Maritime engineer Choo Choon Hooi moves where work takes him. In Lima for two years now, he explains why Peru reminds him of how Malaysia used to be.
Name: Choo Choon Hooi
Hometown: Born in Penang but spent all my childhood in Perlis. Wife is from Batu Pahat, Johor. But we consider KL home now.
Number of years abroad: 17 years. Left for Singapore after SPM and apart from a few years back in Malaysia from 2000 to 2004, I’ve been working abroad since.
What do you do for a living?
I’m an engineer working for an Anglo-Dutch consultancy specialising in maritime projects. We provide consultancy services for developments like ports, marinas and land reclamation. That’s why I move around a fair bit. My family and I relocate every few years.
What do you like about living in Peru?
Compared to the places we have lived in before, Peru is heaven. Ok, maybe heaven’s too strong a word. We lived in Doha, Dubai, Cochin, Aqaba and Port Said before relocating here two years ago. The food here is appropriate for our taste. Not too dissimilar from Malaysian Chinese cooking. Ingredients are fresh and easily available. If we really miss nasi lemak, we have a fellow Malaysian who is an executive chef in one of Lima’s top hotels. Who, with a bit of persuading, will cook up a storm for us.
Peru and her people remind me very much of how Malaysia and Malaysians used to be. When we were emerging, young and hungry. You can see it in the Peruvians’ eyes. With one of the higher literacy rates in the region, the future of Peru looks bright. I’m also fascinated by the maturity of their political system. Like anywhere else in the world, even though the division in society based on race or skin colour does exist, the fact that a second-generation immigrant can become President tells you a lot.
What do you not like?
The usual things. Traffic is bad and getting worse with more and more cars on the road. Infrastructure development is not keeping pace with the economic boom, and the resulting expansion of the middle class. Bad road manners is also something that I dread here.
Security in certain areas of the city is a concern. Although I have not experienced this on a personal level, you hear a lot of stories about muggings at gunpoint at traffic intersections. Not much different from other Latin America countries but definitely safer than places like Rio or Bogota.
What do you miss about Malaysia?
Family and friends. It is a sacrifice we are willing to make. You miss celebrating Hari Raya, Deepavali, Christmas with your friends. You miss your friend’s wedding. You miss all the reunions.
What do you not miss about Malaysia?
Despite the apparent flaws—increasing crime rate, economic challenges, religious tensions—Malaysia is still my ‘tanah tumpah darahku’. When I was a young boy, I genuinely believed that we were a nation of people as portrayed in Lat’s drawings. That our country was unique in this world with all different races living together in harmony. Although not a first world economy, the fact that everybody could co-exist peacefully, synergizing on each other’s strength was what made the nation great. Now as an observer from a faraway land, I can only hope that the country rediscovers what made her great in the first place.
Would you move back to Malaysia? Why?
One day. Definitely. Not at the moment. TalentCorp is also not looking for people like me. So I guess I will hang around here in Latin America a little while longer.
Anything else you want to add?
I was educated in a small town in Kangar, Perlis where 95% of my classmates in both primary and secondary schools were Malay. I am fluent in Malay with friends from both sides of the political divide. I attended religious class, learnt Jawi and speak the ‘loghat utara’. From this experience, you learn to be more sensitive to the ‘requirements’ of the majority race. But I continue to hanker for days past when we did not view each other with suspicion.