When I was growing up, I was blessed to have parents who incorporated travel as a semi-regular family activity. With at least one major trip a year and plenty of smaller excursions in between, I always took travelling for granted, perhaps not properly understanding its importance and how it was helping to shape my view of the world.
As I've gotten older though, travelling, for me (as I'm sure for many others too!) has become a much more contemplative activity. Both in terms of understanding who I am as a person, and realising that it's a whole giant world out there that I don't know much about, but can to try to learn as I travel.
Seeing the bright lights of Times Square in New York with my mom and sister
It's inevitable that when you travel to foreign places, you tend to think of them in relation to your own country. I've come to learn a few things as a person who's a Malaysian and who also travels, and here are five of them I'd like to share.
1. There’s nothing like food from home
We had asked our friendly community on Instagram what's one thing they've learnt as a Malaysian traveller, and the clear favourite answer was that there's no food like what we have at home. And man, I gotta say I agree.
Malaysian food I had while in Yokohama at a restaurant called Malay Asian Cuisine. After a few days of Japanese food, it totally hit the spot.
Now don't get me wrong. I am the biggest fan of the food I get to eat when I have the opportunity to travel (highlights include: the perfect coffee I had in Melbourne, grilled seafood in Busan, a barbecue chicken pizza I had in New York, and multiple Shake Shack burgers in Dubai). But there is nothing like the bold, assertive flavours of home. If I'm away from home for a long period, there will come that time where I will crave nasi lemak (preferably with sambal paru
for me!), bought from the roadside stall in my neighbourhood. Or I'll be hankering for some crisp fluffy roti canai, coupled with Nescafe Ais kurang manis,
the perfect weekend morning breakfast as far as I'm concerned.
Look at this coffee I had in Melbourne! Look at it in all its perfection
One thing I also always come back more appreciative of when I've been to a country where Islam is not the predominant religion is how easy it is to get halal food in Malaysia. For example, when I travelled to Macau with my family, I'm pretty sure we subsisted on McDonald's Filet O' Fish for 65% of our meals. I was glad to come home to the tastes of local food.
2. Malaysia has some ways to go in terms of town planning and infrastructure….Riding the train in Japan
Another popular response we got on Instagram is the fact there's a lot to be desired when it comes to our public transport. Having visited places like Tokyo where public transport runs like clockwork, or Melbourne, where the downtown area is a perfectly pleasing square grid, I feel like a lot of my favourite memories of exploring a new city are tied to walking along its streets, sitting in parks, green spaces, and the ability to easily navigate with public transport.
Walking the pretty streets of Madrid
And whenever I'm exploring a city that's accessible, it makes me rue the fact that it's not something I get to do much in Malaysia. Even though our public transport has come a long way (shoutout to the Sungai Buloh-Kajang MRT!), exploring KL on foot or using solely public transport isn't the easiest thing. We still rely on cars for the most part, and we've got a long way to go to make the city more accessible to pedestrians.
As a side note, I also wish our public toilets were cleaner. The first time I visited Japan, I landed at Haneda Airport and stopped to use the restroom...where I was blown away by the high-tech toilet. That's right, I started off my trip being impressed with a toilet. That's not something that would happen at home.
Also, from a financial standpoint, travelling to certain countries means being painfully aware of the weakness of our currency in comparison – during my first trip to New York, I pretty much wiped out a sizeable chunk of my savings, and it was hard not to keep multiplying every dollar I spent to figure out (and cry over) the ringgit equivalent.
Seeing a Broadway show in New York. You can tell how I could only afford the cheapest seats by how far away the stage is
3. …but there’s a whole lot to be thankful for too
So KL isn't the most walkable city every. And our crime rates leave something to be desired too. But there have been so many times I've come home from somewhere feeling infinitely thankful that I'm from Malaysia. Like that time I travelled to Christchurch and felt what it was like to go through earthquake tremors. After a couple of harrowing incidents which involved running out of shops that were shaking and having to evacuate my hotel at night, I was legitimately relieved to be back on solid, non-shaky ground at home (notwithstanding that experience, let it be known that I love Christchurch! It's such a beautiful city). I've always marvelled over the fact that even though we're practically surrounded by the Pacific Ring of Fire, we're shielded from a lot of major natural disasters. We don't have volcanoes or large earthquakes. No hurricanes or tornadoes. That is some blessed stuff right there.
Another major thing to be thankful for: I don't mean to go all sentimental on y'all, but I genuinely, truthfully, love that we have a population that's made up of various ethnicities (even if we do, admittedly, squabble here and there). Diversity is such a valuable facet of our country, and one of its most unique characteristics. To be honest, there are not many times I feel as proud of being Malaysian as I am when I see us coming together, even in the face of some who choose to be more divisive.
This may also seem like a silly point, but can I also just give a shoutout to bidets or water hoses in toilets? Because I definitely miss them when I travel somewhere where they don’t have them.
4. We have to seize the opportunity to soak in different cultures when travelling
When I was growing up, I spent my secondary school years in a boarding school that was largely homogenous and pretty sheltered from the world. It was something that shaped my formative years, perhaps not entirely in the best way. It made me realise one important thing though: there’s a fundamental need in life to be exposed to different things – be it different people, different cultures and religions, and different environments. I think empathy and kindness are built on the understanding that not everyone is the same as you, and that’s okay. And if you don’t meet people different from you, how can you nurture that understanding?
I got to wear a hanbok (Korean traditional wear) for the first time in Busan and legitimately felt 10 times cooler
Which is why I believe travelling is so crucial. And I don’t mean just going to a new country either – I think there has to be the openness and intention to learn about the culture and the people of the place that you’re visiting.
Meeting local schoolkids while visiting Borobudur temple in Yogyakarta
5. Travelling helps me learn more about how I identify as a Malaysian
It’s inevitable that when you travel to a different country and see their society, you think about your own and how you relate to it. I think I’ve often grappled with how I identify as a Malaysian, especially when I was in my early twenties studying abroad. When I came back to Malaysia, I was still trying to figure out where I fit into society, and how I identified with the country.
But over time I came to learn that one thing’s certain – Malaysia has always felt like home for me. I’ve tried analysing what exactly that feeling is, and I’ve pinpointed it to something akin to ease, comfort and a sense of belonging. And funnily, it often makes itself felt through the most mundane, everyday activities. Like going to the mamak
to eat, or driving down the North-South highway, or speaking Manglish, or eating durian. It’s a sense of familiarity that doesn’t fade, no matter how long I’m away from home.
And while it’s alarmingly easy to be cynical about things that we wish are better here, I’ve come to find, time and again, that when I travel (especially for long period of time), I will always feel that tinge of warmth inside whenever I land in KL, the place I know as home. My turf. Always.
Selamat Hari Merdeka to my fellow Malaysians!
This article represents the personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of Have Halal, Will Travel.