“Honey…” says Rachelle.
“Yes?” I ask.
“We’re expats!” she says.
Here, on Jalan Hang Lekiu, East Ledang, Iskandar Puteri, Johor, Malaysia, our neighbors are from Australia, the U.K., the U.S., Spain, South Korea, Singapore, and, of course, Malaysia. And those are just the people we’ve met. In East Ledang (think Stepford without the robot wives), most of the residents are not Malaysian natives. They are from all over, on various job assignments, some more permanent than others. There is a moving sale every week, always someone new arriving and someone else getting re-assigned, or just going back home. Many have kids that spend most or all of their lives here, so when they go back home, it is like being an expatriate in one’s own land. Nearly everyone has an “if reassigned by the company” clause in their lease.
It is a gated community, one of many in this area. Security guards are stationed at the guardhouse and roam about on motor scooters and bicycles, keeping away exactly whom I’m not certain. Bad people, I presume. In Singapore, which we can see from tall buildings here, most people think of our neck of the woods as a sort of wild-west outpost, where robberies and petty theft are rampant. Paying the exorbitant costs of living in clean, and mostly crime-free Singapore is well worth it. But I have yet to meet any of these criminals roaming the streets of Johor Bahru. In fact, compared to San Francisco, there seems to be almost no crime. The other day, someone on our community Facebook page notified everyone that her TV had been stolen. But that was the very definition of the exception proving the rule. Hand-wringing and consternation ensued but, as a group administrator pointed out in the comment section, after removing the post, “I would say that if anyone has a break in your first and only point of call should be the police and not posting it on the Facebook group. Posting such incidents on here can damage the reputation of East Ledang and sometimes in an unfair or misleading way.” In other words, don’t give us any bad news!
I’ve never lived in a gated community before, and, although I am in a small minority of Americans here, our relative wealth affords us privileges not enjoyed by the majority of locals. It is a sort of weird reverse discrimination, in a way. But it is also a microcosm of the world. The “haves”, living in comparative luxury, the “have-nots” confined to relative poverty, outside the gates. As Rachelle walks from her yoga class, alone at night, I don’t think I would want to sacrifice the security of our fences and roaming security guards. But I also don’t feel comfortable living in a world separated by fences and sentries.
Speaking of walls, the United States doesn’t come up that often in conversation. In the Bay Area, California, Trump, the Wall and getting Mexico to pay for it, “Making America Great Again”, health care and such seemed to be brought up in some way or another daily. Whenever U.S. politics does arise here, a look of sympathy toward any U.S. citizen involved envelops the conversation. Those from Australia and the U.K., join in on heated debates about all things Trump but mostly the whittling away of Obama’s presidential orders and installation of Trumps “drain the swamp” collection of anti-secretaries of this or that governmental department is of little concern here. And, frankly, no one really gives a damn about Trump’s opinion of Muslims.
Day-to-day, there are other worries–including a big stray cat problem here. United Kingdom citizen, Bev Vale, and a truly-amazingly-organized band of self-funded volunteers do the best they can to at least catch, spay or neuter, then release, if not find homes, for the seemingly endless parade of feline wanderers. We adopted “Little Bear” and “Shiva”, whose mother was poisoned by who knows who or why.
More pressing to us right now, are the day-to-day concerns of setting up our house, getting desks for the office, a car, our shipment from the States (still somewhere in the Pacific Ocean), and so on. We have had amazing help here. Jackie Wong Rigby comes to mind. Born and raised in Singapore, of Chinese parents, she met Barry, who is the VP of Sales in Rachelle’s company at a Hash House Harrier (“Hasher”) event. Fiercely independent, talking a mile-a-minute and never taking any shit, Jackie has driven us shopping a few times, helped us find a house, furniture, a car, and generally guided much of our acclimation here. Without her, we might still be in a Singapore Airbnb, wondering how and what to do next. She has been of invaluable assistance.
