From the UK to Malaysia: My Asian Town Throwdown

Published 2013-01-24 10:40:51

asian town throwdown turtleHi!
I’m Glenn, 20 years old and a student from a University in the UK. Currently I am living and working In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, having flown out here in July 2012 not knowing what the hell the next 12 months was going to entail!  I’ve got work as a trainee in a construction company out here along with a few other classmates and I started blogging really just to document my travels, experience and trials and tribulations during my time in Asia.

1. Why did you move abroad?

Well, my reasons might me different from a lot of people on this site as I know my time spent abroad is for a finite amount of time.

My course offers a “sandwich year” between Years 2 and 3 of my study where the idea is to go out, get a job and work for 12 months, gaining valuable experience along the way. The UK construction industry is in pieces at the moment recruiting wise due to the recession, making jobs very hard to get. I applied through my university to a scheme that they run in KL, spent about 40 hours perfecting my application and much to my shock I was accepted.

The way I see it the opportunity to work and live abroad, benefiting from different cultures and practices is invaluable. As soon as I had the opportunity I took it and I couldn’t be happier that I did.

2. How do you make a living?
I work for a large Developer/ Construction company in Kuala Lumpur. The 6 day/ 54 hour weeks tend to drain my energy right down, but I’m learning an awful lot and meeting some great people. Being a trainee Engineer I’m at the bottom of the ladder so everywhere I turn there’s something to learn.

If you want to get technical me and my colleague undertake the surveying and setting out for the Architectural lines of the blocks on site. We were entirely new to the process aside from limited practice at the University so the whole experience is a learning curve.

In total there are 7 other students living with myself from my university living out here and working for the same company. There are also many more based in KL and other areas in Malaysia such as the Cameron Highlands and Penang.

3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
A year may seem a long time, but it really is rushing past and I’ve just recently passed my half way mark. I don’t feel a huge urge to keep in constant, day to day contact with family at home as i like to think of myself as fairly independent. Saying that it’s great to hear from the family members which I usually email a few times a week, and perhaps Skype once a fortnight. My friends I chat to via the normal social networking methods, Facebook being the big one.

4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in Kuala Lumpur?
Hah! That’s a difficult question but I’ll try and narrow it down.

It’s just incredible; tasty, cheap and everywhere! Food is a big part of Malaysian culture and we take every opportunity to abandon our work and chow down.

The travel options are also a great attraction to this country. Malaysia really is a beautiful place and offers a lot of fantastic travel destinations. A company trip to the 120 million year old Belum Rainforest, where we power boated over lakes with the tops of submerged forests scraping the bottom of the hull beneath us was an eye opening experience. The beautiful Pehentian Islands, Langkawi, and the yet unreached destinations of Penang, Melacca, Pangkor islands etc offer a lot.

Not only that, but as a westerner travelling to other local countries really is very affordable. I can’t praise Air Asia enough for enabling us to get cheap flights all around South East Asia which we usually descend on in a big Ex-Pat group and really enjoy. Being students we tend to party pretty hard but we’re able to cut a balance between the social side whilst experiencing enough of the culture and history of the destination to make it worthwhile.

I’m travelling to India in 9 days which I never in my wildest dreams believed I’d be hitting this year, and all for a return flight of £80! My parents are quite concerned with the money I’m spending but I’m trying to reassure them…..

5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in Kuala Lumpur?
I must be painting quite a pretty picture of Malaysia by this point and I do love it, but it’s a flawed country like every other and there are things to do with my life here which drive me up the wall!

No singular thing, but I’ll shortlist some:

  • The traffic in KL is god awful! it can often take me 3+ hours to get back from work in the evening. If you’re thinking about moving here I would seriously consider this as a big negative. 
  • You will generally get charged higher prices out here if you're a white man or women and people will frequently stare.
  • The air quality is quite poor, especially in the summer months. Being Asthmatic this was an issue for me in moving out but frankly it’s not so bad. Again if you’re thinking about moving here permanently I would seriously consider this as a major issue. A dry run might be a good way of testing the waters.
  • Worst Taxi drivers in the world

But I still love it! No matter where you are there are going to be gripes, so don’t take toooo much notice of me and my little annoyances.

6. What do you miss most?
Hmm, I’ll be honest this one I found quite difficult. Actually I’m writing this and I still have no idea what I’m going to say. I obviously miss my family a lot, and of course my friends but I’m kept so busy at work that I scarcely have any time to reflect on it. If I’m not working I’m at the company sports club, dance practice, nights out, eating out or planning / going on holiday. Life’s pretty full on at the moment and the opportunity to sit down, do little and think about your situation or people at home is rare to say the least.

Sometimes I remember I live in KL and I’m completely taken aback by how surreal it is, and then life just cracks on as usual.

Oh, and bacon.

7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
My company has bought heart and soul into the idea of a corporate focus that encompasses your entire life. Effectively you're meant to work and socialize pretty much solely with your colleagues. To initiate this they run a lot of team building events, weekly sports events, dialogues, meetings, company trips and holiday celebrations etc. For example I've already mentioned i was taken on a trip to the beautiful Belum rainforest, but national holidays like Deepavali for the Hindu Religion or Hari Riya for the Muslims are all celebrated with large amounts of food, music and entertainment largely supplied by the staff for the staff.

