Saturday, July 25, 2009

Step Children

Yesterday, JJ got her results for 2 of the subjects in her mock exams. One was for Moral Instruction (purely in Mandarin) and another was for Chinese (Mandarin). Mia was the one who fetched her from school. She got 93% for Moral Instruction, and 86% for Mandarin. Both mommy and daughter worked very, very hard for the mock exams. And very soon they will have the actual exams.

Quite frankly, I am not one who'd focus too much on school grades, because I don't believe they indicate the true (practical) abilities of the kids. In fact, I have conducted experiments in this blog before to demonstrate that excellent "paper qualifications" don't necessarily translate into excellent practical abilities. The schooling days will take up about a third of one's life, but beyond that it's more important to have the survival skills in the job market. No amount of "paper qualifications" can help if one has no survival skills beyond the confines of the schools.

Having said that, however, I'm not saying that I'd still be happy if JJ failed all her school exams. Of course it is ideal if she can get excellent results in school too. Besides, I think the more important thing about exams is that it teaches these young people about discipline—something which I think is so lacking in the upbringing of most children these days. It is very important to instill the habit of competitiveness and discipline in young children because, to me, these are the main ingredients for success in their adult lives.

Yesterday evening, on the way home from her grandma's, JJ was crying quietly in the car. She's generally a very happy kid. But yesterday, she was crying because she only got 86% for her Mandarin. She was concerned that daddy and mommy would be disappointed in her. And more importantly, she's disappointed in herself for such a "poor" performance. Bear in mind that she has just turned seven recently—we're talking about a Primary One kid here.

So daddy and mommy had to console JJ—that we're proud of her achievement; that we're happy that she's tried her best; that it didn't really matter that she did not get a perfect score for her exams, as long as she's given her best shot. After all, in life there will be ups and downs. At times it is necessary to learn from our failures; find the mistakes and try not to repeat them again, and hopefully we can do better next time.

As a daddy, although I am sad for JJ with her predicament, I am happy to see her sense of responsibility; her keen sense of competitiveness; and her discipline. These are the qualities which will help her face adulthood with strength and confidence in time to come.

In Malaysia, the non-Bumiputras are treated like step-children by our country. We have no choice but to quickly develop the survival instinct in our children. In almost everything we do, our progress are always hampered by government policies which heavily favour the Bumiputras.

The non-Bumiputras have to work really hard to pull our resources to educate our children because very, very few of us will get any assistance from the government. The competition continues into the higher learning institutions. Then when we enter the job market, we will find that there is an implied preference for the Bumiputras in the government offices too. And some of us non-Bumiputras who are lucky enough to get a job in the government offices will find that there is a very remote chance to reach to top posts in their departments regardless of how good they are in their jobs.

When venturing out to work in the private firms, we have to earn our ways up to the top. Sacrifices—big, big sacrifices—will have to be made to reach there. If we want to try our luck in running our own business, we will have to borrow money from the banks to start, of which we have to shoulder the burden of paying up the debts together with interests. When we try to vie for government projects, we have to share our profits with the Bumiputras by taking them in as partners before we can dream to secure the jobs in the first place.

On the other hand, the Bumiputras are given special treatment. When it comes to scholarships, there will be special quotas allocated for the Bumiputras. Later in life, the Bumiputras are given priorities in government offices, especially the top posts. But for some Bumiputras who want to start their own business, they are given special grants with very flexible repayment. Those in the rural areas are given lands to embark on their plantations. They're given substantial amounts of shares in the stock market at nominal prices which they quickly sell off to the non-Bumiputras for the fast bucks.

But after 5 decades, the Bumiputras have only achieved about 20% of the wealth of the country. It has been estimated that 80% of the tax revenues in Malaysia were those paid by the non-Bumiputras. We, the non-Bumiputras, have done our part to develop this country; we've done a lot to contribute to its economic prosperity.

