The digital reincarnation of a national bestseller by KIT LEEE (now known as ANTARES)

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Jaga Kereta Syndicate


Gone are the days of Free Parking, long gone! In the early 1970s the first uniformed parking attendants made their appearance. But it didn't take them long to discover the benefits of dealing direct with motorists, which significantly increased their take-home pay and cut down on paperwork. City Hall responded by replacing them with parking meters.

Suddenly deprived of a sense of meaning and purpose in life - or, more cogently, suddenly finding themselves out of work - a good number of these parking attendants decided to join the amateurs who, up to now, had been a raggedly disorganised bunch. With a newfound sense of professionalism thse unofficial parking attendants formed themselves into smoothly run syndicates operating throughout the Klang Valley.

Normally their shift begins when the parking meters go off duty but during patches of recessionary extreme the Jaga Kereta Syndicate can be found working their beats even during office hours. For a small 'donation' (the Syndicate bills itself as a charitable organisation) they'll help you locate a parking space; guide you in and out of it; open your door for you; clean your windscreen (unfortunately their dirty rags don't help); ensure that you won't be penalised in case the meter runs out on you; and protect your car against 'accidental scratches.' For a flat fee of $3 they'll wash your car on the spot.

The life of a Jaga Kereta isn't an easy one. You have to be constantly on the ball, be on the lookout for motorists sneaking back to their cars and scooting off scot-free. You have to dodge policemen in patrol cars who pick on you whenever they're bored. And nowadays you have to watch out you don't get robbed by some motorist who's even more desperate than you.

Some people call these Jaga Kereta boys a public nuisance. 'It's pure extortion,' they say. But, come to think of it, isn't everything? Only difference is that they don't have a licence, I mean, take Wilson Parking - whoever he is - is everywhere with his semi-automated car parking system: at all the cinemas, supermarkets, basement garages... but he's got a licence! Which is why you pay more at Wilson's. No arguments, no exceptions.

At least, with the Jaga Kereta Syndicate, you can bargain. Sometimes they let you off
with a respectable salute, if they like your style. Sometimes they'll be happy with a kind word or two in payment. If you don't have small change, they usually say, 'Never mind, next time, boss!' If you've been away for a while, they greet you with, 'Hey boss, long time no see!

When it comes to extortion I'd always rather deal with the freelancers.

GLOSSARY

jaga kereta - car watchman.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The BMW Bunch


BMWs (and their owners) are so boringly predictable. Shall we just skip this altogether? Let's.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Bushjacket Boss


Remember when Nehru jackets were all the rage in New York? Or when every Chinaman in China ran around in a Mao suit waving a little red book? Who remembers when the Bushjacket (otherwise known as the safari suit) first caught on in Malaysia?

I wouldn't state this as a fact but I think it was Ghazali Shafie (erstwhile Malaysian Home Affairs Minister) who introduced the bushjacket to the rakyat in the mid-70s. At any rate I'm fairly positive it was the politicians who popularised this eminently practical (but inherently predatory) sartorial concept. Originally designed to be worn by Great White Hunters on Safari in Africa, the bushjacket projects an image of action and adventure - yet it looks formal enough, in a paramilitary fashion, to be worn on ceremonial occasions. And there are so many other winning features of the bushjacket: (1) You don't have to tuck it in, so that tell-tale paunch won't be too obvious; (2) No need to wear a tie, which eliminates the bother of having to exercise good taste, not to mention the savings in time and money; (3) It somehow succeeds in looking efficient and egalitarian in its simplicity while the boldly placed pockets, when scrupulously buttoned down and kept conspicuously empty, help create an impression of incorruptibility.

Once the bushjacket found favour with the politicians, the businessmen quickly followed suit. Sales of neckties plunged. Fancy silk scarves saw a sudden revival. Many a Managing Director and even Chairmen of the Board were soon seen traversing the hot humid distance between air-conditioned company headquarters and air-conditioned company limo in the cool, dapper comfort of their custom-tailored, short-sleeved, open-necked bushjackets: free at last from the Colonial bondage of jacket-&-tie!

It wasn't long before every tailor shop in town boasted a bushjacketed mannequin in its windowcase. Prices became competitive and soon fell within the reach of every Chong, Nik and Samy. Office boys and junior clerks got into the act. Chauffeurs adopted the bushjacket as their uniform and began to enjoy a measure of deferential treatment from parking attendants. Now that it was so easy for anyone to look like a boss, some ground rules had to be laid down:
i) Chauffeurs can only wear olive-green or hospital-white bushjackets.

ii) Office boys and junior clerks must not wear matching trousers with their
bushjackets.

iii) Maroon is reserved for security guards; dark blue is for technicians.
Gradually, shop assistants were trained to distinguish the status of Bushjacket Bosses by the quality of the material worn. The really big bosses always sported bushjackets made of thick, tweedy fabric: this showed that they hardly ever had to leave the comfort of their posh offices.

Variations on the theme emerged. A few radical conservatives gave pinstripes a try - but, fortunately, the idea never caught on. Some tried tartan and some did away with the epaulette straps (those totally useless things attached to the shoulders); others made do with only three pockets (to de-emphasise the paramilitary look). In reaction, a handful of mavericks took to wearing flak jackets on the field. The really individualistic ones went back to wearing jackets-&-ties.

And so passed the Era of the Bushjacket 'Boss'... but not entirely. If you keep your eyes peeled you can still spot a few of these fellows parading the corridors of power and the five-foot-ways of opportunity in their custom-tailored, crease-proof bushjackets. Most of them have given up trying to wangle a collateral-free loan and are now settling for a reasonable extension of their overdraft facilities. Some have even given up platform heels and have gone on a cholesterol-free diet.


