Monday July 30, 2012
A world with no boundaries
One Man's Meat
By PHILIP GOLINGAI
Malaysians and Indonesians living on both sides of the border have the best of two worlds when it comes to education, essential food items and fuel.
I’M standing 1cm from the side of Pulau Sebatik that does not belong to Malaysia. If I step into Kalimantan, Indonesia, I will be a PTI (Pendatang Tanpa Izin or illegal immigrant).
I’m in Kampung Sungai Melayu, which is along the unfenced 39km Malaysia-Indonesia border in the island bigger than Langkawi. Pulau Sebatik, which is off Sabah’s east coast town of Tawau, is shared by Malaysia and Indonesia.
I’m in the middle of a padi field. Behind me is a Sabah fishing village and in front is a Kalimantan village on the fringe of the padi fields.
The two villages are populated by a Bugis community who think a border is just a line on a map. Their world is one where the ringgit and rupiah are used interchangeably.
The border is wide open. Occasionally, Bugis on motorcycles with Indonesian licence plates, slip in and out of Malaysia nonchalantly.
“Those padi field bunds and mango trees divide Malaysia and Indonesia,” says Fathalaripin Sandong, a 65-year-old Malaysian living in Pulau Sebatik.
Fathalaripin, my guide, adds: “Don’t cross the border as you might get arrested by Indonesian soldiers for illegal entry.”
His worry comes from a 2005 incident in which an Umno politician, Datuk Harman Mohamad (elected as Sulabayan assemblyman in 2008), and four other Malaysians were jailed 63 days for illegally crossing into the Indonesian side of the island.
At first I listen to his advice – kind of. I take three steps into Indonesia and turn back.
“Yeah,” I reply, “I’ve entered Indonesia without using a passport.”
About 100m from the borderline, there’s a tuck shop next to two wooden houses. I’m tempted to chat with the Indonesians there to find out about their life along the border.
With trepidation, I cross the border again. I speak to the tuck shop owner Hayati Lahabe, a 50-something Bugis, and her Malaysian relative Sanusi Lada, a 60-year-old fisherman living in Tawau which is on Sabah’s mainland.
Here’s what I gathered from my conversation with them.
The Malaysians and Indonesians living on both sides of the border have the best of two worlds. For education, they send their kids to Kalimantan as the cost of education is cheaper. For essential food items and fuel, they purchase them in Tawau as these items are subsidised by the Malaysian Government.
Half of the items in Hayati’s tuck shop are smuggled goods.
They have questionable nationality. When they enter Malaysia, they become Malaysians and when they return to Indonesia, they become Indonesians.
“Many Indonesian Bugis work in Sabah as it is easier to get jobs in Malaysia than in Indonesia. And they earn more money in our country,” says Sanusi, a Sabahan who was born in Bone, Sulawesi.
Thirty minutes into the conversation, there are at least a dozen Indonesian youths listening in. Worried that I’m attracting attention, I leave Kalimantan to head about 1km to a jetty in Sabah to take a speedboat to Kampung Haji Kuning, a borderline village.
About 3km from the mouth of the brackish river surrounded by mangrove trees, I reach the village. Ojek (motorcycle taxi) drivers scramble into the Malaysian side of the border to pick up Indonesians arriving from Tawau on speedboats. There’s no Malaysian security presence in the village.
“That’s the border. Don’t go into Indonesia. There are combats (Indonesian soldiers) here as there is a border post,” says Fathalaripin, pointing to a dirt road which divides several wooden houses.
“The combats will arrest you if you step on Indonesian soil.”
I’m in Kampung Haji Kuning to locate a famous house, in which its kitchen is in Malaysia and the living room is in Indonesia.
A Malaysian Hajjah living in the Indonesian side of the border, I’m told, wants to bring us to the house. But first I have to report to the border post manned by the Indonesian army.
“Don’t go,” warns my guide. “There’s no guarantee you will come back.”
“Don’t worry, I guarantee nothing will happen to you,” assures Hajjah Muliyati Muing, a 35-year-old Bugis.
Under a drizzle, we walk about 200m to the border post. A friendly Javanese soldier asked me to sign a logbook.
The famous house is adjacent to the border post. It is rented by Indonesian Budi Entre, a 42-year-old ojek driver.
“There’s no difference between Malaysia and Indonesia,” he says.
“Perhaps the only difference is, in Malaysia you use IC (identity card) whereas in Indonesia we use KTP (Kartu Tanda Penduduk, the Indonesian identity card).”
Just like Budi, most Indonesians living in Pulau Sebatik have a foot in Indonesia and the other in Malaysia.