LIVING thousands of miles from our families is never an easy task but foreigners working in Malaysia, and Klang Valley in particular, have found ways to ease their homesickness.
Many of these foreigners, who are temporarily calling Malaysia their second home, are from Asean countries, namely Thailand, Myanmar, the Philippines, Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia, Brunei, Vietnam and Singapore.
Thanks to rather similar cultural traits with Malaysians, they have adapted really well to the landscape, food and faces.
Many of the Thai, Filipino, Indonesian and Myanmar nationals meet up with their fellow countrymen at least once a week as a way to network and stay abreast of current events in their respective home countries.
Take for example Tourism Authority Thailand director Suwat Kumwong, who has been in Malaysia a little over a year now.
He and his fellow Thais meet up quite often to enjoy a game of golf with Malaysian friends or for a road trip out of town.
His job, Kumwong said, made it easier for him to travel around the country and discover new places almost every week.
According to him, Malaysians are easy to work with and since their culture is quite similar to his, he and his wife have adjusted well.
“My wife was very worried about food but once we got here, we found that there was a variety to choose from, even good Thai food,” he said.
Just like him, muay thai practitioner Bunyarit Charoenrit loves Malaysia for its ample food and the easy availability of Thai food.
When he needs a quick spicy Thai food fix, Bunyarit -- or Jomkitti as he is fondly known -- heads over to Lai Thai in Section 17, Petaling Jaya, since they also sell groceries from his country of origin.
“Another place you can find a lot of Thai people is Jalan Alor in Bukit Bintang, where there is a good selection of Thai food,” he revealed.
Being the sportsman that he is, he often meets his countrymen at muay thai tournaments or they meet up on weekends to watch the fights.
“Other than that, we go fishing sometimes or shopping, visit friends and maybe go out for drinks,” said the muay thai trainer who works in Plaza Damas, Kuala Lumpur.
Jomkitti also takes his wife and seven-month-old daughter to witness the Songkran and Loy Krathong festivals that are usually celebrated at the Wat Chetawan in Jalan Gasing, Petaling Jaya.
Another who finds the comfort of home in the food here is Sandra Bambang from Indonesia.
The 34-year-old account manager and her fellow Indonesians enjoy a good lunch or dinner in places such as Kampung Baru on Sundays.
“Kampung Baru, which is sometimes referred to as ‘Little Indonesia’, is where we can find really good Padang food and get our groceries at the market,” she added.
Sandra said her group of friends also enjoy “lepak” (hangout) sessions at parks like Titiwangsa, Cyberjaya Park and the Botanical Gardens in Kuala Lumpur by organising picnics during long weekends or on Indonesia’s Independence Day on Aug 17.
Sandra’s friend Patricia Marianti likes to meet her fellow Indonesians over brunch.
“In our country, karaoke sessions are very common. However, some of our friends are married with children and thus they have altered their routine for a catch-up session over good food,” she added.
They frequent coffee shops, especially in Taman Tun Dr Ismail and Damansara, since new outlets have been opening up at a steady pace.
For the Filipino community, art, dance and songs are synonymous with their culture and they have maintained their fun and cheerful vibe here in Malaysia.
Paolo Campillo, 44, an art lover, enjoys meeting up with his Filipino friends at Publika in Kuala Lumpur during the weekends since the mall houses numerous galleries as well.
“We are generally art lovers and it is great to meet up in places like that. It is also a place where we shop and find interesting places for food,” said the hotel manager.
Campillo’s friends are also very family-orientated and have parties that involve the entire family for Halloween and birthdays at their homes.
Another art lover Menchie Anonuevo, 56, meets at least once a month with the members of the Malaysian Filipino Club that hosts music and dance lessons.
“We love to sing, dance and most importantly have fun,,” said Menchie, who is president of the club.
The group alternates their meetings between members’ homes and hotels or restaurants near Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, and catch up on the latest on gossip from their country but steer clear of politics.
Another Filipino citizen Ruly Bitay Cagadas, however, meets his fellow countrymen at the Filipino Migrant Centre where a Tahanang (which means “home”) Filipino (TF) has been established.
The college lecturer is currently serving as the chairman of TF, which has served as a place for Filipino migrants to build spirituality, sharpen minds and improve interpersonal skills. It is under the care of the migrant ministry of St John’s Cathedral.
“We usually gather at the Philippines Embassy when the embassy has programmes or projects for our citizens.
“And, of course, who can ignore Kota Raya. It is not only a meet-up venue but also the go-to place for us to buy Filipino products,” he added.
Myanmar citizen Dr Lwin Lwin Nyein from Yangon, on the other hand, meets her friends in spiritual places like monasteries.
She visits the Yadana Yama monastery in SS2, Petaling Jaya, where most people from Myanmar congregate.
“We usually meet there during special occasions including the kathina (robe ceremony for the monks) and Water Festival that coincides with our New Year celebrations,” she said.
She also meets some of her friends around the Puduraya area where there are many Myanmar restaurants to satiate their craving for a taste of home.
“I do miss home but with my husband here with me, all I need to do is visit one of the cafes that serve Burmese food and I feel better,” she said.