Hope From the Eyes of a Middle-Class Malaysian

Cassandra Chung has hope for Malaysia amid our increasing desperation.

Just yesterday, I was speaking to my father on the phone. It had been a long time since the both of us had had a one-to-one talk ever since I came to university. Most of my Skype conversations home involved one-to-one talks with my sister, and if I was speaking to my father, it was usually in the presence of my mother, relatives or family friends. As I spoke to him, he mentioned the toll and electricity price hike. The few times in the past he told me about the petrol price hike and goods and services tax (GST) implementation, he had said it in a rather factual manner. My conversation with him over the phone seemed different this time. I could hear the stress in his voice and I must say, for him to fail at hiding his stress is a pretty big deal, because most of the time, he can effectively conceal it.

I come from a middle-class family. We live in a modest terrace house which took my father 11 years to completely pay off. We have enough money to own two imported cars but they aren’t BMWs or Mini Coopers. My family had sufficient money to send me to one of the cheaper private colleges to do my [re-university studies and to the United Kingdom to start and finish my degree, but not enough to give me an international secondary and primary education. I got a public school one with lots of tuition classes instead. My sister and I had a short stint of piano and dance lessons at some point of time in our lives. In comparison to a lot of other middle-class families, I would say we are doing alright. Some of my friends could never afford dance classes. I have a friend who had to defer his entry into one of the most prestigious universities in the world because of insufficient funds. Another one simply had to give up such an opportunity.

But I think like most other families with our financial standing, we are reaching our boiling point. Household incomes have not increased by much but the price of everything else seems to be ballooning out of control. I do not advocate long-term subsidies because they create a ‘crutch’ mentality. However, I think subsidies should be removed gradually as household incomes rise, so that the consequences of the impact wouldn’t be too severe. To announce price increases and subsidy removals in a span of less than a year is just pure madness; salaries do not rise that fast in that span of time. I also believe that money spent on subsidies is better put to use rather than spending it on YouTube advertisements, Twitter promotions, free k-pop concerts and private jet fuel for our Ministers’ spouses. The question here isn’t whether subsidies should be removed or certain prices be increased in the name of cutting government expenditure and increasing revenue. The question here is why should the average middle-class family — or any family with whatever financial standing, for that matter — have to tighten their belts when certain parties are just going to put the money to ridiculous waste?

As average middle-income families reach their boiling points, we find another divide beginning to appear in our society — one based on political ideologies and on opportunities. We find the racial divide beginning to enlarge, as if it’s not big enough to begin with. As more and more middle-class families become increasingly angry at our government, they find that they will be unable to tolerate government supporters — people they once called friends — any longer. Families will be split apart; as it is, some families remain split because of the political parties they support. As the divide grows, we find remaining that neutral when it comes to politics is becoming tougher and tougher, especially since almost everything in Malaysia is politicised. It will come to a point where remaining neutral will no longer be an option, and picking sides will be mandatory.

As the cost of living increases, we find middle-income families growing more and more resentful towards the rich who can afford an international education system and who can afford to further their studies outside Malaysia. We find that as each day passes, we feel like screaming at them — that the only reason they can remain neutral is because everything that is happening isn’t affecting them as much as it is affecting us, the middle-income families. We find that as the cost of living increases, corporate companies no longer give out as many scholarships as they did before, in the name of cutting costs. More and more middle income families will have to deny their children the opportunity to study abroad, further fueling resentment towards the rich. We will find it harder to refrain ourselves from slapping the rich kid who applies for a scholarship just to challenge himself, even though it might deny a financially constrained kid from entering one of the world’s top universities. As corporate companies cut down on their scholarship expenditure, we find that we begin despising a certain race simply because they have access to more scholarships.

As middle-income families scrap to earn a living for themselves, we find the values of our society begin to increasingly degenerate. More and more families will encourage their children to bribe their driving examiners out of desperation because driving exams are too costly to keep retaking, and as more and more families get desperate to save money, more and more people will take advantage of this desperation. Driving examiners will be even keener to ask for a bribe and fail you if you don’t give in, further contributing to the problem of corruption which already plagues our society. You want us to walk rather than drive? Do something about safety on the streets, then. I would like to walk without the huge fear of getting mugged, shot, raped or all three, thank you very much. You want us to take public transport? I will when you make it more accessible, efficient and safe.

One might say Malaysia is headed towards hell. I certainly thought it was when the recent Allah ruling came out. However, despite how bleak and hopeless this situation may look now, it certainly has done a good job in teaching some of us the value of money. It has taught me to appreciate my overseas education. It has made us tougher fighters; the road to change has been getting increasingly arduous, and to have survived thus far without giving up or having to go through institutional breakdown — I must say — is an achievement.

Our dire situation has given birth to a new brand of leaders — young and dynamic, they are leaders who reject all forms of corruption and have the people’s interests at heart. They offer a clean slate, which is precisely what our country needs. It has made us care albeit just a little more for the place we call home. It may take another four years before we can cast our vote again, and even more before we see good change begin to happen. Call me young and naïve, but every time I read of somebody speaking out against the injustices happening at home, I hold on tighter to the hope I have in seeing Malaysia redeemed.

Have faith; all is not lost.


Featured image by Victor Chin

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Often wonders just what exactly is God trying to say.

Posted on 20 December 2013. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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