How do Koreans view Malaysia

Anyong everyone.

It has been many months since I actually put the effort in to post a decent blog post. A lot had happened last year. On day 6322 , I left Malaysia for good. All the time I was there I never got a Permanent Residence in Malaysia as it was really hard for any foreigner to get. July 2013 came and I had to say goodbye to all my friends. I had lived in Kuala Lumpur (KL), Malaysia for 17 years and 4 months. KL was basically where I had grew up and I hardly lived my life in South Korea. Malaysia was like home to me.

I had so many memories that I will cherish from Malaysia. From since when I was a little girl, when I used to be so naughty and play computer games (Starcraft and Counter Strike especially) so much, going on school trips, talking about crushes to girlfriends, sleeping over at friend’s houses after doing movie marathons, going to prom, making trips to Korea in between and getting amazed by snow itself (yes I still do get amazed like how any Malaysian would), go to Korean school every Saturday, going to a Linkin park concert in 2003, seeing Desa Sri Hartamas being built,  going to Genting, Cameron Highlands, Lankawi, Redang and many more tourist spots, winning Prom Queen,  going to Singapore, going clubbing at Zouk, getting freakishly scared that I would fail a subject in Uni, karaoke-ing at red box, just yum cha-ing with friends, playing board games at friend’s houses, driving my Myvi around like a boss, going to Kpop concerts, going to Ipoh then Penang for food trips, going food hunting after looking at some tasty lookin’ food from blogs, watching japanese anime, getting addicted to Korean dramas and many more. There are so many overwhelming memories that I reminisce about which I miss.

Saying goodbyes to friends leaving Malaysia was something that I had been accustomed to. Since high school, friends left for overseas education and the Korean friends that came to Malaysia, usually didn’t stay as long as I did. They all left before me. I had always said it was going to be my turn every year. 3 years then became 17 years. This time it was my turn to say goodbye. A lot of my friends left to other  countries for a so called “better quality education”. After their studies, there weren’t many that came back. Those who did got into good companies, but surprisingly those who didn’t got into good companies too. For me it was different, I was pressurized to go back to Korea after uni to work. 

Malaysianised Korean versus Korean Koreans in Malaysia

Koreans in general are very proud of themselves. I am always proud to be a Korean. We very much are patriotic and are hardworking. My parents forced me to go to Korean so that I would not be a disgrace if I were to speak the language. It was embedded in my head since young that I must marry a Korean to keep the bloodline pure. But I know inside of me that they would love any race that I am going to marry, because they love me so much.

Two types of Koreans exist in Malaysia. The Malaysianised Koreans and the Korean Koreans. The way to differentiate them is Not all Korean Korean’s understand the Malaysian culture and they just hang around mostly with Koreans. They usually go to Korean restaurants to eat and the older one within the group usually pays for the meal. or sometimes you may see Ajummas (Korean aunties) fighting to pay the bill. Korean Koreans love fusion Malaysian food thinking it’s real Malaysian food such as restaurants like “Madam Kwan”. They speak more Korean and are obviously more comfortable using this language. A Malaysianed Korean however, like me, dutch pays (pays for own meal) and has more Malaysian friends rather than Korean. They may prefer to speak English more rather than Korean.

Another thing that distinguishes a Korean Korean is that they wear MLB (major league baseball) caps. You don’t only just see this in Malaysia. This happens like worldwide until it has become some universal fashion item. You know you see a Korean when you’re walking around in Mont Kiara, Sri Hartamas and Ampang and they’re talking really loud with their MLB caps and having some coffee at Starbucks, Coffee Bean or any one of the coffee franchises. Brands always matter to Korean Koreans. At one point in time, I even bought myself a MLB cap because I thought is was cool for awhile when I actually started hanging out with more Koreans. But that didn’t last long. I realised that I didn’t want to look like a stereotypical Korean. I am more open minded and my friends who are part of the idiosyncratic Gen Y generation want to be unique and special. Well I still do crave for authentic Korean food. Yeah, sure my mom is the greatest cook in the world but I do love going to eat Korean BBQ. I guess the most authentic restaurant that I have gone to is Bonga in Solaris Mont Kiara.

MLB Cap. Koreans wear any cap that has that MLB logo at the back of the cap.

So why do Koreans come to Malaysia?

Studies. High school Koreans stress out about one thing. Whether they will do well in their College Scholastic Ability Test or CSAT (Korean:대학수학능력시), also known as Suneung (수능). This one and only test determines whether you can get in to one of the top universities in Korea. The top prestigious universities are called SKY; S for Seoul National University, K for Korea University and Y for Yonsei University. Here in Malaysia, A Levels, Foundation courses, American Degree Program (ADP) can get you anywhere in the world if you work hard. That is why Parents in Korea send their kids overseas hoping that they will become fluent in English and eventually get into prestigious universities overseas by taking the route of undertaking 1~2 years of college. Malaysia is relatively cheaper than other countries so this is why they come.

