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The end of balik kampung?

 | August 20, 2012

Rural-urban migration has its downside and the writer suggests that a better quality of live and jobs may eventually see the demise of the 'balik kampung' trend.


Every year, millions of Malaysians leave Klang Valley and travel back to their hometowns during Hari Raya or Chinese New Year. The massive exodus is reminiscent of biblical times.

Hundreds and thousands of cars, along with express buses and motorcycles plug the highways and trunk roads, turning them into massive parking lots. Trains and airports too will be pouring over with home-bound travellers.

During this time, much of the Klang Valley, especially Kuala Lumpur, will be empty. Shops and restaurants will be closed, and for the only time in the year, traffic will be amazingly smooth.

A few decades ago, the streets of Kuala Lumpur would have been so empty that you could actually lie down in the middle of the street without worrying about getting run over.

On top of that, neighbourhoods will be peaceful and children will actually be able to play football in the streets.

But the trend is fast changing and in another 20 or 30 years time may no longer exist, because by then people from all over the country will call the Klang Valley their home.

For many years Kuala Lumpur was just the country’s political and economic capital.

But with industrialisation having stepped in, factories and commercial centres mushrooming, this once agrarian state is now a rising tiger economy.

To pull in workers, houses and flats were built around the capital, luring people from across Malaysia to come and work here.

Rural-urban migration

People from the small towns of Perak, Johor, Pahang and even Kedah would leave their semi-rural areas and stay in these newly-set-up townships within Subang, Petaling Jaya, Shah Alam, Damansara and so on.

Year after year, this pattern would repeat and more companies would open their shops in the Klang Valley creating a need for more people to fill their ranks.

The government at the same time would encourage more companies to come in, clearing land and creating new business and residential districts. KL, and its satellite suburbs would in turn grow bigger.

While all this was going on, people who moved here begin to get comfortable with the idea of living in the capital.

Let’s for instant take Azman. He was once from Raub, Pahang. He moved to Jalan Ipoh during the 80s or was it the 90s to work in a nearby factory.

A loyal son, Azman would send money back to his parents. Over the years, Azman  met Shazlina from Batu Pahat, Johor, and after a few years, they decide to perform the akad nikah.

After a while, he would be promoted to become a supervisor at his factory, with better pay and benefits. With a new wife, he might be able to buy a house (they were so much cheaper back then), and somehow, have children.

Like clockwork, the family would balik kampung to Raub every year during the Hari Raya holidays.

As time goes by, his parents, perhaps due to old age, would eventually pass away. Or, in wanting to share his better life, may join him in Klang Valley.

Either way, a subtle but very significant change occurs at that point. Azman, will from then on no longer have a strong tie with Raub, even if he did go to school there or swam in its rivers when he was young.

Rapid urbanisation

He would have a sense of nostalgia every time he passes the old market, or have a cigarette in the old uncle’s coffeeshop, but KL is now his home.

His home is now in KL where his wife may be about to deliver their third child at Hospital Kuala Lumpur. His siblings too may have moved nearby, all his kakis (friends) are around in KL and he is also expected to be promoted to regional general manager.

In a nutshell, all of this points to Malaysia’s rapid urbanisation.

Today, 71% of Malaysia’s population live in cities – twice as many as there were in 1980 (34.2%).

There are also over 7.1 million people in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur alone (a quarter of the country) according to the 2010 Population and Census Report.

Although a number of these people are local Selangorians or KL-ites, a large chunk may have come from other states.

There is little evidence to support this claim. Except for the observations of a few experts, the government has never studied the numbers behind domestic migration.

But if you ask your friends and your colleagues where they came from, a good number of them may say that they’re not from Selangor. Some have even come from East Malaysia.

As Malaysia progresses, more and more people, lured in by the promise of a better life, will come together in KL.

While other cities in the country may develop slowly, small towns and villages here may lose their appeal.

People will have little reason to come to these places, unless they have some business or holidaying to do in the area.

With more people moving to the Klang Valley, and many of them following Azman’s example, the balik kampung trend might either fade away, or exist only between suburbs in the city.

This is not a bad thing. It is simply the way of the world, and an idea to consider in an urban and developing future.

Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri, everyone.

[photos from http://d.umn.edu/ and www.syahrilhafiz.com]


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