The Malaysian Insider
26 June 2015
I never thought I would say this but when I arrived home from Singapore, and had a long drawn out battle with baggage delays at KLIA, and then touts at KL Sentral, I looked up to the dark evening sky and thought how Malaysia had become a third world country.
As I stood there with my bags, observing fellow Malaysians shouting at the touts, while the security guards looked away, and then seeing a poor, hapless foreign porter being heckled by a lazy plonker of a Malaysian, I said to myself, there has to be a better way of living and to live.
While I wrestled with anger and contempt at the touts, the Malay in me, the Muslim in me felt dismayed to see much older Malay men wearing the kopiahs (skullcaps) touting cab rides and swearing at those who declined their offers.
Apa dah jadi dengan orang Melayu kita ni (What’s happening to the Malays), I said to myself.
Writing about Malaysians renouncing their citizenship for Singaporean citizenship came at a time when I saw those very dear to me, leaving for better lives abroad or coming back to Malaysia for a holiday and horrified by the corporate and political landscape.
They were not Chinese or Indians. They are Malay professionals.
It’s no wonder my family and friends, and yes, they are Malays and very observant Muslims, have decided to look for work elsewhere. You can’t thrive or live here.
Like the people I interviewed for a feature, the Malay professionals I am related to have left Malaysia and have taken PR statuses for better lives for themselves and their families.
Some have taken up foreign citizenships. It was a relief to be recognised as able professionals, instead of “Malays who probably got their jobs through connections or because they’re Malays”, because they were neither.
It was also a relief not to have to work side by side their own brethren and countrymen who got their positions through their network.
In Europe and elsewhere, they were being hired and appreciated because they were good at their work.
“You also don’t have to deal with the bitchiness (of the Malays) in KL,” a cousin smirked. KL, or Malaysia will not allow capable Malays to thrive. It’s a small pond, and far be from it for you to outshine lesser Malays.
For us Malays/Muslims, working and living abroad is not about not really about Islamic fascism but about opportunities. Why not?
I sat on a bench watching the hullabaloo among tired passengers, touts and executive cabs wrangling for rides.
An old friend’s ever oft repeated phrase came to mind: it’s so hard (here).
Two reasons as to why I have been quiet – not writing columns – are because I, with my friends, have been busy marketing our research start-up (more on that in another column) and I have been searching for funding for a postgraduate programme. I already have a conditional offer abroad.
I had been told to try for funding from local universities; upon finishing my PhD, I would be bonded to the university. No problem, I said.
Rejection from University A:
“Your niche area might be useful for the English Language section or the Literature section. The thing that might work against you is your age (no offence, this is simply stating the reality that heads of departments prefer younger staff so as to ensure continuity.”
I wrote back, my intended study is in the field of sociology or anthropology, not literature.
Unless you count my study on the class divide among Muslims as FICTION. And my age has nothing to do with it.
Rejection from University B, because even though I have a Masters in Literature, it’s not in Sociology.
I am willing to take up another Masters, I said.
“I am sorry but we are unable to offer you a position.”
I also was rebuffed by a private organisation which funds postgraduate studies, solely because I am in my mid-40s.
“You need to be below the age of 40 as you will be bonded to us.”
“Just because I’ll be 50 by then it doesn’t mean I can’t serve the organisation or country. Why are you so ageist.”
“Er, er, er… I am just following orders.”
What a marked difference when it comes to responses from foreign universities: when I apply to foreign universities, I am always floored to know that the supervisors I approached have read my book and works published in news websites.
When I visited the National University of Singapore, I was shocked to find that my work had been studied and written about in a journal they published!
What am I doing here, when my country does not even appreciate me?
Finally a taxi came to my rescue. The driver was a fellow Kelantanese. He was 65 years old and had been driving a taxi for 20 years.
We talked about GST, disappearing jungles, living among concrete, and our families as if our friendship was like that of dear, old friends, but knew the moment my destination arrived, our confidences would be over.
“What do you think will make things better, pakcik?” I asked.
Perhaps, he said, it would make things easier if we saw work as ibadah, and living is ibadah too, for everything is difficult these days.
If we saw these as ibadah – submission to God – and that heaven is our only solace and goal, it would be less stressful for us all.
As we sat in the jam, he spoke of his life as boy, living by a river in Kelantan. He remembered all the things he and his friends did for play. That was how he survived working, by remembering.
“You could be right, pakcik. If we view all this as ibadah, maybe it will get easier.”
He shrugged his shoulders.
So tell me, what am I doing here?