In his recent post, the former Prime Minister of Malaysia said, inter alia:

"Segala estet rumah mewah juga diduduki oleh bukan Melayu. Sikit benar orang Melayu yang tinggal di estat mewah ini. Lebih ramai yang tinggal di kawasan setinggan."

(Luxurious housing estates are also occupied by the non-Malays. Too few Malays live in these luxurious estates. In fact, many of them live in squatter areas.)

But I think the good Tun has forgotten that the non-Bumiputras worked very, very hard to be able to live in those luxurious estates. In most cases, they have to sacrifice blood and sweat to get that far, especially with so many restrictions from the government policies. All the luxuries did not fall magically onto their laps. Certainly, they did not happen by accident.

I think Tun should stop punishing the non-Bumiputras for the failures of the government policies. After 5 decades, he is still talking about Bumiputras and non-Bumiputras. Why does he keep pointing fingers at us for working very hard? Maybe it is better if he could focus his mind and resources to find ways on how to make the Bumiputras to work hard too. That can only help to make Malaysia even more successful.

We are all Malaysians; we love this country. The so-called non-Bumiputras are really tired of being treated like step-children, but it's OK, we will try to live with it anyway. We have come to a stage where we know our position in this country. No matter how much we contribute; no matter how much we fight for this country, people like Tun will never be satisfied.

We ask for no more—we just want our country to love us the way we love her.


Anonymous said...

First let me just say you sound like a great father :)

2nd, regarding politics, didn't Najib end the policy that forces non Bumiputra to go into business with Bumiputras? I know that is what I was told..

Malaysia is still a study subject for me as far as my understanding is concerned.

I am a student of social science, therefore society is what intrigues me..

Malaysia is a country thick with racism, that much is evident, but my problem is figuring out exactly who is the disadvantaged in this country, because EVERYONE is saying that they are the disadvantaged..

If we only look at the statistics, it is very obvious that the Malays run the government and the Chinese run the economy.
Considering that the Malays are the native peoples of Malaysia, I have always been impressed that they still hold some significant power in their country (opposed to what happened to the Native Americans in the U.S.). This has always been one of the reasons I love Malaysia, actually.

As a student of Social Welfare, I would deduce from the statistics that it is apparent the Bumiputra need some policy of affirmative action in place in order to level the playing field and keep everyone a competitive player in the country.. One might say there is racism and discrimination at play.

My difficulty is in finding out if the policies in Malaysia are actually helping the bumiputra, or if they are merely causing racial hatred. From what I have seen, gov't policies favoring Malays has put more money into politicians pockets than it has truly helped those who are disadvantaged.

My experience just reading the newspapers in Sabah was of blunt, outright discrimination. The shocker for me was the ads for jobs that asked for only Chinese applicants, or only Mandarin speakers, etc.. In America discrimination based on race, religion, ethnicity, culture, gender, or ability, is against the law. You can imagine my surprise looking through the want ads.

Of course this small two week experience of mine could never sum up what is really going on in Malaysia, none the less, it left an impact on me.

The hard part is the racial divides. If I ask a Malay they will say they are discriminated against, if I ask a Chinese, Indian, etc.. they will say they are the ones discriminated against..

Another interesting fact about Malaysia is the racial divide among political parties. I think as long as parties are divided in this manner, with each one concerned only with the interests of its own ethnicity, Malaysia will always have racial tensions at a point of explosion.

Cornelius said...


No, Najib did not end the policy. In Malaysia, whenever we have a new Prime Minister, he is apt to announce something dramatic like ending the New Economic Policy. Sometimes, they would say changes will be made. But trust me, that policy is well and alive up to now. Just ask any major company vying for government project if it can hope to get that job if there's no Bumiputra stake in that company. Even if the policy no longer exists on paper, that will still remain a major factor in reality.

I'm OK if the government wants to protect the Bumiputras. But I just can't stand it when they try to blame the non-Bumiputras for their failure. The NEP failed to solve the problem, but after 5 decades, the government does not know what's hitting them. They still prefer to point fingers at others. If the formula did not work after half a century, it is not likely to work in the future. That is what we call common sense.

