Of Strangers and Social Media

Social media does one thing to us. It gives us awareness of what strangers think of us.

In our everyday lives, we get to choose who get to be in our lives. We pick our friends carefully, and we have a carefully curated list of people that we open up to.

However, with social media, especially with the entrenched culture of bashing and “printscreen”, we get strangers who do not know what our lives are about, and who we actually are as a person, comment on our lives. We may also find some people commenting on our Instagram feed thinking that they will never have to see us in person one day, so evidently, there’s little effort for these strangers to sound nice.

Here’s what I think about this situation. First of all, let’s not be quick to label strangers displaying asshole-ish behaviour online as cyber bullies. Yes, cyber bullying exists, but when it comes to social media, there’s always the option of deactivating our accounts.

If you have no plan of deleting our account anytime soon, here are some thoughts about strangers.

It’s not strangers who pay your bills. It’s not strangers who give you flowers during your birthday. It’s not strangers that you turn to when things don’t go well. It’s certainly not strangers that will carry your coffin to the grave when the day comes.

It is, however, strangers who might mention you out of the blue on Twitter, telling you to “fuck off” or “go to hell” for absolutely no valid reason. It is also strangers who might find little faults in the little things that you say online, without even giving you the space to explain yourselves.

Friends and families don’t do that. And these are the very people that we need to please. Not strangers.

So, speak out all you want online. Be yourself. Be the best version of the person you already are. Let the words of strangers not perturb you in what you do. You do you.

It’s also interesting to note that many of the most vocal people on social media tend to be very quiet in real life. I’m talking about the people who use social media to pick on other people and nitpick. These people tend to be very timid in real life. Social media provides a medium for a lot of closeted assholes to reveal their true colours online.

If they can be themselves online, so do we.

So, speak out. Don’t restrain your thoughts. Let’s be as expressive as we want to be, online or offline.

If one day you find the heat unbearable, deactivate.

The world already has so much to enjoy and to explore, offline.

Speak soon,


Friendship Beyond the “Drifting Away” Stage

Over the years, I crossed paths with many souls.

A little more than 800 of these souls ended up as my Facebook friends, a figure that I have yet to trim (in spite of the intention of doing so many times). Let’s condense this further: Of these Facebook friends, I probably physically met about a few dozen over the past 12 months. I keep regular, or weekly contact with maybe a handful.

This is when the definition of friendship itself gets interesting. How do you define friends? By the loosest definition, all of my Facebook friends are my “friends”. This is obviously putting a very low threshold to friendship.

How about defining friends as the people that I regularly meet over coffee or talk over Whatsapp with? If this is the case, maybe I only end up with having not more than 10 friends.

Well, truth is, there’s no strict definition of what a friendship should be made of.

Personally, I think that I have, over the years, developed the understanding that everyone has a lot of things that they have to deal with every single day. As we morph into different persons and grow out of the former state we were in (humans live in the state of permanent transiency anyway), our priorities shift. We graduate from college and enter the working world, with its new challenges. We shift work place to another company, with its new environment, demands and challenges. Some of us are married, some even have a kid or two to call their own. Our priorities shift.

With the shift of priorities often comes the “drifting away” stage. There’s a group of my friends that I used to meet up with once a week. This turned into once a month. Then once in a couple of months. Then occasionally.

Details aside, does “drifting away” means that one is not keen to keep his friendship? Not necessarily. Again, priorities change, so does the shape and form of the friendship. Because one is often surrounded by changing circumstances, it’s understandable that he would adapt himself to the situation he is in at the moment. This is fact of life. We are all malleable beings.

So to me, at the end of the day, when all is said and done, what really matters is how you keep your friends in your mind. Once you have the idea etched in your mind that someone is worthy of your long-term friendship and connection, nothing, not even time and distance, can ruin the bond that you have with that person. This is how I define friendship nowadays. I don’t need to see you every single week to remind myself that you are dear to me (well, a coffee session wouldn’t hurt, of course, but we live in a busy universe).

I understand if you don’t have as much time to spend with me as we used to.

But I want you to know that once you need me I am here. Once you need to talk, I am here. No awkwardness, no judgment, no patronising remarks, just myself, and my ears, ready to listen to your grouses, ready to say things as they are.

