With my three-year term finally drawing to an end, I am suddenly overwhelmed by nostalgic feelings as I think of my time here. I mentally flip through memories that have become hazy with time, and while they might not be clear, the notion remains the same. I hate having to say goodbye.
Merdeka Day is around the corner, so I spend some time reflecting on what it means to me as a foreigner. Something akin to great sadness fills me up as I realise that I could never be able to convey my thoughts and feelings into words fully, and If I could, there will probably be loopholes. But through those fragmented memories, it is a dream of mine to share my deep adoration for a culture so unique to mine and how it has shaped me.
My first week here was characterised by endless trips to the visa processing unit, battling hot, humid temperatures which were so different from what I was used to, and trying out new dishes I could not even pronounce. Coming from a background that enjoys travelling and appreciating different cultures and values, my inert desire at the time was to see as much as I could. I had three years of my life and a vast, beautiful country to explore; could it ever get better than that?
Fast forward to years later, my dream to tour around Malaysia remained exactly that. A dream. Turns out my perception of what university life was about was aeons away from reality (damn you, Legally Blonde and Pitch Perfect for selling dreams!). Turns out adulting is the real ghetto; I hate it here.
Who knew toilet paper was that expensive? And beef? I do window shopping for beef these days! Bills coming left, right and centre, deadlines always approaching much faster than anticipated, 20+ chapters to study in one night, always moving, always stressed and always tired. Oh, and hello, random mental breakdowns!
So I guess you can say it is safe to assume that life did not flow in the manner that I expected it to. While some might view it as an excuse because there are people who have had even busier schedules and still managed to do more with life, it is from this moment that I realise that I am not mad. I am not mad at myself for not travelling more or going out of my way to make sure my experience was somewhat better.
Instead, I am grateful because, from my trips to the mamaks near my university, I formed a relationship with the uncle who stayed up until 4 AM to serve roti canai and Teh Tarik to dozens of students every morning. The auntie who would open up a stall near the entrance to serve refreshing Thai drinks on sunny days. The mobile jewellery seller who vowed he had seen me before, and therefore I must marry him, but firstly, “isn’t this bracelet beautiful?”. I started looking forward to Wednesday Pasar Malam for my weekly dose of salted egg chicken, Siew Mai, cendol and popiah goreng.
I got my daily essentials from a store owned by a Pakistani uncle who spoke Bahasa Melayu fluently. I abused shawarmas from the Middle-Eastern restaurant by the corner (they were that good!) and made countless Malay, Indian, Chinese and Orang Asli friends as I walked the streets.
I have also met other people from all parts of the world, people who had stories to tell, people who enjoyed boba the same way as I did, and people who marvelled at how welcoming Malaysia was. We had all come to the beautiful realisation of how Malaysia was a melting pot of cultures and races harmoniously blending together to form the rainbow nation it is.
From the moment I hand in my flight tickets and go, I leave with the knowledge that I have been so richly blessed with experience. No, I did not travel as much as I wanted to, but my biggest takeaways lie in the beautiful relationships I have formed with my peers in school and the smiles I have shared with strangers in the streets. They lie in the tantalising food I have tasted and the number of times I have dashed in the rain (don’t forget your umbrellas, folks!) just so I could get to class on time.
Those memories are immeasurable and shall remain etched on the plains of my heart. As devastating as it sounds, but all good things come to an end. So I say to you, selamat tinggal Malaysia- with love, your most captivated fan.