I have not seen advertisements only for Chinese employees. But I have seen many requiring ability to speak Mandarin. I don't see that as discrimination. I see the ability to speak several languages as additional skills. The non-Malays have to learn Malay to pass exams, and so we learn it. If we need Chinese to do business, we will obviously find people who can speak that language. If it happens that we need, say, Japanese for survival, then we will have to learn that language somehow. I don't see that as discrimination at all.

I am surprised that your Malay friends are saying they're discriminated against. How so? Did they tell you how? I would really love to know. They get help in almost everything they do, the kind of help the non-Bumiputras can't even dream to get from the government. Yet many of the Bumiputras failed to take advantage of the help; in fact many of them abuse the help instead. Whose fault is that?

Anonymous said...

Malays are discriminated against in the private sector, at least from what I am told. Chinese owners discriminate against Muslims. Since the Chinese run the economy, this has a significant impact. The women who wear tudung are treated badly or given bad wages. Many times those who wear tudung are thought to be "backwards" or dumb.

Also, the Chinese complain about the affirmative action policies in malaysia even though they are on average the richest in Malaysia, while Malays on average are the poorest..

I am not saying this is my opinion, I don't think I can really form my opinions until I have lived there and studied more, but this is what Malay Sabahans I have met tell me.

From the stories I have heard, the only way I can understand it is if I put it into a perspective I am familiar with.. To me, it sounds like the Chinese in Malaysia are like the White people in America, and the Malays are like the Blacks/Latinos/Native Americans in America.

Like I said, my knowledge is very superficial and elementary at this point in my life.. But right now this is how I am seeing things.

Throw in a Religious section of the government and I don't know what to think... I am sure there is discrimination against non Muslims based on the simple fact that there is a part of government that focuses on Syariah law, but this is only towards Muslims, not the whole population, therefore there IS freedom of religion.. However, I am not sure how biased a government would be towards non-Muslims when the ideal is obviously Islam.

As far as poverty issues, which interest me the most and tell me the most about who is being discriminated against, I would say Malays must not be getting that much privilege when they have all these policies favoring them but are still on average the poorest.. What would happen if they got rid of all these policies? If the Chinese are the richest in the country, why are they complaining?
I would rather be rich and hard working and have no help, than be poor and have help. Also, on average the Chinese and Indians are the most educated, most fluent in English, and make up the largest population in high paying fields, such as in science related fields. Malays still are far behind when it comes to the issue of higher education, competence in English, and prestigious careers. Also, if the policies were gotten rid of, would racism keep Malays even further shut out of the economy? Don't we need policies favoring Malays so they are not further marginalized?
It seems to me the only sector they are doing well in is the government sector, only because the law makes it so.. If that law were taken away, would Malays lose that also?

Why do the Chinese feel they are so discriminated against when they are the richest and most educated, by far, of Malaysia?

I once heard a doctor complaining about the discrimination he faced in Sandakan, but I thought to myself "your a doctor! Your privileged! How can you feel so discriminated against?!"

I am interested to know your opinion on all of this.

Cornelius said...


We are talking about different issues. I don't think any of the rich non-Bumis are complaining that they're richer than the Bumis. And it is total craps to say that the Malays are discriminated against in the private sector. In Malaysia the Bumis are free to do business. In fact there are numerous aids available only to them to start their own businesses.

I certainly don't see women in Tudung as dumb. My own niece wears a tudung, and she is now pursuing her Phd in a very tough science field. She is literally a walking calculator and calculates as fast as an electronic calculator. She speaks Malay, English and Mandarin fluently.

The truth is that in Malaysia, the non-Bumis are mostly discriminated against in the government/public sectors. Even if they're able to find jobs in the government offices, there is very little scope to go very far. The top posts are always reserved for the Bumis. So they're forced to the private sectors for survival. It is therefore only natural to find many non-Bumis in the private sectors.

