Every year, thousands of tourists flock to Malaysia to explore and enjoy the unparalleled beauty and diversity of the country. Some who left were eager to come back, and some immediately decided to move here for good after falling in love with our country.
This was the case for 26-year-old Briton, Rhys William
, in 2013.
We first learned of Rhys a few years ago when his Instagram photos went viral. It wasn’t because of the pictures he posted; it was his captions that caught our attention – he wrote them in Malay.
And they are not formal Malay words you could easily Google Translate; it was informal and laden with local slangs. What’s even more amusing is, he sounded just like a local.
Turns out, Rhys loved our food and culture so much that he decided to pack his bags and leave for Malaysia.
So, we decided to talk to the man himself and find out what is it about Malaysia that made him want to move a continent away from his homeland.
A Plate Of Nasi Lemak That Changed Everything
“I first came to Malaysia for a holiday in 2012 for two weeks, and it was purely because a friend recommended it to me,” Rhys recalls.
And naturally, just like any other tourist, he was eager to sample our local cuisine. One of his first Malaysian dishes, was of course, the iconic nasi lemak
“I remember that when I first came here, although the food was very different to what I was used to in the UK, I really liked it. Nasi lemak was one of the first dishes I had.
"Since then, I’ve been trying all sorts of different Malaysian food from the whole of Malaysia and it never disappoints. I really love the food here
“In terms of spiciness, it took me some time to get used to it, but I can tolerate it better now.”
Within 14 days, Rhys fell in love with our country and decided he would come back and try staying here longer.
“There was something about the atmosphere, the people, and the food that I felt two weeks weren’t enough to truly explore.”
And so, the lad left his hometown of Redhill in 2013 to embark on a culinary journey in Malaysia. He decided to stay longer and five years later, he’s still here and is immensely in love with our food.
His all-time favourite dishes, he tells us, are nasi lemak, nasi kerabu,
His Malay Is So Good You Might Mistake Him For A Local
What makes Rhys different from other Mat Sallehs who decided to migrate here is his ability to adapt and even converse fluently in Bahasa Malaysia.
Our curious bones wondered: does he have any relatives living in Malaysia? Or did he enroll in a BM crash course before leaving for our country?
“The reason why I wanted to learn the language in the first place was because, although I could get around fine with English, if you really want to explore and understand the country you are staying in, the best way is to learn the language,” he says.
“Although Malaysia has a lot of different languages and dialects, Bahasa Malaysia is the official language so I decided to give it a try.”
Rhys credits his Malaysian friends for helping him pick up the language and he acknowledged that it took him quite some time to get the hang of it.
When he started his blog Mat Salleh Cari Makan
and started producing videos about his culinary adventures in Malaysia, he had no choice but to expand his vocabulary and learn words that might not come up in day to day conversation.
But what impressed us (and probably everyone else) the most is his ability to speak local slangs. Just stalk him on his Twitter @si_rhys
and you’ll understand why.
Malaysians React To Rhys
We tried putting ourselves in Rhys’ shoes and imagined ourselves as a tourist who attempts to speak the local language. It must be pretty petrifying, considering that we are afraid of being laughed at or saying the wrong thing.
But it was quite the opposite for Rhys.
“To be honest, I’m quite a shy person and plucking the courage to go out and speak the language to locals wasn’t easy.”
“But I decided to just go for it and had a ‘slamber je
’ attitude and tried to make an effort to speak Bahasa whenever I had the opportunity to. When I received positive comments in real life, it gave me the confidence and motivation to keep going.”
As for Malaysians who have never heard or met Rhys before, hearing him speak can be a pretty interesting encounter.
“Most people were impressed and occasionally, I get the sort of “speechless” reaction from them. They seem to just be so blown away that they literally froze for a moment.
I get this a lot especially when I speak fast or long sentences, which I guess they didn’t expect coming from someone like me.”
And for those who think he doesn’t understand a speck of Bahasa…
“There have been times where people would talk about me thinking that I didn’t understand. Some were really rude, but I won’t divulge further on it. It used to happen a lot but nowadays, it doesn’t happen so much.
“I think a lot of it has to do with body language as well, since I’ve been here a while and perhaps the way I carry myself makes me blend in more – so I don’t really get people thinking I’m a tourist anymore.”
Malaysia, My Second Home
Loving the local food so much might be enough to make someone move to a new country half the world away, but what is it about Malaysia that Rhys loves so much that he calls his home now?
“I think it’s a combination of a lot of factors: the food, the weather, the variety of different landscapes and definitely the people. It’s more of a feeling I get in Malaysia that I haven’t felt elsewhere, I really like it here and feel happy.
“What really made me want to stay was the people here; almost everyone I interact with is friendly and willing to help. A lot of smiles and I definitely feel welcomed – a stark difference from London where people are not so friendly. So, it’s defintiely a nice change.”
We then asked him about his favourite destinations in Malaysia, and we weren't exactly prepared for his answer.
“I love Kedah
or the northern states in Malaysia as I fell in love with the scenery – the paddy fields, being able to see mountains clearly from a distance, and how calm and peaceful the environment is. I can actually see myself living in Kedah one day.
Among other places that made it to his list are Tioman Island
(which was one of the places he visited on his first ever holiday here), Royal Belum, Taman Negara
, and Kuching, Sarawak
What’s Next For Rhys?
I’m definitely going to continue with the blogging and making videos. Selagi ada orang minta, selagi saya akan buat
Well, you can definitely count on Rhys to help you find the best spots to eat all over Malaysia, because he’s probably explored more restaurants/cafés/stalls than you. Just search for his videos on YouTube or his photos on Instagram and you’ll be amazed! Be warned though, it may cause you to drool and have extreme cravings.
We hope one of these days we could tag along with Rhys on one of his foodie adventures and hopefully bring him to one of the best and hidden places to eat in Malaysia.
To virtually follow his journey in the search of the best Malaysian cuisine, you can check his blog here
, or follow his Instagram account @si_rhys