I am sat at my cafe having a cuppa and reflecting on the last 10 years living in Cardiff. It has been eventful in many ways, yet calming at the same time.
My husband and I actually met in 1991 when we were both studying at Cardiff University. In 1995 we got married in Kuala Lumpur during his year out for his Architecture degree. We returned to Cardiff a happily married couple and stayed for another 12 months. He could have continued his degree at another university, but opted to stay in Cardiff instead. Looking back I think it was because we felt at home in Cardiff but didn’t quite realise it yet.
We left for Malaysia and lived there for another seven years. In the following years, we had two daughters and several jobs. In April 2003, we felt we needed a big change and my husband wanted to study an MsC in Environmental Design. We had the whole of the UK to choose from, but chose Cardiff again. We felt it was the right place to bring up two very young children. When we arrived in Cardiff on the 18 August 2003, it was like we never left. I even caught up with Eastenders within a week!
Cardiff was wonderful for us and our children. Unfortunately recession hit and my husband was made redundant from an architects firm in Cardiff. I was still working at a solicitors office on a part-time basis.
Unable to find a job after 12 months, we made a huge decision for my husband to go back to Kuala Lumpur to work. The plan was for me to try to sell our house and move to Kuala Lumpur with the children once the sale was completed. When the house was put up for sale I had an uneasy feeling. We were well rooted in our lovely Penylan/Roath community and it seemed a little scary moving back to Kuala Lumpur after eight years in Cardiff.
Well, it’s 2013, and we are still here! We had to find a plan B and decided to open a Malaysian Cafe on Wellfield Road. It ‘s called called KL Canolog, named after KL Sentral – the main train station in Kuala Lumpur.
So, we are now in a perfect place. If I were to think back about what we remembered most about Cardiff is probably Roath Park. We used to imagine having a picnic there whilst our two young daughters ran about appreciating the fresh air, the lovely flowers and the friendly Welsh people. This still holds true to me but in the last few years I have had to face animosity for being foreign, for presumably overstaying, for taking what was not ours, basically negative press everyday. This seemed to be everywhere in the UK and not just Wales. We were able to overcome this as there was that Cardiff part in us and in our three children (oops I forgot to mention we adopted my son in 2006 from Malaysia). So we embraced the bad and good.
The 18 of August marks our 10th year in Cardiff (if you include our student days that’ll be 15 years). This is where we call home. We are supporters of the Welsh Rugby team and Cardiff City FC. We are very happy to share our Malaysian heritage with our community and feel that it is time we gave back to Cardiff what we have been enjoying for example Welsh cakes, barra brith, chips from Chippy Lane, to name a few.
I am also getting involved in several causes like the Depressed Cake Shop which has gone global from London to Cardiff, San Francisco and in Kuala Lumpur (organised by my sister living in Kuala Lumpur). This cause has also been mentioned on CNN and the LA Times. It is personal to me as I suffered a major breakdown before KL Canolog opened and have suffered with depression for most of my adult life. My father suffers from it too and it was difficult growing up with depression being such a taboo in the Far East. My daughters and I will be doing the Memory Walk on the 15 of September to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Society. Sadly my mother-in-law is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. My life has changed from working in an office and being surround by four walls and the law. I am a lot happier and I feel working at KL Canolog has allowed me to meet so many wonderful people who are giving back to society and trying to make it a better place to live.
Made in Roath is also fabulous and I am blessed to have met Wayne Courtney and champion for everything good. I would also like to thank Miss Cakehead who is a genius! She has made it possible for me to be brave about my depression.
With everything we have been through, I have come to realise that you can’t take the Malaysian out of us but at the same time you can’t take the Cardiff out of us too. A harmonious fusion between two cultures, two cities and two lifestyles.
Zainah Ismail first came to Cardiff in 1990 to study Law at Cardiff University. After graduating with an LLB Degree, she worked as a banker in Kuala Lumpur. In 2004, Zainah started working at Geldards LLP before deciding to start a Malaysian cafe-deli called KL Canolog with her husband. Besides being involved with The Depressed Cake Shop Cymru and taking part in The Memory Walk, Zainah has recently involved herself with Free Cakes for Wales which provides cakes for adults and children who are unable to afford a birthday cake. Zainah currently lives with her husband, her two daughters and son in Penylan.
Zainah was photographed at KL Canalog by Jon Pountney
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