Well it has been a whirlwind six months. Since moving to Kuala Lumpur in mid-February I’ve been able to travel to 8 countries I had previously never visited, explore new cultures, and befriend some truly inspiring people from varied backgrounds. However, my time in Kuala Lumpur has come to an end and it’s on to Mumbai for the next chapter. But before I move on, I wanted to take a few minutes to reflect and capture some of my experiences in daily living that I haven’t previously written about.
For the first three months of living in KL I was based out of a small, studio-sized, hotel room. The place was nice and convenient to my office, but after three months of living there it really began to wear on me. Being there provided a daily reminder that my situation wasn’t permanent and I didn’t have a home base. My initial assignment to KL was supposed to be for three months, and for such a short time frame it was something I could deal with. But as I got extended for another three months, I needed a change. Luckily, one of my colleagues had recently been reassigned to a project in Mexico City and his fully furnished apartment in KL with a remaining lease was left vacant. As soon as I found out about the availability I had my stuff packed the next day and moved into a very nice 2 bedroom apartment, centrally located within the city. I can say the new accommodations took away the feeling of impermanence that had been bothering me and made my experience within KL that much better.
People have asked me what it’s like living in KL, and my response has typically been, easy. KL is a well developed city that can provide you with pretty much anything you may want. While it’s a Muslim country, it is not a place that forces non-Muslims to adhere to their way of living. If there’s a certain type of cuisine you want, you can find it. It may not taste quite like what you’re missing from home (i.e. barbecue, burgers, etc.) but it will provide you with a close enough experience. Then there is the nightlife. Situated just a short walk from my place was a popular area called Changkat Bukit Bintang. This street had many bars, dance clubs, and restaurants that were visited by both expats and locals alike. Throughout the course of a week I may have enjoyed cocktails at Pisco’s, drinks and dancing at Havana’s, dinner at Jalan Alor or Pincho’s, and throwing darts at Mango’s.
Meeting people from varied backgrounds proved quite easy and made my time in KL that much more enjoyable. And sometimes those new acquaintances would create for some memorable experiences. One evening I went with my buddy Damien to a going away party for one of his Dutch friend’s that was moving to Sydney. While I had not yet met this friend, I was warmly welcomed to the party and met several other expats from Holland, England, Australia, and several other countries. While at this party, I started talking to a British expat that had just moved there to KL when another English girl approached us with a unique question. She asked us how much would it take for us to go “the full monty.” Being a bit taken off guard, I spent some time hemming and hawing and then asked her about the context for this question. She explained that she was just making a quick stop by the party to say goodbye to the departing Dutch girl, but couldn’t stay as she had to get back to an ongoing and very active hen party (bachelorette party). As a somewhat natural progression, she thought it would be great fun to have a surprise in the form of two men, for her bachelorette friends upstairs. After some back and forth, she asked us if we would be willing to at least pretend to be strippers and play a bit of a prank on the bride-to-be. Deciding this would be one for the memory books, we both agreed.
We followed her upstairs and she told us to wait outside the apartment door for five minutes before knocking. While she was inside, we worked on our back stories, deciding that we would pose as upset neighbors and when we gave the signal our confidant would put on the music and we would put on a little show. However, after being inside for only about a minute, she came back outside laughing, saying that the women inside knew something was up and we should come in promptly. Not ten seconds after she is back inside we can hear from the room, “You got strippers didn’t you?!” We decide now is our time, and knock on the door. My hand was barely coming back from the door when it swung wide open and a room full of women ranging from mid 20’s to late 50’s were inside. I opened my mouth and started to say, “We’re your next door neighbors and you ladies…..” I couldn’t get the words out when two women at the door grab us and exclaim, “you got strippers!” Before I know it, my shirt is being pulled over my head and a group is forming around us, all while the bride-to-be has now made a beeline to the balcony. We made it about halfway through the song when we dropped the act. I will say, my hats off to the men that actually do that for a living because while I’m outgoing, that was a little much. It was a pleasant enough group of women so we stayed to have a drink, share in a laugh about the whole thing, and then take a picture with the group. Afterwards, we wished them the best and made our way back to the party.
I share that story just to say that I had some very memorable experiences in KL that I could not have possible imagined before throwing myself into this adventure. During my six month stay, I lived out of two and a half suitcases of clothes and that was it. And while I moved into furnished places, the realization that I could live off of so little was a pleasant surprise.
