Bintangor town quiet after wharf destroyed

Longhouse folk of Rumah Selat waiting eagerly for the BAT team.

Longhouse folk of Rumah Selat waiting eagerly for the BAT team.

Happy couple Lee and Chua laugh as they speak to members of the BAT team in their grocery store.

Happy couple Lee and Chua laugh as they speak to members of the BAT team in their grocery store.

A speedboat takes passengers and their goods across the river.

A speedboat takes passengers and their goods across the river.

Lu’s wife preparing ingredients for the filling of the Bride’s Cakes.

Lu’s wife preparing ingredients for the filling of the Bride’s Cakes.

Children of Rumah Selat. The lack of electricity is a predicament for the longhouse folk of Rumah Selat.

Children of Rumah Selat. The lack of electricity is a predicament for the longhouse folk of Rumah Selat.

Bintangor town is very quiet, with very few cars and motorcycles on the road.

Bintangor town is very quiet, with very few cars and motorcycles on the road.

BAT-V-LOGsO2TRAVEL with no regrets because you do not know when will be the last time you see a place. With that in mind, the third day of the BAT trip started with a hearty, delicious breakfast of Prawn Noodle in Coconut and Pandan Coconut Pudding.

We were aware that indulging in such a heavy meal was not suitable to kick start the day, but then again, we did not want to leave Sarikei with regrets.

This much talk about noodle is punch packed with big, bold flavours cooked with generous amount of fragrant herbs, spices, and fresh prawns in the broth. The refreshing pudding served chilled was something to die for.

Walking out of the shop with ‘freshly’ inflated bellies, we walked to the bus terminal to take the 10.15am bus ride to Sibu to pick up our vehicle.

The journey took about one and a half hours only. In the bus, we reminisced and reflected on the last time we sat in a public bus.

Surprisingly, there was still a conductor on board. She was carrying a board with neatly arranged tickets like in the old days, and punched holes into the paper tickets before handing it to us.

Upon reaching Sibu, we drove to Bintangor, which was barely a 30 minutes’ journey.

Bintangor, formerly known as Binatang, is the capital of Meradong District in Sarikei Division. It is situated along the lower reaches of the mighty Batang Rejang.

It is a small town with nothing much to see or do, except to eat.

Grocery store owner Lee Kiang Ming and his wife Chua Chai Lee, both in their 70s, have lived here all their lives. The affable couple, who has been married for 40 years, has four children.

Lee said the town has gone quiet after the busy wharf started becoming irrelevant in the 80s and went kaput in the early 90s.

“It was all due to road connectivity and later the Lanang Bridge, which connects nearby towns like Sarikei and Sibu,” he lamented.

It was also for this reason that the Bat team had to take land transport instead of the planned riverine transport between towns since express boat or speed boat service is nearly non-existent as most people now prefer land transport.

Lee recalled that Bintangor was lively and vibrant in the old days with four sago mills and a rice mill its main economic engines.

“It’s so quiet now. There are no cars or human beings on the streets at night. You can even sleep on the road!

“People said it’s like a village for the elderly,” chuckled Chua, stating that virtually all young souls have been lured by the bright lights of the cities or big towns.

On development, Lee said it was slow, while Chua felt more facilities and amenities were needed, notably a proper medical centre or hospital and a driving school.

“We only have a small clinic here. There used to be a labour ward as well but not anymore. So, mothers have to go to Sarikei or Sibu.

“There used to be a driving school here, too. Nowadays, those who want to get their driving licence need to go Sarikei,” she added.

On the future, both of them said folk in this town lead very simple lives as there was nothing to be excited about.

As we were strolling around Bintangor town, our noses became attracted to a shop that sells all kinds of aromatic biscuits. The shop itself was tattered and ragged, which blended well with its neighbours.

The shop is owned by Lu Tiing Ping, 47, and according to him, his is the only bakery shop in Bintangor. Lu set up the shop in 1992 after sharpening his baking skills from his late teacher.

“We started baking as early as 4am every day,” said Lu’s wife who was busy getting the ingredients ready.

The shop, which produces more than 1,000 biscuits daily, is manned by Lu, his wife and two apprentices.

Lu’s wife was kind enough to stuff us with freshly baked Bride’s Cakes that were generously sprinkled with sesame seeds on top.

It tasted great, and when we enquired about the recipe, she replied it contained a secret concoction of meat, red dates and peanuts.

Beside the bakery was an interesting shop. On first glance, it looked like an ordinary tailor shop, but if you look carefully, you will see a small barber station at the back of the shop.

After making small talk with the shop owner, Lee Wing Ching, we were astonished this seemly ordinary outfit had a 66-year legacy.

Wing Ching’s mother started the business in 1949 and she passed down her tailoring skills to Lee to continue the legacy.

“We make mostly Malay clothes since most of our customers are Malays,” disclosed Wing Ching.

Wing Ching said the shop originally did not deal with grooming. It was only included when he took over the business.

If you were to Google on what to eat in Bintangor, Bintangor Rojak will definitely be among the top picks, and we went for it.

The name says it all. It tasted ‘rojak’ – a mixture of sweet and sour flavours coming together to pleasure the taste buds.

From Bintangor town, we ventured into the outskirt to an area that used to be known as `The Town of Green Tangerine” under the invitation of some Ibans we met at the coffee shop.

They were glad to see us and were eager to bring us to their longhouses, which have been facing various longstanding issues.

Initially we were only supposed to visit two longhouses – Rumah Rami and Rumah Numpang but we ended up visiting an additional two: Rumah Rebi and Rumah Selat.

Being humble and trusty, these longhouse folks poured out their hearts to us in the hope that their longstanding issues could be resolved soon.

“For years, we have been bearing with our grievances. Simple folks like us don’t know who to turn to most of the time.

“It’s good of you to come. See how we live, look at our problems. We need a lot of help, and we need people to bring our problems to the authorities,” said 72-year-old Rebi Kalasau.

We were not sure if we could help them by highlighting their problems in The Borneo Post; however, from their eagerness to be understood and heard as well as the hope in their eyes when relating their predicaments, it became our sincere hope that their voices be heard by those in power.

After all, they are not asking for the moon or the stars, just basic facilities such as housing and electricity supply.

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