One of the cental pillars of Chinese culture has always been ‘education’. Every Chinese, especially those from the disadvantaged social strata, aspires for his or her children to make it good via an education, to become a mandarin, to ‘rise above the muddy waters and bloom like a lotus’. That’s why many Chinese named their daughters ‘Lotus’.
Chinese folklore has many glorious tales of a poor peasant's son becoming the Emperor’s mandarin, through the young man’s arduous and brilliant studies. Those historical tales have inspired Chinese society to educate their children well.
In Malaya, legends abound of prominent surgeons, engineers and other notables of society who were children of poor hawkers or coolies, so poor that they had to study by the street lamps or flickering candles during their school days. Those young lads, hardly in their teens, were also required to work for the family’s survival that it was a wonder how they managed to combine their studies with their apprenticeships as hawkers and labourers. Some even walked for umpteen miles to reach school. But they eventually attained their exalted positions.
That is why education is a very sensitive issue with Chinese Malaysians. That has been why the Chinese in Malaysia have virtually abandoned the national education system which they consider to have dodgy standards.
Chinese parents there have been known to mortgage their houses and worldly possessions to send their children abroad for tertiary education in Australia, New Zealand, UK, Canada, USA, China, India etc. Many have left very comfortable positions and lives to migrate abroad for such educational reasons.
The reasons for seeking university education abroad even though the financial cost threatens their economic position are three-fold – the dodgy standards of local universities, difficulties of getting a scholarship (there’s no HECs in Malaysia), but most significant of all, the very slim chance of even securing a place in a university study of their preference because the government’s affirmative actions have marginalised many Chinese and Indians.
Four years ago, the daughters of Malaysian bus driver Loo Moy Shan, applied for and were offered places at a university to study chemical engineering. But the educational outlook was bleak for them because they had to work to support the family.
If the two girls were to have a chance, Loo knew he needed 60,000 Malaysian ringgit to pay the university tuition fees for his two daughters. A bus driver’s salary in Malaysia isn’t something to shout about, so 60 grand was virtually a fortune.
Besides, poor Loo who earned RM1,000 a month had to support his mother’s medical bill of RM2,000 per month. His savings was gradually eroded away as well. It was obvious that he didn’t have the money for his daughters’ education, so he decided to rob someone to get the required sum, but was caught in the act.
Last Thursday he was jailed for life for the armed robbery he committed four years ago.
The younger daughter now works as a clerk while her sister is a factory clerk in Singapore. Loo’s eldest son also works in a factory, while the youngest is still in college.
The family was shocked when they learnt of his crime, for he didn’t inform them of his crazy scheme. His younger daughter lamented:
“He told us he was going to find a better-paying job in Kuala Lumpur and left. If we had known my father was going to do something like that, we would have never let him go. We would have told him our education didn’t matter. We love him so much. The money doesn’t matter. We want him to come back to us.”
A Chinese-based political party, having heard of their story, offered to help them, but the family proudly asserted they do not want public sympathy nor financial assistance. The two daughters no longer wish for tertiary education, explaining they already have steady jobs.
What Loo Moy Shan did was very wrong, though he did it to fulfil his fatherly duty out of love for his daughters. He made a huge but crazy sacrifice, and now is paying for it for the rest of his natural life.
I couldn’t help but feel tears welling in my eyes for such a tragic ending for his family.
The lotus will never ever bloom for Loo.