Mary Schneider

Since moving to Penang in the early 80s, Mary Schneider has witnessed the island step towards modernisation, experienced change and much more.

by / Published: 21 Oct 2011

Mary Schneider

Who Are You?

Name: Mary Schneider
Age: 53
Designation: Freelance writer
Nationality: Scottish
Time in Malaysia: Since 1982

Since moving to Penang in the early 80s, Mary Schneider has battled with gas cylinders, witnessed the island take significant steps towards modernisation, experienced the effects of development, made life-long friends and still believes she hasn’t savoured all of its gastronomic offerings.

Adjusting to life here

It was difficult to adjust on a number of different levels. First of all, I’d left my friends and family behind. So, basically my support group was gone. But I think the biggest difficulty I faced was coming into an extended Chinese family.

My ex-husband is a Chinese Malaysian, and his parents were getting on a bit when he was born, so there was certainly a generation gap or two.

There were cultural differences and a language barrier too. I’m talking about a time when there was no Penang Bridge and no Proton car.

I remember the day when Dr Mahathir, the Prime Minister at that time, became the first person to drive a car—it was a Proton Saga—across Penang Bridge. And another of Penang’s more famous landmarks, the KOMTAR Tower, the tallest building in George Town, opened shortly before my arrival.

Her most humorous experience

During my first Christmas in Penang, while I was in the middle of cooking the turkey, the gas ran out. My husband had popped out for a while, and we were expecting guests, so I was desperate to get the oven on again.

The shops were closed that day, but I phoned my local sundry shop, and the proprietor, who lives above the shop, kindly agreed to open up for a few minutes so I could exchange my empty gas cylinder for a full one.

So I opened my front gate and took the empty cylinder out to the back of my car. But while I was in the process of opening the boot, I lost my balance and knocked the cylinder over onto its side.

Now, my house is built on a slope, and I watched as that stupid cylinder rolled out of my driveway, across the road at an angle, and then down the side road that leads to the bottom of the hill.

I began frantically running after it, all the while hoping that no one would come around the corner and have to dodge it.

I managed to retrieve it at the bottom of the hill without incident, but as I dragged it back up towards my house, one of my neighbours came out and asked what I was doing. ”Oh,” I replied, quite nonchalantly, ‘‘this is an old Scottish yuletide tradition”.

Family and friends

One of the few things I really miss about Scotland is the people. I still have family and friends back there. If I were to go back to Scotland one of the things I would miss most about Malaysia would also be the people. I have a number of good friends in Malaysia, some of whom have become my surrogate family. At the end of the day, it’s not about the things you have or the things that are at your disposal; it’s about friends and family.

Her column “But then again …”

Basically it’s about the facts, follies and foibles of everyday life. It’s a personal column. The title recognizes the fact that we all have different opinions and ideas. My column is just my take on things. It’s me looking through my lens on the world, which could be different entirely from the viewpoint of a number of people. I’ve been writing it each week for 14 years now and I still feel enthusiastic about it.

Working on a memoir of her childhood

A few years ago, I started writing a memoir based on my childhood in rural Scotland. Although the 60s and early 70s was a time of great economic and social change in the UK, change came slowly to the countryside. However, the more I wrote my memoir, the more I realised that my version of the truth might be a little bit upsetting to some people.

Writing a memoir is a huge responsibility, a responsibility that didn’t sit well with me, and I stopped working on it for a while. I’ve now taken that same material and I’m shaping it into a fictionalised memoir. That way, I get the best of both worlds: I can still write my memoir, based entirely on my experiences growing up in Scotland.

Having done, seen and eaten it all on the island

(Laughs) Whenever I think that I have, I discover something new and realise that I haven’t. I think it’s true that you can find just about anything to eat in Penang. Saying that, there always seems to be one restaurant closing down and another two opening up somewhere. So, no, I don’t think I’ve eaten it all on the island—just about, but not quite.

A day in the life

As a freelance writer, I don’t keep regular hours. My day is very much determined by my deadlines at any given time.

I work for several organisations that are based in different time zones and it happens quite often that I have clashing deadlines and in that event I can be up at six in the morning and working until midnight.

But I also have days when I’m not so busy, which is good because I can take a day off in the middle of the week and go shopping when there are few people around and no traffic jams.

These days, when I’m not working for one of my clients, or writing my fictionalised memoir, you’ll find me compiling my columns from The Star newspaper into a book.