Tim's Blog

"Forget about it," I said to Balan, "At least you can clean it."

'It' refering to the pieces of noodles that were tossed carelessly onto the windscreen of his silver-coloured Honda Accord, probably from a window several stories above us.

Balan didn't like being in that area of Sunway. He only agreed to help me move my stuff from Wolf's place, but he didn't bargain on having to make more than one trip. The area consists of several low-rise and high-rise square apartment blocks standing precariously on what was a tin-mine area. Pools from the run-off from the tin-mines were converted into mini-lakes to enhance the surroundings. But the lakes became clogged with filth and rubbish as is everything around here. The area is essentially a ghetto area, where rural immigrants from the countryside trying to escape their palid way of life end up when they come to the big city.

The countryside is actually a filthy place where there are villages of Malaysians. These villages do not have adequate sanitary amenities, no regular street-cleaning trucks, no regular rubbish pick-ups. These amenities have increased in regularity and appearance over the years, but only in a few areas. The locals tend to rely on the age-old method of tossing things out of windows. And that's how the noodles ended up on Balan's wind-screen.

Garbage tends to accumulate rather quickly, month after month. They build impacted piles from the dust, dirt and indifference. It isn't like it was a hundred years ago where the garbage, like fruit peels and bad milk, just rotted away. Nowadays, you see pink plastic bags, blue wrappers, plastic bottles and all manner of bits that stick around for years. Just like the practice of throwing stuff out the window.

The government has been trying to help prevent this from happening. It isn't as easy as putting bins in accessible places or having more regular garbage pick-ups or just telling people to stop throwing their rubbish out. It is easier for them to believe that they won't have to deal with the garbage for much longer -- that they will move up in life and move to a clean suburb with a white house and a Malaysian-made car. For now, they say, it is just more convenient to rubbish the streets.

These are the same people who sit around all day and drink tea and rumourise about all manner of things as foreign to them as possible, like the US economy, the government, the choice of dressing of today's young women. They glamourise their poverty because it is the only reality they know. When a neighbour comes home with a new car, they will admire the car and hate the man. They will without hesitation or a sense of irony walk up to the man and remind him not to 'put on airs' or and to remember where he came from. They don't do it out of spite, they just want everyone to "keep it real", as Ali-G would say.

So it is easier for me to get by in Malaysia by playing slow. By walking around glassy-eyed and with gaping mouth. Speaking in the local patois of more grunts than words. Being local means having to act as if you don't know any better.

The only way to live in the midst of all this is not ignorance or turning a blind eye. You need money. Money is a cocoon in Malaysia. You need it to feed the hungry, the less-fortunate and your own sanity. Balan commented that the 50 Ringgit "unlocking charge" that the guy at the phone shop wanted to tack on to my mobile phone bill might be superfluous. I said,"You have to expect that here. You can't live in Malaysia without paying off people." Grafting is such a way of life that when you are stopped by the police for a traffic offence, you offer them an Agong's Pass (all currency is marked with the face of the Agong 'King').

This isn't a rail against the people or the way of life. Without these spirals of decrepitude, it would be impossible to maintain Malaysia as it is -- a quiet, slow, piece of lumber floating and rolling down the river, perhaps to be turned into an exotic piece of furniture or a house or another addition to the garbage pile on an old tin-mine.

posted at 08:32:27 PM on 06/27/2001 by timyang - Category: General


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