I had rocked up from Butterworth, a gritty little port town that is always overshadowed by its flashier neighbor George Town on Penang Island. My Indian driver said to watch out for the Malays. ‘They are a treacherous race of people.’ He said to also watch out for the Chinese. ‘They are sweet-mouthed snakes who only want to control you or devour you.’
Butterworth was a white hot inferno inhabited by rogue entities and fueled by cheap drugs that flowed in from the ports. I absolutely adored the place.
My teeth were leading me to a dentist.
I never argue with my teeth. I’ve missed flights from flare-ups. I’ve spiraled in a Tramadol and Bintang depression due to self-medicating them. Recently I had a cosmetic make-over in Bali. Now they are falling out and demanding an overhaul.
Never argue with the teeth. They are sometimes more demanding than a woman.
“Happiness Hotel.’ Sounded just like my kind of place.
Mr. Chong, a co-owner with his other two brothers speaks passable English, and is on his computer all day playing some empire building game. He never misses a trick. He even has the CCTV connected to his mobile phone. ‘Any problems, I’ll see it even when I’m out shopping.’ (His passable English was just edited by me.)
He scans my passport with a little device. Now I know he’s really a weasel. Most hotels just write down the information, but not Mr. Chong. He wants to scan every fucking page before he lets me rest my fat ass in his hotel.
‘A clean mouth. No place for the bacteria to have a party,’ smiled Dong the Chinese dentist. She had a wonderful set of pearly whites.
Dong loves the challenge of a rotten tooth stump that doesn’t want to come out. One of her Malay staff flashes me a smile. Her bridged teeth look fantastic. ‘And they will be yours soon,’ said my dentist.
What? Do you mean I’ll be able to smile again?
‘Yes that and so much more,’ she said.
I looked in the mirror and smiled. Only stumps. The dentist covered them with plastic. A week later I’d have my new front teeth. I was looking pretty grim but my dentist reassured me. “The plastic cover will protect the stumps until we get the porcelain teeth from KL in a week’s time.’
It seemed that Mary-Jane wasn’t put off by my new ‘plastic’ look either. She is a Christian Cambodian who is married to a local Chinese who is bedridden.
I tell Chong she’s paying me a visit at Happiness Hotel to discuss her bible studies.
‘No worries,’ says Chong. ‘We Chinese are very open like that.’
The brother with rotten teeth decides to speak to me after I do the honorable thing of sending Mary-Jane home.
‘Happy? Happy?’ he asks.
Of course the sly dog heard the bed squeaking and Mary-Jane squealing a few Ave Marias.
These are the first English utterances I’ve heard Mr. Rotten Tooth say in the three weeks I’ve been here.
Very happy I said, as I sent Mary- Jane to the rear exist with homework of reading the Book of Luke.
Chinese hotels always have rear exists. I wouldn’t be seeing her again. Just too risky, my cautious side said. The Chinese miners in Taping have been known to be ruthless, a rebellion that lasted 20 years is proof enough for me. And I’m prepared to learn from its tumultuous past, I really am.
But her husband is very sick and she needs some love too, I tell myself. And that’s what Mary-Jane is saying too.
But that’s not a good enough excuse to stop a hired hitman from killing me.
‘They are only 1500 Ringgit to hire and they come from Thailand,’ informs Chong. ‘And if you fuck up and don’t pay my rent I’m telling your sweet heart’s family about your fuck fest at my hotel.’
I didn’t think for a moment he would do that. But now that he’s entertained the thought…
‘Hang on, hang on,’ I say to Chong. ‘Doesn’t Taiping mean city of peace?’
‘Only if you are Chinese,’ he says.’ And that you are not.’
‘Mr. Chong,’ I said. ‘You are a weasel of the highest order.’
‘Now watch your mouth,’ he says. His brother is standing behind the counter and repeating, happy happy.
‘I have your passport, and scanned your photo,’ adds Chong.
But it looks nothing like me, I protested. ‘How can a Thai hitman identify me from that passport mug?’
Chong wasn’t smiling now.
‘I have CCTV footage of you too.’
I paid my next day’s rent in advance and told Chong I’d give his hotel a write up. I said he’d get at least one star from me, ‘for trying to be different.’
‘But that still doesn’t change what I think of you, fucktard,’ I said. ‘You’d have to be the slyest chink I’ve met.All day you are monitoring the unwed Malays fucking in your hotel and I bet you are a snitch for the religious police. Worse still, I bet you have hidden cams inside the rooms and use the footage for blackmail.’
Chong had left early on in my speech. His brother was just staring at me and clapping his hands. “Happy, Happy.’
I must have really made an impression on him.