“My friends are thinking of leaving…”

Sometimes I really wonder if this country can pull through.

Three conversations recently that got me thinking:

1) “A lot of my friends are really thinking twice, they’re really thinking about leaving,” explained my brother. “Maybe 5 out of my 50 classmates who’ve gone to study abroad have come back to live and work in Malaysia.”

It’s not hard, if you’ve been following the mainstream and online news with any regularity, to see why such sentiments persist. Far-right movements like Perkasa (right- or far-right is only a matter of perspective, I would suppose) are surely making vocal claims about their place in the country. For some Malaysians, the lack of equally vocal – or more likely concerted – opposition from civil society on the shenaneeganeerings of Ibrahim Ali et al maybe indicates the lack of willpower to fend off such feisty commandeering of the nation.

“Even those who’ve lived here a long time are starting to think again,” he reveals.

“Are you thinking of leaving, too?” queries my dad.

“Hmm, I don’t know…”

Silence. And then, from my dad, serious: “Maybe you should consider opening up a business in Australia?”


2) On board an aircraft a few days ago, I bumped into a middle-aged Malaysian named Brian on his way to Sapporo, Japan, to oversee some family business there. He spotted my Malaysian passport and near the end of the flight asked me what I was doing in Japan. The interesting thing was that Brian and his family moved to Australia (where his Malaysian wife acquired PR-status) a few years ago. He explained that the main reason he left was because of his son’s education.

“I wish Malaysia had a more equal educational environment,” he lamented. “I live in Melbourne now because I just wanted the best education environment for my son – he’s not getting it back in Malaysia.”

Yet I asked what made him keep his Malaysian passport. “There’s still hope. Things are looking difficult right now, but I have family in Malaysia and I’d still like to come home.”

I asked if he would consider coming home, and what obstacles are there to such a decision: “(The Malaysian) educational environment, the economy, and politics.” Seems fair enough. I suppose if we can start fixing these areas, many who share Brian’s sentiments will start looking at


3) The silver lining: an architect friend remarked not long back that maybe the “Malaysian diaspora” is perhaps a good thing.

“Imagine, all these Malaysians are living and working abroad… If we begin to fix the problems that made them leave, imagine all that experience we’ll be bringing back.”

Imagine that.


Now, if you’ve left Malaysia, would you like to share the reasons that made you leave? And what would make it possible for you to come back home?


7 thoughts on ““My friends are thinking of leaving…”

  1. English language education at government schools. I’d happily live in Malaysia, and move to a place near a school using English medium, but the government just doesn’t allow them to operate. If you can allow three languages, there is no harm in allowing a fourth. It doesn’t need to be available everywhere, just where there is a reasonable demand amongst parents for it.

  2. I left Malaysia 10 years ago and am now living in Dublin. It was very obvious, growing up, that there was no way someone like me, from a lower middle income family, would ever get the opportunities the bumiputras or those from more affluent families would get. I made the decision to leave though it was not an easy decision. In Dublin, I obtained my Honors degree, I am now doing a Postgrad and have held good positions based solely on my own merit and capabilities. What race or religion and where I’m from has no impact, not anymore. I can apply for citizenship if I so wish and have the freedom to work where I want and voice my opinions freely.

    I would be of the same thinking as Brian whom you met on the flight. Malaysia is still home for me and the last thing I would do is give up my Malaysian passport. My family and closest friends are still there and I long to come home. However, the way things are, policitically, with all the race and religion-based policies being implemented and upheld by the present government, there’s no way I will come home. Like almost everyone else who leaves, I have to think of my future and the future of my children. Education here is better, the country is safer and there is more freedom. Race and religion do not determine how you are treated.

    Another big reason is my spouse, who is Irish, cannot work there, not easily. I know the government says it has put in place policies that help facilitate foreign spouses to work in Malaysia but having read many real-life accounts by Malaysians and their foreign-spouses, I know this is not the case. So, I wait for a time perhaps when the situation will be right in Malaysia, when the powers that be realise that race and religion have no place in a fair and democratic government, that the government is meant to represent ALL Malaysians , that my family who have been there for generations and who worked just as hard to build that country have as much a right to call ourselves Malaysian as anyone else and be entitled to the same opportunities, then and only then, will I come home. I sincerely hope it will not be a long time coming!