GLOSSARY
rakyat - Malay word for 'public'; the masses.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Elvis Fan Club Loyalist


For a small group of diehards in Malaysia the King is not dead - long live Elvis! I'm not sure how all this weirdness began. For the full story you'll have to talk to a guy named William Honda Tan* - founder and president of the Elvis Presley Fan Club of Malaysia, and self-appointed Keeper of the Loyal - I mean the Royal - Archives. His video library includes, of course, every single film Elvis ever starred in; and I'm told his collection of Elvis memorabilia is worthy of a permanent museum.

The Elvis Fan Club first announced its existence in the late 60s. In its heyday there were regular meetings and lectures accompanied by the screening of Elvis movies. Once a year there'd be an Elvis Presley Look-Alike Contest with semi-finals held in small town cinema halls. Indeed, Malaysia can boast of a few classic Elvis impersonators who rose from obscurity to lifelong fame of sorts. Rocky Teoh, for example, won the coveted title 'Elvis Presley of Ipoh' - his prize included a roadshow contract that took him to every one-street town in the country, and even as far as Sarawak and Sabah.**

Many of us still remember Eddie Francis - dubbed Malaysia's Elvis Presley - who held the title year after year, enjoying an undefeated reign.*** Another character called HT Long has dedicated to his life to keeping the Elvis impersonator flame burning.

And we mustn't forget the Elvis Presley of Section 17, Petaling Jaya - otherwise known as Ricky Chan. He used to lurk in the Bier Keller on certain Saturday nights when the moon was blue, resplendent in his custom-tailored silver-studded all-white Elvis-in-Las-Vegas outfit. Ricky always knew the right moment to grab the mike and treat the pub audience to his incomparable version of Jay's-how Lock and Wooden Hut. When the crowd screamed, 'No more, please, no more!' Ricky would instantly oblige with No More (an Elvis evergreen). Yup, Ricky was a true-life phenomenon all right. (Wonder if he can fit into his Elvis costume these days. Indeed, I don't even know if Ricky's still thrusting his pelvis around - or if he's happily partying with The King in the Real Graceland.)

Not much has been heard from the Elvis Fan Club of late. 'Internal politics lah, you know,' a member confided. The membership is split into antagonistic camps: they can't agree on what rules to abide by when they organise an Elvis Sound-Alike Contest. One committee member will suggest that the contestants must dress exactly the way Elvis dressed when he sang that particular number in the movie featuring the song in question; while another will insist that points should be awarded according to the fidelity of the performance, per se, and not for the costume. Oh dear, first it was the MCA, then UMNO, then the MIC, and now... no wonder the country's in such a stste.

GLOSSARY
MCA - Malaysian Chinese Association
UMNO - United Malay Nationalist Organisation
MIC - Malaysian Indian Congress

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*I went looking for William Honda Tan in the late 1990s and was told he had left the building to join Elvis. Guess you'd have to talk to Honda Tan through a medium now.

**Sadly, Rocky Teoh was killed in a car crash in 1990, a year after the publication of Adoi!
His daughter Ann maintains a website in memory of her colourful father.

***Don't think I ever met Eddie Francis - but his pretty daughter Connie did some back-up vocals for me and his son Derek (now my Facebook buddy) was audio engineer when I recorded my first solo album in 1984.

NEWSFLASH! While doing a bit of research to update this essay I stumbled on an item in The Star (dated 29 July 2006) publicising the appearance - at the Ol Skool Bistro in PJ - of the Elvis Trio comprising Frankie Fong, Aziz Daud, and Alex Wong, who represent a new generation of Malaysian Elvis impersonators. Apparently, this was part of a month-long tribute to Elvis. Well, who says The King is dead?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Professional Form-Filler



Somebody once defined Bureaucracy as a giant machine operated by pygmies. Well, with something like 800,000* people on the government payroll, Malaysia must have one of the world's largest bureaucracies. That's roughly 5% of our total population in the public sector (notwithstanding ongoing efforts to make it more private). In other words, for every 20 citizens there is an official pygmy assigned to making life a perpetual hassle. This procedure takes many forms (the Official Form, of course, being the bureaucrat's official form of expression).

So many forms, in fact, that in order to fill them correctly a special breed of Professional Form-Filler has arisen (and I'm not referring to the ones with law degrees). For a modest fee the Professional Form-Filler undertakes to fill in forms for members of the public who can't read or write Officialese - or who suffer temporary paralysis of the writing hand when confronted with formal documents. An extra dollar or two will ensure that your professionally filled forms arrive at their official destination in express time. Cari makan - we all have to eat, right?

The wonderful thing about Big Bureaucracy is that it's just like a coral reef (which is why I always pretend I'm wearing a face-plate and snorkel whenever I enter one of these government offices - it lends a touch of fascination to the experience): just beyond the humdrum hustle and bustle you'll encounter a certain timeless serenity, a vista of graceful inertia populated by generally benign varieties of clam and slug and polyp. But don't point your finger at the clams - they'll just put a 'tutup' sign in their window and snap shut. And watch out for the sea rambutans - otherwise known as spiny sea urchins - their tempers shorten in inverse proportion to the length of the queues. Above all avoid antagonising the occasional moray eel lurking maliciously within some plywood cubicle. Talk about uncivil servants! No use reminding them who pays their salaries; they'll just point at the PM's picture on the wall and smugly spout the current slogan about leadership.

