A tale of two cities

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.

It was the times where the road is laden with gold. It was the times of abundances, excesses and gross wealth. Those were the stories of success, which became integral part of the upper echelon of society. Where the men, puffing the best Cubans and Dominicans, show off their brand new Bentley GT Continental, Aston Martin Vanquish, Ferrari 550, Porsche Carrera Turbo Cabriolet (I very recently saw these lining up outside Bangsar Shopping Centre). Of course their businesses made them ride in the one million Ringgit Mercedes Benz S 350L. Once, I even saw a five million Ringgit Maybach 62! The long wheel base seven series Beemers are now for the upcoming wannabes.

The ladies wear branded apparel, even for the daily gossip dosage at the nearest gourmet coffee joints. Of course, they wear De Beers’ best cuts labeled in the renowned Parisian jewelers brands, for the formal night outings. They chowed on the habit of fusion and gourmet meals, washed down with the best Bordeauxs, Chablis, Chardonnays, et al. So many new wine merchants popping up, selling more Bollingers and Moet & Chandons. Amazingly, pet stores and specialised spas are growing around the city as well.

New property super luxurious addresses such as the Binjai, Troika, Stonor and Hamphsire , bordering the KLCC park. Kirana is no longer the address to be, although it also houses the upmarket Ascot, in Kuala Lumpur. There is a somewhat race of “resort living” in Bukit Tunku, Bukit Bandaraya and Seri Hartamas neighbourhoods. Of course suburbs like Valencia, Mines, Country Heights and Tropicana is always the envy for these upcoming wannabes. New super high end zen-Balinese fusion themed developments is mushrooming all over Bukit Bandaraya-Damansara-Jalan Duta neighbourhoods by firms like Tan & Tan, E & O and BRDB.

Those platinum platters probably justify the Government’s announcement of the excess one trillion Ringgit economy. Economic growth is around 5.8% whilst moderated CPI is 3%. There are these RM 46 billion new investments that the MITI Minister said. Bank Negara is proud of their RM 299.8 billion external reserve. TNB and Telekom is making money. Petronas and Maybank is making a lot of money. Bursa Malaysia is making money. Even MAS under Idris Jala is starting to make money, now. Last quarter, the pre-tax profit of the banking industry stood at RM 4.4 billion. MISC book orders are full to the brim. Malaysian contractors are busy bidding for jobs in India and Saudi, even Kazakhstan and manufacturers relocating to Indonesia. The financial and capital market is very strong, now. KLCI reached a 10 year high. RM is strong, @ 3.50 to the dollar.

Everything is so bullish. Everything is so rosy and dandy. 2007 is the Visit Malaysia Year. Yes, Kuala Lumpur is set to party all year long. They even had the London Eye type Ferris Wheel in Taman Tasik Titiwangsa, as an attraction. PMB even bought a RM 200 million A319CJ VIP jet so that the Prime Minister (occasionally, so will the Seri Paduka Baginda Yang diPertuan Agong) can ‘lease’ it, when they travel.

So much pomp and pageantry, in town lately. Everyone who’s-who simply mastering the up-one-man-ship game. Just look at Siti Nurhaliza’s wedding in August, last year. Its even captured live on national TV. Its so competitive to be popular and of course be seen in the “inner circle” list, nowadays. For some of the haves and wannabes, life is so pretentious.

There’s also the other side of the coin. The ugly side of Kuala Lumpur. The sad stories of Kuala Lumpur.

Those who are very much affected by the present regime’s economic management. These are the people who lost their jobs (because of “right sizing”, they say!). These are the people who are made redundant and “no longer acceptable”, because of mergers. Like CIMB eating up Bumiputra Commerce, then Southern. Like ECM Libra being transformed from BBMB Securities, then “merged” with Avenue Capital. Now they are talking about Sime Darby-Guthrie-Golden Hope.

In my 13 over years professional life, glazing and grazing through the superbull run round of 93-94, the “pink form” era, the “heated economy” bubble bursting era, the capital control, then the dot com craze, the magical rebound and then, the post Sept 11, SARS and Iraq invasion cycle, I have never seen so many Ir.s, chartered accountants, ex merchant bankers and capital market professionals and/or senior/middle managers with MBAs are unemployed. These unemployed professionals of course try to make it through other businesses and attempted ventures but nothing simply work, nowadays.