I got my own taste of this when i joined all the new recruits this New Year and learned a choreographed routine over the period of 6 weeks and then  performed it in front of the entire company staff of 300 + people. The dance routine? The Gangnam style of course.

Events like this help you meet new faces in a less pressured atmosphere, allowing you to form friendships outside your ex-pat community. For example a bunch of staff, myself and a few other interns are going on a paintballing session in the jungle this weekend which should be a right laugh.

8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
Interesting question, and not an easy one to answer. Malaysia has a pretty Westernized culture, largely due to the British colonization of the country up until the 50's it has absorbed many of the values and practices of the UK. However there are still a lot of unique elements to this country and not all are to the tourists or Ex-Pats joy.

Squatting Toilets.
I'll never understand them nor see why people willingly choose to use them over there seated counterparts. The most hilarious thing as a westerner are the signs that adorn must public toilets for traditional seated toilets with a series of diagrams depicting how to sit on said toilet. The child in me finds the fact that large enough portions of the county try to squat on a toilet seat due to sheer confusion to warrant many series of instructional signs hilarious.

9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
I'll freely admit to being an ignorant Englishman before my arrival in the country in that my existing knowledge of Malaysia was limited to say the least. I had no prior opinion or expectations of the country and i came here with a blank sheet and open mind. For my friends however the fact i now live in a Muslim country has led to a few questions about the strictness of the society and how it has affected my life. I wouldn't say there's a negative stance towards Islam in the UK but ignorance can breed distrust so i imagine for a lot of people without prior experience this might be a point of worry.

The fact is as stated previously Malaysia really is very westernized. If you treat the local population with respect you will get on just fine. I haven't had to adjust my values, beliefs or really anything i do to integrate just fine here.

10. Is the cost of living higher or lower than the last country you lived in and how has that made a difference in your life?
Much, much lower.

An average meal costs a quid (excuse the colloquialism but this keyboard doesn't have a British pound sign), this is astonishingly cheap and has resulted in me not cooking a single meal in the last 6 months. I literally eat out everyday at least 3 times, it's fantastic.

My rent is partly paid for by my company but once again comes in at an extremely low amount compared to the UK. Renting my current property which i have been spoilt rotten with by receiving a brand new 12th floor apartment with pool, gym etc courtesy of my company costs me 1/8th of the price of the UK. In contrast for 8X the price my Victorian Terrace house has none of these things, unless you count a moldy bathroom window.

11. What advice would you give other expats?
Well, I'm in a bit of a unique position, so I'll say this: In my very limited experience you're either the kind of person who can take the pressures of living away from home, constantly being surrounded by languages you don't understand, new people, new climate and utter confusion at times....... or you can't.

I have a fairly varied supply of friends at home and a lot simply aren't interested in traveling, whilst others definitely are and some are obsessed with it. If you want to become an Expat, you probably will and it's as simple as that. If you have the desire to move, assuming your family ties aren't to great or they can move with you then go for it.

It's an incredibly opportunity, my mind has been broadened to no end and i am loosing some of my personal prejudices bit my bit as i learn, see and do more. Similarly if you're thinking about working abroad as a temporary Intern like me, what the hell are you waiting for? You get the benefit of seriously immersing yourself in a culture with the knowledge that in a finite amount of time you'll be right back where you started, better off from the experience.
12. When and why did you start your blog? Laos asian town throwdown
I started my blog as soon as I moved out here, with the aim of having a continuous record of the main events of my travels over the next 12 months. I wanted this for a few reasons: I’m a nostalgic guy and reading over this next year to get me through the soul crushing final year of Uni will be a great help. I also wanted to flex my writing arm a bit and see if i had the dedication to keep something going for a prolonged period of time that required frequent attention. I have problems sticking to things in life so i figured this challenge would help me buck my trend., So far I’ve had problems keeping it regularly updated, often posting updates many weeks or months late, but I’m average a large and detailed post every 2 weeks which I’m calling a win.

Lastly, I wanted it for my friends to read over if they felt like it so they didn't forget i existed when i do return next year. I really had no idea that quite a few of them read it until recently which has encouraged me to keep posting and try and keep it interesting. I wouldn't like to read pages of block text without some multimedia to spice things up, nor would i want to read about my daily 8-5 grind day in day out (which is why my work life tends to be overlooked in my posts). I try to make it interesting and include some juvenile humour which I would laugh at, but hopefully i can add some more cultural info when i get the opportunity)

If you feel like checking them out I often take photographs of my travels which I store on my Flickr account here:

Thanks for reading. 

Blog LinkGlenn's blog, My Asian Town Throwdown


Find out more about being an expat in Malaysia with Easy Expat's  

Kuala Lumpur Guide



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Author: texkourgan
Part of the adventure since 2008. Drink, Travel, Write

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