Who are you?
I’m Anabelle Co-Martinent, a Chinese-Filipino expat who is living in Kuala Lumpur for 6 years now. Married to French hubby and we consider KL as our home. Mother to a lovely 3-year old little girl, enjoying my mid 30’s and trying to live life to the fullest.
Where, when and why did you move abroad?
I left Manila in 2006 when I had to go to Singapore for my wedding. Stayed with my husband in Singapore for a few months and then moved to Kuala Lumpur in 2007. We had to move because back then my husband’s office was consolidating all their operations to Kuala Lumpur.How did you find somewhere to live?
In Malaysia, the process was so simple and convenient. There are many websites that have the contacts of real estate agents. I contacted them through email and I made sure there were at least 7 different agents that I would meet during my look-see trip to KL. While hubby was at work, I was busy being with the agents in doing viewing. That gave me a very good perspective of condo and living choices in Kuala Lumpur, despite not knowing much about KL back then.
Are there many other expats in your area?
Though I cannot say exactly in terms of number, yes, visibly you will notice a huge number of expats. Mont Kiara, where I live, is crawling with expats. Lots of Japanese, Korean, French and other nationalities around. You will also know that KL has a huge expat community because of the number of International Schools available, as well as the vast amount of imported produce in certain groceries will give you a hint that people buy these things (and for sure it is not the locals!).
What is your relationship like with the locals?
The locals are very friendly, though probably couldn’t beat the friendliness of the Filipinos. The downside is that not everyone speaks good English, unlike in Manila where I came from. Most of the locals are helpful when you are really in need. I had the experience of working in Kuala Lumpur, and because of that it gave me a better understanding of the cultures of the people here. I like the Malaysians — they seem to be more easygoing than the Singaporeans (in my opinion!).
What do you like about life where you are?
The easy way of life here in KL is one of the things that made us stay. It is not a perfect place, I admit. Unlike Singapore where it is so safe and progressive, KL is a bit more laid back. Hence, the people around are less stressed, more easygoing. That also means they are less efficient and responsible as opposed to their neighbouring Singapore.
Cost of living is another big factor. Living in KL, one can afford to eat out every single day. I know of families who never cook at all and always buying take-out food. The lifestyle is good, especially for women! It is a haven of services — tons of salons, nail salons, spas and the likes to choose from and with different price ranges. Local and imported produce are easily accessible at groceries and local markets.
As for shopping, KL is not lacking of brands and huge shopping centers. For those with children, there are plenty of International Schools to choose from. Transportation is okay — almost everyone has a car and the road infrastructure is well-developed. There is no shortage of entertainment — from beaches, to shopping malls, to golf and all things you can imagine.
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
Back home, the predominant religion is Catholic. Which meant everyone almost ate the same stuff and there were no restrictions. Moving to Kuala Lumpur made me a more conscious person. Here, you learn to be more alert about food choices when having a guest to your home or when eating out together in a group, because depending on the race and religious belief, there are certain food that they cannot eat. Different religions also mean that you will notice different structures of religious monuments. Back in the Philippines, I grew up only knowing about churches. Here in KL, you will see a diverse set of religions which makes it more colorful and though I do not fully understand all the religions, it is great them all living together in harmony.
How does shopping (for food/clothes/household items etc.) differ compared to back home?
Manila is a place where you can get spoiled. When we buy groceries, there will be bagger who will bag your stuff, push the items to your car, and when you get home your maid will carry the things and next thing you know your groceries are in the cupboard. Here in KL, labour is more expensive than in Manila so you have to let go some of the luxuries. They still do bag your items for you, but you need to push it to the car yourself. As for shopping, the same concept really — people like going malling and buying stuff from retail shops.
Grocery shopping is much better here in KL; I find that they have a good number of good groceries that carry all sorts of imported items, which sometimes is hard to find in Manila. I also compared prices — KL is often more competitively priced than Manila, and my own suspicion is that the taxes in the Philippines makes things more expensive.
What do you think of the food in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?
Malaysia is a food haven. Anyone who comes to Malaysia will know and learn that. People cannot stop talking about food, and they do have their variety. Thanks to the different cultures and races living together, there is a wide array of food choices. It is more diverse than Manila. I love the fact that there are all types of food here, from cheap to expensive, to simple and refined. I was able to expand my food taste to a wider variety as I learned more about the Malaysian, Indian and different types of Chinese cuisine.
One thing I will never learn to eat nor like will be durian, a very strong-smelling fruit. I don’t understand why they love it so much… it really stinks. Oh, and this is the place where I trained myself to learn to eat spicy food. There were almost close to zero spicy food back in the Philippines… while in Malaysia, spicy is the name of the game.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
Do not be afraid. Information is everyone. Reach out. Read and research. Live your life and take that adventure!
What are your plans for the future?
We hope to stay in Malaysia for the next few years. After getting our Residents Pass Visa, which allows us to stay for the next 10 years, we would like to be settled and make this our home… until further notice!
Anabelle shares more information about expat life in Kuala Lumpur through her blog chinesepinkaddict.blogspot.com.