Welcome to The Bicultural Podcast.

I’m delighted to be joined by Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin, founder of Moment by Moment.

This episode will give insight into

  • Juita’s story about being bicultural
  • Experiences of Malaysia
  • Overcoming difficulties through mindfulness and meditation

Hi Juita, how are you?

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (00:35):
Hi, Janina. Nice to speak to you again today. I’m very well thanks. And how were you?

Janina Neumann (00:43):
It’s lovely to talk to you, Juita. I’m very well thank you. I’m so excited to be recording this with you.

So tell us a little bit about yourself.

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (00:52):
Okay, I’m originally from Malaysia. I moved to the UK in 2003, so I’ve been here about 16 years now. And I moved to the UK when I got married and I first moved to Bristol. And then that chapter of my life ended. So I am now living in the beautiful village of Winchcombe in the Cotswolds.

Janina Neumann (01:25):
That’s fantastic.

So what experiences did you have when you first moved to Bristol? How was it different?

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (01:34):
I moved to Bristol in December, so it was winter. So you can imagine coming from a hot humid tropical country, like Malaysia, it was a bit of a shock, although I did go to university in Plymouth for two years, so I was a little bit familiar with the seasons. But that was five years before I moved to settle in the UK. So it was still a bit of a shock to the system. It was very, very cold and very, very gray and wet. So that was a bit of a struggle, but I soon got used to it. I soon got used to it.

Janina Neumann (02:16):
Oh yeah. The seasons are quite odd here in the UK. Definitely.

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (02:24):
Yes. Yeah, but I’ve learned to embrace it now, and rather than, you know, attaching negativity to how cold or miserable it appears to be, I try my best to see what’s positive about it. You know, snuggling in front of a fire in the winter is nice, hot stews and soups and looking forward to spring and then, you know, the amazing summer and the gorgeous colours in autumn. So all of that has helped with, you know, all the different seasons.

Janina Neumann (03:05):
Yeah, it definitely helps with your mindset and also the work that you do, which we’ll also get onto in a minute.

I’d love to find out more about where you lived in Malaysia. Like, did you live in the countryside or did you live in a town or city?

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (03:21):
So I have lived in urban area in the middle of a town and when I was 16 the family moved to a lovely little village and we were surrounded by rubber trees and there were monkeys at the back of the house. Yes, they were quite mischievous. They were trying to break into the house and steal all the food. So that was interesting. And I also went to a boarding school, so that was another different setting surrounded by paddy fields. And then I went to university in Kuala Lumpur. So I lived in what would be equivalent to London, very cosmopolitan concrete jungle. And when I finished university, my first posting was to Sabah, which is in Borneo. So it’s not as built up or overdeveloped like West Malaysia. So it was a completely different rural setting as well with beautiful coastal towns. And yeah, so I have lived in quite a few different settings when I was in Malaysia.

Janina Neumann (04:39):
That’s fantastic.

So is there quite a difference then if people live in the North compared to the South of Malaysia?

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (04:52):
Oh, absolutely. The first thing you will notice is the local accent. So people talk differently, just like you would notice in the UK. So Scottish people would speak in a completely different accent to somebody who’s from Gloucestershire, from Cornwall to London, it’s the same in Malaysia. So there’s a difference in accent, and the food is different as well. And you will also get a different view of the different side of the, for example, West coast, the seas are rather dark and muddy, but the East coast, beautiful turquoise coloured water and white sandy beaches.

Janina Neumann (05:49):
That’s fantastic.

And tell me a little bit more about the food. How is it different across Malaysia?

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (05:58):
Okay. So for example, up North, closer to Penang and, well, nearing to the border with Thailand, so there’ll be more influence of Thai food. Penang and Kedah, the curry is very heavily influenced by Indian traders, who were the settlers there, who came to settle in trade in Malaysia, 400, 500 years ago. And then Kuala Lumpur is a melting pot of absolutely everything. And for the South, the food is very fiery hot, and in East Malaysia, in Borneo, the food is heavily influenced by Indonesia and the Philippines. So each state, there are 13 States in Malaysia, and each state has their own signature dish if you like, and you can recognise the dishes from where it would come from.

Janina Neumann (07:10):
Wow. That’s so interesting.

So how do you connect with people? Like what’s a good subject to talk about?

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (07:22):
Food.

Janina Neumann (07:22):
Well, I love that.

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (07:26):
Food seems to be the glue that connects the communities in Malaysia. And for example, if you were to meet somebody, so over here you would say, “Hello, how are you?” Things like that. “How’s things going?” In Malaysia, it won’t be uncommon for people to say, “Hello, have you eaten?”

Janina Neumann (08:01):
I love it.

