16 March 2016

Malaysia - a retrospective

Every time we leave a posting I try to make a list of the things I will miss and the things I really can’t wait to leave behind.  My list for Kazakhstan is here and when I look back it turns out to have been spot on.

We have been away from Malaysia for about three months now and while we are waiting for dependent visas on the new posting (a few weeks now I am told) I thought it would be a good time to reflect on life in our previous posting. 

Here are a few of the things I will miss:
  • The child-friendliness: Malaysia is an extremely friendly country.  People here love children and love having them with them.  There are very few ‘child free’ events.  It is not unusual for babies to be entertained or even fed by waiting staff in a restaurant  while we eat our meals.  All children here get cooed over but Mini EE with her blonde hair and horrendously pale skin (Malaysians are intrigued by pale skin) gets a lot of extra attention.  It is not just friendliness to children – people bend over backwards to try to help when needed (for example when we burst a tyre on the motorway) and it is very common to be invited to celebrate other people’s key religious events at an ‘open house’. 
  • The ease of day to day life:  Of course there are cultural differences, there are differences between life in European countries that are just next door to each other but Malaysia is an easy country for day to day life.  All the amenities of life in Europe are here, the supermarkets are well stocked, the roads are well maintained, the infrastructure works (probably better than the UK), it is easy to get your car maintained so culture aside my day to day life is not really any different to life in the UK or the Netherlands. 
  • Drive Through Coffee:  This makes my (horrendous) afternoon school run somewhat more bearable.  In Venezuela we had drive through Pizza Huts but here in Malaysia we have drive through Starbucks and you get a discount for using your own car mug! 
  • Dim Sum:  Who doesn’t like these little tastes of perfection.  My personal favourite are Xiao Long Bao – Shanghainese soup and pork dumplings.  Our local restaurant serves some of the best around. 
  • Our Miri house and our Ipoh neighbourhood:  Our house in Miri was one of the very best we have ever had.  It was a perfect match for us and we loved living there.  The neighbourhood was, however, not ideal for walking the dogs.  In Ipoh we have the opposite situation, the house is not really ideal and the living areas are open plan and cramped with never quite enough space to put stuff away.  The local area is, however, absolutely wonderful.  Beautifully maintained and teeming with wildlife.  If we could have had our Miri house in this location it would have been a match made in heaven.
Our Ipoh neighbourhood - one of the most beautiful
places we have ever lived
  • The tailor and fabric shop:  I can get the most beautiful array of fabric here and the tailors will make it up for me.  I can ask for a pattern or they will copy a dress I already have.  They even scale things down as we had a number of copies of Mr EEs favourite casual shirt made and smaller versions for Master EE (not to be worn simultaneously I might add).
  • Car Park Machines:  I can see that this might puzzle people but I have never yet come across a car park where the ticket machines do not work.  They accept a full range of notes and some coins and the notes can be inserted into the machine any way around and it does not matter if they are a little creased.  Anyone who has had to try to buy a parking ticket from a Network Southeast Railway Station or an NCP carpark in the UK will sympathise with my admiration of this simple efficiency.
  • Dreams fulfilled:  Malaysia has some amazing locations, some of which such as Mulu and Niah Caves or the town of Melaka Mr EE and I had wanted to see for many, many years.  Our time in Malaysia gave us the privilege to explore these sites at our leisure.
Gunung Mulu National Park
  • Pantai Bungai: this beach in Borneo is a piece of paradise on Earth.  I hope when my time comes to travel through the tunnel of light that I will step out somewhere like this beach to see all my dogs running towards me in welcome, the family members who pre-deceased me walking slowly behind with smiles on their faces.
Paradise does exist
  • Massage and foot rubs:  I have some particularly nasty problems with my back which means that my muscles are in a constant state of tension, I have not been able to relax them fully in about 13 years. I find that having a massage every now and then helps to ease the pain a little and gives me a greater degree of movement.  I also happen to really love foot rubs so the large number of reflexology shops with their chairs and footstools all in a row are an affordable and regular luxury. 

