Tag Archives: new beginnings



As many of you know by this point, I’m leaving Malaysia.

Yes, it is official. But as to the standard follow-up question, no I’m not coming home. Not yet…

After more than a year in Malaysia, I decided it was time to move on. Since I moved here in July of 2010, I have seen and learned some incredible things. But as I began to enter August of 2011, the start of my second Ramadan in Malaysia, I realized that much of the novelty of this country had worn off for me. I’d already experienced every major holiday here, visited my top travel destinations in Southeast Asia and felt I had gotten a fairly thorough understanding of Malaysian culture. And frankly, as grateful as I am for the experience, I decided that one year in Malaysia was enough for me.

However, I realized that I was still not done with Asia and certainly had not attained the goals I had originally set out for myself (as mentioned in my previous post). So I have decided to continue to achieve them, but to do it elsewhere…in India.

Before I came to Malaysia, I didn’t have a good understanding of Asian culture. All I really knew about Indian culture was that there were a lot of people, they had good food and they were Hindus. But after living in KL where ethnic Indians make-up 10 percent of the population, visiting Hindu temples, meeting Indian people and attending Indian festivals, India has shot to the top of my travel destination list and is a country that I want to explore hardcore.

So when an old friend of mine messaged me that he was planning on backpacking India for three months starting in the fall, I thought it must be more than a coincidence. How often does one come across someone with the same time, money and timing to take a dream trip? It was too good of an opportunity to pass up. After much consideration, I officially resigned from my job.

The feeling was both absolutely freeing while absolutely terrifying. Since I was 20, I have found continuous ways to travel, either through studying abroad, working abroad or short trips. And while I’ve always said I wanted to travel around the world, I’ve never traveled continuously for more than a few weeks at a time. For years, friends and family have kept waiting for me to get this travel bug out of my system, but I really don’t think that is going to happen until I really have the chance to travel freely. So it’s all built up to this: the trip of a lifetime.

The plan is now to meet James in New Delhi starting in the beginning of October and just go: wherever we want, for as long as we can. No job, no income, no restraints, no guarantees: pure travel and all that comes with it. While James is planning for a three-month trip, I honestly don’t know when I’ll be back. If I love India, I plan to use the full extent of the six-month visa and maybe have the ashram experience. I might also try to volunteer for awhile, either in India, Nepal or perhaps another country entirely. And if I run out of money, I may move again somewhere and teach English or search for volunteer exchange programs. I honestly have no idea where I’ll be in six months, but the great thing is, I don’t have to.

So now begins the great challenge of both leaving Malaysia and preparing for my new adventure. Already I have resigned from my job and am now in the process of getting out of my contract, clearing my tax forms, selling my car, selling my furniture and electronics and getting someone to take over my lease. I am also in the process of obtaining my Indian visa, getting all my vaccines, researching the country and mentally preparing for what could be the biggest challenge of my life, but quite possibly, the most rewarding.

I have one month left to figure everything out. Here’s hoping for the best!

Batu Caves and Monkey Attacks!


I told myself to allow at least one month before expecting to really start enjoying my new surroundings, and like my previous experiences abroad, I think things are really starting to get better.

Last week I was finally able to be a tourist, something I had been struggling to do while in the midst of starting a new job, finding an apartment, settling into the apartment, etc. But last weekend I was able to escape Cheras for a few hours and headed to the Batu Caves, one of Kuala Lumpur’s main attractions.

The 140-foot tall Lord Murugun statue outside the Batu Caves

Ok, so honestly, I am a bit embarrassed that I cannot tell you more about the caves, because there really weren’t a lot of signs and things to read about while I was there ( I am definitely the type that thrives on reading all the things posted in museums). But from what I understand, the Batu Caves are basically a big shrine to Lord Murugun, one of the Hindu gods. In fact, a 140-foot gold statue of Lord Murugun – the largest in the world – stands at the foot of the 272 to steps that lead up into the cave itself. It is actually quite a stunning sight to see.

