Monday, May 07, 2012

Sungai Way folk uncomfortable with influx of female foreign workers

Sungai Way folk uncomfortable with influx of female foreign workers

Stories by PRIYA MENON priya@thestar.com.my
Photos by SHAHRUL FAZRY

Crowded: Some of the houses in Sungai Way have been converted into hostels to accomodate a large number of foreign workers.

SUNGAI Way’s name is derived from a river that flows nearby. The settlement has been around since the 1870s when the area was first explored for tin mining and rubber tapping. Over the years, people were brought in from China, India and Java to work in tin mines and rubber estates. It is said the richest tin mine moghul in Sungai Way was Chan Sun Hei from Hui Zhou, China. The migration of workers those days led to the development of villages around the fringes of Sungai Way.

The Japanese Occupation from 1941 to 1945 affected businesses in the area and by the time the communist insurgency or Emergency set in, Sungai Way was in ruins. In 1950, the British brought 3,000 residents, mostly Hakkas and Hokkiens from the surrounding areas as well as Cheras and placed them in the newly formed Kampung Baru Sungai Way.

The name Sungai Way has been changed to Seri Setia but members of the community still prefer to call it by its old name. “During its early years, Sungai Way was an exemplary village that was visited by several notable leaders including the then United States vice-president Richard Nixon and his wife Thelma Catherine on Nov 26, 1953,” said the chairman of the Village Development and Security Committees (JKKK) Kampung Baru Seri Setia (Sungei Way) Ding Eow Chai.

The village underwent rapid development, especially in 1952 when Petaling Jaya was established as Kuala Lumpur’s satellite town. By 1965, the construction of the Federal Highway and the Subang International Airport also affected the villagers. Due to the building of the highway, Sungei Way was split into two.

In the 1970s, the Sungai Way Free Trade Zone created job opportunities for both locals and migrants alike. The drop in the prices of tin and rubber in the 1980s brought new economic changes in the area. In the 1990s, more local and foreign migrant workers poured into the small township.

Flourishing: Children of foreign workers playing in the yard of a hostel.

Today, a portion of homes in the village still has its original facade while others have been or are being upgraded. Land value has reached its peak with kampung houses measuring 4,000 sq feet being valued at RM400,000 while shop lots measuring 700sq ft to 800sq ft are priced at RM700,000 to RM800,000. According to the residents, there are some 600 houses in Sungai Way now and the current population stands at 30,000, more than half of whom are foreigners.

The JKKK is worried as the town’s younger generation have moved out leaving the older residents and the migrant workers behind. They fear the town will lose its identity as more and more people sell their houses and move to newer townships in the state. As a majority of the workers employed by factories in the Sungai Way Free Trade Zone are young female Indonesians, it is now common to see these female foreign workers going about their business nearly everywhere in the township.

JKKK member Chin Ah Kiew said most of the women were discplined but they attracted men from neighbouring areas who visit Sungai Way to meet with the women. “The place is still harmonious and we have adequate facilities. Break-ins and snatch thefts are not rampant. “What we are worried about is the social problems brought about by the influx of these female foreign workers. Outsiders fight with each other over the women,” he said.

Chin acknowledged that the presence of the migrant workers helped the town to prosper economically as their need for accommodation provided an alternative income for the residents. However the increasing number of houses-turned-hostels has given people another reason to worry.

The safety of the womenfolk however is well guarded within their hostels as signs have been put up warning non-residents from entering. However, many of the houses have been illegally converted into hostels, and in some cases accomodate up to 70 to 80 people while larger ones have at least 100 tenants. These house owners renovate their houses and create partitions with double decker beds inside the rooms to create more space.

The hostels give owners a chance to earn between RM5,000 and RM10,000 a month from the rentals alone. Apart from that, many stalls, restaurants and shops have cropped up to cater for these migrant workers but despite getting good rental for these places, residents have to bear with the stench from leftover food and uncollected garbage.

Residents have mixed feelings about complaints regarding the illegal hostels because many live on the lucrative rental. While others believe that the hostels should be demolished, Kampung Tunku assemblyman Lau Weng San believes that one has to look at the bigger picture. “These workers are needed to help the factories, it is important for national economy. This is a problem that needs to be tackled wisely,” he added.

Lau said plans for a hostel in the vicinity were being looked into to accommodate all the workers without jeopardising the economic well being of Sungai Way. He added that putting them all in one area would definitely help to contain all activities and help restore Sungai Way to its former glory.

“A lot of youngsters who have moved out still have an emotional attachment with this place. “They come back often looking for gastronomical delights that are synonymous with Sungai Way. We have to find ways to bring them back here,” he added.
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