A fisherman living in the Port Dickson's oldest village laments that the 'big people' have even taken away their sea.
But the bunch of boys lounging on the crudely fashioned plywood verandah strumming a peeling guitar and singing Malay rock songs from the 80s and 90s don’t seem to mind. It’s a smell they are accustomed to.
The boys, who look to be barely out-of-their teens, are fishermen. They’ve mostly inherited the trade by default and have been living off the sea like their fathers.
But life is getting increasingly difficult all around, says village patriach Pak Long, unconsciously tapping his feet to the strumming from the guitar.
“About two decades ago, a police or army corporal could comfortably provide for his family of five on his salary.
“Now? Forget it. The wife will have to work cleaning apartments, or some other kind of supplementary income to help her husband provide,” he laments, adding that fishing for some of their youths has become a supplementary income.
“It makes me sad that such a beautiful place like Teluk Kemang has taken such a beating.
“They (the government) build things like the aquaria and then leave it to languish – there is no respect for the earth and its resources. The greed is astounding and the laziness is terrible to witness.
“There was once a small piece of land that was given to Puteri Umno by former Negri Sembilan menteri besar Mohd Isa Abdul Samad in the 90s.
“In return, Puteri Umno sold that piece of land to someone named Dr Goh, who later sold it to the Genting Group.
“It never fails to amaze me what these so-called big people can so conveniently claim as their own,” he said wryly, adding that the “big people” have even taken away their sea.
‘They sold the sea’
“I never knew that it was possible to sell a portion of the sea until I one day saw a sign outside a hotel which read: ‘Legend Water Chalet – The one, only and first freehold water chalet.’
“For the hotel to claim such a thing, doesn’t it mean that they are also saying that they own part of the ocean?” he asked.
Pak Long also shared the incident of the village’s marine research centre that never was.
He was referring to what was supposed to be the first such centre in Malaysia initiated in 2006.
Initially scheduled to be ready in six months, it was only completed two years later in 2008 and named Pusat Ikan Hiasan Port Dickson Jabatan Perikanan Malaysia.
“After that, nothing happened and it remained abandoned for a year and a half until some French people came and told us that they were now going to take care of the marine centre.
“I’m not sure myself how these Frenchmen got to know about the project. All I know is that they were commissioned by a private contractor to run and manage the aquaria,” said Pak Long.
According to Pak Long, the contractor had apparently allowed the Frenchmen to use the area without charge for two years for any personal research, on top of being commissioned to manage and set up the aquaria.
Selling salt water
But what he did know was that they are involved in selling salt water from the sea at RM700 per lorry.
There are no less than six lorries that come in and out daily to collect seawater which is pumped with makeshift pipes running through the sand which is littered with rubbish.
Recalling the “birth” of the aquaria, Pak Long said it was initially built as a joint venture between Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) and another university in The Czech Republic in early 2009.
“But the entire premises was left unattended (after the Czechs left) and when the people from the foreign university came back in March, they found that all the fish had died.
“Eight months after this, they (Czechs) packed up and left Teluk Kemang.
“After that, the Frenchmen came here and started to work the place last year, Noh Omar launched it officially in March 2011,” said Pak Long referring to the current Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister.
The saga of the neglected aquaria continues in the next thing that Pak Long shared concerning students from UPM’s Fishery Studies faculty.
“The students come here for their practical credits and do nothing but sit down, laze about, shake their legs and will be given a certification for this later upon graduation.
“This is another reason why our universities are nowhere to be found on the list of notable education institutions in the world.
“This is what happens when education is turned into business, when all they care about is making money… with little or no emphasis on quality,” says Pak Long.
‘No progress at all’
“I asked him if a kilo of fish were sold at RM6, how much would eight kilos cost? The boy turned to look at someone else for the answer,” he said in audible disbelief.
A visit to the aquaria can leave one feeling a little high and dry. There isn’t much to see save for six humungous water catchments tanks, unassembled smaller aquariums, some run-of-the mill posters about fish and a couple of largish water pipes. A well is thrown in for good measure.
According to Pak Long, another project that never came to fruition was a lobster-rearing project in Teluk Kemang.
Pak Long said it was initiated in the 80s and would have been a very good project but due to inexperienced people helming it, the initiative never quite took off.
The 59-year-old Pak Long added this as an afterthought: “We are so proud of our achievements but if we look closely at what is around us, what are the things that we can truly be proud of?
“Is it the tall buildings? We have stopped looking at what it means to have real quality of life.”
“Our ‘progress’, said Pak Long “has slowed us down in so many ways.
“When we really look at what we’re chasing after, there is no progress at all.
“So many people have this attitude: ‘It doesn’t matter. I’ll just do what I can and I’ll still get paid at the end of the month.’
“Isn’t this something like someone saying, ‘it doesn’t matter what I do, I’ll still be in power? Doesn’t it sound familiar?” he asks, with a rueful smile.