What’s going on?

There was a time when Unspun was proud to call Malaysia home. Unspun loved Taiping, the town he grew up in, the rainforests that surrounded it, the hikes up Maxwell’s hills, swims at Burmese and Austin Pools, romancing Convent girls


on bicycles at Lake Gardens, lepaking at Wai Sek Kai, trying to catch a glimpse of the prostitutes and their clients in the Taiping Hotel just across the road from Unspun‘s school (but never succeeding)…those were innocent, halcyon days where a kid could do just what kids were meant to do without being in fear of pedophiles, snatch thieves, kidnappers and rampaging Mat Rempits.

bike.jpgIn 1980s Unspun left Malaysia after Operasi Lallang and never went back to work in Malaysia. But for many years it occupied a special place in Unspun‘s heart — and stomach (until today Unspun thinks that Malaysian food is the best). Malaysia was like an estranged lover. Unspun could not live with her but still missed her.

Over the past few years, this began to change. After being in Indonesia for 10 years Unspun began to feel more comfortable and at home with Indonesians rather than Malaysians. The worst was a few weeks ago during a buka puasa function with Malaysians. Apart from one or two people there Unspun just could not relate to the crowd. They had such different priorities, these expatriate Malaysians who are still very much rooted to Malaysia.

Then comes news of close friends migrating out of Malaysia because of how, they feel, it has deteriorated. One couple whose husband I have known since kindergarten days migrated to Singapore, mainly for two reasons. The first was security. They told me stories of how they feared letting their children walk home from school. There had been cases of kidnappings and rapes nearby their house, which was located in a civilized part of PJ.

Then there was the education. Education standards, they tol me, were going to hell in a handbasket and really fast. Teachers who could not string two sentences together and had difficulty distinguishing their elbows from their assholes were teaching their kids. The last straw came when their children were taught Malaysian history where they were told the reason why the British colonized Malaysia was because they envied Malaysia’s prosperity and success.

They are now in Singapore, it is not the most exciting place on earth and the food sucks but their children can go out by themselves, use public transport, come back at night without triggering a security panic.

Lately, I was told that another friend who worked for a Malaysian company fo the past 15 years or so and who had a very established family and social life was uprooting himself and his family to move to Hong Kong. I do not know him that well but through friends they say that his decision is part of a pattern. The pattern is that many Malaysians are giving up on the country and moving elsewhere because things have become so bad.

My friend, by way of illustrating this deterioration, told me of how a another friend’s elder sister was now in a coma in hospital fighting for her life. She was hospitalized because a snatch thief struck her head with a hammer while trying to rob her. Incidents like these have become commonplace in Malaysia, they tell me.

What sort of a society has Malaysia become?

23 thoughts on “What’s going on?

  1. Good to know we have another Georgian on blogosphere. I remember you mentioning that you may be in KL end Nov. Firmed? The rain-tree branches reaching out into the lakes is such a familiar and awesome sight. I remeber Austin and Burmese Pool…..both discovered by Bro Austin, a Burmese. He has passed on, but I do remember him at 85 aggressively annoyed when our immigration department said it was not necessary to renew his passport for 10 years. And Tai Chien is not the same…..the good stall have moved to another location when the kopitiam boss raised rental in the believe that they had nowhere else to go. Such stipidity. Within weeks, the wantan,popiah, lobak and chicken rice migrated. And I never miss Phang’s chee cheong fun, now at old circus padang and Ah Lan Chair’s Cheng Tong…..I am getting hungry….

    @Zorro – How delightful to know that you’re a Georgian as well. Yes, Taipin is a great place to grow up in, wasn’t it? Pity there’s not much to do once you grow up. Yes, will be in KL 23 onwards. What’s the preferred watering hole these days?


  2. I love Taiping. Even though we had shoots in Ipoh, Kuala Kangsar or even Lenggong, we would stay in Taiping. The air is super nice on Maxwell Hill. And the “Mixed Rice” at the old Market is still RM2.70 or so for 2 meats and one vege.

    Taiping is every bit as its’ name suggests. Peaceful; unlike the old days of the Ghee Hin and Hai San during the Larut Wars. Still, Taiping is my favourite town in Peninsular Malaysia. I’ve been there often enough to ignore the erratic daily rains/ showers/ storms. Never a day have I been in Taiping without it raining. Sometimes just for 2 minutes or less.

    Triple Thumbs up for Taiping. !!!

