50 Posts to Independence – Post #39

Thanks Jordan for tagging me as the 39th person to contribute to Nizam Bashir’s 50 Posts to Independence project. I’m going to only take one night instead of the whole week to write this, mainly because Idris is asleep, and as you yourself would know by now, I should make use of any quiet time I can get and not assume it’s going to happen again for a long while.

Here goes number 39.

And for context, read numbers [50] [49] [48] [47] [46] [45] [44] [43] [42] [41] [40].

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50 Posts to Independence – #39

After having lived my life in several countries, I can say that I’m quite an adaptable individual. I’ve learned that I can make my home anywhere I want and with enough resources, family is just a call, email, drive, or flight away. Looking at how Malaysia has gone to the dogs lately, it’s easy enough to pack my bags and leave. In fact, I already have. I’ve also done what a lot of Malaysians would categorise as one of the most unpatriotic things you can do – make my one and only son Singaporean.

This was when my Malaysian identity and my feelings about my own country truly came into question.

Over the years, I’ve always thought that patriotism has a lot to do with the future. Patriots are concerned with the future of our country, perhaps as a legacy to our children. But what happens when our future, for various pragmatic reasons, may no longer be with the country of our birth?

After Idris was born, my interest in local (Singaporean) current affairs peaked. I wasn’t concerned for myself, more for the kind of world my son will grow up in. And to me, this world was this little island down south of my homeland. I had a vested interest in their education system, tax schemes, job market, real estate market and so on because as a parent, it’s often that my conversations with Fische start with: “What will happen to Idris if [fill in the blanks]?” Further to that, I’ve wondered about what legacy would I be leaving my son, especially in a place where I am myself, a migrant?

I thought I would lose interest with what goes on back home. It’s easy enough to want to when things get more and more ridiculous and there are less things to be proud of and more to be angry about when it comes to how my own country is being (mis)managed. I realised after reading my blog archives that I am still in tune with what’s happening back home, so much so that some of my unpublished posts are what you would call angry writing. These posts say a lot about my relationship with Malaysia.

I’m angry because I care.

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To me, Malaysia is like a mother with all her glorious imperfections. She has raised me to be the person that I am today and as with any child, I get furious when I see her being taken advantage of or abused. I get angry when I know that my taxes are paying the salaries of warlords and their sycophants. I get angry when I see other Malaysians living destitute, when I know that there’s technically enough in our coffers to help them out of their situation. I get angry when I see people instigate Malaysians to fight among ourselves, when there are clearly bigger challenges to be overcome.

I get angry when I see Malaysian schools look worse than they did when I was a child. Seeing how beautiful neighbourhood schools are here in Singapore only gets me angrier. What’s so hard about making decent schools?

When I wake up in the middle of the night and get a glass of tap water to drink, I ask myself, what is so hard about getting reliable water supply to my grandmother’s house?

In the past few weeks, I’ve had to visit relatives and friends in hospitals on both sides of the causeway. Even the poorest Singaporeans here has access to decent medical care, at least decent by the standards of Malaysian government hospitals, where floors look unmopped and there’s no way I’d let Idris touch the chairs and walls and the facilities look like it belongs to a bygone era. What is so hard about keeping hospitals clean and its equipment up-to-date?

Yes, I know that whenever anyone compares anything with Singapore, we Malaysians unsheathe our keris’ and get ready for ‘battle’, but isn’t this what should happen when we leave our shores? Shouldn’t we get a little perspective and remind ourselves, and others, that Malaysia can, and should be a better place?

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The point of this rant is that I love my country. I’m proud to say that for the most part, Malaysia was a good parent. It has made me who I am. My children may not be Malaysian, but my parents, siblings, nephews and nieces, cousins, aunts and uncles so on and so forth are Malaysian. My best friends are Malaysians. Some of the most remarkable people I’ve ever known are Malaysian. And I am Malaysian. No matter where my feet take me and where I choose to build my little home and continue my bloodline, my heart belongs to Malaysia. While it’s still beating, I will get angry if someone screws with my country. Even if they too, claim to be Malaysians.

*****

Postscript

When I decided to write this post, I hadn’t read Jordan’s thoughts on the matter in full, mainly because I wanted to see how my own thoughts would flow. After I was happy with my final draft, I went back and read about his experiences. Then I went back even further and read the other posts and I saw some striking similarities. Hint: It’s not really what we wrote about, it’s how we felt when we wrote our posts. Interesting.

It was great to have been given the opportunity to participate in this project and now I’d like to pass the baton to the ever-eloquent, ever-insightful Pokku (Di Bawah Rang Ikang Kering).

31 thoughts on “50 Posts to Independence – Post #39”

  1. I think you voiced some concerns in a way I felt I couldn’t. I still wish Idris is Malaysian but tell me, was your decision to choose Singapore for him made out of worry over Malaysia’s future, or because the father insisted?

