20140602 Home again.

It’s been two months since I last sat at my desk in Kuala Lumpur and a long trip to the UK for family reasons has demonstrated to me that there are significant differences in the way that the UK, so long seen as progressive and Malaysia, long seen as behind the curve, function.

First, it’s true that for almost a decade after we opened a company here, my Malaysian internet connection was dismal, in fact so bad that we threatened to pull the company out of the country because we could not communicate effectively internally never mind across the world.

But with the switch to fibre around the KL city centre, the situation  improved dramatically.

In the UK, the fibre connection provided by Virgin was so unreliable and so slow that I actually gave up working.

When pages on Facebook, a standard test, took as long as 30 seconds (and sometimes more) to load, there is something wrong. Similarly when the connection fell over so often that uploading program updates to websites was unreliable, and when e-mails simply didn’t go because the connection was so unstable that my local computer timed out.

The server for this platform is in the UK. Today, from KL I have updated the platform for this site in approx 5 minutes. From a desk in the UK, I gave up entirely.

But what the UK is getting right is trains. I used trains a lot. One was about two minutes late arriving in London: the guard announced “I’m very sorry we are a little late – we just weren’t quick enough.”

I think he’d got his script from Jenson Button.

Sure, on the day it was announced that trains would be longer to carry more passengers, the one I wanted to get on was delayed because the coupling to double its length got stuck. But it was two days later, on the same line, that it seemed that the UK’s traditional train service had resumed: trying to get out of London shortly after 7 am, there were no high speed trains on the Kent line. Why? Because someone had forgotten to plug in the train set, or something similar according to the excuse.

I’ve had an absolute nightmare with my UK personal bank: for some reason they are unable to explain, my card was repeatedly rejected for internet transactions. Both the bank and the fraud office say it’s nothing they have done and, bizarrely, they have no record of my attempted transactions. But then again, Malaysian banks can be ridiculously picky: where the box on a payment form is not long enough for the payee’s full name resulting in the local equivalent of “limited” being omitted, they sent a payment back even though all details were otherwise correct and it was clear that the name was correct but truncated. It’s not the only time something similar has happened.

One of the primary differences is travel between the airport and the city. It’s true that London has the Heathrow Express but it drops passengers in the wilderness of Paddington instead of linking to, for example, St Pancras which would give easy access to both the North East and North West coast lines and to the Midlands, much of Kent and, through Eurostar, Brussels, Paris and other European destinations. KL on the other hand, now it has at last moved its budget airlines out of the remote shed and into a new terminal on the integrated rail network has a super-fast service right into the centre of town, arriving in a station which has access to most domestic regional lines (except, ironically, the Singapore-KL-Penang-Bangkok line – a line which is in serious need of modernisation: perhaps a maglev would be a good idea) and, with remarkable inconvenience, the city centre monorail. That’s a bit of a bugger for me because there is a monorail station just 300 metres from my home.

But there are other issues: KL is dirty and getting worse, especially in the areas that have recently been designated as an “Arab district.” There are groups of men standing in the street, the “greeters” are aggressive in making us walk around them, there is a scruffiness about the place that, in a primary tourist district, it should not have. It’s important to have pride in a capital city: the recent development, populated as it is with roadside stalls selling junk and/or fakes is exactly what KL does not need when it aims to be a world class city. The city’s roads are broken and frankly dangerous. Drivers are undisciplined to a degree that makes Malaysian roads some of the most deadly in the world. UK style enforcement of yellow boxes, pavement parking, one way streets and the like would make a huge difference.

Unfortunately, like so many countries, Malaysia has started to focus on speed rather than on illegal manoeuvres. Training drivers to stay in their lanes rather than wander from one to another, to use their indicators would make more difference. So would the installation of cats eyes, lights on road signs and improving both the consistency of signs (some show an arrow pointing down meaning go straight on and others an arrow pointing up for the same instruction) and the location (many signs are after the junction they refer to) . These things, standard in the UK, are major contributors to road safety.

