Why Malaysia? Well, Why Not?

Why Malaysia? Well, why not? A reflection.

When it was first mentioned to me that there was going to be a “Why Malaysia” week on the blawg, my first thought was, “Oh bugger, it’s going to be another “us” vs “them” — the us being those who continue to live out our existence in Malaysia; the them being those who’ve decided to move elsewhere. I anticipated a barrage of “Why Malaysia is better” and “Why Malaysia sucks” articles.

It’s sad that it has to be that way — us vs them — but it is a “stand-off” which has become particularly pronounced in recent years. I don’t really care whether my friends and family have decided to remain in Malaysia or not. We all make our own choices in life. After all, what are countries, nationalities, and borders, but man-made concepts? A person’s choice of where to live is as personal and illogical as whether they prefer nasi lemak, chicken rice, McDonald’s or a good ol’ steak. To each his own.

What irritates me is that some (Note: I said some) who choose to move to Singapore, Australia, Hong Kong, Canada, or England, end up having a chip on their shoulder, and seemingly are converted into anti-Malaysians. These are the ones who gleefully forward articles criticising the country, and who tweet or email things like “Oh, shopping is so much cheaper here,” or “I love it here, I feel so safe, unlike in Malaysia,” or “Being back home has made me realise why I left,” and selectively circulate emails about violent crimes or stupid comments made by politicians under the guise of “spreading information” but really with the message, “Oh look, Malaysia sucks, and that’s why I’m so glad to be wherever-I-am-now. Malaysia really has no future, you should get out now my friend!” I put it down to some deep-seated insecurities, whereby they somehow feel the need to continuously convince themselves (and their family and friends) that they’ve made the right decision.

Stop Brain Drain | Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/saulalbert/

Stop Brain Drain | Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/saulalbert/

They’ve drained our brains!

One of the most popular topics when it comes to the issue of whether Malaysia is “good enough” is the issue of “brain drain”. This is obviously a complex area, and there are always undertones of racism, and meritocracy. To me, brain drain has been blown slightly out of proportion. Sure, the figures are there for all to see — but we live in a world that is more globalised than ever. Skills and work are extremely transferable across borders. There are some who are naive enough to think that brain drain is a uniquely Malaysian problem. Please lah. Go and Google it, and you will find articles discussing brain drain or the loss of talent in countries like Australia, England, the US, and yes, even Singapore. Borders are no longer walls when it comes to employment, rather they are extremely permeable membrane, and it is common for employees to work in different countries, even whilst remaining with the same employer.

I am not saying that brain drain is not a problem. Of course it is. But the issue has been used as a political tool, which some people buy hook, line, and sinker, without really thinking it through. This has lead to self-proclaimedly noble initiatives to “bring back” these Malaysians who have been “lost” to brain drain. This is ridiculous on two levels.

Firstly, there is the assumption that most Malaysians who have decided to work abroad are “brainy”. The truth is, there are very aggressive job agencies which make phone calls to Malaysians to lure them overseas. I have received many such calls myself, promising significantly more money for a “better life” elsewhere. It is not that difficult to get a job overseas. I’m not saying it’s not difficult — just that it’s not that difficult whereby only really brainy Malaysians can make it. I know many Malaysians who are working overseas — family and friends — and believe me, for some of them, it is a kind of drain that they’ve left, but perhaps not of the “brain” variety.

The second gripe I have with this “brain drain” issue and solution package is — why the focus on bringing Malaysians back? Surely these are people who have already made up their minds. Why spend time and throw resources at such an uphill battle? The money and strategising would be better expended on ensuring that those who are here, stay. Obviously the reason why bringing Malaysians back has been promoted is simple — it is a quick, easy fix. It is very, very much short term thinking. And we are fools if we fall for it.

There are many who say that most Malaysians who leave are just after more money. I feel this is an over-simplification, and does an injustice to many who’ve decided to leave. It is not just about the money, and the government must focus more on issues such as quality and access to education, and the general standard of living and atmosphere — which covers issues such as infrastructure, the protection of civil liberties, crime and the perception of safety, and creating more comfortable and functional public spaces. These efforts, which would go towards helping to ensure that Malaysians stay in Malaysia, are obviously more difficult and long-term than the “bringing Malaysians back” fanfare and hoo-hah, which explains why they have not been properly addressed by the government.

Instead of debating why people have left, let’s focus on making Malaysia a better place to live in, for those of us who are here, and for the future generations of Malaysians.

Damn, that grass sure looks green! | http://www.flickr.com/photos/pinksherbet

Damn, that grass sure looks green! | Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pinksherbet

So, why Malaysia?

You’ve probably realised by now that I haven’t really set out to answer the “Why Malaysia?” question. Sorry blawg curator! I did allude to it in the second paragraph, about how it’s a personal choice every individual makes, and well, there’s no right or wrong.

