Joe Kidd: Dot, dash, splish, splash…


“Sekarang ni ha encik, nyawa ayam lagi mahal dari nyawa orang,”

– the quiet taxi driver who drove me from Seksyen 14, PJ last Monday

It was when we were near the end of Jalan Parlimen, passing by the DBKL Building, that the cab driver spoke. The trip, all the way from Jalan Semangat, PJ had been very quiet. A small crowd had congregated around the riverbank behind the DBKL Building, and I saw several fire-fighters fishing something out from the river. We didn’t stop but the cab driver finally spoke.

“It must be a dead body. Whenever you see fire fighters near the water, it’s a dead someone being fished out,” said the driver. I didn’t say anything. My mind wandered to one particular day at the Central Market about 10 years ago. That day I was late for our regular lepak over teh-tarik sessions and so I missed quite a drama which happened in the vicinity of the building a few hours before.

According to a friend, a young lady climbed over the railings on the bridge upon Leboh Pasar Besar, a road leading from Dataran Merdeka, at the back area of CM. She stood there facing the murky river surface, contemplating a dive. People stopped and stared. Some came running from the walkways nearby. At first they were murmuring among themselves, but after a while, there was quite a crowd and some of them started to shout encouragement.

“C’mon! Jump! What are you waiting for!! Jump la!.” And so quickly the chorus spread. Almost a football chant developed. Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump!

The girl jumped.

Some people told me that the only thing able to survive the pollution in the water is a particularly hardy species of fish branded as “Ikan Besi” (Iron Fish) by the vagrants. When I was regularly hanging out at CM those days, I’ve seen several skinny guys with makeshift fishing rods fishing in the area. I’ve always wondered what would they do with the bounty. It might ended up in the Chow Kit wet market, all cleaned up and nicely gutted; going dirt cheap. Maybe I’ve bought and brought a few back home, smothered with my mom’s fish-frying special concoction and dipped in the best budu Kelantan had to offer then.

I’ve also seen a number of men swimming in the river but it was not like they were having a smashing picnic at Ulu Yam though. They were actually being vigourously pursued by a bunch of corrupted moustachioed men in uniforms.

The many bridges over the water in that area provide the much needed “private space” and comfort for the local drug users. Most of them would live there, a ready-made shack right on the riverbank, with the bridge as roof and the grass as carpeted floor. Some of the regulars would be office workers on their break from all the flashy business towers nearby, visiting the shady area for a quick fix.

Actually I could see myself setting up camp right there and have quite a nice outing by the riverside but I doubt I would be able to ignore the stench of Kuala Lumpur’s apathy though. That said, I liked to be at the embankment when it rained. The water would swell-up and rush with much urgency and purpose down towards the bowels of PJ, carrying all the city’s filth with it; bottles, balls, bags, babies, blood, urine, shit, corpses, chemicals, condoms, grease, gunk, guns and that spurt you had in the toilet when the your secretary decided to accidentally rub against you at the photocopy machine.

So yeah, swimming in the river beside Central Market is rife with challenges much more dangerous than joining in with the Eco-Challenge in the pristine rapids of Sabah. Only desperate people facing immediate threat to their lives and loves, would tackle the task with as much zeal and gusto like the men I saw that day.

So there they were scampering about in the water as the police and the city council people, our guardians of decency and moral standards, swooped down from the top of the embankment. Some of the instant fugitives, scums of the earth in the noble eyes of the authorities, jumped left and right into the stench, while others ducked their heads, flapped their arms in the blackened water and determinedly swam straight to the other side of the river.

The officers then stayed hovering on the bank, most cracking up with laughter, as a proud boatload of more moustachioed men in uniforms steered towards each one of the helpless, suddenly cornered swimmers; plucking them out of water like drenched scared dogs. The people on the mini bus I was in, delighted witnesses of the impromptu entertainment, cheered. I sunk back in the hard red seat and put on my Walkman louder than necessary.

By the way, the girl survived the drop. It was quick but pretty painful. The water splashed and came up to her hips as she fell feet first. Not as deep and nasty as she had thought it would be. In fact, the laughter that erupted from the crowd gathered proved to be deadlier than the death she was looking for. So she stood there and cried some more.

END – Joe Kidd June 2005

word map:

Budu – fermented fish sauce. evil smelling but a miracle appetiser. usually used as dip when having rice. my favourite is dipping durian in budu and having it with white rice. also works best with boiled egg, stinky beans (petai) and ultimately, grilled sweetwater fishes.

Ulu Yam – here’s a SITE with pictures of the picnic area of Ulu Yam, which is about 20 minutes from Batu Caves, KL

“Sekarang ni ha encik, nyawa ayam lagi mahal dari nyawa orang”; translation: “Mr., nowadays the life of a chicken is much more valuable than a human being.”