ONE of the benefits of living in Britain, I tell my friends, is the time difference.
When I wake up, it is usually later in the evening back in Malaysia, which means that any nuggets of news I consume has for the most part been “packaged”.
On social media, where I get most of my Malaysian news from these days, live reactions to events happening earlier in the day would usually have come to a conclusion or fizzled out.
This has been a useful escape for someone like me, who has a strong passion for the well-being of Malaysia.
Sometimes, however, things happen beyond the usual nine-to-five timeframe or are such major issues that even a seven-hour time difference cannot help.
This was indeed one of those weeks.
Over the past few days, we have discovered that our immigration system has been compromised and that some of our children have for years been suffering at the hands of a paedophile.
Granted, the latter has made big news here in England as well.
Then, we have the fiasco with the tabling of what is, let’s face it, a Bill which will implement punishments for crimes that has no place in Malaysia, let alone anywhere in the world in 2016.
Whatever distance I had over the past few months, and recovering from what has been a tiring few years dealing with politics and democracy in Malaysia, just crumbled in the span of a few days.
Despite what I often write about, it will come as no surprise to people who know me well that it is tough constantly being hopeful when you feel more and more helpless as each day goes by.
This helplessness is amplified more being 13 hours away.
But life has a funny way of making things happen.
Over the weekend, when I was feeling basically miserable at the state of affairs at the land I call home, I started getting messages from friends.
Two conversations in particular were memorable in that they were basically talking about the same thing – their impending return to Malaysia – but both were at such different places in their lives.
One is a young Malaysian temporarily living abroad, having only recently discovered his voice and place in attempting to engage in his citizenry as a Malaysian.
Another is an old friend, the same age as myself who, while also temporarily living abroad, has lived for many years in Malaysia enough to be cynical and jaded.
As I have in the past told them, the way I do with anyone who laments the same situation, that things are what they are and how they are.
The only thing they can do is play with the cards out of the deck that has been handed to them in the best way they can.
In short, I was telling them to be optimistic, and to be hopeful.
Things don’t always go our way but giving up just makes us feel worse and nothing gets resolved.
I am not sure if they are aware of it but those conversations were as much an antidote for my own sense of helplessness watching things from afar that I can’t do much about as I hope it was for them.
Because I truly believe that hope is the one beacon that would be the catalyst for any change, and hope is the basis of surviving any form of oppression – whether that comes from the state, institutions, society or our individual selves.
A friend recently told me that the worse thing we can do is to despair and give up.
That is what the institutions and people who make life difficult for us expect of us.
Indeed, there is a lot to be hopeful about if we only open our eyes to work together to make our country and the world a better place.
If we choose to see the positive, we will notice that we are not the only country encountering difficulties – the US is dealing with a possible Donald Trump presidency, Austria almost voted in the most far-right leader since World War II and Britain is on the cusp of a potential disastrous decision whether to leave or remain in the European Union to name a few.
At the same time, we are also living in a great time when technology is at the best we’ve ever seen despite all the attempts to control it and when the battle for equality – whether to do with race, women’s and gender rights or sexuality among others – is slowly being won.
These fights were and continue to be difficult but the thing that helps us get through it is always hope and courage.
It’s not always easy to feel this way, but it is important that we try. Whatever it is, I will choose hope over despair.
Because being seven hours behind and a 13-hour flight away, it’s all that I have at the moment, but it will also make all the difference.
- Niki is currently reading for his PhD in Critical Theory and Cultural Studies at The University of Nottingham, UK. Connect with him at www.nikicheong.com/news.
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