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The Open Secret

EVERY person is looking at achieving something. Achievement is liberation I suppose, and yesterday I was reminded of it when I saw someone, whose appearance resembled a common migrant worker in this country, reading through some books at the MPH book sale in One Utama. It was a man, probably in his mid 30s, clad in a striped shirt, a pair of oversized brown trousers and slippers. His skin was tan, not naturally, but maybe due to outdoor activities for too long. His hands looked rough and hard, and the hair, although not unkempt, seemed like he had put some effort into keeping it in place. He stood out from the rest of them at the sale area. So I, who was lurking around the vampire literature corner, moved over to see what he was so focused on. 

The book was the Secret! Oblivious to his surrounding or to the girl who was openly staring at him by then, the man continued reading from page to page. I shouldn't have been surprised at his reading abilities at all, but I couldn't help it. A sight like that was rare. Most of us are only used to seeing people like him manning stores selling conterfeit LVs and Pradas at Petaling Street (PS), or sweating out at some construction site, laying bricks. We often underestimate them as illiterate persons but the last time I checked, the Bangladeshi worker who had (unsuccessfully) coaxed me into buying a Rolex at PS, held a bachelor's degree in Physics. He came to Kuala Lumpur, wanting a better life.

"It's common for graduates like me to be jobless in my country. I couldn't find a job that can support my family there, Miss. I earn five times more here than what I can make there in a month. It's enough for me and I also send back money," said the watch seller in a fluent Malay, a language new to him. He earned RM800 (about US$ 250) a month, and sent back half of that amount to his family in Bangladesh. After work, he went home to a room he shared with four other fellow countrymen, who also worked in the vicinity. I suppose the watch seller's shift here was to achieve a financial liberation.

Back to the man at the book sale, reading the Secret, which was by then an open secret, I wondered about him. There were many questions that brewed in my head. Did he hear about the book somewhere, sometime ago ? Did he hear about the raving reviews and testimonies ? Was it his day off ? Apart from the usual financial liberation, what else was he seeking to achieve ? While I was busy indulging myself in these random thoughts, it was as if the law of attraction had asserted itself into that moment, prompting the man to turn and look at the rudely staring girl. So I picked up the Mafia Princess, pretending to look through it and moved over to my mother, who was behind me at the cook book section.

I don't know if the man did buy the book that noon, but I know I dreaded dragging an almost complete set of Vampire Diaries across the mall back to the car. Just so you know, the mall is about 1km from end to end.


  1. Are you sure the man you saw was an itinerant labourer rather than an eccentric writer or professor? It would be wonderful if a hard-working immigrant really did have such an interest in literature.

  2. I don't know GB. Perhaps he is not a labourer. I was just curious. That aside, there are many foreign labourers here who are just or better educated than the man on the street.

  3. We have a Bangladeshi cleaner at work who holds an engineering degree in his own country. Sadly for him, it's not recognised in ours.

  4. I have had some of the most in depth and intellectual conversations with the most unlikely of people. One was a old homeless alcoholic. We discussed philosophy for at least an hour on the street corner.


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