Monday, May 30, 2005

A very frightened Malaysian abroad

In the latest blog from Jeff Ooi at Screenshots, an email from "a very frightened Malaysian knowledge worker", who is an Oxford and Harvard alumnus currently drawing US$22,000 monthly salary working overseas was highlighted. He longs to return home but hesitates and lingers on abroad.

The email (must read!) which was described as his "sad tale – of a young Malaysian full of hope and patriotic enthusiasm, which is slowly but surely trickling away." It's a touching tale, but I certainly wouldn't classify his case as a "sad tale" though - many would willingly swap their own "sad tales" for his any time! :)

In his email, he has emphasised his patriotism to country by often rejecting overtures from the Singaporean government through its scholarships as well as well-paying job positions through its private and public sectors.

I have been asked many times by Singaporean government agencies to join them on very lucrative terms, but I have always refused due to my inherent patriotism.
He reminiscences about the "good old days" of the Malaysian education system where he received his primary and secondary education from the national-type schools.

My parents insisted that I should be exposed to a multi-racial education in a national school. In my time, my urban national school (a missionary school) was a truly happy place – where the Malays, Chinese and Indian students were roughly equal in proportion. We played and laughed with each other...
However, in recent years (months), news from home while he has been working in the United States have been unfortunately, "distressing". He has read many happenings which were very negative in its portrayal of the Malaysian education system. His long long list of disgruntlement, has included:

I read about the annual fiasco involving non-bumiputera top scorers who are denied entry to critical courses at local universities ...

I read about UMNO Youth attacking the so-called meritocracy system because there are less than 60% of Malay students in law and pharmacy...

I read about the Higher Education Minister promising that non-bumiputera Malaysians will never ever step foot into UiTM. [Tony P: This, I think, is actually a good thing! Definitely not one of the better local universities :)]

I read that at our local universities, not a single Vice-Chancellor or Deputy Vice-Chancellor is non-Malay.

I read that in the government, not a single Secretary-General of any ministry is non-Malay. The same goes for all government agencies like the police, armed forces, etc.

I read about my beloved national schools becoming more and more Islamic by the day, enforced by overzealous principals.

All the above, and those which I have not quoted are very valid issues. However, some of these issues are not new issues. In fact, some of these issues are the same issues facing the Malaysian education system some 25 years ago, while both of us were in primary and secondary schools.

Hence my case and challenge to the "frightened" Malaysian abroad:

  1. The concept of "patriotism" does not include "bailing out" when things in the home country are not as rosy as it could be. I can understand the many people who have migrated and obtain other citizenship in the interest of their economic well-being as well as their "future" generation, and I completely respect their decisions. However, if you are "patriotic" as you claim to be, then come home and help make Malaysia a better place for all of us, including your future generations.

  2. From the long list of disgruntlement - there's plenty to be unhappy about and there's plenty of work to do to make things better. However, I don't think there's plenty to be "frightened" about. Both my wife and myself graduated from the same university are happily married and settled in Kuala Lumpur with a new 5-month old baby. Are we frustrated with the Malaysian system? Sure, we are sometimes. (Even Singaporeans are with their own government) But are we frightened for ourselves, for our kid? No way! (Or we could well be Singapore citizens by now! :))

  3. Make no mistake, "frightened" has done extremely well for himself and I'm proud that a Malaysian has achieved so much in such a short span of time. He makes a month pays for 25 (40%) of my staff salaries - its no mean feat even if he's paid out of the United States.

  4. Which brings me to my next point - "frightened" has done extremely well, and as he has admitted:

    Till this day, I am absolutely certain that it was the kindness of all my Malay teachers which made me a true Malaysian...

    I really want to return home. I have been told by government-linked corporations and private companies in Malaysia that at best, I would still have to take a 70% pay cut if I return to Malaysia to work. I am prepared and willing to accept that. My country has done a lot for me, so I should not complain about money.
    As a true Malaysian, who have received much and benefited from the kindness of our society, "frightened" should come home and play a part to ensure that our future generations could receive the same opportunities and kindness which you have experienced. The fact that you have in a simple email listed so eloquently the problems and issues faced by the Malaysian education and administration system, makes the need for "frightened" to return all the more imperative.

