I was having a conversation with a friend one night when the topic drifted to Malaysia. We spoke about family, friends, our old jobs and while she had no problems naming all the things she missed from Malaysia, I found myself struggling to come up with a decent list.
Sure, I miss my family. But that couldn’t be the only thing I missed? I realized then that while I do miss little aspects of Malaysia, I’m not terribly homesick either. Having moved the United States about 8 months ago, I’m still adapting to life here but I don’t regret the move one bit.
Malaysia is by no means an ordinary country. With it’s colorful culture, abundance of food, and amazing hospitality, it’s definitely a country you’d want to visit at least once in your lifetime.
For clarity — I moved to what is known as the “deep south” in Tennessee which is vastly different than the city of Kuala Lumpur (KL) where I was born and raised. After some thought, there were some things I miss, and it made the thought of going back for a visit that much more exciting.
How easy it was to shop for ingredients
Asian cuisine isn’t widely available (or very good) where I live but I’m fortunate enough to know how to make them at home. However, I sometimes struggle to find certain ingredients here that would otherwise be readily available in Malaysia.
Items like bean sprouts, freshly made kimchi, rendang paste, cili padi (or bird’s eye chili), are not easy to find in my local grocery store. It tickles me that they have an “Asian” section that’s half filled with soy sauce and the other half with oyster sauce.
There are two Asian grocery stores in the area. They’re each about a 40 minute drive away, which means I usually compile a list of what I need and make only one trip every 2–3 weeks for a huge haul. That also means a lot of freezing of ingredients which I’m not particularly fond of unless I decide to buy a bigger freezer.
I’ve yet to venture further around where I live (thanks Covid-19) to see if there are better Asian restaurants than Panda Express. I’ve got my fingers crossed for this.
Shopping malls EVERYWHERE
There’s a huge shopping mall culture in Malaysia, particularly KL. Skyscrapers connected to a 10 story shopping mall that’s a walking distance to another shopping mall, and another, and another…
You could find almost anything in just one shopping mall. My favorite one were The Gardens Mall and Mid Valley Megamall, known to be one of the biggest malls in KL. The Gardens Mall is a premium shopping mall housing more luxury brands while Mid Valley Megamall had more of a variety. Yes, there is a link bridge connecting both malls.
The biggest mall I have here now is a 2 story building with JC Penny’s and Sephora as their anchor outlets. No complaints from me! While shopping in KL was a lot more convenient, it was also a hassle going through that many stores to find what you need.
Not tipping and having taxes included in prices
This was really confusing for me when I first moved to the US. I was already aware of the tipping policy, but didn’t realize that taxes were not included in the prices of their services or products. I had to stop myself from correcting the cashier on the price of an item.
In Malaysia, what you see on the price tag is what you pay. No ifs, ands or buts. There is a believe that the customer is not responsible for how much a server makes. This made it so much easier to budget or go Dutch at a restaurant. We also got rid of the 1 cent which was a blessing!
Everything seemed closer
Maybe it was because of where I used to live, but everything felt like they were closer to each other. Restaurants were only a 5 minute drive away. Shopping malls were 10 minutes away. The city center was only 15 minutes away.
Although I still live about 15 minutes away from the nearest town now, it just seems like it’s a further drive, but not an unpleasant one. Everything worthwhile will take more than 20 minutes to get there. I miss how quickly I could run out to grab just a few things and be home in that amount of time.
Malaysian humor is unlike any other. It’s filled silly puns, language twists, and most of all, racial stereotyping. It is all in good fun and it is not meant to be offensive by any means.
Malaysia is a melting pot that personifies diversity. There’s an understanding that to live harmoniously together, you should be able to tease each other. We even have classic jokes that have been passed down from one generation to another.
That doesn’t seem to be the case here. Because of that, I find myself watching what I say in public a little more carefully. I did try to crack a joke about the Chinese (because I’m Chinese) just to gauge their reaction and I’m usually met with a horrified and confused look.
When my fiancé (who is Caucasian) and I joke about each other’s race, we were also met by a confused and slightly horrified look. It’s like they’re not sure if they’re allowed to laugh with us or not.
I saved the best for last. Food is synonymous to Malaysia. It is the heart and soul of the country and it’s people. The variety alone could overwhelm you if you’re only visiting for a few days. Food is the first thing you think about when visiting or leaving Malaysia.
We’re talking about nasi lemak, roti canai, laksa, satay, available 24/7 at almost every street corner, restaurant or home. The spiciness (in the sense of heat) of a dish is different from anything you’ve ever tried. Almost everything is cooked fresh and smells mouthwatering from miles away.
If you go to a Chinese restaurant, you’re going to get real Chinese food. Likewise if you were to go to a Thai, Japanese, Korean, German, Lebanese restaurant… the food is always authentic.
While I’m aware that states like New York and Chicago are known for their food as well, I don’t have much of a variety where I live. It’s either Mexican, fast food or American cuisine. They’re not horrible but there are days I wished I could just drive to a Japanese restaurant and order me some genuine ramen and fresh sashimi; instead of going to a Thai restaurant and ordering sushi from the “sushi bar”.
At the end of the day, it’s all about adapting to your surroundings and making the best of it. Missing these things will not make me regret migrating, but it’ll make me appreciate things more when I return to Malaysia for a visit.
Also published on Medium