Monday, April 02, 2007

Meeting Malaysians in Boston

I'm amazed at the number of comments generated by the TARC post. I was surprised that TARC's diplomas are not recognized by the government but after some careful thought I realized that this shouldn't be so surprising. Anyways, I think it's time to move on to other topics, some old some new. But first, an update on my Boston trip and why I haven't posted anything in more than a week.

I was in Boston last weekend presenting a paper at a conference and met a few interesting Malaysian students while I was there. There was Jian Wei, former VI boy and a JPA sponsored Stanford undergrad who was in Boston for his spring break. There was Elaine, currently working in Boston and graduate of Wellesley College, one of the top women's liberal arts colleges in the US. There was Shien Jin, a Malacca High School boy, a graduate of MIT and will soon be graduating with a PhD in computer science from Harvard. There was Sui Lin, a Kuen Cheng grad and a JPA scholar (who took UEC exams instead of STPM!), who is currently in Wellesley. (for more on top SPM scorer Sui Lin check out this old Jeff Ooi Screenshot archive) There was Nick Choo, U of Texas (Austin) graduate who is currently working at a hedge fund in Boston and who kindly hosted us and cooked us excellent chicken rice! (Thanks Nick!) There was Karen Teoh, an old friend from my Singapore days (who didn't join us for dinner), a graduate of Yale who's doing her PhD in History at Harvard. And finally there was Cheong Soon, a fellow La Sallian who lived and grew up in a same neighborhood as myself (Section 5, PJ), who worked in Singapore for 13 years as a journalist before switching careers to do his PhD in History at UCal Berkeley.

There were a few things which struck me about my meeting with these Malaysians.

The first is that most of us took different paths to get where we are today. Sui Lin, was in a Chinese educational environment all her life before coming to the US and even had the guts to take the UEC exam, which many people say is even harder than STPM! Shien Jin applied to and got accepted by MIT after his SPM. Karen studied in Kuen Cheng at the primary level and went to Singapore to do her O and A levels before going to the US. Cheong Soon did his undergrad in UM and then worked 13 years in Singapore before going back to school at the PhD level in the US. So, there's no one single path to higher education in the US.

Secondly, many of us have different intellectual and experiential interests. Sui Lin has worked with the World Bank, NGOs (in her summers) and is interested in the social as well as profit driven aspects of the financial world. Karen is doing her PhD on the impact of education on women in all girls Chinese and missionary schools in Singapore and Malaysia, a topic which few (or any) have worked on in the past. Cheong Soon is looking at how ethnicity is portrayed in Malaysian newspapers prior to 1969. Shien Jin's PhD was in the area of cryptography. It's always refreshing to hear the kinds of things which different Malaysians are up to when I meet them here in the US.

Thirdly, many of us still feel a strong attachment to Malaysia and feel that it is still home to us. I plan to return to Malaysia eventually. Sui Lin expressed the same sentiment to me. I'm sure that the others, if given the right opportunities will gladly return to Malaysia, even if it is for a short term assignment or work related opportunity. I'm sure the same sentiment is shared by many Malaysians overseas. If the government can demonstrate that it is willing to be more open in its approach towards employment and promotion opportunities be it in the civil service, in the public universities, in the hospitals, in the GLCs, many qualified Malaysians will be willing to return and contribute their part. After all, family, friends and food are all to be found in Malaysia.

Boston is a great place to visit, especially when it's not snowing. It was great to meet up with some old friends and get to know some new ones. It was also a great honor to listen to Malaysian poet laureate Mohammed Haji Salleh, who is currently a visiting fellow at the Harvard-Yen Ching Institute, who read some of his poems at the conference I was attending. But all good things had to come to an end and I returned to Boston with my wife last Sunday and prompted fell ill, hence my lack of posts for the past week or so. I'm almost recovered now and have a few posts to get off my chest so here goes!


coleong said...

Glad that you like Boston. It's a nice place to visit and stay, not as crowded as New York. My wife and I have been staying in Boston for more than 3 years now. I'm working as a research scientist at Harvard Medical School/Massachusetts General Hospital and my wife is working as an application administrator at the Boston Public Library at Copley Square. We met each other at Form 6 at Catholic High School, PJ. After our 6th form, she went to UM while I went to UPM for our undergrad. After finishing the undergrad, I was offered a full scholarship from UK to pursue my PhD at the University of Nottingham while she managed to get a tutorship at UM to continue her master's degree. We then moved to Boston in year 2004 and start our new venture here.

As for the sentiment of going back home, I guess it's very common. Most of us went overseas seek for better education and career as a stepping stone and hope that one day, we'll be able to afford a better life back home.

To all those who work so hard to realise their dream, I feel proud for your persistent. It's always good to meet people from the same root and shared the same thought in the foreign land. Good luck and hopefully, I'll have the chance to meet all these great people you mentioned in your next visit :) Cheers :)

Kian Ming said...

Hey Coleong,

If I had known that you were in Boston, I would have invited you for our Malaysian getogether. Send me your email so that we can get in touch the next time I'm in Boston.

coleong said...