In America the White people in general control the economy and the governments. There are very rich Blacks of course. Everyone gets the same deal; everyone gets the same (size) bite of the cake.

In Malaysia, even if the Chinese are richer than the Malays, it's the latter who's controlling the government. In fact there are laws which specifically state that only Malays can occupy the top seats, e.g as Mentri Besar or Prime Minister. In the US, anyone can become the President, including the Blacks.

So we are talking about 2 different kinds of discrimination, and we can't put them together as one of the same.

The first kind is the one that the government put into effect since more than 5 decades ago. The policy favouring the Bumis. If your Malay friends tell you that they're being discriminated against, then you can tell them that however little they think they're getting from the government, they're getting more than the non-Bumis.

The second kind of discrimination is that of the people of different races. I don't deny that perhaps the element of racism still exists in Malaysia. In some ways, even Tun M is a racist - he has always been. But that is a different kind of discrimination; it's the kind that comes from the human hearts, not from government policies.

I personally don't mind the government maintaining the NEP, because obviously that policy can help to keep pushing us non-Bumis to work hard for survival. The fate of the Bumis are sealed forever under the NEP. I won't live for another 50 years, but I bet things won't be very different by then. The Bumis will always depend on the NEP.

The Tun also only looks at the "rich" and "educated" non-Bumis. If Tun were to go to say, Brickfields area, he will see that amongst those "educated" Indians, there are also many, many uneducated and poor ones. The same with the Chinese. But whenever Tun wants to justify his policy, he will focus only on the successful non-Bumis. He always blame the successful non-Bumis to defend his policy.

As far as religions are concerned, I suppose on the whole we have freedom. But of course not 100%. Islam still given slightly more. In America, I can only guess that if a Christian and a Muslim were to marry, both are free to choose which religion they want to go to. In fact, I was given to understand that they may remain in their respective religions if they want to. That is the true freedom of religion. In Malaysia, it is always the non-Muslim who MUST convert to Muslim. That is the kind of freedom of religion we have here in Malaysia.

I can write a lot more about all this, but I'm running late for work. Besides, there is not much point. It's not like there is any hope that things will ever change. I'm sure most non-Bumis have accepted their fate. The NEP, though an obvious discrimination favouring the Bumis, is a blessing in disguise for the non-Bumis.

Anonymous said...

Cornelius, why the hopelessness in your last paragraph?! Don't give up!! :))

Anyway, I think this is a great discussion and thanks for speaking your mind, I appreciate it.

A couple points: Yes institutional racism and personal racism are two different things, but they are so intertwined with each other, one affecting the other, that they go hand in hand..

I think speaking of both of these forms are relevant in this conversation.

Another point, if the Chinese run the economy of course they have influence over the public as far as politics are concerned.. Campaign contributions, bribery, etc. all takes money. Power and money equals influence...

I think it is wise to see both sides, which is why I am happy to hear how one Chinese man feels about the situation ...

Both sides have valid points of view.

I know of many Chinese Malaysians who study here in the U.S. on a scholarship from the government, so I don't think it is possible to say the Chinese don't receive anything from their government.

The Bumi's receive more, but this is the whole point of affirmative action, to help those who on average are more disadvantaged.

As far as Brickfields, yes, i have read about the Chinese and Indian squatters, this was one of the cases used to try ridding Malaysia of its affirmative action policy, because people wanted to create a policy that helps everyone who is poor, not just some..Those who wanted NEP abolished claimed it only helped bumis and not non bumis.. I don't know if this is true or not.

This was how I started becoming interested in Malaysian politics actually, because of the affirmative action and racism issues.

Probably you and I will end up disagreeing, because we seem to do that alot.. Haha!! I will leave this conversation as it is, and continue to read and study about race relations in Malaysia.. At the moment I am not qualified to be having this conversation, especially considering I am a White person from America, who has never even lived in Malaysia!! Who am I to say what happens in your country, I'm just a peaceful outsider trying hard to look in.....

