From Kazakhstan to Malaysia: An Expat Shares Her Journey to Becoming a Durian Lover in a Bustling City

Meet Madina, an entrepreneur originally from Kazakhstan who moved to Malaysia in 2009. Now, over 10 years later, she runs several businesses around the world and has fully immersed herself into Malaysian culture—including developing a passion for durian! In this article, Madina shares her journey on:

Adapting to Malaysian Foods Over Time

When Madina first arrived, she mainly stuck to her own cuisine from Kazakhstan as well as Chinese food for the first 8 years. But eventually, she yearned to branch out more. Madina reflects, “After eight years I recognized that I want to try something else. Then I fall in love to Indian food, it’s amazing because it’s a mixture of the spices.” From there, her palette expanded to savoring Malay dishes too. She discovered that once you understand the complex balance of flavors, you crave Malay food again and again.

Embracing Durian’s Infamously Polarizing Taste and Smell

However, it took Madina nearly 10 whole years before she acquired the taste for Malaysia’s iconic durian fruit. She recalls, “In the end I start to love the durian, it’s amazing.” Now, not only does Madina relish durian herself, but her entire family has become full-fledged durian fans after she introduced it to them. “I’m a durian lover right now and the whole my family a durian lover and we’ve done like a durian party on my balcony,” she proudly declares. Madina even tried finding durian in the markets when traveling to Dubai once. At $60 per fruit, her kids eagerly asked her to buy it—but she wisely told them they’d have to wait until their next Malaysia trip!

Appreciating Malaysia’s Diverse Natural Landscapes

Aside from the food, Madina quickly came to appreciate Malaysia’s lush greenery and tropical nature just a short drive away from the bustling Kuala Lumpur city center. “It’s beautiful because it’s just 40 minutes away you can go to Genting or you can go the three hours away there is the Cameron Highlands so you can find the biggest flower in the world which is called troplasia,” she describes. The accessibility of waterfalls, jungles, historical buildings, exotic wildlife made for frequent weekend getaways. In fact, Madina once lived in an apartment where vibrant orchids grew wildly across her balcony and she occasionally spotted monkeys or chameleons wandering through. “The nature is amazing here,” she marvels.

Exploring Malaysia’s World-Class Islands

And with magnificent islands dotting Malaysia’s coastlines, it’s no wonder Madina finds herself escaping to tropical paradises like Redang, Perhentian, or Tioman Islands multiple times per year.

Overcoming Preconceived Notions About Strict Religious Enforcement

As an expatriate coming from Kazakhstan, another predominantly Muslim country, Madina held some misguided preconceptions about the enforcement of religious rules and dress codes in Malaysia. A friend had scared her with horror stories about restrictions on single women and public punishment for violations. “I said oh it’s a beautiful city the nice Petronas Towers but I don’t want to come back next time to the city,” Madina admits. Luckily, she ended up meeting her Malaysian husband not long after. And over the past 13 years living here as a foreigner and business owner, Madina has come to recognize the religious diversity and tolerance embraced by most Malaysians.

Observing Flexibility Between Cultures

While ethnic Malays themselves strictly adhere to religious rituals during times like Ramadan, Madina notes they don’t place expectations for Chinese or Indians to do the same. Malaysia manages to strike a balance between having Islam as the official religion while still allowing freedom of other faiths. Madina contrasts, “In Malaysia what I like here that the people they are also not so strict with the religion…they are strict for example Malay people they are strict to malays but they do not trip to Chinese or Indian because they have their own culture they have only their own religion.” Ultimately, she feels comfortable wearing what she wants without harassment—unlike some Middle Eastern countries where dress code rules extend toward visitors too. The diversity makes Malaysia welcoming for foreigners and tourists of all backgrounds.

Overcoming Bureaucratic Challenges to Gain Permanent Residency

That said, Madina cautions that the Malaysian government does make attaining permanent residence status exceptionally tedious for expats compared to neighbors like Singapore—even if married to locals. She clarifies this as likely the only major difficulty foreigners may encounter for assimilating into Malaysian living.

Comparing Cost of Living Between Malaysia and Singapore

As an entrepreneur with business endeavors spanning both Malaysia and Singapore, Madina shares insightful financial contrasts between the two countries. She estimates overall expenses to be nearly 3 times higher in Singapore. Housing demonstrates the drastic divergence. While a basic condo apartment near Kuala Lumpur City Centre costs around $500,000 USD, you’d be hard pressed to find any livable central flat in Singapore for under $2 million. And the gap widens further when tallying uprecurring monthly costs like cars, petrol, grocery bills, private school tuition for kids or other common purchases. To comfortably raise a family in KL, Madina suggests a household budget around $7,000–10,000 per month. Yet you may not feel “rich” in Singapore unless earning $30,000 or more. It buys you less lifestyle.

Dealing with Ruthless Business Tactics in Singapore

Professionally, Madina notices Malaysian business partners tend to be more laidback and congenial over negotiations compared to the cutthroat, money-driven “sharks” at corporate offices in Singapore. While Singaporeans exhibit impeccable English fluency and financial acumen, the interactions feel more transactional, strict and emotionally detached.

Bonding Over Family Values

On the other hand, Madina suggests emphasizing family questions as the quickest route to connecting genuinely with Malaysians. Given the strong Asian emphasis on close-knit households, locals’ eyes light up sharing about children, spouses and other relatives. In her experience, highlighting common ground through family builds trust fastest to jumpstart meaningful dialogue and friendships between expats and locals.

Maintaining Positive Visa Status Above All

The one ironclad rule for foreigners: avoid overstaying your Malaysian work or tourist visa, ever. Madina warns that immigration officers patrol this very strictly compared to other Asian territories. But otherwise, she encourages embracing the overall cultural openness and friendliness that makes Malaysia so enticing for expats. Locals won’t judge you for oversights as they would elsewhere.

Becoming More Lighthearted After a Decade in Malaysia

When asked how living in Malaysia transformed her outlook, Madina concludes she’s adopted a brighter spirit herself after 13 years surrounded by cheerful smiles ubiquitous across this vivacious country. “I understand that there’s such a smile more compared to our countries because they can see all the people are smiling here,” she observes. The tropical climate likely helps keep grins plastered ear-to-ear all year-round too!

Key Takeaways from a Foreign Businesswoman Who Calls Malaysia Home

To recap Madina’s sage wisdom for newcomers, keep these cultural integration tips top of mind:

  • Expect your palate to gradually adapt toward embracing Malaysia’s complex cuisines over time—don’t get discouraged if your first durian makes you nauseous!
  • Spend ample weekends immersed in Malaysia’s spectacular nature from misty highland tea plantations to uninhabited tropic islands to curb urban fatigue.
  • Brush up on English language skills and financial metrics to effectively negotiate business deals with Singaporean executives.
  • Bond authentically with Malaysian partners by swapping family stories and photos.
  • Double check visa paperwork to steer clear of stern immigration officers.

By keeping an open mind, foreigners can absolutely assimilate into Malaysian culture and society over the years ahead. Madina’s journey proves an outsider can even transform into a diehard durian lover with enough patience!

Continue Watching Madina Share More Expat Tips

If you enjoyed Madina’s insights about acclimating to Malaysia as a foreigner, be sure to check out her full interview […] for even more juicy details. She explains step-by-step how her viewpoints shifted over the past 13 years living in KL as an expat from Kazakhstan—plus shares travel hacks, business etiquetteContrasts and funny anecdotes you won’t want to miss!