Beer with Zubin and The Vikings
One night whilst wondering around the Malaysian town of Georgetown, Penang, a local told me that there is a Penang peculiarity to keep an eye out for; red lanterns hanging outside of homes. Now in Penang a red light outside a door does not mean the same thing as you’re probably thinking. In Penang it means that there is a bar there, but for some reason the owner cannot get a license and therefore cannot advertise their watering-hole conventionally. Now supposedly some of the cheapest and most fun little parties were to be found, not in the exorbitantly over-priced tourist bars, but in these more subtle nooks and crannies. Never one to turn from an adventure or the promise of some cheap plonk, myself and 4 Swedish fellas I’d found at the hostel set about tracking one down. It wasn’t long till a tell-tale red lantern was spotted and we were ushered quickly through the door. A local woman scurried meekly about fetching glasses and wiping tables and another Malay man sat at the large central table sharing beer and conspiring with an enormous bald European. Said enormous man stood up and opened his ape-like arms wide in greeting, his wrecking-ball fists splintering open and slapping my Viking friends on the back. “Velcom, velcom,” he roared, his powerful jaw still masticating furiously on some helpless morsel of food like a piece of industrial machinery. “Velcom to my bar! Sit, sit, be comfortable! My name iz Zubin, sit! Woman!” He pointed his grinning slab of a face at me, “go fetch drink for men!” and he jerked his head at the bar.
I have to admit I was a little startled at being addressed in this manner and quickly weighed my options; I could submit to this request and spend the rest of the night being bar-bitch to my companions or stand him down. The latter seemed a better option so I laughed, “that’s not how it works where I come from.”
“This is Zubin’s bar, not where you’re from, here womans get the drinks!” He replied, drawing himself up to his full and sincerely intimidating height. I stared back at him, gave him my most charming smile and answered “I’m not that kind of girl!” Then unceremoniously seated myself in with the Vikings who were watching the scene unfold with amused curiosity.
Zubin stared at me for a few seconds unblinking, then threw his head back and laughed a laugh that could crack church bells. His palm slammed into his shelf of a brow with the force of a colliding juggernaut and he bellowed “No no, you’ve ruined it now! I vas going to marry you but now you’ve lost your chance!” The room resounded with (mildly-relieved sounding) laughter. “My wife is a hog, useless old bitch, you ver going to be my new one!” I assured him I was devastated. He spread his thick fingers over his jerking, perfectly round belly and collapsed into his seat which seemed to shriek with shock. The Malay lady scuttled about pouring beer whilst Zubin extolled the virtues of his bar, which was no bigger than a large living room. “Nex’ time you come to Penang you stay viz Zubin yes?” He demanded, “I’m in Rough Guides you know,” (amazingly he actually was).
It transpired that Zubin was a Yugoslavian ‘businessman’ who’d had to move to Penang since, for undisclosed reasons, he was no longer allowed in Yugoslavia. He’d chosen Penang as his hideaway since many years previously he’d married a Malay woman whilst on holiday. His wife, it turned out, was the unfortunate soul serving beers and rolling her eyes good-naturedly every time he told me that I’d missed out on the opportunity to marry him; which he did frequently. She also didn’t seem the slightest bit concerned when he likened her to an old hound or ranted about how ancient and useless she was. I thought perhaps she didn’t speak much English but I struck up conversation with her later and she understood everything. She told me that they had been married for fifteen years, that Zubin was an old scoundrel and that he was paying to put her son through university. She showed me family photos and smiled at Zubin, who was at the time ranting about how he wanted to get out of this ‘shit-hole’ and go back to Yugoslavia where men were men, with unconditional affection. Evidently whatever arrangement they had worked for them. Zubin was adamant that we have the best possible night in his bar, although he tried very hard to good-naturedly provoke me. The combination of high-spirits and a proliferation of frosty beers made for some pretty snappy banter. After one particularly good come-back on my part, the details of which escape me, Zubin leant back in his chair, seemed to fill his entire end of the room and rolled his hairless boulder of a head back sharply. His cavernous mouth wide with laughter, a half-pulverised mash of mixed nuts coating his molars, he bellowed “you know vat, I like you! I think I vill marry you anyvay!” He announced, bringing a closed fist down onto the table top so hard that the bottles danced and clinked. “Any voman can be trained!”
“Zubin, for reasons I really don’t understand, I like you too.” There was just something about the twinkle in the belligerent old bastard’s eye that made it impossible not to, even if I certainly never intended to take him up on his offer of accommodation.
I’ve been searching for a good excuse to share Zubin with the blogosphere for months and stumbling across The Daily Post’s character writing challenge was just too good an opportunity to resist! Check it out here if you’d like to get involved. http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/weekly-writing-challenge-characters/#more-14256.