Things I will not miss
  • The ease of day to day life:  Now I sound like a hypocrite but as well as being one of the key benefits of life in Malaysia it is also something that drives me that little bit wild.  We became expats to have an adventure and to see something more of life.  While it is nice that life is easy it has become that little bit dull and lacking in challenge.
  • The urban landscape:  With a few notable exceptions the urban landscape of Malaysia is fairly dull.  Many towns (and suburbs of towns) look exactly the same and this gets rather depressing.
The urban landscape is not inspiring
  • The rain:  The timings of rain showers seem to be rather more erratic than their equivalents in Nigeria which you could set your clock by.  Here you are never quite sure when it will rain, it could be any time of the day and the showers last a long time.
A light shower
  • The profusion of shop assistants:  Malaysia has a fantastic service culture and people are only too pleased to help you.  This can go too far, however.  Go into any shop or department store other than a supermarket and pick something up to look at it and an assistant will materialise out of thin air partly to offer assistance and partly to make sure that you don’t take anything.  It all gets a little claustrophobic to be honest with people taking things off you to put behind the desk for when you are ready to pay.  It makes it quite hard to see how things work together and you have to be quite firm about holding on to your purchases if you want to do that.
  • Children’s Shoes:  I have a bee in my bonnet about the problems of finding proper shoes for children here.  It is almost impossible which is bizarre as just about everything else you could ever hope to need is here to buy.
  • Never mind:  This is a popular Malaysian phrase, used as an equivalent to ‘don’t worry’ (which also winds me up).  It doesn’t quite serve the same purpose, however.  When we moved in to Ipoh the landlord had failed to deliver on a promise of a proper oven and we spent quite a few days haggling about it.  Being told ‘never mind’ really made me want to say ‘but I do mind, a very great deal’ in rather more trenchant terms than I just wrote.  Of course I didn’t but oh how I wanted to.  I did get an oven of sorts in the end but it is another thing I really won’t miss.
  • Parking:  Malaysians are incredibly selfish when it comes to parking.  People here seem to be obsessed with walking the shortest distance possible and so spaces close to the shops/cinema/restaurant are at a premium.  People think nothing of double parking, parking in the road, parking in the sightlines of turns etc.  We always park that little bit further away.  Not only is it easier but it lessens the risk of returning to your car and finding someone has blocked you in.
People park everywhere - getting through can be a nightmare
  • Driving: Malaysian roads are a pleasure to drive on, beautifully maintained and well managed.  The standards of driving, however, are dire.  People speed, tailgate, drive annoyingly, passively, slowly, undertake, cut in, pull out on hills when their engines can’t handle the acceleration and generally make extremely poor choices. 
  • Haze: the haze during our time in Malaysia was some of the worst on record.  It made life miserable for some time and our town was not even that badly affected.
A day of light haze, at times we could not see even the trees
  • Pavements:  Pavements here are high, very high and quite difficult to lift a pushchair up on to.  They are also poorly maintained, often narrow and have many breaks for side roads.  The covered 5 footway of the shophouses should be an easy place to walk but they are usually crowded with shop displays and goods for sale.  Walking anywhere in town is near to impossible if you are on your own with a pushchair.
  • In shop displays:  For some unknown reason shops seem to delight in setting up extra little display shelves at the end of most of the aisles (chemists are particularly bad for this).  They are always positioned in just such a way to make it impossible to actually get into the aisle you need.
  • The Ringgit’s value:  The Ringgit has tumbled in value in the 18 months since we arrived and we have noticed a concomitant rise in costs of living.  It has also meant that many of the trips we were hoping to make, to Indonesia, to Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, were not possible.  This combined with only a small number of holiday days has meant that, other than a few trips to Brunei or business trips for Mr EE we have not left Malaysia in the 18 months since we arrived.  We are long overdue a good holiday!
  • Our house in Ipoh: the area might be lovely but the house is awful.  Before I sound like a spoiled expat I do acknowledge that we lived in one of the best areas in Ipoh in a house that many would dream to own.  It was, however, very poorly maintained with leaks in the roof, mould in the bathrooms and a host of other problems that meant we were paying a high amount for low quality. The kitchen was almost designed to minimise shelf space (all the time giving the illusion of masses of storage), the hob had only one working ring and the oven was dire.  Our bedroom had vinyl wall paper!  I have lived in some truly dire expat pads but this is approaching one of the worst.  
  • Poor quality meat:  The meat in Malaysia is absolutely dire.  It is often very fatty and poor quality.  When we do find decent meat it is sold in small packets and is very expensive indeed.

I asked the rest of the family what they thought.  Mr EE broadly agreed with my analysis.  Master EE said he would miss the scenery and exploring the wild.  Miss EE said she would miss learning Chinese and exploring temples.  They both said they would not miss the rain, the mosquitoes and the long flight back to the UK.

We would not have missed the chance to meet this little chap for all the world
So a fairly even split between positives and negatives!  Malaysia has not been a bad posting, it is a pretty easy place to live but I think we might have come to it too early in life.  At the current stage of our lives and given the age of our children we have been craving something that little bit more interesting and adventurous.  I think Malaysia as a destination would suit us far more in about 15-20 years’ time.  We will, however, certainly bear it in mind as a possible holiday destination to see some of the places we have not managed to get to.

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