Posted by: facetothewind | January 6, 2015

Social Butterfly

It’s been a busy few weeks here in expatia. First, Jane and David arrived from England for New Year’s. I visited them at their home in Eastbourne, England, last summer. We met in Pai, Thailand, a year ago so this was our 2nd holiday season together. They’re not big, stinky Asian city lovers, so I wasn’t sure how long they’d last in KL. In the end, they seemed to sort of like it. They said parts of it reminded them of England. Certainly not the weather, though.

David and Jane

We spent some time going to the jazz clubs by night and by day scouring the markets for the best deals on pineapple and southeast Asian curry fixin’s. Jane proved herself to be a good market bargainer and a great cook. She got all this for 17 Ringgit (about $5 USD)…


The two of us joined forces and made a pretty awesome Thai curry…


Then Chuan and I took off with his 2 best buddies for Pangkor Island, about 3 hours northwest of Kuala Lumpur.


These 3 grew up together and are now joined at the hips. I’m envious of their lifelong friendships that started so young.


They did yoga in the sand at sunset while I photographed them.


It was fun watching them play on the beach. I’ve gotten used to being an outsider here, but Chuan does his best to link me with his friends.


Pangkor Island wasn’t the greatest place on earth. It has its charms, but in these photos you can’t see the trash on the beach or hear the motorcycles racing on the streets.


Also, there was something wrong with the water — my first dip in, a fish came up to me to die in my cupped hands. And when I got out of the water, I was covered with a smelly algae that looked like it could be petroleum related. I don’t know. I went swimming anyway and in my tropical island watery reverie, I bumped into a Kotex bag. UGH!! The beaches are littered with plastic waste and frankly, find it depressing. I really feel like the planet has been irretrievably polluted. How can people be so shortsighted to destroy their own habitat? I watched children playing with garbage on the beach, throwing bottles into the sea to watch them float back and giggle…while their parents looked on. And then I found this little plastic heart in the sand…


Probably was part of a box of chocolates or perhaps the remains of a wedding cake dumped off an excursion boat…a momentary smile for someone before going on a journey on the open sea to give a complete stranger a momentary smile. Maybe I’ll just do like the Asians and when I’m done with it, throw it in the river. Maybe someone downriver, or on a distant shore, or picking through the Pacific gyre will get a smile out of it. FYI – most plastic garbage that ends up in the sea was discarded on land and then washed to the sea by rivers, rains, and wind. In Asia, rivers are considered trash conveyor belts that take the garbage somewhere else…to your holiday beach resort. Very sad indeed…


On the lighter side of things, in Pangkor, I did have the best double rum piña colada made with coconut cream. Hope those straws and that little umbrella were not thrown into the ocean…


On the way home we passed some of the rural Malaysian flooding you may have heard about. I was struck by the lack of military or government assistance on the ground. We drove past house after flooded house with people just sitting in the middle of the street conducting their own traffic from their own tents. Where were the police and national guard? I guess one could have asked the same thing during hurricane Katrina in the States.


One night last week, after a good rain, I looked out the window from my apartment and saw shimmering where once there were streets. My entire neighborhood was under 3 feet of water! The river rose up about 15 feet, flowed over the banks and left massive amounts of garbage stuck to the pickets in the railing. I could have gone boating on the streets. They drained by morning leaving a thick layer of mud.


Plastic bags and debris caught by the railing when the river overflowed the banks.

On the way home from Pangkor Island, we stopped by the ruins of a Scottish mansion called Kellie’s Castle. A hundred years ago, a Scottish tin magnate was prancing about in a 3 piece suit and tie, bossing around a large staff of Malays. Seemed a bit out of place in the tropics but there you have it…

Here’s the video of the weekend in Pangkor:


Once back in Kuala Lumpur, Chuan took me to his brother David’s food stall in Bandar Menjalara. David is a really sweet, charming, and engaging guy — much like his younger brother. Good food seems to run in the Choy family’s blood.


David made us his specialty herbed fish and chips and garlic bread. It was delish! And David wouldn’t take our money for the lunch. Add ‘generous’ to the list of stellar qualities of the Choy family.


David explained the financial realities of running a food stall which produces about $50 USD a day (after expenses). David and his wife live with Chuan and their mother in a 3 bedroom apartment. David’s employees make about $17 USD a day. Sometimes when I see Bentleys and Lamborghinis racing the streets of KL, I forget that Malaysia is a basically poor country. Chuan’s family don’t appear on the surface to be poor people. But by American standards they are. And by American income standards, so am I…which is one of the reasons I live in Malaysia.

That evening, Chuan took me to meet his mother for dinner. We sat in a Thai restaurant while she told me about how hard they all work. She at 62 is still working a couple part time jobs to stay afloat. She expressed her concern about Chuan’s future citing how there’s no social security for the elderly in Malaysia. She seemed to be conceding failure to me that she’s not been able to provide her son with financial security. I felt her pain. At one point I said to her, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of your son.” She didn’t seem to hear it. So I said it again a bit louder. Silently, she half winced and half smiled. I’m sure she couldn’t expect that some foreigner who just met her son a few months ago is going to follow through with a promise to take care of him. And in reality, I can’t do much more than add a little sparkle to Chuan’s life here and there. It was for me more of a declaration of what’s important to me…generosity and sharing…in whatever form that comes. America promises to take care of its poor and elderly and then it fails and people fall through the cracks. Here there are no promises or pretenses. But there is family. And chosen family — the “outlaws” I call them.

My hubby and my mother outlaw…


And now for something completely different. Today I paid a visit to the Kuala Lumpur Butterfly Garden. It was delightful. Here’s a video of it and following that are some stills:

Click on a photo and advance through them with your left/right arrows…



  1. As always, your silhouettes around water (the young men doing yoga) take my breath away. The steady flow of garbage makes me sad, almost despondent at the lack of vision in design (or purposeful design of convenience/profit over impact). Then…back to breathtaking with nature’s design of intricate beauty in butterflies…Wow! Thanks for sharing your latest adventures in living, David!

  2. The butterflies with piano/cello accompaniment absolutely beautiful. And love “mother outlaw”!

  3. Hi David,

    As usual, you’ve touched me with your enlightened observations–the good and the bad.

    Was the photo of trash in the water taken at Pangkalor (sp?)? As you know, trash is same problem, maybe worse, in Thailand. People here have no sensibilities when it comes to the environment and their contribution to destruction of same. I pick up trash, mostly plastic, every day from the roadside, maybe from Thais or from tourists.

    I’m more concerned with evil people do after reading this morning’s news about the 12 French news writers/cartoonists. I am becoming ever more embittered toward one group, from loathing to pitying, to despising them. Where it will all end I doubt I’ll be alive to see.

    I was happy to be introduced to Chuan’s sweet mother. Of course, she is worried about her son’s future. No social security in Malaysia. And Chuan’s friends. I can imagine you at times feel like an outsider as they have a long history together. But it’s YOU he loves romantically.

    Thanks for the treat of gorgeous butterflies.

    Trying to overcome inertia to make a plan to go to CM. A Dutch woman I met here several years ago will be in CM in a couple of weeks and I think I’d rather see her there rather than here, when I have many other things I can do in CM.

    Do you have a departure date? Why are you going to Tucson? I’ve forgotten. The house?

    Love, Dianna

  4. P.S. Leave it to you to find a cute little red heart amidst the trash! D.

  5. David, The butterfly photos are exquisite. So are the photos of yoga at the beach. Pam

  6. Oh that food looks sooo yum yum!
    …amazing butterflies and the spirals from your last journey, oh!

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