Thursday, 21 June 2012

Priced Out aka Improving One's Lot

Is my community one of the most kesian of communities in this country?

Is that the reason why the phrase “improving the lot of the Malays” keep cropping up every now and then; the latest being the UDA – Penang State Government – Kampung Tanjung Tokong, urm, initiative?

Read: “It would entail relocating about 1,200 families from their village houses into flats built in high-rises as compensation. UDA hailed the initiative as improving the lot of the Malays so that they are not left behind.” (My emphasis)

My briefest of stay in Penang with my uncle did not allow me much of exploring the of the island state; Kampung Tanjung Tokong included.

It is said to be an original Malay fishing settlement all those years ago pre Francis Lights’ taking over of Penang from Kedah and turning it into a thriving port.

And because of that, the powers that be decided for Kampung Tanjung Tokong to be accorded the status “heritage”.

Umm, for 250 years of being what? Excuse me for being blur on the history of Kampung Tanjung Tokong, which I promise to look up if I am so keen and have the time to indulge in something which I have little interest in.

Anyway, I am digressing here and back we are to the “improving the lot of Malays” bit.

Supposedly one way of doing so is by cramming families into flats of between 800 to 850 square feet from wherever it is that they were staying in previously.

Really crude generalization at work here.

There’s no doubt that most of us would have had the, urmm, luxury of staying at these modern - housing development players driven - interpretation of the human habitat.

Mine was the Teratai Mewah (ahem) Apartments in Setapak, Kuala Lumpur.

Nasty, nasty traffic, crappy lifts, express out-the-window garbage deliveries, scant consolation of a shared playground, longhouse styled layout, birds’ eye view of your neighbour’s flat, deplorable maintenance… Quite the place we had.

Sure there are plus points; …… a roof on my head (nope sorry, that’s my upper neighbor’s floor actually), close knit community (if we had enough time to knit about, that is), security (yeah, right).

(But flats are sure heaven sent for the starting-out-in-life singles. Affordable entry point, often easy access to public transit points, plenty of makan places, solace of being stranger amongst strangers…)

Improving of one’s lot in life, eh?

Perhaps the newer flats are super spanky: after all, it really has been quite a while since I’ve been in one after I left Teratai Mewah and Kuala Lumpur for Ipoh and a landed property (initially rented then bought) in one of its suburbs.

Finally, my family had its own breathing space and what an improvement it was.

Often the excuse is that land is scarce and hence you have to build upwards to be able to accommodate the burgeoning population as cities, towns and suburban areas expand through the years.

Maybe so, but couldn’t we have planned our development better? After all, the country is only 54 years old and we could have well learnt from the experience of others which had threaded the same path before.

Authorities often would decry the supposed unreasonable demands from those involved in similar, urm, relocation exercise.

It is but only natural to want to be able to stay close to the land, feet on the ground as you stand outside your home – no matter how humble an abode - to watch the time pass by and to not feel trapped in a concrete enclosure with a single exit.

The writer of the above mentioned article asked: “Is not decimating such a physical legacy in the form of the village, which inherently contains old Malay values – cultural, architectural, communal – an antithesis to improving the lot of the Malays?”

A perfectly valid point.

In fact, we can travel down south to another heritage-status filled state in Malacca to see some of these ideals in action.

Of course, these are views of the romantics and the idealists; not the realists who understand that the new value in life is in denominations of Ringgits and Sens.

Especially in the Pearl of the Orient where a 850 sq feet flat can cost a whopping RM300,000 per unit. How much is that in monthly installment, I wonder? Perhaps this is the improvement in lot spoken of.

A plot of land can house a single family. Or it can accommodate a whole lot more with some economical equations thrown in.

Pardon the fully intended use of words.

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