My Home Away From Home-Column

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Source: The Expat magazine January 2011, article by Marybeth Ramey
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I could hear men softly giggling, the snatches of eagerness and anticipation in the voices and the rustling of unfamiliar sounds going on while I worked in my office with the door open. My little home away from home or as Andy calls it, my office, is the first one down the hallway next to our foyer and reception area where it is usually pretty quiet. I realised it was also the lunch hour which in our company seems to be  from noon to 2.30pm, so I hope the Boss isn’t reading this.

Because of my innate Nosy-Parker-ness, I started to focus on what might be going on; intrigued as I recognised several of our staff’s voices but no “outsider” ones. Whatever could they be doing? And why so HAPPY? Was there a McDonald’s or Pizza Hut delivery out there?

I clenched everything muscular and tissue-wise in my rapidly aging body and slowly lumbered out to take a look. It took a moment for the tableau in front of me to focus in but once it did, it struck me as so poignant I was actually moved to tears.

We have almost a dozen expats now working for us; quite a change for me as when I joined TEG in 2000 there was just Andy and myself. We also have several ethnic Indian Malaysians; our Chinese Malaysians are the majority and we also have eight Malay Malaysians. The Malays of course are Muslim and it was all eight of them out in the foyer I saw each with genuine excitement and with great relish putting up our large Christmas Tree and the trimmings. They had a tape of “Western” Christmas songs playing while they untangled silver tinsel, dozens of strands of coloured lights and separated carefully wrapped ornaments collected over the past 15 years we had been putting our tree up in all its majestic glory.

For some reason, this hit me very hard and I began to be tempted to ask one of them where were the Christians? But I didn’t have to ask, as several of them started to return from their siestas, I mean lunch, and seeing the almost finished tree brought cheers of “well dones!” from them. Ooohhing and aaahing and hugging and laughing ensued merrily for the next hour or so. To see our Bob, our Despatch man, who is a physically massive human being, being “selected” to put the angel on top of the tree and his glowing face acquiescing was almost too heart wrenching for me.

Let me mention here that I had just received a photo “drop” from my very thoughtful son-in-law, Matthew, which consisted of dozens of pictures of my son, the rather infamous Naim now an unbelievable 24 years old and the subject of dozens of my columns in The Expat over the past 11 years; my beautiful, wonderful daughter Rebecca (the Normal Child) five years his senior and definitely the Parent in our family including for me and her father, and most impactful to me, of my only grandchild, Raya-Rosine who just happened at that point in time to look almost exactly like me. She had resembled her father’s side up until this series of photos with some of her Mom’s Lebanese genesis gracing her features. Seeing myself so vividly reflected in another generation was unexpectedly jarring especially since neither of my own children had never really looked like me at all but like their father with his dark brown eyes, hair and striking Middle Eastern features.

California was on the other side of the world as was my entire family so the homesickness pangs were cruelly deeper than usual, particularly as I noted Raya’s other grandmom in many of the pictures, even, gasp, Raya sitting on her lap. Hmmm. I admit it. I am a formidably possessive person. I’d been having a difficult time softening that particular image trying to instead concentrate on the positives of having such a lovely woman nurturing and loving my grandchild.


No one will argue with me when I say that living and working in Malaysia, even in the cosmopolitan world class city of KL is very different indeed from living and working in the USA or other western countries. There are nationalistic idiosyncrasies belonging to Malaysians that are sometimes hugely annoying to Westerners and there are cultural differences that I still have not gotten used to like the shrill high pitched volume of speech to the recipient mere inches away.

Things like being in the grocery store, (my own special place of hell) in which people are packed like sardines almost unable to move because not just the one parent goes food shopping but the entire family (and these are large families), the extended family and even some of the extended family’s neighbour’s children.

It seems that it is at times when I am almost touching the proverbial bottom that something happens here that reminds me why I remain in Malaysia and especially with The Expat Group and why our turnover is so unusually low. We are a family here simply put. We accept each other as we are with all our ingrained differences and all our unique traditions and with genuine appreciation and love for each other. I see our company actually as a microcosm of Malaysia itself. Take away the public politicking and you’ll find people of all persuasions living peacefully together and that is, to me, something really quite extraordinary.

Happy 15th Anniversary to all my dear family of colleagues!




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