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Saturday, August 25, 2012

In the Shadow of Pengerang

On the southeastern tip of Johor, located a small town with big story, Pengerang.

On May 13, 2012 the Johor government officially flagged off a Refinery And Petrochemical Integrated Development (RAPID) project in Pengerang; A project that involves an investment of MYR60 Billion, a capacity to refine 300,000 barrels of imported crude oil. One of the investors of RAPID project, KuoKuang Petrochemical company had finally ended their long running saga at Taiwan, signing an agreement with Malaysia's Johor state government to invest in RAPID project, preceding the move was close due to a fierce environmental protest in Taiwan.

RAPID project is estimated to acquire 22,500 acres of land affecting 4 Chinese Cemeteries, 7 Villages, 11 Chinese Temples, 2 Schools are told to be relocated with compensation. Affected people would be relocated in stages, with the first batch set to move in March next year consist of 3 villages, Sg. Kapal, Teluk Empang and Langkah Baik. Quantum of compensation are still not yet announced until date.

Citing an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study, conducted by Taiwan Chung Hsing University's environmental engineering department, Prof. Tsuang Ben Jei in 2010, showed that the average life span of people islandwide will decreased by 23 days if KuoKuang Petrochemical Project was to be launched. Full story here. And the RAPID Project is much more bigger which means the damage will be rather serious. Relocation of Pengerang's villagers to a new location which merely 5km radius away.

At the tip of Sg. Rengit. 

Rainy day on a wooden pier at Pengerang.

Almost every historical city has a geographical symbol conjures up the trauma of its people. For Pengerang, it is a silver lobster monument placed at Sg. Rengit, right in the heart of Pengerang. From far distance, the town by the seaside is remarkable graceful, sky painted in blue and sea cover in shades of green.

Some piers at Pengerang.

Pengerang main source of income reap from agriculture and fishery, some from running local business (tourism, restaurant). Fishermen here, need not to ventures far into the vast ocean foraging for seafood, especially when spiny lobsters congregate in shallow to spawn; Farmers invested their entire life into plantations, and now, its fruits finally repaying their commitment. But all, were told to relocate, not only affecting their lifestyle but their source of income too!

Such rich land, suffers from catastrophe.

 Fisherman foraging fish and lobsters at bay.

 Villagers passing time at local "community club".

 Enjoying its sea breeze.

Blue wooden house by sea side.

I drove out 350km to Pengerang, to interview some of the locals, taste the dips of local hardships, facing the attempts of losing their root, identity and culture. Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced. Some almost cry, reliving the horrors of reality.

Fume of sighs.

His house by the sea.

Land Reclamation at Sungai Kapal. 
The land reclamation and the nature.

Abandoned Ship Workshop.

The Temple of the Sea.

 "We preferred fishing, to a life of idleness on the village, where we were driven against our will. We preferred our own way of living, all we wanted was peace and to be left alone." "The authorities come and brought papers. i could not read them, i don't know how to read. They did not tell me truly what was in it. When i went to a local meeting. The Great Man explained to me, that the interpreters had deceived me, into signing papers i'm not know of. All i want is right and justice for the compensation of my 40 Durian Trees, 40 Oil Palm Trees."

Fish market. 

Pondering upon the land reclamation, looking for a great freedom, an intense and absorbing love for the sea. Reminiscence his days frolicking in the sea. 

His prize.

Young lad and the sea.

The lost land of a 22,500 acres, resulted 3,000 graves buried deep in peace beneath the meadows to be dig out and relocate. Some cemeteries are over a century old, as date engraved on its gravestones.

Archaeologists examining the gravestones. 

One of the gravestones of the Qing Dynasty.

At the cemetery.

Sea view cemetery.

People called her, the "Lobster Princess".

Faith in Supreme Power. 

An old man who runs the cemetery- pro bono!

Spiritual ways- Praying and offering to the Gods. 

The principle of fishing technique here had been pass on from generation to generation, and this generation might not be able to pass on their heritage anymore. The land reclamation had directly affected the water quality, coastal fishing ground, spiny lobster breeding ground, the impacts and threats to the environment.

Here i'd also visited a fisherman's family, as we speak, there was rumble out of the sky, as thunderclouds massed. The breeze of the sea, the smell of the rain, peace never tasted so sweet!

the 3rd generation fisher-woman. 

Worker mending the fishing net. 

Filtering on its commercial value.

Catch of the day.

Worker drying fishing net.

Handmade fishing net.

Thunderstorms massed over the land reclamated. 

They used to pull in dozens of Spiny Lobsters on each trip, after the land reclamation, they caught merely 3 to 5 lobsters a day. And today, they only got one.

Perhaps you have noticed that even the very lightest breeze you can hear the voice of crying sea. This is its prayer to the Gods, who govern the sea, and the well being. The fight for ultimate freedom, the pressure from several governing parties, for now they would pray to the Gods, all things and all beings pray to the Gods continually in differing ways- the spiritual remedy.

something that can't be erase while assimilating development, 

we embrace with pride the one thing we could not leave behind: heritage. 

Heritage should not give way. 


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