a young malaysian talent in the making

Malaysia Its Singaporean inferiority complex We seem to be obsessed with Singapore; why do we live in our neighbour's shadow? Klang blogger johnleemk Mar 23, 2007 Malaysians have this odd obsession with Singapore. While reading Malaysia Today a few days ago, I scrolled past several pieces with only half a dozen comments, down to a piece posted around the same time with over 50 comments. Its subject? Singapore. The only things that can get more controversy are, I think, race, religion and sex (not necessarily in that order). But why are Malaysians so pathetically insecure that we live virtually in the shadow of our southern neighbour? Why is it that nearly every political debate has to include some reference to Singapore? What makes this neighbour of ours so special? Historically speaking, it's probably the fact that Singapore was considered an integral part of the country until after World War II, when the Malayan Union failed to include it. Afterwards came a painful merger between an independent Malaya with Singapore and the former British colonies of Sabah and Sarawak. Then two years later came an even more painful separation between Singapore and Malaysia. To that, I think, a lot of our insecurities can be traced. Since separation, Singapore has moved forward much more than Malaysia, joining the ranks of developed countries and overshadowing Malaysia. Even today, the one thing people tend to credit ex-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad most for seems to be for taking Malaysia out of Singapore's shadow. (This seems to be patently untrue, though; when I tell Americans I'm from Malaysia, they get confused until I tell them we're just north of Singapore.) Thanks to this, whenever Singapore gets brought up in casual conversation, things can get heated — and often political. Almost everyone seems to have an opinion about Singapore, and a rather strongly-held one, too. Generally, these strong-held opinions fall into one of two categories. The first is one extremely enamoured with Singapore. The people who fall under this category often tend to be non-Malays, especially Chinese, who look up to Singapore as a model for meritocracy, and an oasis of good governance in a desert of administrative inefficiency. The other category is for opinions which are diametrically opposite. These opinions often are held by Malays upset with what they perceive to be the injustices of a country where minorities are implicitly discriminated against, where the country is not really much more free or much less corrupt than Malaysia, and where the stuck-up Chinese majority continually thumbs its nose at its neighbours across the Straits of Tebrau. As usual, I think the truth lies somewhere between these two extremes. But that's a subject for another day. For the time being, what we are concerned with is the apparent inferiority complex Malaysians have with Singapore, to the point that half the country appears to long to ape the island republic's every move, while the other half refuses to do anything that might be seen as learning from the island republic's lessons — both for the sake of menegakkan maruah Malaysia (loosely translated, standing up for the honour of Malaysia). I think that, in the end, it all comes down to two things: race. No, there's no mistake — I mean "race" as in "ethnicity" and "race" as in "competition". When it comes to the first issue of race, Malaysians can't help but feel terribly strongly about our relationship with Singapore. Malaysia has had pro-Malay policies in place from the time of the British colonial era, while Singapore refused to bow to Malay demands for greater Malay hegemony, with the end result of separation. When it comes to the second issue of race, in almost every sphere of competition, Singapore has us beat flat. Whether it's tourism, biotechnology, industry, prestige, the exchange rate, net immigration — we're on the mat, begging for mercy, and Singapore is kicking the hell out of us. It's hard not to feel touchy and inferior about this desolate rock we had the temerity to kick out 40 years ago. During the administration (or maybe regime would be a better word) of Mahathir, the relationship between the Malaysian and Singaporean governments was probably at an all-time low. It was even worse than at the time of separation — indeed, part of the reason Malaysia and Singapore separated was because Tunku Abdul Rahman, our PM at the time, thought he could get along better with Lee Kuan Yew as a neighbour rather than a rebelling local statesman. Since then, things have improved. There have been changes in heads of government on both sides of the causeway, and there's cause for optimism at the elite level. But at the grassroots level — in the mamaks and in the kopitiams — it seems that controversy about the Malaysia-Singapore relationship is more alive than ever. Malaysians have yet to release themselves from the grip of this inferiority complex. When we stop thinking about political questions in terms of "What would Singapore do?" and then decide to do as they would do (or, in the case of the contrarians, precisely what Singapore would not do), and reason without reference to that neighbour down south, then maybe we'll have made some progress to actually beating Singapore in some race. But of course, it's doubtful that this will happen. Malaysia's relationship with Singapore is much like a relationship between two bitter exes — they can't stand to see each other, but bitch about the other at every opportunity they get. Until we escape this bitterness, we will remain as politically immature as a nation as we were at independence. (John Lee Ming Keong is a 16-year-old living in a suburb of the Klang Valley in Selangor, Malaysia.) I copy the above from littlespeck.com. This young man, John Lee Ming Keong, I must say that I am terribly impressed by his maturity in thoughts and his ability to express so well, in English, a foreign language. I think he will soon be offered a scholarship to study in Singapore. For his tender age, the intelligence level is evident.


