As the opposite of an exercise-junkie I now realize that the only things that get me moving are those within five minutes of my front door and even then I’m only motivated to attend if I can walk there. With twice weekly yoga in our condo, a good-sized pool and now qi gong and aquarobics on site, it is easy to spend several days ‘at home’ in a row. I recognize that I also need to ‘get out there’ and though driving to a mall to shop and meet friends is fun, it’s not the same as going outside. Into nature.
While I can see plenty of trees from our balcony and the poolside, it is not the same as spending time surrounded by green. I used to walk in the woods daily in Holland and miss it. I wish I were there to see the crocus and the daffodils. I’m sad to have missed the snowdrops and sorry I’ll not get to see the bluebells in May.
Not so many decades ago most of Malaysia was jungle, but increasingly the ancient and the beautiful are being decimated to make way for more condominiums, like the one in which we live, and high-rise office blocks, like the one where Ian works.
Even in the short time we’ve been here a swathe of jungle at the foot of our compound has been laid waste to make way for a nine-storey accommodation block for the adjacent police station. Already the thick patch of unspoilt jungle that sings with cicadas at dusk and overlooks the pool is becoming more see-through.
Progress is evident throughout the city. The public transport systems, once considered only suitable for the poorer residents, are being massively expanded. New underground and monorail networks are causing roadworks and traffic jams everywhere.
And yet, a stone’s throw from our apartment lies the Taman Perdana. The lake gardens; Kuala Lumpur’s botanical garden. Established in 1888 it covers more than 90 hectares. I love to walk there and the gardens are quiet, uncrowded and safe. It’s just getting there that is less so. Not suitable for a woman alone, unless she can run fast, which of course I can’t. Getting there takes ten minutes but involves taking a pedestrian bridge over a busy highway and walking through a dark underpass as well as crossing beneath a flyover where dark pillars could easily hide a snatch thief.
But again, I’m lucky. My German friend, Karin, loves to walk in the gardens too and so, once a week, if we are both in town, which is maybe half the time, we walk there together. The moment we emerge from the underpass the lake, with its five fountains, stretches out before us and all the noise of the city fades away. Water soothes and walking calms you down, so people walk, cycle or jog round the lakes and on the meandering pathways . Exercise groups meet here to do tai chi. Lone Chinese walk slowly, crossing their arms from left to right in front of their bodies, palms slightly cupped as they absorb nature’s peace while increasing their chi.
Construction is everywhere here too. They are creating a jetty for a boating lake. A large glass canopy has been erected to give shelter and a modicum of shade so that exhibitions can take place. The outdoor amphitheatre is being extended. Shops have been erected near one of the three playgrounds. But there are scented trees and flowering shrubs, lawns and wooden resting places. Pretty bridges, trees bonsai’d into clusters of mushrooms that would fit perfectly into one of Alice’s adventures in wonderland.
There are waterfalls, lily ponds, a herb garden, a scented garden and even a deer park. Hibiscus and orchid gardens are next door, the national monument with its sculpture park is across the road. Walking here gives my soul a rinse in cool water.
I hardly notice the skyscrapers in the distance. But as Karin and I reach the end of our weekly circuit real life looms back into view and there, easily fitting into my phone’s viewfinder I can see not only where we live, over on the right, but where Ian works on the left. Our life here in a nutshell and 18 months into our posting, I can happily say, ‘I am blessed’.