Oops, apologies for being a wee late with my (usually) Friday udpates. But hoo boy, have I been attacked by one heck of a cold in the last few days.
I spent Saturday asleep in my bed, absolutely knocked out by cold meds. Call it post-GE14 hangover. I mean, I barely slept since May 9, so it's no wonder I fell prey to a microscopic virus.
But I'm fine now and still pinching myself to this new Malaysia we're living in.
So. It's been 11 days since Malaysia's 14th General Election. Have you recovered yet? I haven't. Because I still could not believe that my world - and those of other Malaysians' - has completely changed.
The change is especially profound for me because three years ago, I had willingly given up life in Australia to return home so that I could contribute as a useful member of society.
Some of you may be rolling your eyes thinking, "My foot she came back cos she wanted to contribute to Malaysia. Say-lah you couldn't make it in Australia!"
Here's the thing: If i had stayed on my trajectory in Australia, I would have been on track to becoming a registered nurse. All I had to do was sell all my assets back home, enrol in an Enrolled Nursing course and I would be on my way. I would earn good pay as an Enrolled Nurse. There would be jobs I can go for. Granted it's extremely competitive and challenging to get jobs in Australia, even as a nurse, but all migrants knew that it wasn't going to be an easy ride Down Under.
But my soul wasn't easy. Although I've notched two years of experience in the healthcare industry by then, I knew it in my soul that wasn't the path I really wanted. I was at a crossroads: Should I choose to secure my life in Australia by becoming a nurse, or go after what I really loved: A life with my family and friends back home in Malaysia using the skills I've spent nearly 20+ years developing - that of a writer?
You know which path I chose.
Many of my friends indignantly say I shouldn't bother explaining my decision, but I felt it was important because many Malaysians do not understand three things:
a) Life abroad isn't as rosy as they think. You trade one set of problems for another.
b) Malaysia is a truly wonderful country.
c) It isn't the end of the world if you come back to Malaysia - my life is a great testament to that.
Patriotism in Australia
A funny thing happened when I was in Australia: I grew more patriotic.
That was ironic because I moved there partly to escape the negativity about Malaysia's future.
There, I realised that as a Malaysian, I was indeed a unique creature. Australians sometimes didn't know what box to put me in. I clearly look Chinese, yet I spoke fluent English. I once had a church member ask me, in all earnestness: "You've only been in Australia for a year, yet you're speaking such fluent English. How did you do it?"
I said sarcastically, "Gosh, I really hope I'm fluent because I've been speaking English since I was a kid."
In retrospect, I should have been less sarcastic. The Australian was visibly chastened and embarrassed, but I was highly amused by it all.
The Chinese immigrants there were in awe of me because I switched effortlessly between English, Hokkien, Mandarin and Bahasa Malaysia. I met an immigrant from China who told me how inspired she was of Malaysians because of our multilingual ability. (In my travels around the world in my twenties and thirties, I was told similar things by the Japanese and South Koreans.) Until then, I never thought of myself as extraordinary for being able to speak three to four languages because well, all Malaysians can do that - some spoke even more languages than I did!
Malaysians, we take our ability with languages for granted. But, imagine, we can communicate with almost all corners of the world: English, with most of the west. Mandarin, with the rising power that is China. That's something to be proud of.
I also missed Malaysia's weather, which I used to hate so much. But I hated Australia's hot, merciless summers more. As a minimalist, I disliked having to keep different wardrobes for different seasons. And although I loved winter, I hated having to "rug up" and wear bulky, heavy woolly clothes. During my time there I barely wore skirts or dresses because of the icy drafts.
I missed our hujan lebat so much. I barely saw rain during my stay in Adelaide, and I often chuckled when Adelaideans become anxious over their "storms". It was nothing compared to the tropical tempests back home. Now I understood why most Westerners adored our weather. Life is just so much easier with our weather!
Of course there's the food. Gawd, how I missed Malaysian food!
But I missed my sense of purpose most of all.
So many migrants have this philosophy: "As long as we have a job that brings us money to live (in this foreign country), it's enough."
But it wasn't enough for me. I could have gone on to become a nurse. I would have earned more than enough to secure my life in Australia. By 2015 I realised that although I enjoyed the technical aspects of nursing and was even good at it, I preferred being a writer more.
Sure, I could be a nurse, but Australia had so many nurses then; they had an oversupply, in fact. Even their local nursing graduates couldn't get jobs. Do they really need another nurse competing for dwindling job slots?
Australia, I feel, didn't need another nurse.
See, I didn't just want a job that will give me money to exist in a country that is fair and good ... I wanted to contribute my skills to a country that needed it.
I thought to myself: I could do much good for Malaysia, whose standards of English was at a freefall.
So I returned - yes, as smarmy as it sounded. I came back because I felt my writing skills will make the most impact here, that I will not just exist but have some kind of purpose.
Dark clouds over Malaysia
Did Malaysia's "no hope future" affect me? Of course. Many people said I was stupid to give up such a gravy train in Australia. To live in peace in a country that didn't oppress me. (But opression did exist there, only it's of a different stripe.) But like I said, it wasn't enough for me to just exist and be happy I "escaped". I guess I'm a hopeless romantic and idealist.
Of course, sometimes I thought I was foolish for being so idealistic. Since my return in 2015, I would often lie awake at night, that damn Australian PR haunting my dreams, wondering if I had made the biggest mistake of my life.
I had nightmarish, dystopian-like scenarios running in my head. I imagined myself old and alone, struggling in poverty and ruled by a thuggish government. (Hey, I'm an author. I can't help myself.)
In fact, when I cast my vote on May 9, I had very little hope that Malaysia would stray from that dark future. But I was determined to do my tiny bit to make it change its ways.
You guys know what happened after that. A new Malaysia formed that day.
It's time to come home, Malaysians
GE14 was the validation Malaysian returnees like me needed. For so long people had ridiculed or sneered at my decision to come home. Even the polite ones, I'm sure, believed that I've made a mistake.
When I tell people “really, Malaysia isn’t as bad as you think, it’s really a wonderful country”, I get sneered at and told off for being blind, foolish and silly. A lot of times I feel like I only had my idealism to back up my beliefs, but now I have proof.
Imagine: we managed to change governments without blood being shed. Our leaders forgave each other and we rakyat forgave them too for past wrongs. Then we forged ahead to win this thing. We managed to battle our deep hopelessness, racial and religious divide and against government machinery that seems iron clad - to come out victorious. Peacefully!!
Today the press around the world are in awe of what happened in Malaysia. That’s because we are truly a very unique and wonderful country. Again, yes we may not have the shiny toys our neighbours have but we Malaysians are something else, aren’t we?
We are one of the rare multicultural nations in the world that live in peace. Our people are passionate and talented, not to mention multilingual, which will be a boon for us as we form trade links with the West, China and India.
It's time to rebuild the country from decades of bad rule.
I do my tiny bit by writing good copy in English for my company. Imagine if there were hundreds of people like me doing the same thing? Would communications in Malaysia improve? Would it be easier for the world to do business with us? You bet.
Malaysia needs doctors, lawyers, teachers, economists, thinkers, writers ... anyone with skill that can help Malaysia rebuild is welcomed here.
So, if you're about to graduate at a university abroad, I want to urge you to return home to help Malaysia rebuild. Sure, the digs are not as posh here. But do they have nasi lemak as good as ours?
And if you're a Malaysian abroad thinking about making the trek home because you miss home desperately - it's good to know that the dystopian future is not a certainty anymore.
Come back, Malaysians!