“You tengoklah sekarang. Kalau you tak ada duit you cuma boleh tengok bukit. Kalau you kaya you boleh tengok laut. Bukan Melayu sahaja yang tak mampu. Cina pun ramai tak mampu!” (You look at it now. If you don’t have money you’d be looking at the hills. If you are rich you can see the sea. It isn’t just the Malays who cannot afford, but many of the Chinese too!)
The above are words said to me by a Penang Chinese during my last visit to Penang.
If you live or have lived in Penang like I did, you would know what the statement above is all about. My earliest memory of Penang is of my trip there in 1974. Several more visits followed and I finally lived there from 1989 until the end of 1991 when I worked at Jalan Azyze.
Penang has always been a melting pot of cultures because unlike the mainland Peninsular Malaysia, Penang (together with Melaka and Singapore) were true crown colonies, ruled by Britain through the Colonial Office in India. The composition has always been majority Chinese, followed by Malays and people of the Indian diaspora.
When I got married there weren’t many quarters for armed forces officers back then and rent rates were just too high for me (I was earning a basic of RM750 per month with RM115 as service allowance). My monthly housing allowance was RM400 while a terrace-house would have cost me RM800 a month. Initially I could only afford to live in a squatter house, which really was a shed attached to the back of a main house in what was Kampung Haji Mahmood in Tanjung Tokong and paid RM150 per month for that. It was literally a eat-where-you-sleep and shit-where-you-bathe house. I stayed there for half a year before moving to an apartment unit at the UDA apartments across the road. What I liked most about Tanjung Tokong were the stalls that lined up the coastal road. I used to hang out at a stall operated by a man named Murad and would fish across the road for Groupers. Yes, you could see the sea then and the proof of that is when the South Asian Tsunami (aka Boxing Day Tsunami) hit Penang in 2004, Tanjung Tokong was one of the places affected.
Since then, Kampung Haji Mahmood is only a memory and you can no longer see the sea from the road side. Where fishing boats used to dot the coastline is now filled with apartment buildings where none of the units built can be afforded by the locals. What saddens me most is that Kampung Mahmood, a traditional Malay village and not a squatter village, has been bulldozed to make way for more apartments that the Malays who resided there cannot afford to buy.
Back then, Malay villages used to dot the coastline between Kelawei and Tanjung Bungah. Now, you would be extremely lucky to find even one. Gentrification has forced those who cannot affor to live on the island off to the mainland.
What is probably the last Malay kampung on the northern shores of Penang island, Kampung Mutiara, is also gone. The kampung, which had existed since the 1950s sits on a piece of land that had since come under private ownership. While the landowner is a private individual, Lim Guan Eng as the Chief Minister had promised the people of Kampung Mutiara that he would intervene. Based on this word given by the Chief Minister the legal representatives of Kampung Mutiara should have applied for an equitable estoppel.
However, in February 2016, the Kampung Mutiara residents lost their appeal at the Appellate Court and were asked vacate the land and pay legal cost amounting to RM5,000 to the landowner, Peter Loke Leng Seak.
Next to suffer are the fishing communities of Queensbay and Teluk Kumbar. Reclamation works is now in full swing in a nearby area and is already affecting the daily catch. “We used to get RM500 worth of catch daily. Now, we are thankful if we can get RM100. Life has been difficult. We are plagued with debts. What is going to become of us?” said Queensbay fisherman Mohd Rafie Md Said to New Straits Times reporters.
Shahrul Nizal Md Daud, 30, said there were times when he came home empty-handed. “I have a family to feed. I also need to pay for the house and car. “We were given only RM5,000 as compensation. How long can that last us?” Both fishermen said they had no clue as to the purpose of the reclamation, adding that more than 100 fishermen had been given until the end of the month to move out.
And in Gertak Sanggul where the Malay fishing community fish for shrimps, there is already a plan to reclaim the waters off Gertak Sanggul all the way to the southern island of Pulau Kendi. Some 1,500 Malay shrimp fishermen will be affected. They have already protested to the State government but their protests have fallen on deaf ears. This video report, again by My Nation, explains the situation.
Livelihoods and traditional Penang communities will be lost and there would certainly be a migration of those marginalised in Penang DAP’s plan for the gentrification of the State. But what would happen to those who cannot afford to either own a house in Penang or move out?
They become the homeless, the vagrants, the destitute.
When commenting on Tengku Adnan’s move to arrest the homeless and fine soup kitchens two years ago, Lim Guan Eng had this to say:
The truth is far from it. A quick walk around the KOMTAR building where Lim Guan Eng’s office is located, we found the following:
Web news portal My Nation even shared a video made by one Saiful Abdullah on this issue.
And NGOs tackling the issue of the homeless in Penang all say that there is no government shelter that is being provided for the down-and-out.
Penang is already inhabited by those who can afford to live there which translates into more financial support for the DAP government. The gentrification of Penang has helped those marginalised to move out of the island in search for more affordable housing and new jobs. Given that the Chief Minister has been charged in court for corruption and corrupted practices under Section 23 of the Anti-Corruption Act and Section 165 of the Penal Code, yet is still trying to create unnecessary projects in Penang, I don’t think he is interested in helping the Penang people. As in the words of Trevor D Richardson: “People used to make money, but somewhere along the way, it started making us.“