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Interview with Marvin - a local international

Updated 4 Apr 2017
Marvin Mooi is an engineer in the oil and gas industry. As a result of his work for Shell International, he and his wife have spent many years travelling around the world, experiencing its myriad cultures. Now they have returned home to Malaysia, a place every bit as vibrant and multicultural as they could ask for. Marvin talks to Expat Arrivals about his international experience and deep local knowledge.

About Marvin

Q: Where are you originally from? 
A: Miri, East Malaysia.
Q: Where are you living now? 
A: Kuala Lumpur, West Malaysia.
Q: When did you move Malaysia? 
A: Around 2010.
Q: Did you move here alone or with a spouse/family? 
A:  I moved with my family.
Q: Why did you move; what do you do in Kuala Lumpur? 
A: I am an engineer in the oil and gas industry, with Shell International. I returned to Malaysia from job postings in the Netherlands, New Zealand, Brunei, Middle East, as well as short assignments in the States and China.

Living in Malaysia

Q: What do you enjoy most about your Kuala Lumpur? 
A: The diversity, relatively lower cost of living and the different cultures are what I enjoy most about living in Kuala Lumpur. 
Q: Any negatives? 
A: The extreme humidity.
Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life here? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: Not really. In terms of the level of local earnings here, a quick must-do is finding safe, logistically convenient (avoid having to drive and be caught in lengthy traffic jams), yet affordable housing. 
Q: What’s the cost of living compared to other countries you have visited? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Compared to the places to which I have been posted, Malaysia is relatively cheap overall. However, alcohol, cigarettes are expensive, of course.
Q: How would you rate the public transport? What are the different options in Kuala Lumpur? Do you need to own a car?
A: Public transport is still poor and relatively crowded. At peak hours it is packed with locals and temporary foreign workers, making it difficult to travel in any kind of comfort. I would recommend avoiding rush hours if you’re claustrophobic. However, I will add that there are marked improvements as more LRT and MRT stations and lines become operational.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Kuala Lumpur? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regards to doctors and hospitals? Are there any hospitals you would recommend?
A: Healthcare in Kuala Lumpur is relatively good and, for expats (especially those under company medical cover), comparatively affordable in contrast with many of the other countries I have been to. 
I would recommend Sunway Medical group, the Columbia Asia group, which is where the locals go. High end services can be found at places like Prince Court medical.
Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Kuala Lumpur or Malaysia? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: Security and minor theft are probably the main issues in Malaysia. In Kuala Lumpur, try to avoid the Chow Kit areas and the Klang areas.
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Kuala Lumpur? What different options are available for expats?
A: I would personally recommend condos. The majority are equipped with good facilities like gyms, swimming pools, laundry services, as well as 24/7 gated and guarded security. 
Q: Any areas/suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in Kuala Lumpur?
A: Bukit Jalil area and the up-and-coming Puchong area are ideal because they are not too far from the centre and are serviced by LRTs. Public transport is still affordable so you don’t have to pay the high prices in the bustling city centre. More traditionally popular expat areas will command high premiums.

Meeting people and making friends in Malaysia

Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there any obvious discrimination against particular religions or women etc.?
A: Malaysians, as a people, are very tolerant. However, as usual in South East Asia, openly expressing any negatives about the local politics/politicians and a particular religions can have very bad consequences.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: Yes, it was very easy. Besides peer networks, there are many other online networks catering to specific interests.
Q: Have you made friends with locals or do you mix mainly with other expats? What advice would you give to new expats looking to make friends? Any social/expat groups you can recommend?
A: Yes, of coursel! The idea of being in a different country is to mix, be exposed to the locals and their cultures -  do as the locals do. It is best to have someone local and familiar, with first hand knowledge and no axes to grind, who can guide you. If one is just confined to fellow expats, it is a waste of opportunities.           

Working in Malaysia

Q: Did you have a problem getting a visa or work permit in Malaysia? Did you tackle the visa process yourself or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
A: In Malaysia it is relatively easy to work out all of this. Say after a year or so, if you like the place, you might want to also consider M2H program.
Q: What’s the economic climate like in Kuala Lumpur? Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job there? Which resources did you find most useful?
A: At present, there are some confidence issues on the economic front, so ideally you should have high tech knowledge skills or work in investment.
Q: How does the work culture differ from other places you have travelled? Do you have any tips for expats doing business in the Malaysia?
A: Malaysia tends to be tolerant but still professional and disciplined. This is no longer a colonial country so any thoughts of superiority or privileges over locals should be dispelled from expats as soon as they immigrate.

Family and children in Malaysia

Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to Malaysia? Do you think there are any specific challenges for a trailing spouse?
A: No, as we are well travelled. Travelling spouses should mix with the locals. They are multilingual and, especially in the cities, English is common as it is a compulsory subject in local schools.
Q: Did your children settle in easily? What were the biggest challenges for your children during the move?
A: None. Culture shock is always a major challenge, but compared to countries which tends to be of a single major race, it is much easier to fit in and be accepted here where bullying is much less of a tendency.
Q: What are the schools like in Kuala Lumpur, any particular suggestions?
A: International schools abound in boarding and day scholar varieties. Alice Smith international school is a good example of a long-standing institution. Malaysia offers lots of choice depending on which syllabus you desire, but if you want to try local schools, you should be conversant in Bahasa Malaysia.

And finally…

Q: Is there any other advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals in Malaysia?
A: Keywords are tolerance, moderation and respect. Please do not mistake the locals’ over-friendliness or tolerances as weakness. Many Western expats find it to their detriment when, upon discovering the seemingly acquiescent attitudes of the locals, they try to throw their weight around. Please don’t do this! Even though the local peoples are varied, they have a common value of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” - once transgressed, this tolerance can quickly turn into unforgiving nastiness.

-- Interviewed April 2017

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