Keeping the Malaysian name flying high overseas

When talented Malaysians leave our country and gain recognition abroad, it is time to do some soul-searching to stem any further brain drain

GERD ALTMANN/PIXABAY

For the wrong reasons, 2020 was an unforgettable year for people all over the world.

Despite the dreariness of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, which afflicted Malaysia and the rest of the world, it was heartening to read sporadic inspiring news reports of many who rose above and beyond the call of duty.

Kudos to the Malaysians, especially our frontline workers and NGOs that provided essential food for the needy. They have all worked tirelessly during this difficult period. Not forgotten are also the big-hearted Malaysians who have always donated generously to worthy causes.

When we read such news, it uplifts our dampened spirits. The good deeds of Malaysians at home were complemented by the heart-warming news we read of capable Malaysians overseas making us feel proud.

Just in December alone, I read about the success stories of three Malaysians who are doing well overseas. Like me, I am sure many other Malaysians were delighted to read about their achievements.

Not only have they thrived in their adopted countries, they also seem to have adapted well into these societies. Sure, initially, they would have faced challenges, but they seem to have overcome these. Some have become citizens of these countries, while others are still Malaysians. But one thing seems to be common in all of them – they take pride in their Malaysian roots.

It is only through resilience and sheer hard work that they have gained acceptance and respect in their respective communities where they live and work in. And a good number are successful, with some making waves in their adopted countries.

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Just recently, Penang-born K Gurunathan, a former journalist in Malaysia, was re-elected to his mayoral post early this year. He was first elected as mayor of the city of Kapiti in New Zealand in 2016. Guru, as he is popularly known, attributed his success to a society which recognises talent irrespective of colour or creed, track record and meritocracy. He was among the successful Malaysians abroad in the limelight in the local media recently.

Another Malaysian overseas who gained media attention was Jocelyn Yow. The 25-year-old of Chinese Malaysian-Vietnamese decent became mayor of Eastvale in California, a town of slightly less than 60,000 about an hour’s drive east of Los Angeles.

Down Under in Perth, Western Australia, Sam Lim, a 60-year-old Malaysian-born won the policeman of the year award, becoming the first non-white to clinch the coveted prize. When once faced with a racist remark, Sam found his white colleagues springing to his defence.

Not too long ago, we lost another Malaysian talent, Dr Nur Amalina Che Bakri, a well-known London-based general surgeon. Amalina is outspoken and often shares her views over social media on a wide range of subjects, including women’s rights and dubious medical practices.

Amalina, who graduated as a doctor from the University of Edinburgh in July 2013, began practising her profession in the UK. A few months ago, she was selected to join the UK’s first Covid-19 vaccine trial team at the Imperial College in London.

I am just quoting a few successful Malaysians, but there are many others who have brought pride to Malaysia, working overseas. While in Stockholm, I met many successful Malaysians. The beauty about these Malaysian Malays, Chinese and Indians is that when they meet, they speak in Swedish – a positive indication of their integration into Swedish society.

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When talented Malaysians leave our country and gain recognition abroad, it is time to do some soul-searching to stem any further brain drain from the country – failing which it may not augur well for the future of our country.

Hailing from diverse backgrounds in a melting pot of races and religions here, Malaysians do not find it too difficult to integrate well in the countries they have embraced as their new home. After all, home is where your heart is. Irrefutably, it is also a positive reflection of Malaysia’s ethnic diversity.

Malaysia draws its strength as a nation from its multiracial mosaic and its hodgepodge of cultures. It is this multiracial make-up that has made the country what it is today. Diversity is always a source of strength in any country. We can always celebrate our differences while simultaneously valuing our unity.

Our founding leaders realised that there would always be issues and problems in a multiracial country like Malaysia. And comprises were therefore necessary in our quest for solutions.

Compromise is, after all, a sign of strength in the character of any human being. It is not an indicator of weakness and it is also not a herculean task to seek it, if there is a will and a concerted effort to find amicable solutions to all the challenges we face.

I vividly remember growing up in Cochrane Road in the 1960s, where there were Malays, Chinese, Indians and Eurasians who lived harmoniously as neighbours and friends. Race and religion were never an issue. We went to school, played games together, united in recreational activities and joined in the celebrations of each other’s festivals with merriment.

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We were ‘one-Malaysia’ then, and there was no need then for slogans in that era. Unity and diversity were prevalent, just as respect and acceptance for all races and religions were part and parcel of our daily lives. There was no need for it to be drummed into our thoughts. To the credit of our politicians then, they focused mainly on developing the country.

Whenever I reflect on the most impressionable years of my life during the 1960s, I feel so fortunate to have experienced such good values from that epoch. Nowadays, when I make a comparison with those bygone days, it is only melancholy that fills my thoughts.

But being a pragmatic optimist, I hope and pray that better days lie ahead of us, especially now when we are facing immense challenges from the pandemic, including the worrying global economic conditions.

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Benedict Lopez was director of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority in Stockholm and economics counsellor at the Malaysian embassy there in 2010-2014. He covered all five Nordic countries in the course of his work. A pragmatic optimist and now an Aliran member, he believes Malaysia can provide its people with the same benefits and privileges found in the Nordic countries - not a far-fetched dream but one that he hopes will be realised in his lifetime
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Peter Perreau
Peter Perreau
23 Jan 2021 10.33am

The bygone days were the best in my life even after having migrated. I hope the wonderful days and that community spirit of those days will find its way back in the lives of all Malaysian.
Great article to read once again.

loyal malaysian
loyal malaysian
23 Jan 2021 7.49am

Ah…Benedict, Cochrane Road but a stone’s throw from Kampung Pandan-yes, those were the times when we were really color-blind. We had not the concept of Malaysians yet, but there was no discrimination and we were all friends.
I know my children did not grow up in such an environment. Their time, that them vs us mentality was already well entrenched in society.
Yes, Benedict, it warms the heart to read of the successes of former Malaysians overseas.Talent not recognised or accepted here is prospering abroad.
Will there be a rethink ofgovt. policies?
NO!

loyal malaysian
loyal malaysian
23 Jan 2021 5.02pm
Reply to  Benedict Lopez

Benedict, i went to St Gabriel’s so i was familiar with that locality.
I actually grew up in Jalan Sungei Besi.
No, Peter, I am afraid those times of the 60s and early 70s were dead and gone.
They live on only in our memories and yearnings for what was.