Choosing to return to Malaysia, with hope

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COMMENT | I am in the queue at Heathrow Airport in London, waiting to board the plane to Kuala Lumpur. With a pronounced groan, I put my two heavy bags down. These bags carry the memories of four years studying abroad. My eyes search around to see if anyone holds the same passport, desperate for common solidarity.

In front of me, I see a husband and wife holding red Malaysian passports in their hands, their son holding a United Kingdom passport and their daughter a Canadian passport. Beside them is a woman who looks a lot like the wife: same height, same permed hair, and same jewellery choices (golden rings and jade bracelets).

I can’t see what passport she is holding, but when her fingers adjust slightly, it reveals the words on the passport’s cover: “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland Passport”. She speaks in Hakka to the wife of the family, who turns out to be her sister, and tells her it’s been a long time since she went back to Malaysia.

Malaysia no hope, the husband says. The rest nod in agreement, with eyes on their shifting feet. Words stay on their tongues and never come out, their silence making the noise in the background louder. What else is there to say when you have passed the final stage of changing your passport? There is no hope.

I always hear about emigration and brain drain: numbers increasing every year, mostly Chinese, and normally for money. But this time I saw the warm human faces behind those cold statistics, and it left a bitter taste in my mouth.

Changing the colour of your passport is not merely a logistical transition; it’s an emotional choice of departure. You relinquish a part of your identity as a Malaysian, and with it, all hope that this country will change for the better.

They may be right to do what they have done - I know of many people who would agree with their actions.

A day after I landed in Malaysia, I followed my mother to the wet market in Petaling Jaya. The local grocer asked my mother if her “bodyguard” (myself) would be going back to London to work. My mother said no...

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