The Malaysian Insider
May 26, 2011
MAY 26 — Growing up and studying in a missionary La Salle school in the ‘80s was one of the best experiences ever. In general, boys from all the races mixed together and student populations then were well balanced between all the races.
Yet, even at that time, there were rumblings on the horizon. One of my closest Malay friends, a smart chap, was sent away after lower secondary school to further his studies in a boarding school.
When I went to one of the top engineering universities in the UK, I learnt two things. One was that from the viewpoint of a good friend of mine, a Frenchman, the thought that I had to tick a little box to state that I was under the category of “Others” to state that I was Eurasian was ghastly and hinted of racial prejudice. It was my first realisation of what the word could truly mean as I had never questioned that act before.
It was there that I learnt also from many of my Malaysian peers, non-Malays, that they were adamant about not returning to Malaysia as they felt that they would never make it due to the unfair policies back home. The feeling of unfairness pervaded as one person was horrified that whilst the rest of us had parents who broke their backs and their banks to get us to study in the UK, there were people on scholarship who spent their money buying hi-fi equipment instead.
I did not see all these things then, personally. At the time I also had two good friends, a Sarawakian and a Malay guy — we always collaborated to perform at the annual Malaysian night — and there was none of those thoughts between us. The people who complained stayed on and most that I know of ended up in very good positions with the likes of Shell and other large MNCs in Europe.
When I returned, I worked for a local telco and then subsequently for a large MNC telco vendor. The job entailed project work in many different parts of the world, from Australia to Japan and Sweden. During this time, our global project team based in KL was considered one of the best there was, not only in the region but, literally, globally.
The ability to travel, to work with some of the best in the world on projects that were ground-breaking (like the launch of the first 3G network in Japan) kept us all challenged and satisfied. There was a performance-oriented culture where we worked and if you were good, you were rewarded accordingly, which fit all of us (from all races) fine.
In the late ‘90s and ‘00s, a lot of us left — the global telco economy was still booming and Malaysian telco freelance contractors were generally in high demand for their competence and reputation for being hard workers.
Local salaries definitely could not cut it and why would you turn down a job which paid in US$ equivalent? I had other ideas as I started on an entrepreneurial bent, realising that if you were to make it in Malaysia, the only way to do it is to be in business for oneself. Besides, I liked the challenge.
Up till now, the ugly head of racism did not rear, at least not in my sphere of life. There were affirmative action policies for sure, but what was not given or favourable to me, I worked hard to achieve. A supportive family was also key to decisions I had made coming from a closed-knit family.
At the end of the day, that is what the Malaysian environment taught me over the years — that you have to be able to make it on your own two feet and be thankful for family and friends.
Then one day, it was the new year of 2010 and churches were getting fire-bombed. There is nothing that can justify defiling anyone’s place of worship let alone putting a torch to it. It just cannot be justified. And I read on blogs that week the most vitriolic and hateful words people were throwing into cyberspace. One day I read the title of one: “Torched churches… Reaping what is sown” and was so aghast and angry that I forwarded it on to my fiancé.
Her response that I should know the writer confused me. But on delving further, I realised that I did know the writer. He was the Malay “friend” I used to know during college days.
Why do I stay? I have been asked that by people. Working in the private sector which was performance based helped. For family and friends, yes, for sure. Because I like the country inherently, yes, it is home.
But I am contemplating starting a family here and the lessons that an environment that lets racists of the worst calibre (the intellectual kind who mislead with full knowledge of what they are doing) get away with it and what that teaches to children, and I question my decision every day. That, and the anger I feel towards all racists.
When I used to travel on work, colleagues at other offices used to ask us, the Malaysians, where we were from as we all looked so different. We always said we were Malaysian because that was and is who we are.
Yet, every time I have come home, I have felt less of a Malaysian each time with all that goes on. It is still my hope that change will occur if we believe and are willing to stand up and speak up for what is right. But, it is disheartening to know that after all these years, I still feel like a second-class citizen in the only country in the world I call home.