TEBEDU has been in the limelight recently but for the wrong reasons.
In May, a land dispute there led to the villagers torching the equipment belonging to a logging company.
In June, some 100 farmers, villagers and traders residing near Tebedu staged a demonstration to protest the charges imposed by SM Inland Port.
Many now say it is practically a “dead” town.
Last week, thesundaypost (myself and two colleagues) ventured a trip to this quiescent border town and found it to be a sleepy hallow.
The old town has two rows of shops with only three still in business – a sundry shop, a footwear shop and a coffee shop.
An old-timer, Bong Kim Khai, 73, operates the shop that sells footwear and sundry goods.
“Life is difficult for a small shopkeeper earning not enough to cover everyday expenses,” he lamented.
Bong, formerly a salesman in Kuching has been running the shop which belongs to his brother, for nine years.
“There is not much hope. Both Indons (Indonesians) and locals prefer going to shop in Serian. But business elsewhere is also stiff,” he reckoned.
But he is staying on in Tebedu because life is simpler there.
Next, introducing ourselves as visitors, we got to talk to a woman looking after the sundry shop. As soon as she learned we were journalists, she became a bit wary.
However, after ‘sizing us up’ and learning that our intentions were honourable, she felt more at ease in our company.
Recalling the early troubled years, she said during the communist insurgency in 1963, Indonesian commandos and communist cadres were active in the area.
This was followed by the declaration of the Emergency in 1965 and the launching of Ops Buaya a year later.
It was during this time that she, together with many Chinese from Tebedu, moved to Beratok, Tapah and Siburan before returning in 1976.
“This is where we belong. We moved back because business was good at the border after peace was restored.
“Many made their fortune during the boom time when Indonesians and locals shopped here. But things changed with infrastructural improvements in the area,” she noted.
Accessibility provided by better roads has resulted in people bypassing Tebedu and moving to bigger towns.
“There are more choices in Serian or even Kuching,” she said, adding that goods elsewhere were also cheaper.
In a small town, there is a lot of trust among the residents. Shops extend credit to customers.
“Some still owe us money, so they come to our shop less now,” she revealed.
She was honest enough to confess that high profit margins helped cover the losses she may otherwise have suffered due to the debts.
According to her, the traders collect jungle produce from the surrounding areas and sell them in
Serian and other towns. They bring back goods and sell them to the local people.
She regretted that the younger generation were no longer all that keen on retail business.
Asked why she had not moved to the new township of Bandar Mutiara, she said the new shops were far away whereas in the old town, the clinic and schools were nearby.
Our team was quickly spotted by the Kapitan of Tebedu, Bong Kim Yuk, who ushered us into a coffeeshop.
Sensing that we were journalists, he said “you can get all the information here” as he showed us the materials he had in hand.
Bong has lived through the good times in Tebedu, established more than 100 years ago by a group of Chinese immigrants from Singkawang and Pontianak in Indonesia.
During the glorious early days, this predominantly Bidayuh area was reputed to be the main land-crossing between Malaysia and Indonesia with the highest number of tourist arrivals in the state being recorded annually.
It was apparent that the bulk of Sarawak’s export trade also passed through this area.
Bong whose children are all educated overseas, has obviously made his millions.
“If you invest a few million, you would expect good returns. The principle is that if you invest more, you can expect better returns.
“The rental here is cheap. If the government can extend the land lease to 60 or 99 years, there is hope for Tebedu,” he surmised.
The lease of land and shops in the old Tebedu town will expire in 2014.
“If the government allows land and shop leases in other towns to be extended, we should also be given the same treatment,” he said.
Bong has been “selling” Tebedu and Bandar Mutiara through the media with the message of hope, and inviting investors to start business there.
He has, on behalf of the local residents, also requested the government through the media to extend the lease terms of their land and shops.
Bandar Mutiara was developed in the early 1990’s. Sixty shophouses were built and they sold like hot cakes.
A electrical goods trader known as Wong from Sibu revealed he and his friends each bought one lot for about RM175,000.
“But the shop has been left unoccupied for the past 20 years. We were told business and economic activities would boom soon.”
Now with the influx of cheaper electrical goods from China, Wong and his friends have ceased their business trips to Pontianak.
While Bong did not agree with the general opinion that Bandar Mutiara was a failure, he, however, admitted people from Tebedu and Entikong in Indonesia preferred going directly to Serian town or Kuching to sell their goods and do their shopping .
“With tar-sealed roads and van services, it’s now convenient to travel to Serian or Kuching,” he said, pointing out that business at Tebedu was good before the roads came through.
Our team subsequently drove into the sleepy town of Bandar Mutiara. Only some food outlets and a sundry shop are operating there.
A maid training centre, occupying three shoplots, is closed. It should be doing well, considering the number the Indonesian helpers entering Sarawak through Pontianak. We were unable to obtain much information on the actual situation.
In the middle of the town stands a clock tower – a landmark with a large community hall looming amidst a nice landscape.
One busy point is the new SM Inland Port with a cargo and container yard for cargo transiting between borders and warehousing for goods. The other busy area is the immigration checkpoint.
Tebedu has the rare distinction of hosting two Prime Ministers Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razah and his late father, Tun Razak Hussein, the second premier.
The border town has earned its fame. The new township has been planned. The facilities are upgraded. It is easily accessible and strategically located. The task now is to bring in the businessmen.
Tebedu is served by two Bidayuh leaders – State assemblyman Datuk Seri Michael Manyin from PBB and Datuk Richard Riot from SUPP, both from Kampung Pichin.
Kapitan Bong is optimistic this once glorious town will get a new lease on life with the commitment of both Bidayuh leaders to improve its 200,000-strong community in Serian District.
Source: The Borneo Post