Kazakhstan journalism through the eyes of a Malaysian journalist
Kazakhstanis often go abroad in order to pursue a higher education and get a stable job. However, there are also opposite examples, when foreigners bind their destinies with Kazakhstan. A vivid proof of this is the life of a Malaysian journalist Bilqis Bahari, who has been living in the capital for several years.
Bilqis Bahari is the only foreign journalist working for the international television channel Kazakh TV. She came to Nur-Sultan in order to build a family and make a career as a journalist. Bilqis fell in love with the capital of Kazakhstan, and she cannot imagine her life outside Astana now.
According to her, Nur-Sultan is one of the best cities in the world, despite its harsh climate and other disadvantages. At the same time, the Malaysian woman has already noticed the dissimilarity between the life in her homeland and Kazakhstan. A Malaysian journalist gave an interview to us and talked about the differences between the Kazakh and Malaysian journalism.
– Bilqis, how did it happen that you became a resident of our country?
– The main reason I moved to Kazakhstan is because of my husband. I got married to a Kazakh, and we both decided to start our married life in Nur-Sultan. The other reason is because I see an opportunity to contribute to the growing media industry in Kazakhstan especially English-language media content. Nur-Sultan is like the New York of Central Asia where there are so many opportunities to grow and develop!
– Before arriving to Kazakhstan, have you used to live in two countries?
– Prior to moving to Kazakhstan, I’ve lived in Australia, Brunei and the UK as well as Malaysia. I was born and raised in Kuala Lumpur, and I moved to Melbourne and Bandar Seri Begawan with my family due to my father’s work as an expat. I stayed in Cardiff to complete my MBA studies.
– Did you know something about Kazakhstan before meeting your husband?
– I’ll tell you a story of when I met my husband for the first time. He asked me the same question, and he expected that I say I know Kazakhstan from Borat movie.
But actually I haven’t watched Borat then and still haven’t until now.
When I was around 16-17, my family nearly moved to Baku, Azerbaijan. I didn’t know where it was at that time, so I searched the country in a map. From there, I learned not only about Azerbaijan but also the CIS countries – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Mongolia, etc.
I also read a lot about Genghis Khan and from there I learned about the lives of nomads.
Prior to my move to Nur-Sultan in 2017, I visited the city for a few times in 2013, 2015 and 2016. So, I learned about the country, culture, traditions and food during my visits.
– How did your husband's family welcome you? Are there many differences in our cultures, traditions, customs and mentality?
– My husband’s family is very open-minded and they accepted me for who I am. I wasn’t pressured into being the typical “Daughter-in-law” so to speak. I think it’s because my husband’s mother and sisters are all career-oriented women just like the women in my family. So, we have mutual understanding.
In terms of cultures, traditions and mentality, I don’t find there’s much difference at least for both of my families. My family and my husband’s family aren’t into traditions very much. We value respect and tolerance, and that’s the common thing that both families have.
– Do you like living in Astana?
– I love living in Nur-Sultan. I love things that are in order and the city itself is very well organized and modern. Nowadays, there are many cafes that are similar to cafes in Kuala Lumpur. I enjoy going café-hopping in Nur-Sultan and having long walks at the parks.
– How do you think, what is the most difficult thing in Astana?
– I think the challenges that I and other people living in Nur-Sultan face is the long winter and strong wind.
– As I know, you studied psychology in University and didn`t take any mass media classes at all. Have you faced any challenges, switching your career into journalism?
– Yes, I did Bachelors (Honors) of Psychology in university and during my final year, I knew in my heart that I want to be a journalist. I couldn’t explain why but I just knew it.
Right after I submitted my final-year thesis (this was even before I graduated), I was offered to join the New Straits Times (a prominent English-language media in Malaysia) as a cadet journalist. I did 6 months training with them. During that time, I learned about journalism and the responsibility that I have to carry as a journalist.
After that 6 months, I joined the business news as a financial journalist. I had to learn about finance, economy, stock market, banking, etc. quite fast and during my third year of working, I decided to do my MBA just to have a better understanding of the business and financial world.
Many people asked if my degree in Psychology was worth it because I chose to be a journalist. Honestly, it is worth it because journalists must know and understand human behavior. They need to be able to make people feel comfortable with them and trust them, so that they can tell them the information that can be reported as news.
– As many people know, you have worked in Malaysian print and television journalism industries. How do you think, are there any differences between the Kazakh and Malaysian journalism?
– The main difference is the usage of smartphones when reporting/interviewing. In Malaysia, journalists start utilizing their smartphones for news from 2014. Back then, when I was out for an assignment, I had to record the press conference live using my iPhone and I had to quickly update the news team with 2-3 headlines for New Straits Times’ Twitter account. I also had to take pictures myself especially when I do news reporting overseas. All of the pictures that were published in the news that I’ve written on Astana Expo 2017 were taken using my iPhone.
When I do one-on-one interviews, I had to also do a short introduction featuring the speaker using my iPhone.
When I joined the media in Kazakhstan, smartphones weren’t fully utilized until 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic happened. When I go out to do interviews, I’ll go out with a big team of around 5-6 people.
– Working abroad along with the international experience can be a big boost to the career development. A few years ago, you joined the largest Kazakhstan media company, Khabar Agency. So, what can you say about the advantages and disadvantages of working as a foreign journalist?