It was great to be in Glasgow – it took a while to find old-fashioned, independent pubs but once I did the effort – and the real ales they sold – were worth it.

But the famous Glasgow fish and chips was a disgrace: thin scraps of fish in thick batter. I was so shocked by the first disaster that I threw it away and went to another shop where the product was the same.

In Teesside, an award winning vege restaurant served dishes that I make at home and, for a bit of fun, did just that for a large lunch party to prove how non-special they were. The resto might win awards for vege food but in the real world, similar dishes are available in non-vege restaurants and no one thinks they are remarkable. It’s an example of how the UK is pandering to minorities so they feel special in ways that they want to but not in ways that they don’t. It was a nice restaurant but, seriously, it was no different to the standard of a competent home cook. In KL, awards for restaurants are not viewed as having any credibility, a cynicism which is extremely healthy.

In Nuneaton, the old Railway Tavern shows how businesses can be affected by unexpected changes. It’s a lovely old pub about 150 metres from the front door of the station. But there is no car parking. In the days when people walked from the station to their buses or homes, it would have been ideally situated. But now the station car park is between the pub and the front door and, even if it wasn’t, I can’t condone drinking and driving. So the pub is empty.

The town centre is a lovely example of industrial era architecture. But it’s in serious decline. The market has one butcher, one bread stall and not much else of any merit. There is absolutely no market day buzz. The shops have died: like most English towns, it’s full of estate agents and charity shops punctuated by the odd “pound shop.”

By contrast, Malaysian towns (not KL which is following the bad practices of “the West” are thriving. This, one has to surmise, is because of the lack of out of town shopping centres. Nuneaton, however, has a large number of pubs: just a hundred and fifty metres from the empty Railway Tavern, new branded outlets in converted banks, etc. are the final nail in the coffin for the independent pub.

In the City*, the new bistro (he wouldn’t like it to be called that) opened by Raymond Blanc serves decent French (ish) food at sensible prices – a great contrast to his expensive and pretentious Le Manoir in Oxfordshire. It’s in an alley off Threadneedle Street and it’s the kind of place that London has long lacked, except for Harry’s Bar. KL has no such little places (although in truth the Threadneedle street outlet isn’t at all little, it just feels like it) although casual dining with good food is spreading. Unfortunately one of my favourites, Table 23, has stopped serving pork, a grave affront to the cosmopolitan development of the city centre.

KL is developing an active music scene. It’s still pretty retarded – Singapore has broken free of decades of shackles on entertainment while KL remains a place of great challenges for live performances – but at least there are bands in pubs at last. Unfortunately, mostly, the venues are in suburbs out of town – and which have different councils and policies. And with KL’s traffic city dwellers don’t want to go to the suburbs which means no drinking (the police, quite rightly, stage roadblocks to test drivers. Not rightly, the road blocks are all too often a bonus-generating scheme for the officers concerned).

KL itself is in the grips of a city council that appears to be determined to make it difficult for a live music scene to thrive. No capital city I can think of is successful unless it has culture in the form of both art and performing arts and that has to be relatively free (although I would draw the line well inside some of that which is permitted in London leaving exhibitions of, for example, plasticised real body parts outside the circle of acceptability).

So, what has all this to do with money laundering? Nothing at all.

But now it’s back to work. I’m going to re-date the seminar tour that explains why staff do not identify suspicion. The tech problems in the UK mean that I wasn’t able to work on the launch. Equally, I’m a month overdue with a World Money Laundering Report – what can you do when you can’t even access your own on-line library to do research because the internet connection is so poor?

With a smile on my face because I’m home and all my tech is working properly, including my comms which for some reason insisted on flaking out in the UK, and I’m back at work.

If you need me, get in touch.

* London. The square mile, bit.

© 2014 Nigel Morris-Cotterill
All rights reserved


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