Because this is home

by Malaysian at home
The Malaysian Insider
May 30, 2011

MAY 30 — As a fresh graduate from a local university two years ago, I could have taken the easiest route and become an “instant expat” in a First World country. Singapore was just a Causeway away, after all, and the Malaysians who migrated there, my many relatives included, often came back with wonderful stories of success and the wealth that came with it.

It is a land of opportunity, they say, and if you want your talents appreciated (and be really rich), come here!

So I decided I would give it a shot, applying for a few jobs in Singapore before finally being called up for my first interview. And what I encountered shocked me. The interviewers were rude and chauvinistic, chiding me for my lack of Mandarin skills and openly dismissing my qualifications. The last straw for me came when I filled in my salary expectations.

“S$2,000?” I enquired as my pen hovered above the form, ready to put in the numbers. I figured if a Singaporean engineering graduate was paid S$2,400 to S$2,800, two thousand was a fair deal for a Malaysian graduate because of our unfortunately lower standard of education.

“Er… that’s a bit too much,” came the reply.

“S$1,800 then?” I asked again.

“Still too much…”

I finally scribbled S$1,600 as she nodded in agreement. And that was how much I was worth in a city where rental prices for a room often hit the S$600 mark.

It was at that moment that I realised how little respect some segments of Singaporean society really have for us. We are no longer seen as “talents” the way some people are so keen to put it, but merely as cheap labour. I was just another face among the huge pool of Malaysians, Chinese nationals, Indians and other foreign nationals vying for yet another underpaying job in the island republic.

Needless to say, it was my last ever interview in Singapore because I decided I would not be applying for any more jobs there. In the months after that, I landed a job in Kuala Lumpur with a foreign multinational that paid me what I was worth and offered me opportunities for overseas work and travel.

Indeed, I am actually writing this from my office here in a European country where I am on a short assignment, and while I can honestly say that I am enjoying my time here, I also have to say that the difference in standards is not too big compared to Malaysia.

Like how I was at the immigration office here this morning to sort out some visa issues, and the service was as slow if not slower than Malaysia.

Do not get me wrong. While matching this “standard” is not exactly something to be proud of — we should always benchmark ourselves to the best after all — this incident reminded me of what a friend said a few years back. He had just returned from his studies in Australia then, and over a glass of teh tarik, he told me how the grass is not really greener on the other side, despite what a lot of people may say.

My reply? I will decide when I see it for myself. But now that I have, part of me is not actually disappointed that he is right.

It is also during these travels that I realise how mistaken my worldview was. Having been told for years how as a member of the minority in Malaysia you must move abroad to gain respect, I was pleasantly surprised to realise that the place and people who afford me the most respect is back home in Malaysia.

I mean, do some Malaysians really know what it is like to have racial slurs openly thrown at you on an Italian street? To have bad service at a restaurant just because you look different? Or to be questioned and your items searched by rude immigration officers at some European airports just because you look oriental (and hence profiled and targeted) while every white person breezes through?

Sure, we may have our minority-hating Perkasa and Ibrahim Ali hogging the headlines nowadays, but do they really reflect things on the ground? Do we experience such open and extreme racial profiling, stereotype and disrespect simply because of how we look? Really, do we hate each other that much?

The answer is no, because no matter how hard these people with vested interests try to inflame and divide us among racial and religious lines, at the end of the day I still end up buying my morning nasi lemak from the friendly neighbourhood makcik and have a cup of teh tarik at a nearby shop with my Indian macha.

Because we, on our most basic level, have learnt to respect and interact with each other in spite of the years of racial poisoning by some of our politicians. And it is our collective duty to ensure that we continue looking past our differences and ignore the voices of unreason that are trying to break us up.

I wish I can say for sure right now that I have made the right choice to stay, but I guess with all the things that are happening in Malaysia, only time can tell. In the meantime, I can only do my duty as a citizen and be constructive about the issues of this country, perhaps by volunteering with NGOs, political parties and making my opinions heard.