Note: the Professional Form-Filler is not to be confused with the Orang borang (another distinct subspecies, recently identified by well-known marine biologist Rehman Rashid). While the Orang borang fulfills the vital task of keeping members of the public well supplied with Official Forms, the Professional Form-Filler ensures the smooth running of the system as an unofficial form-filling consultant. It's a perfect study of symbiosis.

GLOSSARY
tutup - closed
rambutan - hairy-skinned local fruit
orang - person
borang - form


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*In 2007 the figure is reportedly over 1 million, making the ratio of bureaucrats to non-bureaucrats 1:25.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Cari Makan Ethic


As a symbol of the cosmic order the old Yin-Yang is a tough act to follow. You know the Yin-Yang, I hope? Two graphic tadpoles clinging together to form a circle: one black, the other white. And to make the overall design more thought-provoking, the black tadpole has a white dot where its eye should be, and the white one a black dot. But what does it mean? Without getting into a heavy discussion on relativity theory, how about: Every blessing comes with a tiny built-in curse? (And vice versa, naturally.)

Take the astounding variety of hawker food available in Malaysia. Most of it excellent, most of it inexpensive; and the gastro-ethnic spectrum represented is simply belly-boggling. Try shouting out this partial inventory:

Nasi Kandar, Nasi Lemak, Mee Goreng, Mee Rebus, Mee Bandung, Mee Jawa, Roti Canai, Roti Jala, Rojak, Curry Laksa, Asam Laksa, Char Kway Teow, Wan Tan Mee, Prawn Mee, Oyster Omelette, Tomyam, Sup Ekor, Sup Kambing, Sup Ayam, Chicken Chop, Pork Chop, Fish 'N' Chips, Barbequed Steak, Grilled Fish, Fish Balls, Beef Balls, Pork Balls, Bak-Kut-Teh, Dim Sum, Chicken Wings, Yong Tow Foo, Thosai, Chappati, Murtabak, Banana Leaf Rice, Pizza, Satay, Loh Bak, Chee Cheong Fun, Chap Faan, Charsiew/Roast Duck Rice, Chicken/Fish/Pork Congee, Hainanese Chicken Rice, Fish-head Curry, Turtle Soup, Iguana Soup, Claypot Rice/Noodles, Kangkong Sotong, Clams, Crabs, Cockles, Snails... and this menu sample was taken from just two hawker centres in town!

The only thing you can't get is a good salad. Malaysians have a pronounced carnivorous tendency. Plus the tendency to place EATING at the top of our priorities in life. Cari makan - we all have to eat - is the stock reply to any and every accusation.

In this respect the Chinese are the most shameless perpetrators of the Cari Makan Ethic. I don't have the exact figure but I wouldn't be surprised if the Chinese have devised over 2,000 ways of preparing tofu (soya beancurd). They say that when the Chinese migrants arrived all they owned was their grandmothers' recipes. Only much later did they send for their ink brushes and papier-mâché lions. Perhaps a few people can fairly claim that they eat to live. You don't see too many of them in Malaysia - they must get so skinny they just vanish into thin air.

It's true, Malaysians mostly live to eat. Look at the Malays: during Ramadhan, the fasting month, they spend more time cooking than at any other period. Thousands of temporary food-stalls proliferate, and everyone spends the whole day looking forward to the reward awaiting the faithful when the sun goes down - and the ritual gobbling of mountains of choice delicacies begins.

So, blessed as we are with such a splendid spread of goodies, where does the curse come in? Well, consider this: our collective obsession with EATING has smothered our spirit with excess fat. Our national soul, as it were, has gone somewhat Garfieldsian - a state of being that doesn't seem to bother businessmen, bureaucrats and general office workers in the least, though it tends to foul up all our noblest and highest aspirations.

When the going was good we ate too much too fast. And now we find ourselves starved of pride - in our own essential competence, in our standard of craftsmanship. The Cari Makan Ethic made us favour profit margins over product quality and now mediocrity rules! How else could we keep on manufacturing cassettes that squeak after 6 months?* Churning out movies fit only for morons? Putting up with such a poor showing in public accountability?

But thank God for lean times! Maybe we'll now be motivated to 'cari makna' (look for meaning) and not just 'cari makan' (look for food). Maybe our children will finally be encouraged to work at what they do best - not just at what might make the most money.

I rest my case. Burp.


_____

*To bring this up-to-date: DVDs that jam in the player? Flyovers that crack within six months? Houses that sink into the earth after two years? Ceilings that leak in government buildings and water tanks that crash into bedrooms almost killing folks in their sleep?


GOURMET'S GLOSSARY

nasi kandar - mamak (Indian Muslim) specialty, literally, portable rice - food sold and eaten outside the home - usually consisting of rice with a wide choice of curries, vegetables and deep-fried chicken, prawns or fish. A variation of this, served by the Malays, is called nasi campur (mixed rice) or nasi padang (Sumatran style); sambal belacan (chillied shrimp paste) is optional but highly recommended.

nasi lemak - rice cooked in coconut milk and served with hot, spicy anchovies or savoury beef cubes or chicken curry or squid sambal; garnished with roasted peanuts, egg and cucumber.

nasi goreng - fried rice in a variety of styles: Chinese, Malay or Indian Muslim.

mee goreng - Indian Muslim fried noodles with egg, vegetables and squid or chicken; fiery but tasty.

mee rebus - steamed noodles in thick, spicy gravy, topped off with hardboiled egg slices - mamak-style or Johore Malay.

mee bandung - noodles in hot soup with floating egg and vegetables.

roti canai
- wheatflour pancakes, crisp and tasty, served with dhall (spiced lentil gravy), fish or chicken curry, or (believe it or not) a sprinkling of sugar. Other gourmet variations include roti banana, roti sardine, and roti bom (fried with extra ghee and a dash of sweet egg jam).

