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Many things have changed Print E-mail

ONE day in September 1995, I received a phone call from my company’s headquarters:

“We have a vacant position for a country manager in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. We would like you to take it. Do you want to go?” I was working for the Global News Agency and Financial Information Provider, Reuters, as a German expat based in Budapest, Hungary and ambitious to build my international career.

Malaysia... Asia... career opportunity... my thoughts and feelings went on a roller coaster trip. Where exactly is Malaysia?

There was no Google back in 1995, so I rushed to the nearest book shop and bought the Lonely Planet version of Malaysia to learn more about this country.

Malaysia was one of the fast-developing countries in Asia and a country manager position would be an excellent opportunity and experience.

An icon: The Petronas Tower 2 housed the Reuters office.

I was curious, excited, also a little bit scared, but I accepted the company’s offer quickly and on Dec 30, 1995 I was on the Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Kuala Lumpur with little idea what to expect.

The first few weeks were overwhelming.

The heat, the humidity, the chaotic traffic — I felt I needed four pairs of eyes to watch out for all the motorbikes coming from everywhere and on top of it all, I was driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road.

The different smells (in particular the smell of Durian was almost unbearable), the daily heavy tropical rain showers, the horrific thunderstorms, the spicy food, everything was new and different, exhausting at the time and I started to understand the term: Asia — culture shock.

But I settled in quickly and soon started to explore the country, its fascinating culture and history with huge curiosity and lots of fun and it did not take long before I fell in love with Malaysia.

I first travelled to all the easy touristic places like Malacca, Penang, Langkawi, then travelled to places further afield such as Pulau Redang, Pula Tioman, Kuching, and Kota Kinabalu.

I did everything from a night jungle walk in Taman Negara to scuba diving in the crystal clear waters of Pulau Sipadan, swimming with the turtles and searching for the Proboscis monkeys in Sandakan.

My staff and colleagues told me that I have seen more of Malaysia than most Malaysians.

I started to look forward to the refreshing daily rain, which keeps this country so beautifully green, I love the marvellous cloud formations during the thunderstorms and enjoy the variety of food and spices, although I still break out in sweats when the chillies are too hot.

I even learned to drive relatively stress-free in the chaotic traffic of KL.

I also made lots of friends in Malaysia, locals as well as expats. The Malaysian people are very open, friendly and because English is a common language it makes communication among all the races and nationalities very easy.

From a business point of view the three-and-a-half years from January 1996 to April 1999 were immensely fascinating for me.

The Malaysian economy was booming, the country was bubbling, the city of KL never stopped, most shops are open until late at night, which was unknown in Europe, and the people were hungry for success.

Coming from a well-established and organised, pragmatic Europe, this dynamic energy was refreshing and contagious with so many things happening.

The year 1998 became unforgettable for two reasons: the opening of many new KL landmarks and the Asian financial crisis.

Many long-term projects in Malaysia were completed in 1998: the Petronas Twin Towers with the Suria shopping centre and Malaysia’s first philharmonic, Menara KL as well as the new airport KLIA.

Malaysia also hosted the Commonwealth Games in 1998. At Reuters we also completed two fascinating projects, our office move to Petronas Tower 2 and approval as an MSC status company. All of this was very exciting and motivating for the entire Reuters team of about 60 staff members at that time.

Unfortunately the Asian financial crisis also hit Malaysia in 1998 which had a huge impact on the country, but also on the company’s business. Costcutting became the word of the day which eventually led to my departure from KL back to Europe in April 1999.

I was sad and disappointed to leave many friends behind and a country which I had fallen in love with during the past three-and-a-half years. But, I knew I would come back, never mind when and how.

This day became reality nine years later. In April 2008 my husband and I moved back to Kuala Lumpur, we applied for a MM2H visa, bought a wonderful three-bedroom apartment in Mont Kiara and are now proud and happy owners of a 10-year MM2H resident visa.

A lot has changed over the last 12 years, but a lot is the same too. There are many more shopping centres, highways, apartment buildings and the SMART tunnel.

Even though, the traffic is as chaotic as ever, the Malaysian people are nice and friendly. The food is still fantastic, the cost of living relatively low, the infrastructure, particularly the Internet, is competitive to many Western countries.

? Gudrun’s love for Malaysia brought her back from Germany three years ago after a nine year absence when she resided in KL holding a senior corporate position. She and her husband are serial entrepreneurs and are passionate about staying fit and healthy, promoting an environmentally sustainable lifestyle.