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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Excerpt #63: Contemplating Private Practice In JB

Excerpt # 63: Contemplating Private Practice In JB
M. Bakri Musa (www.bakrimusa.com)


            Karen and I spent the next few weeks imagining what life would be in the private sector in JB. To start with, money would no longer be a factor. As for social and modern amenities, Singapore was only across the causeway, and from there we could go anywhere in the world. We were already members of the Johor Royal Golf Club, the club in town. It had many reciprocal arrangements with the prestigious clubs in Singapore. We would also no longer be worried about our children’s education; we could send them across the causeway.

            Karen had also formed close ties with the local community. We were close to one couple in particular, Pam and Bakhtiar Tamin. She was an Australian with two sons of comparable ages to our kids. Bakthiar was a chartered accountant in a local private firm. He was also, like me, from Negri Sembilan; thus the ready bonding. Once Pam related to us how his family back home was always complaining and pestering him as to why they had not yet owned a mansion on the hill or he made a “Datuk.” Like us, she and Bakthiar scoffed at the silly feudal value system!

            As for me, it helped also that my maternal grandmother’s youngest brother had settled in a village near JB. In short, we were not strangers; we felt we had already local roots.

            We liked JB, less crowded and less hot, what with a cooling coastal breeze in the afternoon. Away from KL and in the private sector, I would be beyond the reach of officialdom. Even renewing my passport and Karen’s visa could be done locally. Life in JB was positively and definitely for us. It would have clinched it had we been able to buy that house perched on the hill backing up to the palace ground!

            Despite the clear blue skies and cool afternoon breezes, the memory of my colleague’s banishment with only 24-hour notice kept intruding into the scene. What if one of my royal patients or VIPs skipped on his bills, a not uncommon occurrence? Would I dare send him to the collection agency? What if I did not bring the usual tributes to the palace, as my parents failed to do so when they were young? Would I be protected? Just being in the private sector would not be adequate insulation, at least for a Malay.

            There is something universal about bad thoughts. Once one intruded, hosts of others would rush in, as with the chief minister entering the hospital with scissors in hand. Of course, he could not enter a private facility quite as easily. Then what about those who were stopped on the streets and were punched by the crown prince for not wearing the proper mourning attire following the Sultanah’s death?

            After pondering the potential harm that could befall on me should I get snagged by the many tripwires laid on my path, I began questioning how much good or change I could effect. I could not even influence the authorities to let my intern pursue that UN scholarship, or have the young aspiring surgeon in Batu Pahat join my unit.

            When you are in turmoil, nothing could be more comforting than to hear again from long dear friends even if they knew nothing about your travails. It is like a lifeline being thrown when you are caught in swirling waters.

            At about this time we received two letters from our Malaysian friends from my medical school days in Edmonton. Shah Jaya and Thaddeus Demong were a few years my junior in medical school. Our common bonds went beyond having attended the same college and med school. Our wives knew each other before we were married. Unlike me who stayed behind, Shah and Thad returned to Sarawak after their internship. Three years later they both quit to return to Canada, Shah to start his private practice in Calgary, and Thad to pursue his ophthalmology residency in Edmonton.

            Shah was planning to relocate to the United States and would be taking three weeks off to explore opportunities there. Would I be interested to do a locum for him? At the same time, Thad would be doing a short fellowship at Stanford for the summer and would have their house vacant for a few months. They both probably thought that we were ready for a summer vacation back in Edmonton. Or that knowing both Malaysia and us well, we would last at most only two or three years, just like they did. Up to this day I still do not know how they knew we were at a crossroad in our lives. Perhaps they didn’t; just one of those moments of serendipity.

            Both letters opened up thoughts of private practice in Canada. I had been in private practice in Edmonton before, and had maintained my license there. Finding a slot in Canada should pose no problem.

            Once that floodgate of thought opened up, there was no looking back. The challenge would now be to convince my parents. That would be no easy task.

            That thought was not the only one that inundated us that November. The end of the year was the monsoon season, with afternoon torrential rainstorms the norm. One day in late November we had a massive thunderstorm that flooded our house and the neighborhood. The water rose fast; we were frantic, trying to move toys, furniture, and rugs up to the second floor. We had to abandon our lower floor and wait out the flood. When it receded, our whole yard and first floor were covered with thick slimy mud. We had to flush all that out with water from our tap right away. A few hours of sunshine and the whole area would be baked like cement.

            My fear during the flood was not water coming in as we could escape to the second floor, rather of rats and snakes crawling in with the flood waters.

            For the next few days after work I would be occupied cleaning up our first floor, the yard, as well as the silted drains. Those sweat-inducing activities made us wonder whether some mysterious power was trying to flush us out of our home and country.

Next Excerpt #64:  A Hectic Christmas And New Year

From the writer’s second memoir, The Son Has Not Returned. A Surgeon in His Native Malaysia, 2018.

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