Enforcement and Tolerance

by Zaharom Nain. Posted on February 20, 2011, Sunday

On my way home from picking up my children from make-up classes yesterday, I got caught up in the regular – and infamous – USJ jam. I’ve never really gotten used to these traffic snarls, despite having moved down from laidback Penang more than a year ago, hence consciously try to avoid travelling during peak hours for the sake of my sanity.
This is, after all, Malaysia (or, rather, Peninsular Malaysia) where all those myths of the lazy, laidback, lemah lembut (gentle) native get thrown out the window the moment we get into our cars.

Indeed, many has been the time when I’ve been tailgated by irritated (and damn irritating) small Malaysian cars driven by tudung-clad mak ciks determined, I’m sure, to mow me down in their haste to get home, switch on the TV and possibly watch Datuk Siti Noor Bahyah bashing fellow Malaysians and their beliefs.

Granted, many of us may not honk as loud and as long as our parents used to, but we sure as hell find it unthinkable still to give way to other motorists when caught in a jam, even when we know that giving way would invariably ease the jam.

Indeed, oftentimes it becomes a crazy case of might is right, with the bigger vehicles calling the shots and threatening to destroy the rest.

And such was the case yesterday when, virtually out of nowhere, this lorry moved into my lane from the left – without the indicator light being turned on, of course. Invariably I had to give way since I’m not a crazy mak cik driving a souped-up Kancil or Viva.

As it arrogantly settled itself in front of me, I noticed that this monstrosity had only one rear light working, with a couple of the others being broken – they actually had holes in them, as if having been riddled by bullets in some previous car – or lorry – chase movie.

But, of course, this is quite a common sight on the roads in Malaysia, where you’ll find on a daily basis these unwashed and rust-infested heavy vehicles looking as if they’d come out of those classic Mad Max movies.

What’s tragically funny about these vehicles – and this was certainly true of the menacing-looking lorry in front of me – is that, apart from carrying all these `scars’, they nowadays also carry seemingly-obligatory contact details (from the Road Transport Department, I think) for anybody to call of sms to register a complaint.

Seeing this heap of junk in front of me, and having seen many others which really looked as if they belonged in the scrap metal dealer’s yard, with the RTD form plastered prominently on them, inviting anybody to register complaints, raised a number of questions in my mind.

First, do people really register their complaints with the authorities using the numbers given? While I don’t have the statistics, I’m quite sure some do – or at least try to.

Which leads on to the second question: Is anything then done once these complaints are received or is this all yet another one of those not-so-great Malaysian public relations exercises?

An exercise that our political leaders especially have become rather adept at while kidding themselves that `the fools out there’ can’t see through it all.

Indeed, if something is being done, then why are these vehicles still on the road, risking the lives of many and also often polluting the environment with their black smoke and killer carbon emissions?

I guess in the end it’s the problem of enforcement – or the lack of . After all, we have innumerable rules, regulations, even laws, but, when push comes to shove, if the enforcers can’t – or refuse to, or even, are paid not to – enforce all this, nothing much is going to change.

Indeed, you’ll probably remember, as I do, that awhile ago there was all this talk about government departments, even ministries, having KPIs (that’s key performance indices for you naughty ones not in tune with SatuMalaysiaBoleh).

Lately I’ve heard numerous airheads declaring that their KPIs had been achieved, often without providing concrete evidence, even basic statistics, to support their assertions. Aiyah, that one my 8 year-old child also can do. So let’s stop all this kelentong-ing, ok?

But, the sad thing is, kelentong (bull, spin, lie, bs – take your pick) they still would. And would you want to know why?

Essentially because we have become an extremely tolerant people, bordering on being passive and cowardly, evidently with our tidak apa (never mind) culture.

An incident that affected my expatriate colleague just a couple of days ago will help to illustrate this.

It was 11 o’clock on the night of Chap Goh Mei. His two little kids, both babies still, were asleep. Suddenly the sky lit up and all hell broke lose, with the sound of screaming rockets and other missiles shattering the silence of the night. His neighbour, with friends and family in tow, had set off the firework celebration.

Not so funnily (or politely) the missiles were trained away from the launchers – and directly into his compound.

There was a lull, during which time he tried to calm down his clearly distraught kids. But, of course this was all too brief because no sooner had it stopped when the missile attacks started again.

Clearly upset this time, and with one child in his arms, he marched straight to his neighbour’s, and launched into a tirade aimed at his neighbour. The fact that he’s a Cambridge graduate in English, I’m sure, made the lecture he gave to his suddenly-silent neighbour all the more `show-stopping’, shall we say?

When he asked me, clearly fearing for his life for his outburst, if he’d done the right thing, unhesitatingly I told him that he had. If anybody had lost face, I thought, it was clearly his neighbour. And, of course, all this was proven right when he told me later that his neighbour had the next day delivered a huge bunch of orchids, together with a note of apology.

When I discussed this with my wife, Jackie, her immediate response was that it would have been quite unusual for a Malaysian to have reacted the way that Sean did.

Indeed, for Jackie, him being an expatriate – and one with a family, not prone to having noisy , late night drunken parties, an image which expatriates often are stereotyped or labeled with – made him a `visitor’ who would be respected by someone like his neighbour.

But it probably would have been quite different if both parties were Malaysians.

Many Malaysians, indeed, would have cursed and sworn in the privacy of our homes and silently tolerated the noise principally because we don’t want to `look for trouble’ and fear for our own safety should we be confrontational. We would have privately cursed the neighbour and even the authorities for not enforcing the law. But we would then leave it at that.

Such, indeed, is the nature of our `tolerance’, I guess.

Outsiders and visitors, like my expatriate friend, used to a more open environment, evidently more easily articulate their opposition and dissatisfaction.

We, on the other hand, are continuously berated for `not counting our blessings’ and openly warned not to even consider asking for reforms and change the way the Tunisians and Egyptians (and many others in the region now) have done so.

Hence, we find it difficult, if not well-nigh impossible, to raise objections.

We kid ourselves that it’s all part of our culture when, instead, it’s very much due to a deliberate and sustained programme of socialization, through education , media spin and the (mis)identification of a majority of issues with religion and ethnic identity.

And, sadly, the poorer we have become for all that.

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