I cross the street to the school, take a cold shower poolside and jump in. At no point am I cold. I struggle to see how swimming can be part of my life the same way in Belgium.
As a Dane and child of the Northern European bike culture, I always used my old-fashioned bike to get from point A to B – but never as a sport. If someone had told me that, one day, I would not only own a road bike, but also load it into the back of my car every Wednesday to join my friends from the “Bike in Nature” club on the edge of the jungle, I would not have believed it.
My former self would have come up with a million excuses not to do back-to-back Pilates and strength classes, let alone hike on Sundays under the baking sun.
Be it the climate or my increased awareness about keeping fit as we age, I’m leaving Malaysia the fittest – though not the thinnest – I have ever been.
2. Mental health tune-up
In March 2021, between two strict lockdowns during the pandemic, some friends and I booked a “daycation” at the Mandarin Oriental in Kuala Lumpur.
While splashing around in the splendid swimming pool overlooking the KLCC park, a sense of guilt built up inside me. Here I was on a completely normal Tuesday, sipping cocktails by the pool in the tropics.
Wasn’t this unfair? Shouldn’t I be working like I used to? What was I learning today? What skills had I acquired? How could my children look up to a housewife the way they looked up to a hard-working independent woman who was earning her own money?
The questions stayed with me for weeks and I realised that my excessive overthinking was keeping me from the opportunity to simply enjoy life.
I booked three sessions with Sisi Gu, who specialises in metacognitive therapy that targets rumination and overthinking.
I went from being convinced that I have no control over my thoughts to mastering several techniques to avoid rumination.
Having realised that with three sessions of therapy one can make giant leaps towards a happier life, I grasped the opportunity again when my psychotherapist friend offered sessions of neurolinguistic programming (NLP) and we tackled other mental health aspects together.
I now see therapy as a tool in my mental health toolbox. I don’t understand how I lived without it before moving to Malaysia.
3. Learning through writing
As a journalist, I was looking forward to being less fearful of censorship in Malaysia than I was in China. But the first piece of advice I got from a Malaysian journalist upon moving to Kuala Lumpur was: “Just remember, you have to avoid the three R’s: race, religion and royalty.”
These were topics I had looked forward to exploring in Malaysia.
I’m also keen to share lifestyle, travel, health and fitness stories, and there is an abundance of people to feature and stories to tell in Malaysia.
Researching these stories brought me closer to the people of Malaysia and to its culture.
I learned about the tricks hijab-wearing women used to be able to wear face masks during the pandemic, and was able to share my first-hand account of fasting for Ramadan.
4. Heightened spirituality
My birthday present this year from my husband was not a perfume or handbag – things that used to be on the top of my wish list – but a reiki healing retreat in Bali, Indonesia.
After completing a course at The Yoga Barn in Ubud, Bali, I started a 21-day self-healing process that opened my mind and heart further to spiritual practices.
I gained more experience and insight from Malaysian reiki master Komathy Ganesan. I also sought out sound healers who would share their knowledge and now have a small collection of singing bowls and practise playing them daily.
5. Choosing to live sober
The greatest legacy from our time in Malaysia is to have quit drinking. During the pandemic, my Italian husband and I found comfort in wine. Every Monday we’d agree to only drink on the weekend – yet Tuesday or Wednesday dinner in front of Netflix just called for a bottle of wine.
Despite keeping physically active, we were living most of our days at “half-mast” – as 85-year-old actress Jane Fonda beautifully describes having had a few drinks.
On January 1, 2022, we decided to take a 31-day break from alcohol. At first, Dry January seemed like a daunting endeavour – but better sleep, mental clarity and weight loss were just some of the eye-opening benefits that we had not expected.
February arrived – and we decided to keep going. Dry until July was our next goal. We now wonder, “July of what year?”
I have since written and blogged about alcohol-free living, hosted four alcohol-free events in Kuala Lumpur, and started Drunk on Life – an alcohol-free platform to inform and inspire others.
Malaysia has been the most welcoming melting pot one could imagine. I go back to Europe and full-time working life a healthier version of myself with no regrets – and a tattoo of Mount Kinabalu to celebrate one of our Malaysian highlights.