I got my new front teeth. I’m learning to smile again. But today I’m picking up on the unwelcome vibes. The Chinese aren’t impressed with me. And now that I’m getting a clear of picture of them, I can return the feeling.
They express their distaste in many ways. Tonight I got a rude almost aggressive look from a ‘chink’ at the food hall. I was saying hello to another guy at his table. I was waiting for him to pull out his nunchucks and go Bruce Lee on me. Earlier that day at another food hall, a matronly Chinese had the gall to complain to the manager that I was smoking. I was told to put out my cigarette while the two ‘chinks’ sitting next to me continued puffing away.
Earlier in the day I met a lovely old Chinese duck who worked at the coffee shop. She said I should be very careful after I told her I was staying with four illegal foreign workers. ‘They dumped my food from the fridge outside my door,” I told her.
Not that I had much food, but it was the principle of the matter that got me upset.
“It can’t be a good sign,’ she says, as she serves me another milky tea. ‘Sounds like a new scam doing the rounds.’
I was tricked into renting the room by the owner of Happiness Hotel who was mustering up business for his real estate pal, Mr. Brian.
‘Sounds like you were set up,’ she said. ‘Now they have your money, the owner is trying to get you out so he can rent the room with another illegal foreign worker.’
It’s called doubling up in the trade, she said.”And some of these cunning Chinese will only try it on with foreigners who don’t know the score.’
I admit, I was a sitting duck.
Melba spoke with a refined British accent with an old worldly charm reminiscent of the British Empire that once ruled these lands only 50 years before.
“Are your roommates Pakistanis?’
Then the great dame of a grandeur era warned me not to trust them or the landlord. Her usual cool demeanour had now warmed up with a sense of urgency.
‘Now don’t be a fool and ignore my warnings,’ she with a slight squeal to her voice. ‘A fall is coming. But if you are smart enough, you can prevent it.’
She informed me that three illegal Pakistanis had recently murdered a Chinese. ‘He ran a bakery,’ she said. ‘And when he didn’t open it for three days, friends got worried and went to visit him. His house had been broken into, and he was dead. He was robbed and and they slit his throat. The Pakistanis fled the town.’
She said they were never arrested. ‘They travel on fake passports, it’s always hard to track them.’
I had been staying at a share house for the past four days. I had been conned into moving there by Chong from the Happiness Hotel. ‘Think of all the food you can eat from the savings of staying there,’ he said.
I was game. Chief Editor said I should go for it. So the idea stuck and I foolishly followed it through. If it’s too good to be true, then it isn’t. Right?
Today had been another another gruelling eight hours of editing Valium Daze at the Chinese Tea houses in town. Chief Editor has been flogging me to death to get the book done. But now she’s concerned with my well being.
‘If you got a gut feeling things aren’t right,’ she said. ‘Then run.’
I’m packing my stuff, quickly. I throw everything in my bag.
It’s 1.30 in the morning and I’m thinking the rubbish thrown outside my room is a warming not to dip into their food.
‘If they wanted to stitch you up, they would have done it earlier,’ said Chief Editor a few days ago. But now she’s picking up in the urgency of the situation. I told her it was beyond the stage of buying them a carton of cigarettes and kissing each other’s asses. I added that each morning I was greeted with a dirty stinking turd in the toilet.
I was reading the signs loud and clearly, get the fuck out of here while you can.
Safety first, right? While I was quietly packing, there was no resistance from the Pakistani’s. Was I conjuring up this drama? I think of Melba’s advice. Of course I’m not making this up.
On the way back into town, I stop to talk to some Malay technicians who are in the middle of the road connecting some fibre optics. ‘The Chinese don’t like me. They don’t like you either,” I tell them.
They just look at me as if to say, What the fuck is a flustered white guy with only one small backpack doing in the middle of the road ranting about the Chinese at 2 am in the morning?
Well I’m saving my hide again, thank you.
Back at Happiness Hotel I’m told it’s full. It’s never full. The town doesn’t have the demand for it. This has whiffs of blacklisting.
But the old hotel next door isn’t full.
The receptionist, in his eighties and drooling, with slime running down his chin, wants my passport to write down the details. I do it for him. I just don’t need a drool drenched passport covered with dementia saliva.
The hotel was old and run down and I was cautious of the old lift. I settled in for the night. I would have to leave the insulated town called Tepid shortly. I couldn’t believe what I had just been through. Forces I was aware of but not sure where they were coming from, were telling me something. Maybe it’s the push and shove that I needed. I was getting fucking bored of this shit hole and my teeth were done, and my gums were healing and I had no real reason for being here anymore.
The next morning Brian texts me to say lets meet at Happiness Hotel.
I decide to use the stairway. It’s only two floors. I don’t want to risk being stuck in the old rattler lift. But the exit door was locked on the first floor. And I panic. I can’t breath and the walls of the stairways start shrinking in on me. They look like they haven’t been used since the hotel was built. So I run back up two flights of stairs. The door didn’t self- lock on itself –that’s newer technology. I gasp for air before enter the lift that rattles at its own slow pace to the first floor.
The hotel has an enclosed prison feel to it. Even the windows are sealed closed. The interior and decor are from the 60s, but the hotel isn’t even aware there are plasma televisions now.
Brian is looking smug and amused and he reluctantly hands over my bond after I diplomatically argue my case. He’s the type of guy that only likes receiving money, and I can see him hurting inside.
He wants me to give the place another try. I said if he had told me that four Paki illegals were staying there, I would never have considered staying there. ‘You and your friend Mr. Chong mislead me. You both knew all along it had Pakis. And that no Chinese, Indian or Malay would ever rent out the room. You were being greedy and thinking of the quick windfall.’ I couched it in more gentle terms. I hadn’t got my bond back yet.
He even drove me back to the house, to sort things out. One of the four Pakistanis was eating. He had that sly face which couldn’t be verified without any meaningful words coming out of his mouth. He played dumb and spoke broken Malay. Yes, he was a sly one.
‘He’s not angry,’ said Brian later. ‘He just can’t speak English.’ I knew from the look on his face that I was given a warning. I should really have never dipped into their curries the last few nights.
I had only used my room for four days and was never going to be reimbursed for the rest of the month. I can still hear Brian and Chang from Happiness Hotel having a good laugh at my expense.
Then out of the blue Brian texts me. ‘You owe me money for the door and bed you damaged. I have a copy of your passport. Police will be involved if you don’t deposit me 1000 Ringgit (AUD $350.) by end of today.’
Brian said Chong gave him a copy of my passport. I texted him back. ‘Isn’t that a breach of confidence?”
Getting tired of this childish game, I also texted him saying the bed was already broken and the door was buckled when I moved in.
Another text arrived, promptly. ‘I have a photo of you from the hotel’s CCTV camera,’ wrote my friendly former landlord. ‘I will get my retribution. Thai hitmen are cheap and taking you out would be worth the 1500 Ringgi it costs.’
So Chong wasn’t joking about the rate after all.
For two decades in the 18th Century, a rebellion was fought continuously by a group called Hai San – The Secret Chinese Society – for tin concession mining rights. But there were no more concessions coming from me.This little provincial town had just got dangerous.
It was time to fuck off and find a safer place and finish my book.