The Hotel is full. The streets are buzzing. Jalan Meldrum just got busy.
“Why go to Malacca when we can enjoy the real Malaysia which is only five minutes from our border.” Singaporeans feel safe closer to home, and in many ways Johor is the real thing. “Malacca is watered down for tourists,” said the Singaporean. “Higher prices and more traveling. Johor is perfect for us.”
A drunk Malay stands at my table. His limbs are swollen and he’s holding one Ringgit notes in one hand and is waving a clove cigarette in the other hand. “I know you have money. Give me 20 cents.” He’s not asking much. But I know he means business and has absolutely nothing to lose. “You are rich, give me 20 cents.” I will, I say, but first let me go to the bank.
He’s holding his ground. He’s on a mission and won’t leave until he’s accomplished it.I dip into my bag and give him a ringgit to get rid of him. He thanks me and puts his two hands together as a form of thank you then he stumbles to another table.
His English was good and he only wanted 20 cents. He was going to hit me if he didn’t get it. He had nothing to lose. And after I gave him money, he was my best friend. He’d get his cheap bottle of Indian gin today and I was happy to contribute.
Mr. Pineapple is more up front, he needs to eat. He gets his Ringgit, no questions asked, every day except today. I wave him off. Yesterday he saw a reflection of himself in the window of a car and laughed his head off. The other day he was angry and started smashing the telephone box. He’s the most happiest guy you’ll ever meet, and is always stealing bananas from the table or finishing off people’s drinks.
Mr. Good Morning sleeps on the street and has been wearing the same shirt for the past six weeks.
He’s in his 70s and works the tables, for a feed. I see him feeding the crows just as the sun rises. One day he gave me a mandarin. “Good morning,” he says, regardless of the time of the day or night. He’s the good kind of Malay who would give you his shirt off his back.
These are the harmless pros who work the streets of Meldrum. It’s sad to see them destitute like this. It can’t be easy. I feel for these lost souls who have fallen through the cracks of society. It’s Asia, and they can’t rely upon government hand outs.
Then a polite and well dressed Malay with a wisp shows me his official card. Another one who wants to save the children. No thanks. I think the drunks and crazy loons are winning on the begging front. The weekend and the promise of cashed up Singaporeans is bringing them out of the woodworks.
Johor is very busy today and this is the ugly side of tourism and it’s real as it gets. I order another tea, and wait for the next victim to write about. Mr. Pine Apple comes back. I hand him his Ringitt note. He smiles. I smile. All is not lost in abject poverty.