Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The London 'Money Makers'

(Warning: Below are ramblings of a bored mind. Proceed at your own peril.)

Those new neighbours were visiting again. A husband and wife couple from Malaysia, wife the student, husband the minder of their two children. They just couldn't take it anymore, they told us. Their children’s arms and legs were covered with splotchy red bite marks and due to the scratching; their poor babies’ skin is infected. The bed bugs were keeping the whole family awake at night. On top of that, their housemate, the main tenant of their rented house, chose one of the coldest nights in February to switch off their room’s electricity and heating, being the calculative and inconsiderate man that he is, having no mercy at all for the children who have just arrived from Malaysia and knowing that the family is already suffering from the bed bugs. And what’s more, they said, they also have to share the very small rectangular room they’re staying in with their brother (the husband’s, not the wife’s), who came with them to the UK to accompany them for a few months until they settle down. And so there were 5 of them sleeping, changing, studying, watching TV, relaxing and probably eating in that small single room. We’re not talking of a single room in Coventry or York here, we’re talking in London, where high rent rates mean very high prices for very small rooms and by very small they mean a box size store room not unlike the one Harry Potter had to stay in whilst staying with the Dursleys (ok, ok I exaggerate a little). And so this family later decided to leave the house next door even though they initially promised to stay a little longer, leaving that odious man and his family and moving to another house, far enough to avoid meeting the man and his family ever again, smaller in size, not as good in condition, but with it a peace of mind for their whole family. But not before they vented out their frustrations in the form of an email and a screaming match between the two families.

So, you see, these dramas happen in London too, not just in Malaysia. But the reason is not as complex as they come in Malaysia, where falling outs like this one may have been caused by a variety of reasons e.g. bad intentions, family affairs, scandals, children squabbles etc. The reason for this particular fall-out is, I’m afraid, money. (cue: The Apprentice’s theme song; ‘Money, money, money, money, Money!’). And worse, it’s money that they don’t have instead of money that they do have. You see, that odious man is notorious in this side of London amongst the Melayu here. His notoriety is caused by his obsession in making money. He’s uneducated and tries to make money by working in a supermarket and renting out the rooms at his house at ‘cheap’ London prices. This is all and well and even commendable as after all, a man must do what he can to provide for his family. But his actions and behaviour while doing this can make anyone grimace and shake their heads in disgust. As seen above, in the case of the family that has moved away, the man has no qualms about throwing 5 people in 1 small room as long as they pay him the rent - per head. And furthermore, he stalks any other Malays that he knows are sub-renting in nearby Malay houses, following them while they walk towards the Internet cafe and cornering them when he can, asking them what they are paying for their current rent and giving them a counter offer they cannot refuse, effectively ‘stealing’ from other Malays who are also trying to rent out rooms like himself. Once, he had permanent sub-tenants in his house, renting rooms in his house for a long period of time but when new customers came searching for rooms, he just throws them into the room of one of his permanent tenants without her permission, unlocking the door with his copy of keys when the tenant is away and claiming that he’s ‘helping’ the new arrivals when the only reason for his action is pure greed. And to top it all, he spreads poison about other Malays, telling foul untruths about his competitors in the room renting business and about anyone that he has a quarrel with (usually about money) to their employers (yes, actually going out of his way to find his enemies’ work place to see the boss and saying bad things about the man’s Malay employee!), their friends and their tenants for his benefit and satisfaction. All this, because, the bottom line as he understands it, is only his own profits.

There are other people here that also have this love for the GBP, their behaviour dictated by money, either to make more or to save some, other people's pocket and feelings notwithstanding. Although I admit, I would only categorise this man to be in the ‘obsessed’ group. And I honestly understand that for some, it is really due to necessity rather than a quest to become rich. There are a few categories, of course;

  • The graduate who doesn’t want to go home just yet because the exchange rate is just too good for him or her to miss the opportunity to make some money before going home.
  • The professional who came to work in Europe’s financial centre for ‘the experience’ above all, but nevertheless not denying that the money is good, after all!
  • The ex-pat, who wants to make even more money working abroad.
  • The odd Malay man or woman, disheartened, or ‘merajuk’ from their family or loved ones and had ‘run away’ to make it on their own.
  • And the more desperate, the husband of the PhD pursuing wife, who’s working to make ends meet because they have 3 young ones to feed, to name a few.

