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Malaysia is Modernising

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Back in the mid-90s, something happened that changed my life. You often hear marketers come up with trite phrases like, “This changes everything.” This time, however, it was true. Early that year, I bought a little 33.6Kbps modem, attached it to my computer and my phone line, and connected to the Internet.

Back then, the Internet was a rather different thing than it is today. There was certainly no such thing as “broadband” – dial-up speed topped out at a paltry 52Kbps – and in those early days, you had to pay by the hour to access the Internet. Society was taking its first tentative steps into the realm of the world wide web.

Today of course, it’s hard to think of too many segments of human life which haven’t been impacted by the Internet. Shopping, communication, sharing photos, doing research, investing, travel, conducting business, and all the small things from getting the updated weather forecast to checking the scores from yesterday’s games. And yes, even being an expat these days is dramatically different thanks to the proliferation of the Internet. Interestingly, the rise of the Internet has coincided quite neatly with Malaysia’s own ascent as it seeks to become a fully developed, high-income nation. Indeed, much has changed in this country over the past two decades.

Sometimes I wonder what it must have been like to be an expat in Malaysia before the big push to modernise things really began in earnest. I’ve talked to long-tenured expats and locals, but never can get the real meat of what I’m looking for. I guess it’s like trying to really remember what life was like before the Internet. You know it existed, but it’s hard to quite recall the actual process of change. It happens slowly and over many years, so it’s hard to remember what it was like to start with. If nothing else, it must be acknowledged that the Internet has made many of our day-to-day tasks a lot less burdensome.

Similarly, life in Malaysia has unquestionably gotten easier for foreigners living here. Not so long ago, being based in Malaysia was considered a hardship posting, and expats were compensated accordingly. But think of what astounding leaps Malaysia has made in the last two to three decades. The North-South Highway. The Penang Bridge. The Second Penang Bridge. KLIA. KLIA2. (Malaysia loves a sequel.) The Petronas Towers and KLCC. All the popular malls here, from Pavilion to 1 Utama to Sunway Pyramid (and so many more). The entire mass transit system from the old Star and Putra lines begun in the mid-90s to the massive MRT project under construction now. The SMART Tunnel. ASTRO satellite TV and its recent evolution to include high-definition and IPTV platforms. And I don’t know for sure, but I’d guess that probably most of the buildings over 30 floors in the city have been built in the last twenty-odd years.

If the 19th century was the United Kingdom’s era, and 20th century was America’s, it seems all but certain that Asia will assume a strong leadership role in the 21st century. Naturally, much of the talk is focused on China, but it will surely be Southeast Asia’s time to shine, as well. I feel fortunate to be living in such a dynamic place where, admittedly, not all things are rosy, but where the general outlook for the future is quite positive. For me, nearly everything about Malaysia’s near-term future seems to be looking up. The coming elections are – as these things tend to do – casting a shadow of uncertainty over the coming months, but I think that regardless of how Malaysians choose when they go to the polls, the country will continue its ascent.

Of course, Malaysia surely has its problems, some rather universal, others unique to this country. But I look at things like the government’s new initiative to train and educate taxi drivers, branding them as ambassadors for the nation and holding them accountable. (And let’s face it, any effort to improve the taxi situation in KL is most welcome.) I see the construction underway for the long-overdue new MRT line that will bring mass transit to some two million people. I read about the IPOs of Malaysian companies making a worldwide financial splash. I see Malaysia ranked in the top ten most-visited countries in the world, and KL named the second-best shopping city in Asia. (In a separate ranking, CNN placed KL as the fourth-best shopping city worldwide.) I check a recent US-based report naming the top Asian property investment prospects for 2013, and see that four of the top five markets are in Southeast Asia (KL ranks number four). I also find that one of my earliest complaints about living in Malaysia – the woeful state of broadband – has been eliminated. Now, I have a thin strand of fibre bringing blazing-fast Internet into my home, along with many dozens of standard- and high-definition TV channels. I see the positive transformative steps the government and people of this country are taking to make it better, to make it stronger.

Truly, it’s a great time to live here and it looks like Malaysia is really on an upward swing. As an expat, I’m happy to be along for the ride, contributing where I can, and enjoying what will surely be looked upon as Malaysia’s boom time.

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Source: The Expat February 2013

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