This is what real friendship is, to me. Not something that you need to be reminded of every single time, nor is it something that you need to physically commit to every week. It’s the conscious understanding that whatever happens, you have someone’s back, and someone has yours.

I’ll be here to support you, and that’s for sure.


Speak soon,


Kenapa Nak Speaking BI? Why Do Some Malays Prefer to Interact In English?

A person’s identity is defined by a multitude of elements, linguistics being one of them. Judging from the incessant conversations & arguments on the social media over the use of various languages, it’s clear that many Malaysians are, indeed, still experiencing a sort of identity crisis. While the common perception around the world is that one should be allowed to speak or write in any language he feels most comfortable using, in Malaysia, many stigmas & preconceived notions are still associated with the mere choice of which language to use in public.

This leads to a common dilemma faced by many Malaysians, especially Malays, when expressing themselves in public. “Should I introduce myself in English?” “Should I tweet in English?” “Will I appear conceited if I keep using English on social media?” “Should I use Malay to fit into a certain crowd?”; these are among the most common questions the Malays have to ask themselves from time to time. Tired of being bogged down by these questions, many Malays choose to use Manglish or bahasa rojak in order to achieve a semblance of balance between using English while maintaining some street cred among their friends (apparently, using too much English can be social suicide too).

My answer would be, yes, you can use any language that you want, as long as you get your points across. What’s important is to ensure that you can eloquently express your points using the language of your choice.

After all, language is a means of self-expression, so to hell with labels, no?

Moving forward, let’s dissect the common arguments given by those who are against the practice of Malays using English in their daily interactions:


Frequent Point #1: “Kenapa nak guna English kalau bercakap sesama Melayu?”

There are many reasons why some Malays use English when conversing with fellow Malays. First of all, it’s important to debunk the myth involving the Malay’s use of Bahasa Melayu (Malay) at home. While most of the Malays exclusively use Malay at home, there exist pockets within the Malay community itself where this convention doesn’t apply. Many middle class families have inter-generational exposure to the British culture and language, so naturally, they speak English at home. This is a reality; I know of some guys who speak no Malay at all, in spite of them being of full Malay-Indonesian ancestry. They also went to international schools and received their tertiary education overseas, so they were never exposed to learning Malay in school. Malaysia is also a heterogenous society, and many people of our generation are essentially products of mixed marriage. In many mixed families, to ensure balanced dynamics between the parents who came from different racial backgrounds and upbringings, English is often used as the primary language at home. It’s a neutral arrangement, and enables middle-of-the-road solution to the language & cultural dilemmas faced by these families.

Aforementioned cases aside, many Malays speak English among themselves as it’s the only way they get to practice using the language. Languages, unlike subjects like Mathematics or Science, cannot be mastered by the mere virtue of attending classes and lectures. You need to practice using the language often if you want to be proficient in which. Many Malays, especially those who grew up outside the urban middle-class environment, struggle to find a nurturing environment to practice their English, and who else do they have apart from their good friends to practice using the language with? After all, speaking English with their friends is much more fun than talking to themselves or to the mirror, no?


Frequent Point #2: “Japan & Korea are highly developed nations and the people don’t even speak English!”

Yes, English isn’t as widely used in these two countries as it is in Malaysia. But it’s important to not discount the fact that Japanese & Korean languages are widely used in academic journals & publications as well, especially in comparison with Bahasa Melayu-Indonesia. I’ve been to South Korea, and while the people don’t speak much English, they have wide access to all kinds of reading material in their native language. The bookstores are filled with any Western title you can think of, but translated into Korean, for local consumption. Compare this with our situation here in Malaysia. It’s not common to see Western titles being available in Bahasa Melayu. Have you seen any work by Franz Kafka, or Orhan Pamuk, translated into Malay? The Malay sections in bookstores are often filled with religious books, cookbooks, some children’s books, and that’s all there is to it. Some of the bestselling books like the Harry Potter series & Twilight have been translated into Malay, but apart from these examples, options are very limited. There have been efforts to translate more books into Malay, but with the environment of tight scrutiny against any books published in, or translated into Malay, (remember when an Irshad Manji’s book was only banned after it was translated into Malay?) the status quo of treating English as the foremost language in knowledge seeking is not going to change anytime soon.

To seek knowledge beyond what our local textbooks entail, Malaysians have no choice but to be proficient in English.