  1. #1 by -e- on Monday, 30 May 2011 - 6:43 pm

    you might have made a right decision.

    malaysia is more peaceful than singapore (?) according to the global peace index 2011

  2. #3 by brokencamelback on Monday, 30 May 2011 - 7:05 pm

    You are in the lucky group that are employed by a bigger company or organization. Try incorporating your own company and deal with our M’sia government agencies for permits applications, approvals and the best part importation of materials. See how much money you would have spent and if you would still have the energy to continue on. The best part – wait and wait and wait. Have you tried asking your founders of the company that you work for, have they been in this situation before?

    I do love my country of birth but indeed it has broken my camel’s back, actually more of broken my back literally. (I have had slipped disc twice)

    Unfortunately I do not get helped by the government locally then the help and grants they have given me across the causeway.

    Sad to say, I’m adding 3 to the statistics of talents leaving the country. Me, my wife and my 1 year old son……

    Also I have had verbal abuse and slurs being hurled at during my school days down under but at least the fair game when dealing with Gov’t.

  3. #4 by ChinNA on Monday, 30 May 2011 - 8:03 pm

    You Malaysians, balik kampung, tanam jagung.

    This could be what you get greeted with when you are in Singapore university having deprived yet another Singaporean a place in the university.

    The harsh feelings on the ground is real. The arrogance of some Singaporeans is real.

    Is it right? Absolutely not. Is it real? Absolutely.

    So let us not be naive that all is honky dory, Singapore government may be welcoming Malaysian Chinese but some of the sentiments on the ground does not always mimic the government’s.

    The truth of the matter is that after the initial few years, for those who have ‘tried’ Singapore, a great majority had decided to stay there. And they would have been ‘converted’ into believing the Singapore way.

    For some, they were converted into believing before they came. For some, it’s a few years later. There are those who only got converted after a few decades. And of course, there are those who will never convert.

    Last month, I lost another 3 Malaysian friends and gained 3 Singaporean friends immediately.

    There is more losses of this nature coming my way that in the pipeline.

    To each his own. Nothing is prescriptive.

  4. #5 by cemerlang on Monday, 30 May 2011 - 9:33 pm

    What we Malaysians are to Singaporeans is like what Indonesians and Filipinos are to us. There was a small piece of news published that says that the PAP wishes to see each Singaporean having at least 2 million Sin dollars in his bank. What does that make them except to be rich. In South East Asia, Singapore is the best. Everyone flocks there because everyone wants to be one of them; rich, educated, prosperous, free sort of. And remembering our American contributor to this website, Singaporeans do not need strict VISAs to go to USA. What freedom ! So of course Singaporeans look down on us. Money power. We have less money power. The Singaporean can afford to buy Qantas. Can we ? Why does USA fear China ? Because of money power. If you have that kind of money, the whites will think twice before yelling yellow at you. See what money power can do. It can bring you to your feet. But the worser thing of all, me thinks, is when a Malaysian turned Singaporean look down on you.

  5. #6 by waterfrontcoolie on Monday, 30 May 2011 - 10:16 pm

    It would appear to the writer that one swallow certainly makes a summer. People stooping to conquer are everywhere; the likes of Ibrahim Ali , the GAPs and what have you? No doubt, this particular Singapore lady behaved the way she did because of her perception of Malaysian grads. At a more competitive environment, even 6/7 years ago, graduates with the “expected perception” started off at s$3 K plus. in fact, at the moment, Singaporeans too struggle with the attitude problems of their graduates, even those equipped with IVY equivalent: some are just bookworms! I believe we have ours too.
    With one impression, the writer was put off; how would she take on the world then? Sometimes, we run to conclusion on how others SHOULD perceive us but we never thought of how we percieve others deep down in our thought. I don’t think money is what make Singaporeans being able to visit many countries without the need to apply for visa. The first world countries know that their Goverment can be trusted to act according to internationally accepted law practice. In general, the tendency to corruption is the very basis of such judgement. I have known many young Malaysians doing very well over there and they have no issues even with the local competing against them. Meaning, they are promoted without being side-lined as second choice. In this respect, they are unlikely to feel being cheated for all the hard work they have contributed! I believe this is the fundamental difference between them and us! Their leaders look at the BIG picture while ours always look for a ‘lobang’!

