25 September 2009

Goodbye KL!

After nearly half a year of living in KL, I at last say goodbye to a city that has grown on me, the friends that I have gained and that made it special, and an intense internship that gave me a taste of the future.

It seems unreal therefore, to be sitting in a plane, in a baju kurung, reading Urban Odysseys – KL short stories at last (I read about the publisher's launch event of it on somebody's blog when I first came here), have one last nasi lemak on the plane and return back to London, the city that spit me out in the first place.

I discovered a whole new country and even saw more places than the average Malaysian (“Oh! You went to...!? Even I haven't been there and I live here. We Malaysians don't like to travel so much”). I even learned one or the other thing about my mother. I learned about a country's way to balance multiculturalism, nationalism, religion and secularism. I learned about the reality of law(lessness) on the streets, how frustrating impunity is and how to avoid being ripped off. You know you know a place really well when you can tell the distances within a city by the price on the meter.

Although KL is a badly planned city, there are some things I am going to miss:
  • Fresh apple juice (green apples freshly pressed), lime juice and Chinese red date juice
  • Fresh mango, rambutan
  • Working under palm trees
  • The warm weather
  • Good sheesha and affordable eye-rolling reflexology
  • Kuih (Malaysian desserts usually made with sticky rice and coconut, often wrapped in leaves)
  • The ease to travel around Southeast Asia from KL

Regarding my internship, it is with mixed feelings that I am handing over work, clearing my desk, buying some goodies, going from department to department to say goodbye to everyone.

Many intense months in which I would get up, rush to an intense day at the office, hunt groggily for a taxi (if Hugh Jackman says he showers cold in the morning because that really pisses him off and gets him ready for the day, he should try living in KL without a car for a while), arrive for a long, intense but rewarding day that requires sharp concentration and a focused mind all throughout and after, return home by 12 midnight, jump into bed and wake up seven hours later to start the same thing all over again.

If anybody would have told me that this is what my time in KL would be like, I would have told them “That's crazy!” But here I am and I did it. We all did it.

Of course, an experience like this makes you wiser too, so it's not the whether or not but rather the how that turned out in a rather unpredicted and quite surprisingly diverse way. Living on a different continent is the ultimate test – you learn to navigate your way through a different reality, you realise that certain pre-conceived notions of innate global politeness do not manifest themselves in the same way around the world (it's one thing to know it and another to experience it). You learn not to rely on anyone and at last, your gut-o-meter comes to good use to gauge unfamiliar experiences or even uncomfortable encounters.

Trying out new food was another regular source of adventure. I yet have to taste The Durian, my local friends tell me that I only become a real Malaysian when I have tried this sickish smelling fruit, a delicacy banned in some public places, hotels etc. because of the distinctive smell!

People are often surprised to find you, a young woman, living half a globe away on your own (to work for free!!!), with no parents or friends or relatives to look out for your welfare and safety! "Wow, youuu very courageous!", they often say, genuinely impressed. And the astonishment and excitement (and even, at times embarrassment) when they find out you speak Malay, albeit only the same few phrases! "Youuu speak very good Malay, lah!!!" Just try and imagine middle-aged Austrians not frowning at every time you mix up your nominative and dative! They tend to have much higher expectations from foreigners learning German, a much more difficult language!

You also learn funny nothings and find amusement at the most trivial discoveries, for example that bread, when left on the kitchen counter, wrapped in plastic to preserve it from drying out, tends to mold - because of the hot humid climate. Didn't think of that, huh?

And of course, you learn about Asian religious lifestyles whether Buddhist, Muslim, Christian or Hindu. I was especially keen to get a bigger insight into Southeast Asian forms of Islam not without studying its (in)direct political role in a multiracial societies like in Malaysia. Likewise, I wanted to capture the beautiful aspects of it as well - and beauty I found!

Altogether, I learned a lot, I enjoyed a lot, I lived a lot!

2 courageous comments!:

natascha said...

i find that german language speakers are the most arrogant (well, next to the french, probably) when it comes to people learning their language. in austria you are looked down on when you have a foreign accent, while here in london it's completely normal for people to have an accent that reveals their heritage. strange, isn't it?

Heidi said...

I guess it might sth to do with (pride of) literary traditions perhaps but definitely deserves further insight.

As my Indonesian teacher put it, "UNCOUNTABLE NOUNS - If you have ever learned English, you will be familiar with the concept. If you are a native English speaker, you probably won't" (mind you, he's from the UK!)