Malaysia to the UK: Exclusive Q&A with Interior Designer and Author Nik A Ramli

What's your story?

1) Who is Nik A Ramli in your own words?
This is interesting, what can one say about oneself? If I must, I’ll say approachable, friendly, easy to get along with, open minded, optimistic and never gives up on my dreams. Never regret the things that I have done in my life! If I fall down I’ll get up and continue my voyage.

2) Tell us about yourself – your upbringing and the values that were instilled in you.
I’ve been brought up in a family that is full of love and joy; a hard working environment and full of music and play at home. My dad ‘…Works Hard For The Money’, a man great at all sports activities, stays active and is always helping others. Whereas my mum, full of wisdom, adores all types of music, one strong independent woman and a great cook.

I’m the youngest of six siblings with four elder sisters and one elder brother. What is it like being the youngest? Well it is the ‘BEST’! Because I could get away with everything – ‘NO’! My parents are fair with all their children and there is no way I was getting away with misbehaviours.

My parents taught me the values of religion, not judging others, helping others and having belief in one’s self; be proud of who you are, love and peace to one another. Learn, share, work hard and be strong. With this instilled in me, even though I might slip a little, I always bounce back onto the right track.

3) Tell us about Malaysia – the people, culture and life.
Oh, the Malaysian government and tourism should make me their new ambassador. Are you listening? Seriously! To simplify the question, Malaysia is ‘HOT’, welcoming and colourful with its tropical weather and multicultural heritage. We have thirteen states, with each state having its own dialect, traditions, culture, foods and entertainment. Due to our multiracial society, we celebrate a lot of festivals. You name it, we celebrate it! Eid celebration for the Muslims, Chinese New Year for the Chinese, Divali for the Hindu and of course Christmas.

Having said that, we have more celebrations with other groups in Malaysia; Gawai and Ka’amatan is for the East of Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak) and Vesakhi a Sikhs celebration. Malaysians always look forward to each of the festivals, not just for the ‘public holidays’ you know, but because they visit and celebrate with friends. Some cultures have LOTS of DELICIOUSLY YUMMY food, cooked for the special day! An invite is always accepted. Cities throughout the country are decorated with their own ethnic festival flavours according to the events.

Malaysia’s population mainly consists of Malays, who form more than half of the country’s population and indigenous groups, Orang Asli, Dayaks, Kadazan Dusun, Melanau, Murut and more. Ethnically Chinese people are the second largest ethnic group, descendants of 19th century immigrants. The next biggest group are people of Indian descent, originally from India also in the 19th century. The Orang Asli is a term used to describe many diverse peoples who were the original inhabitants of what is now called Malaysia also Portuguese-Eurasian (settlers of the 16th century) and Baba-Nyonya (Chinese who married Malays adopted much of Malay culture into their Chinese heritage).

Malaysia’s main language is Malay, with English as its second language. Chinese, Indians and other groups each have their own languages and dialects. Malaysia is lucky because it is open to all sorts of cultures in and out of its region. I would say culturally Malaysians are known for their politeness, hospitality and welcoming ways. So I say ‘Welcome to Malaysia’.

4) How different was life in the U.K. when you first moved and how did you adapt?
OK, let me take you back down memory lane! I first arrived into the UK in September 1991. I was excited to move away to study and experience life in a new country. I was twenty one when I traveled to the UK. I graduated first in Malaysia with a Diploma in Interior Design. I was excited and worried in equal measure. This was the first time I had left home on my own; although back in 1977, we had lived in the Philippines due to my father’s work.

When I first landed in Britain the first thing I noticed was the weather; cold and fresh. I remember a journey in a black cab from Heathrow Airport to Kings Cross Station, I saw the Malaysian car Proton Saga on the road, and I was excited to see a Malaysian product in the UK, driven by the British! Seeing something you are familiar with makes adapting and feeling welcome easier.

My father travelled globally every so often for his work, I’ve learned from his journeys abroad and his wonderful experiences. Two of my sisters have subsequently lived in the US and the UK. Therefore I would say I adapted to the lifestyle pretty easily in the UK. I had to. I wanted to start my new life and I was ready to rumble!!! I had to learn the hard way; I didn’t know how to cook, I didn’t know anybody, but finally I made some good friends who I am still close to.

Did I feel ‘welcomed’ by the British? Honestly YES and NO. People are people… it’s all about learning and growing up as a humble human being. I once said, “I’m An Alien In the United Kingdom” play words of a popular song by Sting ‘I’m An Englishman In New York’.

On a lighter note, even though I was forewarned by my sister, when I first arrived I found it bizarre for UK businesses to close on Sundays! Even clubs were closed due to it being a religious day. I came from a city where shops stayed open until at least 10.30 at night and clubs were open seven days a week! That was one thing I had to adapt to when I moved to the UK. It was not until the middle of the 1990s that UK shops began to fully open on Sundays.

Another way I managed in the UK was by staying strong with my heritage, religion, culture and beliefs. I also learnt British culture and embraced the good things.

Professionally, the difference between the two countries was massive. Britain’s history means that its influence is felt around the world and its creative industries are world renowned. As a true democracy you are free in whatever you do, to express yourself politically and personally, very different from Malaysia. But let’s not go too deep here, I’m not a politician or running for office!

In a nutshell ups and downs are encountered no matter where you are. People often complain, or wish to migrate elsewhere, but actually just make the best of wherever you are.

