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Sunday
Jun042017

Hooked on Malaysia

MALAYSIANS love to go on holidays abroad. Just visit any Matta Fair and you’ll see just how crazy Malaysians are about travelling. But how many of us have actually explored our own country?

It’s ironic that foreign visitors on a relatively short vacation here probably visit more Malaysian towns and states than we ever will in our entire lifetime. One foreigner who has definitely visited more of Malaysia than most Malaysians is Walter Yurt, a former business banker-turned-English teacher who has already written two books about his travels in this country and the region.

He’s working on his third book and is trying his hand at writing a Malaysian-based play as well.

It was in 2008 when Yurt first came to the country after getting retrenched from his banking job. Asia was an intriguing place he’d never been to so when a friend recommended a teaching job at an international school here, he jumped at the chance.

“When I left American airspace to fly to KL, it was the first time I’d ever left North America,” he recalls. “It was a great leap of faith on my part and a lot of people who knew me thought I was crazy, but I’ve never looked back or regretted moving here.”

Yurt talks to Savvy about why he loves this country so much, and about his writing exploits.

WHAT WERE YOUR FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF MALAYSIA?

In two words, green and new! When I left Kentucky, it was the dead of winter so all I remember in the car driving from KLIA was how green everything was, and later, as we were driving past Putrajaya, how almost everything seemed so new.

WHAT SURPRISED YOU THE MOST?

Within weeks of being in KL, I got to celebrate New Year’s, Thaipusam and Chinese New Year. The diversity of cultures was literally like nothing I’d ever experienced before in my life.

YOU’VE MADE A POINT TO VISIT MANY PLACES IN MALAYSIA, AS WELL AS THE REGION. WHAT MOTIVATES YOU TO DO THAT?

I always like to blame my parents for instilling in me the love of travel. They took the family to almost every state in America and to Canada and Mexico as well.

When I was a kid, they gave me an encyclopaedia set which got me dreaming of one day seeing all of these exotic places. I can’t imagine living 16,000km away from home without trying to experience every possible place that time and money allow. And the great thing is, even after 8 ½ years here, I still have so many places to see both inside and outside Malaysia.

WHAT GAVE YOU THE IDEA TO WRITE BOOKS ABOUT YOUR TRAVELS?

I was so enamoured with Malaysia and Southeast Asia when I moved here that I’d spend most evenings writing e-mails back to my family and friends in America, telling them about all the things I’d done. And I do mean everything. Several of my friends would forward my e-mails to their friends, and one of them, a retired English professor, suggested that I turn my writings into a book.

TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR BOOKS?

The first one, Finding Myself, is totally dedicated to my travels and adventures within Malaysia. Included are chapters not just about my travels, but also the people and families I’d met along the way.

Finding Myself is in the process of being translated into Bahasa Malaysia by a group of wonderful young women at Universiti Sains Malaysia. The manuscript should be finished by the end of the year. My second book, Finding My World, expands on the first book, focusing more on the other nations around Malaysia.

WHAT’S YOUR THIRD BOOK GOING TO BE ABOUT?

My third book will be more of the same as my first two books, but will also go off in a bit of a different direction. The opening section will be more of an essay, which I’m tentatively calling Knocking The Chip Off Malaysia’s Shoulder.

It’s my way of telling my readers to focus on all the good that Malaysia has to offer and not to dwell on the negative.

I know through my experiences that the best way to overcome adversity is to focus on the good things in life and in doing so the bad things will seem much easier to handle and become less significant.

WHERE DO YOU DO MOST OF YOUR WRITING?

It’s funny but I rarely write at home; too many distractions, like the television, books I’ve yet to read and even the refrigerator. I like being out in a crowd to do my writing. In particular, I have an affinity for writing in Starbucks. With all the noise and people around me, it gets my adrenaline and creative juices flowing.

WHAT’S YOUR PHILOSOPHY TOWARDS WRITING?

The first thing I want any writing of mine to be is easy to read. I strive for easy-to-understand language that will ensure that my reader is easily transported to the place I’m writing about. I think that if I can convey just a bit of the absolute joy that I experience living in this part of the world to others who live here and to those back in the West, then I’ve done my job as a writer.

YOU’VE STARTED WORK ON WRITING A PLAY. WHY WRITE A PLAY AND WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

I like new challenges and writing my first play is certainly that. This Place Of Ours is the story of an American and an overseas-educated Malay driving from KL to Alor Star to spend Hari Raya with the Malay character’s family. The dialogue contrasts their two differing views on life in Malaysia and our globalised world.

BASED ON YOUR OBSERVATIONS AS A TEACHER AND AN EXPAT WHO GREW UP ABROAD, WHAT CAN MALAYSIAN PARENTS DO TO MAKE THEIR CHILDREN MORE CREATIVE?

Malaysian parents really need to move away from the emphasis on rote memory type of education and instead focus on each child’s unique talents. If a child loves art, point him in that direction. If a child loves business, point her in that direction. If a child’s education is more tied to what they love to do, as they grow older they’ll have careers based upon what they are passionate about and in the long run they’ll become more productive citizens, to the betterment of their lives and to the nation.

WHAT IS IT ABOUT THIS COUNTRY THAT MAKES YOU WANT TO BE HERE?

I love so many things about Malaysia: the food, the weather, the endless natural beauty, the amazing business climate and the fast pace of change that’s taking place here.

I enjoy telling my friends back in the States just how different and wonderful living here is. That’s why I love writing about Malaysia as much as I do. There’s not another country in close proximity to Malaysia that can offer me the overall quality of life that Malaysia gives me. I love travelling throughout Southeast Asia, but no matter where I go on my travels, I’m always glad to get home to Kuala Lumpur.

HOW LONG DO YOU THINK YOU’LL STAY IN MALAYSIA?

People ask me that question all time, both my friends here in Malaysia and my friends back in the States. I always give everyone the same answer: I’ll stay in Malaysia as long as I love living here as much as I do now.

When that changes, then I’ll know that it’s time to move on. One of the greatest things about my life here is not knowing if that time will ever come.

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