Let me lead you through the streets of George Town…


An eye-opening video produced by a team of citizen journalists in Penang. Courtesy of Obnoxious 5xMom’s blog.

Great work by these citizen journalists in putting a human face to the street people, who are often “invisible” to passers-by. The scary thing is that more people could be forced on to the streets as retrenchments soar and people are unable to pay rentals or housing loan repayments.

It should prompt us to ask what kind of social welfare or security system we have in place and whether it is enough. These street people are periodically rounded up by the authorities – but where are they sent to?

The video reminds me of the haunting lyrics of Ralph McTell’s ballad ‘Streets of London’:

Have you seen the old man
In the closed-down market
Kicking up the paper,
with his worn out shoes?
In his eyes you see no pride
And held loosely at his side
Yesterday’s paper telling yesterday’s news

So how can you tell me you’re lonely,
And say for you that the sun don’t shine?
Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of (George Town)
I’ll show you something to make you change your mind

Have you seen the old girl
Who walks the streets of (George Town)
Dirt in her hair and her clothes in rags?
She’s no time for talking,
She just keeps right on walking
Carrying her home in two carrier bags.

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Dear Anil, I would also like to share this very touching & down to earth article with you & your readers: A Must Read…flyer168 Fwd: FW: Letter from Lee Kuan Yew’s Daughter – SLUMP TIME HAS ARRIVED by Lee Wei Ling Quote: “In 2007, in an end-of-year message to the staff of the National Neuroscience Institute, I wrote: ‘Whilst boom time in the public sector is never as booming as in the private sector, let us not forget that boom time is eventually followed by slump time. Slump time in the public sector is always less painful compared to the… Read more »


Dear Anil, Malaysia badly needs “Role Model” established Leaders & Politicians of HONOUR with Calibre, Maturity & Tolerance without Fear or Favour & NOT Political OPPORTUNISTS – on BOTH sides of the Political Divide. Further this nation Desperately needs Intelligent, Time Proven Pragmatic Successful modelled, Financial & Politiical “SOLUTIONS” NOW on BOTH sides of the Political Divide, to MITIGATE the IMPENDING Political & Financial fallout. The British educated & trained Intellectuals, Professionals, Economists, etc (Oxford, Cambridge, etc). – In 1957 FINALLY gained our Independence from the “Colonial British Rulers” through the citizen’s “concerted” struggle & the Leadership of our Bapa… Read more »


This paper ia an interesting paper and should be read by all,

Dr. Sulochana Nair



Lilian, Thanks very much for the translation. Not everyone is lucky and men are not born equal. To those who fall through the system, what are the safety nets? Do society provide the opportunities for them to start all over again? Our society is still backward in this aspect. Too much time and energy and resources has been chanelled to protecting the regime or raising racist issues rather than the underclass – the invisible and the forgotten. Whether we are emphatic or angry towards the poor or the socially excluded depends very much on what are our beliefs on the… Read more »

Jimmy Leow


I think that is a good idea and I believe if our friends on the streets are given a chance to work and earn their own money, they will take it.

Maybe we should get an interview from this organizations in our coming follow up on the Homeless.


Gadfly I will check if Youtube can let me replace the video. I did put the translation of what Mr. Teoh said but found out the subtitles missing in the production. One of those technical glitches. Basically, what Mr. Teoh said is : 1) I asked him where are his baggages and he said he keep them at a friend’s home because it is very embarassing for him to be seen roaming around town with a luggage. It is not like he is a tourist having a holiday. Friends will avoid him when they see him. He used to be… Read more »


Your interview with Jalil and the rest of the homeless really moved me to the core.I did report on Ah Heng the homeless beggar 30 years ago as part of my USM assignment as an undergraduate then when the homeless roamed Penang Road.
Today,the same problem persists with more homeless being thrown out and roaming the streets.Would the fast food chains like KFC or McDonald be able to absorbed those homeless but able-bodied people like Jalil to work as part-time staff to ease their burden?


At least the homeless in the States are given tents



I think this country is not helping the poor at all. The welfare officer said try to give them jobs and the problem cannot be solve.
When i visited South Korea , there is a huge place for old folk where they will get Free Food everyday. This is part of the thing Govt could do instead of asking them to work some more. But our nation have million of dollars to help other countries first. Shame on the govt.


Penang is really blessed that there are kind souls like Lilian, Andrew and Lucia who are willing to give of themselves to help those who are less fortunate. There will always be street people, no doubt, and many are there not entirely through their own fault. Most are seemingly down and out, but can certainly recover if their dignity as a human person is restored. Money and meals help, but its often the understanding heart that can tilt the balance. In any case, isn’t it our duty to assist a fellow human being where we can?…..and isn’t a country often… Read more »


Lilian and lucia,
Can you please translate Hokkien dialect? I don’t understand Hokkien. I miss out everything what that man is speaking after Jalil. Anyway, a commendable effort to hightlight the plight of the forgotten people.


