Tuesday, May 11

Home-based businesses spring up amid pandemic

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From a squatter hut to a livable home after 40 years.

A balcony where the green crested lizards are kept.

Old coconuts sold at RM1 each at the doorstep of a Pujut Corner home.

PUJUT resident Anne finds a lot of joy helping people, a legacy of caring for others left by her parents.

“I’m presently looking after my parents’ house at Pujut Corner. During this pandemic, it’s a good stopover for my kids who are staying with me in my own home.

“I can also do a bit of business from home here. It’s really convenient,” she said as we dropped by to buy some plant racks from her.

With the restricted movements due to Covid-19, it’s fast becoming a trend to grow lots of flowers at home in Miri .

It seems every shop has greens and flowering plants to sell, especially different kinds of Caladium, a flowering plant, often known by the common name elephant ear and angel wings, and yam leaves.

Anne also has potted plants and those who want sireh leaves can come and get some from her. She also sells old coconuts from home at RM1 each.

Forty years ago, her parents built a small wooden squatter hut at Pujut Corner. Over the years, they extended their humble home, adding a room here and a balcony there. Soon, the hut became a very livable place on stilts.

Back then, her parents walked from the main Pujut Road to their house along wooden plank walks and mud footpaths.

In the early 1990s, a big fire gutted most of the squatter houses. Her parents’ home was miraculously spared. The family continued to work and live in the area.

Anne got married in the house but came and went as her Melanau husband worked offshore.

She needed her mother’s help with the children. As the youngsters grew older, Anne found it convenient staying in the Pujut Corner house where she could send the kids safely to school within walking distance.

Flora, a Pujut resident who lives down Jalan Anting, noted: “This area is very safe. Our grandchildren go to Pujut Corner School. They walk to and back from  school every day.

“Every granny knows who the kids are. We keep an eye on them. They can cycle around and have a good childhood. It’s only now that people don’t allow the young to swim in the river.”

Many of the houses have been surveyed and the residents are waiting for their land titles while some have been given theirs.

Culinary goodies

Pujut Corner is a place where one can buy interesting food.

A Hakka soy sauce duck stall owner has been operating there for some decades now. His tasty fare is much sought after. People would often stop by his stall to buy lunch or dinner. It’s very convenient.

There is also a stall selling western food, offering a menu of fish and chips, among other occidental eats.

During the pandemic, only takeaways are allowed. Orders are also delivered by Food Panda service.

An assortment of Malay and Chinese cakes can be bought from some of the stalls in what can be considered as a‘Drive Thru’ kind of business.

Many parents find the food stalls opposite Pujut Corner School most convenient. The stalls are within reach if they want to buy food for their school-going children.

As for Flora, she will buy a ready-cooked duck from the stall on payday or barbecue chicken wings at the back of her house.

“We’d celebrate the end of the month with a scrumptious dinner or a barbecue on the balcony.

“I can even dry belacan (shrimp paste) in the sun on the small backyard. The neighbours don’t complain. We’re simple people here,” she said.

Many Pujut Corner residents sell cookies from home. If you know them, you can drop by and buy.

Salted freshwater fish is also available from some of the homes. You can tell where to get them as they are sun-dried on the yard.

Green lizard pets

Anne’s husband keeps five green lizards as pets in a cage on the balcony. People drop by to have a look at them.

These reptiles may be bronchocela cristatella or green crested lizards, a species of agamid lizards endemic to Southeast Asia. They are also known as green tree dragon, Borneo blood-sucker and green tree lizard.

The writer is no expert on green tree lizards but visually, they did pique her curiosity and interest. One may be able to buy the imported and perhaps, even the local ones in pet shops.

According to Anne, they have been keeping green tree lizards for more than five years and the reptiles can grow quite big.

So far, the females have laid eggs but hatching is a problem. Probably, only 25 per cent of the eggs hatch.

“I suppose since there is no zoo in Miri, at least people can still come over and see some green tree lizards. They are most welcome,” she said, indicating they might buy a few more of these green dragons.

Pallet wood furniture

There are plant racks of different designs on display at Anne’s house. We bought five pieces – two by me and three by my friend.

A delighted Anne talked with her husband about the sales by mobile phone.

According to her, the racks are made of selected wood – pine and other good light wood.

“My husband only uses American wood. So the racks are really fine and more lasting as well. It’s not easy to find American pallets nowadays as shipments have slowed down,” she said.

Her husband looks for pallet wood at big trading companies and supermarkets around Miri.

He makes the racks on his off-days with his own tools at a friend’s workshop. When he finishes, he brings the racks back to sell from home.

“Passers-by can come and have a look. I sometimes put the products on Facebook,” Anne said.

The pandemic has kept people at home. It’s good if they can use their skills to pass the time productively. And quite a lot of them do.

Commented Flora: “Times are very hard for most people nowadays. If we don’t have jobs, we don’t have a regular income. We grow some vegetables and sell them, earning about RM20 a day.

“That’s very good already when we live in a small house with only one or two lit bulbs at night. Our electricity bill is not much.

“If we collect rainwater, we save on water bills. For me, life here has been like this for the past 20 years.

“This year, the bubuk (scrimp) season does not appear to be very good with big waves over the past few weeks. Producing belacan or cincaluk could be difficult.

“Fifteen years ago, my husband and I would go to Bakam to catch bubuk. The whole family would have a picnic while waiting for our catch.

“Now, we need a police permit to travel to Bakam or visit our families in Suai. The pandemic has turned lives upside down.”

Pork stalls

Many of the butchers and pork sellers have been operating here for many years. Before the great Pujut fire, Pujut Corner was well- known for its fresh pork and barbecue belly pork sold in the evening.

At that time, teachers and 8-to-5 office workers found it very convenient to buy fresh food here for dinner.

Johnson, a former O and G offshore worker told The Borneo Post: “In the 1980s, this was good for the squatters and office workers. You needn’t even own a fridge with so many types of fresh food, including river fish like Ikan Enseluai, to choose from.

“Those were the good old days. Now, you have to buy a freezer — just in case. It was so good back then. We looked out for each other. Pujut Corner was a close-knit community.”

We also noticed during our walkabout that a few stalls were still selling pork and vegetables quite late into the afternoon.

Sundry and coffee shops

Following the Pujut Corner fire, new shops were built. There are now a coffee shop and other businesses in the area.

Added Johnson: “In a way, it’s good we have the coffee shop which sells other products as well.

“Parents sending their children to Pujut Corner School can stop by to have a cuppa, a chat or to buy necessities. We can pay phone bills here too.”

One good thing about this row of shops is that they are not affected by floods.

Many years ago, when the river broke its bank, the entire area was inundated up to knee-high. Today, the shops are built on higher ground.

Although commercial shops have given the area a new look, the Pujut Corner of yesteryear with its happy close-knit community and unhurried existence will live on nostalgically in the minds of Mirians.

In the future, probably when the whole area has been commercialised, people will forget it was once a squatter area.

Home-made wooden furniture sold at Pujut Corner.

A wooden stand for flower pots.

Green crested Lizards kept as pets.