PULAU KETAM: There are dull skies over Pulau Ketam. The scant presence of red lanterns, conspicuous during the Chinese New Year, is reflective of the sombre mood on the island.
As the nation celebrates the Year of the Rooster, the rising cost of living and a glaring economic slowdown has put a dampener on things, resulting in a significantly muted celebration this time around.
Restaurant owner Loo Hui Chin remembered a decidedly merrier atmosphere a few years ago, with residents blasting Chinese songs on the eve of the lunar new year.
She recalled how villagers returned to the island — which is roughly less than a quarter the size of Petaling Jaya —with armloads of groceries to cook up a feast for guests dropping by.
Such scenes don’t play out now.
“Nothing feels like the old days. This place is like an old men’s town, where senior citizens stay behind while their children work in the cities.”
Another villager, Chia Siam Meng, felt the same, adding that CNY celebrations had mellowed considerably with the dwindling of the island’s population, 90% of whom are Chinese.
“When I was a child, there were 30,000 to 40,000 people living here.
“But now, only 4,000 villagers are left,” the 60-year-old said, adding that the younger generation opted to work in cities like Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru.
Eventually, he predicted, those who left the island for jobs elsewhere would also coax their parents to come stay with them in the city.
Village head Cha Keng Lee said the mood to celebrate CNY was also dampened by a sluggish economy and the rising cost of goods.
But this does not mean firecrackers won’t be lit.
“It will bring ‘ong’ (luck) and chase the bad luck away.”
And good luck is what most on this fishing village are hoping for as their livelihoods depend very much on the bounty from the sea.
Fisherman Ng Siong said in the past year the catch from the sea was disappointing, due to the tides.
This is why Ng and the other fishermen of the Taoist faith are praying to Lee Fu, their local deity, for a better, more bountiful year ahead.
“We leave it to our deity to bless us. Whatever lies ahead in 2017, we will still continue with our lives,” Ng said.