roti jala
- looks like miniature yellow nets (jala), tastes like mutated pasta - served with your choice of curries.

rojak - closest thing to a salad, available in three versions: Malay (similar to Indonesian gado-gado), mamak, and baba (with chillied prawn paste).

curry laksa - Baba (Straits-born Chinese) specialty; noodles in a delicious, creamy, prawn-flavoured gravy served with cockles, chicken or charsiew (sweet Chinese ham), fried beancurd, and fiery belacan and chilli paste.

asam laksa - Penang baba specialty: spaghetti-like noodles al dente, in a sinus-clearingly spicy fish soup, flavoured with dark prawn paste and garnished with raw onions and mint leaves.

char kway teow - fried noodles, Teochew-style, with eggs, cockles, chilli paste and loads of grease (which makes it temptingly tasty but a cardinal sin for heart patients).

wan tan mee - stringy egg noodles served 'dry' or in a tasty soup with Chinese ham, black mushrooms, green vegetables, and wan tan (Chinese ravioli).

prawn mee - just try it!

oyster omelette
- Hokkien/Teochew specialty: a mouthwatering concoction of tiny oysters embedded in greasy egg and starch, fried with fish sauce and arcane skill. The locals call it ho chien or oh luak - and the further South you travel, the better it gets.

tomyam - from the famous Thai recipe; extremely piquant soup with bits of seafood or chicken - but watch out for the devilish little chilli padi. First-timers should sit near a fire extinguisher.

sup ekor/kambing/ayam - otherwise known as oxtail/mutton/chicken soup- and no one serves it better than the mamak with his huge tin pots on a pushcart. For novices it's best to order your soup 'kurang pedas' (less chilli).

bak-kut-teh - invigorating herbal (reputedly tonic) soup with assorted parts of pig (ears, cheeks, trotters, intestines, stomach, ribs, rump, tail - it's all edible, you can take your pick) often served with side dishes of fried tofu, yu-charkway (rice-flour sticks) and black mushrooms.

dim sum - steamed goodies, Hongkong-style, kept warm in stacks of cylindrical trays. Wide range of delights from pau (stuffed dumplings) to har-kau (shrimp patties), pai-kuat (spicy pork ribs), ee-taan (giant fish balls), and lor-mai kai (stewed chicken with glutinous rice) - all served on dainty dishes.

chicken wings - crisp, barbecued, sensational. Colonel Sanders, go fly a kite!

yong tow foo - tasty assortment of beancurd variants and vegetables stuffed with chewy fish patties. Local gourmets will travel miles through lunchtime traffic just to eat the famous yong tow foo in Ampang.

thosai - a South Indian staple often eaten in lieu of rice; subtly spiced, slightly sour rice-and-lentil pancake, delicious with coconut chutney. Masala thosai comes stuffed with curried potatoes and paper thosai resembles a wizard's hat.

chappati
- heavy, hearty Sikh wheatbread, good eating every day at any hour. Usually dipped in dhall or curry.

murtabak - spicy minced meat with onions and egg, folded in flaky, roti-like crust. Another mamak favourite.

banana leaf rice - actually just a huge mound of rice served on a section of banana leaf, South Indian style. Usually vegetarian but most restaurants serve carnivores too. Subtle and exquisite servings of spicy vegetables, piquant chutney, pappadam (crunch lentil flakes), rasam (a very intense soup) - and perhaps a spoonful of fresh yoghurt will make the rice vanish quickly.

satay - everyone knows this one, right? Malaysian shish kebab served with steamed
rice cubes, cucumber, onions, and a titillating peanut-flavoured sauce.

loh bak - a difficult-to-describe side dish consisting of deep-fried spring rolls, crab rolls, fish fingers, beancurd squares, prawn fritters, etc. Set off with century-egg slices and pickled ginger.

chee cheong fun - literally, pig's intestine noodles - a reference to form, not content. Made of very fine rice powder, these tubular noodles are smooth and tender and taste great with a sprinkling of sesame seeds. Often eaten at breakfast with yong tow foo and a sweetish savoury sauce.

chap faan - Chinese version of nasi campur: rice with assorted home-style dishes. Pick what you want and it will be heaped on your plate with the rice. Workingman's lunch - fast and cheap.

charsiew/roast duck rice - Charsiew is a sweet-savoury barbecued and smoked strip of pork (akin to ham), ecstatically delicious or slightly boring - depending on the chef. Combined with roast chicken or roast pork or roast duck, it makes a quick and simple but utterly satisfying rice-&-meat dish, garnished with fresh cucumber slices.

chicken/fish/pork congee - congee is just a fancy nmae for fine rice gruel - perfect for weak digestive tracts and easy on jaded tastebuds.

Hainanese chicken rice - chicken-fat flavoured rice and expertly steamed chicken, garnished with cucumber and parsley.

fish-head curry - you won't believe how fleshy the heads of some fish species can be - and how lipsmackingly tasty too. The use of fingers is recommended. Not a cheap item, however - best ordered when dining with at least a couple of friends.

turtle soup - not for the squeamish, but definitely not as weird as snake or squirrel!

iguana soup - mind if I skip this one? I've only ever seen it on menus but people tell me iguana tastes a bit like chicken.

claypot rice/noodles
- the claypot brings out a very special flavour. Rice is usually cooked with chicken, lup-cheong (Chinese sausage) and some saltfish. The noodles, with pork, prawns and vegetables.

kangkong sotong - pond-greens and steamed squid in a rich, savoury-sweet sauce, sprinkled with ground peanuts.

clams, crabs, cockles, snails - usually fried in a stimulating, spicy sauce; sometimes lightly steamed. Most stalls keep their stock alive and crawling till it enters the cooking pot.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Kamon-lah, Tok Manglish OK?


