Several months after losing his job to downsizing cuts, and with time on his hands plus a neat retrenchment compensation package in the bank, U.S. native Chad Merchant decided to put some of that time and money to use and see more of the world. That was how he found himself visiting Malaysia in early 2008.
At the time, little did Merchant dream that he would one day live and work here. That day came just six months after that first trip to Malaysia.
“I wanted to experience living in another country, as most Americans never even choose to visit outside of the U.S. I didn’t want to reach the end of my life and regret not having tried it,” he recalled. “Prior to that trip, I had visited the Asian countries of Hong Kong, Indonesia and Singapore. Somehow, I chose Malaysia. I didn’t even have a job lined up initially. I just put my belongings in storage, rented out my house, packed four suitcases to bring along and flew to KL.”
Within just nine days, two job offers fell into his lap, which he gratefully took up. Today, seven years on, as the group editor of The Expat Group, Merchant seems to be living the enviable life of an expatriate, far removed from not only those first few months in Kuala Lumpur, but also from the life he had led as manager for an engineering and research company in Denver, Colorado.
Living thousands of miles from home, the 46-year-old has discovered that, ultimately, people are much the same everywhere. “Even though we may have different beliefs, embrace different political ideologies, or grow up with different cultures,” he explained, “most of us share common values and goals. People just want to live their lives, work hard, raise their families, be safe. On some level, we are all the same.”
To Merchant, Malaysia is a comfortable country in which to live as an expat, and he has integrated well into the local community. “I actually have more Malaysian than expat friends. Before moving to Malaysia, I set a rule for myself to seek out only local friends as I wanted to learn about the cultures of Malaysia. I noticed some expats seek out friends who hail from their home country but I wanted to be one who embraces his host country. Malaysians love sharing their culture and are generally quite welcoming to expats like me,” he said, adding that he definitely now considers Malaysia his adopted home.
In his seven years here, Merchant, who also trained as a chef back in the U.S., has particularly enjoyed the growth of the international dining scene in Kuala Lumpur, though he was quick to stress how much he likes the local food here, too. “We can now feast on a wide variety of cuisines from around the world at so many different price points. Even so, char kuey teow and chicken rice remain two of my favourites,” he declared, also confessing a keen fondness for his regular weekend dim sum fix.
Merchant, who like many of us, yearns for an improvement in traffic management and more green spaces in the city, couldn’t say just how much longer he will live in Malaysia. He offered, “My mother is not getting any younger and as the only child, I feel a responsibility to help take care of her when the time comes. I’m in no hurry to leave Malaysia anytime soon but I know that when I do, I will miss the life that I have built here and the friends and experiences that have shaped my remarkable expat experience in Malaysia.”
Note: An edited version of this article [Merchant Sold on Malaysia] was published on 19th Dec, 2015 in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.
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