INTO THE FINAL month of the year, all the people around me have suddenly vanished: fewer colleagues showing up at work and badminton buddies are nowhere in sight.
They’ve all gone overseas!
Many of my friends and relatives have major annual trips each year to exotic places at far ends of this planet, like Europe, America, the Northern Lights in Iceland or Machu Picchu, not to mention quarterly short-haul trips to regional destinations, China, Australia or Japan.
Malaysian Chinese are among the most seasoned travelers around, probably second only to Singaporeans and Hong Kongers.
Many may argue that Westerners travel a lot, but let me tell you they fall far behind us.
Statistics show that only about a third of Americans hold valid international passports. In other words, almost two-thirds of Americans have never set their feet on foreign lands, and for those who have, Canada and Mexico are perhaps their only oversea destinations.
It is therefore natural that many Americans have not heard of Malaysia. Since they don’t travel overseas, their lack of geographical knowledge is easily understandable.
I have no idea whether Malaysians’ passion for traveling has anything to do with our culture or genetic make-up. But one thing for sure, it has something to do with money!
You can’t travel without money. Can you?
Of course, some may argue that traveling is very much in the blood of many, with or without money. This I can understand, especially for our youngsters.
The question is, you’ve got to address your fundamental needs first before you have the extra cash for air tickets, accommodation and a taste of exotic culture.
Our generous travel-related spending doesn’t seem to match our endless complaints of skyrocketing fuel and goods prices.
When the petrol price surged by seven cents last month, a friend started to hurl curses as if these seven cents had made his life all the more miserable. The thing is, he had just booked a Greece & Turkey tour for his whole family, and the RM10k bill appeared to be peanuts to him.
Some politicians swore that the Malaysian economy would go bust, and many opted to believe without recognizing the reality of the country’s 6.2% Q3 GDP expansion, 7.2% private consumption growth and foreign reserves enough to support 7.5 months of imports.
Many have overinterpreted the withdrawal of a Hong Kong dim sum shop and a Korean cosmetic company from the Malaysian market, claiming that doom is around the corner, without seeing new shops springing up like mushrooms after the rain.
ECONOMY IS A scientific and professional field that must never be distorted by an individual’s personal feelings or liking
Sure enough there are still poor people in this country, and problems still abound in our economy. We need time to overcome these problems. In the meantime, there are undeniably many who are doing really very well.
I’m neither an optimist nor a naysayer, but to get an accurate picture of the country’s state of economy, we need to first deliver ourselves out of our partisan prejudices. We must look at this more impartially and professionally.
We need to look at the numbers and mid- to long-term prospects to judge whether the national economy is doing okay. Many have simply been blinded by the superficial picture that catches their eyes and have neglected the actual aspects of the economy.
We always grumble that we never earn enough to make ends meet. This problem is not new, and has been in existence for thousands of years, right since money first came into being.
We don’t have enough money because our expectations from life have been rising.
We are no longer contented with a modest cup of RM1.30 Hainanese coffee but a RM13 gourmet brew. We don’t go for neighborhood food stall for dinner any more, but posh seafood restaurant. The year-end family trip is not to Cameron Highlands but snowy Hokkaido, and our first car is not a Proton but a Honda.
The more we expect from life, the more cash we would need to get ourselves satisfied. This, nevertheless, is not a bad thing but a positive force to move the human race forward.
Another important point: As our society keeps changing, so does our economy.
Some of our malls are empty, not because the economy is bad but because we simply have too many malls around, not to mention online shopping popular among the young that makes physical shops almost redundant at times.
Some businesses are not doing well not because consumption is weak, but because of a shift in consumerism pattern. Some of the shops are still operating in the old-fashioned ways of the last century, rarely appealing to our fashion-conscious millennials today.
Many furniture manufacturers grumble about poor business, but on the opening day of Ikea Tebrau, shoppers queued up outside for hours before daybreak just to get into the massive furniture mall. They did this willingly because they wanted something fashionable, of superior quality and returnable.
Some say the automobile industry is depressed, but Perodua’s new Myvi is selling over 20,000 units in the first month.
The question is not whether the economy is good or bad, but with what attitude we see our economy, what kind of life we are looking for, and whether we are resolved enough to create more wealth and opportunities for ourselves.