Day 15 of The Round Malaysia Road Trip 2020 | Travels with my wife

Travels With My Wife

Still talking after all these years!

Day 15 of The Round Malaysia Road Trip 2020

Today I meet Perak Man and channel my inner colonialist!



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On this day I was obviously feeling a bit like Perak Man! That's him up there and he's the main subject of the video. However, during the video you can hear my voice croaking like an old geezer, probably not too different from how Perak Man would have come across if he had been vlogging using a camera rather than scratching his videos onto the wall with a piece of chalk.

I obviously had that creeping feeling that somewhere a highly contagious virus must have crept up my nasal passage. I was contemplating the prospect of being flat on my back gasping for air and cursing China and one can sense the tone of frustration creeping in.

Mind, Covid or not, this sense of frustration creeps upon me every so often as I realise that in the five years I have been living in Malaysia, whenever someone tells me something like, "it'll be open at 9 O'clock" all too often it means that not only is it not open at 9 O'clock, but "it", meaning random shops, galleries, museums etc etc, hasn't opened in years.

This is the sort of thing that makes the Mat Salleh twitch like their colonial descendants did. Only nowadays we don't get so infuriated that we declare, "I know how to deal with these people!" and then send in a gunboat. We take a deep breath, strive to find our inner wokeness and then wonder if wokeness itself is being condescending. Is it better to say, "pull your finger out", or go all culturally sensitive justifying slapdashery as one's own cultural misunderstanding?

One of my favourite vloggers currently wandering around Malaysia,
KEN ABROAD, always ends his show with a catch phrase: stay healthy, stay positive! He records a daily encounter with Malays that is always entertaining because everyone is helpful, cheerful, and often chatty. Very rarely is there a glimpse of negativity, except where he buys online tickets for busses that have been cancelled, or encounters strange hotel receptionists trying to charge him four times as much as advertised and refusing to let him see the room first. One can see him repeating the mantra to himself.

Life, you see, is like that. Nothing is perfect. And cultural differences often show themselves as sensitivity to imperfections considered locally as of no consequence.

As an amateur historian, especially of colonial history, I recognise in various of my ancestors, the need for them to take a deep breath and remind themselves to stay positive. But back in the day, the benefits of running things on schedule were obvious to an Englishman and a boot up the backside of a native was a kindness in the long run. Hence the image of the red faced, apoplectic gin sodden old colonial that grew to be a figure of fun back in Blighty. Now, having travelled extensively, I am less inclined to be entirely critical of these old soaks. I get it. And there certainly have been times when a revolver would have been most welcome.

Most certainly the rudest and most unfriendly place I have travelled through was Russia. Crossing the border with China showed an enormous contrast between the countries. On one side of the border were paralytic vodka swilling troops hurling empty bottles at a broken down tank, general chaos and skulduggery as con artists pretended to be border officials to get hold of your passports and importantly your money exchange receipts, plus a few thousand cross border smugglers sporting Chinese choppers, sacks of cigarettes, and suitcases stuffed with fashionable lap dogs… Boy do I wish I'd had a video camera for all this! On the Chinese side of the border was a station decked out in fairy lights, selling Chinese takeaways to the by now much frazzled train passengers. Instead of shouting and pointing guns, the border guards smiled and said, "Welcome to China!" I could mention a few things about China, but that day, China was like an old friend welcoming one home.

To be fair, the times I have been in Russia were either during the soviet era, when everyone was miserable and trying to purchase my trousers, or during the chaos of Yeltsin's era when the banks had collapsed and the prospect of starvation was on everyone's mind. It is difficult to maintain a positive perspective when one seriously does need to carry a gun for one's own safety.

That was often the case back in the days of the Empire. Everyone was armed! All travel was with armed guards. There were cannons on ships, machine guns on trains, and if you did not have a gun, then machetes, kirises, spears and bows and arrows! The slightest cultural faux pas under those circumstances made a simple apology far too dangerous to one's health. And the politics of colonialism would always open up possibilities of conflict.

Luckily here in Malaysia those days are gone. At least not since the 1960's have there been much in the way of political violence. And as a rule, Malaysians, although not exactly rule followers, are pleasant and polite. I thus pass my days in sweetness and light. But then I come up against websites informing the general public of events, venues and all manner of cultural attractions, and then I realise they have not been updated in years! And although I don't particularly worry about Google Translation English because it is sometimes funny and well, who am I to complain about bad English when I can barely remember how to count to ten in Malay? But why oh why not let some kindly old ex-pat give it a final edit…

Stay healthy, stay positive… Be like Ken!

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