Who’s your Daddy?

Malaysia is also facing an economic downturn, no matter what the bastions of power say. It’s getting harder to get jobs, be promoted and be awarded projects, the right way. Brilliant graduates and professionals are dismayed when they find out that meritocracy doesn’t exist in corporate Malaysia.

Dina Zaman, The Malaysian Insider

Of course, everyone is talking about this phenomenon. From the office worker, to the budding fashionista, right up to high society itself.

“Well. I suppose it is a good sign…. that… Melayu dah maju,” a friend said.

You must have seen them: The New Rich and Beautiful. The young men are handsome, and the young women appear regularly in local magazines. They drive the best. Porsche Cayenne is the car of the moment, though by the time this is published, the new rich may have moved on to another make.  An 800 square feet apartment with a RM4,000 rental tag does not deter them. Their precincts?

“Oddly enough,” the said friend observed, “there’s a lot of them in Kota Damansara. (pause) Well. The cars.”

Inevitably the conversation will lead to the ever oft question:

Who’s their father?

Or mother?

This phenomenon is nothing new. Edith Wharton and F. Scott Fitzgerald recorded the clash of old and new money in their novels. Vanity Fair – the high brow magazine which reports on politics plus lifestyle and entertainment – and Tatler UK are glossy and excellent bibles of the rich and powerful.

In Malaysia, local editions of high society magazines like Tatler, Prestige, as well as the uber fashionista’s must-have, GLAM, are showcases of the who’s who, who’s rising, who’s had a botched nose job, and occasionally the fallen.  And in this gilded world, the backbiting, the status jostling and social brokerage is only for those with courage and tenacity. This seems to be the domain of social opportunists.

So who are the new and young rich?

A good majority belong to the Concession Generation. Daddies and mummies were shrewd proxies and held government contracts. Not all of them were given contracts through unethical means, but nevertheless, their wealth sprang from work and projects with the government of the day. How are they different from the offspring of old money?

Anoura (names have been changed to protect the privacy of those interviewed) captured the difference rather succinctly. Anoura parties with them.

“These kids go to national schools, or private schools which only teach the national curriculum. They don’t go to private international schools, that the children of old money do.”

Why is that?

She laughed. “Sebab they all tu ramai bodoh. You think they can pass IB (International Baccalaureate?) The expat kids and the old money kids are bloody smart, okay? Their worldview is global. Budak-budak ni, at the end of the day, Melayu beb.”

May we quote you on that?

“Sure. Just don’t use my real name. I’m part of the system too.”

Anoura sighed. She knows the system too well. Her father is part of it. “To get the deal, sometimes, he has to ‘kill’ the tenders.” Her father was once a civil servant, and most of his friends were too.

Like the many brokers and wheeler-dealers in the city, he and his friends just need to strike that ONE deal, and they’ll be happy. And because of their former work in the government, they understand the protocols.

This leg-up has helped somewhat, but they haven’t got that deal yet. Not yet. “Even a small meal with the guys at the bottom of the rung costs RM500. That’s one dinner. Imagine a few dinners a week. In all the years my father has started brokering for deals, he has been swindled by friends. They have to pay cuts to the people who may help them along the way. Why does he do this? Simple. After all the things they’ve gone through, they think they deserve a deal.”