Hornbill Unleashed

September 7, 2017

Choosing to return to Malaysia, with hope

Filed under: Politics — Hornbill Unleashed @ 8:01 AM

I am in the queue at Heathrow Airport in London, waiting to board the plane to Kuala Lumpur. With a pronounced groan, I put my two heavy bags down. These bags carry the memories of four years studying abroad. My eyes search around to see if anyone holds the same passport, desperate for common solidarity.

In front of me, I see a husband and wife holding red Malaysian passports in their hands, their son holding a United Kingdom passport and their daughter a Canadian passport. Beside them is a woman who looks a lot like the wife: same height, same permed hair, and same jewellery choices (golden rings and jade bracelets).

I can’t see what passport she is holding, but when her fingers adjust slightly, it reveals the words on the passport’s cover: “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland Passport”. She speaks in Hakka to the wife of the family, who turns out to be her sister, and tells her it’s been a long time since she went back to Malaysia.

Malaysia no hope, the husband says. The rest nod in agreement, with eyes on their shifting feet. Words stay on their tongues and never come out, their silence making the noise in the background louder. What else is there to say when you have passed the final stage of changing your passport? There is no hope.

I always hear about emigration and brain drain: numbers increasing every year, mostly Chinese, and normally for money. But this time I saw the warm human faces behind those cold statistics, and it left a bitter taste in my mouth.

Changing the colour of your passport is not merely a logistical transition; it’s an emotional choice of departure. You relinquish a part of your identity as a Malaysian, and with it, all hope that this country will change for the better.

They may be right to do what they have done – I know of many people who would agree with their actions.

A day after I landed in Malaysia, I followed my mother to the wet market in Petaling Jaya. The local grocer asked my mother if her “bodyguard” (myself) would be going back to London to work. My mother said no.

The grocer admonished me for coming back. “Why don’t you stay abroad and find a job there? The salary’s five times higher than what you can get here. It’s also fairer and more transparent!”

There is no place for you here, he said. He looked into my eyes with some sympathy before relentless anger compelled him to say: “Malaysia no hope.”

The romance of return

The romantic notion of coming back and contributing to your country loses its appeal in today’s borderless world. You are a citizen of the world, and any obligation you owe to your country of birth is at best artificial. Why aren’t you allowed to change your allegiance, if you’re prepared to do so?

On top of that, what if you do not have anything substantial to contribute to this country? Is there still a need for you to come back? And why is the idea of contribution so important?

A person should be able to make choices that best suit him or her. Since the place where we are born is wholly arbitrary, why must we admonish the leavers, and why must we be disappointed? After all, “Malaysia no hope”.

Most people’s decisions to emigrate are bound up in a mix of personal reasons and an innocent yearning for a life that is more stable and less worrisome. For many who leave, politics is someone else’s game, and political arguments of participation, obligation and loyalty remain highfalutin arguments only for the mind.

Never have I, nor will I, speak ill of the decisions of others to move abroad. I also do not think that living abroad to earn more money is any less noble than choosing to earn less in your homeland. There should be a reasonable amount of free will given to adults that does not come with a price tag of moral judgments. But the bottom line is this: whatever decision you choose to make, make sure you can live with it.

The fire of youth

For me, I do not see myself going anywhere but Malaysia. Where you are born is arbitrary, but the decision of choosing where you work and die is a deliberate one. And once I have made this decision, I must choose to live with it.

I can’t regret not taking the job offers abroad when I find it hard to get a job here, I can’t regret not getting paid five times higher abroad when I get a job with meagre pay here. I can’t regret not living abroad with a higher standard of living when I encounter daily inadequacies here.

That doesn’t mean I am subdued or silenced by my own choices. Quite the opposite: to live with this, I must make the most out of it.

Fire burns in the belly of youth. At 24, I can still feel the heat that the Hakka family and wet-market grocer long extinguished within themselves.

I lived through political changes and social upheavals that taught me the power of common people and the possibility of change.

The journey home is not one of sacrifice, but one of preparedness: I am prepared to be useful in my homeland. If there is a piece of research that needs to be done, I will do it; if there is an email that needs to be sent, I will send it; if there is a discussion that needs to be conducted, I will conduct it.

There is something special about choosing to come back to your homeland and help as much as you can, even when the gatekeepers have long abandoned your trust and let the unruly in.

Being a member of a home carries with it an implicit promise of helping each other when we fall, doing more than our share, and making room for the greater good. Above all, you never give up on your home. Because inside your home is your family.

So, even when soft cement and loose bricks make your home crumble to the ground, the implicit promise still holds: be there for each other. Fire burns in the belly of youth, but youth is forever.

In “Malaysia no hope”, I only see “hope”.

Source : Malaysiakini by James Chai
JAMES CHAI works at a law firm. His voyage in life is made less lonely with a family of deep love, friends of good humour and teachers of selfless givings. This affirms his conviction in the common goodness of people: the better angels of our nature.



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