Mystery Plane

I have been very quiet on the blog front merely because there has been little to blog about here, You walk a hill ,lie on a sun lounger, eat lunch, lie down again, drink in the bar, eat some Chinese food and then go to bed . However all that changed as the “mystery ” of the MH370 flight has deepened and deepened. At the bar last night it was almost the sole topic of conversation and the TVs in all the shops are constantly tuned to the 24 hour news service. I have a new bar now which I have happily called the cheapest place in town. Beer is 12 ringit for 660cl .

It is a pleasant place in that everyone sits at two long tables and eats and drinks. A stall dispenses hot noodle soup with some unknown “fresh” fish in it and a friendly Chinese Malaysian dispenses beer from an efficient fridge. It means you get to chat to a variety of locals mainly over the age of 50 years. That is because in their wisdom in the early 1980’s the then ruling coalition decided to do away with teaching English in schools having already in the 1970s decided to do away with the teaching of all subjects in English. The result has been of course that Malaysia has plummeted down the league scale for English fluency ever since. They have reinstated English as a lesson but the majority of youngsters struggle with the language.

Last night I sat next to a Tamil Malay born here in 1962 just around the corner from the bar. His name was Sam and he runs a small car rental business in the big tourist area of Batu Ferranghi a few clicks up the road. He was fluent in English and told me how he had insisted on English as the language at home to help his son also become fluent. His son is a micro biologist having managed to get into a government university as part of the 10% of non Malays allowed entry. He however wasn’t able to find a job in the sector here through the quota system  and had now moved to Singapore where he was earning enough money to help Sam and his wife out by sending 1,500 ringit ( £300) a month back home for them. He had joined the Malaysian brain drain.

However last night he and most of the bar were talking aeroplanes and more to the point how Malaysian Airlines and the government seemed to have little or no grasp of the situation. The Malay language press conferences were they said like an amateur hour  production from Malaysian Airlines and the government ministers seem to be simply trying to point the finger at another department. Why did it take so long for Malaysian Airlines to even announce the plane was missing they all asked, why did it take an app website in Sweden to tell the Malaysian Air Traffic control that the plane was missing, Why did Malaysian Airlines keep saying for 15 hours that the plane had disappeared 2hrs 10 minutes after it took off when it was in fact 40 minutes and why can’t they find it.

The bar is of course Chinese and Tamil in make up as the Malays are forbidden alcohol but they all seemed to think Malaysia was beginning to look very bad on the world stage. Not that you could guess it from the government run newspapers that extol the efforts being made. So while foreign papers stated that  China was running out of patience my Star paper today headlined how happy China was.

Mention was made of 6/3/1 on several occasions in the bar and I asked what that referred to. Quota for jobs was the reply. 10 jobs available then 6 must be given to Malays, 3 to Chinese and 1 to Tamil or others. But I stuttered that is discrimination pure and simple . Yes they replied.

Intrigued I did some research today  on the causes of this and the big one is the NEP or National Economic Plan launched in 1970 following the race riots of 1969. So some quick facts;

Malaysia is made up of 54.8% Malays or Bumipura as they like to be called, 24.1% Chinese, 7.2% Tamil and 12.9% others. However at Independence in 1957 the Bumipura had just 2% of the wealth of the country. This was because they tended to live in Kampongs and had happily stayed an agricultural society. The British had first bought in Chinese to do the work needed to run the country and then the Tamils.

Belatedly The Brits during the run up to independence started to involve the Malays more and started an affirmative action plan . This continued after independence but with little effect culminating in the race riots.  NEP brought in quotas for jobs, university places, schools, and businesses designed to bring Malays into the body of the country by 1990 when the NEP was to be abolished.  However 1990 came and went and the quotas remained.

Malaysian politics make the Italian system look dead easy to understand. I spent all day on my bed chair in the sun trying to make sense of all the coalitions etc without any success. But basically the political parties are all based on race and certainly at their conferences aren’t wildly complementary to the other peoples of the country.

I read loads of articles by Ooi Kee Beng who heads up the South East Asia Studies group and he often makes the comparison between NEP and the old South African apartheid system as similar in objective. He continues  that such racial discrimination where  things like jobs, social security and housing benefits etc are decided by race not by need or ability actually leaves the Malays with a sense of entitlement that in the long run does them and the country no good and leads to  the brain drain and resentment that is happening now.

It seems even the city based Malays are now agreeing with him. Some 65% before the May 2013 election said the NEP quotas should be repealed and no longer be race based and they gave the ruling party a real shock at the polls. However Islam has now got in the way as to get the benefits of being a Malay you must be an Islamist indeed being an Islamist gets you into the club anyway. So rather than meritocracy it is race and religion that makes the place tick.

Malays do not need to take A levels to get into to University but a more simple truncated exam, professors often resign from universities when faced with having to pass them for degrees. They get reserved jobs and are at the top of the pile for new ones. Imagine the outcry if when Gordon Brown talked about British jobs for British people he really meant only Protestant Anglo Saxon British people . Would Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg be doing business with such a country ?

