Malaysia's wasted cottage industries

OCTOBER 31 — Having just returned from a brief trip to Bangkok, I can't help but compare our tourism trade with theirs.

There used to be a time when Thailand was mostly just associated with beaches and red light districts. But now it has a more robust economy and its middle-class has stronger purchasing power to the point Apple is opening its second South-east Asian store not in Malaysia but there.

It's not that Thailand “forced” locals to consume more local products, the way Malaysia pretty much twisted the arm of Malaysian customers into buying Proton cars.

When you go to handicraft stores and souvenir shops, you can easily find products that are proudly made in Thailand. Local artisans take pride in their work and you can find things to suit any budget ― from quirky T-shirts to high-end leather and silk.

Go to Central Market and you'll find too many of our so-called “local” souvenirs that are made in China.

It's not that we don't have local craftsmen; there's just too little reward for their effort. While Indonesia has pretty much cornered the market in batik and Thailand is an exciting hub for fashion and textiles, Malaysia is still mostly dependent on promoting locations and food.

We do not value our local art, or our local artisans. I blame the Malaysian kiamsap mentality; honestly we are far more kiasu than our neighbouring Singaporeans who at least can be persuaded to pay top dollar for things if they are convinced of the quality.

Malaysians want everything cheap. Part of that stems from the depressed wages because Malaysian businesses for too long have resisted paying livable wages, preferring to hire cheap foreign labour instead.

We want everything cheap. Malaysians in general do not understand the concept of a “fair” price, just the cheapest price and then have the audacity to complain that they didn't get something twice the value of what they paid.

Sub-standard construction, sub-standard tourism promotion, we are just so used to skimming and cutting corners it has permeated into every aspect of our daily lives.

Malaysians who love taking shortcuts by using the emergency lanes on highways, or bribing cops to get out of paying fines ― we take all those things for granted.

Now that we've found out we can do things differently (like vote out governments) maybe we can start learning to rethink “the Malaysian way.”

We have to start somewhere, and I hope that can start by valuing the work of our own craftsmen. Let us really try and find our true worth, and not just what will make the most profit.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.