Say hello to: Drusilla Gillen

Expatriate Lifestyle - - Just Landed - In­ter­view by Karin Chan

What brought you to Malaysia?

We call it ‘Pay, Pack and Fol­low’. In other words, I sold my land­scape de­sign com­pany to fol­low my mil­i­tary hus­band on su­per over­seas post­ings from the UK to Texas, to Rome, to Naples and now to Pe­nang.

Your first re­ac­tion on learn­ing you’d be mov­ing to Malaysia?

“Mon­keys!!!” Or with less teenager scream­ing, great ex­cite­ment on re­turn­ing to a part of the world I lived in as a child, when my diplo­matic fa­ther was posted first to Viet­nam and then Laos.

What do you think about Malaysian gar­dens and top­i­ary?

As a gar­dener for 20 years across three con­ti­nents, there’s lit­tle I haven’t seen. Yet BIG would be the word that comes to mind – here lus­cious vanilla orchids can reach their full size, while my newly planted Ar­gyreia ner­vosa (ele­phant climber) and Bauhinia kock­iana will cover the walls I planted them on within a sin­gle year. Also, in my hum­ble opin­ion, any­one in Pe­nang who hasn’t vis­ited Fuan Wong’s Art & Gar­den, hasn’t lived.

How did you in­te­grate your­self into the com­mu­nity?

Mil­i­tary types the world over help one an­other. There are many ex­cel­lent ex­pat as­so­ci­a­tions and Face­book groups here. But I’ve bro­ken out be­yond that cir­cle and met other peo­ple, alarm­ing my con­ven­tional English hus­band by talk­ing to whomever we come across.

What do you now know about Malaysia that you didn’t be­fore?

The in­cred­i­ble warmth, kind­ness and friend­li­ness of the Pe­nan­gites is both de­light­ful and some­times a lit­tle dis­con­cert­ing. One is fre­quently asked how much you pay for some­thing (to a Brit, money is rarely dis­cussed…) whilst re­cently in hospi­tal, the lady in the next room was more than will­ing to show me all around her hys­terec­tomy scar!

Have you no­ticed any in­ter­est­ing/unique Malaysian cul­tural prac­tices?

Chinese New Year and Thai­pusam have just fin­ished here and the com­bi­na­tion of those two on our small is­land was def­i­nitely unique. For Thai­pusam, af­ter I re­trieved my eye­brows from my hair­line, I took a thou­sand pho­tographs as I danced, smashed co­conuts and had my mind ut­terly flab­ber­gasted. Oh yes, and there was a sep­a­rate oc­ca­sion when we met some­one’s frisky pet goat at the vet.

Any tips for new ex­pats who have just moved here?

Come with an open mind and a sense of ad­ven­ture. Don’t live your life in your per­sonal com­fort zone – take mini adventures with a friend or alone. Wan­der down streets with crazy names or in­trigu­ing ar­chi­tec­ture. Fol­low on­line blogs of ad­ven­tur­ous spir­its and ex­plore. The worst pos­si­ble thing would be to reach the end of your time here, wish­ing you’d at­tended more ladies’ cof­fee morn­ings. EL

Na­tion­al­ity: Bri­tish Oc­cu­pa­tion: A Lady of Leisure In Malaysia since: Septem­ber 2016

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