Sunday March 10, 2013
My island, my home
Heartland Voices by SHAHANAAZ HABIB
Many Penangites will not consider leaving Penang island, even for better pay.
YONG is a 33-year-old engineer who lives and works in Penang. He has received offers to work overseas for double his pay but has turned them all down.
“Money can be earned in any place,” says Yong who is very close to his parents. “If I go overseas to work, the next time I return to Malaysia would be to attend my parents' funeral. To me, that's not worth it.”
He loves the “no plastic bag” rule in Penang, saying that even his mother has caught on to the green trend and now brings her own bags for shopping and containers when buying food.
“I feel sorry for the plastic bag factories. They have my deepest condolences,” says Yong, who has a wicked sense of humour.
Like many Penangites who take great pride in their state and think it has the best food and best of everything in the country, Yong declares that “Penang is the best place in the world”.
“It is even the best place to learn languages,” says Yong, who is bilingual and can speak four Chinese dialects. Having done much travelling, he thinks life in Australia and Europe is fantastic, but the people are “a bit lazy, too slow and lack drive.
“If they continue like that, I don't know how they are going to survive,” he says.
He thrives on the competitiveness in Penang where “if you study and work hard, you will get a better life”.
But Yong is realistic. He knows that even as an engineer earning a decent salary, he cannot afford a house on Penang Island. So four years ago, he bought a double-storey house for RM290,000 in Seberang Prai where he now lives with his girlfriend.
“A similar house would easily cost RM600,000 on the island (at that time) and prices are still going up. People my generation have given up owning a house on the island,” he says.
But Yong is not a typical Penang islander. Many won't even consider living on the mainland, which is roughly 20 minutes' drive from the island. They also think the culture and mentality of the mainland folks are different.
Although Penang is made up of both the island and Seberang Prai (which is a lot bigger than the island itself), for some odd reason, the islanders would only refer to their island as “Penang”.
So, when they are in Butterworth or other parts of the mainland and say “I am going to Penang”, they mean the island.
“We islanders tend to think of the mainland as a pseudo-Penang,” says 64-year-old retiree, Lee, who describes himself as a loyal Penangite.
Joking that he is “retired only in career but not in his mind”, Lee makes it a point during family meal times to get his children and grandchildren to switch off their mobile phones and video games and take their earphones off.
This is his way to encourage “communicative conversation” and bonding.
“Otherwise each would be immersed in his/her own thing,” he says.
Lee thinks Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng has done a good job in the state and hopes the Federal Government will listen to the people and their aspirations.
“As a good government, you should emphasise and amplify the good things that you have done for the people and not create a state of fear,” he argues.
He misses the old government of (Bapa Malaysia) Tunku Abdul Rahman where, he says, goodwill and rapport were so evident among the people and “you could say or do what you want”.
“Last time, we could joke and exchange all sorts of remarks with our Indian or Malay friends and no one would get offended. But these days, people have become so racially and religiously sensitive and intolerant.
“We love the Barisan government but we want them to be in the opposition because when you are in power, you never change and transform. If you are in the opposition, you will change and find ways to be accepted again.”
JW, 30, thinks politics in the country is a bit childish. “Why is it that when the opposition gives an idea, no matter how good or bad it is, his side will always support it but the other side will run it down and vice versa? Our politicians are not mature enough,” he opines.
One person who has found himself maturing a lot in Penang is Mohd Izam Mahazir. The 27-year-old uprooted himself from Alor Setar to start a jeruk business at Chowrasta market in Penang and loves it here so much that he doesn't want to go back.
“When I was in Alor Setar, I lived in a 100% Malay community, so my thinking was a bit narrow. But in Penang, I got to mix around with all the races and I found my perspective has opened up. I am a changed person.”
He says his honest opinion is that Chinese make better managers than the Malays.
“We Malays are less competitive because we depend too much on the government. And the Federal Government maintains its power by allowing this kind of thinking that without them and special rights, the Malays would never be able to come up,” says Izam, who now makes RM20,000 a month from his business.
He feels it is time for the Malays to be tested.
“To compete, to fall and to rise again are basic fundamentals. I feel if the Malays are not challenged and do not fall, they will forever be weak and dependent. So my thinking is to let go and let the Malays fall even to the lowest level so that they fight and rise up.
“Right now, even with all the help the government is giving to the Malays, it is the Chinese and Indians who are doing better economically and this is because they have been forced to compete. Before I came to Penang. I never quite saw things this way.”
Izam, who feels more Malaysian than Malay, insists he is non-partisan when it comes to politics.
He credits how much and how fast Penang has developed under the present Chief Minister but totally puts the blame on Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim for what he sees as a failure in the Malay language policy.
“When Anwar was Education Minister (in 1986), he changed the term Bahasa Malaysia to Bahasa Melayu for political reasons. Why would the Chinese want to embrace Bahasa Melayu, a term that suggests the language belongs to the Malays, in their lives?
“If he had stuck to the term Bahasa Malaysia, at least all Malaysians would feel the language is theirs,” he argues.
He is also critical of people who, he says, are so obsessed with a party or a leader that they lose their common sense. “I don't think that is the whole idea of Merdeka.”
Engineering student Mohd Azurun, 21, is selling e-learning programmes for children part-time. He is studying at a private college to please his parents when all he wants to do is business.
“Making money is the most important thing in my life because I want to give the best to my family,” says Azurun, an Indian Muslim. “In Penang, if you don't have money, you can't do anything.”
Fisherman Sazali Abdul Rahman from Sungei Pinang agrees.
He considers himself lucky that he has a house from the good old days when houses were still cheap. But he worries that his son, who is also a fisherman, will not be able to afford one.
“Developers are building houses but all these are million ringgit houses we can't afford. I have not seen a single low-cost house built during Pakatan Rakyat's rule,” he says.
Khairuddin Osman, 53, from Balik Pulau shares the same sentiment.
“Houses cost RM500,000 and above. We need to have a monthly income of at least RM20,000 to be able to buy one of those houses and the Malays here don't earn that much.
“The houses are being snapped up by foreigners, rich towkays and companies. Soon only the rich can live in Penang,” he laments.
He thinks developers are getting away with not building low-cost houses by paying the state government RM30,000 for each low-medium cost house that is not built.
“So developers would rather pay RM300,000 for 10 (unbuilt) low-medium cost units and use the land to build big houses and sell those for RM500,000 or a million ringgit each,” he claims.
(Developers are supposed to set aside a 30% quota for low- and low-medium cost houses, but they are allowed to pay RM40,000 for each low cost unit and RM30,000 for each low-medium cost unit that is not built into a state fund meant to build low-cost and medium-cost houses in the future.)
Linda Yu, 23, rents a house on the island for RM900 a month and shares it with two friends. Her parents are from Butterworth but she chose to “move to Penang” to be closer to work.
Having studied in a Chinese school, she doesn't have non-Chinese friends and admits she doesn't speak Malay well. “I write better than I speak,” she says.
She speaks English reasonably well because she studied Maths and Science in English and later pursued a Mass Communications course in English.
For Yu, having no non-Chinese friends is not an issue. “Chinese, Malay or Indian they are all the same. A person's value is determined by their attitude, not their race. It doesn't mean that if she's Malay, she's bad or if she's Chinese, she's good.”
She loves Penang and feels Kuala Lumpur is a poor comparison.
She likes the big city only for its shopping but says there's no way she would want to live there because it is too hectic, too crowded and has too many traffic jams.
“I feel more Penangite than Malaysian. I am more sensitive to the word Penang' than Malaysia.” > The writer can be reached at email@example.com