Also, and no less so, meeting and becoming friends with Ian Nenke has been wonderful. Ian is starting a “Yabbie” import business in Singapore. Yabbies are Australian Crayfish and Ian, whose family owns a Yabbie farm in Western Australia, is introducing the species to fine dining establishments in Singapore, including Odette, Chef’s Table and Salt Grille. More about those restaurants later, as Ian has graciously invited me to participate as a co-host in podcasts with the chefs there. In December, we will start publishing the podcasts, which were fun to do and it was very interesting to meet and talk to the chefs and hear their stories. He has also given Rachelle and me rides into Singapore and the local grocery store and mall, AEON, to get fortifications for Base Camp Rachelle/Todd. I am also writing an article chronicling Ian’s story, which ranges from growing up on the farm to reality TV to his newly-launched Singapore import business. But, more important than these transactional details, it is so great to make a friend.
People here are wonderful. Neighbors give each other rides, talk to each other on evening strolls with their dogs, and communicate much more than we experienced back in the U.S. The neighborhood uses Facebook and WhatsApp to communicate any needs, ask for recommendations and issue heads-up notices about traffic or new store openings. That’s how we met Sharina Ali, who is opening a new cafe nearby, Bakers Garden, a local bakery/lunch place that has some delicious gluten-free options. Sharina is another cat rescue volunteer associated with Bev Vale and has saved dozens of cats and kittens, as well a courageously starting her own business.
Walking to her store one day, it started pouring rain. It is monsoon season here and downpours break out regularly, and quickly. A local truck driver noticed the caucasian caught in the deluge and pulled over to give me a ride. He didn’t ask where I was going, just offered me a ride to wherever I was headed.
These are the kinds of things happening here. It seems whenever we get in a jam, someone shows up to rescue us. Or just offers assistance or advice when needed. We feel indebted. Some crazy bad shit has happened but it is more than outweighed by the outpourings of generosity and support. We are strangers in a strange land but when we smile and give the “Angmo Wave”, everyone smiles and waves back at the expats.
This Month’s Video
Our boxes of stuff have not yet arrived. We have made do with shopping at AEON Mall and Mydin Market and a mish-mash of other local stores. We also splurged and bought a box of Bulletproof Coffee supplies. Our delivery of Bulletproof supplies from America felt like a big dose of normal and we are enjoying the coffee, protein bars and sugar-free chocolate. Dave Asprey, inventor and owner of Bulletproof Coffee, has done meticulous research and experimentation and created products that optimize brain and gut health and taste sooooo good.
Eating healthy, organic, gluten-free and “clean” has been a challenge. Also, throw in that I am currently not drinking alcohol (as of February 15, 2016) and am a Type 1 diabetic and the vast amount of carbs, gluten and sugar present in this part of the world are daunting and somewhat dismaying. Circumnavigating a menu in the U.S. is difficult enough but perusing one written in Malay or Chinese is an order of magnitude more complex, even with the translations. More than once, I have come home after eating out to test my blood sugar and found a glucose reading of 300+ due to an inaccurate carb count of my dinner choices.
In the next blog post, I will discuss the ins and outs of navigating around Asia, shopping in grocery stores, understanding menus and some bits about learning Type 1 diabetes survival tips here. Also, what it is like to be a “none of the above” in a Muslim country.
In case you are wondering what I want for Christmas (or any other upcoming Holiday), I want you to support Pachamama Alliance. You can do so on my fundraising page. Pachamama Alliance is a community of “pro-activists”, of which I am proud to call myself a member. I will be scheduling “Awaken the Dreamer” Symposiums here in Iskandar Puteri, Malaysia, as well as “Drawdown” events, talking about how we can actually reverse global warming, rather than just slow it down or stop it. Despite the barrage of gloom and apocalyptic posts on social media, there are some amazing things happening with leaving our planet in better shape for future generations. I hope you’ll join me in finding out how. And please do support Pachamama Alliance with their efforts in the Amazon Rainforest and elsewhere.
Non-trivial trivia: Did you know that the Amazon Rainforest is larger than the contiguous United States?
Upcoming Posts – Religion, Living in an Islamic Country | Eating Healthy Food in Asia | Rachelle’s Hellish Trip to China | Not Drinking as an Expat
Malaysian Banking Application