    @MC: You mean Siang Malam? Yes, many good memories there of trying to sober up after a night out on the town. Glad you like Taiping. Must start a Taiping Forever group in Facebook.


  3. A very nice visit down the memory lane, my friend. Malaysia may sound rather notorious lately but there are some arguments from analysts and scholars have been showing that it is a forward-thinking country (or culture) in certain areas. An article in Harvard Business Review revealed that (subscription required): http://future.iftf.org/2007/07/forward-thinkin.html

    I’m just trying to see the big picture here and respect individuals’ opinions. I have my own opinions on Indonesia which explain why I’m also a “perantau” just like you. 😉

    @Jennie: Yes, Malaysia does have its redeeming qualities (Food, for instance). But on the whole the negatives seem to outweigh the positives. Sad. But true.


  4. Unspun,

    That’s a lovely post. I liked similar things about Malaysia when I used to visit in the early 1990s. Some things peeping through the cracks weren’t so attractive. For me, it was the thinking in racial categories, supported by government policies, identity cards, scholarships and so on.
    On the ex-patriates, well, isn’t that ex-pats everywhere, going back to the colonial club in George Orwell’s Burmese Days ?
    Reading the post, one wonders, if they love Malaysia, why not stay and push for change, or in cyberspace like you’re doing ? I wonder what people like senior officials with UMNO, Mahatir Mohamed and even the LKY think, knowing how stupid many of their officials and citizens sound.

    @Achmad: On expat Malaysians – well, not everyone wants to change the world. Some just want to be left alone to bring up their kids and you can’t blame them. It’s their life and they are entitled to such simple pleasures.


  5. off course u absorb more meaningful words such as nasi remas, b… but the things u can get carried away with this new home land,..friends, love, fun, society and no one place for diving as good as ours..
    ( btw i linked your rasa sayang posting on my new post )

    @Iman: Hehe. Thanks to Prof. B… I got to go to many lovely places to dive in indonesia and yes, it seems to have the best dive sites in the world. Kapan-kapan kite dipping lagi, Man?


  6. I was in Singapore last week, when the Malaysian Ringgit reached an all time low on the exchange. When an expert economist was interviewed on Channel NewsAsia (MediaCorp) , he commented that the Ringgit collapse had absolutely no impact on the Asian Economy whatsoever. It is very sad. Most people react to the US Dollar even if it falls by half a percent. But the Ringgit seems so insignificant according to these market experts. As if the Ringgit did not even exist.

    How to “Truly Asia Boleh”-like dat?

    How about Truly Hopeless instead?

    Wake up Parliament!!!
    Your Ringgit has just been announced to be INSIGNIFICANT.

    Perhaps the Chinese could use it to burn in place of the “Hell Bank Note” for the deceased since it has no perceived value anyway?….

    Very Disappointing performance, guys….


  7. Hey, Unspun, my favourite Dive site is still SIPADAN island. Nothing else in Malaysia compares to this site.

    PS. I love the large bull sharks at about 40meters. Scary as SHIT, but extremely thrilling nonetheless. (We found them near the Hanging Gardens area.)


  8. @Unspun on Achmad: I agree with you, Ong, that not many people want to “change the world.” I personally wanna “change the world,” particularly Indonesia to ensure that my children and grandchildren will live in a much better environment in as many aspects as possible. Yet I can’t see myself doing anything from within Indonesia.

    I believe I can make a much bigger splash from outside Indonesia. After all, my Indonesia-ness can’t be changed, already an inherent part of moi. What I can do is trying to “influence” the world using whatever I have at hand. And that’s also exactly what Ong is doing. Working for Malaysia from the outside. Oftentimes it’s proven to be much more effective.

    Well done. Well done. 🙂


  9. Good piece, Unspun. You said you could not relate to the Malaysian expatriates. Not surprising. While Indonesians have moved on, Malaysians, especially Bumiputeras, are still trapped in the racist mindset propagated and perpetuated by Umno, otherwise known as the Nazi Pa;rty of Malaysia. Umno has succeeded in its divide-and-rule policy to keep its vice-like grip on the Malaysian polity. To me all the talk about racial harmony and open houses is baloney because underneath the surface are ripples of discontent and anger which threaten to boil over one day. As for educational standards, believe me, they are so bad it defies logic. Teachers and graduates these days can hardly string a few sentences in English. In this globalised age, you and I know it is unacceptable. Universities have become a cesspool of mediocrity. Even worse are the standards of lecturers. During my time, getting even a pass degree required hard work, but these days every mother’s son graduate with honours. In my workplace, graduates can hardly write passable English. And mind you, a number of them graduated from top universities like Universiti Malaya.


