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Why I had to leave Malaysia

London Lookout
“Lima tiga pound,” says the souvenir vendor in busy Oxford Street London. That many Malaysians throng to England’s capital.

The bargain hunters are mainly tourists travelling in groups or two in one holiday makers who’ve either just settled or visited their children studying here.

You can clearly tell them apart from the upper crusts…and the newly minted Malaysian elites who waltz into the city. The upper crusts, including seasoned business classes, will not be posing in front Selfridges or Harrods for ‘say cheese’ pictures. That’s reserved for the majority of the citizenry…as well as benefactors of ill-gotten wealth who simply cannot hide their simple natures, even in their posh new lifestyles.

Then there’s the section of Malaysians who have made Britain their adopted home. They watch. They feel. And they still talk about ‘back home’. Home is still Malaysia, even for those forced into giving up their citizenship.

Raven, in his 40’s now, came to England to study while in his 20’s, met a beautiful French lady and eventually married her in 1997. Thankfully, his wife Phillipa liked Malaysia and was agreeable to settling down in her husband’s birthplace. As the first born son with filial obligations Raven couldn’t be happier and he quickly got a lecturing job in KL.

Six years and two children later Phillipa was still with her social visa, which meant annual renewal and no right to work to support her husband. Besides being a trained accountant she was also a qualified French teacher…both skills she was eager to use but vehemently being denied by her host country.

As for her PR application, which she was eligible for after five years, the response was always the same…‘there’s a long wait…. more than 20,000 people waiting, this could take 20 years’.

Today, sitting in the cosy lounge of his own three-bed flat in south London, Raven laughs as he remembers. “How can I forget those days lah? It was always ‘ini susah ni, ada banyak fail encik’. And then the most frustrating thing is when you see obviously Indonesian looking people excitedly showing off their new ICs! Ask them how long they’ve been in the country and they tell you a year and a half!”

There was of course the ‘friendlier’ means of getting things done but the young couple could not afford ‘that way’, and neither would their conscience allow for it.

So Raven and Phillipa chose conscience over corruption and decided to give the system more time. After putting up with it unsuccessfully for another two years, the panic button began to flash as the children were ready for formal education.

Worrying education system
The heavily polarized Malaysian education system worried them-as it did all young non-Malay Malaysian families. There were too many stories from family and friends of their sad experiences with national schools.

“I knew myself how things had changed in the school my brothers and I attended-even in a former mission school. As non Malays, the options were only two-put your children in a Chinese school or be prepared to burn a hole in your pocket for private education. With me being the sole bread winner on a lecturer’s salary, the situation was very, very worrying,” says Raven.

Raven also couldn’t answer his wife’s questions about knowingly raising their children in an environment where the playing field will never be equal. No amount of ‘think about the lovely weather, wonderful food, low cost of living, holidays’ would assuage her anymore. Besides, his own voice was beginning to ring hollow to himself.

As an accountant he did what comes naturally-calculation. The cost of putting two children through private education in Malaysia and then sending them abroad for higher education was staggering. The couple started to look at the only other option in hand.

In 2003 Raven got himself a lecturing job in a college in London. For 15 months he lived alone, away from his family as he couldn’t afford to bring them with him. His hard work paid off and in early 2005 Phillipa and the two children joined Raven in England.

The children went to local government schools where both became high achievers within four years and were selected for entry into elite grammar schools. “I saved them the heart-break of seeing less qualified bumi students going off to elite boarding schools, didn’t I?” Raven asks and I can only smile sheepishly.

Phillipa taught French in various institutions and is now happily settled as a housewife since her son and daughter are in their early teens, already aiming for grades that will get them into universities of their choice.
“It broke my heart to fill up the Borang K to give up my Malaysian citizenship. My head was spinning….and ok lah I admit I cried a bit. My whole family, friends that I grew up with, all my wonderful memories-I didn’t want to leave all that, but what choice did I have? Looking at the progress my kids have made in this country I know from every nerve in my body that they would not have stood the same chance in Malaysia.”

I know I can’t argue with Raven. I try another approach-isn’t there racism in England, and how can you bear this balmy weather all the time!?

“Do you really think today’s Malaysians can dare question any other country about racism? Look at your civil service as well as your private sector. And surely you can’t tell me you haven’t heard about the children that were forced to eat in the ‘shower area’? The day that story broke out my daughter gave me a hug and said ‘thank you dad’.”

“Of course I miss my roti canai, teh tarik and char kuey teow,” Raven concludes broodingly, yet he leaves me wondering how long more Malaysia as a nation can survive on the good food, great weather and lovely people slogan.
Malaysia Truly Asia…what about Malaysia being TRULY Malaysia first?

“Watch it with what you write there….you might be the next one asked to ‘leave the country if you are not happy’,” warns the former Malaysian.

The writer is doing a course with a leading newspaper in the British capital and seizes the opportunity to ‘lepak’ and lookout for all things us in this new column called ‘London Lookout’.

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