There’s no place like home

I WAS in a supermarket where two university-aged siblings were standing in the cooler section looking perplexed. Their paraphrased conversation sounded something like this. The brother gesturing at an item in the freezer said to the sister: “Last year this was RM5.50 and now it’s RM8.” And the sister, who had also been away, said: “Ya, I was here last week and was shocked at how prices have increased in less than a year.”

Yes, I shouldn’t eavesdrop but I was having the exact same conversation in my head looking at the prices of food.

I’ve been away from Malaysia for an extended period and one thing that happens when you’ve been away is that you become a bit more sensitive in noticing change.

When we leave, we unconsciously take with us little snapshots in our minds of what life was like – how safe it was, the prices of goods we frequently purchased, or the quality and size of food portions, the changes in road signs, the number of new building sites, how different the traffic flow is, extra taxes, how many more train stations there are in greater KL, no plastic bags in Selangor, no using the handphone while driving and weekly petrol price changes. We notice the small everyday changes a little bit more because it is not as gradual.

Of course there is a tendency to over romanticise the past – the food was tastier in our minds, the air quality was better, the birds sang sweeter back then. You get the gist.

There could also be the tendency to demonise the country especially if one has been living away in a higher income, more developed or progressive country.

So with each jolt of disbelief I felt from these changes, I tried to balance it checking that I was not over romanticising or demonising either country.

But the uncomfortable truth is that Malaysia is becoming more and more unrecognisable.

I admit, I have been spoilt living in one of the safest countries in the world. So while I am there, I find it difficult to shed my constant vigilance – I clutch my handbag so tight like I have to do in Malaysia. My heart races when I walk home alone late at night because night walks are not safe here. I envy how there, people leave their car doors wide open while they look for things in their boot with no worry, or how children can run free in parks, and doors can be left unlocked or that no one has this fear of someone snatching their belongings and how carefree it is to walk down the street at any time of the day.

It is true there aren’t many countries where you can feel this safe but shouldn’t this be the kind of basic security levels we strive for?

Something happens to your quality of life when you cut out the big chunk of anxiety that comes with feeling unsafe or worrying about the wellbeing of those you care for. And this is the quality of life, I’d like to come back to.

But my Malaysia has changed so much. Not only has the cost of daily necessities skyrocketed, people are losing their jobs, criminal activity is high, teenagers are being beaten up to the point of death, gun violence and thuggery are commonplace, continuous racial and religious intolerance and even cardboard cut-outs are not spared. Bad behaviour is unchecked, rewarded and worst still normalised.

What is the country going to be like in the next year or the next two years or the next five years? What we should want to see is a better version of the Malaysia of today – a much, much better version.

So we can either be like the frog in the pot, who as days bled into years, does not realise how bad it has become until it is too late or we can start wanting better for our country and be active, participating citizens who demand more from those who govern the country.

When I hear the flight attendant say as we land “… and to all Malaysians, welcome home”, I get warm fuzzies because there truly is no place like home.

At the end of the day, Malaysia is home, I just want it to be better than I remember it, not just for me but for you too.