Balik Kampong Syndrome

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By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

These new developments offer opportunities for non-skilled labour rather than skilled. In due course, they will be filled by foreigners, instead of locals.

The balik kampong syndrome is not peculiar to the Malays only. It cuts across all races, judging from what I saw and experienced during the recent Chinese New Year holidays. The Malays would preferably return to their kampongs during Hari Raya. The Chinese, however, would rather return to their parents’ hometowns for Chinese New Year.

This annual migration is phenomenal. While other towns and cities experience a steady decrease in their population, Ipoh experiences a reversal in fortune. The influx of outsiders into Ipoh seems to increase with time. If the latest development is a yardstick to gauge growing trends, the number of Ipohites of Chinese origin, who live and work outside of Ipoh, is obviously huge. Based on observations, traffic volume in the city alone increases by over a hundred per cent. Moving about in the city, especially within the business districts of Greentown, Station 18 and Bercham is difficult, as the traffic snarl is horrendous.

This phenomenon points to only one thing – Ipohites are found everywhere, in and outside the country. Their numbers are most pronounced in cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Singapore. Most are from Singapore, judging from the number of Singapore-registered cars in the town and scores of jam-packed buses returning daily from the island republic.

Since the demise of the tin industry in the early 1980s, due largely to Mahathir’s obsession with cornering the global tin price, Ipohites, especially the young and the talented, left the city in droves to seek their fortunes elsewhere. Ipoh’s youths have become a highly sought-after commodity by our neighbour in the south. Singapore’s economic miracle has been in no small way due to its policy of attracting foreign talents to its shores. It offers full scholarships to those wishing to pursue courses of their choice in the republic. Upon graduation, the Ministry of Manpower gives them a year to seek employment. Which other developed countries in the world are so generous, especially to foreigners? According to the Singapore Straits Times, January 13, almost half of the Permanent Resident (PR) population in 2010 were degree holders compared to 18 per cent of Singaporeans. The mercurial rise of Singapore’s GDP is attributed to these foreign talents. And a good number of them are from Ipoh.

Have there been any concerted efforts to arrest the exodus? Sadly, there has never been any worthy of mention. Ipoh has remained stagnant since the tin mines ceased operations. The dearth of local institutions of higher learning offering degree courses in the 80s right to the early 2000s resulted in our youths moving to Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. And the absence of good-paying jobs, commensurate with the expertise these kids had acquired, prompted them to remain where they were.

Although attempts at stemming the outflow of Ipohites are being taken of late, they are too little too late. The state government insists that it has acquired a substantial amount of direct foreign investments. But there is little to show on the ground. Menteri Besar, Dato’ Seri Dr. Zambry Abdul Kadir, has gone on record to claim that the investment climate in Perak is healthy. He based this on feedback received on his wooing trips overseas. One suspects that these statements are made for political mileage.

The recent boom in the property market, as evidenced by the construction of high-end condominiums and the race by supermarket chains to out-perform one another, is a welcome relief, but are they remedies for our woes? For some inexplicable reasons, we are still trapped in a time-warp. These new developments offer opportunities for non-skilled labour rather than skilled. In due course, they will be filled by foreigners, instead of locals. As we seek an amiable solution, Ipohites will continue to head south or somewhere else more promising.

6 thoughts on “Balik Kampong Syndrome

  1. Hi Desertbug, I’m sure it’s not the rambligs of an old Ipohite.
    It’s the years of wisdom you have acquired being away from home.

    Like you, the term ‘Balik Kampong’ brings more than it means to me.
    There’s always this nostalgia feeling to it. Sometimes we just need this ‘Balik Kampong’ syndrome to keep us grounded because it reminds us where we come from. 🙂

  2. gone are the days when life is comfortable in ipoh. You also caught in the traffic jamned especially at 11am to 2pm. I have sms to rakancop to complained that the traffic police only allows one directionof cars to pass.This lasts for 10 mins. Those in other direction ( t junction) would have to wait for 15 mins and this caused the jamned to other streets as well.

    Also, if you r riding the motorbike, imagine the heat burning inside your head as the sun was bright and hot.

    I hope the police will take heed on this and only direct those cars parking or waiting along the streets to move on. NOT allow one direction of cars to move.I dont see this is a good move.CHange.

  3. Well said Ipoh Girl.

    Ipoh has been and will probably where many will end up after retirement from the rat race of modern life. Having said that, the “city” where I currently work reminds me of Ipoh, 25 years ago.

    How could that even be possible a rational mind would inquire. Tall gleaming award winning skyscrapers, dual three toll free highways, huge malls with brand names I can hardly pronounce and isolated beaches bathing in the sun. The population bristles with nationatilies from the all over the world.

    BUT how then you rightly ask, could it be Ipoh 25 years ago.

    BROAD SPECTRUMED MENTALITY and a HEALTHY ATTITUDE – Ipoh had that 25 or more so years ago which currently is non existent.

    It isn’t the conveniences of modern buildings, transportation, communications – for all of these few mentioned, we pay a price which Ipoh Girl has described.

    Fo example, not putting down the ingenuity of mankind but, many have lost the art of writing a simple letter, the sending of carefully selected cards for that special occassion, the art thinking before we actually write anything. Why, easy, just delete the mistake and re-write it on the computer – conveneient it is, very much so.

    BUT the train of thought, being mindful of the construction of the content, being polite and concise is very much a dying trait. Even as I type this, there have been numerous self corrected lines. The HP notebook and the WS programme has no doubt has made my effort much less and saved a few trees, had I been putting pen to paper. The mistakes are made more for correcting spelling errors and grammar and then some.

