Eyes Wide Open: Leaving Malaysia for New Zealand

EYES WIDE OPEN left teeming, traffic-clogged Kuala Lumpur for the wide vistas of New Zealand, where she and her family live on a farm surrounded by sheep, pigs and alpaca.
It’s hard to say goodbye.
Looking at the exodus that preceded us, you wouldn’t think leaving Malaysia would be difficult at all, but of course it is.
I am over 40 years old and I have spent my whole life in Malaysia, growing, studying and working.
And yet, that is precisely the reason I go.
I know Malaysia. I know I am happy and I function here because of an accident of birth rather than anything else. By this, I mean that I happen to fit into all the neat little boxes that so define and dominate Malaysian life.
Man or woman?
No gender identity crisis then.
Sexual preference?
No subversive gay agenda then.
But your Malay is so good. How come?
Got job?
Okay-lah could be worse but at least we know what you do.
Marital status?
Verrry good.
And on and on I go, ticking all the (more or less) right boxes. If not completely right, at least they’ve never been boxes that got me any extra attention from Special Branch or the religious right.
Like most Malaysians I try to get along with everyone and find extremism unpalatable and religious bigotry simply ludicrous. If I don’t read the news sites, I could even pretend these issues won’t affect me.
So, pretty bog standard.
It’s a good, comfortable gig if you can get it. And therein lays the dig. If you can get it.
The big “if” is because I have children. So far, they show every indication of being pretty bog standard themselves, but they’re still young.
What if my kids are gay?
I’d still want them to find love and get married.
What if one wants to play basketball one day?
Sorry darling, this is Malaysia. Just play badminton lah.
What if they decide they want to go to certain universities and apply for certain scholarships?
No darling, I’m afraid they are only for certain kinds of Malaysians, and  you’re not it.
Discounts on multi-million ringgit mansions? See above.
The point is, Malaysia is a good place if you happen to be the right sexual orientation, know the right people, come from the right families and don’t display enough passion for politics to rock the boat.
I want for my children a place in the world where those things don’t count against you.
I want for them a place in the world where, whether you are straight or gay, you can fully participate in the joys of marital life that is part of so many people’s life cycle.
I want for them a place in the world where your ancestry has no bearing on the kind of job you can get or the kind of university you can get into.
And if you find a cause you so believe in that you are willing to march, you will not be gassed in the streets or killed in jail by the very people who are supposed to protect you.
I do realise these seem quite abstract concepts relative to the solid camaraderie of analysing football teams at the 24-hour mamak stall, or the out-of-this-world goodness of fragrant assam laksa from the pasar malam. The thing is, they are only abstract until it happens to you or someone you care about.
This is why I remind myself to not be lulled by the simple sweetness of everyday life in Malaysia.
My children deserve a place in the sun where their rights as human beings are guaranteed by a functioning civil society that jealously guards its democratic principles.
In such places, I am told, everyone has the opportunity to live up to their full potential. We shall see.
Fortunately, we are making our move at a time when technology enables us to keep one foot in this sunny homeland of mine. The pull of business, family and friends in Malaysia will be a comforting constant. With any luck, we are not so much leaving as we are widening our world and joining a growing tribe of global families that seems to be the new norm.
This is my hope, for I will always think of Malaysia as my home.
My children, however, will not, and for that I am, frankly, thankful.

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