And so farewell steamy Malaysia... | Blogging a dead horse

Blogging a dead horse

Is a barrel of naked monkeys more fun than a barrel of hairy ones?

And so farewell steamy Malaysia...


Out of the frying pan and into…

Whenever I mention to any Englishman that after thirty years in Asia I am moving back to England, they always look upon me with great pity and commiserate by saying something like, “why the hell are you doing that, this place is a shit hole!” They imagine that here in Malaysia I spend my time lounging by the pool with a margarita in my hand basking under the sun. Granted that sunstroke, alcohol poisoning, and mosquitoes have had their moments of attraction, most of my time has been spent investigating the history of Malaysia and mingling with a wide range of Malaysian society. This has been a surprisingly interesting departure from the life I lived in Hong Kong. But although Malaysia is a place where one can tolerate a lot of dysfunction because everyone is so pleasant, one cannot tolerate THE PLAGUE!

While the UK lurched into panic mode with its hospitals filling up, here in Malaysia we smugly shrugged it all off because closing the state borders seemed to keep it out and we all thought the diseased air would blow over without too much stress. Life would then return to a long summer of international travel, jungle journeys, city stays, and serendipitous Malaysian encounters with the unexpected. But the miasma just kept on coming and coming and, despite an on going vaccination programme, it seems that many Malays either cannot get vaccinated or do not want to be vaccinated, thus the hospitals are not coping. Despite various key Imams declaring vaccines halal, even in British times the Malays had qualms about them. Malaysia is even struggling to persuade a third of its schoolteachers that vaccination would help. Our Sultan in Johor went purple in the face on discovering this shocking statistic!

The UK’s vaccination programme in comparison has been impressive and appears to be reducing the illness to little more than another of the many flus and colds that have always plagued the UK, especially during its long winters. But I am told by my British pals that they know people who have been fully vaccinated who still went down with Covid! And, with typical British pessimism, they tell me the UK will be a disaster by Christmas. The English are like that! They are always negative. George Orwell said that the British were never happier than when they are miserable. If a rather colourful New Zealand artist had not already bagged the website, I could well imagine it as a site dealing with all things English. The English are naturally suspicious of positivity and I am pretty sure that when I arrive someone in a pub with tell me that the virus was a government conspiracy to stop anti-Brexiters rioting, that bees are dropping dead in droves now that air travel is starting again, and that Boris is a Chinese clone designed to cock everything up and hand over Bradford to the Taliban.

The British are a practical if not necessarily sensible people. They consider their politicians, who they constantly vote into power, to be contemptible over-privileged public schoolboy louts. They regard their fine institutions to be run by idiots, though staffed by saints, in particularly the National Health Service, which is simultaneously vilified and considered a national treasure. Rail services are hideously uncomfortable and contradictorily the government should replace all roads with rails because the roads have too many idiot bicycle lanes, and at the same time not enough facilities for cyclists. They hate all Royalty while voraciously consuming vast amounts of publications about them and will line the streets and cheer its pomp and pageantry at the drop of a hat. They hate the old Empire, think it a woeful display of hypocrisy while being rather proud of the fact that the bunch of dimwit, deadbeat, dredgings from the overcrowded prisons that all colonials no doubt were, managed to walk all over the rest of the world using little more than their desire to better their neighbours. Certainly when the British took over Malaya it was less an act of conquest and more an act of martyrdom with its officials dropping dead in droves from tropical ailments and rarely making any money out of it. The constant struggle between Government non-interventionist policy, and the local manoeuvrings and shenanigans of chancers sorting out various dodgy financial deals with the rajas, headmen and sultans of the area hardly follows the narrative of conquest and enslavement currently fashionable. No doubt you, dear reader, would agree with my father that England has gone to the dogs and lost its place in the world.

You may think that this is all new. But it is not. You can dig back in history as far as you like and find this self-contradictory, self-effacing, truculent attitude. It has a direct line to that other Great Plague that produced the Peasants Revolt and maybe even harkens further back. Even the Romans of Britain had a weird attitude and kept breaking away from the rest of Europe. Perhaps it is something in the water. Perhaps it is a class system that everyone resents but only because they want to be on top of it. Equality maybe the rhetoric, but it is just a tool for getting on in the world. And as, James Barry, the writer of Peter Pan, once said, “There are few more impressive sights in the world than a Scotsman on the make.”

