Friday, September 04, 2009

Tash's Duty and Dreams

We were the first generation of Malaysians who grew up in a state of peace, and for whom higher education was a given: a huge number of us had the added luxury of being educated abroad. ... I look at the names of my email contact list and see people who now occupy lofty positions in investment banks and accounting firms in KL and elsewhere. And yet, in those moments of quiet and solitude, just before we turn our lights out at night, we might ask ourselves one question: what exactly have we achieved in our lives—for ourselves and for Malaysia?
On Eric's blog Tash Aw talks to his Malaysian readers about the importance of giving something back. The piece was written for Merdeka. (Sorry I'm just late finding it and blogging it.)

Methinks Tash has given us plenty, just by beating the odds and becoming a great success in a field where few make it, and then by encouraging the rest of us to read, to write, and get published.


Anonymous said...

Isn't telling people to love & give back to Malaysia hypocritical when you've buggered off elsewhere yrself?

I suppose it's possible to love and give back from a distance ... so much easier too.

- Daphne

Han said...

Well, if the advice is sound if you ignore the person giving it, that's what really counts, no?

Anonymous said...

Hear ye hear ye all Malaysians, borrow me your ears (no, not you Ah Longs please your interests are too high): The Sage of The Invisible World has spoken - and He has given us a Map for an Indivisible World. Learn from it, learn.


Anonymous said...

The Earnestness of Being Important.

Anonymous said...

Wow, there's a lot of snarkiness here, huh? At least two people had the balls to put their names to their snarkiness.

I think Tash does a whole lot to give back -- what else does writing about the region constitute?!? -- and I'm not sure it's "easier." Of course you could argue that I'm biased, too, but in my own experience writing anything meaningful about Malaysia and getting people to listen (which has only been possible for me from a distance) is a lot more difficult than living in KL sitting on my arse and lepaking at the latest gigantic shopping mall each weekend. Daphne, if you're the Daphne I know, I'm NOT at all saying that's what you do, but you're an exception the country is fortunate to have -- let's face it, most Malaysians spend their lives complaining and then stuffing their faces and shopping. Is that love? Is that giving back?

-- Preeta

gnute said...

Imho everyone gives back in their own way, whether they stay or leave (perhaps forced to leave due to circumstance, love, or voting with one's feet). I hate getting into the state of mind where I begrudge the other person for being in a position of privilege. It's defeating... Tash may make no bones about his privilege, but then again perhaps he is simply more forthcoming about the privileges we all share.

dreamer idiot said...

I understand perfectly where both Preeta and Tash coming from, and I don't think the idea of 'giving back' is something fancifully said from a cosy, privileged position, but something genuinely felt, arising from an attachment to the country, not despite but because of the very ambivalent nature of living comfortably away.

At the same time, I also understand where Daphne is coming from - the very real frustrations and struggle of living in Malaysia and trying to make a difference. It's a sense of hopelessness, I believe, many Malaysians who care, are feeling right now, with the miasma that weighs over the Malaysian-scape these past months and even more so recently. Reading the papers and the words they twist makes me sick to the pits of my stomach.

So, for the writers out there, go and write and tell our Malaysian stories... that our stories will be heard and passed on...

bibliobibuli said...

so well said DI about how we all feel re the news. i have to switch off from it or i would self-destruct.

i'm sad at the negativity because i think Tash's right. it's just that we've grown so bloody cynical.

anyway, how come when Eric posts the article you all leave your comments on my blog not his?

saras said...

That's because we read your blog everyday, Sharon!


Anonymous said...

I did leave my comment on eric's blog but he has to approve it before it comes out.

Hi Preeta, Yes, 'tis me :-)

I didn't actually mean to be snarky - I guess I was just thinking aloud.

On reflection, I think I was focusing on the sort of "giving back" that involves experiencing firsthand the frustrations and injustices that come with being Malaysian - and actively trying to make a difference - through community and political work.

Of course, there are also other ways of giving back to Malaysia.

And yes, I agree that most Malaysians just sit around (home or away)complaining and doing nothing to make a difference.

- Daphne

Anonymous said...

