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Having first come to America as a student in 1992, Marina Batchelor, left, eventually met and married local chiropractor, Brad Batchelor, and together they have a daughter, Asha, now 5.

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Originally published: 2014-04-19 13:46:40
Last modified: 2014-04-19 13:47:25

Marina's Malaysia

by Sherrie Norris

For Marina Batchelor of Boone, the recent international headlines streaming from her homeland of Malaysia following what she calls "the perplexing mystery of Malaysian Airline MH370"are distressing.

 "The media has marked the incident as the greatest mystery in aviation history," she said, "maybe as twisted and complex as the disappearance of American aviator Amelia Earhart."  

It is a big challenge for her country, Batchelor said.

"It's bizarre. We have never had something like this happen before. It's got us in the news all over the world, but it is not the news that we would like," she said.

Batchelor's personal feeling is that the plane crashed due to a technical problem. "I don't think there is any conspiracy involved, but I have mixed feelings about it," she said. "I would like to think that the plane is somewhere hidden and its passengers are safe."

Batchelor follows the news daily and stays well-informed of events in Malaysia through the American Embassy's website.

 "Our country and all Malaysians are very grateful to America and the other countries for what they are doing to help find the missing plane," she said. "It is a disaster, but it has brought so many countries close together. I have no idea what happened, but I am hoping for a miracle."

 "Despite the negativity we have been hearing, there is so much positive about Malaysia," Batchelor said.

An unofficial ambassador
As the only Malaysian residing in Boone, to her knowledge, Batchelor, who is married to local chiropractor Brad Batchelor, was born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's capital city.

An "unofficial ambassador" for her country, it is her desire to share with others about her beloved Malaysia.

In 2011, Marina wrote "Little Asha's Adventure: A Girl's Journal of Malaysia," a children's book through which she hopes to educate young readers and their parents about her homeland. It is available online and at selected bookstores.

Almost as big as Alabama
Malaysia, situated in Southeast Asia, is bordered by Thailand in the north, Singapore and Indonesia in the south, and the Philippines in the east -- "almost as big as Alabama or slightly greater than New Mexico," Batchelor said,

Malaysia has a strong multiethnic, multicultural and multilingual society, she said, reflecting its diverse population -- about half of which is Malay Polynesians and several indigenous groups, 30 percent Chinese and the remainder Indian descendants and other groups and ethnicities.

Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy, Batcheolor said, headed by the king, known as "Yang Dipertuan Agong'."

Executive power is vested in the cabinet, led by the prime minister of Malaysia. "The current premier, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, is also the son of a previous prime minister," she said.

Malaysia operates on an open economy, she said, "where the economic activities involve both domestic and international communities. It is also a state-oriented market economy, ranked third largest among Southeast Asian countries.

America has a large presence in Malaysia, she said, from its embassy, to many Americans working in the oil and gas industry.

In turn, she said, the country sends students to U.S. schools "all the time, just like it did for me, 24 years ago."

Malaysia has progressed, Batchelor said, as a top exporter of manufactured goods, including palm oil, rubber, crude petroleum, liquefied natural gas, cocoa, pepper, timber and wood products.

Helpful to its foreign trade, Batchelor said, is its proximity to the Strait of Malacca,  an important international shipping crossroads connecting the Far East to Asia, Middle East and Europe.  

Celebrating together
Often described as "Asia In Miniature," Malaysia models "absolute tolerance and harmony," Batchelor said, "despite differences in race, religion, language and various ethnic backgrounds."

Malaysia has one of the highest numbers of public holidays in the world, she said, adding, "Most festivals are identified with a particular ethnic or religious group, but Malaysians celebrate them all."

It helps teach younger generations to acknowledge and respect people of different backgrounds, she said, preparing future generations to better function in the diverse global world they are inheriting.
 
Reflecting on the country's multicultural influences, Malaysia offers the best assortments of food in the world, she said. Despite various preparations, tastes and decoration, generally the same ingredients are used, with rice as a staple.

