First let me set the scene. I’m Liz and in my late forties. I have a husband, Phil, and 3 children – twin girls aged 15 and an 11 year old boy. We have had a rollercoaster ride over the last 10 years, and have ended up half way across the world in South East Asia. Specifically Malaysia, where Phil teaches Science at an International school, and the children attend the same school.
I think being here nearly a year makes me almost an old timer, as the rate at which expats come and go is unsettlingly brisk. Of course we are not Expats with a capital E, as we’re not employed in ‘Oil and Gas’ – but locals still look on us as wealthy and we are, in comparison to many locals here. But we are expats who are finding this country much more expensive than any forum or website had us believe. If it wasn’t for the stress of the obvious problems of always spending over budget every month, my preference is to be an expat and not an Expat, because it gives the opportunity to live and experience Malaysia in a far more authentic way.
I experienced local police custom the other day. One of my new friends was leaving for the UK and, as well as helping her transport her excess belongings to a very worthwhile charity, I was also the benefactor of various kitchen items which I needed to get home via the Express Highway. Last minute packing being what it is, my friend found herself unable to sell a 3 seater sofa and unexpectedly requested I should have it. Before I knew it, the guards were finding rope and firmly attaching it in the boot of my Mitsubishi truck. I was assured it was secure but just to go slowly. In true Malaysian style, when I expressed concern the response was ‘can, can, can’. Can’t argue with that!
So I sailed along the highway at a sensible speed and thought I was home and dry, when the sirens started wailing and a police car came in to view in my side mirror (rear view mirror obviously obstructed by offending sofa). This was my first clash with Malaysian police and I felt a little nervous.
The ‘done thing’ here is to accept criticism, express remorse and then pay up. Yes, corruption being as it is, officers prefer to relieve you of some hard earned Ringgit rather than give you the inconvenience of going to a police headquarters and waiting for hours to be processed. The difference between these fines and similar ‘on the spot’ fines in the UK is that the money goes into the officer’s pocket and there is no paperwork.
The policeman was very decent about it – he gave me a talking to about transporting furniture in an open boot – it is simply not allowed……. I refrained from pointing out that I assumed it was okay when I see motorbikes with rider and 3 passengers AND a double mattress, with disturbing frequency here. Also some of the worst driving I have ever encountered!
So I apologised, agreeing that I really did not want to have to follow him to a police station to pay a fine, and looking thoroughly ashamed. He then paused, and with a twinkle in his eye offered me a simple solution. “So maybe you want to pay now, la?” “Sorry, I don’t understand” “You pay me now then go home.”
He asked for a sum that I wasn’t prepared to pay. He said it was because both he and his colleague needed paying. Being forewarned, my purse was hidden so I could claim to be travelling with very little cash. So I offered half. After a little haggling, we came to an agreement and he was gone the moment the notes greased his palm.
I was left feeling shaken and a little indignant, ashamed that I had encouraged corruption in a small way, but very relieved. Worried I may be stopped by another police car, however, I only allowed myself to relax totally when I arrived safely home!
This has been my second experience of ‘money talking’ in less than a week (see previous blog).