Should You Emigrate – The 64,000 dollar question

Recently I received a reference to a new book written by two emigrant Malaysian brothers who have lived abroad for more than 10 years with advice for would-be emigrants. Their advice includes tips such as never taking things for granted; never to burn your bridges; to be objectively optimistic and the importance of financial freedom amongst the various freedoms.

These tips are useful in any major decision you make about life and career. In fact many “how to succeed” books – whether they deal with the stock market or changing jobs – come out with similar or variants of this advice, although the advice may be presented in different languages and with different styles.

The most important point that the book seems to emphasize is that every country has its good and bad points. This again is sensible. Every would-be emigrant – unless he or she comes from the most god-forsaken and wretched country on earth should know that the new country he or she is intending to emigrate to will not be a paradise on earth.

What the book seems to be concerned about is that many Malaysians are being driven to emigrate in the false hope that somewhere in some countries, the governments care for their people, practise freedom of speech, and promote fairness and equality.

Actually, I think few Malaysians have the expectation of a completely level playing field and fair play in Australia, New Zealand, United States, Britain or any other country that they are intending to emigrate to. I also do not believe that any departing Malaysian has an ideal picture of the host country and its various freedoms and racial policies as their main reason for emigration.

Why Malaysians are Emigrating

What is driving them – especially Malaysian Chinese and Indians, and also Malays – to emigrate is that the political and social situation in Malaysia has gone from bad to worse. They see growing ‘ketuanan Melayu’ and ‘ketuanan Islam’ intruding into their personal and public lives. They see a Barisan Nasional government which is unable to reform and increasingly giving way to Perkasa, Isma and other extremist forces in public policy making and implementation – a development which even moderate and liberal Malays cannot stomach.

Of course, they are fully aware that they are exchanging one ‘ketuanan’ for another in the countries that they are migrating to. But the important difference for many that make the hard decision to leave is that, even though the playing field may be uneven when they arrive at their new home, it will be a more even and fairer one for their children – in terms of education and jobs – even without taking into account the higher quality of life in these countries.

This then is the 64,000 dollar question which many Malaysians – especially those who have succeeded so well and are the top of their professions – face. Just on the economics of it, for these businessmen or professionals, Malaysia is a good country to live and die. Many Malaysians (I am part of this group) have done well for themselves. Despite the NEP and other forms of discrimination, we remain privileged in our economic standing.

But the younger generation face an increasingly bleak future. As the economic pie grows more slowly, the fight for good jobs, contracts, commissions and a better life is becoming fiercer.  A young graduate today without assistance from his parents will never be able to afford a decent apartment in Kuala Lumpur or Penang. A house within an hour from his place of work in the city center is a dream which can only be achieved by winning a big lottery prize.

When you combine the economic with the political, social and educational factors, then the decision on whether to emigrate or not becomes a more urgent one – even for Malaysians who have done really well in their careers here.

For them, it is the future of their kids which becomes the final push factor.

What the Government Can Do to Stem Emigration

While the decision to emigrate or stay back is an individual and personal one, the Government must realise that most Malaysians – I would say over 90 per cent – are loyal and patriotic. We know that we are living in a good and in some ways, a lucky country. The majority of Malaysian Chinese do not want to leave for a new land and to start afresh all over again. But we, and our children, must not be treated as “pendatang”.

Our contribution to the country’s prosperity and well-being must be recognised. It is an undeniable fact that all the urban towns, mega-malls, apartment buildings, amusement centers, roads, railways, ports, rubber plantations, manufacturing plants were built solely or mainly with Chinese and Indian labour and capital. The foundations of our educational system – our schools and universities – similarly owe much to non-Malay teachers. It is also an undeniable fact that modern Malaysia and its amenities and standard of living – what Perkasa and Malay and Islamic supremacist groups take for granted – will not exist without the Chinese and Indian contribution.

It is not only on the economic side that we have contributed. Our contributions have also been in art, culture, architecture and social. Just think of how much Malay food has borrowed from, and has been enriched by the Chinese and Indian communities – even right down to the language – taugeh, bihun, kuetiao, pohpiah, sotong, lobak, chapchai, tauhu, chapati, roti canai, mee mamak, thosai, sambal, nasi biryani, etc.

Do Not Kill the Goose that Lays the Golden Egg

Our talent and abilities must be given equal opportunity so that we can contribute to a more prosperous and greater Malaysia. Our young people must not be driven to feel they have an inferior place in this country.

The Malay ultras and those in UMNO must come to their senses regarding the place of the Chinese in Malaysia. Malays may have control over all the major sectors of the country – political, social, cultural, educational, and a large part of the economy through the GLCs and new Malay business elite. But it is the non-Malay component that created the old wealth. It is also the non-Malays that can provide much of the driving force and dynamism that enables new wealth to be created and shared with the less productive and needy.

Don’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg for Malays and Malaysia is my advice to them.

Finally to those facing the dilemma of emigration, I wish to point out that the Pakatan Rakyat manifesto during the last elections acknowledges the need for reforms to dismantle the racially discriminatory policies put in place by the Barisan Nasional. Since the opposition coalition won more than 50 per cent of the popular vote, there is hope still for a fairer society to emerge.

Koon Yew Yin

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