In the Shadow of Pengerang

On the southeastern tip of Johor, there is a small town with big story: Pengerang.

On May 13, 2012 the Johor government officially flagged off a Refinery And Petrochemical Integrated Development (RAPID) project in Pengerang – a project that involves an investment of MYR60 Billion and a capacity to refine 300,000 barrels of imported crude oil. One of the investors of the RAPID project, KuoKuang Petrochemical company had finally ended their long running saga at Taiwan, signing an agreement with Malaysia’s Johor state government to invest in the RAPID project.

RAPID project is estimated to acquire 22,500 acres of land affecting 4 Chinese Cemeteries, 7 Villages, 11 Chinese Temples and 2 Schools are told to be relocated. Affected people would be relocated in stages, with the first batch set to move in March next year consisting of 3 villages: Sg. Kapal, Teluk Empang and Langkah Baik. The quantum of compensation has still not yet been announced until today.

Citing an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study, conducted by Taiwan Chung Hsing University’s environmental engineering department, Prof. Tsuang Ben Jei in 2010, showed that the average life span of people islandwide will decrease by 23 days if the KuoKuang Petrochemical Project was to be launched in Taiwan: Full story here.

The RAPID Project is much more bigger. The only reasonable inference is that this means the damage will be serious. But Pengerang’s villagers are being relocated to a new location merely within a 5km radius away.

At the tip of Sg. Rengit.
Rainy day on a wooden pier at Pengerang.

Almost every historical city has a geographical symbol that conjures up the trauma of its people. For Pengerang, it is a silver lobster monument placed at Sg. Rengit, right in the heart of Pengerang. From afar, the town by the seaside is remarkable graceful, the sky painted in blue and sea cover in shades of green.

Some piers at Pengerang.

Pengerang’s main source of income is reaped from agriculture and fishery, and some run local businesses mainly in the tourism industry and restaurants. Fishermen here need not venture far into the vast ocean foraging for seafood, especially because spiny lobsters congregate in the shallows to spawn. Farmers invested their entire life into plantations, and now, the fruits are finally repaying their commitment. But all were told to relocate, not only affecting their lifestyle but their source of income too!

Such rich land, suffers from catastrophe.

Fisherman foraging fish and lobsters at bay.
Villagers passing time at local “community club”.
Enjoying its sea breeze.

 

Blue wooden house by sea side.

I drove out 350km to Pengerang, to interview some of the locals; to get a taste of local hardships as the residents face losing their roots, their identity and their culture. Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced. Some almost cry, reliving the horrors of reality.

 

Fume of sighs.
His house by the sea..

 

Land Reclamation at Sungai Kapal.
The land reclamation and the nature.

 

Abandoned Ship Workshop.

 

The Temple of the Sea.

“We preferred fishing, to a life of idleness on the village, where we were driven against our will. We preferred our own way of living, all we wanted was peace and to be left alone.”

Fish market.

“The authorities come and brought papers. i could not read them, i don’t know how to read. They did not tell me truly what was in it. When i went to a local meeting, The Great Man explained to me, that the interpreters had deceived me, into signing papers i’m not know of. All I want is right and justice for the compensation of my 40 Durian Trees, 40 Oil Palm Trees.”

Pondering upon the land reclamation, looking for a great freedom, an intense and absorbing love for the sea. Reminiscence his days frolicking in the sea.

 

His prize.

 

Young lad and the sea.

The lost land of a 22,500 acres, resulted 3,000 graves
buried deep in peace beneath the meadows to be dig out and relocate.
Some cemeteries are over a century old, as date engraved on its
gravestones.

Archaeologists examining the gravestones.

 

One of the gravestones of the Qing Dynasty.

 

At the cemetery.

 

Sea view cemetery.
People called her, the “Lobster Princess”.

 

Faith in Supreme Power.

 

An old man who runs the cemetery- pro bono!

 

Spiritual ways- Praying and offering to the Gods.

The principle of fishing technique here had been passed on from generation to generation, and this generation might not be able to pass on their heritage anymore. The land reclamation had directly affected the water quality, coastal fishing ground, spiny lobster breeding ground, the impacts and threats to the environment.

Here i’d also visited a fisherman’s family, as we speak, there was rumble out of the sky, as thunderclouds massed. The breeze of the sea, the smell of the rain, peace never tasted so sweet!

the 3rd generation fisher-woman.

 

Worker mending the fishing net.

 

Filtering on its commercial value.

 

Catch of the day.

 

Worker drying fishing net.
Handmade fishing net.

 

Thunderstorms massed over the land reclamated.

 

They used to pull in dozens of Spiny Lobsters on each trip, after the land reclamation, they caught merely 3 to 5 lobsters a day. And today, they only got one.

 

Perhaps you have noticed that even the very lightest breeze you can hear the voice of crying sea. This is its prayer to the Gods, who govern the sea, and the well being. The fight for ultimate freedom, the pressure from several governing parties, for now they would pray to the Gods, all things and all beings pray to the Gods continually in differing ways- the spiritual remedy.

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Posts by Hee JW

Hee is a Delayed Hedonist. The pursuit of delay gratification as a matter of principle, the good stuff outweigh the pain at the end. Delayed hedonism also makes him enjoy photographing so much, despite the hard knocks during the process of capturing truth, utmost pleasure! Now, he's trying to write. Literally.

Posted on 12 September 2012. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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5 Responses to In the Shadow of Pengerang

  1. Beautiful photographs.

  2. Marvelous photographs, but does detract from a serious issue.

  3. Yas

    I spent the first 12 years of my life in Sungai Rengit and these are the best years of my childhood, that I so fondly remember.

    I still love visiting from time to time. 23 years on, life there is just as peaceful and beautiful as when it was when I was a little indian girl mingling amongst the fisherman kids and cycling across town meet my Malay buddies at Sungai Kapal.

    No to RAPID!! Leave my Pengerang the way it is….

  4. marcustan88

    touching photographs with sensible write up on this issue, thanks for sharing!

  5. yyle

    Thanx for the excellent write-up and pictures. Never knew how beautiful this place was till I read this article and my conscience on retaining this area from falling into another Malaysian environmental disaster!!!! Hell with RAPID!!