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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, November 17, 2019

Excerpt $3: Dealing With Garbage Everywhere

Excerpt # 43  Dealing With Garbage Everywhere

            Our house in JB abutted Jalan Kolam Ayer with the side of the house facing the street. It was not the main street but busy enough. With the hospital at one end we often heard the ambulances as they sped by. At the other end was Bukit Serene palace. The sultan used to drive by on that road on his way to his other palace at Pasir Pelanggi on the eastern side.

            There was nothing but weeds and tall grasses, plus the ubiquitous strewn garbage between our fence and the street, a width of about twenty feet. People walking or driving by, and that included the sultan, could see right into our living room.

            The first thing I did was to plant some flowering trees. The hospital had plenty of Gliricidia trees they were pruning. I took some of the branches and stuck them into the ground outside our fence. Karen laughed when I told her that the sticks would sprout. Within a few days when she saw the light green shoots at the tip, she was not laughing at me anymore. She was amazed how fast they grew. Within a few months we had enough greenery to ensure our privacy.

            I hired a gardener, an old man with his ubiquitous gas lawnmower on the back carrier of his bicycle, which was how I deduced his vocation. I asked him to mow not only our lawn but also to clear up and maintain the stretch of land outside our fence. He told us that we did not need to do that as it was the responsibility of the Town Council; we would be wasting our money! We told him that the town was not doing its job, as was obvious. Only after we threatened to find another gardener did he agree to our terms. You would have thought that he would have welcomed the extra work and money!

            That was and is Malaysia; you do what you absolutely have to, nothing beyond. That would be someone else’s responsibility, like the Town Council or government, except that it did not, and still does not.

            Soon the area outside our fenced yard resembled a park, what with the trees I had planted now blooming with purplish white flowers, a striking contrast to the areas outside the other houses along the road. That notwithstanding, none of the other neighbors emulated us. They probably thought we were being stupid spending our money to do the Town Council’s job.

            My next major project was our stinking stagnant open drains that surrounded the house and emptied into the canal beyond our property. Those drains and canals were perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes, their larva squiggling in the green slime. Clearing only the portion of the drain by my house would not do it. I had to clean the entire length, right down to the canal. None of the neighbors helped. It was beneath them to indulge in manual labor. Besides, that was the responsibility of the Town Council! One neighbor complained of the stench as I had disturbed the goo. He told me that the heavy rain would flush everything out. Malaysia has frequent heavy downpours yet its drains are still plugged! At the very least I destroyed the habitat for the zillions of mosquito larva.

            Our backyard abutted a large empty lot along Jalan Kolam Ayer. Any empty land in Malaysia is the neighborhood’s dumping ground. So it was with this empty property. We had rats from there rummaging in our yard. Karen was terrified of the huge critters. I was scared too but for a different reason. Those critters would attract snakes, in particular cobras.

            One hot afternoon I set the heap of rubbish on fire. I wanted to clear just the area near our house. It did not take long for that fire to spread and soon the whole lot was ablaze. There was so much garbage and debris hidden in the underbrush that the fire soon became huge. A few firetrucks came by but the firemen let the fire burn through.

            I was afraid that I would find some charred bodies among the ashes but thankfully, none, only metal and zinc debris. The fire scared us but we were rewarded with a clean lot beside our house. Now I became assertive. Whenever I saw someone bringing garbage I would intervene telling them that it was my land. It worked! I now had a vastly expanded clean area behind and beside the house to enjoy.

            Despite that we still had critters in the house, only this time the much smaller mice rather than the huge menacing wild rats. Their favorite safe retreat when chased was to get into the ground spouts of our gutters. One day I stuffed the outlet with some old newspapers and set it on fire. The smoke suffocated those mice. Those that tried to escape were met with instead beheading by me with a spade. Karen was horrified by my gruesome but quick and surgical method.

            We could now enjoy our yard in the cool of the evening, free from the stench of the stagnant drain and the invasion by swarms of mosquitos that it bred, as well as the prying eyes of the passengers in the cars and buses passing by.

            As for garbage, which at times buried the country, Karen and her expatriate ladies decided to do something about it for the hospital. They bought wastepaper baskets for the wards so the patients could put their garbage into them instead of tossing it out of the windows and hitting those on the ground.

            They as well as the nurses decided to make a big fuss of the occasion, with cakes baked and balloons hung in the ward. The ladies made a ceremony of placing a basket at the end of each bed, as well as at the nurses’ station. Then the cakes were cut and Karen and the ladies make a big show of nicely folding the wrappers and then tossing them into the wastepaper baskets.

            One of the Chinese patients was about to throw his banana peel out of the window when he saw what those white ladies were doing. He caught himself. He leaned over his bed to drop the peel into the wastepaper basket at the end of his bed!

            The message had been delivered, and very effectively too, with no sermonizing lectures on the importance of cleanliness.

            The only folks unhappy were the cleaning crew. They were upset as they now had to empty all those baskets–more work! I pointed out those baskets saved them from having to clean up the pavements down below. That did not matter as those pavements were the responsibilities of the gardeners! The Jamaicans have an apt expression for that. “It’s not my job, mon!”

Next:  Excerpt # 44:  A Royal Command To The Palace

Excerpted from the author’s second memoir, The Son Has Not Returned. A Surgeon In His Native Malaysia, 2018.


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