Bandana Boys

Expression of individualism - through clothing or tattoos or piercings - is quite rare in Malaysia. Tattoos and piercings are not done in Islam - that makes it rare within a population where 60 or 70% is Muslim. On Sabah (part of Borneo, Malaysia) a lot of people are Christian and/or from tribal descent like Kadazan, Rungus, Dusun, Murut etc. - I was told by a Sabahan there are something like 40 of these tribes on Sabah. And although tattoos were apparently not uncommon, within the different tribes, nowadays that practice is no more. Suffered away under pressure of former colonization, religion (Christianity also frowns upon anything that reeks of 'pagan') and let's say 'modernity'. The mindset also there is leaning towards conformism.

It means you don't see this kind of 'wilder' style a lot.

Ah Beng

There is of course the rather typical group of young Chinese in Kuala Lumpur, on the main land, referred to as 'ah beng', but that's more of a (rather big) group thing, They go about with chaotic, spiky dyed hair, baggy pants with a lot of chains - from belt to wallet and such - colorful shirts... you'll recognize them when you see them; the hair is always a give away. Just don't use the term 'ah beng' out loud to address someone, because it has a lot of negative connotations. I only associate the term with a certain style of clothing and hairdo, and I like how this group paints parts of the urban landscape of Kuala Lumpur with their flashy appearance, but for Malaysians and Singaporeans 'ah beng' is associated with poor upbringing, poor education, a low social status, a lack of language skills (not proficient in English or mixing Malay and English, the so called 'Manglish'), even with gangster activities. So you can imagine that it will be regarded insulting and derogatory if you address an individual as such.

I was quickly shushed down by friends who explained the term to me years ago, when I started using it too loudly on the streets of KL, not aware of its negative connotations. Basically it was taught by pointing... 'see, that's one' without a good explanation of the broader implications of the term - so I simply assumed it was about their colorful appearance.

Mat Rempit

'Mat Rempit' is another such term, used mostly to describe young Malay street racers (on motorcycles).

It took me a while - after learning the term - to find out what - and especially 'who' was meant by it exactly. This term also carries an abundance of negative connotations: gangsterism, stolen motorcycles, dangerous behavior on the roads.

So I kept pointing at innocent motorcyclists asking friends 'is that a mat rempit?', being shushed again!

But I couldn't help it, because to me almost all these motorcyclists were exhibiting dangerous behavior!

Seriously... they're death defying, driving faster than cars - easily 110 - on what we over here would consider 'mopeds' - really small tires, with hardly any grip, nothing like a real 500cc or even a 125cc motorcycle, with no protective clothing, yes a helmet, barely, and sometimes two or three people on it.

Short pants, sandals, going at crazy speeds on the highway, smack in the middle of all the cars that aren't driving very neatly either, navigating from left to right, where ever there's space...

One moment of distraction, a car not noticing them - moving to their spot - and it's over.

I've fallen with a motorcycle once, fully dressed in protective clothing and I went down with only 30 kilometers per hour, but it took me at least a week to overcome all the bruises and my ankle was quite deeply cut, the one spot that wasn't protected too well and had dragged over the street under the motorcycle. Took months for the cut to fully heal. If you skid over the asphalt with 110 kilometers per hour, without any protective clothing, you're gonna be skinned alive, ending up like chicken filet. If you're not overrun by a car first.

So to me they all seemed 'mat rempit'.

And after driving past a dead motorcyclist one day on a rainy dark evening, I wasn't surprised... I just wondered why I hadn't witnessed 'death on the highway' like that sooner (see the story 'Quiet' on the main page).

But even up till now I've not been able to actually identify real 'mat rempit', so they remain somewhat elusive and a bit mysterious. I've also been thinking that maybe they don't really exist as a group and are just some kind of urban myth, cobbled up by suburban folks tired of some rascals.

'Those annoying mat rempit!' and a new term was born... who knows...

I'm not sure what kind of group this is, on the photo... none of the above anyway, but they might be 'related' to motorcycles.

Most noticeable is the foot wear, the big sunglasses, the bandanas, the leather jacket (remember it's around 30 degrees Celsius out there at that time of day) the rather tight print pants at the very end, the leather pants in front of that, the bright red pants, the big black boots that seem too big for his small ankles, the cut off shirt.

The two on the right seem the most conformist, also standing a bit on the outside, detached from the others - with the one all the way on the right kinda shy with his thumbs in his pockets (the long hair is fairly normal on Sabah). If you would take away his yellow shoes (let's not do that) and replace them with sandals, he would drop out, since he's not wearing a bandana or anything 'outstandish'... maybe they're new in the group, not fully sure yet how to behave or dress, or maybe they're just along for the day, passengers, dressed up a bit for the occasion, or maybe the group is tolerant enough to accept any style of clothing.

They were posing in the sunset for a friend who took a photo...

I always try to join in on these group portraits (usually unnoticed) if I see one, and I like this photo a lot, but can't fully explain why. I guess because it talks to me (like I tried in this snippet), not necessarily telling me any kind of truth though.

They might as well be bank employees out on a bachelor party...

Leica M9 with Leica Tele-Elmarit 90mm f/2.8

Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia - 1 May 2012