My kampung made way for a 5-star resort

CHANGE: Former fishermen of Kampung Keling in Teluk Bahang tell A. Shukor Rahman about the glory days when the sea around their fishing village teemed with fish and how development forced most of them out of their livelihood.

JUNE 30, 1985 will forever be etched in the memory of former fisherman Mohamed Kassim Meer Mohamed as it was one of the saddest days in his life.

"It was the deadline for the 200 families living in the fishing village of Kampung Keling in Teluk Bahang, Penang to vacate their homes as the site had been acquired for a five-star resort," recalls an ailing Kassim, now in his mid-70s.

"Hari Raya Aidilfitri was just days away but the Muslim villagers were in no mood to celebrate. Needless to say it was their saddest Aidilfitri," he said.

Retired hospital assistant Mustapha Kamal Mohaidin, 62, said his mother, Mak Wanteh Mohamad, lived in Kampung Keling with her four children.

He recalled that a few days before the deadline, most of the villagers were busy dismantling their wooden houses.

"None of the Muslim villagers made any preparations to celebrate Hari Raya as the coming relocation weighed heavily on their minds.

"Many were still pondering about where they were going to move. Fishermen were left wondering as to whether they could continue with their occupation and also where to keep their boats and equipment.

"It was only later that two-bedroom flats near the entrance to Pantai Aceh Park (now the state national park) was offered, together with a sum of RM3,000. Others were offered compensation of RM50,000.

"Even then, most villagers were heartbroken to see the end of the 120-year-old kampung. Everybody got along and there were no problems such as flooding. The villagers were happy here and these were the only homes they had known."

Mustapha and his family managed to find an alternative site in Kampung Masjid where they built their new home.

But records show that this was not the first time Kampung Keling had faced such a threat. In 1975, there was an attempt to acquire the 1.2 hectare site for the proposed Hotel Sri Duyong. However, this attempt fizzled out.

A decade later, Kampung Keling's luck ran out when it had to make way for the RM145 million 5-star Mutiara Beach Resort which started operations in 1987.

Ironically, Mutiara Resort, owned by Tradewinds Corp Bhd (TCB), ceased operations in 2006. It has since undergone a RM100 million renovation and refurbishment. TCB, whose hotel portfolio includes Hotel Istana and Mutiara Johor Baru, has decided that it will manage Mutiara Beach Resort on its own when it finally re-opens.

Mustapha expressed hope that the resort would re-open soon as many of the local people lost their jobs when it ceased operations. In 1990, bungalow caretaker Yusof Mat, who had been a pukat tarik (trawler net) fisherman for 25 years, told me that from the 1940s up to 1960, there were 18 groups of these fishermen from Ujong Batu right up to Teluk Awak.

"We put out the nets three times a day when the sea was teeming with fish and sometimes we even operated at night. We used to get a lot of ikan pari, bawal, jenahak, terubok, siakap, ikan merah, crabs and prawns."

In 1997, I spoke to (the late) Ibrahim Che Mat who was then 87. Swarthy and burly, he was a fisherman in Teluk Bahang who doubled up as a lorry driver transporting fish from Penang to the Central Market in Kuala Lumpur.

"I used to leave Penang at 8.30pm and drive the lorry non-stop to reach KL between 1.30am to 2am. Teluk Bahang was then rich with cencaru, pelata, ikan merah, siakap and senangin.

"The area near the present Jalan Hassan Abbas and Teluk Awak was largely swamp with nipah palms. You could get a lot of temakoi, crabs, udang ketak and biawak here.

"Most of the people were fishermen or woodcutters. Wood was then much in demand for fishing methods such as belat, jermal and langgai.

"In pre-war days, it was more than enough if you had 20 or 30 sen for breakfast. I recall that a cupak of rice cost four sen and a kati of sugar was only two sen. A cup of coffee only cost two sen. You would be comfortable then with a monthly income of between RM10 to RM20."

Australian traveller Gary Vaughan from Melbourne, now in his 60s, made a return visit to Teluk Bahang recently and was saddened to find that many familiar features had disappeared.

"In the early 1970s, I stayed with some friends in a rented wooden house not far from the police station. Some of the authorities regarded us as 'hippies'.

"I thoroughly enjoyed the village atmosphere and the beach. It was most relaxing and I used to stay up late and only woke up at noon. "I hope there would be a fine balance between nature, heritage and development in places like Teluk Bahang. The majority of young travellers would prefer budget hotels and homestays rather than 5-star resorts."

Tourist guide Shahabuddin Rashid, 54, who knows Teluk Bahang like the back of his hand, said the state national park, formerly known as Pantai Acheh Forest Reserve, has become the top attraction for most tourists since 2003.

"There are more tourists coming here now. There is also an increase in domestic tourists. We certainly have our hands full especially during school vacations."

The pristine site spans 1,213ha of land and sea, and has several beaches considered to be among the best in Penang. These include Sungai Tukun, Teluk Aling, Teluk Duyong, Teluk Ketapang, Pasir Pandak, Pantai Kerachut, Teluk Kampi and Pantai Mas.

A 250m long canopy walk hovers 15m from the ground and offers visitors a view of the lush forest from an interesting angle. It has only ropes for support and does not use a single nail, screw or bolt.

Abu Bakar Osman, 75, said he occasionally goes to the park for some quiet reading, bringing along a packed lunch. On such occasions he does not stray too far from the park entrance.

"Teluk Bahang has rapidly changed since the 1970s. It has lost Jubilee Camp which had been leased to scouts for many years, the 'Morning Glory' bungalow and Restoran Istana.

"There used to be a billiards parlour near the roundabout but it is long gone now, together with the Hin Company bus station and a toddy shop said to offer Penang's sweetest toddy.

"Even the kedai batu, a row of six pre-war shophouses which served as the pekan, is being demolished.

"Many illegal cockfights were frequently held near the Chinese cemetery and attracted large crowds.

"There was an air of festivity on such occasions and look-outs were even posted in the event of a police raid. There were also a few opium dens not far from the police station. Teluk Bahang was far from peaceful in the 1970s."