At sidelines of Umno assembly, foreign traders talk about love for Malaysia

By Jerry Choong
Delegates are pictured outside Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC) in Kuala Lumpur during Umno general assembly December 6, 2017. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 7 ― Knowledge and business opportunities drew them here, yet they stayed on out of love for Malaysia.

These are the sentiments of some foreign traders who set up their stalls on the third floor of the Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC) in conjunction with Umno’s annual general meeting (AGM)

Syrian Mohamad Ziad Al-Saudi, 27, decided to come to Malaysia two years ago, after several years of doing business in Singapore. He says the reasons for doing so was purely pragmatic at first.

“Malaysia is just next door, so I thought I would give it a shot,” he told the Malay Mail at his stall, where he sells a variety of clothing and other products.

Ziad said it was his first time setting up a stall at PWTC. Accompanied by his wife Farah Al-Saudi, 21, and their three-month old son Ahmad, Ziad said his products have been selling reasonably well.

“The most popular items are jubah robes and Islamic wall decorations, although I also sell items like oud (agarwood) braziers and hand-crafted shisha vessels,” he said, gesturing to the products on display.

For Ziad, the stall was yet another effort for him to provide a comfortable living for his family, as he says he has just set up his company last week in Johor after a period of raising capital.

“It took a while but I am glad I have made it this far. I am also proud of the fact my products are wholly made in Syria, which goes to help the people there after years of devastating war,” he said.

The job is not without its challenges, as Ziad’s products take several months longer to arrive from the factory in Damascus, due to the still-precarious situation back home.

“Sometimes I worry if I have enough items to sell. Thank God all has been well these past two years,” he said.

Yet for Ziad the business is secondary, as he says he has grown very fond of Malaysia.

“I had the priviledge of travelling across Asia and Africa, and I can say for certain Malaysia differs in one aspect; her people are so welcoming,

“They are willing to accept others for who they are, Muslim or otherwise. I may be Syrian yet I feel right at home here,” he said, adding he has already begun applying for the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) programme.

“My parents came to visit for two months early this year, and if all goes well I plan on bringing them here in the future to live with us and help our fledging business as well. Best of all, my little boy will grow up with the best of both worlds,” he said.

Another trader is pomegranate juice seller Kasim Akbash, 27, originally from Turkey. This is his second time at PWTC for the AGM.

“Business was very good last year, we sold over 5,000 bottles during the AGM. With that kind of demand, who would not come back?” he said.

Having lived in Malaysia for six years, Kasim said he completed his studies last year and decided to go into the pomegranate juice business, roping in fellow countryman Eyub Yasar, 40, as his partner.

While Eyub and Kasim’s wife Fatin Mahmud, 24, bustle around to press fresh juice into bottles, Kasim said he is amazed at the demand for the fruit.

“I make it a point to sell only Turkish organic pomegranates. When I first set up my company in Selayang, people mostly bought juices. Now the sales of the fruit itself has surpassed juice,

“I can still keep up with the demand, but one day I hope to branch out and sell other fruits including cherries and apricots,” he said.

Like Zaid, Kasim also applied for the MM2H programme after tying the knot with Fatin last year. The couple was similarly blessed with a three-month old son as well.

“It is the Malaysian people’s warmth and friendliness which quietly moved me. Asides from my homeland, there’s no other place quite like it,” he said.