While Asia works my last nerve, I’m doing my best to honor my relationship and stick it out here by finding little things that give me some small sense of pleasure like a fragrant frangipani flower tucked behind my ear…that then draws the scornful gaze of homophobic Malaysians. It’s a rare day when my attempt to find some elegance in this overpopulated, stinky city doesn’t end in a defeated return to the apartment, vanquished by the assault.
Case in point. I went shopping the other day and saw macadamia nuts for cheap! Priced at 5.79 ringgit per package and much in need of a little nibbly indulgence, I bought them. My stomach grumbled all the way home where I couldn’t wait to rip open the package and crunch my way into monounsaturated bliss while the air conditioner dried out my sweaty clothes. Well.
I washed one nut (because you can’t trust packaged food items here not to have had rats walking and peeing all over them before they got semi-sealed and put on the shelf). In fact, the almonds I usually buy have little teeth marks in them that I assure you are not from the tines of some scooping fork at the nut warehouse. Anyway, I bit into my “macadamia nut” and it turned out not to be what I thought it was though not unpleasant tasting. Could they be large hazel nuts? I was curious what they were since the package was unlabeled and so cheap. They must be locally produced. So I texted a picture to Chuan, my font of local food wisdom, for a quick identification…
He wrote back that he didn’t know what they were called but they were not really eating nuts per se, but rather are used to flavor a curry. To me that meant they’re still edible even if not for the purpose of snacking. I decided to roast them and salt them. After about 20 minutes, I pulled them out of the oven and nibbled one. Tasty. Let me have a few more. OK, not bad. Let me have a small handful. That’s when my stomach started to tighten and churn. The churning quickly led to cramps and then I started feeling feverish. Oh dear. I texted Hubby telling him that I wasn’t feeling well after eating the mystery nuts.
He went on the web and did some research and within a few minutes he wrote back that the nuts were called “candlenuts” (aka kukui nuts) and are poisonous when eaten raw. Oh dear! My condition worsened as I grew pale and started feeling dizzy. To distract myself, I tried to watch a documentary on the BBC called Filthy Cities. Up came scenes of foul tannery waste and beheaded bodies being chucked around revolutionary Paris. All too familiar to my life in KL, this was not helping with my burgeoning nausea.
I called Chuan and burst into tears that I had poisoned myself and would soon be dying. I felt so sad that I was going to die alone in the apartment — a total disappointment to my boyfriend for not having been more prudent about food choices in a foreign country. If I was going to poison myself, I wanted it to be an intentional act and with something more historic like hemlock or something more dignified like Roxanol with a nice bottle of Malbec. There would be nothing dignified about finding me dead in a pile of my own vomit.
I quickly looked up candlenuts on the Internet adding the keyword: “fatal.” Although toxic, nothing came up about it being fatal, and the antidote was simple: coconut water. It was starting to seem like some sort of local witchdoctor wisdom and that I might have to toss some virgin into a volcano, chant a few wanga wangas, drink the pure water from a young coconut and then my health would be restored.
Chuan is nothing if not an efficient problem solver. I’m not kidding — within 20 minutes he had left his mother’s apartment, gone to the grocery store, wrangled up some fresh coconuts and was turning the lock on the door to find me prostrated in front of the toilet bowl with an RGB palette of spew coming out all my orifices. I sat on the rug in front of the bowl feeling sort of proud for having heaved out all the nuts plus my lovely mung bean stew with it. Chuan tore open a coconut and I gulped it down and remarkably (and without virgins in a volcano) the clouds in my stomach parted and the sun came out again. Birds were singing and the color returned to my face. I was cured and just needed to get the mung beans and carrots washed out of my nose. Whoa, what a night! My sweet hubby saved me again from the perils of Malaysia.
And that in essence, is Chuan’s role in my life: chief problem solver and path sweeper — my midwife to Malaysia. So onward we go into the year long wait to get the hell outta here…together. He goes to work and I stay home getting into trouble with poison nuts. On the weekends we have little outings to try and add some joy to the mix. I feel a book coming on. My year in KHell or how I found love in the wrong place.
Watch the video that starts out in Malacca on one of my bi-monthly escapes from KL. There’s some little video snapshots of Malaysian life as seen through my lens…
And here’s the month in photos: