“I never expected to find an Asian cuisine in Holland’

Jovin Munyandi fulfilled his childhood dream when he moved to the Netherlands to work on his Ph.D. Originally from Malaysia, he has since fallen in love with the country and its cycling culture.

How did you end up in the Netherlands?
I came to Holland to do my PhD programme. In Malaysia I was working in a stem cell manufacturing company. I had a secure job but felt something was missing. Basically, I didn’t know what to do with my life. A friend of mine who finished his PhD in Germany knew that I was interested in scientific research. I suggest that I do my PhD in Europe. I landed at Schiphol in the winter of winter, eight years ago.

Looking back, it’s a miracle I finished my PhD. I was experiencing some personal problems at the time, and I also had a loss in the family to deal with. It all seemed hopeless. Fortunately, a kind and sympathetic supervisor helped me complete my PhD programme.

I am now working for a life sciences company in Leiden Bioscience Park. During the final year of my PhD, I realized that my mission was to be a writer or a journalist. I think the life journey I’ve had over the past eight years is part of a larger learning curve.

How would you describe yourself – expat, likable, immigrant, international?
I consider myself gone. Even in Malaysia, I was always on the move. My bachelor’s and master’s degrees were from two different universities, separated by 900 miles across the South China Sea. I love Holland, and this is where I feel at home. But you never know where life might take you. It can happen in the blink of an eye. At the moment, Holland offers me many opportunities to continue my passion, my calling and my purpose in life.

How long do you plan to stay?
I am fully settled here in the Netherlands. I wouldn’t mind moving to other parts of Holland, especially the eastern part of the country. I am at the point where my career is taking off and moving to another country is not an option at the moment. I have been living here for nearly eight years and am very good with the standards and living conditions here.

In fact, my love for Holland goes back to my childhood. In Malaysia, there is a famous dairy product manufacturer called Dutch Lady. In the late 1980s, there was an advertisement for Dutch Lady products where a milkmaid was carrying buckets of milk in the middle of a green pasture filled with Holstein Friesian cattle. That was when I first fell in love with Holland and decided to live there.

Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn?
I speak reasonable Dutch [I speak Dutch reasonably well]. I learned Dutch in different ways, mostly using different textbooks and online materials.

I would like to spend more time on grammar and get complete fluency in the language. There is room to improve my Dutch fluency, but I believe persistence and practice will eventually lead to perfection.

What is your favorite Dutch thing?
Bicycles. I just love cycling in Holland. Here’s a secret: I learned how to ride a bike in Holland! I think a lot of foreigners learn about cycling here. I enjoy riding an all-weather bike. Each season offers different types of beautiful and unique landscapes. It is very therapeutic.

How did you become Dutch?
I’m almost Dutch [I am almost Dutch], maybe 50-50. I use a bike to go everywhere in Leiden. I feel restricted when my bike breaks down and I have to walk. When I came to Forrest, it was a struggle and strange for me to eat sandwich [sandwich] for lunch. I’m from a culture where we eat a hot meal for lunch and dinner. But now I’m used to it, and from time to time I have a nice hot meal for lunch.

Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you like to meet?
Corey Ten Boom.
She was the daughter of a watchmaker named Casper ten Boom. Along with her father and sister, Betsy Ten Boom, Corey helped many Jews escape during the Holocaust in World War II. The Ten Poms House became a hiding place for many fugitives.

Anne Frank. Well, she’s not really Dutch, but she is considered Dutch since she lived most of her life in Amsterdam. Her voice still speaks for all those who have been silenced during this dark period of history.

What is your most important tourist tip?
I think one size does not fit all. It really depends on what kind of place you enjoy. I’ve been to places to visit both in Holland and across Europe where the majority of crowds go. Personally, I don’t enjoy overly crowded places, they are claustrophobic.

If you are like me and love peace, quiet and scenery, the Veluwe area is definitely worth a visit. I was lucky enough to go there and immediately fell in love with the purple barren lands.

Another place that caught my eye many years ago was Zaans Schans. It is home to 17th and 18th century windmills that are used to grind spices, flour mills and produce lumber. There are also a lot of small museums there, such as the Albert Heijn Museum.

Tell us a surprising thing you found out about Holland
food. I never expected to find Asian cuisine in Holland. All I expected were burgers, fries and bread. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy western food, but I was totally blown away to see an Indonesian restaurant called Celera Anda [Your Taste] In the center of Leiden.

It didn’t stop here. As I was exploring different Dutch towns in the Randstad, I came across Middle Eastern, Indian, Chinese, Iranian and East African food. Holland has been a safe haven for people from all over the world, which is the main reason why there are different types of food from all over the world.

If you only stayed 24 hours in the Netherlands, what would you do?
This is a hard thing for me to think of, and it’s settled as I am here. But if I had no choice and had to leave Holland in 24 hours, I would go to Veloe and ride another bike in the woods and wastelands. I would also like to see all my close friends.

Yvonne Munyandi was talking to Brandon Hartley

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