  3. I read this article of yours http://klue.com.my/articles/3234-Focus-Focus-Goodbye–Hello and you’ve taken the words right out of my mouth. It’s exactly what I’ve always been talking about.

    I am leaving to further my studies in America in 20 days, but I know I will come back some day. In my Dad’s mind I’m already married with two kids and a dog, but I’ve always told him I want to come back and contribute to the country. Sure, it’s not the best place to live or work (especially as a writer, someone working in the literature/arts industry), sure Malaysia has its flaws, but I see that more as the reason to come back and fix things, instead of leaving.

    People ask me why, and I can only answer, because it’s home. Unfortunately I think I’m one of the few that still think this way…

  4. *I meant in my Dad’s mind I’m already married with two kids and a dog there in America. My bad.

    Also true about what you said about Singapore, I was very envious of the Singapore Arts Festival as well. I’m quite ashamed to have neighbors like that. With a country doing far better just across our border, how can we still persuade our Malaysians to stay? They have a national uni rank 30 in the world, and another at 73, while University of Malaya is at 180, and we’re still here bickering about changing Math/Science back to Malay … or abolishing exams (without actually doing anything to change the rigorous, ridiculous syllabus first).

    Sometimes you really can’t blame the Malaysians for wanting to leave. I see my friends wanting to go, and as a friend I would ask them to go for it, because I know they’ll do much better overseas. As a Malaysian, I have no comment.

  5. @May Zhee – To me, Malaysia is home too. It’s a home with a huge family, that bickers and fights and quarrels about sometimes the silliest of things. But in every home, someone’s got to keep an eye on the larger picture: that a home is not just a house, but a psychologically potent place where one finds one’s center in the midst of (post-)modernity.

    I’m glad to have learnt recently that at least one friend currently studying abroad will be coming home to Malaysia, while another friend’s parents (who are Australian) have decided to make Malaysia their new home.

    Slowly but surely we will overcome the naysayers.

  6. I came to Australia in 2003 for my bachelors and I stayed on to do two masters. In 2007 I got my PR and this year I got my citizenship. There is no way I am going to return.

    Allow me to explain. My beef is not with the government, its the people who vote them. If, election after election, the people continue to vote in the same garbage, what hope is there for the future? It is easier to remove a handful of politicians, it is also easy to replace the government, but it is extremely difficult to change the people who vote them.

    We see sorry issues making headlines almost everyday, yet people don’t blink an eye. People have grown immune to stupidity, ignorance. Look at the latest issue, the police “discovered” a suicide note on TBH’s bag. That’s like almost telling the common man on the street, “Hey you’re stupid. I can say anything I want, do anything I want, yet you will still vote me”.

    But to change the people you need a good education system, free flow of information exchange, free speech. It’s a catch 22 situation really, without free thoughts there wouldn’t be ideal governance, without an ideal governance there wouldn’t be free thoughts.

    So yes, as long as there are people who vote the same garbage without thinking, I am happy elsewhere. And sorry for long rant.

  7. When I was living abroad I used to get all riled up over Malaysians telling me they don’t want to come home, that there is nothing left for them in Malaysia. I used to think, “but you are bright and articulate and passionate, you can change that.” and wonder why others didn’t see it that way. Then, I thought of emigration as a cowardly and selfish act of betrayal.

    Now I feel you live and die by your own sword. I chose to return because I want to contribute to the betterment of Malaysia, that’s how I am wired. I can only wish that others would feel the likewise. Yet all the same time, I cannot blame them for wanting to leave. People should not be bound to a country just out of a sense of loyalty. If it does not provide them with the life they imagine for themselves, then they have every right to leave.

    My hope is that Malaysia will be better because of those who stayed, so that those who left can come back home.

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