Sherry (left) in Sarawak.

“Where there’s corruption and no accountability, development is always slow.”

Sherry Israel, from Sarawak

I moved over to Kuala Lumpur about four years ago to pursue a degree in Mass Communications in Limkokwing University. There weren’t many universities back home that offered this subject, besides maybe Universiti Malaysia Sarawak and Curtin University. I figured job opportunities would be better if I graduated over here as well.  Finally, coming to KL also felt like one of those things you do after secondary school, like a rite of passage.

When I moved over here, I experienced a bit of culture shock. Where I’m from, you find non-halal food such as kolo mee stalls (handmade noodles drenched in char siew sauce) operating next to halal Malay stalls and no one has a problem with it. That’s the kind of tolerance I grew up with.

There are over 40 ethnicities in Sarawak but the concept of ‘race’ isn’t so talked about or even an issue back home. In KL on the other hand, even looking for rooms to rent is a problem because some ads state “Chinese only”, “Malay only” or “Indian only”. Wtf is this? I’m half Chinese, half Indian; what category do I fall in then?

East Malaysia is definitely suffering a brain drain because a lot of us leave after college to pursue higher education elsewhere be it KL, Australia or the UK. The salaries after you graduate are also higher elsewhere. The minimum wage in Sabah, Sarawak and Labuan is RM800. The government has set the poverty line in Sarawak at RM912 and Sabah, RM1048. As you can see, the minimum wage in East Malaysia is below the poverty line. How are we expected to survive which such low pay?

I see Sabah and Sarawak on the road to development, and in 50 years it’ll be far more developed than it is now. Right now, it’s not where it’s supposed to be. Then again, where there’s corruption and no accountability, development is always slow. The landmass of Sarawak and Sabah is larger than the Peninsula, but how is it that we don’t even have a complete highway yet? So many road accidents happen while travelling between different towns in Sarawak because roads are in such a state. Upgrades to the Pan Borneo highway have been taking place 2011 and are expected to be completed in 2025. That’s a long time to wait for the people of Sabah and Sarawak.

I don’t foresee going home to Sarawak to work anytime soon. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not that I don’t love my hometown. I do, but I’ve always had a passion for travelling and discovering new places around the world. The Germans call it wanderlust. I would want to come back to Sarawak probably when I’m more mature and hopefully bring back the knowledge and experience I have gained over the years to aid the development of East Malaysia in whatever way I can.


Qayyum in a dairy farm in Sabah.

“We may grow up differently but the future is ours to pen. Do we really need to fight about the exact date we were liberated?”

Abdul Qayyum Jumadi, from Sabah

When I was small, coming to the Peninsula felt like going to another country. My parents used to save up money to come here every year and labelled it “an overseas vacation”. We just wanted to see what the other side of Malaysia looked like. We would go to Genting Highlands and also Sunway Lagoon, the two must-visit places. Oh, also the KL Tower.

In a way, I didn’t have a choice about moving to KL. Neither Sabah nor Sarawak have law schools. The only option for an aspiring lawyer, should he or she desire to pursue this profession, is to purchase a plane ticket out of the country, or alternatively, go to the Peninsula. (In which you also need a plane ticket). If you think the brain drain here is bad, you should take a look at Sabah.

When I arrived in the Peninsula, I did not have a problem with the language. I had picked up the way people speak here through television shows and movies. My main problem was the cultural divide. It was like we were made of the same mould but I was somehow painted differently. I feel I am the same as people here but still I can’t entirely blend in.

Over the years, I have travelled all over the peninsula and I do have plans to start my career here and – dare I say it – maybe even settle down here. To really love a place, you must get to know it and that is what I have been doing for the past five years. I took up odd jobs and met with people from all over the land through studying, part-time jobs, and of course, classes.

That said, I could never substitute this place for home. I plan to start off my career here, whatever it is, but my heart calls for the majestic mountain of Kinabalu. It’s great, really, living in Kota Kinabalu. Beautiful islands just 20 minutes away, beaches on your doorstep, and if you fancy a trip to the mountains, just grab a friend and a car and you’ll be at the foot of Kinabalu in two hours.

Kuala Lumpur to me is like this cool uncle who lives next door that I would always like to visit. Sadly, I really can’t afford all the things this uncle offers me. Not now at least, and I have to go back to take care of my own home. I hope I can afford these things in the coming 50 years, or at least have the same things offered in my home. I know just asking for it won’t do any good but all great things starts off with a dream.

I hope this place I call home preserves its serenity and calmness, something I cannot find anywhere else. Maybe we just need a little nudge in terms of infrastructure and basic necessities. What you read in the news is true, some parts of Sabah can’t even get electricity and we’re the poorest state in the nation. That’s quite sad considering the great wonders of nature we have to offer.

Also, I hope maybe in 50 years’ time we can do away with this West Malaysians and East Malaysians separation. We fought the same struggles. Let’s not let some political ideals get in the way. We may grow up differently but the future is ours to pen. Do we really need to fight about the exact date we were liberated? Isn’t it enough to know that we fought hard and now it’s time to foster a present and develop a future of our own creation?

Sherry Israel is’s Writer in Progress. An urban hippie at heart, she loves electronic dance music festivals and a good book. She is currently pursuing a degree in Mass Communications focusing on Journalism.

Abdul Qayyum Jumadi is a law student and a former Writer in Progress. His heritage is so mixed, he doesn’t know what ethnicity he is! In his free time he writes fiction and tweets nonsense. You can follow him on Twitter at @Qayzr.