All the small to medium business owners are grumbling. There’s too much talk about the economy growing and ‘perceived’ new opportunities but cash does not seem to trickle in these peoples’ pockets. The moral of the people is overwhelmingly shown. Last year’s National Day celebration saw how nonchalant KLites were.

For the fixed income earners, life is getting tougher. Cost of living gone up. Petrol is up, prices of essential goods gone up, rental is up, cost of getting a maid or baby sitter is up, tariff’s up, beer is up, smoke’s up, even the children’s bus fare is up. Even parking charges and nasi lemak by the roadside has gone up. Now we have to pay more for paid highway system. Some firms are even late in paying salary. That’s still lucky, considering 80,000 graduates are still unemployed.

Can you see all these hardships, in the society, surrounds you? For one, I surely can. Food in the markets and shops have gone up. There’s much lesser people on the golf course, nowadays. It cost much, much more to go anywhere, lately. People with businesses grumble collection is bad. Be it professionals or even artisans like mechanics, plumbers and air-condition technicians. Some of my closest friends are jobless. They actually faired better than me in school.

Ask around the people who is doing collection. How many installments have been defaulted. Credit card, car loans, housing loans, personal ODs, even insurance installments. See how the bankrupt notice is growing bigger in the prime media dailies. The common man on the street is stretching as far as they can, to survive in this city.

Crime is definitely up. More cases of robberies, break ins and murder. More cases of snatch thefts. Getting mugged is now a KL lifestyle. Three weeks ago, a friend’s son was stabbed because he refused to handover his new mobile phone when mugged, close to his home. He was lucky the blade missed his heart. In January, my immediate neighbour, someone high up in Government, was robbed in broad daylight (my maid even saw the perpetrators moving the stolen goods into the awaiting car). Heck, last Ramadhan, they even nicked the ornaments from the top of my gate!

Dato’ Albert Mah did not have to die. The innocent children of the retrenched finance manager and the gambling couple in Cheras did not have to die also. Too many underworld vices related crime stories that can make hair stand on your neck.

This is the city which saw Mongolian model Altantuya Shaaribuu being abducted and murdered, gruesomely, which could plausibly lead to the downfall of a very high up Government official, with an impeccable service record and a family with an illustrious history. This is also the same city which saw a successful entrepreneur with a branded car import shot himself. This is the same city which recently saw two elderly Senior General Managers of a Government managed savings scheme being jailed for 10 years, for making decision which resulted a huge monetary loss.

Its the same city where the President of the leading governing coalition partner party instructed the secretariat to the expunge three pages from the Supreme Council’s previous meeting’s minutes, even under strong adverse caution, depicting the detail conspiracy discussion about stopping the immediate past President’s bid to be selected by his own constituency’s delegates for the Annual Assembly, later in the same year. It was the first, in the party’s 60 years illustrious history. Its also the same city where the Executive Chairman of a major English daily lied about the present and former Prime Ministers’ rendezvous in Tokyo. Its the same city where the same daily’s Editor-in-Chief plagiarised another writer’s work, in a city 11,000 miles away.

It was at Kuala Lumpur on 7 February this year, an attempt by another NGO, to crucify the war monger G. W. Bush and his possies. The Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission and Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal were set to pass the conviction of “Liar & Murderer”, a label hopefully to be fashionable, by other NGOs and media of the world on war addict white men, namely G. W. Bush, A. C. L. Blair and J. Horward, esq.

So, is the Kuala Lumpur economy is robust as its being claimed to be? On Chinese New Year, the PM said he is confident the CI is able to reach 1350 points by year’s end. And yet, two mornings ago, the CI in Bursa Malaysia plunged 100 points and depleted RM 70 billion in market capitalisation! If the economy is actually volatile, will it mean more hardship, to the millions of inner-city-affected Klang Valley dwellers?

So, there you have it. The tale from the same city, but with very different views. It seems, life is too diverse and there are two separate cities, within Kuala Lumpur.


Published in: on March 2, 2007 at 00:19  Comments (13)