SI Vault
Edwin Shrake
June 16, 1969
Toasters, shavers, 'Peyton Place' and the repeated victory shout of 'Aieeee!' make Rudyard Kipling's celebrated verse seem outdated. One month on the Asian golf tour suggests that East may still be East, but it is certainly meeting the West
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June 16, 1969

Never The Twain Shall

Toasters, shavers, 'Peyton Place' and the repeated victory shout of 'Aieeee!' make Rudyard Kipling's celebrated verse seem outdated. One month on the Asian golf tour suggests that East may still be East, but it is certainly meeting the West

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The Royal Selangor, 75 years old, had an almost exclusively European membership until about nine years ago when Malaya's ruler, Tunku Abdul Rahman, joined the club and was followed by various bureaucrats and merchants who saw golf not only as a game but also, as in the United States, a convenience in matters of social movement and commercial enterprise. Now the Royal Selangor is more than 70% Asian. But not even the personal attention and interest of Tunku Abdul Rahman, now the prime minister, could change one significant fact about the weekend: the television schedule for the tournament had to be planned around TV Malaysia's showing of Peyton Place.

The prevalence of American communications in Southeast Asia surprised me. New American movies reach the major cities before they reach the Southeastern United States. Hundreds of thousands of viewers of TV Malaysia or TV Singapura watch on a typical evening Ben Casey, I Dream of Jeannie, Mr. Novak, Bugs Bunny, The Avengers, movies such as The Nurses and Hell on Frisco Bay and All-Star Golf ( Dave Marr vs. Sam Snead on this particular night).

"The notion that everything has to be big and zippy has not completely caught on in Southeast Asia," a history professor told me. "Modernization, constitutionalism and nationalism are Western ideas that we maybe do not care for. But as the people receive their ideas from television, they become Westernized. They are not tired of being treated as consumers because they have never had much to consume. As industry expands and products become available, the people push to acquire even irrelevant items like toasters and electric razors that they see the foreign devils using on television."

I was having dinner in a Chinese restaurant when I met Michael, a red-bearded New Colonial who was in Kuala Lumpur because of such things as toasters, razors and TV. I had seen him at the hotel, and now he asked if he could join me. "Hope you don't mind too much, but I've been here only a week and hardly know a soul. Good to be with someone who talks my own language. Of course, all these Chinamen talk English, but it's not really the same, now is it?" He seemed forlorn for a moment, stranded and lacking in pluck, but then he brightened. "Well, I'll have to make the best of it, won't I? Moving into my new fiat next week. Every bit as nice as what I had in Nigeria. I was five years in Nigeria. I'd got to know the people and fit into their ways. Your African can't get off his autohorn. Makes a bloody awful lot of noise, and his eyes bug out, but I'd come to know him, hadn't I? Here, well, it's different."

I asked about his business. "I'm the art director for a big advertising agency," he said. "Or. I was the art director in Nigeria. Here I'm the copywriter, the art director, the whole ball of wax." He sighed, heavy with his New Colonial concerns. "You've got to be a jack of all the survive."

On Sunday afternoon the Malaysian Open came down to the final hole. "Gabblegabblegabble buh-dee gabblegabblegabble par," said the television announcer. David Graham and a young New Zealander, John Lister, each needed a birdie on the last hole to tie Takaaki Kono of Japan. Kono had been five strokes back but had shot a 66 to finish eight under par with 280. Lister missed the green and then almost saved his birdie with a bold chip. Graham's birdie putt bounced out of the cup. The Japanese golfers began shouting and flinging Kono into the air, and the Japanese ambassador poured champagne over Kono's head. But when they looked around for the prime minister to present the trophy, he was not to be found. "He went home to listen to the horse races on the radio," someone confided.

In half an hour the prime minister arrived back at the course. He was driven to the front door in a black Imperial. He got out of the car, wearing a double-breasted gray suit, and said, "You lead the way" to three or four aides. There was no cordon of police. It was as casual as the mayor of Fort Worth arriving at the Colonial National Invitation. The prime minister made a short speech, handed the trophy to Kono, changed clothes and went out to play golf with Skip Guinto, president of the Philippines Golf Association, and two associates. The governments of Malaysia and the Philippines were in the midst of a territorial dispute that had led that very day to threats of bombing, but the prime minister did not seem to regard Guinto as an enemy. On the 1st hole the prime minister took a number of whacks at the ball. However, he and Guinto won the hole. "I usually win," the prime minister said, smiling.

The week in Bangkok was considered by many of the players on the Asian circuit almost as duty time, an obligation that had to be performed before the tour could move along to Hong Kong. Bangkok is an enormous city, teeming with massage parlors, hustlers of all kinds, cars, buses, trucks, bicycles and motorcycles. Its traffic jams are stupendous. On the bridge over the brown Chao Phraya River that divides Bangkok from the city of Thonburi, traffic moves at the same pace as in a football-stadium parking lot. When they do break free of jams, the Thais drive like fleeing bank robbers. A great number of vehicles are painted with delicate scenes of moonlit beaches, palms, tigers and flowers in blues, reds and golds. They sit for long periods without moving and then suddenly fly off as if an art gallery had exploded.

The heat is heavy ("This air weighs about identical as bricks," said one Australian), and walking around the temples looking at peeling plaster Buddhas and peering at jars of pickled snakes, birds and monkey skulls in medicine shops tended by monks in orange robes loses its fascination.

Contestants in the Thai Open were housed in hotels in town and were carted out to the course in buses, a ride of nearly an hour. The Royal Thai Air Force Golf Club is located at Don Muang Airport, which handles commercial flights as well as military. A player can be putting on a green, and not 50 yards away a United States Air Force cargo plane is taking off or a Royal Thai jet fighter is landing. There is a continual roar. "You can get used to the noise. The trick is not to get blown over," said Ben Arda of the Philippines.

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