Word of the Day

CONTRAIL

A trail of condensed water from an aircraft or rocket at high altitude, seen as a white streak against the sky.

(I have been looking at these all my life and never knew what they were called…!!!)

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Johan Cruyff- RIP

In my opinion one of the greatest footballers ever and the best footballer it has been my privilege to see live. it was 9th February 1977 and England were playing Holland at Wembley in a friendly match. It was a Cruyff master class. It was like watching a master puppeteer pulling the strings of everyone on the pitch. Even when Cruyff didn’t have the ball you watched him because you knew he would soon be receiving the ball. Holland won with ease, 2-0, but it could have been many more. I seem to remember the whole of Wembley clapping the Dutch team off at half time, such was the quality of their football.

He was a legend and the fulcrum around which Holland created that wonderful team playing ‘total football’. What a shame they didn’t win the 1974 World Cup final. A sad day to hear that Johan Cruyff is no longer with us.

Wazu – a Life Lesson

One of the downsides of living downtown is the issue of rubbish and its disposal. The locals don’t have much concept of putting rubbish in bins and invariably leave their litter out on the street where it of course attracts vermin. They don’t want to pay for a rubbish bin so as long as it is out of their house they don’t really care.

To clear up the mess around us the local council employ a man called Wazu to sweep up and dispose of the piles of rubbish. He calls us auntie and uncle (not quite sure how to take that!!) but in truth it is out of respect and he always calls round each morning to ask if we have any rubbish for him to take. We give him money from time to time just to thank him and of course encourage him to keep the streets around us clean.

We have always assumed he is paid a pittance which I am sure is the case. But it was brought home to us when, for some reason, we asked him for his mobile phone number. I think we had talked about him coming back to collect some large cardboard boxes from some household appliances we had bought. Anyway, very politely, Wazu explained that he could not afford a mobile phone, not even a prepaid one, but he assured us that he would be back the following morning to collect the boxes.

I have travelled and worked in many cities across Africa and Asia (Dhaka and Mumbai in particular come to mind) where poverty rates are high and where life is cheap. The trip from Mumbai airport to one’s downtown international hotel is frankly a lesson in humility. All sorts of people clearly living right on the poverty line and desperately begging to find money for their next meal. We have a friend, Suzy, who is an airline pilot who has frequently taken the same route after landing at Mumbai airport. Like me she found the sights outside disturbing but something one needs to face and confront. It puts many of the trivial things we worry about firmly in perspective. But Suzy explained that in the coach carrying the crew everybody else has the curtains drawn to shut out the ‘horrors’ outside. She was the only one with the curtain undrawn…..!

Sorry, I digress! The point I was coming to is that even in many of the poorest cities the majority of people find a way to have a mobile phone. Not all of course but perhaps not having a mobile phone is a new gradation of the definition of poverty.

So our friend Wazu in one of those without a mobile but he has more heart and kindness then many other people I know. Let me give two examples:

  • In addition to the area around our house Wazu also clears up the rubbish around the two vegetable stores nearby. As a reward he is often given fruit that is going to go off in the next couple of days. Still very edible but new stock has come in and the owners are keen to offload the older stuff. Anyway Wazu often comes round with mangoes, or a pineapple or two, or some apples. He won’t allow any refusal and says he must share as he has far too much for himself and his family.
  • The other example relates to an accident my wife had recently. She was pouring boiling water into a glass bottle when it burst and the water scalded the front of her thighs. First and second degree burns and quite nasty. After a trip to a local hospital both thighs were bandaged up and people could see she had had a bad injury. However, it was only when the bandages were taken off a couple of days ago, and the wounds were left open, that people could see the extent of the injuries. Wazu was quite shocked and offered his sympathy. Then about half an hour later he reappeared with a small jar of Chinese antiseptic cream which he explained will be very beneficial to the healing process. He won’t accept any money but just hopes that auntie will soon be better…………

In a world where the gap between the rich and the poor seems to be getting wider, not narrower, it has been very humbling to see Wazu in action. Motivated by what’s in his heart, not by money…………how many Wazus do you know?

 

Living Downtown

Living downtown in Georgetown gives one a different perspective on life on Penang island. The majority of expats live in high rise apartments out in Tanjung Bungah or Batu Ferringhi and, frankly, that’s probably the sensible choice. Easy and safe to lock up when you leave, a free parking space and similar neighbours around you. The only problem is that sitting on your balcony you could be anywhere in the world. Why live in Malaysia and then closet yourself away in a largely ‘foreign’ community?

I suppose that’s why we have ended up downtown. We live in a renovated shop house right in the middle of town, amid the hustle and bustle of city life. Walk out the front door and you are likely to bump into Jimmy who stores his satay ‘stall’ close to our house. He goes out to the main street to set up and sell in the early evening but around midday he brings his produce and prepares for the evening ahead. It’s really a mobile stall set on a three wheel bicycle and Jimmy specializes in satays. He tells us business is ok but he shows us a nasty wound on his knee from a recent motorcycle accident, and rants about a motorist who accused him of scraping his car. No great problem but having to deal with the police…..’problem lah’!

Down a short alley way are the shops of a couple of fruit sellers who are open all hours. In the early morning the street at the end of the alley way becomes an open market. The road is closed to traffic and most of the locals do their shopping before 8.30 a.m. An abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables at a fraction of the price that one would pay in a local ‘western’ supermarket.

Opposite the end of the alley way is our favourite Chinese restaurant, Tek Sen. They have been serving great food in a simple surrounding since 1965 and invariably packed both at lunch time and in the evening. Fortunately we have struck up a friendship and understanding with the manager who spends most of his time managing the till. From the porch at the front of our house we can see into the restaurant and once we have caught his eye we signal how many people we need a table for and then in how many minutes we’d like to have a table. We receive a thumbs up and then he calls my mobile when the table is ready…….that’s what I call service. For our guests it means they can finish their drinks in comfort until the call comes!

The area is full of hostels and guest houses that cater predominantly for back packers and tourists looking for a cheap room. RM 20 (GBP 3.40) for a bed in a dormitory or RM 40 (GBP 6.80) in a room for two. A mix of nationalities of all ages,shapes and sizes who, after a day on the beach or going up Penang Hill, revel in the food stalls at night.

We enjoy watching the street from one of our favourite Indian restaurants ironically called Danish Biryani! It’s run by a friendly man called Karim who always welcomes us with a broad smile and the restaurant’s food is excellent. The food generally in Penang is first class but we have found that the Indian food in particular stands out, and we haven’t even started to explore ‘Little India’ which is a five minute walk from us.