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.
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!
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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?
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.
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…