Of proper Parangs and Australian Bikies in Chinatown.

One of my regular readers, also a friend, brought to my attention the fact that the parang in my last post is actually a Wu Shu sword, which is technically sports equipment. So in the interest of good blog-manship (a play on “penmanship”, get it?) I have scoured the internet to find you a REAL, scary-looking, can-cut-you-just-by-looking-it parang as my experience of being a victim of crime in Malaysia, has thankfully, excluded any encounters with one. If you must ask, I have only ever (note the sarcastic tone) been robbed and dragged across a drain, thereby having all 4 limbs abraded by gravel, in broad daylight.

However, let’s not get distracted from good and proper parangs. Here is a common version of the mean steel monster, as promised.

A picture of a parang.

A picture of a parang.

And here is a nice Chinese meat cleaver, currently on sale on eBay, which can do the same job, but which no self-respecting Malaysian thug will dream of brandishing because it smacks of amateurism.

A picture of a Chinese meat cleaver.

A picture of a Chinese meat cleaver.

So on Tuesday, just a day after my last post, HRH and I went to Northbridge (aka Chinatown) for lunch. HRH had already finished his Peking spare ribs and rice, complaining as he ate it that there were no vegetables, and I was at the tail-end of my fried rice and pork chops smothered in tomato sauce (I’ve since resumed eating Mr Pig), when in walked 5 heavily-tattoed beefcakes, sporting coloured mohawks and identical black shirts with only one word: Comancheros. A quick search of the internet reveal them to be involved in drug-dealing, murder and mayhem.

I didn’t know who they were then but after a five-second glance in their direction – they were seated in a row, an arm’s length from us, one of them even leaning on our table – my inner safety radar said it’s better to mind my own business and go back to eating. I knew they wouldn’t touch me because which pussy picks on a small-sized, unarmed and inoffensive Chinese woman in Chinatown, anyway? But I was a tad worried for HRH who summarily got up and slid out the other side to pay for our lunch. Later on, as we drove away, we saw all 5 skip across the road to VHT, the gigantic Asian Grocery store my friend Joyce had suggested I check out.

“It’s a veritable treasure trove,” Joyce once told me.

Er, I think I’ll pass. After all, who knows what the Comancheros were in there for. I hope they were only stopping by to say hello to the neighbours. Another quick search of the internet reveals that their Western Australian headquarters is in – drumroll please – Chinatown!

“Why do you think Chinatown is full of pai kia (bad hats)?” asked HRH as we made our way home.

It’s not just Chinatown in Perth that attracts unsavoury characters, it’s Chinatowns the world over. I pondered the big question: why does Chinatown attract the underbelly of society? Could it be that Chinese are too focused on making money to really care who our neighbours are? Or is it our usual, mind-your-own-business policy that has them all living in our midst? What do you think is the reason?

As we neared home, HRH said, “They could smell the blood on me. Bikies like talking about smelling blood all the time but I have seen more blood than all of them. When they usually see me, I’m standing over them with a knife in my hand, fixing up their wounds.”

“Aiyah, these people,” I mumbled, irritated by all this talk of blood and wounds.

“That’s why we (as in Chinese) say that ghosts also don’t come near surgeons. The sat hei (killing force) is too strong. Don’t I smell of blood to you?”

Ah, the bullshit that men say. “No, you just smell like body odour and sometimes of shampoo. Really, I don’t see the point in all this stabbings and slashing and whatever else.”

Go to a place like Malaysia where innocent people have parangs held to their necks and you’ll know what I mean. Why go looking for trouble in a land as peaceful and blessed as Australia? I blame all those movies that glorify violence and breaking of the law. Well, one may achieve infamy through crime but there is no glory when one is six feet under.


Malaysia for non-Malaysians.

There is this list of top 10 most dangerous cities in the world making the rounds on the internet at the moment that has most Malaysians either nodding in agreement or spewing vehement denials. As a veteran fence-sitter, I am neither going to agree that our 6th place is deserved or question the method by which Malaysia was singled out for this dubious honour, but I am going to tell you what I tell ALL my Aussie mates who are keen to visit our wonderful shores. At the end of the day, we, expat Malaysians, or Malaysians living abroad, are our country’s most persuasive argument for visiting a country on such a list. We are friendly, law-abiding people in other people’s land, or are we not?

