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Friday, February 18, 2011

A MALAYSIAN CHRISTMAS STORY


 I tried keeping this for Christmas, but every-time I read it I felt the urge to publish it, my friend Howl thought it was good but not all that good, I feel it is a classic only we will understand it and see it as an equal to  Ebenezer Scrooge, not Wolfgang but..........................read on


by Howl Pillay


Christmas eve, 2010 . Birds  sang lustily in the breaking dawn as I showered.  Each male gave its all taking turns at mellifluous composition to ward off any would-be rival. Through the open bathroom window the sun was a shiny gigantic orange button amidst clouds streaked a majestic purple. The  air felt unusually crisp. Due no doubt to an early overnight downpour. Christmas jingles rang in my ears as I drove towards my distribution center. Business too was good. Orders had picked up markedly. Specially put together gift packages and hampers of all shapes and scents had been delivered steadily to shopping complexes all across the country the past  days and weeks. And today was a crucial day for  dealing with last minute rush orders. All of us at the workplace were busy but happy ! We had been working around the clock the past weeks. We were stressed out, stretched and squeezed. Yet we had kept our shape as a  team. Our well-oiled service machinery hummed along without a discordant squeak.  Everyone of us in this 10 year old “1Malaysia” team of 2 Chinese, 3 Indians and 15 Malays had over the years always given our very best . The kind of best that will surely  warm the cockles of any ‘laupan’s heart. But in truth, this year more than any other we were pushed to the very limits of our endurance. Especially old man me !

Now pushing 60 I was still at it. Working with the ‘boys and gals’! Making special deliveries is my forte. Load up  the booth and the back seat of my car and I will drive through the fast thickening traffic soup of the morning,find parking in jam packed basements, negotiate my way around silly traffic snarls for which there seemed no justifiable reason other than kay-poh-chi-ing, skipping lunch and dashing up two flights of steps with outstretched arms hugging a large carton or two with folded invoices and delivery notes gripped between my lips. “All hands to the pump”, I had always urged my team since the time  we were a start-up.  And it still feels good! Christmas and end of year season was the best time to share and show ‘feel good’. But age was catching up with me. The 12 kilo carton seemed unusually heavy this year. Perhaps I wasn’t eating well enough. Yet I was determined to give my best. So here I was at the shop floor  on Christmas eve taking stock of the situation. Running through checklists, verifying reports, following up on special  requests and supervising the last deliveries. And when all this was well in hand I could shop for a  gift for my nephew’s  Christmas eve dinner  bash. Or so I thought. And then as if on cue, my hand phone rings.  Is it the dreaded ‘one more special request call......’?

No ! It is Wolfgang. My  old German friend.  A neighbour 4km removed. Met him at a pet shop some 15 years ago. A musician by profession. A  drummer actually. Believe  me, he has a very  comprehensive jazz music collection. And all properly categorised and catalogued. A true German in this regard.  “My friend. How are you ? And the kids ? And your business ?”  He had a certain old world charm in his approach leading up to a favour but he needed an opening. I provided him one.  “And how about you “, I asked. And that was all he needed. Poor man ! Since we last met he had lost the sight of an eye, he explained. His diabetes had turned dreadful. “ And my biggest problem now is that I have overstayed my  visa by three weeks. Can you please drive me to Putrajaya and sort this mess out ? I will be ever so grateful. I don’t want to go through Christmas without having this sorted out “. I think it is my karma. I attract people in trouble like a magnet attracts iron filings.Oh what the heck ! A seventy year old man in a foreign land and tomorrow,  Christmas! I just had to help. I felt an overwhelming sense of empathy.....what if it was me in Germany without a German in sight to help me....?

“Be ready in 30 minutes. I’ll pick you up from your house. If we rush it we may just make it “, I said. And then the adrenaline kicks in. The alternative arrangements. The ‘cut to the bone’ quick fire instructions. A coffee to perk up and I was on the road  with Wolfgang. Then the superficial grandeur of Putrajaya. All thoroughfares and avenues and not a road in sight ! A city all made up to show off. Pyongyangist grandeur in a tropical setting minus the goose steps. Not a single underground car park ( why spend money on something you can’t show off ? ). And nothing resembling public transportation. Cars parked and double parked along curbs. Open spaces  and parking lots had become Friday bazaars. Everything on the surface and out in the open to presumably make a statement but what is it ? Even the man hole covers looked like they were expensively engraved if not embossed with markings meant to last a thousand years. It gave me the distinct impression that things can be above ground and yet not be above board. Pyongyang jaya- an administrative capital to feed the ego and excesses of one man. Then the long wait at the immigration office topped off by the long Friday prayer break. The very helpful official because Wolfgang was an honoured guest of the Malaysian Government ! His visa was issued to him under a special program called ‘Malaysia My Second Home’. “MM2H  for short la “, said the lady officer ever so sweetly. “Previously it was called ‘The Silver Hair Program’ “, she said still smiling sweetly. Yet more forms to be filled to explain the overstay and we were told to come back in an hour. And then it was all over ! Wolfgang could treat my country as his second home until 2018. His relief was palpable and he hugged me saying, “ My friend, you have given me the best Christmas present !”

On the drive back, in typically German fashion and ever a credit to his nation, Wolfgang slowly filled me in on the details of MM2H. It was an international residency scheme. Long stay visa for 10 years with further renewals under certain ‘not so strict’ conditions. He could enter and leave the country on a largely unrestricted basis. The program is open to all citizens recognised by Malaysia irregardless of race, religion,gender and age. You could bring along your spouse and unmarried children below 21 years of age. All you need is place a fixed deposit of RM100,000 in a local bank or show proof of an off-shore government pension or equivalent of RM 10,000 per month. He could purchase a home worth RM250,000 anywhere in the country. He is eligible to bring in a personal car or purchase a locally assembled one without the need to pay import duty, excise duty  and sales tax. He can apply for the services of a maid. He can apply for an ID card to allow him to pass through immigration checkpoints into Malaysia as residents rather than as foreign nationals. His pension fund remitted into our country is tax exempt. He can own and actively run a business. As he is above 50 he can work part time. He can import personal and household items tax exempt. He has and is allowed to invest in local companies, the share market and unit trusts. Even his FD is tax exempt. And all his initial application documents can be submitted in English. The only restrictions are that he not participate in sensitive activities that can offend the locals. Of course he is not allowed the vote. “ My friend, your country has been very ,very kind to me. I have forgotten all about my first home “.

Later that night I shared  this  story at  my nephew’s bash. His mother is an Iban Christian out of Kuching and his father, my widely read eldest brother. I paused when the clock struck the mid-night hour and completed telling it all into the first few minutes of Christmas. A hushed silence fell upon our table. And then my eldest brother, going on 70, a retired major in the Armed Forces, more than tipsy now, stood up, hard pressed to maintain a ramrod posture, raised his glass and said defiantly : “Merry Christmas everyone ! I fought the commies in the jungles. I can still stand tall if not straight anymore. Over my dead body if anyone thinks I will accept Malaysia as my second home. That is for your German and other pendatangs. And I must quote a poet I don’t remember :” And how can man die better / Than facing fearful odds / For the ashes of his father / And the temple of his gods ?”

This Christmas, the gift I will treasure most is the defiant realisation that as a citizen I belong to the program called “ Malaysia My Only Home “. Nothing less and nothing more. Like everyone else.


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