Andrew: "Malaysia is a salad bowl - there are hundreds of ethnicities and sub-ethnicities, religions, cultures and influences"

Expat interviews
  • Andrew in Kuala Lumpur
  • Andrew in Kuala Lumpur
  • Andrew in Kuala Lumpur
  • Andrew in Kuala Lumpur
Published on 2016-10-13 at 00:00 by Veedushi
Andy describes himself as a third culture kid, born in the Philippines to Scottish and Filipino parents. He grew up in Saudi Arabia and studies in Scotland, and then went to teach in Vietnam following his studies. Nowadays, he lives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Hi Andrew, could you please introduce yourself?

I'm the dictionary definition of a third culture kid. Born in The Philippines to Scottish and Filipino parents, my childhood was spent growing up in Saudi Arabia where I went to an international school. This has given me itchy feet and a global outlook since I was using crayons.

When I was 14, I was shipped to boarding school in Scotland (which I hated). I then went to University in Glasgow for 4 lovely years. After University, I thought the world owed me everything. I had a first class degree, was a student TV whizz and had lots of energy. But I was stuck in a small town, with little prospects and very little idea of how the world worked.

After a few beers with a friend, we started talking about TEFL. Fast forward into the new year and I made the leap to teach English in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam - which was the best decision of my life.

What struck me was that I was an expat again. I was born an expat, and I feel more natural being one. Having friends from all corners of the globe, meeting in a new place to live and work and integrate - there's nothing more exciting to me. After two years in Vietnam, I went back to Scotland to study my Masters for a year. Now I've made the jump to Kuala Lumpur, where I'm a journalist.

Why did you choose to expatriate to Malaysia?

I came here originally while traveling to see a family friend. It was love at first sight. I liked KL so much, I bought an Air Asia ticket from the end of my trip in Thailand to come back and spend a few more days.

I finished my Masters, and gained an internship with an NGO in Kuala Lumpur (which I just finished). I finished up, found work and decided to stay!

Andrew in Kuala Lumpur

As a Scottish expat, what where the procedures you had to follow to move there?

Putting aside the Brexit and Independence Referendum for a moment, I'm lucky enough to have a British passport. Malaysia is part of the UK Commonwealth, so Brits can arrive without any announcement and stay for up to two months on a tourist visa.

However, to stay longer you'll need a work visa, and to get that you'll need to get confirmation from your employer that you're working for them. If you're lucky, they'll sponsor you - otherwise, you'll need to go to the embassy and pay over £200 from your own pocket. It can last anything up from 6 months to 5 years.

How long have you been in the country?

Not long - just over 4 months now! But it feels like I've fit right in.

What has attracted you to Kuala Lumpur?

Malaysia is a salad bowl - there are hundreds of ethnicities and sub-ethnicities, religions, cultures and influences.

Though there's some tension, there's beauty in this diversity. People have different coloured skin, pray differently, speak different dialects. But at the end of the day, it's Malaysia, boleh.

Kuala Lumpur is also an international hub, with links to the rest of the world. It's that rare mix of modern urban sheen and traditional hawker culture, where you can grab Nasi Lemak in the shadow of the Petronas Towers.

It's so rich, so complicated: a snapshot of everything all in one. I'm a little in love with it.

What has surprised you the most at your arrival?

How easy everything was. KL is a highly accessible city, with great transport links.

Getting the express train from KLIA2 to KL Sentral is a breeze, and the availability of GrabTaxi means nowhere is off limits (and at a cheap price). The LRT (at non-peak times) is super smooth too. Just be aware that traffic can get horrendous before work, after work, when it rains and on the run up to public holidays.

Andrew in Kuala Lumpur

Was it difficult to find accommodation there? What are the types of accommodation which are available there?

I found a place to stay through a friend, after “Airbnb'ing” it for the first few months. It's relatively easy once you ask around and seek help from those who already live here.

On a decent professional salary, you can stay in a comfortable apartment with air-conditioning and the works. Popular expat areas in KL are Bangsar, Hartamas and Plaza Damas.

What are the local labor market's features? Is it easy for an expat to find a job there?

You need to be in a skilled profession to come here to work. There's no backpacker-come-English teacher opportunities (except in rural areas) as English proficiency is high in major towns. You need to come here either with decent experience under your belt or established connections. Why should a company spend all that money getting you a work permit when there are so many talented young Malaysians on the job market?

No room for that noble savage mentality, nu-uh. You want to come here, have the skills to back it up.

How do you find the Malaysian lifestyle?

People are always late, they get in the car even if it's just a few blocks, and they like Durian. It's amazing. Seriously though, what I like most is the slower pace of life. Folks are very patient, and that's refreshing.

Have you been able to adapt yourself to the country and to its society?

Totally! I feel so at home here, and made a ton of expat and local friends. Sure there are cultural differences, but Malaysians are a good bunch.

Andrew in Kuala Lumpur

What does your every day life in Kuala Lumpur look like?

Wake up bleary-eyed, dial a GrabTaxi to the nearest LRT, fight for a spot and go to work. Lunch can be anything from roti to chapati to laksa to chicken rice. These are my routine week day rituals. Other than that, it's totally different each day, depending on the project.

Any particular experience in the country you would like to share with us?

Visiting open houses during Raya, spending a night in Taman Negara rainforest, going to a Malay wedding, getting late-night food at Changkat.

What is your opinion on the cost of living in Kuala Lumpur? Is it easy for an expat to live there?

Local Food = cheap.

Supermarket Food = depends what you buy.

Transport = cheap.

Rent = reasonable.

Mall products = Western prices.

Alcohol = expensive.

Go sober and you'll have a great time.

Andrew in Kuala Lumpur

How do you spend your leisure time?

I'm very social, so usually I'm making the most of my time off going on trips to see Malaysia, or hanging out in KL and stuffing my face. Other than that, I've been hard at work revamping my blog “Andy Goes To Asia”. It's a candid look at Southeast Asia, covering real people and real stories.

Your favorite local dishes?

If there's one thing I gained in KL, it's kilograms. Because everything is so cheap and accessible, I've had the privilege of diving face-first into a ton of different plates of food.

My personal favourites are:

  • The Chili Pan Mee at Jojo's Little Kitchen: tasty, meaty dry noodles with a chili kick.
  • The Curry Laksa at Kafe Sin Hoy How. While the laksa is delicious, I come here for the experience. It's nicknamed “Screaming Aunty's” because of these grumpy yet loveable shouting grandmas that run the place.
  • Crispy Chicken Nasi Lemak at Restoran Al Ehsan: fried chicken, coconut rice, peanuts, boiled egg and spicy sambal. Calorie heaven.

What do you miss the most about your home country?

Oh the usual stuff - friends and family mostly.

Would you like to give any advice to soon-to-be expatriates in Malaysia?

Arrive with an open mind, lots of patience and a sense of adventure. Once you dive into this wonderful, diverse country, you're going to meet so many inspiring, exciting people (both locals and expats alike). And another thing - make Malaysian friends! In KL, the majority of locals are fluent in English, modernised and very friendly. Most people I've met are always ready with advice, willing to take me to new places, or ready to chat about Malaysian society and culture. Don't be one of those expats who only hangs out with Westerners. Get to know local people and you'll form lifelong connections!

What are your plans for the future?

I've got a few exciting projects in development, which is very cool. Otherwise, I'm continuing to build up my career in journalism/communications whilst traveling as much as possible. What's most exciting is that I can look forward to waking up every morning in this crazy, beautiful city.

Share your expat experience!

Contact us to be featured in the Interviews section.