  10. Hey Bro, “top university” by what standards? 😛

    I believe the more you talk about racial this and that the more unharmonious it becomes. Skip the word completely and you may start to see come REAL intergration. All race definitions to be replaced by the word MALASYIAN after all the “malays” are not even a race to begin with. So you already have a 30% headstart if you do this pronto. Then the balance can come from the Iban, Kadazans and the rest of the Bumiputras, etc. That also means that UMNO ha to pack up shop. Or change their name to UTANO as I suggested earlier. (Truly Asia National Organization) Same goes for MIC and MCA, and any other party which has a “race” (or un-race) definition.

    Let’s skip these depressing discussions and go back to Taiping ya?


  11. HA HA HA, I didn’t know UM still in the TOP U list. Anyway, in order to create more post-graduates, some standards has been decreased.

    There are so many dilemmas in Malaysia – Malays’ Dilemma, Chinese Dilemma and I’m not sure if Indians have published theirs (they should, ha ha). With all these dilemmas, we should go to TAIPING = PEACE for a walk and get wet altogether in the almost daily rains. Then everyone is just a wet duck and all dilemma washed away.

    Gerakan no race definition but still majority Chinese, ha ha.

    Not fortunate enough to be an expatriate to any country, so have to just either being annoyed or amused by the daily antics of our politicians and ministers. Ha ha ha ha. I heard Taiping got good Nasi Lemak (don’t tell me nasi lemak is from Indonesia also :p )


  12. Nasi lemak were long well known in Sumatera, also roti jala and such. I think malaysian food which aren’t recognized by the Sumatrans is only Mee Goreng India 🙂


  13. Bravo Unspun,

    Honestly speaking, too many thing changes in Malaysia for the last 10 years….yet we still can’t feel any improvement since the 1997 economic crisis. So contradicting right!
    I am a normal taiping guy who went to study in local U after form 5(1993)! Since then I missed taiping a lot and always hang up with my frenz during Uni break and holiday at siang malam! Those days are so meaningful to us and now we are all part of the “Flat World”! Some in UK, US, Australia, NZ and Singapore etc… Once a while we meet for a drink in KL during festive season and we are amused on how Malaysia move on… local crime, conflict of interest in different races, tax-money wastage, too many foreign workers in construction sites, hawkers, maids and who knows how many of them are not registered in the database.
    And yet we still rationally tell ourselves that we Malaysia “BOLEH”!

    Let’s continue on my journey… after spending 5 useful years in local U…. I started my career in Singapore where I learn the effectiveness of a country.
    Thing are well planned, secure, proper procedures which provide the require efficiency to the business world. Of cause there still some hick-up here and there sometime in the lion city. But it gained the respect from the world as a financial hub in the region! Look back to our beloved country, what going on here?
    Now with my new job role in a MNC based in KL, I had the opportunity to travel around Asian country and experience different culture of these countries.
    But from what I noticed so far…. with such unique culture in Malaysia over the past 50 years, how we classify our country as a developing country if we can’t even resolve a simple crime problem at our own back yard! I really do hope within the next 13 years…..
    We are proud of ourselves telling the world that Malaysia… now a developed country as what we plan to archive!


  14. Dear winterinoz, is it so!! Wow, we are actually so much in common. Maybe these all resulted from the barter trades across the strait which is still happening today. Someone told me that you might be able to catch a good glimps of Sumatra from top of Maxwell… opps, Bukit Larut at a bright clear day.


  15. I love your picture of the raintrees. It brings back memories of cycling around the lake gardens with my friends and stopping to climb trees (yes, girls climbed, too). Needless to say, this was in the 1970s when things were quite safe still. Now that I’ve lived in Europe, I don’t think I want to live again in M’sia – unless things improve a lot. It’s a pity, isn’t it, what our wonderful, colourful country has become?


  16. @Argus: Ah yes, I think Taiping occupies a very special place in many of our hearts. Very fond memories of a gentler more inncoent time when values were so different.


  17. Twenty five years in the British army and the happiest three years of that spent in Taiping, lovely married quarter in Sangro Circle, great swimming in the old New Club pool on the edge of the ulu. Wonderful friends and the best of them Ewe Seng Ong no longer with us. Hope to come back one day. Great memories.


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