Sunday, September 20

Same country, different worlds


We are building more skyscrapers; you are building longhouses.

LAST Sunday, this column was about rural development and how people of the interior have been lamenting after more than half a century of Sarawak’s independence within the Federation of Malaysia.

They are grumbling about not getting enough development despite the fact that the country has a lot of money derived from the sales of oil and gas.

Unfortunately, few of them are articulate enough to influence government policy and make any difference to the status quo. They lack the political clout. They are a trusting lot, leaving their problems to the leaders to solve; they forget about the whole thing until the next election five years hence.

Let’s look at people who live and work in the city, and their view of urban development  since 1963.

I’m confining my cursory observation to the city dwellers in Kuching, my home town since 1951.

A typical city dweller has a somewhat different world view from that of someone who was born and brought up in a rural setting most of the time. City dwellers are generally a critical lot – more vocal and more assertive than their rural counterparts. For instance, when they complain about an expensive government-initiated project without a public tender, they call it a waste of taxpayers’ money. But the rural dwellers consider this as the government’s money – the Printah can do what it likes with it.


The city’s roads are well maintained more or less. Since the allocated expenditure has been budgeted for the year and is available before the end of that year, why not spend it before the money goes back to the Treasury? Christmas shopping spree!

The city’s motorists hate traffic jams, forgetting that they are the cause of those jams. Those who can afford it are thinking about buying a new car when there are new models coming to town, to add to the existing fleet. To solve this traffic problem, they are talking about introducing what is called the Autonomous Rapid Transit system (ART); I understand that the Light Transit Train (LRT) is already outdated. City dwellers would prefer free buses now, not wait for 2025.

City dwellers hear about rich people building mansions, buying first, second, and third houses; about building tall houses while their rural counterparts are talking about building longhouses, never mind the fire hazard.

Town land

The wealthy people in the city are wondering why the rural people do not know how to make use of their vast areas of land for income generation. They consider the rural people possessing more land than they can use. But they do not realise that the rural land has no practical value until it is given indefeasible title to. In fact, those people who own land under Mixed Zone title in or near the city possess more land than the rural dwellers, in terms of monetary value. In this context, the land size is not relevant; its proximity to the city centre is.

Noisy dogs

Many city families own pet dogs. They shoo away stray dogs for fear of rabies, but they keep their own dogs tied up at night. Those poor beasts howl at all hours of day and night, disturbing the neighbours’ baby or granny, or whoever would like to sleep at night.

A city dweller with a hand phone can start his own broadcasting station, going ‘live’ every day. Rural people rely on government-owned stations for news and views. They ask the DJ to play their favourite songs on the radio. City dwellers can listen to many radio and TV stations around the world if they can afford to subscribe. Once you are away from the main centres, the problem of connectivity crops up. In many rural areas of Sarawak you can’t even use a handphone, and this is in the great year  2020 when Malaysia was supposed to be a ‘developed nation’!

His vote

During election time, a city dweller casts his vote for the candidate who, he thinks, will articulate his own views or those of his community. He does not have to travel far to cast his vote because the polling station is within easy distance of his house. A rural voter has to travel by boat or ‘walkswagen’, sometimes long distances, to cast his ballot. Rampant buying of votes during election time is normal; it is seen as ‘travelling allowance’ by many voters.

We townies are a fussy lot, hard to please, critical of anything that is not to our liking. Some of us have defied the Restricted Movement Control Order (MCO), not wearing a face mask or only observe physical distancing reluctantly. We seldom talk to our neighbours; we hang on to our hand phones all the time and ignore the presence of any one nearby. You don’t see this rudeness in the rural community.

The great Greek author Aesop wrote a fable about the Town Mouse and the Country Mouse – you should read it again. I bet it’s on Google! And then think: in Sarawak, who is happier? The town mouse or the country mouse?

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