It’s been a whirlwind of a week since our Emirates powered aeroplane left rubber streaks across the runway of Kuala Lumpur’s International Airport and these last few days have given me just enough time to formulate a few (probably badly misguided) opinions about our new base country.
This is not our first time in Malaysia though; we have cycled along the streets of Georgetown, scuttled along the rapid transport rails of Kuala Lumpur and shopped till our allotted Ringgits dropped on previous visits.
However this time we have come here to live out the next 21 months of our lives and instead of choosing a town peppered with foreigners we have chosen the small town of Mersing in the state of Johor.
Mersing is, as any other Malaysian town, made up of three main ethnic groups Malay, Chinese and Indian. The town seems to be dominantly Malay followed by Chinese and lastly a small Indian population. Sadly there doesn’t seem to be enough Indians to warrant an entirely Indian cuisine restaurant (though most restaurants do have a small selection) but perhaps I just haven’t found one yet. We have however found an incredible Thai restaurant run by the one Thai in town. Happiness.
Indian aside, the Malay food is wonderful, I have already eaten more than my fair share of Nasi Lemak, Popiah and Roti Canai and quite frankly I don’t intend to stop! All round the food is a total win and best of all, it’s super cheap. Edit: The restaurant food may be cheap but in the shops the western imported stuff (cheese, milk, some fruits and other normal stuff) is seriously pricey. Oh, alcohol isn’t big here (obviously) (Islamic state) but you can get it from Chinese cafes and certain grocery stores.
Bahasa Malaysia (Standard Malay) is the main language in Malaysia and everyone seems to speak it as well as being able to speak their own languages (for many it’s their 2nd language). English is also widely spoken as a second, third or even fourth language. We totally are keen to learn Malay and are hoping that because it shares the Roman alphabet and its sounds, it won’t be too difficult to pick up.
As I’ve already mentioned Malaysia is a melting pot of various ethnic groups, even the three main groups all have their own sub-groups and subcultures making it fairly similar to our own country of South Africa and at first glance we’ve really enjoyed the diversity. Of course the cultural differences have the ability to (and have previously) lead to conflict. In my personal conversations with people over the last two weeks it’s a definite ‘thing’ that certain groups find others less favourable but overall there seems to be a general attitude of peace and acceptance of each other.
With Masjids (mosques) everywhere and the call to prayer never far from your ears it’s easy to see that Malaysia is an Islamic nation however, unlike certain Middle Eastern countries, the law protects people’s freedom to practise any religion. However, I would like them to stop my Chinese neighbour from creating a bonfire in his Spirit House every morning.
There is a lot of emphasis on “Satu Malaysia” (One Malaysia) and as soon as you set foot in this beautiful country you’ll notice signs and billboards promoting the slogan. It all seems to be about promoting national unity and is probably most similar to South Africa’s “Rainbow Nation” tagline.
So apart from the above, all that’s really left to talk about is the weather. It’s HOT & HUMID! But here in Mersing we are located on the coast of the South China Sea & thankfully there is a consistent breeze flowing through the town and we’ve found the temperature fairly easy to handle thanks to this.
So in summary:
Things we don’t love:
The abundance of mosquitoes (what can you do?), that people smoke freely in restaurants (although most are open-air) and that at times the town can be hot and smelly- think Asian “drainage”.The architecture isn’t spectacular by any means- our house seems to have been inspired by a corridor and the beach isn’t swimmable (though there is one, Air Papan, about ten minutes away that you can swim at).
Things we LOVE are: that smiles are as quick to flourish across the lips of young Muslim teenagers as they are upon the older, the colourful shop fronts, alley-like sidewalks, the outdoor gym-park and the fact that no less ten minutes from the centre of town you’ll find yourself driving through rice paddies, dense green forest, coconut palms and palm oil plantations. It is tropical paradise, and we haven’t even been to the islands yet (which are 1.5hrs away, by ferry). And no, the novelty of hearing the call to prayer from the Mosques hasn’t yet worn off, in fact, listening to Maghrib whilst the sun draws the day to an end has been a very special experience for us.