5) As an interior designer, what are you most passionate about?
As an interior designer I’m passionate about attention to detail, space planning and presentation.
Getting to know the clients and bringing their ideas to reality is one of the best parts of the passion I have for interior design; working on a client’s design brief and helping them through the design and the research process. As a designer, I also get ideas from the clients through every discussion we have. I also enjoy learning about how each individual client uses their personal space. There are some clients that have no idea what they want. I often try and get them involved. I show them examples from various products, materials, and looks. They get the feel of my suggestions and understand how to work within their budget.

I’m a designer who will not force a certain look on a client. My main concern is to provide my client with that individual look. However I will inject my personal style as well as something unexpected into a project. I love introducing items of sentimental value, such as an old toy, photograph or even their very first camera, incorporating it into the design. I create a look that encompasses old, new, bold and elegant touches that focus on statement styling. Find some of my design tips in this article: Nik’s Tips for Designing a Comfortable Home.

6) Tell us about your writing career (or debut). Especially what makes your book Donna Summer The Thrill Goes On special and why readers should look forward to its release.
Secretly, I always dreamt that one day I could write in a magazine or publish a book! I often asked how designers got into publishing their tips or were asked to participate. In 1996 my name and a project I had done were mentioned in a UK publication ‘Blue Print’, but I didn’t think much of it. I bought two copies of the print!

My writing debut was during my first Interior Design Awards Exhibition in 2005. A few design tips and a Q & A. Then came a USA column called ‘Laid-Back Glamour’ and later a monthly UK feature article which ended. It is great to write about interior design tips and, more importantly, receiving feedback from readers.

However, writing design tips and writing a book about someone popular is very different. The public often said “I can write or produce this and I can design that”. Yes you can if you really put effort into it. Until you have gone through the process of producing a book, you really cannot appreciate how much work it involves.

My book, ‘Donna Summer The Thrill Goes On – A Tribute’ started as a hobby in 1997, a compilation of data on the American star. As I accumulated more and more information I began to record it all on my laptop from January to July 1999. I was also working fulltime so I took a break. I started on the writing with 26 pages of A4 printed on 20th January 2000. But it was only in late 2008 that I asked myself “I wonder what will happen if…” and that was it – ‘All Systems Go’!

The book is a special and personal tribute from me to the late Donna Summer. I interviewed a wide range of national and international admirers from recording acts, record producers, writers and broadcasters, record guide experts through to devoted Donna Summer fans. I was privileged to talk with Bruce Roberts, Pete Waterman, Paul Gambaccini, Gloria Gaynor and Bob Esty. I also interviewed a rock band from the US called Hypnogaja and O’Mega Red about Summer’s last work which featured in his single ‘Angel’. I also interviewed several Malaysian acts. I’ve featured music price guides, chart experts and many more in this project. The book’s ‘Acknowledgements’ included all the contributors. These individual insights and personal thoughts about Donna Summer’s career are some of the highlights of my book.
It is the first book produced in the UK about Donna Summer and most importantly, 2012 marks the 35th Anniversary of her first UK no.1 hit, ‘I Feel Love’.

The publication is especially aimed at readers who wish to know more about Summer’s music, for anybody that loves popular music, it provides a musical time line for Donna Summer’s work. New fans will love it. Do you wonder what she was like in the studio and what she thought of the songs given to her? How her recordings came to production? What song is the most played on UK radio stations – ‘Love To Love You Baby’ or ‘Bad Girls’? What do experts think of Summer’s earlier European songs ‘Black Power’ and ‘Can’t Understand’? This is all in the book. But if readers are looking for ‘gossip’ then this book is not for you. This publication is about her music, her ups and downs and her many achievements. What made Donna Summer get to the top and stay there? Do you see her as just the ‘Queen Of Disco’ or did she have more to offer? I deliver all this to my readers. I also showcase a selection of great photographs taken over the course of her career. They were captured at shows and even up close with Summer and fans!

I’m sure some of you have danced to ‘I Feel Love’, ‘She Works Hard For The Money’, ‘This Time I Know It’s For Real’ and ‘I’m A Fire’. These melodies are part of the story of many people’s lives and are all included in the book.

I humbly hope fans will love my book as much as I have enjoyed working on it. I welcome all feedback. You can’t satisfy every fanatical fan but, so far, the feedback has been great. Enjoy the book, share it with the world! And yes, the late Donna Summer was aware of the endeavour. The book was written before Donna passed away and I made the decision not to edit it – it remains as a tribute to her work, and she remains with us through her work.

The book release has been brought forward from the end of the year to September, when a launch party will be held in London. I was about to invite Donna Summer herself and was preparing a nice cover letter but it was not to be. May 17th 2012 will never be forgotten by her many fans. Our prayers go to her family.

7) What motivates you and keeps you inspired?
The ability to share my creativity is my motivation. Belief in myself and the desire to be a strong individual mentally and spiritually is important to me. I’m always open to new ideas and learning from others is an important part of the learning process. I’m inspired by my surroundings, the people, countries and places that I know. Things that I’ve observed, the landscape, even the music I’m listening to. Your questions inspire me.

8) Closing words….
Be positive, surround yourself with positivity. Don’t be big-headed after you think you have achieved something. Stay grounded and remember your roots. Accept criticism (good and bad) with an open mind. Give a chance to others. Don’t let yourself be intimidated! Respect, SMILE, LOVE, lots of LOVE, be HAPPY, be able to LAUGH and be at PEACE. Most importantly speak out, don’t be shy and ask for help if you need it. Believe that you can do it, if you don’t believe in yourself who else will? If you have a dream then follow that dream, because those dreams will come true.

Oh by the way, BUY MY BOOK!

I thank you…

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