Point taken, Daphne, and in response to both you and Dreamer Idiot, I'll readily acknowledge that facing those frustrations day to day makes for a different kind of struggle, if one chooses to struggle. Those of us who've left, no matter how much we talk to our families and friends in the country and read the news and think about it, are somewhat insulated from the reality on the ground -- I don't think anyone would deny that. But I suppose you hit the nail on the head when you said there were multiple ways of giving back. I think that *some* of those ways of giving back are best served/fuelled by being right there, immersed in the horrors 24 hours a day. I mean, you can't really do meaningful community work from a distance -- you can contribute money, but not much else. But other ways of giving back -- and I think writing is one of these -- might be best served by distance and perspective. I've never said that it's not possible to write about Malaysia from within the country. But I do think that being away makes it easier for *me.* And also that in order to write about the place, one needs *some* kind of distance from the material, whether geographic or temporal. Or maybe there are some people who can create that kind of distance internally, inside their minds, through a sheer act of will -- I'm not one of them. So I don't think it's hypocritical to talk about giving back from a distance.

-- Preeta

Han said...

For the purposes of the discussion, it may be helpful to concede that it makes no difference if you are in Malaysia or not, it is possible to insulate yourself from the problems that plague it.

I have not read Eric's post but I saw Aw speak when he was in KL recently. According to Aw, being in Malaysia precludes writing about it. Chiefly because Aw is too busy absorbing detail to actually get any writing done.

I've heard this sentiment echoed by Steven King and Neil Gaiman, who need to stop reading fiction in order to start writing it.

BorneoExpatWriter said...

Good, because that's what I do, write about Malaysia within Malaysia, but then I'm an expat! Also I agree with Preeta about having that distance, which I need to write fiction set in America.

I experience both countries differently from Americans living in the US writing about the US and Malaysians living in Malaysia writing about Malaysia.

I do feel I have something to contribute to both countries, a way of giving back, especialy here in Malaysia. I do feel proud when one of my Malaysian-set stories gets published overseas, as though I'm introducing Malaysia to many readers who've never been here, or barely know it even exists.

BTW, "The Future Barrister" is being published in Descant in Canada in 2010, the seventh story from Lovers and Strangers Revisited to be published in US/Canada.) In fact only 3 out of 17 stories have not be published in either US, UK or Australia.

And it's still considered "local" as Amir pointed out in a previous blog and not kept in the fiction section but under "local interests", often among non-fiction and everything else...where it is not easy to find!

Anonymous said...

Daphne, if you don't have something constructive to say, shut the feck up or go and write 2 acclaimed literary novels before saying so.

Han said...

Honestly, Anonymous September 10, 2009 1:34 AM, if you want to criticise Daphne, you have to go and write two children's books first. And I have no right to critcise you unless [insert your greatest achievement] etc.

But, of course, it never works that way.

Anonymous said...

Daphne - if it's the Daphne I've read about - is in a good position to give her comments. She's done a lot for the community, with her Dram Project and various book-related community activities. Written books for children, with the proceeds going to charity. How many of us have done for our community even an iota of what people like her have done...So, my hat's off to you, Daphne. You put your money where your mouth is.

- Poppadumdum

Anonymous said...

And she's hot too!

Funk'n Wagnells said...

To Daphne Lee
it's very easy to criticise Mr. Aw for paying lip service, but the issue of him not being in the country is irrelevant

I may love my country of origin and may not wish to earn a living in said country, but I may not literally reside in that country- the two are not necessarily irreconcilable.

What would you say about the likes of Jimmy Choo, Michelle Yeoh, and Zang Toi?
Just like Mr. Aw, yes they do return to Malaysia to visit on occasion, but they too have chosen to reside and work overseas. Would you accuse them of "buggering off" too, on a public forum

Funk'n Wagnells

Anonymous said...

So far as I know, Jimmy Choo, Michelle Yeoh, and Zang Toi haven't lectured the Malaysian public on how to live their lives from their lofty perches abroad...

Jimmy Choo: Malaysians must wear proper shoes! Not flip flops! So Ah Beng!

Michelle Yeoh - oh waaaaait, She HAS lectured Malaysians!!! "Dwink lots of calcium to pwewent Ostweopewosis!!!"

Sorry, Funk and Wankers!

Antion said...

And I wonder what's the last commentator's opinion on Zang Toi?

My, my what puerility! To call another blog reader, 'wankers!'

To Ms. Sharon, I'm aware you're busy, but please moderate comments on your blog, like the last one made by 'Anonymous' on September 12th 2009 1.51pm.

However, I'm quite glad you posted a link to Tash Aw's article on your blog- it has inadvertently exposed people's attitude towards successful Malaysians abroad. Have they been having sour grapes for 3 square meals a day?

Witaya said...

What an interesting and salient point you have made, Daphne Lee!

Perhaps you could write a commentary about Tash Aw's piece and take out a half-page in The Star?

I'm sure people would love to read your views, it definitely wouldn't sound 'hypocritical' at all, coming from an established writer and reviewer such as yourself.

I believe Jesus once said something about casting the first stone?