Loving it in Langkawi


Leaving the country at a young age to work abroad instead of completing studies is not some tale told by someone in Nepal. Everyone back home knows someone who sets a journey to bidesh (foreign shores) — to earn. Malaysia is one such destination. It’s a solemn picture that is often painted about the condition of workers here, but a brief meeting with 19-year-old Shital Yonjon makes for a different story — a happy, optimistic one at that.

Yonjon has been here for the last one-and-a-half years. He first reached Kuala Lumpur on a contract basis to work in a supermarket. But after reaching his destination his plan changed. “In Nepal I was informed I will get to work in a supermarket, but when I reached here I didn’t want to work there. So I shifted,” says Yonjon smiling.

He worked in some companies for a certain period before shifting to Langkawi, an archipelago, around 30 km off the mainland coast of northwestern Malaysia. He now works in a restaurant called Sugar and is happy as “it is good here”.

The first assumption of working abroad at such a tender age is struggle, but Yonjon laughs and shares, “When I came here, initially, I felt hot and I couldn’t stay here. But now I am enjoying the stay.”

He seems hesitant when he speaks, the conversation continues to not meeting Nepalis in the area. “I haven’t met Nepalis in Langkawi, it feels bad. You are the first one I met from Nepal,” Yonjon expresses smiling. One realises he hasn’t stopped smiling since the conversation began. Does this mean you are speaking Nepali after one-and-half years, how does it feel? This time his laughter is childlike. “Of course, I feel happy but it feels a little awkward speaking in Nepali as I hardly speak the language here. Even in the room, I barely get to talk to anyone as everyone is busy. Other than that you feel happy getting a chance to speak your mother tongue.” His hesitation makes sense.

Yonjon works nine hours a day, but says it is not difficult. “The restaurant is mostly empty so there isn’t much work.” He takes orders when there are guests and in the evening keeps the table and chairs inside. His basic salary is RM 1,000 and out of 10 per cent of service charge “I get five per cent. I get tips too, so it amounts to around RM 1,400-1,500 a month. Food and lodging is free.”

For a change, a Nepali is not suffering in a foreign land, but is he? Instead of studying, a teenager is working far away from home. Probably he had no option, probably he had to work... speculations meander, but the answer is more disheartening. “Studies didn’t interest me much. When I was in school, all my friends talked about was working abroad. We were three friends, all of us came to Malaysia, everyone has separate contracts, so we are scattered. I came with them.”

He keeps in touch with his friends through facebook. Just because your friends came, you tagged along? “Ya,” he says casually with a peculiar accent, hinting that he has embraced the place. So you don’t miss your family? “No I don’t.”

Does that mean you have a girlfriend? “Well I have a friend here, so...”

Your girlfriend? He laughs, looks shy, looks at his feet and says, “Ya,” with the same accent, adding, “It’s been seven to eight months,” that they’ve been dating.

Perhaps it’s his age to be detached, but he hasn’t forgotten his responsibility. His house was destroyed in the April 25 earthquake. He hails from Thulo Dhading, Sindhupalchowk. He doesn’t look disturbed while sharing this. He is thankful that his father, sister and sister-in-law are safe. He plans to go home after six months to help rebuild his home. His contract expires by then, he cannot leave before that or else he will have to pay a huge sum to the company.

Does he plan to stay home once he returns? “Let’s see what happens,” is what he says smiling leaving you to read between the lines.