Friends, Rolexes and Shirtless Men

Pic­ture Cour­tesy Wikipedia

Golden drag­ons sit atop the strik­ing green fa?ade, flanked by golden arches on the left and (over­priced) gold topped taxis beneath. A unsightly blue roof stretches along the entire street, designed to keep out the ele­ments and what­ever lit­tle charm the façade has to offer. “Jalan Petal­ing,” the mul­ti­lin­gual sign­board sus­pended from the low­est tier says. Petal­ing Street.

Petal­ing Street, a nar­row stretch of road in down­town Kuala Lumpur is the green dragon facaded, blue roofed home to a gigan­tic flea mar­ket sell­ing boot­leg mer­chan­dise. Fit­tingly, the mar­ket oper­ates from dawn to mid­night, draw­ing an enor­mous throng of bar­gain hunters look­ing for Rolexes and Patek Philippes; Guesses, Guc­cis, Givenchys and Louis Vit­tons; Star Wars and Flight Plan and Sims and Civ­i­liza­tion and food.

A row of stores on each side of the street, and down the mid­dle of the street a dou­ble row of stores with their backs to each other, split­ting the nar­row alley into two nar­rower alleys. Enter through the left, bar­gain your way up the street till the end, gawk at the ven­dors sell­ing fried fish, and kabab rolls and ice kacang, and a Rolex or two; turn around and hag­gle back down the other way. Along the way, a sen­sual treat: the bright flouroscent light­ing, the smell of sweaty bod­ies laden with faux Ital­ian fash­ion goods mixed in with the the smell of bar­be­cued fish, the sounds of hag­glers hag­gling and touts touting.

To the shop­per, the bus­tle is endear­ing, an allur­ing set­ting for an exotic shop­ping expe­ri­ence. To the non-shopper, the bus­tle sucks. It over­whelms, intim­i­dates, drains.

And hence, I choose to stand guard at the drag­ons while the wife enters the market.

Be back soon,” she says.

Ok.” And I start waiting…

***

A young man wear­ing a shirt that requests peo­ple to con­sume him walks up real close to me, and smiles. I smile­back. “DVD, boss?” he asks. “I got all good movies.”

What fol­lowed was chaos. Before I could answer, he walks up sneak­ily behind another per­son who is not wear­ing a shirt — his friend, I would learn later. Eat Me then loudly screams into the shirt­less guy’s ear, scar­ing shirt­less out of his wits. Shirt­less turns around and angrily shoves Eat-Me, who stag­gers back into the wait­ing arms of an old Eng­lish­man who lets out a star­tled scream him­self and then recov­ers enough to say “Wot?”

Eat-Me grins inso­lently, puts his arm around Eng­lish­man and asks him, “You want DVDs?”

No, and don’t touch me. I don’t want to be touched.”

EatMe finds this hilar­i­ous, so he laughs very loudly and punches me on the stomach.

Don’t touch me, ha-ha-ha, Don’t touch me. You want DVD boss?”

I would love to, but that Rolex burnt a big hole in my pocket.” Proud grin accom­pa­nies bad joke. Eat-me looks bemused and then leaves.

***

Cue the next per­son in. Thin. Male. Dirty white shirt. Button-down, adding to the incon­gruity. Rings on his ear, a ring on his nose, and one around the lower lip. Sev­eral rings on his fin­gers, a box in his hand. Incred­i­bly, Ring walks to me.

Here boss, you wanted Rolex?”

No.”

He said you want to buy Rolex,” he says, point­ing to Eat-Me.

No, I was joking.”

Don’t joke boss, this is our business.”

***

Ring moves away. Eat-me comes back. I duck into McDon­alds and buy a tea and sit down at a table. I must’ve been halfway through the tea when a young man in a yel­low shirt approaches me.

Sir, when are you leaving?”

Excuse me?”

When are you leav­ing the table?”

After I fin­ish my tea. Why do you ask?”

Peo­ple are waiting.”

So I set this tea aside, and order another one. This one tides me over for a minute more. Yel­low shirt approaches, and I beat a hasty retreat in antic­i­pa­tion of conversation.

***

Back out­doors. Ring spots me first.

I got Tag also. See this watch, runs only on body heat. Also Bent­ley. Buy one boss.”

I don’t want anything.”

Ring leaves, only to reap­pear in a minute.

Watch?”

No. One minute ago, I said said no watch. Does that RING a bell?” Prouder grin, poorer joke.

Why you laugh boss, this is my business.”

Sorry, but no thanks.”

***

Ring now walks up to EatMe. With­out any obvi­ous provo­ca­tion, EatMe kicks Ring hard on the shins. Ring yelps. Shirt­less enters the fray and shoves EatMe.

EatMe falls hard on the ground, and does a back­wards som­er­sault, land­ing right in front of me.

This guy must be nuts”, I think to myself.

You will think I am mad boss,” he says, with the now oblig­a­tory punch on my stomach.

Why?” I respond, stunned. “I don’t think that.”

No, you will think now boss if I say I will sell you DVD for only 5 Ring­gits. You are my friend.”

This here was a mind read­ing moron.

Sorry.” I rush back into the McDon­alds, back into the hands of my yel­low shirted friend who can’t stay away from me for more than a minute.

***

More tea later, the wife shows up. Look­ing cheery and refreshed. I whisk her away in a hurry, before my new friends spot her and insist on being introduced.

You look grumpy?”

Not grumpy, just sad. I wish I’d said good­bye to him.”

Who?”

Don’t worry about it…”

***