Wherever they are or how long they have been away, home is close to Malaysians’ hearts. This Merdeka, they reflect on what Malaysia means to them. Read their stories on Star2.com.
By LOU JOON YEE in BAVARIA, GERMANY
Having lived away from Malaysia for 10 years, I sometimes feel neither here nor there. My then-new spouse took a job in Switzerland and I went along. Eight years after that, we semi-retired in Bavaria, Germany.
We, or I alone, visit Malaysia about once a year for about three to four weeks each time to catch up with family and friends. Of course, Malaysian food beckons as much as the country’s natural beauty spots.
After years of observation, I believe there is such a thing as a national character. Why else do most Malaysians who meet abroad get along so easily? We are in general open to people from all cultures because we are from a multicultural society. Our best feature is the Malaysian hospitality. Foreigners wonder at and are amused by how we greet each other in Bahasa Malaysia or Chinese dialects with the question: Have you eaten? Malaysians are always ready to share their food and drink, no matter how rich or poor we are.
When a neighbour here throws a casual garden party, he asked my spouse to bring his own beer. At a bonfire picnic near Rome many years ago, we ended up half starved because our host couldn’t make bruschetta fast enough. I’m not saying all Germans and Italians behave like that but I’ve never experienced anything similar with Malaysians.
We are a food obsessed nation. If you look at Malaysians’ Facebook postings, it’s often about food, be it cooking, baking or eating out.
In Germany, whatever I wanted to eat I had to make it myself. So, I have had to experiment with making my favourite Malaysian food. In Switzerland, a British-Punjabi friend ran lunchtime classes and invited me to teach in a few. It’s a way of sharing our culture and cuisine in a hands-on way. That was also how I learned to cook Russian, Thai, Indian and Korean food.
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Now in Bavaria, I teach simple Asian cooking in my halting German at our local community college. This brings me to my second point – language. While I am happy to inherit the legacy of the English language from our British colonials, I am also proud to have done all my schooling in Bahasa Malaysia. To my regret, I did not pick up Mandarin as I grew up speaking Cantonese and English.
Now that I have been learning German out of necessity and curiosity, it makes me want to continue using Bahasa Malaysia and perhaps even learn some Chinese. A few weeks ago, I wrote all my Facebook updates in Bahasa Malaysia and broken German for 24 hours as a small protest against the dominance of the English language worldwide.
It was liberating and fun; some friends enjoyed responding in Bahasa Malaysia and in German, too. It reminded me of how Malaysian I am and how glad I am to be able to write in other languages apart from English.
Being neither here nor there, I have one foot in the West and half my heart back in Malaysia.
People ask me if I miss home. While I believe home is where I set up house and garden, you can take me out of Malaysia but Malaysia will always remain in me. Happy Merdeka Day, everyone!
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