Finding happiness in the bustling Kuala Lumpur

  • expat family in Kuala Lumpur
Interview
Published 2018-12-07 11:35

What led Philippine to Malaysia is a job opportunity she could say no to. Coming from the Vosges region in France, she flew to Kuala Lumpur with her family. Both Philippine and her partner work for the same company under a local work contract. Happy about her new life in the heart of the bustling and multicultural metropolis, she talks to Expat.com about her everyday life as a mum and part-time employee far from where her home is.

Hi Philippine, can you please introduce yourself briefly?

I'm the mum of two kids: Camille who is six and Charlie who is three. We come from the Vosges region in France. I was working as an analyst in an IT company before moving to Malaysia. My partner, who is an osteopath, found a job in Kuala Lumpur via Facebook. The same company offered me a part-time job in digital marketing, and that's how we were convinced that we were making the right choice. We're not here as expats with all the benefits like accommodation, relocation and schooling being taken care of, but on a local contract, so we managed almost everything on our own.

How long have you been in Malaysia?

We arrived in August 2018, so it's been nearly four months.

What brought you to Kuala Lumpur?

I didn't choose to move to Malaysia. It's just that we couldn't say no the fabulous opportunity of working in Kuala Lumpur – which is a city I quite liked during a short trip in 2014.

What is the process to move to Malaysia?

My partner and I aren't married, and we're both here on a local contract. Our employer took care of visa formalities. We just had to scan and send him all the pages of our four passports with passport size photos and our signed work contracts.

thunderstorm in Kuala Lumpur

What is your favourite thing about Malaysia, and what is your least favourite thing?

What I like the most is that people and kind and helpful, especially with kids, the diverse cuisine and the ease of eating out (street food is excellent), the holiday like feeling, and the thunderstorms -- which feels like doomsday is near.

What I dislike is that there's no difference between the days and seasons, feeling like the day's never-ending, environment pollution since we never get to see the stars, the hectic pace in the city and traffic jam.

How would you describe Kuala Lumpur in a few words?

It's a harmonious blend of cultures even though Islam is the predominant religion is Malaysia – people are respectful and tolerant – which means that you can wear a short skirt in the street and no one is ever going to feel bad about it.

What surprised you the most about Malaysia?

How hot, humid and uncomfortable it is. Since I'm not used to this type of climate, I'm always in shorts, tees, dresses and all the summer wear I had back in France. However, I do feel awkward when I see other women wearing pants and long-sleeved t-shirts. You seldom get to see their shoulders. At first, I thought it was a religious thing, but it's not. Even those who don't wear the veil cover themselves, but I wonder how they do with the high temperatures.

How easy or difficult it is to find accommodation in Kuala Lumpur, and what type of accommodation is available for expats?

It's easy to find accommodation in Kuala Lumpur, ranging from luxurious houses and villas with a private swimming pool, security guards and other services to standard apartments in residential complexes. There are many vacant housing units. When we arrived, we visited more than a dozen within four days.

kids by the swimming pool

What are the features of today’s expat job market in Malaysia?

The local labour market is defined by a sort of hierarchy by nationality. Most of the time, Indians occupy the least qualified jobs. Malay and Chinese nationals get the medium qualification jobs like administration and security. The Chinese and expatriates occupy most of the high profile jobs.

However, finding a job in Malaysia is not as easy as it seems for many reasons. First of all, employers have to pay for the work visa and justify the recruitment of a foreign professional due to unavailability of the required expertise locally. Also, since expats get paid more than locals, the candidate should turn out to be a significant asset for the company.

What are the year’s biggest holidays in Malaysia? What is some essential etiquette in Malaysia?

Since Malaysia is a multicultural country, there's always something going on all year round. Recently, we got the chance to celebrate Halloween, Deepavali, Thanksgiving, the birth of the prophet Muhammad, and now we're getting ready for Christmas. It's nice for the kids as they get to discover new cultures and learn more about religions and tolerance.

How do you find the lifestyle in Kuala Lumpur?

It's quite hectic – even though I don't live like a local. Most of the time, I'm at home in my luxury tower since I work part-time, so I don't have to bother about traffic jam. I know I'm lucky but living like a local would be a great thing too.

How is the transportation system in Kuala Lumpur? How do you get around?

