When you're living in a foreign country you gravitate to your own countrymen and in the 90s there weren’t a lot of Australian’s living in Miri so my partner and I struck up a friendship with Joe. Like 90% of the men in the oil town, he worked for Shell. An entrepreneur from way back, he confided his plans to open up a bar. Not that straightforward a proposition. You see in Malaysia foreign investors must have a Bumiputra (native Malaysian) partner. The objectives of the policy is to increase the incomes of tribal people who suffer from economic or social deprivation.
Deserted by her husband, Rosie was struggling to bring up six children without any financial assistance from her ex or the government. In Dayak culture the family bond is strong and when Joe offered her a job, as his live-in amah, her sister offered to look after the children. It wasn't long before they were in a relationship.
Imagine how she felt when Joe told her about his plans to open a bar and offered her a partnership. For a poor uneducated woman with no prospects but a life of drudgery, it must have been like winning first prize in a lottery.
Once a cheat always a cheat
Joe's wife,out of the way in Perth, didn't know about Rosie. Once a cheat always a cheat, it wasn't long before he was cheating on Rosie. His opportunity came at Gawai, the Dayak harvest festival. It is the custom for tribal people to travel back to their ancestoral long-houses for the celebration. The last thing Rosie did before leaving was bring in a big, heavy box she found outside the front door.
It sat for an entire week in the hot, muggy house, because in his girlfriend's absence Joe had taken off to the island of Labuan for a dirty weekend with a pretty barmaid, half his age.When he got back, the house ponged. Blood had seeped from the box, dripped from the table and pooled on the floor. Getting up the courage to open the box, he discovered a pig's head. Significantly, it's right ear was missing. You might wonder why a missing ear was significant. One look at Joe and you'd know. You see he'd lost his right ear in a motorbike accident.You didn’t need to be Einstein to figure out who the pig represented!
By this stage, the bar was up and running with Joe playing mine host while Rosie cooked up a storm in the kitchen. When we went in for dinner he showed us a blood-soaked note. It warned him to stop messing around with Muslim women or there's be another head in a box , also minus an ear.
Unlike that guy in The Godfather who woke up with a horse's head in bed beside him, Joe seemed unfazed. I thought he should have have got out of town... and fast. I mean this was the wild, wild East and I’d heard stories of ex-pats who had accidentally run down a child being hacked to death by the relatives.
No Justice I don’t know what else Joe did to get on the wrong side of the locals, but down the track gangsters broke into the premises and broke up the place. Maybe he had refused to pay protection money. Anyway word got round. Work colleagues, frightened for their safety stopped patronizing the bar. Bills mounted up and Joe did a runner leaving poor old Rosie with all his unpaid bills.
In the meantime, my husband had a health scare and we went home. I don't know what happened to Rosie. I can only hope, she found someone a whole lot nicer-- because life is no bed of Roses for a poor woman on her own in Malaysia. As for Joe, I heard he conned his way into a $300,000 job in Nigeria. I wrote about a Malaysian girl fresh from a jungle longhouse who is exploited by an ex-pat in The White Amah. Available in paperback and ebook formats click here to read or sample.