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Published: January 30th 2010
Decaying school house
central Georgetown - google maps: 5.423324,100.331944
The magnificent villas of the past are still standing, sleeping and unbreathing. Dustily uncared for.
These villas were the homes of traders who came here in the 1700's and 1800's and found their fortunes - Georgetown, the capital of Penang, has always been a masala
of people and business - Indian traders, Armenian Jews, Sultans, Portugese, Dutch, English. Raffles spent much of his time here while trying to establish Singapore and the Chinese had a unique ethnic community here for over 500 hundred years. They all came, made money and proudly built homes, schools and temples.
There is money here now but its not interested in staying here and making elegant places to live in.
This new money just wants to go up, up, up.
Just wandering around grubby Georgetown, you can find relics of the past still standing, unadvertised and unwatched. Catholic graveyards, over grown tombs with traders gravestones dating from 1829 - 'loved and passed away' English on one side, Chinese on the other.
Exploring these unmentioned Georgetown sites is a fascinating way of unearthing the past right in the heart of a modern, bustling town. History is piled up here like a dusty
Nasi Lemak, anyone?
Grubby, tired and apparently, on fire!
old junk shop, and it gets added to day by day, the new thrown on top of the old.
Unloved and uncared for, the past is left to rot until it collapses and can be demolished to make way for more white concrete walls that just go up, up, up.
Up, up, up the white walls will go and be filled with boxes for immigrant workers to live in and pay rent on.
These cheap concrete clumps will make money, quickly poured and rented out for a premium with little care and upkeep, they will churn money through them as quickly as possible for the investors, until they rot and corrode as only cheap concrete can. I found myself wondering ''who lives in all these concrete boxes?'' ''Where do they all work on this tiny island?''
Malaysia is a country with a conundrum. The Chinese are a majority in the capital and control a lot of the wealth, while the countryside poor are of varied races but have been united under Islam. After race riots in 1969, Malaysia passed laws to limit the political control of the Chinese.
The thing is, most Chinese would rather be a second
class citizen in economically free Malaysia, than go back to communist China.
Its estimated that in Communist China, up to 15% of its economy gets lost to corruption. Google tells me that China's GDP was $4.33 Trillion US dollars in 2008, so thats 15 percent of 4 trillion, thats err, how many zeros...err... divide by ....err... a hell of a lot!
As China's economy is so reliant on globalization, for every dollar spent in Wall-mart, I would guess something like 5 cents goes towards fuelling the black market. I don't know. You do the maths.
And where does the hot money go? Not into Chinese savings accounts, for sure.
A lot of it will get wasted and blown in the dens and whorehouses of Shanghai, no doubt. But some of those billions and billions of kickbacks and backhanders get sent abroad to families and friends who can invest in safe places... such as Malaysia. And what a good, quick investment it is to pour concrete and charge rent.
So up, up, up the cheap concrete rises.
The Victorian villas were built the best they could have been, with craftsmen's flourishes and dovetailled joints, baked bricks and mortar.
They are beautiful as they are, beaten and dejected, but they serve no purpose today.
They are powerless against the waves of cheap concrete that makes money, invests money and creates work for more people. People who can pour concrete, live in concrete and pay their rent on the concrete they live in.
These elegant sleeping villas have stood for 200 years and with some care, they will stand for 200 more.
I doubt their neighbouring concrete housing projects will be standing in 20.
(figures quoted from Will Huttons book 'The writing on the wall- China' and 'minding the gap' The Wall St Journal)
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