Subject: Fw: Letter From Melbourne
I have been worked up, for a very long time, over the many things
wrong in Malaysia. When I was a boy growing up in Klang, I lived on a
street with about half Chinese homes and half Indian ones. In school,
however, my classroom was probably reflective of the racial
distribution of the country, which was approximately 60% Malays, 30%
Chinese and just under 10% Indians with the odd boy out who was
English. I also remember an American who was of Italian descent.
For a long time, the idea of racial differences was non-existent as I
played the games boys played then, with boys of all races. In the
classroom, there would be the usual competition to top the class and
such competition came from all races. I have my usual suspects who
were my competitors for 'First Boy' and these came from all races.
Sure, the Malay guy gunning for first spot would leverage against his
superiority in the Malay language and the Chinese boy would have to
pull his strength from the other subjects, usually mathematics. The
Indian boy usually does well in English but everyone had a fair shot
to top the class.
Racial differences simply did not register then, at least not in any
significant or bigoted way.
Then, very slowly, we were made to feel and experience the
differences. The Malay boy could get into a select school (usually in
the capital) a lot more easily than the rest of us, even though we all
did equally well. There were schools only Malays could get into. There
were also scholarships only Malays could apply for. Yet, there was no
ill feeling. The only sentiment was one of slight unease but I was
happy to just move along and do my thing.
When I was in university in Sydney however, I started to slog really
hard for my keeps. I had to work several jobs at any one time, to make
sure I could pay the rent and not go hungry, as well as contribute as
much as I could towards my university fees. By the time I finished my
degrees five years later, I had made my family poorer by about
RM20,000. I had from my earnings, saved almost that same amount, which
I used for my airfare back to Malaysia and to start my new life back
there. Soon however, I realised I had to battle again.
Getting a job, buying a home, investing, applying for anything from
local, state or federal government, all these major areas of
day-to-day life showed up the preferential treatments that the
bumiputeras received. It was still okay, because I had my job, earned
my promotions, made my investments, and established my network of
friends and professional relationships. I generally lived life and
I could not, however, eliminate the effect of being a victim of
discrimination. It built up over time. Initially it was just a sense
of annoyance and occasional snide remark by me or someone else against
it. As it became more and more in your face, the effect escalated.
Many things change when you have a child. As a parent you start to
think ahead a lot more. You start to think not just about the battles
you have to wage, but also how to equip your child for the battles she
has to wage as she grows up and goes through life.
As a parent, I no longer just get annoyed or even angry at injustices
and inequitable policies. I start to think about how these injustices
and inequitable policies would handicap my child's battles. Life can
be hard enough without these issues. If the energy spent on dealing
with these matters could be channeled elsewhere, how much more
productive, beneficial and therefore edifying our efforts and work
How then do I minimise the incidence of having my child battle these
fronts, and how do I create better battlefields for her? By exercising
my voting rights? I voted in two elections. Both saw the BN win huge
victories. In one of them, I worked for an opposition party. Starting
from Lim Guan Eng's arrest in 1996, I started being active in engaging
in social and political causes.
All along, I worked in the corporate financial sector. I saw how
government officials used racial discriminatory policies to enrich
themselves and their friends and relatives. I saw how political and
business leaders 'worked together'.
I knew then where my child's battlefield lies. It wasn't in the
country I grew up in. Not when the racist policies would continue. Not
when the religious bigotry has started to take on very dangerous
proportions. We left Malaysia three years ago.
It was a difficult rebuilding process. Our wealth here is only worth
one third of what it was in Malaysia. Factor that into the higher
standards of living here and we are no where near where we were in
Malaysia. Professionally, my wife and I had to start again as well.
From head of departments hiring and firing, we are now minnows seeking
to be hired and avoid being fired.
We worked and struggled all over again to re-establish our lives. We
have had to move house twice in three years in search of equilibrium
in terms of commuting, schools and neighbourhoods.
After so many years of anger however, I now think perhaps Malaysia
needs prayers more than angry dissent. The present leadership has not
demonstrated a willingness to listen, be reasonable and work things
out. They have chosen to be belligerent and defensive, even lie.
Against this, the ordinary Malaysian's approach cannot be more
speeches and articles and calls for public meetings. These would only
fall on deaf ears.
You cannot reason with people with such a stance. The ordinary
Malaysian would think the cost of a confrontational approach too
costly and dangerous and would therefore let things fester a lot
longer before acting. I have decided therefore to pray a lot harder
for Malaysia. I hope some of you will join me.