The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

Letter from Melaka: Malay nightlife and culture as viewed from Jim’s Cottage Pub

Written By: herbrunbridge - Jun• 07•10

Tiger Beer Girls Jennifer and Sandra

Jim’s Cottage Pub is at the eastern end of the city of Melaka (Malacca), Malaysia, way past all the points of interest to tourists.  Here, the barmaids are pretty much all past a certain age, wear miniskirts, drink and smoke with the customers, and don’t muck around with them.  It’s strictly old-world convivial, where no one’s got “attitude” (that tend to get waylaid east of the dateline, anyway.)  Walls are covered with black and white pictures of old western movie stars, but no one working there can identify many of the actors. Sharon, whose partner owns the bar, tells me that the original owner put them up, but when he died, the knowledge of who these folks were died with him. Still, the pictures stayed. 

Who’s Jim?  “He was the brother of the original owner, who gave him the money to start the pub.”  Why are beers so expensive in Malaysia ($3 a bottle, double the price of a beer in any other SE Asian country). “The country is Muslim, so they tax, tax, tax, cigarettes and beer, because they don’t want poor Muslims to spend their money that way.  Chinese people drink and smoke, so they tax.”  

She continues: “Muslims always have a lot of children, so very poor.  Don’t believe in birth control.  Chinese, have few children, always want the best for their children.”  So Sharon’s nailed overpopulation as the cause of many of the miseries in today’s world, from behind her little bar in Melaka.  There are 22 ethnic groups in Malaysia, but many consider themselves Chinese or Muslim, and that’s how the country socializes, and does business.  Jim’s has an unusual schedule, closed Saturday and Sunday nights.  “We’ve been open 18 years, the oldest bar in Melaka.  Two years ago we realized that Chinese people stay home with their families on Saturday, so no one came to the bar.  Since then, only open Monday through Friday.” 

Jennifer and Sandra, two Chinese Tiger Beer girls walk into the bar.  Their job is to encourage customers to drink their brand, pour their beers, and converse a bit.  They’re paid straight salary, and bring a time sheet into the bar, which is stamped by the management, confirming the amount of time spent at the bar.  After an hour or so, they’re off to another bar, in their matching Tiger Beer dresses.  Jennifer is 31, unmarried, no children.  She helps her mom in the family restaurant by day, then earns more at night, supporting the family, and obtaining some spending money.  On her way out, she leaves a Tiger Beer promotion: red money envelopes for the upcoming Chinese New Year, emblazoned with the Tiger Beer stamp.  “For good luck”, she says.  For us and for her. 

We’re happy to be in a Muslim country again, regardless of the beer prices. The basic friendliness and decency of the Muslim people is something we realize we’ve missed.  We’ll visit a historic mosque, and a caretaker will greet us. “Where you come from?”, but I sense he already knows.  “America, US”, we tell him.  There’s always a look of disbelief, that a Yank is coming to the mosque to enjoy its architecture and history.  Thousands of words are unspoken, but this is ground-floor diplomacy, as we both understand that regardless of what’s on the front pages of the world’s newspapers, we enjoy each other as individuals, regardless of politics and propaganda. 

In fact, Yanks aren’t coming to Malaysia at all, it seems. Aussies, tons of Brits, Scandinavians.  Malays tell me it’s because people in the U.S. are afraid of coming to a Muslim country.  Jennifer, the Tiger Beer girl:  “You know, we are not terrorists; we do not like terrorists, and Americans are welcome!  Maybe Americans think Malaysians are all poor, but we have modern cities like Kuala Lumpur.  They should come.”  

Everywhere, Malays have been encouraging us to invite all Americans to come to Malaysia.  They’re building a country that already has a pretty good tourist infrastructure, and a better-than-average transportation system. Small cities like Melaka and George Town are jewels.  We have to agree, though. Yanks are spooked about 9/11, and those who are aware of the turmoil in southern Thailand believe (rightly or wrongly) that those deadly and dramatic events are propelled by forces in northern Malaysia. 

What it all comes down to is that this is a very god time for westerners from any country to visit Malaysia. It’s cultured, beautiful, and full of friendly people willing to share their view of the world, and one, we think, that isn’t represented much by what’s generally seen on western television.

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One Comment

  1. Pennie Wiant says:

    Wonderful story – appreciate your giving that!

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