After spending ~4 months in Malaysia, I feel more like a local than a foreigner. I must admit, the first few days in KL were not fruitful. It was the first time in my life I ventured out in to the world with no family, friends or anyone for that matter; completely alone. On top of that, coming into a country with different systems, structure, language and environment was quite daunting.
I knew it would be hard, but never did I expect the magnitude of the harshness. After a couple of weeks, I spent time cleaning, buying toiletry, reorganizing and unpacking my belongings. It was then where I finally made the house I was living in, a home. My mind felt more at ease and I was ready to start my solo-exploration.
The first thing I did was try out Malaysian’s national dish, Nasi Lemak, where Nasi stands for rice and Lemak, fat (i.e. fat rice). Which is,
“[a] blend of coconut milk-soaked white rice, dried anchovies, sliced raw cucumber, roasted peanuts, and spicy belacan sauce…”
It tasted just as good as that quoted description. These are almost served in every single restaurant and costs about C$1–3 max — the best Nasi Lemak in all of Malaysia is in Village Park Restaurant. After trying out various Malaysian dishes (nasi kandar, hainanese chicken rice, murtabak, chicken rendang, roti canai, maggi goreng…), I decided that it’s time I learn how to cook on my own. This deemed to be a pretty complex task as I never cooked anything before. The first part of any cooking is to get the ingredients, however you also have to know what you want to cook (or even close-to). On the other hand, there was me who shamelessly entered the grocery store (The Store) with no recipes in mind; after 1 hour of walking around and deciding if I should buy this or that, I simply bought a box of chocolate cookies and left. I didn’t know how hectic it would be to go grocery shopping, so many items, so many variations, so much food; gheeeeez. Anyways, I eventually picked up some easy recipes online and started shopping accordingly. I’ve made tons of dishes and some of my highlights have been written on a previous blog post.
Here are some amazing Malaysian food I’ve had in the past few months:
Travelling outside of Malaysia
Once I got comfortable living on my own, I decided to visit nearby countries. The first one was Bangkok, Thailand. The round trip flight cost me around C$160 and I booked a place for C$21/night; it was perfect, near many restaurants and a 7–11. I went out my first night and my goodness the amount of massage parlours per sidewalk. Literally everywhere you walk, you’ll hear a lady waving and smiling at you to come inside, I didn’t plan on getting any massages nor did I do any prior research, so I simply looked away and kept walking. The weather was beautiful and the food was also amazing. One thing however, most food aren’t halal (not like in Malaysia), so I had to be careful, but this was no stress as I try my best to be wary in Canada anyways. Before I left, one of my highlights was riding on a Grab Bike (Uber on a motorcycle), this was something I never (or could) experience in KL. It felt so refreshing to let the wind hit my face as we skrr’d through the busy-traffic roads.
When I returned to KL, I stuck to my routine on working out daily and maintaining my calories (via MyFitnessPal). I also made a number of friends who are relatively my neighbours and befriended my landlord as well. The rest of the days consisted of myself sticking to a daily routine and of course enjoying the Malaysian food.
About a month later I booked a trip to *Bali, Indonesia *for 1 week! I had an amazing time as I took both a mental and physical break from everything. I stayed in Kuta in Park Regis Hotel. The roundtrip flight cost me around C$200 (normally it’s cheaper if you don’t book 1 week earlier…) and the hotel cost was C$29/night which included room service, a multitude of TV channels (from FOX movies to Disney), open gym, pool and free water everyday. It was also a 2 minute walk from KFC and Dominos pizza. Kuta is an area that is filled with beaches so I went out everyday to a nearby mall that was also connected to a beach. Every night there is a special band that performs, so not only did I get to enjoy the fine waves but also the captivating performances. Since there are multiple beaches around Kuta, I took the opportunity to go surfing for the first time. I paid 400k IDR (~C$37) for a 2.5hr surf with a trainer and professional pictures to be taken. This was one of my bucket lists for a long time and I was super grateful for both the affordability and the opportunity.