I always, always, stress this to all my Aussie mates: yes, Malaysia DOES have horrendous crime (more on that later) BUT by and large, the criminals leave tourists (especially white-skinned ones) alone. I cannot speak for Chinese tourists, reportedly asked to pay RM500 in bribes when failing to provide proof of identity, but I can say that most of the white Aussies visiting Malaysia have a lovely stay without incident.

It’s just like taking a trip to Springvale in Melbourne. Most Aussies fear being jumped on by Viet thugs while downing their pho, but I can tell you it is perfectly safe, even after having seen people pass suspicious packages to each other through wound down car windows. If you don’t mess with the gangsters, they certainly have no reason to mess with you.

Of course, this doesn’t apply to the local population in Malaysia. We are courteous only towards outsiders because tourism is a major industry and no one wants to upset the apple cart by scaring off the very people with money to spend.

Basically, the more foreign you look, the safer you will be,” I assure my Aussie mates. “As for your kids, kidnappers and child smugglers don’t want them because they are hard to move around undetected. So you can have a very good, relatively safe, holiday in my country. You can live like a king – no cooking, no cleaning, no dirty laundry – for the entire duration of your stay.”

“Even if you were to holiday there on the cheap, there would still be no cooking, cleaning or laundry either. Our laundromats or dobi as we call them, have attendants, who will take away your soiled singlets and shorts and let you know when you can collect them, clean and pressed.”

If you are personal friends of mine, you’ve probably already heard of my parents being threatened at parang point (I’ve included a nice picture so you know what to look out for) whilst having fish and chips at a bistro in OUG, a suburb outside of the capital, Kuala Lumpur. Or perhaps even heard of my mother’s friend, an 83 year old lady being stabbed to death in her own home because she only had a miserable RM30 on her to give the intruders. Or maybe overheard me discussing the latest robbery where someone was “lucky” to have only been stabbed on the hand because they had RM700 on them. Yes, we have a peculiar definition of luck in Malaysia. To my knowledge, it means you’ve not been stabbed to death.

A picture of a parang, available for sale on-line for Rupiah 250 000.

A picture of a parang, available for sale on-line for Rupiah 250 000.

You have to have a sense of humour about this because every day, if you care to pick up the local papers, you will read about muggings, stabbings, slashings, rapes…If you turn on the TV, you will also see news of some on-going murder investigation or court case, unlike in Australia where the most exciting news for the day is which politician is wearing a blue tie and hence, secretly coveting the top job in the land. Now you understand why the bulk of us Malaysians are not into adrenalin-inducing sports like bungee-jumping, swimming with sharks or leaping from planes. Hell, if we want adrenalin, all we need is to step out our door, although, in many instances, adrenalin also comes to us, in the form of thugs breaking into our homes.

This probably also helps you understand why many of your leftist “feel-good” policies (rights of criminals to a fair trial, support of dole bludgers etc) hold next to no appeal to us. We’re just happy to have our quiet little lives, a small safe place to call home.

As for why you should visit Malaysia when you can obviously go to Singapore, in the same part of the world but one million times safer, I’ll say this: price point, mate. You can get two times the holiday for half the price. I could go on and on about our mouth-watering soups and sambals and kuehs and all manner of cooked delicacies, but if you have typical white taste-buds, you’re not going to be able to distinguish the good from the bad. Moi, for instance, will never order something called “Singapore Noodles”, not because I dislike Singapore – on the contrary, I like Singapore very much – but because no one in Singapore has ever heard of Singapore Noodles. It’s what Butter Chicken is to Indians; it doesn’t exist in India.

