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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
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, March 07, 2021

Choosing A Path Not Well Trodden: Reflecting On A Young Malaysian's Decision

 Choosing A Path Not Well Trodden

Reflecting On A Young Malaysian’s Decision


First posted in Malaysiakini.com, Dec 5, 2001



Dear Feisal:


Your e-mail made my day, or rather, evening! It came when I had a few Malaysians at my home for buka puasa. I was able to share your exciting news with them. As you can imagine, we were all cheering for you. I had to print extra copies of your e-mail as they all wanted to read it. I hope you do not mind!


            As you can tell, whenever we see an exceptional Malaysian (especially a Malay like you), we share in the reflected glory. There are not many of us to get enthused with over their achievements or life journey.


            I am from Kampung Tengah, Sri Menanti, but spent my childhood in your village of Lenggeng in the early 1950s. My parents were schoolteachers there. I remember the stinking Lee Rubber Factory near the old Malay school. Both are now gone. So too the water mill behind the factory. When I visited Lenggeng recently, some of the old timers still remembered being taught by my parents!


            Thank you for your update on Malay College. It had a period of excellence in the 1960s and early 70s. I was a prefect at Prep School in 1962 when admission to the college at Form I was for the very first time based on merit. Out of over 100 new students, only three were politically connected. One was the son of the Agung, another that of the Member of Parliament representing my district. I cannot remember the third. You could tell them apart quickly as they were so far behind the rest. This pattern of excellence lasted until your time, but after that MCKK went rapidly downhill. It is now but a glorified Middle School.


            I met many of the local headmasters of MCKK (after they had left to be promoted elsewhere) here in California a few years ago while they were on a culup (quickie) summer course at Stanford. We had many long discussions. What I remember about them was that they were not impressive. I shudder to think that our community had entrusted our best and brightest to these far-from-stellar characters!


            I looked up my old MCKK album to see pictures of budak Negri (Negri boys). Yes, there was your friend Basiruddin. Give my salaam to him. I was in the same batch as Nik Zainal, now the country’s leading interventional cardiologist.


            Your headmaster was not the one I met at Stanford; they were the generation following him. I am glad that he inspired you because I was not impressed with many of his successors. I remember one in particular. He bragged about being headmaster for only a few months before being “promoted” to the Ministry. I would have thought that being headmaster of MCKK to be the most rewarding assignment, and thus a terminal one. I would love to be given that opportunity to mold some of the brightest young Malay minds. Yet many consider the position as but a mere stepping stone on their way to be “Undersecretary for Procurement” at the Ministry of Education. For this particular character, his ultra-brief MCKK tenure was but an adornment on his resume.


            Your inspiring story is what I expect of our young today. My heart jumps with joy whenever I hear from one of you. I have faith in our people. Just give us the opportunity. You mentioned your friends at Stanford. A few months ago I had some of them for dinner at my house and we had some interesting robust discussions. They definitely impressed me.


            I am glad that you have chosen a not-so-well trodden path to challenge you. When I was in Malaysia in the late 1970s I tried to encourage young Malay doctors and scientists to focus on their professional careers and not be seduced into being heads of departments or chairman of this or that. They would then get bogged down with administrative trivia. I have seen too many Malay PhDs who have not done an iota of research since getting their degree.


            It also saddens me to see bright young Malay surgeons lured with rapid promotions and then being unable to cut themselves out of a paper bag. They have ignored their surgical skills and professional development. There is no way they could inspire their subordinates; they would see through the technical incompetence.


Part of the reason I left Malaysia was that as a professional I was stuck. The only way to advance was to opt into administration. The other reason was my inability to convince the authorities to invest in promising young doctors. I tried to convince the Ministry to send of them to the best universities so they could contribute more to Malaysia upon their return. The bureaucrats’ response was that these doctors should spend their first three years in Ulu Kelantan. And like all good obedient Malays, they patiently awaited their turn.


            I remember one who was accepted to do public health at UCLA, a top program, and on a UN scholarship to boot! I could not convince the Public Service Commission to release him temporarily from his Malaysian scholarship bonds. That was the final straw for me. The saving grace is that at least he is now a successful private practitioner. He could have been a superb public health expert, a skill Malaysia desperately needs.


            Allah in His wisdom endows every tribe with its share of the bright and talented. It is what that we do with this divine gift that would determine our future. That is why I am pessimistic about Malaysia, Malays in particular. We do not appreciate the jewels in our midst. Instead we adulate our kucing kurap (scruffy cats). Until we change, we would be destined to be third rate forever.


            Selamat Berpuasa and Selamat Hari Raya to you and your family.




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