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (08:01):
And if you haven’t, “Let’s go and have some food or I’ll cook you some food”. So food is always on the agenda.

Janina Neumann (08:08):
That’s fantastic. It’s a great way to connect with people.

So do you think that also extends to, for example, business meetings? Are they held more in a restaurant than like a boardroom?

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (08:21):
Yes, absolutely. So a business lunches and dinners are part of the way for people to connect because I think it’s a good way to create a very relaxed atmosphere. And it is also a way to impress. Obviously, if you would like to, impress your clients, you will take them to the best restaurants and to impress them with how amazing the food is, how expensive the food is, and things like that. And that is a huge part of business meetings in Malaysia.

Janina Neumann (09:02):
That’s so interesting.

And are there differences in like how people eat, for example, are people vegetarian or vegan or do they eat meat generally?

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (09:19):
It’s a cacophony of all of it actually. Malaysia is very multicultural, so is all the food. And I have not heard of veganism when I was in Malaysia, but vegetarian is very, very common in Malaysia. And of course, because we have massive influence from because Malaysia is right in the middle of Southeast Asia, so we have huge influence from China, Thailand, Indonesia, India, the Philippines, and each culture bring their own delicacy.

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (10:05):
So yes, vegetarianism is common. Meat is also huge, especially during big celebrations, for example, weddings or Eid. Well, mostly weddings, I would imagine. So people would have slaughter big animals, like a Buffalo or goats and things like that. Yeah.

Janina Neumann (10:40):
That’s huge, you know, to celebrate in that way, and also to have people come together that way, you know, it’s so important in like the trust-building process among communities as well I can imagine.

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (10:56):
Absolutely. And because it is a multicultural country, there is a lot of celebration. So we have a celebration for Eid for the Muslims. We have Christmas. We have Diwali. We have also the Pagan celebrations as well, harvest days. So that’s a lot of food. There’s a lot of public holidays as well.

Janina Neumann (11:27):
Fantastic, what a great way to connect.

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (11:30):
I know. I don’t know how we get anything done.

Janina Neumann (11:36):
That’s brilliant.

And what other kinds of main languages that are spoken then with such multicultural communities?

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (11:46):
Okay. So the main language is Malay language and our second language is English and English is taught as a second language in schools. In the last 10, 15 years, the government has also introduced teaching maths and science in English as well. So most Malaysian can speak English as a second language, and also there’s different mother tongues as well. So the Chinese will speak Cantonese or Mandarin. The descendants of Indians will speak either Tamil or Urdu et cetera. And you will see like what you would see in Wales where you will have signboards in English and in Welsh, in Malaysia you will see signboards in Malay, English, and sometimes Chinese and Tamil as well. And the news will be in three languages or four languages sometimes. And there’s TV shows in Malay, English, Urdu, Cantonese, Chinese,

Janina Neumann (13:08):
Wow.

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (13:08):
Mandarin. So we have all sorts, all sorts.

Janina Neumann (13:14):
Wow. That’s such a great way of bringing communities together. That’s fantastic and such a commitment, you know, from making sure that like with public signs to like TV shows that everyone’s involved. It seems to me like they have a good grasp on actually creating bicultural communities over there.

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (13:40):
Yeah. Yes, it is a big deal. And there are a lot of movements to make sure that the multicultural do co-exist harmoniously because it is a very tricky thing to get right. Multicultural is very tricky.

Janina Neumann (14:00):
Yeah, it is.

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (14:04):
So the government is, you know, they have got a pretty tall order to make sure everybody respects each other and can live with each other and coexist harmoniously.

Janina Neumann (14:16):

So how do you think you can build trust with Malaysians?

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (14:23):
I think the attitude of being very open and to be very, very aware and sensitive of each race, different cultures, and to have a very, very friendly and open approach. I think to make an effort to, for example, because we also multicultural, if somebody from a different race is able to, not to be fluidly speaking our language, but to have some words that we can pick up from their language, then that will be fantastic. And of course, being hospitable, welcoming people into our homes, that is a huge, huge, doorway to building trust with other people and also celebrating.

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (15:30):
You will want to have somebody to invite you if you are celebrating Eid, to come to your house and for it to reciprocate for somebody to then invite you to their celebration. So that is why I think we do have public holidays to celebrate each of the celebrations so that there is this open house culture in Malaysia, and everybody just gets to join in. Joining in is a big thing in Malaysia to establish relationships, to build trust.

Janina Neumann (16:15):
That’s a really good way of doing that and to make sure that people can dedicate that time to building those relationships.

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (16:22):
Yes.

