Climbing out of culture shock

Bukit Gasing
Bukit Gasing

I am well aware of the culture shock cycle. I know that we move from the Honeymoon period to Disappointment and Rejection before we  move towards the Assimilation stage. But no one ever said it was easy climbing out of a hole. I’ve been much happier here since January and definitely in that Assimilation phase,, but here we are in July and I seem to be taking the path out of that hole painstakingly slowly.

It’s funny, isn’t it, how we can sabotage our own happiness? Not that I have been out of my way to stay miserable, but I am guilty of not seeking out things that would have made me happy. I’ve been a bit apathetic and lethargic. Lazy is probably the right word! But this weekend I put two of those things to rights.

Those of you who remember my BrieflyBrunei blog will be well aware that I love walking in the jungle. One of the reasons I was reluctant to come to live in the city of Kuala Lumpur was because you don’t get jungle in cities, right? So maybe, in some warped way, I didn’t want to be proved wrong.

However, I have discovered that it takes about an hour to get out of the city by car and spend time miles from anywhere, up a hill, where the air is cool and the view lets your gaze plummet into a bowl of greenness. Just an hour and I can walk in the rainforest and have my ears assailed by the crackle of insects. Just an hour and I can look up, at night, into a blue-black sky studded with stars.

But this weekend I discovered that there is jungle right here in the city, in Petaling Jaya (PJ) the rather ugly sprawly suburb in which Joshua discovered Madame Ju.

Bukit Gasing, I have learned, means Spinning Top Hill and it takes less than 15 minutes to drive there. I was skeptical. I mean, how could real jungle exist so close to the bustle and highrise of the capital city? But it was so close to home we had no more excuses. It was really easy to find and easy to park.

We saw quite a few folk to start with. Those coming out from the trail were sweat-soaked and smiling. Those going in strode forth with a determined look in their eyes and most of them used a kind of walking stick a bit like a Nordic walking pole, but since my time on the Hash in Brunei, I now call them ‘hash sticks’. I couldn’t imagine why they needed them – the path was pretty flat. But then we ran out of signs. And then we ran out of people. The road branched and we had no clue which way to turn, but bearing in mind this was a hill, we headed for the highest bits. So, we crossed a stream and started to go up a slope made of terracotta-coloured mud and tree roots. I didn’t need a hash stick here either as there were plenty of trees to hang onto and pull me up. I was just wondering how lost we were going to get when we heard a voice behind us.

“Hello there! First time?” A Chinese Malay lady, older and slimmer and sprightlier than us, was behind us, bamboo stick in hand.

“Yes,” we replied.

“I guide you!” she said, overtaking us and overtaking our organisation. “Up here. Now turn right.” She showed us a narrow unmarked track. “I will take you to the garden first. Two hours walk okay?”

We nodded. I was already a little short of breath. To find ourselves a guide on our first venture here was a godsend.

Half way up a very steep slope Linda gave me her hash stick, recognising I needed it more than she did. Chatting to folk she knew and plenty she had never met before en route Linda was in her element. “I love catching people,” she said. “I like to have company.”

By the time we reached the top of the summit Linda had ‘caught’ Wan. He waited at the top for me, bravely, sweatily and stoically bringing up the rear.

“You get 92 per cent!” he called to me, holding his arms out wide. “Out of 100. That is very good for first time.”

There on the summit there was a distinct breeze. Linda showed us rubber trees, pointing out the tapping marks. She showed us mushrooms and flowers, named the trees and marched ahead, allowing me about 10 seconds rest now and again. And off we went, down again, up again, over a suspension bridge and up a huge slope that had me puffing away like a rather damp train. My calves were killing me from all that climbing and my arms hurt from hanging onto trees and leaning on the stick but I was triumphant. This was what I loved to do most here in South East Asia and it was on my doorstep.

Linda was chatting to some other walkers. “Good for your health!” they called out to us. “And free. Better than the gym.”

By now, Linda, clad in cotton jersey from top to toe against the mosquitoes, was drenched and grinning from ear to ear. We learned that she comes here every weekend and that she walks up Bukit Kiara, where she lives, every day. No wonder she was so fit.

Two and a half hours later, we were more than delighted to find ourselves back at the entrance to the park. Two hours forty-five minutes later we had installed ourselves in a local cafe to eat roti canai off a banana leaf accompanied by lime sodas, all for £6 for the three of us. Our sweat dried in the breeze created by the swirling fan above while we ate and soon we revived enough to continue our journey. That Linda may have been a godsend but she was also a taskmaster.

Urut Massage PB
Urut Massage PB

Yesterday, I could feel the effects of my workout all over my body but particularly my calves. So, when Josh suggested we walk to Brickfields for a reflexology massage in one of the blind massage places I jumped at the idea.

“Do they do lower legs too?” I asked, keen for someone to put some life back into those muscles.

“Yes, and your back too!” he said. He’d already done the research and discovered what was reviewed as the best place there. Urut Massage PB was up a flight of stairs just off the main street of Brickfields. Upstairs it was cool, efficient and clean if rather old. We left our shoes along with countless others, which showed how popular this place was and within seconds had been sent to Room 2 to lie down on massage beds covered in freshly laundered navy sheets. Our masseurs used talking clocks to keep track of the time and indulged us in 45 minutes of occasionally painful but beneficial massage, all for about 35 Ringgit (£6). I was very impressed and will definitely return.


I am aware that it can be easy to focus on the things we don’t like about a place and then do nothing about seeking out the things that do make us happy. I am ashamed that is has taken me ten months to find a city jungle trek and a reflexology massage. Both are activities I knew I loved to do. Now there is no denying that I am in settling in.


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