I’ve had the pleasure of spending three phases of my life in Malaysia. So far, I might add, because I sincerely doubt that this land of wondrous contrasts will ever be a closed chapter for me.
It all started in 1993 when my late father accepted a job offer in Kuching, a (then) sleepy state capital located in the Malaysian section of the island of Borneo. Although I was only 8 years old at the time, this move would lay the foundations for a lifelong appreciation of beer.
My father liked nothing better than reading his paper, pipe in mouth and a nice cold beer within reach, and he saw no harm in including me in this daily ritual. We would read the cartoons together, go through the sports section, sometimes he would attempt to explain the more complex global affairs of the time and he always let me have a sip of his beer. One sip, but not too generous, because Papa was thirsty.
I honestly couldn’t tell you how it all started, whether I asked if I could try some or whether my father was the one that offered first. However, I can clearly recall that the first sip of beer I ever had was poured from a 0.5 liter bottle of Tiger Beer (I thought the logo was pretty cool…) and that the taste instantaneously agreed with me. And so the wheels had been put into motion, there was no turning back.
These bonding sessions continued to take place on a regular basis, sometimes even in public spaces, much to the annoyance of other parents that were considerably less liberal than mine. Then, in 1997, my mother and I moved to the Netherlands so that I could attend secondary school there rather than be home-schooled in Kuching or be sent off to boarding school in Peninsular Malaysia. My father stayed on in Kuching until his retirement in 2001 and my mother and I generally visited him twice a year during this period of separation.
I remember returning to Kuching one summer vacation, aged 14 or 15, full of eagerness to boast about the handful of drunken nights I’d experienced at home, only to find that my local friends were congregating at a kopitiam to feast on Tiger Beers and Dunhill reds at least once a week. It was obvious that I had a lot of catching up to do.
I also remember that, during my last visit to Kuching in 2001, my father had already developed the habit of ordering a separate bottle of Tiger Beer for me when we went out for dinner. But never more than one bottle, because Papa still had to drive.
I didn’t return to Malaysia until 2007, when I touched down in Kuala Lumpur for a three month internship and ended up staying almost two years. This particular phase of my life would prove to be a first introduction to the grind. My days were spent commuting to unremarkable survey sites and compiling reports that no-one ever read while my evenings were filled with basketball and as much good old-fashioned debauchery as my modest wage would permit.
The standard operating procedure was as follows: Wednesday night was Ladies’ Night at the old Zouk on Jalan Ampang, Thursday nights were generally dedicated to house parties, Friday nights were all about 21 on Changkat Bukit Bintang, back to Zouk on Saturday night, take a few days off to sweat out the accumulated toxins and then repeat.
In order to make this excessive lifestyle financially feasible, it was predominantly fuelled on Tiger Beer. Not to say that this was a catastrophy by any means, considering the other options on offer.
Heineken was, and still is, overpriced. Moreover, I’m not a huge fan of (arguably) my fatherland’s most recognizable export product so it’s not as if I was craving the stuff to begin with.
Anchor Smooth was alright, but preferably toward the end of the night, when the majority of my tastebuds had already disintegrated in the synergy.
Guinness was available in abundance but back then it did not appease my palate nearly as much as it does nowadays. Other than Carlsberg, there really wasn’t much else to choose from in terms of beer. Thus, where possible, I stuck with Tiger.
My most recent expedition to Malaysia took place between early 2014 and late 2016. By then, my father was no longer among us and the immense grief spawned by his passing was finally starting to loosen its grip on me. I arrived in K.L. with enough savings to keep me going for a while, a place to stay until I found my way, and a freight load of enthusiasm and best intentions.
Within two months I had found myself a job and moved into company accommodation in the Sri Hartamas area, just around the corner from the legendary Backyard Pub & Grill. Needless to say, I soon became a regular. Had it not been for the fact that my job required me to travel a fair bit, I could easily have become part of the furniture.
One of my fondest memories of that period was Backyard’s 25th anniversary, a celebration that lasted an entire month. During that month, each and every day from 4 pm to 6 pm, Backyard blessed its patrons with a free flow of Tiger Beer for a mere RM 25 (the equivalent of € 6, or thereabouts, at the time). In a city where a single pint can easily set you back a similar amount, this felt like winning the lottery thirty days in a row.
More importantly, the beer buffet at Backyard attracted a host of like-minded individuals, several of whom became very dear friends of mine and helped make K.L. feel like home once again.
Unfortunately, I gradually started developing an aversion to the draught selection, including Tiger Beer, served at the majority of F&B establishments around the Klang Valley metropolitan area. It all tasted watered-down or downright foul to me. Hence, I adjusted my drinking habits accordingly and limited my beer intake to a bare minimum until I relocated to Vietnam.
Nevertheless, four years down the line and in the midst of a pandemic, feelings of nostalgia for simpler times are becoming increasingly prevalent. Today, on this rainy day in the Netherlands, I long to spend some time with my father. I long to swing by Villa Puteri condominium for a session with the French and Danish interns. I long to stroll down to Backyard and be greeted by familiar faces out on the veranda. And I long to be reunited with my ever-present companion throughout all of those wonderful memories. I could really do with a nice cold Tiger Beer right now.