This week, Syazwina Saw curates Why Malaysia week for LoyarBurok to explore our love/hate relationship with the Land of the Boleh-Everything-Also-Can-Kasi-Taruk-Aje.
When I was in secondary school, nothing seemed to go right for me. I was awkward and out of touch—I tried listening to the music my friends did, but found it often silly or stupid; I thought fashion was a waste of time and effort. I couldn’t keep up with the popular kids, not that I felt it necessary, but as a result, I never did quite fit in.
By the time I went to Melbourne on scholarship, I was ready to experience something new, although as it turned out, I was much more reluctant to change than I expected. I was reserved and searching for an identifier, for a cause to believe in, for a group of people who I could find my way with, because surely Melbourne was a bigger pond with a greater variety of fish. I couldn’t possibly spend my years there alone, could I?
And then in my penultimate year at university, it happened—my life clicked into place. I found myself part of a diverse network of people who did not necessarily devote ourselves to the same causes, but were willing to help each other through. I felt freer, I felt at peace: I felt like I had arrived somewhere I belonged. So much so, I was having serious thoughts about never leaving Melbourne.
So during one of my weekly phone conversations with my family, I confessed to my mother. She was the one who had insisted I return to Malaysia at the start of every summer, so I didn’t forget what Malaysia was like and what left needed to be done; so I didn’t forget where I am needed. I told her, quietly:
“I think I’d like to stay here and work here to live. It feels like home.”
And so she told me that that was fine; I could do what I wanted, so long as I came home home, because we had work ahead of us.
Anyway, at the end of my degree, after trying not-so-hard to look for work in Melbourne, I found myself eagerly buying my one-way ticket to KL, prepared to return to the comforts of home. It turned out that about a year and a half after that phone conversation, I was geared to live Malaysian again.
I was ready, I thought. I was mentally prepared. I hadn’t grown up in a candy-coated version of Malaysia; I knew what I had coming. And yet for the first six months I was back, I couldn’t stop griping about how subpar everything was. Malaysians deserve so much better than what they (we) get, and why doesn’t anybody do anything about it? Why is everybody being so stupid about citizens’ rights; we can’t possibly all be idiots, can we?
It has been a year and a half since I came back from Melbourne, and I’ve come to terms with Malaysia… sort of. I have no illusions about Malaysia, and yet I cannot stay away. I do occasionally dream about leaving it all for some place more glamorous, or at the very least, more at ease with itself and more kind to its people. But something keeps me here still. And when I talk to my friends about it, I learn that I’m not alone with my conflicting emotions about Malaysia.
My colleague and lunch buddy, E, had also studied at my alma mater. In one of our little conversations apart from the rest of the gang, we talked about why we came back to Malaysia. I asked him if he felt life in Melbourne was easier—surely, there’s no question about it; it was nice, with good public transport, civil citizens, transparency and accountability at all stages of administration, and it’s a lot easier for vegetarians too, so doesn’t he ever think of—
“No,” he said quickly, tempering his firm answer with a small shrug. “I mean, this is home.”
There, I thought. There it is. People say it is never an easy answer, yet sometimes it is.
Which is why this week, we explore the question of “Why Malaysia?” We often talk about brain drain and lost opportunities and empty promises and hard living, and sometimes we forget the parts about hope, ambition, responsibilities, and all the other emotional ties at the crux of the matter. Why do we stay? Why do we leave? Why, oh why, Malaysia, do you do this to me?
The answer to “Why Malaysia” is not an clear cut equation, and the answer often lies away from any semblance of logic. We invite you to discover Why Malaysia with us, and to share your own thoughts by commenting or even contributing to the blawg.
We lost E suddenly, just two weeks ago— a dear son and brother, and a loyal and kind friend, who we all miss terribly. I’d like to dedicate Why Malaysia week in his memory, in honour of his reminding me that griping and ranting isn’t everything, and is rarely ever the solution. And that most often and most likely, the answer doesn’t really make sense but to our selves, and that is all it needs to be.
Why Malaysia runs from Monday, 14th March to Friday, 18th March.
Syazwina Saw is a curating n00b and has newfound respect for the unsung blawg elves.