Rolling with the times

Un­prece­dented growth awaits ru­ral ar­eas south of Pe­nang is­land un­der the state govern­ment’s recla­ma­tion plan.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - INSIGHT - By ARNOLD LOH star2@ thes­tar. com. my

THE stone caught the in­ter­est of sci­en­tists some years back be­cause of the old proverb that if it were rolling, it would not gather moss.

Cu­ri­ous to see if this was true, sci­en­tists fab­ri­cated a per­pet­u­ally re­volv­ing drum. They threw in a few stones and even made sure there were lights ( for pho­to­syn­the­sis), fer­tiliser, mois­ture and moss spores.

Af­ter six months of rolling the stones slowly over the equiv­a­lent dis­tance of about 160km, it was set­tled: Rolling stones gather no moss.

This proverb is of­ten used to de­scribe peo­ple who are al­ways chang­ing jobs. With­out that stick- toit- ness, one with fickle ideas about oc­cu­pa­tion is said to be un­re­li­able or un­pro­duc­tive.

But what if it were not the per­son who wanted to roll? How should peo­ple re­act if it was the very en­vi­ron­ment around them that was chang­ing? Should they change with the times or are they also right to stay on and re­sist change?

“It is hu­man na­ture to re­sist change and stick with the fa­mil­iar. Change is some­thing we fear even when we know it is nec­es­sary,” said eco­nomic so­ci­ol­o­gist As­soc Prof Dr Chin Yee Whah from Univer­siti Sains Malaysia, Pe­nang.

Pe­nang of­fers many op­por­tu­ni­ties to ob­serve so­ci­ety’s re­ac­tions to the chang­ing times, be­ing a state that has seen more so­cial, cul­tural, eco­nomic and political changes than most other parts of Malaysia.

One char­ac­ter in the heart of Ge­orge Town’s her­itage en­clave even of­fers a de­li­cious aside.

Chew Seng San, 60, sells durian puffs on Chew Jetty, the largest of the Chi­nese clan jet­ties along Weld Quay.

“The homes at the jetty be­gan as sheds that shielded the coolies from the sun while they waited for barges of cargo to ar­rive from ships too big to en­ter the port. With no money to find a place to live, the coolies spent their nights on the jetty. The sheds then ex­panded into com­mu­nal homes and fi­nally, in­di­vid­ual houses,” said Pe­nang his­to­rian Cle­ment Liang, also a Pe­nang Her­itage Trust coun­cil mem­ber.

Chew was once a steve­dore, which was a notch up from his coolie fore­fa­thers.

“When I was young, I would go out with my fi­bre­glass boat and ferry ship cargo ashore or carry sup­plies to them,” he said.

Af­ter the 1980s, how­ever, Pe­nang Port cre­ated a deep­wa­ter wharf and about 15 years later, com­pleted the North But­ter­worth Con­tainer Ter­mi­nal. Chew’s job had been ren­dered ob­so­lete.

Chew Jetty is now a tourist at­trac­tion, and lit­tle do the vis­i­tors know that the large fi­bre­glass boat – still ship­shape and sparkling clean – moored be­side Chew’s durian puff shop is his.

“Noth­ing lasts for­ever. Ev­ery­thing changes. I’m still happy be­cause I want to be,” Chew said with a smile.

More re­cently, in­hab­i­tants of an­other coastal area in Pe­nang are fac­ing the kind of changes that Chew and his clans­men sur­vived.

Us­ing 3.6m to 4.2m skiffs and 40hp out­board mo­tors, a few hun­dred in­shore fish­er­men along the south­ern coast of Pe­nang is­land scour the coves of gen­tle cur­rents for prawns and fish. They are spread over sev­eral fish­ing vil­lages rang­ing from Teluk Kum­bar to Sun­gai Batu and Ger­tak Sang­gul.

To fund the Pe­nang Trans­port Mas­ter Plan ( PTMP), there are plans to re­claim two is­lands – 930ha and 566ha – off the south of the is­land, af­fect­ing part of the fish­ing grounds of those in­shore fish­er­men now.

The state govern­ment came up with the PTMP, es­ti­mated to cost over RM27­bil, to solve one of the state’s big­gest prob­lems – traf­fic con­ges­tion – with new high­ways, bus rapid tran­sit, tram, light rail tran­sits, monorails, cata­ma­rans and even in­ter­est­ingly unique mod­els such as wa­ter taxis.

“We ob­ject to the recla­ma­tion plan. How can we not? It will be right on top of our fish­ing grounds,” said Sun­gai Batu fish­er­man Soza Syahrimy Zainol, 41.

His ob­jec­tion, though, came right be­hind his ac­knowl­edge­ment that the recla­ma­tion was nec­es­sary.

“We know it is up to the state govern­ment and it is needed to fund the PTMP. But what about us who need the sec­tion of the sea they want to re­claim?”

He said “govern­ment peo­ple” had ap­proached them a few times. He had heard about new job op­por­tu­ni­ties guar­an­teed to the area’s fish­er­men.

“I tell you this. I want to stay at sea. I don’t want to deal with bosses and cus­tomers and com­pa­nies. I’d rather face the un­cer­tain sea any­time,” he said.