Thanks for your insights..

Cornelius said...


I have said several times that I am OK with the NEP. And I’m convinced that many non-Bumis are also OK with the NEP—to help the Bumis to do a bit of catching up with the other races. That’s fine; and if I am running the country, I might even continue with the NEP myself! But the implementation of the NEP has always been wrong from the very beginning up to now—it is implemented totally against the original intention of the policy. Originally designed to take effect for a duration of 20 years as a catalyst to give the Bumis a good start, it has been continued for over half a century now.

The original idea, if I am not mistaken, was to help the Bumis to achieve 30% equity in the economy, but I think those people in the administration lost sight of the approach because of greed. My opinion is that the Bumis should be given assistance to learn; to actually participate in the economy. They should be involved in the process.

But what we have been seeing all this while was totally different. Bumis are taken in as “sleeping” partners just to satisfy the quota requirement. They earn incomes in their roles as “window dressings”. Elsewhere, they are given monopoly powers. For example the AP issue where certain individuals were given special permits to do specific kind of business. Some other businesses are also given the same deal, e.g. licences for taxis in KL, where one company gets exclusive right, and that company can then rent out those licences to individuals. Some lucky people were given shares in the stock market at very nominal prices which they quickly sold off for fast money.

These are the kind of help which essentially amounts to giving “free money” to some lucky Bumis without the need to actually break a sweat. Whereas the vast majority of the Bumis got nothing! Of those who actually got something, they have learned hardly anything! That’s why some Bumis are very rich—even a dentist can afford a multi-million mansion in a posh neighbourhood.

In my opinion, if the government wants to allocate 30% for the Bumis, that is fine, but let those Bumis compete freely for those 30% amongst themselves instead of giving only to selected people within that group. Competition will make them work hard. Maybe that will get them to learn something useful that way. And hopefully only the truly deserving people will get a portion of that 30%. That’s the kind of deal the rest of us in Malaysia are getting.

The government should stop blaming the non-Bumis, or using them as their convenient excuse for their failures.

But this is all only empty talks. In reality, we all know that this will never happen. It did not happen over the last 5 decades, and I don’t believe it will happen anytime soon, if ever. The Bumis will not really get the opportunity to improve themselves; they merely get handouts on account of the NEP. In the mean time, the rest of us will continue being the step-children of this country.

Cornelius said...

Oh! I just received a link from a friend shortly ago. Perhaps you'd like to have a look at it too:,com_fireboard/func,view/id,9167/catid,65/

Anonymous said...

I have been following what you have written about this subject (I must say it is not an easy subject actually to comment and write about).At the same time I have read and try to assimilate what Sarah have written and commented in response to your article here.
I totally concur with you when you told Sarah that she really needs to stay here longer in order for her to really see for herself the real situation happening here in our country.I am a child of the 50s while I noted from your age, you are one from the mid-sixties. It is people from my generation and those of yours who can really see what has happened and what is happening in our country regarding issues like the NEP, racial discrimination, jobs discrimination, business discrimination and so on.It is also wrong for people to summarize simply that the chinese are well off than the bumiputras because, while we have a category of chinese people who are economically better-off (for example, the foochows who are known to be controlling 65% of our economy here in Sabah), don't forget there are also chinese who are practically living from hand to mouth at the same time.The question of which race is being disavantaged or which particular race is being more disdvantaged can never be answered if one looks at the issue with discriminated eyes. Just my 2 cents opinion to make this blog ineteresting.

Anonymous said...

Cornelius, thanks for the link, I'll check it out right now.

Cornelius said...

Thank you, Anonymous friend for sharing your opinion.

It is a pity that the NEP has been abused to benefit only some people. I'm convinced that if it had been implemented like how it should have been, the Bumis would've long ago achieved the 30% target. But of course that's just wishful thinking.