The souvenirs are also better in Malaysia; there’s Petaling Street where you can get LVs and Rolexs for the whole family. Although I should warn you against attempting to buy a parang; Malaysian law prohibits the unlicensed owning of weapons and a big, long, sharp knife, is considered one. Better to get a Chinese meat cleaver instead, which is used for chopping BBQ pork, which, in a pinch, might also double up as a weapon. I’m only joking. Just stick to the batiks, which you can procure for a decent price with much haggling at places like Pasar Seni. While you are there, you can also get your fortune told and your portrait painted for a couple of hundred RM.

If shopping is not your thing, take a sojourn to one of our highlands – even the Singaporeans dig this. They are especially enamoured by our Genting (pronounced ghen-ting, not, jen -ting, like the Singaporeans do). Or if stories of gamblers taking their lives by jumping from the hotel bother you, there are always national parks and quaint seaside towns to explore. Just be sure to observe at least the same safety precautions you would at home.

How to talk to your child about body parts and sex.

Or rather, the title to this should be, “How I talk to Amanda about body parts and sex.”

As you well know, I’m more than prepared to answer any and every question Amanda might have. This dedicated and intense parenting is, I suppose, part and parcel of only having the one child. I’d much rather she get her information from a trusted source (ie. me) than her equally clueless peers, or worse still, in time to come, the internet.

This topic reared it’s innocuous head when a friend of mine posted a status update on facebook (yes, we live there half the time), about the awkwardness of explaining childbirth to her curious son. Her son and my daughter, even though they’ve yet to meet, living 4175 km away and continents apart, are the same age.

Reading the comments already there, it occurred to me that many parents, especially Asian, have the same problem of discussing genitals, procreation and childbirth with their offspring. In that regard, parents of my generation haven’t progressed all that far from our own parents’ generation. I commented, “I always wondered how a conversation like this would go with a boy, instead of a girl.”

My friend responded by asking me how my talk with Amanda has gone so far.

“Very well, ” I said. “I decided honesty is the best policy and have thereby named the ahem, third orifice, muff. So there is pe pe (pronounced pear pear) where we do pee pee from, bum bum where we do poo poo from and there is muff, between the two.”

Muff was the name my friend Nadia in Townsville taught me. Nadia once explained, “I don’t want my kids to think they came out with all the poo.” Which, as far as I’m concerned, is more traumatising than the discovery of a third orifice down there.

Let’s rewind to when Amanda was between 3 and 3 1/2 years old. Clue-y even then, she approached her father and me while we were in the middle of coitus. Ok, before you call child services, do know that no body parts of ours, save my head, was visible from under the thick blankets. The reason why we left the bedroom door open is so that Amanda wouldn’t be thrown into a panic by our sudden absence and hence trash at the door, spoiling whatever it is we were trying to do.

She neared my exposed head and what she said next told me that she and I will be having many long conversations: ” Is Papa putting a peddle in your bum?

The body parts may be wrongly identified but what was interesting, and you’d have to agree with me, was her being able to grasp the concept, sight unseen, that something goes into something else. And no, we don’t expose her to pornographic films either. At the time, the only kids she ever played with were those her age – four and under – who went to Sunday school at church.

So later that year, I bought her a book with overlapping plastic slides to show the inside of the human body. I told her which organ was which and using the male and female figures, showed her how boys and girls, men and women, mummies and daddies, are built differently. She had been showering with either HRH or me from toddlerhood so this physical difference was something she was already familiar and comfortable with. There was no, “Eee ye…shame shame,” which many Chinese parents are fond of saying to their naked offspring when changing them; nothing to make Amanda think or feel that the naked human body is unseemly or disgusting. HRH allowed her to see him take a leak, or sit on the throne and I did likewise. HRH even said she should get used to it because she’ll have to change his diapers when he grows old.

When Amanda turned 5, I happened across Per Holm Knudsen’s “How Babies are Made”. I showed her the book and it led to a discussion about sex, love, baby-making.

You don’t go making babies with people up and down the road,” I said. “Baby-making is only for mummies and daddies – grown-up, responsible, adults.

Recently, I continued our conversation on the topic by showing Amanda “Conception to birth – visualised” by Alexander Tsiaras. Here it is, so you may check it out.

Contrary to promoting promiscuity or teenage pregnancy, research has found that discussing sex with your children to actually help reduce incidences of both.

