15 May 2015
It is probably clear from my blog posts that there are many aspects of living in Malaysia that I do not enjoy. The noise (as I write the bass beat of the ‘music’ from the nearby theme park is booming through the house), the pollution, the heat and the film of perspiration that covers my pale, antipodean body every time I make the least exertion, the chaotic traffic, the male-dominated society in which dress codes apply only to women. I could go on but the truth is that I live like a queen (if not as sumptuously as the new sultan of Perak who was crowned recently in a lavish and costly ceremony that he did not pay for).
My privileged status was brought home to me this week by the news that boatloads of people from Myanmar and Bangladesh, who had paid human traffickers to get them into Malaysia illegally, were stranded at sea and only saved from drowning by some fishermen who rescued them and took them to the island of Langkawi. They will, of course, not be allowed to stay there and who knows what their fate will be when they return to their countries of origin. My first thought was to roundly condemn the traffickers who profited from these people’s desperation and who abandoned them when it was clear they weren’t going to make it into Malaysian waters undetected.
I then read an interview with a foreign worker (in Malaysian parlance) from Bangladesh who is working legally as a cook in Kuala Lumpur. He says that he earns MYR2000 a month and gets MYR500 to cover his living expenses. In Bangladesh he was earning only MYR900 a month. Working in Malaysia is, therefore, advantageous for him and his family, who he lives apart from but who he sends most of what he earns. When you think that RM2000 is NZD750 and how little that would buy you in New Zealand, it seems wretched that people risk everything to achieve it.
Though it is not usually helpful to be told to count your blessings and think of those less fortunate when you are feeling down about things, it was salutary for me to read those stories just as I somewhat reluctantly returned to Malaysia from New Zealand. It is also sobering to wonder what New Zealanders would do if we were confronted with boatloads of people desperate to share our good fortune as has been the experience of Malaysians, Australians and Italians in recent times. Would our human rights record stand up to the challenge? I would hope so but, as we are a small country too far away for puny boats, we’ll probably never be put to the test.