In the meantime, I had been pursuing a 50+ show at Blenheim that we were calling Quality Time. But the disappointment of the millennium event left me feeling a bit high and dry.
I was then approached by Blenheim’s Asia CEO who wanted me to help launch a public show in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. I lived out there for about eight weeks to put the show together and to run it. It was held at the Putra World Trade Centre and was a public show featuring 4x4s, Super Bikes and Jet Skis – it was called REV ’96. The CEO was hoping that I would stay, based at Singapore, and this was to be a dry-run for us both.
I stayed in a hotel near the exhibition centre that had a nice Thai restaurant, but most lunches and dinners were with the team and therefore primarily consisted of duck rice. If I could get them to go street cuisine, then we could branch out into satay and rice.
I managed to get them, only very occasionally, to go to the Hard Rock Café or other western venues but then they spent much of the next day complaining that Western food made their teeth ache, their food was of course all usually pre-cut and diced for them.
|ASIDE: My hotel was used by a large group of middle-range tennis players on a circuit that played two separate yet consecutive tournaments across two weeks. From Tuesday onwards more and more of them were back at the hotel having been knocked out. I got in to a card school with a number of them, most notably Jeremy Bates, who was on a good run and arrived a little later into each week. But they all soon had a great deal of time on their hands for card-playing.|
I found it quite disturbing that I could not phone anyone, locals couldn’t understand my surname over the phone. At least in Japan I could introduce myself as Bento-san (lunch box) and make them laugh. So, I was reduced to getting the team to fix my appointments. At least when face-to-face I could make myself understood.
I introduced myself as Durian Mat Salleh Feringhee. Durian is a locally popular spiky and extremely smelly local fruit, usually described as smelling like gym socks and likened to the smell of foreigners. Mat Salleh is used to refer to white Caucasians, variously described as albino, it was a disparaging term for a sailor or missionary. Feringhee is an Arabic-derived less-pleasant term for the otherness of a foreigner. This usually broke the ice!
Communication was a challenge in Malaysia. I was perhaps more amused than disturbed by the fact that contractors would come to the office and despite both groups being Chinese they would hold the meeting in English, it was painful to listen to their ‘Manglish’, their Malaysian-English pidgin or creole. I said don’t worry about me, feel free to talk in Chinese, but they remonstrated that this was a business meeting and those must be in English.
We had a Chairman who was a Tan Sri Datuk. Titles became even longer where the individual was Haji, having visited Mecca (like I all but did – above). Tan Sri is the second-most senior federal title in Malaysia denoting a recipient of the PMN or PSM, seventh and eighth respectively, in the order of Malaysian federal awards. Today there are just 75 of the former and 250 of the latter. Datuk shows he was also a recipient of the PJN or PSD, the ninth- and tenth-ranked Malaysian federal awards; there are around 200 of each living. He was well connected, but when I asked him to check our advertisement’s translation into Malay he could only say that it was about right, but could not suggest how to make it fully acceptable, he indicated the written language was a tad vague, quite vernacular. Descriptions of the language suggests it is still in flux and some of the confusion may be based upon their move from using Arabic script to Roman.
Malaysians constantly finish an English sentence with -lah, which derives from the Chinese, yet has no specific meaning. Technically this is described as a ‘discourse participle’ it is used more to add tone than to change the sense of the sentence. One dictionary suggests that a Malaysian who doesn’t end every sentence with -lah is considered snobbish.
A rather annoying version of it is Okay-lah, its usage has one sense similar to the many T-shirts sold there, saying ‘Same, Same’. But it becomes annoying when you try to explain something and get Okay-lah or worse, Okay, Okay, Okay in response. You soon come to realise that they didn’t understand when they say this. So, you try another approach and get OK, OK, OK again, and you just have to accept that they still don’t get your point!
Back in KL, the organisation of the Rev ’96 promotion was odd too. I went to meet the local newspapers to ask them to do features for the show, but they greeted me with a simplistic response. They explained that the amount of advertising I bought would determine the degree of editorial promotion I received in return. I gently tried to explain that in the UK if I suggested any such advertising-editorial linkage for newspapers or magazines, I would be drummed from their offices. But here they stuck to their guns.
I went to meet with radio stations and inadvertently became an approved Malaysian Radio scriptwriter. They listened to my pitch with interest and asked me what I thought they might do as a programme, we tossed it around and I agreed to map something out overnight. In retrospect I paid too little attention to the task. I suggested what their interviewer might ask and how one of our named exhibitors might respond, in this way underlining the many benefits of the show. I gave them a copy of my rough workings, they took it, went away for a day, got it officially ‘chopped’ by the government and then they had permission to read out, live to air, my half-considered words, religiously sticking to my script. What might I have included with more time?