Anonymous said...

And what makes you so confident that Lee Ming Keong would come here to study? Please do not be so patronizing! Typically Singaporean !

redbean said...

why are you so unhappy?

it is our policy to scout for talents everywhere and when they see one they will not hesistate to make an offer.

i am sure he will be given an offer he cannot refuse, if they find him good enough.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Singapore should be less agressive and stop poaching talents from nearby neighbours. You bring all the talented people into Singapore and pay them very well and make even your own people unhappy. Is it worth it?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous above, don't you know that Singaporeans are suckers for punishment. They get ass-raped for 5 years, then all it takes is $200 - $300 of goodies cum husitings time, and they will gladly vote in the same people who will ass-rape them for the next five years. If they enjoy being ass-raped so much, who are you to deny them that pleasure ?

Matilah_Singapura said...


Consider the historical facts: there was no "seperation" per se—S'pore was kicked out of the federation. In fact, Tenku's govt of the day sold his country out.

What he and his buddies from UMNO did was an act of malice toward S'pore...and of course it had all the elements of race, religion and politics mixed in to ensure the issue was sensitive and touchy.

Decades later, Singapore comes out on top and Malaysia is still languishing under the inbreds in UMNO—corrupt as hell and still holding the country back.

I can understand the inferiority complex. Why do you think so many Malaysians come to S'pore to settle and work?

Don't read me wrong—I thnk Malaysia is a wonderful place, but those idiots in UMNO have to go.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2.23 pm. You are so right. Singaporeans would sell their souls for a little cash. Dangle a carrot in their faces and they will kwai-kwai vote for the one pulling the string. It is incredible and comical to hear them bitch on blogsphere almost as soon as the $200-$400 run out. So pathetic!!

redbean said...

is it poaching of talents or a free market economy? the world has changed and everyone is trying to buy talents everywhere. it is just attracting foreign investors. it all depends on how one view the competition. you can play the game, stay out of the game, it is a matter of choice.

as for singaporeans being suckers, i would not disagree to that. there will always be winners and losers. but there are pros and cons to every system. singapore is a land of opportunities for those who know how, or be in the right place. for those who are not reaping the benefits of the system, yes, they can just whine and whine.

it is just natural. we got to be realistic and accept all these things. some will get more than others. and of course no one will ever say that they have enough.

Anonymous said...

Redbean, I admire Singapore in many aspects. However, when you say some will benefit and some will not gain through the system, and there are pros and cons, you forget to say that the people who benefit through your system is just 10% and the rest 90% fall into the hard luck group.

Just stay on your side of the causeway and leave the Malaysian alone. We are not perfect but we are a happier lot thank you.

Abao said...

Excellent observation by Mr Lee Ming Keong. Hope he will stay on course with his ideas and not get led astray by "common sense"

redbean said...

hi anonymous,

at the people to people level, we should talk more and exchange views without the baggage of the politicians. what john lee has wrote is a very interesting article. but i am more interested in his talent. and if such talents are not nurtured or appreciated, there will be other countries, not necessary singapore, to poach him in times to come.

like it or not, the reality is that we benefitted from the brain drain when your talents seek greener pastures here. you can't blame us or your talents when their talents are not put to good use in their country of birth.

the world is getting smaller and talents move everywhere that welcome them. you cannot bottle them up.