This place is interesting …
TELUK BAHANG, Malaysia- I don’t really want to break out my computer.
I’m in a cafe but it’s not like what you think.
It’s a Chinese hang out — a broken down hall with an old, dirt encrusted fan in a corner, bags of chips hanging from nails in the rafters, and a menu printed on an askance plank of wood that has the prices hand written on masking tape. The chairs and tables are made of plastic which have a time-honed cover of thick, black grim over them.
There are only dudes here. Around twenty of them are in the cafe and another two dozen are hanging out in a broken down building across the street which is basically a corrugated steel roof erected over some tables and chairs. The guys walk back and forth yelling to each other.
They are gambling in a side room — checkers. They are gambling across the street — horse races. They are smoking cigarettes. They are drinking beer.
I guess we have something in common beyond being able to speak the northern Chinese tongue. After I down my cup of coffee, my next move is to get a big Tiger. It will be my second of the day.
The fact that these guys speak Mandarin is something interesting in and of itself. They were all born in Malaysia, as were most of their fathers. Their native Chinese language is Hokkian, with some being Cantonese speakers with families from Guangdong thrown in. Somehow, they learned to speak Mandarin. Some tell me they learned it in school. Others don’t seem to know how they learned it.
Some of these guys are watching Chinese TV. There is a contest show on about foreigners in China who can speak Mandarin. They get on stage and perform and the country is awed by their linguistic prowess.
During the big CCTV New Year’s gala around 15 or so years ago this Canadian who named himself Da Shan — Big Mountain — was featured. He blew a billion people away with his ability to speak Mandarin. Before that, it was commonly assumed that foreigners simply didn’t have the ability to speak Chinese, that it was too difficult of a language to learn. This was kind of an odd point of national pride. But Da Shan getting up there in front of the entire country and speaking better Mandarin than most locals blew this misconception away like a mound of dust.
Now, while Mandarin-speaking foreigners isn’t necessarily shocking, it is still viewed as a cheap little parlor trick that’s as everlastingly amusing as pulling a quarter from someone’s ear.
I can hear the dominos being slammed down in the back room. Across the street a game of cards is getting heated. A large group has crowded around the table of the players. I can see flashes of money being passed around.
After I finish my beer I will get up and start poking around a little more. Maybe I will find out something. Maybe I will get beat up.
Arrival in Teluk Bahang, family visit comes to an end
Abandoned 6-star hotel
About the Author: VBJ
I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. VBJ has written 3657 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.
VBJ is currently in: Astoria, New York