Listening to Englishman Rhys William converse in Bahasa Malaysia (BM), from his fluency, one would be surprised to discover that he only picked up the language when he relocated to Kuala Lumpur about four years ago.
“Bahasa Malaysia is not a difficult language. I learnt from my friends, and used it with the locals every opportunity I had,” William said. To improve on his written Malay, William started a blog, matsallehcarimakan.com, and solicited feedback from readers, who willingly helped him polish his command of the language.
For William, the biggest challenge he encountered learning BM from scratch was knowing the difference between ‘bahasa baku’ or textbook language and ‘bahasa pasar’, the day-to-day version that is commonly used. Despite being naturally quite shy, William forced himself to speak in Malay. The positive comments received in real life and through his blog gave his confidence a much-needed boost, and motivated him to keep learning and speaking the language.
Seeing how BM can be easily learnt, William doesn’t understand why there are still Malaysians who cannot speak it, or even refuse to learn it. “I think it is a shame to live in a country and not be able to speak its national language. No doubt, English is important but Malay is a regional language that is also spoken in Thailand, Singapore, Brunei and Indonesia. Malaysians should be proud of the importance of their national language and should not be ashamed to speak or learn it,” he stressed.
In fact, William’s command of the local language has gotten so strong that he is regularly engaged to host web series, television programmes and live events, all in Bahasa Malaysia.
Soon making a name for himself in Malaysian households, the life that William is leading now is far different from his days in his hometown of Redhill, Surrey. “I ran my own website designing company. Luckily, when I decided to move to Malaysia, I didn’t have to give up my business entirely. I still handle designing projects for some of my UK clients. However, my main focus now is my blog,” he said. With a food niche, William obviously does a lot of food reviews, discovering the best of Malaysian cuisine all over the country.
William’s love affair with Malaysia began in 2012 when he spent a two-week holiday, upon the recommendation of a friend. Although he didn’t have much information about the country beforehand, he had a memorable first impression and really enjoyed his time, including the weather!
“There was something about the atmosphere, the people, the food,” recalled William. “I wanted to stay longer as I wished to explore more of the country but two weeks was what I had then. So, the following year, I returned to Malaysia and stayed for two months. That two months quickly turned into four, and that became four years, and I am still here!”
William still remembers with fondness the time, shortly after moving to Malaysia, when he rented a car and did a road trip around the peninsula. “In just over a week, I managed to cover all the states in West Malaysia, and it was amazing. I loved the varying scenery, and of course, relished the opportunity to sample popular dishes of each state. I can say for sure that this trip deepened my love for Malaysia, especially when I was able to visit ‘kampungs’ and invited to participate in the everyday life of the locals.”
According to the 25-year-old, the combination of different things that make Malaysia, holding a strong attraction for him, from the atmosphere, people, as well as the food. “The variety of different food, or you can call it a fusion of cuisines, is a major draw for me,” he added.
After four years, William feels that he has grown roots in Malaysia, and would very much like to continue living here in the foreseeable future. “This is where I proudly call ‘home’ now. While I would like to spend more time exploring the country and the food at a much deeper level, what I really enjoy is the integration between the races and ethnic groups. There are not many countries where the national identity is such a melting pot. The many influences on all aspects of society make Malaysia a unique country, besides its outstanding food culture,” he concluded.
Note: An edited version of this article [Exploring Malaysia, one dish at a time] was published on 2nd September 2017 in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.