Malaysia truly Asia! Reflections on a new chapter in life
Taking into consideration the uncertainties we’re all facing in 2020, I feel incredibly lucky to be writing this from the terrace of our new home in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The journey has been long and not completely straightforward but we’re here and I’d like to share a few first impressions and (very random) reflections.
The city and its people
Kuala Lumpur is an amazing melting pot - as is all of Malaysia. The mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian and Indigenous cultures makes KL a very interesting place - and a foodie's paradise! From the moment we landed in KL, we have been met with friendliness all around! From the people testing us for COVID-19 at the airport and the immigration officers to the shop assistants, hotel staff, guards and removal company crew.
Malaysia has been praised for its handling of COVID-19. The outbreak in Malaysia (a total of 13500 cases in a country of 32 million people) caused an almost 2-month complete lockdown. Concretely, this meant that you had to stay indoors and that schools, shops, restaurants, bars, gyms and pools were closed. Numbers then stayed more or less stable for 2 months, allowing for a gradual re-opening of society BUT we are currently holding our breaths as there has been a spike in cases over the past 3 weeks. The majority of the new cases (yesterday there were 691!) were detected in the states of Kedah (peninsular Malaysia) and Sabah (northern Borneo) so yesterday, the prime minister announced a "Targeted enhanced Movement Control Order" in the worst hit areas.
The measures that are currently in place mean that:
Borders are still closed! At least until 31 December
If you are lucky to get a permit to fly in, you have to do a 14-day strict hotel quarantine.
In the city, everything is open now but restaurants and bars have to close at 10 or11 pm (I don't remember the exact rules). Nightclubs can still not open.
Masks are mandatory everywhere (including in the classroom)
In order to go into a shop, restaurant, building, hotel, mall you have to scan a QR code with the "My Sejahtera" tracing app.
Your temperature will be taken every time you enter a public place. This includes most shops – even if your temperature has already been taken at the entrance of the mall.
There are reminders about social distancing everywhere. On Billboards, in elevators etc.
We are well aware and incredibly grateful that we’re experiencing as much freedom as 2020 will allow. Schools are open in Kuala Lumpur and if you manage to ignore the measures such as taking out your phone a dozen times a day to scan a code and have your temperature taken all the time, things are almost back to normal in Kuala Lumpur.
Coming from Beijing, I had really missed living closer to nature! We did have beautiful parks – but "real" nature was at least an hour drive from the city. 170 years ago, Kuala Lumpur (which literally means "muddy confluence") was all jungle and rivers! And the jungle still tries to creep back up everywhere! It is not uncommon to see big cracks in old buildings with green leaves and vines sticking out! One of my favourite activities here is hiking and I have tried several hiking trails in the jungle already. There are some as close as 10 minutes by car from our house.
It is no secret that after 4 ½ years in a high-rise apartment building in Beijing, I was so looking forward to living in a house with a garden and pool. However, it quickly became clear that the Embassy’s security rules would not allow for us to live in a house. Although Malaysia is a safe country, the rules are the same all over the world (even stricter if you’re in places like Afghanistan or Iraq of course) so we had to go with an apartment. Thankfully, we’ve found a wonderful place! A low-rise building a mere 5 minutes by foot to Rebecca’s school and great common facilities such as pool, gym, library and multi-functional room.
Our shipment arrived from China 10 days ago and we’re slowly making our new home cozy and functional. Two guest rooms are ready for when borders open! Do come and see us!
We hope said guest rooms will be occupied by our sons Simon and Samuel soon. It is no secret that the current situation is weighing heavily on my heart. Our oldest son Simon is stuck in the US and Samuel is in Paris. As the situation is now, they cannot enter Malaysia. We last saw Simon on the 4th of January when he left Beijing and said “see you this summer”! Well that obviously wasn’t possible. So, we’re keeping everything crossed for a special permission for them to enter Malaysia for Christmas. Should we succeed, it would be the best Christmas present ever! They would of course have to quarantine for 2 weeks but that would be a small price to pay for the family to be reunited. The boys are both troopers and have remained optimistic the whole time! It would have been unbearable if they had been unhappy and there was nothing we could do about it! Without wanting to sound too cheesy, words cannot describe how proud we are of them! And of Rebecca! She is taking this change in her stride! She started grade 10 at the International School of Kuala Lumpur during quarantine, then joined on campus in the middle of August. The school is amazing and Rebecca is making friends and is doing track and field and touch rugby after school. She misses her friends in Beijing sorely. And so do we! The family dynamics obviously change when you go from 5 to 4 to 3 under the same roof but we try to keep the gang together and motivated through weekly family video calls.
What do I do?
A question I have already been asked many times since we arrived in Malaysia. I’m still on leave from my job in the Council of the European Union. While I’ve embraced the opportunity to try new things and to discover China and South East Asia, I do miss my work and my colleagues. But as you might know, I got into freelance writing while living in China and thankfully, there are still editors who agree to publish my work :-) I thoroughly enjoy writing and telling stories, but although it is very difficult for accompanying spouses to find work in Malaysia, I’m keeping the possibility of a full-time job open (I know, call me crazy!) Let’s see!
In the meantime, my everyday life consists of walks, sorting out things for the house, writing, seeing friends (including my lovely Danish friends from our bookclub Buku Wanita) and singing! I was also studying Malay, but singing won over language learning as the timing clashed :-) I joined the Klang Valley Harmony female barbershop group a couple of weeks ago and have met some lovely ladies there!