So, in short, I can only say to my fellow alumnus - Don't be frightened, come home. You will not be as rich as you could be if you were to remain in the United States, but your pay at home will still rate among the top 5% in Malaysia (despite the "pay-cut") and you will still enjoy many of life's little luxuries. By returning, you can play an active part in helping make Malaysia a much better place for our future descendants - making you a "true blue Malaysian" repaying the kindness you have experienced. I can only add that while one person may not move the world, every other person working together towards the same objectives will help make the goals more achievable.


Danny said...

A very good blog though is your content going to be about the educationin Malaysia in general or are you going to concentrate on a niche category where by it could involve the young people in secondary who might later find solutions to their problems here. :)


Anonymous said...

I personally think the very frightened Malaysian should just stay overseas, work there, enjoy life fully there and collect his US 22,000 monthly.

Think man. US$ 22,000 a month. Thats a cool RM 1 million over a year. Multiply by say 35 years working life you get alot of moolas by the time your hair turns white, if u still have hairs man.

And with all that cash, you could just fly home for the weekend if you miss your koaytiaw, roti canai or whatever and still have plenty left over.

Believe me once you are here you just can't wait to get back home wherever you may be. So don't get sentimental, nostalgic....just get real man. Comprende?

clk said...

What is the role of a university? I recently interviewed candidates(local graduates mostly) many who speaks about the failure of their unis or colleges to prepare them for work as one of their shortcoming.

I find this very disturbing and certainly points to the failure of our education system to prepare people not so much for work but to THINK and use their brains!

Mabel said...

You have interesting points but any suggestions for 'frightened' on how he could possibly help M'sia develop?

I'm in the education sector here and I came back from Australia (as a postgrad) with dreams of helping M'sia to grow. Nearly two years later, I have yet to make a difference, I'm getting older and with more to think of in terms of my own stability and future.

Frankly, I don't think we should measure patrotism by the amount we contribute to our nation. It is after all, a subjective term and one can still be patriotic without lifting a finger to do anything.

The reality is this: some people will also weigh the pros and cons (not go with 'patriotism' blindly) FIRST before making any decision.

At the end of the day, what is a country? What is a nation? You can still 'do your country proud' by being a good and upstanding citizen wherever you are. After all, our students, our workers, people who fly abroad introduce themselves as "M'sians". Don't they represent us?

Also, what about the knowledge-workers who are already here but struggling with the politics, with the discrimination, with the inequality, with the lack of funds? Why are we paying more to people who have settled overseas when we should pay equal attention to the ones who have not left at all?

Mabel said...

Cik: One should not point the responsibility to the education industry alone but to everyone else. We are all educators - we teach, we impart our values onto people without knowing it. Parent to child, peer to peer, boss to employee - we all teach each other a little something about the world.

If the child DOES NOT want to learn, then what can true blue educators who are all about 'creative thinking' do? I have been trying to get my students to think outside the box, be interested to know more but all they see in a degree is the fact that they can get a job with it. Full stop.

The problem lies with the culture of education itself and how parents push the idea of knowledge onto their children.

Anonymous said...

A very poignant email indeed. What a big decision to make. I suggest..if in doubt..make do with Karam Singh Walia's version of a malay proverb .. "Hujan emas di negeri orang, hujan batu di negeri sendiri, maka lebih baiklah hari tak hujan" ???

clk said...

the scarfer said...
Cik: One should not point the responsibility to the education industry alone but to everyone else. We are all educators - we teach, we impart our values onto people without knowing it. Parent to child, peer to peer, boss to employee - we all teach each other a little something about the world.

I totally agree with your comments and never in my comment did I specifically restrict education system to the "formalised" education system as we know it. Education is a long-life process with no end in sight. It goes on forever. In M'sia though we see people stop educating themselves the day they rec'd their scroll.

When I completed my post-grad studies with the OU in the UK and attended the graduation last year, I could see how they really appreciate and encourage life-long learning. We have students who are grandpas/grandmas acknowledging their diplomas/ degrees and stand tall amongst their other fellow students proudly. This is the type of life-long learning culture we must inculcate. It does not matter whether your discipline is relevant to the market or not. It's also not about getting a degree but acquiring knowledge that ultimately matters.

Weihan Goh said...

