Malaysians Abroad: On Being Malaysian

Aug 29, 2014 1 Min Read

Photo credit (above): Garry Knight | Flickr

Compiled by HYMA PILLAY

In conjunction with Merdeka Day this Aug 31, we decided to speak to Malaysians living abroad to find out what being a Malaysian means to them. It is very encouraging to know that despite being so far away, Malaysia is and always will be a place they call home.

We ask them the following four questions:

  1. What does being Malaysian mean to you?
  2. What do you miss most about Malaysia?
  3. If you could export one part of our Malaysian culture and bring it to your country of residence, what would it be?
  4. Share with us if you’ve made notable impact in your country of residence or community. Something you would like to share with fellow Malaysians.

Jonathan Tan

Jonathan Tan Ern Wei

Age: 23
Occupation: Post-graduate student
Current home: Australia

  1. Continuously living in an established system of producing fruit not only for the betterment of my own life, but also for the previous generation that has brought me up as well as the next generation that I will be responsible to bring up.
  2. Being able to participate in late night family suppers that doesn’t make you worry about how late the place will be open until or the price, barring the worry for security.
  3. The informal gatherings of residential communities outside your house during festive periods.
  4. No notable impact, but I have at least gained a slightly greater sense of respect for our community as we are able to relate to different cultures and situations, which is the result of being exposed and also inquisitive to a foreign culture.


Pani Balakrishnan

Age: 33
Occupation: Commercial manager
Current home: The UK

  1. There are many countries around the world that adapt to a multicultural society. But only Malaysians live in each other’s culture. That’s what makes me a Malaysian.
  2. Lots of little things make me miss home. Doing things impromptu, turning up at a friend’s house unannounced, less rigid activities. Monotony makes me miss home.
  3. I would never want to take anything out of Malaysia. We are the ambassadors of the unique culture we own. I’m proud to say “this is how we do it back at home”.
    Nevertheless, it has become a habit to always introduce our famous delicacies wherever we are.
  4. I vowed to raise funds for Action Medical Research, an organisation dedicated to funding research to help reduce the high rate of premature birth and improve treatment for sick babies. As part of the challenge, I trekked the Namibian desert, shaved my head and raised in excess of £9,000 (RM45,000).
    In conjunction with the 2012 London Olympics, I was one of the quantity surveyors in the project to build Europe’s biggest shopping centre, Westfield Stratford City. It was a remarkable journey and moment to witness the completion of the centre prior to the Games.

Wong Jin Rou

Jin Wong

Age: 30
Occupation: Analyst
Current home: Australia

  1. Multiculturalism, which is an inseparable part of us. It makes us unique among other nations. Aside from enjoying different food, learning and respecting different cultures and traditions, we are also fluent in speaking other languages.
    Believe me, the ability to speak multiple languages never fail to impress my foreigner friends.
  2. Our multilingual conversations and our unique Malaysian vocabulary, including the “lah”. In Malaysia, we seem to develop the tendency to call every elderly “aunty” and “uncle”. We also call everyone else “boss” or “bro”.
    Apart from that, I guess what I miss the most is the sense of belonging. You can take me away from Malaysia, but you can never take the “Malaysian” away from me.
  3. Our food of course! That’s what we miss most when we are away from home. Malaysian cuisine is now the new storm in Sydney. Almost everyone is raving about Malaysian cuisine.
    A foreigner friend once told me he had tried all Asian cuisines, but after he tried Malaysian cuisine, he never went back to the others.
    You might think that’s a tad bit exaggerating, but looking at Malaysian restaurants mushrooming everywhere in Sydney, I guess he was telling the truth!
  4. I’m with a church voluntary group and we go to the streets to help the less fortunate. Sometimes it’s just spending time talking with them. At other times, we get our hands dirty by some serious house cleaning.
    I got a culture shock on my first visit because the less fortunate are not the poor (monetarily), but those who lost hope in life, are on drugs or live on welfare, i.e. the forgotten society. They are despised by most of the locals, and foreigners like us are helping them.

Ken Neoh

Kenneth Neoh

Age: Old
Occupation: Engineer
Current home: The United States

  1. It means home; as in my identity and family. It points to a set of values and sensitivities that help define a large part of me.
  2. The Malaysia I grew up in that no longer exists. I have a friend, now living in Canada, who also is a transplant from Malaysia. For us, we share a common recollection of a time/place/people that will only remain in our memories. Of course there’s the food!
  3. That celebration of our differences! I live in a country that embraces, with equal fervor, individualism and wholesale-homogeneity. It is a curious contradiction that is not widely acknowledged.
    I grew up in a part of Malaysia where diversity was unavoidable; yet we felt no pressure to form a melting pot. Knowing that it is quite OK to be different seems to be my token contribution to all whom I meet.
  4. [EDITOR’S NOTE: Neoh is too humble to share that he has several patents to his name.]


Lavania Jeevabala Balasingam

Age: 26
Occupation: Marketeer
Current home: The UK

  1. To me, being Malaysian is about the sense of normalcy we derive from the diversity surrounding us.
    The various cultures and food that we share exemplifies how our lives have been built around such differences, yet it’s those differences that bring us together.
    The challenge, however, is for these accepted and embraced differences to not be exploited and be divisive…
  2. In the first few months abroad, it was the food that I really missed. But, I then realised that it was more than that.
    It was about how our life and social interactions have been built around food – the mamak stall culture, the midnight snack at hawker stalls. It’s quite unlike any other places in the world.
  3. The food fusion! Where else in the world can you find noodles in curry?

Kat Neoh

Kathy Neoh

Age: 46
Occupation: Doctor
Current home: The UK

  1. Being part of a wonderful diverse nation which appears to have flourished from each of its ethnic communities’ individual strengths.
  2. In honesty, the food, specifically hawker food. Char kuay teow!
  3. The ability to celebrate each other’s ethnic festivals in a joyous, sharing way and without hostility.
  4. Nothing too ground breaking but I do try to do my bit in my community and demonstrate positive Malaysian attitudes, for instance a good work ethic.
What does being a Malaysian mean to you? We want to hear your story! Send us your comments or email us at

Share This



This article is published by the editors of with the consent of the guest author. 

You May Also Like

working towards your intentions

Linking Identity to Intentions

By Raju Mandhyan. What is your uniqueness in one sentence? Are you able to link your identity to your intentions? Did you know that linking both these extremes integrates people? Read more here in this article.

Oct 04, 2022 9 Min Read

Person sitting on a bench alone.

The Loneliness Experiment | Why It Matters

Nick Jonsson, Co-Founder and Managing Director EGN Singapore and Author of Executive Loneliness, an International Best Seller joins us this week to discuss share his insights on the topic of loneliness.

Sep 29, 2021 44 Min Video

Be a Leader's Digest Reader