Janina Neumann (16:22):

So tell me a little bit more about some of the cultural barriers that people might face if they come with basically no knowledge of Malaysia. Like what way would be good to contact people? Is it like through the phone or email or finding someone who you already have a relationship to?

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (16:51):
I think now communication and contacting people, that’s all of those, that you’ve mentioned, is highly accessible. And I think it’s global now that people would go through emails and phones, but I think in Malaysia, face-to-face meeting is still the preferred way of doing things. Yeah. I think initial contact will be email and phones, but face-to-face is still the preferred method of making contact.

Janina Neumann (17:30):
Yes, I can imagine. And also, you know, if you’re writing an email, there’s so many other hurdles that you then encounter, for example, like how direct are you? Like, do you find the Malaysians are quite direct, or are they more indirect? Like, do they ask you to more to, so to speak “read the air”, about what you’re trying to say?

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (17:51):
I don’t think Malaysian so very direct. I think there is this thing about, we don’t want to offend people, even though that’s in a lot of culture, but in Malaysia being a good host or saving face is something that is common amongst the Asians. So we want to be so nice and likable and saying “no” is something that Malaysians are not very good at, I think. So, even though for example, if somebody were to come to your house and you don’t really want them there, you still open your doors and welcome them. We really want to be good hosts and we want to please people so much that, you know, we would still open our arms and welcome people regardless. So in that way, we can be not so direct and would try our best to please people. Yeah.

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (19:07):
That’s one thing that I have noticed, which is a little bit different when I moved to the UK. So here, if I were to go to somebody’s house, usually you would either ring up beforehand or to arrange it beforehand, to check if they’re free or if they’re available, is it okay for you to come over? And that’s absolutely fine. It’s completely reasonable and quite respectful I think to do that. In Malaysia, you’ll just turn up you know. Sometimes you would check if they are at home, but sometimes you just turn up and sure enough, you will be welcomed with open hands. And there is a saying in Malaysia that “Even though you’ve got just one egg left in your kitchen, you will fry that egg and give it to your guests as lunch”.

Janina Neumann (20:07):
Oh, that’s really lovely. And I can imagine also, you know, it works both ways, you know, and I think the reciprocal aspect from this is really important, you know? It’s not like you’re just inviting yourself around there every time and you never invite them round. So actually, you know, for them to be able to take advantage of also coming to your house is also nice.

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (20:32):
Yeah. Yes, because you know, you’re going to be welcomed and it’s quite nice. It’s quite nice in a lot of occasions. Yes.

Janina Neumann (20:42):
Oh, that’s fantastic.

And you’ve brought all this experience to your business now, you know, and let’s hear more about your business, ‘Moment by Moment’.

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (20:56):
Yes, so I teach mindfulness and meditation and I also do guided natural mindfulness walk. So I teach students either on a one-to-one setting or a group setting. I teach people the skills on how to meditate and how to put a welcome mat to any and all of their experiences because mindfulness is about being open and grounded and paying attention to whatever, whatever that’s going on in this present moment. And I think a lot of us have very noisy chatty minds. So through the meditation practice, we can develop skills and develop attitudes on how to be okay, how to be okay with all of this experience, all this stuff that’s coming in and going in our minds, all the bodily sensations. And of course, when I take people out for a walk, it is about reconnecting with nature. Not just the external nature, also with our own nature within, because we’re not that much different from what we see as the external world. We are part of nature too.

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (22:25):
And I try to expose people to the different lessons that we can learn by observing nature and also to reconnect with our own innate ability to relax ourselves, to calm ourselves, and also to heal. And that’s what I try to teach my students.

Janina Neumann (22:54):
That’s really fantastic and powerful. I think a lot of people actually are quite fearful about, you know, mindfulness because as you say, there’s a lot going on inside our minds, you know, being chatty and things like that. And, you know, as you say with the welcome mat, it’s great that you’re there to kind of lay that welcome mat out so that they’re not alone with their thoughts. And that’s really powerful.

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (23:24):
It is very powerful because a lot of the time, we humans, we are not very good with pain and suffering or life’s challenges. And so our resilience and tolerance are pretty low. So by having an open-minded attitude of acceptance and understanding and compassion and not being so judgmental, we are less resistant to things that life throws at us. So by practicing mindfulness and practicing meditation especially, we build that resilience. And instead of being reactive, which is a very knee jerk fight-flight and freeze way of dealing with life’s challenges, we become more responsive and responsive is a bit more thoughtful, a bit more mindful way of responding to life. There is a lot more wisdom and discernment when we behave like that.

Janina Neumann (24:42):
Yeah, definitely. And also I thought about how, you know, everyone has a culture within them, whether it’s bicultural or multicultural or monocultural. And also I think perhaps that different things trigger different reactive emotions, depending on the culture that we identify with. So things that are acceptable, you know, to our families or our friends might be completely different to my friend’s family and friends.