While the Koreans are currently doing well speaking Korean and little to no English, there’s a growing awareness among the Koreans on the importance of being fluent in English, which explains the influx of expatriates working as English teachers into the country nowadays.


Frequent Point #3: “Orang cakap BI ni semua poyo lah eh?”

Language is a powerful means of communication, and humans are programmed to speak the language they are most comfortable using, especially in everyday, casual situations. Many Malays speak English for a number of reasons, but it’s not likely that these Malays do so to impress anyone. They just want to communicate their points. After all, it’s the eloquence, wit, and the wisdom behind one’s speech that matters the most, not one’s choice of language. Language only allows you to communicate, but if your points are irrelevant, even the most sophisticated use of a language won’t be able to salvage your arguments.

No language is more posh than another. Using English doesn’t mean that someone is trying to be pompous.


Frequent Point #4: “Kalau orang Melayu tak memperkasakan Bahasa Melayu, siapa lagi?”

Using English in your daily interaction doesn’t mean that you completely disregard the Malay language. Malay is a beautiful language that reflects the Malay community’s long oratory traditions. It’s gracious and polite. Most of the Malays, including those who speak English most of the time, still feel sentimental attachment to their native language. After all, it represents their identity and heritage.

Malaysian communities residing overseas speak English most of the time, but during their gatherings (which I got to experience from time to time during my 3-year stint in Melbourne), they still use Malay. Most of these overseas Malays can still speak perfect, mint Malay, and I don’t think this will change anytime soon.

Now, contrast this with the bastardisation of the Malay language done under the guise of “colloquialism” perpetrated by those who claim to uphold the Malay traditions in the country. Look at how many of the Malay speaking youths spell “aku” as “aq”, for instance. The dilution of Malay’s linguistic purity is also made worst by the blatant transfer of English words into mainstream Malay. Nowadays, people use advertensi in place of iklan, and bajet, instead of belanjawan.

Now, pray tell, who’s at fault?


These are the four points I can think of at the moment; there are more, of course. Let me know, by dropping a comment or two, if you have more to add to these. Cheers.


Speak soon,

Faizal Hamssin


The Malaise of the Pessimists

If diversity is defined along the lines of race and belief, it is just fitting to call this place the most diverse nation in the world. We are a nation that, nearly half a century after its inception (yes, Malaysia was formed in 1963 not 1957), still grapples with the fact that we are composed of the people so diverse that whatever decisions made by not only our government, but also our people, are defined by our inherent diversity. Perhaps sickened by having to live in such a heterogenous society (many Malaysians decry not being born in a homogenous nation-state like, say, Denmark, where everyone is ethnically, linguistically and culturally Danish), our people have started to carve thin but visible lines to delineate things that are mine and yours. Like a lion fiercely guarding his territory, the different races in Malaysia have tried their hardest to defend whatever rights they think are theirs. Our schools must teach Science and Mathematics in Our native language, echoes a man hell-bent towards preserving what is left of the right of his people to be educated in their mother tongue. Because the said right is more important, who cares about putting the pupils into a single, unified school where they can intermingle? We are Muslim and this is an Islamic country echoes another Malaysian whose main concern is about his co-religionists’ right to be protected from reading certain books which contain non-mainstream religious ideas. Who cares about the country’s ever-growing inter-faith divides as long as these people are satisfied?

With the people fighting for their respective community’s rights, what have been left of the country? We are left with a country where different people have different expectations on how the government should treat them. While the French have their Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite concept as a guiding principle of the type of nation France should eventually turn into, in Malaysia we have a melange of different aspirations, some similar, some very different. Add contradictions into the equation and voila, we end up getting a concoction of expectations nobody is able to fulfil. A nation of unfilled expectations is a nation of unhappy people. Unhappiness, however, when kept for a long time leads to a feeling of hopelessness, and in Malaysia this feeling breeds something rather destructive: pessimism bordering on nihilism.

Arthur Schopenhauer, whose work compares the human intellect to a lame man who can see, but who rides on the shoulder of the blind giant of Will, explicitly states that the pessimistic people can never be fully satisfied. This exactly explains the reason why Malaysians, after enjoying years of healthy economic growth and relative prosperity, still feel deeply unhappy. Very few Malaysians nowadays suffer from having to live the penurious existence prevalent in many other relatively young nations in the Third World, but our pessimistic point of view means that whatever material comfort that we are currently enjoying is just like a speck of dust: its being there is without much significance.