Three days after chilling in Kuta, I booked a tour guide for 600k IDR (~C$56) to go to Ubud (you can customize your trip, the guide will pick you up and drop you off from your location — message me if you want the WhatsApp contact). Ubud is more of a cultural place with lots of historic sites; village vibes. It felt much more peaceful in Ubud, less traffic on the streets which meant less chaos. I went to Ubud’s famous Monkey Forest (80k IDR/person), then visited the Tegalalang Rice Terrace, where I achieved one more of my bucket lists, and that was swinging on a mountain. Finally, we went to the Tegenungan Waterfall, which is just a beautiful area to be in, nice to take lots of pictures and swim near the waterfall. After a long 8 hour day, we drove back to Kuta, and knocked out hard. The rest of the days were spent souvenir shopping, enjoying the beach and eating. However, one of those days I woke up to my bed shaking, noticed the AC and lamp moving and within a second I realized I was currently in an earthquake which had a magnitude of 4.4 — the biggest in 2019 (in Bali). I was so stunned on my bed that I couldn’t move. Nothing severe happened to anyone in the hotel because it was in the south side of Bali and our hotel was built to sustain earthquake damages. The day after I boarded my flight back to KL.
When I returned to KL, I noticed I had about 1 month+ left and wanted to take the time to relax and enjoy every day. This was obviously not the case, as my daily routine took over once again and I was back on a roll. That’s okay, I realized that I’m not really the type to just chill and relax anyway, there has to be something that I’m doing, I just have to keep moving. This was probably why my first few weeks in KL was so hard, because I literally had to shut myself off from doing anything and just let myself breathe.
I am currently working at a Series-C startup, it is an American company but most of the tech is situated here in KL. When I was first interviewed for this role (AI Engineer), I was excited as I wanted to get my hands dirty at a startup and learn how they leverage AI to gain a business advantage. The interview went swiftly via Zoom and literally a couple of days later they got back to me with an offer letter. As a student who’s in constant search for internships every semester, the suspense of hearing the outcome of an interview is painful — so that was really nice of them. Fast forward to the first day; when I arrived to my office, I was greeted with a welcoming package, a tote bag, company stickers, lanyard, and a t-shirt. I spent my first day speaking to my manager and setting everything up on my laptop. Within three days the project I was told I was going to work on completely changed. This is because the business realised that project was not priority and assigned me to another new project : building a fraud engine. My first assignment was to implement some RESTful endpoints, which I managed to do because I had just learnt it during my previous semester. Anyways, work consisted of free snacks everyday, there would be a pantry filled with snacks every morning (from Kit Kat bars, chips to cereal and coffee), we also had free lunch every Tuesdays and Wednesdays and every other day we went out with our team for lunch. To add the icing on the cake, the office was situated on the 27th floor of a large building so the view was motivating. The company culture was great as well, they’re often open to feedback and organise bi-weekly socials for team bonding (game nights to book clubs). I truly enjoyed the startup vibe and I have my mind set on pursuing more startups to simply learn as much as I can from the experienced. I learnt a lot in terms of design patterns, new Java concepts and some NLP (Natural Language Processing). Though some days I would have a bug in my code and that would eventually lead me to scratching my head for hours and weeks; on the other hand, when I finally got my algorithms to work (matching the expected outputs), I would literally stand up and take a deep breath, and then just start walking around; that satisfaction was incomparable. This company taught me a lot dealing with challenges and implementing efficient code. I realised that in a startup a lot of things happen and a lot can change in an instant, sometimes you can work on a dedicated project for months and then realise you might have to drop it for later to focus on another project that has a higher priority. Sometimes you’d have to spread yourself out working on 3–4 projects at once to ensure proper and fast-push to production and most of the times you have to monitor your work-flow and always think of improving current business processes (internally and externally). Most of my learning didn’t solely come from research however, at least once every day I walk around my office and talk to someone about what they’re working on and how they’re going about it. Talking to my colleagues and manager about my project or about code in general taught me more than I could grasp from simply doing research. I feel like sometimes we tend to go online to look for answers to our problems, sometimes it’s best to simply ask someone, whether it would be for advice, guidance or for help; ask. Anyways,
so, what have I learnt?
sigh where do I begin? This has been one of the craziest life-changing experience for myself. Before I got here, I thought I was independent enough to face any challenges but little did I know that these challenges were going to break me to my bone and throw me back to square one. Coming to Asia, allowed me to have a fresh start, a fresh outlook on life, dropping everything I know to open my mind even more.
