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Penang clean and green, with filth all around

Mon 2011-May-16 @ +08 03:39:22 am

A true bedtime story

At a late supper in a quieter corner of the hawker centre.

A white dog hoves into view, his slovenly whale of a bitch in tow, yawing around and lumbering back to the stall in front. A couple of sentences are exchanged with the eager-faced hawker who is all smiles, nodding happily as the dog coughs out words seemingly in English just loud enough to rise above the insistent murmured drone of the Chinese family at the rear. Scarlett whores perhaps, or company pimps. People of the shadows, of quiet malevolence and deadly intent, seeking profit.

Across the way, groups of young men and women, teenagers, kampung couples, and the occasional estate family, eat, drink and converse in harsh tones, or thread their way through the narrow passage between tables and stalls, in noisy chatter: arrogant, strident, contemptuous of the Other.

The cars rumble past on the avenue outside, a constant stream interrupted now and again by the scream of a kapcai going full pelt, throttling down, or the roaring bellow of a pig from CID, SS or SB, or a cantonment dog let out for the night, in his go-faster Waja with double-barrel exhausts and death-defying bolt-on aerofoils.

The blue neon of the board at the bus stop proclaims a “Cleaner, Greener Penang”. Across the road, families and couples take the still, humid, oppressive late-night air, strolling up and down the promenade.

A few clumps of newly-planted mangrove saplings dot the mud flats which now reach almost the full span of the bay. The white caps of the gentle breakers are a hundred metres from shore, the tide rippling across the flats where once the waves would crash against the embankment, to squeals from the excitable.

A gaggle of young men of college age saunter on with loud querelous banter and much rubber-necking. “What are those three buildings there,” one asks. Three times before, other young passers-by had mouthed the same question. On the promenade wall sit casual clumps of planted couples and planted bystanders, backs to the sea, insistently glancing or pointing at the new skyscapers that line the other side of the road.

The grating whine of local Chinese dialect, made the uglier out of the mouths of scantily-clad trollops of the local underworld, speaks their two cents worth on behalf of well-heeled patrons in high places, keeping their hands out of the mud. Across the road, raucous laughter and the strident, quarrelsome strains of Tamil bursts forth.

In a living room a couple of kilometres away the young college student lolls against the plastic chair, legs draped across paper cartons, playing at his computer, fiddling at his phone, breaking out into deliberate cackling laughter now and then.

Around him lie empty plastic bags of coffeeshop drinks, sweets wrappers, dropped willy-nilly; discarded clothes, underwear and socks, clean or soiled, are flung over backpack and text books. It is a school day tomorrow, but the boy, instructed, is to stay up the night. The woman at the table in the living room, his mother, barks a loud sharp remark, and goes to bed uncaring, her only concern that the light is left on all night.

Outside, from neighbouring houses and beyond, the underworld mutters on through the night, in deliberate but muffled phrases and words that have meaning only to the initiated, half-coherent, barely audible spoken just above the sonic threshhold.

The boy will fling himself on the couch at daybreak to sleep until noon. But the underworld’s patrons, they of cop shops and cantonments, political offices and media houses, and places of power and influence in the city and capitals far away, they sleep soundly in their own beds, as unconcerned and uncaring as the patronising Scarlett whores and company pimps.

Penang is going clean and green, says the sign. But the filth remains in all those people, the self-righteous prigs of power and influence, or the self-righteous ones who would oppose them, in the contractors, gurkhas, propagandists, contemptible guardians of contemptible law and underlings of Il Patrone near and far, high and low, who know how to keep their own hands clean. Their own cause is always the just one, no price too high so long as it is the innocent, as with the boy in the night, who pay the price.

© 2011 uppercaise. All rights reserved

One Comment
  1. Tue 2011-May-17 @ +08 01:11:48 am 01:11


    Instead of indulging in any foolish crusade
    Be more productive by planting with your spade
    Be more constructive in this world God has made
    Do all the good you can to all before your life fades

    (C) Samuel Goh Kim Eng
    Tue.17th May 2011.

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