What reason to stay?

My brother will be walking in his school’s Commencement ceremony this weekend, even though he has one more summer class left to take before he officially graduates and his Degree is conferred. My mother is in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, right now to witness him walk, as she did when I walked in my own Commencement five (five!) years ago. Before she left, I asked him if my brother really did have his heart set on becoming a military or naval officer, to which she replied, “I think so. I hope he doesn’t try to enlist, but if he doesn’t, I hope he won’t try to come back here.”

It was the same thing she told me after Commencement weekend five years ago: “Don’t come back if you can. There’s nothing left for you here.” Obviously we all know how that worked out.

This is something I’ve never written about, primarily because I’ve always clung to the principle of not paying attention to or getting riled up by the stigma of politics. However, there’s only so much even an apathetic can take.

The uproar in the Malaysian media of late seems to consist largely of racial and religious grievances. The Malays are terrified that the Chinese are plotting to overthrow them and thus strip them of the rights to Malay supremacy that they have so long hidden behind. Consequently, the Malay Muslims are convinced that the Church is plotting to start a new crusade and put a Christian Prime Minister in office, effectively turning this country into a predominantly Christian one (cue scenes of heretics burning in the film Elizabeth).


The Chinese and Indians are bone-tired of being treated with unspeakable social, economic and professional injustice, and have begun plotting (yes, and here I use the term plotting accurately because even I am doing that) ways to leave this country and seek greener pastures, bluer skies, redder roses, you name it, in different parts of the world.

Some weeks ago, I casually mentioned to a friend that I would love to find a way back out of this country as soon as I can. Predictably, she replied, “Haaa? Why? No la!”, to which my irate, tired, but very matter-of-fact, response was “Because this country sucks.”

I couldn’t fault her for her ignorant response, because it takes being abroad for a certain number of years and then coming back for a taste, however bitter, of what one has been missing to realize how different, how lacking this country is in its mindset and its development, that its citizens (and more damnably its minorities) feel they have no other choice but to up and move to a different country altogether just to feel as though they could be worth even a little bit more than they are made to feel here.

If even a basic, staple thing like public transportation becomes such a big problem because the funds that should have gone to improving it have been siphoned off into other more questionable pockets, then something is wrong. If a local newspaper has absolutely nothing newsworthy to slap on its front page other than its version of the Crusades, then something is very wrong. If someone as powerful and influential as a Cabinet minister insists that proficiency in the English language plays no part in life’s successes, then something is terribly wrong. If the government and the people who run it spend their waking moments worrying that their statuses, their wealth and their ‘birthright’ will be wrested from them by the minorities, then something is so wrong that the government itself should be wrested from its own self-destructive paws.

Friday the 13th: “We don’t hate you. We just want to make sure you know whose turf this is.”

And still, somehow, it’s not entirely — by about 3% — the government’s fault. ┬áThe people have yet to educate themselves on what needs to be done to make sure this country doesn’t end up becoming a barrel of headless chickens — or chicken heads — instead of sitting on their complacent posteriors and taking what they think they deserve (in both a good and bad sense) from the government. But as complacency gives way to the blatant spoonfeeding that the politicians use to win the masses’ favor, the cycle of taking what the government gives and then bemoaning the price at which it all comes will be allowed to continue. So will the increasingly severe brain drain that the country is suffering now, all because the people no longer feel as though they are welcome in a country that they love but cannot survive in.

I hope with all my heart that someday not too far in the future, the relevant people in this flailing government will be able to see sense and realize how important it is to put aside the issue of race, religion, status, money and birthright, in order for the country to recover and finally take a step forward in the right direction. And if it doesn’t, then I hope with all my heart I — and more importantly, my children and grandchildren — won’t be here to see it fall even farther.

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