Frightened put his piece in a way which make him seem as though he wants to come back to Malaysia, yet doesn't want to because of certain reasons. If he is indeed patriotic, come back and change the situation from within. Don't just give reasons into why it isn't 'safe' to come home. His words make him seem as though he wants to do something, but do not want to get out of his comfort zone and step into deeper waters.

Anonymous said...

$22,000 US per month? You have any idea how much money is that? An engineer who just graduated and start working would average about $50,000 per year and a PhD holder starts with $70k to $80k per year. That is about $4k to $6k per month.
If he wants to help, the best way, monetary funds. I would think that is one of the best way to contribute. Or start a trust fund program for education, or what not. I am sure some of the poor school would really appreciate it if you are willing to donate some money.

Anonymous said...

$22,000 US per month? You have any idea how much money is that? An engineer who just graduated and start working would average about $50,000 per year and a PhD holder starts with $70k to $80k per year. That is about $4k to $6k per month.
If he wants to help, the best way, monetary funds. I would think that is one of the best way to contribute. Or start a trust fund program for education, or what not. I am sure some of the poor school would really appreciate it if you are willing to donate some money.

Anonymous said...

Serve your country we MALAYSIANS need you ,things can change , people can change , thinking can change , ideology can change , leaders can be changed . Any uneducated person can become rich in Malaysia , Education like yours can be used to change society to make it more fair and equitable . Its not what you are but what you become after your education

Anonymous said...

it was pretty awesome.

Anonymous said...

wow you people here are excellent at pointing fingers at others to cover up your own faults. First of all, lets talk about the amount of money spent to pay for our tuition fees abroad. This money did not fall from the sky. Our parents worked hard for it. I have worked for 9 years in Malaysia and after deducting my daily expenses i have barely made back 20% of the tuition fees spent overseas. If this continues, it just means that i have to spend the rest of my life working here just to earn the remaining 80% of my tuition fees? Secondly, your call for overseas graduates to return with thier knowledge is apparently contradictory. Why? Because here u are saying that local Malaysian graduates are better than some of the overseas university grads, so since the local graduates are better, why bother asking overseas graduates to return? Point number three, knowledge without power is useless. You want your overseas graduates to make Malaysia better, but are you giving them political power to implement this knowledge? From my personal experience, overseas graduates are treated more like 'outsiders' by the local community. Point number four, you are putting ALL the blame on overseas graduates for the bad situation Malaysia is in when all those who are in power to make decisions in Malaysia are local graduates! Point number five, before u start questioning about patriotism how patriotic are you? Are you willing to spend the rest of your life earning enough money for daily expenses and recovering the tuition fees at the local universities? I ask you this question: If the Malaysian government agrees to pay for ALL your food and lodging in this country will you be willing to work for free? If u cannot accept this, then you are in NO position to question our patriotism. You are not qualified to make any statements about our patriotism. And by making all these unqualified accusations the locals here are angered when they see overseas graduates, so what makes you think your plan will work?

Anonymous said...

I would like to add further about the selfish and disgraceful methods used by the locals here to garner knowledge from overseas graduates who return. What did these locals do? They squeeze every ounce of knowledge from these overseas graduates and once they have learnt "everything" they will use this knowledge for themselves to secure a higher salary/position and 'dispose' of these overseas gradutes who have helped them achieve such knowledge. Well congratulations on trying to outsmart someone who is smarter than you. Hahahaha. They thought they learnt 'everything'. Hahahaha

Anonymous said...

From the response i see on the streets tonight, the people here basically unable to handle open-criticism. What is written above is just a mini example of open-criticism. Open-criticism is what ALL developed countries face. If you cannot even handle this miniscule criticism, how are you going to handle 2020? Developed countries face open-criticism problems 10 times more severe than that shown above! You have not even begun to realise the amount of pressure the school children in Japan face that drives them to committing suicide. Japan is a developed country, and thats the status Malaysia is aiming to achieve in 2020. Do you realise that in Korea the people are trained from a young age to sleep only 4 hours every night? That is how the Koreans become the diligent and hard-working people that they are today. The government should instead sit down and think of a workable solution that is fair to everybody and solve the problem! Hooliganism will not alleviate this pressure and solve the problem. Hooliganism will only amplify the pressure and propagate hatred into society. The government shouldn't have just diverted the problem to yet another group of people. The people must learn how to understand, alleviate and handle pressure and u have to solve this quickly. Suppression, diversion and brute force will NOT solve this problem. The government must make the people understand the pressure that they will face in becoming a developed country and help them prepare and show them ways of how to alleviate and handle pressure properly. The superiors in a company are just going to follow the diversion method shown by the government and apply it to thier staff. So at the end of the day the workers at the bottom are the ones that have to absorb all this pressure without knowing how to alleviate or solve this problem. This is a sample of globalization. This is the training that the country has to undergo to achieve developed status. And i can guarantee you this training will get harder and harder. Nothing is free in this world, if you refuse to work, learn and improve knowledge yourself, nobody can help you. In globalization nobody is going to help you solve your problems, you have to solve it yourselves. This lesson is free of charge. I do not have time to train you further because i have my own living to earn.

