indeed a place where my own dreams had been rubbed out in the sand.

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Here’s a note in a book (a sweet gift from Sebastian whom I’m sure was worried about my diminishing joy in his post-Tucson years) where I was instructed to keep a list of “Things That Make Me Happy.” Let me run down some items I listed on that page this last winter:

  1. my felt derby hat
  2. pink grapefruit
  3. oyster mushrooms lightly wokked
  4. flannel sheets
  5. a clean sink and toilet
  6. watering & pruning
  7. the color pink
  8. punctuality
  9. generosity
  10. yellow birds at the fountain

Good god! A clean sink and toilet? How about something bigger, Gilmore? World peace? Or Making a Difference? The list now when I look at it seems so incredibly small, so limited, so lacking in imagination and joy. So lacking in love. It’s the list of a person living a contracted, joyless life, fishing for something, anything, to keep him from slipping into depression. I did list “dreaming of travels” as an item – probably the most noteworthy on the list.

But back to Thailand. So after a few years of visits, Thailand seemed like a possibility as an alternative homestead possessing my 3 basic requirements for living: cheap, warm, and liberal. But after 8 years of drinking and screwing my way through the cities, islands and rice paddies of Thailand, I realized I hadn’t made a single Thai friend. Mostly I chalk it up to a language and cultural barrier. The Thai language has 5 tones and the alphabet has 44 characters in it and they all look like squiggles to me. Imagine trying to learn this when you’re admittedly a goof with second language…

Thai-alphabet

It took me about a month just to learn how to say just hello and thank you without accidentally identifying myself as a woman. And if you aren’t that into Buddhas (seen one, you’ve seem ‘em all), or riding elephants, there’s basically not much to do in Thailand. Wow, am I being insensitive or what? So Thailand was starting to feel a little pale to me in its offerings for the potential to find friends and most importantly, someone to patch up that gaping hole left in my heart after Sebby’s departure.

Anyway, after a month of being in the country, tourists must leave and return by plane in order to get another 30 days visa. So I contemplated where I would do my visa run this year. Hmm. I’ve been to every surrounding country but one — Malaysia. What did I know about Malaysia? My friend Dennis Gan was from there. They had a city with a funny name that had the tallest twin towers in the world. What was the name of that city? Something exotic sounding like a lumpy koala bear. Yes, yes. Kuala Lumpur. So I did a web search of things to do in Kuala Lumpur. Eat Indian food. Check! Love Indian food. Go to the twin towers. Check! Cool buildings — love a good stainless steel skyscraper. Bird Park, Batu Caves, Islamic Art Museum. Check. Check…NOT. Wait, Islam? Oh yeah, Malaysia is a Muslim country that has an inherently unfavorable view of gays. I figured 4 days would be about enough time as the lone traveler exploring a homophobic city in a foreign country brailing my way through another foreign language, and then I’d happily return to liberal Thailand with another 30 days stamped into my passport.

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Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I arrived in KL and my phone began lighting up with invitations to meet me, show me around, accompany me for dinner or drinks or out to a club. And all executed in perfect English — a real treat coming from Thailand where most guys can say one thing: “How big yo hmm hmm?” (You can fill in the blanks.) I guess I was expecting KL to be an uneasy melting pot of ethnicities, devoid of any gay life. I was delightfully surprised to find that although the former is true, the latter is definitely not. I didn’t spend one lonely minute in KL. I met intelligent, charming, educated men who came to the hotel and picked me up and took me out on adventures in town…and picked up the check!

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Dorothy had a feeling she was not in Thailand anymore where a foreigner is the walking wallet with the big hmm hmm. Unlike Thailand, where there’s an endless supply of Caucasian tourists to feed on, KL really doesn’t get many Caucasian tourists. It gets a lot of Arab tourists — women in black burkas — not so sexy to gay Malaysians. As a result, I found myself a desirable commodity with my big nose and hairy arms. And let me tell you, the men here sure know how to show a guy a good time and English is widely spoken.

