Just Landed: Drusilla Gillen

Drusilla is a military wife and an avid gardener of 20 years. Currently residing in Penang, she thinks highly of the Fuan Wong Art & Garden.

by / Published: 7 Apr 2017

Just Landed: Drusilla Gillen

Nationality: British
Occupation: A Lady of Leisure
In Malaysia since: September 2016

What brought you to Malaysia?

We call it ‘Pay, Pack and Follow’. In other words, I sold my landscape design company to follow my military husband on super overseas postings from the UK to Texas, to Rome, to Naples and now to Penang.

Your first reaction on learning you’d be moving to Malaysia?

“Monkeys!!!” Or with less teenager screaming, great excitement on returning to a part of the world I lived in as a child, when my diplomatic father was posted first to Vietnam and then Laos.

What do you think about Malaysian gardens and topiary?

As a gardener for 20 years across three continents, there’s little I haven’t seen. Yet BIG would be the word that comes to mind – here luscious vanilla orchids can reach their full size, while my newly planted Argyreia nervosa (elephant climber) and Bauhinia kockiana will cover the walls I planted them on within a single year. Also, in my humble opinion, anyone in Penang who hasn’t visited Fuan Wong’s Art & Garden, hasn’t lived.

How did you integrate yourself into the community?

Military types the world over help one another. There are many excellent expat associations and Facebook groups here. But I’ve broken out beyond that circle and met other people, alarming my conventional English husband by talking to whomever we come across.

What do you now know about Malaysia that you didn’t before?

The incredible warmth, kindness and friendliness of the Penangites is both delightful and sometimes a little disconcerting. One is frequently asked how much you pay for something (to a Brit, money is rarely discussed…) whilst recently in hospital, the lady in the next room was more than willing to show me all around her hysterectomy scar!

Have you noticed any interesting/unique Malaysian cultural practices?

Chinese New Year and Thaipusam have just finished here and the combination of those two on our small island was definitely unique. For Thaipusam, after I retrieved my eyebrows from my hairline, I took a thousand photographs as I danced, smashed coconuts and had my mind utterly flabbergasted. Oh yes, and there was a separate occasion when we met someone’s frisky pet goat at the vet.

Any tips for new expats who have just moved here?

Come with an open mind and a sense of adventure. Don’t live your life in your personal comfort zone – take mini adventures with a friend or alone. Wander down streets with crazy names or intriguing architecture. Follow online blogs of adventurous spirits and explore. The worst possible thing would be to reach the end of your time here, wishing you’d attended more ladies’ coffee mornings.

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