Will Quah (all pics below courtesy of Will Quah)
WILL Quah believes Malaysian television audiences are a lot cleverer that they’re given credit for. “I’ve heard high-ranking producers and executives say time and again that Malaysian audiences aren’t ready or are too stupid to understand certain issues — like politics, race, religion, wit and international perspectives,” says the ntv7 host for The Breakfast Show. “People severely underestimate Malaysian audiences, which I think is a crime.”
Quah has certainly had the opportunity to meet a variety of Malaysians in his six years in the media industry. Other than hosting The Breakfast Show, Quah also read the news, was a Channel [V] VJ and was on the radio as Red FM‘s morning show host.
“The prime minister had said we should be having open dialogue and talking about our problems and issues. So as not to perpetuate hypocrisy, that’s what the media should be working on,” Quah tells The Nut Graph during an interview in Kuala Lumpur on 7 April 2010. “The government supports free media and discussion, and the media bodies need to step up to the plate. News shouldn’t just be a propaganda mill.”
Quah, aged 2
TNG: Where were you born?
Will Quah: I was born in Assunta Hospital in Petaling Jaya on 17 May 1984, 20 days early. My mum says if I had been a day earlier, I would have been an incubator baby. My younger brother was also 20 days early.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up all over the place. My dad worked as a consultant so he travelled a lot. I lived in Subang [when I was young], Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, UK. We settled back here when I was in secondary school and I went to Garden International School.
Travelling around made me very much closer to my mum than we probably would have been otherwise. Up until I was 10 or 11, my mum was probably my only friend and playmate. When you’re moving around so much, making new friends and getting used to new people can be tricky. My mum also moved around a lot when she was young so she knew what it was like and tried to insulate me from all the changes.
We couldn’t bring lots of stuff with us, so everywhere we went, she’d take me to get a library card. I’d get books out everyday and she’d read them with me; or she’d have a book and I’d have a book, and we’d go to a park and read. I’m [still] a huge fan of books.
Quah and his mother in Hong KongWhat are your strongest memories of the places where you grew up?
We lived for a year and a half in a hotel room in Hong Kong when I was about five. Funnily enough, ever since then, I feel really comfortable living in hotels.
We didn’t have a house to decorate during the holidays, but my mum always tried hard to make occasions festive. So for Christmas, we had a tree that was all of three feet tall. She bought lights and extension cords to go with them because hotel rooms rarely have many power outlets. I still remember it as being a really warm, loving Christmas, with a really nice atmosphere.
It’s always showed me that family and love is not about where you are or what you have, it’s about who you’re with. I’ve never missed a Christmas with my family, ever.
Where did your parents come from? What’s your ancestry?
My dad’s family are Hokkien people from China. My paternal great-grandparents came to Malaysia from China just after the Boxer Rebellion. In fact, my great grandma had bound feet. My great grandfather was in the steel business in Malaysia. They used to live in Sungai Besi and owned a lot of property there. My dad’s a real KL boy, so we never had to go anywhere for Chinese New Year.
Quah’s maternal grandparents, Terry and Bill Storms
Mum’s paternal grandparents were from somewhere in between the borders of Germany and Holland. It ended up as Holland after World War II, so they became Dutch, although they did think of themselves as German. I have a granduncle, for example, who was a Panzer commander under Rommel in North Africa. And his wife was doing espionage in Russia.
Are there any stories that you hold onto from your family?
It was pretty grim in Germany and Europe after the war, so my [maternal] grandfather’s family all moved away — one sister to Alaska, one brother to Canada. My granddad moved to Australia. He was trying to decide between South Africa and Australia because it was about the same price to go. Then, he saw a postcard of Australia with kangaroos and stuff, and he thought it looked awesome, so that’s where he went.
Quah’s parents, TK and Terry
About a week before he left, he met my grandma at a Christmas or New Year’s party. She was a psychiatric nurse. She asked him, “So, can I see you again?” And he says, “No, I’m going to Australia.” And she goes, “What if I were to come?” And he answers, “Ya, great,” never assuming she would make it down there. Two years later, my grandma arrives in Australia on a Fokker Friendship airplane and looks him up. And he’s like, “Oh, you’re here.” And life there was really tough for them at first, but they got married, and had my mum.
How did your parents meet?
My dad went to Monash University, Melbourne to study engineering. My mum also studied there, doing South East Asian Anthropology, specialising in Chinese South East Asians. She went to a Malaysian student society night as a kind of experiment, to observe them. She met my dad and they sparked, I guess.
My dad had to come back to Malaysia and he [eventually] invited my mum to come and have a look at everything. And so she did. She still says she was absolutely shocked. This is about 27 years ago. My dad’s family had a really nice big house but it was the first time she had seen cockroaches, ever. Western dining was going to KFC. People stared at her like she was from another planet.
Quah’s parents at their wedding, flanked by Quah’s maternal grandparents, paternal
grandmother and relatives
But, they decided to get married, which they then had to delay a year, because my great grandmother died and they had to go into mourning. So she was waiting around here for a year, and then finally they got married.
How do you connect with these stories as a Malaysian?
Most of my dad’s [Malaysian] university mates still live in Australia, they never came back. My dad chose to be in this country. My mum chose to live here as well, to come and be here with my dad. She’s now possibly more in love with this country than my dad. They both chose to make their lives here even though they had other options.
That’s how you can always tell whether a place speaks to somebody. If you have an option but still choose to stay, that says a lot about yourself and your willingness to perhaps, challenge adversity.
[...] Every year I tell myself this could be my last or second last year here, but it never is, some new opportunity always arises. So I choose to stay as well, just like my parents. I could be overseas but I’ve chosen Malaysia, for now.
Describe the kind of Malaysia you would like for yourself and future generations.
Quah’s paternal grandparents on their wedding day
I’d like a Malaysia that spends an equal amount of effort in execution as it does in planning. I’d like a Malaysia where people regardless of their race, gender, political mindset or sexuality can stand up and proudly call themselves Malaysian. Where what you do is more valued than who your parents are.
I’d like a place where people feel safe enough to question things. Where if they think something’s not right, they can stand up to the people they put in power and say, “No; why?”
This is a democracy, people forget this. We choose the people to lead us. This isn’t a regime, it isn’t a dictatorship. We have the power, but Malaysians forget they have the ability or voice to do what they need to do to help themselves.
Divide and conquer is the first trick in any ruler’s book. I think every Malaysian should read Othello. There were these amazing, wonderful characters — but they all listened to one horrible person instead of each other, and ended up destroying one another. And in Malaysia, we all seem to be listening to Iago. We need to stop doing that and listen to each other, before it all ends in tragedy.
Read other Found in Malaysia interviews
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