Remember we’re talking about London where on average rent is around GBP850 per calendar month for a sensible house in Zones 3-4 and the allowance that most of these PhD students get is around GBP1000. These people all have their own purpose and plans for being so far away from home. And so, can anyone at all be surprised that a big part of their plans is to accumulate money? Well, I'm not surprised.

Once long ago I remember asking somebody about the weird behaviour of Melayu London who are quite notorious for being ‘sombong’ or unfriendly when meeting other Malays in London. The Malays are quite a distinctive race, as you know, with their colourful scarves, small bodies and light brown skin, you can spot them from miles away, especially on the long and wide pavements of Oxford Street where the Clarks and Bally shoe shops seem to attract the Malays like bees to honey. To answer my question, a friend told me that somebody told her that the reason for such weird behaviour is that the Malays are avoiding other Malays so that they don’t have to make new friends who they will then be obliged to invite to their homes in accordance to the Malay polite culture when meeting a friend or an acquaintance; ‘Jemputlah datang ke rumah.’ And this is because they don’t want to have to spend any extra money on guests. How that shocked me! Of course, it may not be true at all as the source of that piece of information is that elusive ‘friend of a friend’ and who in heaven’s name conducted a survey on the topic anyway? But if it is true, must our own tradition and culture be traded for that quest for brass? The answer is no, of course. But I suspect that connection between money and Melayu London, that most worldly link, is a real connection that will be proven true to me in the future, while staying here in London.

Not that I am not affected by money. I do, I admit, have a slight problem for a lack of it, since I have opted not to work for my own money. But I have always thought that I was quite above wanting more money than was necessary, although always complaining to friends about not having it, but inside really, quite contented with whatever I have. Until, that is, quite recently, after a friend asked me what clothes size do I normally wear, that I realised it has been so long since I last shopped for clothes that I do not even remember my own size, and that’s the truth. In Malaysia, I was so used to buying shoes and new clothes and scarves every other month and eating in expensive restaurants that now, when I remember it all, I feel a yearning so strong that I feel like bawling at the top of my lungs. But then, I remind myself that I decided not too long ago that for now, my children must come first and so, I must resort to asking money from my dear husband to buy my books and perhaps allow him some favours to get what I want (elab:18SX). At least, in that particular business, I don't have to bad mouth any competitors to make some money.


DZM said...


I came across your blog accidentally and found it so amusing!! I actually laughed out loud a few times! Really well written, enjoyed it thoroughly! The tiramisu story with the maid is classic! I was with a Malaysian girl for 4 years and went to visit her and the family in Malaysia... house with maids and all, most of the amusing and absurd situations always seemed to involve the maids, one way or another! During my visit I found so many humorous malaysians, maybe it is an in-built cultural thing!? Btw I hope you don't feel I am intruding.. and you won't mind me checking in again from time to time? I am currently working in Cambodia for a year and a half and am I suppose having similar difficulties adapting to the completely different culture and surroundings and I also get bored quite often.. thus my blog! Anyway please keep writing, if you continue the way you started ill have another source for a good read/laugh every now and then.

Best regards,

Darko (..I'm a yugoslavian)

halwafy said...

Thank you Darko for dropping by my most humble web abode. Glad you enjoyed my entries - pls do visit anytime you want. Found your blog interesting too and will go there again to read and look at the very nice pics! Thanks again for visiting.

skipper37 said...

Hey you. Now a Londoner, eh. Glad to know you're still ALIVE. Hehe. Hv been to only 2 houses (2 student bedsits) in London. I can only say that Japanese bedsits are way smaller. Seriously like Harry's cupboard. :)

halwafy said...

Wei you..have been meaning to contact u for a long time...Heard you're coming for the World Cup. Visit me? I'll make tiramisu and u can make some sushi...

skipper37 said...

haha. not sure about the world cup thing but will let you know if i go, yeah.

funny bunny said...

comment in malay can ah? wowwee tak sangka ada alasan lain for malays to be more "sombong" than the matsallehs... hehe

Anonymous said...

Mahal sangat ek to survive in london? I got a work offer there, and not quite sure if it's wise to go. Got a 4 months baby, just hired a maid, and comfortably living in Doha, Qatar now. If I ever go, the job experience will be much better than now, but who will take care of my baby! Do you know if I can bring my current maid along?