Contrary to who I am now, I didn’t care two hoots about the environment growing up.
Besides the occasional education on recycling and advice to not waste water, I wasn’t surrounded by environmentally-conscious people.
My parents weren’t the outdoorsy type so I didn’t develop any interest in forests. And when my school organised any camping trip, I would just stay away from it.
To this day, I’ve never been camping. Ever. I have, however, been into the forest and slept over in a cabin. But that’s hardly camping.
My point is that although to some degree I appreciated the beauty of nature, I wasn’t obsessed with environmental conservation as a child or teenager.
So how have I become so environmentally conscious that it has motivated me to go vegan and live a low impact, sustainable lifestyle?
Stepping Out of the Bubble
It’s easy to get trapped in one way of thinking and living. You can’t help it when you’re born in a certain culture or environment and you’re expected to conform to its practices.
But I guess that’s where education comes in to potentially provide a different worldview. You have subjects like History, Geography, Literature and Science that show you what’s out there and what’s possible.
However, most of us don’t take school seriously. We may think it’s tedious, boring and repetitive. To a certain extent, I agree. But sometimes we can’t control the environment we live in and we just have to make the best of it.
Sooner or later, it will click. The idea that education is actually a gateway to the world. It’s laden with opportunities that with the right guidance, one could make full use of.
But of course, school isn’t the only avenue that you can get opportunities and widen your horizon. There’s another way: travelling.
Granted, education is free and travelling requires money but you don’t need to go to the other end of the world. You could just go to the other end of your country.
For me, not only had I got a good education, I had the privilege of visiting various countries. And I owe it all to my parents.
There was this period of time in my late teens that perchance my family and I travelled to quite a number of places namely: the lands down under (Australia and New Zealand); the East (Hong Kong and South Korea); and the West (Amsterdam, Switzerland, Paris, London and Los Angeles).
It was during this time that stirred my perspective and I began to understand that there were more to life than where I came from.
Discovering Something Unique
Those travels weren’t backpacking trips but rather family holidays, staying at nice hotels in major cities.
Even so, there was much to be seen.
Amsterdam amazed me. I had never seen so many casual looking people cycling across a city. They even had cycling lanes right next to the pedestrian and vehicle lanes! And it looked safe to cycle, unlike in Kuala Lumpur where there’s a high chance you’ll get hit by cars.
I experienced snow in South Korea and Switzerland, which was fantastic! I remember going up Mount Titlis in Switzerland and thinking that I might be in a dream. The snow-covered mountains looked surreal and so picture perfect!
Not all of my experiences were positive. My mum nearly got pick-pocketed in Paris and that created a slightly disappointing view of the city. It’s not just that incident; I felt a rather weird and unfriendly vibe coming off of Parisians. Perhaps I should visit another city in France someday.
But almost all of the cities I’ve been to, I noticed that I didn’t feel congested. There was hardly traffic and it was always clean wherever I walked. I suppose the trees or shrubs lining the sidewalk helped create a calming atmosphere.
This is what I’ve never felt walking in Kuala Lumpur.
But I guess the weather plays a huge role as well. Walking in the hot and humid weather of KL isn’t the greatest experience.
Regardless, I think that the right city planning is so important and KL should take a leaf out of Amsterdam’s books.
Living Abroad For 3 Years
The biggest lifestyle change for me so far happened while I was studying in the UK.
The North of England has a different charm than London. The city I lived in had mostly medieval architecture. The few modern buildings and tarred roads gave away the reality that it’s the 21st century. Otherwise, much of the hundreds-year-old buildings and cobbled streets was preserved.
And of course, there were lots of greenery.
Everywhere I looked, there would surely be trees, shrubs or flowers. It was a city without skyscrapers so as to protect and preserve the 885-year-old cathedral.
As walking was my primary means of transportation, I had no choice but to travel among trees. I guess it was kind of like subliminal messaging. The trees are always there by the sidelines and the more I got basked in nature, the more I appreciated it.
Another thing that was different was that there were designated recycling bins at each house or apartment compound. It was a common practice to separate your wastes and being a foreigner, I had to adhere to the rules.
That definitely got me thinking more about which materials are recyclable and why some materials are not. I didn’t develop that thought process living in Malaysia because it wasn’t (and still isn’t) compulsory to recycle.
In terms of eating out at restaurants, I noticed that there were more vegetarian options on the menu. As a pre-vegan Muslim, that was what I mostly looked for anyway because meat there was mostly non-halal. I wasn’t upset that there wasn’t non-halal meat but I appreciated more ‘V’ options.
When I became vegan at the beginning of my third year, I was even more grateful for the vegan options. And what I liked most was that the people understood and respected the vegetarian or vegan diet. Here in Malaysia, I’d always have to explain what to exclude in my ‘pure vegetarian’ food.
Just to be clear though, I didn’t go vegan because there were lots of vegan options in the UK or that it was easier. Like most vegans, I did my research and learnt about it mostly online by watching documentaries and reading articles.
Coming Back Into The Bubble
After living in the UK for three years, I came back to Malaysia.
I had changed so much then that coming back felt a bit odd. I did not, however, compromise on my values. I was and still am a vegan and I am constantly improving on living a sustainable, low impact, minimalist lifestyle.
I also came back with an immense appreciation for the environment and I began to see Malaysia in a different light.
In case you didn’t know, this land used to be covered with tropical rainforests. There still remain patches of such rainforests (thank God). If you look out from the city of KL, you could see the humps of the mountains on the horizon.
The mountains literally form the backbone of this land.
I had the opportunity to hike up a few hills and mountains as well as going into a proper pristine rainforest up north. Those trips were eye-opening for me and I truly realised the richness of this land.
It is sad to see that despite the bounty of this land, people are misusing the resources or simply not appreciating them. Despite the seemingly growing city and modern buildings, the mindset of its people is still quite medieval. That might be an exaggeration but just look at the streets, the public toilets, the parks and the rivers. It’s unlikely that you would find them 100% clean or rubbish-free.
And that’s only the waste issue.
What To Do Now
For me: I’ll still be doing my part however much I can to bring the awareness of environmental conservation and preservation with an emphasis on practising a vegan lifestyle. I am doing whatever it takes to make my voice heard. There is this desire to just leave this country for a “better” environment, but my situation isn’t permitting and I think this is where I’m meant to be for now.
For you: Educate yourself. Please. And then put it into practice. Travel if you need inspiration. But don’t travel mindlessly or just for the sake of an instagram worthy picture. Always aim to get something out of each trip. Look around. Put the country that you grew up in as the baseline. Notice the differences and similarities. Take note of what you like and what you don’t like.
Do something about it.