"You know Fikri," said my friend's father, as he puffed away on his cigar, "when you go to Korea, just go and stay there. Don't come back here. Just stay there. This country is messed up lah."
A moment's silence, then he turned towards his son. "And you, when you go to Australia, don't come back here. Just make it over there. Leave the old people like me here."
What you have just witnessed, ladies and gentleman, is a conversation that is becoming more and more common. The next generation, in a plan hatched and executed by their elders, are to be dispatched overseas, in search of a better life for themselves and their future kinsmen.
Why is this becoming the case? There are different reasons for different people. Ask a Chinese in Malaysia, and they'll state the fact that they are discriminated against, constitutionally, in this country. That policies and monies favour those whose skin is of a darker patch (though not too dark), namely, the Malays. Never mind the fact that economically speaking, they have many fingers in a lot more pies than they are actually aware of; it's the pies that they don't have that irks them.
Ask the Indians, and they'll say that they're in the same boat as the Chinese. Except that they don't have as many fingers in as many pies; rather, they're stuck as providers for the community. Providers of roti canai and naan tandoori, that is.
And the Malays? The supposed beneficiaries of the aforementioned policies and laws? Well, to put it bluntly, we're pissed with the corruption, lies and blatant spin that we see every single day of our lives. Never mind that we are the majority of the government itself, making up the backbone of parliament, the army and the police force, amongst others; no siree, we're a righteous group, and we demand righteousness to prevail!
And let's not even get started on the lain lain. They might have been here before us, but who gives a shit if a few villages gets trampled over; we need to build that damn dam, dammit!
Of course, the above are highly stereotypical points of view, depending on who you are and where your position within society is. They are not necessarily my own, but this is the discontent that I am trying to point out: that within each and every strata, someone, somewhere, somehow...is unhappy with this country, and how it's run.
So much so that the export of talent to other countries will happen at a much faster rate in the coming generation. How much faster? Personally, I don't know. The numbers are not always available, but with this issue at least, like a seasoned farmer expecting the coming rain, I can feel it in my bones.
Education, for example, is the most common route to escape. A lot of my friends would spend a year or two here, and then finish off their studies in Australia, lengthening it just enough so as to be eligible for a PR status. This makes it easier to live and work in the country, which brings about economical benefits as well. Let's face it: the Malaysian ringgit isn't exactly the strongest around. Waitressing in England brings in about RM7,000 per month.
So you do the math. It's politically, socially, economically attractive to join the brain drain.
Of course, this depends on whether you're good enough not only to get there, but to stay there. Furthermore, you will also need the fabulous moolah, and lots of it: getting abroad is the desire of many, but the reality of few.
Is it my desire? Certainly, it is an attractive proposition, but my desire are far more personal. I want to be a filmmaker, and I have a scholarship to go abroad. Simple as that. I believe that this is something that will make be a better filmmaker.
But once I'm there, will I stay there?
That is the trickier proposition. I certainly believe that I can. I'm not good...yet. But I will be. Perhaps I'll be able to get a job there. Hell, maybe I can even continue to my doctorate and finish it all there.
As of late, however, I have been burned by this desire to change this country. There's a lot of things that is wrong with it, but there's also a lot of things that is right. There's a lot that has to be done, but once we're on track, I truly believe that Malaysia can get right up there with the very best (and trump Singapore while we're at it).
What will I do to change this nation? Quite frankly, I don't know. Haven't a single clue as yet. Nada. For now.
But I know what I want. Running away, living abroad, making my money, fucking a Westerner so that our kids will become beautiful Channel V VJs is not on my agenda. It's all fine and well, but it is also the coward's way out.
And a coward I am not.