Potpourri - A Look at Malaysia's Melting Pot

Take a walk into the heart of Kuala Lumpur today you will find yourself wondering, “Why does it feel like I’m the foreigner?” Strange, but true. The influx of immigrants, be it legal, illegal, refugees or Internationally Displaced Persons (IDPs), has been on a rampant rise. One of my favourite remarks lately is, “Step onto a Metrobus and you are probably the only Malaysian there!” Today, more than ever, this extraordinary phenomenon brings with it new colours, patterns and strokes to add to the effervescent Malaysian canvas.

Most immigrants – illegal, legal and refugees – cross the borders into our country for a chance at a better life. Various circumstances and conditions in their home countries, such as political unrest and economical crises, prompt them to look to our shores for job opportunities and as healthy & conducive environment to raise a family. One of the advantages of having such diversity is the infusion of various cultures into our already abundant concoction. 

Apart from that, those who come to set up businesses bring with them little treasure indigenous to their home countries. One such person is 32-year old Burmese national, Jasmine, who has set up stall right outside Central Market selling handmade jewellery items adorned with precious stones that are found only in Myanmar.

Sri Lankan Shanaka Jayawardana, 33, who moved to Malaysia a couple of years ago after marrying his Malaysian girlfriend, Nisha, was not expecting what came for him in regards to the Malaysian experience. Currently working as a Content Writer for an online furniture company, Home24 Malaysia, he feels that his lifestyle has deteriorated. “Life is more fast-paced here, which can be considered an improvement, but I feel it is a step backward.” Shanaka believes that simple things such as nature, human values, and sound ethics and morals should be respected and valued as opposed to the current trend of the Malaysian society to place greater importance on the more artificial, materialistic and superficial.

Fitting in to the society, which brought about challenges of its own was not much of a task for him, yet still gave home points to ponder on every single day. Shanaka finds his views on life to be contrasting when juxtaposed with those of the KLites around him. “Being Asian I seem to fit in easily, but sometimes I feel alienated by how shallow most people’s views and outlook towards life are, in Kuala Lumpur at least.” What he loves most about Malaysia are the beautiful beaches, natural parks, diversity of wildlife & the friendly people. In that same vein, he cannot stand the fact that most people don’t smile at each other or reciprocate when offered one. When asked whether he was planning on returning to his home country, his immediate answer was, “Definitely! Because I come from the most beautiful little island in the world and that is where I belong!”

If someone back home asks you to describe Malaysia, what would you say?

Niwaaduwakata Hondai (It’s good for a holiday) 

21-year old student, Ahana Gurung, who has lived in Malaysia for over 3 years, fell in love with Malaysia for Her beauty and diversity. The Indian native, who lives here with her cousins, siblings Ayesha and Abhishek Gurung, admits it took her a while to get used to the Malaysian culture, which is different from that of India in many ways but managed to settle down without too much difficulty. Unlike Shanaka, she feels her lifestyle has improved since moving to Malaysia, “The standard of living is much higher in comparison to so many other countries” Currently pursuing a degree majoring in Psychology  & Communications, Ahana shares an apartment with  her cousins in Subang Jaya. Just like most foreigners, tourists and migrants alike, she loves  the people of Malaysia. “Most of them are very  helpful. None, so far, have been mean or hostile.”  Some of the things that she loves most about  Malaysia are the beaches, the food and the rich culture. Adding that Perhentian Islands, Penang and  Kuala Lumpur are her top 3 highly recommended  places to visit in Malaysia. However, she’s not too  fond of our public transportation system.

If someone back home asks you to describe Malaysia, what would you say?

A country where everyone feels at home because of the culture. 

This is a takeover

For those who have not paid a visit to Chinatown in the last 5 years or so, there are surprises in store.The all-new Petaling Street, comes with its paved floors, well managed stall and wide walking spaces, diminishing the infamy that used to surround Replica Haven.

Where are the locals?

However, one has to be quite oblivious to not notice that the Chinese are missing from Chinatown; or so it seems. Undoubtedly, it is still the locals who hold the monopoly in Petaling Street, but who would expect anything less from our math-aficionado counterparts than the outsourcing of labour to the migrants.

Still getting the job done

One very good example is the extremely popular roasted chestnut stall, located at the prime cross-junction of the 4 streets that make up Chinatown, which used to be manned by an elderly Chinese uncle but is now managed by his Indonesian worker.

Business better than Usual

None of which is at all surprising. Walking along Jalan Tun H.S Lee, you will find various coffee shops but don’t be too surprised if the man cooking your Char Kueh Teow is not fluent in any of the Chinese dialects or any other Malaysian vernacular for that matter. Needless to say, it is all a brilliant business manoeuver; hire a worker for a nominal stipend, teach him the skills of the trade, allow him to manage one outlet, and repeat. Before you know it, you have 5 Char Kueh Teow stalls when before you only owned one.

Cultures have been meeting and mixing in Malaysia since the time of the people of Bujang Valley, who welcomed Chinese and Indian traders; and the Arabs, who brought with them the principles and practices of Islam. Malaysia’s cultural potpourri has been marked by many different cultures, but only a handful have had an especially lasting influence on its citizens.


Kashmiri crafts sold at Central Market

Which only begs the question, will it happen again? This diverse culture is a blessing and a stress, still making this country one of the most cosmopolitan places in the world. Diversity is in the genes of this nation and if she learns to embrace this truth, she will find within herself a historical and natural openness to the rest of the world; so be it.