A Kampong In Transition

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By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

Seven years down the road, where are the much-touted stadium, bus terminal, police station, hospital, shopping mall and hypermarket which were originally planned?

Mention Manjoi and the image that comes to mind is a quaint Malay village seemingly removed from the hustle and bustle of a vibrant city life in Ipoh. Manjoi typifies a semi-urban Malay kampong in Malaysia – active but laid back. Although just a stone’s throw away from mainstream activities, one will have this nagging feeling that it is a village in transition – sandwiched in between Jelapang to the north-west and Merdeka Garden to the south-east. Of late it has become a convenient bypass for motorists wishing to escape the Silibin crawl on their way to Jelapang and back.

The fact that Manjoi’s arterial road has assumed a less dignified role has Manjoi’s residents up in arms. That was the main grouse of the villagers when Council Secretary, Dato’ Rahim Md Ariff came calling one blustery morning on Wednesday, July 13. One other lingering problem that does not have a solution in sight is flooding. Unless something is done to the low-lying bridge along Jalan Puteri, water from the river will spill over the banks after a heavy downpour.

My first introduction to this village within a city was in 1988 when I was invited to a friend’s house located deep in the hamlet. The impression I had upon arrival was of tardiness and disorder. The main road was in disrepair while the side roads were narrow and sandy. Manjoi sits on former mining land which was barren and dry. Wooden shacks, some dilapidated, were scattered about without any semblance of organisation.

Riding motorcycles without helmets was an obsession with the kids. It was sheer recklessness on their part. Children played on the roads oblivious of passing vehicles. Amenities that were found in the city, a short distance away, were not available in Manjoi. It was a rural setting minus the comforts afforded by a municipality. Life had ground to a halt in this frontier-like settlement. The inhabitants were mainly Malays from the lower rung of the social ladder. For these itinerant settlers, Manjoi was a convenient place to squat just like Kampong Baru and Kampong Pasir were in Kuala Lumpur.

In 1995 Manjoi came under the ambit of Ipoh City Council and basic amenities such as rubbish collection, a drainage system and street lighting were provided. But it came with a price. Residents had to pay a small fee in the form of assessment to city council for services rendered. Quality of life improved dramatically and over the years this once sleepy hollow has assumed a more urban-like atmosphere.

Gugusan Manjoi is a collection of five villages within the Manjoi complex. Plans to develop this cluster of villages, the largest Malay settlement anywhere in Malaysia, into a modern township were first mooted by the MP for Tambun, Dato’ Seri Ahmad Husni Hanadzlah in 1995. He foresaw the benefits commercialism would bring to the village.

The exercise called for the establishment of a commercial hub in Kampong Sungai Tapah with enough oomph to jump-start economic activities and the ensuing multiplier effect. The RM300-million project, estimated to be completed by 2009, would transform Manjoi into a bustling township rivalling Jelapang and Silibin in stature.

The project launch was made in July 2004 with much pomp and fanfare amplifying our penchant for publicity and merriment. Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi was invited to the ground-breaking ceremony and the whole city held its breath.

Seven years down the road, where are the much-touted stadium, bus terminal, police station, hospital, marketplace, shopping malls and hypermarket which were originally planned? Save for an enclosed space with a tall billboard announcing a mammoth project in progress, the proposed site looks as listless as ever.

The hype surrounding the project is long gone. The Malay proverb, Indah khabar dari rupa (news is far better than looks) holds true. Have the RM300 million been exhausted or more funds are being sourced? We have no way of telling, as the truth is hidden behind the blue-coloured metal boards surrounding the area adjacent to the Land Office.

While the powers-that-be decide the fate of Gugusan Manjoi, the poor residents will continue to suffer in silence. Flooding is not about to end. Errant motorists will ply the main road to the chagrin of the kampong folks and getting to the Land Office is a test of one’s patience and courage. Little has changed.