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.
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.
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.