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Monday, June 23, 2008

Sandakan's Beauty "Hanging in the balance"

These are the views of an Australian journalist and I agree with him
completely but there are a few points to note.

Buli sim-sim may look like Brunei Water village, but it is completely
under developed.

Despite paying for rates, there is no sewage and waste disposal
services. Only in 1994 after an election campaign were dustbins
introduced at the road side for some considerate people to bring their
non-biodegradable rubbish almost 100m away.

In Brunei, their water villages are equipped like any normal housing,
i.e. complete with water, street lights, dustbins, and sewarage.

In Sandakan, the bridges were built out of wood which makes them
vulnerable during fire outbreaks.

I was raised at Buli Sim-sim, where I learned to swim or rather float
at sea beside our house.

Development may appear to be rapid but they are actually
underdeveloped. They were built to last only a few months. I thought
it was due to the heavy use but after reviewing the budget given to
Sabah, it is obvious that most probably it was caused by insufficient
budget making engineers design them with available budget and to
please voters. Road surfaces that need 6 inches were budgeted for 3
inches only.

When I went back to Sandakan recently, I just don't understand the
feeling of a town that is devastated by wars. The roads that were
sealed just a few months ago, were completely destroyed. The status of
the road from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan, didn't appear to change from
more than 20 years ago, which is worse than the roads that I travel at
Batak Plateau in Indonesia, 20 years ago.

Batak region is known as among the poorest in Indonesia but I cannot
recall any house that is worse than the houses that I find in Sabah,
especially in Sandakan. This is highlighted by the scenes of houses in
other parts of the world that are well known to be at war or full of
violences such as Somalia and Palestine. Their houses there are much
better than our rusty zinc roofed houses scattered all over Sabah.

The UN figure of 23% poverty rate in 206 for Sabah is an eye opener
for me. This was based on a poverty level of RM680 but now accorfding
to an academician, the figure should be RM820 in 2007. In 2008, the
poverty level should be even higher but there is no indicator that
Sabahans are getting higher salaries or higher profits as a result of
internal investment or expenditures. The poverty level should be even
higher in 2008, than the 23% figure.

For the reader's information, the budget for Sabah is still much less
than the percentage of Sabah's population of 13% of Malaysia, and much
less than the size of Sabah i.e. 25%. Sabahan leader's in the
government appear extremely satisfied with these situations.

Hanging in the balance

Sandakan's wonders are under threat. See them while you can, writes
Graham Simmons.

At first glance, it's hard to credit that Sandakan was once the
capital of British North Borneo (now Sabah). A ramshackle jumble of
rusting corrugated-iron huts overlooking the Sulu Sea, this gateway
town of about 350,000 people is now in the throes of redevelopment.
Its formal declaration as a city, scheduled for this year, is expected
to put Sandakan firmly back on the South-East Asian map.

Long before the arrival of the British, Sandakan was a trading port of
the Islamic sultanate of Sulu, based in the south of the Philippines.
Then, after more than 90 per cent of Sandakan's buildings were razed
by the Japanese in the last years of World War II, the British moved
the capital to Jesselton (now Kota Kinabalu), on the north-east coast
of Sabah. Sandakan was rebuilt - more or less - and was then left to
rot in the steamy equatorial heat for the next 50 years or so.

It is tourism that has revived Sandakan. To Australian visitors, the
main place of interest is the Sandakan Memorial Park, commemorating
the infamous Sandakan-Ranau death march of World War II.

On the 250-kilometre march, about 4000 Malays and Indonesians and more
than 2000 Australian and British prisoners-of-war died on the way -
and among the Allied troops, only six Australians lived to recount the
horrors of the experience. Near the Memorial Park, the Sepilok Orang-
Utan Rehabilitation Sanctuary is about hope. At the sanctuary,
orphaned orang-ut

ans are cared for, nurtured and taught survival skills before being
released into the wild. Perhaps as a result of this constant human
contact, they are disarmingly friendly towards visitors.

More than 300 baby and juvenile orang-utans are in residence at
Sepilok at any one time, spread out over about 4300 hectares. At
feeding times large numbers of them converge at the feeding station -
a series of raised tree-platforms connected by rope swings. At the
time of my visit, many of the creatures appeared to be mocking the
spectators - and given our voyeuristic demeanour, maybe they had
reason to do so.

In Sandakan town, public spaces are undergoing a much-needed, major
clean-up. A new fish market graces the waterfront, selling the finest
produce of the Sulu Sea - super-fresh tuna, red snapper, garoupa,
mackerel, rayfish, mangrove crabs and tiger prawns. The fish market
forms part of the new Sandakan Harbour Square, which when completed
will be home to a new central market, a town square, a mall and a
convention centre. But the most atmospheric part of Sandakan is
undoubtedly the Buli Sim-Sim Water Village. In neighbouring Brunei,
the famous water village of Bandar Seri Begawan is home to more than
10,000 people, who live in stilt-houses perched over the Brunei River.
Buli Sim-Sim is a little smaller, but is equally colourful.

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