For better or for worse, I spent some time in Malaysia in the early noughties. Just outside of Kuala Lumpur was a suburb called Bukit OUG (or Overseas Union Garden). The locals considered it quite a posh suburb with expensive bungalows and lots of jungle and big yards. I’d found myself a condominium close by. While it was a nice suburb it’s hardly expat friendly. They mostly stay in Bangsar or Sri Hartamas. Bukit OUG is a place that definitely requires a car. As a proper expat, you’d need a driver in OUG. I don’t care what you say, no whitey can really drive on those roads everyday. The epic potholes, the chaos, or as I witnessed once assassination attempts constantly remind you you’re not in Kansas anymore Toto.
One thing OUG did have going for it was a burgeoning hawker stand scene. At night it was the place to be. At least 60 odd hawkers (or mamaks) sold anything and everything well into the night, preparing amazing food. It was a primitive scene. The better stores had semi permanent structures, rather than tarpaulins and camp ovens to cook on. Young guys would cruise by in their cars, slowly driving over the speed humps, improvised form timber logs. Many would do laps of the mamaks all night. It was the real deal. More often than not I was the only Johnny foreigner I could see there. It certainly wasn’t a touristy place.
A huge highlight was Steven’s Corner. They had tandoors made from converted washing machine drums scattered all over. Their naans and juices were legendary. Yes it’s still around but it’s been modernised into a franchise worthy store and frankly lost its charm.
Any Malaysian can eat like a king in Malaysia. In a country that’s meant to be a prodigious leader in multi-culturalism that might not sound like a big deal. But one night in the OUG taught me a lot about the real Malaysia. My mates would often take me there for a Sunday night feed and plenty of beers. This particular night Mohammed, who worked in the hugely profitable but massively unethical palm oil industry was on a winner.
“My boss gave me 5 thousand Ringgit to take out some Indonesian clients. He said don’t bring back any change”. Despite a night of abalone and shark fin soup, Mohammed still had about a thousand Ringgit burning a hole in his pocket. He looked to be of mixed Malay and Indian extraction. His other mate Manpreet was a darker skinned Indian. Manpreet and I knew we were in for a big night. And we headed off to the OUG beer garden.
Even amongst their own ranks there was dissention. Manpreet warned me about the Sikh Indians in our block and their fondness for ghee as an anal lubricant. I’ve never seen tins of ghee the same way since! Not partial to the gay scene, we left then be and got stuck into a night of great food and drinking.
As the night wore on, we’d sampled most of the hawker stands and were getting stuck into long neck bottles of Carlsberg beer. Most of the hawker stands were beginning to close. Only the most eager or desperate vendors still remained. Mohammed still hadn’t spend his wad by the wee hours. We were clearly in for an all nighter in the beer garden. The three of us were left alone but you could hear it getting rowdier. Strange jungle animals were making themselves heard, probably because we were stealing the night from them in their beer garden.
At roughly 4am, the police were doing their rounds on motor scooters. The police are nearly without exception all Malays. No Chinese or Indians in their ranks. Two coppers were quietly riding up to us in the dead of night. They had a look of “we’re going to fuck with you” in their eyes, making me feel more than slightly uneasy. You wont hear many Malaysians that sing the praises of their constabulary. Everyone’s been scared into fearing them by a corrupt cop or police brutality story. Mohammed and Manpreet kept drinking.
As the cops got closer, they could see I was clearly a ‘mat salleh’ or a foreigner. Their whole menacing look changed. Suddenly it was like I was the boys’ get out of jail free card. Their look changed instantly and they ventured off the way they came. Given they could easily be victims of unwanted police attention, I couldn’t help but wonder whether Mohammed and Manpreet had an ulterior motive in inviting me out. It’s left a sour taste in my mouth for the so called multi-cultural success story that Malaysia portrays itself to be.
The whole time I was there, a typical response to being Australian was ‘oh you’re so racist. I see it all the time on the TV. Like that Pauline Hanson woman’. Hanson was a notorious middle aged, independent politician. A baby boomer with a long drawn out Queensland accent that was none to fond of ‘the yellow peril’ or Aboriginals. All the Malaysians kept saying how they love Canada and would prefer to live their than the redneck Australia.
But while the Bukit OUG hangover came and went, the feeling of profound, engrained Malaysian racism prevailed. I really got a feel for how much the Chinese, the Muslim Malays and the Indians are at war, not peace with each other. Manpreet always joked that because less than 10% of jobs were open to Indians by law, you had to be a doctor, lawyer or a hit man. Their was a bitter truth to it though. Apparently the vast majority of jobs were only open to Malays by law.
On reflection, there was a great irony to the Malaysian perception of Australian racism. Pauline Hanson was a middle aged, fish and chip shop owner for a country town (or at least Brisbane). As per party rose to prominence, it very quickly fell based on public outcry and the mediocrity of her policies. But would she have ever got a chance to stand on the soap box in Malaysian politics? No way lah. Not a snowball’s chance in hell.
I wonder how many other white guys are being used as designated cop deterrents in Bukit OUG today?