Where the NEP is really enforced is, of course, in government departments and it is sobering to think that Malaysian Airlines is government owned. Yes it is on the stock exchange but the main investors are the States of Malaysia. Any loss is born by the tax payer and they have been losing considerable sums for years. So are the people at the top of Malaysian Airlines really the best people? How do they sort things like aircrew seniority and engineers excellence given the 6/3/1 quota ? I don’t know but they seem worthwhile questions and I think the last thing Malaysia really needs is  an antagonised super power like China nor the rest of the world looking in depth at the country and seeing how the Chinese and Tamils, whose families have lived here for centuries, are still being treated seemingly  to allow the indigenous race to try and catch up a full 57 years after Independence . Or maybe it might be good for the place in the long run

Well back to the sun lounger only another week to go.


The Reluctant Tourist

The trouble with being a tourist most of the time especially in the tropics is that you have to get out and about during the heat of the day. Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun and all that.

I am probably more a beach tourist than a city tourist. A bed chair and a beach to explore is my idea of heaven . Pounding around hot city pavements is certainly not how I  like to spend my days. So writing this blog is actually good for me because I am forced to head out and see what is on offer when often I would just be looking for the closest happy hour deal to my hotel.

We flew on Malaysian Airlines yesterday from Saigon to Kuala Lumpur. I have a few air miles on British Airways and found when they changed them to Avios points that the airline had decided to close out Italy as a destination  which meant until this trip they were almost useless. However I hadn’t realised that Malaysian had joined One World nor that it is now dead easy to book other airlines on the BA site. So for 9,000 miles and £12 in taxes each we got Business Class tickets. Of course having just sat down and about to enjoy a large glass of wine  the curtain into Economy flew open and a lad of about 13 carried in a bawling 3 year old and dropped it on his parents lap who , as always just happened to be sitting in the seats just in front of us. He shouted a few choice words in Hindi which I took to mean the brats all yours and left. Clearly the parents had booked the 5 children in economy and they had revolted. The crew not seemingly wishing to make a scene allowed the wretched thing to stay and it cried all the way to Kuala Lumpur. Thank god I hadn’t paid the US$ 610 normal fare.

The fast train from the airport to downtown takes 28 minutes and costs about £7 each. Then a taxi to the G Tower Hotel was another £8 but looking at the map he took us around the loop motorway rather than the far quicker downtown route. Taxis the world over ……

The room at the G Tower is huge and the hotel also boasts a Bridge Bar on the 28th floor that links the two towers. Not a good place to have a beer for the agoraphobics  clearly. I plugged in the Apple and noticed a letter from the Management on the desk. It wasn’t one of those hello type letters. It was the one you dread the most and makes you realise why they were discounting the place. ” We regret to inform you …….. renovation works underway…. drilling and banging sounds………apologise for inconvenience…..don’t think you are getting a refund or discount….. ” etc etc.

Sure enough at 8 a.m. even though  it is Chinese New Year and there is little or no construction taking place in the entire city what sounded like a single workman hit a pipe every 3 seconds for an hour and then went home. Better than a breakfast gong I guess.

So at 10 a.m. we were ready for some sight seeing . First stop those pesky towers that featured in the Sean Connery film Entrapment. I got a shot

Petronas Towers K.L.

But they are so tall at 452 metres above the street they are very difficult to snap. The Towers are taller than our house is above sea level in the hills near Martina Franca . We are just 390 metres above sea level.

It costs £15 quid each to go up and so we gave it a miss. Why ? Well a pint of beer here is an head spinning £8 most of which is made up of tax. Welcome to another soon to be dry, Saudi backed, muslim country. So the choice was a ride up to see what we saw from the aircraft yesterday or 4 pints of beer tonight. No brainer of course.

The base of the towers boast a Marks and Spencer and this

Harrods in K.L.

Harrods cafe no less. I didn’t even stop to ask what their champagne price must be.

In the book I’m reading on Vietnam the author makes the point about the divergence of wants between the local people and the tourist. The locals, he says, are  desperate to move away from the very things the tourist comes to look at. It is true for Malaysia as well. The locals want a modern vibrant city with huge motorways and plush buildings like the Twin Towers. Not so the tourist. The number one tour in K.L. is The Heritage Tour which takes them around all the old colonial buildings that have survived for now the developers sledge hammers. So I went in search of it in the midday sun.

Driverless Tube

The local metro trains are driverless, the station concourse has no ticket offices just change machines and ticket points . The stations have no staff on them , no “mind the doors” nor “mind the gap” people and no guards on the train. So those of you reading this in London where there is a 48 hour strike by underground staff rejoice that sometime soon Bob Crow and his bunch of overpaid members will be gone, toast, history. I have seen the future and I hope Boris has too.

It is amazingly cheap as well (unlike beer) clearly the Saudis don’t mind trains. 25P for four stops. That’s what you get when you are not paying drivers and guards £60,000 a year each to do nothing. Mind you it probably helps to have the Saudis as your favourite uncle I guess. It is a really easy system and with most signs in English and automatic voice announcements for each up coming station, it almost impossible to go wrong.

I know what you’re thinking but no I didn’t go wrong and nor were there any screaming kids either. They luckily are all on holiday this week and spend their entire time at the huge amusement parks that dot the outskirts of this very modern city.

Did I find any colonial relics ? Well building wise yes I certainly did . However one of the few benefits of high booze prices and strict laws on prostitution is there are no old relics from Europe staggering around with desperately young girls on their arms and that has to be a good thing

More tomorrow on those relics ( buildings that is ) when we get to Penang.