On Being Malaysianized

“Wait, so you’re not Malaysian?”

It’s a common assumption made whenever I meet new people as well as a common forgotten fact for old friends whenever we speak of Malaysian ‘benefits’.

Sometimes I take the easy road and tell people that I am Malaysian because sharing my history in Malaysia is a little perplexing for some. Honestly, though, how is it so confusing?

My family and I moved to Kuala Lumpur in the last quarter of 2002 and have called it home ever since. We moved because my dad got a job in KL and there was no way he would want to leave us all back home. With a chance of creating better futures for his daughters and wife, why would he say no to the opportunity?

We’ve lived in Malaysia for over 13 years, and for my oldest sister a little less. The ugly side of this is that staying on after we graduate university is nearly impossible. Immigration issues are pesky sons of bitches, aren’t they?

No, none of my family members hold a Malaysian PR status, and yes we are still Indonesian citizens (and proud). 

Currently, my oldest sister works and lives with my grandmother in Bandung. My other sister finished two years ago, but since doing a Bachelor’s Degree sans Honours translates to only a Higher Diploma in Indonesia, she’s currently in the last bits of her research on river otters.

 Me? I have recently bid adieu to my KL-ite status at the beginning of the year and been on the move every week.

I call myself Malaysianized, because I am. 

I know more Malaysian slangs than Indonesian. When I speak Indonesian, people spot the Malay accent in it. When I speak Malay, my vocab sticks to Indonesian words. 

Thus, growing up, I preferred speaking English over any Bahasas. At home, we speak in a mix of English, Indonesian, Malay, and Javanese. My parents would speak to me in Indonesian and get replies in English. I know more about the nooks and crannies of KL than of South Jakarta. I know more states in Malaysia than provinces in the Java Island. 

60% of the people I know consider me Malaysian because I am a terrible Indonesian.

Growing up, it was easier for me to hang out with non-Indonesians than Indonesians. It confused some minds when I told them my parents were staying with me in KL and confused them further when I wouldn’t speak to them in Indonesian. I guess the mother tongue-sanctity was being in question here. This continued from high school to…well, now. I mean, I do have Indonesian friends but it was only because they shared the same fate as I do. 

I’m always pro-Indonesia in any Malaysia vs. Indonesia conflict though. Especially during the seasonal haze period where Malaysians point their fingers at their closest Indonesian friend.

My two-cents on this is: it’s your fault too, Malaysia and Singapore.

The most heartbreaking moment was when I had to leave. I had to leave everything because no (legit) visa permitted me to stay any longer. My life was based entirely in KL – my job, my friends, my room, and even my parents. On my bucket list quest, a lot of people thought I was being dramatic by telling people that I was leaving, but who wouldn’t be dramatic?

It feels different when I have to stop putting KL as my permanent address or current location in my resume. 

You might ask, “but isn’t Indonesia home?

Yes, it is, but my comfort zone is not in Indonesia. In KL, my friends are just a train ride away. Meanwhile in Jakarta, my house has been abandoned for so long people think it’s haunted. In Bandung, my only friends are my cats and as much as I wanna take them out for a movie, they restrict bringing pets to cinemas (this should be a thing, btw).

I know right, why can’t I just find new friends?

I don’t go to uni anymore, so finding new friends is a little tricky. In KL, I’d know to check Time Out KL for events in KL, but in Bandung? I don’t know where that is! I don’t even have wifi at home so I can’t spend all night researching for a new Time Out KL.

But life goes on and life happens outside of your comfort zone.

Starting mid-March, I’ll be on my way to fulfilling my 2016 resolution: becoming more Indonesian. Jakarta is one huge metropolitan and it’s basically survival of the fittest here. It’s intimidating and honestly speaking, the idea terrifies me. However, I’m excited to settle back home and see what I’ve been missing out for the past 13 years.

With that said, though, I’ll forever be Malaysianized at heart.


2 thoughts on “On Being Malaysianized

  1. Heyy, so I’m also an Indonesian who lives outside. I’m 15 and I was born in Egypt but when I was just a year old my family moved to Spain due to my dads job. I lived here for 7 years and then went to live in Bali for 3 years and then go back to Spain and live here for another – almost 4 years now.
    My point is, I’ve had my share of living abroad and moving. I speak English, Spanish and Indonesian. What i want to say is how … could I say “relieved” to know that even you, who lived abroad even though it’s right in Indonesia’s neighbor country, your life is very similar to mine. I too have struggles speaking Indonesian to people because they point out my accent and my lack of flow when talking, so I usually prefer to speak English (obviously bc speaking Spanish to my Indonesian family would be pointless). But it shows that I’m not alone, because I was worried since I didn’t speak the mother language I was some sort of selfish freak. I’ve had so many issues with my family over this, but since they can speak Indonesian fluently they don’t seem to get how I feel. they grew up in Indonesia, and I’m the only one who has had a completely international life. Thank you for writing this because one of my Indonesian friends, who also is an international expat kid, had sent this link to me and I was so happy to read this. I’m sorry this is so long. I just want to thank you for just relieving me and putting a bit of stress off of me because like I said before, I had thought there was something wrong with me like psychologically.

    well this is all, thankss


    1. Hey Tara!
      Thank you for sharing your story with me. Which part of Spain are you staying at? Do you like it there? Do you miss Indonesia?
      I know, right? It sucks. Indonesians take language pretty seriously, and some people might find you a prude for not being able to speak Indonesian. People say I have the Cinta Laura accent when I speak Indonesian. I’ve been there, and I usually just ignore them. Language is a progressive skill, and it’s very hard to maintain it if you’re not exposed to it all the time. I get you! Don’t feel bad because that’s not even your fault.
      You’re in Spain! You can speak three languages! That gets you to places! 🙂
      Just because you don’t speak the language, it doesn’t make you less Indonesian. Just focus on being yourself, because that’s what matters at the end of the day 🙂


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