On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Malaysia, truly puzzling

Paul, who has just settled here, says Malay­sia is truly remarkable. If you are a loyal, law-abiding citizen who pays your summonses on time, you get no discount. But if you ignore the police, you get rewarded, he points out.

Paul loves the rebellious attitude of Malay­sians who dare to stand up to the authorities. It reminds him of his American forefathers who “tea partied” the colonists.

When American kids think of the 4th of July, they only think of BBQ and fireworks. The truly independent spirit is now lacking among the young Americans who probably never had a “Tiger mom”.

Their idea of independence is the Fourth of July holiday and Will Smith’s apocalyptic-themed movie. If only they could learn from the Malaysians, he says.

The most daring part, he tells me, is that the offenders are posing proudly for the media with their long print-out of unpaid summonses.

“Who says the Malaysian middle class are cowards? I mean, many of the print-outs are longer than toilet rolls. It’s just amazing.”

And they even grumble loudly about the long queues, heat and the breakdown of the computer system (so Third World), blaming it on the incompetent police force.

But the fact that these flouters of the law can get away from the cops may mean that our law enforcers are busy chasing criminals instead of wasting time on such trivial matters as traffic offences. No wonder Malaysia has become safer, he says.

Paul says the police here also have a big heart. He is amazed that deadlines continue to be extended despite earlier stern and non-compromising warnings by those in authority.

He has also confronted me, in the typical straight on the face American-style, with an observation on how the media has been covering the Sodomy II case.

Paul, who has read every single word, every line and every sentence of the court case, is saying Malaysians are not as conservative as he has been made to believe.

So engrossed is he with the trial, he has regularly stolen office time to check online for the details of the sodomy case.

He is shocked at the detailed description of body parts and use of sexual terminology. No one seems to be red-faced, he noticed.

“I am addicted to the case. At the end of each story, it always says ‘more to come’. Never ‘details to follow’ but always ‘more to come’. You guys are funny – and I thought you guys have no imagination,” he tells me.

I have no answer to that because I have never even thought of it.

What’s with Paul? Is he Sarah Palin or what? Why is he picking faults? Why is he looking for hidden agendas when there’s none? I am already getting irritated and somewhat offended as the conversation has encroached into my territory.

He has another complaint. He does not understand the Malaysian obsession with soccer. That’s his word. We would rather call it football.

Every Malaysian he has met seems to ask each other what football team they support. He cannot comprehend why Malaysians get so excited watching 22 guys chasing a ball for 90 minutes – and most times only to see a goal or two being scored.

But what’s so wonderful about the football of the great United States of America, where the players kick each other on the field and most of the time they can’t even see the ball because they are all huddled together, pushing, shoving and roughing each other up?

And the English Premier League is a joke to him because most of the players are not even English. “Even in the sodomy trial, you guys have to talk about football. One lawyer spoke about half of a football team and around someone’s anus.”

He is still confused with Malaysians talking about “giving half a ball” when they bet on the outcome of the matches. All this talk about “balls” in football and politics have left him lost. He’s said that even the police like to use “bola 1, bola 2, bola over” when they talk over the radio.

“By the way, when are you taking me for the fishball soup which you have been raving about?” he asks. “Fish and balls? I can’t wait to try.”

I can see Paul is enjoying every minute of his stay in Malaysia. Truly paradoxical but truly Malaysian, too.