*This article was written for an online magazine run by Malaysian university students in the UK.
“Takpe, biar aku belanja. Bang, teh tarik satu!”
It felt like any other ordinary nights in Kampung Baru; the occasional blaring honks, the sight of one after another of ketayap-ed pakciks in motorcycles heading towards the nearby Masjid Jamek, and the humid aftertaste of Kuala Lumpur’s drizzle.
The five gentlemen in my table fidgeted in their seats while trying to light up their kereteks and cigarettes from the famous red-gold packet. As I slowly sipped my billowing hot teh tarik, Amin (not his real name) got the ball rolling with a weary Assalamualaikum to his fellow friends; whom by then had realised that tonight’s lepak was not like the usual outings.
Amin’s well-worded introduction was met with forlorn, empty-stared expressions by his mostly childhood friends. That night was my first visit to Kampung Baru, and I didn’t realise how close-knit the community was when the two tables flanking ours also lent their ears to listen to our conversation.
I should have noticed it earlier by the time the cheeky guys nonchalantly asked the Kelantanese ‘akak cashier’ and waitress out for a date, right under the nose of the father-figure warung owner.
The 5-minute long introduction (with slight reminiscence) ended with “harap-harap korang bolehlah tolong bagi kerjasama, jangan segan-silu.”
By then, the initially unwelcoming youths had started to acknowledge my presence as a student-researcher by nodding their heads, with one kindly offering me a stick of Marlboro Light.
Amin is a recovering drug addict who has been ‘clean’ over the past 3 months—the longest since he first started taking drugs while still in the primary school. In fact, he was the only one in that table who has decided to stop after a decade of substance abuse.
The reality smacked him hard when his college housemate died of cocaine overdose, mainly as the ‘mix’ was one of low-grade with toxic chemical substance. While his friends seemed to be of the opinion that the risks could have been avoided had he not tried to be a cheapskate by snorting a cheaper cocaine, the loss of Amin’s close friend was like the final nail in the coffin for him to stop.
That night was actually the first time of me meeting Amin and his friends. A classmate of mine; whom family is born-and-bred in Kampung Baru had contacted Amin when he first joined the fray in this mini-research of urban substance abuse that I was leading.
Perhaps still gobsmacked over the death, tonight’s meeting was all Amin’s effort to let the outside world to know the seriousness of the drug problem among the youths of Kampung Baru; one that I dubbed as the ‘microcosm of Kuala Lumpur’ in justifying my location of choice to my insatiable lecturer.
One wouldn’t have assumed that these guys are substance-abusers from the first impression. The first among Amin’s friends to speak up surprised me even more; this bespectacled, handsome and eloquent university student has been battling his addiction over the past decade and blames upon Kampung Baru’s unhealthy youth environment as a major factor of his recurring regrets.
‘Microcosm of Kuala Lumpur’
Pulsating in the smack of Kuala Lumpur’s ‘Golden Triangle’, Kampung Baru is a frequent route for drug trafficking and its majority of low-income population means that easy money can easily lure fun-seeking youngsters to penetrate the community. The prevalence of drug abuse was so severe that Amin and his friends had their first taste of drugs at the young age of 12—with most admitting to puffing their first marijuana joint at the neighbourhood playground, football field or at regular ‘hotspot’ areas.
Before I could even interject to ask on what is meant by ‘hotspot areas’, a dejected-looking gentleman recalled his frequent visits to what was apparently their more senior friends’ places where drug stocks were abundant, and free of charge–presumably as incentives from their part-time drug dealings.
He paused momentarily as he mentioned of the variety of drugs he had been offered and tried by the age of 15; ecstasy, ketamine, cocaine, heroine…before flipping out his ‘Obey’ cap to scratch his head and blurted out “ I can’t even remember anymore, there were too many!”
The Kelantanese waitress made her way to our table again as more cups were emptied as the conversation heated up. I gestured to her that I have had enough before she proceeded to entertain the cackles of the six childhood friends. Their attention was fixed again to the fair and smooth-speaking Kelantanese lass as I gave them a quick glance—if anything, I wouldn’t have bet that these plain-looking young adults have actually been struggling with drug addiction over the past decade.
The Need for a Holistic Change
I jerked from my momentary lapse when Amin—yet again in his brotherly way—emphasised that a holistic change is needed for the Kampung Baru youths to be saved. He likened the police’s lackadaisical attitude and lack of urgency to the severity of the problem as a sign of societal collapse.
Another of his long-time accomplice then interjected by saying that the police had gone weary as the Kampung Baru youths are infamous for substance abuse, so much so that if the police were to make an all-out operation to clear the neighbourhood, 3 out 4 of the youths (male) are likely to test positive.
He continued: “Polis pun kadang-kadang dah macam give up.”
I listened attentively as he then described his experience in the remand; one that he also shared with a chronic heroine junkie. I was appalled to hear that the junkie had bribed the police with RM 1,000 for his dose of heroine injection after almost a week in remand. Deep inside, I hoped he was lying when he said that he had also bribed the police for an outside food to be delivered to his lock-up after days of stale diet.
The situation now seems to be more than just about the drug abuse, but one that is endemic with corruption akin to third-world nations.
“Kalau kitaorang ni pun dah ambil dadah sejak umur 12 tahun…kami sebenarnya risau dekat adik-adik yang sekarang lebih ‘advance‘ “
That closing statement reeked of hypocrisy as I shot a parting question on what they would like to see changed from their neighbourhood. But I was rather surprised when many disagreed if stricter laws and better exposure to religious education can make the youths do away with substance abuse in Kampung Baru.
Amin led me with the sentiment that if they could turn back the time, they wished that the community was more emphatic to care for each other.
As the youths are induced with the lure of Kuala Lumpur’s vices during their vulnerable phase of growing up, parents and the community alike had failed to foresee the various challenging societal problems faced by the youths—and remained in their comfort-zone until that shocking call of overdose usage or remand order for substance abuse by the infamously-corrupted men in blue.