Thursday, February 05, 2004

Which World am I In? (Part 1) 

I will have been here in Malaysia three months on next Sunday, 15 February. In that time, I have been looking around as much as I can, admiring the environmental and social scenery as it were. Many things here impress me. In particular, this society has been built from a starkly foreign-colonial standing start by three racial groups that clearly have little love for each other - also largely an apparent legacy of the colonial era. One reads in the local press on a regular basis various essays by the former Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, or his allies urging Malaysians in general and Malays in particular to "cast off" their "colonial mindset" and prepare to join the industrialized world - a feat which the Government publicly asserts will happen by 2010.

Material progress is visibly being made. I write this in my high-rise apartment living room, where I can look out towards downtown Kuala Lumpur and see a number of modern skyscrapers, with others being built constantly. To get from my apartment to the Net café where I post my blog entries, I will use a bus and rail system equalled by no more than a handful of cities in North America. I will use a quite respectably current Pentium 4 PC and a comfortably fast ADSL connection to upload the text to blogspot in less time than it takes to describe the process, and then spend the next couple of hours browsing the Web for clients or project opportunities, as well as chatting with friends and associates.

But wait, you might ask; why not simply connect to the Net from my apartment? After all, Internet access is nearly ubiquitous in Malaysia; one can even buy credit-card-style prepaid Internet access from a variety of street vendors, as well as sign up for postpaid (monthly billing) access. Why spend a half-hour trekking downtown (or ten minutes to the local gamer's café) when one can merely connect from one's own home?

There's the rub, you see. I don't (yet) have the ability to connect - to the Internet or to another telephone - from my apartment's fixed (landline) connection. I have a brand-new blue plastic phone with the Telekom Malaysia logo prominently displayed, and that phone is plugged into the wall jack which delivered dial tone (but nothing else) upon moving into this place, but at the moment it is a rather baroquen paperweight. TM, after a week's delay, came out to "install" the line last Friday. Actually, one of their subcontractors came out to plug in the phone and make sure that there was a line to plug it into and that said line was properly identified and connected in the building's telephone closet. After that, it was a simple matter of updating the TM switch configuration, which we were confidently promised would be handled by close-of-business that day, and if not, certainly by noon on Saturday, which is a work day for most people here.

Well and good. The problem is, of course, that it wasn't done on Friday, or Saturday. Monday and Tuesday this week were holidays (the Muslim holy day Eid al-Fitr was Sunday), and the Indians have a holiday called Thaipusam today, Thursday. Of course, if one racial/religious group has a holiday, everybody gets the day off, and since the holiday is Thursday on a week that's already had at least two days blown out of it, most will take Friday as well. Heck, why not take the whole week off? There's no need to work like a Singaporean - this is Malaysia, after all.

So, I still make my daily journey down to the friendly Net establishment, run by a very friendly and knowledgeable Russian chap. Insha Allah (God willing), I'll have a working voice landline by the middle of the month. Then, I can go try to deal with a different office at Telekom Malaysia and maybe, if I'm really really lucky, I'll have that connection working before my visa expires in mid-May.

It's still better here than a lot of places I've been. Maybe, if people get off their collective tails and work at it, it will be as good as they tell themselves it is - or as good as it needs to be if Malaysia really is going to join the First World. But all that is a topic for a future blog...

As always, thoughtful commentary is gratefully encouraged, and flames or otherwise ignorant/hateful/disrespectful bellicosity will be cheerfully ignored. Thank you for your support!

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