On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Enough money to spend like crazy

Last week, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim
blamed the growing expensive taste of Malaysians as among the reasons for the

Malaysians, he said, were dressing themselves and furnishing their houses and
offices with costly imports.

Last year, 14.2 per cent of the country's imports, totalling RM28  billion, comprised consumer goods.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad has also complained that too many
Malaysians were travelling overseas.

More than 80 per cent or 16 million of the country's 20 million people have
travelled abroad.

Dr Mahathir described such visits as a worrying trend because they are a
serious drain on the country's foreign exchange.

Malaysians have been excessive. Many of them think the good times will roll
along forever.

Besides eating at fancy restaurants, shopping has become a national past-time,
with many flashing their wallets for pricey items.

Kempen Inflasi Sifar (Zero Inflation Campaign) has become a joke as Malaysians
flock to shopping malls to buy expensive clothing instead of essential

My friend Jamal, a businessman, complained that his daughter would only go for
designer brands such as Donna Karan, Chanel, Moschino andLouis Vuitton for her
clothes and accessories.

"She is so brand-conscious. I really pity the man she marries if he is not
loaded. For her, the 5Cs are important cash, car, credit card, condominium and
career,'' he said.

Going to a cinema means buying a RM8 seat at a cineplex with digital sound
effects. The neighbourhood cinema just isn't good enough.

She's willing to continue wearing her colourful Swatch but she has served early
notice for her 21st birthday gift "a Longine with diamonds will be

Of course, a vacation would even be nicer. The destination need not be far.
Exotic Bali will do.

Jamal's daughter, who is in a private college, however said she shouldn't be
the only one getting the blame. After all, she has acquired her expensive taste
from her parents.

"My dad is ready to fork out a few hundred bucks for a silk tie. It's the same
with mum. She has no qualms in parting with the same amount for a cut and

Then, there is mother's weekly face-lift and aroma therapy at the beauty salons
with the tais tais, datins and toh puans before adjourning to a nearby hotel
for the high tea with fashion show.

"Do you know how much dad has to pay for all these to keep mum happy and to be
on par with the others? It's a bomb, you can be sure,'' added the daughter.
Jamal, on the other hand, loves Italian clothes from Giorgio Armani suits to
Bruno Magli shoes and listening to Pavarotti.

It's certainly a far cry from his student days at Universiti Kebangsaan
Malaysia when the T-shirt, sneakers, gold-rimmed round glasses and goatee were
his trademark.

As an idealistic student, the only thing on his mind was to fight for the
down-trodden and underprivileged. But these days he is more interested in
securing a new business contract and going to the golf course.

Jamal, who is in his early 40s, takes his daughter out shopping every weekend.
He said he wouldn't mind his daughter using the supplementary credit card on
clothing "so long as she is not on Ecstasy pills or any drugs.''

He is defensive of his lifestyle, arguing that he can afford it and has a right
to it.

He makes no apologies for his golf club membership, saying the club was an
excellent place to network and secure more business.

"Let's be realistic. Nothing in this world comes free. As they say,  there's no such thing as a free lunch,'' he

His expensive suits, he said, project confidence and his clients know that they
are dealing with a professional when they see his dapper dressing and

"How can I walk into a meeting room for a presentation, looking like a chiak
kai (lousy dresser) fella? What will the mat sallehs think of us

He has another point to make politicians who tell average Malaysians to change
their lifestyles should first do so themselves. After all, that's what
leadership by example is all about.

How many of our leaders travel in a Proton Perdana or Proton Limousine? Their
preference would be the sleek imported Mercedes-Benz or BMW.

Despite their rhetoric criticism against the declining moral standards in the
West, many still prefer to shop in London, Milan or Paris for the better-cut
double-breasted suit and matching floral tie.

Holidaying in Malaysia? No, that's out of the question because it won't be a real
rest as the constituents, supporters and businessmen just wouldn't leave them

The call to cut down on imported goods should rightly be directed at the elite
and upper-middle class Malaysians.

While the statistics show a deficit in the balance of payments, it may  not be fair to say all Malaysians have been
afflicted with the “expensive taste'' syndrome.

Many a Malaysian may take his family to the shopping mall on a Sunday to pass
the time and perhaps eat at a fast-food outlet but the average Ahmad, Ah Beng
or Muthu is unlikely to enter a designer label retail shop.

He is more likely to buy his groceries at a hypermarket or pasar malam where
the food is cheaper and fresher. He will probably buy his clothes at the Reject

Buying expensive imported items is certainly not on his list of  priorities.

The average wage-earner works hard, watches television with his family in the
evening, talks of going to Genting Highlands or Port Dickson for the weekend,
and hopes to get a computer for his child come bonus time in December.

Still, advertisements put out by travel agencies show that it is no  longer expensive for the Malaysian family to
go overseas on a package  holiday.

A week's tour to China or Australia costs about RM1,800, which is within the
means of most Malaysians.

The challenge will be for Malaysian hoteliers to attract locals, perhaps
highlighting the environment aspect as some tour operators in Terengganu and
Sarawak have done.

And as Anwar mentioned, it's time our local manufacturers prove that their
products can be good.

By the way, how do you pronounce Louis Vuitton correctly? Zegna what?