‘This is the story of Asia over the last forty years.’
We, The Survivors, is the story of Lee Hock Lye – known to friends and family as Ah Hock – a young man born in a Malaysian fishing village and now trying to make his way in a world that promises wealth and success to everyone but delivers them only to a chosen few. Like so many around him, Ah Hock dreams of a better life, but remains trapped in a cycle of endless dead-end jobs that ultimately lead him to murder a Bangladeshi migrant worker. Over several months, he tells his story to a local journalist whose life couldn’t be more different from his own. Whose story is this, exactly?
I’m not sure if the story belongs to Ah Hock, or to Su-Min, the journalist who transcribes and presents it to us. But I’m sure of one thing: the story represents the two parts of my own journey. I grew up in a family divided between town and country – between education and deprivation, optimism and stagnation. Like others in my extended Chinese-Malaysian family, my parents had made it out of the isolated rural communities into which they were born, but others weren’t so lucky So while my parents established lives in the city and had children who would go on to university, those left behind in the village would struggle to keep their heads above water; their children would be forced to find jobs in factories, or as bus drivers in provincial towns.
This is the story of Asia over the last forty years. We have grown up believing that life would never cease to get better, but the truth is that in just three generations, we have managed to create bitter divisions of race and class.
Every year, desperately poor migrants from Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar brave treacherous sea and land crossings to find work in the richer countries in Asia, like Malaysia and Singapore. Hoping to build new lives for themselves, they more often face horrific working conditions and prejudice at every turn. They also come into contact with locals who are themselves deprived, under-educated and the victims of discrimination. Who suffers more in these circumstances? Who has the right to hatred, and towards whom?
We, The Survivors, is my attempt to locate myself in this story of contemporary Asia. It is also, in some way, a tribute to the resilience of the millions of people, including members of my own family, who battle to survive in a ruthless, rapidly changing world.
We, The Survivors
Out 4th April 2019