What the Orang Asli think of Selangor
PETALING JAYA, June 4 — The Orang Asli settlement in Bukit Legong, Sungai Buloh is picturesque. In fact, the journey to the settlement is delightful, and has an old-world charm that is seen in Cameron Highlands, Fraser’s Hill and other smaller towns.
Nearby is the Sungai Buloh hospital and the former leper colony. Lining the road all the way to Tahak Sipew’s home are nurseries which are popular with urban home owners who visit during the weekends.
The road leading to Tahak’s home is rocky and muddy. Yet by the sides of it are little plots growing grass and vegetables. Tiny wooden homes dot the landscape. It is indeed a pretty sight and, surprisingly, right smack in an urban area.
Tahak and her friend Mor Ajani are good friends, despite the age gap. Tahak is the village head, and Mor is a young artist who helps her with farming, and matters pertaining to the Orang Asli. They “… hang out…” and are active in the Orang Asli circles. Tahak is gutsy and has many ideas on empowering her community.
Tahak however is scornful of politicians. As far as she is concerned, they are not effective, to put it mildly.
“The only improvement we can see happening here is actually very little. Some of our people have married people from other races. But Bukit Lanjan is more modern. Here, not much has changed,” Tahak and Mor say.
However, they are quite happy with the lack of development in Bukit Legong. As the community is still agrarian, they live off the vegetation they plant and find in the nearby jungle. “We’re lucky to have this at our disposal because to buy them cost money. Everything costs money now!” Tahak says. “Frankly, it’s better to live in a jungle, as it is healthier. Living in an urban setting… cars… the heat… people…”
The politicians they meet feign interest in their plight. “They listen, listen a bit…” Tahak frowns. She can’t even remember their names, that’s how much of an impact they have made on her.
With the impending elections, they are asking for better homes. “If they want our votes, they better help better our homes.” Tahak was once told that owners who had Astro would not be given new homes. “But the Orang Asli funding is in the millions. Why isn’t the money being channelled to help us? A few of us may have television and Astro but the reception is bad. Look at mine,” she points out, “all that drizzle on the screen. Sometimes you can’t even get telephone reception here.”
Could it be a ploy to detach them from the world? She shrugs. Right now she has to think how to sustain herself and the community. Everything is so expensive. And she’s fed up of OAs who are more successful — they belittle people like her. “Yang dia tolong, orang Melayu, bukan orang dia! (They help the Malays, but not their own people!)”
A short walk around her house reveals attempts at organic farming which were mooted by friends, who “… just disappeared. Maybe they are busy.” Tahak’s dream is to have a farm so she can sell vegetables at the market. She doesn’t want to depend on anyone, let alone a government that is only concerned with gathering votes.
Selangor and two bachelors
While the Orang Asli find ways to support their lifestyles, young, upwardly mobile professionals view the goings-on in the state keenly.
HR Dipendra and Leong Chow Pong are two young men doing well in their fields, and extremely observant and critical of what is happening in their state. Dipen, as he is popular known, is a lawyer and activist, while Chow Pong works for a natural resource company and is a committed environmentalist. The two, who were interviewed separately, have lived in Selangor all their lives, but work in Kuala Lumpur. The interview was conducted in Bangsar, simply for its convenience.
Dipendra is busy fielding off calls and texts in Chawan, a popular Malay eatery which, oddly enough, plays techno and loud pop music. He’s busy with the Bar Council activities where he chairs the Professional Standards and Development Committee, legal practice, and is ready for a relationship. “But how, the work I do doesn’t even allow me to sleep! How to have girlfriend?”
While love has been elusive, Dipendra has been occupied by the happenings in his state. He is deeply concerned about Selangor, and feels that while the current administration has done a lot for it, a lot more can be done to improve the state. He does admit that it would be unrealistic to expect miracles within the last four years Pakatan Rakyat has been in Selangor, as changes take time. “For the first two years they were looking for their footing… and some time in 2010, they seemed to have found it, but this hasn’t been easy because of the tension between federal and state,” he observes.
Selangor’s Freedom of Information Enactment may not be perfect but at least the initiative is to be lauded, Dipendra says. It shows that the current government is “… trying to do something…” Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, the mentri besar of Selangor, gives the impression of being more open and approachable. “Having said that, the party seems to be more interested in finding fault within themselves and other parties, and the people’s agenda is pushed aside somewhat. The quality of roads in Petaling Jaya, for example, leaves a lot to be desired.” He has sent emails, communicated to the authorities, and admits that the roads and litter have worsened since the current government has been in power.
These may be trivial to others but to Dipendra, these are important as they affect the lives of residents. There has been a lot of development but traffic has become worse. A lot of small businesses like health spas have been mushrooming, but whether these businesses are a healthy development is something they need to figure. The state needs to bridge the gap between the urban and rural Selangor residents. There needs to be more engagement among the politicians and residents, and politicians must be more open about how things are run in the state.
Selangor has long been known for its wealth and being the most developed state in the country. Yet, there are pockets of isolation, especially in the rural areas of the state. The Orang Asli, the poor and migrants live in these areas, as well as Malaysians who have lived in these areas for generations. It’s a state of extremes: modern buildings to shacks; successful Malaysians and refugees live side by side, but cloistered in their own worlds. But among all the states in Malaysia, Selangor is seen as paved with gold, hence its attraction to foreign nationals and Malaysians looking to create a future. But is Selangor the pot of gold everyone is seeking?
Chow Pong speaks in measured tones. Life has been expensive for his friends and he. At their age, real estate prices are ricocheting through the roof, and the little savings they have remain that: little. Marriage is a financial entrapment and moving out on their own is not a viable option. And they’re only in their mid-30s. “The cost of living in Selangor is higher than our salaries!”
The urban areas of Selangor face social problems brought by the onset of migration. The increasing population growth, if not managed, will mean crime, infrastructure problems. For example, the LDP was constructed at a time when the population was manageable, but now the population boom has rendered it almost useless. Traffic is still bad.
The interior areas of Selangor like Sabak Bernam, Rawang have proven to be less successful economically. These little towns are disconnected from the thriving economies the urban areas enjoy. What are the reasons to bring a population to these small towns, Chow Pong asks. What can they offer? What are the economic activities which will attract businesses and investors?
What would make a big difference to Selangor is not just planning but also the decongestion of certain areas. This includes traffic woes and population management. Chow Pong is hopeful about the future of Selangor though.
What of the rural areas in Selangor that were mentioned in passing in this article? Potential interviews were declined; some cited that they didn’t want publicity, while others didn’t seem interested. They have bread-and-butter issues to deal with, and talking to the media may not help their plight, perhaps. After all, this is their life. It has never changed.