With many Malaysians growing disenchanted with how their collective aspirations are not fulfilled, many of them retreat to considering only their aspiration as the only thing that matters. This produces a society of individuals whose personal interest is the only issue that matters to them. Call this a selfish society, but this is what Malaysians have turned into. Many Malaysians seek respite from their bouts of disappointment by working round the clock to afford a pad at Mont Kiara and the prestigious WWW plate number. Ironically, the individualism seen here goes parallel with the increasing influence of religion in our daily lives. Many Malaysians, cocooned in their own sphere of private lives and individual interest, turn to God for they have lost faith in having human being, the government included, to help them out of their individual struggle. This is the status quo of the day. Gone are the days of weekly gotong-royong; this is a different society than it was when our Independence was still at its nascent stage, when optimism prevailed.

Our refusal to see changes also means that Malaysians are easy to be indoctrinated: their point of view, if they have any, is nothing but transient; they are not likely to accept new ideas and think beyond their normal grasp. This explains the existence of two contrasting camps within Malaysian media: the mainstream media and the alternative media, each printing news and articles tailor-written to satisfy people from each side of the political divide who only want to read what they want and hear what they expect to hear. Benefits of the doubt is non-existent. We like to be indoctrinated, and we will eventually indoctrinate others in the future. Vilification of people, fellow Malaysians, who decide to be politically centrist or different, is rife. Again, this is our status quo.

History has shown that there will always be a degree of resistance every time a status quo is being challenged. People, from neo-progressives to traditionalists, will always be keen to only stick to what is familiar to them. This is the reason why when PEMANDU is working on the transformation program the people have their reservations. The organization, whose raison d’etre is to, yes, transform the nation, is accused of being useless, a sheer waste of public fund, and the puppet of the government. This is because Malaysians are not used to the idea that real, positive changes, are possible. Pessimistic Malaysians, as they hold on tightly to the idea of positive changes being elusive, also don’t harbor much hope in our democracy, which is reflected by the millions of Malaysians who have yet to register to vote. When a group of citizens fight to have clean elections in the country, many Malaysians hurl unsavory accusations, with some calling the leader of the movement a traitor. Some even want her to be hanged. While the means used by the organization to achieve their objective may be questionable, it is definitely bizarre to think that a sane, rational citizen would want to go against having free, clean, fraud-free elections. Having said all that, we, Malaysians are not universally destructive. We tend to be self-destructive, instead. After all, most of us applaud the political changes and the democratization of the Arab world as seen recently. So engrossed we are with our self-hatred in the sense that we are happy when good changes happen to others while we deprive ourselves of the rights to such.

Pessimism is, indeed, the biggest problem plaguing Malaysia of today. How is this to be countered remains to be seen, but a shame it is if this makes Malaysians overlook the many good things there are in life just because of this. Just like K in Kafka’s magnum opus ‘The Trial’ who, upon losing all hope and contracting the disease of pessimism, says that he feels ‘like a dog” as he waits for his death. We, Malaysians, are more dignified than that, so let’s cast the pessimism away and do something.


Sweatshops: Savior or Slavery?

Consider this situation: Jack earns AUD3500 a month. He doesn’t go shopping much: let’s say he purchases on average two shirts every month. With each shirt costing around AUD30, spending AUD60, which corresponds to less than 2% of his monthly income, every month on these shirts is far from burning a hole in his pocket. This, 2 shirts a month, is a rather conservative figure, and most of the people I know have the habit of shopping for items they only get to wear once or twice. Let’s face it; if you live in a developed country chances are that you’re spoiled. This is the golden age for the middle class. Consumer items are cheap, so why bother keeping an eye on your consumption anyway?

Globalization is very much our saving grace today. How do you fill the many shelves in our local department store? You source the items from all over the world. By all over the world, we’re talking about many different companies competing with each other to stay relevant. They compete for some space on the store’s shelves. Competitive (read: low) pricing is necessary here. As competition stiffened and the cost of production in the traditionally vibrant manufacturing belts in their home countries became prohibitive, the companies started to take advantage of the huge pool of cheap labor in the Third World countries. Sweatshops mushroomed in South Korea and Taiwan in the 60s, and they are now an inescapable feature in China, Thailand and even the poorer Cambodia and Bangladesh, to name a few. Sweatshops are notorious for the precarious working conditions the workers have to work in; accidents aren’t uncommon and wages are a fraction of that earned by the workers in the West. They are defined by social activists Charles Booth and Sidney and Beatrice Webb as a variety of labour environments all containing these two essential elements: hard or excessive work and contracting.