Aitelyu ah, nemmain wat deblardigarmen say, mose Malaysians tok Manglish. Bekoswai? Bekos we all shai oni to to spik prawper English - arfturds peeple ting we trying to ackshun oni. But Manglish is best-lah when you want to seemply tokkok like fren-fren, lah. Donkair you Malay or Chinese or Indian or everyting miksup. At the mamak stall, in the awfis, sitting araun in the kopi-shop, we Malaysians orways tok like dis wankain oni - got kick wat!


You want to tokkok osoken, no problem, we gifchan you forrin flers, lah. Seemply by-heart the following list of pawpular Manglish words and phrases - and very soon oridi you can go araun blarfing like tera oni.

A COMPACT GLOSSARY OF COMMON MANGLISH WORDS & PHRASES


ackchwurly – originally “actually” – used in Manglish as a sentence starter, e.g., “to be perfectly honest” or “frankly spikking ah.”

ackshun (oni) – derived from “action” – meaning “to show off.”

aidontch-main - corruption of "I don't mind" - the extraneous syllable 'ch' indicates that the speaker is well aware of the subtleties of the English language and is making an effort to sound the 't' in "don't." 

aisehman - contraction of "I say, man!" A totally meaningless utterance, most commonly used by those with absolutely nothing to say.

aiskad (lah) - confession of nervousness, as in "I'm scared, don't have the guts to do it."

aisodono - expression of ignorance, probably imported from India, originally: "I also don't know" (polite variation of "Damned if I know!").

arfturds – contraction of “afterwards” – often used to imply consequence or effect, e.g., “You don’t hit me ah, arfturds I tell my farder!”; also used in place of “later” (“We go and see pickcher first, arfturds can have sahper.”)

atoyu (wat) - gentle expression of triumph: "What did I tell you?"

baiwanfriwan
 - ploy used mainly by Chinese shop assistants to promote sales: "If you buy one, you'll get one free!" 

barfellow - originally “buffalo” – a reference to bulk, usually signifying a clumsy oaf or plodder.

barger - corruption of “bugger” – literally, pain-in-the-butt or nuisance.

barsket - uncouth interjection; term of derision, often preceded by the prefix "bladi." Probably a mangled compound of "blasted," "bastard" and "bugger." An all-purpose expression of acute annoyance, as in "Goddamn" or "Blast it!"

betayudon - mild warning, as in "You'd better not do that."

bladihel - exclamation conveying intense irritation; corruption of "bloody hell!"

boh-sia - originally a Hokkien expression meaning “mute” but now loosely applied to teenage girls who hang out with, or put out for, sugar-daddies; frequently misheard as “Bosnia,” which arouses instant embarrassment, confusion, moral outrage or sympathy, not necessarily leading to charitable acts.

bollsdar - rude retort favored by Malaysian Indians, especially Sikhs; essentially a scrotal reference devolved from "balderdash" or "bollocks." (The deliberate slurring of the commonly heard vernacular suffix 'lah' imparts a more emphatic measure of vulgarity.

cari makan – popular Malay idiom, literally “looking for food” or “to eke out a living” – but usually employed as a rationale for selfish and myopic behavior.

cheh – expression of total disgust, usually indicating that the user finds the entire subject vile, filthy, contemptible and unworthy of further discussion.

chipsket - contraction of "cheapskate," somebody not known to be generous; also used to describe anything low-cost.

dai-lah - term of commiseration, usually mock, used in situations where an element of anxiety is present, e.g.,"Oh dear, now you've blown it!" or "Oh well, that's the end of that!" or "Shit! I'm in real trouble."

debladigarmen - contraction of "the bloody government" - widely used scapegoat for all of life's disappointments, delays, denials, and prohibitions.

defler - contraction of "that fellow."

(doan) tokkok) - playful insult ("Don't talk rubbish!"); the etymology of tokkok is uncertain but it probably derives from "talk cock" (as in "cock and bull" stories).

fatty bom-bom - a juvenile reference to bulk; synonymous with “fatso” - a jocular and universally understood description of obesity.

filim - mispronunciation of “film” - usually refers to movies, whether analog or digital.

fler - personal and/or impersonal reference, originally a contraction of "fellow" but frequently applied in neuter gender, e.g., "You flers better wochaut!" ("Don't any of you try to be funny!")

fraskes - noun applied to any individual caught in an unenviable impasse; someone whose case is frustrating; could also imply sexual deprivation.

gifchan (lah) - half-serious plea, as in "Give us a chance, will you?" Could also mean: "Please do us a favor."

gurfren – slurring of “girlfriend.”

hauken - another elastic expression applicable in almost any situation, e.g., "That's not right!" or "Impossible!" or "You don't say!"

ho-laif - adverb, meaning "perpetually" (contraction of "whole life").

huseso - "Says who?" or "Who says so?" (alternatively, hused). 

hutoyu - mild challenge, as in "Who told you?"

izzit - expression of mild unbelief: "Is that so?"

izzenit - from "isn't it?" but applied very loosely at the end of any particular statement to elicit an immediate response, e.g., "Yused you will spen me a beer, izzenit?"

kennonot - request or enquiry, contraction of "Can you or can you not?"; also used as "May I?"  or "Will you?" or "Is it possible?"

kenoso - affirmative, "can also"; in other words, "It's quite all right with me" (see osoken).

kopi money - unofficial commission; bribe.

