Home away from home

By : NewsDesk
Date Posted : Saturday 31-Aug-2013

A decade or so ago, I was dining with a (rather affluent) Malaysian couple a day before Merdeka Day. The young man suggested to his girlfriend that they did their part for their country by attending the Merdeka Day parade.

His girlfriend yelled irately at him, “Why should I do my part for Malaysia? What has Malaysia done for me?”

Since then, I have always remembered this statement every Merdeka Day - the couple are no longer together but that’s beside the point.

The vibe I get from many (no, thankfully not all) Malaysians in this day and time with regards to their patriotism to their country is not far off from what the said girlfriend was expressing (albeit not so heatedly).

Particularly in the social media, the general sentiment I get is many of us do not appreciate Malaysia and are indifferent to how far our country has progressed since 56 years ago when Tun Abdul Rahman raised his hand to proclaim Malaysia’s independence. The ones who are not indifferent are a dissatisfied or disgruntled lot.

I, for one, have no idea how patriotic I am but every Merdeka Eve, at the stroke of midnight when our National Anthem plays, I cannot help but feel a surge of relief living in a country without war and debilitating poverty. I am grateful to be living in a Malaysian state in which different communities co-exist together in easy harmony, and religious as well as racial tolerance and acceptance are second to none. I have a decent job and life - whether my status quo will improve depends entirely up to me. Yes, we have problems in our country but we do have a (stable) government continuously striving to improve our infrastructure, education and standard of living. Admittedly, on an everyday basis, I do take all these things for granted.

Recently, however, I have been meeting a slew of foreigners who wax lyrical about Malaysia, and evidently love Malaysia (perhaps more than some Malaysians do). Some of them have made or would wholeheartedly like to make Malaysia their home.

I am not trying to be didactic or instil patriotism, but maybe through their perception, we are able to appreciate what we take for granted and how our country can be really, rather fabulous.

Kim Mi Kyeong

Kim Mi Kyeong, affectionately known as ‘Mama Kim’, is a Korean ‘veteran’ expatriate who has been living in Kuching since 1993. She is the owner of a popular Korean restaurant in Kuching called ‘Koreana’ (one that has stood the test of time) and a permanent fixture on the golf course. She is well-liked by the local community for her gregarious nature and irresistible charm and regarded by many (despite being unmistakably Korean) as “one of us”.

When Mama Kim first moved to Malaysia, she had quite a bit of a culture shock. Her husband had been working in Sarawak since 1983 and she decided to move here to be with him after they got married and had their two sons.

Kim said, “I was scared when I first came here. I did not know a word of English. We lived in Sibu at first and I was appalled by the stray dogs and cats wandering around the streets, which we did not see in Korea. I was not used to the hot weather and humidity too. I also had problems with customer service in shops. Back then, the economy in Korea was booming and we had impeccable customer service in all the stores. Our complaints were dealt with swiftly but over here, then, we were often ignored.”

“In the early 1990’s there were not many Koreans here in Sarawak, so I mingled mainly with the locals. I learned English from them too - my friends did not hesitate to correct me if I made any mistakes. Now, when a Malaysian speaks to me in English, I understand 80 percent of it but when an English person speaks to me, I would probably only understand 30 percent,” she laughed.

Now that my family and I have been here for 20 years, we feel that life in Malaysia is the best. It is relaxed and stress-free, unlike Korea, and the people here are the best in the world. They are so laid back and friendly. In Kuching, I notice people seldom honk on the roads, even when other cars are too slow, too fast or in the wrong. Having run a restaurant for so many years, I have not come across complaints. In Korea, people complain a lot in restaurants.”

“The weather here is perfect, especially for golf. There is no winter so the grass is green all whole year through. The cost of living is reasonable and yet, the standard of living here is high. When it comes to business, people here are generally more trustworthy and rational. My two sons received top quality international school education at Lodge School, Kuching. The local cuisine is delicious. My younger son, Byung Gyeon, is now serving National Service in Korea. When he comes back, he would only want to eat local food and hang out with his local friends. My elder son, Byung Yong, loves Malaysia so much, he is pursuing his tertiary education in Kuala Lumpur.”

“Now I regard Malaysia as my home and Korea as my second home. Who knows, after I retire I might apply for residence under the Malaysia My Second Home programme. Where the good customer service in Korea is concerned, when I go back now I find it all a bit fake,” she laughed. “I think I have changed; my thinking has changed since being here.”

“This is how much my family loves Malaysia: when Byung Yung left to Korea for National Service, he said to us ‘I hope this is all a dream. When I wake up from my dream, I will be back in Malaysia.”

