Wan is worried. Worried about feeding his kids, worried about debt, worried about sales, but mostly worried about if the Chinese take over, Malaysia will become another Singapore. He’s a perfume seller on the outskirts of town in an area of makeshift tents.
It struck me as a strange place to sell perfume for your crust. Outcasts. That was it, and it colored the neighbourhood and flavored its inhabitants.
‘There will be no more Malaysia then,’ he says. ‘In making Malaysia another Singapore, there will be so many rules introduced to suppress my people.’
He says the ‘Chinafication’ of Malaysia has been one of the biggest fears of the ruling government. ‘First they’ll populate the country with mainland Chinese and before we know, we’ll be a minority. It’s what happened in Singapore.’
He is adamant that it’s not a paranoid notion, ‘it’s real and has happened before. Losing Singapore to the Chinese is something that’s heavily taught in history classes. And currently we are vilified as Muslim terrorists in Singapore.’
I tell him I met a Malay the other day at Subways. He was helpful when I asked him the closing hours.
‘Look,’ he said as he pointed to a sign,’ the operating hours are there.’
“That sign, it has the operating hours on it.’
Oh, right I said. I was looking inside, thinking he was pointing out a hot chick.
I tell Wan he was polite and in his 20s and probably thought that I was a total retard as he got into his new Mercedes and drove away.
‘It’s nice to see an upwardly mobile Malay,’ I said to Wan. He had just sold his second bottle of perfume for the night. ‘Not enough to cover the rental space,’ he fretted.
‘It’s normally the rich Chinese Malaysians you see in the new Porsches with all those must have accessories, the Vietnamese or Thai whores,’ explains Wan who wants to debunk a few myths.
‘The Chinese say that the Malays are strangling them with anti-trade rules. Not true,’ says Wan. ‘We all get taxed. And the only ones benefiting are the politicians who get paid well for sitting on boards and twiddling their thumbs. They have houses to maintain and children to educate at the superlative schools of the western world.’
The majority of Malays like him ‘are banished to the outskirts selling trinkets to other Malays. We can’t even afford a property in the centre of town- probably true of most people in most towns all over the globe. We are the Bedouins of Malaysia.’
He grudgingly admits that there are many poor Chinese. “There’s not a day goes by without me having to give some poor unfortunate sad-sac some change. They are just as marginalized as us in the land of greed. Without money they are ostracized by the more well-heeled of their own community, who might make a token donation to appease their blight stained consciences.’
He reckons it’s the 10 percent of Chinese, ‘the ones who own big business, who are propagating the myth that they are the victims. Most of them have relocated to Australia where they are enjoying the benefits of their ill-gotten gains.’
What do you mean, drugs and prostitution?’ He smiles. He won’t answer that one. ‘That falls under sedition, so no need to answer.’
Before he clams up completely he tells me most of the dirty Chinese money has been siphoned to countries like Australia where they live happily ever after with their families ‘while their own kind suffer here under a higher cost of living from a GST tax and higher fuel prices.’ He says you don’t get filthy rich selling fish balls.
He packs up his tent for the night. He’s in the red, barely. ‘But tomorrow is another day. Inshallah.’
Robert, in his late sixties, wearing a dirty shirt and a raincoat held together by rusty safety pins, drops by. Wan has known him for years and fishes out a few notes in the sparse till. ‘It’s once in a blue moon anyone gives me a 20 Ringgit note,’ says Robert. He’s not complaining about how the Malays are taking away his livelihood.
‘It’s never that simple,’ says Robert who shares a room with a mentally unstable Malay. “It cuts down my rent and we are good company. We speak the same language.’
“Now have a wonderful night gents,’ he says, as he jumps on his old rusty bike and pedals back home.
‘He’ll have a full stomach tonight,’ says Wan of his Chinese friend. But if I want to believe in the fantasy stories made up by the Chinese, I can, he adds. ‘The reality is that we are all suffering under the current government.’
He says the rich will always complain they aren’t getting enough of the pie. He says the rich want all the pie. He says it’s true that the Malays get all the government contracts. ‘But it’s true also that the Chinese execute them. Everyone is getting their slice of the pie. Then the Chinese employ illegal workers to get the job done cheaply and they cut costs by using inferior products. All we are waiting for now is for the buildings and roads to collapse.’
He refutes the claim that the status quo has changed at all. ‘The Chinese are still getting all the contracts. Ok, the profits aren’t as high in the ‘good old days’ when they got most of them before the Malays, but we are still shut out.’
He says the old networks are still in place while the majority get on with their lives on the margins. ‘Cheap musk perfume has been feeding us for for years now,’ he says. ‘But I just hope I can sell more bottles tomorrow night.’
I call it a night. An Indian has passed out at the food court. I tell the Chinese manager to get his staff to help pick him up off the ground. ‘Let him die in his own vomit,’ he says.
Not this time, I said as I hauled him physically onto a chair.
I told the manager about an Indian I saw dead from a heart attack from too much booze. It wasn’t a pretty sight. He wasn’t listening to me.
The Indians are suffering too, and many are drinking themselves to death.
Did I ever tell you about the Chinese stalls just making ends meet in the food hall? Or that the manager was booted out and replaced? He left owing the food hall quite a lot of money.
It’s tough times, and everyone is waiting for an economical miracle. Meanwhile, there will be skullduggery and cheating along the way. The nightly news isn’t complete without a report of another purse snatching.
The Twin Towers may have been an icon of a thriving Malaysia but now a new and sinister image has supplanted it.
On a personal level, I’m starting to feel the pinch too. When I’m charged AUD $140 for ATM fees for two transactions, I know something is afoot. And Bank Negara isn’t in the mood to refund.
Wan consoles me the next day. “Have you been watching the news lately. There’s been a recent spate of ATM break-ins.’ Wan said they have been blown out of the walls with dynamite and towed away in pick up trucks.
‘I think that ATM that cheated you might have just got its come uppance.’
I hope so, the thieving swines.