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After four days of seeing sights and meeting so many wonderful guys I got that very strong message: I was on the greasy yellow bus heading to the airport when it arrived. It wasn’t a voice, really. More like a light bulb went on and illuminated this message: COME BACK TO KL AND YOU WILL FIND YOUR MAN HERE. HE IS HERE AND WAITING FOR YOU. It was January 13, 2014 and my eyes welled up with tears. How could I ignore this message? I knew I had to come back. In the moment I shot this selfie…

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I returned back to Thailand going through the motions of what now seemed like a flat existence. Cute little guys that I cannot relate to. A culture I cannot access, where I’m perennially locked out of all conversations, road signs, instructions on how to operate this thingamjig, all media (though watching the adolescent Thai TV, maybe it’s a good thing I don’t understand). It felt almost as isolating as living in Tucson. Besides, Thailand has nothing for museums, is largely lacking in urban infrastructure, and the populace is in general, uneducated. It’s just a fun place to have a mojito, get a killer massage, and eat some yummy food. By contrast, Malaysia seems so much more sober — a place with a working economy that isn’t based on tourism and a country that has an educated populace.

Yeehaw, it's Thailand!

Yeehaw, it’s back to Thailand!

But fast forward to my return to the States…this time I knew it was a return to pack my things. When I finally left Tucson in June of this year, it was not a vacation or even an adventure, it was a migration. The chief purpose of my move to KL was to heed the message that I received on the greasy yellow bus that day and to find that man who was waiting for me. I wondered if I was indeed a little crazy following this voice half way around the world. I wasn’t. Meet Chuan…

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Within 3 weeks of my arrival (after a few poignant, star-crossed encounters) I met this lovely man (above). He delivered himself to my doorstep in a boxy little car called a Kenari (I called it the Canary). We had chatted by text messages on Planet Romeo (a gay chat site) for a few days and agreed to go on a cultural date. He told me he was a classically trained pianist, was also learning violin, and that he would like to pick me up and take me to KL Performing Arts Center (KLPAC) for a dance performance. I was thrilled that it wasn’t just a booty call and I would get to see this place I’d heard about. Below is Chuan’s profile pic — I was sure he was going to be a tortured, if not angry artist. I wasn’t sure I’d like meeting him based on that look…

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Chuan’s profile picture that was almost the deal breaker.

But I opened the car door to find a glowing soul — a gold mine in the the Canary. I think my first words to him were, “Wow! You look so much better than your profile picture.” And my first unspoken thoughts were how his aliveness and joy, his smile and enthusiasm, immediately brightened my spirits. And we took off down the road bouncing in the boxy little car to the dance performance, chatting about piano and violin and clarinet. I appreciated his near-perfect British English and loved his constant smile and his goofy laughter. During the performance I wondered if his leg touching mine was accidental or intentional. I hardly paid attention to the dance as I felt the heat transferring to me from his knee or his elbow on the armrest. What we would do afterward, I wondered to myself?

We decided, well, actually I think it was I who decided that we would keep it cool that night and if we wanted more, there could be a second date. And we did keep it cool — as cool as possible considering there seemed to be a very strong chemistry between us. And there was a second date, which included a violin he brought to play for me and a sleepover and French toast in the morning — for me a serious declaration of intent. And it was Chuan who made the French toast, not me! I was smiling inside and out.

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The first breakfast with Chuan at the helm.

After the second date, I noticed he started calling me “Hubby” in his text messages to me. I both cringed and delighted in how fast he had launched into use of that word. Chuan seemed so very uninhibited with me. If he wanted something, he was just going to go for it boldly, and so he did. Henceforth I’ve been known as Hubby.

So here I sit in a high rise apartment in Kuala Lumpur, with a very dedicated Chinese-Malaysian boyfriend who calls me Hubby and I’m learning how to be an English teacher at a United Nations refugee school. My life couldn’t be more different than it was just a few months ago, sitting in the desert lamenting my middle-aged doldrums wondering if it was a pruning day or watering day.

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A few weeks ago, Chu and I were at the Kek Lok Si temple in Penang and we came to a wishing pole where you make a donation and pick out a ribbon based on what you want to manifest. We chose the “Being Coupled & Paired” ribbon and stuck it on the top of the pole and made our wish. And there it remains lashed to all the others’ wishes on the pole under the spell of Kwan Yin.

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It was a bold move for me to come to this crazy place in pursuit of love. I had a good life in America if we are to measure our lives by our possessions. I had a nice 3 bedroom townhouse with two fireplaces and a swimming pool. I had a grand piano and a great collection of art and rugs and fancy clothes. But it was all wrong. And here I have little more than a suitcase of things in a hot and chaotic city echoing with the hum of traffic and the calls to prayer from the Mosque. As one of a few white heathens in KL, I couldn’t really be more of a mismatch for this place, if we measure fitting in by our skin color or our religion. And yet I feel more at home here than I do in my “home” in America.

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My shirt says: Together Life Gets Better.