  2. Najah, your wonderful piece reflects the dismay of many Malaysians at the moment — but I think there is hope. As a state in the political sense, we may regressing, but as a people, I think we’re maturing very nicely. There is less dependence on government, we’re venturing beyond our shores, and we’re prepared to address (albeit tentatively) fundamental issues and wounds that have previously been hidden from view. Granted, it won’t be easy to break through age-old prejudices and fears; and this would be made even harder as long as there are politicians to exploit those feelings, but I am still optimistic there is going to be a better Malaysia, soon. There are thousands of thoughtful, intelligent and egalitarian Malaysians out there, and we both have met quite a few. How long can they stay quiet? How long can they stand aside and watch as the country stumbles to its doom? Something will give. We’re evolving as a nation, and we’re going through its slow and painful rebirth. We should all have a part in what emerges, eventually. Having said that, don’t feel guilty about Idris. Your roots may define who you are, but they shouldn’t confine you. Blind patriotism — the flag-waving, keris-waving, bad-behaving kind — is utterly overrated. It’s just there to give Kementerian Penerangan something to do. Besides, Singaporeans are nice, what? In the very least, they have pretty nipples.

  3. Concisely articulate as ever. :)

    I’d do the same in your circumstances.

    Because despite the inexplicable gravitation of human spirit towards concepts like patriotism, nostalgia and “we can make a difference”-ism… when the ugliness of reality actually starts to impinge on our immediate self-interest…practicality dictates that we look out for ourselves, even if it means abandoning a ship we’ve previously pledged full support to.

    As you said, it’s in how you feel inside when contemplating the issue, not in one’s actions. Kind of like religion – patriotism or an appreciation of one’s roots is a personal thing. It has to come from within.

    Mokciknab’s comment – There are thousands of thoughtful, intelligent and egalitarian Malaysians out there, and we both have met quite a few. How long can they stay quiet?

    I’d venture cynicism to say the answer is “pretty damn long”, if we’re hoping for the kind of change that comes within a generation, one that is lead by a visible, charismatic icon of the “I Have A Dream” variety.

    Like it or not, this is the age of opportunistic materialism. Rare is the luxury of pure altruistic application of the kind of thought, energy, drive and articulation that’s necessary for “making a difference” on a national or governmental level.

    I think unless the “thoughful, intelligent and egalitarian” set already have their own personal security (economic, mainly), they’re unlikely to speak out when it matters and more importantly, to walk the walk (digressing for a moment…children, there is no such thing as “walking the TALK”).

    It’s a matter of choosing your battles.

    Instead of banging one’s head against the sinking ship…I think the practical approach is to teach our young the principles of sound ship-building AND how to swim.

  4. Eliza: Idris is Singaporean because it’s the best option for him right now and in the foreseeable future. As a Singaporean born to a Malaysian mother, he still has the option to be a Malaysian when he turns 18, or something like that.

    Throughout our relationship so far, neither of us has had to ‘insist’ on anything. After listing out the merits of both nationalities, I had to concede that the list on the Malaysian side came up short and no, the availability of land etc doesn’t hold much appeal anymore when you compare it against things like personal security, education opportunities, global competitiveness so on and so forth.

    On a different note, it’s unfortunate that us middle-class Malaysians often think things are good based on what we see in KL. Malaysia is not KL, and venturing out of the city would give us a truer picture of how Malaysia has been derailed.

  5. Like you I’ve left Malaysian shores, albeit a bit further afield. And I suppose by keris wielding standards, people like us would be easily branded traitors. Who is the bigger traitor, me or the ones who usurp public wealth at the expense of schools, roads and health care in Kelantan or Kedah; perhaps history will one day judge.

    But I’ve always believed in the adage that the opposite of love is indifference, and for as long as there is emotion, be it anger or hate; even active passivity in silence as opposed to mere indifference, there is hope. Just like people show they love in different ways, people show they patriotism in different ways too.

    Now, excuse me while I go asap my keris with the lime I bought in Tesco’s last night..

  6. I can now see why Kevon Rose’s Digg is gaining popularity these days. A blogger’s entry is then dugg (blogged by others).

    Posting of this nature could have benefitted from Digg dynamic visualization features to compile comments, who dugg this?, blog this link, and e-mail this link.

    On this topic, the nation should always challenge the status quo. Days of delivering mediocre results should be over. As citizen, it is critical for us to demand for good and transparent governance of our city-state-federal administration. Detailed long term planning has to be sustainable in the long run.

    Reading the first hundred pages of The World Is Flat is already making me paranoid of Malaysia competitiveness. The new emerging powers are already awaken from their previous closed system and they are now accelerating fast. We can’t afford to be in the middle anymore!

  7. I guess there are many ways to express our feeling for our country. Anger is probably better than indifference. Blind love on the other hand, to me, is dangerous.