In Kuala Lumpur, we have buses, metro, but also a lot of cars. Luckily, we don't have to get around a lot on weekdays. The school bus picks up Camille near our condo, and I drop Charlie at school on foot. Also, one of the osteopathy clinics is just 100 meters away. In the weekend, we use Grab which is a helpful app. Grab is cheap and safe, You can also rent or buy a car, but we don't have to since we don't get around a lot.

visiting Kuala Lumpur

Have you been able to adapt to Malaysia and the society?

Climate is the main issue for me here. It's hot and humid all year round and very uncomfortable.

How is everyday life for you in Kuala Lumpur?

We're usually up at 6.30 am! Why? Just because school starts early here but also ends early. After breakfast, Camille catches her bus at 7.22 am sharp, and then I drop Charlie at school at 8.15 am. Charlie goes to a Montessori school from the Sparkles network. On the way to school, we have to cross a small jungle where we get to see monkeys when we're lucky enough. They often come and steal the wastes from our condo.

By 8.30 am, I'm back to my apartment and my day starts now. Since I work part-time, I spend the rest of the day with the kids. These days, it's the rainy season. By the time I get ready to pick the kids at school (3 pm) it's already raining. Having a good umbrella is crucial here.

We're back home around 4 pm, but it feels like 7 pm. I'm still not used to having the kids back home so early. So after doing the homework, we play a little bit before heading to the swimming pool.

What do you do in your free time?

You could think that I've got a lot of free time, but I spend most of it with the kids. At night, I watch serials, a movie or grab an English book to improve my level.

What new habits have you developed in Malaysia? And what old habits have you quit in Malaysia?

New habits I've adopted include leaving the windows open to have fresh air except during pest control (they use strong pesticides here) and the haze (entire forests burned up to plan palm trees), changing twice a day due to the high temperatures and sleeping with the A/C on.

Regarding old habits, taking a hot water bottle to bed like a granny, and drinking tap water since it's not safe in Malaysia.

Krabi Island

What is your opinion on the cost of living in Kuala Lumpur? How much do a bus ticket, a beer, and a loaf of bread cost?

The cost of living is fair enough when you live like a local. For a train ticket, count one euro and three for a beer (there's a tax on alcoholic drinks as Malaysia is a mainly Muslim country). For a loaf of bread, count 0.80 euros even though it doesn't taste like in France.

What is something that you would like to do in Malaysia, but haven’t had the opportunity to do yet?

There's so much we would like to do here like travelling around. We're just back from a trip to Krabi in Thailand. We're also planning to explore the Cameron Highlands and the travel to Perhentian islands, Cambodia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, etc.

Share your most memorable experience in Malaysia.

The locals are kind. One day we were having a picnic at the park when a man and his son came up with a plate of cakes and sandwiches. I immediately thought that he was trying to sell something to us and was almost annoyed, but I was wrong! He just said that they had brought too much food, so they thought of sharing some. That's something I'm going to remember all my life.

What do you think of the local cuisine? What are your favourite dishes?

The local cuisine is fantastic thanks to cultural diversity. You can have anything, from Thai to Italian cuisines, and even Indian, Chinese and Japanese. There's something for all tastes and budgets at any time of the day. However, I've serious doubts regarding the quality. Most food sellers don't seem to bother about that, but anyway I like the pad thai.

kids at the park

What do you miss the most about your home country?

Without any doubt, the distinct seasons and the change of scenery. Here, the days look alike even though we have two seasons. Temperatures stay high, and we tend to dress in the same way all the time. It's personal, but I've been used to plan our weeks and weekends according to the seasons and weather.

Have you had a moment that you almost felt like leaving from Malaysia?

Not yet but environmental conditions is something that could drive us out of here or a severe health issue.

Give us some useful tips that soon-to-expatriates in Malaysia will benefit from.

Make sure to get your work permit quickly as you will need it in most administrative procedures including opening a bank account. Also, check whether Malaysia is financially a good fit. Your daily expenses are likely to differ from your home country.

If you had to advise an expat on five items to bring with them in Malaysia, which would that be?

A good umbrella, flip flops, summer wear but also a light jacket when you're in shopping malls, at work or in the car, a phone with a good battery, a memory card as you will be taking a lot of pictures, and the Grab app.

What are your plans for the future?

For now, we're enjoying life in Kuala Lumpur even though we know we won't be here forever. We do miss France, its seasons, and our friends and family.

What is one thing that you will take with you from Malaysia?

All our memories. I'm happy that my kids will have a better command of English and I hope they will realise that the world is a blend of cultures that are beyond our own.

If you could make the move to Malaysia over, what would you do differently?

I would do it exactly in the same way, including the mistakes. You learn through experience anyway.