Dealing with death threats in the playground.

Just as I was thinking how lucky we are to be surrounded by little angels in Amanda’s new school, along comes a pint-sized delinquent to make me think otherwise. I was waiting for Amanda to finish her daily dose of after-school play last Tuesday when she came up to me with red-rimmed eyes, cheeks streaked wet from what could only be fallen tears. Because she’s something of a drama queen (and I have been duly congratulated by other parents on her ability to portray a “real mum”, as in me) I was none too alarmed, except that she said, “There’s a little boy who says he’s going to KILL me. He says that if I ever go to his house I will be DEAD. And his friend says I look like a boy.”

My first instinct was to tell her to ignore both. Bullies will be bullies and the best way to deal with them is to just walk away. Except, on reflection, I thought, this might make her think that I don’t care enough to investigate the matter.

I don’t know what parents in a similar situation do in other countries but in Australia, there is just so much that an adult can do to deal with delinquents of any age without falling foul of the law; under the law, I can’t very well whack the other kid or even threaten to, even if I, as a parent, might well have a good dozen reasons to. Hey, they don’t just turn into school-based drug-dealers or public nuisances over night! Usually, they’d have gotten away with years of murder right under parents’ noses because either the parents refuse to believe them capable of such misdemeanours or trust too much in nature (read: media, school-based disco parties, other delinquents) to right the problem.

Back to the would-be-murderer in Amanda’s school playground. After she led me to him, I was shocked to find he wasn’t even a student of her school AND couldn’t have been more than 4 years old! What left me particularly irked was how coolly he regarded me, staring me straight in the eyes as I asked him his name, in the presence of other children, and recited to him his alleged misdemeanours, giving him the opportunity to admit or deny them.

The boy just continued to eyeball me, the look in his eyes suggesting that he knew I couldn’t touch him. This might amaze you but MANY children here know their rights under the law. A fair few use this knowledge to twist the arms of adults.

“Who is your sibling and why are you here?” I demanded to know.

Another kid spoke for him, “He’s X’s brother.”

“Is X here?” I asked, my tone conveying ample displeasure.

They called X over. X’s first words to him were, “Have you gotten yourself in trouble AGAIN?

I recited the same list to X. “Is your mother here?” I asked.

“Yes,” said the X.

“Go call your mother. I want to speak to her regarding your brother.”

Throughout this, the boy never broke eye contact with me. He remained defiant. Then, just as his mother neared, the little delinquent burst into what I can only surmise to be crocodile tears! But he probably wasn’t counting on the circle of children around us, who could testify to the fact that I’d done nothing to him, apart from query him about his death threats.

To my even greater surprise, and I was very much dreading the encounter with the boy’s mother, she turned out to be an absolutely lovely woman. How such a gentle-natured, well-spoken, decent person could have a pre-schooler who issues death threats simply blew my mind. Nonetheless, I found it very hard to return her smile as I rattled off her son’s words. “I’m very distressed by what has happened,” I said to her. “This is a school playground. I would not expect something like this to happen here.”

She said, “I understand your distress. I’d be very distressed to if this happened to me.” To him, who was now clutching her leg, sobbing louder than ever, she said, “When we get home, we are going to have a talk, young man.”

Feeling a tad magnanimous, I said, even though I very much doubted the boy’s ignorance, “Perhaps he has no idea that you can’t go around telling people you want to kill them and they’d be dead if they went to your house.”

“Yes, maybe he just doesn’t know.”

“Well now he does. These are things you can’t go around saying to people without them getting very upset.”

I told Mrs B, Amanda’s class teacher about the incident the next day and she thought I did the right thing by speaking to the boy’s mother. “He’s probably gotten away with it before (that’s why he was so brazen),” she said.

On the walk back from school, I said to Amanda, “I won’t always be around to defend you. If some stupid person says nasty things to you again, just walk away. You can’t fight every stupid person in the world.”