These particular group of Korean students that come over to Malaysia usually go to a Korean Church and home stay (renting out a room and living with a Korean family that provides meals) around Mont Kiara or even Ampang. The Korean Churches in Malaysia provide Korean food to Korean students and always provide food to take back in generous amounts. In addition to this, Koreans in general have this strong community and we have a sense of pride in ourselves. You can never be excluded from this community because Koreans do know the best place to get anything. The best Kimchi, best food, etc. and all Koreans need Korean Ingredients from Korea. Malaysianised Koreans still need to be part of the Korean community so that they don’t forget their Korean language. But the number of Koreans living in Malaysia is relatively small. If you are a Korean in Malaysia, you would know the world is small. That Korean over there walking by the street? They probably are your friend’s friend or a third degree friend. Gossip is big amongst Ahjummas. One simple action can turn into a completely different story. That is why Malaysianised Koreans like to avoid Korean Koreans sometimes.

Not all Koreans leave Malaysia after college. Some of them stay, and go to local universities or private ones (especially Nottingham and Monash University). Some end up going back to Korea to work, some end up joining the Korean conglomerates based in Malyasia, and some join companies that require the ability to speak Korean in their jobs. Finding jobs as a Korean in Malaysia is not that hard and the pay is usually more than the locals. Opportunitiesare what they get. Back in the days when the Asian financial crisis hit, there weren’t many Koreans living in Malaysia. Now it has become a land of opportunities for all aged groups of Koreans. It could be anything ranging from running restaurants and doing trading. We all know that Malaysia is still a developing country so there are opportunities for e.g. business concepts, products from Korea. Not only this it is a land where employment is relatively easier. I have seen some Koreans who know nothing about Malaysia who fly in to find a job or have explored the potential of starting a business in Malaysia.

Korean Expatriates are seriously everywhere because of the presence of well established Korean conglomerates such as Samsung and Daewoo. Tea sipping is a common sight by Expat wives together with their babies and kids. Malaysia is good for raising kids; it has far better relaxed schooling and the socializing element is there for kids compared to Korea. However you can see the horror on children’s faces when they hear that their father’s work contract has ended. These children are reluctant to leave because of the stressful lifestyle back in in Korea. They worry that they will not adapt so some moms end up staying back to take care of their kid for their education.

Encounters as a Korean in Malaysia

Pretty girls get it a lot, as well as female tourists. Hearing that kissing sound while walking past mamaks was usual. This sound represents a waiter trying to get attention. Sometime I would react by giving a sarcastic look and putting my hand up as a gesture for fun (I wanted to show people that I was boss-like). There was no point frowning and getting extra wrinkles on my forehead. Ordering food at mamak in Malay was normal. I have seen too many surprised Malaysians, until the extent that I feel immune to it and I don’t really ever react.

Malaysians are fascinated when they see a Korean. When a random Malaysian would come up to me to ask whether I was Korean, my immediate response was “Yes” and they would greet me by saying “Anyeonghaseyo” (a formal way to say “Hello” in Korean). I of course replied back the same thing. The next question they would ask is, “how long have you lived in Malaysia?”. I would reply them X amount of years and as the number of years became longer, they got even more amazed and I would tell them that I can speak Malay sikit sikit (little little) and they would just be stunned. I quickly end my conversation while they’re still stunned and run off to do my own things. But comments like, “wow you have good skin”, “I love your natural makeup”, “you’re so white and pretty”, did make my day. Little girls would occasionally come up to me asking whether I was Korean? I would smile back and reply “yes”. I just loved how I was treated in Malaysia. I was glad I was living in a country where people were good natured to Koreans. Nowadays Kpop and Korean dramas have had an influence on the younger generation. I have met so many people who have said that they love Korean things so much. I really love how the Korean culture has penetrated the Malaysian market. Everyone here knows the existence of Girls Generation.

How localized have I become?

I went to an international school so my accent fluctuates often. It is predominantly a congregation of accents, maybe 40% British, 40% Korean and 30% Malaysian. But my Malaysian accent and British English accent are interchangeable. If I were at a Market, I would immediately switch on my Malaysian accent and say ” mahal lahh, cheaper can la bolehkah?” meaning it iss expensive, can you give it to me at a cheaper price? I know how to bargain in Malaysia. Even my friends get surprised when they follow me around.

Did I feel safe in Malaysia?

I was always cautious, but not afraid. I was raised to always be aware of my surroundings. Walking in the opposite direction of traffic, parking my car near the entrance, rushing to the car and locking it and getting out of the carpark ASAP were one of the many precautionary steps I took to keep myself safe. Just watching all the social media news alone makes you feel scared but it happens everywhere in the world. You have just got to accept it and be okay with it. If you do, Malaysia is not that of a scary place to live in.

Would I ever go back?

My friends are there, I know my roads around KL and Selangor, and the food is absolutely brilliant there. Malaysia’s multiculturism allowed me to build tolerance for diverse range of international friends.

So that is a definite YES.

but not now. I am moving forward, I am progressing.

I left Malaysia for Korea to prepare myself to go to the city I fell in love with.


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Tags: Korean Korean, kuala lumpur, malaysia, Malaysianized Korean