Most of the time, when I mention that I've lived in Malaysia, people say something like, "Oh wow! I bet an experience like that really makes you appreciate everything that you have here in America!"
My response to that is usually a polite, non-committal, "Hmm" or "Umm" or "Yeah..."
But what I really want to say is, "Actually, the years I spent living in Malaysia really helped me appreciate the opportunity I had to live in Malaysia."
However, that feels too confrontational, and I generally try to avoid shocking people, so I never say it.
I don't mean this in any anti-American way. I am grateful for many aspects of the land of my birth. I really, really like having religious freedom, and the right to vote. There are stories of integrity and valor from American history that still bring tears to my eyes. We have beautiful wonders of nature scattered all over our country, and a wealth of natural resources. The Chevy Corvette has always been my idea of the coolest car ever made, and I'll always be convinced that the American system of spelling the English language makes much more sense than any other system of English spelling.
I especially appreciate the American public bathroom. I can go to public bathrooms in this country for free--and I can expect that they will most likely provide both a western-style toilet and toilet paper. I can also expect that they will almost never be flooded or a home to large spiders, cicaks, cockroaches, or monkeys.
But one thing that I don't appreciate is any version of the point of view that all countries in the world are in a competition, and America is clearly winning, so obviously everyone who isn't American wishes that they were, and every American who travels outside the U.S. comes back realizing how much better America is than the rest of the world.
What I learned from living in Malaysia is that I truly loved living there. I learned that there is beauty and joy and love outside of the U.S.A. I don't return from Malaysia feeling pity on Malaysians--No, I feel only gratitude for the part in my life that Malaysia has played.
It's not like Malaysia is a perfect country. They've had repeated problems with governmental corruption and racism. Sometimes there are too many monkeys too close to people, and there's too many rats at the meat market. Some of the beaches are so heavily polluted that no one will dare venture into the ocean for a swim.
But the way I see it, Malaysia is not in competition with America. They are two different countries, each with their own problems and with their own blessings. The unique characteristics of America have played a huge part in shaping my life and my worldview, and so have the unique characteristics of Malaysia.
The fact is, I believe it's arrogant for the wealthy West to assume that they automatically have it better than other nations. Sure, stuff like central air-con and well-developed infrastructure and large ovens and grocery stores full of convenience foods might be nice, but after a certain point, more money doesn't buy you more love, more community, or more joy and contentment, and it's for that reason that I don't think Malaysia needs the pity of the West.