    I wonder though whether patriotism is over-rated. What’s the point of being proudly Malaysian and yet being an a**hole? Personally, I’d like to focus on being a good member of society, wherever I am, and hopefully, this will reflect well on Malaysia in general.

    I noticed that whenever there is a discussion on patriotism in relation to WHERE you make your home, we are quick to label and frown upon those who have left Malaysian shores. But look at India and how better it has become because of the contribution of overseas Indians.

  8. Haza: Totally agree with you. Living here (in SG) has made me see how even the so-called competitive Singaporeans are worried about their future. And yet, there are still people back home (in MY) who are squabbling over petty things. It’s getting to be very very scary.

    I don’t think the situation is hopeless, mainly because I know that there are good people who have finally resolved to fight the good fight, in politics that is. Then there’s the rest of us who are being just as patriotic by working hard, not succummbing to corruption and trying to be as upstanding a citizen as we can be.

  9. Dear Najah,

    My apologies for being rather late in joining the fray but perhaps it is still not too late to thank you for your wonderful contribution. So, thank you. :)

    As for your concerns about Malaysia, I suppose there may be concerns equally about Singapore or any other country for that matter. In that respect, you hit the proverbial nail on the head with your poser:

    “Shouldn’t we get a little perspective and remind ourselves, and others, that Malaysia can, and should be a better place?”

    I think Malaysia can and will be a better place. My only hope is that it is not my present calling in life that lends such optimism to my views on the future here. :)

  10. Hi Nizam,

    This is a great discussion you’ve started with the 50 posts to independence project.

    I’ve met very patriotic Malaysians who have had to leave for one reason and one reason only… their children’s future. One person I know left a highly respected, highly paid position to work overseas in a less challenging job for his children’s education.

    And perhaps, it’s this area that the policy makers should focus on first – fix the education system. What’s scary is what Dr Wan Azizah highlighted just a few days ago, that Malaysia’s primary school enrolment has dropped, along with those of countries like the Maldives and Palestine. I can image that the tsunami and the on-going conflict in the middle east contributing to these figures for these countries, which brings me to the question: What calamity contributed to our figures?

  11. Dear Najah,

    Just addressing the question you posed and the answer as is implicit from Dr. Wan Azizah’s open letter (See http://www.malaysiakini.com/letters/61006):

    “The policy analyst of this report, Dr Nicole Bella, stated that one of the main challenges for primary education in Malaysia was finding ways to get children from deprived families to enter and remain in school. ”

    So it seems that impecuniousity has caused that drop for primary school enrolment in Malaysia. Nevertheless, if we disregard the usual controversies about reports/statutes (the ASLI report controversy comes to mind), it is definitely something that ought to be looked into.

    Thank you for pointing Dr. Wan’s letter out by the way. I wasn’t aware of it.

  12. [Disqualifier: I have nothing against you, or what you wrote, mostly, but]

    18 years from now when your son gets conscripted into Singapore Army, then let’s see whether your decision now was correct or not, from your (a mother) point of view.

    Personally, I think it is great! To train with one of the best equipped military in the world. And get regular vacation for military training refresher courses in the jungles of Australia and Indonesia until he turns 30.

  13. [laaa tak habis lagi]

    Lee Kwan Yee did say that re-merger with Malaysia is not a choice but a must, either by force or by discussion. He did say that. He did.

    A lot of things can happen in 18 years.

    Singapore can annex Johore and Sarawak and Sabah can secede from the Federation.

  14. Hi Hansac,

    Haven’t seen you around these parts in a while.. hehe..

    Abt the NS, yes, that was taken into consideration and seeing that Idris’ dad had a whale of a time in NS, I think it’d do Idris some good. At least he won’t be so buncit before he turns 30 and I do think it builds character.

    As a mother, I know it’ll be hard, Fische’s mom told me about the first time she had to let go of her sons and I can imagine how heart-wrenching it would be.

    Fische still has reservist training and he gets to learn to use some of the best equipment there is, and at least I know that if anything were to happen, I’ve got my very own rescue team on my side. =)

  15. hey babe…if Idris does get into civil defense or infantry, i bet he won’t be buncit before 30 lah…but if he gets enlisted into the medical corp like anwar? the perut will maju ke hadapan one! the only redeeming factor would be that u’d have medical emergency personnel on hand.

    on patriotism, I have every intention to keep my loyalties where it belongs,regardless how disenchanted, disgruntled , sad or scared I am abt the current situation in Msia and no matter how suffocating the Sporean economy may seem,Aishah will be brought up to hold both Singapore and Malaysia dear in her heart, for the sake having somekind of cultural rootedness and sense of history. i feel that idris, is privileged to have a mother who is a willing citizen of the world, he will insyaAllah grow up to grab the world by the balls.No matter which part of the world he might end up in future, he’d always have Singapore and Msia in his heart.

    we’re not traitors, we’re enriching sterile singapore with a little bit of spice.

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  18. This is such a great piece of writing that should be shared to all Malaysians today.

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