Rifle Range flats - a living heritage

Rifle Range or Phak Cheng Por in Hokkien may not be the most sought-after address in Penang.

Yet it represents what some see as a vibrant, living heritage where long-time residents know each other by name and possess a strong sense of belonging seldom seen elsewhere.

Back in the early 70s, the nine blocks of 17 and 18-storey flats was trumpeted as the tallest buildings in Penang. And certainly the pride of those who lived there.

Liew Yeow Hooi, for instance, recalled playing buah guli (marbles) on the dirt road with his cousins.

“It was red earth then, not tarred like what you see now,” reminisced the 42-year-old, whose father was among the early settlers.

Fast forward to 21st century Penang, the residents are still a contented lot.

Many appeared unfazed by talk of an urban renewal project for the congested, rundown flats in Air Itam.

All they want are better parking, a cleaner environment, working lifts and the blocks repainted.

“No need to demolish or do any major upgrading,” said Liew matter-of-factly.

However, he got a little hot under the collar when talking about the state government’s plan to repaint the blocks.

“In 2008, Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim promised to repaint Rifle Range within a month if Pakatan Rakyat came into power.

“Then recently — after two years of coming into power — the state government wanted us to bear 20% of the repainting cost which would come up to about RM105 per household.

“Why should we when it’s the government’s responsibility? Furthermore, it was an election promise — I still have the DVD of the ceramah,” he added.

Liew complained that in the evenings when the garbage trucks come by, the stench was unbearable to the point that having dinner was impossible.

“Even a simple problem like cleanliness remains unsolved to this day,” he grumbled.

Mary Chan, 55, agreed.

“Residents don’t dare park their cars near the blocks for fear of soiled sanitary napkins, faeces wrapped in newspaper or urine in plastic bags being dropped down on their vehicles.

“Drug pushers are also a common sight and the lifts are always breaking down.

“Solve these problems first before you talk about redeveloping Rifle Range,” said Chan, who has been renting a two-bedroom unit there for the last eight years.

Despite her grouses, Chan can’t imagine living elsewhere and has applied to purchase a unit for several years without success. She has been paying RM350 for monthly rental.

Quah Lean Sim, 74, described living here as hong pien (convenient in Hokkien) and has no plans to move out.

“I have been here for 40 years and am happy.The only thing I would like to see is the state government cleaning up the filth,” she said.

Penang Real Estate and Housing Developers’ Association (Redha) chairman Datuk Jerry Chan drew criticism recently when he proposed that Rifle Range and other old low-cost flats be redeveloped.

He suggested tearing down the buildings and rebuilding them with more rooms and better amenities.

Teoh Ah Tee, 70, said the residents were not demanding and just wanted a fresh coat of paint for their homes.

“Even if the blocks were demolished, I won’t live to see my new home, so what’s the point?”

Retired army man Khoo Kar Beng, 70, said he bought his one-bedroom unit for about RM8,000 at a time when few wanted to live here.

“My block was virtually empty when I moved in. I was among the pioneer dwellers here.

“Repainting is good but don’t expect us to pay for it,” he said.

A reader, Ang Chui Hong, who wrote to The Star recently, urged the state government to conserve, rejuvenate and rehabilitate Rifle Range just like it had done with the heritage buildings in George Town.

“Rifle Range is a lively and vibrant piece of living heritage.

“Like many other families that have lived here for generations, I urge (the state government) not to demolish these blocks.

“The Rifle Range scheme is different from other housing developments. Residents here have a sense of belonging — everyone knows each other if not by their real names, then by their nicknames.

“Our doors are always wide open, except at nights when we sleep. It’s a safe place to stay,” Ang said.

Back in the 1970s, maintenance was only RM15 a month. Residents who paid RM30 monthly under the hire-purchase scheme for 30 years, would end up owning the unit.

“It was a sewa-beli (hire-purchase) concept. Where can you get a roof over your head at such a cheap price?

“It was a good deal. The market, post office, hawker stalls and bus stops were right at our doorsteps,” he said, adding that a unit now could sell for between RM30,000 and RM40,000.

After four decades since it was built, most second generation Rifle Range dwellers have shifted out, while their elderly parents refused to budge.

“It’s ironic but here we have the old and the very young. The middle-age residents have moved out but still bring the kids to their grandparents’ place regularly.

“In the afternoons, you can see the old folks with their grandkids running around,” he added. - By The Star


June 2, 2011 at 1:12 PM22Feet

partial payment is a method to inflict awareness to the beneficiary. If you get it for free without paying a single cents, the appreciation of the benefit won't exist. Besides, gov asking to pay 20%. They are not asking to pay 100%!!!!

June 3, 2011 at 6:15 PMPeter

Elsewhere, every other apartments and condos have to pay 100% to repaint their building.

Sincerely I doubt these Rifle Range dwellers really care about their own property. Because if you do, you won't consider the common property as if it belongs to someone else and expect someone else to pay to repaint it.

If you think the common area is a joint property of the community there, you would have contributed time and money to make it a better place.

It is this same mentality that causing many a low-cost flat and apartments to fell into poor maintenance and thus poor valuation of the property.

It is this "subsidy" mentality that is not getting them anywhere.