Living alone comes with its own battles, a fight against hostility, a fight against momentous thoughts, a fight against yourself. Day in and day out being alone in your thoughts can drive you crazy, it brought me back to the beginning when I slept in a pod before arriving here. Living life in a box, there are openings but you don’t have the strength to open it, it’s just too hard. To surpass this difficulty, I focused on myself, internally and spiritually. I promised myself to try out new things; I started with cleaning my apartment (every detail), then taking out the trash, cleaning the washroom, doing the laundry and talking to the employees who work in the building. While taking every day step by step, I began to finally breathe normally again, I started going out often, visiting malls and talking to all kinds of people and hearing about their stories. I also got back into the gym and started following a routine of working out everyday, watching what I eat, indulging from time to time and setting goals to achieve. By going through my days like this, I kept learning and learning. Learning more about myself, my strengths, my weaknesses and using this time to solidify these areas. To go back home, not different, but as programmers usually say: ‘optimized.’
Surely, everyone’s pain and suffering is different, and nor can I ever compare mine to yours and neither can you to mine. Reading about someone’s experiences is completely different from walking their shoes. Though, writing on Medium helped project my thoughts to words, but obviously not everything is written. Often times I like to live in the moment, drop everything and just enjoy. Whether it be eating, shopping, or even walking. It gives me some form of calm and peace.
Now, there is way too much I’ve learnt during this trip, so I won’t be able to write them all down but here are some significant ones in point form:
Exchange your money at your destination not home country (if it’s Asia), since western currency carries more value
Keep all your valuables in front pockets, there aren’t major crimes, but it’s natural there can be some thieves on the loose
Clean your house/room the first thing you wake up in the morning, indirectly forcing yourself to waking up earlier and getting that over with
Make sure to do the dishes, cleaning all residues off your plates. Asia is insect heavy and you wouldn’t want any crumbs or food leftover for them to munch on
If you want to avoid cockroaches, purchase the following — the bait will give you some peace of mind and use the spray on dark areas once every two weeks
Go grocery shopping when you know what ingredients you need to look for (or else you might be wasting your time figuring out what to get)
If you visit Genting Highlands to go to Premium Outlets, when you get off the bus don’t take the SkyWay cable car, you have to take the shuttle to the Outlets, then take the shuttle back and then use Skyway Cable car to go up. My suggestion, Premium Outlets here costs about 4x more than in Canada — so not worth it. Just use cable car to go up
Don’t worry about transportation in KL as there are too many. However some things to note: MRT is the most modern subway (comes on time and has a schedule — very HQ as well), LRT is a bit older than MRT but still really good (I use it and it never disappoints), Monorail is one of the oldest transportation services (I use it too but sometimes has 5 min delays), and so much more but those are the top ones. Regardless of which medium and kind of transportation you use, make sure to buy the Touch’n Go card! You can find these at 7–11’s, Watsons or at the subway stations. You can refill these cards and use them on mostly all transportation methods, really saves you the trouble from paying cash all the time!
Try purchasing clothing and accessories that are made in Asia (asian brands) this is because western brands carry an enormous amount of value and cost more than back home
Negotiate — one of my favourite skills I’ve learnt — if you don’t know how, shoot me a message, I’ll teach you
If you’re in Canada, sign up for Tangerine credit card/debit card or if you’re in US, sign up for a Charles Schwab card. Why? ZERO transaction fees. If you take money out of ATM anywhere in the world, you will always be charged with some transaction fee, but if you have any of the aforementioned cards, no fees, you get what you want (save your money)
Finally, I’m grateful for this fellowship as it acted as a trigger to push me beyond borders, observe various perspectives on the other side of the world, and I learned how to live on my own.
To whoever’s reading,
I wanted to thank you for not only making it to the end of this blog post, but also thank you for keeping up to date with all my posts, it’s been an incredible journey, just remember,
the journey never ends