The Gentleman Gangster

on Thursday, June 19, 2008

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.


Anonymous said...

Hmmm. It's a mixed thing isn't it. Yes, today'sgangsters are often sociopaths out only for their own good. But can any gangster truly be a "gentleman?" The old guard seem like barely more civilized versions of the new.

MedStudentWife said...

Life's a changin' and not for the good..

but "citizen of the world" asks a good question.

I wonder if we were able to go back and truly see the world of knights... we might actually label them "gentlemen gangsters" (or worse)

Janice Thomson said...

What an awful story but a sign of the changing times we live in. I agree with the above comments in that doing the right thing with the wrong reason in mind still makes it wrong.

squirrelmama said...

This story is twice the heartbreak. For one thing, a son nearly lost his life trying to save his mother who, ultimately, lost hers - unnecessarily.
For another, even in the dark underworld where there once was an honor, there is honor no more.
The greater tragedy, LGS, is the first tragedy. Two lives have been forever altered, one of them irreversibly. And now the son must go forward.
But to note that even the underworld is in decline is a pretty sorry state of affairs on our planet.

Marja said...

I recently saw a documentary on TV about gangs in several different countries. The trend is the sam worldwide. In the past they had a honour code and as you said were protective of their community whereas these days they shoot people just for the sake of it.
The morality is declining.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

I guess you are right, perhaps the phrase "gentleman" is inappropriate for ruffians. But in the same way, isn't Robin Hood also just a gangster? Yet, we seem to applaud his code of robbing the rich to give to the poor. He is still a thief and even a murderer and yet we perceive him better than the average brigand. Perhaps it is just comparing bad with worse.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

I think you are right about your observation about knights. The feudal system implies that the Lord of the land can burden you with high taxes and are masters of your life but in return he is to protect you from marauding bandits. Quite similar then to what I am writing about. Reminds me of the joke that goes like this:" Gangster 1 to Gangster 2: "I am warning you to Stop beating up that guy. Only I can beat up that guy."

the walking man said...


Lone Grey Squirrel said...

First three ladies and all of you made great points. Absolutely, wrong is wrong. Gangsters are criminals. And yet, clearly they were once not the "sociopaths out only for their own good" that they are today.

You said it very concisely when you said that "even the underworld is in decline". I guess we have all shifted downwards.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

How was that code eroded? And I see it also in the wars we fight. Once the Red Cross was sacrosanct but nowaday, insurgents even target them.

I am not a violent man but sometimes I really identify with the words of the Bruce Cockburn song, "If I had a rocket launcher".

Dr.John said...

Today's crooks are just crooks. No Robin Hoods left.

On a limb with Claudia said...

A desperate person. That's the kind of person who does that kind of thing. A person who is willing to scar his soul in a way that is virtually unhealable.

I ask myself, 'how do people get desperate?'

On World Refugee Day? The answers are readily available.

Middle Ditch said...

They are everywhere. This post reminds me of the day that the little girl next door collapsed. Her sister looked after her and asked for my help, which I, of course, gave. When the paramedics arrived they found it really strange that a neighbour had actually bothered to help out. Unbelievable.

Pam said...

If we could just unravel and unravel and unravel the lives of dangerous and violent adults right back to an innocent babe in arms they once were,we could surely pinpoint hot spots where society had failed.This is the tragedy.It is still happening, and the cry is "we just don't have the resources".Wrong is wrong, and hiding bullying and coercion under paternalism is also wrong.Nobody should have to be grateful for that.

Odat said...

I hate to hear that things like this go on. I don't know where these evil people come from. They're very sick.

Ruth D~ said...

Your question is unanswerable to me, but there must be a reason for man's inhumanity to man. Besides the obvious, that is.

Jocelyn said...

I find this one of your most riveting posts. There is that quirky code that governs gang-dom worldwide...and, sadly, it's lost its reliability. Who knew we'd rely on gangsters being protective and loyal and find ourselves disappointed when they failed in these traits?

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

dr. john,
Today's crooks have no imagination.

I know where you are coming from but 4 men against 1 is more a callous act than an act of desperation, I think.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

You are right to remind us of a higher standard of right and wrong. Sometimes wrong can convincingly disguise as right in this topsy turvy world.

Sorry to disturb the peace but to ignore evil is also to allow it.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

I believe it boils down to personal selfishness and the unwillingness to recognise and accept responsibility for our own actions.

I suppose I am scraping the bottom of the barrel when I get disappointed by gangsters failing to live up to their code.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

dr. john,
Today's crooks have no imagination.

I know where you are coming from but 4 men against 1 is more a callous act than an act of desperation, I think.

tsduff said...

That story is almost unbelievable in that there are people so cruel. I can't imagine what would drive someone to hurt someone else in that way. Today's thugs seem to lack a piece of their heart.

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