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9/04/2009

What is the priority?

I was reading the recent news about the demolision of Kampung Puah Pala in Penang, Malaysia. while I continued to follow up with the event unfold. Memories of my younger age continues to flow back into my mind.

During my younger age of 5 to 6, my father used to bring me to this house situated in a Chinese village at Sungai Besi. The narrow road into the village is pure earth and very often turned into mud when it rained. Travelling by car you can feel the bumpiness as it rocked left, right front and back. All the houses were built randomly near the narrow roads and some in worse shpe than others. There are also many stray dogs that barked at passerbys and some time gave chase to those less couragous children.

The house was once owned by my grandfather and my father lived there when he was young. As the children grew up the family moved further into the city and this house was left vacant. Eventually my father and one of my uncle converted this house into a cottage factory. My father produced formical glue while my uncle made rubber products.

I enjoyed my childhood there exploring the quiet and ghostly part of the house while irritated by the mass numbers of hungry mosquitos preying on my blood. My father worked very hard to earn a living. My father was a one man show and at times he would have to travel out of the village to make deliveries. That left me alone with my uncle workers, the stray cat and at one point the rabbits and Guinea Pigs.

Next to the house were 2 families, one Indian while the other Chinese (used to be the un-official head of the village). I have frequent interaction with both houses but quite shy away from the Chinese family because of the presence of the dogs. I often played with the children from the Indian family because we were of similar age. Although we have very limited verbal communication since I do not speak Tamil while they not Cantonese.

As I grew older (12 years old), I was made to help my father in the operation during my school holidays to expose me to a life of working adults. I often dread going to "work" because of the boredom and inaccessibility to my toys.
Nevertheless, life were pretty relax at the factory as I over see the spinning of the stirer to melt the glue ingredients. At times, I even enjoy the rambutans when seasons set in. On Saturday, my father's friends would gather at the house and then I would enjoy a sumptious meal. To think back, life is still good.

My romance with this house ended when I was about 19 during which a developer came to the village and requested for the "chief". They have bought over the land to develop into a Condominium estate and they would want to negotiate compensation to the villagers. After a few rounds of talks, the compensation package was settled base on the size of each residential units and the amount was a few hundreds to a few thousands. Eventually the village was dispersed and some moved into the new Sri Petaling residential estate near by.

The village was there since my Grandfatrher's time, he came from China when he was 16 and the village I guess would be more than 100 years old by now if it was not demolished.

While it was sad to see the despersion of villages, one must keep in mind the most important aspect of the whole event, which is the welfare of the residents. In the case of my childhood village, the people recognised that no matter what, they are on the losing end of the law.

To start with they are by law squatters even though they made payment to the authorities for the land use and electricity (There was no need to pay for the water bill because the residents used well water). By law, the developer has every right to shoo away the residents. If the developer is willing to negotiate for a deal to vacate the village(for whatever reason), it would be wiser to have the issue settle amicably, because there is absolutely no gain in going against notion.

The residents in Kg Buah Pala can blame the Gerakan for selling away their land, they can blame Lim Guan Eng for breaking his promise and not able to reverse the situation. Bare in mind that all these will not help to bring back their home because even the state government has to respect the law and the court already ruled in favour of the developer.

The event also brought along politicians trying to take advantage of the situation. They voiced out strongly with criticism to the present, past state government as well as the ruling party. They are the "voice of the people". Yet throughout all these criticisms, the "voice of the people" remains a voice and will not help in bringing back the houses. More over, such move only divert peoples attention away from the real issue.

Eventually people move on, the developer get his piece of land legally, the state government focus its effort on the economy, the Federal Government did not even response, the "voice" of the people voice else where, the media redirected into something new and juicy. What's left would be 20 families without a house. This would be the reality, the 20 families have outlived their usefulness, they no longer able to capture more attention and slowly they will be faded away. Their situation would not even put a dent on the next election result.

In my life, I was taught that no one owe me a living, I cannot depend on anyone to feed me. I give the same advice to the villagers, they should be the one to decide for their own fate, if they don't others will decide for them, and it won't be pleasant.

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