lastaim - denotes the past ("last time"), though not necessarily in any specific sense: e.g., "Lastaim we orways see filim but nowdays stay home and watch dividi oni."

latok - corruption of “datuk”; (i) “grandfather” in Malay; (ii) a tutelary spirit residing in trees and sacred spots; or (iii) an honorific bestowed on individuals deemed worthy (e.g., Malaysia’s best-loved cartoonist Lat, who’s now a “Latok”). Latokship is a much sought-after status symbol (for which some are willing to pay handsomely).

mais-wan - possessive pronoun, meaning “it belongs to me” or “it’s mine.” Etymologically part of a family including yos-wan (“yours one”) and dias-wan (“their’s one”).

mebeken - contraction of “maybe can”: in other words, “It may be possible…”

nemmain - casual dismissal: "Never mind."

notshai-wan - from "not shy one" - meaning "shameless" or not standing upon ceremony.

nola - a dilute negative, used as a device to interrupt, deny, or cancel someone else's statement.

olafasudden - melodramatic variation on “all of a sudden.”

oridi - contraction of "already."

osoken - affirmative, interchangeable with kenoso ("also can"); in other words, "Anything goes!" or "Fine by me!"

ow-tah (punya) - temi of disparagement, meaning "utterly substandard."

owk-steshen - from “outstation” - a relic of Colonial days when officials were often absent from their posts doing field work; in other words, “out of town” or “abroad.”

podah - extremely dismissive term derived from street Tamil, as in "Go to hell!" or "Get stuffed!" or "Fuck off!"

rigadingwat - interrogative used exclusively by telephonists and secretaries when you demand to speak to their bosses: "What is it regarding?"

sahper - "supper," usually a major pig-out after a nocturnal shopping spree or pub-crawl.

seehau - mangling of "let's wait and see how it turns out."

shiok (oni) - expression of intense pleasure, etymology obscure.

sofanochet - meaning "it hasn't happened yet"; can also be shortened to nochet, a slurring of
"not yet.“

sohau - polite interrogative, usually used as greeting, e.g., "Well, how are things with you?" or "How goes it?"

so-poorting - expression of sympathy or condolence: "You poor thing!"

sorait - universal apology or palliative ("It‘s all right.")

tera (oni) - noun describing someone who inspires awe, "a real terror." Often has a positive connotation, as in "defer wankain tera ladykiller lah!"

tan-slee - corruption of “Tan Sri” - the equivalent of a knighthood.

tingwat - highly adaptable expression stemming from "What do you think?" May be used as a
challenge ("Who cares a hoot what you think!"); a rhetorical question ("Well, how about  that?"); or as a friendly insult ("Please don’t inflict your abysmal ignorance on us!") - depending on context and intonation.

wankain -(wan) - adjective denoting uniqueness, oddness, weirdness, extraordinariness: contraction of "one of a kind" (with "one" repeated for rhythmic symmetry). Sometimes rendered as wankain-oni (to emphasize the uniqueness).

watudu - rhetorical question: "But what can we do?" An excellent excuse for apathy.

weh-yuattash - polite question when introduced to a stranger: "Where are you attached to?" (in       other words, "What do you do for a living?")

wochaut - from "watch out" - an ominous threat favored by gangsters and polticians.

yala - non-committal agreement, liberally used when confronted with a bore. A string of "yalas" issuing forth from your hapless listener is a sure sign that he or she wishes to terminate the conversation as soon as possible.

yesa - general expression of interest, usually inserted as a question during conversations, as in "Oh, really?"

yu-a-yu - term of friendly accusation, meaning "You're really too much!"

yugifmisi — imperative indicating intense curiosity, as in: "Let me have a look!"

yusobadwan - expression of mild reproach: "Hey, that's not very nice!"





ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The Manglish Glossary was born of an evening of intoxicated jollity spent with two superb musicians and cunning linguists named Rafique Rashid and Julian Mokhtar, who both offered helpful suggestions, as did an expat English teacher friend, Jeanne M.C. Donven.



Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Junk Jungle


Why is anything that's supposedly 'good for you' so easy to resist? And why does the exact opposite hold true when it comes to something that really does you damage? Call it a death wish if you like. Maybe our lives have become so comfortable and safe we need a stiff dose of danger to spice things up. Yes... DANGER! But, on the other hand, it mustn't appear too obviously dangerous. So we disguise it as Junk.

How do we define Junk?

Garbage. Trash. Highly Saleable Worthlessness.

Like this book (we fervently hope). Or like the heavily advertised, artificially flavoured styrofoam snacks in attractive foil packages that kids of all ages simply cannot resist. Or like the sleazy, stupefying sludge oozing from your boob tube every night which seeps into your skull through your eye-sockets.

Remember: the distinguishing feature of Junk is that it feels so harmless, so pleasant, so soothing while you're indulging - but it leaves you with Nothing. No nourishment, no food for thought, no lasting benefit. Only a perverse sense of glee knowing you've succeeded in squandering another few hours of precious lifetime while contributing to the bottomless coffers of the Junk Pedlars.

And the purest form of Junk is, of course, heroin. In this Era of Junk the heroin addict can be considered a fundamentalist. The rest of us who prefer our religion slightly watered-down are quite happy having only socially-sanctioned habits. Now let's look at a random sample of these halal categories of Junkies...