Influences live on
The country's greatest infrastructure and architectural influences are evidenced in buildings grandly displayed in the cities, she said.

Cultural hub and capital city, Kuala Lumpur, is visually defined by the Formula One Sepang Circuit and the iconic Petronas Twin Towers, which, at 88 stories high, are the tallest twin buildings in the world.

Malaysia maintains some of its unique blend of Eastern and Western style architectures from colonial days under Dutch and the Portuguese rulings, Batchelor said.

Many homes built in traditional architectural form -- "tropically suited roofs and unique proportions with decorative elements" -- have also been maintained and preserved.

A great place to visit
Tourism has become Malaysia's third largest source of income from foreign exchange.

With English widely spoken in Malaysia, language and communication with local people is not a problem for tourists, Batchelor said.

It's an ideal place for animal lovers, she said.

"Orangutans are the only exclusively Asian living genus of great ape and are among the most intelligent primates in the world. A famous elephant sanctuary is found in Kuala Gandah, owned and operated by the government's Wildlife and National Park," she said.

In 1999, "Malaysia, Truly Asia," a worldwide marketing campaign,  was launched and largely successful in attracting millions of tourists, she said. 

Some of Malaysia's tropical islands have been voted most beautiful in the world, Bachelor said. Turquoise waters, palm-fringed beaches and white sandy shores make it a paradise.

In 2012, CNN ranked Kuala Lumpur fourth in the world's Top 10 cities to shop, following New York, London and Tokyo, respectively.

Dubbed the "world's largest building ever built in a single phase," the Berjaya Times Square shopping mall, in the capital city, has a theme park, IMAX theater and about 7.5 million square feet of built-up area.

Famous fashion designers from Malaysia include the London-based famous shoe designer Jimmy Choo, and New York's Zang Toi, both well-known to many celebrities.

In 2010,  Martha Stewart's television's show included her visit to Kuala Lumpur and Sabah, featuring Malaysian cuisine, handicrafts and culture.
Internationally acclaimed movies shot in Malaysia include "Farewell To The King," "Beyond Rangoon," "Anna & The King," "The Entrapment" and "The Sleeping Dictionary."

 "We probably will see a movie being released soon about the mystery of the missing Malaysian Airline MH370," Batchelor said.

Although close in heart, travel time to Malaysia for Batchelor requires between 24 to 30 hours, flying from Charlotte to Newark, to Amsterdam and to Singapore.  

Coming to America
Batchelor first came to America in 1992 through a work-study program sponsored by the Malaysian government. During her five years at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, she received her undergraduate degree, followed by a master's in economics.
 
Returning to Malaysia as a certified infrared thermographer, she started her own engineering company in 2000, operated today by her sister and business partner of 14 years. 

She met her future husband at an American airport. They corresponded as friends before their long distance romance began. They married in 2007.
 
 "I am glad that I met him and that I am able to live in Boone," she said.

 "It is so beautiful and safe here, and the people are so friendly and hospitable. I love it here, but words cannot describe how much I miss Malaysia."

She visits there occasionally and her parents come here every two years.  "They love it here, too," she said.

Her mother is scheduled to visit Boone in May.

Batchelor works in her husband's office part time and enjoys the role of mother to their 5-year-old daughter, Asha.

She relies on social media to keep her "close to family and friends," she said.

She said she is blessed with a large extended family. "My mother had 21 siblings, she said, from the same father, but two mothers. 

She has more than 150 cousins.

It's the Malaysian culture, she said, to  bring everybody to a family wedding, thus, when she and Brad were married, it was a big deal, with about 800 guests. "You cannot risk hurting anyone's feelings," she said.
Other than her family, Batchelor said, it's the food that she misses most of all. "Malaysia has the most wonderful food," she said.

Aside from her own kitchen, she has found the closest authentic cuisine to be at Cuisine Malaya in Charlotte.

 "We love to go to Charlotte and to celebrate special occasions with the Malaysian people who live there," she said. "We like to say it's nice to get together to take a break from speaking English."