Anonymous said...

I would also like to add further that "losing-face" is NOT an issue in developed countries. Developed countries do not care about losing face, they care about how to exceed others in the quality of thier products and thier services and win over other competitive developed countries. Take Bill Gates for example. Have u seen the photograph where Bill Gates had a fresh cream pie thrown right into his face in front of the media? He loses face, but so what? He is still the most successful man on the planet and thats what matters. Losing face is nothing in a developed country, DEAL WITH IT.

Anonymous said...

oh yeah i forgot to ask. Now that you know i'm capable of managing the country, what do you think my salary should be if i work at your local company?

Anonymous said...

I would like to know which job actually pays US 22,000 a month! That is EXTREMELY high!

Anonymous said...

Our Malaysia country is facing brain drain issues and we are not trying our very best to tackle this issue. So many smart talents have emigrated because of the non-appreciation by certain quarters. Not to mention anybody but you can see it yourself. It is a real shame to you, Malaysia!

Other first class mentality governments (i.e. US, UK, Singapore, and other EU countries) are extremely busy with their brain gain programme by encouraging highly-skilled workers to migrate to their countries and these people are given the permanent resident status.

I always question myself this statement "I love you (Malaysia), but do you (Malaysia) love me"! In future, we won't be talking about underdeveloped-developing-developed country but smart-smarter-smartest country.

If you are sticking to current bias and non-appreciation policy then you will always breed third class mentality even though you have first class infrastructure. I hope the current government can think well and act accordingly to correct the current situations. I can only wish!

It is quite sad to see so many good lecturers leaving UM. Not only non-malays, even good malay lecturers are leaving. Many good lecturers in their retiring age want to continue their contract. However there seems to be few factions in the university that wants to get rid of them and place their won people inside.

What is worse is that this bunch of people, i.e. lecturers included those in administrative department, i.e. bursary department etc, think that UM good reputation was their effort and would not shamelessly think that they are above everything else and treat students badly.

UM is an extension of Umno. Its role is to project malay dominance. We can say whatever we want here but I can assure you UM will never change for the better. To do so would mean undermining malay superiority and upgrading non-malay role.

Overall, UM reputation is receding, good private universities such as MMU, Monash University and Utar are emerging as the premier universities in Malaysia, but then again, it would be very difficult for the staff in these universities to obtain grants for their research, because of their non-malay or foreigner status.

Such is the reality of our Malaysia system. To satisfy the NEP at all costs, even to the extent of ruining the future of our next generation.

The malay agenda says "Good riddance" and welcome Muslims from Cambodia, Arab, and all over the world. Goodbye and don't come back.

Anonymous said...

Is this an issue of opportunity or mercenary? Let me introduce myself. Being a recent graduate from a private university here and got a job at a bank or a good company, sounds like a route of a typical young Malaysian. But my voracious appetite contributed by different factors to pursue my post-grad soon in US is greater than ever. Indeed, I would resolute to work in US after my post-grad simply because after been working for a while now, an empirical thought of working culture here is not that opportune after all. Talking about KPI or such, it's after all a Western method with an Eastern mind, or more precisely "Malaysian mind".
Another issue about management in Malaysia, there happened to be several cases where some 'Big National' company would rather hire a foreigner(whites) than any Non-Malay to head the GLC after some mass losses made by the incumbent management. Does that draw the line clean enough? Certainly the country has a clear vision but not the mindset. And personally I don;t see it go any better in future because ,anyone might say i made up my own conclusion, even in the pre-tertiary schools some race bias was made so obvious towards non-Malay students especially non-academically. Future... who's ameliorating and who's hindering it.

