Sea-ing off the island in the sun

Uncertain future: Fishermen have been expressing concern that their livelihood could be affected by proposed development.

Development is often a good thing and change is constant. But as hills are cleared, trees felled and beaches threatened, the island of Penang may be in for just too much of a good thing.

The breeze was like a balm on a lazy, sunny day. On the porch of the big house, an old man was dozing in a big chair.

Two others were engrossed in a board game, the children were running around the beach at the doorstep.

Out at sea, the fishing boats bobbed about, tied to their moorings.

This is Permatang Damar Laut in Penang, on the island.

It’s an idyllic place, well off the beaten track and the kind of spot where you would love to spend your retirement years.

The only problem is: this place will soon be no more.

Two huge islands are to be built some 200m away from the shore, presumably with high-end houses, very high end.

Development is coming to the island – big time.

I was there for just over two weeks recently. And the home I have known for all my life seems to be fading away.

A fisherman stopped by as we sat by the sea, basking in the breeze.

“They are going to build houses there that we will never be able to afford to buy.

“Not even if I save up all my life, die, get reborn and save up in all that life too.

“The architects came here, they showed us the maps and said the fisherfolk will not be affected.

“But of course we will be affected. Our sea will be lost to us,” he sighed.

But he kept his smile on as he walked away.

These fishermen are hardy people. They will find ways to move on. But these people are also the living heritage of Penang. They must not be lost to future generations.

There is much more to be lost.

Over at the other end, nearer Batu Ferringhi, I spent time chatting with an old buddy, Suppiah.

People know him as the father of the tsunami miracle child Tulasi. I know him as the man with the moustache.

But I did not know that he has turned into a part-time lecturer.

He talked of how he had lectured researchers, engineers and professors about the state of the sea.

“The 2004 tsunami did not destroy my cafe,” he said. “But development will.”

He claims that the ongoing offshore development is eating into the shoreline.

“The sea keeps getting closer, the waves are getting stronger.

“All the way from Telok Bahang to Tanjung Bungah, the roads are cracking.

“The land underneath the seaside roads is being eroded away. It could all come down soon,” he says.

He claims he has told the researchers about all these and they have taken notes, but he doesn’t believe much can be done about it.

Me, I have no problems with development. Yes, I still pine for the candy floss man who pedalled and peddled, the tok-tok mee man, the old world coffee-shops with ­ceramic cups and stuff like that.

But I cannot imagine a Penang island that’s stuck in the old days, with men pulling heavily loaded carts out of the port area, the nasi kandar man still going around with the heavy stick on his shoulder, though I could live with mudskippers jumping around the marsh on which the Queensbay mall stands.

But there can be too much of a good thing. Or too much too soon.

Already, houses and high-rises are mushrooming on the hills, roads are being widened and century-old trees being “relocated”.

Mitigation work on a hill that has been illegally cleared does not inspire confidence. Instead, it seems like things have just gotten worse. Let’s hope it is a case of things getting worse before they get better.

More trees are being cut down along what was once a leafy Green Lane to allow for more road-widening.

Soon, the only thing green about Green Lane will be the synchronised traffic lights, which stay green as you go from one junction to another.

The hills are being lost, the trees are being lost. It wouldn’t be right to lose the beaches as well.

The writer, who can be reached at is a Penangite and believes that not all is lost. He did discover a heavenly coffee brewing shop, hidden from sight, in busy Victoria Street. - The Star

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