Once at the top there are a few shrines where Hindus come to pray and make offerings. While there were mostly tourists everywhere, I did see a few people dressed in saris and religious clothing who came for other purposes. But the main event at the Batu Caves comes in late January/ early February when devotees from all over come for the Thaipusam festival to show penance by walking up the steps carrying things attached to their body by hooks. I will definitely be back for that.

With the big Lord Murugun statue and a few shrines, many criticize the Batu Caves for being underwhelming or just a tourist trap. I, on the other hand, found the trip amazing but mostly because of one, non-religious reason: monkeys! The Batu Caves are ABSOLUTELY SWARMING with them!

As many of you know (especially after reading some of my former posts) I was really looking forward to seeing monkeys here but have been a little disappointed that I have only seen a couple so far. Let’s just say after last weekend, I have had my fill for awhile…

A monkey enjoying the bananas I bought it

After a lovely Indian lunch of tosai and curry, my new friends and I decided to trek up the steps to the top. I had heard about the monkeys (though I hadn’t seen any yet) and bought a bunch of small bananas to give to them when I saw them. I don’t why I thought I’d be so brave, but the minute I saw the first monkey walking across the steps I screamed! Everybody stared, but after not seeing any monkeys at the base of the cave, seeing them on the steps, on the handrails and in the trees nearby was overwhelming! I immediately started shouting at my friends to take my bananas away and started freaking out they would come and attack me, something the nice Indian women outside the restaurant warned me about.

Luckily, Arnaud (my new French friend) was able to give my bananas away without harm, and after I calmed down, the whole experience was incredible! The monkeys, at least the ones at the Batu Caves, are used to tourists and would come right up to people looking for food. At the top of the caves, the show was amazing! The monkeys were everywhere, swinging on rails, pillaging through garbage or playfully chasing each other around the cave. I watched one of them pull at this woman’s long skirt looking for food while another had to be shooed off a woman’s bag! The adrenaline rush of just being that close to them was incredible, and I finally started to remember why it was I came to Malaysia in the first place. I started to feel a sense of contentment…

That moment was short-lived.

A Hindu woman prays to a shrine in the Batu Caves

After what might have been several hours at the top of the caves, I decided to climb back down and go home. As I approached the first set of steps, the steepest and most narrow of the bunch, I saw the monkeys had taken over the staircase, with at least six sitting on both sets of handrails (and one couple having sex on them). It was like looking at a group of bullies waiting to pick on the small kids as they walked home from school. The monkeys had mostly stayed away from me so far, and since I no longer had any food, I thought I’d be safe to walk down.


After just a few steps, one of the monkeys jumped right in front of me, looked me straight in the eyes and started hissing (or whatever it is monkeys do when they are ready to attack). It then ran straight at my legs!

I am telling you, I can’t remember the last time I felt that much terror. I immediately started running back up the steps (hoping to God I wouldn’t fall and break my neck) and this time, I really screamed! Though he chased me a little ways, the monkey left me alone, and I survived the “attack” with no physical harm done. Luckily, this nice English lady who was behind me held my hand on the way back down, because I was shaking so badly. It seemed like it took hours for my heart rate to go back to normal and to regain full motor functions, but the experience is one I will never forget.

Next time, I’m bringing a stick ;).



In the future, as I look back on these first couple weeks, I hope to see them as a period of intense character-building that have helped me to become a better person.

That’s code for these past two weeks have sucked.

I am happy to report that I am now mostly settled in to my new three-bedroom apartment, sitting on my soft, 500 thread-count new dusty rose-colored sheets in a room that is no longer cluttered with half unpacked suitcases.

But getting to this point has not been fun.

So after verbally committing to the over-priced, 600 square foot “luxury” studio condo with the see-through bathroom, I decided to give apartment-hunting one more go. Lucky for me, the day before I was supposed to check out of my hotel I finally found what I was looking for: a clean, fully-furnished unit in a decent location with room for guests – all for the same price as the “luxury” studio on the next street over.