For me, the reason is simple — it is home. It’s not that I didn’t have the opportunity to work, and perhaps build a life elsewhere. I just never wanted to leave. I spent the first 20 years of my life living in Ulu Klang, from a kindergarten on Jalan Ampang which doesn’t exist anymore, through primary school in Datuk Keramat with only 5 non-Malays in the entire year, on to 5 years in Victoria Institution in the heart of Pudu, and then college in Subang. Racial boundaries did not exist for me, and my friends spoke Malay and English interchangeably without being sensitive about it. When taking cabs, it was normal to get the comment “Awak ni Melayu, nampak sangat macam Cina!” (for a Malay, you look very Chinese) because of my ease with the language.

I grew up near, and in, KL city, and lived a very Malaysian existence. I remember reading articles about Malaysian-ness by writers like Amir Muhammad, Sheryl Stothard and Kam Raslan, and feeling a real sense of belonging. I headed to England to get my degree and professional qualification. During my final year in England, I was approached about being a pupil-in-chambers in Nottingham, but for some unknown reason it was never really an option for me. I knew I’d come home — I never really gave it much thought really, after all, my family and friends were all here — and so I came home, and here I am.

So, why Malaysia? Well, why anywhere else really? I don’t need a reason to be in Malaysia. And if you’ve chosen to live elsewhere, you don’t need a reason either.

At the end of the day, we all are born, we live, and then we die. At a very basic level, it really shouldn’t matter whether this is in Malaysia, or within some other artificial man-determined geographical boundaries. What matters are the experiences that we have, and the family and friends with which our lives become irreversibly intertwined. Have fun, wherever you are.

Marcus may not have a Malaysian name, but is a true Malaysian at heart. His family has had roots here since the late 1800s. He hopes all this “us” vs “them” nonsense would stop, and people would just learn to love one another with positivity, and be secure in whatever decisions they have made for themselves. He also believes everything can be explained by the transperambulation of pseudo-cosmic antimatter.


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Marcus van Geyzel tweets at @vangeyzel. He believes that the only certain thing in life is that everything can be explained by the transperambulation of pseudo-cosmic antimatter.

Posted on 18 March 2011. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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22 Responses to Why Malaysia? Well, Why Not?

  1. Iamasarawakians

    i am a malaysian,i love my home but there is problem with one thing.I see diferrences in term of price and salary.I see that peninsula malaysia has cheaper stuff than sarawak.Sarawak has lower salary pay compared to peninsula.Even graphic card,rice,milo all stuff has big price differences than peninsula malaysia. i wonder why?

  2. Pingback: Worth debating, or not « My another place

  3. Pingback: Other People’s Words #3 | Flyleaf

  4. JL

    kitty: I was once part of the lower-income group, so believe me, I do know what it feels like to live in an uncaring environment.

  5. kitty

    U are a selfish crook who only see things from your point of view. Try put on the shoes of a lower income group who live in Malaysia.

  6. JL

    Excellent article, Marcus.

    If the grass is greener on the other side, it's only because it's fertilized by the blood and sweat of citizens on that side determined to build a fair and decent society.

    Most Malaysians emigrants blissfully enjoy the fruits of that labour despite having contributed nothing politically to that endeavour. And, yes, they do spend far too much of their time indulging in idle emails and tweets slamming Malaysia.

    However, that said, there is a case to be made for Malaysians who truly have no choice but to seek asylum abroad in order to enjoy some semblance of a normal life. These are Malaysians for whom there is no distinction between 'dickhead ministers' and 'everyday people' because both have had a hand in their suppression.

    Take the case of the Shiite minority in Malaysia for example. They are constantly harassed, arrested and tortured. They are regularly denied jobs, medical treatment and schooling. Neither the government or the opposition is on their side, and the same can be said for the everyday people who choose not to know or not to intervene.

    It's odd how these Muslims have to flee to 'godless' Western nations in order to be accorded the freedom to worship and carry on with their daily lives without fear. There's something non-sequiter about this whole affair.

    Several of my acquaintances are asylum seekers, so I do know their circumstances very well. For them, the question of 'Why Malaysia' really does not apply. They have no choice in the matter.

    Perhaps one day, this will change, and Malaysians will fight for something not because it's trendy or exciting, but simply because it is right. Sadly, I don't see that happening. That is why I personally choose to remain abroad, where I can do more good.

    Believe me, my heart does bleed for Malaysia.

  7. Andy & "me the martian" — Your exchange unfortunately shows the increased sensitivities with which we all live out our lives these days.

    Andy, if you have been called a "pendatang" since 1981, then I truly feel sorry that you've had to go through that. But I don't think I would be wrong in saying that those occasions were the exception rather than the rule. Say someone moves to London, and is called a "Chink" on several occasions (plus, there are extremist groups in most places) — does that mean he will have to relocate again?

