And another family heads for Greener Pastures

A  friend I’ve known for more than 20 years just moved her family to New Zealand. She wrote this heartfelt essay for

Here’s an excerpt:

“The point is, Malaysia is a good place if you happen to be the right sexual orientation, know the right people, come from the right families and don’t display enough passion for politics to rock the boat.

I want for my children a place in the world where those things don’t count against you.”

Sigh. To read on, click here.


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Reporting Camp for Kids


Earlier this year, I took the paintings off the wall, set up a projector and invited some kids around my dining table to learn how to be reporters. Just for fun.

The goal was not to turn them into wannabe journalists. The goal was to teach them what makes A Story – who, what, when, where, why – and how to pull it all together. It’s what I learned in Journalism 101 (almost 20 years ago!) and I think they’re good skills for everyone to have.

As all good reporters know, when you work on a story, you feel connected. You start to care. And we could all do with some of that, living as we do in our bubbles. Okay, end of preaching.

There were eight kids aged between eight and 13.  They arrived at 10am and stayed till 2pm, with a roti canai – yum! – break. Continue reading


Filed under Family fun, General

Writing Class for Refugees

A little over ten years ago, I moved to Singapore for work.

I didn’t stay long.

You see, every morning I knew exactly what would happen. I would step out of my little white rented house in Holland Village, walk down the road, turn the corner and cross the street to the bus stop. Nothing would surprise me.

In Malaysia, you leave your house, turn the corner…and something will surprise you. You may fall into a manhole. Or crash into a fallen tree. But something will surprise you.

Anything can happen in Malaysia. Which is how I found myself a few months ago teaching a writing class for refugees.

Here’s something I wrote for the Malaysian Insider about what it was like.

And here’s a link to the essays that came out of the class.

We Malaysians toss and turn over where to live, whether to emigrate, or stay. Some don’t have the luxury of that choice.

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Election Fever

Malaysian spring

(Pic by Kean Wong of Bangsar roundabout where landscape architect Ng Seksan and friends planted thousands of flags to signify a Malaysian spring. April 2013.)

The last time I was around for a Malaysian election was 1999.

Anwar Ibrahim had been sacked and was proving a major thorn in Umno’s side, rallying young people, awakening the politically passive, and other inconvenient things. The economy was in trouble. Chinese Malaysians were worried about racial riots. Mahathir was on the warpath.

This time around, everything’s different. Oh, wait…actually, nevermind.

Living in the US for a decade, I missed the 2004 and 2008 elections. On election day in 2008, my family and I were having dinner with friends at a Vietnamese restaurant in St Paul, Minnesota. Immersed in our American life, I’d not kept up with news from home. After all, there was a pretty exciting election in the US that year too, if you remember.

It was our American friend, a college professor – who, of all things, once interned at the Star newspaper in PJ – who checked his cellphone just before the beef pho arrived and excitedly told me a political tsunami had hit my country. (Hi, Tom.)

We moved back to KL in 2011. It’s been heartwarming, happy, frustrating and depressing all at the same time.

So much has happened in the world. The United States elected a black president – twice. China overtook Japan to become the world’s second biggest economy. India was opening up. Myanmar held its first election.

Yet Malaysia seemed frozen in time, or sliding backwards. Our schools, our newspapers, our roads and a government that’s been in power since independence from the British in 1957.

We waited, in suspended animation, for an election that never seemed to come.

Now it’s here.

Campaigning is in full swing for a vote on May 5. In towns and villages around the country, people are thronging  political rallies, waiting hours in fields under the stars to hear a vision of an alternate Malaysia. In affluent Bangsar, they’re gathering to sip wine and discuss corruption and illicit capital outflows, salon-style.

Malaysians abroad, from Sydney to Singapore to Shanghai, who left for better careers and a better future for their children, are getting on planes, trains and buses and carpooling to make it home to vote.

Everywhere, there are fluttering blue, green and red flags and a feeling that maybe this time, things may change.

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Filed under brain drain, election, General

I’m in the Malaysian Insider

Onebrainblog regulars already know this stuff, but for newbies, Dina Zaman interviewed me recently on the Malaysian Insider on how I became one brain swimming against the tide of the Malaysian Brain drain….

Thanks, Dina.

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Filed under brain drain, Returnee Moment, Returnees, Why come home?

Going Postal

New column on!

“Going Postal,” a postal voter’s diary by Ai Leen Lim in London.

Ai Leen will be posting regularly up until the election. Take a look.


Ai Leen Lim

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Filed under brain drain, Brains Abroad, In The News, malaysians abroad

Cheap Air Asia X tickets for Malaysians flying home to vote

Good news – Air Asia X’s CEO is the first to stick his neck out and say he’s going to offer discount tickets for Malaysians flying home to vote.

Wonder if the other airlines will follow?

Here are the details – on a Q&A with

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