Anonymous said...


22K USD is not a lot of money out there.

I graduated from UM in May, 2006 with an engineering degree and currently drawing USD 7k a month working in an International oil service company.

If a fresh grad can get $7k, an experienced guy with that kind of credentials can definately get USD 22K/month.

There is one thing that i would like to share with you guys here. After spending some time working abroad, i notice that Malaysian education system is definately "different" compared to other countries.

Case in point, in Australia, 7 year olds are asked to design their own city and conduct presentations on the rationale behind their designs.

Question: What do we make our 7 year olds do in Malaysian schools? Do you think the students in our universities have enough maturity and critical thinking skills to do that? Spend a year in our local universities and you will realise that the answer is sadly NO for most students!!.

Another case: In US, 14 year olds are required to write a 12 page report on "How does the current fiscal policy of China affects our currency".

Question: What do we make our 14 year olds do in Malaysian schools?

Think about that!!

Anonymous said...

I cannot believe that frightened earns US$22,000 monthly. It is unbelievable.. Ivy Cartel faculty members don't even make more than $130,000 annually.. Why should frightened think about the discrimination in Malaysia? How about the discrimination in US?
I am a Malaysian educated, married and living in the States. Having lived here for more than 20 years, I am treated worst than a third class citizen. Look, I have credentials for teaching. The all black administrators got rid of me because of my skin color. They threw me out of my job. Why is frightened having a phobia of returning home?
I really dislike living in the States. There is no truth that the quality of life is better. No, look at the song and dance people around you. I think whites and blacks are hypocrites.
To me Malaysia may not be heaven, but we were raised there. How can we despise our own tanahair?? I still believe that you have to accept your homeland and be contented. I wish I can jump back to Malaysia. That will be my greatest joy... I cannot be bothered with the racial problems at home. I have gone through extreme racism here in the States. I just want to leave this country...

Anonymous said...

mr frightened ...

its okla, we can manage over here. we are happy for you and proud that one of us could make it to the top level at US . a level where a normal US ctiizen hardly can achieve.

Dont listen to Tony to be back here. be happy, and try to achieve more .. and certainly we can manage without you

Anonymous said...

A US$22K/month pre-tax salary in the US is quite possible. In fact I make a similar amount in Singapore, if you adjust for the fact that such a salary in the US would incur a 45% tax rate while Singapore only has a 20% top tax rate. In other words, my net or post-tax salary in Singapore is more than equivalent to the post-tax salary of US$12K (55% of US$22K).

What kind of jobs pay such a salary? Very simple. A fresh top MBA (ie Harvard, Wharton, LBS etc) grad working in New York (or Singapore/HK for that matter) can expect a base salary of about US120K a year at a global investment bank, plus a bonus close to 100% of the base salary. That would give you a total pre-tax salary package of US$240K a year. Divide 240 by 12 gives you $20K/month before taxes.

After 5-10 years, assuming you are still in the industry, you can be looking at a total salary package of over US$1 million a year. Of course, nothing is free in this world, and an investment job at a top bank/fund comes with a lot of stress and risk. But you are well-compensated for it.

Such salaries are of course only available to a very small group of people. The median US household income (2 adults and 1-2 kids) is only about US$65K a year, and that is before tax.

Anonymous said...

USD22k a month a lot? I don't think depends on whether it is a stable or high risk job or job in extreme conditions such as those of oil rigs.

Reading through some of the postings above, I fail to understand how this "frightened" man managed to graduate from Harvard and Oxford...probably he secured his place through his parent's donation to those universities! He sounds like those who came from art class who are excellent at drawing but otherwise stupid!

If he is earning good income and leading a good life, home is where he gets all these sweet things - who does not undertand "home sweet home"?! If Singapore offers him goodies he should take up or find out rather crying over his babyhood experience in Malaysia or he could help propagate an equal opportunity system in Malaysia from wherever he is now. From excerpts in tony's posting, I find that this "frightened" person is very hypocritic.

Anonymous said...

Well, investment bankers in Singapore & in New York earns an average of US$500,000 a year.

xenobiologista said...

Is the letter still available somewhere on the Internet? Otherwise can someone please re-post it? As another "frightened Malaysian abroad" I would like to read it.

