Twelve years ago, when Thibault Paquin’s fledgling career in the hotel development industry took him from his home city of Paris to Bangkok, he had no idea that he would one day live in Kuala Lumpur. “I spent every couple of years based in a new Asian city but always headed to Kuala Lumpur with friends during long weekends because of the happening party scene, to Penang for food and Sabah for diving,” the 39-year-old French said, who first stepped on Malaysian soil on an expedition to conquer Mount Kinabalu.
He recalled, “Although I am an avid hiker, I was still unprepared by how cold it could get up on the mountain. Quite frankly, I had no clue what to expect. However, I remember that I enjoyed myself a lot, and even went back a few times since then.”
Some years later, Paquin left the hotel field entirely and struck out on his own to set up a consultancy in theme park and attraction development, with an office in Hong Kong. One of the projects that he was engaged to work on was Asia’s first animation theme park known as Movie Animation Park Studios (MAPS). “I was required to stay in Kuala Lumpur for months, with regular trips to Ipoh, where MAPS is located. It was during this time that I realised that I liked living in Kuala Lumpur, thus decided to apply for a Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) visa, which allowed me to stay,” Paquin shared. With his recent purchase of a condominium unit in an established township in the fringe of Kuala Lumpur, it looked like the bachelor’s move to Malaysia is permanent.
Despite setting up home in KL, Paquin maintains his office in Hong Kong, even as his business takes him often to Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines, working on exciting projects. In retrospect, it was the MAPS project that changed the life path that Paquin was about to take. He said, “I was on the verge of relocating to Singapore where I received a job offer, once again in hotel development. I told my friend, Darren McLean, about it. At the time, he was putting together MAPS. He said that I can’t leave the theme park industry and suggested that I spend a few months in Malaysia to see how we could collaborate. As this offer came from a good friend, and I wasn’t too excited about the move to Singapore, I decided to stay put, and here I am three years later!”
According to Paquin, Malaysia has everything that he looks for in a place to live, at this point of his life. It offers great value for money, a quality lifestyle and most importantly, Malaysians are very friendly and welcoming. He added, “I have been able to make friends here. Moreover, Malaysia has good infrastructure, from airport to railway, highway and now the new MRT lines, making life a lot easier than most other Southeast Asian countries. Of course, I also must mention the food culture here. It is probably the only factor that unites all Malaysians and makes the country so enjoyable for tourists and foreigners living here, like me.”
If there was one thing that caused Paquin to regret staying in Malaysia, it was the 2015 haze from Indonesia. “It was really bad and made me feel claustrophobic. I thought it might be an annual affair and almost regretted my decision of living here. Fortunately, it has not happened again since, fingers crossed! This means that I can still enjoy life in KL and its cultural scene, a very important aspect for me in my appreciation of a city and its people. I recall how I was blown away by the amount of quality cultural offering at the Yayasan Sime Darby Festival at KLPAC in 2014 and how KL residents embraced it,” he reminisced.
Although there are much to love about Malaysia, there are still things that Paquin hopes to see improvement in: “There should be better unity among Malaysians. The best I have seen of Malaysia is when people come together, regardless of race and beliefs, to celebrate the amazing gifts from their homeland, be it food, heritage or entrepreneurship. Sometimes I struggle with the inferiority complex Malaysians seem suffer from and which results in a small-minded attitude. Also, I don’t like the fact that a lot of my Malaysian friends consider leaving the country because they think it does not offer the right prospects for their children.”
Even with these negatives, Paquin has a ten-year visa to stay in Malaysia and he intends to see it through till the end, even perhaps beyond that. “I am also involved as an investor in a new project in KL and hopefully it is successful and contributes to making me feel even more grounded in Malaysia,” he revealed.
Note: An edited version of this article [Frenchman here to stay] was published on 19th August 2017 in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.