The Ryder Family

I had the pleasure of meeting an English family, Mick, Moira and Charlene Ryder, recently.

I was very amused by how Charlene, Mick and Moira’s 11-year-old daughter, who looked like a quintessential English girl (almost straight out of a Dickens novel) spoke in a heavy Malaysian accent, with a liberal smattering of the Malaysian jargon.

The Ryder family has lived in Kuching since January 2013. Mick and Moira got married 18 years ago and spent 15 years travelling together. They had moved to Spain from England before moving to Kuching so Charlene grew up with Spanish as her mother tongue.

Mick Ryder is no stranger to Malaysian soil. He had served in the British Army during the Confrontation and was posted all around Malaya, including Sarawak.

The Ryder family is currently residing in Kuching under the Malaysia My 2nd Home (MM2H) Programme.

Moira said, “When we were living in Spain, we were very drawn to the Far East. We used to travel to Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia for three months every year. Last year, we decided it would be nice to actually live here for good so we chose Kuching.”

“Indonesia was out of the question as it’s more chaotic than Malaysia and we constantly had to be careful and watch over our shoulders.”

Mick added, “Initially I wanted to move to the east coast of Peninsula Malaysia. I like the beautiful beaches there where I have witnessed the turtles laying eggs. However, we could not find any international schools for Charlene there.”

“Kuching was ideal as it has the laidback lifestyle we were looking for and it is a good place to bring children up. I am aware of the exclusivity with regards to foreigners residing in Sarawak (as opposed to other parts of Malaysia) but I am guessing my service in Sarawak when I was in the British Army was taken into consideration.”

Moira said, “Mick suggested Kuching and we went to Google the city - he vaguely recalled it from his army days. We liked what we read and immediately applied for MM2H. We came across Adrian Ho of Extreme Events (MM2H) online and approached him for help. The paper work was done swiftly. Our medical examinations were done, everything else was organised by them and here we are.”

“Under the MM2H programme, foreigners are not allowed to work in Sarawak but are allowed to in West Malaysia. But who wants to work?” Moira laughed.

Mick said, “What we like most here is the warm climate.”

“No more shivering!” Charlene quipped loudly.

“The people here are so friendly. We have not encountered any communication problems here yet. Even when we enter a shop and the attendant does not know how to speak English, he or she will make the effort to find someone who can to help us,” Mick said.

“In the evenings, Moira and I will sit outside our studio apartment in a gated community and our neighbours would walk past and greet us. Charlene would cycle around and socialise with her friends in the neighbourhood. The only ones who don’t speak to us or greet us are an English couple, maybe because we are Northerners and they are Southerners.”

“We also love the local cuisine. In England, we may get Chinese food and Indian food but it is cooked to suit the Western palate. Over here, all the foods are authentic.”

When Charlene is at school, Moira would spend the afternoon exercising. Most of the time the couple would play pool - they have a pool table at home. They are very pleased with the quality of education Charlene receives at Lodge International School - her friends at school, according to her, are Malaysians and Singaporeans. Mick who suffered from health problems in the past goes for regular medical check-ups at Normah Medical Specialist Centre, Kuching and proclaims that the medical facilities and services are excellent.

Mick said, “Malaysia is paradise to us. I was telling Moira, if anything happens to me, look for a cemetery for me to be buried here.”

Malinda Perera

Malinda Perera has been in Malaysia for 2 ½ years. He is a really nice guy and he is super happening! You would want to be his friend. It is apparent he works hard and plays hard. After having completed his degree in Computer Science & Software Engineering at Swinburne University of Technology, Sarawak, Malinda is not ready to leave the country that has (according to him) ‘stolen his heart’.

He has been hired by an IT company in KL and will be working in the capital in the near future.

Malinda said, “The first time I came to Malaysia was in February 2011. I came to Malaysia to start my Bachelor’s Degree at Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus here in Kuching. The day I landed in Malaysia is so memorable, even though nothing special happened. As soon as I landed, I knew that the best time of my life was going to be spent in this land and I was so excited. I still remember the first day was a public holiday so I did not get a chance to explore much around me. But the next day, I witnessed how diverse this city was. There are different races from all over the State of Sarawak and Malaysia plus so many foreign students from almost every continent. The impression I got was “I am in a right place to be”.

“During the first few days, the one thing I noticed was the people. When they get to know you, they will be the friendliest people on earth. I made friends from all over Malaysia and from all over the world. It was a blessing to be here since I had a chance to study in a multi-cultured university. Every moment in Malaysia has been a good experience.”