The riff-raff of Kuching
Posted on March 29, 2012, Thursday
MOST of you would not have experienced any contact with the ‘wise guys’ of Kuching city. These are the people who live on the edge of mainstream society and make a living through foul or illegal means. We call them by a generic term – gangsters.
These gentlemen have colourful tattoos and are easily distinguishable from their obviously wild behaviour.
I grew up in Kuching city from a young age and came to know personally most of these wild characters, many of them I would count as my personal friends. Kuching city is small after all, and living in such close quarters, everybody would know everybody else.
As an elected member of parliament, I knew the city of Kuching inside out. My knowledge of these gangsters deepened during my time working as a wakil rakyat.
It was impossible to do my public duties without an intimate knowledge of the underworld.
Occasionally, the police would launch massive raids, sending many of these riff-raff to my office appealing for help. Then it was a matter of writing appeal letters to the police to ask for leniency. Occasionally, these gangsters would be sent to Pulau Jerejak or other places of exile.
During general elections, many of them would be hired by the ruling party as campaign workers. Inevitably, an equal number of them would volunteer to work for the opposition free of charge. There were inevitably tense moments where confrontations between the two sides threatened to explode into violent action. Then it would take my skills as a negotiator to settle nerves for a peaceful resolution.
As mentioned, I grew up with these people and knew many of them personally. If any of them came to me with their problems, I would always try my best to help. But, I drew the line in matters of drug trafficking and prostitution.
In private, I harboured great sympathy for these gangsters. They have all been compelled to travel the road to crime and illegality by force of circumstances. Most of them came from poor families and received little in the way of formal education. Bad company is usually the shortest root to crime and self-destruction.
I once knew of X from Bintawa. He too was led down the bad road after befriending riff-raff.
One day, I was working with a group of Bidayuh villages against logging in their area. There was a group of people working for the timber company, who threatened to clash with my village friends. The situation was dangerously close to an open fight.
The next day, X came to my office. He told me that he was employed by the timber company. He asked me for a way to resolve our differences.
I explained to him that there was no way for me to stand down because it was my public duty to defend the rights of the citizens in the village. Besides, I warned him that his own supporters were walking a thin line because in the remote villages, everybody had long and sharp parangs in their houses for self-defence. It was my public duty to protect the rights of the defenceless, whereas, his friends were working for money.
He accepted my explanation and promised to find a way out. Then, I noticed his arms were chopped off at the elbows and he was wearing prosthetics. Noticing that I realised this, he winced and commented that it was the professional hazard of his trade. He told me the continuous pain was hellish. I gave him whatever comfort I could muster and we parted as friends.
As the old saying goes, those who live by the sword shall die by the sword. My advice to gangster friends: avoid violence with enemies, there are always peaceful means of settling disputes. You will live longer to enjoy another day.
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