When I first laid eyes on Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, I was mesmerised. It was almost dusk and the famous towers started to twinkle against the twilight. The adjectives that I learned from my English class in High School resurfaced in a blink and were redefined. The sight before me was iconic, magnificent, stunning and surreal.
Unlike others who visit Malaysia on a package tour, on a leisure or business trip, on a short vacation with family, or on a sweet escape with friends; or usually as a part of their Southeast Asian backpacking adventure, I arrived in 2010 from my home country, The Philippines, without a purpose but to work. Unexpectedly, Malaysia changed me gradually. Living and working in Penang for 3 years paved the way for me to learn more beyond my country and outside my comfort zone. My days in Malaysia stretched my appreciation of simple to lavish things, mundane to more relevant, and those things called priceless that money can’t buy.
(1) The importance of embracing diversities.
Being considered as cultural-melting pot in Southeast Asia where Malays, Indians and Chinese thrive under one country, my senses were exposed to multiple diversities from people, religious beliefs, traditions, and food. It was where I first saw women wearing sarees and baju kurung and men proudly wearing baju melayu even on an ordinary day. It made me realize that wearing your culture as your second skin goes beyond wearing of traditional attire on a special occasion. It proved that Malaysians have high respect to their traditions. They value their culture as much as they celebrate frequent holidays in a year.
Diversities are also evident in religion. It is a country where I observed exercise of religious freedom. Malaysia taught me that Muslim’s mosques, Hindu’s shrines, Taoists’ temples and Christian’s churches can stand side by side in one street and co-exist harmoniously and in peace. It reminded me that faith originates from love and respect.
Malaysian cuisine is a reflection too of their identity. From Nasi Lemak that may be synonymous to Malaysia and Malaysians being their staple food, to Chicken satay, Chicken tandoori that’s best eaten with garlic cheese Naan or chapati, Char Koay Teow, Beef rendang, various laksa and kuihs, to famous cendol, my taste buds were challenged to discriminate the least pleasant but it failed. Everything was tasteful, savoury, flavorful. While I learned to appreciate food, culture, people outside my country, my love for my own became more meaningful.
(2) Malaysians are thoughtful, kind and caring people.
Living in a foreign country, despite with so many similarities to your own, can impose a lot of challenges. Inevitable problems may arise here and there. In my darkest hours, and in my most trying times, there were two Malaysian families who expressed concern deeply. My landlord and his family who owns the apartment that we rented for 2 years, and my son’s school administrators who were more than friendly and whom I consider as a family. It’s always a joy to remember that people from other race, from other country, from other religion, from other culture, extended help unconditionally. They showed me the meaning of generosity and how it feels great to be grateful forever.
(3) Malaysia can fuel your passion to travel.
Travel is cheap, affordable and accessible in Malaysia. With its proximity to neighbouring Asian countries, one can easily cross borders on foot. Geographically, its northern border is the southern tip of Thailand, and Malaysia’s south is Singapore. Needless to say, Malaysia is a favourite backpackers and tourists’ destination. Even how locals spend their weekend and holidays taught me the importance of having work-life-balance. There are so many places within Malaysia that one could explore and enjoy. From pristine beaches, heritage sites, clan houses, museums, street arts, river cruise, themed parks, restaurants, hole-in-the-wall-cafes, even public markets and hawker stalls are a sight to behold. Malaysia stimulated my passion to travel and to discover culture, people and human interest.
I left Malaysia but Malaysia hasn’t left me. It’s not easy to forget and let go all the good and bad memories from a country that embraced me as her own. Living in Butterworth, Penang and working as a medical lecturer for 3 years provided countless opportunities to grow. The rewards I received were more than financial stability and social-networking fame. In a short span of 3 years, I had the chance to learn from Malaysia and Malaysians. Those life-lessons became part of my being. I became more open-minded about life and the world we live in. In retrospect, while I was teaching in Malaysia, conducting lectures to aspiring doctors, the country was teaching me how to live life, to understand the people around me, and perceive our beautiful world as it is.
The blogger, DocGelo with his son Gabby. DocGelo left Malaysia in 2013 and now based in Dubai, UAE.
Incidentally, Malaysia is one of the countries featured in my second soon-to-be-published travel photobook called, People.Places.Memories. Travel stories and photos from Malaysia, Thailand, UAE and Turkey are highlighted on more than 200-glossy-pages. Please stay tuned for its release.