Rain, progressive attitudes and terrible housing: a Malaysian perspective on modern Ireland

Irish weather is ugly. That’s a topic I’m sure everyone here can agree on. “At times like this, I do miss Malaysia’s hot weather,” I thought to myself as Storm Diana kicked in. In the face of increasingly freezing temperatures and totally erratic weather conditions, I hold up my mug of hot coffee, reminiscing about how my time has been in the Emerald Isle (so far).

“Are you heading to England to study? Is Ireland part of England?” I recall the amount of times I had to answer, “No, I am going to Ireland and Ireland is not part of England.” See, that’s what most of my friends and relatives back home thought, that Ireland is part of England. Clearly, the Emerald Isle is not as well known outside of Europe as you might think. In fact, the first countries when you think about Europe would be countries like England, France, Germany as they are the traditional powerhouses of Western society.

A developed country is generally characterised by their levels of Gross Domestic Profit (GDP) and quality of life. Most European nations are classified with a developed country status, and Ireland is not excluded. There are clear distinct differences between Ireland and where I come from, Malaysia, which is a developing country.

The general consensus is that Ireland is a friendly nation. People are generally friendly and willing to strike up a chat with almost anyone. That is evident from the number of times casual chats were initiated as I waited for buses. Car drivers on the road seem to be relaxed and easy-going too. They would usually stop to let you cross the road when traffic is free and easy. Cars stopping for you is certainly not something you would ever witness in Malaysia.

In fact, I don’t think cars ever stop in Malaysia. According to the Nielsen Global Survey of Automotive Demand, Malaysia has the third highest car ownership in the world. My country has one of the highest road death rates in Asia, with thousands of people killed on the road each year.

Stigma

Moreover, I am impressed with the level of mental health awareness in Ireland. For example, Mental Health Week is an eye-opening experience for me. It lands on October every year. At first, I couldn’t believe that there’s actually occasions dedicated to mental health.

People actually talk about these issues? It’s such a taboo subject back where I come from. In my culture, there is a widespread belief that having mental health problems is generally your own problem which means that you are just ‘weak’ or ‘lacking willpower’.

So during October every year, it was surprising to see campaigns on mental health awareness, with people talking about their fears and struggles. I would not expect people to openly talk about their problems in public and especially to the media. There’s a huge unbearable stigma surrounding mental health in Malaysia. While stigma surrounding mental health is still present in Ireland, I feel there is a considerable awareness on the issue.

Gender-neutral bathrooms are signs of a progressive country and acceptance for change. I first saw one of these toilets two years ago and it was something that never even crossed my mind while living in Malaysia.

In Ireland, homosexuality was decriminalised in 1993, and now Ireland has an openly gay Taoiseach. “It’s not something that defines me, I’m not a half-Indian politician or a doctor politician, I’m not a gay politician for that matter, it’s just part of who I am,” the Taoiseach told RTE Radio One in June 2017.

This makes for quite the contrast to Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. “There are certain things we cannot accept even though it is accepted as [a] human right in the West. This includes LGBT and same-sex marriage,” he told Malaysian newspaper The Star in September. There’s a noticeable difference in culture between the two countries.

Final thoughts

On a personal level, the problem that has affected me most in Ireland, is none other than the harrowing accommodation crisis, a problem that is sweeping across European countries. Back home, none of my friends needed to set up as many house viewings, make countless phone calls, and endlessly track available rooms on accommodation renting websites. They could easily snap up a room at close proximity to their respective colleges. The toxic anxieties that come with searching for accommodation in Dublin is quite the cross to bear.

While Malaysia may well be seeing a new day after recent general election results which saw a 60-year period of political control end, the country still has ways to come to be considered developed. From my point of view, the grass is indeed greener on the other side, but home always has a place inside my heart.

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