My sister is involved in Chinese debate these days. I found myself wanting to express thoughts on her latest debate topic (these topics are always so freakin philosophical: 爱比被爱更幸福), but I lacked the words to say them. In debating, words are the main vehicle to deliver your message, and the truth is my Chinese has deteriorated to dangerous levels…despite once being a national debating champion.

This made me realize how precious communication skills are, and how quickly they can be lost if they are left to rust.

Of course language is only one way to communicate – you can also tell brilliant stories through art, dance, and music. But language is major.

Malaysia is a unique country; a language handicap can turn out to be a severe handicap here. The more languages you are fluent in, the more people you can relate to. After hearing about incidences like the DAP dilemma (my friend teaches Chinese at the KL office each week because most complainants are Mandarin-speaking uncles, and no one at the office is linguistically equipped to cope with that!) and the lorry joke, I can’t help but think Malaysians are uniquely positioned to serve the Malaysian community like no other people on earth. If anyone has a shot at solving Malaysia’s problems, it’s us.

Ah, but it’s not just about language. As I was saying in 月月 and the Tiger Mother, I feel detached from larger society. Isn’t social integration important to the government? How utterly SAD is it then, that my first real Malay friend was my college mate?

So I pay more attention these days. I’ve started to make more effort to talk to different types of people, partly due to the journalistic curiosity I’ve developed.

Crossing the pedestrian bridge from IOI mall the other day, I stopped and talked to 阿才, the Chinese beggar with the prosthetic leg. He said he was from 海南岛 in China and with a little bit of prompting, he told me his story. I wanted to take a picture of the guy but he refused, so I took down his number and gave it to Community At Heart, just in case. Although not much can be done for 阿才 at the moment, I think it’s a great start. I made a connection. He’s always on the bridge, so feel free to talk to him. Verify his story. Offer him a job –I don’t know. In any case, someone really needs to investigate the case of these Chinese beggars. Don’t sit around saying nothing can be done, or that all beggars are frauds. Be the solution.

The other day, I went to Taman Chali. This is one of Alor Setar’s most famous food courts and it was my first time there! See what I mean by detachment :(. So I ordered ying yong from an old Ah Pek, and as I watched him toss the golden brown noodles around in his badly stained wok, I wondered how I could start a conversation with him. I wondered how many children he had. Whether he enjoyed his work. After living my whole life as if hawkers are robots you only say ‘one char koay teow’, ‘how much’, and ‘thank you’ to, it’s amazing how useless I am at starting a real conversation. I finally asked how long have you been doing this?  in careful Hokkien. 6 years here, he said. Turns out business was better for him at the real Hai Tao Kee where he had the center spot in the foot court.

I’m sorry. This talking thing comes naturally to some people, so it might seem like I’m making a big fuss, but I really want to be able to connect with more people. I want to harness my Malaysian identity to do things like helping 阿才. In Australia, it would take me years to become really familiar with my locality, and as a foreigner, I’m naturally disadvantaged. But in Malaysia, that investment of time and energy would have quicker and – I hope – more lasting returns. I think I have the potential to contribute more here.

So despite frequent warnings from my dad to get out of this so-called future Zimbabwe, I think I am going to return to Malaysia after graduation. A culmination of prayer, advice from different people, and the above reasons have made it quite clear to me that Malaysia is where I should be next year. I’ll be back if nothing dramatic happens in the next 8 months. : )