The New Straits Times and other adventures in paradise
Optimistically, and on reflection somewhat naively, I estimated that it would take one week or so to ‘get things sorted’ after we arrived ‘permanently’ in our new Malaysia home and the dogs arrived. In my simplistic and hopeful calendar, by this past Monday (March 7th) everything would be in place for our new life in Glenmarie Court and the days would be flowing along, all tickety-boo, and I’d be working on my novel at least three hours a day. In Yateley, our house would be rented and all the renovations and decorating completed.
There would be a newspaper, two happy dogs, electric gates that worked correctly in place of ones that didn’t, a water cooler, a ‘new’ and improved PC with all my applications and documents migrated, a part-time maid, the larder stocked, a broadband line on its way if not already installed, and a rented house in Yateley with all renovations completed.
We get the newspaper. The maid is wonderful. We’ve had great progress with the dogs — so long as there are no thunderstorms. But that’s another story.
It did take a week (“It only took a week!” I sing out in jubilation) but we are now receiving the New Straits Times delivered to our doorstep. Or, more correctly, left outside the big electric gate — unless it rains, in which case it is pushed into the streetside letterbox, a large galvanized aluminum (or galvanised aluminium, if you prefer) affair inserted into a six-foot high column of brick and concrete that also houses other things, as yet undetermined. Suffice to say it usually ends up in one section of the front wall of our little fortress in Glenmarie Court.
Or it could be, as this morning, rolled up in a rubber band and hurled over the (newly repaired) big electric gate about forty feet up the drive to land against the big wooden door with a gigantic ‘thud’ which panics both dogs and startles me into slopping my coffee and going to calm the dogs and see what crashed against the door so early in the morning.
The dogs haven’t wanted to go out since. On balance, after all the thunder and lightning yesterday afternoon, I’m not sure I blame them. It’s all still pretty new to them.
Did I mention that it wasn’t simple to get the newspaper started? No? Well, it wasn’t. At least not for me. I know I don’t always do things the simplest way possible. That’s been pointed out. Like most things here in our new home, what appeared easy on the surface in fact took just a few more steps and a bit more understanding of ‘how things work’ than might at first have been imagined. The newspaper story was quite typical.
We had read the New Straits Times when we stayed in Kuala Lumpur in November and January — but then we were in hotels and helpful people provided it to preferred guests. It’s an English language newspaper with a long and illustrious history in the region so it’s a logical choice for expats to want to read a lively newspaper.
The New Straits Times is Malaysia’s oldest newspaper still in print, though it wasn’t the first newspaper published here. First came the The Prince of Wales Island Gazette, which made its début in Penang in 1805. [Yes, I just had to look it up.] In its defense, the NST was, however, Malaysia’s only broadsheet format English language newspaper, though now it is delivered (or hurled) in the much more covenient tabloid format.
The first article I ever read in the New Straits Times — and I have the clipping somewhere — was the tragic tale of a 20-something man who jumped, fell or was pushed to his death from an sixth storey apartment building wearing a red brassiere and yellow polka-dot womens’ underpants. Or perhaps it was red polka-dot underpants and a yellow brassiere. Whatever it was, those details formed the central part of the story even though they weren’t, if that makes sense. It was interesting journalism. I really must find it and re-read it. I’m sure there was more story there than any reader could know.
Bottom line: we wanted that newspaper.
The very helpful Mr Goh, our landlord’s estate agent, had given us a list of useful numbers in a Word table on a single sheet of paper when we moved in. It contained a number for “Newspaper” which said to call “Amy” at this certain eight-digit number. I did notice that the number didn’t look like the other numbers on said phone list but duly called it anyway. Why should it be different? I didn’t know. A recorded intercept informed me that I had dialled a non-existent number.
It’s true. I should have sent Mr Goh a text message or an email and asked for the correct number but of course that would have been too simple. I decided I ought to be able to get the information on-line and, in fact, might actually be able to order the newspaper itself on line. Given my general feeling that people don’t understand me on the phone here — they are either Malay, Chinese, Indian or Nepalese and I no longer know what I speak to begin with — dealing with a lot of phone conversation seems to prove difficult and often non-productive. It’s about me, not them. Hence the decision to try on-line.
