Although he was regaled with tales of Malaysian life by new friends made at backpackers’ hostels in other parts of the world, Roger Brast did not make plans to visit Malaysia until one day, fate dealt him a different card. Recalling that eventful day, Brast was taking the train from Singapore to Thailand when he received news of terrorist attacks in the provinces of Songkhla and Yala. Thai friends who were about to receive him advised him to postpone his trip but he was already on his way.
“I decided to disembark in Kuala Lumpur even though my Malaysian friends were in Melaka and Penang. I did not know what to expect but since that memorable trip, I have returned three other times. In fact, Malaysia is a compulsory stop whenever I take month-long Asian vacations to escape from the winter of Switzerland,” said the 29-year-old Lucerne native.
The people made such a positive impression on Brast. He said, “I was alone but never felt lonely or out of place. People would always point me to the right direction or come up to me to have a chat. They would take me to eat at places that only locals would know. As someone who is interested in Asian culture and food, it fascinates me that Kuala Lumpur is a cross-cultural hot pot which one is hard-pressed to find in Europe. My new friends introduced me to the city’s cultural hotspots and to different restaurants that served international cuisines.
“Also, Kuala Lumpur has European influences. I could still do everything that I like to do in Switzerland, such as eating high quality Western meals or going to the cinema.”
An avid diver, the mechatronic engineer recently clocked his 100th dive which also explains his frequent trips to Malaysia, thanks to the rich marine life in Tioman, Perhentian, Mabul and Sipadan. According to him, the protected areas of Malaysia such as national parks and Sipadan have taught him to take better care of the environment, which he continues to practise when he returns home.
Another highlight from Brast’s multiple trips was climbing Mount Kinabalu. “It was one of the best things I have done in my life. What an amazing feeling to look down from the peak of the mountain into the sea,” he enthused.
While locals complain about the tropical heat, which has gotten more intense due to the El Niño effect, Brast relishes in it. “I do not like the cold and during wintertime, the temperature in Switzerland could drop below zero degrees Celsius. Funny thing is that even going out in a tropical country like Malaysia, I need to keep my jumper handy. The air-conditioner of buildings and public transportation is set so low! I cannot understand why,” he added.
Brast’s heart is sold on Kuala Lumpur so much so that he is willing to relocate if a good opportunity arises, career wise. Its strategic location makes it a good transit point to other Asian cities. Therefore, he is keeping his options open and is looking at Hanoi and Singapore, too. Living in Asia would not pose too much of a challenge for the Swiss since he loves the climate here. Besides, he is multi-lingual and speaks English as well as Mandarin. One thing the left-hander needs to get used to is eating with his fingers, and non-metered taxis.
Note: An edited version of this article [Thumbs up for KL] was published on 6th August, 2016 in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.