First love, long lost

by AC
The Malaysian Insider
May 24, 2011

MAY 24 — I have long stopped feeling any loyalty or affection to Malaysia, my old homeland that I left some 15 years ago for the United States. Like anyone’s first love, I do feel some affection and nostalgia towards my old homeland but like any old flame, what little affection or loyalty I have has long faded.

I came to the US like so many others via a twinning programme with a US university.

I meandered along in secondary school, earning decent but never outstanding scores. This I mostly blame on my utter apathy and lack of interest in learning Bahasa Malaysia (or is it Bahasa Melayu again?). As a teen I found absolutely no use for the language beyond using it to communicate with some of my neighbours and friends.

It was impractical and its terrible mess of borrowed words for science subjects was a constant joke. My English was also pretty bad. I used a whole host of bad grammar and local Manglish terms. When I got into a private twinning programme, I finally got to learn in English, the language of trade, finance and science.

I found my horizons expanded by my literature teacher. Finally, I started to read the great works of literature; Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, James Joyce and Ralph Emerson, to name a few. Many Malaysians do not realise how limited their English and their local patois (Manglish) have actually made them.

Bahasa Malaysia has actually insulated Malaysians instead of expanding artistic and scientific horizons. It has actually hampered integration and especially held back many Malays and even our fellow Malaysians from outside beliefs and ideas.

Finally making it to the US, I excelled beyond other international students or even many Americans. I managed amazingly well at a Boston university and got awarded a scholarship that put me on track for medical school there. And like so many other Malaysians at that time, I had a desire to return back to my homeland after I was done with my studies. Of course that never occurred.

Why didn’t I come back? Cowardice? Greed?

No. Life occurred.

Before I knew it, I was married to my beloved wife who is Hispanic-Irish American and like me a physician. How was I supposed to bring her back to Malaysia with its meandering and rather bigoted immigration policies? Would she be able to work? Would she be deported?

Before I knew it, I was chief resident and had been offered a job to practise medicine and also conduct research in one of the top medical centres in the world. How could I leave a job that I love? To be to rub shoulders with some of the top researchers at conferences and to be able to teach medical students and residents while being paid many times what I would be paid in Malaysia? It was a great job that Malaysia could never offer.

Before I knew it, I had somehow volunteered to serve in the US Army Reserves. Yeah, it was scary but I wanted to serve my adopted country (and they also helped pay back some of my student loans). I was given the rank of captain in the Medical Corps and served a short stint in Iraq during Bush’s idiotic crusade. I was never in harm’s way so I claim no great or brave service.

Despite that, I was treated as part of the team. I was saluted and respected, not for the colour of my skin or my slanty eyes but my skills and abilities. I earned the respect of white, black, Hispanic, Korean, Chinese and even Arab soldiers; all of whom identified with being called an American as opposed to whatever colour their skin was.

Is there racism? Yes, there is, things are never fair even in the US but unlike Malaysia, the US outright makes such racism illegal in the government and military. Racism and bigotry is not institutionalised like in Malaysia.

Some would call me a coward for leaving Malaysia instead of fighting for change. Some would call me a traitor for volunteering to fight in another country’s army. But is it cowardice or disloyalty for no longer caring to change a country that I no longer hold any affection or love for?

Is it cowardice to leave a country that abuses the trust of its citizens and treats over a third of its population as second-class citizens? Is it disloyalty to fall in love with a new country and to feel a strong desire to serve, to fight and even to die to protect it?

Tomorrow, I’ll be getting together for dinner with a Petaling Jaya native who is currently a programmer at Google; a pair of Penang natives who are a researcher at Johnson & Johnson and a scientist at Nasa, and a psychiatrist who grew up in Kota Kinabalu. We even have our token apostate Malay engineer who grew up in Pahang.

We will talk about the old times in Malaysia and like always there will be a sense of nostalgia and melancholy. We will talk about old times but go on with our new and better lives in California. Later I will call my parents who are still in Malaysia via Skype to catch up.

While I no longer love Malaysia, you never forget your first love. I could say I no longer care about Malaysia but then I’d be lying… I’m writing this, aren’t I?

  1. #1 by dagen on Wednesday, 25 May 2011 - 8:30 am

    Rub shoulders huh? With top researchers huh? This fella here obviously has no idea what the shoulder of a tun tan sri dato seri dato sri dato’ dato datuk dato amar dr prof apapunboleh bin similanchxxpunok feels like. Hah, that is his loss. This great umno country does not need him. Traitor. Ungrateful. Cina kui.

    Huh? Wot? I am only attempting to respond to this writer on behalf of cintanegara!

  2. #2 by boh-liao on Wednesday, 25 May 2011 - 9:42 am

    MMK very proud of U; NR n Moo too very proud of U
    They say: Who said our education system n BM no good 1? U r an example of good products of our excellent education system
    U can stay in d US, no problemo, cos every year we produce thousands of all A+ SPMers

  3. #3 by wanderer on Wednesday, 25 May 2011 - 11:18 am

    dagen stuff it!…you poor miserable

  4. #4 by omeqiu on Wednesday, 25 May 2011 - 7:46 pm

    Overheard in a lift of a multinational company: “The good ones have left this country. This is the reason they hire me at four times the salary the locals get!”

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