It was easy to find the website for the New Straits Times. It’s a nice website and I even read a little news whilst I was there to get myself even further excited asbout having a daily newspaper delivered — particularly one with the occasionally titillating stories such as I had already seen.
Oh happy day, I quickly thought, they DO have a subscription link and you CAN apply via an online form and an agent will call you. Progress!
I dutifully filled out the online form, by then having our address and my mobile telephone number memorised. I was very proud of myself as I hit ENTER. Alas, my pride was short-lived as the site immediately transformed itself into:
An error was encountered while publishing this resource
Error Type: KeyError
Error Value: MailHost”
Undaunted, I filled in the form again, with the same result. And again, with still the same result. As willing to go the distance as ever, and with a notion that I am more savvy than I actually am, I quickly went to the “Contacts” tab and found the email address for contacting the newspaper: email@example.com. Great, I thought, I’ll send them an email, report the problem, ask them to forward the information to Subscriptions and All Will Be Well. An agent will contact me. The site had promised as much.
I did just that, complete with a screen grab which I edited in Picasa for best effect, and sent it along. In no time at all came a reply. Alas, it was from “firstname.lastname@example.org” and said “Your message Subject: SUBSCRIPTION INFORMATION REQUIRED was not delivered to: email@example.com because User general (firstname.lastname@example.org) not listed in Domino Directory.”
Even I know that’s a dead end. Whatever a Domino Directory is. Only slightly daunted, I pressed on.
Next I sent an email to Christine Chan, She Who Knows All at the Glenmarie Court Homeowners Association (GCHA). I asked if she had a phone number for “Amy” the newspaper contact and quoted the one Mr Goh had given me. Back came the reply: “The phone no. give by Goh is correct; perhaps, you have to add 03- to 2052-8547? Yes, Amy is the GC paper vendor.”
Oh. I have to add “03” to the number! Looking again at the list, all of Mr Goh’s other numbers were indeed prefixed with “03”. Could it be that simple? I hoped it was. Taking up the trusty mobile phone (we’re also waiting for a landline but that could be another blog post closer to Christmas) I tapped out the entire series of numbers, including the mysteriously missing zero and three. It rang!
A man answered. We all know what they suggest when a man answers. But I didn’t. I asked for Amy. I gathered she wasn’t in. And thereafter ensued a five-minute conversation with me waving my arms about as I tried to explain why I was calling, where I was, who gave me the number and so on. Why do we wave our arms when we’re on the phone and having language difficulties? I do not know. I had absolutely no confidence that the man spoke any more English than I did Chinese but we both pressed on in some sort of international phonics dance and, in the end, I felt I’d given him enough information that Amy might call me back.
Amy never called me back.
Instead, three days later a copy of the New Straits Times — the previous day’s edition, in fact — appreared in our massive post box. Derek looked rather baleful when he asked whether we were going to get the newspaper a day late. I probably wasn’t very kindly in return and, no, I had no idea what it was going to cost or even if that was part of a subscription. After all, Amy had never called me back so none of the detail of this proposed transaction had ever been shared or recorded…much less agreed.
The next day, nothing. The day after that, nothing.
On the third day, a newspaper appeared outside the big electric gate! Could it be ours? It must be. Imagine our joy. Of course, since the small electric gate wasn’t functional at that time (and is still waiting for the subcontractor to the first electric gate repair company to show up and replace the ‘mechanism’) opening the large gate to get the paper dragged and crumpled it. But who cares? It was, after all, that very same day’s edition of the New Straits Times. It was my first Malaysian success. Well, if you don’t count the bookstore discount card.
Now the NST arrives every morning, sometime between 7:00 and 7:30, as if on cue. A young man zips up to #57 on a motor scooter and either lays it down, stuffs it or hurls it, depending on the weather conditions of the moment. I still don’t know how or when we will be billed, how much it will cost or whether I will ever actually speak to the lovely and surely charming Amy but, for the moment, we are happy with our newspaper.
Given that the cover price on each edition equates to less than 25 pence or 35 cents, it’s not likely to be an issue. And it surely did teach me a lot about how to get things done here: just keep doing stuff and have faith.
Oh, yes, the water cooler and 12 5-gallon bottles of water were delivered two hours ago. I think we’re on our way.