Haha... that's alright. I know a few who are in US as well but scattered in different city, Chicago, Phoenix, LA, NY and etc. Anyway, here is my email :

Thanks :)

Anonymous said...

hi coleong, are you currently looking for a job? there's no need to publish your resume and academic history if your purpose is only to meet the blogger in boston.

unless you think the blogger conducts certain academic quality filtering to determine who is worthy for their audience, a friendly invitation to meet them would suffice.


and good luck to those msians (or former msians) who are doing well overseas.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kian Ming,

I think the best part of this blog which stood out was the one below

"Cheong Soon did his undergrad in UM and then worked 13 years in Singapore before going back to school at the PhD level in the US. So, there's no one single path to higher education in the US..."

This would definitely encourage many many people out there who might think that education stops at a certain age, when in fact there really is no begnning or end to it.

You can do your Undergrad/Masters/PhD when and wherever you choose to. Really no yardstick to it. And there really is no "most suitable time" So for everyone out there, there's no such thing as too late or too old!!

adriene said...


i'm really glad you got the chance to meet sui lin. she is a great girl, heart of gold, a friend of mine. she was in tokyo just last year for an internship.

take care,

Anonymous said...

Hey Kian Ming - sorry I had to bail out in the last minute. I'm glad you liked Boston!

In response to your comment though, I think it is a little bit insufficient to say that better employment opportunities will attract the overseas Malaysians back. I believe they are typically liberal-minded and progressive people, and are actually unhappy with the incredibly over-arching patronage (patronizing?) system; that the government knows best and they should decide what you should do or not do.

I might be over-generalizing, but it seems like there is little room for personal and intellectual growth, let alone employment or entrepreneurial development. To take Singapore as an example, many of my Singaporean friends will choose to leave the country in spite of the unbelievably fat paychecks offered and guaranteed fast-tracked promotions.

And there's nothing the NYC Singapore Day ( can do to entice them home.

Anonymous said...

That's precisely the problem with all these young people these days. Even more so with those who have been endowed with scholarships. They have this privillege but yet forget to see the bigger picture. Please don't forget that by virtue of you getting a place in the university of your choice and being where you are today are not only due to your effort alone.

It would have been no use if you were smart but there were no teachers, no schools, and no avenue for you to facilitate your further study. Someone down the road in your country made the effort to provide all these for you. No matter how inefficient they were. Along the way many people sacrificed to provide for you and by that I don't mean your parents.

Now that you are high and mighty, and with the skills that is most sought after you simply take flight to another country, simply by saying that the opportunity to earn big bucks is not there. The quality of living sucks because you have now seen brighter lights.

You have not contributed a single thing towards nation building and you have done nothing to improve the well being of those that still needs the system to help them get where you are now. And don't give us the bull that the system does not allow you to do that. And don't say that you have tried but the system does not allow you to proceed further than trying.

Malaysia will not survive if everyone is like you.

Jerng said...

I prefer New York - and find Boston dead boring. But anyway... I've found it quite interesting to be a Malaysian who decided to come back and work here after studying in the USA. I am not a patriot, and I have no special love for this country or culture over any other. I'm quite comfortable anywhere. I chose to come back to Malaysia in order to maximise my competitive advantage: I figured I knew a bit about developing economies and the psychology of people here, and I wanted to learn more about the corporate sector in this part of the world before working internationally...

Anonymous said...

Nice post there anon at 4/04/2007 01:56:00 PM.

Sadly, it's just in our veins to complain and not deal with the issue.
Talk is cheap and free just as typing a blog or posting in a forum is. Work is not. Ouch.

coleong said...

Dear Anon 4/04/2007 10:54:00 AM

I kind of share your thought. That's why I always wanted to come home and contribute to the society which has brought me up all the way to what I've achieved now. Although I'm not any better than anyone in Malaysia, I hope my experience over the years will be able to help. To me, study/working overseas is just a stepping stone for career development. For settling down, I still think Malaysia is the place to be. Just my opinion.

Chee Liang said...

Nice Post OKM.

I sometimes joke to my friends that an ideal job would let me spend half a year in Malaysia and the other half in US.

Perhaps will talk more about this later.

Hey all Malaysian Bostonians, I sometimes go to Boston, in fact I am looking for jobs in Boston, among other cities. Please email me if you don't mind to have another Malaysian friend. I promise to seek you guys out the next time I go to Boston.

My email is 1cheeliang_at_gmail_dot_com

hope to hear from you all ... Have a good weekend.

Chee Liang

Unknown said...

Hi all:

I will be in boston this Friday 4/20 and possibly Thursday as well. Email me at 1cheeliang_at_gmail_dot_com with your contact info if you are interested to meet up. Chee Onn will be there as well.

Chee Liang

Anonymous said...

Hi! I know this is an old post but I just arrived in Boston for a PhD at BU. I got no JPA scholarship, or any scholarship, just the sweat on my brow as I work as a TA to make ends meet here.

It's raya now and I miss my family so, I am posting here for some reason :).

活在当下=) said...

Hi, I'm Malaysian too. Are you still in Boston. by Jack