Now is the time to be in South East Asia. Admittedly, though, it wasn’t something that I always had on my mind. However, during the last few months, my cup of pessimism has been poured away and refilled slowly with drops of optimism.

One could say May 2018 was the happiest month for most Malaysians. To sum it up, we have finally removed the government that had been in control for the past 61 years, ever since our independence. The sudden change has taken many by surprise. This political event was the final approval for many of my thoughts that had come to me very recently. It may have been a big changing factor, but I could already feel something great brewing beneath the surface, not just about Malaysia but also about the region as a whole.


I believe it was what I have experienced throughout the many years before that has led me to this idea that this region is indeed the very best place to be from now on. So, in mid-2016, I left South East Asia and came to Milan for study. I fell in love with the life here, as I did with many places that I have lived before. Being outside of your comfort zone, somehow makes you more aware of your surroundings, makes you question the countless things that set upon your eyes, and being in a foreign place, it made me see the world in a more unique perspective. It allowed me to see the differences and similarities with clearer eyes and thoughts. I was flooded with things, experiences, people, and cultures. I took this opportunity, analysed these things, learned from them, and thought about where this new knowledge could be used efficiently and reasonably. I often see things that we could do similarly back in South East Asia, and I wonder why they haven’t been done yet.

For a very long time, I was uncertain about my own future. I thought furiously about my purpose in life, where and how can I be helpful. Now, I think I have found a good purpose, it is the wish to develop in South East Asia. I see many opportunities that can generate growth in areas that can stimulate the same feelings of satisfaction and experiences of happiness.

Living alone has made me to become more self-reflective. I looked at the past, of what my life was like growing up. In Malaysia, I grew up around the sentiment that the best route is to study hard, find jobs in developed countries, earn a decent living, and return whenever we are comfortable financially (after retirement). In Vietnam, I experienced how fast development progresses in an emerging country. I saw all forms of entertainment (both commercially and socially) popping out of nowhere (literally) and how quickly people could adapt to the new things comfortably. In Thailand, I learnt how a great community can trigger high-speed growth, and how a friendly and welcoming community provides assistance to that growth.


In Europe, I experience things that aren’t quite as obvious as back home. Positive patriotic behaviours, great appreciation for arts and culture, loving relationships among one another. I see people who take great enthusiasm in what they do, whether it’s a mechanic, an artist, a business analyst, a teacher, a chef, or a doorman. They have achieved lifestyles that many envies of—a lifestyle of happiness, a lifestyle of appreciation in what they do. Then, I ask myself, how do I replicate this kind of success, this kind of feelings, back in South East Asia. Things happen somehow in reverse order back home. Many do not take enjoyment in what they do; arts and craft are not appreciated widely, and those who do, belong to the few minorities; parks are used only by people of older age doing Tai-Chi or slow jog; social activities very often revolve around the overly sizeable air-conditioned shopping malls. Yet, in the midst of all these, I felt that the people of South East Asia are ready for a change.

I see people eager to meet one another, attending forums that talk about social and environmental changes. I sense a steep growing passion and eagerness in the people, especially in technology, arts, and design, with the increase involvement, participation, and encouragement in those areas. This is a signal that the countries are prepared to enter a new era.


The growing wealth has allowed people to explore outside their countries, seeing how lives are like in different places. The travellers came back with hopes that their country could be as enjoyable as other places, the students came back with dreams that they could live their lives as they did in other countries, the people who couldn’t afford those privileges wish for more significant development in their towns and cities thanks to the view sight of their technological devices. Now, the expectation is there. They want to see changes, they wish to see differences, they wish to have new experiences. The people are ready to welcome changes. What’s left are the introduction and creations that can provide the new experiences and lifestyle that the people seek.

So where does this opportunity stand? To be frank, anything that involves with creation utilising the local resources (people and materials). I believe there is indeed a market for everything waiting in South East Asia. The most interesting sector lies in what encourage social activities. Based on my observation and “cup of optimism”, there is an excellent chance of success in technological start-ups (this is greatly supported by state government, Kuala Lumpur, Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok); arts, craft and design-related ventures (in the second-tier cities such as Penang, and Chiang Mai).

This is a call for investment and development in the up and rising region. Of course, taking one idea from a place and force it into another would not work out well, similar to how a patient may reject a foreign blood type. The new lifestyle that I think the people of SEA is welcoming should not be identical to those anywhere else. The new ventures that is awaiting the region should adapt to the local culture. Fortunately, I do not think it will be a difficult introduction or a sudden change for the growing open-mindedness and optimism in South East Asia. Overly optimistic but not excessively bizarre, I just see this opinion as a great opportunity that no one should miss!

A collage of a bright future