As for the other children who witnessed the incident, they sure know better than to mess with my Amanda. It must be said that by and large, the others are angels, which is why this incident left me feeling disturbed. It only takes 1 delinquent to make a place unsafe for everyone else. By the same token, it only takes 1 concerned parent to right that delinquent before he or she causes harm to him or herself and the rest of society.



Freezing in Perth (aka my first winter in Perth).

It’s officially winter down under and for the life of me, I can’t explain why I thought Perth would be as warm as, if not warmer than, Brisbane this time of the year. Sure, we do crank up the heater once in a way in ol’ Brisvegas during winter, but Brisvegas has nothing on Perth when it comes to mercury plummeting.

On paper, the temperature difference between one coast and another is a minuscule couple of degrees. In reality, it’s the difference between wearing a light jumper in the day (Brisbane) and full winter gear (Perth). So if you are headed this way, consider it a friendly piece of advice from your not-so-local weather bureau to pack as if going to Melbourne – the cold is usually more of the dry variety here, as opposed to Melbourne’s wet, but after a characteristic seasonal downpour, you might think it is one and the same.

I certainly did this past week, taking refuge under the covers the whole of the long WA weekend with the heater turned on high enough for Amanda to have a nose bleed and myself, a very dry throat. On the upside, this presented me with the perfect opportunity to teach Amanda a new word: hibernation.

Doesn’t that only apply to animals?” she asked, rather miffed we were going to spend 3 seemingly good days (by her standards anyway) in bed.

“Yes, but it should also apply to humans. After all, we would save a lot of food and water if we all just plugged up our bums, the way bears do, before nodding off to a 3-month-long sleep.”

Amanda was not convince of these benefits of hibernation so HRH promised to take her to K-mart in exchange for 2 days of holing up with us in the heated bedroom.

“K-mart!” she squealed, her eyes brightening.

I swear K-mart should pay me for all the free promotion Amanda gives them. She told the owner of our regular Chinese restaurant, Lisa, about the promised trip, when we ventured out of our burrow for dinner (alas, human hibernation has to be punctuated by meal and toilet times), and the way she said it, it was as if we were taking her to Disneyland! But at least that ensured her co-operation as we spent yet another day buried under our IKEA-bought, mid-weight, King size doona.

“Do you know you slept 20 out of 24 hours yesterday?” asked HRH when I opened my eyes yesterday morning.

I’m practising to be a bear,” I said to him.

Last week I was practising to be a cat (read: took fewer baths). Now, having experienced the difficulty of sleeping on an empty stomach for extended periods of time, I have new respect for hibernating animals. Rather than view them as lethargic, defeatist, elements in nature, I’ve come to see that getting oneself to doze off to a fiercely growling stomach takes incredible will power and forbearance. As for why I would have to endure the discomfort of an empty stomach, let me just  remind you that mine refuses (and has refused for weeks on end) any food offered to it after 6 pm, thereby leaving me no choice but to fast until 7 am the next morning.

To console myself, I’ve marked all 2 months and 26 days until the end of winter; in the way that only humans seem capable of, I’ve also deluded myself into thinking it’s not that long a spell  and it could be worse if I was living in Siberia. Oh, and if there is one thing to be cheery about deep in the throes of winter, it’s Heston Blumenthal’s slated visit to Margaret River for the Margaret River Gourmet Escape, to be held between 22nd and 24th November, mid-spring. Be sure to mark that down in your diary, gourmet enthusiasts. You want to be booking accommodation NOW if you hope to score anywhere for less than $450 a night.

In the meantime, to keeping my frozen bottom warm, I’ve dug out the possum-wool poncho I bought a year ago in New Zealand, especially for dismally cold days like these. I’ve stocked up on the essentials – instant sachets of warm drinks, cream biscuits, what I’ve been told are “toxic” instant noodles – to stop myself from traipsing out more than necessary in the cold and paid up my utility bills – to make sure no one turns off the heat, even if I have to once in a while with Amanda’s bloody nose and me croaking up balls of greenish phlegm. If you feel for me (as you must since I am famished and cold), do send food parcels, knitted jumpers and sunshine my way. PM me for a send-to address. My frozen bottom and I humbly thank you.