Brain drain is colour blind




Thursday, 20 December 2007, 09:02am

©The Star (Used by permission)
A Writer's Life by Dina Zaman

Many have done very well on their own soil, but from where I sit and work, and being a friend and ears to a number of people, there must be a better way to make a living. 

WHAT a December. In the first week itself, there were a few heartbreaks: divorces, a break-up, a family friend getting a stroke, and lastly, my sister and her family leaving for a better future in Singapore, and hopefully in the future, elsewhere. 

I don¡¯t even know where to begin; all I can say is that our home is much quieter in the evenings and nights without my nephew and niece. No more fighting over Astro, no more chasing them out of my room and catching Layla playing with my make-up. The apartment feels so empty. 

Like a number of my cousins and friends, my sister and her husband have opted to work and live overseas.  

They believe life is much better abroad. The professional is compensated for his due diligence through meritocracy, and the children are exposed to different cultures and an education that challenges their intellect and artistic bent.  

My sister is going nuts, of course, because there¡¯s no domestic help. But for her the sacrifices are worth it.  

In fact, my mother once said that it¡¯s better for married couples to live out of Malaysia; marriages back home are so screwed up. When you¡¯re in a foreign country, you work harder at a marriage. 

There were a few snide remarks from acquaintances when they heard of the move. One asked me whose strings did they pull to get a job there?  

I snapped back, ¡°this is Singapore, you need the smarts to work there.¡± Even more so if you¡¯re a foreigner. Unfortunately, this condescending git went on and on about how we should not forsake the motherland.  

I also received an e-mail from a cousin who¡¯s living with her family in Europe. She¡¯s so much happier there now, and her relationship with her husband is stronger.  

¡°True, Kak Dina, our friends in KL are millionaires now, and we¡¯re struggling in a new land. But there¡¯s something sick about KL. The people, the way we live, it¡¯s not a place to bring up a family,¡± she wrote.  

¡°Anyway, Kak Dina, Islam is a portable religion. You can practise it anywhere, you can pray anywhere, and there are many Muslims here! Jom lah, Kak D, duduk lah sini. You¡¯ll love it here. Bookshops? museums?¡± 

Are they the atypical Malaysians, so westernised that they cannot live and breathe in their own country? 

No. My friends and relatives are just your normal Malaysians who love their mamak food, pasar malam; and when they lived here, led typical Malaysian lives. Sundays with the kids and church for my Christian friends, kelas ngaji and futsal for my Malay friends and cousins.  

They were holding good jobs, too. They had a house, one or two cars... 

They left because they believed that living and working abroad would afford them and their families a better future.  

They knew they would be in for a few cultural challenges, working with Mat Sallehs, Arabs, Singaporeans, but they also felt the international exposure would be excellent for them.  

Schools are increasingly more international in their approach: my nephew will be able to go for his Islamic classes as well as martial arts and swimming classes. 

Another pull-factor. A very successful friend who¡¯s based abroad once told me: ¡°I live in Malaysia you think I¡¯ll have all this? I could, but I¡¯d have to brownnose everyone.  

¡°I don¡¯t belong to an old boys network and I don¡¯t golf. I got to where I am because of what I can do and deliver.¡±  

A shrewd investor, he is now leading that very life many aspire to, and he has done so on his own terms. 

One of my Chinese friends was stunned to hear this. ¡°You mean you Malays also go through the same thing as us Nons ah?¡± 

¡°Hah? Apa itu ¡®Non¡¯?¡± I asked. 

¡°Non-bumi lah, dol.¡± 

¡°Of course lah!¡± 

¡°Choy, choy, choy. If you guys feel that way, what about us?¡± 

This brain-drain, Malaysians leaving for a better future abroad, is not confined to a particular race.  

I¡¯m not denying the fact that many have done very well on their own soil, in their own country, which is Malaysia, but from where I sit and work, and being a friend and ears to a number of people, there must be a better way to make a living, and to live.  

If it means uprooting, then so be it. One must be practical. Sentimentality only works in fiction. 

The writer would like to wish all Malaysians happy holidays and a Happy New Year.