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Despite stench, life’s comfortable in stilt homes over the sea

 | September 11, 2017

Kampung Sembulan Tengah is notorious for crime but also home to 1,000 families, both locals and foreigners, in Sabah.

Another part of the village.

A part of Kampung Sembulan Tengah near the Kota Kinabalu city centre.

KOTA KINABALU: It’s 5am. Anna Abdul Hamid makes her way down the plankwalk to a ramshackle hut she calls her toilet, built over the sea for obvious reasons.

She peers through the cracks in the wall at the five-star luxury hotel a stone’s throw away. She rues her fate.

Her one-bedroom stilt home is still dark. Her family is still fast asleep.

Quickly, she finishes her business and returns to her home.

She tiptoes towards the small refrigerator across the living room, careful not to wake her mother and daughter who are sleeping on the floor.

As she prepares a simple breakfast for the family, she notices a few pieces of trash floating towards her home from the direction of her neighbour’s home.

“Not again. Curse these illegal immigrants,” she murmured to herself.

A toilet, a laundry and a shower.

A toilet, a laundry and a shower.

Just a few weeks ago, City Hall fined her RM100, after some trash was found underneath her floating home at Kampung Sembulan Tengah, located right at the heart of the state capital.

The fine was reduced to RM50 upon appeal.

It was part of the local authority’s efforts to enforce cleanliness and reduce pollution in the water village.

As other members of the family wake up, together they eat breakfast before each going through their morning routine.

Her husband works in the city while her two children go to nearby schools.

Kampung Sembulan Tengah is located next to the Coastal Highway and has been a mainstay in the area even before the Malaysia era.

Plankwalks connect the homes in the water village.

Plankwalks connect the homes in the water village.

It used to be a clean village in the 1960s and 1970s, with a nice view of the open sea until reclamation work in the 1990s robbed the village of its beauty.

Now, it has become one of the most unpleasant places to live in the city. Most of the residents have relocated to other areas.

Many of them have rented out their properties to outsiders, including illegal immigrants, just as long as they pay their rents on time every month.

The house where Anna and her family are living belongs to her brother. It is a legal structure with a land title, despite it being constructed over the water.

The house has no window and the only piece of furniture is a table in a makeshift kitchen for her to prepare food. The floor is uneven and squeaks whenever a bad plank is stepped on.

Two posters of Quranic verses and a few family photos, including one of her daughter’s preschool graduation day, decorate one of the walls.

The stench from the stagnant water under the house is overpowering but Anna does not seem to mind it or is even aware of it.

“It is not much but it is home. I have everything here. My family, a roof over my head. I am thankful,” she said.

The family moved from Tuaran a decade ago after her husband got a job in the city. Her mother came along so Anna could take care of her.

She revealed that almost all the house owners in the village have already reached an agreement with the local authorities to vacate their homes after being promised better homes, presumably apartment units.

“Almost all of the people living here now are outsiders. They rent the properties.

“Luckily, our neighbours are all locals. I cannot stand living next to immigrants. They are always noisy and they don’t respect us,” she said.

Most of the immigrants stay farther inside. Even the security officers do not dare to step foot there without proper reinforcements.

The village has been declared one of the black areas in the city as vice activities increase, perhaps coincidentally, with the rising immigrant population.

Unschooled kids help keeping their homes clean.

Kids help keeping their homes clean.

Anna recalls that every time the Immigration Department conducts a raid in the area, the whole house will shake as immigrants flee on foot to avoid capture, some even jumping into the sea to hide.

“There are many broken bottles on the seabed. But they don’t care. They just jump. I pity them also because not all of them are bad.

“But I agree they should not break the law by entering our country illegally,” she said.

She is also concerned about the drug trade, conducted openly near the village community hall, where the syndicate seems to be using children as pushers.

50 cent icecream is a hit among the children.

The 50 cent ice cream is a hit among the children.

“These children will go inside a car and I don’t know what happens inside. After a while, they’ll come out. This is done openly.

“I think the locals are behind this because I don’t think the illegal immigrants are that daring,” she said.

She hopes the new housing project to replace the village will materialise soon for the sake of her children.

“I don’t want them to be influenced by all this vice,” she said.

However, an illegal immigrant who stays a bit further up from Anna’s house is hoping the government will not rush the development project.

“I don’t know where else to go if they close this village. The rent here is cheap and we pay for our electricity and water.

“Other places may not be so comfortable as here,” she said.



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