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Celebrating the Malaysian Identity in a Foreign Land

Hi! My name is Manimala Subramaniam. I am Fajarbaru’s Senior Executive of Projects from the Property Department. I spent three years in the UK for studies and as part of my work involved in cultural immersion with BBC. I also provided professional make-up artist training programs during my time in UK.

The three years I spent in a foreign land was an eye-opening experience. I witnessed the differences between Malaysia and the UK in various aspects, including culture, food, lifestyle and many more.

My journey as a Malaysian in another country taught me to appreciate and value the Malaysian spirit. Being in a foreign country was not an easy experience. I saw, endured and overcame many challenges, but one of the biggest was the language barrier. I speak fluent English, yet the real challenge was understanding their accents. The British have a distinct way of pronunciation, very different from the one we are used to here. At first, it took some time to get used to the accents, but as time went by, I was able to understand and converse well with the locals there.

Another challenge was of course, the food! We Malaysians love spicy and savoury food, but such cuisine wasn’t easy to come across in the UK. The vegetarian food in Malaysian restaurants there were usually expensive or overpriced, and the taste – well, certainly not comparable to local home-cooked food! Luckily, we knew how to cook. We started cooking for ourselves, and it was not only budget-friendly and fun, but it also served a way for us to stay connected to our Malaysian roots despite being thousands of kilometres away.

I moved to the UK, leaving behind the comfort of my home, family and the country. At first, I felt lonely and very out of place. But that feeling was cured almost instantly when I met fellow Malaysians there and with temple devotee associations. The Malaysian community in the UK is small – much like any other country - but incredibly close-knit. It was a very bustling and lively scene with great events and festivals always lined up with Malaysian music, fashion, dance, arts, crafts and food. I made lots of friends there, took part in the social groups and activities, and once I even attended the Merdeka Carnival that was held in conjunction with the Malaysian National Day! I missed my family and friends greatly when I was in the UK, but in a way, I gained new friends and family among fellow Malaysians there as well as with the locals there. Our bond made it harder for me to leave them when I returned to Malaysia.

When I came back, it felt like a breath of fresh air. Being overseas gave me a lot of memories and experiences that I will certainly cherish, but Malaysia is where I belong. Being Malaysian is my identity and it is what makes us all a community. The past year has been a roller coaster ride with the unprecedented pandemic causing an economic crisis and affecting the livelihood of many Malaysians. But it has also brought about a new sense of hope and unity, as Malaysians rally together to help each other survive. It has shown that we prefer to be addressed collectively as Malaysians, and not segregated by race or religion.

To me, this what the Malaysian spirit is all about. We are full of love, kindness and support to whoever needs it, and we stay together as Malaysians regardless of our backgrounds. This Merdeka Day, I hope we will continue kindling our ‘Malaysian-ness’ with unity, hope and love! 

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