While in KL I was fortunate to have my Aunt Justine visit for a brief time, which was entirely unforeseen at the outset but a real blessing. Both my Aunt and Uncle are FedEx pilots and at the time I was over in KL, it just so happened that her company needed some domestic pilots to temporarily fly some of the SE Asia routes. After hearing about my experience in KL, and my cousin Kim’s experience in Seoul, my Aunt decided to go for the SE Asia route. To make it even more fortuitous, of the four primary cities that she would be flying in and out of, one was Kuala Lumpur and the other was Seoul, allowing her to easily spend time with both me and my cousin, Kim.
It was great to have such a close family member come to visit so I could show her a glimpse into my life in KL. I took her to some of the more unique Kuala Lumpur spots and she seemed to really enjoy it. My Aunt and Uncle were the first people to expose me to International travel and I’ve been hooked ever since. Last year I took a trip to Spain to go to a close friend’s wedding and during that trip I realized that it had been over five years since I had traveled internationally. My enjoyment of international travel, coupled with my lack of doing it on a regular basis, was a big part of why I decided I would pursue this international opportunity. I’m incredibly fortunate things have turned out this way, and it’s all due to the unpredictability of life and the wonder it holds as long as you’re open to it. I can candidly say that prior to this course of events there were some disappointments both personally and professionally, and they left me wondering what was in store for me. Whether it’s from a broken heart, a lost career opportunity, or one of the many other challenges that greet us on a daily basis, sometimes things just have a way of working out for the better, and in my case it was working and travelling internationally. It’s funny how life has its way of making its own plans despite your best efforts otherwise.
In leaving KL, it’s the people I will miss the most. I made friends with a great group of people both at work and outside of it. Some of the local Malaysian guys that I worked with are some of the kindest, most generous, and friendliest people I’ve ever met. I made a point to have regular lunches with just the local guys to build a relationship with them and learned to embrace their culture and cuisine. We started regular badminton matches after work at a court that was on the top floor of our building. I’m a fairly athletic guy but wow, these guys know their badminton. Out of the probably 30 games I played with these guys I believe I only won around 4 matches, but can at least say I was beginning to pick up on their strategy and technique they so expertly employed.
While in KL I had an opportunity to attend a local co-worker/friend’s wedding, and was surprised and honored at the level of respect shown her colleagues that attended the wedding. I ended up sitting at a table with some of my coworkers and it was located in the very first row, actually located in front of the grooms’ family. At a traditional Malay wedding, the first day includes the marriage ceremony and is only for close family members. Then, the day after they’ll host a large celebratory dinner for the bride’s family and friends and this is what I attended. The celebration starts by a formal entrance of the bride and groom. In this case, my colleague Rini was getting married to a Captain in the Malaysian army so they were led in by a bagpipe procession and then walked in under crossed swords. After the procession the couple, along with their wedding party, walk up to the stage at the front of the room and are presented to the gathered guests.
After the pictures had been taken, the guests are then called up one at a time to give a blessing to the couple. Our project director was the first person called up to bless the new couple and I would follow shortly thereafter. I was again blown away by the level of honor bestowed upon her colleagues.
The rest of the afternoon consisted of eating traditional Malay food, talking, and picture taking. Afterwards, a few of my local friends offered to tour me around the city, specifically an area called Putrajaya which is home to the Malaysian government. The area only became home to the government within the last 20 years and the newness of everything was quite obvious. Many of the buildings and infrastructure had a futuristic almost space-age like vibe.
Azwan and the rest of my local friends proved to be great tour guides as they led me throughout Putrajaya. As we made our way between the labyrinth of government office buildings we stopped by the Prime Minister’s complex which is essentially his office. And is absolutely enormous. While taking in the enormity of the structure, I told my friends how much bigger it was then the White House, which completely surprised them.
It was trips like this that helped make my time in Kuala Lumpur so special, and that all hinged on the warmth of my local colleagues.
The styling of this post is obviously quite different than the previous ones, which have captured my experiences on a trip in a sequential manner. In this case, I wanted to highlight just a few of the many memorable experiences that I had while living and working in Kuala Lumpur. But as I say goodbye in one place, I say hello to my new home in Mumbai.
I arrived here in Mumbai over a week ago and as mentioned in other posts, Mumbai is entirely unlike any place I’ve lived before. It is certainly not as polished and a lot more hectic, but the place has its own charm and spirit. I’m planning to post another entry this weekend that captures a bit of my day-to-day experience while in Mumbai. I appreciate all that the Malaysia experience offered, but I must keep looking towards the future and starting my new life here. Cheers.