After weeks of living out of a suitcase, I was quite excited to have finally found a place that didn’t make me want to instantly disinfect everything and was not going to make me feel guilty for spending so much, so I called the agent that night to ask him when I could move in. Unfortunately, the soonest I could move in was Saturday, three days after I was supposed to have checked out of my hotel and the day of UCSI’s graduation ceremony – a mandatory work day for us and one of my department’s busiest weeks of the year.

I talked with my agent and we agreed I would move in Saturday night after work. Somehow, between moving into my friends’ condo for a few days, meeting with the agent to sign paperwork and working late nearly every night to get ready for graduation, I managed to get through the week, constantly thinking “just wait for Saturday night, just wait for Saturday night…”

On Saturday afternoon, as I stood in crowded room full of students and their parents taking endless photos, feeling grouchy, sleep-deprived, and fantasizing about finally being able to sleep in my own bed that night, I get a text from my agent. He says he cannot reach my landlord and wants to reschedule the move-in for the next day.  Reluctantly, I agree (Iike I have a choice) and ask if we can at least do it in the morning so I can have most of Sunday to move in. Hours later, my agent responds saying my landlord says 1 p.m. – final answer. Again, I “agree,” mentally rearranging my weekend plans to adjust. Then, at 11 a.m. on Sunday, I get another text – my landlord has an “emergency” and can’t meet me until 9 p.m. that night… (side note, my landlord is a 25-year-old Malay children’s TV show star who is apparently rising in fame, according to his talent agent who is handling all of the housing stuff). Long story short – at 11 p.m. Sunday, the night before my third week of work, I finally move in with no time for cleaning, no time for laundry, no time for shopping, just enough time to cram in about six hours of sleep on the old, unwashed bedding left over from the previous tenants. Not exactly how I wanted to start my time here.

Despite the sleep deprivation and frustration (trust me, there was lots of it), I decided to roll with the punches. As I am quickly learning here, you have to be patient to get what you want (though patience has never been one of my stronger qualities). So I did an assessment of what needed to be done in my apartment and decided to do a little each day after work. As I soon discovered, there’s a lot to do.

Fortunately for me, the previous tenants left me a fully-furnished apartment complete with tons of extra household items – all sorts of extra household items. In addition to three beds, two couches, three wardrobes, a vanity, bookshelf, TV and a beautiful, six-chair wooden table, I have a toaster, microwave, blender, dishes and a thick, Middle Eastern “magic” carpet in my living room. I also inherited eight plants, seven pairs of men’s shoes, four Iranian magazines, a used toothbrush and a kitchen full of ants and cockroaches. Yeah…

So the battle this week has been getting rid of the stuff that I don’t want, cleaning the stuff that I do want, shopping for what I don’t have and organizing everything. Oh, and to add to the fun, one of my wisdom teeth decided to make a very painful appearance this week, causing me two trips to the dentist, including an extraction this morning.

But as I sit here now, after two full days of sleeping in and settling in, things have finally started going my way. The Ikea men came on time yesterday to assemble my new dresser, I hired a cleaning lady to take care of the kitchen, my luggage is unpacked and I have new, pink bedding that at least makes one aspect of my apartment feel like home now. Even my wisdom tooth extraction took less than a half hour, with no complications and relatively minimal pain. Hopefully things will continue to look up.