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (25:16):
Yeah.

Janina Neumann (25:16):
And also, I can imagine that you then don’t realise that certain things bother you more than others because of the culture and kind of the upbringing and also the mindset that they have about things. So it’s really great with your experience of, you know, growing up in a multicultural environment about acceptance and being open to things to pass that onto your students.

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (25:39):
Yes, absolutely. You were absolutely right. That we do look at the world and other people and our experiences through this filter that we have brought along with us or developed from our childhood and upbringing and our culture and religion. So definitely, and with mindfulness, we are becoming more aware of these filters and instead of reacting, we sort of have like a step back and allow just a few seconds perhaps to sort of figure out a completely different way of responding, rather than just behaving like, and an autopilot, sort of less thoughtful with mindfulness, you have this ability to develop a bit more compassion and understanding. And not being judgmental is very, very important when you are living in the multicultural or bicultural setting.

Janina Neumann (26:53):
Yes, definitely. And also, you know, the way we speak to ourselves might be very different than how we’d speak to someone experiencing the exact same pain as we do.

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (27:04):
Yes.

Janina Neumann (27:04):
And you know, it’s hugely damaging if we’re the own bully.

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (27:09):
Oh yes, we are so self-critical, it’s insane. Yes.

Janina Neumann (27:16):
Definitely. And also, you know, with lockdown across the world, you know, people are being even more isolated, and not having that different interaction from people with different perspectives, you know, so the chatter, so to speak, goes on continuously.

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (27:38):
Yes. Absolutely, continuously. And, of course, we humans have this inbuilt negative bias anyway. So we are more prone to think negatively or feed ourself with negativity. So with that awareness, we can do something about it. We can make a choice to either carry on as we are, or we can choose to do something completely different. And to have that choice is very empowering because a lot of us feel that we don’t have a choice. We feel like we’re out of control. We feel like that’s an external thing that is in control of our lives. But in fact, the control, the reign is in our hands.

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (28:27):
And I always tell this to all my students. You know, it’s like if we have a remote control, it’s not the remote control that controls what channel, what programs we’re watching, the hands that’s controlling all the buttons is ours. So we have to control, we have the control on the volume dial. So if the mind chatter is getting louder, with mindfulness and meditation we are able to recognise that we have to control to turn the volume down or turn the volume up.

Janina Neumann (29:07):
That’s a great analogy. And I will certainly remember that one. It’s brilliant.

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (29:14):
Yes. Yeah, because we often feel out of control and we humans are control freaks. We like to be able to decide our own fate and destiny. And I do my best to remind my students to reconnect to that innate ability to empower my students and myself because I’m still practicing too, that we have the choice. We are the one in control of our own lives.

Janina Neumann (29:49):
That’s really powerful. And I think a lot of people need that right now, you know, whether they’re local to you or across borders. So how can people connect with you and perhaps also work with you to help them, so to speak, lower or even mute the negative chatter in their lives?

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (30:14):
Absolutely. All the information about what I offer is on my website, www.momentbymoment.info. I’m also on Facebook and Instagram. So I’m very accessible, so anybody can contact me by Messenger or Instagram or Facebook. My Facebook page is Moment by Moment. My Instagram is Juita_MBM. Would you like my telephone number as well?

Janina Neumann (30:53):
You’re welcome to share it if you’d like.

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (30:54):
Thank you. So my telephone number is +44 (0)7809 388780. And I will be posting dates on my social media accounts on walks that I will be planning on soon because we’re now able to do some outdoor activities now. And I think that is so needed, especially with the lockdown that we’ve been experiencing in the last six, seven months. I think we do need to spend more time connecting, especially spending time in nature.

Janina Neumann (31:43):
We certainly do. And I think it’s a good reminder to those who are feeling like life’s tough right now, to actually just reflect on all the trauma that we’ve all experienced through lockdown by having our lives completely changed and that we’re not alone. And it’s actually, we have the power to take back control through mindfulness and through perhaps also working with you, Juita.

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (32:10):
Yes, it would be good. And I also have a group class that is on a weekly basis, which also provides a safe, confidential, and supported environment for people to connect and practice meditation together.

Janina Neumann (32:28):
That’s fantastic. And I’ve really enjoyed talking to you today, Juita, about your experiences of Malaysia and your work that you do, is fantastic, the impact that you’re making.

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (32:42):
Thank you so much. It’s been a privilege talking to you as well.

Janina Neumann (32:47):
Thank you very much for today Juita.

Juita Akhtar Mokhtarudin (32:50):
Thanks, Janina.

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