2013-01-24

Upskilling my "refugee" neighbour

Warning: horrible flip-flopping between past and present tense, which I've noticed in the drafts, but which I haven't had the patience to edit out completely.

Call me gross, it's 0111 hours, and I'm eating unheated sardines that came out of a can, while writing this. I just got back from some social therapy at the corner shop, where I had an almost unpleasantly sweet cup of Alicafe.

The "coffee shop," is a typical Malaysian kopitiam, where the owner or chief tenant rents out stalls and space to other food vendors for MYR 600-700 per month. A Myanmar Muslim guy who used to cook at the 24-hour mamak restaurant nearby had left, and set up his own business at the kopitiam. He pays another chap MYR 1,500 * per month to help him out.
* Compare: minimum wage in Malaysia is MYR 900 per month
I'm told they don't have visas, and are in Malaysia on special UN documents of some sort.

The employee is a second-year university drop-out, who was going to major in English (literature?) before quitting school back in Myanmar - he then worked for a couple of years before coming to Malaysia. He's been here a few months now. The first time we talked, a few weeks ago, I was the first person he had spoken English to in months - he says again, he is still lacking in confidence, in using this language when conversing with Malaysians.

Tonight we talked about business. He told me that four stalls in this kopitiam sell rice meals, and there are many more nearby. He said that his partner and him are inexperienced at cooking much else - he makes drinks, in Malaysian style, his partner has been a cook of five years, and handles the Malay-Mamak-and-Thai genre of dry and wet cookery fairly well. I suggested that they sell pasta, pointing out that one can improvise off three basic ingredients which are all immediately available at the supermarket across the street. I explained to him the difference between the construction of kopitiam coffee, and espresso, and suggest that they invest in an espresso machine.

This was the second time we talked, and the second time he had told me that he would like to learn how to use computers. He has no time to visit the netshop nearby, otherwise I would be teaching him how to use the Internet. I have old computers that I can loan him, but without pipes, he probably won't get far in a hurry. I make him this offer: if he can get the kopitiam boss to install WiFi Internet access, I'll GIVE him a computer, and teach him how to use it. It's a long shot, and probably not going to work.

Meanwhile, I'm still wondering if I should just rent the next shop and set up a 24-hour espresso bar with WiFi Internet, then hire these two guys as my cook and floor staff.

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