SOME OF THE MOST STUNNING HOMES IN MALAYSIA ARE OWNED AND OCCUPIED BY EXPATS SEEKING TO CREATE AN OASIS FOR THEMSELVES IN THEIR NEW COUNTRY. HERE, SARAH REES TAKES US ON A TOUR OF ONE OF THESE BEAUTIFUL HABITATS.
As April Guess invites us into her home, she does so with a rueful smile. “We are about to move back to the UK,” she explains, holding the large wooden door wide, “but I wish we were staying here!” It is easy to see why leaving is a painful prospect – this three-storey family home hidden in a small gated community in Mont Kiara is the epitome of cosy, family living. The white walls and large windows have provided a blank canvas on which the artistic April has splashed all manner of treasures that remind the Guess family of their nomadic and multi-cultural life.
We cannot proceed, however, without remarking on the view. “As soon as people arrive they want to rush over to the balcony,” admits April, smiling out from the long balcony. A wall of jungle sits just across a river far below, and the hum of insect life is the only sound to be heard despite this enclave being just a short distance from the highway. “Every day Robin and I sit on the balcony with a cup of tea and just watch,” she says. “You see all sort of birds, and even monkeys in the evening!”
Husband Robin is a Brit who arrived in April’s homeland of Myanmar 24 years ago to whisk her away to a life of travelling, and she look backs at the past quarter century and laughs delightedly at how life has developed. “I didn’t like travelling at all back then,” she admitted, “but now I just love it! I am always looking forward to the next trip!” Every trip involves returning with booty for their home, although a prominent theme is Burmese art and culture, which appears in the paintings, the furniture, and the silverware that April collects whenever she is visiting her home country.
The silver collection, however, has a far more personal importance than one would assume. “When I was younger we had this beautiful silver ceremonial dish that we had to sell,” she recalls sadly. “In Myanmar, it is common to put your initials on the bottom of things like that, so whenever I find a new piece that looks like it I always take a look, just in case!” She hasn’t yet found that special dish, but she has acquired a splendid array of silver items along the way, some of the most beautiful of which are betel boxes.
These ornate boxes would traditionally be laid out for guests and visitors to enable them to create their own chewy treat. “No one uses them anymore,” she admits. Indeed, her own entertaining style is somewhat different, and while the middle floor of the house has a dry kitchen and seating area for drinks and snacks, the lower level boasts a grand, long dining table where April serves up her meals – “I cook everything! Italian, Burmese, Indian, Chinese; I have also tried to learn some Malaysian dishes while we have been here.” The view from the table is one of the private plunge pool – each of the 30 houses on the estate has one – although April admits the family are more likely to be found curled up with books, of which there are many, covering diverse topics and languages and bearing testament to the multi-cultural roots of this family.
April has always been keen to introduce her twin daughters (they are now 15) to aspects of her Burmese culture, buying them Burmese puppets and having a traditional ear piercing ceremony performed – “a musician played the Burmese harp during the ceremony,” she remembers fondly, showing me the harp that she has on a cabinet. Its not just the Burmese connection that attracts both April and Robin to their furnishings; they share a great admiration for fine craftsmanship, and they have amassed many exquisite pieces during their time in South East Asia. “Robin collects these beautiful silk pashminas from India,” says April. “We both love handmade things. The detail is just amazing, and the effort that has gone in to making these things is wonderful.” One of her most interesting pieces is a set of tea cups from Japan that have an image of the original owner painted on the bottom so lightly, it only becomes visible when the cup is aloft to the light. “Aren’t these extraordinary?” she asks delightedly. “I just love collecting things, but I have to stop as we run out of space!”
And yet the house is wonderfully spacious, with five bedrooms (all en-suite) set over three levels and complete with a long balcony, a pool, and a little side garden that April tends to. “I trained to be a botanist,” she explains, “so I love doing a little bit of gardening!” They are lucky, perhaps, that the house proved to be so suited to them, as they bought the plot before the structure had even been built. “We just saw the view and fell in love with it,” she recalls. “We weren’t sure whether we were going to rent it out or live in it, but it turned out to be our home and we adore it.”
There is no doubt that she will be sad to leave. The family may have only lived in the house three years out of their 12-year affair with Malaysia, but Malaysia has become their home. “This is the first place we lived as a family of four, so my heart is always here. But we are not really leaving,” she concludes, with a laugh, “we will be back for every holiday!”
Source: The Expat February 2013
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