As a perpetual seeker of “home” as an ideal, I always have to ask myself, “What actually makes a home a home?” I can tell you it has very little to do with a structure and possessions. I literally sailed across oceans to find a new definition of home for myself. But really it’s an old definition, an ancient one. Many of us (myself included) held notions that a home was defined by material goods, a couple import sedans in the garage, a suburban house with giant kitchen stocked with all the best crockery. Maybe a dog, some big trees, and a white picket fence surrounding it all. But when you’re in that cute house by yourself, cooking in that big kitchen alone every night, sinking into your leather sofa watching a movie on your giant flat screen TV, your grip on your martini loosening as you fall asleep…does that make it a home? When all you do is meet with your neighbors at the gate to bitch about their barking dog — is that home? I suppose it’s one definition of it. It’s the one I chose to leave behind.

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At home in Arizona.

Here, my tiny white shoebox apartment with dysfunctionally small kitchen transforms into a home when Chuan throws open the door, kicks off his flip flops and rushes over to greet me while I’m cooking him dinner, “Hi Hubby, I missed you,” and he throws his arms around me. We cook a simple meal together in the tiny kitchen, trading places as it’s only big enough for one cook at a time. We play duets on the violin and clarinet. We chat by candlelight, have a little cuddle, rub each other’s backs and then watch some Mad TV on his little mobile phone before bedtime. What it lacks in material embellishments that I once had, it delivers in the realm of intimacy, warmth, creativity, and mutual support.

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Late at night in bed with the white noise drowning out the car horns 15 stories below, I hear Chu lightly crying in his sleep. I think he’s having a nightmare. I reach over and hold his hand, nuzzling my nose into his coarse black hair. It seems to quiet down whatever bad dream he was having. And in those quiet moments before I slip back into sleep, I think about the bad dream I was in — it lasted for years — popcorn for one at the end of a day when all I had to look forward to was watering and pruning the yard. I did the best I could to make it work. And in the end I failed. The American dream didn’t serve me very well. I think it was a materialistic illusion, a mirage in the desert — that when I got “there” I didn’t know I was there and so I kept going down that road hoping to one day arrive. In the end I found myself swinging in the hot desert air grasping at nothing.

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At home with Chu in the little white shoebox apartment in the sky.

And here I am in Malaysia now having answered that distant call. That call to embracing arms — a gentle voice guiding me toward love if I was willing to listen and trust. I was. I am. I’m here.

And I’m really glad I came.

Posted by: facetothewind | September 21, 2014

Lost KL

Nosing-around-KL

Been nosing around Kuala Lumpur to find places, events, and imagery that interest me. Since I’m once again apartment hunting, I’m covering a lot of territory. I asked my friend Brian (below in pink) to go on a photoshoot with me with his new camera. He agreed and invited his friend Keith, and the 3 of us went around town with our cameras which turned into a day of “lost and found.”

Brian and Keith

If you can put up with mosquitoes — the only remaining inhabitants of the 100-year old remains of British Colonial architecture — you can feast your eyes on the ruins that are tucked behind and beneath the behemoth modern buildings that now dominate the skyline. It’s a tragedy that Malaysia is in the process of erasing all of its heritage and antiquity in favor of shopping malls and high density housing. Alas, the majority of Malaysians really don’t value the old (oddly, they do value old people – just not old buildings). There’s politics behind it, of course. Malaysia is erasing the memory of British occupation and attempting to erase the Chinese history. I’d like to invite them to erase the outdated homophobic British laws while they’re tossing out the baby with the bathwater. But that’s another story for another time.

Blue gates

Malaysians seem fiendishly addicted to shopping malls which is why I’ve come to call it Mallaysia. Pretty much all that we saw today is likely to soon be bulldozed in favor of yet another mall. It’s sad for me, but what can I do? It is, after all, not my country. After so many tragic bulldozings in America, (anyone remember the old Penn Station or the Roxy Theater in New York?) the country has finally wised up to the beauty of old architecture, but that message has not yet reached these shores, and honestly, it’s too late. Most of it is gone now. Though I am certain that one day Malaysians will regret it, for now I can only watch and document the grace and patina of these antiquities before they are forever plowed under. There’s also a certain beauty in watching nature take over these buildings as they sit on death row awaiting their execution date.

Here’s the day’s photos in a collage. You can click on them to enlarge and then use your arrow button to advance…

Like all things, nothing lasts forever. So enjoy it while it lasts.

 

 

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:

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/lava-creeps-homes-volcano-erupts-hawaii-big-island-article-1.1933925

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Walking-KL

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.

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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.

Central-Market-Kuala-Lumpur

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.

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