When I think of Malaysia, I think of the jungle being my backyard and monsoons drenching everything in sight. My family lived in Kuala Lumpur for five years. I attended the International School of Kuala Lumpur from first grade to fifth grade, completing my elementary school education. I associate this place with incredibly fond childhood memories. My favorite activities were Batik painting at the cultural center, swimming, and playing tennis. After ten years, I finally get the chance to revisit this country I once called home.
We arrived early in the afternoon. I usually look at everything through the window, but I was too tired to stay awake in the taxi. Yet, I managed to catch a glimpse of the Petronas towers before passing out.
The humidity and rain felt so familiar. Hearing Bahasa Melayu all around me, including from my dad, didn’t feel strange at all. It gave me a moment to appreciate my polyglot parents. When I was younger I focused on school and my friends, so I was surprised that I remembered where places were and understood some of the language. My family asked me to make a list of the things I wanted to revisit, and most of them were food-related. We started with sitting down at PappaRich, a Malaysian food chain, and I had some delicious satay served with cucumber and onion with a teh tarik (hot pulled tea). Simply being surrounded by the smells and tasting authentic flavors made me feel familiar with Kuala Lumpur again. After that, we went to Craft Complex to do some Batik painting. Once I entered the building and smelled the hot wax, it felt as if it were just another weekend and I was still a child who wanted to choose a fun animal to paint. It’s funny how strong your olfactory memories can be.
“Batik is a technique of wax-resist dyeing applied to whole cloth,” (Thank you, Wikipedia!) and it is found in many Southeast Asian countries and in Nigeria. It works by drawing a design or pattern on any cloth and then tracing it with hot wax. Once that dries you apply the dye with a paintbrush, using water to dilute it and make various patterns (a video in case you are curious). As you can see in the image below, I decided to paint an elephant. Despite the humidity and heat from the melting wax, I happily sat there for two hours debating which colors to choose for its skin, tusks, and embellishments.
In the same day, I went to KLCC Suria which is the mall in front of the Petronas towers where my family used to see films and walk around looking at stores. Even though it was still impressive, it felt smaller. I know that’s because I’ve grown into an adult, but I think it’s also because my thoughts have expanded into an immense network, giving me more to think about. While there were many things I did in Malaysia, these things stood out to me.
It’s strange to confront the memories of an eleven year old because everything has a trace of innocence and all of a sudden you are immersed in the same environment but with a fresh awareness of the complexities of life. While my nomadic upbringing was confusing at best, I loved my childhood and focused on what any child would: school, friends, hobbies, and family. I didn’t have to worry about what career to pursue, who to love, or where to start my independent life. I was creative and liked English. My family was my life, but now it’s time for me to make those terrifyingly huge decisions. Returning to Malaysia felt like a small goodbye to that life stage and a transition into viewing myself as someone ready to take charge of her life.
Have you ever had an amazing first experience somewhere that makes you want to go back? Did you then return only to find yourself disappointed because it wasn’t exactly like the first time? This is a concern I had before my trip. I was worried I would somehow hate it after coming back ten years later, effectively ruining my childhood memories. The anxiety was eating away at me. Thankfully, being back in Kuala Lumpur was not a let down because I came back with a different perspective and at a new stage of my life. I was back in familiar surroundings with the intricate brain of an adult, but with the heart of a child.