Saturday, January 16, 2021


Of late I've noticed a lot of photos in the local dailies showing officials peering into suburban drains - either looking for dengue-bearing mosquito breeding spots or accumulated garbage exacerbating worsening flash floods. Now that it's become fashionable for public officials to show a keen interest in open sewers, I would like to draw their attention to the overnight proliferation of shopping and office complexes in Rawang, which provide shelter for quite a number of shady enterprises.

If you don't know where Rawang is, consider yourself fortunate. Until thirty years ago, Rawang was a charming little one-street town - surrounded by rubber estates, vegetable farms and orchards - located about 18 miles north of Kuala Lumpur. Owing to its unhealthy proximity to Malaysia's only megalopolis, Rawang has since grown like a malignant tumor into a perpetually congested, dusty, noisy, utterly graceless, tasteless, concrete conglomerate of housing estates, workshops, factories, shopping complexes, and nondescript offices. That's right, folks, Progress and Development have begun to consume the rural heartland!

And wherever "progress and development" go, you'll encounter a new breed of born-again entrepreneurs and their pyramid scams. Consider this: in the course of one week in December 2006, my dear illiterate spouse Anoora received two fantastic offers she couldn't possibly refuse.

The first was from "Merlin Distributor" congratulating her for having been picked, out of thousands of names, for a lucky draw from which she might take home a selection of attractive prizes. The leaflet showed a whole range of electrical appliances ranging from an ornamental wall clock to a vacuum cleaner, iron, fan, TV set, and DVD player.

She was requested to collect her prize in person before January 9th 2007. Well, our DVD player was starting to misbehave, so I figured it would be timely indeed to get a free replacement. So on January 8th we drove to Rawang and spent a good half hour looking for Merlin Distributor. We finally found a first floor office in a newly built business complex and were asked to wait while the assistant manager finished her tea. When she emerged after five minutes, she announced that Anoora had come too late for her prize - they were all out of lucky draw coupons! She showed me a stack of used coupons each bearing an image of one of the featured prizes. "You should have come yesterday," she said.

"According to your leaflet, the last day is tomorrow," I reminded her. Her excuse was that too many people had shown up during the first few days and used up all the lucky draw coupons. Then she smiled and said, "But we do have a mystery gift to thank you for coming all the way!" Anoora was handed a gift-wrapped package that looked like it may be a clock. I decided to open it on the spot - and it turned out to be a glass bowl worth about fifty cents. I was tempted to say something sarcastic, but I thought we'd already wasted enough time at Merlin Distributor. As we turned to go, the assistant manager said: "Wait! You can also sign up for our sub-agent plan and get very special discounts on a wide range of electrical goods - but you have to buy a minimum of five units each." She showed me a plastic card and added: "The annual membership fee is only RM285 (about US$80)!"

Believe it or not, a similar episode occurred within a few days. The phone rang and some stranger asked for Anoora. I said he could talk to me but he insisted I pass her the call, so I did. After ten seconds of hearing Anoora go "Hah? Haaah? Haaaaah?" - he was quite happy to talk to me instead. He said he was calling from Etno-Aktif - a distributor of Malaysian-made goods headquartered in Penang, and announced very excitedly that my wife had been awarded a Toyota Avanza. How so? I asked. The guy said it was part of his company's application to the government for tax-exempt status. They were giving away 15 Avanzas to 3 random names in 5 states. All they required were Anoora's particulars, photocopies of her identity card and driver's licence, a passport photo, and a handful of sales receipts. Could Anoora please go to Rawang the next day and meet a certain Encik Azman bin Mohamad.

I really should have hung up when I heard the name "Rawang" - but by now I was fairly intrigued and open to the possibility that our good luck fairies had decided we deserved a new set of wheels. After all, four years ago, I won the Grand Prize in a Berjaya Lucky Draw which included a 34" TV, two tickets to a dinner show, and a night's free stay in a luxury suite.

So the next morning we packed into my van and drove to Rawang... and, guess what, Etno-Aktif was located just a little down the road from Merlin Distributor! Well, long story short... after filling out an official looking form with Anoora's banking particulars and so on, Encik Azman (who was all dressed for Friday prayers) announced that it would take anything from six months to a year to deliver the Toyota Avanza. "That's okay," I said, "we can wait."

Encik Azman continued: "Just one more thing: we are currently in the process of applying to the Ministry of Trade for special tax-exempt status, and we need to show that the vehicles have been delivered. So we'll issue you an official receipt for the Avanza, which we shall reclaim from you when you collect the car - end of June or, at the latest, December this year. Meanwhile, to ensure that you keep the receipt safe, we require that you give us a small cash deposit, fully refundable when the car is delivered. If you don't have sufficient funds for the deposit, Etno-Aktif is prepared to offer you an interest-free loan."

The "small cash deposit" requested by Encik Azman bin Mohamad amounted to RM7,500 (about US$2,100). I asked for Anoora's form back and walked out, vowing never again to respond to any "free gift" or "lucky prize" offered by anyone based in Rawang.

"Good day to you, Encik Azman," I said as I left his office. "Enjoy your Friday prayers!"

[First posted 26 January 2007, reposted 5 February 2018]