MIRI: Chang Yi, a prolific writer whom we had dated for breakfast at 6.30am was late by some five minutes, fuming: “All the 12 traffic light junctions were jammed.”
With the recent cold-blooded drive-by shooting at one of the traffic intersections in Miri, it was natural to think aloud – there are far too many traffic lights which give 12 opportunities.
We gave each other a knowing look while praying that justice would be done for Bill Kayong, the social activist and opposition leader whose life was taken away in a heinous crime.
Miri experienced strong winds the previous night. We were a bit upset with the ‘AirAsia style hotel’ that collected RM10 upfront for an extra pillow.
Despite that, it was a beautiful morning we woke up to. Soon enough we found ourselves in a covered courtyard called Old Folks’ Street or Lao Ren Jie.
Located in the middle of Beautiful Jade Centre, Persiaran Kabor is filled with men, mostly senior citizens.
These senior citizens congregate here to drink coffee, eat, read newspapers and in the afternoon, there are Chinese Chess sessions.
The name ‘Lao Ren Jie’ comes about because it is frequented by old folks, mainly men.
Chang Yi said “This is an extended living room.”
She said it is a good meeting place for friends within 15km radius. It is a comfortable place, thus the ‘extended living room’.
Chang Yi, who is always ready with words, continued:“It is like a day care centre for old folks, especially men.
“The children or grandchildren will drop them here in the morning and fetch them back in the evening.”
Indeed, a place where some old folks will find friendship, fellowship and food.
Very much Malaysian, they are a mix of Malays, Chinese and Dayaks.
“The Chinese are mostly Foochows.”
Kho Boon Wei, 60, comes to the Old Folks’ Street on days when he is not working.
“I do some odd jobs related to construction. On days I have no work order, I enjoy hanging around here,” Kho said.
With Kho was Thomas Chong, 66, who has retired from active work.
“It is a place where friends connect,” Chong said.
Penin Osman, 61, who retired from JKR Kelantan was reading the newspaper with his buddies Nayan, 77, Musa, 63 and Ouasa, 63.
They come here every day, saying the place is open and comfortable to linger around for chit-chatting.
The friendly coffee shop operators also offer to cook for the old folks, charging their customers a minimal amount. The old folks buy some vegetables, fish or meat from the market across the street to be cooked. There are four coffee shops along the street.
Chang Yi said the taxi station nearby also comes in handy for the old folks as they can take a taxi back to their homes if their children can’t pick them up.
The frequent visitors of the courtyard which opens from 6am to 5pm are mostly men.
“Women prefer to stay home to do household chores,” Chang Yi reasoned.
Tiong Nei Hoon, the owner of the Chinese drugs store there, did not think this is the best street.
“There is no flow of visitors. There are no tourist attractions. The street is too short.”
These are the reasons this well-travelled senior relates how magnificent the ‘3 squares 7 alleys’ in Fuzhou China is, where with every step we can see interesting things and events happening.
However, he was pessimistic about turning Kabir Street into a tourist spot because of the limited space.
Despite that, Tiong said this is a place where some old folks can find a home when the children are working during the day time.
Asked if the courtyard brings more business to his drugstore, Tiong replied in the negative as visitors are mostly the same group.
Tiong suggested some cultural activities but was fast to express his pessimism due to constraint of space. He also said there is no space for expansion anymore.
There is a stage at the end of the street where according to Chang Yi, karaoke sessions and performances are held from time to time.
The Old Folks’ Street left much thought on the possibility of a ‘silver head village’ for the aging population.
Holding on to a very comprehensive and detailed map provided by a relative of team members, we started our journey to Limbang through Brunei.
We have been pre-warned that during Ramadan month, the eating places in our neighbouring country do not serve food and drinks. We did not make any stop. It took us about two and half hours to reach Limbang.
Through the arrangement of Ngu Ling Eng, classmate of one of the BAT members, we met Tememggong Ang Keng Su and his team of Pemanca and Kapitans and community leaders.
Temenggong Ang leads the community leaders under the umbrella of Association of Limbang Division Community Leaders. This association is probably the first of its kind in this Land of the Hornbill.
Ang and his team were so meticulous that a list of 18 wishes in Malay and Chinese was prepared for the team!
The wish list contains infrastructure issues and their request for the community leaders to be given recognition and contribution of basic daily needs. In a nutshell, the community leaders sent a petition to the government to take some measures to improve the life and relieve the burden of Limbang residents.
Lawas community leaders who later joined in hoped that emergency cases from Lawas could be sent to Sabah hospitals as the journey is shorter. Can the inter-state medical services be reinstated?
Limbang patients also face immigration clearance problem as after 12 midnight the checkpoint does not give special clearance. Previously special clearance could be arranged through Brunei Hospital.
The community leaders hope there will be a country-to-country discussion to overcome these life-saving constraints.