The search for a better opportunity to explore her entrepreneurial skills is what brought Sylvia Hii from Malaysia to India. And it’s her love for Bengaluru and her ability to embrace varied cultures that keeps her here. The founder and vice-president (marketing) of Digital A Plus Group of Companies, Sylvia says that her time in the city has taught her many interesting life lessons. Born in Sarawak, Sylvia finished her secondary school there and later went to college in Kuala Lumpur.
She graduated from Bemidji State University, Minnesota, USA and got her first job as a personal banker at a bank in San Francisco. It was in 2005 that she first came to Bengaluru and explored the city. “After that, I went to Singapore for a bit and then returned and started working here. I set up an event management company here along with a few friends,” she says. It was her mentor, Roger Hamilton, who advised Sylvia’s friends and her to move to Bengaluru.
“We remember pulling out a map and asking ourselves, ‘Which place has the maximum entrepreneurs in India?’, and everyone replied Mumbai. But Roger said that we should choose Bengaluru as he had visited the city earlier and was pleased by it,” she says. After moving to Bengaluru, Sylvia and her friends met some entrepreneurs in the city. “There were not many entrepreneur clubs back then, but we met some people who were around. Some of the pleasant memories that I have from those meetings include never being denied a meeting, always being respected as a woman and even as an expatriate,” she adds.
She says that she “loves the warmth of the people here”. “They are always ready to help when the need arises,” she states. After quitting the event management company, she took a short sabbatical after which she worked with Indegene Lifesystems Bangalore Campus. “Utilising all the knowledge that I gathered at this company, I decided to set up Digital A Plus Group of Companies. It happened by chance,” she says with a smile. For Sylvia, work is worship and her social life is dominated by her clients who have now become her friends.
Ask her about her experiences in the city and she only has good things to say. “When I came to the city, I was very homesick. Of the friends I made then, Kusum and Sunil would keep inviting me to their place, trying to make sure that I settled in well and never felt left out,” she says. Sylvia loves Indian food and even cooks it at home. She says, “I was used to having rice and soup back home. When I came here, I slowly started indulging in Indian cuisine and now I can make ‘dal’ and ‘bhindi ki sabzi’. I love ‘chicken biryani’ from ‘Rahhams’ and Chinese food from ‘Beijing Bites’.”
Though the spice levels in Indian food do startle her at times, she enjoys it nevertheless. “I love the ‘thaalis’ too,” she adds. Over the years, she also got close to Rashmi Aiyappa, a friend who helped her develop strong skills in training, counselling and mentoring. “She helped me become grounded and learn how to deal with people. She has taught me many valuable lessons which have only enhanced my experience in Bengaluru,” she says.
For Sylvia, it was interesting to see how women here, across fields and ages, are dependent on others. “In Malaysia, we are all very independent. When I made friends, I slowly realised the culture here. But I feel that these things, which do not exist back home, are very endearing,” she says. Sylvia also likes the close-knit relationships here. “I love the family bonding. My siblings live in Kuala Lumpur and we would hardly meet. My stay in India has taught me the importance of family ties,” she adds.
Of the places that Sylvia loves going to, temples top the list. When she has some time to spare, she also loves going to The Oberoi or The Leela Palace Bengaluru. She seems to have taken a strong liking to Indian culture which is clearly evident from the collection of saris that she owns.
“I think I have at least 40 saris. I enjoy wearing them and can drape them very well. I also like attending client meetings in a sari. I love soaking in the culture here and respect it a lot. And I know that people respect me for that as well,” she says.
The expatriate also enjoys watching Hindi movies in her leisure time. “I watched ‘Ae Dil Hai Mushkil’ recently. Bollywood movies are very exciting; the scripts and the actors’ real-life stories are very inspiring and interesting. Whenever I want to relax, I watch ‘The Kapil Sharma Show’ on YouTube. I can understand the language,” she adds.
She likes shopping at Orion Mall, Rajajinagar and enjoys the many sights and sounds at Commercial Street. “There are several options there. But I have to say that the market isn’t as crazy as it was years back and things are more organised now,” she says. “Bengaluru has changed over the years. Initially, I thought I wouldn’t be able to stay here for even a month. But I adjusted gradually. It is the perfect city for expatriates and I can’t imagine living anywhere else now,” she says.