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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Excerpt #13: Looking For A House To rent

Excerpt #15  Looking For A House To Rent
M. Bakri Musa (www.bakrimusa.com)

With my work routine now settled, my next mission was to find a house to rent, the Director-General’s promised lodging at Lake Gardens having fallen through. We decided to rent until we could find our bearings. The rental market was undeveloped, with rental agencies more the stepson of valuation companies. There were also minimal ads in the papers, so we had to drive around the various neighborhoods.

We were disappointed with the results. I began to feel that no one wanted to rent to us. We wondered whether it was because I was a Malay, someone with a foreign wife, or had young children.

            My sister-in-law Zainab disabused me of my paranoia. We would never get anyone to rent to us if we go around in my father’s old Ford Escort, she advised us. So, for the next few weekends we went with Zainab and Sharif in their Holden. We had better reception but still no hit.

            The Malaysian real estate market gave new meaning to the term “unfurnished.” We were stunned to see electrical wires dangling from wall sockets and ceilings, their fixtures having been removed by the owners or previous tenants. In one house, even the toilets were gone! Those owners were shortsighted or ignorant of marketing strategies. If they had spent some money to make their homes attractive with curb appeal and move-in ready, as with having landscape and nice furniture, they could command premium rents.

            One afternoon Sharif called about a house in Bungsar owned by his former secretary. Her husband, a diplomat, had just been transferred to Beijing to open the new embassy there. That very day after work I went to see the house, alone. It would have been too far to go back to Cheras, pick up Karen and the kids, and then trot back into the city and on to Bungsar.

            Again, the lukewarm welcome. The wife was less interested in showing me her house but more into small talk. My patience was again tried. I was hot, tired and had a long day. However, as soon as she found out that I was Sharif’s younger brother, the floodgate of welcome opened.

            “The surgeon who trained in Canada?” she beamed.

            Then we discovered that her cousin, Wan Aziz, now a naval architect, was my classmate at Malay College. The house was now mine, if I liked it, and I did! Seeing that she was now very keen on me, it was my turn to jual mahal(hard to get!). I used the excuse to show Karen the place first before making any commitment.

            I rushed back to pick up her and the kids. She too liked it; a modern, double-story terrace house with plenty of rooms. The yard, both front and back, was non-existent but that was fine. The house was ours within hours of Sharif phoning me, and I did not have to rent a BMW to see the place! In the West, I would have needed work and personal references; in Malaysia, as long as they could place you in their universe, that was it.

            The rent was RM500 per month, nearly half my salary. We still had to buy a washing machine, refrigerator, and air-conditioner. Karen also wanted a dryer but when I told her that the whole country was a dryer, she relented.

            We were shocked at the prices of home appliances. With Sharif’s help we drove a hard bargain as we paid cash. I also made sure that Karen was not with us when shopping otherwise the shopkeeper would jack up the price. I pity those who had to buy on “hire purchase.” They had to pay the full retail price and then be charged usurious interest rates.

            Notice the absence of any mention of a television set.We could not afford it. With two little kids, not having one was not an option. So we rented one, and soon discovered that we had to have an annual license fee for it, as well as for our radio. The government had inspectors checking on that.

            Used to such iconic television personalities as Walter Cronkite and Harry Reasoner delivering the news, listening to their Malaysian counterparts was a very trying experience. Why couldn’t they pick someone with a less grating voice? Those local newscasters whispered into their microphones, and stumbled often even at that! Why did they pick a non-Malay with a weird accent to read the news on national television baffled me!

            Those newscasters were not journalists; they did not write their materials. They were mere newsreaders. No wonder they stumbled often, and had as much passion reading their scripts as I do reading an old magazine in a doctor’s waiting room. The local professional journalists were no better, as judged by their articles. Nonetheless I forced myself to watch the news and read the papers as I was hungry for and eager to catch up on local affairs, making up for the deficit of the past thirteen years.

            One of those newscasts was a live coverage of the new Prime Minister Hussein Onn announcing his pick of a Deputy. It took him over two months after he had assumed office to do that, an inordinate delay, the consequence of much backroom dealings and maneuverings. The suspense was palpable right to the last minute.

            Then Hussein’s announcement; it was anticlimactic. His voice was flat, dull, and with no trace of any joy or excitement. Worse, his choice, Mahathir, was not by his side; he was on a political tour in Johor. He heard the news like everyone else in the country–at that very moment and through that news conference.

            Mahathir was interviewed on the same newscast, the man could only express his appreciation to Hussein. It was obvious that he too, like the rest of Malaysia, was caught by surprise. What a way for the new Prime Minister to make his first and most important appointment! I would have thought the two would have met privately earlier to discuss their respective views. At the very least Mahathir should have been beside Hussein during that press conference. I was unimpressed with the way Hussein handled it. He did not vet his choice; it was a blind pick.

            A few years later Mahathir took over because of Hussein’s poor health. A few years beyond that, following a major split in UMNO, Hussein admitted many times that picking Mahathir was his greatest regret!

Next:  Excerpt #16: Having A Maid
From the author’s second memoir, The Son Has Not Returned. A Surgeon in His Native Malaysia(2018.


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