  6. #7 by tak tahan on Monday, 30 May 2011 - 11:05 pm

    There is racial issue,more or less,depend on your destination country,even advance country,to say the least.It’s the matter how you fit well in that particular society of your chosen country.I was a foreigner in Japan and i did part time job(media-printing factory) while studying.I was re-assigned to the most senior 5th floor(proof-reading dept).They were some Japanese part timers who envied/jealous of me but somehow they accepted me as their own kind and we became good friends.All human kind is almost the same.The most annoying difference between our country and others is our government practices race and religion discrimination consolidate majority malays support to line up their pocket and helm the political prowess.Majority malays must stand up with dignity and obliged oneself as patriot as one should be,to be accountable to nation’ success together as one true Malaysian.Can you majority Malays?

  7. #8 by drngsc on Monday, 30 May 2011 - 11:21 pm

    Dear friend,
    Let me make a plea to you. Please register to vote. When GE 13 is announced, please take leave on that day and return to vote.
    We make your help to change the government for a better tomorrow. Please help us.

    We must change the tenant at Putrajaya.

  8. #9 by Taxidriver on Monday, 30 May 2011 - 11:35 pm

    I fully agree with waterfrontcoolie’s views. An interview is very important. It is during this meeting that your interviewer assess, not only your suitability for the job you are applying for, but also your potential to advance to a higher position in the company. Employing a university graduate is always an investment to the company, hence a highly qualified and professional Interviewer knows what he/she wants in a job applicant.

    I am not saying the writer is under-qualified. What I think is that the writer failed to convince the Interviewer his knowledge of the job he applied for. The $1600 offered was on a trial basis, I presume. What baffles me is that why she offered $1600 which is way too low for a U-graduate.

    I have nephews, cousins and children working in Singapore and are doing well. They have since became Singapore citizens.

    the writer should not paint the whole picture black just because luck was not with him on his first outing. His is a very biased assessment against Singapore. His experience could well be true but it certainly is an isolated case.

  9. #10 by hvpl on Monday, 30 May 2011 - 11:42 pm

    “So I decided I would give it a shot, applying for a few jobs in Singapore”
    What does he think? Singapore is a betting, half-past-six country, where you can “give it a shot”? Firstly, understand the environment & work ethics of Singapore before you even step into the “war”. Singapore worklife is a race. If you are not ready to sprint at the starting line, forget about it.
    Countries like Singapore and, increasingly, China have many talents to choose from. What makes you exceptional that they must hire you?

  10. #11 by ablastine on Tuesday, 31 May 2011 - 12:04 am

    There are arrogant people everywhere and not only in Singapore. Having just one unpleasant and unsuccessful interview does not a bad county make. Generally I feel Singaporean do not really bother where you come from, what race you are belong to or whether you are poor or rich. If you are nice to people usually they respond favourably but if you are overly sensitive and arrogant yourself you will receive in kind. I would go so far to say that generally Singaporean do in fact regard Malaysian as close relatives rather than complete foreigners. One simple reason is many Singaporeans were in fact Malaysian once. It is no doubt a very competitive society and overly sensitive individuals may find the people too mecenary or abrupt for their liking. To each his own.

  11. #12 by cemerlang on Tuesday, 31 May 2011 - 12:11 am

    History gives Singapore a very strong foundation. It is one of the ports of call for trading purposes. Alongside Penang. Then when Malaysia kicked Singapore out, Mr LKY and team decided to prove Malaysia wrong and they did it. Their vision is a good one. Peace. Prosperous. Wealth. Health. Everything. And human nature tends to forget those difficult times. They become proud. Yes. Singaporeans are proud. And yes, Malaysia is nowhere near them. But Malaysia has her excuses. She has a big piece of land with so many races and minds. Therefore if PAP is to rule Malaysia, it cannot bring Malaysia to the same standard as Singapore. You see, in Singapore, you dare not to throw a cigarette bud. But once your passport is stamped, you throw out your first cigarette bud on Malaysian soil. What does that say of your real nature ? You have to earn their respect if you wish to be seen as equal. Just because Malaysia is Islamic, it does not make every Malaysian Islamic. Just because Malaysia does not have a RM 500 fine policy does not mean all Malaysians simply throw their rubbish around. Just because most of time you read about corruption in Malaysia does not mean all Malaysians are corrupted. You cannot stereotype Malaysians. Neither should we stereotype Singaporeans. We have to be fair.

