I’m so glad we work in Hong Kong. Flicking through Malaysia's The Expat magazine, I’m not sure how we survive up here without a magazine dedicated to safeguarding our interests. It’s filled with helpful articles on striking a balance between hanging out only with expats and going completely native, special offers on wines, Langkawi’s hidden waterfalls and latest routes and airline deals. But the article on office life in Malaysia is downright scary. No one seems able to tear themselves away.
“All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy” addresses the inner workaholic that seems to afflict Malaysia’s expats, according to The expat. Too many of these poor chaps spend their whole time working, seeing more of the office than the tropical paradise on their doorstep. How does that compare with Hong Kong? Wan Chai is many things, but Lockhart Road a tropical paradise? Exotic, maybe, but tropical? Hardly. Seems they have it tougher in Malaysia. Life for expats there “can be busy,” because they “often hold responsible positions in large companies” and this pressure to deliver and entertain clients and service business partners can make life a cycle of work-sleep-work. I think Hong Kong expats have managed to get a handle on this. Thank goodness, because this is a lifestyle that you “may come to regret later, when life takes you somewhere colder and more expensive.” The latter’s not really a Hong Kong expat’s problem. Bar maybe Tokyo or Geneva, where else is more expensive?
That Friday feeling
Down in KL, Friday brings a definite feeling of “liberty in the air” we learn. I can vouch for this, having tried to contact HSBC in KL on a Friday afternoon, to be told it was Friday afternoon and the person in question was “out station” and would return on Monday. No they don’t open on Saturday. “Take advantage of the fact that many people leave early on a Friday and do the same yourself,” The Expat advices. “Your clients and contacts will not be around, so force yourself out the office early.” It will help if you make plans for your Friday evening, they advise, as that will “serve as an incentive to start the weekend early.”
Pick a place
If you’re at a loss with all this spare time: make a list of all the great places in Malaysia you’d like to visit: anything from Redang Island to the State Mosque. Sounds irresistible. “Ask around and people will recommend places they rate “unmissable.” Or you could join a club. Now there’s a novel idea. Not only is this a great way to meet people, but by committing to weekly activity, you’ll find it easier to avoid those late nights at the office.
Go out for lunch they suggest. Tempting though it may be to munch at your desk, “don’t do it.” Even if you are nervous of KL’s traffic gridlock around your favourite restaurant. This is your chance to rub shoulders with your colleagues and make the most of Malaysian grub. But be careful! There are two pages extolling the wonders and dangers of Malaysian food. Starting with breakfast of Nasi Lamak, be afraid! It can contain 700-plus calories. Add a piece of friend chicken – 290 calories – and a mug of teh tarik – tea sweetened with condensed milk – another 200 - and breakfast alone “might put you in the running for a slot on The Biggest Loser.” A sobering thought. At lunch, avoid the yummy char kuey teow, a concoction of noodles, eggs, prawns and bean sprouts fried in garlic, soy sauce and chilli. A single plateful is 742 calories, with 40g of fat, they warn. It’s enough to make you stay at your desk with a sandwich forever.
When work threatens to creep into your personal time “say no” they advise. If you are conscientious, there’s no need to be office goody goody and the last one to leave, they caution. “Life is too short to work longer than you have to,” they advise. And if you really can’t resist the lure of your desk, try something new. Learn a language, play football or try scuba diving. Again, I think few Hong Kong expats struggle with the concept of getting out and having fun.
You could also make your family a priority, they suggest. “Stick a picture of your family up in the office as a reminder to leave early enough to have dinner together or to ensure that you don’t miss that school concert or sports event. “ Make Sunday evenings a weekly family dinner, “to prevent yourself slipping back into work mode before the week has even begun.” Failing this, take a short break and fly off somewhere. “Once the commitment is made and money has changed hands “you’ll find it easier to plan around a short break from work.” Office life in Malaysia must be something else.