(Not frightened so much for myself...more because I would like to drag a certain Mat Salleh back with me and have to convince him it's possible...)

xenobiologista said...

Sorry for double-posting. What I meant to say is that the link to the email on Jeff Ooi's site is broken. Getting a "404 not found" message.

Anonymous said...

work in U.S. and buy properties in malaysia. while working in U.S. u can open businesses in malaysia...just like what every foreign worker do. help ur family members and friends set up businesses. it is one way to make more money from ur big pay. this is how to show ur patrotism...malaysia would definitely appreciate to see more foreign money coming into the country.

Anonymous said...

I can understand how 'frighten' feels because Malaysia is still our 'roots', not China or Singapore. Also, money is not everything in life. I can see frighten's emptiness though he is cash rich, because childhood memories are invaluable.

Malaysia has its problems. These problems cannot be solved overnight as those in power still have 'feudalistic' attitude that Malaysia belongs to them and not other races. Even KJ, an Oxford graduate, suppose to have more open mind also like those in power (in fact, he is in power), what you expect other 'Jaguh Kampungs' that still hide under tempurung?

Having said this, Malaysia is still the only the place we can call it 'home'. So, frigthen, don't give up hope. Save your millions while in foreign land, then come back to serve Malaysia to make it a better place to live at. If Tony Pua can do that, why not you?

Anonymous said...

Why should he return? What is there for him here? Why bother with this country? If he can earn so much more and be appreciated for his talent in the US, why bother coming back?

Will we welcome him and embrace him with open arms? If he enters politics and fights for justice and for us, will we be there for him when he's jailed under the ISA? Did we do anything for Nathaniel Tan besides shake our heads when he got arrested? And he was one who gave a bright and lucrative future to fight for a just Malaysia.

If Raja Petra is thrown in jail, what will we do? Will we pour into the streets and fight for his release? Will we organize hunger strikes and demand his freedom? He fights for us, he fights for country and yet, I doubt that any of us will fight for him.

When Lim Kit Siang and Lim Guan Eng were unjustly detained, where were we all? Weren't we just going about our daily business as if nothing happened? Maybe with a bit of anger and sadness, but what did that do for them? They were fighting and are still fighting for us, aren't they?

What were we doing for Lina Joy? For Revathi? WHat did we do when Najib declared Malaysia an Islamic state? What did we do every time Hishammudin plays with his keris?

Nothing. We did nothing. We all did nothing. And as long as we have something to lose (e.g. jobs) we will continue to do nothing.

But we are envious. We are rather unhappy when our people become successful and migrate. So we play on their guilt and their conscience. We remind them to be patriotic. We abuse that famous quote "don't ask what your country can do for you, rather what you can do for your country". We are full of crap and hypocrisy.

Because when these people come back to fight for our rights, our freedom, our nation and when they are wrongfully imprisoned and attacked for it, we will do what we have always done: NOTHING.

I'm leaving. And not coming back. This is not my country.

Anonymous said...

I wish to do a lot more for my country.

Yes it's bad and sometimes I feel embarrassed by the whole thing.

But if it's not somebody then who? I know it is very naive or even idealistic for me to say it.

I believe if I can't change my generation then I can change the future.

Come back and lets all do this together.

I can stay in the states but I choose not to because why contribute to a country that has it own citizen to do it.

Every country is plague by its own problem.Even the great America...

Anonymous said...

To the frightened knowledge worker in the US:

FYI, universities in Malaysia now have non-bumis DVCs, at least some of them are starting to.

"Frightened" may first weigh how he can best contribute back to M'sian society, e.g.:

* to return to M'sia?: make sure there's an effective post to return to (before returning, that is)

* to make use of his considerable salary?: set up a Scholarship or Trust Fund for qualified and deserving M'sian students (regardless of race) to study a subject and at a uni of the student's choice.
That is just one of many examples of a patriotic thing to do from the USA, if he can afford it.

* Funds or supports an annual competition on say, sustainable development essays or some other worthy issues or activities that encourages teens and young people to think, to promote charity/cooperation/helping others as well as to promote Malaysian-ness (again, free of racial divisiveness).

There are many ways to contribute to the betterment of M'sian society even if he is far, far away.

Best wishes to "Frightened" in his yearning or quest for contributing to Malaysian society.