As a 19-year-old junior chef, Aarron Nelson had the opportunity to travel to Thailand with his executive chef for a food promotion. Wide-eyed and inexperienced, he found the country to be more vibrant and exciting than his hometown, Rotorua in Central North Island, New Zealand. He told himself, “One day, I would love to work in Southeast Asia.”
Little did he know then that he not only would have the chance to work in Malaysia, but head a 5-star luxury boutique hotel.
The 39-year-old Kiwi shared, “I would say my career took a turn when I joined HPL Hotels & Resorts thirteen years ago. I came to Malaysia as Assistant Food and Beverage Manager at Concorde Hotel Kuala Lumpur in 2003. Later, I was offered other managerial positions and subsequently became manager of The Lakehouse in Cameron Highlands. Three years ago, I was posted to Casa del Rio Melaka where I am the manager.
Settling down in Malacca’s Klebang by the ocean-side, about ten minutes drive from the hotel, with his Malaysian wife and their 11-year-old son, Nelson is relishing the comparatively slower pace of Malacca having endured the hectic Kuala Lumpur lifestyle for eight years. “Life is more balanced here in Malacca. I also love that the people are more easy-going,” he said.
However, he has discovered that as Malacca further develops as a tourist destination, the weekends can be quite chaotic, especially traffic. Getting around on weekends can be a challenge. Therefore, like a local, he prefers to stay in.
“Although I find Kuala Lumpur to be a centralised city to live and work, Malacca’s location is not too shabby either. We are just a short drive from KL and Singapore. It is also small enough that visitors can just check out the city by themselves without getting lost. Obviously, Malacca’s trademark decorated and loud trishaws are very useful for moving from place to place, plus the trishaw peddlers are ever ready tour guides.
“Malacca is growing immensely, a far cry from 2005 when I made a one-day trip here, and it has lots of potential to expand and grow as a tourist destination. Its position could propel further with improved infrastructure and parking accessibility. I believe that if we have more direct flights to Malacca, we would be able to give the full experience to tourists to enjoy this historic city.
“The cost of living is still attractive compared to other cities and it is heartening to see Malaccan youth coming back to contribute to their city, bringing home with them skills and experiences,” he added.
Much as Nelson has integrated himself into the local community and immersed into the Malaccan lifestyle, enjoying Nyonya Ikan Cili Garam for lunch and dim sum for dinner, which he still finds unusual in the evening, he is aware that the call of duty from his headquarters means that he will have to uproot and start a new life somewhere else.
He mused, “I think what I will miss is not so much of Malacca but in bringing such a boutique hotel to the market and being part of the hotel here. The memory of helping to build the profile of Malacca as an important tourist destination will stay with me for a long time.”
Note: An edited version of this article [Making Good in Malacca] was published on 30th April, 2016 in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.