WHEN New Yorker Michael Helfman first arrived in Malaysia, the atmosphere along the road flanked with palm trees outside KLIA reminded him of Florida in the United States.
The infrastructure and especially the humid weather conjured up images of the southeastern state in his home country.
“But once I arrived in the city, it also reminded me of Queens in New York, where I am from,” said the handsome businessman who runs his own eatery in Bangsar.
Although he didn’t find Malaysia super exotic, the modern architecture made him feel like he was in a major metropolitan city.
Like any other expatriate in Malaysia, Helfman got used to Kuala Lumpur.
“I did find the food exotic and Jalan Alor was my go-to spot for food.”
Helfman has been in Malaysia for the past five years, where he began as a consultant with a media company.
“The company wanted to relocate me but I wanted to remain here,” he said.
He showed his enterprising streak when he started his own advertising company, where he provided a service to Malaysians who wanted to advertise overseas.
He also produced The Borneo Incident in 2012, which some film enthusiasts might remember, that featured travellers documenting their New York-to-Malaysia journey.
If he were to describe Malaysia in three words, it would be hot, friendly and tasty.
“The food is great and I love the diversity. It feels like a melting pot and there are plenty of opportunities here, in terms of business.
“Malaysia is a hidden gem,” he said.
Malaysia’s central location in Asia also makes it a great place to live.
“One can easily zip to Borneo or Thailand for the weekend.”
Helfman enjoys local food such as banana leaf meals, char koay teow, asam laksa and beef rendang.
“I took a little bit of time to warm up to nasi lemak though,” he jested.
He still gets to enjoy some activities from back home such as basketball.
He is part of a group called Stats Sports League, run by Malaysians.
“I love basketball and I would love to start a baseball or softball league someday.”
As a businessman, he finds the climate in Malaysia to be exciting, especially the restaurant industry.
“It’s good to see young Malaysians taking risks and showing their entrepreneurial spirit to open restaurants like the ones you see popping up,” he said.
“I do find it conducive to do business here, although sourcing for the right equipment at the right price and staffing is an on-going battle.
Also, I would recommend Malaysia to people who want to invest here. The market is stable compared to other Asian countries and English is widely spoken in Malaysia.”
When it comes to travelling and exploring the country, Helfman loves Langkawi.
“They have the tourism thing down for sure with the good food, beaches and hotels, which makes it a great weekend getaway. Also, I find Borneo very exotic and I love the jungles outside Kuching.”
However, dealing with the Malaysian traffic is something that takes getting used to.
“Double parking is an issue. Luckily, I ride a motorcycle, which makes it easier to get around because the traffic gets really bad. I do feel Malaysian drivers are more aware
of motorcyclists here compared to the US.”