Now the next step is making the rest of the place feel like home – starting with the living room. One of the things I was looking forward to most about living on my own was being able to decorate how I wanted, but the big, burgundy, navy blue and beige Middle Eastern carpet on my floor that matches my beige couches perfectly is putting a damper on my artistic options. Aside from the fact that I hate beige, I am not a big fan of dark colors, especially when living in a tropical environment. Not to mention the fact that the former tenants thought it best to match the room with black and white floral curtains and bright neon orange throw pillows (no joke). But as the carpet is incredibly soft and probably expensive, I have now coined it my “magic” carpet and am determined to make it work to my liking. I have removed the orange pillows and am now looking for matching drapes. Hence starts week four…

Apartments and monkeys


For those of you who know me pretty well, you know that making decisions has never been my strong point. Just going to the mall and picking out a simple pair of shoes or a sweater can take hours, so you can imagine my difficulty in trying to find an apartment, especially when practically all of them require a one-year commitment.  To make matters worse, my two-week free stay at Hotel Caliber runs out in three days. The clock is ticking…

So basically my dreams of commuting to Cheras from KLCC every day were squashed the day I got to work when practically everyone told me I was crazy. Not only is KLCC exponentially more expensive to live in than Cheras, but the commute during rush hour could take hours, even though it could be as short as a 20-minute drive. So I have decided to stay in Cheras, but settling on where exactly to live in Cheras has been a whole other issue. The problem is finding a place I am comfortable in that is accessible to both work and shopping without a car, not an easy feat here. I did find a newly-opened “luxury” studio apartment complex that is within an acceptable distance from work. The only problem is, while this place is technically affordable, it is small. Don’t get me wrong, it is beautiful, very clean and would be very easy to maintain. But for the same price and even less (sometimes a lot less), I could get a multi-bedroom, fully furnished apartment elsewhere that is in a much more rundown condition. It’s not that I need a ton of space, but aside from saving money, it would be nice to have a kitchen table and extra space for when I have guests. (Sidenote: the “luxury” apartment has a very lovely bathroom that separates the bedroom from the main room – completely encased in glass walls…)

Technically, I have made a verbal commitment to rent the see-through, “luxury” condo, but one of my real estate agents said he has a cheaper, two-bedroom nearby to show me Tuesday. Plus, a new cab-driver friend I made said he is going to recommend me some condos within walking distance of work that would be even cheaper. Sigh, thank goodness I have friends to stay with after Wednesday… Hopefully by the end of this week I’ll have a home. Fingers crossed.

On a positive note, I am much more comfortable here. I have gotten over the initial feeling of “Oh my goodness, am I really going to be living here for two years?” to a growing excitement of all the cool things I want to do. Seriously, I am learning soooo much every day, I cannot even begin to write it all down right now. Everything from Malaysia’s religion(s) to its politics to its climate and living conditions is so vastly different than what  I have experienced before. This is definitely not an experience I would have gotten staying in the U.S. or western Europe.

For instance,Wednesday I saw my first wild monkeys ever. Let me tell you, it was SOOOO COOL!!! I was such a giddy, little girl, it was ridiculous. My boss was like, “I don’t think I have ever seen someone quite so excited about monkeys before…,” but to someone who has only seen monkeys in zoos, to see them within feet of you with no bars was incredible. There was a mom, her baby (so cute!) and two, what I presume, were males, eating garbage outside the homes surrounding the university where I work. Though no official contact was made (they have been known to snatch stuff from people), the few times they caught me staring at them was enough to make me run away a few times. Very, very cool just the same. 🙂

The other highlight of the week was eating possibly the most delicious Indian food I have ever had. My co-worker Joyce and I went out to check out an apartment in a trendy, expat suburb called Bangsar (though too far away and too expensive) and had dinner in this open, noisy restaurant with no menus and terrible service. However, the delicious chicken tandoori (with three types of curry) and garlic cheese naan that was brought out after finally convincing our server to take our order made the whole experience worth it. It was incredible! And that, plus two chocolate milks, cost less than $4. Amazing.

Work has also been going well. My official title is manager in the corporate affairs office for UCSI Group, which is largely made up of UCSI University. Though I am still not exactly sure what all my responsibilities are,  my job so far has been editing and writing speeches and articles for the university. So far everyone in my office has been really friendly and really helpful, especially when it came to housing recommendations, and we seem to get along well. Hopefully the good vibes will continue. Tomorrow starts week two!