  12. #13 by donng55 on Tuesday, 31 May 2011 - 12:41 am

    You need to put things in perspective and look at the bigger picture, my friend.

    We in Malaysia also have a fair share of such insensitive, arrogant job interviewers/HR personnel talking down on applicants for less senior positions. What you had gone through in Singapore is not uncommon in our very backyard.

    Having worked in Singapore for some years, I can concur that NOT ALL Singaporeans treat and respect foreigners as peers. But, the fact of the matter is Singaporeans also do not necessarily treat each other fairly and respectfully.

    What’s important, I think, is that we keep in mind the BIG PICTURE, the ULTIMA THULE — an opportunity for us, our children, and the children of our children to prove our talent and our worth and go for the star in a country where our religion and the color of our skin don’t matter. We may not fancy that but we do owe it to them.

    Apparently you are not aware of the depth and extent of racial discrimination that exists in our country. It’s no comparison with what you had experienced in Singapore.

  13. #14 by melurian on Tuesday, 31 May 2011 - 1:15 am

    now only you know. i was also victim of such discrimination in years back until i made my decision to come back. the fact singapore is no longer a haven when it comes to engineering industry, so why subject to such humiliation for being cheap labour when our talent and skill are equal and even surpass them. at least over here, we still can call ourselves malaysians, loudly and clearly. the irony is you might never know the person who interviewed you in singapore was a malaysian too, it’s dog eats dog world there who values more monetary than humanity. exceptional talent from china? oh please, i worked with several ex-colleagues from china in singapore and most of them if not all are more of leeches than really skillful and contributing to work. even there are many singaporeans can attest to this. if their foreign talent policy is a success, then there will be many great companies founded there rather relying and begging MNC to continue investing there. look at finland! and what has singapore come up? and speaking of mncs in malaysia, most i worked with reagardless race are helpful and dedicated. and we even worked together more than 14 hours to rush deadlines, and some of my friends in other mnc in kl too worked until the next day before. not all are agree with what perkasa and some extremists are doing. even the nation has its weakness. the decision is still made by malaysians, a privilege we will not have being foreigner in singapore. let’s us work together and contribute for better malaysia!

  14. #15 by digibee on Tuesday, 31 May 2011 - 2:28 am

    I still remember when I was a kid, going to Singapore for shopping because RM (then Malaysian Dollar) was higher than Sin Dollar. Just like everything else .. educations, football, std of living … other countries has past us OR maybe the real problem is that OUR GOVT managed to screw it up over the past 2-3 decades.

    Singapore is not really the best as many said. There are problems. Living in an Apartment for the rest of your life is one of the issue and there are other issues..

  15. #16 by monsterball on Tuesday, 31 May 2011 - 3:58 am

    sontoloyo moderator.

  16. #17 by monsterball on Tuesday, 31 May 2011 - 4:01 am

    butan…gay…moderator sontoloyo
    By the time he knows what I is too late………hahahahahahaha
    tak tahan…fed up…me fed up.
    Two can play the game.

  17. #18 by monsterball on Tuesday, 31 May 2011 - 4:04 am

    translation….moderator is a bloody fool…in Javanese dialect.
    Javanese always say…UMNO buggers are sontoloyos.
    We have one here too.

  18. #19 by sihongloh on Tuesday, 31 May 2011 - 7:50 am

    When you are in a foreign country, you always have to prepare to be discriminated either openly or implicitly. In fact, even the Germans when they go to other European countries, sometimes they would be called “NAZI” openly by some people. You are in foreign land.

    What make us in this website feel upset, especially the minority of this country is that we born in Malaysia and this is our country. We pay tax, loyal and love our country, yet, we still subject to open and legal discrimination.

    I worked with many Filipino colleagues, you can feel that Malaysia is on the path of Philippine. Brain drain, poverty, corrupt government, economy stagnant!

