The grass might not be greener for you

Coats of arms of Malaysia
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“Shouldn’t I go, too?” That’s the question I get asked by youngsters who watch their peers migrate overseas.

Even Patrick Teoh, stalwart of the arts scene, is contemplating just leaving the country.

If you are eligible to migrate, the reasoning goes, then pack your bags and leave.

Give up on Malaysia. Don’t put up with the corruption, our politicians’ collective stupidity, race-based policies and uncertain economic future.

For me, migration is frankly not an option.

I’m poor, from a broken lower middle class family, with qualifications from a lowly local university and am not particularly talented. I have to stay because I have no other options.

But what about those who do? Is it worth staying around? Or should they just fly?

1. If you are a doctor, engineer, scientist or academician, perhaps you will be better off overseas. The pay is better, you will have a better quality of life and you won’t have to put up with the BS you get here.

2. If you don’t have a professional qualification or are in the creative line, I will be honest: quality of life will be better but career opportunities? Not so.

I meet the occasional deluded artist who thinks that once they go to the US/UK/etc, their talent will be recognised and stardom is within reach.

Look at yourself in the mirror. In predominantly Caucasian countries, Asian minorities find it particularly challenging to get roles and not get typecast.

Most actors or creatives struggle to get a break and find themselves competing with tens of thousands of hopefuls.

In Malaysia it’s hard to make a living. Most creatives juggle day jobs and moonlight just to stay afloat. We have a smaller market and the pay overall is pathetic.

But if you want to be a writer or a journalist, Malaysia might possibly be the best place for you to start. Overseas, the competition is pretty fierce just to get a journalism internship while here, all you have to do is call HR.

But if you try to get an entry-level job overseas, best of luck. Expect years of unemployment especially as even locals struggle to break into journalism.

I know people who’ve struggled overseas trying to get a foothold but they were in the wrong fields. Fields already saturated with locals and where foreign citizenship was a disadvantage and not an asset.

As I tell those frustrated with the pace of change in this country, I tell you honestly that the change you wish might not happen in your time. Whatever we fight for and espouse today might only come to fruition when our grandchildren are having babies.

Our country is young and despite everything has a lot of potential. We have to acknowledge what has changed: we have access to more sources for news. We have the Internet. We are no longer as beholden to the government as we used to be.

Every little bit we can do to make this country better counts. Write letters. Organise campaigns. Write. Create. Do and be what you are.

I have neither money nor clout but what I can give my country is the effort to educate and enlighten. My gifts are minuscule but in the long run I hope my words matter.

Even with the corruption, bad governance, stupid people I meet…this is home.

For better or for worse.

(For thoughts on Sept 16, read my older piece in Malaysiakini:

For better or worse, Happy Birthday Malaysia

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4 thoughts on “The grass might not be greener for you

  1. Nice piece! I agree, what ever BS..this is home and its not like other countries dont have BS anyway.

    I suppose one needs to gather as much information about their options and decide on their own of whats best for em

  2. Love your exposition. There is no place like home and I miss it dearly. Forget western countries… Indonesia itself cannot compare itself to Malaysia in terms of culture and lifestyle.

    I miss my 24 hour mamak’s, the fact you don’t really have to dress up like as if you were going to a party just to go to the mall! I miss the fact that everybody speaks English…etc.

    Though Indonesia might have its fair share of positive points or immense beauty… home is where the heart is…

  3. Nicholas.C

    Actually… While it may be the case for actors, there are many opportunities for creatives. Want proof? Just hang around after a movie and notice the number of Asian names on the credit roll increase day by day…

    Heck, a guy i know is now a photog with the NYT, despite being qualified as an engineer.

    That said tho, i do so very much agree that this is OUR country, our home and if we who know better don’t fight for it, who will?

  4. Vic

    Wonderful articles Erna! Particularly like your piece on English proficiency in the Malaysian insider recently. As someone on the other side of the fence, I find myself gravitating to online news portals everyday even though I am thousands of miles away. I keep in touch with what’s happening at ‘home’ and natter to myself at how Malaysia getting more racially polarised and hence going to the dogs. But it’s MY ‘racially-polarised-increasingly-absurd’ country and I still care deeply for it. Your article hits home for me. It reminds me that in my journey for greener pastures, home will always be home and no amount of money or quality of life can replace the yearning for it. Keep writing Erna…you are doing a great job of it!

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