    The ease at which this will be sent continues to amaze me. Just a click on a little black button and it appears a five thousand miles away in in a few seconds. No need for running down to the post office, parking the bike, waiting in line, buying a stamp, licking the back of it, dropping it in the post box, and riding home. All of the above is wiped out by just pressing a button. Good eh ?? Is it ? It breeds “Isolation” folks. We lose our humanness. We lose our ability to strike up a friendly conversation with Mr. Postie or the people in the que.

    Progress. At a price. Well , the ramblings of an old Ipohite.

    So my balik kampong experience is not just limited to getting to my family at home, it is getting back to where the life experiences of my youth moulded me to who I have become. From the the broadest of spectrums where I can breathe in woodsmoke from a distance to walking down a familiar street filled with memories from distant past – balik kampong.

    It ain’t the lights, glamour, modernity, that keeps bringing me home but perhaps the reminders (memory permitting) that brightens or darkens, whichever the case maybe, my history. Don’t need the supermarkets, or malls or the glitz that signify progress for many.

    Balik Kampong – oh what connotations it gives rise to for many people. I wonder how many actually realise, what it is they return to. Describe it !

    Perhaps an answer to this in the responses would be good.

    Again the ramblings of an old Ipohite.

  4. First & foremost, I must say I’m proud to be a Malaysian, even more an Ipohite.

    I study for my degree in Singapore and have since worked in the republic until today. To say, I have been staying in Singapore for nearly 14 years (but occasionally returning to Ipoh for holidays). I don’t belong to the highly paid group of doctors, engineers, etc. but at least on the average side and enough to sustain my survivability in Singapore.

    Every morning I woke up and join the rest of Singaporean in their rush hour to work, sometimes squeezing my way into the MRT or bus to get me to my final destination. Forget about finding a seat at this rush hour, count ourselves lucky that we have a place to stand and hold on! Come to work, it is never ending and do not know why, a lot of people are being judged as not having enough work if he/she leaves the office on time. However, if you work late, you are not productive! Pretty confusing eh?

    As though working life is not tough enough, there is always the typical lifestyle of city dwellers. Everything is computerized and we communicate lesser, fast food chains are everywhere and so does obesity on the rise, the neighbor you have lived with for years but hardly talk to, the high price you pay for just a 74sq meter 3-room flat (which I can get a huge bungalow lot in Ipoh), kiasu parents signing up their child for all kind of enrichment courses (just because other parents are doing it), relationships become shallow and many more

    I remember once I had hives all over me. The itch was killing. A GP referred me to the Singapore National Skin Centre as the normal medication prescribed does not help. So I wrote to National Skin Centre (because it was a Sunday and I was hoping they will see my email on Monday morning and gives me some priority), describing my intolerable condition. The hives were getting worse. I was getting sleepless nights and my lips & eyelids swell occasionally. On Monday I rang them up to follow-up for an appointment and boy, was I shocked to learn that the earliest appointment they can give me is 2 weeks away! I told them about my condition but the answer is still the same. You can imagine my frustration plus the ‘take it or leave it’ attitude of the person at the other end of the line. I said thank you and made up my mind. I tolerated another few days and went back to Ipoh instead. I visited a skin specialist immediately after I got down from the plane and had all my problems solved.

    Living in a developed nation is not colorful at all. You get high-rise buildings, higher paid jobs, a shopping heaven and entertainments but where is the human touch that lay the foundation for all mankind? We have learned how to make a living but not a life. We have added years to life but not life to years.

    I hope to return Ipoh one day and stay there permanently. Partly because I was born and bred in Ipoh and also the quality life we hope to get and a more conducive environment to raise kids (my 6 month old daughter is now living with her grandparents in Ipoh).

    I hope the younger generation that has left Ipoh for greener pastures elsewhere will think the same way as I am. There is no place like home. Ipoh needs people like us to regain the city back to its heydays. The government needs to do more, especially combating the increasing crime rates in the city. Our Ipoh airport really needs a facelift if not more improvement. If there are more airlines flying to Ipoh, I am sure the city will pick up speed again in no time. We hope to see Ipoh booming again.

  5. Malaysia is caught is a trap where there are not enough highly-skilled workers while the cost for lowly-skilled workers is higher than places like Vietnam and Cambodia. Perak acutely suffers from this fate. There is also the problem of producing workers with the right skill-sets, matching workers to jobs and job opportunities.

    There are not many companies to employ highly-skilled workers. So many of them have to move elsewhere to find jobs. Most of the FDI’s involved manufacturing that require low- or no-skills. The outward migration of workers has been a chronic problem for decades, which the state government has yet to come up with a viable solution to stem the outflow.

    In my own family, my three brothers are in the US, KL and Singapore while my sister is in Penang. A sister-in-law and the brother-in-law are from Ipoh too. I was away in Singapore for several years and while I now stay in Ipoh, all of my work in green technology is in KL.

    Those who get jobs in Perak invariably end up with salaries a lot lower than KL/Selangor, Penang, Johor and Singapore. Many employers seemed to have the notion that workers in Perak can be paid low salaries, which is the main reason that they come to Perak.

    Not only highly-skilled workers are moving away but lowly-skilled workers as well, in search of better income. This outward migration causes a continual shortage of workers in Perak. Just ask the factories located in the industrial parks and FTZ’s. As the result, there are many foreign workers working in these factories. Some of the factories even claim that they will have to shut down if they are not allowed to hire foreign workers.

    So there is a problem of training workers for industries that don’t have enough jobs for them and yet, many factories cannot get enough workers. Creating jobs is one thing but the state government has to ensure that the jobs offer attractive salaries for the locals. Otherwise, the FDI’s only benefit foreigners by providing jobs for them.

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