Raiders in the Exotic

Malaysia is a land of development, of pioneers, prospectors, gambling, law and outlaw; all intermingled with an old-style way of life, architecture hailing to by-gone days and a culture swimming in a river of ethnic immigrant society. I welcome you to the Wild East.  

Judging by the press, Penang state and even the country seem dangerously close to losing control to outlaws and robbers. Not quite the rose-coloured picture painted when one takes note of the continuous street side billboards decorated with an artist’s impression of the next, world-rocking seaside development. Under the surface, locales and outlets are haunted by a fear of raids and robberies conducted by spectral crooks leaving without a trace apart from the devastation left in their wake.

Come dusk, housing estates button down the hatches and fasten the latches to their window grates, turning a pre-modern semi-detached bungalow into an iron fortress; a new-age homage to the wooden shutters of old. From then on these areas become ghostly quiet as the communal greens, pavements and roads lose their breath of life as everyone nestles indoors. Whether for fear of being outside or from leaving their houses dormant, people are discouraged from enjoying the night – wherein another country the climate would be appreciated with barbeques, picnics and outside dinners.

The Star newspaper once reported a swathe of hill-side attacks on the area of Jesselton, Penang; something like Mongolian riders sweeping across the horizon to bear down and ransack the unarmed below. Jesselton: “posh,” rich, a beacon to the sparkling eyes of insatiable jewel thieves. At night or in the pre-dawn hours, non-Malaysians uttering guttural slang emerged through the dark, forested hill behind the housing estate armed with knives or parang. Weaving through the interspersed guardhouses they broke into numerous houses apparently like smoke, not leaving a trace and covering their faces from the sentinel CCTV cameras. Nobody has been caught despite police officer Deputy Comm Datuk Wira Ayub Yaakob initiating a “special team” to combat the raiders; a posse no doubt armed with pitchforks and torches.

Have you ever wondered the effectiveness of the shotgun-carrying uncle outside jeweller’s shops? Scruffy with a worn blue uniform, drooping lapels, boots undone and stubble from the previous night’s drinking session at the off-license. The jewellers on the first floor of Seberang Jaya hypermarket would be wondering the same thing after a robbery stripped them of RM3 million after only seven minutes. Foreigners, shouting “This is a robbery” in “Hokkien with an accent” held the salespeople at gunpoint, even using one as a hostage for their escape on Malaysia’s noble steed; the motorbike. A supporting photo paints, what should be, a forgotten picture; a man of heavy build, white shirt and clean shaven holding a young Chinese girl, hands held high, by her hair closely in front of him and one hand poised at the side of her head with the unmistakable, shiny silhouette of a double action revolver pressed against her temple.

The outlaw is out there. Like the raiders of the Wild West these gangs are equipped and informed to pull stunts like these but, more importantly, ride on the security of anonymity, as being “foreign” means they have little threat in the way of being traced. They will only make a name for themselves after their pride manifests itself in wanted posters on tavern doors and telegraph poles. Only then will they gain an identity and, who knows, it could be one that turns historic like Ned Kelly or Jessie James. That identity, however, is only gained through repetition.

What machine are these gangs emerging from? One theory is that the commercial sector of Penang is churning the hungry into the desperate, as overseas workers – paid a below minimum wage salary whilst working long, arduous hours – try for an extra buck in their downtime; a convenient truth when considering whether Penang’s development scheme is worth it.

One would hope, then, that these men are found and tried and that – in these morally civilised times – they are spared the Malaysian death sentence. Will, however, the authorities band together all over the country to create a web of detection or will the fight take place in the villages between outlaw and civilian. There is a constant reminder to the general public against thieves to keep hold of possessions and lock doors while stationary at traffic lights, so clearly a general awareness campaign is being made effective – locals do lock their doors and keep bags and possessions away from the road if walking on a pavement. But rather than just advice on deterring criminals, will civilians get an active hand to play? Or will they take it themselves?

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