Why I didn’t stay put in Malaysia

Major (Rtd) Chew Kok Liang , Free Malaysia Today

I read with interest Marc Chua’s letter titled “Stay put in Malaysia and make a change, the grass is not greener abroad” on Aug 30.

Although I share his sentiments, I can testify to the fact that it is quite impossible to change the mindset of privileges and discrimination in Malaysia. I know, I’ve tried.

I was a volunteer officer with Rejimen Askar Wataniah 502 and 515 from 1995 to 2009, while holding on to my day job as a lawyer. From the early 2000s onwards, I initiated and set up Askar Wataniah Societies in TAR College in 2002 and UTAR (Sungai Long) in 2003. They were set up to attract Chinese students to volunteer as Malaysia’s army reserves as there has always been a lack of Chinese participation in the Malaysian armed services.

This is partly due to traditional Chinese apathy towards the military, and lack of information regarding the Askar Wataniah among the Chinese community.

In 2002, while a captain with Rejimen 515 Askar Wataniah (Kuala Lumpur), I had approached the then head of TAR College and other administrators to moot the idea of setting up an Askar Wataniah society to instil patriotism as well as to give a physical and mental challenge to TAR students.

Permission was given and I started a programme of talks and meetings to recruit TAR students to join the TAR College Askar Wataniah society and undergo the one-month full-time intensive recruit training course conducted by Rejimen 515.

About 30 students joined in the first batch of recruits and they successfully passed out of the recruits training programme in 2003.

This first batch then took over the recruitment of TAR students (with guidance and military assistance from me and my regiment) and successfully recruited and assisted in passing out some 95 TAR College students in 2004.

At the time of the 2004 cohort passing out, it was the largest passing out of Chinese recruits in Malaysian military history. TAR College was deeply involved in filming a documentary of the 2004 Askar Wataniah cohort training and passing out, with the video of it being used for some time afterwards as a recruitment tool.

Unfortunately, my efforts were not only not welcomed by my fellow officers, I was made to feel like I was breaking their rice bowl.

After leaving Malaysia and working for some years in the Middle East, my family and I are now residing in Singapore. It’s the closest to Malaysian food and weather, without the discrimination and being made to feel like an outsider in my own country.

Perhaps that is why the late Lee Kuan Yew once said in a newspaper interview before his death in 2015 that 40% of Singapore’s population consists of Malaysians.

Perhaps that’s why I feel at home in Singapore among all the former Malaysians here.