So yeah, I’ve been bitching about the traffic in KL and hating on my walk from the Jelatek train station (the subway) that’s about a quarter mile from my apartment. It is my portal to downtown Kuala Lumpur and I really hate the walk to the station because it’s a long a traffic choked street and my cough is still with me and inhaling those fumes is not helping it. That trafficky walk makes me want to leave KL. I have a little over 2 more months in my lease here and I’ve got to make it work. I tried earplugs…made me unaware of my surroundings. I tried the gas mask…too hot and goofy looking like the apocalypse has arrived.
So today I was having a lovely brunch with my boys at the VCR café in Bukit Bintang and had to take the train home which means walking that last 15 minutes alongside a traffic jam. But on the elevated train I noticed that if I got off a stop earlier, I could actually walk home a different route and here’s what I found instead…
A terrific cornucopic Malay market where the prices are a fraction of what they are at the expat grocery store next to my house frequented by the diplomatic corp of embassy row where my apartment is. The prices at the store are fit for their excellencies, the distinguished ambassadors of various nations who inhabit the ‘hood,’ not for me on my budget. And so I bought a bunch of bananas and some basil for $1 total. Yes, 1 USD. I’m of course the ONLY white person in this market and I get a lot of stares and an occasional, “Hello, how are you?” I used my Google translate to look up the Malay word for basil: selasih. The Muslim women’s faces lit up and they laughed and dug out a bunch for me from a pile of fresh greens…30 cents.
Then I set out to get home which was not easy. I could see the towers above the little kampung (village) but couldn’t find a way over the concrete river bed…hmmm. Then I found it — a makeshift walkway over an aqueduct complete with boards to step over the puddles. And then into the forest between the kampung and my apartment.
Everyone has warned me about the petty crime that occurs in Malaysia — the muggings and purse snatchings. Well, I’ve determined that nobody gonna snatch my purse bitch, so I just found a nice big stick, stood up straight, chest out and marched through the forest swinging my stick. When I lived in New York City in the 80’s (when it was dangerous on the streets and subways) I had a friend who was a NYPD officer and he told me to carry a stick and learn how to use it. He trained me how to go for the knees because no one can reach down and block a knee shot. And it will disable them and you just leave the scene with your belongings. Well, somehow I doubt I’m going to need that police training here, but just having the stick made me feel more confidant to go into the forest alone.
And when I emerged from the forest leaving my stick at the exit for my return trip another time, I’m at the Russian embassy. I pay my appropriate respects to their homophobic grand pubah. I learned the sticking-out-of-tongue from my mother when she was berated for lifting the sugar packets from the condiments section of a bar where she hadn’t purchased a drink. Some things you never forget. Thanks, Ma.
So out of the forest, past the embassies, and back into the concrete jungle where I find my building. Never had to stand alongside the traffic and inhale an acre of volatile organic compounds. I got a walk in the woods, learned a new word and found some cheap produce. Maybe it’s doing little things like this each day to improve your life (and possibly the lives of others) that make this place, or any place, more tolerable. It’s just a small thing, but I arrived home in smiles, triumphant for finding the greener path.
And this is when my smile fades. Arriving back at my building, it’s all salutes…
Yeah, salutes. It bothers me but what can I do? I don’t salute back. I just say, “Hello, how are you?” Nepalese Guards surround my building. They’re positioned at all corners and all doors and at the pool. And they have this annoying habit of jumping to their feet to salute saying, “Good morning sir,” or, “Hello boss.” Boss is a common term here for white men when approaching a service person who, guess what, isn’t white. Hate it. I’m not the boss. I’m not President-effing-Obama and when I’m in my swim trunks arriving at the pool in flip flops, you don’t have to jump to your feet, click your heels and salute for crying out loud. But they do. I’m sure they’re told to do so by the Chinese building management company. When I’m driving into the building, we have to skirt round the whole building, passing a guard who salutes at every corner and at the entrance to the garage and then again once inside. Oy vey.
Though they salute me, they must think I’m weird because I sometimes stop to look at things like this roach being trounced by a bunch of ants. The ants waved the antennas of the dead roach gracefully in a serpentine way and then they spun the body of the giant bug slowly around and around. It was fascinating to me that they couldn’t decide which way to take it. They went round and round until the guards called in the maintenance lady who swept it up depriving the ants of a meal the relative size of a jumbo jet. Well, if they had made up their collective ant minds and zipped it off to the anthill sooner, they would have feasted.
It’s the little things that make my day.