Colourful Language: What they say can, at times, be unprintable
I HAVE never really lived in London although, for almost two years, I lived somewhere in one of the far corners of England. I have seen many facets of London over the last many decades, though. I am more convinced London is as inscrutable as ever and as exciting and cool. I have seen London in the worst of times and in good ones.
I was in a taxi last week driven by someone who called himself Albert, a "true-blue Turkish, but a very proud Londoner".
Why Albert, why not Suleymanoglu? "Bro, I am a Londoner."
London is a city of great bookshops, museums, galleries, bulky newspapers and realities. Reuters pic
How long have you been driving, I asked. "I passed The Knowledge test, innit?" He was referring to the extremely difficult examination to qualify to drive the iconic black cabs. They have to know 22,000 roads, streets, mews, cul-de-sacs, all.
How do you know I'm Malaysian? "Bro, I know a Malaysian from a mile away" (The British still use the imperial system, ok?). Yes, Malaysians are everywhere in London -- the very rich ones, the not so rich ones. I tweeted about it: "There are more Malaysians on Oxford Street during the day than along Jalan Gasing, Petaling Jaya", which is true.
I woke up on Boxing Day and saw happy Malaysian faces on BBC queuing to enter the stores at 7am on a cold, rainy day, together with the Chinese and Europeans. Shouldn't I be proud? It doesn't matter if they spend money at Primark but window-shop at Selfridges or Harrods.
The truth is, Malaysians are contributing enormously to the British economy. No, I am not just talking about spending money on shopping but sending their children to study by the thousands every year.
Who says the British economy is suffering? Everywhere I went, from Manchester to Liverpool to Cardiff, the high streets were full of happy shoppers. Who is complaining about the National Health Service, cuts in benefits, less perks and all that? A person I spoke to at a Costa outlet had this to say: "Don't trust the (unprintable) press."
Londoners speak funny. I found that out when I first came to London in the late 1970s and even today. They don't speak the way BBC newscasters speak. Some of them speak like Sir Alex Fergusson, or worse.
The best thing about Malaysians? We have perfected the art of deciphering funny speak. My daughter did her Masters of Arts thesis on "weird English" a notion made famous by Evelyn Nien-Ming Chi'en of Harvard University.
But Syahida was referring to our usage, better known as Manglish and Singlish. From her perspective, non-native speakers like us speak weird English. She was there for four years. She speaks funny like them.
So, I am glad to have her as my interpreter, for she understands funny language spoken by the non-Queen's English speakers in London and elsewhere.
There is another thing you must know about Londoners. I was there for five days after The Tube bombings in 2005.
I guess it's part of British stoicism, they are the calmest chaps in times of crises.
It "inconvenienced" them, if at all, just like German bombs during World War 2 or the Irish Republican Army bombing campaigns not too long ago. Londoners simply carry on with their lives, just like the T-shirts the young are wearing now, "Keep Calm and Carry On".
This is the city of confusion, chaos and lots and lots of narratives. This is a city of ideas, theatres, films and street buskers.
This is the city of great bookshops, museums, galleries and bulky newspapers.
Above all this is a city of people representing the entire human race, where 1,000 languages and dialects are spoken.
London is not a city of dreams, it is a city of realities.
Nothing embodies the real London than its underground trains, better known as The Tube. All 11 lines, 269 stations and 645km of tracks.
The system carries almost a billion people a year. That is the heart and beat of the real London -- that represent the best and the worst.
The system is as old as the modern city, creaking under the tremendous pressure of expectations.
It is not always working, but like the black taxis and the double-decker buses, it is the spirit of London.
Listening to The Voice of The Tube, that of Emma Clarke's, you are confident you can rely on The Tube.
Just mind the gap. And you will be perfectly all right.
Johan Jaaffar | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @Johan_Jaafar New Straits Times Columnist 18 January 2013