And so the adventure begins…


Part of being out of your comfort zone is being uncomfortable, and part of my reason for coming to Malaysia was to get out of my comfort zone. Let’s just say mission accomplished.

I’m not going to lie, it has been a difficult week, and the culture shock of being in a developing, southeastern Asian country is unlike anything I have ever experienced before.

As much as I love traveling and new adventures, much of the past few days has been spent desperately clinging to anything and everything western, as I cautiously come out of my shell. There is a big difference between jumping into experience a new culture while on vacation and accepting the realization that you will be living in this very (VERY) different country for the next two years.

So soon after arriving in Malaysia, I learned that my office is actually not in the Kuala Lumpur city center (the downtown), but instead in Cheras, one of the city’s suburbs. In fact, UCSI thought it best to put me in Hotel Caliber for my first two weeks, which is in a dirty, all-Chinese district of the city where practically no one speaks English, at least not well. In fact, I am the ONLY non-Asian here, which has made things a bit lonely.

Luckily, I discovered the city center is a $4, 15-minute cab ride away, and vastly different than its surrounding areas. KLCC is actually quite modern. It is dominated by the Petronas Towers, two quite stunning twin towers that were the world’s largest between 1998 and 2004. Attached to it is the ridiculously huge, six-level Suria KLCC shopping mall, which not only has practically every popular American brand, but loads of high-end designer stores and my favorite European shops that I could never find in the U.S. (Zara, Mango, TopShop etc.). In front of that is KLCC Park which features a large, pool/fountain that comes to life in the evenings with a pretty impressive water show. The area also has practically any kind of food you could want ranging from every type of Asian cuisine and lots of American restaurants and fast food places. Interesting side note: as a mostly Muslim country, it is really difficult to find pork products around here. Instead, I have noticed restaurants offer chicken “bacon” and chicken “ham,” products that look like the pork equivalent, but in fact, are not. I find it very amusing :).

So on Day 2, I decided to sneak a peak at the UCSI University campus (my employer) to see if I would like to live in the area. While the university itself looks nice, my reaction to living nearby was a loud, hell no! The surrounding area is mostly residential but absolutely reeks of sewage and is full of open gaps in the sidewalk that reveal the dirty running water below. There are random piles of garbage everywhere, and I found myself holding my breath on a number of occasions. I quickly decided it was worth the money and the time to commute from KLCC.

So the last few days have been spent looking at apartments, and hopefully, I will be moved into one by the end of this week. I found a nice one today that is about a five-minute walk from the Petronas Towers that I like and tomorrow I will see a few more.

Me posing with the birds at KL Bird Park.

Though it has been a difficult week, I have been slowly but steadily pushing myself further out of my cocoon (and KLCC). Today I went on my first tourist excursion and visited the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park which is supposedly the largest, free-flight aviary in the world. Though I have never been much of a bird person, the park was pretty impressive. It is huge and full of  lush green vegetation, waterfalls and ponds. Nearly the whole thing is covered in a large net, which allows many of the birds to fly and trot around with the tourists. The more exotic species are in their own contained areas but are still pretty cool to see. Some of the highlights of my visit were listening to the hornbill birds bark at each other (I swear they sounded like dogs!) and watching the storks and flamingoes feed near the waterfall, some a little too close for comfort… Perhaps the coolest part of my trip was getting my photo taken with some of the birds. For RM8 (about $2.50), you pick two birds to perch on you while one of the park employees takes your picture. I was just a tad squeamish and thought the whole thing would be a quick photo and move on. But my photo lady had other plans. To my (slightly terrified) delight, she took like five photos and kept moving the birds around in different positions and insisted that I pet them. I must say, it was pretty cool and an experience I’m not sure I could have gotten in the U.S.

Tomorrow will be my first day at work, which I am looking forward to. It will be nice to get more settled in and start meeting new people. So for now, onwards and upwards!