– As an experienced foreign journalist, I’m glad that I can share my knowledge with the team especially in terms of news coverage and news writing. English is a global language and I’m glad that it is one of the important languages in Kazakhstan.
I created a system of news writing in my company and I taught my team how to find a story and turn it into news. Everything and anything can be turned into an interesting news if only you have the nose for news!
I also introduced the first one-on-one English language interview program for the channel. Our channel became known for that and I’m glad to be able to set an example and lay out the path for others to follow suit.
– What are you doing now on the Kazakh TV channel?
– I’m involved in the special programs project now, which I truly enjoy. I learned a lot about Kazakhstan (i.e. history, culture, traditions) from these programs. It’s also great because it allows me to work remotely.
– What can you say about the challenges of working life in Kazakhstan? How is it like working with people from Kazakhstan?
– During the first few months when I joined Khabar, my challenge was communication because only a handful of people speak English while the others (such as video editors, cameramen, etc.) don’t speak a word of English. But I didn’t let that challenge stop me from working. Instead, I learned Russian and I have to thank my colleagues for being patient with me and speak Russian slowly to me so that I could understand them.
I think after 6 months I was able to speak Russian fast and read in Cyrillic alphabets fast as well. Sometimes I even caught myself thinking in Russian!
Also, my colleagues made it easy for me to be part of the team. Even though I’m the only foreigner in the whole of media company, I didn’t feel like an outsider at all. Thanks to them for making my working experience in Kazakhstan fun and enjoyable.
– You hosted the program “Interview” on the Kazakh TV channel. And as I know, you have interviewed many representatives from the different fields. So, how did you work overseas with foreigners?
– I hosted a program called “Interview of the Day.” Yes, I’ve interviewed prominent people such as Shaukat Aziz (former Prime Minister of Pakistan), Michio Kaku (famous physicist & futurist), to name a few. There were many high-profile people that I’ve met and interviewed even when I was working at New Straits Times and Bloomberg TV Malaysia. I’ve also interviewed various Ministers from different countries and even a Malaysian prince!
What I realized is that these people are just like us. They have their hobbies and interests. I remember talking to one of the international aviation experts, Christoph Mueller who was then the CEO of Malaysia Airlines. He’s very well respected in the industry, and he is very humble. He told me about his love for gardening. Who would’ve expected that a CEO of Malaysia Airlines and many global airlines love gardening so much!
Shaukat Aziz was also very humble and he’s very respectful towards journalists. After my interview with him, I told him about my grandfather (from my mom’s side) who’s a Pakistani from Burma. He told me about the history of Pakistan and Burma before the British colonized the two countries. I enjoy the conversations I had with the people I’ve interviewed and I keep in touch with all of them until today.
For a journalist, it’s very important to have contacts and keep in touch with them.
– Can you tell a little about your family? What languages do you speak with your family?
– I come from a mixed-race family. My father is from Malaysia, and he is half Chinese and half Malay. My mother is from Burma and she is half Burmese and half Pakistani. And I have cousins who are mixed British, American, Indian and Malaysian as well.
Since young, my siblings and I were exposed to 3 languages – English, Malay (Malaysian language) and Burmese. But we mostly speak in English with each other.
– And your children? What language do you want them to speak in the future? And, what culture would you absorb for them?
– When I have children, I want to expose them to different languages just like how my parents did for my siblings and I. I think their main language would be English since my husband and I speak English to each other. But we’ll also expose them to Russian, Malay and Kazakh language.
When they grow older, we’ll encourage them to learn more languages on their own. In today’s globalized world, we need to know as many languages as we can.
In terms of culture, I think they’ll grow up to be like us – not following culture much. It’s not like we don’t like culture but I’ve seen so many people suffered because of their culture/traditions.
As long as my children would be healthy, happy, independent, humble and know what they want in life without hurting or taking advantage of other people – that’s all I ask for.
– Can you share your plans for the future?
– I have 4 main projects right now. My first project is my own media company called “BBahari Group” LLP, which I recently opened in Kazakhstan and I’m involved in several media content projects. I’d like to focus on growing my team by giving opportunity to young Kazakhstanis to turn their ideas into reality. Also, I’d like my company to become one of the leading media content companies in Kazakhstan and Malaysia.
Secondly, I’ve also recently opened another company that is non-media related in Malaysia. This is a huge project that I’m venturing into with my husband and 2 business partners.
My third project is with my sister, who is a talented illustrator. We’re creating a yearly planner and we hope to be able to launch and sell it in Malaysia and Kazakhstan by the end of this year. Our goal is to help people to organize their time well so that they have time for themselves, their loved ones and their friends.
My fourth project is my own IG Live show called “Privet From Kazakhstan”. I’ve launched it in August 2020 on my Instagram @bilqisbahari and have interviewed many experts from different parts of the world including Kazakhstan and Malaysia. My aim is to grow the brand internationally.
I’m also in the midst of planning the contents for my “Privet From Kazakhstan” blog – which I hope will become a platform for inspiration for people who want to move/work abroad as well as for career development and women empowerment.
So, I have got my hands full till the end of 2021!
– Thank you so much for your time and interview, Bilqis!
(The pictures were taken from the personal archive of the journalist)