Excerpts from expat life in Malaysia
I’m so thrilled this month to be able to bring you expatriate insights from someone who has lived pretty much everywhere! Currently in Malaysia, please meet the mysterious Ersatz Expat!
Where do you currently live and how did you come to be there?
We are currently living in Ipoh in Malaysia. We moved initially to Miri in Eastern (Borneo) Malaysia with the aim of being there for four years or so but just 9 months in, my husband’s company decided they needed him in their central office and moved us here with just three weeks’ notice. It was one of the most hectic moves we have ever made but at least it was a domestic and not an international relocation.
What does ‘home’ mean to you?
My parents brought me up to believe that home was people not place.I am an itinerant and have never had a permanent home. An expat from birth, my parents brought me up to believe that home was people not place. Every person in my family has a piece of my heart and the more of us together in one place, no matter where it is, the more at home I feel. As long as I am with my husband, children and pets I am happy. A few years ago we flew to Cambodia for Christmas and my sister joined us out there and it felt like home for those 10 days. A few years earlier we joined my father, stepmother and sister for week in Lebanon and that also felt like home. We also try to spend as much time with my husband’s family as possible so that the children grow up with a well-rounded sense of family and home. Our older daughter in particular identifies with my mother in law’s house as a sanctuary that is very important to her.
Some pieces of the jigsaw we learn to do without of course. When I was a child my mother’s parents were a key piece of that puzzle, I spent a lot of time in their home and even lived with them for a while so they were very important to me. They died a long time ago, after long fulfilling lives and while I look back on them with fondness I do not miss them unduly as their time had come. My mother died while still quite young 8 years ago now and I miss her fiercely every day, there will always be that piece of home missing for me; similarly my husband’s father has left a huge and irreplaceable void in our family life. There are compensations, however, as new children, brothers in law and pets join the family and our home of the heart gets ever larger.
Do you have a few words of advice on coping with the first six months of a move?
Don’t try to do everything at once. It can be tempting to look at all the sites and blitz the tourist attractions when you first arrive but remember these have to sustain you through an entire posting. See some fun stuff but also learn where the dry cleaner, grocer and butcher can be found as that information is what you need to make life simpler!
After about three months people assume that you have found your niche and the invitations will start to dry up.Conversely, when it comes to socialising, accept every invitation you get when you arrive, even if it is not your thing. It will help you to meet new people and find out what is on offer in your new home. After about three months people assume that you have found your niche and the invitations will start to dry up.
Is there something that you wish you’d known before moving?
That is a hard question and different for every posting. Our move to Ipoh is so tied up with our move to Miri that I can’t think of anything specific for here. When we arrived in Miri, however, we had a hard time getting the cash Dollar float we had brought paid into our Malaysian bank account. For some reason we had to activate the account on arrival so could not transfer the money from Kazakhstan (where the bank account had to be closed) to Malaysia in advance. We had to go to a money changer and none of them would accept the 2007 issue Dollars we had with us; we went to about 4 before we found one who would change our money! The situation became quite desperate, it was a Friday, the emergency UK cards would not work for some reason and we had no Malaysian money. We were both tired and crotchety after a 36 hour journey, we were driving a strange car in a strange town, the kids were excited and over-tired and I was hot and 7 months pregnant. It was a recipe for stress and disaster. I have never been so pleased to find a money changer, we were seriously debating one of us flying back to KL to get the cash changed. The first thing I did when we got back to the hotel was to message some colleagues who were joining us a few weeks later to warn them to bring 2009 issue or even more recent Dollar notes.
Your best moment to date?
Another hard one – life is full of moments, good and bad. In the last year or so they would be introducing our older children to our new-born baby girl and finding a stray kitten who has joined our two dogs to become an integral part of our itinerant home.
Who is the Ersatz Expat?
I am a 30 something global soul and perpetual expat. Born in the Netherlands to a Dutch/Irish family I have also lived in Norway, Nigeria, Turkey, Venezuela, and the UK. A few years ago my husband and I took one dog and two children to Kazakhstan. Some time on and a move to first East and then West Malaysia later and we have added another child, a dog and a cat to our family as we work our way around the world.
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