    I'm not downplaying racist abuse, but we should be a bit more tolerant where possible. I understand that "sebab nila setitik rosak susu sebelanga" but lets try not to be over-sensitive, where possible. There ARE good people in Malaysia, if you care to be optimistic.

    And "me the martian" I feel you when you say "if you cant tell the difference between dickhead ministers and your neighbours and everyday people who are nice to you but still not nice enough, then go."

  8. Thanks for the comments everyone. They are all much appreciated.

  9. i'm sick and tired of this pendatang bullshit. nobody calls you that, i certainly am not. just because najib and co. does you decided to let your-40-year-old anger out on everybody. suddenly everyone is jumpy and no one can tell a joke. sudah lah. if you want to go, go already. if you cant tell the difference between dickhead ministers and your neighbours and everyday people who are nice to you but still not nice enough, then go. dont torture us with how bad this country isnt working for you. because trust me, we get a bad deal like you too. and we are complaining day and night. but we wont leave because this place is ours. and it is yours too. but if you've lost faith and want to move to mars, then be my guest. i hope you'll be happy there.

  10. Andy

    Interesting article but I totally disagree with your sentinemnts. If I have the means and ability to relocate my whole family out of Malaysia, I will do it without skipping a heartbeat. I have been called a pendatang for the last 30 of my 40 years (I first heard that phrase back in 1981 in school) and witnessing the changes in the country over these past decades, I have no desire to stay. Nor do I have any loyalty to this 'nation'. But that's my personal feeling. I am glad you see it differently and maybe, just maybe, people like you will make a difference. Life may not be easy in another country as someone who have lived abroad for several years, I still believe its better than Malaysia. I'll miss the roti canai though.

  11. @charlie chan :

    Maybe you should call yourself Chaplin. Can't you see that APARTHEID and RACISM and lack of social freedoms is causing that?

    Don't bodek here with the 'best nation' nonsense. Are you a gov cybertrooper or carrying a nation's [email protected]? Well a nation is best fetted when wrongs have been righted. No wrong has been righted thus far. APARTHEID continues, technological and other oppression of freedom of expressinn are still applied.

  12. " and seemingly are converted into anti-Malaysians. "

    Read up on neurotech and NWO and Illuminati. They literally are converted but this is via technology and for benefit of the now neo-colonial subverts. Malaysia had better end APARTHEID soon or the wrath of the world could open up LITERAL fault lines which in any case still happen regardless due to the inflicted suffering and lost time which needs to be returned.

  13. mekyam

    eloquently put!

    re: What irritates me is that some (Note: I said some) who choose to move to Singapore, Australia, Hong Kong, Canada, or England, end up having a chip on their shoulder, and seemingly are converted into anti-Malaysians.

    yes, this irritates me too. but, as someone who lives abroad [3/4 of my life, in a few countries] through a freak of family circumstances, i dare say more of this is done by in-country malaysians. us expats tend to be more appreciative of the mater. more patriotic even. sentimentality probably has something to do with it, though i'd like to think that seeing things from afar helps put things in better perspective. :D

  14. Izzat

    Your post is this most sensible one yet. Love how awesome you were able to dissect the 'us vs them' thingy. Yes, most of the things you had written is prevalent, it's nice to see sensible indifference in a great piece of post. Kudos!

  15. Michael

    So essentially, there is no place like home lah. No matter how smelly the toilet is

  16. charlie chan

    malaysia is the best nation to lived on earth, the strange thing is why are so many malaysians leaving the country. it was reported that some 3 million of the best brains left since 1970. no wonder we dont have brains to run this nation

  17. Home is where your heart is. Even if you reside somewhere else away from Malaysia, if your heart is here then part of you will always be left behind.
    Now, where did I leave my heart… Hmm…

  18. rusila razak

    I just love this posting.I wish more people would read it.Its the most sensible and well articulated writing on the subject I have ever come across. Well Done ! !

  19. norizzatiz

    We should be glad by being a Malaysian. People like that might have had undergone something better there, and that overshadow the beautifulness of how awesome Malaysia is. Anyhow, the answer is always subjective. =)

  20. sean

    One of the best posts I have ever read on Loyarburok. Lets not be caught in petty bickering about where is better. Just live!

  21. A very thoughtful & eloquent piece. Those who choose to live elsewhere have a right to do so and so do those who choose to stay in Malaysia. We should live and let live, no? No need to proselytise about lifestyle choices.

    Cheers!

  22. I love having Malaysians all over the world. Let them contribute from where they are, I say, n let me have cheap boarding when I travel n to these people, I can say, "I can eat all the nasi lemak sambal lebih and goreng pisang when I get back to Malaysia…"