2009: The Reason I’m Back In Malaysia
In 2009, I had just completed my ‘A’ Levels in Singapore (read more here) and was faced with the decision of whether to stay on in Singapore for university and serve a 3 year bond thereafter (ASEAN Scholarship for high school & pre-u had no bond), travel further abroad for university, or head back home to Malaysia.
THE COMFORTABLE PATH
For the most part of my life since I went to Singapore to study under the ASEAN Scholarship when I was 12, I had thought that my path was quite clearly planned out, where I would finish my ‘O’ Levels, then ‘A’ Levels in a Junior College (JC), move on to complete my degree in the National University of Singapore (NUS), serve the 3 year bond, find a nice girlfriend, get a high paying executive job, settle down, get a PR and become a Singaporean.
Furthermore, I loved the church I was going to and I felt that I would miss it too much if I went back to Malaysia.
THE TURNING POINT
However, things started to change when I was in JC. I started to question the purpose of my life. I was wondering whether life was supposed to be so straightforward and routine, because I felt like it was almost too easy to be true.
In short, there are 3 main reasons why I decided to come back to Malaysia.
- My Aging Parents
- Wanting to help Malaysia fulfill its full potential (to at least do my part)
- Realizing that I did not really want to end up a Singaporean or a PR
Of course, other factors such as finding out that my church in Singapore has a branch back in KL that is growing, being easier to foray into the world of entrepreneurship back home and what I’ve seen in PLKN influenced me as well, but those 3 are the main reasons.
FEELING RESPONSIBLE TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE
So, let’s start with how I realized that I wanted to help Malaysia fulfill its full potential.
As I pondered more about what I wanted to do with my life, I started to discover my passion for bringing amazing people together to start something new and make a difference, to leave a dent. At that point, I had not heard Steve Job’s 2005 commencement speech yet, but I realized that I cherished the experience of bringing people together to create something, as I was doing in my hostel, among friends and part of the cheerleading club.
STEVE JOBS STANFORD COMMENCEMENT SPEECH 2005
Looking back, I also realized that I loved working as a team to achieve something, be it practicing every day for the Singapore Youth Festival Symphonic Band Judging Sessions or preparing for a dance or cheerleading performance.
SOCIETY’S FLAWED STANDARDS
I also realized that our success is not really dependant on our academic results, and that there is so much more to learn outside of our academic curriculum. That is also when I got my hands on self-help books and articles that highlighted the importance of soft skills, a positive mindset, financial literacy skills and so on. It was also about that time where I started questioning the point of studying things that I can’t see how I would apply in real life unless I became a scientist or engineer or doctor.
(You can read more about an article I wrote here)
INSPIRED BY THE POWER OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP
That is also about the time I got inspired by the power of entrepreneurship, business & investments. (read more here) I realized that I was extremely privileged to be given the opportunity to study in Singapore on scholarship, an opportunity to travel the world through competitions, and be exposed to so much knowledge and information.
I somehow felt that I should at least try to help Malaysia fulfill its full potential and solve its brain drain problem, among others, which saddened me. I was thinking, if all of our brightest minds leave Malaysia, then who would be left to help drive the country forward?
IF NOT US, THEN WHO?
Aren’t those who are privileged enough to receive a quality education and be exposed to the world in the best position to drive Malaysia forward?
The question that kept ringing in my mind was:
“If not us, then who?”
(read more here)
MY PERSONAL DOUBTS
But of course, there is the concern that I might have a higher chance of succeeding and leading a comfortable life in Singapore than back home in Malaysia, the concern of whether I am good enough in the first place, and whether there are enough opportunities back home, among other concerns.
However, I soon came to the conclusion that, if you are good, you will be good anywhere. It doesn’t matter whether you are in Zimbabwe or the USA, it is all about having the right mindset, attitude and resourcefulness to make the best out of what you have. If you are in Zimbabwe you would probably be a general, in USA the next Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg. It really all comes down to what you make of things.
This, coupled with the series of events that happened in my life then, convinced me that I should come back to Malaysia in an attempt to help Malaysia fulfill its full potential instead. Even if I fail, I should still be able to live a comfortable life. But most importantly, be able to say that I have tried my best.
SEEING HOPE DURING PLKN
I was further encouraged when I went to PLKN (the Malaysian version of national service), where I found out that there are plenty of people from the rural areas in Sabah & Sarawak who one of the nicest people you will ever meet, and who are curious and hungry to learn, but simply can’t do so because they do not have access to the necessary infrastructure and resources to do so.
I was thinking, imagine what an impact we could make if someone could provide the necessary infrastructure for them to have access to learning & knowledge!
That’s a bright & talented generation right there!
So I decided to do something about it.
SPENDING TIME WITH MY PARENTS BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE
Besides that, one of the biggest reasons why I chose to come back to Malaysia was because of my aging parents. My dad is 73 and my mom is 63, they married late, and had me when they were 50 and 40 respectively.
During my 6 years in Singapore, I was pretty active in school activities so I did not come back home often, usually only once or twice a year, and even so only for brief stays. Because my days area usually quite packed, I did not call home often as well.
So for most of that 6 years in Singapore, it is as though my parents did not have a son although they had one, because I wouldn’t be home for most of the year. It din’t help that I was my parent’s only child.
Towards 2009, I realized that my parents were getting frail, and I knew that at that age, anything could happen. If I decided to stay in Singapore, a normal degree would take around 4 years to complete in NUS, a double degree 5 years, coupled with the 3 year bond you would need to serve after that, that would mean I would need to be in Singapore for at least another 7 years, by which I would be 26 and would have more or less settled down in Singapore.
Since, scholarship money would only be enough to support my living expenses, that would mean that I could not bring my parents with me, and would need to be apart from my parents for another 7 years at least, during which time anything could happen at their age.
I did not want to have any regrets about not spending enough time with my parents before it was too late, so I decided to come back to spend more time with them.
SINGAPORE VS MALAYSIA
Lastly, I did some math and realized that life in Singapore might not be as comfortable as compared to Malaysia if you plan to have a family. No doubt, life is much easier as a bachelor because of Singapore’s superior exchange rate, where a cup of Starbucks would only cost you 7 dollars as compared with 18 ringgit in Malaysia, where you could buy the same amount of groceries at NTUC with 20 dollars where you would have to spend at least RM50 in Malaysia.
However, if you take into account the cost of owning a house and car in Singapore, then everything changes. Not to say that property prices in Malaysia are cheap, but they are comparatively cheaper and it won’t be a HDB that you are getting for those prices, plus we can choose to buy second hand cars which are much more affordable and can be a good deal if you know how to assess one.
For example, I could afford to get a car and drive around in Malaysia as soon as I got back, if I was in Singapore, I might not be able to do so for some time.
Furthermore, I really miss the food in Malaysia which I personally feel is much better. I also realized that although Singapore is a booming city, it is more suitable for professionals and people who would like to have stable and comfortable jobs, but might not be as good a place to start a start-up. It would be easier for me as well because Malaysia is my home base.
SO HERE I AM
In the end, other factors such as what I’ve seen in PLKN, finding out about the existence of a KL branch of my church which is in its growth stage and similar to what the Singapore church was 10 years ago where it needed entrepreneurs and market leaders to help fuel its growth all led to me eventually deciding on coming back to Malaysia.
So here I am, back in Malaysia, hoping to make as much of a difference as I can by playing my small little part.
“You never know what could happen, unless you try. Belum cuba, belum tahu…”