When a fortuitous job opportunity in Kuala Lumpur arose for Douglas Matsen Guest, he did not take too long to consider relocating from his hometown of Melbourne. Despite growing up in a white Australian household, Guest had been heavily influenced by Asian art and culture through the collections of Asian antiques and artworks gathered by previous generations of his family.
He said, “I have always felt drawn to Asia. In fact, my closest friend from high school was Malaysian. After completing my first degree, I took some time to travel extensively throughout Southeast Asia. Exploring Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Malaysia, the allure of Asia became stronger. This was where I wanted to go, where I wanted to be. So when I was offered a position as creative director of a prominent architectural design office in Kuala Lumpur, I snapped it up without a second thought, I was on a flight out one month later!”
For a professional creative with a career at a boutique design company in the vibrant city of Melbourne, uprooting himself to Kuala Lumpur was certainly a bold move. Experiencing Malaysia as a tourist for two weeks some years earlier was definitely not the same as building a career from the ground up again.
After graduating from his second degree with honours first class from RMIT University, and subsequently completing his design thesis, Guest was inducted into the Golden Key International Honour Society for top percentage achieving students internationally. With such credentials, Guest could have made a name for himself in any global city that promotes the arts more effectively than Kuala Lumpur does. Nonetheless, it was a chance taken, and more than four years on, Guest still believes that it was the best decision he has ever made.
“During my time here in KL in the boutique design sector, I had the privilege of working on many high profile projects such as W Hotel, Marriott Hotel, KL Eco City, TREC and many more, refining my craft, and balancing eastern and western design sensibilities. This was helped by my background in the high-end vintage furniture market, where I developed a keen eye for design, furniture, fine art, antiques and cultures.
“Work aside, as I get to know Malaysia better, I find its unique personality quite intriguing. It’s the deeply varied nature of Malaysia that I enjoy, living amidst a multicultural society. The culture is being pushed and pulled in so many directions: steaming ahead into the future while holding onto the past, the diverse cultures, different communities of people, and societal reforms are transforming Malaysia into something no one is quite sure yet. I am hard pressed to look for a single word to describe the country, yet it is precisely this that is the excitement for me.
“I live a city life and my apartment is in the heart of KL. Even so, I sometimes still manage to wake up to the call of jungle birds in some giant rain tree not too far away. This is a uniquely Malaysian experience. When I can get away from work, I take time out of the concrete jungle and enjoy the natural environment. It is something that energises me,” said Guest, who is currently the Design Director of Zouk Club KL.
Due to the nature of his job, the 35-year-old bachelor lives the high life, rubbing shoulders with the who’s who of society. As a creative person who is supportive of the local arts scene, Guest is normally seen moving with a flamboyant, artistic crowd; attending high society events, and when time permits, the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra concerts to feed his artistic soul. Yet, according to him, the cosmopolitan city of KL also allows him to lead a laid back lifestyle, if he so wishes.
“I can easily put the brakes on the fast pace by taking a trip to somewhere else in Asia, Malaysia being so centrally located. Having said this, I remember spending an extremely peaceful few weeks in a longhouse deep in the Baram region of Sarawak. It was in the most isolated place I have ever been to in my life, but also immensely beautiful,” he recalled.
After more than four years residing in Malaysia, Guest doesn’t see himself relocating, at least not in the immediate future. “Quite a number of young Malaysians I have spoken to expressed their wish to leave the country. They believe that other countries offer better opportunities. However, if they do not stay, how will the country improve? Malaysia needs the younger generation to sculpt its future for the better. On the other hand, there also needs to be higher respect, investment, and incentive for them to remain.
“At the same time, I also believe Malaysia needs to invest more into infrastructure and the arts. These are two fundamental pillars of a successful, efficient, and progressive society.
“Despite everything however, Malaysians continue to be proud and positive, and like many, I believe Malaysians can work towards something greater, and I find that extremely encouraging and inspiring,” added Guest, who is doing his part for his adopted home by engaging the creative scene of arts and design.
Guest, besides being a professional creative, is an aspiring artist, with a growing body of creative work documenting the beauty of his new home in Asia. Follow his exploration of Malaysia via Instagram @douglasmatsenguest
Note: An edited version of this article [Nurture creative vibes in Malaysia] was published on 1st July 2017 in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.