This post was written by Dominique Montiel
When I found myself having to depart from the place that had nurtured me for all of my swift 17 years of life, there was such a profound feeling of apprehension buried in my gut that for a while I was convinced there was no way I would be able to go through with the move. I was so accustomed to knowing the same people and going to the same places that I struggled with the concept of having to redesign that routine, especially doing so in the world’s opposite end. Nevertheless, I found some comfort in researching Malaysian cultures and the ancient traditions, mainly because it subtly reminded me of my native Nicaraguan ways. And so when it came the time for the long trek to Southeast Asia, I felt slightly more prepared, but still scared out of my wits.
I will never forget coming out of the airport here and being submerged in the dense and humid Malaysian air. It transported me back to walking down the sultry hot Nicaraguan boulevards, waving at the charming street vendors I passed while attempting to successfully dodge the fast-driving locals. After marching past the crowds at the airport and finding that the majority of people resembled true Nicas in appearance, I found myself taking a deep breath and smiling. I somehow felt in my own element and I was already loving it. It is still magically baffling for me to observe native Malaysians walk past me and have an exact mirror image of them in my hometown, eating nacatamales instead of nasi kandar and wearing braided hair instead of tudungs.
However, when the airport taxi approached KL, I began to feel I was in an alternate universe. Intricately designed skyscrapers and buildings resembling masterpieces were most surely not my comfort zone. I come from a place where the tallest building around is about 15 floors, and people live in guarded gated communities with a spacious house, so learning that the bulk of people in Malaysia lived in 20-storey apartment buildings with a shared pool was something utterly alien to me. That change I didn’t hesitate to warmly welcome; the infrastructure in the city was, for lack of a better word, beautiful. It was like breath of fresh air, not of comfort and familiarity, but of adventure and eagerness to explore the exotic.
I can still recall the first time I witnessed the soaring Petronas Towers from up close; I marvelled for what felt like years. Although I’d seen grand structures before, I simply could not grasp the magnitude of their height and every time I looked at them, I thought to myself, “There are great things in the world waiting for me.” I still do. For the first few weeks here, I wandered the streets near KLCC and most of the times ended up getting lost, mostly because my head couldn’t get around the fact that there’s a 7-Eleven on every street, so it can’t be used as a reference. However, I revelled in those 10 minutes of uncertainty because I got to actually see – and i mean really see –Malaysia. The cars speeding by, the people chattering about near me and exchanging pleasurable smiles, What I thought would be the most arduous task to accomplish, adapting, turned out to be rather effortless. It’s not as to say that Malaysian culture and the nation itself isn’t purely distant from everything an expat like me could be accustomed to, but the heart of the subject is that the challenge here is actually not falling in love with Malaysia and couldn’t get around the fact that there’s a 7-Eleven on every street, so it can’t be used as a reference. However, I revelled in those 10 minutes of uncertainty because I got to actually see – and i mean really see –Malaysia. The cars speeding by, the people chattering about near me and exchanging pleasurable smiles, the occasional stray cat wrapping itself around my ankles, and the Muslim chant from the nearby mosque announcing the time for prayer. These were all things novel to me, but in a paradoxical way, they made me feel at home.
On the second week of being here, if I recall correctly, my family and I decided to take a hike to discover a nearby waterfall. After a harsh but rewarding excursion in a dense green world, with gigantic trees that resembled those in Central American jungles, we wound up at a grand cascade that exuded sheer beauty. The forest was composed of a range of plants nearly identical to those in Nicaragua; the environment and ambience was the same, and it brought me back to my days at my coffee farm. The animals we encountered, however… that’s a whole separate tale.
Where I’m from, we’re used to dealing with minuscule insects – small, but annoying – that live off of your food. Here I found that a favourite in bugs’ diets is human blood! Whilst travelling down the muddy hiking pathway, we encountered not only mosquitos, but numerous leeches that stuck to our pants and legs. My first instinct when I saw these was to shriek uncontrollably and try to wiggle my limb off, but after a while, I just got used to plucking them off… and spraying on repellent when out in nature!
What I thought would be the most arduous task to accomplish, adapting, turned out to be rather effortless. It’s not as to say that Malaysian culture and the nation itself isn’t purely distant from everything an expat like me could be accustomed to, but the heart of the subject is that the challenge here is actually not falling in love with Malaysia and all its peculiar but homey aspects. For me, it was matter of relinquishing my aversion to the undiscovered and embracing what Malaysia had to offer me: a parallel world with both the busy cosmopolitan city feel and the peaceful nature-filled one.
Source: The Expat August 2013
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