Oh yes, one does have to remember that the imperial English were as often as not, Scots and Irish, who happily forgot such a distinction in the colonies. Nowadays of course we use the term British and distinguish it from English. The union with Scotland somehow confused the issue so you can blame your confusion on James 1
st and his attempts to turn his Scottish Royal Court into English nobles. James 1st of England, if you do not know, was James 6th of Scotland and his mother was Mary Queen of Scots, the one executed by Elizabeth 1st. When Elizabeth died, England and Ireland were handed over to the King of Scotland, much to the annoyance of many English.

Here’s what Daniel Defoe in the 17
th Century said of the True Born Englishman:

Thus from a Mixture of all Kinds began,
That Het'rogeneous 
Thing, An Englishman:
In eager Rapes, and furious Lust begot,
Betwixt a Painted 
Britain and a Scot.
Whose gend'ring Off-spring quickly learn'd to Bow,
And yoke their Heifers to the 
Roman Plough:
From whence a Mongrel half-Bred Race there
With neither Name, nor Nation, Speech or Fame.
In whose hot Veins new Mixtures quickly ran,
Infus'd betwixt a 
Saxon and a Dane.
While their Rank Daughters, to their Parents just,
Receiv'd all nations with promiscuous lust.
This Nauseous Brood directly did contain
The well extracted Blood of 

Defoe wrote much on the nature of the English that could well apply today, and is being applied, as one discovers when one dips into the speeches of modern British politicians talking about immigrants. Michael Gove, Conservative MP, said, “Britishness is about a mongrel identity.” Another right-winger, Pauline Neville-Jones said, “We need to rebuild Britishness in ways which allows us to understand the contributions which all traditions whether primarily ethnic or national, have made and are making to our collective identity.” And on the left, sort of, we find Tony Blair saying: “This nation has been formed by a particularly rich complex of experiences… How can we separate out the Celtic, the Roman, the Saxon, the Norman, the Huguenot, the Jewish, the Asian and the Caribbean and all the other nations that have come and settled here? Why should we want to? It is precisely this rich mix that has made all of us what we are today!” And we get politicians announcing, only half jokingly, that Chicken Tikka Masala, not Fish and Chips, is the British National Dish, though if my teenage nights hitting the pubs are anything to go by, I think a Donner Kebab could just as well fit the bill.

Defoe, roughly speaking, said the English were a nation impossible to rule in peacetime, ever ungrateful, soaked in alcohol and never satisfied: a borrower of language, and people and ever mindful of the rights of individuals.

Certainly the presence of Muslim mayors, cabinet ministers of Indian ancestry not to mention a Prime Minister of Turkish ancestry and the prospect of a future Indian Prime Minister, all indicates that the English are in fact as they have always been, prone to mingling and I suspect it is its source of creative energy and ultimately the reason Scotland will never quite gain enough momentum to extricate itself from the United Kingdom. After all, there’s a good argument that it was actually invented by the Scots, much to the annoyance of the English. And what greater incentive for the Scots to stay British, than to annoy the English? No wonder the British found its place in Europe so awkward. Not that it sees itself as a land founded by immigrants, but rather a land that attracts those who are already British, if not actually English, at heart, passport or not.

Having lived in Asia for thirty years without so much as a twinge of culture shock, I blink bemusedly at Asian communities who view foreign culture as a contaminant. I can only assume that being an Englishman, globalised me. I pick up words, attitudes, and dress sense from my surroundings, and no matter how steeped in Chinese or Malay culture that I have been, I am, curiously even more English in the process. Perhaps I am, more English than an Englishman nowadays. Ex-pat Brits often are. The Englishness I left with has stayed mired in the Englishness of the 1980’s and been polished since then by the Asianess of the twenty first century, so on returning to England I shall have to do a bit of catch up. I wonder if I could actually pass the citizenship test that has been instituted over the years I have been away? It was instituted over fear of too many immigrants who do not share British values, though given the history of the British I am sure the bloody minded right to have a good riot, kill kings, and try to blow up parliaments, are values easily assimilated. Which does make one proud to wave the Union Jack, and the more ragged and gun shot it is, the prouder one is.

So farewell Malaysia. Farewell Asia. I am psyching myself up and digging deep to rediscover my inner Englishman, nay, inner Yorkshireman, or should that be Londoner? All the above. And I will no doubt take a little bit of Asia with me and maybe discover, as I suspect I will, that the main difference between the UK and the tropics is the weather. Though I understand there have been some scorching hot summers recently. I blame the government. Bloody Tories. That Keir Starmer’s not that much better. Bloody Knight of the realm! How can he call himself a socialist with a title? They’re all the same, only in it for the beer. Mine’s a pint of Fullers. Don’t mind if I do. Shoot the lot of ‘em… I could really do a curry…