April 25, 2010

MALAYSIA: Little to keep them at home

. SELANGOR, Malaysia / The Star / Columnists / April 25, 2010 Yum Cha By Ng Cheng Yee and Rachael Kam The lack of job opportunities in Hulu Selangor has forced most of its youngsters to head for the cities. Those left behind hope that more development will come their way so that families can be together. HAVING a cuppa at Sun Sun Nam Cheong, an old Hainanese coffeeshop at Jalan Mat Kilau, Kuala Kubu Baru, can be a good information-gathering exercise. You may observe that the patrons there are mainly young children with their mothers or grannies, and senior citizens. Very seldom will you see people in their 20s or 30s at this coffeeshop which has been around since the 1930s. The scenario truly reflects the demography of the Hulu Selangor constituency and its socio-economic challenges which the winner of today’s closely fought by-election will have to face. It is almost like a natural process for youngsters who grow up in this constituency, an area about the size of Malacca state, to leave their families for big cities like Kuala Lumpur to either further their studies or seek better job opportunities after they have completed their secondary education. Housewife Lau Yok Cho, 60, is typical of the ageing population here. She has six children aged between 25 and 32 but none of them live with her and her husband at Kampung Sejantung near Kuala Kubu Baru. And so she spends her time chatting with friends in the same village and often feels envious when she sees other villagers spending time with their children. “It will be so nice if my children could stay with us and not work elsewhere in the cities. “They only come back once in a while when they are not too busy with work. I really miss them,” she says, echoing the sentiment of many elderly folk left behind in this small town. “There are no factories here and there are very few job opportunities. For young people seeking a better future, they will have to venture out of this place,” she adds. Lau, however, can draw comfort from the fact that she enjoys the simple lifestyle here. “I can go out and meet my friends whenever I want to. If I live in Kuala Lumpur, I will probably just sit at home and do nothing. That kind of life is just too boring for me,” she says. Wong Tiew Mee, 73, who is well known for her homemade kaya at Yoot Loy coffeeshop in Kuala Kubu Baru, says there are hardly any young people who are interested in learning how to make this sweet concoction now. Out of Wong’s five children, only her son who runs the coffeeshop knows how to make kaya. “It takes me eight hours to make kaya. Young people these days do not have the patience to do jobs like this. To them, it involves too much hard work,” she says. According to Wong, many shops in the area have closed down because young people are not interested in taking over their parents’ businesses. Instead, youngsters these days prefer to sit in the office and do paper work, she relates. “There are hardly any jobs available in this place and if they want to find jobs with a salary of more than RM2,000 a month, they definitely need to go out and work in the cities.” Unlike many of her friends, Wong counts herself fortunate to have four of her children living nearby. Only one of her sons is working in Kuala Lumpur. Wong notes that young people have been leaving this place for Kuala Lumpur and even other countries like the United Kingdom, America and Australia for a long time. “If it wasn’t for this by-election, many may not have even heard of Kuala Kubu Baru and we would not have traffic congestion like we have now,” she says. Wong, like many of her generation, hopes the Government could bring more development to the area to create better job opportunities. “Young people need to survive. If they can earn enough money here, I’m sure they would want to stay put and live with their families,” she opines. But some of the youngsters, like student Ng Jeck Lee, 18, think differently. Ng, who is waiting for the result of her application for a Public Services Department scholarship, says she has wanted to leave her hometown, Kampung Air Panas in Kerling, since she was a little girl. “I want to leave this place and see the interesting world out there,” replies Ng, who scored 10As in last year’s SPM examinations, when asked if she would like to live in the village for the rest of her life. Her mother Ho Su Yin, 54, says young people have no choice but to look for jobs elsewhere. “It is impossible to ask them to be rubber tappers or timber workers,” she explains. But she reckons that if the Government could bring in companies to set up factories in this area, “more young people will not have to leave their families behind.” She also hopes the Government could allocate more scholarships for students in the constituency. “Most of the families here are from the lower-income group and it is difficult for us to fork out money for our children’s education. If the Government can provide financial aid for our students for further studies, it will indirectly improve our standard of living,” she says. Ho, who used to help her husband in his grocery business, points out that it is very difficult to do business in a place with a small population. “We also face stiff competition as residents prefer to shop in Tanjung Malim or Kuala Kubu Baru where there are mini markets,” she adds. However, like others of the older generation, she still enjoys living in the new village because “people here are honest, simple and kind.” Small businesses Hoo Jee Suan, 65, owner of Teng Wun bakery, which is well known for its kaya puff, says people in Kuala Kubu Baru have no other employment options besides running small businesses like bakeries, restaurants or small outlets selling electrical goods or mobile phones. “Or we go tap rubber!” Hoo has three daughters, two of whom are currently working in Genting Highlands and in Kuala Lumpur as an accountant and a part time singer respectively. His other daughter looks after the bakery, a family business he and his wife started in 1979. Chan Ah Kiow, 80, a vegetable seller at the wet market in Kampung Baru Kalumpang, has four daughters and three sons aged between 40 and 60 but none of them has lived with her for many years. “Life here is slow and most of us are only able to earn enough for two meals a day,” says Chan who has lived in the village for 60 years. She adds that her children and grandchildren would only visit her during school holidays. To retiree Peter Yap, the situation is a fact one has to accept when living in an “undeveloped” area like Hulu Selangor. “There are no job opportunities here and that has caused family members to be separated in order to earn a living,” says the father of six children aged between one month and 32 years. Peter should know, as he used to work as a chef in New Zealand, Europe, Australia and Korea for 10 over years after the economic downturn in 1980s. He also worked as a factory worker in Taiwan during that period. “After over 50 years of independence, we are still hoping and waiting for change in our place. “We want to be given a chance. We are not only hoping that more jobs will be created for the young people but also looking forward to having a better economy in our area,” he appeals. Better job opportunities, greater economic development and improved standard of living: these are some of the hopes expressed by the people in Hulu Selangor who will be casting their votes in the by-election.[rc] Copyright © 1995-2010 Star Publications (M) Bhd