There are more good things about living in Kuala Lumpur than bad, but when you are new in town things can get out of proportion. It’s when you are in the throes of the second stage of culture shock (that’s that one that comes after the Honeymoon) and you find yourself dwelling on the horrid bits. It’s called the Denial Phase, and is when you put down your rose tinted spectacles and swap them for a magnifying glass. It’s the time you compare everything with where you ‘used to live’.
I remember, in Holland, nine years ago, Phase 1 lasted a very short time and it was literally days before I was in fear of going too far, getting lost and not finding my way home. In Carolyn Vine’s memoir, Black and Abroad, she tells the story of her first tram trip, getting lost and the meltdown that ensued.
“I realize my culture shock had been as much a reaction to feeling broadsided by my loss of independence as to the Dutch culture,” she writes.
Well, hell, yeah! I realised this time, our sixth posting, that it is the loss of independence that drips its poison onto the way I see it now. My new, albeit a bit warped, perception. I know this. I recognise it, but it DOES NOT MAKE IT ANY EASIER.
Here, there is a rise in petty crime. The perpetrators only want your cash or things they can sell on quickly, but everyone is at risk, even the expats in the better parts of town. Motorcycles swoop past and rip your handbag off your shoulder – solution, don’t carry a handbag full of money, passports and credit cards, nor an iPad and iPhone around with you and never carry it roadside. I just have to learn to do things differently. But, here I am slap bang at the start of Phase 2 (and by the way in Holland mine lasted almost a year) and the negative side of this wonderful city is biting me on the bum. Carolyn hit the nail on the head. In lovely, safe, beautiful, friend-filled, Holland, I could jump on my bike and go wherever I liked. I could walk anywhere, even in the woods and this became my meditation, my favourite thing and my daily must-have. I could carry a handbag full of the usual stuff women cart around. I could walk down dark alleys and do things on my own. So, I miss that independence that can only come, not from living in a safer, quieter city, necessarily, but from being familiar with the place, from no longer being ‘lost in transition’. I must remind myself of this daily.
So, there you have it, I am frightened about the crime here. It’s new for me. It means I can’t wander about at will on my own. It means I have to ditch the handbag. It means I need to book taxis, and park in open places (when we have a car). All solvable.
Thank God that I am an optimist. I’m a worrier too, but I always like to find the good in things, places and people. I have many reasons to be cheerful:
Ten Reasons to Be Cheerful
- The fresh fruit here is amazing.
- It’s cheap to eat out.
- The travel opportunities are plentiful, easy, close and cheap.
- I live in a wonderful, green, safe, condo with streets in which I can spend 22 minutes walking (I timed it!).
- We have a good-sized pool and a gym and I hear there are yoga classes twice a week.
- The botanical gardens are 10 minutes’ walk away and all I need is a friend to accompany me and I’ll find a slice of my kind of heaven (first new friend, joins me for this tomorrow).
- I get to eat breakfast on my balcony and read The Times on my iPad.
- The jungle is only 30 minutes away by car.
- I already had at least four friends before I came here, who can take me places.
- My first writers’ circle (my other sanity) starts next week. I organised it and we have seven people already.
It wasn’t difficult to write that list. I am grateful for many other things, including right now that (I’m not taking a breath so I won’t put any commas in this explanation either) Emma answered my plea for lasagne sheets after my Tesco delivery failed to bring it nor substitute it and was the only reason I made the delivery and I have guests I’ve never met before coming for dinner who don’t eat meat and I don’t think fish pie and salad is really a mix. Two seconds ago she brought some to my doorstep, having popped to the shop on her way back from the school run. I even got to hug her lovely daughters who were in the car.
I’ve started a Gratitude Journal, just to make sure I go to sleep positive every night, where I write down three things I’m grateful for every day. I also write down three achievements. Yesterday I was grateful, among other things, for my new dehydrator and achieved 20 lengths of the pool before breakfast.
Still, as a writer, I can’t simply move on from my feelings. I have to write them down. So here you go, if you didn’t read it on Facebook yesterday (Note to my mother, who reads this blog: poets can be overdramatic for the sake of their art and how I felt at the moment I wrote it yesterday may not be how I feel today, OK? Like I said, I’m an optimist!)
As a labourer’s hand gnaws a stressball,
fear claws my belly –
a cat making itself comfortable,
round and round, needling,
masticating hope into a pulp.
They pulled a knife on my neigbour,
wrenched a toddler from his home,
snatched a purse off a passenger seat,
held a twelve-year-old to ransom.
Too close to home.
to put into a pile,
to flick through later.
Thoughts like these,
scorch the edges of my happiness
and leave me tracing corridors,
in search of freedom.
A ripple of birdsong
rattles my cage of silence,
cicadas bore sweet pathways to my heart.
I bite down into a golden coin
of fresh, local pineapple,
just dried. I chew;
remember how to smile.