This leads to many anti-globalization activists to say that the prosperous First World lifestyle consumers in the West are currently enjoying is actually built upon the fact that the rest of the World are actually poor, and with this, easily manipulated. Sweatshops are alleged as a tool of the rich’s manipulation of the poor. Some go to the length of calling it reminiscent to modern-day slavery. Rising wages seen in China and several other countries where many sweatshops have for years thrived however raises a new concern among economists of how the developed world will need to adapt to paying more in the future for what they use. Is our dependence on cheap merchandises produced in these countries sustainable?

Another big question remains: Is using products manufactured at sweatshops morally ethical?

I personally think that it’s okay to do so. It’s perfectly fine to shop at IKEA or wear an Abercrombie & Fitch sweater. While the working conditions at sweatshops are admittedly bad by international standards, a job at one of those establishments is considered an escalator out of poverty, the kind of gauzy if probably unrealistic ambition that parents everywhere often have for their children (Kristof, 2009). Just imagine this scenario: failing crops forced a Cambodian peasant out of his land to the city. He has no money, no job, no prospects. Contrary to what is the norm in the developed nations, he receives no doles or welfare benefits from the government, so his daily life is a struggle. His insufficiency revolves around everything basic; food, shelter, clean water. A job at a sweatshop paying USD40 a month (in 2000 dollar) will not only greatly improve his living standards, it is a life-saver. It keeps him away from hunger and the feeling of helplessness. It is also to be noted that USD40 goes a long way in a country like Cambodia. Putting it into PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) term, USD40 in Phnom Penh actually buys USD100 worth of items; as miniscule as it sounds to us, many Cambodians will be very grateful to be paid that much. With some extra cash he can even send his children to school and the cycle of poverty that has been running in the family for many generations will finally end one day as a result.

Historically, industrialized nations went through the sweatshop phase when their modern economic base was still at its infancy. Sweatshops were present in England during the first few decades following the advent of the Industrial Revolution. These establishments also thrived near at New York’s Lower East Side between 1850s to 1900s.

However, the biggest success story of previously sweatshop-dependent economies are to be found in East Asia. South Korea didn’t start up big; they didn’t magically start producing Samsung electronics and Hyundai cars and turn rich overnight. They started small. The country was known in the 60s to produce cheap apparels, shoes and other consumer items. Much of its exports as the country was industrializing rapidly in the 60s and 70s were produced in sweatshops where labor law was nearly nonexistent and wages were low. The Sweatshop belt, which refers to a region spanning from South Korea to Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh, is today one of the most economically vibrant regions in the world. The Asian tigers and tiger cubs have had years of solid economic growth- their GDP per capita doubled every 10 years. These countries have benefited from years of fast industrialization backed by a relatively lax labor law, low wages and export-led growth. As the society became more industrialized and the people became more educated these economies drifted further from the sweatshop economy and started to foray into heavy industry and higher value-added sectors. South Korea and Taiwan are no longer known for their sweatshops today. They are instead known for their high-quality products and their high standard of living; an average worker in South Korea earns more than his friend in Spain does, with a much lower unemployment rate than the rest of the industrialized world.

With the success of the Asian economies, it should make more sense now to the international community that trade and industrialization are actually better means of bettering a country’s fortune than Live Aid. Sub-Saharan Africa, which has been receiving aids from the rest of the world for many decades might actually be better off if the donor countries were to focus on building factories and training the local people instead. After all, both parties will benefit from this: the producers will be able to produce things cheaply, and the locals can finally enjoy a quantum leap in their standard of living. This should actually be the next agenda of any aid agencies of the world: to replicate the success of a labor intensive industries in Asia in Africa.

So, if you have any qualms about buying one of those cheap ‘Made in Bangladesh’ sweatshirts at Big W out of fear of supporting something so ethically incorrect, feel bad no more. By buying goods from the developing countries, you are not only helping the workers sustain their living, you are also helping a poor country make its first few baby steps towards a better economic future.

