February 6

London life: Reflections of a changing city


london life

WATCHING a young couple walking hand in hand out of a cafe into St James Park in London, I reminisced the days when I was their age.

New to the city, the world at my fingertips and my heart beating wild with nerves, I was getting acquainted with the soul of the city and meeting people who imparted lessons to my life.

Over the years, these lessons form the values that I practise in my current life and perhaps, preach to whoever will listen.

Here in my final piece for this column, I feel that I have travelled a full circle from the day I took on this job.

I am heartened to have had the opportunity to use this space as a way of communicating these lessons, from the mind of someone who has left Malaysia for a foreign ground – who on a daily basis flip between two ways of living, becoming the stiff-upper-lipped English while harbouring the mannerisms of a sunny Malaysian who believes in friendliness at the heart of every encounter; and who till this day is wondering whether to convert the UK permanent residency to a citizenship.

Surely there are things that make the Malaysian nationality status worth keeping, whether it’s for the nostalgia of inhaling the humidity of the rainforest on an early morning walk; the fact that my primary, secondary and tertiary education was all spent in educational institutions adjacent to Jalan Gasing in Petaling Jaya; the mentors who helped me find my footing and nurture my independent thinking; and the striving for the better, otherwise known as kiasu-ness, which landed me where I am today.

And the biggest part of my identity – my large family residing in Kuala Lumpur, who on a daily basis functions as a huge reminder of the love that will always inhabit this endearing part of the planet.

Yet, is Malaysia a good place for my little one to receive her education?

To be in a society that places academic achievements above all?

Of course, I will never forget that it was this very emphasis that gave me the opportunity to achieve and live among predominantly English people today, a nationality whom I have only gotten to know through the TV box in my pre-UK life. Today, these folks form my social circle.

But an individual is a product of their environment and in spite of how strong their views are, they will latterly become superseded by societal pressure.

If my daughter chose to embark on a career in the arts, would I be as supportive if we lived in Kuala Lumpur, as I would be in the UK?

Or would I tell her what many well-meaning relatives told me in colloquial Cantonese in the past, that she would not be able to find a way to eat?

On the flip side, I wonder if England is suitable to bring my daughter up, seeing how quickly children morph into adults in this country.

Soon she will talk back at me, wear a crop top, make her face up like Kim Kardashian and act like an opinionated know-it-all.

While this proves to be a First World problem, to me they’re real – the environment you put your child in shapes them into whom they become.

Would the alternative be to move away from London and dwell in the nicer suburbs for an opportunity to be close to better schools, stripped of the modernity of cosmopolitan life?

Nearer to nature, so she will grow the roots of her willpower and blossom into a tough child, who will weather the storm, stand her ground and learn not to take anything for granted?

Or maybe I am merely repeating what my mother did all those years ago, protecting me from the evils of the world, resulting in the awkward and sheltered child that I was.

And it was not until I left my childhood behind that I really flourished.

I guess it is right that you have to see the vast reaches of the world in order to understand the ebb and flow of your own heart.

As I make sense of my potential adoptive country, I thought of these qualities that have won me over:

Diplomacy – The Brits excel at the art of diplomacy, where one knows the truth about something or someone but packages it in a way that does not cause a rift or embarrassment to the person involved.

Self deprecation – A way of reprimanding oneself by being modest or purposely undervaluing oneself. The Brits are so good at not talking about their strengths that they have evolved vocabularies and phrases to suit these social circumstances. Phrases such as “I won’t go that far” can often be heard in response to a compliment. They love to make fun of themselves or their friends (also known as “taking the piss”).

Redundancy of university education – Education is pivotal to securing a first job but it is mainly talent, hard work and experience in the industry that gets you a better salary. If you decide that the career that you would like to forge values industrial experience over graduate or postgraduate qualifications, go out there and fight for your place.

Minimalistic living – Most people in this country are happy with second-hand goods and are willing to refashion what they own into something else that they need, rather than having the need for brand new things.

New-age eating – So healthy is this “airy-fairy” eating regime that some have developed an illness known as orthorexia, an obsessive clean eating by adhering to a healthy diet, avoiding unhealthy foods, exercising religiously and stocking up on superfoods. While I love the idea of sourcing healthy ingredients and occasionally enjoy gluten-free, dairy-free and superfoods-loaded meals, I sadly do not have the time or funds to transform this into an everyday habit, and therefore, will never be a full-time orthorexia sufferer.

It is with these observations that I wish to mark the culmination of my views as a Malaysian living in London.

I hope that my words have a resounding message of inspiration to ferry the younger generation across the pond to a different way of living, or simply to help one escape the daily grind, to reflect on a life that beat to a different rhythm in a much colder part of the world, at this point in time.


Published in Malaysia’s The Star Metro, February 6, 2015.


British citizenship, identity, London life, Malaysian in London, nationality

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