Living the Multicultural Dream in the Alluring Greater Kuala Lumpur

In the heart of Southeast Asia lies a vibrant metropolis that has captured the hearts of expats worldwide: Greater Kuala Lumpur. This bustling city, a melting pot of cultures, offers a unique blend of modern living and rich heritage, making it an attractive destination for those seeking a life abroad.

In this exclusive interview, Baltasar Vergara, Asia CFO of Técnicas Reunidas, a Spanish multinational engineering firm, shares his personal experiences and insights into the intricacies of Greater Kuala Lumpur (Greater KL/KL) as an exceptional place to live and work. With over eight years of experience living in the region, Baltasar offers a comprehensive perspective on the city's allure, challenges, and factors contributing to its growing popularity among expats.

Q1: Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

"My name is Baltasar Vergara. I was born in Zaragoza, a mid-sized city in Spain, where I pursued my studies in Economics and completed my postgraduate degree in Financial Management. I began my career as an auditor at a local Spanish firm and obtained my ACA certification. However, I soon discovered my passion for financial management. My adventurous spirit led me to live in various countries, including the UK, Turkey, and finally, Malaysia.

I am the CFO for Asia at Técnicas Reunidas, a globally recognized Spanish multinational engineering and EPC company. Técnicas contributes by designing and constructing necessary plants to cover the needs of clean fuels, natural gas, petrochemicals, power, hydrogen, bioenergy, fertilizers and more, with a focus on future generations. We aim to develop sustainable growth, decarbonization, and energy transition projects, which are the core concepts that represent our company’s culture."


Q2: How long have you been living in Greater KL? What aspects of life in Greater KL have surprised and delighted you the most? How has this experience enriched your family life?

"I arrived with my wife and two children in August 2015, so we have been living in KL for more than eight years now. Greater KL is a very welcoming and dynamic city, yet it also exudes warmth, offering expats a very comfortable life. However, I believe the truly differential factor is the Malaysians themselves. The local people make you feel like Greater KL is your home. We quickly made very close local friends who included you in their private celebrations. We are very grateful for this privilege; it is truly amazing!"


Q3: Can you share your overall experience living in Greater KL as an expat? Which aspects of life in this region have made it unique or different from your home country?

"To truly appreciate the richness of cultural activities in Greater KL, you must live here; Malay, Indian, Chinese, and other cultural events take place every weekend, offering diverse experiences, and most of them welcome you to participate for free. This cultural amalgamation is likely unique in the world! Not only KL but cities like Ipoh, Malacca, Georgetown, and others also offer this multicultural atmosphere.

Venturing beyond the cities to explore nature will leave you even more astonished. From the lush jungles and forests to the pristine islands on the east or west coast, or even in Borneo, the opportunities are endless. Hiking, snorkelling, scuba diving, and various other outdoor activities are not only advisable but also easily accessible. You will encounter a plethora of tropical trees and plants, meandering rivers and streams, cascading waterfalls, and crystal-clear, calm turquoise waters teeming with wildlife."



Q4: What obstacles did you encounter while transitioning to life in Greater Kuala Lumpur? How has your perception of the city evolved over time? Have there been specific cultural or lifestyle aspects that you've come to appreciate or embrace during your tenure here?

"When we first arrived in Greater KL, everything felt new to us – the food, religions, clothing, accents, habits and of course, the weather were all completely different. However, it did not take us long to adjust to these new aspects of life. Both local and expat communities, along with Public Institutions like InvestKL, made it easy for us to integrate into both private and business life.

Kuala Lumpur is a modern, multicultural city that values its traditions. Malays, Indians, Chinese, and Westerners live together in harmony, each maintaining and sharing their cultures and celebrations. Adapting to this situation upon arrival is simple if you respect one another. Personally, I enjoy immersing myself in these diverse cultures, and in my opinion, the beauty of this coexistence is easily noticeable."

Q5: What factors come into play for a company deciding to launch an overseas office, and what advantages do you think Greater KL offers over other regional cities?

"Técnicas Reunidas secured a significant contract in 2014 for the Rapid Project with Petronas, specifically Package 3 for engineering, procurement, construction, and commissioning of the refinery in Pengerang. As a result, we decided to establish a finance office in Kuala Lumpur to support project operations.

Our commercial activities in Asia yielded positive results, leading to the acquisition of new projects in countries such as Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, India, and others. Consequently, we chose to transform our office into the Finance Regional Hub.

The main reasons for this decision were:

1. Malaysia’s political stability: Malaysia is a stable federal representative democratic constitutional monarchy, providing a secure legal environment for businesses.

2. Strategic location: Kuala Lumpur is well-connected within the region, with several airlines offering multiple daily flight options to neighbouring countries, enhancing business agility.

3. Language advantage: Besides Bahasa, English proficiency is widespread among Malaysians, facilitating international business and relationships.

4. Skilled workforce: Kuala Lumpur boasts a highly skilled technical workforce at competitive rates, particularly advantageous for service-oriented sectors like engineering.

5. Quality services: Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia, in general offer high-quality services at competitive and reasonable prices."



Q6: Living in a new place often comes with memorable experiences. Could you share some anecdote or unforgettable moment that encapsulates your time in Greater KL?

"There are numerous memorable experiences in Greater KL and throughout Malaysia. To mention a few: we were initially amazed by the wildlife we encountered in our condo, such as monkeys, raccoons, and squirrels, reminding us that we live in a city surrounded by nature.

The cultural manifestations left a lasting impression on us. Religious celebrations like the vibrant Thaipusam at Batu Caves, the colourful Deepavali, the lively and acrobatic Lion Dance during Chinese New Year, and the inviting open houses hosted by our Malay neighbours during Hari Raya.

Exploring the diverse array of local cuisines was also a striking experience. Malaysian food, whether Malay, Chinese, Nyonya, or Indian, is intense and evocative, although one must acclimate to the spiciness.

However, one of the most remarkable experiences for our family was our first snorkelling excursion on the islands off the east coast of Malaysia. None of us will forget the breathtaking sight of coral reefs, tropical fish, turtles, and even sharks swimming close by. This experience inspired all of us to pursue the PADI course and begin practising scuba diving."






Q7: Describe a typical weekend in Greater KL for you and your family.

"I believe it is nearly impossible to get bored in Kuala Lumpur.

If we opt to stay in the city, Saturdays are usually reserved for meeting up with friends and dining out at popular spots. We’re also part of a WhatsApp group where we discover various cultural activities happening in the city. On Sunday mornings, we enjoy hiking; we can pursue this activity in several places near Greater KL, and some trails even lead to stunning waterfalls.

During the dry season, we often travel to the islands on the East Coast to indulge in snorkelling or scuba diving. We’ve truly fallen in love with these activities in Malaysia."





Q8: For fellow expats considering a move to Greater KL, what advice or insights would you offer to help them make a smooth transition and fully enjoy their experience living in this diverse and vibrant region?

"Choosing a convenient condo and location to live in the city is crucial. If you have children, proximity to schools might be a priority, while for those without, living near your office could be more beneficial, considering the traffic congestion during peak hours in Greater KL.

There are several social media groups where you can seek advice from people who have encountered similar situations before. Taking their advice into consideration can be immensely helpful.

In general, I strongly recommend keeping an open mind and showing respect for all the different cultures in the city. Once you understand, respect, and perhaps even admire this coexistence and diversity, the local community will help make you feel at home."

Let us facilitate your growth in the region.

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