GLOSSARY
halal - kosher, approved by orthodoxy

Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Video Junkie


What happens when the infernal thing blows a circuit or the power supply is cut for a couple of hours? Admit it, you can't live without looking at that small screen in your living room (or that big screen if you can afford one of those RM11,000 plasma TVs). You're a Video Junkie, plead guilty and we'll say no more. What? You never watch the stuff - you'd rather sit in front of your computer every night? Working on the household accounts or answering e-mails? Okay, maybe for an hour or so - and then what do you do? You slip in that pirated video game and off you go, into a private oblivion of electronic euphoria, titillating your braincells with cute little dit-dit-dits and delightful brooooop-toodle-oos as you blast those sneaky-nasties off the screen with sheer digital dexterity. Zap zap zap! Kill kill kill! Yahoo! Believe me, I know how much fun it can be. I've spent hours in some kind of absolute anti-social heaven just fooling around with the UFO game that comes with my pocket calculator.*

And when your concentration starts wearing down after 2½ hours hunched over your little toy and those mean microchips get the jump on you - I know how it feels. Yes, and I've also felt that sense of quiet competence just watching my score accumulate: the exhilaration is almost like you're thundering down the highway in a stolen Lamborghini and no one's ever going to catch up with you. But how long before you need to flex your fingers or rub your neck or go take a leak? Come on, how can you ever hope to win? Silicon wafers don't get tired. And the day you eventually do win you'll only find your wife has run off with her gym instructor or some Yugoslavian diplomat.


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*These days it would be mobile phones. I've seen kids hypnotized for hours by some mindless game played on their mobile phones in between watching music videos on those teeny-weeny screens.



The Newspaper Junkie


First thing every morning, the same old routine. Pick up the papers and check the headlines. Then start cursing and fuming and swear you're going to cancel the subscription. It's been like this for years. You tell your friends you only read the comics and the sports pages; the kids want to know what's on TV; the wife likes looking for bargains in the chain store ads and the classifieds. Giving up the newspaper habit is almost as hard as trying to stop smoking. You know it's bad for your mental health. Reading the newspapers makes you anxious and pessimistic, and it puts you in a foul mood. But you have to keep yourself up-to-date with what's happening - or so you've been told. Anyway, how much information do you want to lug around in your brain all day? Will the newspapers tell you that 15 million earthworms drowned in last week's flash flood - or that on Wednesday at 5 a.m. Rozlinawati binti Razalie ran away from her parents' Felda Scheme shanty and experienced ecstasy?

I've kicked the Newspaper Habit quite a few times myself. The initial rush of restored optimism always makes me feel great... until I happen to walk past a newsstand and suffer an idiotic compulsion to quiver with mute outrage or giggle cosmically (it all depends on my energy level at the time). Still, at 50 sen* a shot one has a choice of Laughing Gas or NSThetic. Who needs a dentist - your teeth simply fall out from a chronic diet of pap and pulp. Chew on this, all you Newspaper Junkies!


GLOSSARY

NST - established national daily; New Straits Times (Enesty is the best policy).


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*In 2007 the cost of befouling your brains has shot up to RM1.20 per day.



The 4-Digit Junkie


No relation to the One-Armed Swordsman. The One-Armed Bandit, perhaps. Some are born with gambler's blood. Those who haven't the capital to take their chances on the share market inevitably become 4-Digit Junkies. They start seeing numbers everywhere: on car licence plates, in dreams, in telephone appointments, in the ashes of burnt joss-sticks. In 4-Digit lotteries the investment can be as modest $1 - but the pros form themselves into syndicates and play for high stakes. There have been times when entire draws have to be declared null and void - because of the enormous influence some syndicates exert on Fate.

Those without the necessary connections resort to sending $10 and their birthdays to professional forecasters - who possess a vast knowledge of metaphysics and guarantee success (and their satisfied customers all testify to that in the ads). Some even dabble in black magic and invoke a dangerous assortment of spirits - just to ask their advice on 4-D numbers. If you're driving past a cemetery very late at night and you see mysterious lights - you can almost be certain it's only a hardcore assembly of 4-D Junkies, performing some ritual sacrifice by way of thanksgiving after a big win. Some people talk about nothing but 4-Digits all day: these are the chronic losers who eventually walk the streets hawking advance 4-D results to motorists at traffic lights. I have a few friends who are 4-Digit Junkies - but only on a modest scale, I hasten to add, since they don't have spirit consultants or syndicates. Not one of them has ever been able to go on holiday after a lucky strike - but one occasional win is enough to get you hooked for life. Many long-term addicts are reduced to living from draw to draw in a 4-D Universe of Perpetual Anticipation. 'It's only a matter of Time,' they mutter, 'I'll strike it rich sooner or later!'

Industries like defence, security systems, and insurance are founded on Fear; the 4-D racket feeds on Hope. That's right, all ye 4-Digit Junkies - you're all Hope Fiends!


'

The Junk Food Junkie


Average age eleven. The older ones are probably retards. Who else could put up with a marketing gimmick like Ronald McDonald? Or that Colonel Santa jolly-grandpa figure? I've got nothing against hamburgers or fried chicken - but all that star-spangled hype is pretty hard to swallow. Some are making piles while the rest of us get piles. These Modern Marketing Methods: 5% product and 95% image and packaging. No wonder everything turns into Junk. Okay, call me an old stick-in-the-mud. It's bad enough in the West but must the whole world be converted into a Junk Yard? I'd rather be an Antique. Well, folks... Have A Nice Millennium!

Friday, November 2, 2007

The Mahjong Junkie


Click clack. Click clack. Pong! Chong! That's music to any Mahjong Junkie's ears. Every Lunar New Year 90% of the Chinese population on Earth turn into Mahjong Junkies - at least for a couple of weeks. The rest of the year the number drops to 50% or thereabouts.

