Having been an expat since birth, the lifestyle comes natural to Ersatz...
23 November 2015| Last updated on 25 October 2017
Meet Ersatz, she was born in Den Haag, the Netherlands and now lives in Ipoh in Malaysia. Her mother was Dutch, and her father Irish... And as both were expats long before she was born, the lifestyle of being a global soul is somewhat natural to her.
Tell us a bit about yourself, Ersatz!
I have been an expat since birth and have never lived in my passport country. As a child I identified with the Netherlands, my parents’ base country in Europe and where my Oma & Opa lived. I went to boarding school in the UK when I was 11 and although my parents kept traveling I stayed in England for university, marriage and career and I now probably identify, culturally, most closely with the UK.
Shortly after my family retired to England my husband and I had the opportunity to work abroad and we took our own family abroad. Taking both my childhood and adult life into account Ipoh is my 11th posting abroad and 8th country. I think I may have lived in as many houses as I have lived years on earth but I have lost count!
How long have you lived in Malaysia?
We have been in Ipoh for 8 months, prior to that we had been working for the same company in Miri, Sarawak one of the Malaysian states on Borneo.
Have you always wanted to live/work abroad?
Given my peculiar background I have no real home, a so called Third Culture Kid extraordinaire (although I dislike that term and prefer Pico Iyer’s ‘Global Soul’). As such I have always lived abroad, even when we go back to the UK, my husband and children’s home country and where I have lived longer than anywhere else, there are still things that make me realise that I am an immigrant there.
Why did you move?
A few years ago my husband was looking to take the next step on the career ladder and we saw an advert for a founding Deputy Headmaster for a British Public Schools’ sister operation in Astana Kazakhstan. The advert said ‘are you looking for a new adventure?’ and who can say no to that. My job at the time was fully portable so we decided to take the plunge.
Why do you like living in Malaysia?
Malaysia is an easy posting. It has fully modern infrastructure and in many ways it is no different to living in Europe. My day to day life here is exactly the same as it was in the UK or in the Netherlands. The only thing that tells me I am living somewhere else are the cultural differences but those are to be expected in every posting and are a common (if different) factor in all locations. In that respect it is not the most exciting of postings and we hope to be somewhere a little more adventurous when we move on from here (whenever that might be). There is a lot to see and do here in Peninsular Malaysia, however and every weekend we try to drive somewhere interesting, be it a nature reserve, a temple or another town.
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What are the accommodation options available in Malaysia?
Just about every option you want is available here. There are well maintained condominium complexes that often come with a gym, pool and other facilities and many, many gated and guarded housing developments. These can be a little ‘samey’ and many of the newer ones feature terrace houses squeezed very tightly in their plots.
We live in a ‘bungalow’, which here means a detached two story house and pay a little more to live in a gated garden suburb where the houses are more widely spaced, the private gardens a little larger and where there are nature walks through communal gardens that abut a large lake. It is a paradise for wildlife and every time we go out we spot at least two different types of animals (our record is 11 different species in one walk). The dogs love going for a swim in the lake.
Do you celebrate Christmas?
Christmas is very important to us and whether we go away on holiday, celebrate in our own home or return to the UK to spend the time with family we always make the effort to do something to mark the day.
Is Christmas celebrated in your host country?
Yes Christmas is a public holiday here in Malaysia. It is marked by all Malaysian Christians and those of other faiths are always happy to wish ‘Happy Christmas’.
What are some of the traditions associated with Christmas where you now live?
Malaysians love to share their celebrations with every one and any holiday, for any faith, is always associated with an ‘Open House’ where people host a party for the neighbourhood. We have been to Open Houses to celebrate Chinese New Year, Eid (Hari Raya) and Diwali. Last year in Miri we went to our local Church for Midnight Mass. It started at about 7.30 and continued to 11.30 and the church was packed to the rafters and the congregation had spilled out into the carpark. Because we had the baby and children with us we were given priority seating in the main body of the church. There was a lovely and very welcoming atmosphere there. I know friends who are different denominations had a similar experience at their churches.
What are the traditions in your home country and how do they differ?
In the UK we always go to Midnight Mass which starts (as the name suggests) very close to Midnight. I spend the evening before going to church preparing as much of the Christmas meal as possible in advance (and getting family members to help with this). Just before we leave I get some mulled wine ready to warm on our return. When we get back home the children go to bed and my husband and I (and any visiting family members) finish wrapping presents and put them under the tree. Just before we go to bed we put the children’s stockings on their beds. I love this tradition, we did not have them as a child (in the Netherlands shoes go under the bed for Sinterklaas in early December instead).
Food is such an important part of our Christmas celebrations and I spend a lot of December making Christmas Fruit Cake, peper and kruidnooten, tai-tai, preparing Christmas Puddings, making Mincemeat and all sorts of other seasonal treats. I learned to make them so that we could continue to enjoy our traditional Christmas experience abroad. The only tradition I just can’t adopt is turkey, wherever we can get one I will cook a ham instead but if that is not possible I will do duck or goose instead of turkey.
How are you spending Christmas 2015?
My sister is getting married just after Christmas so we are going back to the UK. We will spend Christmas with my In Laws (at least one of my family members have joined us in our host country or on a Christmas holiday for most of the recent years so it is the turn of my In Laws this year. My mother in law will probably do most of the cooking so I will get a break this year!
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What do you wish you’d known before you moved?
I wish I had known that Malaysian money changers don’t always accept Dollars that were issued before 2009. When we moved from Kazakhstan we brought cash in Dollars as the most easily transportable to tide us over before we opened our bank account. When we tried to convert the money changer refused on the basis that they were a 2007 issue note. We went around a lot of different outlets before we found one that would make the exchange, it drove us mad!
Is there anywhere you would like to live that you have not explored?
It is such a big world out there with so many opportunities. I have only lived in 8 countries so far and hopefully I will have a chance to live in a few more before the adventure ends. I don’t really mind where as long as we have a chance to explore the country and its region, perhaps learn another new language and meet new people.
What’s the best thing about being an expat?
Really it is a repeat of the previous answer – everything about this life is fantastic but if I had to choose one thing it is that I have the opportunity to study a location in depth, to learn more about the people and place and really start to live there instead of just ‘visit’.
How do you keep a little bit of home with you as an expat?
My home is people, not place. This is something that my parents drummed into me from a very young age and we are trying to instil the same value in our own children. I don’t mind where I am in the world as long as we are together. I love it when my father and sister come out to visit because it makes my home that little bit more complete still. Our pets travel with us to every posting and that helps as well. A house is not a home without them.
If you would like to follow Ersatz in her adventures abroad, check out her blog: Ersatz Expat