An expat waxes lyrical about his adopted land.
Expatriates, or expats, as we’re commonly known, are a strange bunch. Some have left their countries of origin running away from something: a failed marriage or relationship, a business gone bust, a bad job, serious substance abuse, or even worse, running from the long arm of the law.
I’m extremely fortunate. When I landed in Malaysia a few years ago, I hadn’t run away from anything. In fact, for me, I ran towards something: a lifelong dream of becoming a teacher, and doing so in Asia.
While no one told me to my face, I’m sure many family members and friends back in the United States probably thought I was crazy to literally leave everyone and everything I had ever loved to set out on this new adventure in the Far East.
However, from the moment I stepped foot on this land of enchantment called Malaysia, a few things struck me, and have stayed embedded in my mind ever since. The insane amount of tangled highways going every which way possible, the amount of construction everywhere (which continues to mushroom), and more importantly, the very human and humane way in which all Malaysian people have treated this particular expat from day one. Everyone has treated me with enough warmth and caring concern to wash away any trepidation I might have had about moving 16,000km away from home.
My kampung in the United States is Louisville, Kentucky, a nice, relatively quiet city of about a million people, best known worldwide as the home of KFC, where all the streets lead somewhere, development is ongoing at a minimal rate and folks are friendly in a Midwestern/Southern American kind of way.
Imagine my wonder, moving from the fully developed country that is America, to a developing country like Malaysia, where everything, and I do mean everything, is in a constant state of flux. It’s where you’re liable to spot a new road or a new high-rise virtually appear before your very eyes almost overnight.
Kuala Lumpur, this megalopolis of millions, which for me and everyone who lives within its reaches, is a maze of roads and highways, seemingly going both everywhere, and nowhere all at once.
It’s where edifices of astronomical proportions spring up from where none existed before, or even replacing a previous structure that was itself astronomical.
Kuala Lumpur is the very type of place that, for some, causes headaches and heartaches, but for me is like a wildly coloured batik shirt: beautiful in its own funky way and cool in its make-up. Just by experiencing KL on a daily basis, this never- ending weave of roads, gigantic, everlasting construction zone, gives me energy, amplifies my imagination and allows me to believe I can be anything I want to be and accomplish anything I want.
The city’s magnetic pulse is incredible; its pulse has become mine, one that I feel deep inside me every day, one that keeps me going on all days, especially those occasional times when I need a bit of extra motivation. It’s something that’s hard for me to explain, how a city that is so alive, that is ever changing, can energise me like no other place on earth ever has.
Sure, the roads have no rhyme or reason, and that suits me just fine, because that just makes life more interesting. It’s been one of the many ways in which I’ve been able to discover neighbourhoods and treasures I never knew existed.
I will let someone else write, talk and worry about the problems this city, just like in any other country naturally experiences, goes through while enduring growing pains. For me, my focus has always been, and will always be, on what makes Kuala Lumpur one of the great cities of the world. Malaysia is truly a magnificent place to be, and its people have been my greatest energising force!
It has been written that the melting pot that is the United States is the greatest social experiment in human history. If that is the case, then Malaysia is the second greatest experiment. Malaysia is like a blender, where people of all races, nationalities and religions are mixed together.
While America is a multi-racial society, where assimilation is the norm, not the exception, Malaysia is a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society.
Here is where traditions and ideas are kept, and ultimately built upon, and where those differences are celebrated to the fullest. It’s where no matter your race, creed, colour or dress, you can be accepted and you can succeed.
Historically in United States, as generations meld into society, their original culture is largely forgotten, with the exception of an occasional parade or street festival to remind everyone of all that was lost.
In Malaysia, it’s just the opposite – everyone not only celebrates their culture, they live it and share it! Not in an “in-your-face” kind of way, but in a mellow, “I am proud of where I came from and where I am today” kind of way.
The people of Malaysia are what make this place so great, so amazing. In a place with such unique diversity, a nation strives to find its purpose, strengths and even map out its promising future. The blend of peoples and their cultures are 100% unique to Malaysia.
Whether it’s celebrating Hari Raya in Kedah, Chinese New Year in Johor, Deepavali in Brickfields, or Christmas in KL, there is nowhere else on earth where one can celebrate such things, all in one place.
Whether it’s the puzzle of Malaysia’s streets and highways, the cornucopia of its ever-changing man-made horizons, or the warm hearted smiles from the people who inhabit the country, the positive energy that makes up this great country is a gift to all.