After being trapped at home in the 17-month long battle against Covid-19, Malaysia desperately needed something to celebrate. Our badminton men’s doubles pair consisting of Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik were not favourites to win a medal, especially when they had to face powerhouses from Indonesia and China.
Aaron and Soh’s defeat to Li Jun Hui and Liu Yu Chen at the semi-finals shattered our nation’s dream of clinching an impossible gold-or-silver to vicariously uplift our spirits. The underdog pair from Malaysia started the bronze match with a loss of 17-21.
But with the thoughts of their family and the entire country behind them, Aaron and Soh took control of the game and fought back with a series of smashes, lobs, and drops envious to all who watch. With three points to win, Aaron and Soh held their ground and stood close to each other.
When the final smash was unreturned, Aaron and Soh fell to the ground in joy, covering their faces in disbelief. Back home, flats and apartments cheered in jubilance, in the spirit of a gold medal.
Aaron was 24, Soh was 23.
Young people today are smarter, more courageous, and more resilient than any generation that came before it. They walk into one of the most trying time in modern history, and this is made worse if they are in Malaysia.
The financial crisis of 2021 has crippled the economy to a grinding halt. Young graduates who enter the job market in these few years are destined to suffer from a bleak economic outlook. They are already seeing it.
When businesses – including century-old enterprises – are forced to close down, youth unemployment would inevitably rise. Even in the very slim chance they get a job, they are likely to obtain only around RM1,000 to RM1,500 per month. Median wage has dropped for the first time in the last decade, and unemployment stands at a 27-year high. The schooling and university education do not equip university students sufficiently to compete and demand for better wages. Malaysian companies, consisting mostly of small and medium outfits, are unable to afford to pay in any case.
The wages graduates get are less than half of the required living wage of RM2,700 to live minimally in cities like Kuala Lumpur. They would have to pay off their PTPTN student loans; they will not be able to afford a car, a home or a marriage. Delaying such choices also mean that young people would accumulate wealth much later; destined to achieve the necessary living milestones later than the previous generations.
The worst part is that the problems young people face now will not go away when the economy improves. By locking themselves in a bad economy, young people unwittingly create a ceiling for how far and high they could climb for the next few years. Your first salary becomes the base level for negotiating for next salary.
It is no wonder that this generation are faced with more pertinent mental health challenges when the uncertain future is translated into self-blame.
Not only that, young people will inherit a political system that is broken. The people in power who are two generations older than them have normalized undemocratic practices like party-hopping, clamping down on critics, abuse of power, defying the rule of law, entrenching inequality, illegitimate exercise of power, unfair elections, gerrymandering, removing institutional independence, and politicians who thrives on mediocrity, low expectations, and disrespect for the people they serve.
If young people asked you, given how bad the situation is for them, what should they do to make themselves heard? All channels are closed. The young people, like all marginalized groups, are invisible in the eyes of the government.
That is why they have taken to the streets in what was the most organized, socially-distanced, peaceful protest in our country’s history. Entirely grassroots, without elite support, they designed creative placards and banners, and donned black t-shirts that symbolize the death of democracy, demanding for justice for every living being of Malaysia.
Hundreds of protestors were willing to risk their lives from the virus, criticisms, ridicules, threats, and police arrests, and made their voices heard. This was the first time in 2021 that the streets of Kuala Lumpur felt alive after being locked in for too long.
Lawan meant fighting back. This was the first step to taking back control from a country that has been taken away from them.
They have given us courage and life, and what do we give them in return? We gave them intimidation, threats, and police investigations in a heavy-handed reciprocation.
Used to political overreaching of our police force, we accepted it as a given. But the signal we are sending to the next generation is that we are shutting off their final valve of expression. We asked them to stop telling us what they feel and suffer quietly and alone.
They gave us a medal. We gave them the worst Malaysia.