To retired geologists, K Fletcher and Donna Baylis, Ipoh is home. Since joining the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) programme in 2003 and making Ipoh their base, Fletcher and Baylis have been indulging in their passion for nature and conservation photography not only in Malaysia but all over Southeast Asia.
Fletcher said, “But we need a few more flights to international destinations from the Ipoh airport!”
Originally from Vancouver, Canada, in 1982, Fletcher accepted a United Nations posting at Southeast Asia Tin Research Centre (SEATRAD Centre) with its office in Ipoh and brought along with him his new bride, Baylis, a Long Island native.
Baylis ended up working at SEATRAD too, as a technical editor. She said, “We worked with a team headed by the late Dato’ Dr. Abdullah Hasbi bin Haji Hassan for almost two years. I have fond memories of our office; a stunningly beautiful colonial bungalow along Tiger Lane (now Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah) with tall, leafy avocado trees in the compound.
“Our two-year stint here felt like a prolonged honeymoon. When we returned to Vancouver, we continued to visit Malaysia annually, until 2003 when we relocated to Ipoh upon our retirement. We are still in touch with many of our colleagues from SEATRAD days.”
For Baylis, she felt a strong sense of connection with Ipoh as soon as she arrived the first time. A month earlier, Fletcher had picked up her new custom-made wedding ring from the jewellers in Vancouver and was warned that his bride may not like how the ring was designed. She had wanted it with mountains, the sun and moon, and the ring turned out to be strange-looking; with sharp angles, steep slopes and long lines cutting through them.
One month later, driving to Ipoh from Penang upon landing at the Bayan Lepas International Airport (now Penang International Airport), the changing landscape with limestone outcrops looked oddly familiar. She blurted out to Fletcher, “These are the mountains on my ring!”
Living full-time in Ipoh now, there are many things about the city that the couple likes. Baylis would like to dispel the reputation that Malaysians are rude, especially in shops. “They are just shy but if you give them a smile and greet them first, it makes all the difference. Courtesy is a two-way street,” she explained.
As for Fletcher, he had this to say: “Ipoh is small enough to get around easily but is big enough to enjoy high speed internet and proximity to the North–South Expressway. As nature lovers, we appreciate that we have the Titiwangsa Main Range to the east and Kledang Range to the west, plus the karst limestone hills rising from the valley floor.
“Unfortunately many of the large wildlife species disappeared from the forests a long time ago. Hopefully, what is left will be preserved for future generations to enjoy.
“A big plus for me is that Ipoh has highly skilled precision machinists and workshops that can quickly fabricate the specialised equipment I design for our photographic projects.”
Having lived in Ipoh for over a decade now and seeing its development, the couple has witnessed the growth of the city. Baylis, whose first impression of Ipoh was that it looked like one big movie set, said, “It pains me to see the demolition of old buildings, sometimes whole rows of shophouses and even an old movie theatre.
“This underlines the fact that there is no balance between cherishing existing structures and development. At the same time, it is heartening that a handful of people have repurposed old buildings without jeopardising their charm. Such initiatives should be encouraged as they attract tourists.”
On their thoughts on the MM2H programme, Baylis said, “It is a great programme and as people like to say, a win-win. Expatriates have an awesome home to live in while Malaysia receives an influx of foreign money. Moreover, expatriates are, in a sense, global ambassadors for Malaysia who spread the word about what a wonderful country it is to visit.”
Added Fletcher, “There isn’t a similar programme in any of the neighbouring countries. It is excellent and visa renewals are very efficient.”
Note: An edited version of this article [Good Enough For Home] was published on 19th March, 2016 in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.