Waiting at a China Street Corner
Helong Street at six-thirty in the morning when still suffused in yesterday’s smell of kerosene was a sinless world awake and the passer-by Hunshi Hans counted three girls, no men, and no customers. Here, dawn comes late. A life trying to keep up with the sun is difficult enough; there is no moon. A woman – a girl actually – stepped out from the shadows of the shop into the dim street light. I might have recognized her, though it is best not to. I could have seen her from yesterday or the day before talking to the fruit seller while they waited for customers, but mostly for nothing.
In these parts, things hadn’t been going at all well, so they have now resorted to pasting advertisements, little bigger than the size of a name card, on the pedestrian sidewalk. Yesterday or last week, why does it matter when, a child, she couldn’t have been more than six, stopped at one and pointed it to her father: the photos of two girls shot from the breast up in their bras and below them a phone number 083 7578 022. The father studied the photos like it was a restaurant menu. It is an advertisement, he answered the daughter. After which, they continued their way.
Haide Liang had called before five that morning, after which there was no time left to sleep. Replacing the receiver, I showered, skipped the hotel breakfast and headed for the Public Security Station of Helong district where the chief could be the answer to some of life’s practical questions – if he so wills. A summer’s been wasted already. Then Fall. Early winter’s chill hung in the air; the fog from the night hadn’t lifted. It’s an hour walk, without interruption.
The Thief Najib Razak should arrive anytime later today. They would roll out the red carpet, offer him handshakes then give the Mrs a bouquet. These are kampung Malay bumpkins, stepping out of a plane made by Americans, in winter fur from Harrods, while Alyaa Azhar of Malaysiakini tries emulating Reuters to impress the world with some contrived, trumped-up analysis about the finance of geopolitics when, really, all the man wanted was just some money which no western bank would lend to him — not after 1MDB. If Najib is so clever, he won’t be in this deep shit he is today.
There’s a problem though: in China, cash isn’t king and we, the Chinese of the World, don’t lend in dollars. We do make dumplings and leather handbags and winter coats and missiles.
Bank of China isn’t Goldman Sachs; it doesn’t issue bonds underwritten on some toilet vouchers and it doesn’t hand out cash. Nor is China any kind of dollar treasury bank, the kind that characterizes the Saudi Arabs — not anymore, those Mohammedans who can’t even cook a bowl of porridge much less sew an underwear or produce rolling stock for Keretapi Tanah Melayu. China’s money goes straight into rails and ports — no in-betweens, no bonds nor Tim Leissner, nor some Arab princely Turkey, no laundering needed especially — so Najib won’t be seeing cash in his AmBank account, and Rosmah would have to find another credit card to pay for her Hermes bags: “Your Visa, we are sorry, is no good Ma’am.“
And those businessmen in the same jet? They are just the sides in the feast.
In Malaysia, only Malay counts, according to Kadir (above) and Syed Akbar: it is a fucked-up Malay world.
In the circumstance, what the fuck is that Kadir Jasin whining about, that asshole Mohammedan of Nusantara.
Najib railing at the Chinese of the DAP then, bowl in hand, going to the Chinese in Beijing. Kadir makes it look like the man is some grand strategist, and he the first Malaiyoo to discover the hypocrisy of Najib in the politics of race relations perfected by, no less, Mahathir Mohamad, Kadir’s racist-master. Najib “selling out”, did you say, Kadir? You mean, exactly the way your master had practiced it for 22 years?
Under the aegis of Mahathir’s ‘Save Malaysia’ campaign, Kadir speaks in terms of that agama, bangsa dan negara all over again. Because the Chinese are not heirs of Malaysia, the country is spoken off only in terms of being sold to the Chinese but never to Arabs nor to other Muslims, and not especially to another fucked-up Malay. Mahathir sold all of Sabah to the Sulus and the Muslims of Mindanao. Ever hear Kadir whine about ‘selling out’?
Here, Syed Akbar Ali bitches about 200,000 Malay graduates ‘unemployed’ when, really, again, they’re just simply unemployable. He complains about 6,000 GLC Malays ‘buang kerja‘, 7 million Malays waiting for BR1M handouts. When times were good, Syed Akbar — like Kadir, another motherfucking Malaiyoo — doesn’t complain that 200,000 Malays unemployable graduates still get employed; GLC jobs are distributed exclusively to 6,000 Malays; nor does he complain that Chinese businesses are squeezed for more tax collection for 7 million Malay handouts.
In a Malay-only world, in that fucked-up country called Malaysia, only Malays count. Others, they piss on whenever convenient, whether that’s by Najib or Jamal Yunos or Kadir or Mahathir it made for no difference to us.
I hadn’t seen Haide in almost three years. She’d run away from home, from the ducks and the northern mountain frost, in the belief that somehow, somewhere, in some city street corner, or factory, life can be constructed by design. All one needed was determination. On the phone, her voice was soft, to make a repayment. “I got some money. Lots. You need any? I’ll wire some to you.”
“No. I don’t need any.”
“But do you have any?”
“Do you want any?”
“No. Listen, my love. Keep the money. Keep it in the bank the way we used to. That way, you won’t be crying next month because you’ve run out.”
Then she went on about the bad weather, the phone bills, and an apartment friend who hadn’t yet returned from Wuhan. No luck there, too. The textile factory had gone to Vietnam and won’t be coming back. What to do? It’s barely ten degrees outside and she has only her summer clothes. Was she really concern for me? That evening, I received a WeChat photo, she stepping out of the booth in a boutique shop wearing a bright red overcoat. “Isn’t it beautiful?” she wrote in the caption.
Minute by minute, step by step, memories retreat and Helong Street blurs. You can tell from the dilapidation and the neglect that life here has been shot to bits. It’s only a mile along this street but takes forever. The girl from the shadow is insistent: The world when it insists on the truth is bound to find trouble.
Fifty, she said. “Please?” Just fifty lousy bucks and then ‘please’, said not once but thrice. She tugs at my sleeves, and I feel the softness of her breast against the upper arm. I permit the interruption, and then to cease this nonsensical tug-of-war: what’s fifty-nine seconds out of an hour. “No. Not now,” I stopped to say. “I’m really in a hurry. Sorry.”
Strange, saying sorry like this. But, she let go the arm and I watch her retreat back into the alley, head down, melting into the shadows.
I plugged in earphones, switching to 60 Decadent Songs 靡靡之音60首壹上. Sun Lu 孙露 has a raspy voice and sings the sort of thing you hear in American bluegrass. Drunk Heart 心醉:
- Gone till the point of exhaustion / 已经走得好疲惫
- The wind howls in the ear / 风 在耳边吹
Near the station, I removed the earphones. The Captain, a tall man, with dark complexion and a handsome face met me at the reception with a wide grin then threw an arm over my shoulders, above the part where the girl had leaned on to earlier. We went out into the foggy street to talk. “I have an idea; it’ll work this time,” he said but softly. We went for breakfast.
Sun Lu 孙露