    Please remember to come back to vote. GE 13 could be our last chance to stop our lovely country slip into the path of no return!

  19. #20 by Jeffrey on Tuesday, 31 May 2011 - 8:52 am

    The only thing one can generalize about emigration versus staying back is that one can generalize. Pros and cons depend on individual’s unique circumstances, age, temperament & attitudes and felt experience. Don’t emigrate based on herd mentality just because others do so. Often pastures look greener on the other far side of the fence – until you climb over the fence and find yourself deposited in a spot with pastures brown surrounded by patches of weeds that you could not see from afar!
    Neither should one have a close mind and stay put as a ‘katak di bawah tempurung’ – thinking that Malaysia is great without having experienced life in other countries (beyond just a passing holiday) for comparison. Every one has his unique circumstances, opportunities or drawbacks here or elsewhere but determine the situation for yourself based on your unique circumstances and opportunities whether here or elsewhere that work for you – but not just what others say because their circumstances may be different.

    If truth be known many of us live lives of quiet desperation, and some of us tend to displace our frustrations by blaming politics and NEP than our own personal drawbacks that make us equally unhappy and unsuccessful even in the host country to which we emigrate and settle down.

  20. #21 by TheWrathOfGrapes on Tuesday, 31 May 2011 - 9:10 am

    /// As a fresh graduate from a local university two years ago, I could have taken the easiest route and become an “instant expat” in a First World country. ///

    This got nothing to do with racism or discrimination. This got everything to do with a cocky self-centred individual who thinks other countries owe him a living.

    Sorry, “Malaysian at home” – you should stay at home and never venture outside your kampong. Easier route – you said? Well, you found out that the whole world does not lay out a red-carpet for you. Instant expert? Did Singapore promise you a job? The fact that Singapore took in more than a million foreigners does not mean it has the obligation to take you in as well.

    S$1,600 too low for you? Can you get a similar job in Malaysia? For crying out loud, if your own motherland cannot even provide you the opportunities, what makes you think that a foreign country is obligated to find job for you? When many Singaporeans are unemployed or under-employed.

    Grow up. And yes, the world is your oyster. But go and catch it first. Or you think having a good paying job in Singapore is your entitlement?

  21. #22 by jus legitimum on Tuesday, 31 May 2011 - 12:28 pm

    I think the writer was cocky and arrogant when he faced the interviewers for the ‘instant expat’ job he applied for in Singapore.After all you were just a green horn without experience,you deserved what you were offered.Singapore employers like every where else(maybe except bolehland that practises racial and religious discrimination) pay employees based on qualifications and work experience.

  22. #23 by cemerlang on Tuesday, 31 May 2011 - 3:08 pm

    Discrimination comes in all forms. To be fair. Discrimination happens because there is an obvious difference. A yellow standing in the crowd of whites. A black standing in the crowd of yellows. A Chinese standing in the crowd of Bumiputras. You have to fight this difference. You have to tell them that yes, you are different. But even though you are different, you can still get the job done. At the end of the day, people pay you for your job, not your obvious difference. But people being weak, sinful and all that would always pick on your difference to make you feel you are inferior to them.

  23. #24 by waterfrontcoolie on Tuesday, 31 May 2011 - 6:42 pm

    #14, I do sympathize with you; I have friends too in the same boat and time that you mentioned. LKY was then real desperate and was learing to get his act together. And many like you, like my own friends hated his gut all these years. But does that make his country bad for his people [ first] and then for the subsequent migrants who are enriched by his policy which seemed to have backfired by the same Singaporeans who glorified him when they travel overseas but curse him when they fly home to stay! Most of us would lke to use oneself as the yardstick, and our impression is the strongest when we are at the end of the stick. What would the little dot be today? If the like of Lim Yew Hocks were to rule that little dot as long as LKY? I would have been able to employ a few Singaporeans to massage me everyday! Yes, I have heard plenty of stories of today’s Singaporeans who couldn’t take the challenge their society is demanding; any similarity here? It is the nature of every man to build dreams but certainly dreams built on thin air will be just dreams! Failure to achieve such dreams will have characters like IAs, GAPs,!!!!!

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