Triple Visits to Kukup
English translated by Rujia
A breeze of wind wheezed by, stroking the roofs of attap houses (elevated wooden house) that speckled the entire marsh coastal lines, leaving behind an atmosphere reeking of fish stench. Motorcycles and people squeezed past, narrowly missing each other as they went on their ways, crossing one wooden plank after another - those which paved the only route to the living quarters of the village there. Sewage pipes channeled directly into the water that flowed below each and every household, eventually congregating and finally engulfed by the sea that constituted the main source of livelihood there. The year was 1996. I first stepped foot in this small fishing village on a one-day trip with ex-colleagues of Samsung.
It is this unique mode of life here that later warranted my repeated visits during the festive seasons of lunar new year in 2003 and 2008, both times bringing along my family with me.
We lodged at a local family-run inn that was equipped with air-conditioning and was moderately clean. The local people were generally friendly - many left their doors open through the nights, seemingly to welcome foreign guests with open arms. Exploring the place, we filled our curiosities with their way of life, assimilating into the environment and their daily routines. I strongly believe that traveling should be about seeing and experiencing how others live. This is exactly the ideal kind of scenery that attracts my appreciation, rather than those that are placed purposefully for tourists’ eyes. The latter lacks natural appeal and pales in comparison.
On my 1996 and 2003 trips, I remembered that the better quality woods were kept as material for construction of a local primary school and temples. Taking a stroll through the school corridors saw me mesmerized by the well-written calligraphy letters pasted on pillars after pillars. These endorsed words of traditional Chinese values that were clearly core to the local primary education. Seeing all these seemed to stir a chord in me in a manner that would have touched others similarly had they also been there.
The following day was the second night of the Chinese New Year. Crackers chanted cheers of a prosperous year ahead as the celebrative mood continued to fill the atmosphere. With the night sky as a backdrop, a large lantern – a kongming lantern, said to be the first hot air balloon invented by the sage and military strategist Zhuge Liang twenty centuries ago – was lighted. Up, up and away! The children all cheered and waved, as it gradually diminished into the skies and finally disappeared out of sight. As it lifted into the far ends of the skies, it carried the hopes and dreams of those who prayed upon its departure, to promise them a better future. This is the first time that I have ever witnessed the kongming lantern. Astonishment aside, there was also a slight feeling of regret that I have never seen it in my homeland.
This year, I paid a third visit to this fishing village. To my dismay the regular ferry service from Singapore World Trade Centre was discarded due to insufficient passenger demand. No choice but we had to take a bus to Larkin terminal in Johor, transfer another bus to Pontian, and then hired a taxi to cover the rest of the journey. Comparing the past with the present, few changes were observed. Rubbish still piled the shores at low tide. In spite of this, many new and gorgeous-looking buildings of different architectural styles now stand where old wooden houses used to be. Yet, they appear bizarre and out of place among their old cousins.
Chatting with the local inhabitants, I acquired that this Chinese fishing village was built by descendants of Teochew migrants from China. Nowadays, many adopted Mandarin as their main language of command in addition to their Teochew dialect. They were familiar with Singaporean actors and actresses, evident that they were able to receive broadcast albeit being in a different country. The main source of income for this fishing village was the kelong - a type of fishing farm built on the sea near the shores. These days youngsters no longer work on the kelongs anymore – they have long left to craft their own careers elsewhere in the cities. Only the arrival of Chinese New Year brings them back once every year to reunite with the old and young at home.
As the tides creep up the shorelines with the announcement of dawn each day, the sun tans the face of the sea till it shines a golden yellow. The attap houses seem to dance to the rhythm of the waves. It is this water that provides its people with food and then clears their waste with the fall of the tide. It is a place where men and sea intercepts – at Kukup, Pontian in Western Johor, Malaysia.
Excerpt from Google Map
THE VILLAGE 渔村景色
Outside view. Feb 2008
Entrance to the village. Feb 2008
Main road access to the village homes. Feb 2003
Motorcycle is the main transport to the village. Feb 2008
Homehouse-like chalet. 1996
All houses supported by concrete or timber piles penetrating to the seabed. Feb 2008
The fishboat returns home. 1996
A Chinese temple
Kelong, the fish farm on the sea. 奎笼,一种海上养殖场
Primary School 小学校
Nearby Malay Kampong 附近的马来村庄
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