Chin un­der­stands Soza Syahrimy’s sen­ti­ments.

“I have seen fish­er­men re­turn with a sack of large prawns that the mid­dle­man buys for RM3,000. Even though such a great catch is rare, seafood is a sta­ble com­mod­ity and cash changes hands in­stantly for it. Be­fore you of­fer al­ter­na­tive eco­nomic mod­els to such fish­er­men, you must em­pathise with their way of life,” said the so­ci­ol­o­gist.

In 1996, Chin was part of a team com­mis­sioned to study the so­cial im­pact of Sin­ga­pore- Jo­hor Baru’s Se­cond Link on the area’s fish­er­men and said their fears were all the same.

“Change is nec­es­sary. But it is the govern­ment’s duty to ease that change for groups like fish­er­men in sea recla­ma­tion projects.”

Chin said the state govern­ment must take pains to iden­tify the fish­er­men that are wholly de­pen­dent on the sea.

“I have been to Teluk Kum­bar sev­eral times. Many of th­ese fish­er­men have se­cond jobs and they only go out when the tides are best. Older fish­er­men rent out their boats more of­ten than go­ing out them­selves.

“But there will be a group who de­pends en­tirely on the sea and the govern­ment must make sure there is enough aid to help them move with the changes,” he said.

When asked what the govern­ment had in mind for the fish­er­men, state Wel­fare, Car­ing So­ci­ety and En­vi­ron­ment Com­mit­tee chair­man Phee Boon Poh was all geared up to speak.

“The geopol­i­tics of the is­land has been lop­sided since Cap­tain Fran­cis Light founded it in 1786. All eco­nomic growth was cen­tred in Ge­orge Town from the sea to the hill, tourism was kept to the north in Batu Fer­ringhi and so on, in­dus­trial growth was in the south­east and ev­ery­where else on the is­land was ig­nored.”

The ab­sence of bal­anced statewide plan­ning, Phee said, had left ru­ral ar­eas like Teluk Kum­bar be­hind.

But he stressed that the ur­ban­i­sa­tion po­ten­tial with the recla­ma­tion of the two is­lands did not mean wip­ing out what Teluk Kum­bar is pop­u­lar for to­day.

“If Ge­orge Town’s her­itage value is a state as­set, then so is the kam­pung set­ting of the south. We not only plan to pre­serve the set­ting, we want to re­store it and cap­i­talise on its value as rus­tic hol­i­day at­trac­tions,” said Phee.

He said just as there are five- star ho­tels in Ge­orge Town on the same streets as rows of pre­war houses made into bou­tique ho­tels, Teluk Kum­bar could look for­ward to such syn­ergy.

The planned recla­ma­tions will take about seven years to com­plete and em­bed­ded into it are about 1,100 jobs. The work ranges from marine jobs to con­struc­tion du­ties such as divers, sea safety mar­shals, boat skip­pers, ju­nior sur­vey­ors, welders and fit­ters.

Pri­or­ity for the job va­can­cies will be given to the lo­cal fish­er­men and their fam­i­lies, and Phee said that was just the be­gin­ning.

“We are talk­ing with the fish­er­men con­stantly to un­der­stand their needs. There will be great op­por­tu­ni­ties to their home­town. When their chil­dren grow up, they won’t need to leave to find bet­ter prospects else­where. This will curb ur­ban- ru­ral mi­gra­tion in the is­land’s south­ern ar­eas,” Phee added.

“The fish­er­men may start work­ing as early as next year,” said Azmi Mo­hamad, deputy pro­ject di­rec­tor of SRS Con­sor­tium, the ap­pointed pro­ject de­liv­ery part­ner of the PTMP. “Not only on the recla­ma­tion pro­ject, fish­er­men will be able to work on the Bayan Lepas LRT and the Pan Is­land Link 1 High­way un­der the PTMP. This pro­vides a steady in­come and se­cure fu­ture for the fish­er­men in the years to come.”

When told of this vi­sion, Soza Syahrimy ad­mits to be­ing torn be­tween the love for his care­free life­style at sea and the chance to see un­prece­dented growth take place at his home.

“I think they are go­ing to re­claim this sea no mat­ter how we ob­ject. I heard the PTMP will in­clude a chance for us to be­come wa­ter taxi skip­pers. That sounds ex­cit­ing. But I still can’t see how the fu­ture will be for us. I am will­ing to look for new op­por­tu­ni­ties, but if pos­si­ble, I want to keep my life at sea,” he said.

Soza Syahrimy Zainol says he has heard about new job op­por­tu­ni­ties for the south­ern fish­er­men. How­ever, he still wants to re­main at sea. — WAN MO­HIZAN WAN HUS­SEIN/ The Star

Chew Seng San of Chew Jetty was for­merly a steve­dore whose job be­came ob­so­lete. He now sells durian puffs. — ASRI AB­DUL GHANI/ The Star

Change is nec­es­sary. But it is the govern­ment’s duty to ease that change for groups li e sher­men in sea recla­ma­tion projects

As­soc Prof Dr Chin Yee Whah

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