Five Things You Learn As a Malaysian Living Abroad.

I like to consider myself a veteran at this stage, as I’m now approaching my 5th year of living abroad, having spent the duration of my undergraduate degree in New Zealand and then moved to the UK to pursue a Masters degree. I consider myself lucky as I’ve never had to worry about financial stability (Thanks, mum!), so it is safe to say that I’ve been able to enjoy my experiences quite substantially and to the fullest.

For some strange reason, part of me feels like my Malaysian heritage plays a large part in the experiences I’ve encountered being abroad. These experiences may sometimes differ greatly from that of those who are on their big OE (Overseas Exchange), but there are also some things that are easily transferable and relatable to everyone.

1. Nothing will taste as good.

I’m Malaysian. It shouldn’t be surprising for food to be at the top of my list. Being from a country with many different types of cuisine, ranging from your humble mamaks and dai chau places, to the epitome of haute cuisineoh we Malaysians do love our food. If you’ve had the luxury of sampling the wide array of delicacies we have on a regular basis, boy, will you be in for a shock. Having to fend for yourself makes you appreciate how complex the flavours are in Malaysia cuisine and how much work actually goes into making that bowl of curry laksa, especially if you’re into making things from scratch like I am! You can find Roti Canai frozen, but that’s never the same as having a piping hot, fluffy piece of roti sitting in front of you while the sweet, spicy scent of dhal hits your senses … I need to stop talking about this before I start drooling.

If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to find some pretty decent restaurants that could satisfy your cravings, but if you live in York like I do, then no dice hombre. One thing to expect is that you’ll cling to a bottle of Sriracha that you find at the specialty Asian grocery store for dear life because nothing will ever be spicy enough for you. No restaurant here will stock chili sauce or sambal, which is as we all know, a classic staple of Malaysian diets. Expect to be sorely disappointed by the level of spice in Thai restaurants and ALWAYS request for it to be bumped up to a HOT if you’re the sort of person who can’t live without a bit of spice in their life.

2. You will always convert currency in your head. Don’t.

But don’t be stupid about it either and blow all your cash on a massive nights out either. I can see the draw of £1 shots on a night out, but please. Be smart about it.

Moving to a new country will always make your pocket (or your parents’, whatevs) a little bit lighter than it was when you first walked through those arrival gates. What with having to spend on necessities like, oh, I don’t know … the usual stuff like food, rent,  kitchen appliances, bedding and all other necessities to get you through 3 years of university. A little trick I’ve learned, however, is to always check to see if there’s a dollar or a pound store in your area. Those places are absolutely godsends. You can stock up on essentials like toilet paper, washing liquid, detergent, forks, plates, knives, you name it, they will most likely have it.

Although your conversion habit will never completely disappear, you do eventually get to a point where a £3 (RM16) meal is considerably cheap. But, being Malaysian, my kiamsiap (which means stingy, for all you foreign friends) side does tend to pop up every now and again. I simply could not justify the NZD150 it would have cost me to hurl myself off Queenstown’s Kawarau Bridge, 47 meters into what seemed like impending doom. Of course, I eventually did hurl myself off a 43 meter drop, but at a much more reasonable price of NZD90 at Rotorua’s Agroventures. The most important lesson out of this is that you should always, ALWAYS do your research!

3. Stock up on whatever you need that you can’t get overseas and stuff that into your suitcase.

I always took the opportunity to stock my suitcase full of things from home whenever I had the chance, so I would never have to worry about not having it while abroad. Little things like packets of Milo or Maggi Mee can curb cravings you might have as they do tend to get quite pricey overseas, while other things like household items from Daiso or Ikea will be the best investment you’ve ever made. Because dude, you’ll never understand how much you appreciate Daiso and Ikea until you no longer have a Daiso or an Ikea.

On my last trip back home, I packed a Magic Mop with me along with an abundance of spices, snacks and new clothes. Why a Magic Mop? Do you have any idea how rancid student vacuum cleaners are? Come on. They smell strange and no one ever cleans them, so why not bring your own little Magic Mop to the party and clean your floors with it? Unless you’ve got carpet flooring. Then, I’m very sorry, but this does not apply to you. I also bought those little clip things you can get from Ikea that you use to keep your opened packets of chips sealed so it doesn’t taste like someone pumped the bag full of air. GODSENDS, I TELL YOU. I say clothes as well because it is definitely a lot more cheaper and ironically enough, UNIQLO winter wear definitely fits in that category. If you’re as financially savvy as my mother is, saving RM20 – RM 30 is better than nothing. However, bear in mind that over-packing your luggage is a very expensive affair, so certain things should just be left until you reach your destination.

4. Expect to educate your fellow peers on your country.

Disclaimer: This is based off my own personal experiences and in no way, makes claims that EVERYONE is like this. I have had confirmation from others that this has happened to them too, but it might not have occurred with everyone.

The following are certain questions that I get asked frequently along with my usual, standard answers:

Where are you from?

Where the hell is that?
Below Thailand and above Singapore.

Huh, that’s weird. I’ve never heard of it before.
We have one of the tallest buildings in the world. The Petronas Twin Towers. You heard of it?

No, I haven’t. By the way, how did you get so good at English??!!11!!11
Uh… it’s my first language.

Oh, but do people in Malaysia even speak English???
Uh… Yes.

Oh right. You’re very good at it.
*internally face palms*

Okay, this may not be the same for everyone, but I’ve had way too many encounters with this type of situation to the point where it’s actually become quite routine and occasionally, quite amusing. I’ve had more than one person ask me about my ethnicity as well, with most of them asking if I’m Malay as I attempt to calmly explain to them that, yes, I am ethnically Chinese but I would much rather prefer being called Malaysian instead of just Malay or Chinese Malaysian.

It’s quite funny how the topic of race matters less to you when you’re living away from Malaysia and how you’d much rather be identified by your nationality instead of the color of your skin.

Another interesting thing that pops up every now and again, is the topic of Manglish, our much loved local creole that has cemented its place as an integral part of our Malaysian culture and identity. Once your friends have heard your true accent/slang, there’s no going back. Everyone will want to be in on that party. Be prepared for an onslaught of rather hilarious attempts at inserting lah in the right places. They’ll get the syntax of it right, but it still won’t sound the way it should.

5. At the end of the day, Malaysia will always be home.

No matter where you go, a small part of you will always remember that your homeland is in fact, your home.  A plate of nasi lemak will never fail to make you feel the soft, warm fuzzies. You will always have something to complain about the blardi govmen, the haze and the rising cost of petrol. When you meet with fellow Malaysians overseas, you will slip back into your natural speech and forget that you’re even in another country.

Part of you will always be in love with where you came from, even when you know that there’s still much to be done to make your homeland great in the eyes of the world.

Your blood will always run Malaysian, and you will never forget it.


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