The Gentleman Gangster



When I was growing up, each neighborhood, community or village was the territory of one criminal gang or another. They were busy with their various illegal activities which often took the form of syndicates running illegal gambling syndicates, smuggling alcohol or other contraband (drug trafficking was not yet rife) and the occasionally demanding protection money from businesses.

The strange thing was, these gangs often saw themselves as guardians of their territories or communities. For example, they never robbed from their own community. If anyone tried to rob a member of the community or break into a house in the neighborhood, you could even count on the local gangsters to help in capturing the culprit and almost certainly beating him up. They were strangely protective in that way. Sure, they made their money from criminal activities but they took care of their neighborhood and protected it from outsiders. In fact, a common way to address a gangster was “Tai kor” which meant big brother and indeed they were our big brother.

When I first started to work, one of my early jobs was to follow a team of health and medical officers to rural villages and to test the microbiological quality of their well water. I also had to carry out a survey and ask the home owners some questions on their attitudes and habits with regards to health issues. Some of these places were located in “New Villages”.

“New Villages” were villages that were formed primarily of Chinese that were forcibly relocated by the British military into locations that could be guarded against Communist guerrilla activity during Malaysia’s struggle with the Communist Insurgency of the 1950’s and 60’s. The gangs there grew very protective of their villages from any outsiders.

Anyway, before venturing into these New Villages to carry out our door to door medical survey and well check, we had to get permission from the police and the local political party officials. Our team leader was also smart enough to know that we also needed to inform the local gang of our purpose and get their permission too.

On one occasion, we failed to meet the local Tai Kor and get his permission. After we had visited a few houses, the gang obviously learnt that there was a group of people moving around in their territory. As we were walking down a lane between the houses, our team of five were accosted by ten armed men. Five were in front of us and five behind so there was no chance of escape.

I remember thinking that I was too young to die. My group leader bravely went forward to meet the gangsters. The leader of the gangsters wanted to know why we were bothering the women in their homes while their husbands were away at work. My leader hastily explained our purpose and said we were here to help improve the health of the people. After a few more questions about our equipment and about our survey, the gangsters seemed satisfied that we were not a threat to their community but their leader slapped ours hard on the face for failing to show proper respect and asking their permission before going into the community. Then they let us go. Needless to say, once we got out of that lane, we took the rest of the day off and never finished the survey.

Anyway, the gangsters of those days had a code which was in their own way strangely chivalrous and if you were a member of their community, you could count on their help if you were in trouble.

I say this because today’s gangster is no longer a gentleman and no longer follows a code to help those in his territory or community. Sadly, a recent incident reinforced this point. A young man returned home at 3 am after finishing work as a restaurant worker to find his mother suffering a serious asthma attack and having difficulty breathing. He left her with an older brother and ran out to the main road to try to flag down a car to try to get her to hospital. The first car went by without stopping. The second car stopped. There were four men inside and they offered to take him to get help. Instead, they took him to a cemetery 300 m away and beat him up and stole his handphone and money. The unconscious man was discovered by neighbors. Both he and his mother were sent to hospital. He suffered several broken ribs but his mother passed away as a result of the delay in getting her treatment.

What kind of person/s does this? Not rendering help during a medical emergency and instead robbing the helpless and causing death. The Tai Kor’s of old would not have stood for this.

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