Rather than plaguing-up the economies, sweatshops actually help build-up economies.

My Personal Regret

Disclaimer: This post is not meant to vilify any party, Petronas included. This is based on my own personal experience. I still have Petronas to thank for whatever contributions they have made for me, especially for the past five years.


I would be lying if I told any of you that I didn’t have any regrets about the very decision that I made five years ago. It was the end of 2006. I was in the fifth form, scoring good grades and all. I was excited; with good grades came good scholarship offers et cetera. I applied for a Petronas scholarship and went to the interview. It was called ‘Educamp’, and I had mine at MRSM Kuching. It was fun; we were exposed to Petronas as a corporation, and we were told of the good prospect that we would get once we received a Petronas scholarship. Basically it registered with me that I would be treated very well if I got to be one of their sponsored students. I did my best in the interview, and I think I aced it. I remember that I had to present about the traffic woes in KL and I came up with some ways to tackle the issue. My experience in high school debate helped me a great deal, and I ended up passing the interview.

When I received the offer, I was ecstatic. I thought that that very letter was the very ‘grant’ of my dream. To be honest, studying overseas was, then, my ultimate goal for the next 5 years of my life; I really couldn’t imagine myself studying at one of the local higher education institutions. Not that I doubted the academic standard of those institutions, it’s just that I preferred studying at a place where I would be able to broaden my worldview and be moulded into a person that I wanted to be; free. Even back then I was comparatively a very liberal thinker living in a society marked with a growing sense of social conservatism. Maybe I will write more about this later.

The offer letter did come with a thick booklet containing many clauses placed in lengthy paragraphs, explaining the terms and conditions attached to my scholarship. I did not really bother to read them all, to me, it was exciting enough that I would get to do Geology (my first choice) at a university of my choice.

I accepted the offer. Little did I care about one of the obligations attached to the scholarship, that I would be required to serve Petronas two years for each year that they sponsored my education. I knew about that, I just didn’t care. After all, the idea of getting a job straight after graduation appealed to me back then.

I was to be placed at Sri KDU to do IB; in fact, I spent two great years there. The IB experience was fulfilling, and I enjoyed it thoroughly, so I’ve no complaints there. My dissatisfaction with Petronas, however, started there, as I, and my other scholarship-holding classmates (we, Petronas scholars, made up roughly half of the total intake for the 2007 IB batch) were told during one of the Petronas engagement sessions in 2008 that they would send us to any one of these three Southern hemisphere countries for our degree; Australia, NZ or South Africa. This put me to shock. I can still recall perfectly today that we were informed by one of the Petronas education officers during our first-year induction session back in early 2007 that we would be sent to the US, UK or Canada for our first degree. I also accepted the scholarship with the knowledge that it would pay for my studies in the States. I always wanted to study in the US; that was indeed one of my dreams growing up. I felt cheated, and of course, furious at their inability to stick to their words.

Whatever happened after that aren’t worth much mention here. Well, maybe I should say that I did okay in IB and went to Melbourne for my degree. I enjoyed the years there profusely, so whatever of my personal dissatisfaction that was documented on the previous paragraph I already moved on from by the end of 2009. Sometimes I thought that it was a blessing in disguise that I didn’t have to endure the long and bitter cold prevalent in the States or the UK. Melbourne was also a relatively short hop’s away from home (8 hours’ flight) so I flew back to Malaysia most of the long holidays. Life was pretty good there, and Petronas, albeit the struggle that we had trying to get them to increase our monthly allowance, treated us well. I lived in a very decent studio apartment, for example. Never did I have to cram in a house with, say, five housemates, which was, and still is, the reality for many other international students who have to grapple with the ever-increasing rent in Melbourne. For this, I thank Petronas.

The nasty part started last year, with my honors application. I was informed by many, including Petronas’ officers themselves, that we would be allowed to extend our period of study for one year to accommodate our honors studies. It is a common practice for the Australian universities to split their degree into three years of basic degree and a year of honors. A degree with honors is considered more superior than a degree without which, but not every student is entitled to do the former. Most universities, Melbourne included, put a set of stringent requirements for students who wish to further their studies to honors. I managed to get a spot, and it gladdened me that Petronas would, by principle, sponsor me for another year to let me finish my honors. JPA and MARA were (and still are) known to do this to their students, so it made sense that Petronas would do the same.

