He was wearing a maroon long sleeve shirt and brown khakis, with a beige bag pack strapped on his back. As I gestured to him to call him over to my table, I could tell he knew something was up. There was an awkward grin plastered across his face.
Suhar is a street trader. You’ve seen them around. They sell belts, roses, nail clippers, lasers, pens and even screwdrivers amongst other things. You know the drill, you see them coming, you drop your head and suddenly that limau ais you were drinking is goddamn amazing.
Suhar has been living in Malaysia for almost four years now. Born and raised in Islamabad, Pakistan, he lived there until he was 18. After completing his Bachelors in Commerce, he was unable to find any job opportunities in Pakistan, so he travelled to Malaysia, the land of opportunity.
I asked him why I would need a wooden basket, and he started verbally unloading its many uses.
I met Suhar at Jalan Alor near Bukit Bintang. He was selling a wooden basket, this time. I asked him why I would need a wooden basket, and he started verbally unloading its many uses. “You can keep fruits. You can keep pens. You can keep toys. You can put on table.”
I’ve always wondered who actually buys these things. According to Suhar, sales vary between very bad and bad. He was slightly dazed when he came to my table. Then I found out that he sleeps an average of two to three hours a day. He finishes his rounds at two in the morning and has to go work at a Chinese restaurant at 5 am. At the restaurant, he cleans the kitchen and clears the table after the patrons are finished with their food.
During his night shift work in Kuala Lumpur, he meets many different kinds of people. According to him, the foreign tourists are often the ones who strike a conversation with him. He sometimes forgets that he’s an outsider in Malaysia when someone randomly chats him up in a bus stop or when he’s doing sales.
After the recent general elections, things have only gotten worse for Suhar. He constantly gets asked if he voted during the recent general elections. I’m glad that it was only questions that he was being attacked with. I explained to him the possible reasons behind all these accusations, but he just smiled and nodded.
Throughout the conversation, he looked comfortable although he insisted on standing. His co-workers were around and he probably didn’t want to seem like he was having a good time. According to Suhar, finding work as a Pakistani in Kuala Lumpur is easy, although he would love to get more respect. He manages to send back some money to his family because all basic necessities are provided for.
The apartment is tied to the sales job, which means if he quits, he loses a place to stay.
Suhar along with seven other workers live in a one room apartment. The man who manages them pays for the apartment and handles transport between different work places. The apartment is tied to the sales job, which means if he quits, he loses a place to stay. Refusing to reveal the identity of his boss, Suhar went from “Chinese” to “Big boss” to “Internet”.
Suhar also spoke about the misadventures he had while selling in public restaurants. There has been a few times where some officers took him to a corner and extorted money from him, he tells me. He believes they are from DBKL. “Sometimes they will come and take our money. Or they will take my baskets.”
Suhar is now 22 years old and single. His mother and five siblings still live in Pakistan. The little money that he makes, he manages to mail it to them. It has been four lonely years and he wants to settle down. He has made some friends in his time here. Most of them are from Islamabad, like himself. During their free time, they buy the Pakistani newspapers and read them together.
When I ask him his plans for the future, Suhar says that he wants to get married to a Malaysian and settle down here. “Malay women think I look like I’m from Bollywood,” he adds, with a giggle.