From what I gathered, this same thing is happening on the streets in KL and the soup kitchen run by the various religious bodies cater to all faiths. The numbers in KL is a lot bigger than in Penang. I believe these people are overlooked because they don’t contribute anything and the public generally have very bad impression of them. So, there isn’t enough effort to give them a better life, by way of giving them a place to stay, train them for some light works and most important of all, give them counselling and emotional support. Well, we live… Read more »


The Government should help them. Absolutely – but it’s not that straightforward. There’s a small matter of traditional practices involved (family obligation) but also of public image. Any government initiative on the worst kinds of poverty would be admitting that there’s a problem. Something has to be done, but it’s hard to say exactly what, except that whatever it is, it has to be colour-blind. My personal favourite is a flat tax-credit to everyone (even the super-rich!) old enough to legally hold a bank account in their own name. It would encourage people to open bank accounts, register with the… Read more »


Anil, can’t see/access to the video, any other link that I can check/go for?

Lim GL

The Government should help them. I don’t understand why Malaysia is so worked up about the homeless in Bosnia, Gaza, South Thailand, etc and trying to help them, when we have such problems right at our doorsteps. I also believed most Malaysians can’t even point out Gaza or Bosnia in the map and also understanding the politics behind.


The welare state will need to have its limits, lest we overstretch limited resources. The basics like education, food, clothing, accomodation and healthcare are the most important. These people have nowhere to turn to but leave their fate in the hands of a strangers’ sympathy. I have had friends who have had to borrow money to tide them over the last few difficult months with no light at the end of the tunnel. Really, they have everything on the line and it is so heart-rending to see them struggle so. Then a son ahd to be involved in an accident….… Read more »


“those who are … deserving” Is a failed Malaysian policy Observer. Abusing the current welfare system is, on the other hand, one thing a few Malaysians can truly take pride in. Selecting people to reward doesn’t work – anywhere. If you’re going to give money, you have to chose between charity and patronage. Patronage divides people into those dependent and those resenting. Additionally, government provision of non-cash necessities is a license for the providers to print money. You have to give cash and let the needy decide who will benefit from it. Malaysia is choked with people and organisations creaming… Read more »

Phua Kai Lit

Dear Anil

Please allow me to post one more comment.

Here is a good article on how the state of the
economy can affect the health of the public:



> I personally believe a nation can’t call itself ‘developed’ until it makes a Cost of Living Allowance available to every one of its citizens. I disagree. You can’t just simply give out free money to those who are not deserving. We should help only those who are willing to help themselves, and avoid providing taxpayers money to those who seek to abuse the welfare system. There are however some basic necessities that the govt can provide. Free healthcare for example. Temporary accommodations. And most importantly, job and welfare agencies to get this people back on their feet, by providing… Read more »


Always good to hear Ralph McTell. I personally believe a nation can’t call itself ‘developed’ until it makes a Cost of Living Allowance available to every one of its citizens. On the other hand, the people sleeping on the streets of UK towns are often not claiming the benefits available to them. They’re not on the streets through financial mis-management alone – their problems are as likely compounded by mental health issues, substance abuse, reckless optimism and not helped by ignorance of options available to them. The role that charities and NGOs play in helping rough-sleeping people back to a… Read more »


btw, vincent, the welfare officer of the lighthouse interviewed in this video, you can get to know more about the lighthouse by clicking on the link.


thanks for putting this video up, anil. 5 of us malaysiakini’s citizen journalism trainees were involved in the interview/filming, walking the streets of georgetown (a staff of malaysiakini was present too with his video camera. yes, this was filmed by him but edited by lilian). lilian interviewed the 2 chinese while i interviewed the indian muslim. we are going to have a follow-up soon, so watch out!

Phua Kai Lit

Dear Anil

It’s more than 15 years ago and
unfortunately, I don’t have a copy of his poem with me now.

As things get worse, I hope that ordinary citizens would pool resources together and help each other out. And also pressure those in power (including PR state govts) and in the bureaucracy to help those who are in need.

Phua Kai Lit

Hi Anil Your post reminds me of a streetperson I got to know when I was a student in Baltimore, USA. There was this guy who begged for money everyday near the train station. I gave him 25 cents everytime I passed by him (partly because he had his hair in the Rastafarian style and I am a fan of musician/social activist Bob Marley). One day, he gave me a photocopy of a poem he had written about homelessness, his plight, his feelings etc. It was quite moving. Would you like to share that poem with us, Kai Lit? –… Read more »

Dalbinder Singh

Really touched me. Thats all i can say, i have to admit that I have not taken into account this sector of society when doing work for the rakyat though I always think of this group of people and donate to them. But its not all about money, its more than that. I will discuss with my youth group to initiate a similar to Food Not Bombs programme in Penang, yes we already have plenty of such efforts around, but if possible, something special for them, counselling, love, taking them for a drive, and so many other things. This is… Read more »