Knowing that there would be no more obstacles in my honors plan, I started putting a great deal of efforts to find a supervisor and a suitable project for my honors year. I managed to find a project very relevant to my future job in Petronas, and my lecturer also wrote a letter to Petronas to inform them of the benefits that they, as my future employer, would get if I were to do the particular honors project under his supervision. As usual, I received some oral confirmation that I would get my sponsorship extended, and duped by my optimism of Petronas being at last true to their words, I was confident that things would turn out the way I wanted them to.

I graduated last December. For this, I have my family, friends, lecturers, teachers, and of course, Petronas, to thank. It was a proud moment for my whole family, and I felt a sense of accomplishment. I still felt very upbeat in December because in my head, I had an honors year to look forward to in 2012. I told myself that the graduation wasn’t the end of my university life; I would have another year to go.

When my optimism was at its peak, I got an email from Petronas informing me that they rejected my application to do honors. To make it sound more dramatic, they snubbed my application two days prior to the honors enrolment due date. Two days. Just imagine the frustration that I had at that time. I had to pack up and leave Melbourne for good on a short notice. Whatever efforts that I put to secure a place to do honors turned out to be futile. In vain.

I wanted to apply for another scholarship, but the very offer letter that I received back in 2007 stipulated that I would not be allowed to get another scholarship without Petronas’ permission. I wanted to report to Petronas (ie start working for them) in 2013, not 2012, so I could have a year allocated to honors. Again, this was against one of the terms of the scholarship as I was required to report to them within 3 months after my graduation (read: February).

These are the terms that I didn’t think about five years back. These are the important terms that came to haunt me in January 2012 yet I couldn’t even be arsed to read about them back then. Failing to adhere to the terms will lead to my parents having to pay Petronas the total sum spent on my education, within 14 working days. There’s no way I will ever burden my parents that way. Petronas knows this. They know that we will not have the guts (or rather, capacity) to breach the contract.

We are bonded. Or, in a more apt yet less savory way to say things, we are chained. We are their assets, their commodities. To try to get out of this is to breach the contract, the consequences of which are as aforementioned.

Now I’m at home, waiting for Petronas to call me up to put me to work. I was told that it would take them up to six months to come up with a job offer for me. In the meantime, I am not allowed to apply for another permanent job. Breach of contract, again. After all, no company will want to recruit a bonded student. The irony of all these is that I could actually use the time spent waiting for Petronas so far to do honors.

We’re theirs for 10 years. Leave the company by then and you’ll be considered to have breached the contract. Consequences as said prior. I’m 22, and I really wish that I could actually be free to chart my own future. I’m honestly not over studying yet. I’m personally very envious at the freedom that my JPA and MARA friends have after they graduate. I also want to do masters, just like them; I’m a passionate learner, and masters is one of my goals for now. I will keenly work after masters, especially since I know I’ll enjoy working as a professional geologist in the future, be it with Petronas, or any other companies. However, looking at the way it is, it’s clear that for the next 10 years of my life, chances are that I will not have much control with my life. I will work for the same company with no option to quit.

My future was already written back then, when I naively accepted an offer that came in the form of a fancy official letter with a small F1 icon on the bottom left. “Cool”, I thought at that. Maybe I have myself to blame, it was after all, my choice. But what do you expect of a 17-year-old teenage boy? How do you think that I, with my lack of experience in life and my naivety in thinking that any corporation kind enough to offer a scholarship would have nothing but good, philanthropic intentions, would foresee the high price I had to pay to get my tertiary education sponsored? I didn’t even know what I wanted to do in my life then. What’s the point of knowing it now when it’s already too late?

Of SPM Results and Our Degree of Self-Worth

The trouble with rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat. (Lily Tomlin)

Let’s go back to roughly the same date as today, five years ago. I, who already started my IB studies at Sri KDU in January that year went back to Bintulu to check my SPM result. I walked my way to SMK Kidurong and went straight to catch a peek at the announcement board, where the results were displayed. A few seconds later I couldn’t feel better. Needless to say I did well, very well, indeed. I felt a sense of pride, bordering on that kind of ‘schmaltzy’, emotional pride. Continue reading “Of SPM Results and Our Degree of Self-Worth”