Some play bridge, some play poker, some prefer gin rummy, Monopoly and Scrabble. the Chinese have their mahjong; and since there are so many Chinese everywhere, the game has become internationally known. Still, you have to be Chinese to fully enjoy a week-long marathon session - complete with brandy, melon seeds, Chinese tea, Bensons, Dunhills, and charsiew pau (barbecued pork dumplings). Not to mention the loud, high-pitched voices raised in typical mahjong patter (you see, the Chinese believe that Noise equals Festivity). For a very large segment of Chinese, mahjong constitutes the only form of relaxation they allow themselves - apart from listening to soap serials on Rediffusion's wired broadcast service and counting money. But in recent years a new breed of Chinese existentialist has surfaced in snooker parlours throughout the country. Perhaps they find mahjong too jolly and gregarious for their taste. Tock! Click-clack-clock-click... chock! Now that's music to a Snooker Junkie's ears.

The Power Junkie


In so many ways we're still a feudal society. Which makes it easy for someone with ruthless ambitions or special privileges to degenerate into a Power Junkie. This is perhaps the most dangerous addiction of all, since the Power Junkie ultimately feeds like a vampire off other people's fears and weaknesses. Of course, the consummate Power Junkie takes pains to ensure that other people's fears and weaknesses are further reinforced: he owns or controls all the mass media so the public can be systematically enfeebled through a steady diet of bad news. After a few generations, cynicism turns to pessimism and pessimism turns to despair; and despair tells us resistance is futile.

The professional Power Junkie also invests public funds in a private police force equipped with high-tech surveillance systems and advanced torture techniques. He always keeps a few victims dangling around in his dungeons like any mediaeval duke or South American dictator would do. Everything he does is in the interest of Security - his own, not yours. Unlike the Real Junkie (i.e., the hardcore drug addict) who seems hell-bent on committing slow suicide, the Power Junkie usually progresses beyond mere homicide and ends up experimenting with genocide. Rehabilitation is possible in very rare instances where the victim is compelled to resign from public office (the Power Junkie's natural habitat).

My general advice is to eat lots of garlic and always keep a wooden stake handy. Even a well-sharpened pencil will do.

The 4WD Phenomenon


Once upon a time meeting a Jeep or Land Rover on the road was an event. You always wanted to know who the lucky occupants of these vehicles were, living such rugged lives on the frontier. It could be a brave little band of policemen just back from a dangerous jungle patrol, or a group of young soldiers sharing a few jokes and a cigarette in carefree camaraderie; or some vegetable farmer taking his litter of mischievous kids to the village schoolhouse. Sometimes you might even catch a glimpse of trussed-up wild boar with nasty-looking tusks or a glassy-eyed crocodile - dead but still scary = and you'd notice the hunter's double-barrelled shotgun propped up against a mud-spattered window.

Then you grew up and became an executive and bought yourself an Isuzu Trooper or Mitsubishi Pajero. And now when another 4-wheel-drive pulls up beside you at the traffic lights, you don't bother to look. Because you'll only see a couple of overfed schoolkids from Alice Smith or Fairview smirking at you.

The 4WD* Phenomenon marked the beginning of the New Affluence when the decade brashly introduced itself as the Exciting Eighties. It was a time of entrepreneurial derring-do and corporate swashbuckling. Advertisements projected the up-and-coming young urban professional as a real man of action - equally at ease behind the wheel of a BMW or a 4WD. He could see himself powering over the mud-tracks of construction sites and oil-palm estates; he also had fantasies of somehow finding the time to take his girlfriend (or his photogenic little family) on wonderful camping trips in the wilds. Besides being a good investment, image-wise, the New Generation 4WD came with lots of nifty extras: plush seats, air-con, hi-wattage stereo (with turbo-bass), servo steering, power windows, the works. At last you could combine feeling comfy with looking rugged!

Only problem was, these trendy new 4WDs didn't come cheap at all. They were just like the high-priced Swiss knives you see on sale in department stores: you simply must possess one, hang the cost. But actually use it? And risk losing or breaking it? After a couple of joyrides along some old logging trail, most 4WD owners would begin to feel a little anxious about preserving the paintwork on their new toys. They'd experience actual relief when when they found themselves safely back on the toll highway.

The more determined outdoorsy types eventually formed their own off-road 4WD Club, organising group outings into trackless jungle and across the most terrifying terrain specially chosen for the challenge. A sort of Hash House Harriers on wheels, inspired by TV ads promoting adventure wear (but mainly sponsored by a tobacco company anxious to associate its product with rugged masculinity). Saturdays would see huge convoys of these modern-day cowboys in their tank-like vehicles with grotesquely oversized wheels, roaring through remote Orang Asli villages and churning up dirt tracks - just for the hell of it. Jungle-bashing taken too literally - makes one wish sometimes that the jungle would bash these upmarket Mat Rempits who prefer to conquer rather than appreciate nature.

Other 4WD owners, nonetheless, seem perfectly content to be seen cruising to and from Hock Choon supermarket with their families comfortably insulated in their air-conditioned Pajeros and Range Rovers from the riff-raff below. Yup, it's a jungle out there.


GLOSSARY
Alice Smith and Fairview - two exclusive private schools in KL.
Hash House Harriers - a cross-country runners' club started by afew expatriates aa a healthy means of working up a massive beer thirst. The idea proved so popular the HHH has now gone international.
Mat Rempits - Malaysian rebels without a cause on whiny motorbikes, many on the Umno Youth payroll (so they can be used to create havoc at political rallies and intimidate opposition voters).


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*In recent years the term 4WD (4-wheel-drive) has been superseded by SUV (Sports Utility Vehicle).