Early last year I took up a new challenge. I accepted a job offer in Kuala Lumpur (KL) and moved a thousand miles away to welcome the new season of my life. I celebrated my first anniversary of living away from home at the end of February this year. After 365 days, I have surely and steadily acclimatised to a different living and work environment.
Although Sabah where I am from is one of the 13 states of Malaysia, once one crosses the borders (or the South China Sea as in my case) there are significant differences from one state to the other from the obvious landscape to the custom, people/natives, lifestyle, dialects, accents and local cuisines and delicacies just to name a few. The differences are particularly apparent to me the small town girl when transplanted to the big cosmopolitan city.
The initial curiosity and intrigues aroused by my new environment were gradually replaced by the desire to adapt and settle in, and a sense of adventure to learn and embrace. Out of the many things I noticed, encountered and experienced throughout the course of the last one year that I could write about, I settled on the following list.
1. accent and slang
Our pronounced Sabahan accent when we converse in Malay is vastly different from the locals and of course, we have our slang too. My colleagues and I take the mickey out of each other and at the same time have fun teaching one another our respective local words and expressions. They asked about my “bah” and I queried about their “kot”!
2. sunrise and sunset
The sun rises and sets late here. I was used to waking up to the sunlight at 6-ish in the morning on the island of Borneo and switching on the lights by 6:30pm but over at this side of the country, it is still dark at 7am and the sun only sets after 7 o’clock in the evening.
3. tolls everywhere and four-wheel drives are rare
There are tolls here and of course, having tolls means good roads. That is how I explain to my friends here when they asked me why four-wheel drives are common in Sabah.
Expensive sports cars are not exactly practical in Sabah with the bumpy and sometimes pot-holed roads even in the city, and we do not have motorways. Besides, having four-wheel drives is a necessity for many in Sabah such as plantation/estate owners/workers, village folks who live way out in the country and travel on unpaved roads or the Bornean wilderness and nature explorers!
4. road congestion
Oh, the notorious traffic in KL! Not only the traffic is a nightmare during rush hours, it can be gridlocked and stressful on the road even on a Sunday. One needs to plan before heading anywhere and to be reminded often that patience is a virtue when on the road in and around KL during peak hours.
5. they live by Waze
With the heavy traffic and being in a big city, it is essential to use a GPS navigation app. The app that is favoured by the locals is Waze and they also seem to have a soft spot for the American lady on Waze who pronounces all the local street names badly.
The West Malaysian love the heat from their red hot chilli pepper! Their food can be very spicy, way too spicy for a Chinese Sabahan girl like me.
7. nasi lemak, the local staple food
The nasi lemak I had in the past one year was more than all the nasi lemak I had in the last 10 years added up together. It is popular and sold everywhere, and it is not exclusive for breakfast. Nasi lemak is not known as our national dish for no reason at all!
8. sambal and nyonya kuih
KL and the surrounding areas are absolute food heaven and one will never go hungry. Despite of being spoilt for choice, I was most impressed with the humble sambal and nyonya or Malay kuih. Regardless of where I go, the sambal is always delicious. In the last one year, I was introduced to a bigger selection of kuih and was able to expand my knowledge on the mostly sweet and sometimes savoury snacks that I have become very fond of.
9. no seafood, tarap and butod
I get to boast about what we have in Sabah — abundant fresh seafood, unique fruit tarap and the bizarre butod/sago worm!
Now I am reminded that during my next trip home, I must visit the tamu (local market) to get some tuhau (pickled wild ginger condiment) and bring back to KL! Sadap (as in sedap (yummy) but pronounced the Sabahan way)!